A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Monday, August 28, 2017

1 Samuel 16:7 "The Way Things Appear"

Church is the one place in all the world where we ought to be able to be honest, where we should be able to be real. But this clearly is not the case.

In fact, religious people might be the worst people in the world when it comes to being honest about our true feelings and what is going on inside.

Unfortunately, almost every religious person I have ever met has bought into the lie that “real Christians never struggle with sin; real Christians don’t get scared or confused; real Christians don’t stumble; real Christians don’t get discouraged; real Christians don’t doubt. And if Christians ever actually do any of those things, they don’t show it.” 

We choose to believe that it is more spiritual to hide our fears and doubts and sins and anxieties and worries than to express them and expose them and deal with them. We will not allow anyone else to know that we have problems because they might think less of us spiritually. And we don’t want people to think less of us spiritually, so we buy the lie and bury the truth.

And if we do this, you see, we invariably end up leading a life that is focused on outward appearances instead of internal realities. It can’t work both ways. If how things appear, if how they look is what matters most to us, then how things really are cannot matter much. That’s what religion without relationship does. It seeks the approval of man.

1 Samuel 16:7  "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Friday, August 11, 2017

Luke 11:46, Matthew 23:25 "Hard Life Harder"

“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." (Luke 11:46)

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!"  (Matthew 23:25)

Religion is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. Religion is believing in God. Religion is tradition and ceremony. Religion is learning the difference between right and wrong. Religion is praying and celebrating religious holidays and reading the Scripture and coming to church and giving our tithes and offerings.

Those are all things that I affirm and have made a part of my life. Religion is not a bad thing –unless we simply practice religion instead of entering into the relationship that God wants to have with us.
Jesus told one of the most religious men of His day that unless a person is “born again,” he will never see the Kingdom of God. Unless I allow Jesus to transform my heart and mind, it really doesn’t matter in the big picture if I know how to act religious.

Religion might change my behavior, but only Jesus can change my heart. Why is this important? Because acting religious doesn’t forgive my sin. Being religious doesn’t take away the emptiness in my soul. Being religious doesn’t take away my sense of guilt and shame. Religion without relationship only treats the symptom, it doesn’t cure the disease.

It seems to me that religion often makes a hard life even harder.  Because religion cannot change the heart, it tries to control people with laws and expectations.  Religion is good at describing high standards of right behavior –but only a right relationship gives hope and mercy to those who realize they don’t measure up.

When we finally get to the end of ourselves and begin to understand that we hurt, that we are empty inside, that we have deep spiritual needs that we can’t meet ourselves, that there has to be more to life than we are experiencing –when we finally admit that we have made a mess of things and we need divine help, if we turn to religion, we only get the added burden of additional laws that in our hearts we know we can never keep.

Religion makes a hard life harder. But a relationship with God through Jesus gives mercy and hope.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Saturday, August 5, 2017

James 3:15, James 4:4 "God's Enemies"

 James 3:15 Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world, it is unspiritual and demonic.
 James 4:4 Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

None of us would intentionally declare ourselves to be God’s enemies. Yet, when we choose our own way instead of God’s ways –when we choose the world’s wisdom over God’s wisdom –when we choose to side with the world instead of siding with God, that’s exactly what we are doing.

The world’s values are carnal and unspiritual; they are, in fact, influenced by the devil. So, when we choose these values over God’s values, we are quite literally choosing the evil one over God. 

Whether we have thought this decision through or not, the result is the same: when we side with the world, we declare ourselves to be God’s enemies. And just to make sure we understand, James says it clearly again: “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” 

It is not an option that God leaves open to us for us to be vaguely religious. We cannot be “kind of” Christian.

When it comes to spiritual things, God wants us to be fully surrendered to Him, living our lives in His Spirit, choosing His ways over our own ways. Clearly, there is a choice here that we must make.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Genesis 1:27 "In God's Image"

Have you ever wondered why universally women all want to be beautiful and men want to be strong and courageous? In every culture on the face of the earth for as far back as we have recorded history, women have wanted to be beautiful and men have wanted to be strong and courageous.

I know that evolutionists would say it’s because of how we evolved so that the human race could survive. But I think a better answer is found in the verse , Genesis 1:27, “God created people in His own image; God patterned them after Himself; male and female He created them.” 

Courage and strength and beauty are all characteristics of God –and we were created in His image. We were created with and for God’s glory.

Satan would love to destroy God’s glory –in fact, to destroy God -but that isn’t possible, so he has made it his mission to destroy those created in God’s image. What difference do we make to Satan? None. The only reason he cares about us is because God cares about us.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

John 10:10, Isaiah 61:1 "Matters Of The Heart"

I think that we forget the importance of our hearts. We forget that Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God with all of or hearts. We forget that we are to hide the Word of God in our hearts. We forget that God’s commandments and promises are to be written on our hearts. We forget that although man looks on outward appearances, God looks at our hearts. We forget that it is out of our hearts that authentic praise and worship flows. We forget that our hearts are the very wellspring of life. We forget how central the heart is, but our enemy hasn't.

Our enemy knows how important our hearts are –and that’s why he is so intent on destroying them –that’s why he is intent on breaking our hearts –on twisting our hearts –on deadening our hearts. If the enemy can break our hearts, he has broken us. 

The enemy twists our hearts and deadens our hearts and breaks our hearts –but listen to this prophecy from Isaiah chapter 61:1 that Jesus claimed as His own mission statement: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners."

Here, then, is the situation. The enemy (according to John 10:10) robs and kills and destroys, but Jesus gives life, binds up the broken-hearted, and proclaims freedom and release to those in bondage. He came to take away our damaged, unresponsive, broken hearts –and replace them with new hearts –hearts fully capable of loving God. Jesus came to give us back our hearts.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Romans 5:20 "Fall Down, Get Back Up"

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.  Romans 5:20

There is nothing good about sin. But it is the nature of God to be redeeming, and because God is a God of grace and mercy, He has found a way to make even our struggles and our failures into valuable, redemptive life-lessons.

The very cycle of falling down and getting back up is what creates in us the perseverance it takes to eventually overcome. It is not the falling down that is good; it is the getting back up. It is turning back to God when we realize that we have sinned, again. 

If we continue to fall down because we are trying to overcome sin on or own, through our own strength, through our own will power, through our own efforts, we will eventually realize that whenever we try on our own, we I fail.

We are not strong enough. We don’t have enough will power. We are too weak. But, then, that is the point where God wants us.

For those who truly love God, the very cycle of falling down and getting back up eventually brings us to full surrender to Christ. Out of our weakness, God’s strength is shown.

#by-his-stripes.com   #ByHisStripes

Thursday, June 15, 2017

John 13:34-35 "If You Love"

"And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”  John 13:34-35

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples –if you love one another.”

Think about the incredible implications of that statement. The world will not know the truth just because we hold correct doctrine, or because we go to the right church, or because we are knowledgeable in Scripture, or because we use our talents and abilities and spiritual gifts for the Kingdom, or because we are faithful to tithe, or because we follow the rules, or because we know a lot of religious jargon. 

Most of these things are good things –they are positive things –they are even things that usually accompany a right relationship with God. But none of these things are authorized by Christ to be the trademark for Christians.

The one and only identifier that is endorsed and authorized by Jesus is that the Body of Christ exhibits true love.

If the Body of Christ can truly love, the world will believe; if we cannot truly love, the world will never believe.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Psalm 51:4 "God Loves Losers And Sinners"

Everybody loves a winner; nobody wants to associate with a loser.  We live in a very competitive culture, with everyone striving to be on top. But stop and think about it for a moment.   In order for there to be somebody on top, somebody else has to be on the bottom.  The only way for one person to win is for someone else to lose.   And I just want to say I'm glad that God doesn't limit his love to a select few who out perform others.  I'm glad that God loves losers. 

The Bible tells us plainly that all of us have sinned against God. We are, each of us, equal in that respect.  If God only loved the winners, we'd all miss out.

Psalm 5, however,  reminds us: "Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.....God, create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me....You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God."

All God has ever wanted from us is honesty, and a broken heart before him. All God wants from us is for us to admit our failure, and allow Him to show His strength through our weakness. Just as we are equal in our sin, in Jesus, we are equally accepted and forgiven in our repentance.  Because God loves us.  God loves losers and sinners like you and me.

#by-his-stripes.com  #ByHisStripes

Friday, May 26, 2017

1 John 1:9 "Confessing Sin"

We live in a fallen, broken world, we are constantly surrounded by evil influences, and we are weak willed people; so, even though we believe in Jesus and have accepted His death as the punishment for our sin, and have turned to Him for forgiveness and new life, we still struggle with sin.

Because we still struggle with sin, God made a continuing provision for sin. The Bible tells us, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9).

Jesus has already paid the penalty for sin –in that sense, God made provision for our forgiveness once and for all, and for all time. The penalty has been been paid, and we have been forgiven. Yet, Christians are specifically instructed to confess sin as it occurs.

There is a very good reason God wants us to confess our sin. It’s because unconfessed sin turns into baggage that we have to carry around with us.

When we sin and do not confront it, and do not repent, and refuse to confess it, we end up with a load of guilt and shame and bitterness and anxiety and fear. God doesn’t want that for us. God wants us to unload those kinds of burdens. We unload by confession and repentance.

God doesn’t need to hear our confession so that He knows what we’ve been up to. He already knows every wrong thing and every right thing we’ve ever thought or said or done. Our confession doesn’t change God, and it doesn’t change God’s mind, and it doesn’t change God’s opinion of us. Our confession changes us.

When we are humbly confessing our sin to God, something happens. In order to truly confess, we must examine ourselves. In order to realistically examine ourselves, we need to quit pretending to be people we’re not –we need to let our defenses down, we need to take our masks off. In order to confess, we need to be brutally honest about ourselves before God. And it is in the context of humble honesty, with no pretense and no defense that a relationship with God begins to develop. And the relationship is what God desires.

#by-his-stripes #ByHisStripes

1 John 3:1 "God Loves Me"

I believe that God loves me. I know it is a simple thought, but it has profound implications.

How can He love me in a personal way if He doesn’t know me in a personal way. God knows me.
That’s a thought that is comforting and frightening all at once, isn’t it? I’m sure we all have a few things in our past that we’d rather not parade out in public.

I used to think that I’d be more comfortable with God if He didn’t know all about my failures and faults. It’s embarrassing to think that God knows everything about me –even my secrets. But then I realize that He loves me. That changes everything –doesn’t it? 

I mean, if God said that He loves me, but didn’t know the worst about me, I’d always have to hope that He never finds out. I’d always have to worry that if He really knew me that maybe He wouldn’t love me.

But the fact that He loves me even knowing the worst about me means that I never have to worry about that. He already knows the worst about me. And He loves me.

1 John 3:1  See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!
#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Luke 4:40, Matthew 14:14 "God Loves Individually & Personally"

It is possible to go all day without ever actually talking to another human being –I don’t mean by avoiding them or by hiding out indoors, I mean in a normal day in which we do all sorts of normal things, we could go all day without actually speaking to anyone.

We do banking at ATM machines or online. We send emails and texts instead of talking on the phone. Many stores have self-checkout lines where we don’t even need a cashier to wait on us. We do our shopping on the internet. We pay for our gas with a credit card right at the pump. . As our society gets more and more impersonal, I think it’s good to know that our relationship with God is personal –His love for us is personal. 

Jesus taught great multitudes of people. Often several thousand people at a time gathered to hear Jesus teach. Everywhere He went hundreds of people gathered around Him wanting to be healed from every imaginable sickness. Think about this –if He had wanted to, He could have healed every sickness in every crowd with a single word. He could have raised His arms and waved them over a crowd and healed every disease at once. But He didn’t do it that way. Instead He placed His hands on them one at a time and healed them one at a time.

I think it’s because He didn’t see crowds of people in the same way we see them. I think that Jesus saw a crowd of a thousand people as a thousand individuals, each unique and each important. And that’s the way He sees us –and that’s the way loves us. He loves us each individually.

Jesus didn’t die for the sins of humanity in a generic sense –He died for my sin and He died for your sin –personally. As our society gets more and more impersonal, it makes me happy to know that God loves me, personally.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Monday, April 10, 2017

Deuteronomy 33:25 "Strength For Today, Today"

I was reading about a college professor who came into his class one day and hung a giant piece of white paper up on the board. Down in the bottom corner of the paper was a black dot.

He asked his students to tell him what they saw. Every one of the students said they saw a black dot. The teacher said, "That's interesting. Doesn't anyone see a huge sheet of white paper? After all, the dot is just one tiny spot on an very big piece of paper."

But, that's the way we are, isn't it? We tend to focus on the details and miss the bigger picture. Sometimes we focus on the dot of our present circumstances and miss the bigger picture of what God has already done for us, and what He will certainly continue to do. 

We sometimes focus on the wrong things -temporary things -and loose sight of the fact that "the Lord our God is a great and awesome God." And when we loose sight of the fact that God is a good God, God is a great God, God is an awesome God, we get overwhelmed.

In Dueteronomy 33:25, God says, "Your strength will equal your days." There is no strength for Monday on Sunday. Monday will get here soon enough. Use the strength God gives you for today, today. Trust that God will, indeed, give you strength for tomorrow, tomorrow. When we run ahead of our strength, we run out of strength. God will provide what we need when we need it, and He will provide exactly the right amount to meet the need. That's the way He works.

Let's try to see God's big sheet of white paper and not just the small black dot of current circumstances and frustrations.

#by-his-stripes.com  #ByHisStripes

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ephesians 2:10, Exodus 19:5 "Prized Possessions"

A few years back we took a family vacation up to the Washington D.C. area.   While we were there, we visited some of our national museums. In the national art galleries, they had paintings by artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Da Vinci. They truly had some of the best art of all history. Any one can go there and see these wonderful paintings up close. Some of these paintings are priceless. At least, the originals are priceless. In the gift shop, of course, you can buy posters of some of the more famous paintings relatively cheap. You can even buy postcards for about 25 cents. But the cheap reproductions, obviously, are not the same as the real originals painted by the masters themselves.

We are the originals, handcrafted by God Himself. In Ephesians 2:10 we are told, "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Understand what this is telling us. We are originals created by God. We are His workmanship. We are His masterpieces, created with a purpose. We are "created to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do." Because God has a purpose for us, He has created in each of us uniquely the qualities and characteristics necessary to do the works He has prepared for us to do. Nothing that has gone into the shaping of our lives is by accident or random chance.

In Exodus 19:5, God tells the nation of Israel (and this promise holds true for us as well), "If you obey me and keep my covenant, then you will be my treasured possession." 

Some of us have been hurt or rejected or ignored or abused or criticized. We have been told things that were hurtful. And those negative messages play in our minds. They affect the way we feel about ourselves. But remember that it is not our friends that determine our worth. It is not our employers or critics or our spouses or our moms or dads or even our culture that determines our value. It is our Designer who determines our value. And God has declared that we are His workmanship. And God has declared that we are His treasured possessions.

When we think of all the wonderful, beautiful things God has created, we are amazed. The intricate, detailed design of the universe astounds me. The stars, the mountains, the rolling hills, the oceans, the deserts, the incredible diversity of animal and plant life. I marvel that God conceived everything from the Swiss Alps to Niagara Falls, to the Grand Canyon, to the South Sea Islands, to the African deserts. It's incredible. There are so many wonderful things that God created. But out of all He has created we are his prized possession.

All of humankind is created by God in His image and has intrinsic value. But we who have believed and trusted God through Jesus are the masterwork of God. We fully realize our value only when we are brought into right relationship with God through Jesus. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. It is In Christ Jesus that we discover our true worth. We can't fully understand how much we are worth until we accept the love of the One who loves us most.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Deuteronomy 7:17 "Little By Little"

How often we tend to get ahead of God. It’s in our nature. We worry about things that aren’t even realities yet –and maybe never will be. We’re afraid of things that we don’t even have any control over. We get anxious about scenarios that exist only in our imaginations. You know what I mean –we worry that even though we got the bills paid this month, we might not be able to pay them next month. We worry that even though we feel fairly healthy today, we might have someday have cancer. We worry that the car might break down in the middle of the night on some dark deserted stretch of road. It’s our nature to be fearful and anxious. And then when we add to all of our unfounded worries and anxieties, the fears and anxieties that seem justified –we worry about our children and our relationships and our jobs; and then when we add to all those worries our regrets and our hurts and our failings, life can seem a little overwhelming.

I want to look for a few minutes at God’s plan for dealing with all that overwhelming stuff. He doesn’t intend for us to carry all that baggage, but He knows how hard it is for us to set that baggage down, so He has a plan for us. His plan is revealed in the Old Testament in the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.

After the Israelites had left Egypt, God revealed His plan for the Hebrews to Moses, and Moses, in turn told the people. In Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 7, we find Moses telling the people how God has chosen Israel for a special purpose. He is telling them that if they obey God and keep His commandments, God will bless them and God will go before them as they go into the land of Canaan and take it for their own. The problem was that Israel was a puny little country. Well, they didn't actually even have a country; they only had a group of people. And the land that God had promised them was already inhabited. Much of it was inhabited by fierce warriors. Not only were these people fierce and barbaric, but they lived in walled cities that were nearly impenetrable.

Looking ahead, the Israelites were a little overwhelmed. But God told them to go into the land and engage these fierce warriors in battle and drive them out of the land. As you can imagine, the Israelites were a little worried about how this was going to be accomplished –they weren’t all that anxious to engage stronger enemies in walled cities.

But God had a plan for them –a plan for victory.  In Deuteronomy 7, beginning with verse 17, we read, "You may say to yourselves, 'These nations are stronger than us, how can we drive them out?' But stop worrying! Do not be afraid of them. Remember well what the Lord did to the Egyptians…. And He will again work miracles for you when you face these enemies…. So don't be frightened when you meet them in battle. The Lord your God is a great and awesome God. As you attack these nations, the Lord will force them out little by little." 

I want you to read that last sentence again because I think here we find God's basic formula for dealing with stress and worries and addictions and persistent, nagging sin, and all of the things that seem to assault us on our spiritual journey. Here we find God's plan for dealing with those things that seem overwhelming. The Lord will force them out little by little. That was God’s plan for the Israelites when they were overwhelmed, and I think it is God’s basic plan for us as well.

God's plan for dealing with the overwhelming is to deal with it little by little -with Him leading and us following.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Sunday, March 26, 2017

John 10:10, Luke 4:18-19 "Heart Matters"

The heart is central to everything. That’s because of why were created. We were created to love. I think that somewhere down inside we all understand this –love is the whole point. Without love, life is meaningless. We know that if we can truly love, and be loved, and not lose love –we know we would be happy. But you see, this kind of love –love that is true and pure is a heart thing. Loving requires a heart that is fully alive and free. And this is where we have problems.

We forget the importance of the heart. We forget that Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God with all of or hearts. We forget that we are to hide the Word of God in our hearts. We forget that God’s commandments and promises are to be written on our hearts. We forget that although man looks on outward appearances, God looks at our hearts. We forget that it is out of our hearts that authentic praise and worship flows. We forget that our hearts are the very wellspring of life. We forget how central the heart is, but, again, our enemy hasn’t forgotten.

Our enemy knows how important our hearts are –and that’s why he is so intent on destroying them –that’s why he is intent on breaking our hearts –on twisting our hearts –on deadening our hearts. If he can disable and deaden our hearts, he has effectively foiled God’s plan for us –God’s plan that our hearts be fully alive and free to love God with all of our hearts –to worship God with all of our hearts. If the enemy can break our hearts, he has broken us.

Over a period of time, we have all suffered blows. We’ve all had hardship and trials. And to some degree, we have all lost heart. And as a result, instead of the life that Jesus came to give us, we settle for efficiency, busyness and productivity. To some degree we have all suffered some heart damage, and we tend now to drift through life, going through the motions, but not truly understanding how very much God loves us, and incapable –because of our damaged hearts, to truly love God.
The thief, satan, our enemy, has done the job of stealing, killing and destroying when it comes to matters of the heart, hasn’t he. Boy, do we need some help.

That’s why Jesus packaged the two thoughts together in John 10:10. “The thief has come only to rob, kill, and destroy, but I have come so that you can have life, and have it abundantly.”
This is what the relationship with Jesus is all about –getting our hearts back. The thief robs and kills and destroys –but Jesus gives life. The enemy twists our hearts and deadens our hearts and breaks our hearts –but listen to this prophecy from Isaiah chapter 61 that Jesus said was about him:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for prisoners,"

(Luke 4:18-19)

The enemy robs and kills and destroys, but Jesus gives life, binds up the broken hearted, and proclaims freedom and release to those in bondage. Jesus restores our hearts.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"Not Tolerant, But Good" Exodus 35:6-7

The acceptance of toleration as the only valid religion has permeated our society so completely that we have developed an entire new style of language. It's no-fault language.

A factory in Vermont no longer fires people or even lays them off. Unneeded or unsatisfactory employees are given "Career change opportunities."

General Motors called a plant closing a "Volume-related production schedule adjustment."

Chrysler Motor Company called plant closings a "Career alternative enhancement program."

In many schools, children do not fail anymore, they "achieve a deficiency."

At some hospitals, patients never die. They simply experience, "negative patient-care outcome."

The idea behind this no-fault language is that since no opinion is actually wrong, we want to word things in such a way that nobody takes offense or ends up feeling badly about him or herself.

This has created a difficult environment for the church because despite what the culture teaches, tolerance is not very high on God's list of priorities. That sounds like an awful thing to say, but it is true.

Since the beginning of the last century, it has been considered enlightened to believe that there is no such thing as sin. After a hundred years of wrong thinking about the nature of sin and man, we have come to assume that when people do wrong, even when people do outright evil, that they have been victims of some circumstance outside of themselves. It is assumed that they have been the victims of poverty or too much sugar or bad education or even bad toilet training. It's assumed that people are basically good, so if they do wrong, it must be attributed to some outside factor.

With this social history, it really is not surprising that our non-Christian neighbors are stunned when we talk about sin. They are outraged when we say that abortion is wrong, that adultery and pornography and sexual relationships outside of marriage are immoral, that lying and cheating are unethical, that homosexuality violates God's law.

They immediately assume that if we believe in moral absolutes, if we believe in absolute truth, if we believe in sin, that we hate all the people we consider to be sinners. To the average person, the absence of tolerance simply means hatred. And since by definition to be a Christian means to accept God's law as absolute truth, we are intolerant and therefore we are hate-mongers. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that unspiritual people cannot understand the truth of God's Word, and so what we actually believe is misunderstood and misrepresented. We are pictured as cold, uncaring, bigoted, hatemongers, who restrict women's rights and bash gays and cram our version of morality down people's throats. We have even been compared to modern day Nazis.

But, I grew up in the church. The cultural stereotype of Christians does not match my experience. Most of the people I have associated with all of my life have been Christian people. And far and away, most of the Christian people I know are caring, compassionate, forgiving, loving, people. Certainly there are some that are not -but those "Christians" who are uncaring and unloving do not accurately reflect the character of God.

God is not especially tolerant, yet He is "compassionate and gracious..., slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." (Exodus 35:6-7)

We, as followers of Jesus need to be the same as our Father...not especially tolerant...not calling evil good and good evil; yet, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, quick to love and forgive.

Unspiritual people will never understand us, but we need to represent Father accurately regardless of the world's understanding.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Monday, January 2, 2017

"The Choice (part two)" Galatians 5:22-23, Galatians 6:7-8

If we want qualities like true joy and true love and true kindness and true goodness and true peace –if we want those kinds of qualities in our lives, then we’ve got to sow the right seed. We sow the right seed by choosing to walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh.

In Galatians chapter 6, Paul explained it like this: He said that whatever we sow, we will reap. To think otherwise is to mock God –but God can’t be mocked.

If we are sowing seeds that produce death and destruction, we shouldn’t be surprised when harvest time comes that we find ourselves reaping a harvest of death and destruction. But on the other hand, if we sow according to the Spirit, when harvest time comes we will reap spiritual fruit. The fruit of the Spirit that comes as a natural consequence of following the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

Understand that there are natural consequences for our choices. If we sow to the flesh, we will reap a natural (flesh) outcome –if we sow to the Spirit, there will be a spiritual outcome.

We now can choose to walk in the Spirit. We now can choose to sow good seed that produces the spiritual qualities we want and need in our lives.

#by-his-stripes.com   #ByHisStripes

"The Choice (part one)" Galatians 5:16

We have a choice. I’m talking now to all of us who have already asked Jesus into our hearts and lives and have claimed Him as our Savior. We can follow God or follow our own path. But we can’t do both. We can do one or the other. And that’s good news.

There was a time when we had no choice –before we came to Jesus, we were slaves to sin –we didn’t have the choice to sin or not to sin, we only had the choice to sin –there was no other option. All have sinned and fallen short. We all were slaves to sin, doing whatever our own best thinking and the physical senses and our flesh demanded. 

But now, as Believers, Jesus has set us free from bondage to sin. We once had no choice –we were slaves to sin. Now, however, we have a choice. We can choose to sin –but we can also choose to not sin. We can now choose to obey God. That’s the part we could not do apart from Christ –but now we can.

Galatians 5:16 says,  "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."  We can choose to not sin because now, if we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. That’s what the Bible says.

Now the choice I have moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, in every situation is this: will I listen to the Spirit who is in me speaking to my heart, prompting me, leading, guiding me, helping me to know wrong from right? Or will I listen to the Flesh –my own best thinking, the world’s best thinking, the stuff I perceive with my senses instead of my spirit. Will I trust God, or trust myself? This is the choice.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes