Grading on a Curve

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Most of us are probably familiar with what it means to grade on a curve. Some of us may have even benefited from it in school. In education, it is a statistical method of assigning grades in order to yield a predetermined distribution of grades among students in a class. One of the outcomes of grading on a curve is ensuring that students are assessed relative to peers in their class. When I was in school, I loved it when my teachers graded on a curve because I knew if I did just enough to be better than the majority of the people in my class, I would get by. Continue reading

Who Can Follow?

“Follow me” (Matthew 9:9) 

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Yes, that means anyone, no matter their past. We all have a past, a past that in some cases we might rather keep to ourselves. Jesus’ disciples had a past as well, perhaps none of them more checkered than Matthew’s. Matthew was a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were despised, seen as traitors because they conspired with the Roman government to collect taxes from their fellow Jews while enriching themselves at the same time. Modern day extortionists they were. So, why would Jesus choose Matthew as one of his disciples? Wasn’t his past somehow a disqualifier of his usefulness to serve?                         

                   To understand Matthew’s past, before Jesus’ calling on his life has present value for each of us. It tells of the wonderful grace of God and the power of the cross to wash away sin. It’s easy to look at our past and believe it renders us unfit for service. Matthews’ story helps us to know that need not be the case. Matthew’s past was no match for God’s grace and neither is ours. That’s the power of the cross. Let us never move beyond the cross because it is where we were fitted to serve.

Where the Glory Belongs

“They were only hearing it said, He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24) 

The Apostle Paul wrote Galatians in approximately 49 A.D., some sixteen years after his conversion. It was the first of his thirteen letters recorded in Scripture, written to the churches he established during his first missionary journey. In Galatians, Paul defended the sufficiency of Christ alone for salvation. The church had fallen prey to the false teaching that said in order to be saved one also had to be circumcised. This was a denial of the sufficiency of what Christ did on the cross. In the latter part of the first chapter, after expressing his astonishment at their deserting the true gospel, Paul told of his conversion and calling into ministry. He concluded by telling of the response people had at the time to his conversion, “They were only hearing it said, He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24).

            Humanly speaking, Paul had a lot to boast about. Think about it, all the churches he founded, the souls saved through his preaching, his commitment to discipleship and his relentless defense of the gospel. There’s no denying his contribution. Yet, Paul’s only boast was Christ. Paul knew that were it not for the grace of God, he would have remained dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1). Therefore, he didn’t seek glory because he knew it belonged elsewhere.  

            True salvation is always marked by change. Part of that change is a desire to be used by God to further His kingdom. However, we must never take our eye off the fact that it is God who affects the change in each of us. He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). That truth should always be on the top of our minds and deep in our hearts. What God has done in and through each of us is really never about us, but about Him. The truth is, God did it all and because He did, the glory is His alone. For all the Apostle Paul may have contributed to the Christian faith, it was always God to whom he pointed. And that’s the only place we should ever point as well.

Before the Day

“In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3 NIV) 

Psalm 5 is a lament. The primary function of a lament is to ask the Lord for help in a troubling situation. King David had many situations that troubled him. As some of his psalms do, Psalm 5 doesn’t give the specific experience from which David wrote. We only know it was a troubling one. Though different than his, we have our own troubles as well. This world, the pressures of our jobs, personal relationships, struggles with illness and many other things can be troubling. They often consume so much of us that it makes worship impossible.

            Recently, I downloaded a song from iTunes that I first heard some years ago, but had not heard in a long time. It is called Before the Day. As it did then, it has consumed a lot of time on my personal playlist. There are two primary things I remember about the first time I heard this song: First was how beautiful the lyrics were and how fittingly softly they were sung. The songs theme centers on the value of beginning the day by spending time with the Lord. The second thing I remember was the story the singer told as he introduced the song on this live recording. He spoke of a friend who referred to his early morning quiet time as “Going steady with EDDY”. What this friend meant was that you do it Early, Daily, Diligently and Yielding. He then shared his own experience was that if he doesn’t have his quiet time early, it doesn’t happen at all. Before the Day was written and recorded by NewSong. You should listen to it. It will bless you!

            As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t prescribe a particular part of the day that’s best for our quiet time with the Lord. What’s most important is that we take this time every day. My sense however is there is no better time than in the morning. There’s no one better than Lord to help us prepare for the day and the anxiety that waits to rush in, sometimes even before our feet hit the floor. The morning offers a great time of refreshing, a time for us to focus on God, to speak to Him and to sit quietly while He speaks to us. Seek the Lord each day, dwell in His presence, carry Him with you wherever you go and trust that He will see you through.

Children: A Blessing and a Responsibility

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3) 

Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”. As a parent, part of living that out is teaching our children what it means. Several times a year, as part of our Sunday worship service at church, we have what is called Parent-Child Dedication. It is a special time for our congregation to celebrate with these families the blessings of God their children represent. As our pastor began this time of celebration on this particular Sunday, he reminded these parents of the covenant they were making before the LORD, charging them to pray for their children, teach them sound doctrine and to be a godly example in their lives. He then read Psalm 127.

            Psalm 127 has as its theme the importance of the LORD’s influence on the family. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Verse 3 speaks specifically of children as a divine gift, an expression of God’s goodness upon a parent’s life, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward”. Our children are a tremendous blessing from God. They are also a tremendous responsibility. As parents, it’s imperative we take this responsibility seriously. As with any learning that takes place in a parent-child relationship, it’s hard to teach what we don’t model. Our children will most likely not walk a path we ourselves are not traveling. This leaves us to rely on God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s work to help us model godly living.

            A word of encouragement, our walk will never be perfect in this life, but as we set our affections on Christ, let us trust that our children will follow. Imagine the blessing of walking side by side through this life of faith with those God has given you the responsibility of leading. Imagine, you yourself becoming more and more like Christ and at the same time watching those you love so much becoming more like Him to. In both cases, our God will be glorified.

The Heart of Scripture

In his commentary on Romans, James Boice calls Romans 3:21-31 not only the heart of Romans, but also the heart of Scripture. One purpose of the Old Testament is to point us to the New Testament, specifically to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. There is perhaps no better summary of what Christ did to restore our broken relationship with God than what is found in these eleven verses. There are important theological truths taught in these verses; truths we should seek to understand. 

            But there is another truth we must also understand, the truth of the reality of sin and the wrath it deserves. The early chapters of Romans make this clear (Romans 1:18-3:20). Admittedly, these early chapters are tough to read, but if we are to truly know the extent of God’s love for us, we have to understand who we are and what we deserve apart from Him. But as true as it is about what Scripture says regarding sin, it’s equally true about what Scripture says God did about it. “But now…” (Romans 3:21). God has made a way for you and me, showing His love for us by giving us His Son, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That is the story of the Bible, the story of how God made a way for those who couldn’t find their way. That way is only through Christ.

            There is nothing more valuable than time spent in God’s Word each day. However, sometimes in our daily time with Him, instead of trying to read chapter after chapter, perhaps we should just read, re-read and reflect on passages like Romans 3:21-31, passages that speak so clearly of what Christ has done. We don’t have to work for what God has already done for us in Christ because there is no human way to achieve salvation. We simply need to rest in the truth that Jesus did it all.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”

By Faith Alone

“Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) This was Paul’s question to the churches in southern Galatia. He established these churches during his first missionary journey. Paul always had to deal with false teachers who contended that salvation came by more than just faith in Christ alone. Some of these teachers that had infiltrated these churches taught that in order to be saved one also had to be circumcised. Unfortunately, some Galatians thought it to be true, “O foolish Galatians!”  

            Today, we have a tendency if not to believe, to at least act as if we have to add to what Christ has done on our behalf. However, Scripture is clear; salvation is in Christ alone, received only by faith in what He has already done on the cross. Jesus really did pay it all. And for that, our boast is only in Him.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Living the Gospel

Most of the time when we hear it said we are to live the gospel, it’s said as encouragement to live each day for God’s glory. God’s glory should be our goal and obedience to His will matters, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15). The apostle Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” He then answers, saying “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). So yes, living the gospel means that we are to walk in a manner that pleases God.

            But living the gospel also entails our accepting the full forgiveness we have in Christ. Though one day we will be, we are far from perfect and sin stills dwells within us. If it were not so, would Paul have written to those in the church at Rome to not let sin reign in their mortal bodies? (Romans 6:12). Would he have told the Galatians to walk by the Spirit so not to gratify the desires of the flesh? (Galatians 5:16).

            It is easy to let the moments when we are less than who God calls us to be keep us from pursuing who we are in Him and fulfilling the purpose for which He created us. We must always remember; God has saved us from the just judgment we deserve apart from Him. Our sin was cured at the cross. Christ has become our righteousness. The simple and glorious truth is that when Jesus said, “It is finished”, He meant it.     

The Joy of Salvation

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Pride is the root of all sin. King David knew pride and sin well. We too know it well. But David was also a man after God’s own heart, and in time, whenever he found himself out of God’s will, he eventually made his way back and always found God welcoming. The context for which David wrote Psalm 51 was when he was exposed as both an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11:1-12:23).

            The truth is we sin because we’re sinners, but as Christians our hearts default position is obedience to the will of our heavenly Father. You see David express as much in this psalm. He recognized his sin and prayed for a clean heart and renewed spirit, knowing that it was something only the LORD could do.    

            God didn’t save us so we would have to wait for eternity to experience the joy of salvation. Though our joy will be unbroken in eternity, God wants us to experience joy now. David recognized that his sin robbed him of that joy. We must recognize the same. Sin and joy cannot co-exist in the believers’ heart. When you find your fellowship with God broken because of your sin, repent and seek Him with a humble and contrite heart. When you do, you will find God pleased to restore the joy He intended for you all along, joy that is found only in Him.