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Grace in Ritual

Sunday, April 28, 2024

I wonder if my generation hasn’t underemphasized ritual and overemphasized spontaneity.

Consider the husband who brings his wife flowers every Friday. He replaces the old flowers in the vase and kisses his sweetheart.

Consider, also, the husband who brings his wife flowers once or twice a year when he gets that special urge. His wife wonders what the occasion is.

Some think the second husband is more romantic and his gift would be more heartfelt. But why should it be that way? Could not the first husband’s flower ritual be more heartfelt than the second husband’s haphazard way of showing his love?

Neither necessarily shows what is in the husband’s heart, but I would guess the first husband thinks of his wife more than the second. He certainly puts more effort into his marriage, at least from a flower-gift perspective.

Think about your daily prayers. And, yes, dear Christian, you should have a daily prayer habit! Daniel prayed three times a day, and his enemies knew exactly where and when he would hit his knees. Daniel had a prayer ritual in place. Just because you pray at the same time every day doesn’t mean it’s not heartfelt. In truth, some days will be more heartfelt than others, but the ritual does not determine this. The ritual makes sure you pray.

Think about times of spiritual devotion with your family. Do you think you are more spiritual if these times are unscheduled? Dad randomly yells, “Okay, kids, let’s have some family worship!” If your kids are like mine, at least a few of them will come grumbling because you interrupted something they were doing. But if you have it scheduled, the kids tend to set aside that time and gather with a more focused mind.

What about meeting with the saints? We meet on a regular schedule, and our organized fellowship and worship looks very similar from week to week. We have rituals established. Does that mean they are not heartfelt? Not at all! The rituals give us a framework to our activities. We don’t have to think through the entire schedule every Lord’s Day, and we can focus on the important matters. We sing together, pray together, share the word of God together, and eat the Lord’s Supper together every week. Are we less than genuine? Not at all!

God gives grace through the excellent daily and weekly habits we build. The ritual helps us continue exercising what needs to be exercised. This week’s fellowship may not be outstanding or mind blowing as a single event, but our times of fellowship build momentum and we experience growth and feelings of solidarity, peace, and joy in what our Lord is doing.

Don’t fall for the lie that our worship and expressions of love must always be spontaneous to be genuine. It’s not so. In fact, we will wear ourselves out if we try to live life this way! Another grace God gives through ritual is that it prevents burnout. The husband who tries to think of something new every day to show his wife how much he loves her will eventually run out of ideas. The husband who knows a few things his wife loves and continues to give her and do those things week after week will find a steady rhythm to life.

This does not mean that spontaneity does not profit. Everyone likes changing things up once in a while! But spontaneity should be the exception, not the rule.

God gives grace through ritual. Don’t wait for the muse to hit, for lightning to strike, for inspiration to fall. Just plan to be where you need to be every day and every week and keep those commitments faithfully. Remember the tortoise and the hare and keep faithfully plodding.

All Things Have Been Made New

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61 when He defined His mission on earth:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor;
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61.1–3)

Jesus ended His quote with “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” and did not mention the day of vengeance, but the context continues and fits the ministry of Jesus all the way down to at least verse 9. In verse 8, God says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them,” which He has done through the work of Christ.

This text overflows blessing to God’s people! Not only is there much about releasing from bondage, healing the broken, and comforting mourners, but God replaces the evil things with wonderful things—He removes the ashes and puts a headdress on; He takes away the faint spirit and gives a garment of praise.

Verse 4 says, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” What an awesome picture! I see families torn apart by sin and selfishness and corruption, and God heals the wounds and builds them back into a happy, loving group that serves one another. I see weeds pulled up, gardens cultivated, broken windows and doors repaired, new tables laden with food, smiling faces, satisfied people. God heals generational wounds.

I need God to pull out the weeds from my heart renovate my life. Move out the old man and move in the Holy Spirit.  This He does through Jesus Christ!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 17–19).

Living Every Moment for God

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Some people have gotten the notion that being spiritually “hot” is staying in a constant state of active adoration towards God, talking about Him, and saturating every minute with praise and worship.

Then they go to work and have to focus their minds on their daily tasks, which requires them to shift their adoring gaze downward for a while, and they are disappointed because they were not able to maintain that spiritual high. Their conscience is pricked because they haven’t been able to actively think about and dwell on God for several hours, and they feel condemned because they think they haven’t been “spiritual” for that amount of time.

Paul wrote in Romans 12.1, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” What did he mean by that? Perhaps we need to expand our concept of worship to include every corner of our lives. We please God when we do good things and share with one another (Hebrews 13.15–16).

Dear Christian, the way you work each day should please God. How do you worship God through your job? How do you offer yourself as a living sacrifice while focused on the complex or mundane chores of the day? When you work for people, obey them “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6.5–7). “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3.23).

When we work this way, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God, and God is pleased with us. This is a good day.

When you have a good attitude, when you work hard and heartily, when you seek the good of the people around you, when you serve others, when you submit to authority, when you do things you know are right, when you bring order out of chaos, when you clean up messes and organize, you fulfill God’s purpose for you on this earth. You reflect His image.

Those moments are precious when we can focus entirely on praising and magnifying the name of God, and we should look forward to and make regular time for that. But we can live every moment of our lives for God if we understand how our entire life works in the context of His kingdom. This is wisdom, peace, and joy. May we learn to live this way!

Hold Fast That Confidence

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

These seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters.
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ.

How can I be confident in my relationship with Jesus, confident of my salvation, and also confident I am wrong in some of my Bible understandings?

confident manActually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not be the height of arrogance to think I have every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now—there is an objective right and a wrong, good and evil; it's just that we, as finite men in corrupt flesh, will never fully discern these things. We grow in discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. What abundant grace should we give each other, then? Truthfully, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:


To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)


Where did Paul's confidence come from? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus' power, Jesus' love, Jesus' accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us... (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we do. Sure, we must have no disagreement in a few articles of faith, but the "same mind" Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards one other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), which was the mind of humble obedience to God.

When we divide from brothers and sisters because we have a different understanding, we may demonstrate a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season...perhaps for longer...but that does not mean we must view each another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn't plow together in the same yoke, but only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

Is Jesus Your Personal Savior?

Monday, May 08, 2023

In The Message—an interpretation, not a translation (so read with caution!)—the introduction to Galatians includes the following:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for "Logos":

In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).

Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps "Are you a born again Christian?" (isn't that redundant?) is even more popular, but "Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?" definitely competes.

Can we claim Jesus as our own "personal Savior"?

worshipPersonal is used here in the relational sense—that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and me or Him and you, personally.

What does the Bible teach on this?

The Bible does not contain those exact words—"personal Savior"—but what about the concept? Consider two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.


David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)

Do you sense a personal relationship in David's words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David's God! This relationship comforts and empowers because it does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world—it's directly between a man and his God.


Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithfulappointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)


Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have—and you either are His or you aren't.


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