Grace, Faith, and Works

Grace, Faith, and Works

Grace, faith, and works.

Incompatible? Or irretrievably interwoven?

While grace and faith pair well, works have been the odd man out when it comes to salvation. Yet your concordance will show extensive lists of verses for all three. Have you considered their relationship? Let’s focus on just a few verses that show the tension created by this trio:

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV): “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Grace, faith, and works. Side by side by side.

God gives us grace. He enables us to respond in faith. He prepares good works in advance for us to do.

Simple, right? Thanks, Paul.

But then James and Jesus Himself chime in.

James 2:14, 17 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” and “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Can dead faith save? Sometimes. (Ex. Thief on the cross)

Matthew 7:21-24: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Works without relationship looks dead too. (Ex. Pharisees)

One more just for fun. (This one helps.)

1 Cor. 3:10-15: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

God’s gift of grace enables our faith.

Show the grace you’ve experienced.

Demonstrate your faith response that followed that grace.

Let your living faith lead you to look for the opportunities God has already prepared.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout for the Week: Grace, Faith, and Works

Memory Verse: Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Meditation Passage: James 2:14-26

Just Do It: Work out your salvation.

Clearing Hurdles

Clearing Hurdles

Hurdles. They bring to mind Olympic runners, not a blind man from the pages of the Gospels. Yet Bartimaeus was driven by far more than a gold medal. Let’s look at his story.

He’s unnamed, known by his father’s, not his own.

He’s alone. No family, no friends guide him through the streets of Jericho.

He has no skills. He’s left to beg.

But he gets it.

 “As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'” (Mark 10:46-47 NIV)

But something interesting happens. Jesus doesn’t go to him.

Instead, Jesus tells him to come.

Bartimaeus struggles over three hurdles to get to Jesus and to receive healing:

Hurdle #1: The Crowd As Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, they shush him. Nothing doing. He gets louder. He clears the hurdle of what other people think. Is the opinion of others keeping you from healing? From a deeper relationship with Jesus?

Hurdle #2: The Handicap Jesus has called. A blind man must seek a stranger. Bartimaeus follows the noise, hoping someone will shove him in the right direction. He clears the hurdle of the handicap. What handicap do you need to hurdle?

Hurdle #3: The Baggage When Jesus calls for him, Mark records (Mark 10:46-52) that Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus. That cloak was probably all he had. We read nothing of friends or family. He’s begging. Notice too, Jesus asks him what he wants. Isn’t it obvious? But Jesus makes him articulate it. There’s baggage present and Jesus makes him confront it. What are you carrying?

Bartimaeus wanted healing and Jesus was the only one who could give it. The blind man was so desperate nothing could hold him back.

Are you there yet?

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Clearing Hurdles

Memory Verse: “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” Mark 10:50 (NIV)

Meditation Passage: Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10: 46-52; Luke 18: 35-43

Just Do It: Come.

 

 

The Toes Follow the Nose

The Toes Follow the Nose

Where the head goes, the whole body tends to follow.

I’m leash training my puppy. A neighbor suggested a Gentle Leader, a collar that rests high behind the ears with another strap fitting over the nose. The leash attaches underneath so that when you pull, you pull the head and not the neck, similar to the bit and bridle for horses. It takes those strong shoulder muscles out of the picture. End result? You lead him instead of being dragged behind him.

The Gentle Leader allows me to direct Valor’s attention, because his tummy, toes, and tail follow his eyes, mouth, and nose. Scripture likewise cautions us as to what we set before our eyes, because God knows all too well, our emotions, will, and reason will follow. Let’s train with Valor this week. Here are a few of his favorite—or not so favorite—commands:

Leave it! This covers everything from road kill to the ant-covered lollipop stuck to the sidewalk. Psalm 101:3 reads, “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.” What has snuck into your life that has no place there? Ask the Holy Spirit what you need to leave alone.

Give! Valor’s reach is growing as he does. Most of what he can reach he has no business with: my sandwich, my homework, my favorite socks. Psalm 119:37 says, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” These things aren’t bad, but they aren’t best. Often they are time-stealers as well. What eats your time, energy, and brainpower, but is giving little to no return? Ask God what needs to give.

Come! Coming is good. It can mean a walk, dinnertime, or playing fetch. Yes, sometimes, it means a trip to the vet, but that’s a good thing too—Parvo is no picnic. Scripture shows us where to put our focus.

Check out these two passages: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Are you making relationship time for the Master? Are you choosing things that will please Him?

Valor has a choice between his chew toys, my running shoe, or the dead bird in the yard. I often feel like I’m not choosing at all, just deflecting what comes at me through the day. Yet, I choose what I give my time to. I choose what I listen, read, and watch.

What will you choose?

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: The Toes Follow the Nose

Memory Verse: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)

Meditation Passage: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Just Do It: Allow the Holy Spirit to be your Gentle Leader.

 

Sand: When Faith Gets Shifty

Sand: When Faith Gets Shifty

Abraham. A man of rock solid faith, right?

Sometimes.

Sometimes, he found himself in the sifty, shifty sand.

As we dig our toes into the beach sand this summer, let’s look at the sandy spots that shifted Abraham’s world and avoid them in ours:

The Sand of Helplessness: In two incidents (Gen. 12:10-20; Gen. 20:1-18), Abraham traveled to a foreign region (Egypt, Gerar). Both times he told the reigning monarch that Sarah was his sister, neglecting to mention their marital status. Both kings took her into their harems. God protected Sarah, but the kings rebuked Abraham for lying.

His reason for fibbing? “Abraham replied, ‘I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” (Genesis 20:11 NIV) He was scared. Pee-in-his-pants afraid, and, in his mind, at the mercy of the monarch. Helpless.

The Sand of Hurry: In Genesis 15, Abraham questioned God about an heir. God answered in vs. 4-6, followed by the famous verses of Abraham’s faith and righteousness. But in the next chapter, a barren Sarai proposed a second wife, the Egyptian Hagar, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said.” (Genesis 16:1-2)

Not a crazy idea. Pretty normal for the culture back then.

But it wasn’t what God had in mind.

And—Abraham didn’t stop to ask.

Hurry. Wanting our way in our time. It’s trouble.

The Sand of Hesitancy: In Genesis 18:16-33, God revealed to Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived there. Abraham bargained with God for the righteous of the city, hoping to protect Lot.

But he never mentions Lot by name.

Abraham never shared what was truly on his heart. Though God planned to rescue Lot all along, Abraham’s intercession was vague and somewhat sterile. He missed an opportunity for a heart-to-heart with his heavenly Father on behalf of a much-loved family member.

A lack of trust drove each shift, each sandy stumble. God’s protection, God’s provision, and God’s power were available to His beloved child.

Workout of the Week: Sand, When Faith Gets Shifty

Memory Verse: “Abraham replied, ‘I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” (Genesis 20:11)

Meditation Passage: Genesis 18:16-33

Just Do It: Trust what you know; stay Rock-solid.

Pass the Mustard (Seed)

Pass the Mustard (Seed)

Mustard.

Sharp. Pungent. Tangy.

I wasn’t a fan until I met my husband. He loves it, and now I do too. For me, a little mustard goes a long way, but God says that’s true of faith as well. In fact, a mustard seed portion of faith is enough to do the job. So, slap some mustard on your hot dog and let’s train with the mustard seed.

Jesus mentions a mustard seed in three different contexts in five different places:

  • Matthew 17:20 (14-21) In this passage, Jesus healed a boy with seizures. Scripture tells us a demon caused the boy’s illness. Jesus rebuked the demon, it left, and the boy was healed. This immediately followed the Transfiguration. The disciples who had been left behind already had authority over evil spirits (Matthew 10:1). Privately, they asked Jesus why they failed to heal the boy. Verse 20 gives His answer—“because you have so little faith.” Is there an area where you once had victory, but now struggle? The issue may be one of faith—mustard seed faith.
  • Luke 17:1-6. Jesus had just spoken on the seriousness of causing another to sin and on the need to offer repeated forgiveness. The disciples’ response? “Increase our faith.” Jesus’ reply? Mustard seed faith.
  • Matthew 13:31; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19 These passages give a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Three times. Think this one’s important? Here’s Matthew’s version,He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” The takeaway? Small beginning, big finish.

So why the emphasis on small? A tiny mustard seed?

Because something as small as a mustard seed, when linked to God’s power, has no limits to its potential.

When the battle grows fierce . . .

When the task at hand appears impossible . . .

When the whole world looks like it’s going to hell . . .

Remember the mustard seed.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Speaking of mustard seeds, check out this link for some inspirational jewelry: www.mustardseedjewelry.com.

Workout of the Week: Pass the Mustard

Memory Verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32 NIV

Meditation Passage: Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 17:1-6

Just Do It: Have mustard seed faith.

Deployment: Sent For A Purpose

Deployment: Sent Out For a PurposeDeploy: To be sent out for a specific purpose

Our armed forces consist of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Their duties range from special ops to military bands. Likewise, God equips His forces and, as Commander-in-Chief, deploys them appropriately.

To what duty has He deployed you? Are you aware of the battle? Or are you like the four-year-old soccer player picking daisies at midfield while two teams storm furiously around you?

  1. Examine your armor. Ephesians 6 details our equipment: belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness coming from the gospel of peace, helmet of salvation, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit, and prayer. Do you favor a particular piece? How can this advance the battle and aid other warriors?
  2. Be aware of spiritual gifts. (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-13) Though I believe God can make each gift available as needed, I’ve been taught He tends to develop one or two in each believer. Does God use you in the mess hall or in training new recruits? Strategizing a battle plan or serving in the spiritual MASH unit?
  3. Deploy. This is for real. There comes a time when the training is over and you head to the battlefield. As a military family, we have a love/hate relationship with deployment. I hate that my son has to leave for six months, but at some point, practice ends and it’s game on. There’s work to be done and no one prepares like our guys (and gals). Can we as spiritual servicemen and women say the same? Are we prepared? Are we gaining ground in battle? Or are we spiritually AWOL?

So, how has God deployed you? For what purpose have you been sent?

To intercede?

To train others?

To face the enemy?

Until God calls us home, we are deployed. Sent out with a purpose. Let’s serve with distinction, honor, and perseverance.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Deployment

Memory Verse: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Meditation Passage: Ephesians 6:10-20

Just Do It: Get in the fight.

Independence and Intercession

Deployment: Part 1

I love the Fourth of July. I love cooking out, splashing in the pool with friends, and watching fireworks. Patriotic music and the red, white, and blue give me a lump in my throat.

Though we celebrate our independence, we celebrate somewhat in ignorance. Most of us have never been without it. We’ve had  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness since birth.

But it didn’t happen by accident.

Books like David McCullough’s 1776 and Peter Marshall’s The Light and the Glory point to God’s help in the establishment of our nation and in the winning of her freedom.

There was more than just a physical battle for our nation then. There was a spiritual one. And, make no mistake, a spiritual battle is being fought for her today. The warfare section of Ephesians 6 finishes with “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV) “All the saints” includes a great many men and women in service.

As we celebrate the Fourth this week, please consider praying for our military. If you don’t have friends or family who serve, I’ll gladly take your prayers for mine who deploys soon.

Here’s a few items to get you started. For the one serving, especially if deployed: a cleaving to God, protection, discernment, wise leadership, a safe return, minimal boredom and homesickness, victory. For those at home: light hearts, busy hands, peaceful minds, and a spirit focused on God.

As you enjoy your Fourth, intercede for your brothers and sisters in uniform. Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Independence and Intercession

Memory Verse: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18 NIV

Meditation Passage: Psalm 51

Just Do It: Pray for our military.

Tweetables:

As you enjoy your 4th, pray for your brothers and sisters in uniform. Click to tweet.

God Still Moves

God Still Moves

God still moves.

Sometimes He’s subtle.

Sometimes He makes a statement.

In Isaiah 36-37, God made a statement. The Assyrian army stood poised to take Jerusalem. Israel had fallen. Judah, under godly King Hezekiah, was next in line.

Sennacherib’s field commander recommended surrender. After all, no one had survived Assyria’s onslaught. No god had withstood the gods of the Assyrians. Shock and awe barely described these ruthless and brutal people.

King Hezekiah sent men to Isaiah, then went to the LORD in prayer. God sent this word against Sennacherib to King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:22-35). Here’s a portion:

“But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.”

The results? Read verses 36-37, “Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.”

Let’s train with Hezekiah:

  • Have we forgotten how big our God is? Just as He knows our every move (Psalm 139), He is well aware of every act of evil. We know He is omniscient. But I tend to apply His omniscience to my own sin, not someone else’s. I forget He sees every sin—those against His children, those against the innocent, those against the defenseless.
  • He can and will do something about it. Who hasn’t wrestled with the question of why do bad things happen? Whether you are happy with His present decisions or not, understand, all will be dealt with. In His time. Not ours.
  • The results will be beyond our wildest imagination. When judgment comes, I don’t think we’ll be cheering. I think we will fall on our faces before a powerful and holy God and be thankful for the grace we’ve received.

God takes no sin lightly—and neither should we. He sees each one. Each sin will come under the blood of Jesus or will be judged. Don’t lose sight of sin’s seriousness in the day-to-day grind.

God still moves. In big ways. In small ones. Look for His activity. Expect big things. He is more than able.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week, and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: God Still Moves

Memory Verse: “Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.” Isaiah 37:36-37 (NIV)

Meditation Passage: Isaiah 37:22-35

Just Do It: Watch for Him.

Tweetables:

God still moves. Sometimes He’s subtle. Sometimes He makes a statement. Click to tweet.

 

 

Bred for Success: God’s Design

Bred for Success: God's Design

I had done my homework in researching breeds (I wanted something more protective than our aging Lab.), so I was only mildly concerned when our vet tech said, “From retrievers to a Belgian Mal? Brave girl!”

That concern grew when my husband’s co-worker sent him pictures of Mals wreaking havoc in a million different ways. My personal favorite is the full-grown Mal sitting proudly among the meteor-shower-hit-the-earth craters he had dug in the backyard.

Yet, for every destructive video—and there are plenty—there are stories of their protective instincts for the family they love.

God designed Belgian Mals. He also designed retrievers. Each serves a specific purpose in God’s creation. I see the same intentional design in His human creatures.

I love retrievers. We’ve had three.  Spiritually, they remind me of Jesus’ mother. Pure. Trusting. Obedient. Though worthy of imitation, Mary’s an alien to me. It took years before I trusted God as Father and truly believed in His love for me.

Peter? Paul? I get those guys. I, too, am strong-willed, opinionated, and given to extremes. I’m also fiercely loyal. To my children. To my husband. To my God. There is more Belgian Mal in me than I like to admit.

As I have learned to trust God, my obedience has improved. My husband teases me that I’m compliant. That compliance has come with training. Too many lessons came the hard way. My design, though, has never changed.

So, what’s your design? How has God bred you for success?

  1. What qualities did God give you? What talents and abilities did He gift you with? Have you ever taken the StrengthsFinder Test? (It runs about $20, but it’s money well spent.)
  2. How about spiritual gifts? (Click for Lifeway’s test.)
  3. What natural likes and dislikes do you have? With whom do you identify in the Bible? What Bible figure captures you?

Now, look where He’s placed you. Does it fit? Why or why not? Don’t train for retriever work if you’re a shepherd. Jeremiah recorded his calling in Jeremiah 1: 4-5 (NIV), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Pray first, then fill in the blank: “I appointed you as a _____________________.”

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Just for fun: What breed are you?

Workout of the Week: Bred for Success

Memory Verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Meditation Passage: Psalm 139

Just Do It: Embrace your design.

Tweetables:

God designed Belgian Mals for a specific purpose. I see the same intentional design in His human creatures. Click to tweet.

 

Capture the Moment

Capture the MomentMemories. We do our best to capture the moment. Graduations. Weddings. Births.

We collect programs, photos, and party favors.

Momentos of milestones.

Remembering is a good idea. God chose everything from feasts to memorials to help His kids remember.

Remember what?

His goodness. His faithfulness. His provision.

Moses challenges us to remember, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deut. 4:9 NIV) Here are some tips from Moses:

  1. Intentionality: “Be careful and watch yourselves closely.” Or what? Or you will forget. Life rushes through like Class 5 rapids. God calls me to the riverbank to stop and reflect on the journey. Without care and watchfulness, I shoot down the river, only vaguely aware of His presence, offering arrow prayers when the boulders come too close.
  2. History: We have a history with God. Times when He grabbed our attention and changed things. Decisions. Healing. Comfort. Close calls. Provision. What have your eyes seen? Have you captured it in a journal? Perhaps a recording is more your style. How about photos? Whatever media appeals to you—capture the moment. You don’t want it to fade from your heart only to be replaced by something trivial.
  3. Legacy: Pass it on to those who haven’t seen yet. Children. Grandchildren. The older I grow, the more I appreciate those who walked before me. Testimonies have the power to encourage, challenge, and comfort me—all at the same time.

Your story of God’s faithfulness may be the turning point for your own child’s faith. Share His goodness.

Nail your spiritual workouts and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: Capture the Moment

Memory Verse: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deut. 4:9 NIV)

Meditation Passage: Joshua 4:1-7

Just Do It: Record the memory.

Tweetables:

Capture the moment. You don’t want it to fade from your heart to be replaced with something trivial. Click to tweet.