“The Struggle Against Encumbrances” (Hebrews 12: 1, NEB) by Carley Evans

Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Abel, Enoch, Isaac, Jacob — “these witnesses in faith” “did not enter upon the promised inheritance, because, with us in mind, God had made a better plan, that only in company with us should they reach their perfection.” (Hebrews 12: 1; 11: 39 – 40)

We are surrounded by men and women of great faith in God yet these ancient “witnesses in faith” required the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ just as we do.

Since we have such colleagues, we must “run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12: 2) We must “throw off every encumbrance, every sin to which we cling.” (Hebrews 12: 1)

Throwing off encumbrances is as important as resisting sin. Encumbrances are weights on our souls, keeping our focus off Christ and on ourselves. Encumbrances are essentially distractions. Martha working to set a table for her Lord Jesus is an encumbrance to the more important task — listening to Him.

Let’s be “too good for a world like this.” Let’s keep our focus on our ultimate goal — the prize who is Christ, our Lord.

“Falsely Accused” (Matthew 10: 19 – 20, NEB) by Carley Evans

Jesus speaks of brother turning against brother in betrayal; of father standing in hatred against his own child; of children despising and sending their own parents to death. He speaks of Christians being arrested, taken into court, accused — for His sake — presumably of all sorts of false charges.

And Jesus encourages us, “Do not worry about what you are to say; when the time comes, the words you need will be given you; for it is not you who will be speaking; it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.”

Wait for God’s timing. Do not fret over what you are to say when someone — perhaps even someone who professes to love you — betrays you. In His timing, God gives you His Word to speak to that someone. Rest assured; you are not on your own.

“To Everyone Whom The Lord May Call” (Acts 2: 38, NEB) by Carley Evans

God calls us to repentance. Repentance is first and foremost a recognition of our failure to meet God’s standards. Then, it is a turning away from anything which separates us from God. Finally it is a turning to that which draws us closer to God.

Sometimes it is hard to recognize the things which separate us from the Lord — sometimes those things appear shiny, better than they are, of more value than they can be. Everyone faces temptations that are pleasant at the time, and later sting. This is the burden of being human.

Fortunately, God has a way of manipulating events and people so that we finally see the truth — and finally turn, perhaps even run from the evil which has come into our lives. The evil may not be a person; rather it may be that the adversary has found a niche in that person, a weakness of which to take advantage so as to destroy not only that one but you as well.

Pray for those who are trapped in darkness; it is a sad place to remain. Call them to repentance as Peter does: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“The Rescue” (Colossians 1: 13, NEB) by Carley Evans

“[God] rescues us from the domain of darkness and brings us away into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom our release is secured and our sins forgiven.”

Imagine a man drowning in the ocean. He has no way to rescue himself; he has kicked off his shoes, has tread water for as long as he is able; now, he is sinking. His end is near. Now imagine a rescue; perhaps a helicopter spotting him before he goes under for the last time lowers a boom and a strong arm reaches down into the ocean water and pulls him “from the domain of darkness” to safety. His “release” from his death “is secured;” and not by his own efforts.

God rescues us. He secures our release; He forgives us our sins. Not only this, but He “brings us away into the kingdom of His dear Son.” Our salvation is complete; we add nothing to it. The Word of God does not say, “Take two aspirin and call Me in the morning.” The Word of God says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The Word of God says, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

“With Never A Thought” (Leviticus 19: 18, NEB) by Carley Evans

“You shall reprove your fellow-countryman frankly and so you will have no share in his guilt,” says the Lord your God. But, He also says, “You shall not seek revenge, or cherish anger towards your kinsfolk; you shall love your neighbor as a man like yourself. I Am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19: 17 – 18)

Reprove without anger? Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? How about loving your neighbor as a man like yourself? — is this possible? Is it possible to be fully aware of your own weaknesses as you perceive those in your neighbor? Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘My dear brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you are blind to the plank in your own? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s.” (Luke 6: 41 – 42)

Remember that you are no better than your neighbor for you are a ‘man’ — a human being — with flaws, sins, foibles, hypocrisies. Remember that Jesus warns “that if you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6: 32) You and I must love those who hate us. We must “pass no judgment.” (Luke 6: 37)

“Be compassionate as [our] Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6: 36)

“Free Indeed” (1 John 1: 7, NEB) by Carley Evans

“We are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus His Son,” writes the author of 1 John. The act of cleansing us is not ours, but God’s. This act occurs through His Son’s blood, not through our blood. Jesus’ blood cleanses us from every sin, not only from some sin.

As Jesus makes us free, we are free indeed.

Yet, “if we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and strangers to the truth.” (1 John 1: 8) Our part in this process is to recognize our sins, confess them, turn from them even if we must recognize them repeatedly, confess them repeatedly, and turn from them repeatedly. Our task is to trust in Jesus’ cleansing blood, which covers us with His righteousness and not our own.

Jesus’ disciples ask how many times we must forgive; Jesus says that forgiveness has no bounds. Forgiveness is limitless as is God’s mercy. For mercy triumphs over judgment.

“A Lifeless Faith?” (James 2: 17, NEB) by Carley Evans

“What use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it?” ask James. (James 2: 14) “With faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.”

The author of Hebrews asks, “And what is faith?” And offers this answer: “Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see.” (Hebrews 11: 1)

Abel offers a better sacrifice than Cain by believing God is good. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]; for anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who search for Him.” (Hebrews 11: 6)

Jesus says that faith as tiny as a mustard-seed is able to “give substance to our hopes.” Our faith is not in our good deeds, but in Christ, “for it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied, and in Him [we] are brought to completion.” (Colossians 2: 9)

Our faith is not lifeless, but alive. Though we do not see the realities of which we are certain, our faith does indeed “give substance to our hopes.” And this living faith allows us to act.

“Grace To The Humble” (James 4: 6, NEB) by Carley Evans

“Humble yourselves before God and He will lift you high.” (James 4: 10) Humble yourselves, for “God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble.” (James 4: 6)

James suggests that you not say that tomorrow you are going to do this or that, or go here or there. Instead he says, “You have no idea what tomorrow will bring.” (James 4: 13) Instead, you ought to say, “If it be the Lord’s will, we shall live to do this or that.” (James 4: 15) James warns that it is arrogance which leads you to boast of your plans as if you know your future. “All such boasting is wrong.” (James 4: 16)

James calls you to “come close to God, [so] He will come close to you.” (James 4: 8) Ask God for the wisdom you need to plan your days. For “if you fall short in wisdom, [you] should ask God for it and it will be given [you], for God is a generous giver who neither refuses nor reproaches anyone. But [you] must ask in faith, without a doubt in [your] mind.” (James 1: 5)

As you ask God for wisdom, know also that “the grace He gives is stronger.” (James 4: 6) God’s grace is stronger than the adversary, stronger than the world, and stronger than you. “Be sorrowful, mourn and weep. Turn your laughter into mourning and your gaiety into gloom.” (James 4: 9) As you humble yourselves before God, He gives wisdom and grace so that you overcome the world.

“Every Word God Utters” (Matthew 4: 4, NEB) by Carley Evans

Jesus tells us that people are incapable of living only on bread, i.e. foodstuff. Instead, people need “every Word that God utters” in order to live life, and live it abundantly.

Paul writes to Timothy, “Keep before you an outline of the sound teaching which you heard from me, living by faith and love which are ours in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1: 13) And further Paul tells Timothy that “every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind.” (2 Timothy 3: 16 – 17) Paul tells the Thessalonian church, “Do not stifle inspiration, and do not despise prophetic utterances, but bring them all to the test and then keep what is good in them and avoid the bad of whatever kind.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 19 – 22)

God’s Word is the creative force behind every being and every event. God’s Word is the weapon against temptation and its offspring, sin. God’s Word is the draw, pulling a person towards redemption, healing, sanctification.

People can not live on only food; people must own the Word — every Word God utters.

“Life Is Christ, Death Gain” (Philippians 1: 21, NEB) by Carley Evans

“For to me life is Christ, and death gain.” By far the better place to be is with God face to face. We are strangers here on earth. Like Abraham, we look “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11: 10, NIV) “[We] come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. [We] come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. [We] come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12: 22 – 24, NIV) Here is our true home, the place we desire beyond measure. But Paul also writes that for him “life is Christ.” While in the body, Paul strives to serve the living God by serving his brothers and sisters in Christ and by reaching out to those who do not yet know Christ. Paul is “torn two ways,” writing: “what I should like is to depart and be with Christ; that is better by far; but for your sake there is greater need for me to stay on in the body.” (Philippians 1: 23 – 24, NEB) Paul asks us, “Were you not raised to life with Christ? Then aspire to the realm above, where Christ is.” (Philippians 3: 1 – 2, NEB)