Romans 6:1-11

A little more than 17 years ago I was given a pretty pricey gift. I was given a car by my parents. I had been driving my current car at that point to the total of over 250,000 miles. Quite a few miles. In fact, it was starting to have some issues and I wasn’t sure how many more miles I could get out of it. At some point it was going to stop running and I didn’t know when. The problem was I couldn’t afford a different car. We had four small children, Kim was going to college, we had recently made a ministry change which came with expenses, and my salary as a minister at that point was not able to pay for any additional expenses. So, without me asking, my parents decided to take things into their hands and bought me a new car. Needless to say, it was wonderful to go from driving a car that had 250,000 miles on it to driving a car with a few hundred of miles on it. Not only was the worry of it dying on me gone, but this car got better gas mileage. Now, I will be honest and say it was hard for me to accept that gift. I, like so many people, like to think I can take care of myself. Therefore, to accept such a gracious gift was hard on my pride, even though it was greatly appreciated. But I still could have said no. But having said yes, I did experience a great blessing. If I were to have asked you shortly after receiving the new car if I should return it to my parents and go back to driving my 250,000 mile car what would you say? You would say, “Absolutely not. Enjoy the new car.” You would tell me to be thankful for such a wonderful gift and to make the most of it.

In Romans 6:1-11, Paul is speaking about a gift that his readers had received. They had received the gift of new life through their faith in Jesus Christ. Sin had caused a great need and God in his grace met their need. But some were tempted to keep on sinning believing that it would be good so that grace could continue to abound in their lives. However, Paul had a clear answer to those wondering if they should go on sinning. In Romans 6:2 Paul said,

Romans 6:2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Paul knew it was crazy for someone to have been set free from sin to still walk in it. When my parents gave me the new car I still had my old one. No doubt if I had chosen to leave the new car parked and drive the old one instead you would have thought me crazy. You would ask why would you not drive the new car? I could have said, “I’m used to the way the old car drives” or given other excuses but any excuse would have sounded silly. For those who are believers yet choose to continue to live in sin, that choice is just as crazy. God has provided the ultimate gift. The gift of eternal life and the new life it brings. We would be silly to refuse his gift in the first place but even more crazy would be to fail to walk in the new life he has given. One of the best things I did after getting my new car was giving my old one away. I wasn’t tempted to drive it that way. The best thing a believer can do is put the sin of your old life out of your life and walk in the new life that God provided. As Paul said,

Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

For those of us who are believers let’s walk in the new life that God has provided. There is no need to walk in our old life any longer and it would be silly for us to do so.

Psalm 96

Have you made a commitment to do something new as the year starts? Many people do. Whether you call them new year resolutions or not doesn’t matter but many people start the year determined for things to be different. Some determine to have new eating habits, new exercise habits, new reading habits, new relationship habits, and many other new things. There is nothing wrong with making these new commitments. In fact, if some are kept then one’s life can be changed for the better. In Psalm 96, we see a call to the people of God to something new. A call to sing a new song. If you read the entire Psalm what you see is a call for God’s people to heartfelt worship and witness. The first word of the Psalm “Oh” is a call to something heartfelt. If you took out the word, the Psalm would still make sense but the use of “Oh” calls us to a deep sense of feeling. In the depth of who we are, we are called to sing a new song to God. A new song simply means recognizing what God is doing in the present. In Lamentations 3:23 we are told that God’s mercies are new every morning, so if nothing else, each day we can sing about how merciful God has been to us for the previous day’s failure. But God is so much more. The Psalm declares God’s greatness and reminds us that it is to the Lord we sing. As people we are by nature worshippers. If we don’t worship God we will worship something. Therefore, we are called to sing a new song “to the Lord” to make sure that our hearts are pointed in the right direction. Pointed to the one who is to be feared above all the false gods of the earth, the one who “will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” As we worship, notice in this Psalm we are also to “declare his glory among the nations.” If we worship God correctly it will result in us witnessing to others about the greatness of God.

Maybe you think all I have said so far is common sense to the people of God. Maybe so. However, coming out of the year marked by COVID-19, we must make sure that we don’t get our eyes off God. Some studies have suggested that thirty percent or more of people who used to come to church will not return even when the pandemic is over, yet the Psalmist says we are to “bring an offering and come into his courts!” It is easy for us all to lose focus on even the basic things. Therefore, as this year is beginning let’s renew our commitment to worship the Lord and to witness to the world. If we do those two basic things we will have many new songs to sing in the coming year about what God is doing in our lives.

James 1

Often when we study the Bible it can become an academic exercise as we seek to know God’s truths. However, the study of God’s Word should never simply be academic. James 1:22-24 contains some very familiar words to those who have studied God’s Word. Look at them carefully.

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

It is important for us to see what James is saying. We truly must be doers of the Word. Even as we read devotionals, we can simply make them an exercise in gaining knowledge and encouragement without any real change in our lives. If all we ever get from reading God’s words and devotions is information or encouragement, then we have missed the purpose of God’s words. We have missed being transformed by the God who is the author of His Word. Truly God wants us to put into practice what we read and learn. As you hopefully take the challenge to read one chapter of James each day this week, be sure to not only read it but also understand what God wants you to do and then do it. The true blessing will come as you are a doer of God’s Word. Not only will you be blessed, but all those who you have contact with and influence over will also be blessed. I have no doubt that each chapter in James will reveal to you actions that will be a benefit to all if you do what God’s Word says. Read all of James 1 now and let God begin to transform you as 2021 draws near.

Malachi 1:2-5

Most people know that I am a fan of the Kentucky Wildcats. Fewer people know that I am a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. When I was young, I made the choice for whatever reason that these teams would be my favorite. Here is something that some of you will understand. No matter what happens with these teams, I will always be a fan. I still find it easy to be a UK fan, while I find it difficult to be a Cowboys fan. If I am honest, I would rather not be a Cowboys fan. However, something in me cannot stop cheering for the Cowboys. No matter how bad the team may be or no matter how much turmoil the organization is in, I still love the Cowboys. I cannot turn away from the teams I have chosen to love. If you are not a sports person, maybe you understand this feeling when it comes to a favorite musician or favorite actor or actress, or maybe even a favorite restaurant. Sometimes we choose to love things and even if things go a little wrong, we still choose to love.

In Malachi 1, God reaffirms his love for his people. As we read the Scriptures, God chose the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, to be his chosen people to bless the whole world. That will never change. Here in Malachi the Israelites were questioning God’s love because of their difficult situation. In part, they felt that God wasn’t punishing the evil and wicked nations around them. God tried to help them understand that he was a God of justice by noting that the Edomites suffered greatly by his hand for their wickedness and the Edomites were even descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. God is both a God of love and justice.

As we read these first verses of Malachi, we need to be mostly reminded of the steadfast love of God. Difficulties in life do not mean that God does not love you. This life is full of trouble. The good news for us is that trouble doesn’t separate us from the love of God. I am reminded of the New Testament verses that reaffirm this. In Romans 8 it says…

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can be assured that God’s love for you never changes. That is good news for a people who have a tendency to take God’s love for granted and who have a tendency to take advantage of God’s love. First, take a moment to thank God for His steadfast love. Then I want to encourage you to consider what your response to God’s love should be. Hopefully your response will be to love Him in return.

Esther 4

Have you ever entered into a situation or position joyfully only later to say, “This is not what I signed up for!”? My guess is most have had that experience at some time in life. Being a preacher, I can say that I have known many preachers who talked to search committees, took a new church position joyfully, only later to get to the church and say, “This is not what I signed up for!” The church had many issues that the committee didn’t share and so they were blindsided by the difficulties. People have taken what they thought was their dream job at their dream company only to get there and realize there was turmoil in the office and the company had issues people on the outside were not aware of and they say, “This is not what I signed up for!” Sometimes people marry into families not realizing all the relational conflict and they say, “This is not what I signed up for!” Many other examples could be shared, but I believe you get the picture.

In the book of Esther, we read the story of a Jewish woman named Esther. During her life many of the Jews still lived in exile though some were beginning to return to their homeland. Esther lived in Persia during the reign of King Xerxes. Her story begins when Xerxes is looking for a new queen because Queen Vashti had refused to obey his orders. After a period of evaluation of all available women in the kingdom, Xerxes chose Esther to be his queen. For Esther, she most likely thought that her position would be one of prestige and ease. As long as she went along with the king, all would be great and she would live in luxury. However, it wasn’t long before Esther had her, “I didn’t sign up for this” moment. Through a plot by a man named Haman, the King made a decree that condemned all the Jews to death. The king made this edict not being aware that his own queen was a Jew. She was then faced with a choice: keep quiet about her heritage and hope she was spared the fate of the rest of her people OR make her heritage known in hopes of changing the king’s mind. I think it is safe to say that Esther was reluctant to go to the king. In fact, even she was forbidden to go before the king without his summons. To do so would mean death. She hadn’t signed up for this. But then her cousin Mordecai made one of the more well-known statements in all the Bible. One quoted even by secular people. A statement that is something we all need to consider in our “I didn’t sign up for this moments.” What did Mordecai say?

Esther 4:14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

For such a time as this. Though Mordecai never mentions God, he clearly believes that God will deliver his people one way or another. He happens to believe that God had placed Esther where she was for the very purpose of being in the position to stand up for the Jewish people. The real question was whether Esther would take advantage of the opportunity God had given her. For those who know her story, you know she does and God used her to save the Jews from Xerxes’ original edict. She found that her “I didn’t sign up for this” moment was actually an opportunity for God to use her. If you are in one of those moments, ask God what he wants from you. Maybe you will discover that what you signed up for was something much greater than you could have ever imagined. Also, the next time you have one of those “I didn’t sign up for this” moments, instead of complaining, why not ask God what he is wanting to use you to accomplish. Maybe his will is different than what you thought. Most likely God will have you where you are “for just a time as this.” Whatever the “this” might be.

Daniel 2

For those who have grown up in the church when they hear the name Daniel they typically think next, “Lion’s Den.” As children many grew up hearing Daniel and the lion’s den as one of the recurring and popular Bible stories. Why? Because Daniel was a man who showed incredible faith even when faced with death. What we forget sometimes is that the lion’s den wasn’t the only time Daniel faced possible death. In Chapter 2 Daniel faces the possibility of death along with all the other wisemen in the land. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that bothered him and he wanted to know what it meant. He was so desperate to know the meaning, he threatened death to all the wisemen if no one could interpret the dream. One thing interesting that came from this threat was the secular wisemen making the statement in verse 11, “the thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Though these wisemen did not know the one true God, they at least recognized that what the king wanted was beyond their ability. They recognized their need for God even though they did not know God. Truly some difficulties come to show people their need for God. This response didn’t satisfy the king who then responded with the order to have the wisemen destroyed. Cue Daniel, who acted with prudence and discretion according to the Bible. He asked for a time to respond and it was granted.

What did Daniel do? First, he shared the matter with his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (you might know them better as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Which, by the way, reminds us that a life of faith is not meant to be lived alone. It is always a good thing to have godly friends to walk with you. Daniel asked his friends to seek God’s mercy on the matter so their lives would be spared. As a result, God revealed the dream to Daniel and Daniel told the king. What is the result? Daniel had an opportunity to give witness to God and he did. Daniel makes a statement very similar to the secular wisemen, but with an important difference. What did Daniel say? Verses 27 and 28 records Daniel’s words. “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in your latter day.” Daniel agreed that no one on earth could do what the King asked. But he gave witness that there is one God in heaven who can and, in fact, did what the King asked. It is important that we recognize that Daniel took the opportunity to witness for God. Daniel could have just stood before the King, given the interpretation and taken credit for a job well done, but he didn’t. Daniel took the opportunity to give a witness for God.

Let’s consider the next time, or even now, as we face difficult moments to look and see how God is at work. Then, as we see His hand move, let’s be sure to give God the glory He deserves. There is a world full of people who are being pointed to their need for God through the difficulties they face. It is up to God’s people to help them see that God is at work, that he deserves their praise, and that he wants to work in their lives. Let’s be God’s witnesses in our difficulties.

2 Kings 17

I believe we all appreciate a warning. If you happen to be speeding down the highway and get pulled over, you appreciate a police officer who says,” This time I will give you a warning.” If you happen to overlook a payment and miss the deadline, you appreciate an e-mail or a letter in the mail that gives you a warning of the missed payment, but says you can avoid penalty if you pay by a certain date. Warnings are greatly appreciated, however, a warning is only good if it is heeded. What happens if you ignore a warning? A penalty is coming. If you ignore the warning of a police office and continue to speed the next time you get pulled over will result in a ticket and a fine. If you fail to heed the warning of an overdue payment, then eventually there will be a penalty fee added to your bill. Warnings not heeded will be followed by some type of penalty.

In 2 Kings 17, we see where God’s people failed to heed God’s warning. The people had continually disobeyed God, even worshipping false gods, and God gave them a warning. 2 Kings 17:13 says…

 13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” 

This verse shows how gracious God is. If you read more fully what the people of Israel and Judah had done, then you wouldn’t blame God for simply destroying them. You at least wouldn’t blame God for sending punishment. Yet God’s first response was to send a warning to the people. Actually not one warning, but God sent them many warnings, as God sent multiple prophets to call the people back to him. Unfortunately, time and time again the people ignored God’s warning and continued to rebel against God. Because of their continued rebellion, eventually they suffered the full consequences for their sin. Their sin was so bad, 2 Kings 17 is actually detailing the last King of Israel and how Israel was captured by the Assyrians.

The lesson for all of us is simple, don’t take advantage of the grace of God. If God sends you a warning about how you are rebelling, listen to the warning and turn back to God. If the warning comes through reading his Word, through a faithful preacher, through a godly friend, or a convicting by the Holy Spirit, listen to the warning before it is too late. If you continue to ignore the warning don’t blame God when the consequences come. You can’t blame God because God truly is a God of grace who will give you every opportunity to turn back to Him before he will send consequences your way.

Jonah 1:1-3

Have you ever played hide and seek with a young child? It can be quite amusing. Tell them to go hide and they will often hide in the most obvious places. One might hide behind a curtain that doesn’t reach the floor, not realizing that her feet can easily be seen. Or, one might simply pull a blanket over his head thinking just because he can’t see anyone then he can’t be seen, not realizing the obvious hump in the blanket is easily seen by the seeker. There can be many examples, but a young child often fails to realize that the chosen hiding place is actually quite obvious. At the beginning of the book of Jonah, we see Jonah trying to disobey. Instead of going to the Ninevites as God had commanded, Jonah wanted to go the opposite way. He didn’t want to take God’s message to the Ninevites because he hated them. So what does he do? He tries to run and hide. When Jonah tries to hide from God, it is similar to a young child hiding. He is trying to hide from God, not realizing that he is easily seen. What Jonah had either forgotten or was trying to deny is that there is no place you can hide from God. Even though it isn’t even possible to hide from God, sin often makes us attempt to hide from Him. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden of Eden, Jonah tried to hide, and we often try to hide too. The saddest part of attempting to hide from God is that it is the opposite of what He wants from us. God doesn’t want us to run and hide from Him, he wants us to run toward Him. The Psalmist recognized that God’s presence is actually a comforting place. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist recognized God’s presence by saying…

Psalm 139: Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10  even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 

Notice what a comforting thought this was for the Psalmist. He realized that God’s hand would lead him and that God’s right hand would hold him. That is what God’s presence should be for us–a reassuring hand we run to. If you find yourself running from God today… stop. Instead turn around and run to God. Even if there is sin in your life, turn to Him because he wants to forgive, restore you, and use you for his glory. Your attempt to get away from God will prove impossible, so why not go ahead and run toward God today. In fact, pray what the Psalmist went on to say later in Psalm 139…

Psalm 139:23  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! 

If you do, you will be met with God’s patient, everlasting love to restore you.

1 Kings 17

Something that most Christians struggle with is believing that they truly have something to offer God. At least believing they have enough to offer something of significance to God. We either see ourselves as not smart enough, not talented enough, or not having enough resources. Because people doubt what they have to offer God, many fail to offer anything to God. What is interesting in the Scripture is that all God asks us to offer him is whatever we have. There is no description of what is an acceptable offering to God other than your life. When we look at the events in 1 Kings 17, when Elijah asked the widow to give him food to eat, as God had instructed, her first response was “I don’t have anything baked” and then went on to express that what she did have was insufficient. What is interesting is when she obeyed Elijah (really when she obeyed God) and offered what she had, God multiplied her offering many times over and the need was met far beyond her expectation. Not only was the need met, her life became a part of God’s grand plan even to the point that her witness continues to this day.

As I read this event in 1 Kings, I cannot help but think about the events in John 6. As the crowd who had gathered to hear Jesus speak became hungry, there was the need to feed them. However, the need was great and the only food available was in the hands of a young boy who had five barley loaves and two fishes. However, as that boy offered his food to the Lord, Jesus multiplied it and fed a crowd that scholars estimate to be well over 10,000. There were 5,000 men, not counting the women and children. The issue was not the amount offered, but that it was offered. When we offer our little to God, he can do much. Never look at what you have and say “I don’t have enough for God to use.” Simply offer what you have and watch how much God can do with what you give. It will be infinitely more than what you can imagine.

1 Kings 3

Starting in childhood, I loved receiving praise. I wanted to hear my parents say “good job” when I would complete a task. As I got older, I longed for that praise from friends. When I played basketball, I wanted teammates and friends to say “good game.” I don’t think I am alone because praise is something that all of us seem to long for. I wish I could say that I have grown out of this, but I haven’t. I love to hear my wife say, “Good job washing the dishes” or hear my kids say “Supper was good, Dad.” Having that praise can be energizing. It can be fulfilling. However, there can be danger in seeking the praise of men. If not careful, we can be so driven by praise that we can pursue praise more than what it right. As a preacher it can even be tempting at times to be more interested in hearing people say “good sermon” than to be true to God and His Word. Seeking praise is something we all have to guard against.

In 1 Kings, we see an interesting contrast. When God asked Solomon what he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom. He wanted wisdom because he wanted to govern rightly. He wanted to clearly know good from evil. In other words, he wanted to do what was right in God’s sight. His greatest concern was to do what was right according to God and his Word and to lead God’s people correctly. As a result two interesting things happen. We first read in verse 10 that God was pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom. That alone is a great thing! Having God pleased with your life is amazing! But then we read in verse 28 that the people perceived that the wisdom of God was in Solomon to do justice. In other words, Solomon’s life gave testimony to God so that the people really were praising God. Having people praise God because of our lives should be a desire of every Christian. For example, as a preacher I should not want to hear people say “Good sermon, preacher”, I should want to hear them say in response to a sermon, “Amen, preacher! God is good!” Let’s today seek the wisdom of God so that we live lives that do just that. Let’s seek God’s wisdom so that as we live life, people give praise to God.