Grace – The Root of our Spiritual Race

We are beginning a study on God’s Grace and we begin with Acts 20:24, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (NASB) The World English Bible says, “But these things don’t count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God.” The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem and he was uncertain what would happen to him. The Jewish leaders of the synagogue were seeking to end his life because he was preaching that Jesus was the Messiah and the way to salvation. So, at this point, he knew there was a great possibility that his life would end.

Paul talks about running the race with joy and with a purpose. His purpose was to testify to God’s grace. To understand what he was preaching, we need to understand what grace is. Simply put, grace is unmerited favor. We receive good when we don’t deserve it. The Bible says that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 KJV) It also says that there is a penalty for our sin. (Romans 6:23) God’s grace extends to us in that what we deserve is death, but God sent His Son, Jesus, to take the penalty for our sin so that we would not have to pay that penalty. That’s GRACE!

This life we live is, as Paul puts it, a race. The goal is to run in a way that gives glory and honor to God, ministering to a lost and dying world, telling them of Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and finishing that race with honor so that we can hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

God gives us grace every day. Because we are human and we sin, God extends His grace to us when we repent and ask for His forgiveness. The thing is, often we fail to give grace to ourselves. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist to some extent. I notice it more when I’m doing my Bible Journaling or writing. I tend to be detail-oriented and when I mess something up, I get angry with myself. If you hear me mumbling to myself, it’s usually because I’m saying, “Dummy, what did you do that for?” I guess I’m way harder on myself than God is. He recognizes that I’m going to make mistakes and sin, and yet I am not condemned or given harsh treatment. Like a loving Father, He says, “Ok, you messed up. Pick yourself up and try again until you get it right. It’s not the end of the world.”

This is the message the Apostle Paul was tasked with delivering. That was his ministry. God places each one of us on this earth for a purpose. We each have a ministry. It may not be an organized ministry such as a church, Christian broadcasting station, etc. But each one of us has a ministry, and God’s grace is the basis for what we do for Jesus. It is the foundation of our salvation. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) We can build a strong foundation for our life because of God’s grace. 1 Corinthians 3:10 says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.” (NASB) That ties into the idea of running a race and running it well. As we build upon that foundation of God’s grace, we allow that grace from God to flow out to others as well by telling them about how much Jesus loves them, exhibiting God-honoring behavior and speech, and by loving them as God loves them.

Our Identity as a Citizen of Heaven

Today’s Bible Journaling takes us to Ephesians 2:19-20, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners; but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” (KJV) With all the craziness going on right now, it is good for us to remember that this is not our home, we are just travelers going through on the way to our Home. Those who call Jesus their Lord, Savior, and Master have no need for fear in troubled times. Our citizenship is not here, it is in Heaven.

Does that mean we have to wait to experience the benefits of that citizenship? No, as Believers, we already are experiencing some of the advantages of being a citizen of Heaven. As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that one of those benefits was the peace I have in the middle of storms. I don’t have to be fearful of what happens to me here on earth. I know that whatever happens, my life is not over, I will live forever in a beautiful place where there is no pain, sickness, or sadness, where there is peace. I will be home!

As attached as we become to this earth, we need to remember that we are only sojourners. We are travelers on a long trip, and we are on our way home. My husband and I just had a three-week vacation recently, and we really had a great time! Were there difficulties? Yes, bad weather and long hours driving, but we did not become overwhelmed by those troubles. We were able to enjoy our vacation despite bad weather and being tired from driving far distances. When we were headed home, we were looking forward to being home, even though we were thoroughly enjoying our time away. We had peace in the face of the hardships, and yet we were anxious to get home.

As Believers, we also look forward to going to our Heavenly Home, whether that be in death or by way of the Rapture. And yet, we can still reap the benefits of Heaven right here on earth. I have already mentioned peace. Other rewards include knowing that we do not walk alone, God is always with us. He promises to “never leave or forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5) He walks this journey with us. We are part of God’s family (John 1:12) and as such, we reap the benefits given to a family. We can experience His incredible love for us and the rewards and blessings He showers upon us. We don’t have to wait to experience those things, we can have them now.

As a citizen of Heaven, I can experience God’s protection. In 2 Samuel 22:3 we read, “The God of my rock; in Him will I trust: He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my Saviour; thou savest me from violence.” (KJV) I don’t need to fear sickness, danger, or attacks from the enemy, God is my shield, my refuge, my fortress! That is a benefit of Heaven I can have right now.

Another benefit of Heaven we can experience now is freedom. We live under the law of Grace; we do not need to be burdened by trying to live up to a set of laws that are impossible to keep. Because of our love for Him we willingly live a life of holiness in obedience to His will for us. How awesome to be able to bask in the light of Heaven’s blessings as a citizen! In uncertain times we can rest in the knowledge that our future is secured. We can thrive in our identity as a citizen of Heaven and live a life of peace, joy, and security in our Father’s arms.

Why We Need Vision

 

Today we’re going to look at vision from a Spiritual perspective. By that I mean, looking at vision strictly in relationship to Spiritual understanding. Today’s Bible Journaling verse is Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.” (NASB) The King James Version says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish’ but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The NIV says, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.”

In J. Vernon McGee’s Commentary on Proverbs, he says that “Vision’ is actually spiritual understanding. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to give him understanding of the word of God.’” The Hebrew word for vision is “Chazown” and it means a vision, oracle, or prophecy of divine communication. When our pastors preach, they can give forth divine communication. Vision is a mode of revelation.

Without vision, an understanding of God’s Word, we walk in chaos. Our verse today says that without a vision the people are unrestrained. We see so much of that in our society today. It is much like it was in Micah’s day, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” There is no Spiritual knowledge or understanding and everyone does what “feels right.”

For us to walk in a manner that gives God glory and honor, we need to be students of His Word. II Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) Digging into the Bible helps us to gain understanding and live according to its precepts, and brings peace, joy, and happiness.

When we study God’s Word, we bury it deep into our hearts, minds, and the very spirit of our being. We make it a part of ourselves. God will reveal His desires for us through His Word and through the preaching of the Gospel, and we find a life of order and peace, and we are walking in the pathway He has set before us.

In I Samuel 3:1, the Bible tells us that when Samuel was a young boy, he “ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (KJV) When God’s word is given in an atmosphere where there is no understanding, then God must appoint someone to give the understanding. God raised up Samuel to meet the need of declaring God’s Word.

We see today in countries where God’s Word is scarce and preaching is condemned, the hearing and reading of the Word of God are precious. People cherish a Bible in their hands, whether it’s the full book or just a page because it is not readily available for them to read or own. They treasure it. We too should treasure the Bible, the hearing of God’s Word, and the preaching of the truth. Spiritual understanding helps us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 3:18 KJV)

Vision Requires Alignment with God

Today I’m preaching to myself. As we look at having a vision and accomplishing that vision, I am pricked in my heart. My vision to reach others with Jesus’ love and be an example for others to see His love in me, requires that I be aligned with His Will and the pathway He has set before me. Today’s Bible Journaling comes from Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)

The reason I say that I am preaching to myself is that as I read this verse today, God showed me how I was not aligned with His Kingdom. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a problem with anger. I also have a problem with laziness. Neither of these things are qualities that line up with righteousness, peace, or joy; they are anything but! So, I must become aligned with God’s desires for me; to be a person of peace and righteousness thereby giving way to joy.

Alignment is something we all need, whether physically or Spiritually. I deal with Scoliosis, arthritis, and osteoporosis in my back. I need to see a Chiropractor every month to get my back adjusted and put back into alignment. When I skip a month or two for some reason, the back pain is more than I can stand some days. My back needs to be put in place so that it will not give me pain. The same is true in our spiritual lives. When we are not in alignment with God’s Will we encounter pain, be that Spiritually or physically. We need to make adjustments in our lives so that we reflect the characteristics of God.

Visions, whether they be physical, mental, or Spiritual sometimes require that to reach the goal, we must change something to be successful. In my case, anger is not an attitude that shows God’s love; therefore, I need to make changes to reach that goal of having a Christlike attitude. If I want others to see Jesus in me, my attitude and actions must reflect His nature. I need to be aligned with the Holy Spirit in my life. Proverbs 4:3 tells me, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” To be aligned I need to work on my heart. I need to keep my heart diligently with vigilance. The dictionary says vigilance is, “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

This is not something that comes easily for me. The enemy puts up roadblocks to trip me up, and even though I may know that’s what is happening, my default is to react in anger. Planning what I will do if someone makes me angry doesn’t really work with me. The anger is sometimes so hot that no matter how much planning I do, I fail and explode before I even can catch myself. My problem with laziness is just as bad. Satan knows how much I hate doing housework, and he is adept at putting other things in my pathway, things that are much more enjoyable, that I fall prey to his temptation, and will waste a whole day doing something other than housework. As I said, planning what I will do to counteract these things does not come easily for me and putting them into practice is even harder.

I must make a conscious effort to push past my instinct to go to my default position on these things. I must determine in my heart to become aligned with God’s Will for me, I must make adjustments in my life to fulfill the vision I have of being a witness before others. I must take account of where I am to reach my goal of accomplishing my vision. How do I do this? Pray and ask God for His help. He wants my vision to become a reality as much as I do.

So today, if you are like me and need alignment, ask God to show you what needs to be aligned and adjusted, then ask Him to help you. He never goes back on His Word to help us. (Isaiah 41:10, 13) God also gives us tools. James 4:7 tells us that we are to, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (NASB) We must be aligned to His Holy Spirit so that we can accomplish the vision He has placed on our hearts.

A New Thing

It’s 2020! A new year is upon us and we have a whole new slate to start with, in living before the Lord for this year. Today’s Bible Journaling verse is Isaiah 43:19, “For I am about to do something new. I have already begun. See, do you not see it? I will make a new pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (NLT) We will be looking at vision this month, but I received a prompting from God to start here.

As this year begins, we do need to have a vision of where we need to be, where we want to go, and where God is leading us. But more than that, we need to be open to God doing new things in our lives. Maybe this is the year God says, “It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.”

As Believers, from time to time, it’s good to take stock of where we have been and look at where we are going. Before coming to Jesus, we were wrapped up in doing the old things we had done before. Then Jesus came into our hearts and lives and He started a new thing. Life became so much better. Does that mean there have not been hard times? No, but we found that we didn’t go through those things alone…God was with us! That was a new thing!

God tells us in Isaiah 42:9, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (KJV) God does new things in our lives, and He does these things out in the open, not in secret. He tells us what is to come. Sometimes, we feel like He is silent and the road we are on is confusing, but He loves us enough to plan only good things for us. (Jeremiah 29:11)

One of those “new things” that God does, is that He makes new creatures out of us. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” (KJV) When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He gives us a new heart. The old man is gone, and the new man has come, and we are born-again! From that point on we are on a new pathway. That’s a new thing!

God tells us in Revelation 21:5, “Behold I make all things new.” (KJV) God wants to do new things in us. It is up to us to accept the new things He is showing us and leading us into. If you are like most people, getting pushed out of your comfort zone, is uncomfortable and downright scary! This is where learning to trust that God has our best in mind for us comes into play. He wants us to grow in a manner that will give glory and honor to Him and will bring us joy, peace, contentment, and a greater love for Him and those around us.

Be open to new things! Seek God’s face in prayer, asking Him to direct your steps. If you are feeling a prompting to do something that scares you silly, trust Him enough to know that He isn’t putting you out there alone, He will go with you. Trust that He will never ask you to do something that you can not do, but always will be something to help you grow to the next level of relationship with Him. You may find that it has been something you have always wanted to accomplish but were too afraid to take the first step.

When we step out in faith, we can accomplish so much more, and who knows, we may find that when we step out into a whole new area of experience with God, it will not be as daunting as we first thought and actually will blossom in that new pathway. God is saying, “I am doing a new thing.” Trust Him and take that first step!

Jesus – The Source of Our Joy

Today’s Bible Journaling verse isn’t thought of as a “Christmas verse”, but it shows something that I think many may not realize. Our verse today is Acts 13:52, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (NASB) When I read this verse, I immediately thought of a verse we hear at Christmastime when we see a Christmas play or read the Christmas story, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10 (KJV) The Wisemen were rejoicing because they knew they had found Jesus!

In today’s verse, the disciples have been in Antioch preaching. The Apostle Paul is preaching to a crowd and the Jews saw the crowds that were gathering to hear what he had to say. The Jews were very upset, and the Bible says they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict everything Paul and Barnabas said. (Acts 13:45) Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly (Verse 46) and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation of the end of the earth.’ When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:46-48 NASB) The chapter goes on to say that the Word of the Lord was spread out throughout the whole region. What I love about our verse today is that it says the disciples were continually filled with joy! That’s what happens when Jesus is in our hearts and lives!

He is the source of our joy. Just as the Wisemen rejoiced at finding Jesus, and the disciples were joyful at believing and accepting Jesus into their hearts, we also can be filled with that same joy. Jesus is the source of our joy. Why? Because it is through Him that we receive eternal life. He fills our hearts with joy, despite difficulties in our lives. Even though we are burdened down, we can still have joy in our hearts. We may not be happy when the world seemingly comes against us, but we can have a deep, abiding joy!

Paul and Barnabas were rejected by the Jews, in fact later in the chapter it tells of how the Jews “incited women of prominence and the leading men of the city” to persecute them and drive them out of the city. (Verse 50) The Bible says Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of the city “in protest against them” and went on to another city. (Verse 51) Even then, the disciples were “continually filled with joy.” Though they were persecuted, they were filled with joy. Only God can do that!

When the angels announced Jesus’ birth, they declared, “Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people, for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 NASB) Even the angels proclaimed that there was joy in Jesus, in His birth, in His life, in His death, and in His salvation for the world!

We can have that joy, right now! The Bible tells us that Jesus came for a purpose. He was born to die! God’s plan was formed at the foundation of the world; Jesus would come into the world, live, teach and preach about God’s love, become the sacrifice for our sins by dying on a cruel cross, be buried, then three days later rise again and conquer sin, death, Hell, and the grave. He then ascended to Heaven to live with His Father. He made a promise to us. He is coming back to take His children, those who have accepted Jesus into their hearts, back to Heaven to live and reign with Him. There is great joy in knowing that Jesus loves us that much! He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and for me, that brings great joy!

Christmas Hope

As we continue to look at Christmas, today we look at the hope that Christmas brings to us. Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar passage for us. It has been spoken in countless church Christmas programs by shining little faces acting out the Christmas story. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (KJV) Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah some 700 years before it was fulfilled. The Jewish people had hope that God was going to step into their lives and rescue them.

Jews today are still looking for the Messiah. What they don’t realize is, He already has come. Two thousand years ago He came in a way they weren’t expecting, and so they missed it. They are still in hope of seeing the Messiah come, they look for His coming. As Born-Again Believers, we have seen that Hope realized in our lives. Jesus came to earth as a baby born in a stable to common people. He didn’t come as a King. The Jews were looking for a grand entrance with lots of fanfare. Jesus came quietly, in a small town, with no fanfare except for a chorus of angels telling of His birth to lowly shepherds on a country hill looking after their sheep.

He lived a simple life, preached to those who would hear about what His purpose for being there was, showing them how to live, who God was, who HE was, and then fulfilled His purpose by becoming a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the whole world. He came to be the Savior of the world and provide the hope of eternal salvation for everyone. That hope is still available today.

Jesus invites each one of us to tap into that hope by accepting His free gift of salvation. He loves us so much that He wants us to become part of His family. He wants to provide for us, not just physical or financial things, but He wants to provide eternal life, He wants to provide to us eternal blessings.

That is the greatest hope we can ever have! The hope of eternal salvation! The hope of having a Friend who is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), the hope of walking with Him daily, the hope of a love greater than we could ever imagine, the hope that our lives will be full of joy, peace, and grace. These things can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Life in this world is hard, that’s a fact. However, Jesus can help us in those times when it seems life is smacking us down. He can give us hope that He knows what’s going on, hope that this will not last forever and that He has a plan for our lives, and it’s a good plan (Jeremiah 29:11). When we feel as if we can’t take one more step, He will carry us.

He will provide blessings that will overwhelm us. In those times, He will rejoice with us. The joy of His presence, of experiencing His blessings, of finding the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) is one of the greatest gifts He gives us. Jesus is God’s gift to us! How we love Him for providing such an amazing gift! That is the Christmas Hope we have.

If you haven’t asked Jesus to be your Savior, ask Him to come into your heart and life, confess your sins, and make a conscious decision to live for Him. You will find it is the best decision you will ever make. You will then have that Hope!