Just Like Me

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

James 5:17-18  

Wow!  It didn’t rain for three-and-a-half years!  Then Elijah prays it would rain and the heavens open up!  

What a prayer!  What clout with God!  What power!  

And I’m thinking:  Well, that’s because it’s Elijah.  Elijah was special.  Elijah was different.  Elijah was one of the most powerful prophets in the Bible.  Why, Elijah didn’t even die; he just ascended right up to God.  

So, my prayers could never have the effect that Elijah’s prayers had.  Right?  

Maybe you think that too.  But is that why God inspires James to give the example of Elijah’s prayer, so we would recognize that our prayers could never do that?  

I doubt it.  I don’t think that is God’s heart at all.  In fact, I know it’s not.  God, knowing that we would think Elijah was exceptional and special, begins the example with these weighty words:

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”  

What is God saying to us here?  Could God be telling us that our prayers can do the impossible, the unheard of, the miraculous?  Do I need to view the power of prayer in a whole different way?  Do I need to pray with a boldness and expectancy I’ve never had before?

Disobeyed Verse

Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James 5:14  


There are plenty of candidates in the Bible for “most disobeyed verse.”  In the Book of James, I think of James 1:2:  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  Or there’s James 1:19:  “Know this, my beloved brothers:  let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  And plenty of others!  

But at the top of the list, I would put James 5:14:  “Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Many churches don’t do this.  Most Christians don’t obey this.  

Why not?  Is it a hassle to call for the elders?  Is it a bit awkward to smear oil on someone’s forehead?  Do we not believe that God still heals people?  Or do we not really believe in the power of prayer?  

Perhaps all of these are involved.  But God’s command stands clear.  Do it.  If there is a sickness, then call for the elders, God’s representatives to shepherd the body.  Let them pray over you, anointing you with oil, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  

Who knows what God might do when we obey him no matter what?

Quick, Slow, Slow

Know this, my beloved brothers:  let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

James 1:19    


One short verse, three power-packed principles.  These three axioms are so simple that most people miss them.  Most people do the opposite – they are slow to listen, quick to speak, quick to get angry.  But not the wise man or woman!  Wise people are quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Just like Christ was.   

First, be quick to hear. The first responsibility of love is listening.  People are starved to be heard and understood. If we listen to people, really listen to people with our full attention, those people will feel so loved by us.  So simple, yet so powerful.   

Paul Tournier wrote in his book, Escape From Loneliness:   

”It is impossible to overemphasize the immense need humans have to be really listened to, to be taken seriously, to be understood.  No one can develop freely in this world and find the full life without feeling understood by at least one person.  

Listen to all the conversations of our world, between nations as well as those between couples.  They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf.”


Second, be slow to speak.  If we are always talking, then we won’t be listening.  And that’s what people need from us, not our words, but our ears.  Besides, if we are hasty in our words, it is likely that we will say things we regret.   

Alan McGinnis relates an anecdote on the difference between a talker and a listener:   

”A young woman was taken to dinner one night by William E. Gladstone, the distinguished British statesman, and the following night by Benjamin Disraeli, his equally distinguished opponent.  Asked later what impression these two celebrated men had made on her, she replied thoughtfully:  “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England.  But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”  

Finally, be slow to anger.  Not quick-tempered.  Not irritable.  Not oversensitive.  But slow to anger.  Decide that you will not erupt with anger but you will give people the benefit of the doubt. You ask questions to clarify what people mean. You have a long fuse.   

This is wisdom.  Quick to hear.  Slow to speak.  Slow to anger.

Just Ask

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5    


This is a promise to claim and act upon!  A practical, much-needed promise for a thousand situations of life, big and little.  

If you need wisdom, just ask God.   God is a generous God and he will give you wisdom.  What a promise!  

You run into a stumbling block in your marriage because you and your wife see things so differently.  Ask God for wisdom.  

Your sixth-grader is struggling with a difficult teacher, who doesn’t seem to treat your child fairly.  What should you do?  Ask God for wisdom.  

You have a problem with one of your employees.  He has a great heart and everyone likes him, but he just doesn’t do a good job with his work.  How can you help him improve?  Are you hurting the company?  Ask God for wisdom.  

You have a splendid ministry opportunity at church.  It fits your passions and gifts so well.  But you have been over-scheduled lately.  Do you accept the ministry position?  Ask God for wisdom.  

In all of these situations, and so many more, claim this promise and come to God for wisdom.  Come to him for little things and come to him for big things.  Come repeatedly and come joyfully.  Come expectantly and come tirelessly.  For God has promised to give you wisdom.

Count It Joy

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.

James 1:2  

God is telling you that when you experience setbacks, disappointments, heartbreaks, count it all joy.  When you have car trouble, when the refrigerator breaks down, rejoice.  When you have chronic back pain, when you lose your job, when you hear the diagnosis of cancer, give thanks.  In all these times of pain and suffering, count it all joy.  Be glad, give thanks, rejoice, bring praise to me.  Don’t complain, whine, grumble, groan or grow bitter.  Instead, count it all joy.   

Let me ask you:  Do you do this?  Are you doing it right now with whatever challenge or setback you are facing?   

This response to suffering is exceedingly rare.  It sounds crazy.  But this is God’s clear command, both in this passage and in other passages, such as Romans 5:3, Philippians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.   

Why does God command us to count every trial as a joy?  Simply because God is God and he will redeem every trial and bring good out of it for his people.  James 1:3 goes on to say:  “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  Romans 8:28 gives us the sure promise:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”  God uses suffering to produce endurance, to build faith, to shape our souls, to grow our hearts.   
In a DesiringGod.org blog post, John Piper once wrote:  “This is not a little piece of advice about the power of positive thinking.  This is an utterly radical, abnormal, supernatural way to respond to suffering.  It is not in our power.  It is not for the sake of our honor.  It is the way spiritual aliens and exiles live on the earth for the glory of the great King.”   

David McCullough has written a classic biography of John Adams, our second President, in which he records this experience:  “John Adams said he has ‘an immense load of errors, weaknesses, follies and sins to mourn over and repent of.’  These were ‘the only affliction’ of his present life.  But St. Paul taught him to rejoice ever more and be content.  ‘This phrase “rejoice ever more” shall never be out of my heart, memory or mouth again as long as I live.’”   

This is God’s will for us, that in every trial, we count it all joy.  Because we know God is at work, redeeming the suffering for our sake.  This phrase should never be out of our heart, memory or mouth again as long as we live.

Endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2a   


Ray Kroc, the legendary CEO of McDonald’s, kept on his office wall an elaborately framed statement by Calvin Coolidge.  It was Kroc’s favorite inspirational quote.  

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination alone are omnipotent.  

In fact, when Kroc was CEO of McDonald’s, every executive’s office had this statement framed on the wall.  

I can understand why.  I love this quote too.  Endurance is simply one of the most vital traits that anyone can have.  If you have endurance it will make up for a lot of other limitations.  

Certainly, we need endurance in the spiritual life.  For all of us, there are times when we grow weary and lose heart.  We struggle with sin and addictions.  People let us down.  Churches are full of imperfect people.  Prayers go unanswered – or rather, we don’t get the answer we want when we want it.  Marriage can be hard.  Parenting can be overwhelming.  We battle physical pain or mental illness.  

Life is hard.  This is not heaven.  

So we need endurance.  “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  

In order to endure, God gives us three vital principles:  Take encouragement from others who endured, get rid of anything that holds you back, and especially, fix your eyes on Jesus.  

Jesus endured tough times.  And if we fix our gaze on Jesus, we too can endure.  

Three practical suggestions to help you stay focused on Jesus:  

Take unhurried time to meet with Jesus every day.
Let other things go but don’t neglect time with Jesus.  It is your greatest privilege.  

Practice the presence of God throughout the day. 
He is right there with you all the time.  Live in his presence.  Talk with him.  Draw close.  

Sing to him. 
Worship music is powerful.  It is soul-transforming.  It helps you stay focused on Christ.

Through It All

And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.

Hebrews 11:32  


In the next few verses we see example after example of miracles and triumphs:  “… who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection” (11:33-35a).  

The life of faith is a life of incredible triumphs.  Sometimes.  

At other times, there is tragedy and suffering.  The very next verses list example after example of heartache and pain.  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (11:35b-38).

That’s the life of faith.  Sometimes there is triumph and victory.  At other times there is heartbreak and tragedy.  Through it all, people of faith trust their God.    

If we are going to walk by faith and not by sight, then we will trust God in the good times and in the bad times.  We will not compare our experience with that of others.  We will know that God is God and we are not.  We will know that we humans cannot possibly understand all that an infinite God does.  

And we will trust him no matter what.

Hall of Faith

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Hebrews 11:31  


Do you think God was a bit embarrassed to have a prostitute listed in his Hall of Faith?   

Not at all!  God uses flawed people.  God uses people who have failed, people with a past, people with messy lives … people like us!   

Indeed, the very next verse names more people and the first five listed – Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah and David – had significant failures.   

Gideon did not believe God’s Word and so he needed God to prove his promise with a fleece.  Twice!   

Barak was so timid when God called him to lead the army into battle that he told Deborah that he would go “only if you go with me.”   

Samson had all kinds of trouble with foreign women and he ended up blind and a slave.   

Jephthah made a foolish vow that caused the death of his daughter.   

David was guilty of adultery and murder, and most of his kids were a mess.   

And yet all five are heroes in God’s Hall of Faith.  Moreover, they follow Rahab on the list.  Do you think God might be trying to tell us something?  Do you hear the message from God:  God uses flawed people who dare to trust in him.  You don’t have to be perfect to be used by God.   
In fact, there is one big advantage to having some failures and weaknesses.  You are less likely to be filled with pride and self-righteousness, and you are more likely to be dependent and desperate.   

Never listen to the enemy when he says that God has written you off and will never use you again.

Blood on the Door

By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

Hebrews 11:28    


The tenth plague was the death of every firstborn male in Egypt.  So that this plague would not strike the Jewish firstborns, God told the Jews to do a most unusual thing.  

Each family was to kill a lamb and then smear its blood around the front door of their home.  What a messy, bloody activity!  Why did God want such a bloody act?  

Because God was teaching his people about sin and sacrifice and substitution.  He was teaching his people that sin is serious to a holy God and that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).  

God was teaching his people about sacrifice.  Sin required a sacrifice.  The penalty for sin was death (in the Bible, bloodshed symbolizes death).  If sin was to be forgiven or atoned for, then a sacrifice must be paid.  There had to be death, bloodshed.  

Finally, God was teaching his people the spiritual truth of substitution.  Because of our sin we deserve to die.  But God in his mercy allows a substitute, a lamb, to die in our place.  

But the sacrifice of a mere animal could never really atone for human sin.  So the sacrifice of countless animals in the Old Testament was to foreshadow a Substitute who would come one day and really pay for sin.  This Substitute was God himself, God in the flesh.  Every lamb sacrificed in Egypt, along with every animal sacrificed in the Old Testament, alluded to the Substitute.  No wonder that when Jesus begins his ministry, his anointed prophet John calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  Jesus, our Substitute, dies in our place so that we won’t have to die for our sin.  

All of this truth, about sin and sacrifice and substitution, was inherent in the bloody doorframes back in Egypt.  

That blood, the blood on the doorframes, was the only hope for those Jewish families.  The blood of Jesus, the blood on the cross, is the only hope for you and me.  Precious blood indeed!

People of Faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8    


Abraham does the impossible.  He leaves his ancestral home, his people, his city, all that he knows, and strikes out on a long and dangerous journey, not knowing where he will end up or even if he will arrive.  In the ancient world, people did not do this sort of thing.   

Abraham did it for one simple reason.  Faith.  He trusted God enough to obey.  He believed that God was God, and that if God told him to leave, then the best thing for him to do was to leave.   

What will the life of faith look like for us?  This is what we see in Abraham’s life:     

People of faith don’t play it safe. 
Faith invariably involves risk.  Faith inevitably involves the unseen and the unknown.  If we go through life playing it safe, being comfortable and cozy, never on the edge, then we are not living by faith.  For example, giving 10% of your income is an act of faith.  “Will I have enough if I do that?  It seems crazy.”  People of faith don’t play it safe.  They live an adventure, trusting God to protect them and guide them.  

People of faith obey God no matter what. 
We may not understand why we should obey.  Abraham didn’t understand why he needed to leave or what God would do or how God would take care of him.  But he obeyed.  Understanding can wait, but not obedience.  Faith obeys God.  No matter what.  Is there something in your life right now, where you need to obey, even if you don’t understand everything? 

People of faith are not immune from problems. 
God promised to make Abraham a great nation.  He promised Abraham as many descendants as the stars in the sky.  But how long did Abraham wait for a son?  Twenty-five years!  Twenty-five interminable years.   I hope you do not have to wait 25 years for whatever you’re waiting for.  But at times we all wait.  Living by faith does not mean exemption from problems.  It simply means we have the Problem-Solver inside.  

People of faith trust God for the impossible. 
It is impossible for a couple to have a child when the woman is 90 years old!  But God loves to put us into impossible situations so that we have no other option except to trust God.  Because if there’s any other option, we are inclined to take it.  What is the biggest need in your life right now?  Does it seem impossible to you?  If so, remember God’s words to Sarah:  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

Trust, Not Clarify

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.  By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:7    


Faith always involves the unseen.  In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul declares, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”   

Faith involves the unseen God.  Faith involves the yet unseen actions of God to deliver us and rescue us and protect us.  We trust God for that which is not yet visible to us.   

Noah is a prime example.  When God called Noah to build an enormous ark, there was no flood in sight.  There was no rain.  There was no storm.  There was not even a decent beach!   

And yet God said to build it.  So Noah, by faith, started building.   

So often in our lives we want clarity.  We want to see what God is doing, how God will deliver us, exactly what will happen.  But God is more concerned that we trust him for what is yet unclear, for what is still unseen.   

In Ruthless Trust, Philip Yancey tells a marvelous story about Mother Teresa:   

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?  
Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.  “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.  
He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States:  “Pray that I have clarity.”  

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”  

When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  

When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God.”  

God will give us clarity when we need it.  Meanwhile, he wants us to trust him for the unseen, for the uncertain, for the unclear.

Delighting God's Heart

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6


Hebrews 11 is the greatest chapter on faith in all the Bible and verse 6 is the pivotal verse in the chapter.  This verse is a ringing, clarion call to the absolute importance of faith.  “And without faith it is impossible to please him.”   

Unless we are trusting God and not ourselves, we cannot please God.  Unless we believe that God will take care of us, we cannot please God.  Unless we rely on God’s power and not our own resources, we cannot please God.   

At the end of your life, will it be said of you that you were a man or woman who lived by faith?  Did you live by faith, trusting in God to come through for you?  Did you have a faith that delighted the heart of God?  Or, by contrast, did you tend to rely upon your own resources as you went through life?    

The Bible tells us, unequivocally, that it is impossible to please God unless we live by faith.  I wonder:  Why does faith matter so much to God?  Why does it please the infinite God so much when we trust him?   

Two things come to mind.  First, it matters to God the way we view him.  Yes, God is the infinite God but he is also the personal God.  God has feelings too.  If I see God as a stern taskmaster, who is hard to please and hard to live with, this grieves his heart.  But if I see God as bursting with tender love and relentless compassion, as a God who is patient and kind and easy to live with, then our God loves it.   

A second thought:  Trusting God goes with loving God.  Do you love a God that you don’t trust with your heart?  Do you trust a God that you don’t feel a tender love and affection for?  No, you don’t.  Trust in God and love for God are inextricably bound together.  And God longs for us to love him back.   

There are probably many reasons why your faith matters so much to God.  But here are two big reasons:   

Your faith reflects the way you see God.Your faith is directly tied to your love for God.  
No wonder God tells us:  “And without faith it is impossible to please him.”

Forgotten God

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Romans 8:5

 

A few years back Francis Chan, the well-known author of Crazy Love, wrote a book on the Holy Spirit. He called it Forgotten God, an intriguing title. His point was that the church in America has largely neglected the Holy Spirit.

Is that true? I think so. When you compare the numbers-driven, consumer-oriented church in America with the prayer-fueled, Spirit-empowered church in Acts that turned the Roman world upside down there is quite a difference. Something, or Someone, is missing. 1 Corinthians 4:20 says: "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." That is not so obvious of the church in America, where there is more talk than power.

Some struggle with the name, Holy Spirit. They get Jesus. They get the Father. But the Holy Spirit remains elusive for many. In fact, some think of the Spirit as a force or an energy.

But the Bible is emphatic, the Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is a Person. The Holy Spirit is a He, not an it. The Holy Spirit is inside every Christian. If you know Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells you. The Almighty, Sovereign God indwells you. Christian life is life in the Spirit, life by the Spirit, life from the Spirit. I suspect that for most of us, including me, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, God has more for us. Consider the ever-quotable A.W. Tozer's comment:

We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low. We have measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone ... [We] have imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.

O Lord, fill me afresh, fill us afresh with your Spirit!

What God Has Done

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:3-4

 

Seven expressions in these two verses warrant comment:

1. For God has done.

Religion is spelled D-O, what we do, what we achieve. The gospel is spelled D-O-N-E, what God has done, what we receive. Salvation is not the work of man for God, but the work of God for man.

2. The law, weakened by the flesh.

The problem is not the law, but our flesh - our sinful, selfish tendency that we are born with. Because of our sinfulness, the Old Testament law could not justify us (make us right with God) and could not sanctify us (make us holy).

3. By sending his own Son.

The incarnation and crucifixion reveal the sacrifice of the Father. This is his own Son, the Son of his love, that he has sent to save us.

4. In the likeness of sinful flesh.

His humanity was real but he was without sin. So in the incarnation, Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh.

5. For sin.

This is why God sent his Son - for sin, to pay for sin, to atone for sin, to obliterate our sin. Jesus came for sin.

6. He condemned sin.

Jesus paid for sin. He defeated sin. He condemned sin. The only reason sin does not condemn us is because Jesus has already condemned our sin.

7. Who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

We become more and more holy, more and more Christlike, not by the flesh, our own efforts, but by the Spirit, the Spirit who infuses us with power. We depend upon the Spirit, and therefore we are empowered by the Spirit.

Lord, help me to live my life depending on you, on your Spirit, and not upon me, my trying hard.

Work of the Spirit

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:2

 

In Paul's writings, there are two pivotal passages on the work of the Holy Spirit. One is found in Romans 8 and the other is found in Galatians 5. In the first seven chapters of Romans, he mentions the Holy Spirit four times. But in Romans 8, in just the first 27 verses, the Spirit is mentioned 19 times!

The first mention comes in verse 2: "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." This verse raises the question: Exactly what are we set free from? The answer is found in Romans 7: We are set free from the law, even though the law is God's law and it is holy and good in itself.

Still, our sinful tendency, our flesh, takes this good thing and uses it to stir up a bad thing, sin. This same point was made early in chapter 7: "But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (7:6).

The Old Testament was basically life under the law. The New Testament is life under the Spirit. We are set free from our own efforts, from striving, from performance, from religion, from rules, from measuring up. The key motif of the spiritual life is no longer strive, but surrender. Surrender to the Spirit.

The Christian life is a supernatural life and that requires supernatural power, the power of the Spirit. We now live in the age of the Spirit. The Old Testament prophets foretold this day. For example, Ezekiel 36:26-27 states:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Beginning with Acts 2, this promise has been fulfilled. God has put a new spirit, his Spirit, within us to empower us to live for him. As Zechariah 4:6 puts it: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts."

Lord, would you fill us afresh with your Spirit. Your power, not mine.

No Condemnation

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

 

Romans 8 begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.

We have no condemnation because of God's grace to us. We have no separation because of God's love for us. All though this chapter - which is arguably the greatest chapter in all the Bible - we see that we are safe, we are assured that we are safe in the steadfast, unfailing love and grace of God.

To say the word No is such a short word, but it carries complete and absolute finality here. No condemnation. None! Zero! You are completely and eternally set free from condemnation.

When is this true? When you get to heaven? No. It's true right now. "There is therefore now no condemnation."

Who is this true for? Is it true of good people? People who never fail? People who are superstar Christians? People who try hard to please God? People who measure up?

No! It's true for people who are in Christ Jesus. That's it? They are joined, by faith, to Christ. The blood of Jesus cleanses them from all sin. All sin. Past, present, future.

The famed psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day.

If you have failed in your marriage, there's no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. If you fell into sexual sin, there's no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. If you have struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction, there's no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. If you have committed some horrible sin, there's no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. If you are a self-centered jerk, there's no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The blood of Jesus cleanses you of all your sin.

There is an ocean of love, grace and peace in this one verse! Stand on it! Cling to it! Believe it!

Lord, how could we ever thank you enough that we have been set free from all condemnation forever?

No Telling

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

 

William Tyndale was the first person to translate the Bible into English. He translated it in the early 1500s, when it was not OK to do so. He eventually was burned at the stake at the young age of 42. Seventy years later, the King James Version was published, and most of it was taken from Tyndale's translation work.

Tyndale once wrote that the book of Romans was the best book in the New Testament and the guide to understanding the entire Bible. He said that no one can read it too often or study it too much, because this book is so rich. He even felt that every Christian should memorize the book of Romans.

So far we have covered Romans 1-7 in this devotional series. Here are the main sections so far:

  • 1:1-17   Introduction
  • 1:18-3:20Sin
  • 3:21-5:21   Salvation by Grace
  • 6:1-8:39   Spiritual Life

Interestingly, for each of these three sections on sin, on salvation, and on the spiritual life, the passages in Romans are considered the most important sections in the Bible for these topics. No wonder the writer J.I. Packer once commented: "When the message of Romans gets into a man's heart, there's no telling what may happen!"

I urge you to make this book, the book of Romans, a priority in your life. I urge you to read it, study it, meditate upon it, seek to obey it and treasure it all your days!

Lord, thank you for this grand book. Help me to know it better and thereby to know you better.

The Heart of Prayer

I love you, O Lord, my strength.

Psalm 18:1

 

Prayer is all about love. It's loving Jesus.

Yes, prayer is also asking for needs, interceding for others, confessing sins, giving thanks, adoring God. But the heart and soul of prayer is love.

Prayer is about two persons in love. One of those persons is God! He loves us perfectly, immeasurably, outlandishly. And we are falling in love more and more. Prayer is the overflow of this love relationship. Prayer is the expression of this love relationship. Prayer is the cultivation of this love relationship.

Lovers talk. Lovers hang out together. Lovers enjoy each other's presence. This is how God feels about you. Ideally, this is the way we are beginning to feel about God.

David felt it. Oh, did he ever! Do you feel it? Are you beginning to feel it? Deep within your heart, the stirrings of love? This yearning for God? This desire? This passion?

Prayer is all about love. Not duty. Not obligation. Not religious ritual. But love. Love like we've never known.

"I love you, O Lord, my strength."

Identity

To the choirmaster. A psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.

Psalm 18 Superscription

 

Most psalms have a superscription before the first verse. These notes frequently give the psalm's author or the psalm's setting or a musical directive. The superscription is part of the biblical text; it is not a note added by the publisher of the Bible.

The superscription for Psalm 18 is especially interesting. We find the musical note. We find the authorship note. We find the setting. We even read that David sang the words of this song and that he sang them to the Lord.

But what grabs my attention is how David sees himself. Not as David the future king. Not as David the famed general. Not as David the brave warrior. Not as David the accomplished poet. Not as David the conqueror of Goliath. Not as David the administrative genius. None of those, though all were true.

David sees himself as the Lord's servant. The Lord's slave. The Lord's errand boy. That's who he was. And he knew it.

"I am not high and mighty. I am not the exalted ruler. I am not the point of the story. I am nothing special. I am merely the Lord's servant. And that's all."

This reminds me of Paul, David's counterpart in the New Testament, in his passion for God. Paul saw himself the same way: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ."

This is who we are. This is our ultimate identity. This is our calling. This is our destiny. This is our privilege.

Be clear on who you are. Never be confused again about who you are.

"I am a servant of Jesus. That's who I am. Whatever he says. Wherever he calls. However he leads ... Just say the word, Lord. You're in charge, not me. You're the Lord, not me. You're in control, not me. I'm the servant, you're the Master."

Focus on Jesus

I have set the Lord always before me.

Psalm 16:8a

 

What did David mean? What does it mean to set the Lord always before you? What would that look like for you and me?

We would focus on Jesus.

We would think about Jesus frequently. We would think about his cross, his resurrection, his resurrection power in us, his tender love for us, his beauty.

We would sing to Jesus. Quite a bit.

We would speak of Jesus. He would just come up in our conversations. Naturally, not forced.

We would depend upon Jesus. We would depend upon him throughout the day. We would depend upon him for every need, big and small. We would rely upon his power not our own.

We would live for Jesus' approval. Only his approval would matter. No one else's.

We would talk with Jesus. We would have a running conversation throughout the day, listening, talking, smiling, enjoying. We would spend our days in his presence.

We would fear Jesus. We would fear him with a healthy respect and awe and desire to please him. We would fear him alone, no one else and nothing else. Nothing else could shake us.

We would become more and more preoccupied with Jesus and less and less preoccupied with ourselves. We would become somewhat self-forgetful, self-oblivious. We would become Jesus-preoccupied, Jesus-enamored, Jesus-intoxicated.

And, we would not be shaken. No matter what happens, we would not be shaken.