Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ezekiel 43-44; 2 Peter 2

We became dog people this year, adding a 3-5 year old rescued foxhound named Nella to our family.

NellaShe sheds. She doesn’t know a single command. And on the occasion I witnessed her eat her own vomit, I’m sure my face reflected a bit of disgust and horror. Because that is just gross.

Nella, however, didn’t seem bothered by it.

For you are a slave to whatever controls you. 20 And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. 21 It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. 22 They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.” 2 Peter 2:19b-22 NLT.

I remember reaching a point in my walk with the Lord where I felt frustrated and discouraged by my own sin. There were days I felt it would be way easier if I hadn’t known of a different life. But I knew too much to ever go back and be comfortable.

Because to know the Lord and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again certainly feels worse off than before.

Impatience, jealousy, or anger sometimes flare up in me without warning. And I gobble it up much like my dog, ingesting sin before I can muster the thought, “Did I just eat that?” Other sin is much more calculated–a gazing at vomit, if you will, and choosing to dine on it. A repulsive image. These I do try to avoid.

On Pinterest, I saw a pin of a quote that read, “Instead of using ‘I’m human’ as a reason to walk in the flesh, try using ‘I’m saved’ as a reason to walk in the Spirit.”

I want to put this on the fridge somewhere. Perhaps next to the picture of my dog.

God, thank you for grace, your desire to change me daily, and the opportunities you give me to grow closer to you. Please show me the things that control me so I can be free from them.

Courtney (66books365)

From the archives. Originally published November 30, 2012.

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Ezekiel 41-42; 2 Peter 1

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:3-11

Since becoming a follower of Christ, I have often thought about what that means, what it ‘should’ look like. Christianity began with me completely believing in and putting my confidence in God my Father, in His Son who came to earth as a man, laid His life down to restore my relationship with Him, and rose again to life on the third day, and in Holy Spirit my helper. It began with faith; faith to trust even though I don’t always have tangible evidence, faith to step out and take a leap into the unknown.

Peter shares that while the foundation of the Christian walk is simple faith, it isn’t the only facet. He shares that, because I partake of the divine nature of God, I am able to develop my simple faith with additional character qualities that will keep me from being unfruitful in my life and help to prevent me from falling:

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. 2 Peter 1:5-7 MSG

Virtue – as I practice moral excellence, as I make good choices in the day-to-day of life, my life begins to better reflect Christ in me. Determination, integrity, and discretion help me walk a straight path; and even when I stumble, I have a plum line to help me get up and walk again.

Knowledge – as I continue to delve deeper in my relationship with God, His divine nature is reveled to me in greater and greater ways. Each day, as I spend more time with Him, my understanding of Him, my intimacy with Him is increased. Though I will ever be in awe of His goodness, my experiences of who God is gives me a new sense of familiarity. He is my Daddy and no longer a formidable, unapproachable being.

Self-Control – as I train myself in restraint, I become more level-headed and my willpower for self-discipline becomes stronger. I am better able to regulate my actions, my emotions, my fleshly desires and appetites. When I have control over myself, the truth about who I really am in Christ is able to shine above my weaknesses as a human being.

Steadfastness – as I exercise patience, my ability to continue fruitfully throughout my journey, through the ups and downs, despite the fatigue and stress, without complaint or loss of temper, increases. I am better able to bear the trials of life without being derailed from my purposes and goals. I am able to stay hopeful in the waiting.

Godliness – as I endeavor to be more like Jesus, I naturally begin to submit to His will, obeying the wishes of God as I understand them. As I hold tightly to God, as I become more reliant on Him, He enhances my wisdom, my gratitude, and teaches me how to be honoring to Him and to others.

Brotherly Affection – as I get into the habit of being kind to the people around me, I put into practice God’s call for me to love my enemies and to love my neighbors as myself. My compassion and generosity grow, and I am better able to empathize with others in the midst of their personal trials.

Love – as brotherly affection becomes more and more routine, my love increases. Agape love is enkindled by Holy Spirit; it is a love which embraces the truth and demonstrated the nature of God through me. It is a pure, unconditional love that flows with His grace and mercy.

Each one of these qualities adds to my faith, makes it well-rounded, and strengthens me as a believer. As I practice and build on each element, my character continues to grow as I rely on Christ within me.

Yesappa, Thank You for being my Daddy whom I can put my full confidence in. I know that you will never leave me nor forsake me, and that you are the source for all of the growth in my life. Help me always look to You as I walk my path; help me continue to fortify the qualities that demonstrate Your work in my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Blessings – Julie (writing from the U.S.A.)

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Ezekiel 40; 1Peter 5

Prior to denying Christ, Peter seemed to think that his love for Christ set him apart from others. He shared intimate friendship and access to the Master. He was one of the first to follow Christ; he was the impetuous disciple who tried to follow Christ’s example by  attempting to walk on water. If anyone had good reason to think they were incapable of falling away, it was Peter. He must have felt heartsick when he heard Jesus say (Luke 22:31,32),

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Years later, Peter reflected back on his painful experience of being Satan’s target and warns his readers,

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him…”  1Peter 5:8,9

He should know! The love and forgiveness of the risen Christ overcame the bitterness of failed good intentions and betrayal; such love brought Peter to a place of humility and freedom. As a leader, he knew himself to be as weak and capable of error as those who looked to him for guidance. This humble, servant leadership, first demonstrated by Jesus and now lived out amongst his disciples stands in sharp contrast to the power play of the worldly order. Humility strips away the masks we try to hide behind and allows us to be who God calls us to be. I like how The Message translates Peters words,

“But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for—

‘God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people.’

So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.”

1Peter 5:5-7

Lord, thank you that you have called me to live in a place of freedom: forgiven, beloved and humble. Thank you that I don’t have to fight for a place in your presence. By your grace, you invite me in and encourage me to point others towards you. Show me how to live that today. Amen.

Klueh

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Ezekiel 38-39; 1 Peter 4

In the subhead title of Restoration for God’s People, I think long on restoration. It is a sweet reminder of a Father who won’t leave me behind and will not turn His face from me. This is comfort I need.

28 Then my people will know that I am the Lord their God, because I sent them away to exile and brought them home again. I will leave none of my people behind. 29 And I will never again turn my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit upon the people of Israel. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” Ezekiel 39:28-29, NLT, emphasis mine.

When I go through the process of preparing home and table for guests, I’m assaulted by a critical voice–and the thing about the thoughts that makes them so hard: it’s my voice, and the things I think about have happened–so it’s not a stretch to wonder if the worst will come again.

“Why do I do this?” I’ve asked. It’s a multilevel question.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 1 Peter 4:8-10, NLT.

Help me, Lord.

19 So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.

It’s such a simple statement: keep on doing what is right and trust (your) life to God–he will never fail you.

Lord, take my anxious thoughts. From greeting to goodbye, you already know what this day holds–and whatever that might be, I can trust you. I hold onto these verses: that you won’t leave me behind; that you won’t turn your face from me; that you won’t fail me. You give me hope when things feel hopeless. You show me nothing is impossible for you. I’m thankful for these scriptures, for your love for me, for your encouragement to keep on being who you’ve made me to be. Thank you for loving me every day as much as the last–you show me what love is.

Courtney (66books365)

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Ezekiel 36-37; 1 Peter 3

19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The most faith-challenging conversation I had in college wasn’t with an atheist out on the quad trying to share Jesus. It wasn’t in a science class with a skeptic over evolution. It was a fellow believer from a different on-campus “discipleship” group over the purpose of baptism.

A lot of groups like to go around and be forward with their faith. The particular group I was a part of had their own methods of approaching people about faith matters or promoting our evangelistic events. There were at least two or three others that were equally as progressive. It was on one afternoon that a member of one of these groups approached me about my faith. Not wanting to be off-putting, I agreed to answer a few questions over coffee.

We sat down in front of a bible and my new rather eager friend began asking me questions and showing me texts from scripture. To his surprise, I started showing him other texts and asking him questions in return. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to show off my biblical savvy. We were having quite an interesting competition until he came across this text.

A picture of baptism. Which now saves you. “You have to be baptized to be saved, of course.” He said. My theological brakes slammed on. What? No! Grace is sufficient!

We went to Ephesians 2. I directed us to the myriad of other salvation texts where Paul, and Jesus himself, would have found it very convenient to include the one crucial act to ensure one’s eternal salvation. I thumbed through my index like crazy and wracked my memory for every sermon illustration to back up my point.

One of us inevitably had to go to class and we abruptly ended the conversation. Me a bit frustrated and he disappointed that he had failed to convert…a Christian. We agreed to disagree and circle back at another time.

Looking through my old keyword study bible at this passage, I couldn’t help but notice the two pages of commentary my version has to offer on the subject. It’s glazed with highlighter from that night. In short, it basically chalks up the verbage to a translation error. It’s better read, “Baptism and the act of belief  will save you at some point in the future.” In other words, baptism isn’t the final word on your salvation. It’s greatly encouraged to publicly display your faith, but it’s not the act that saves you. It’s the belief. Do both. You will be saved.

Moral of the story, it wasn’t up until I had that rather unexpected conflict that my faith started to sprout roots of their own. Ironically, I was trying to convince someone who believed most of the core things I believed, but just had his categories mixed up. But either way, the situation forced me to assess and apply what I had been taught.

At the core, what I believed about salvation wasn’t just a creed or a personal preference or a pledge of allegiance to some denomination, it was a test of my knowledge of the Holy.

Did I really believe that some single act of obedience outside of simple faith could buy me salvation or was it something more pure, something completely without obligation that saved me?

Or more simply, was the effect of Christ’s sacrifice sufficient for my sins or not?

I believe grace is or isn’t enough.

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Ezekiel 34-35; 1 Peter 2

Recently, at the end of a conversation with a client, they shared “Doesn’t anything ever bother you? I mean, I only seem to call you when there’s a problem, but you’re never upset or show the slightest sign of stress…” I laughed… not just a simple laugh, but a hardy, old-fashioned-style laugh! ME? Never get upset or show the slightest sign of stress?? Really??? If he ONLY knew…

I am exposing a piece of myself that I’ve learned about more recently… that when I am closer to God, I don’t react to life so emotionally, being affected by life struggles as when I’m further away from God. You see, I don’t want to be away from God… life just gets in the way, and little by little, I’m focusing on things other than God, pleasing Him, doing things that honor Him, and before you know it, I’m not quite as close to God as I want to be. It is in this place that I believe that Satan does his best work. The further away we are from God, the easier it is for us to ‘stand out’ to be attacked by the enemy. I am ashamed to say that when I’m tired and living with less margin in my life, that I start moving away from believing by faith that God is who He is and I start to demand proof… certainty… rather than remain in that child-like state of faith that Jesus referred to many times.

Several years ago, I found this picture I’ve shared here for this post… a lighthouse in le Four off the coast of France. I remember staring at it for long periods of time and never knew why; amazed at how firm the lighthouse stood on its foundation regardless of the impact of the waves, no matter how big they were. Then, one day, it hit me… this is the image that represents strength through struggles due to bad weather… always present, no matter the adversity thrown at it. And, it needs to be, as Featured imageso many are depending on it for guidance! Like a “beacon” serves as a guide to something… in our case, the church serves as a beacon that helps guide people to Jesus Christ! Our foundation must lie on something solid… our faith in who God is and continues to be.

1 Peter 2 emphasizes stopping all bad behavior, not to cheat people, not to pretend that we are better than we are, not to be jealous, not to gossip, to seek ‘spiritual milk’ that helps us grow and become strong. Matthew 5:14-16 shares Jesus telling us “you are the light of the world”.  A light that never goes out, much like a lighthouse.  When it goes dim, it gets changed or recharged.  When we get weak, God is there to strengthen us. Just as a lighthouse stands in the presence of adversity and its light acts a guiding beacon to those who are lost, so too are we, children of God… we are the light that draws others to Christ.  Like the lighthouse, our lives are to be immovable even in the midst of storms, chaos, and challenges.

We do have our faith challenged, and, at times, we get scared when the storms of life come our way.  Those are the times to lean on God, our foundation, for more strength to hold on and not let go…to remain immovable like a lighthouse.

We also need to remember, like the lighthouse, someone is always watching us.  The lighthouse presence is enough to draw people and keep them from danger.  We, too, are to remember others are watching our lives, our words, the company we keep in order to be drawn to the God in us and away from danger.

Following God is a challenging walk, but it can a walk full of peace, joy, love, and contentment… things the world cannot give us. Nor can things of the world provide the firm foundation capable of withstanding the ‘direct hits’ we encounter in life.

Remember, in the midst of the storm, we are children of God… the light…and like the lighthouse, you shall not be moved!!

Heavenly Father, like the lighthouses used to help guide those that are lost to safe waters, may Your Son, be our guiding light. And in so doing, we can be models for others to follow for how we should live our lives. Amen!

Greg Stefanelli (gstefanelli)

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Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the deadthat is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy,  although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith,  which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing awayand will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  You  have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious  joy, because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9

I added some bold in there so we could talk about what stuck out to me that I usually don’t think about. We’ve all heard messages about having joy in trials, and often this passage is used – rightly so.

But as so often happens, other layers to the text can get subdued because of one understanding. Often times the biblical authors are saying a whole lot, and we boil a passage like this down to the place we go when times get hard.

Another common one is John 3:16, that’s that passage all about going to heaven after you die. Well, yes, but there’s so much more there in the dialogue – especially verses 17-19!

But I digress. It’s been a hard season for my wife and I, so I read this passage thinking, “Oh good, I’ll get that nice reminder about it showing the character of our faith, etc.” But I noticed something here that I have missed before.

The first part that talks about joy is before Peter even says anything about trials. If you boil the passage down, you essentially get him saying, ‘you guys are always taking joy in your inheritance of salvation, even though sometimes times are going to be hard, it proves your faith has character, and so you rejoice because you are attaining the end goal of your faith (salvation).

So while he mentions trials, the main point of this section is really more about rejoicing in two main things, despite the trials of this earth.

First thing to rejoice in: By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the deadthat is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Second thing to rejoice in: because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” 

In this view, the thing we are rejoicing in is the finished present/future work of Jesus, despite the trials.

Rather than the rejoicing in the trials because they prove something about my faith.

And of course there’s nothing wrong with rejoicing in a trial, we should rejoice at all times! But I think the subtle nuance in this passage of what we are rejoicing in, is the thing that will ultimately allow us to withstand the trials of this life.

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