True Freedom (Sept 20)

September 20

True Freedom 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 105:23-36 | Isaiah 33:13-36:22 | Galatians 5:13-26 | Proverbs 23:23

Today’s Scripture Focus: Galatians 5

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13 NIV).

“There are two freedoms: The false where one is free to do what he likes and the true where he is free to do what he ought.” –Charles Kingley—

The path to liberty has two equally dangerous ditches that run along either side: legalism (where one fails to find the freedom or allow others to walk in freedom) and license (where one abuses the freedom). Paul has no time for either.

To the legalist he says: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [15] If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal 5:14-15) and “let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal 5:26).

To the one given to abusing his freedom: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

Both extremes are called back to the “law of love,” the place where service and obedience flows from love: “serve one another in love.”

As the life of Jesus flows in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very character of Jesus begins to manifest: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As we walk in the Spirit, the fruit of life lived according to the flesh (sin) is replaced with the fruit of the Spirit.

Living according to a list in one’s own strength and power won’t produce that. Ignoring the moral law to indulge in sin won’t either, of course. But through the Spirit, we can put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. We don’t have to live gratifying the desires of the flesh. The life of Christ in you promises something better: Freedom to do what is good and right.

The secret: a dynamic Spirit-filled life where we are led by the Spirit, controlled by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. That is true freedom: the freedom to obey; the freedom to serve in love. That requires relationship and it takes away all the boasting and pride.

Whenever we learn to walk, there are trips and falls; it is hard to find our balance. So with walking  in freedom. But don’t be discouraged, God is there to pick you up and set you back on your path.

Open your heart to Jesus. Spend time in fellowship with him today. Find the place of liberty and freedom in your relationship with Him.

Lord Jesus, live your life in me. Help me to live in the fullness of your Spirit that I might demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Help me to find the freedom to serve, to love and to obey. Amen.

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Who is Waiting? (Sept 19)

September 19

Who is Waiting?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 105:16-22 | Isaiah 30:12 – 33:12 | Galatians 5:1-12 | Proverbs 23:22

Today’s Scripture Focus: Isaiah 30:12 – 33:12

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you…blessed are all who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV).

We do a lot of waiting. God does too. There can be many reasons for the waiting, but this passage reminds us that sometimes the reason we are waiting is because God is waiting for us.

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you” (30:18). He sometimes waits for us to repent. Sometimes he is teaching us lessons about trust that can be learned no other way. There are lessons in waiting—resting in hope—that can only be learned in the school of waiting (30:15).

Another implication of this text is that God is longing and waiting to bless you, but is waiting for just the right time that he might be most gracious to you. As Wesley Duewel writes: “Waiting on God prepares for greater blessing. God has greater plans than you have realized. Give Him time to do great things. The greater the work He plans, the greater the prayer preparation that may be necessary, including prayer for guidance. God often waits so that He can be even more gracious (Isa. 30:18)” (Wesley Duewel, Let God Guide You Daily, 77).

Waiting brings a greater blessing, as Isaiah reminds us: “Blessed are all those who wait for him” (30:18b). One day the waiting will be over and God will graciously bless us. He is waiting and longing to do that very thing: “The LORD waits (longs) to be gracious to you” (30:18a).

There may be some acts of obedience left undone. There may be some sin yet to be repented of. We may have heard his voice behind us saying “this is the way walk in it” (30:21) and we have been reluctant to follow. In each case there is something we can do, God is waiting on us to take a step.

Sometimes God is waiting on others. The whole nation was in need of “turning back to God’ for these promises to be fulfilled. We can pray for our church family, our nation, and our world. Pray and wait.

But most of the time he is teaching us how to trust Him in the dark—to press ahead in trust when we struggle to understand the path ahead. Don’t be discouraged in the process. Remember that he is gracious and he longs to bless you when the time is right.

Father, walk with me on this path and help me to press ahead even when I don’t know where I am going—even when I’m not able to sense your presence. When I am forced to wait, strengthen me with the faith to persevere. When I am causing you to wait, help me to find courage to take steps of obedience. When I am in a mysterious holding pattern, fill me with wisdom and hope that the day will come when the way will open. I wait in hope. Amen.

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Christ Formed In You (Sept 18)

September 18

Christ Formed in You

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 105:8-15  | Isaiah 28:14-30:11 | Galatians 3:23-4:31| Proverbs 23:19-21

Today’s Scripture Focus: Galatians 3:23-4:31

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 3:19 NIV).

The law was given to us as our tutor or guardian to lead us to Christ. In Christ, we find freedom as heirs to the promise by faith. We are adopted as sons and the Spirit of God within us cries out “Abba, Father.” The Christian life is not one of bondage to rules and regulations, but a life of freedom and fullness as we live in freedom as the children of God.

While some might try to steal our joy and place us in bondage, Christ has come to set us free. “What has happened to all your joy?” Paul asks (4:15). Imprisoned in a rigid system without freedom and life, we hang on to the form but deny the power of God. The misplaced focus saps us of our joy. Often we steal the joy of others when we try to get them to play our religious game.

Paul points us to the alternative: Christ being formed in them—Christ living his life out through them.  It’s a life lived by grace through faith. It’s a life of freedom and joy. And it’s all found in a dynamic, ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus. As we spend time with him, as we pursue spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study, we are formed spiritually. We become more and more like Jesus.

Open your heart to Jesus today, enjoy his presence and allow him the freedom to bring life abundant—life lived to the full. There you will find freedom and joy. There you will be formed more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

Jesus, help me to grow in grace and in the knowledge of you that I might truly be formed into your image. I know it is a process, but help me to press forward, step by step, day by day. Help me to find joy in your presence as I walk with you in the yoke of discipleship. Amen.

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Practicing His Presence

September 17

Practicing His Presence

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 105:1-7 | Isaiah 25:1-28:13 | Galatians 3:10-22 | Proverbs 23:17-18

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 105:1-7

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! (Psalm 105:4 ESV).

Prayer begins as we open our heart to Jesus. We worship, we adore, we share our heart’s deepest burdens and longings, we confess, we listen, we intercede, we ask, we enjoy his presence. We say, “Amen.”

Amen doesn’t have to be the end of our prayer time. It can be only the beginning. If we linger in his presence as we begin the day, we can take his presence with us wherever we go—whatever we do. We can continue to seek his presence—his face. Daily we find Him to be “Emmanuel—God with us.”

Paul spoke of “praying continually.” The Psalmist here describes the same experience of continuing to seek the Lord’s face throughout the day. It is to be a continual experience.  

This praying continually begins by our daily time of finding a solitary place and opening our heart to the Lord. As we find him in those times, he is able to strengthen our hearts to take his presence with us the rest of the day.

Don’t let the presence of CNN or ESPN (TV and the media) crowd out your presence of the Lord. Get started right in the solitary place, it helps bring balance to the rest of your day.

Open your heart to Jesus, enjoy fellowship with Him today. Rejoice in his presence as you begin the day, and you can walk in it the rest of the day.  More importantly, you can walk with Him–Jesus, our Emmanuel.

You can say with David: “I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure (Psalm 16:8-9, NRSV).

Lord, you are always with me whether I sense your presence or not. Teach me to be aware of your presence–to enjoy your presence. Fill me with the joy of your presence. Amen.

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The Real Thing (Sept 16)

September 16

The Real Thing

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 104:31-35 | Isaiah 22:1-24:23 | Galatians 2:17- 3:9 | Proverbs 23:12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Galatians 2:17-3:9

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20, NIV).

The real thing—the heart of the gospel—is Christ living in you and me. The key to living the Christian life is not trying hard to live by the rules in my own strength and power. It is all about a grace based relationship with the one who loves me most—Jesus.

By faith we exchange our life for his; our desires for his; our strength for his. By faith we rely on the power he supplies through the Holy Spirit. By faith we recognize that we are dead to the “self-life”—all of our attempts to do it on our own, all of our selfish motives, even our self-righteous attempts to please God that are filled with pride. Our best attempts to do it on our own get us nowhere. In poverty of spirit, we come to Christ—our prodigal hearts revealed—and in humility, surrender our lives to Him. As we open our hearts to Christ, he comes and fills us with himself. He dwells in our hearts through faith.

We maintain that relationship the same way we enter in by grace through faith. By his grace and power given to us by the Holy Spirit, we can “say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and…live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). It can’t be done through human effort, only through the power of the Spirit.

It is a life of faith, “The life if I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God…”. We can always choose to go back to the self-life. We can always choose to go back to the old way but there is no life, meaning or purpose there. It only makes everything a mess. Life lived to the full, life abundant and free, is to be found in an ongoing, dynamic relationship with Christ where he lives and reigns in me; a relationship where I have learned to trust him daily to give me everything I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Too many have not entered into this great exchange. They haven’t found the freedom of Christ living his life in theirs. Come to him today. Open your heart to Him. Give him everything and you too can enter in to life abundant—life lived to the full.

Lord Jesus, I open my heart to you. Come live in me—rule and reign. Clean house, remodel my heart and make it new. Train me by your grace to walk in step with the Spirit that I might glorify God in all I do. I take up the yoke to follow you, knowing that you are there to guide and strengthen me on this narrow path that I might find rest for my soul. Amen.

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Stealing Freedom

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 15

Stealing Freedom

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 104:19-30 | Isaiah 19:1-21:17 | Galatians 2:1-16  | Proverbs 23:13-14

Today’s Scripture Focus: Galatians 2:1-16

This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. [5] We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (Galatians 2:4-5 NIV) . 

Be careful of any system that adds requirements to the gospel. One common form of such a system is legalism. Legalism attempts to place people in bondage to a religious system of rules and to take away the freedom that flows from a relationship with Christ. The legalist focuses on appearances—trying hard to impress others (and presumably, God) by how well they keep the rules. It is a system filled with pride and judgment. It is a dangerous religious game that keeps people from the “real thing.”

Legalists always make up a list of rules (and the lists tend to major on minor issues, and totally miss major issues). By trying hard in their own strength to live by their list, they feel they are more spiritual than others.

But real Christianity is not about trying hard to live by the rules. It is about recognizing that I can’t live by the rules on my own and crying out to God for help. Entering into a relationship with Christ, he strengthens me by his Spirit to find the freedom to walk with God on this adventure of faith. As we walk together, I learn, I grow, I fall down, He picks me up, and I learn and grow some more. It’s all about a relationship with Christ.

The focus of true Christianity is not performance, but walking with God in a close intimate relationship. It’s not about rule keeping to look spiritual, but about serving God because I love him. It’s a journey where I know that I am loved by God through it all, and where he comes alongside each step of the way to help me on my way.  

There will always be some who will try to steal your freedom and place you in bondage to a religious system. Don’t let them steal your freedom. Find the joy of living in the freedom of a relationship with Christ.

Father, help me to enjoy the freedom of living out of a relationship with you. May your word be a delight and may my obedience to you bring fulfillment. May your grace train me in your paths and may your Spirit strengthen me each step of the way. Amen.

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Good News (Sept 14)

September 14

Good News 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 104:10-18 | Isaiah 15:1-18:7 | Galatians 1:1-24 | Proverbs 23:12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Galatians 1

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– [7] which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-8 NIV).

Did you notice how abruptly Galatians begins? Paul normally begins with a long thanksgiving passage and then a prayer for the church. But this time, he gets right to the point. His words are pointed and passionate. That should tell you that he was very concerned about the Galatian church–very concerned about any attempt to distort the gospel and keep us from the freedom we have in Christ.

Paul’s mission was to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. Insisting that the people of God included all believers—Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female—there should be no exclusion through boundary markers of Jewish identity: primarily circumcision, food and Sabbath laws. By insisting on these external requirements, the false teachers were perverting the gospel. Insisting that Gentiles live as Jews is an unnecessary addition to the gospel that made it “no good news at all.”

The gospel is good news for all people. We should not do anything to confuse or pervert it. We should not add to it. We should not make it more difficult through adding rules or condemnation. We should not exclude those unlike us. In fact, we should go out of our way to eliminate the distractions and let the simple truth shine through. The gospel is meant to be good news for all people of all cultures.

Don’t let anyone take your freedom. Don’t let others impose unnecessary rules and regulations.  Don’t let them look down upon you because you worship and serve Jesus a little differently than they do. Your identity is found in Christ, not in the externals. Open your heart to Jesus and live in intimate fellowship with him. Find the freedom of life lived to the full in the power of the Spirit.

Heavenly Father, help me to live in the freedom that is found in Christ and his good news—the freedom to love, to serve and to obey. Keep me from legalism and license that I might indeed find true liberty. Amen.

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Passing the Test

September 13

Passing the Test

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 104:1-9 | Isaiah 12:1-14:32 | 2 Corinthians 13:1-14 | Proverbs 23:9-11 

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 13

“Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. you need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it . . .We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you” (2 Corinthians 13:5-9 The Message).

Paul reminds us that we sometimes need to check our progress in the faith. Are we growing up in the faith? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus? Or are we just drifting along without any apparent progress, or worse, losing ground?

Paul’s measuring stick is this: “Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves: that “Jesus Christ is in you?” The life of Jesus in you is the sure sign that you are moving ahead in the faith. As we become more and more like him, we show the sure fruit that we are growing in the faith.

He isn’t suggesting perfection, or that we will never fail (growth is a process). But he does suggest that there should be progress in the right direction. In our character, in our priorities, in our lifestyle and decisions, we are to reflect more and more of Jesus who lives within.

In another passage, Paul gives some of the qualities that are to grow more and more within us as we become Christlike: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV).

It’s good to check our progress.  It’s encouraging to see more of Christ’s love, more of his joy and peace, more of his patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  It’s also humbling to realize how far we have to go to become like him. But that humility only causes us to place our trust not in our self-effort, but in Christ who lives within us. He is the one who began the good work in us and he will complete it (Phil 1:6).

Let’s press on together, helping each other out in this journey of becoming more and more like Jesus.

Lord, help me to keep growing in you. Let me see a bumper crop of the fruit of your Spirit in my life. May the life and character of Jesus be seen more and more in me, I pray. Amen.

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The Big Picture (Sept 12)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 12

The Big Picture 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 103:20-22 | Isaiah 10:1-11:16 | 2 Corinthians 2:11-21 | Proverbs 23:6-8

Today’s Scripture Focus: Isaiah 11

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11:1-2 NIV).

When what we see with our eyes doesn’t seem to make sense, it is time to look at the big picture—to get an eternal perspective. For Isaiah, that meant pointing to the hope of the coming Messiah. In earlier chapters he warned of judgment, but even in all that he points to the hope that one day the Messiah will come.

He declares that the Messiah will come from the family of Jesse. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him. He will judge in perfect righteousness and justice. He will make the wrongs right. He will deal with the sin and injustice. His rule and reign will be marked by righteousness and faithfulness.

All creation looks forward to his Kingdom—his rule and reign. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

Infants can play near the hole of a cobra without fear in his kingdom. Cobras and vipers will not harm nor destroy “on his holy mountain.”

Why? The King of kings has come. The Lord of Lords is reigning in glory. The earth is full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (9).

These same promises continue to give us hope. One day Jesus will return in all of his glory. One day he will establish the Kingdom in its fullness. One day he will reign with a rod of iron and all will bow their knees—they will all be filled with a knowledge of the glory of the Lord. One day the injustices and wrongs will be made right.

Life doesn’t always make sense this side of glory, but one day he’s coming. This is the blessed hope that inspires us to persevere and to overcome. It’s the hope that keeps us lifting our heads in joyful anticipation of the glory that will be revealed. Keep looking up.

Come Lord Jesus. We look forward to the day when you will come in glory and establish the Kingdom in all of its fullness. In the mean time, rule and reign in my heart. Amen.

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He Will Reign

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 11

He Will Reign 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 103:6-19 | Isaiah 8:1-9:21 | 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 | Proverbs 23:4-5 

Today’s Scripture Focus: Isaiah 9 & Psalm 103 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV).

“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:19

On the one-year anniversary of 9-11, I went with some friends to minister to the families of victims of the 9-11 tragedy. Most of the debris had been cleaned up, but the reminders of the tragedy were very evident all around. One of the most striking scenes was to see two intersecting pieces of steel, remaining in the form of a cross right in the middle of the gaping hole that was the World Trade Center.

One of the friends with me took a picture and later gave me a copy with these words written underneath: “When everything around us falls… the cross still stands.”

When our world seems to spin out of control, we must run back to this truth, that the Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. In the midst of tragedy, we must look forward to the day when Christ will return to right all the wrongs and to reign with the government on his shoulders. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

Until that day, we live in a battle zone. Evil is very much a part of our reality. Yet God is still on the throne and he is still accomplishing his purposes, even in making good of tragedy (Romans 8:28). Yet all creation looks to the day Christ will return to rule and reign with justice and righteousness forever and ever.

“When everything around us falls…the cross still stands.”

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, we bow our knee to you and declare that you are Lord. We look forward to your return, the Kingdom in its fullness, and your righteous rule. Amen.

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