A Prince Among Men

Bible Reading for
December 8, 2016

Galatians 3-5

 

Are you a prince among men?

Do you feel like a prince among men? If I asked your wife would she say you are a prince among men? If you were really a prince how would you feel? If you were a child of a great king, an inheritor of a great fortune, how would you face the world? If you were a child of the king would there be any reason for you to be fearful of failure? Would there be any reason for fear at all? Would you walk through this world with your head down and your shoulders hunched just hoping to get through another day?

I’ve got to tell you, if I were the son of a king, an inheritor of great power and wealth, I would walk through the world with my head held high. I would be exceedingly confident and eager for the next grand adventure. No, the world wouldn’t get me down. I wouldn’t be like everybody else. I wouldn’t have to worry about the common things of life. I wouldn’t worry about my next meal or my next anything for that matter. To paraphrase a famous movie line “It’s good to be the prince!”

The thing is guys, having accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior we have been adopted into the Royal Family. We are now children of the Living God. Is there any King more powerful or wealthy than He? Why is it we so often walk around as if we are defeated paupers; orphans in an ugly world? Why do we continually allow ourselves to be pulled back toward the slavery of sin? Before I go too far on this, let me point out what Paul has written in today’s reading that has me writing about this.

Galatians 3:26 ESV
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

Galatians 3:29 – 4:1 ESV
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, ”

Now there is an interesting thought. We are children of the King and yet no different from a slave! How can that be? A long time ago in a land far away I was a teenager. I remember getting up one Saturday morning and, lying in my sleeping attire, watching TV. My dad came into the room and curtly said get dressed and “come with me”. I got up, got dressed, and followed him out to the car. We drove to a house and painted the interior. My dad never told me why we painted that house. It was a rather strange occurrence.

Years later I learned that money had been a little tight, and a friend of my Dad paid him to paint the interior of a rental property. My Dad was providing for his family, and as his son, who was old enough to assist him, I was expected to do so. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my brothers and sister and I ate the produce of that joint father-son effort.

Now I never resisted my father’s direction to get up and go. He was my father. He provided for my wellbeing, kept me safe, and always had my best interest at heart even when I didn’t understand what he was asking of me. I needed direction. I needed someone to watch out for me. I needed someone who understood the big picture to ensure I headed in the right direction. Beside all of that, I was part of a family. My father was the head of that family and I had obligations and responsibilities to him and to the family. I was instructed to do work because that work would help the family. I was asked to do things to help my mother, my brothers, my sister, and my father.

Some children rebel against their father’s authority. They seem to feel like they are being treated as a slave. They don’t seem to understand that as part of a family they have obligations and responsibilities toward their father and the rest of their family. They are not slaves, they are heirs. Do you remember the story of the sons of Jacob? He had twelve sons and they were regularly at work tending their father’s flocks; the family business as it were. They were tending to their inheritance. What was their father’s, was theirs. They were not slaves.

Some young people flee the protection of their family home because they don’t like having to do what they are told; they run away. They soon find the hard way that they had it pretty good. The reality is they are more a slave away from their father’s home than they ever were in it. Brother, we are free in Christ. We are not slaves but heirs of the King. To wander away from our father’s love and protection makes no sense.

Galatians 5:1 ESV
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

I implore you friend, reject the yoke of slavery to sin and rejoice in your responsibilities and obligations in Christ. You are, after all, a prince!

Have a princely day!

Vivere Victorem!

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: Romans 1-3, Acts 20:1-3
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 45–46
New Testament Only: 1 John 2:15–27

Get To Work!

Bible Reading for
December 7, 2016

2 Corinthians 12 – Galatians 2

 

Nothing will stand in the way of God’s plans for you so get to work!

We begin Galatians today but commentary on that book will have to wait for tomorrow. I was curious about the following verses from today’s reading in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ESV
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

What made me stop at first was this “third heaven” thing. I wondered what that meant. As I looked through some commentaries I found a couple of them agreed on the meaning of this phrase as well as identifying the man to whom Paul referred. Evidently Paul was referring to himself in these verses. Here is how one of the commentaries I referenced explained the “third heaven” phrase.

“The first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual

Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

As I read further about this in the Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee commentary I found that Dr. McGee offered an interesting theory on this experience of Paul’s. Let me share that with you here.

“Paul speaks of his experience of being taken up into the third heaven. He dates it for us. He says it happened fourteen years before he wrote this epistle. That would be approximately the time when he had made his first missionary journey. We are told about his experience at Lystra on that first journey. “And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:19–20).

Was he dead? I don’t think they would have left him there unless they were pretty sure he was dead. It is my personal opinion that God raised him from the dead. Paul was rather uncertain whether this was a vision or whether he had been caught up in reality at that time. It is quite evident that he is describing his own experience here. Was he actually dead and caught up into heaven? Or had he been knocked unconscious and had a vision? Paul is not dogmatic about it, and we should not be dogmatic about it either. As I have said, I believe he was dead and that God raised him from the dead, but the result was the same either way. He saw the third heaven.”

McGee, J. V. (1997). Thru the Bible commentary (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

I have often wondered about that occurrence. It seemed fantastic to me that that the towns people would have mistaken him for dead when he was actually alive. If he was so close to death that he was mistaken for dead how was he able to stand, walk back in to town, and then leave on a missionary trip the next day? I gotta tell ya, if people hit me with stones until I am so battered, bleeding, and unresponsive that they are convinced that I am dead, I am not going anywhere for a very long time!

Now the Bible records a number of occasions where Jesus and the Apostles raised people from the dead. Have you ever noticed that the Bible does not record the experience of the resurrected individuals? The prophets had out of body experiences where they were in the presence of angelic beings but none of them were counted as dead. Dead is a different experience and one God ordered Paul not to discuss.

2 Corinthians 12:4 ESV
“and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

Brother, if God has work for you to do even death will not thwart His plans! As much as Paul might have wanted to be in Heaven, God revived him to complete his mission. You see, our life after salvation is no longer about us. If it was about us, God would immediately take us home to be with Him since that is the ultimate goal. That God doesn’t take us home in the moment of salvation is confirmation that He has work for us to do. He expects us to grow in our faith to spiritual maturity. He expects us to further the cause of Christ by sharing the Good News with a lost and dying world. Nothing will stand in the way of God’s plan; not even death!

Have a faithful day!

Vivere Victorem!

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: 2 Corinthians 10-13
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 42–44
New Testament Only: 1 John 1:1–2:14

A Cheerful Giver

Loved

Bible Reading for
December 6, 2016

2 Corinthians 8-11

 

You need to get your heart right about money. You need to be a cheerful giver!

In today’s reading Paul urges the Corinthians to give cheerfully and generously to the saints who are in difficulty. After reading Paul’s words I wanted to do some investigating about the concept of tithing. I found in the New Testament that tithing is specifically mentioned once in Matthew (Matthew 23:23), twice in Luke (Luke 11:23, 18:12), and once in Hebrews (7:5-9). The three references in the Gospels were from Jesus and in each reference, He was excoriating the Pharisees for their faithlessness. In Hebrews, Paul was discussing how Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he gained when rescuing Lot from captivity. Paul’s point did not concern a need to tithe.

I started to look into statistics on-line concerning tithing in the Christian church and discovered a debate about tithing and its role in the Christian faith. Based on my quick review, the New Testament doesn’t seem to say that a Christian should give 10% of his “first fruits” to the church. By the same token the practice of New Testament Christians was to sell everything they had and put it into a communal pot from which every Christian drew according to their need.

The statistics on tithing are rather discouraging. Back during the Great Depression church-goers gave approximately 3.3 percent of per capita income. In 2004, after a half century of incredible prosperity, that figure was down to 2.5 percent of per capita income.

Now there are those that argue that “tithing” is an Old Testament commandment from The Law, and that as Christians we are no longer under The Law. They would continue their argument by pointing out that nowhere in the New Testament are we told to tithe. I cannot argue with any of that as far as it goes, but like so many self-serving arguments it doesn’t go far enough.

In our trip through the New Testament we saw that while we are no longer under The Law we are under a higher standard. Do you remember these words of Jesus?

Matthew 5:21-22 ESV
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:27-28 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The Law tells us that we must not murder and that we must not commit adultery. We are no longer condemned by The Law but Jesus makes it clear we are held to a higher standard. He points out that it is the condition of our heart that is at issue. The Pharisees attempted to obey the letter of The Law and were condemned. In the New Testament Jesus blasted the Pharisees because they believed they could make themselves acceptable before God if they obeyed the letter of The Law. They were good at finding ways around The Law too; little technicalities that allowed them the fiction of obedience while pursuing their self-centered desires.

It seems to me these “Christian” arguments against tithing demonstrate a similar “letter of the law” attitude toward the responsibilities of a Christian. You can certainly make the argument that Christ did not specifically command us to tithe. Of course, He didn’t specifically command us not to murder either.

Do you see what I’m driving at here? The Law was a minimum requirement that man was unable to live up to in his own strength. When one surrenders to Christ he has the power to surpass, and is expected to surpass, the minimum of The Law. At the heart of all this is the acknowledgement that all that we are and all that we have belongs to God. When we submit to Christ, everything comes under His authority and we acknowledge that we are only stewards of all that He has put into our care.

The idea that a Christian must tithe actually falls short of the mark. How nice it would be if we could get away with simply giving 10% of our income to God and do what we please with the other 90%. As a Christian, God does not command you to give Him 10% of what you earn. He expects you to sincerely believe that it all belongs to Him and that you must use it wisely for His purpose and glory. It is, as always, a matter of the heart. Is the money you receive yours or His? Are you a Pharisee when it comes to the money in your care? Are you using the dodge that you are no longer under The Law as a way to make yourself feel better about not tithing? Or, are you proud of yourself because you are not like those heathen that don’t tithe because you give 10% of your money to God; aren’t you good?

Brother, God holds us to a higher standard. Listen how Paul discusses giving with the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 ESV
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

I remember years ago having a discussion with a roommate of mine in which he mentioned that he tithed and that his income had risen incredibly and steadily ever since. Sometime after that I was convicted of my own need to tithe – not so I could get more money, but because I realized that everything I had was God’s and a tithe was a minimum acknowledgement of that fact. I gave because my heart desired to be the good and faithful steward God intended me to be. I wish I could tell you that my income saw no appreciable increase as a result of tithing. I wish I could tell you that because I’m afraid the truth will motivate others to tithe with an expectation of financial gain.

The truth is my income has increased incredibly and steadily since my decision to tithe. I did experience a time of unemployment at one point but coming out of that time of discipline and building up my income has resumed its incredible rise. As Paul told us in the Scripture above, when we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly and when we sow bountifully we will reap bountifully. You will be disappointed, however, if you stop reading at that point in Scripture. The key to this bounty is your heart. Do you say to yourself, the New Testament doesn’t command tithing so I don’t have to give? Or do you say to yourself, God commands that I give 10% of my income so I will give 10% because I have to? Or do you say I’m going to give so God will give me more? In any of these cases, you will be sorely disappointed.

We should give to our church and missions and the needy out of love and joy. It ought to make us feel ecstatic to give to God’s church for the furtherance of His purpose and glory. To do this we must accept our role as steward of God’s provision. He intends us to house, cloth, and feed ourselves and our family out of His provision, but He intends us to manage the rest for His purpose and glory. This means that we must start managing the income He has provided better. We must budget better. We must deny ourselves – we do not need every gadget and luxury known to man. We must change the way we look at ourselves, our needs, and our responsibilities. Doing so will allow us to be faithful in a few things. This will lead to God making us responsible for greater things.

Matthew 25:21 ESV
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'”

Do you wish to mature in Christ? Do you wish to hear “well done good and faithful servant”? Start by managing God’s provision in accordance with His will. You will be amazed at what God will do if you get your heart right about money.

Have a giving kind of day!

Vivere Invictus

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: 2 Corinthians 5-9
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 40–41
New Testament Only: 2 Peter 3

Dying To Self, Living To Serve!

Bible Reading for
December 5, 2016

2 Corinthians 4-7

 

Dying to self is what Jesus expects of His followers.

For the last 339 days I have closed my daily post with this motto: “Dying to self, living to serve!” I have taken on that phrase as a personal motto. It developed out of an answer to prayer. I consistently pray that God will help me to become the man He created me to be and to show me His will for my life. A few years ago, I had been earnestly praying just that. In response, the Lord brought to mind Luke 9:23.

Luke 9:23 ESV
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

God made it clear to me that to be the man He created me to be, to follow His will for me, I had to deny myself. Denial of self, however, is only half of the equation. When we deny ourselves, we create a void. Something must take the place of self that has been denied. With what are we to fill that void? That void must be filled with obedience to Christ. As we discussed yesterday, obedience to Christ includes love for others, but there is more to it than that. Jesus has given us work to do. The void left by denial of self must be filled with obedience to God’s call on our life; we must do the work He has given us to do.

God put each of us together in a unique way to fulfill a unique role in His plan. With that said, however, He has also given all His children the same job. That job is to reveal the living Christ to a lost and dying world. Today’s reading reminded me of all that.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So, death is at work in us, but life in you.”

I love this passage of Scripture. We do indeed have this wonderful treasure in our jars of clay. The jar of clay is our body and that treasure is the Holy Spirit. Being obedient to Christ means that we will face struggles, but His strength in us will see us through. Obeying God, and denying ourselves, requires a strength foreign to our nature. It is His strength that makes this self-denial possible. It is this self-denial that will shine forth in us and act as a beacon to the lost and dying. When we show the world the death of our self-centeredness we illuminate the hope of life in Christ. This is what makes us different from the world and causes the Lost to desire what we have. We all struggle in this world. When we sail through those struggles with the peace only God can provide, others will want what we have. What we have is denial of self.

Paul puts this even more succinctly later in today’s reading.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Jesus died for you and me so that we could truly live; not for ourselves but for Him. Do you get it? When you live your life for yourself you are poor in spirit. When you live your life for Christ, you have a magnificent treasure within! The motto “Dying to self, living to serve” means that I no longer pursue my own desire but His; that I live to serve Him. What does the One whom I serve ask of me? To love others as I once loved myself; to love them enough to tell them of the hope I have in Christ. Why will they want to hear this from me? Because my life will be different from theirs. My life, amid the inevitable struggles and strife, will demonstrate a peace and joy that they do not know. They will want to know my secret and I will be glad to share it.

Brother, die to yourself and live to serve the One who saved you; oh what joy and peace you will find!

Have a blessed day!

Vivere Victorem

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: 2 Corinthians 1-4
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 37–39
New Testament Only: 2 Peter 2

Godly Man

Loved

Bible Reading for
December 4, 2016

1 Corinthians 16 – 2 Corinthians 3

 

In Christ, you are already a Godly Man. Now act like it.

We begin 2 Corinthians today but before moving into that book, I’d like to discuss a couple of verses that stood out to me in the last chapter of 1 Corinthians. Those verses are:

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”

When we began our journey of reading through the Bible in a year together I was keenly interested in learning from Scripture what it meant to be a Godly man. As is usually the case with God, He didn’t give me a list of 10 things I needed to do to be a Godly man. One might say that He did give me that list and it is called the 10 Commandments, but that list is part of The Law and is intended to show us our need for a Savior. It is also a list for all of humanity. It doesn’t speak specifically to men and their unique responsibilities before God.

In my reading of Scripture, men and women are of equal importance before God and while we share certain responsibilities as children of God we also have some different responsibilities. No matter what the women’s libbers would like us to believe, men are intended to be the providers and protectors of their families. Most of us take this to mean provider and protector in a physical sense but I refer rather to spiritual provision and protection. Women can also provide and protect in a physical and spiritual sense, but men are intended to lead; not in an autocratic way but in a self-sacrificing way.

What does it mean, however, to lead in this way? As our verse above shows us, we are to be intentional about our role. We are to be watchful, to stand firm in the faith. We are to be strong. Most of all, we are to do all in love. To be watchful means we need to be looking out for the well-being of our family. To stand firm in the faith is to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, and Christian fellowship with our families. It takes a lot of strength to be a godly man; to lead as God intends us to lead. The easiest thing in the world is to put ourselves first and cater to our own desires. The hardest thing is to deny ourselves and put the well-being of our spouse, children, and others before our own.

When people treat you poorly, when things don’t go your way, when you are as low as you can be, it takes real strength to perform your responsibilities as a godly man. Where does such strength come from? It comes from Christ. That strength is the love God has given you. I almost wrote “shown you” there but it isn’t just what God has shown you; He has given you the power of love. When everything you do is done in love you have the strength to be the man of God you so desire to be.

You cannot be the man God intends you to be if you are focused on yourself. When you focus on others with the love of Christ, the man God intended you to be emerges. That man has been there inside you all along, at least since you accepted Christ, but he has been covered up by self-centeredness. Brother, let us act like men by doing all in self-sacrificial love.

Have a manly day!

Vivere Victorem

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: 1 Corinthians 15-16
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 35–36
New Testament Only: 2 Peter 1

Love, Love, Love

Bible Reading for
December 3, 2016

1 Corinthians 13-15

 

Love for self is death. Love for God and others is life!

It is a gross over-simplification to boil the Bible down to one word, but were you to hold a gun to my head and force me to do so I would have to answer “love”. The Bible is about love. It is about the love God has for you, His creation. It is about the love He has for Jesus, His son. It is also about your need to love others more than yourself. Sin originates in self-centeredness; love for one’s self. The antidote to sin is love for others. Jesus is that antidote. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God loved you enough to sacrifice His son. Jesus loved you enough to sacrifice His life.

If we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, if we have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior, if we have turned our life over to Him, then His Holy Spirit resides within us and is steadily disciplining us into the character of Christ. His character is self-sacrificial; it is, in fact, the epitome of love. Jesus is pure love; as His life, death, and resurrection clearly demonstrate. If we are His, then His character will shine within us. What does it mean to love?

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 ESV
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Are you impatient? Are you unkind? Do you envy or boast? Are you arrogant or rude? If you have said yes to any of these, you need to let the character of Christ more fully take over that aspect of your life. Brother, I hate to admit it but any one of those negative character traits can be found in me from time to time, and then some. This means that I am still in the process of becoming like Christ. The churchy word for that is sanctification. It is reassuring to know that I am not “un-saved” because I don’t always perfectly reflect the character of Christ. Still, this is no excuse for remaining stuck in stunted growth.

It is God’s intention for you and me to be spiritual adults. He expects us to conform more and more every day to the character of Christ. This means loving ourselves less and others more. Today’s reading starts with Paul explaining that we can have many a godly trait or blessing, but if we do not have love we have nothing. The character of Christ compels us toward self-sacrificial love.

When we read that we are to do unto others as we would have others do unto us, it isn’t a matter of simply loving others as much as we love ourselves. It is rather to change the focus of our love from ourselves to others. I think of this in terms of an hourglass. The sand in the hourglass represents our love. Prior to salvation all that sand, our love, is on the side of the glass called “self”. Accepting Christ turns that glass upside down and that sand, our love, starts to flow away from self and toward the other side called “others”.

If we leave that hourglass in that upside-down position, eventually all of the sand will flow to the other side. Sometimes the sand stops flowing as if someone came along and laid the hourglass on its side. In those moments, we have stopped growing; we become stuck. To continue in our growth, we must deliberately pick that hourglass up and set it in the proper, upright position. The sands begin to flow again and our love of our self continues its journey to nothingness while our love for others increases.

Let me ask you, in what position is your hourglass? Is it sitting all in the self side? Is it stuck somewhere in-between or is it flowing steadily toward others? In the wrong position, you have nothing; in the right position, you have everything; and it all begins with love.

Have a truly loving day!

Vivere Victorem!

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

Alternate Reading Plans
Chronological Order: 1 Corinthians 12-14
Old Testament Only: Ezekiel 33–34
New Testament Only: 1 Peter 4:12–5:14