The Real Thing

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

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

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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Holy Love

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 10

Holy Love 

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 103:1-5  | Isaiah 6:1-7:25 | 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 | Proverbs 23:1-3 

Today’s Scripture Focus: Isaiah 6 & Psalm 103 

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” Isaiah 6:3 (NIV).

Understanding both God’s holiness and his loving goodness brings a balanced focus to our lives. Like Isaiah, we need a vision of the holiness of God. Like the psalmist, we also need to understand God’s heart of love towards his people. While they seem to be in stark contrast, they come together in a unity that brings balance to both.

In Isaiah’s vision, angels are awestruck by the holiness of God and continually cry out, “holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah too, is struck by the holiness of God. To get a true vision of God is to see Him in holiness—to be awestruck by the beauty of his holiness. 

To see and worship God in holiness brings to light our true condition. We become painfully aware of our weakness and sin. It leads us to confession and repentance that brings us to the joy of forgiveness and cleansing. 

Just like Isaiah, when we see and worship God in his holiness our whole life orientation and purpose changes. We are no longer living for ourselves, but for Him. We must give ourselves to him and to his call on our lives. We cry out with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me”. 

To see and worship God in his holiness puts us in the place to really hear and communicate with God. It opens our blinded eyes and hearts to truth (9-10). 

The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103:1-5 of the benefits of loving and serving God. While he is transcendently holy, he is also loving, gracious and benevolent. He desires to reach out to us in our need. He is gracious and compassionate and brings forgiveness and healing to his children. He redeems us from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion. He even satisfies our desires for good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 

God is holy, perfectly holy. God is love, unfailing steadfast love. Understanding the first truth (his holiness) makes the second truth (his love) even more amazing.

Holy, Loving Father, we worship you with the angels crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We also stand in awe of your steadfast love. You are great and worthy of praise. Help me to live this day amazed by your holiness and your love. Amen.

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Boasting in Weakness

September 9

Boasting in Weakness 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 102:18-28 | Isaiah 3:1-5:30 | 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 | Proverbs 22:28-29

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 11

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NIV).

Most of us spend a lot of energy trying to keep up a good front– to appear strong. We try very hard to pretend that everything is perfect. We try very hard to hide our weaknesses. Paul said, “I boast in my weakness.”

A number of years ago I heard John Maxwell, a powerful communicator, share that one of his most dynamic messages was to a group of pastors when he spent the whole message sharing the worst mistakes he had made in ministry. They laughed and cried and related to him at a deeper level than they might otherwise have. Then they were ready to really listen. His weakness enabled the audience to relate to him on a deeper level.

Someone once prayed over me, “your scars are a badge of your spiritual authority.” I think that is true. The comfort we receive in our weakness, becomes a ministry of comforting others who’ve gone through similar times of weakness

In our weakness, God’s strength shines through clearly and brightly. We are jars of clay in which God chooses to dwell. As he does, the clay is reworked and molded into a piece of beautiful craftsmanship, designed to do the good works he has called us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Yet often he seems to leave visible scars, reminders of our weakness–these are left only to show how weak we are in ourselves, and how strong He is.

Don’t be afraid to boast in your weakness. Don’t waste your energy pretending you don’t have any (there are more than enough hypocrites to go around–we don’t need another). Look to God to be strong in your times of weakness. Allow him to shine through your weakness for all the world to see His strength and to stand amazed.

Jesus, your scars are graphic reminders of the incredible love of God. My scars, too, are marks of grace—reminders of your goodness. So we boast in weakness, because that is where we are most likely to look to you for strength. Strengthen me by your Spirit and use me for your glory. Amen.

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Demolishing Strongholds

Quote from Open up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 8

Demolishing Strongholds

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 102:12-17 | Isaiah 1:1-2:22 | 2 Corinthians 10:1-18 | Proverbs 22:26-27

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 10:1-18

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV).

The enemy of our souls is sneaky. Knowing our weaknesses, he sets temptations before us. In our pain—our weakness—they appear to be castles of refuge, safety and pleasure. So we run to them to ease our pain, to meet our needs and desires or, sometimes, just for the fun of it.  

The castle that promises pleasure becomes a prison from which we can’t seem to escape. We feel hopeless and defeated and wonder if we will ever find freedom and victory. Underneath the addictive behaviors are twisted patterns of thinking that need to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. The good news is that we can demolish these strongholds, but not with the weapons of this world.

When we give the devil a foothold, he doesn’t want to let us go. He is a master of blinding our eyes and dulling our ability to see the glory of God and his word. But there is hope. These twisted patterns of thinking can be made obedient to Christ if we stand firm and resist the devil—the enemy of our souls.

We must stand firm against his attacks by putting on the armor of God (see Ephesians 6). The armor protects, but also enables us to take the word of God praying in such a way as to defeat the enemy in our lives, and demolish his strongholds. He has no rightful place in our lives, and we can resist him through the promises of the word and through the command of faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we command him to flee, he must. For greater is he that is in us than he who is in the world. We stand in Christ’s authority, and he has won the battle.

God is our “mighty fortress.” All other fortresses/strongholds, are merely delusions that entrap and keep us in a place of hopeless defeat. Stand firm in your armor and resist the enemy. Don’t give him a foothold. Take back any ground he has stolen in the powerful name of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Be a student of the word and allow the word to dwell in you richly and you will be able to stand your ground and walk in victory–it is a powerful tool in taking thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ.

Father, equip me with the armor of God that I might stand against all the schemes of the enemy. Enable me to stand strong and resist temptation. Give me the mind of Christ that I might take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I stand in your strength and victory today in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

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Tired of Waiting

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

September 7

Tired of Waiting 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 102:1-11 | Song 5:1-8:14 | 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 | Proverbs 22:24-25

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 102:1-11

Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.  (Psalm 102:2 NIV)

Can you relate to the Psalmist? Have you ever had a time when you grew tired of waiting for the answer to your prayer? Maybe you are like me and you feel that way most every day.

It is so good to be able to just pour out our heart to God. It is good to let him know our struggles and frustrations. It is good to lament and tell him how we feel. Perhaps you can relate to the Psalmist’s description of waiting in prayer:

“Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.” (Psalm 102:5-7, NIV)

Except for the skin and bones part, I know I can relate. In times of waiting, we feel alone and abandoned; we feel helpless and hopeless. Our anxious thoughts cause sleepless nights and poor eating habits. Times of waiting can feel downright devastating at times.

But the Psalmist knows that when the time is right God will answer.

But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. [13] You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come (Psalm 102:12-13, NIV).

O.K. I admit it, I read ahead a few verses (tomorrow’s verses), but those are the verses I needed to hear. When I desire a quick answer and am tired of waiting, I need to remember that God will arise when the appointed time comes. He is still seated on the throne, and He is gracious and compassionate. When the time is right, he will answer. Maybe that’s what you need to remember too.

Father, I don’t like to wait. Yet, I realize that there are lessons to be learned in the school of faith that can be learned no other way. So, I wait and look for the answer. Amen.

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