“Approve Excellence” ( Philippians 1: 10, KJV ) by Carley Evans

Paul commends the church at Philippi to “approve things that are excellent.” (Philippians 1:10) He — with Timothy — encourages them to allow “love to abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” (Philippians 1:9) He wants them to “be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:10) He commands them, “be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:11)

Paul upholds excellence. Excellence comes to us through Jesus Christ. Excellence consists of: love, knowledge, discernment, sincerity, innocence and the fruits of righteousness which include peace, gentleness, loving-kindness, joy, long-suffering, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Paul sets the bar rather high. But he provides a means to this excellence to which God calls us. Paul writes, “They that are Christ’s crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24-25)

“Perfecter Of Our Faith” ( John 3: 21, ESV; NIV ) by Carley Evans

“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

Jesus tells us the works we do we do “in God.” Paul tells us the good work God begins in us He sees through to its completion. And Paul warns, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus is persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV) Many people walk in “a form of godliness but deny its power,” (2 Timothy 3:5) “loaded down with sins and swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:6) “Their folly is clear to everyone.” (2 Timothy 3:9)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and are convinced of.” (2 Timothy 3:14) “You know the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“Running After Things” ( Matthew 6: 32, NIV ) by Carley Evans

God the Father, says Jesus, knows exactly what you need and exactly when you need it. Each day has evil enough of its own for you to be concerned about tomorrow. Live today, and stop worrying about yesterday and tomorrow!

Jesus isn’t saying not to prepare for your future in that He speaks elsewhere of assessing the needs of a project before you put your hand to do it. Make sure you are able to see it through to completion, or don’t bother to start. But, Jesus is saying not to put things above God. He is saying not to be anxious about what you eat, what you wear, where you sleep, what you own or don’t own. “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Running after things — isn’t that a common practice!

Walking up Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side, New York, New York — so many beautiful T-H-I-N-G-S for sale in swank shops on both sides of the street; so many quaint sidewalk cafes with delectable menus of scrumptious, high-priced dishes. Life is so short. Solomon says, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany [you] in [your] toil all the days of the life God has given [you] under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Jesus is not saying not to enjoy your life. He is saying your life is enjoyable because God knows what you need, when you need it; and He generously gives to you all things. So, “seek His kingdom and His righteousness first.” (Matthew 6:33)

“Filled With Fear” ( Hebrews 10: 29, Darby ) by Carley Evans

“Of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

What is insulting to the Spirit of grace? How do I fail to show esteem to the blood of the covenant? How do I trod the Son of God under my feet? How do I call my salvation, my sanctification ‘common?’

Likely numerous answers to those questions exist — which is rather odd considering we each have the same Holy Spirit dwelling within. I know some believe it is our sins which insult the Spirit of grace, trod the Lord God under our feet, and call common our great salvation. I think it’s adding to the gospel.

Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes a “brood of vipers” — persons who make it impossible for people to follow God by loading heavy burdens upon them. Paul complains of the legalistic Jewish Christians who demand from others — circumcision, refraining from certain foods, and celebrating certain days — to follow Jesus.

The disciples are bewildered when Jesus tells the rich young man who obeys all the rules and regulations, but refuses to give his all and follow after the Lord, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They ask Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus, as always, gives them the perfect and only answer, “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

“Free From Fear” ( 1 John 2: 2, NIV ) by Carley Evans

The author of 1 John writes simply, “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Now and then in the Word, God sums up the gospel in a brief, powerful statement. Here it is again — the three major elements of our salvation: Jesus, His atoning sacrifice, and our sins. Jesus says it Himself, “The Son of Man is not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Jesus calls Himself a “ransom”; the author of 1 John calls Jesus “the atoning sacrifice.”

Today, a “ransom” is paid when someone has taken a child from a family. Today, not many of us fully understand an “atoning sacrifice.”

I gather that theologians wrestle with these concepts — did Jesus pay off Satan? or God? Did He substitute for us on the cross or did He carry away our sins on the cross?

I’m not a theologian. When I read the words “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” and the words I Am come “to give [My] life as a ransom for many” I only know what it means to me —  I am not punished because Jesus paid a debt I owe. Whether He paid it to God the Father or to Satan or in some fashion to both, I do not know. I only know I am free from fear.

“Experts In Law Reject God’s Purpose” ( Luke 7: 30, NIV ) by Carley Evans

Reads like a headline, doesn’t it? “Hear ye, hear ye: Experts in the Law Reject the Purposes of God.” Luke writes this rejection of God’s purpose for these religious experts is due to the fact they are not baptized by John. Rather, “they are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other.” (Luke 7:32) The experts in the law complain that no one responds to their “flute” or to their “dirge” — people neither dance to their joyous tune nor do they cry at their morose funeral march.

The experts in the law complain that John the Baptist “has a demon” even though he “comes neither eating bread nor drinking wine.” (Luke 7:33) They complain even more when Jesus, “the Son of Man comes eating and drinking.” They call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) Only the way of the old covenant works for them. They follow only Moses, missing completely that Moses always points to Jesus, the Messiah.

And how Jesus longs to gather these religious leaders to Himself, but they reject His purposes for them because they reject the means to the end they so desire. They refuse baptism by John.

“My Law In Your Heart” ( Hebrews 8: 10, NIV ) by Carley Evans

Now I know it’s difficult to be compared to a dog, but maybe it’s a bit easier to take seriously if I compare us — Christians, that is — to puppies. Puppies, experts say, are desperate to please. They do virtually anything for attention. Over time, their motivation becomes not only a desire for attention and to please, but a deep longing for the love of their owners. With a collar and a leash, some puppies get dragged along behind the master while others pull ahead. Still others — for some reason that is foreign to me — don’t even need a leash. They heel, miraculously. But all puppies need collars. Collars identify the puppy as belonging to a someone.

I’m a pull ahead, drag behind puppy. But, I proudly/humbly wear my collar. God’s Name is written quite clearly along its leather sheath. Nowadays, the leash rarely pulls me up short.

God says to me and to you, “I put My laws in [your] mind and write them on [your] heart. I Am your God, and you are [Mine].”