Highways To Zion
Highways to Zion is a weekly devotional message on WVMC FM designed to encourage you in your daily walk with Christ through lessons from everyday life. Here are the archive's of past devotional messages.
See what Judy has to encourage you this week...
Week of April 13th
We all know what it means to come up short. When our kids were little, they were disappointed if they were not tall enough to ride certain rides at Cedar Point. When I was in high school, my grade point average was not quite enough to make the National Honor Society. But what does it mean to come short of the grace of God? Is it failing to recognize and accept the gift of salvation, or can a true believer come short of God’s grace?
The passage I’m referring to is Hebrews 12:15: "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." The sentence immediately before this urges us to pursue sanctification, so he would seem to be speaking to believers. The following verse gives Esau as an example, calling him an immoral and godless person for selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. (The birthright stipulated that the first-born in a family should receive a double portion of the father’s inheritance.)
This episode from the life of Esau and his brother Jacob is recorded in Genesis 25:27-34. Esau comes in from hunting, tired and hungry. Jacob has a pot of stew on the fire. Esau wants some of it, but Jacob insists that he give him his birthright in exchange for it. Esau is so hungry, he thinks he’s going to die and the birthright won’t do him any good, so he agrees. He eats and drinks and then gets up and goes on his way, apparently without giving the loss of his birthright a second thought. The last sentence of the story says, "Thus Esau despised his birthright." If this is an example of coming short of God’s grace, how are we to interpret it?
In Romans 8 Paul says, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (v.16-17). If we are co-heirs with Christ, then whatever He receives from His Father, we also receive. This statement of Paul’s is at the end of a paragraph in which he has admonished his readers not to live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. He says, "If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (v.13). Allowing the Spirit of God to put to death the deeds of the body, i.e., those attitudes and actions that originate in our sinful human nature, seems to me to be a reasonable definition of sanctification, the thing the author of Hebrews is urging us to pursue and thus not come short of the grace of God.
To the Colossians Paul writes, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Whether Paul is equating only greed with idolatry seems irrelevant. Any time we are acting out of our flesh, we are letting our sinful nature usurp the place of lordship that Jesus wants and has every right to occupy in the lives of His blood-bought brethren.
Moses’ warning from Deut. 29:18-19 corroborates this thought. "Make sure there is no [one] among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.’"
God desires to bless His own. His promises are myriad; they are our inheritance. But God can only bless those who truly live under His lordship. "Going our own way" is not an option. We are not tempted to bow down in worship of the sun, moon, and stars or any so-called god or goddess. But we are tempted, sorely and often, to "do it my way."
We understand the role of God’s grace in our salvation. It is all His free gift offered to those who see their need of it. What we fail to understand is our ongoing need of His grace every day. Our human nature is so seductive. There are so many things over which we say or at least think, "I can do this." To the extent that we do it on our own, we forfeit the inheritance God’s grace has promised us.
A life of total self-reliance may seem admirable on the surface, as long as success is maintained. And, sadly, many people, both saved and unsaved, live their lives that way.
I was greatly moved by an article I read recently. It was written by a former atheist who was a social worker. He was never influenced by evangelists or pastors or Bible teachers. What convinced him of God’s existence were the street people he interacted with in his work. These were the down-and-out, the drug addicts, homeless people. They had nothing, quite literally, but many of them possessed a lively and sincere faith. They were, in fact, depending on the grace of God just to survive day to day. If there were ever anyone who came up short of modern standards, it was them, but in them this man saw how far short he fell in his soul. He came to the conclusion that atheism, which calls religion a crutch for the needy, is itself a crutch that is only supported by success and affluence. It offers nothing in the face of real needs.
I am not prepared to say exactly what it means for a believer to come short of the grace of God. I just know I don’t want to do it.
© Judy Nichols 2014
Week of March 30th
We hear so much about equality these days. Everyone is supposed to be equal, not just equal before the law, but also equal in prosperity, health, and opportunity. The Bible does teach that we are all of equal value before God. He loves each of us the same, enough to have given His only begotten Son to redeem us. We are all equally sinners, having been born into a fallen human race, and we will all face the same parameters of judgment.
But the Bible also teaches that we are not all equal, and our experience bears this out. Some people are short, others tall. Some are talented artistically, others mechanically, and still others relationally. Some have a strong constitution, others fall prey to any illness that comes along. Some are born in industrialized nations, others in third world countries. These are things over which we have little control.
The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 teaches both equality and inequality. That the servants were given differing amounts of money (or talents) speaks of inequality. What they did with it was not the same. I imagine the amount of effort required in the investment of five talents was considerably more than what was needed to invest two. The results were not the same in terms of raw data, but both of the faithful servants got an equal return percentage-wise – both doubled their master’s money.
The unfaithful servant’s behavior was vastly different from the other two. From whatever motive, he evidently considered his one talent (which was no measly amount of money – a talent was the equivalent of fifteen years’ wages) as not worth his effort. He claimed he was afraid he might lose it and the master would be unhappy because he hadn’t gained anything. The master saw through his excuse and was indeed angry, less because there was no gain and more because of lack of effort. He did not insist on the same return as the other servants; even bank interest would have been enough.
What this says to me is that whatever I have been given, no matter whether great or small, I am called to use it to the best of whatever ability I have. It is worth the effort, because the greatest disparity is yet to be revealed in the parable.
At the reckoning the two faithful servants were commended by the master, no small accolade considering the master in the story represents God. To receive His commendation, His affirmation of my paltry efforts on His behalf, is more than all human applause combined. When I consider His omnipotence compared to my puny abilities, I am stunned that He would condescend to entrust the advancement of his kingdom to us humans at all. We can do so little compared to what He can do.
The master not only commended the faithful servants, but he also gave them a promotion, so to speak. "You were faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things" (Matt. 25:21,23). It doesn’t say how many, so the inequality (based on how much each had been given previously) in the midst of equality (a promotion for both) may be assumed. Doubtless the five-talent servant was put in charge of more than the two-talent servant.
And finally, the master does something for which I don’t have an adequate definition. "Enter into the joy of your master." What is this in today’s terminology? It’s obvious that the master was pleased with the two faithful servants, because he commended them. What more is he conferring now in this?
When I think of sharing joy with someone, I think of intimacy. The people who are closest to me, whom I love the most, are the ones whose joy I can most readily share. When my son-in-law received an award for one of his designs, I beamed with pride. When my grandchildren achieve each new step of development, my joy knows no bounds. To share in the joy of my Master is to know Him better, to have a closer relationship with Him, to be drawn into His circle of confidence.
King Solomon wrote, "The devious are an abomination to the Lord, but He is intimate with the upright" (Prov. 3:22). Now, since the advent of our Lord, we know we are more than just close friends with God; we are family. The Apostle Paul wrote, "You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:15-17). And it’s not just that we are on the same level with Christ, it’s more than that. We are in Christ (Eph. 2:6) and He is in us (Col. 1:27). That is a level of intimacy we as humans cannot fathom.
The unfaithful servant lost it all. Where the others received commendation, he received condemnation. "You wicked, lazy slave," his master said. His one talent was taken from him. And he was not just demoted; he was thrown out altogether. He would no longer be in the service of his master at all, but completely and totally estranged from him. Far from sharing his master’s joy, he would experience "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 25:30). This is especially sobering, considering that in the previous parable, the Ten Virgins, the five unprepared virgins were outside and not let in. This unfaithful servant was inside and then thrown out. Making use of what we have been given in Christ is no inconsequential matter.
In Christ, we all have been given riches beyond our wildest dreams. The very least-gifted servant of Christ is still incredibly wealthy. The disproportion is not between who has more gifts and who has fewer. In light of what we have in Christ, that difference is negligible. The real disproportion is between what God can do and what we can do, and between the consequences of our action or failure to act on what we have been given. Our Master does not require equality of us. We do not all have to be Billy Grahams, but we are all called to invest His immense riches in others so that He might gain the more.
© Judy Nichols 2014
Week of April 6th
My mother told me that when she was a little girl, her grandfather told the family he had a secret to tell but he wasn’t going to reveal it until he was on his deathbed. Unfortunately, he died in his sleep, so no one ever found out what it was. They knew he had changed his name when he immigrated to America and surmised that it had something to do with who he was before leaving England. Was he nobility, heir to land and a castle, or a despicable criminal? We’ll never know because he never had the chance to say what apparently was very important to him.
Matthew 24 and 25 record Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples before His arrest and crucifixion. He has already told them several times that He will be betrayed and killed, so I think we can assume that He would be emphasizing the things He considered most important and wanted them to remember.
In response to the disciples’ questions, He explains what things will be like when the temple is destroyed and when His return is imminent. He tells them to watch and interpret the signs of the times and warns them about being ready at all times because no one knows the day of His return.
He then tells three parables about what the kingdom of God will be like when he returns. The Parable of the Ten Virgins speaks of living our lives in such a way that we are prepared when the time comes. The Parable of the Talents emphasizes the importance of using what God has given us, for the increase of His kingdom and glory. And the story of the Sheep and the Goats describes for us the basis on which we will be judged and the sentences that will be carried out.
As I’ve read through this final teaching of Jesus, I am reminded of Moses’ final words to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 29-30). He has just given them an extensive list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience which they are to post and recite when they will have entered the land (ch. 27-28). He reminds them of the miracles prior to the Exodus and of God’s provision during the wilderness wanderings. He admonishes them as to the solemnity of entering into a covenant with God and warns them against idolatry.
Deut. 29:19 struck me as being similar to the unprepared virgins and the unfruitful servant in Jesus’ parables. "When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.’" The unprepared virgins had their lamps and some oil; the unfruitful servant had been given much. Both evidently thought they were on safe ground, but their lack of obedient action proved otherwise. Moses next sentence is chilling: "This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry." The Body of Christ is a single organism. Any part that does not function as it should brings consequences upon the whole.
Moses concludes his message with the statement that he has set before them life and death, blessings and curses. The King in the story of the Sheep and the Goats says to the sheep, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Matt. 26:34). And to the goats He says, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (v.41). Once again we see life and death, blessings and curses set before us. And we must make our choice now and live accordingly.
We are not guaranteed any more than right now. My mother’s family could have either lost out on some big money or been saddled with a terrible reputation. Either way, the consequences would have been minor compared to the consequences of failing to take seriously Jesus’ (and others’) many admonitions to put our faith into actions.
© Judy Nichols 2014