Today’s Devotional: We’re All Capable

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Have you ever felt like you’re incapable of certain kinds of sins?

I know I have, only to later find myself humbly confessing those very sins. If there’s one thing the Bible is clear about it’s that we’re all capable of great evil, and that despite our attempts to rank sins from bad to really really bad, God views our sin much in the same way. Our pride is direly misplaced.

Our Daily Bread reminds us today that our response to someone else’s sin should be alertness rather than smug pride that we haven’t done the same:

It has become so commonplace to hear of the misconduct of a respected public figure that even though we may be deeply disappointed, we are hardly surprised. But how should we respond to the news of a moral failure, whether by a prominent person or a friend? We might begin by looking at ourselves. A century ago, Oswald Chambers told his students at the Bible Training College in London, “Always remain alert to the fact that where one man has gone back is exactly where anyone may go back . . . . Unguarded strength is double weakness.”

Chambers’ words echo Paul’s warning to be aware of our own vulnerability when we see the sins of others. After reviewing the disobedience of the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-5), Paul urged his readers to learn from those sins so they wouldn’t repeat them (vv.6-11). He focused not on past failings but on present pride when he wrote, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (v.12).

The devotional above reminded me of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the tax collector. In it, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the temple. The Pharisee thanks God for everything he’s not, the tax collector merely asks for mercy for his sins. Jesus concludes by saying that the tax collector was justified before God, not the Pharisee.

Have you been comparing your “goodness” to others? What would it take for you to spend some time today humbling yourself before God?

Today’s Devotional: Wretches Saved by Grace

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Like Adam and Eve after their fall, we strive to hide our nakedness from each other. We dress ourselves up and put on a happy face, and when people ask us how we are, we cheerfully answer “fine!”

When God looks at us, however, He sees right through our facade… straight into our sinful hearts. Before God, we are wretched condemned criminals. Thankfully, as Joe Stowell reminds us in this devotional, God has extended an amazing grace to us:

If we were to look at ourselves the way God sees us even when we have it all together, we would see something totally different. He sees through all of our efforts to be “lookin’ good.” His vision probes far deeper than the all-too-cool clothes we wear, our makeup, our rippling abs and our great tan. He strips away the layers of self-delusion and penetrates deep into our hearts where each of us is a desperately lost sinner. And, no matter how good you think you are, it’s not until we know that we are like condemned criminals before Him that we can begin to understand how amazing His grace really is. When you can honestly say that His grace saved a wretch like you, you can begin to stand in amazement at the greatness of His grace. In fact, His grace is only a “sweet sound” when you know how deep it had to go to clean you up!

What is God’s amazing grace? It’s the outstretched love of Jesus whose agonizing death and victorious resurrection saves us from who we really are—not from who we think we are. Romans 5:8 says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He died the worst kind of death imaginable, because it needed to cover the wretchedness of our desperately lost souls. We weren’t lookin’ good when He died for us. If we were as cool as we think we are, He could have stayed in heaven. But like hopeless beggars trapped in the sludge of sin, we needed Him. And so He came and died in our place. Now that’s what I call amazing!

Do you feel like a wretch before God? How does knowing that God doesn’t care about your outward appearance change how you live?

Today’s devotional: When it’s too late to tell someone “I’m sorry”

Friday, October 8th, 2010

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I recite that line as part of the Lord’s Prayer most Sunday mornings at church, and yet no matter how familiar it is, that phrase always stings a little. It reminds me that God expects us to forgive others just as he has freely forgiven us. But it’s safe to say that for most of us, our track record when it comes to extending grace and forgiveness to people who have wronged us is decidedly mixed.

But here’s a new wrinkle to consider: what if it’s too late to extend forgiveness, because the person who hurt us is dead or gone? What if we hurt somebody who is no longer around to hear our apology or our plea for forgiveness?

Charles Swindoll addresses this question today in Day by Day:

I suggest you share your burden of guilt with someone whom you can trust—your spouse, a counselor, your pastor. Be specific and completely candid. Pray with that person and confess openly the wrong and the guilt of your soul. In such cases prayer and the presence of an understanding, affirming individual will provide the relief you need so desperately.

After David had indirectly murdered Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, his guilt was enormous. Adultery and hypocrisy on top of murder just about did him in. Finally, when he was caving in, he broke his silence and sought God’s forgiveness but Uriah was not there to hear his confession. He had been dead almost a year. The broken king called on the prophet Nathan and poured out his soul, “I have sinned….” Nathan followed quickly with these words: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.”

Death or geographical distance can disrupt the critical act of reconciliation between two people. But God’s grace is greater yet. If your conscience burns over an apology never offered or forgiveness never extended, it’s not too late to bring it to God and find peace.

Today’s devotional: extending grace on game day

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The worlds of college and professional sports are not always marked by gracious and sporting behavior. But sometimes an act of genuine class takes place, elevating the participants above the all-consuming rush for victory. In one such instance, described at the Our Daily Bread devotional, a Christian school in southern California did something beautiful:

When the Los Angeles Times covered a 2008 conference championship soccer match between two Christian schools, Azusa Pacific University and Westmont College, it was about far more than winning the game. Three days earlier, a wildfire had swept through the Westmont campus, destroying several academic buildings, faculty homes, and student rooms. Unable to host the game, the rules required Westmont to forfeit. Instead, Azusa invited their opponents to play at their campus where they welcomed Westmont fans with free admission and lunch.

Rather than taking the default victory handed to them, Azusa extended a gracious invitation to their opponent. It cost them their victory—Westmont went on to win the game—but Azusa’s behavior ensured that everyone emerged from the game with something to be proud about.

What other acts of Christlike grace have you seen, either on the sports field or in your everyday life?

The Return of Ted Haggard

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Ted Haggard has once again found himself in the limelight—this time not for his very public personal problems, but rather for his quick return to ministry.

It’s a story that plays out every few years: a leader falls from grace, goes into a period of rehabilitation, and then attempts to rebuild their ministry. Google can help you find countless additional examples of leaders who have gone through this process. To me, there’s always an element of concern that surrounds these reappearances: Will anyone ever trust these leaders again? Should they?

I believe in mankind’s limitless capacity for sin, and in the limitless power of God’s forgiveness and grace. However, just as it takes time for one to become ensconced in sin, it takes time to break free from it. And the people who are hurt by someone else’s sin often need time to forgive as well. When I’m wronged, I always attempt to forgive people quickly with words, but it often takes my heart a bit longer to catch up to that commitment. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. I can only imagine the difficult issues one would have to work through after a trusted pastor’s fall from grace.

Haggard’s fall and return will not be the last story like it, so rather than debate the merits of his particular circumstance I’d rather use it as a way to give context to a discussion on the restoration process. It’s unfortunate, but many of us have trusted (or will trust) a leader who has gone through a moral failing of some kind. The Bible doesn’t give us an outline of how to restore a leader, although 1 Timothy 3 outlines the qualifications overseers and deacons should have before they start their ministry, which seems to give us a good overview of where a leader should be before they return to ministry.

How do you think the restoration process should happen? Should there be an imposed timeframe in which the leader is considered “barred” from ministry? What steps should they have to go through in order to be considered fit for ministry? And how should the hurting people left in their wake handle the situation?

Today’s Devotional: Our Patient God and the Golden Rule

Friday, April 16th, 2010

At the heart of the Golden Rule is reciprocity: when we do good, others will do good back to us. In a perfect world, we’d all be falling over ourselves trying to out-serve one another, but the reality is that many people are simply uninterested in doing good to each other. It’s enough to harden even the softest of hearts.

Have you ever tried to practice the Golden Rule on someone who isn’t interested in doing the same? They ignore or berate you for your friendly gestures and acts of service. It’s sometimes all you can do to not do anything negative, let alone something good.

Pastor Henning of Lutheran Hour Ministries writes in this devotional about the Golden Rule from God’s perspective. Even on our “good” days, we’re still sinful people deserving of punishment. Despite this, God offers us unending grace. While we might snap at someone for slightly inconveniencing us, God patiently endures even our worst sins. We should be thankful that he does:

When commenting on a number of the commandments, Martin Luther explains that we should treat others as we want to be treated, be it our brother or sister, father or mother, our co-worker, our neighbor, or our pastor. Now while this is a useful guide for how sinful human beings should reciprocate toward one another, it doesn’t quite capture the way a perfectly just God deals with us.

If God’s response to us was in keeping with our conduct toward Him — even on our best behavior — we wouldn’t stand a chance. His justice is beyond human comparison; it is perfect, absolute, and incapable of being satisfied by our efforts or best intentions. When we treat God with disrespect, or neglect Him and His Word, He is still patient with us. When we go out of our way to sin and scorn the very relationship we have with Him, He is still forgiving — ever ready and willing to draw us back into a genuine and healthy fellowship with Himself.

Rather than retribution, God offers grace — the unending and undeserved fount of love and forgiveness shown to mankind through the sacrificial offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, upon the cross. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men …” (1 Timothy 2:5-6a).

Read the rest of the devotional at Lutheran Hour Ministries.

How do you enact the Golden Rule in your life? What does it mean to you to accept God’s gift of grace?

Today’s devotional: too proud to accept God’s grace

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Is pride a sin you struggle with? Most of us try our best to steer clear of the most commonly understood definition of pride—believing ourselves to be better or more worthy than others. But in a devotional at Lutheran Hour Ministries, Meron Tekle Berhan cautions Christians about a more sinister form of pride: the belief that we can do something to earn or complete our own salvation.

In addition to duping us into thinking we’re better than other people, pride can also drive a deadly wedge between God and us. How? Though we may acknowledge that God, through the saving work of Christ Jesus, is willing to forgive all our sins, pride can deceive us into thinking that somehow that doesn’t really mean our sins.

As a consequence, some people mistakenly feel that though God offers complete liberation from every sin through Christ’s work on the cross, this offer must somehow, some way, be added to by them completing the deal — i.e. doing something on their own that puts the finishing touch on God’s work for their salvation….

Unfortunately, there are many who are too proud to accept that their sins, though grievous, are as damnable — and forgivable — as the next person’s. No more, no less. Therefore, being cleansed of those sins requires one thing: faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world.

Read the full devotional at Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Have you ever found yourself too proud to admit that you couldn’t make up for your own sins? What happens when we do good works in the hope or belief that those good works, and not Jesus’ grace, will seal our salvation?

Today’s devotional: speaking with grace and gentleness… about politics?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Does the way you talk about politics reflect the grace, patience, and humility of Jesus Christ? No matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, it’s difficult to avoid hearing (or participating in) the vicious, grace-less talk that is the native language of political discourse today. But how does that square up with the Bible?

This devotional from Words of Hope gets right to the point:

In the world of cable news and talk radio, politics is played out much like old sports rivalries. The two teams have a blind hatred for each other, often regardless of truth, reality, or common sense. The current “losing team” (whoever is out of power) usually spends most of its time abhorring, disparaging, and making up lies about the opposing side. Political pundits create caricatures of their rivals and then attack them. And too often we mistake this kind of behavior for hard news, which is like mistaking a pep rally for the actual game.

Ephesians 4 calls us to be humble, gentle, and patient. It says we are to make every effort to be unified and peaceful. Unfortunately, we aren’t very good at this when it comes to politics. We often do the opposite, continually looking for reasons to call names and point fingers.

Grace-filled speech isn’t something to practice every now and then—it’s something to be actively pursued in every conversation you have or blog post you write. The devotional concludes with some suggestions for how you might respond the next time you encounter (or are tempted to engage in) this sort of interaction. Read the full devotional at Words of Hope.

Is this something you’ve encountered, or that you struggle with? How do you balance speaking the truth (about politics, religion, or any other topic) with speaking gracefully?