Daily Devotional

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In General - Saturday, August 18th

    To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NASB)

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    How true it is that we struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we are looking at this week. To wrap things up for the week, we look today at relationships in general.

    Getting relationships right has everything to do with overcoming “selfishness” in favor of “selflessness.” Having things be sweet and rosy at all times, no matter what it takes, is not what is in view here. Whether it is in the setting of the church, the home, the neighborhood, the workplace, or the (marketplace) world, sometimes confrontation is needed and just sweeping things under the rug becomes counter-productive. When such moments come the question that remains is whether we will operate out of selfishness or selflessness. Sometimes confronting someone is the selfless thing to do, while not dealing with a matter is downright selfish.

    One of the surest measures of how selfless we really are, comes in those relationships where the pursuit of getting the relationship right is not a two-way street. A commitment to operating out of selflessness and not selfishness must be maintained even if it is not reciprocated. This is a tall order not only because the other person isn’t going in the same direction but also because supporting each other is not in the mix either. This is where having a vibrant connection with Christ supported by vibrant connections with God’s people is particularly important.

    These are the exceptions. For the most part selflessness in relationships will mean that we are more focused on others and what will bless them, rather than the other way around. This is what today’s Scripture is saying to us and it is a fitting description of how to live out our commitment to getting relationships right. We are called by God to be a blessing to others, but we do not bless in order to be blessed. However, we will inherit the blessing of God when we consistently live to bless people in the various settings of our lives.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for the work you are doing to improve my relationships with others in all the settings of my life. Continue to strip away my selfishness and make me selfless. I commit myself to seeking you fully and relying on the support of others who are on the same journey. Lord, I love you, I worship you, and I bless you. Amen!

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In the World (marketplace) - Friday, August 17th

    Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity., so that you will know how you should respond to each person. Colossians 4:5-6

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    How true it is that we struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we are looking at this week. The setting for relationships we are looking at today is the world (marketplace).

    “The World” sounds like an awfully big setting, doesn’t it? It would seem to encompass all the settings we have addressed this week. Perhaps in a sense it does, but the way we want to look at “the world” is more specific than that. For our purposes we are talking about the marketplace. The marketplace consists of those gathering places where the general populace shows up to engage in and benefit from sources of commerce, cultural activity, social services, education, entertainment, etc.

    Most of us rub shoulders with people in the “marketplace world” every day and how we conduct ourselves in these relationships is extremely important. Today’s Scripture tells us to conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders. There is a sense that everyone we relate to in the “marketplace world” is an outsider. Most likely they are outside all the other settings we have addressed this week in which relationships take place. Usually, we do not know with certainty where these people are in regard to “faith in God.” So, thinking of them as outsiders to us is appropriate, but only in a very preliminary sense.

    Conducting ourselves with wisdom toward marketplace people (outsiders) is all about not relating to them and treating them as “outsiders.” How often Christians in our world today view and treat marketplace people in ways that make them feel like they are “the enemy,” “have nots,” or “a target.” This is not making the most of the opportunity. It is often what we have to say that gets us into trouble and usually we say the wrong thing because we selfishly allow ourselves to be offended by the people of the marketplace world.

    Today’s Scripture says this: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt.” Often people in the marketplace world are absorbed in the culture of the world and not the culture of heaven. It is not our job to point out any of the discrepancies between the two that we see in their lives. It is our job to be a blessing to them. We must genuinely embrace them for all that they are right at that moment with genuine care and consideration.

    While embracing a person of the marketplace world in such a manner often helps build a bridge from them to God, we must avoid engaging with them solely to reach them. We must simply engage another person as one real person relating to another real person. When we get this right, we will be ones who know how to “respond to each person” appropriately. When we have relationships with people of the market place world that follow the pattern outlined in today’s Scripture, they will be blessed with love, grace, and acceptance. It is this kind of conduct that helps open the doors of people’s hearts to God’s love and the provision of grace offered through Jesus Christ.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, forgive me for the wrong attitudes, behaviors, and speech I have had toward people in the market place world. Help me to deal with the discrepancies of my own life. Teach me how to relate properly to people of the marketplace world. Show me how to engage the culture in beautiful ways. Thank you for your patience and grace in my life, Lord. Amen!

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In the Workplace - Thursday, August 16th

    Slaves (employees), obey your earthly masters (employers) in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites. Masters, be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven. Colossians 3:22-4:1

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    How true it is that we struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we are looking at this week. The setting for relationships we are looking at today is the workplace.

    Today’s Scripture deals with the slave/master relationship. The correspondence between this relationship and that of the employee/employer relationship is striking. However, we are merely borrowing the instructions given and applying them to the workplace. This is all we are borrowing and we need to leave any kind of an actual slave/master parallel out of the equation. We are going to move through the passage and apply what is said. Be sure to look back at the passage as you go along to see specifically what was said.

    Employment is employment. We work for employers. They do not work for us. So, “all” that we do should be a fulfillment (obey) of what they have determined they want us to do. The high level of work a person would do if they were being watched should be the level of work they do when they are not being watched. Serving an employer is another way of talking about work. We must work for our employer sincerely. This means that we take our work seriously and genuinely want to do the best job possible.

    As believers we take living for the Lord seriously and genuinely want to live for him fully (best job possible). It is because we have given the Lord the center place (reverent fear) and have a vibrant connection with him, that we are able to live life this way. This is how we must approach our relationship with our employer as well. If we don’t have this kind of a flow to our lives, we will be hard pressed to do the best job possible in the workplace. Perhaps we will find it in ourselves (apart from a vibrant connection with God) to do all that our employer wants, but doing all that we do willingly, will likely be out of reach.

    When we are in the flow (vibrant connection with God), we will be able to do all our work willingly. We will readily have the core perspective that we are working (employed) for the Lord rather than for people (employer). This is the key to being able to do all our work willingly, particularly when things come at us from our employer that would otherwise keep us from doing so. The real test in all this is whether we work for a paycheck or Divine reward. This is the end result of being in the Divine flow we have been talking about. It is this divine flow that safeguards us from doing wrong and facing the consequences that follow.

    We actually are slaves of Christ and he is our Master. Serving Christ is what life is all about and it is the key to doing our part toward having great relationships in the workplace. Christian employers who want to do their part toward having great relationships in the work place are reminded that they are slaves of Christ and he is their Master. The Divine flow for them will lead to just and fair treatment of all employees for whom they are responsible.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, you really do want me to let you into every area of my life. Please come with me fully into my workplace and bring your transforming touch upon how I go about doing what I do there as an employee. Continue bringing about the vibrant connection with you that I need so that truly my life and commitment to doing the best job possible impacts my work place in vibrant and helpful ways. Amen!

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In the Neighborhood - Wednesday, August 15th

    If you love your neighbor as if you were loving yourself you will not want to harm or cheat him, or kill him or steal from him. And you won’t sin with his wife or want what is his, or do anything else the Ten Commandments say is wrong. All ten are wrapped up in this one, to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need. Romans 13:9-10

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    How true it is that we struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we are looking at this week. The setting for relationships we are looking at today is the neighborhood.

    In the commandments of God in Scripture, the command to “love your neighbor” is a bit more encompassing than those who live in your neighborhood. But for our purposes today we are going to consider the command to “love your neighbor” just in terms of those that live in close proximity and rub shoulders with us somewhat regularly. Today’s Scripture is one of several places the command to “love your neighbor” occurs, but this one expands the implications of the command in ways that helps us understand it more fully.

    We need to note that “loving your neighbor” as if you were loving yourself, is not talking about self-love. It is just saying that you should love your neighbor the way you would want to be loved by them. Our passage connects this command with some of the ten commandments and uses them to give us ways to love our neighbors. Go back and read over these commands in our passage and then read all of them in Exodus 20:1-17 in your Bible.

    Now think about the various people who live nearby and take inventory with how you are doing at loving them in terms of the ten commandments. Our passage boils it all down to this: “Love does no wrong to anyone.” Now think about your neighbors just in regard to this one sentence. What changes will you need to make going forward so that you are living selflessly and not selfishly before your neighbors? You really can do your part toward promoting good relationships in your neighborhood. Imagine if everyone was doing their part.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I admit it’s not easy to really look at myself and see how I am actually doing with loving my neighbors. I confess that I fall short and ask for your forgiveness. Help me to forgive my neighbors for past wrongs and change my heart and behavior so that “no wrong” comes from me to them. May they truly see my love and your love and be blessed. Amen!

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In the Home - Tuesday, August 14th

    Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. Colossians 3:18-21

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    How true it is that we struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we are looking at this week. The setting for relationships we are looking at today is the home.

    When we stop and think about it, “relationships” are more important than anything in life. Just consider for a moment what was accomplished through the provision of redemption through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God was providing the means by which we could be restored to an intimate love “relationship” with him. Without a relationship with God, life is broken and all is lost. But with a relationship with God comes the glorious adventure of knowing him and living fully for him. With our relationship with God restored and at the very center of everything, we go forward in the adventure of seeing all relationships being restored and transformed.

    Today’s Scripture is pretty straightforward as it lays out before us the Divine imperative for “the family.” The imperative society gives us is quite different from this one. Yes, the man (husband and father) in the imperative of this Scripture is front and center. He is front and center, not because he is superior or in control, but rather because God gives to him responsibility for the family. It is his leadership that will provide the guidance necessary for his family to live fully for God. When all is said and done he will give an account for what has transpired and no one else.

    The key to this is his own vibrant connection to God that leads the way for vibrant connections with God for his wife and children. As in all relationships, selflessness and not selfishness must prevail. It his selfless love, devotion, and sacrifice for his family that will make all the difference. Only his selfless love, devotion, and sacrifice for God will make it possible for him to extend these same gifts to his family. From this will come a family setting where all participants can readily follow his lead and go forward with the imperatives of today’s Scripture fulfilled in beautiful and lasting ways.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for the wonderful relationship with you that is mine through Christ. Continue to make this connection strong so that all my family connections can be blessed and strengthened. Guide my life toward greater correspondence to the imperatives of your word. I love you, Lord, and am so grateful for the hope and promise that lie before me with all this. Amen!

  • The Hard Work of Relationships – In the Church - Monday, August, 13th

    Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:1-4

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We struggle in some areas of life in an ongoing and constant way. Improvement in these areas is very much called for. There is a kind of tension we experience from these ongoing, constant areas of life that nag at us. This is particularly true of this week’s area of consideration: relationships.

    The primary source of tension in relationships comes from the fact that people at their core are selfish. We want what we want and we want others to do what we want. Each day this week we will look at one of the many settings in which relationships take place. The problem of tensions in relationships because of selfishness, runs through all the settings we will be looking at this week. The setting for relationships we are looking at today is the church.

    We would like to think that tension in relationships would be minimal for churches, but unfortunately more often than not selfishness in our churches runs rampant. You would think that churches would be uniquely suited to having healthy relationships filled with love and selflessness. While our church is low on tension filled relationships due to selfishness, most of us have experienced other churches where this is not the case. Today’s Scripture gives us insight into why this is and the transformation that is needed.

    When tensions run high in relationships within the setting of the church, it is more than likely that God’s people are not experiencing “encouragement from belonging to Christ, “comfort from his love,” fellowship together in the Spirit,” and “hearts (that are) tender and compassionate. Vibrant connections with Christ produce vibrant connections between God’s people. In turn vibrant connections between God’s people foster vibrant connections with Christ.

    When this spiritual cycle is alive and well, then God’s people will readily find themselves “agreeing wholeheartedly with each other,” “loving one another,” “working together with one mind and purpose,” “not being selfish and trying to impress others,” “being humble and thinking of others as better than themselves,” and “not looking out only for their own interests, but taking an interest in others.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, may I always be one who contributes to the health and welfare of the church by promoting peace and unity in all my relationships with other believers in Christ. Continue to produce in me a vibrant connection with you and grant me vibrant connections with a circle of other believers that supports and fosters in me an ongoing vibrant connection with you, Lord. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Caring - Saturday, August 11th

    Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Romans 12:10-1

    Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossians 4:12-13

    Today's thoughts from today's verse:

    Today’s first Scripture would serve as great departing words if you wanted to leave behind a good word to a group of Christians who were seeking to be what they need to be to each other and the world. The Apostle Paul is saying this is what “should be” true of the believers in Christ in Rome. In today’s second Scripture the Apostle Paul is saying what “is” true of Epaphras: “he has a ‘deep concern’ for you (believers in Christ in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis).” Having a “deep concern” for others is so very much a part of “Koinonia” living. A “deep concern” for others is what is being talked about in a fuller way in our first Scripture passage.

    When we have a “deep concern” for others, we will have a tremendously “giving and caring” spirit that will lead to our fulfilling the kinds of things spelled out in our first passage. Read it again and think about where you are in regard to being this kind of person and being a part of a “fellowship (Koinonia)” of believers who live their lives this way. What is the true “goal” of your life? The “goal” of a believer’s life should be to advance God’s kingdom on earth and this necessitates a “giving and caring” spirit. The Apostle John said, “Whoever has the word’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him.”

    What you do with your financial resources and how you use your time are pretty good indicators of whether or not you have a “giving and caring” spirit. How much of your financial resources goes to serving others and helping meet needs? Would you be willing to live in a smaller house, drive an older car, spend less on household accessories, downsize spending on recreation and vacations, give up having the latest and greatest gadgets, etc.? How about volunteering at a hospital, nursing home, hospice agency, soup kitchen, food bank, prison, disaster agency, youth or senior citizen center, etc.? A “giving and caring” spirit can go a long way when we give up “working” and “living” for ourselves. “Koinonia” living has been God’s call for the Christian community since the start of Christianity and yet Christians today barely scratch the surface of “living fully” in this regard. What will you do to answer God’s call today for “Koinonia” in your life and your shared life with others?

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, help me to die to myself, so that I might become fully alive to you and others (Koinonia). Bring me to the spot where my approach to what “I do for” and what “I have” in regard to “material” things is fair game for you to change. Grant me a genuine “giving and caring” spirit so that I become a true “blessing” to others and really do live “fully” for you and the goal of advancing your kingdom on earth. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Support - Friday, August 10th

    And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:40-42

    Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In today’s first Scripture it is important to understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, ““Be saved from this perverse generation!” The Apostle Paul was saying to his listeners that they needed to be delivered from being caught up together with those who live life without a relationship with God so that they can enter into living life with a relationship with God in the context of supportive relationships with others who have also been delivered from the world.

    When we place our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, we enter into a relationship with God that is meant to be close, deep, abiding, and meaningful. Being caught up in our relationship with God or being caught up in the world becomes our daily challenge. This is why it is all important that we build relationships with other committed believers that are close, deep, abiding, and meaningful. Living life together (Koinonia) with other believers provides the impetus we need for maintaining a close and abiding relationship with God as we go about the daily living of life in the world (in the world but not of it).

    Our passage gives a very clear statement about being connected with other believers in this way: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The word “continually” shows us that having close relationships with fellow believers was a priority for them. The word “fellowship” in our passage is where we get the term “Koinonia.” So, we are saying that “fellowship” with God supported by “fellowship” with other believers is the key to navigating well our daily lives in the world.

    Really both our passages today are windows into the “Koinonia” of the early church. Our second passage is a challenging call to us today to be like the early church: “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I am seeking you today in prayer. I want to draw close to you in order to be with you in a more complete way, to know you better, and to able go forward into my life today fully connected with you. Please help me to connect with other Christians who are seeking the “Koinonia” you have in mind for your people. Thank you, Lord, for your love, provision, and grace. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Faithfulness - Thursday, August 9th

    You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore, It says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:4-6

    But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love. Ephesians 6:21-24

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In God’s plan for human relationships, the bond of marriage of a husband and wife makes their relationship a permanently exclusive relationship. When one marriage partner or the other oversteps the bounds of exclusiveness, that partner becomes an adulterer because they are no longer “faithful” to their marriage partner. In today’s first Scripture, we see that the Apostle James borrows this terminology to highlight the exclusivity of our relationship with God. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that we are “in the world but not of it.” Someone who is “of the world” is “a friend of the world,” according to the Apostle James. The inference is that one who is “not of the world” is “a friend of God.” To be “a friend of God,” we must have an exclusive relationship with him. If we go after the world, we are being “unfaithful” to God.

    Maintaining the bond of marriage is a serious matter and so is maintaining the bond of our relationship with God. Being a “faithful” friend of God is what “Koinonia” is all about. As faithful friends of God we share in the “Koinonia” of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Some have called this, sharing in the “fellowship of the Trinity.” Mankind was created to abide within the sphere of the “fellowship of the Trinity” and to share the true “koinonia” of relationship with God and other human beings who share in it as well. Just as we are called to have a relationship with God that is close, deep, abiding, and meaningful, we are called to have relationships with fellow believers that are close, deep, abiding, and meaningful.

    Being a “faithful friend” to other believers begins with being a “faithful friend” of God. Truly, “Koinonia” is a high calling. Today’s second passage is another window into the “Koinonia” of the early church. What a great portrayal of faithful friendship we are given here. One cannot help being moved by these beautiful words, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” Truly, this is what “Koinonia” was really meant to be.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, forgive me for taking my relationship with you and my fellow believers far too lightly. Develop my understanding of “Koinonia” more fully. The reality that you “jealously desire the Spirit which you have made to dwell in me” is sinking in. I see that I cannot have it both ways. I need to be totally yours and not the world’s. I really do want to be a “faithful friend” to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Sacrifice - Wednesday, August 8th

    This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another. John 15:12-17

    Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. Romans 16:11-16

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In today’s first Scripture passage we see that Jesus was quite adamant about the kind of bond that should exist among his followers. He begins with “This is My commandment, that you love one another” and ends with “This I command you, that you love one another.” The bond of love is to be the hallmark of those who profess to be followers of Christ. Jesus then says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The bond of love between believers is to be a bond of sacrifice. Sacrifice is the true test of love. Jesus then connects this all back to himself. We would never have the kind of relationships with each other that Jesus expects if it were not for the relationship we have with him.

    Right after Jesus speaks of one laying down his life for his friends, he says, “You are My friends.” Jesus is saying that he loves us so much that he laid his life down for us. He is saying that his sacrificial love for us makes us his friends and that we will prove that we really do have this kind of relationship with him by our having this kind of relationship with each other. Being bound together with fellow believers in the bond of love and sacrifice is what we have been called to in Christ. This is what “Koinonia” is all about.

    Jesus says that he chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit. When believers in Christ have a close, deep, and abiding relationship with Christ as his friends, they are in the sphere of “Koinonia” with him. No longer as slaves but as the friends of Christ, we will know “Koinonia” with each other. Surely, the bond of sacrificial love will be our hallmark. Our second passage is another window into the “Koinonia” of the early church. The words love and sacrifice do not occur and yet we are impressed with the amazing bond that existed between them that was far beyond anything they had ever known before. Read the passage again and imagine the sacrificial love they shared as followers of Jesus Christ.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I know you are continuing to build your church. Surely, sacrificial love is the mortar that holds it all together. Thank you for your sacrificial love for me. Thank you for helping me to be close to you. Deepen my relationship with you and help me to abide in you more fully. May the fruit of sacrificial love come from my life and be fully available to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Risk - Tuesday, August 7th

    And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him (Jesus). But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you” …. But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. Luke 5:18-20, 24-25

    Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Romans 16:3-5

    Today's thoughts from today's verse:

    Today’s first Scripture gives us a story that has many features to it. The men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus demonstrate that the relationship they have with him is one of closeness and commitment. To go to such lengths for someone else usually requires a lot of love and devotion. Certainly, the kind of relationship they shared with the paralyzed man made them willing to take a lot of risk on his behalf. In addition to all the obvious risk, there is another risk involved for all of them. What is going to happen when the man on the bed is finally positioned before Jesus? What will the reaction of Jesus be? The first word out of the mouth of Jesus is “friend?”

    Would Jesus address everyone who came before him in this setting as “friend?” How about the Scribes and Pharisees? Hardly. The Scribes and Pharisees are present and they stand in stark contrast to these men. These men have turned to Jesus and are counting on him. We are told that Jesus saw their faith. They believed that Jesus could take care of their friend and they were waiting for him to do so. They were expecting Jesus to heal their friend. But the initial response of Jesus was “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The paralyzed man had a heart that wanted Jesus and a body that needed Jesus. Jesus fixed his heart and then he fixed his body. You can be sure that all of these men had their sins forgiven by Jesus that day and that they all became his friends indeed.

    The friendship these men shared and the risks they were willing to take really help us understand “Koinonia” better. They took the risk of coming before Jesus with their friend and it really paid off. Not only was their friend healed but they entered into “Koinonia” with God through the forgiveness of sins bestowed on them by Jesus Christ. We said yesterday that true “Koinonia” is meant to be so much more than even the best relationship on a human level alone could ever be. This is because “Koinonia” is something that comes from God. Can you imagine where their love and commitment for each will go after getting established in a relationship of love and commitment with God through Christ.

    Today’s second passage is from the close of the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans. It gives us a glimpse of “Koinonia” at work as it flows from God to his people and then outward from them. The Apostle Paul tells his readers to greet Prisca and Aquila. He describes them as “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks.” He then says, “not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” May we know the “Koinonia” of the early church and may risking our own necks for each other be common place as we live out our love and commitment for God and each other.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I commit myself to the pursuit of “Koinonia” for myself and others. Please connect me with others who want to do the same (small groups). Thank you for calling me, “Friend,” too. Forgiveness and being welcomed into the “Koinonia” of God are beautiful things. I bask in your loving presence and the joy of living fully for you. Amen!

  • Koinonia (Spiritual Christian Fellowship) & Helping - Monday, August 6th

    For both He (Jesus Christ) who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren …. Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil …. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:11, 14, 17-18

    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Romans 16:1-2

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    “Koinonia” is not an English word. It is from the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. It was formulated by using the English letters that best correspond to the Greek letters it consists of. There is no one word in English that captures the meaning of the word “koinonia.” It occurs 19 times in the New Testament and is most often translated by the English word, fellowship. It is a word that deals with the bond of relationships. It is kind of like the glue that holds relationships together particularly when they are close, deep, abiding, and meaningful. But true “Koinonia” is meant to be so much more than even the best relationship on a human level alone could ever be. This is because “Koinonia” is something that comes from God as he seeks to restore a lost and fallen world to the fullness of what it was meant to be.

    Actually, “Koinonia” is precisely the essence of the relationship that exists within the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some have called this the “fellowship of the Trinity.” Mankind was created to abide within the sphere of the “fellowship of the Trinity” and to share the true “koinonia” of relationship with God and other human beings who share in it as well. However, the fall of mankind changed everything. Today’s Scripture speaks of “coming to the aid of.” This is what Jesus Christ did in regard to mankind. He came into the sphere of humanity and did what was necessary to make it possible for mankind to be restored to the “Koinonia” of the Godhead.

    By “making propitiation for the sins of the people,” Jesus Christ made it possible for us to be restored to the close, deep, abiding, and meaningful relationships we were created to share in with God and other people. In “coming to our aid,” Jesus Christ, has “helped” humanity fully and completely with its most fundamental and core need: “Koinonia.” As those that have been restored to God in this way, Jesus Christ continues to “come to our aid” so that we do not fall short of all that he called us to in our relationships with God and others.

    Each day this week the Devotional will include a second passage (they are from the closing portion of some of the Apostle Paul’s epistles) that will give us a glimpse of “Koinonia” at work as it flows from God to his people and outward among his people and to the world.” Today’s second passage focuses on God’s people “coming to the aid of” and “helping” a fellow believer in need.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I realize there is an amazing work you are accomplishing that is so full and far reaching that I can hardly get a handle on it. Draw me more fully into the experience of “Koinonia” with you and others. I need your aid and your help to know you more deeply and to know others more deeply. Help me become one who routinely gives aid and help to others fully and freely. Amen!

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Blessing of Sacrifice - Saturday, August 4th

    Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Yesterday we talked about trust in marriage where we can count on our spouse to treat us properly and to be reliable in the basic responsibilities of life. Today’s focus is on one responsibility that wasn’t mentioned yesterday. It involves being reliable to take the responsibility of marriage so seriously that the hard work of becoming the best spouse possible actually takes place. In looking at this we are shifting from whether we can trust our spouse, to whether our spouse can trust us. The hard work of becoming the best spouse possible is all about sacrifice and selflessness.

    Today’s Scripture does a great job of helping us understand sacrifice and we are going to employ it in the same way we did with a passage earlier in the week. Both passages describe the kind of relationships that should exist between brothers and sisters in Christ. From the earlier passage we gained a code for love and reconciliation in marriage. From today’s passage we will gain a code for sacrifice and selflessness in marriage. Again, rather than expounding on the passage, let’s just adapt it a bit for married couples.

    “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make complete the joy of others who are rooting for you and supporting you by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard your spouse as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of your spouse.”

    So, meditate on this and employ it as fully as possible in your marriage. If you do, your spouse will readily see that the hard work of your becoming the best spouse possible is actually taking place. Your sacrifice and selflessness we give them the confidence that they can count on your reliability over the long haul to fulfill in a consistent and complete way the responsibility of being married.

    We will conclude today’s considerations by qualifying things in a couple of important ways. First, being sacrificial and selfless in marriage doesn’t mean giving up your identity and no longer being your own person. Marriage was never meant to be one person’s life being swallowed up by the other. Marriage is about encouraging and helping each other become everything God wants each of you to become and delighting in it fully. Second, being sacrificial and selfless in marriage doesn’t mean being a doormat for your spouse to walk all over. Abuse in marriage is never acceptable. Recognizing genuine sacrifice and selflessness and freely giving ourselves to it is God’s call for us in marriage.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I know that you know what becoming a sacrificial person means for me in my marriage. Help me to sacrifice for my marriage partner in the ways you want me to. Help me to follow the code of today’s Scripture. Change me and use me to bless the special person in my life with a depth of selflessness like they have never known from me before. Amen!

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Fabric of Trust - Friday, August 3rd

    Many people claim to be loyal. But it is hard to find someone who really can be trusted. Proverbs 20:6

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Many times over the years Pastor Ben has said from the pulpit, “love is unconditional but trust is earned.” Yes, this means that trust is conditional. So much of life is about relationships and in those relationships all of us must prove that we are trustworthy. We all know the pain and trauma that comes from relationships where trust is missing. In marriage it is vital that both spouses can trust each other. We are not just talking about counting on our spouse to be faithful, we are talking about counting on them to uphold all the ideals of marriage.

    Don’t we want a marriage where we can count on our spouse to treat us properly. Should not our spouse treasure us - treating us consistently with dignity, respect, kindness, gentleness, and patience? If a person doesn’t treat their spouse properly they are not trustworthy. Should not our spouse be reliable when it comes to carrying out the responsibilities of life like employment, handling finances, child rearing, etc. This is what courtship is for - to see if a potential marriage partner is trustworthy. If they don’t treat you properly before you get married, they will not treat you properly after you get married. If they are not reliable before you get married, they will not be reliable after you get married. My wife always says, “What you see is what you get.”

    Today’s Scripture says, “it is hard to find someone who really can be trusted.” If you are not married hold out for someone you can trust. Even if you love someone you must seriously consider the consequences of marrying someone you cannot trust. At the start of the week we said, “Marriage according to God’s plan has commitment as its foundation.” You will not have a marriage based on mutual commitment if you marry someone who is not trustworthy. The words of commitment spoken by someone who is not trustworthy will not be lived out.

    Our passage points out that it is not what someone claims to be that counts but rather what they are. And of course we want them to be someone who can really be trusted. The Dr. Seuss character, Horton said, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s word one hundred percent.” Horton the elephant lived out his words of commitment. For those who are married where trust is an issue for either or both spouses, a moment of reckoning is essential, even if it necessitates sitting down with someone who can offer counsel on restoring trust and to whom you can be accountable to as a couple. You have a lot invested in your marriage and getting the help you need can make all the difference in bringing trust back into play and securing a good future for your marriage.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I don’t even know where to begin on this one. Show me the way. Restore trust to my marriage. Help my spouse and I to do the hard work of change. Provide the counsel and accountability we need. Lord, I love you, I need you, I trust you, and I surrender to you. May you be glorified. Amen!

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Framework of Faithfulness - Thursday, August 2nd

    Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4

    Today's thoughts today's verses:

    Cultivating the ability to be faithful in marriage begins long before you get married and is closely connected with your attitude toward marriage. Today’s Scripture says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all.” Did you grow up in an environment where marriage was held in honor by the people around you? How did those who were closest to you talk about marriage? How did they treat their own marriages? Did they stay within the boundaries of marriage or were affairs and divorce a part of your growing up? Were you able to enter adulthood holding marriage in honor? Have the sins of the generation before been repeated in your own experience? Are your children growing up in an environment where marriage is held in honor? Will your children enter adulthood honoring marriage?

    Those who have learned to genuinely hold marriage in honor before getting married have also developed the ability to be faithful to their marriage partner in marriage. Being faithful to one’s marriage partner is what our Scripture passage is talking about when it says, “the marriage bed is to be undefiled.” If someone shares a bed with someone other than their marriage partner, their own marriage bed has been defiled and the marriage bond of oneness has been broken. We call this “unfaithfulness.” But being faithful and not defiling the marriage bed has wider parameters of restraint than just not ever having an affair with someone outside your marriage.

    Imagine a young person who reaches the point of being sexually capable and has the attitude of holding marriage in honor. Now imagine that God blesses them with insight and they say to themselves, “Someday I am going to be married and even though I don’t know who I will marry, I choose to begin being faithful now to my future spouse. Our passage speaks of “fornicators.” Fornication is a general term for “sexual sin” and is often used to refer to the sexual sins of the unmarried. Keeping the marriage bed undefiled begins with “waiting” for your partner and “waiting” for being married to your partner.

    But of course you are where you are. God is a redeeming God and will show you how to go forward in the best possible way. The sins of fornication and adultery can be forgiven. But they must also be forsaken. Our passage says that those who are “fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” If you have been forgiven and have forsaken such sexual sins, you are no longer a fornicator or adulterer. You are free to go forward in word, thought, and deed as one who fully upholds marriage in honor and keeps the marriage bed undefiled.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, you are “high and exalted” and I wouldn’t expect anything other than for your plan for marriage to be “high and exalted.” I am certainly sorry for how I have personally fallen short but I am also sorry for the lack of honor that is given to your marriage plan in our world today, even among your people. I commit myself fully today, Lord, to being one who fully upholds marriage in honor and keeps the marriage bed undefiled. Grant that going forward I will be truly faithful to my spouse in word, thought, and deed. Amen!

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Blueprint of Oneness - Wednesday, August 1st

    I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. John 17:9-11

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Perhaps you recall being at a wedding were a “unity candle” was a meaningful part of the ceremony. As part of the prelude to the wedding ceremony both the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom would come up and light a candle on each side of the unity candle. These candles would represent the individual lives of the bride and groom that began the day their mothers brought them into the world. Later in the wedding ceremony after the bride and groom exchanged their vows, they would take their individual candles and simultaneously light the unity candle. The imagery of this beautiful moment captures Jesus’ words: “the two shall become one.”

    Now we recognize that it is not the wedding ceremony, nor the pronouncement of the one officiating, nor anything else on the human level that makes “the two become one.” It is God and God alone who makes “the two into one.” This is clearly seen in Jesus’ words: “What therefore God has joined together let no one separate.” God’s act of making a bride and groom “one” during a wedding ceremony is a lot like Christian conversion. When we receive forgiveness of sins in Christ, we are “declared righteous” in God’s eyes. However, there is much “becoming righteous” through our relationship with Christ that must come about going forward. Similarly, a bride and groom are “declared one” but as husband and wife there is much “becoming one” that must come about as they go forward in their new life together.

    There are many aspects to marital oneness but we are going to focus on “spiritual oneness” today. It is God who “declares” a husband and wife to be “one” and it is God who will help them in their journey of “becoming one.” Today’s Scripture is about spiritual oneness: the oneness of God the Father and God the Son (and certainly God the Spirit); the oneness of Christians with God; and the oneness of Christians with each other. This is all seen in Jesus’ words: “that they may be one even as we are.” When two Christians become husband and wife they already have a spiritual oneness with God and each other. Spiritual oneness is the key to them “becoming one” in all the other aspects of their marriage relationship.

    The whole idea of having a relationship with God and being one with him is about him being the centerpiece of our life. Moment by moment, in full surrender and dependence, we seek him, know him, and experience his powerful and transforming presence in our life. When a husband and wife are walking with God in this way on an individual basis, it will spill over into how they walk together. Looking to God together for what he has for them and is seeking to accomplish in their lives together, makes all the difference. The pitfalls of selfishness, competition, winning, fighting, blaming, hurting, etc. become avoidable and unnecessary. You can be sure that if at any point it gets ugly and messy it is because they are not maintaining their spiritual oneness with God and each other. Truly, when a husband and wife are seeking to live fully for God together, their shared life of “oneness” will unfold in beautiful and amazing ways.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I ask that you show me what it really means for me to be a person who is fully surrendered and fully depending on you. Help me become one with you to a fuller degree than ever before. I pray for this in my spouse’s life as well. Please bring spiritual oneness into our marriage and show us the way of “oneness” in every area of our lives. May our “declared oneness” become “actual oneness” because of our “shared oneness with you.” Amen!

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Dynamic of Love - Tuesday, July 31st

    So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:12-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    A lot of attention is given to “love” in our world, especially romantic love. Our music, our literature, our movies, our TV shows, our conversations, and our aspirations are filled with the subject of love. Somehow, even with all the attention we give to love, we have trouble defining what it is. There is romantic love, sexual love, neighborly love, Christian love, godly (agape) love, etc. But still, what is love really? Perhaps if we tried real hard, we could find the thread the runs through all the various kinds of love to help us define it properly. Defining love properly once and for all is a tall order indeed.

    Today’s Scripture does a great job of helping us understand love. It is not a definition and it is multi-faceted. It describes the kind of relationships that should exist between brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course we are talking about marriage and love today and we recognize that it includes many of the kinds of love we mentioned previously. However, if we borrow this passage and use it as a code for how to treat our marriage partners, we will find that it will do much to help with all the other kinds of love that are included in marriage.

    Rather than expounding on the passage, let’s just adapt it a bit for married couples: “So, as those who have been joined together by God in Christian marriage, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with each another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against the other; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity in your life time of marriage together.” Meditate on this, employ it as fully as possible in your marriage, and you will begin to experience “love” as it was meant to be.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I know that you know what love is, even the complicated and multifaceted love of marriage. Help me love my marriage partner in the ways you want me to. Help me to follow the code of today’s Scripture. Change me and use me to bless the special person in my life with a depth of love like they have never known from me before. Amen

  • Marriage for a Lifetime – The Foundation of Commitment - Monday, July 30th

    And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, he shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:4-6

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Marriage is probably the most fundamental relationship of mankind. How marriages go, so go our families. How families go, so go our communities. How communities go, so goes our world. Marriage is not something mankind came up with; it is something that God built into the fabric of human life. It is obvious to everyone that reproduction is a vital component of life for all species here on earth, including human beings. However, God’s plan of marriage for human beings lifts human life to a level far above the rest of creation. Today’s Scripture is a statement by Jesus about marriage that includes quotes of Moses from the book of Genesis where God’s original plan for marriage was first recorded for all mankind.

    It is interesting that before Jesus quotes what Moses has to say about God’s plan of marriage for mankind, he first quotes him regarding the creation of mankind. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” The next three words Jesus quotes are: “For this reason.” These three words connect the fact that God created people male and female in a very direct way with his plan for marriage. The reason he created them male and female is so that they could be married and he instituted his plan for marriage because he created them male and female. It goes both ways.

    Now let’s take a closer look at God’s plan. There are three parts and they are given in the order that they should take place. The first part is: “a man shall leave his father and mother.” A man and a woman leaving their parents’ family units and inaugurating their own family unit is traditionally accomplished through a public marriage ceremony. The second part is: “he shall cleave to his wife.” In being publicly pronounced as a new family unit they go forward as husband and wife bound fully together in a close relationship of love. The third part is: “the two shall become one flesh.” After a public wedding ceremony that signifies the “leaving” and “cleaving” aspects of God’s plan, they become “one flesh” in sexual union on their wedding night. So, in a public declaration of commitment one man and one woman inaugurate their own family unit, enter fully into a close relationship of love, and consummate their oneness in the intimacy of sexual union.

    When God’s plan for becoming married is followed by a man and a woman they enter into a lifetime of commitment to each other. Marriage according to God’s plan has commitment as its foundation. You can have sex without marriage. You can reproduce without marriage. But without commitment you do not have a marriage. The commitment of marriage begins with being obedient to God’s plan for how a man and a woman begin their marriage. The commitment to marriage begins as a response to God and it continues as a response to God. Jesus finishes his statement on marriage with these words: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no one separate.” A man and a woman who follow God’s plan for getting married recognize that it is God who joins them together as one in marriage. From then on every day is a response God to do the hard work of maintaining their union of marriage in wonderful and amazing ways that will make them truly inseparable and allow them to successfully live out their commitment to God and each other in a lifetime of marital oneness.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for your wonderful plan for marriage. I am glad that you are a redeeming God. Show me how to go forward in my life in ways that align me with your marriage plan more fully. Grant me grace, strength, and hope. I love you, worship you, and bless you. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Sharing Christ’s Sufferings - Saturday, July 28th

    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you …. Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 1 Peter 4:12-14, 19

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    What a great way to finish our week, with such a great Scripture with all its great words. We should not be surprised by suffering but rather we should rejoice that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This should be our expectation. Wrong expectations bring wrong reactions. We are blessed when we suffer as agents of redemption because of the opposition we face. It means that the Spirit of glory and of God rest on us and has caused our lives to touch the world with the impact of the gospel. This is why we are here: to live fully for God by being a full recipient and agent of redemption no matter what.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I see that your Word consistently declares that discipleship is about giving up my claim for how I will live my life and embracing your claim on my life and how you want me to live. I admit that this is tough, but I do want it to happen. Make me a full recipient and agent of redemption. When opposition comes and I suffer according to your will, grant that I will always straight away entrust my soul to my faithful Creator in doing what is right. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Filled with Inner Hope - Friday, July 27th

    Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being prepared to present a clear case to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:13-15

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Earlier in the week we saw how Jesus was able to endure the cross for the joy set before him concerning the outcome of things in the end. Today’s Scripture talks about “the hope that is in you.” It is the hope of what comes next after we are finished here on earth and the joy that lies in store for us in heaven when all is said and done that make the difference. When Christ is Lord of our hearts, our hope and our joy will be more real to us than anything we are going through in the way of opposition as agents of redemption. When Christ is Lord of our hearts we will be able to give gentle and respectful explanations for the eternal hope we have in Christ through the gift of redemption he has freely bestowed on us through faith. Such opportunities to engage with those who are truly seeking for God make any suffering we may experience from those who oppose us totally worth the cost.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I want to be this kind of disciple. It is somewhat easy to embrace the cost of discipleship in the quietness of my devotional time. Grant that the openness of my heart now will result in a steadfastness of spirit in the midst of the foray during the heat of moments of opposition that lie ahead for me. Dear and blessed Jesus, I sanctify you as Lord of my heart right now. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Avoiding the Trap of Bitterness - Thursday, July 26th

    Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it, many be defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s verses are a simple reminder of the danger of bitterness. As disciples of Jesus Christ we have been sent into the world as he was sent into the world. We are agents of redemption empowered by Christ’s presence with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Like Christ when he was here, we will experience opposition as agents of redemption and we must be very careful of our response to it. If we allow a root of bitterness to take hold, it will spring up and cause trouble. Instead of being an agent of redemption, we will become an agent of defilement. To have the tendency to become bitter fully countered, at every turn we must be diligent to pursue peace with everyone, diligent to pursue the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord, and diligent to see to it that we do not come short of the grace of God.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, forgive me for being bitter. Please remove my bitterness and as your disciple, reconnect me with the vital pursuit of peace, sanctification, and grace. Today, I choose to live fully as a true participant and agent of redemption. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Maintaining the Right Focus - Wednesday, July 25th

    Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    What we focus on and give our attention to makes all the difference in what we do with our lives. Real disciples get this right. Today’s Scripture tells us that discipleship begins with seeing the Christian life we are called to as a race that is set before us. Real disciples heed the appeal of the passage to run this race with endurance. This is the primary focus of real disciples: to run with endurance the race that is set before them. They maintain this primary focus with four additional focuses.

    First, their focus is on the great cloud of witnesses surrounding them. All those disciples who have gone before and have run the race with endurance serve as witnesses that discipleship can be lived out and as a cheering section that says you can do it too. Second, their focus is on choosing out of all the good and acceptable things available in life, only those things that contribute to running the race well. Laying aside every encumbrance means not being slowed down by the weight of the unnecessary. Third, their focus is on foot placement so that righteousness prevails and they are not tripped up by sin that can so easily entangle them.

    Fourth and finally, real disciples fix their eyes on Jesus. They know that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about being a performer, following rules, having will power, and achieving greatness among one’s peers. Real discipleship is all about the beauty and power of Christ’s presence with his disciples on the race course of life. It is all about counting on him for help to run well as ones for whom the joy of what follows the race is more real than the sacrifices made throughout the race. Real disciples constantly consider Jesus so they will not grow weary and lose heart.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, you are the Author and Perfecter of my faith. I ask that as you write the remaining chapters of my life, you will perfect my faith and help me run the race set before me with endurance. Bring into my life all the focuses of today’s Scripture. Grant me the victory of being a real disciple indeed. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Prepared for Opposition - Tuesday, July 24th

    If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. John 15:18-21

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s Scripture gives us words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the very evening he was betrayed and arrested. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires courage and bravery and his words offer much to foster that. Jesus faced opposition throughout his earthly ministry that required courage and bravery on his part. It would not be long after saying the words of our passage that he faced a level of opposition that brought about his crucifixion and death. What an amazing degree of courage and bravery he would need for facing this opposition and the suffering it brought.

    Note some of the things from our passage that foster courage and bravery on our part: “it (the world) has hated Me before it hated you;” “you are not of the world;” “I chose you out of the world;” “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you;” “all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake;” and “they do not know the One who sent Me.” Persecution isn’t automatic at every turn, but it is something we need to be prepared for. From Jesus’ words we can see the great desire he had for us to be prepared for facing any opposition we experience with courage and bravery.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I do know the one who sent you and I know you who sent me as well. I am no longer of the world but I am in the world to be an agent of redemption. Thank you for your courage and bravery that secured redemption for the world. Help me go forward with you fully prepared to face with courage and bravery all you call me to face. May my life contribute to others becoming recipients of redemption. Amen!

  • God’s Agents of Truth – Kept from the Evil One - Monday, July 23rd

    I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. John 17:14-18

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s Scripture is from a very special prayer Jesus prayed to the Father just before his arrest and crucifixion. Much of his prayer is for his followers. Jesus came to provide redemption for the world but he also came to mobilize the recipients of redemption into a network of agents of redemption. This network is the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus is praying for those he entrusts with God’s word, the truth. He prays that they will be sanctified by the truth. Those who are entrusted with the truth and sanctified by the truth, are those Christ sends into the world with the truth.

    Jesus says that he sends his followers into the world in the same way the Father sent him into the world. Jesus knows firsthand what happens to those who are entrusted with the truth, sanctified by the truth, sent with the truth, and used to spread the truth. He knows they will be opposed and that they will suffer as agents of the truth. Jesus knows the only way to avoid this is to not be in the world. So, he does not pray that we will be spared altogether but that we will be protected in the middle of our being used to spread the truth.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I see that your plan is simply that those who are reached are those you use to reach others. Teach me more of what this means for my life. Help me embrace all you are calling me to and show me what to do in the face of opposition. Thank you Jesus for your work of interceding for me which began with your mighty prayer so very long ago. Amen!

  • The Holy Spirit of God – Seals Us in Christ to Live Fully Forever - Saturday, July 21st

    In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers. Ephesians 1:13-16

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    The purpose of God’s redemptive plan is to produce people who actually live fully for him. It is the Holy Spirit that makes all the difference. Christ came to redeem our lives for God. When we trust Christ as our Savior we are cleansed, we become temples of the Holy Spirit. As such we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who works from the inside out powerfully helping us to become all that God desires for us to be and to fulfill through us all that He desires for us to do. This is what genuine faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is really all about and we have been sealed in Christ through the Holy Spirit of promise.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I am amazed at the commitment you have to succeed at fulfilling the purpose for which you created mankind. I am committed to you Lord and truly want to be your devoted possession who fully exists for the praise of your glory. I praise you, I worship you, and I love you, Lord. Amen!

  • The Holy Spirit of God – Spreading the Plan of Redemption in Christ - Friday, July 20th

    Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now, when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Acts 2:36-39

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    The spread of God’s redemptive plan to the world began with Israel. Their response to the message they heard from Peter was, “What shall we do?” What a great question. The key to life is asking this question seriously and being willing to give oneself fully to the answer. The answer is: become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Today’s Scripture shows us that becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ involves acknowledging one’s sinfulness and need for a savior (repentance), recognizing Christ as the Savior of the world and placing faith in him for the forgiveness of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and being baptized.

    The prospect for becoming a disciple of Christ in the fullness of how our passage describes it, remains open to all who are far off right on down through the ages. The redemptive plan of God spread to us and will spread out from us to those who are still far off and in need of eternal salvation in Christ.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, you are our awesome God and your plan of redemption is awesome. Thank you for calling me, who was far off, to yourself. I am truly burdened for those who are still far off and I look forward to how you will use me to help make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen!

  • The Holy Spirit of God – Manifests Christ through Us to the World - Thursday, July 19th

    When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance …. Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:1-4, 33

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s Scripture tells us exactly what happened when the promised Holy Spirit came. It was a very dramatic moment and rightly so. It was the inaugural moment of God’s redemptive plan being unleashed for all the world to encounter and respond to. For those who gathered in the house it was both an individual and group experience. The apostles and many other disciples of Christ went through a transition unique to them that bridged the gap from being believers in Christ when he ascended back to heaven to being recipients of the Holy Spirit who was sent to them by Christ from heaven. In verse 33 above, the apostle Peter clearly explains what it was that had happened in verses 1-4.

    So, the Holy Spirit was bestowed on them (His indwelling), the Holy Spirit filled them (His full control of them), and the Holy Spirit was manifested through them (His empowering them to speak other languages). Elsewhere in Acts 2 the various languages that were spoken are listed and we are told that those who heard exclaimed, “we hear them in our own languages speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” There were tremendous numbers of Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem to observe Pentecost and the Holy Spirit worked in this amazing and powerful way to inaugurate the spread of God’s redemptive plan to the world.

    For us today there isn’t a transition. At the very same moment we become disciples of Jesus Christ by trusting in him for the forgiveness of sins, we are given the Holy Spirit of promise. This is the way the promise of the Holy Spirit and the role of being witnesses of Jesus Christ carries forward to all true disciples of Jesus Christ. We share in the bestowal, filling, and manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He is ready and waiting to work in amazing and powerful ways in and through our lives as true believes in today’s needy and hungry world.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, it is exciting to realize that your redemptive plan has not changed and that you chose me to be a part of it. Like the disciples of old, I am available and ready more than ever before for the Holy Spirit’s work of transforming my life and empowering me to impact my world in bold and significant ways. Amen!

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