Daily Bible Reading

Let’s strip

You don’t have to be an Olympian to know that, if you’re running a race, any extra weight you carry is to your detriment. One might train with resistance, but when you step up to the starting line, you want to approach it with as little on you as possible. Every ounce can make a difference. When you have a crowd of people cheering you on, you want to do your very best. Keep your eyes on the prize and run for all you’re worth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)

The term strip here means more than just taking off some clothing. It means to pull or tear off, to cast off, to separate from something connected. It means to sever yourself from anything that might hold you back. The implication is that, once that hindrance has been taken off, you don’t look back. You don’t think twice about picking it up again. You take it off and you run away from it as fast as you can.

When was the last time you saw a runner say, “Oops, I dropped something!” and go back to pick something off the track before continuing the race? Once you start running, the finish line needs to become your only focus. No matter what other distractions may pop up, your eyes need to stay fixed on the prize—Jesus.

Our race may be a sprint or it may be a marathon. Either way, we cannot afford to carry extra weight, nor can we afford to be distracted. That great crowd of witnesses—other believers past and present—are there to cheer us on offering guidance and encouragement. You are not the first to run this race of faith, nor will you be the last. But if any of us are to finish, it will be because we’ve kept our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

So let’s strip off everything and anything that may slow us down. Let’s help each other and cheer each other on. We’re all in this race together.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 16, Hebrews 12

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Daily Bible Reading

Finish the race

When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I’m still not an athlete. It’s not that I don’t enjoy exercise, but it’s never been one of those things that comes naturally to me. I had a hard time finishing a race. But it wasn’t so bad. So long as I participated, I still got a ribbon.

Many of us approach our faith the same way we might have approached an elementary school track meet. Show up. Good enough. Get a ribbon no matter what. We care not whether we finish or, if we do, what place we take. It doesn’t matter.

But it does matter. We are not the only ones affected by how we run our race. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Hall of Faith. It gives a brief list of many who have gone before us and run their race to the best of their ability. And they ran it with fewer benefits than we have now.

All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.

Hebrews 11:39-40 (NLT)

The promise, the benefit that we have that our fathers and mothers in the faith did not have, is Jesus Christ. We have the fulfillment of the promise they never had. When Abraham laid Isaac on the altar and raise a sharpened blade above his head, he had no guarantee of what would come of his sacrifice. When Moses’ mother sent him down the river in a basket, she had no promise to hold on to. Through the entire chapter, the list goes on. One faithful person after another waiting for a promise they would never see in their lifetime.

But we have seen that promise. We partake of that promise with every breath we breathe. Even knowing that we have received what these great men and women never did, we’re content to settle for the participation ribbon.

Even if we don’t want to run the race for ourselves (but why wouldn’t we?), we should be running it for our Bible heroes. Because we’re all in this race together. Either we all win or we all lose. Jesus’ blood ties us all together as one family. One body. A foot cannot win a race without the leg and the leg cannot win without the hips. The hips cannot win without the torso, and so on. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, we will all cross the finish line together.

Because Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Rahab, Gideon, and all the others ran their race without the promise, we should run even harder because we have the promise and we’re not just running for ourselves. We’re running for the whole body. Finish the race.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 13-15, Hebrews 11:20-40

Daily Bible Reading

What is faith?

As Christians, we talk about faith. A lot. It is our belief system. It is the basis on which we live our lives. It is our calling. It is many things. We know that just a small amount—the measure of a mustard seed—can move a mountain. It can heal the sick and open blind eyes. Faith can raise the dead. But how many of us can accurately define faith?

Let’s go the the old standby in Hebrews:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I once heard a pastor say that grace is God’s grip on us and faith is our grip on God. According to Noah Webster, her statement was more than just something to be typed on a meme and posted to social media.

The sense of the verb is to strain, to draw, and thus to bind or make fast. A rope or cable is that which makes fast.

Our faith, combined with God’s grace, brings us or draws us toward God and binds us to Him. Without faith, we have no grip whatsoever. Grace alone is not enough. It is not the binding agent, faith is.

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

FAITH: That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

When we are called upon to use our faith, our belief should not be in the desired outcome, but in the One who can bring it to pass. We must remember that faith goes beyond a little prayer and a hope. Faith is what binds us to God. It draws us closer to Him. It brings us to obedience to His Word and puts in line with His will. It is our judgement that what God has stated is the truth. And, if He promised it, He will perform it.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Daily Bible Reading

Uncommon and holy

You may have heard of a message of grace. Not just grace to cover sin when you first approach God in repentance, but a message of a grace that means you can live however you like and God will have to forgive you no matter what. Some may call it hyper-grace.

The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.

(Source)

To live a life under hyper-grace, means that, while one may accept salvation through Christ, they do not accept his teachings nor do they experience any real change in their life because of Jesus.

It’s a sad truth that there are many who profess Christianity live in what they believe to be grace, but it’s nothing more than self-condemnation. They devalue the sacrifice and blood of Jesus by expecting that God must forgive them no matter what—without ever having to come to Him in repentance.

Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NLT)

Imagine a kid who comes home after having found a mud pit. The child approaches his parents with remorse because he knows that he cannot go into the house in his current state. Since his parents hadn’t yet addressed the repercussions of playing in the mud, they clean him off, put him in new clothes and bring him into the house. The next time they send him out to play, he is reminded to stay away from the mud. But that’s exactly where he goes. Once more, Mom and Dad clean him off, give him clean clothes and bring him inside. But once this happens a few more times, Mom and Dad aren’t so forgiving. Yet the kid only sees that he’s going to get cleaned up no matter what. Soon, he feels no remorse over his disobedience and simply expects that Mom and Dad will clean him up and dress him so that he can go inside. As the parents, how long will you allow this behavior? I doubt it wouldn’t be more than two or three muddy returns before the child is punished. Yet we should expect that God simply smile, shake His head, and immediately forgive us of far worse over and over and over again?

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins.

Hebrews 10:26 (NLT)

Do we slip and fall and get ourselves dirty? Yes, of course we do. And God is faithful to help us up and dust us off. But to keep on deliberately sinning is ignorant and insulting to all that He has done for us. God has called us out of the muck (Psalm 40:2). He has called us to live pure, clean lives. It is to our benefit as well as those around us.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (NLT)

Grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card to be played whenever we get ourselves in trouble, but rather a gift that should be treated with awe and reverence. We should be doing all that we can to remain under the cover of grace and to pull others into its shelter.

Grace is not common and unholy, but rather uncommon and holy.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 10:24-39

Daily Bible Reading

To boldly go

We, as new covenant believers, don’t know how good we have it. For those who came before us, the old covenant pretty much had one purpose—to make God’s people painfully aware of their sin. Regular sacrifice had to be made to atone for a multitude of sin (both known and unknown). Only the high priest was able to approach God and then only after a long process of cleansing and sacrifice. After that, I imagine his approach would have still been somewhat reserved. We need have no such reservations.

Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:22 (NLT)

We see in Hebrews 10:1 that the old system of the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The old covenant was merely preparation for the new. Where the old pointed out sin, the new obliterated it. Where the old stifled believers, the new frees us. The old made man feel dirty and sinful.

And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

Hebrews 10:10 (NLT)

Unlike the priests of the old covenant, we don’t have to go through a long, drawn out process of cleansing each time we want to approach God. Instead, we can go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him.

Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf made perfect and perpetual atonement for our sin. We are washed with pure water and covered by the blood. Knowing and trusting in this, we can boldly go to our heavenly Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 4-6, Hebrews 10:1-23

Daily Bible Reading

Watchman

We all have to follow rules in life. As kids, we must obey the rules our parents set out for us or risk a slap on the hand or being grounded for a week. As students, we must obey our teachers or risk failure or detention. As adults, we must obey our employers or risk being fired. For the most part, because we are not willing to risk the punishment, we’re okay with being obedient. We want to be obedient because it means that our lives will be better for it.

So why don’t we respond to God with the same attitude toward obedience?

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. If you warn them and they keep on sinning and refuse to repent, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved your life because you did what you were told to do.”

Ezekiel 3:17-19 (NLT)

When God called Ezekiel to minister to the Israelite exiles in Babylon, He demanded obedience. If the prophet relayed God’s words to the people when they were given as they were given, Ezekiel would not be held responsible for the actions of the people. But if he failed to present the word, he’d be punished right along with the Israelites.

To us, when most Christians treat obedience to God as optional, the guidelines God set out for Ezekiel may come across as rather harsh. But are they? If we claim to be followers of God, should we not also be obedient to His Word? If we are so willing to submit to those in authority over us, how much more should we be willing to submit to God?

When we profess Jesus as Lord, we become accountable not only to what we do, but also to what we don’t do. If God has called us to do or say something and we refuse, we are as guilty as Ezekiel would have been, withholding the truth from those who needed it. As God’s hands and feet, as His ambassadors on Earth, it behooves us to live our lives in obedience to His Word and His call on our lives.

Like Ezekiel, we are watchmen and should be waiting for every opportunity to practice obedience to our Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 1-3, Hebrews 9

Daily Bible Reading

Dare to hope

As humans, we suffer. There are generally two kinds of suffering, the first being the sort that we have no control over—sickness, accidents, death. The second is of our own doing—suffering from the consequences of our actions.

It is the latter sort that the people of Jerusalem were suffering when Jeremiah penned these words:

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.

Lamentations 3:21-26 (NLT)

These words, from a book titled Lamentations no less, seem incongruent with what was going on at the time. Jerusalem had been warned over and over again to repent from their sins or the city would be destroyed and the people would either die, starve, or be taken captive. Yet over and over again, Israel refused to repent of their sins and went about their own thing anyway. We find Jeremiah here at the time when all the prophecies of destruction were coming to pass. How is it then, that he can still say that he dares to hope? When mothers are killing and eating their children? When princes look like walking corpses? Where is the hope in that?

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you will turn it into a blessing.

William Law

Amidst all of the pain and suffering brought on by sins of the people, Jeremiah remembered this:

Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion according to the greatness of his unfailing love.

Lamentations 3:32 (NLT)

Jesus once told a story that held similar principles. The prodigal son lived the way that he saw fit. He was forced to suffer and endure the consequences of his sin, but when he came home in repentance, love and compassion met him.

Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:40 (NLT)

Even in the middle of our consequences, we can still dare to hope. Because God is still God and He never changes. He loved us before we sinned. He loved us while we sinned. And He still loves us when we repent from our sin.

So if you’re in the middle, dare to hope because the unfailing love of the Lord never ends!

Daily Bible reading: Lamentations 3-5, Hebrews 8