“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
When my daughter was born, I began a cross stitch sampler with the names of all the grandkids on my husband’s side of the family. My daughter is almost 24 and the sampler is finished but still hasn’t been framed. At this rate, I will have to start adding great-grandchildren. Sometimes I don’t finish what I start. Does anyone else have that problem?
If God were like us, we would be in big trouble. But as I like to say here, God isn’t like us. Fortunately for us, he does finish what he starts. What he has started in us, the good work this verse speaks of, is our transformation from weak, sinful, mortal human beings into completely new creatures, who will one day be like Jesus. Just as a caterpillar awaits its transformation, totally dependent on forces outside itself, so we await our change, inside the chrysalis of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are fed, nurtured and matured by his love and grace. He won’t let anything happen to abort the process—he always finishes what he starts.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NLT).
Many churches see the whole world as living under a black cloud of judgment. They shake their heads and feel sorry for the poor condemned souls. Because of an outright or implied quota, some will then put a lot of time, money and effort into warning them of the dangers of unbelief and try to “save” them. Does God really place that much responsibility on Christians? If so, what is the consequence of failure? Must we carry the burden of guilt if one or more don’t respond?
Only one person is capable of saving souls and that is Jesus, the Savior of the whole world. That is why he came and he didn’t leave before it was done. On the cross, he declared his goal accomplished. He has not left that responsibility in our hands, but he does want us to participate in helping others see who he is and learn to follow him together. The world is not under condemnation, but under the umbrella of his love and forgiveness. Believers need merely to link arms with their neighbors and point out who is holding the umbrella.
“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17, NLT).
Most people know the verse before this one. It’s memorized by every Sunday school child, put on plaques, cross stitched on samplers and featured on church signs everywhere. You don’t usually see verse 17 on those plaques or signs, but what it says is equally important and they should go together.
The Amplified Bible adds these clarifying words after judge: to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on. Jesus came to save the world, not to weigh, measure and find wanting. We are no longer under condemnation, but saved by his life, death and resurrection. This verse tells us Jesus is the Savior of everyone, though many don’t know or believe. Not believing doesn’t change who he is or what verse 16 beautifully expresses—God so loved the world.
“And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself” (Acts 20:32, NLT).
The world seems to be in the business of tearing down. It happens on every level, from governments that don’t care about their people, to businesses that take advantage of employees and customers, to family members who insult and denigrate each other, or worse.
God’s way is to build up, through grace and the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit. Grace teaches us the way of peace and gentleness. Grace shows us that even though we are deserving of death, we are forgiven, loved and valued simply because of who God is. Every spiritual gift is for the purpose of lifting up the church. Rainbows, sunsets and sunrises remind us of our merciful Creator. Everything he does and everything he’s given us encourages us to keep going and builds our faith in Jesus, our faithful Savior.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives” (Galatians 5:16a, NLT).
When a mountain climber hires a guide, he or she is acknowledging the need for help. It’s implied for the guide to be effective, the climber will listen to instructions and follow them. A guide can’t keep a climber from making mistakes or going off the trail.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t control us, as some translations put it. He is our guide, mentor and teacher. He wants us to acknowledge our need for help and follow him. But at times, we are like the climber who takes his or her eyes off the guide, or stops to pick flowers or slips on a rock and lands in a ditch. His guidance is perfect, but we are not. We need reminders to keep our eyes on Jesus, to let him guide us, to help us be diligent followers and stay on the trail. He’s a caring guide, who helps us stay focused and headed in the right direction—toward him.
“‘For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead’” (Acts 17:31, NLT).
When we read the Bible, we don’t just read it. We bring perspective, world view, prejudice, background, culture, gender, birth order and maybe even our preference for vanilla or chocolate. So a verse like this means different things to different people and religions. The word judging usually conjures up something negative, which only adds to the mix.
I would like to offer this perspective: perhaps it doesn’t mean what we think it means. With that in mind, let’s focus on the most important part of this verse: Jesus. God’s perfect justice will be done by and through the one he raised from the dead, which means we don’t have to imagine any scary scenarios or be afraid of his judging. However it happens (or has happened), it will be done in love, with mercy, grace and kindness.
“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT).
From a baby’s point of view, everything is off limits, so the first word they learn is no. Sometimes parents are surprised when the child tells them no in return. It takes a lot of patient explanation to help a child understand no often means something will hurt. Unfortunately it’s the same for anyone who has ever attended church. In too many churches, the list of things you can’t do is so long and discouraging, many give up, preferring to have fun now and take their chances later.
For the Israelites, the laws were one big list of no’s as well. We are told in Galatians 3 the law was their schoolmaster, to teach them not only right from wrong, but who God was. But in Christ, we have no need of a schoolmaster—we are not saved by the law but by grace through faith in him. All the promises of God have been fulfilled and he says a big yes! Yes, we are forgiven, loved and accepted, never again to feel on the outside looking in. He loves when we say yes in return. Yes, I accept your love and forgiveness. Yes, I want to be included in the warm embrace of Father, Son and Spirit forever!
“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11, NLT).
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of grace, you know how wonderful it feels to escape punishment for something you did. My fifth grade teacher could have made a bit of naughtiness on my part public, making an example of me and giving me my just desserts, but he didn’t. I’ve never forgotten him or his kindness.
We are daily on the receiving end of the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus. When I say we, I don’t mean only believers. Everyone is included in the sphere of his love—in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Christ died for all and all are saved by his undeserved grace. For some, accepting and embracing his love is difficult and some may not, but he will never withdraw it and never stop loving those he created out of his love. Thank God for his infinite and all-inclusive grace!
“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me” (John 15:15, NLT).
One of my favorite quotations is by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
So much has been written about friendship and what it means to have a true friend. Some come and go, some stick around our whole lives, some are on Facebook (hi Facebook friends). But no matter what else you can say about it, the bottom line is friendship is a blessing.
Yes, friends may come and go in this life, but there is one who is a real friend in every sense of the word and he will never leave us or forsake us. To think the all powerful Creator of the universe calls us friends is almost unimaginable, but he does. Jesus thinks and feels with us and is not only close in spirit, but lives within us, making our lives beautiful, lush, vibrant gardens.
“May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior give you grace and peace” (Titus 1:4b, NLT).
This short prayer is common to Paul’s letters. If you’re like me, you probably just glance at it before going on to the meatier verses. Or if it’s at the end, it seems like a nice way to end a letter, kind of like “all the best, etc., etc.” But maybe this prayer is worth lingering over and savoring. After all, Paul thought it was important enough to ask God for grace and peace for everyone who read his letters.
God’s grace and peace are infinite but we are in short supply. We desperately need both. Grace: we are living in a state of God’s forgiveness through Jesus. Receiving grace every day reminds us to be thankful and joyful and to extend it to others. Peace: Jesus’ gift, incomprehensible as it seems (Philippians 4:7), gives us a sense of God’s wholeness and goodness (The Message), which we can cling to. Receiving his peace helps us rest in his love and be at peace with our neighbors. Rather than skipping over this familiar passage, we might want to make it our daily prayer, for ourselves and others.