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.

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Week of August 24th

GIVE GLORY TO GOD

The Scripture says that Abraham believed God when He told him he would be the father of nations and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. And God credited it to him as righteousness. Later, after Ishmael was born, God gave him a more specific promise, that his wife Sarah would bear him a son. In Romans 4 Paul writes that Abraham did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, because he was sure God could do what He had promised (v.20-21).

The statement, "Give glory to God," was used in Scripture to put someone under oath to tell the whole truth. For example, in Joshua after the battle of Jericho, someone kept some of the spoil when God had commanded that everything in the city be destroyed. When this became known, Joshua confronted the man saying, "Give glory to God . . . tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me" (Josh. 7:19). And in John 9:24, after Jesus healed the man born blind, the man was questioned by the Pharisees. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner."

So I surmise that Abraham’s giving glory to God meant that he did not keep God’s promise to himself, but let it be known. Can you imagine how ridiculous it must have sounded to hear a 99-year-old man tell people God had promised him and his 90-year-old wife a child? I can just hear the gossip. People must have laughed, if not in his face, then at least behind his back. In fact, Abraham himself had laughed when God told him Sarah would have a child, and Sarah laughed when she heard it. And Abraham suggested to God that perhaps He should just bless Ishmael, instead (see Gen. 17:15-18).

Telling the whole truth about what God has said or done does glorify Him, and it also strengthens our faith. Words have power, and expressing our thoughts and beliefs makes them all the more real to us and to God. If we keep our faith to ourselves, how will anyone, including God, know that it’s real? Abraham believed God, and he also obeyed God by leaving his country and going to the land God would show him. He demonstrated his faith by his actions (see James 2:15-17). He believed the promise of a child by Sarah and told people about it. This may be summarized by Paul’s statement in Romans 9:10. "With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

There is no such thing as an undercover Christian. It is true God sees our hearts and knows whether we believe Him or not. But faith that is never demonstrated in a changed life, or never told about to anyone else, might as well not be faith at all. God regenerates us, gives us new life so that we can live it. He promises us righteousness so that we can be seen as His children in this world. Jesus put it this way: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16)." We give glory to God when we live so that the whole truth about Him is evident through our words and deeds.

© Judy Nichols 2014


Week of August 17th

RIGHTEOUSNESS

What do you think it means to be righteous? Most of my growing up years, I thought it meant doing all the right stuff: being nice to people, being honest, truthful, and generous, in short, following the Golden Rule. I would venture to say that’s what most people think it means. Unfortunately, my experience has taught me that it’s entirely possible to be nice to people, to be honest, truthful, and generous with a terrible attitude and possibly wrong motives, as well. Where is the righteousness in that?

The things we do or don’t do cannot be the measure of righteousness. Even our attitudes and motives, while they are closer, cannot be its measure. I am, even now as a fairly mature believer in Christ, fully capable of doing good things for bad reasons. There is only one basis for righteousness and that is my faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. No matter how hard I might try to be a good person, doing the right things for the right reasons, I cannot do it. And even if I could, what then? Would God owe me right standing before Him? What a ludicrous thought, that the Creator, Sustainer, and Lord of the universe would owe anything to anyone!

I was baptized as an infant, attended church and Sunday school regularly, took catechism classes and was confirmed as a member of the church before I was a teenager. Who wouldn’t have thought that qualified me as a righteous person? But the fact is that I didn’t hear the gospel and give my life to Christ until after college. All the religious ceremonies in the world won’t make me acceptable to God, as long as my heart isn’t changed.

Maybe it was just my more introverted, compliant personality, but I always tried to be obedient to my parents and teachers. I was mostly truthful, but admit to my share of lies and exaggerations. I never stole anything, although some pens from work did make their way home now and then. I tried not to dishonor my parents, but felt a definite sting when I brought home a D on my report card and Dad said, "You’re better than this." I only remember once taking God’s name in vain, but once is enough to make me guilty. I’ve not murdered anyone, thank goodness, but Jesus’ expansion of the law to calling someone a fool has me nailed. And we won’t even talk about coveting.

In short, all my trying to be obedient, both before and since becoming a Christian, netted me nothing by way of righteousness. Righteousness is not what we do or say, or even our thoughts or motives. Righteousness is a relational word; it has to do with our standing before God. In His presence, no one is acceptable based on his hard work, religious rites, or law keeping. As Abraham’s example shows us, believing God is what is counted as righteousness (see Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:9). For us today that means believing the blood of Christ did indeed cleanse us from our sin and failure.

Are you righteous? On what basis? If it’s anything other than faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, it isn’t good enough. Trying hard, being religious, and attempting to keep the law are not inherently bad things. They’re just the wrong things if our goal is righteousness. © Judy Nichols 2014


 

 Week of August 10th

ALL OR TEN PERCENT

The Scripture exhorts us to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37). Think about that for a minute.

When I think about my heart, I can honestly say I love the Lord with all my heart. But realistically, I also have to say I love my husband, my children, and my grand-children with all my heart. And if I look further to see how time factors into what’s important in my heart, I have to admit also that there are lots of things that are vying for the space therein.

The soul is the seat of our emotions. What do I get excited about? When I saw my son’s soccer team win a division championship, I got very excited. When I first heard, and every time I’ve heard there was a grandchild on the way, I broke out into the happy dance. There have been times when my worship has been intensely emotional, but just as many when it has not.

What do I think about? How do I make my decisions? Through what lens do I see the people and events around me? I would be lying through my teeth if I said I love the Lord with all my mind all the time. My own flesh, as well as the devil’s fiery darts penetrate my mind with all too much regularity. Weighing pros and cons is still my default position when decision-making time comes.

And just what does it mean to love the Lord with all your strength? The only thing I can think of is to keep on trusting Him when hard times come. To persevere in faith in the midst of illness, adversity, persecution, or loss. Here at least, is one area where I might have scored a point. Trusting God through eight years of infertility and then later through a very scary year of cancer treatments must have counted for something. Not that scoring a point is the goal, because continuing to trust God in difficulty produces spiritual growth like nothing else can. Not to mention that none of these "alls" are in any way meant to be focused on ourselves.

Twenty-five percent is not a passing grade in any class I’ve ever been in. So, as I see myself failing miserably, I have to ask: Is there nothing, no command in the Bible that we can keep? (Obviously there are many lesser commands we can keep, but I will focus on just one and the reason will become apparent.)

Actually, there is. And contrary to how many people see this command, it’s a refreshing change from "all." While God wants all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength, he only wants ten percent of our money. What an amazing deal! We know, of course, that God is the possessor of all things and we are stewards. Why we should cling so tenaciously to "our" money when it is one of so few areas where we can comply fully with God’s command, is a mystery.

All, or ten percent? In the face of total failure, here is an option for success.

© Judy Nichols 2014


Week of August 3rd

 

ESTABLISHING THE RULES

Last week when I babysat my grandson, I had an opportunity to establish the rules. His soccer-playing father, my son, has taught him that balls are for kicking, and one of his favorite things to do is kick a ball up and down the sidewalk in front of their house. Occasionally, when the ball goes into the grass or is in an otherwise awkward position for kicking, he will pick it up and throw it to begin the game again.

On this day, however, he decided to throw it into the street. I retrieved the ball, then squatted down, looked him in the eye, and said, "If you throw the ball in the street again, we will have to go to the back yard to play." Being not quite two years old, but close enough to want to test the limits, he immediately picked up the ball and threw it into the street again. I retrieved the ball, took him by the hand, and led him, protesting wildly, to the back yard. I established the rule by executing the consequence.

At the end of the third chapter of Romans Paul asks the question, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law" (v. 31). I never really understood how believing that we are justified by faith established the law. Like the Jews, I thought it kind of made the law invalid.

William R. Newell’s commentary on Romans uses the story of the man who was caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath to explain it. The man is brought to Moses because it had not been declared what should be done to him. The law prohibiting working on the Sabbath had been given, but a penalty for disobedience had not been laid out. God told Moses the congregation should stone him to death. (See Numbers 15:32-26.) It was only through the execution of the penalty that the law was established.

We are justified by faith, faith in the finished work of Christ upon the cross. We believe that, as the Scripture says, he took the punishment we deserve for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Pet. 2:24). And, "He Himself is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice) for our sins" (1 John 2:2).

As Newell sums it up, "Christ’s expiatory death established the Law by having its penalty executed." It was executed not upon us, who deserve it, but upon Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, whom God sent to earth for that very purpose (see 1 John 4:10). "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

God’s law is established, His righteousness vindicated, and His holiness magnified. I echo Paul’s words from Romans 11:33: "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

© Judy Nichols 2014


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