Monday, January 2, 2017

Devotions

In the Christian world, there is no shortage of "devotionals". The intended purpose of devotionals is to supplement one's time in the scriptures. They are never intended to be a substitute for one's direct contact with God's Word through some kind of daily reading & studying. Some people use devotionals like the old adage that says, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"----we change it a bit----"a verse a day keeps the devil away". Yeah, it really doesn't work that way.

Now, having said that, some devotionals are better than others. Most devotionals take one or two verses of scripture, and then, tell a story or attempt to give some application of that verse to real-life. Some devotionals do a good job of this; some of them do not. The devotionals that give the meaning of the verse in it's proper biblical context and then give an application point for the verse are best, in my opinion. Having the whole biblical context of the verse or verses is best. The reason: if you miss the meaning of the verse in it's proper biblical context, you will miss the right application of the verse to real-life. You see, many devotional writers do not do the work of interpretation before writing their "devotional thought"-------however, some do (please hear me say that).

So, use devotionals, but use them discerningly. And, if the devotional only uses one or two verses, take a few extra minutes, look up the verse in your Bible and read the surrounding verses to get a better understanding of what the author of the devotion is doing. 

Here are a few authors that not only help apply the Bible to real-life, but also have the solid ground behind their application of the verses: John MacArthur's Truth for Today or Alone with God; John Piper's Solid Joys or A Godward Life; DA Carson's For the Love of God (this one is part of a year-long Bible reading plan); Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest.

There are others out there. Find a good one, use it; but, remember, they should not be a substitute for direct contact with God's Word...let them supplement your time in God's Word.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Day After

Today is the day after...no, not the "day after" movie from the 1980's when the threat of nuclear war was very real, and people were frightened about that real possibility. It's the day after "Christmas". What does the day after look like for you? How are you responding to it?

Are you going back to business as usual, or has something about this Christmas season caused you to take a step back and evaluate your life, where you are right now? Are you where you want to be?

I mean, we all know that since Christmas is gone for this year, it's time to start looking at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. Reflection and meditation on our lives is a good thing, and there's really no better time to do that than now. It is a good practice for us to reflect on the past year and begin anticipating the new one.

What were some of your greatest challenges during 2016? How did God come through in his steadfast love during 2016? What were some of your greatest victories in 2016? What ways have you grown during 2016?

What are you looking forward to in 2017? What goals are you setting for yourself in 2017----spiritual goals, health goals, personal goals, etc.? Are you putting some action steps in place to reach those goals?

I enjoy the times of the year like New Year's. They seem to be a divine built-in opportunity to kind of hit the "reset" button, to evaluate things in life and prepare a plan to move forward better equipped for the days ahead.

I want to encourage you this week to do some reflecting, evaluating, anticipating, and looking forward to 2017. Where is the Lord directing you in 2017?

God bless and happy new year!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Faith

I found the following part of Oswald Chambers' devotion from yesterday motivational:

A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the perseverance of faith. Proclaim as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
He goes on to talk about what faith really is. 

Faith is not some weak and pitiful emotion, but is strong and vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. And even though you cannot see Him right now and cannot understand what He is doing, you know Him. Disaster occurs in your life when you lack the mental composure that comes from establishing yourself on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the supreme effort of your life— throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Rhythm of Your Life

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he writes to the believers, "Now I say this and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do" (Ephesians 4:17). Paul uses "Gentiles" in the context of this sentence to refer not to their ethnicity, but to their spiritual condition & identity that is "outside" of Christ; they are non-believers. 

Paul is making the declaration: there is a distinctness to the lifestyle of a believer that is noticeably different from that of a non-believer. However, apparently, some in the congregation at Ephesus didn't get the memo. So, Paul is telling them to "stop living according to the rhythm of the world". There is a rhythm to everyone's life. For the believer, we are to be living according to the rhythm of Christ, living according to our new identity in him...that is, distinct, different, set apart in "true righteousness and holiness" progressing ever more closely to the character of Christ as we "put off" the old man, are "renewed in the spirit of our minds", and "put on" the new man. This includes our attitudes, actions, worldview, behaviors, and ambitions. 

There is a country song out now, a duet with Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt. Part of it says, "dancing to the rhythm of your heartbeat". I wonder today, Christian, are you dancing to the rhythm of the heartbeat of the world or to the heartbeat of the gospel and the kingdom of Jesus?


Monday, April 11, 2016

The Gospel and Suffering

Romans 8:18-25 is one of the great encouragements of the Bible. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (8:18). 

In the face of suffering (a universal human experience) the gospel anchors our hope by doing four things:

The gospel anchors our hope by drawing our vision to future glory (18)

The gospel anchors our hope by reminding us that we are children of God (19-21)

The gospel anchors our hope by preparing us for our new glorified bodies (22-23)

The gospel anchors our hope by building up our endurance to wait for deliverance (24-25)

My prayer today is that you will remember that the anchor of your hope in the face of suffering is the good news that Jesus lived the perfect live we could not live, that he suffered and died the death that we deserve, and he conquered the final enemy of death by rising from the dead for our justification...and, therefore, "if (since) God is for us, who can be against us?"

Be encouraged today!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Discipleship: Like a Pebble in a Pond

When you drop a pebble into a body of water, there is always a ripple effect. The depth & mass of the pebble dropped into the water determines the breadth of the ripple effect, that is how far out from the center it moves.

I wonder if we have gotten that a bit backwards in the church, particularly as it relates to discipleship. While it is true that we ought to "cast the net wide" at times, certainly Jesus did, but the primary way he "made disciples" was in smaller groups. As he poured himself into the 12 disciples, he certainly gave them more "depth". And, subsequently, the effect of his "discipleship" rippled out from the center...it's still rippling today.

If that's the case, why do we seem to approach discipleship from the opposite direction? Or, maybe we don't approach it from the opposite direction, but we certainly do not give the time & attention necessary for the "depth" to take place, do we?

I was reminded last week at the Reveal: Disciple-Making Conference by one of the speakers, Dhati Lewis, who said: "Discipleship is not a ministry of the church; it is THE ministry of the church."

If that is true, and I believe it is...what are the ramifications for how we "do" church? At least in my mind, the ramifications are HUGE! Not only for the way that I "pastor" the congregation I serve (what I give my time & energy to), but for the "programming" church employs, our approach to events & activities that we schedule, the expectations we have for church members, how we seek to equip the saints for the work of ministry (disciple-making)...and the list goes on and on.

Now, what if we took this seriously? What if we truly bought into this Great Commission"? What if we decided we weren't going to "go on with business" in the church as usual?

I admit. I'm not exactly sure what this would all look like fleshed out, especially in my context. But, I'm pretty sure, some things would have to change...beginning with me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dead Faith

In Tim Keller's commentary on the book of Romans, he asks the following question: "How can we tell if our "faith" is empty, dead, and under God's judgment?"

He goes on to say that there are two signs of a "dead faith":


  1. There is a theoretical-only stance toward the word of God. The moralist or dead orthodox Christian loves the concepts of truth, but is never changed by them. They often see how a sermon or Bible text ought to convict others, but they seldom (if ever) let it convict them. A real Christian finds the Bible "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12); when they hear it or read it, they are convicted, comforted, thrilled, disturbed, melted, slammed down, lifted up. 
  2. There is a moral superiority, an in-built bragging. If you are relying on your spiritual achievements, you will have to "look down" on those who have failed in the same areas. You will be at best cold, and at worst condemning, toward those who are struggling. Rather than speaking words of encouragement to the struggler, helping to lift them up, you speak words of gossip about them to others, to show yourself in a comparatively good light. A sign of this condition is that people don't want to share their problems with you, and you are very defensive if others point out your problems to you.
Do either of these two signs fit your "faith"?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Worthy of Your Calling

Yesterday at our worship gathering, we spent time looking at Ephesians 4:1 where Paul says: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called". A parallel exhortation we find in Philippians 1:27: "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ". Walking in a manner worthy of your calling in Christ is walking in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

I was particularly intrigued by the word "worthy" during my study. One idea carried by the English word is "something that is of equal weight". So, in that sense, we are to walk, conduct our lives in such a manner that gives the proper weight to the calling we have received in the gospel of Christ. Another idea carried by the word in the original language, axios, is that of something that is axiomatic, something that is self-evident in nature. In this sense we might say, "well, of course, I'm going to walk worthy of my calling in Christ, look at everything Jesus has done for me (Ephesians chapters 1-3)". It's the most obvious thing to do: live a life worthy of the gospel.

What a challenge to conduct our lives----home, work, personal, on-line, public, private----in such a way that gives the proper weight to the gospel! It is an awesome challenge. The question for Christians today is: are we? Are we walking to the beat of the world's drum or the cadence of the gospel of Christ?

Just something to think about...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ambiguous "They"

"Did you hear what "they" said?" You're probably like me, thinking, "who in the world is THEY?" It's almost like we have given some kind of authority to THEY. When in conversation, as long as you use THEY in some profound way, it's as if it carries some kind of weight.

But, you know, when "the ambiguous THEY" is used in a church, it seems to carry a different meaning. In church life, it usually goes something like this: "well, THEY decided to do such and such" or "THEY chose that" or "THEY wanted that kind of carpet" or well, you get the idea. I'm sure you've heard it, and we've probably all said it at one time or another. Usually, not always, the person saying that is either trying to avoid taking responsibility as a church member for the decision that was made because that person did not take their responsibility as a church member serious enough to show up when the decision was made. OR, the person saying it is trying to distance themselves from the decision because that person did not agree with the decision. OR, the person saying it is fishing to see what the other person is going to say before that person shows whether or not they agreed with the decision (whatever the decision by "THEY" was).

Granted, sometimes in church life, there is a clique of people that very well could be referred to as "THEY". Everyone knows who "THEY" are because "THEY" try to control everybody. I get that. But, that's a topic for another post.

But, I've wondered, could something else a little bit deeper be happening with the pervasive use of "the ambiguous THEY" in church life? Whatever happened to "WE"? I mean, aren't "WE" the "body of Christ"? Aren't "WE" the "household of God"? I wonder if the pervasive use of "the ambiguous THEY" reveals a lack of connection and the superficial nature of our relationships in church life. Sure, we'd like to think we have deep relationships, and truly, there are some in church life. I wonder if the pervasive use of "the ambiguous THEY" reveals a misunderstanding of what it means to be a church member and the great responsibility Jesus and the NT writers place on what it means to be a church member? Could it reveal the lack of true commitment and investment people have to the church and her mission of making disciples in such a way that using "the ambiguous THEY" somehow lets them off the hook?

WE are the body of Christ. WE are the household of God. WE are the chosen people of God. WE all have responsibilities. WE need a little more WE instead of a THEY; regardless of what "THEY" said.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Hey, Make Yourself at Home"

Have you ever told someone that at your house? And, then, they started to re-arrange the furniture, go through your junk drawers, throwing things away, putting up their own pictures...most of us would go nuts if someone did that in our house.

In Ephesians 3:17, Paul writes, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith". To dwell or to abide is the idea of "making yourself at home". Paul is referring to Christ "making himself at home" within the Christian's life. That Jesus moves in. Many Christians are ok with that part of it, but Jesus, when he makes himself at home in your life, he does begin to re-arrange the furniture. He opens the junk drawers of our hearts and begins to clean them out. That's the nature of the indwelling of Christ. That's the nature of true conversion. That's the nature of true salvation. The transformation of the human heart. A "spiritual renovation" begins to take place. That is the evidence of the "indwelling Christ", that he is re-arranging the furniture and cleaning house.

It's easy to see...many who claim to be Christians don't want any part of that. They want Jesus to stay around long enough to "make them happy" by giving them what they want on their own terms. No sacrificial obedience, no surrendering, no denying, no cross-carrying, just "my best life now" based upon my definition or some Christianized version of the current culture's "american dream" (oops, where did that come from?) One of three things is true: a shallow understanding of the gospel, a mis-understanding of salvation, or a false conversion. Or, all three of those could true.