Who’s The Boss?

Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. —Romans 6:14

As my wife was babysitting our two young grandsons, they began to argue over a toy. Suddenly, the younger (by 3 years) forcefully ordered his older brother, “Cameron, go to your room!” Shoulders slumped under the weight of the reprimand, the dejected older brother began to slink off to his room when my wife said, “Cameron, you don’t have to go to your room. Nathan’s not the boss of you!” That realization changed everything, and Cam, smiling, sat back down to play.

As followers of Christ, the reality of our brokenness and our inclination to sin can assume a false authority much like that younger brother. Sin noisily threatens to dominate our hearts and minds, and the joy drains from our relationship with the Savior.

But through the death and resurrection of Christ, that threat is an empty one. Sin has no authority over us. That is why Paul wrote, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

While our brokenness is very real, Christ’s grace enables us to live in a way that pleases God and expresses His transforming power to the world. Sin is no longer our boss. We now live in the grace and presence of Jesus. His dominion in our lives releases us from the bondage of sin.

Thank You for Your grace, Lord, that
cleanses us inside. Your grace is greater
than all our sin. We know we can’t live without
it. And we’re grateful that we don’t have to.
God pursues us in our restlessness, receives us in our sinfulness, holds us in our brokenness. —Scotty Smith
INSIGHT: Previously in Romans, Paul has been teaching about our redemption and justification—how through faith in Jesus Christ, God made us right with Him (3:21–4:25). Paul now deals with another aspect of our salvation—sanctification (Rom. 6:1–8:39). Because we have been given a new life and a new relationship with God (6:4-14), He expects us to live differently and to mature in holiness.


Taming The Untamable

No man can tame the tongue. —James 3:8

From Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs to Siberian foxes, humans have learned to tame wild animals. People enjoy teaching monkeys to “act” in commercials or training deer to eat out of their hands. As the apostle James put it, “Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind” (3:7).

But there is something we cannot tame. All of us have trouble getting a little thing called the tongue under control. “No man can tame the tongue,” James tells us (v.8).

Why? Because while our words may be on the tip of our tongue, they originate from deep within us. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). And thus the tongue can be used for both good and evil (James 3:9). Or, as scholar Peter Davids put it, “On the one hand, [the tongue] is very religious, but, on the other, it can be most profane.”

If we cannot tame this unruly tongue of ours, is it destined to be a daily problem for us, always prone to speak evil? (v.10). By God’s grace, no. We are not left to our own devices. The Lord will “set a guard” over my mouth; He will “keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). He can tame the untamable.

Lord, my mouth sometimes speaks words that
don’t honor You. Thank You that by Your Spirit
my untamed tongue can be brought under divine
control. Please guard my mouth today.
To rule your tongue, let Christ rule in your heart.
INSIGHT: James’s letter is filled with practical wisdom that deals with responding to trials (ch.1), living out our faith (ch.2), taming the tongue (ch.3), interpersonal conflict (ch.4), and waiting on the Lord (ch.5). James is sometimes called “the Proverbs of the New Testament.”


It’s Beautiful!

Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.” —Mark 14:6

After being away on business, Terry wanted to pick up some small gifts for his children. The clerk at the airport gift shop recommended a number of costly items. “I don’t have that much money with me,” he said. “I need something less expensive.” The clerk tried to make him feel that he was being cheap. But Terry knew his children would be happy with whatever he gave them, because it came from a heart of love. And he was right—they loved the gifts he brought them.

During Jesus’ last visit to the town of Bethany, Mary wanted to show her love for Him (Mark 14:3-9). So she brought “an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard” and anointed Him (v.3). The disciples asked angrily, “Why this waste?” (Matt. 26:8). Jesus told them to stop troubling her, for “she has done a good work for Me” (Mark 14:6). Another translation reads, “She has done a beautiful thing to Me.” Jesus delighted in her gift, for it came from a heart of love. Even anointing Him for burial was beautiful!

What would you like to give to Jesus to show your love? Your time, talent, treasure? It doesn’t matter if it’s costly or inexpensive, whether others understand or criticize. Whatever is given from a heart of love is beautiful to Him.

Nothing I could give You, Father, could repay You for Your sacrifice. But I want to give You what You would think is beautiful. I give You my heart today in thankfulness for Your love.
A healthy heart beats with love for Jesus.
INSIGHT: The account of the woman who anointed Jesus with oil is preceded by the Pharisees’ plot to kill Him (14:1-2) and is followed by Judas agreeing to betray Him (vv. 10-12). The events relating to those who plotted to kill Jesus are given only brief and cursory treatment (two verses each), while the account of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume is given a full and detailed description (seven verses). Clearly this woman’s actions will be remembered (v. 9).


Who Are You?

When [Jesus] had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” —Matthew 21:10

From time to time, we read of people who are offended at not being treated with what they consider due respect and deference. “Do you know who I am?” they shout indignantly. And we are reminded of the statement, “If you have to tell people who you are, you probably really aren’t who you think you are.” The polar opposite of this arrogance and self-importance is seen in Jesus, even as His life on earth was nearing its end.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of praise from the people (Matt. 21:7-9). When others throughout the city asked, “Who is this?” the crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee” (vv.10-11). He didn’t come claiming special privileges, but in humility He came to give His life in obedience to His Father’s will.

The words Jesus said and the things He did commanded respect. Unlike insecure rulers, He never demanded that others respect Him. His greatest hours of suffering appeared to be His lowest point of weakness and failure. Yet, the strength of His identity and mission carried Jesus through the darkest hours as He died for our sins so that we might live in His love.

He is worthy of our lives and our devotion today. Do we recognize who He is?

Lord, I am in awe of Your humility, strength, and love. And I am embarrassed by my desires for self-importance. May knowing You change every self-centered motive in my heart into a longing to live as You did in this world.
When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same. —Oswald Chambers
INSIGHT: The disciple of Christ should be preoccupied with exalting Him instead of self. The words “My utmost for His highest,” taken from Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, express the goal of the follower of Christ.


Trail Trees

They pierced My hands and My feet. . . . They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. —Psalm 22:16-18

In recent years, my daughter has become fascinated with the history of the indigenous people in northern Michigan where she lives. One summer afternoon when I was visiting, she showed me a road that had a sign designating “Trail Trees.” She explained to me that it’s believed that long ago the Native Americans bent young trees to point the way to specific destinations and that they continued to grow in an unusual shape.

The Old Testament serves a similar purpose. Many commands and teachings of the Bible direct our hearts to the way the Lord wants us to live. The Ten Commandments are great examples of that. But in addition, the prophets of the Old Testament pointed the way to a coming Messiah. Thousands of years before Jesus came, they spoke of Bethlehem—Jesus’ birthplace (see Micah 5:2 and Matt. 2:1-6). They described Jesus’ death on the cross in striking detail (see Ps. 22:14-18 and John 19:23-24). And Isaiah 53:1-12 points to the sacrifice Jesus would make as the Lord “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v.6; see Luke 23:33).

Millennia ago, God’s Old Testament servants pointed to God’s Son—Jesus—the One who has now “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). He is the way to life.

Thank You for the simple message of salvation. Jesus, You are the way, the truth, and the life. Thank You for giving Your life for me. I love You.
Jesus sacrificed His life for ours.


Foley Artists

Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. —2 Corinthians 11:14

Crunch. Crunch. Whoosh! In the early days of film, Foley artists created sounds to support the story’s action. Squeezing a leather pouch filled with cornstarch made the sound of snow crunching, shaking a pair of gloves sounded like bird wings flapping, and waving a thin stick made a whoosh sound. To make movies as realistic as possible, these artists used creative techniques to replicate sounds.

Like sounds, messages can be replicated. One of Satan’s most frequently used techniques is that of replicating messages in spiritually dangerous ways. Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:13-14, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” Paul is warning us about false teachers who turn our attention away from Jesus Christ and the message of His grace.

Jesus said that one purpose of the Holy Spirit living in us is that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). With the help and guidance of the Spirit, we can find the safety of truth in a world of counterfeit messages.

We need You, Holy Spirit, to help us discern truth from error. We can be easily deceived by others or even by our own hearts. May we be open to learn from You and not be led astray.
The Holy Spirit is our ever-present Teacher.
INSIGHT: John 14 and 16 contain the most comprehensive record of Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ place to be our parakletos, which means “one called alongside to assist.” This word is translated as “Helper” in today’s passage (v. 7); other Bible translations use the words “Comforter” (KJV) and “Counselor” (NIV). He is also the Spirit of truth (v. 13) who illumines the Scriptures so we may understand the meaning of Jesus’ works and words (vv. 13-14).


The Definite Choice

We will serve the Lord! —Joshua 24:21

Coming from someone who used to value ancestral gods, my 90-year-old father’s statement near the end of his life was remarkable: “When I die,” he spoke laboriously, “nobody should do anything other than what the church will do. No soothsaying, no ancestral sacrifices, no rituals. As my life is in the hands of Jesus Christ, so shall my death be!”

My father chose the path of Christ in his old age when he invited Jesus into his life as Savior. His contemporaries mocked him: “An old man like you shouldn’t be going to church!” But my father’s choice to follow and worship the true God was definite, like the people Joshua addressed.

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” Joshua challenged them. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15). Their response was resolute—they chose to worship the Lord. Even after Joshua warned them to count the cost (vv.19-20), they still resolved to follow the Lord, recalling His deliverance, provision, and protection (vv.16-17,21).

Such a confident choice, however, calls for equally confident actions, as Joshua strongly reminded them: “Put away the foreign gods . . . and incline your heart to the Lord” (v.23). Have you made a choice to live for God?

Teach me all it means, Lord, to choose You. I want my words, actions, and attitudes to show the love for You that I have in my heart. You are worthy of far more than I could ever do.
A definite choice demands definite actions.


God’s Clocks

She . . . spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. —Luke 2:38

I visit two elderly women from time to time. One has no financial worries, is fit for her age, and lives in her own home. But she can always find something negative to say. The other is crippled with arthritis and rather forgetful. She lives in simple accommodations, and keeps a reminder pad so she won’t forget her appointments. But to every visitor to her tiny apartment, her first comment is always the same: “God is so good to me.” Handing her the reminder pad on my last visit, I noticed that she had written the day before “Out to lunch tomorrow! Wonderful! Another happy day.”

Anna was a prophetess at the time of Jesus’ birth, and her circumstances were hard (Luke 2:36-37). Widowed early and possibly childless, she may have felt purposeless and destitute. But her focus was on God and serving Him. She was yearning for the Messiah, but in the meantime she was busy about God’s business—praying, fasting, and teaching others all that she had learned from Him.

Finally the day arrived when she—now in her eighties—saw the infant Messiah in his young mother’s arms. All her patient waiting was worthwhile. Her heart sang with joy as she praised God and then passed the glad news on to others.

Lord, I don’t want to be a complainer anymore. I want to be a person who overflows with thankfulness for others and for You. May I accept whatever You give me in Your time. Show me how to start today.
It’s hard to see both God’s plan and our part. But their intersection is the best place to be.
INSIGHT: Two people in Scripture are specifically mentioned as seeing and recognizing Jesus as the Messiah when He was an infant. Both Simeon and Anna, faithful servants of God, were blessed with seeing the “Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and “redemption in Jerusalem” (v. 38). Luke records Simeon meeting the infant Jesus in 2:25-35 and Anna in verses 36-38. Anna was of great age (v. 36) and Simeon was most likely elderly as well (v. 26). Often in Scripture the passing of time plays an important role, showing that God is faithful to His promises. Simeon and Anna both waited faithfully for the Messiah and were rewarded by seeing Jesus before they died.


Simply Trusting

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. —Psalm 56:3

When our children were young, taking them to the doctor’s office was an interesting experience. The waiting room was filled with toys they could play with and children’s magazines I would read to them. So getting that far with them was no problem. But as soon as I picked them up to carry them into the appointment, everything changed. Suddenly the fun turned into fear as the nurse approached with the needle for the needed shot. The closer she got, the tighter they hugged my neck. They would cling to me for comfort, probably hoping for rescue, not knowing that it was for their own good.

Sometimes in this fallen world we move from times of peace and tranquility into the painful realm of trouble. At that point, the question is, “How will I respond?” We can be fearful and wonder why God allowed this to happen to us, or we can trust that in the midst of this trouble He is doing something that in the end is for our best, even if it hurts. We would do well to remember the words of the psalmist who wrote, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Ps. 56:3).

Like my children, the tougher it gets, the tighter we should hug His neck. Trust Him. His love never fails!

Come quickly, Lord, to help me. Teach me to trust You in times of trouble. Remind me of Your presence and of the fact that You hold me in Your loving arms.
Cling to your heavenly Father; He is your only hope.
INSIGHT: Psalm 56 was written by David when the Philistines captured him in Gath, as stated in the superscription. One of the ironies of David’s life is that he killed the Philistine champion Goliath who was from Gath, but in fleeing from Saul he sought refuge in that same city. In both circumstances, his ultimate refuge was found in God.


Son Reflector

This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light. —John 1:7

The cozy little village of Rjukan, Norway, is a delightful place to live—except during the dark days of winter. Located in a valley at the foot of the towering Gaustatoppen Mountain, the town receives no direct sunlight for nearly half of the year. Residents had long considered the idea of placing mirrors at the top of the mountain to reflect the sun. But the concept was not feasible until recently. In 2005, a local artist began “The Mirror Project” to bring together people who could turn the idea into reality. Eight years later, in October 2013, the mirrors went into action. Residents crowded into the town square to soak up the reflected sunlight.

In a spiritual sense, much of the world is like the village of Rjukan—mountains of troubles keep the light of Jesus from getting through. But God strategically places His children to act as reflectors. One such person was John the Baptist, who came “to bear witness of the Light”—Jesus—who gives light “to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (John 1:7; Luke 1:79).

Just as sunlight is essential for emotional and physical health, so exposure to the light of Jesus is essential for spiritual health. Thankfully, every believer is in a position to reflect His light into the world’s dark places.

Dear Father, help me to reflect Your light into the world around me today. May all that I say and do bear witness of Your light and truth. May others see how wonderful You are.
A world in darkness needs the light of Jesus.
INSIGHT: The author of the gospel of John is not the same John referred to in today’s reading (1:6). John the Baptist, the “man sent from God,” was the fulfillment of the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3:1 (see Mark 1:2-3). His main task was to introduce Jesus to the world and “to bear witness of the Light” (John 1:7-8). The miraculous circumstances of John’s birth are told in Luke 1:5-80. He was probably a cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:36), had the privilege to baptize Him (Matt. 3:13-15), and was imprisoned and later beheaded by Herod (14:1-12). His ministry is recorded in Matthew 3; 11:1-11; Mark 1:1-9; and Luke 3. Jesus said that of “those born of women” (i.e., those born by ordinary human birth), none is greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).