Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"'JOIN THE CLUB!' -- Devotional for December 29, from "Good Seeds"

We are members of one another. (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25)

Isn’t this what you say whenever someone says something about himself that sounds just like you? “He’s talking about me, describing me to a T.” Someone complains, “Why do I get sick every time I have a little time off work?” and almost as a knee jerk response someone else says, “Tell me about it!” – which is just another way of expressing that common sentiment, “Misery loves company,” or, “No one likes to drink alone.” We all know that while success attracts many admirers, "nobody knows you when you're down and out" – nobody, that is, but genuine friends. You may have fewer real friends than you thought, but those few true blue friends are probably more loyal and loving than you might have thought, too. So, what do we mean when we say, “We are members of one another”? Well, we share membership in the body of Christ with other Christians, but that’s not quite the same as saying we belong to one another. Both statements are true, but most of us still have much to learn about the latter. “I go to church to worship Christ,” someone says, and then continues, “and if you’re there, I’ll be glad to see you, but I’m not going for you, but for Him.” Well, that’s a crucial priority, of course, but too many well-meaning believers unknowingly become saintly snobs as they play down the importance of their fellow travelers on the road to glory. When answering a Jewish scribe’s question, “What is the greatest commandment of all?” Jesus couldn’t seen to narrow it down to just one, as requested. Why? Because He knew that “loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” means nothing, and cannot be authentic, apart from “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31). Remember the song that said, “I am a rock, I am an island”? Let that not describe you! Even though God loves each of us individually, and would have died for just you – or just me – if you or I had been the only one needing saving, the fact is we who love the Lord are legion! Although we can only receive salvation one at a time, through the turnstile of faith in Christ, what a comfort to know that millions have done so – and they keep coming! When my pastor baptized me along with a few others, I still remember him saying, “These have come to Jesus, responding to His grace, receiving His forgiveness, and now obeying Him in the waters of baptism – and yet there is room.” It was that last statement that sticks in my mind: “and yet there is room.” A song says, “There’s plenty of room in the family!” Will heaven be over-crowded? We can only hope so, but I’m afraid an over-populated hell is by far the greater concern. What can you do about that? Just make sure you join the club, the right club, and pay your dues. Remember, we are members of one another!

PROPHET, PRIEST AND KING -- Devotional for December 28, from "Good Seeds"

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the priest, and he said, “Listen, all Israel, thus says the Lord unto you: “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (II Chronicles 20:14-15)

These are three titles of our Lord Jesus. A prophet, by definition, speaks to people on behalf of God; a priest speaks to God on behalf of the people; and a King, well, he rules. As PROPHET, Jesus came from God to men with a message. But He was not an angel, a mere messenger – He was the message! The apostle John appropriately called Jesus the Word. His very life: His miraculous virgin birth, His amazing miracles, and His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, spoke God’s Word to men – without a word! But He spoke words, too: words of instruction, correction, warning, and comfort. As PRIEST, Jesus “prayed without ceasing,” bringing the needs and hurts of others before the throne of grace. While His friends were sleeping, He was praying – for them; while His enemies were planning His destruction, He was praying – for their welfare! Our Lord was prophet and priest during His earthly ministry, and remains so on our behalf since returning to heaven, but someday the Father will “put all things under His feet” and Jesus will reign over the universe as KING. But even while a humble servant on earth, His kingship was suspicioned, if not outwardly recognized. Even during His brutal execution, an inscription was placed on His cross – a sort of epitaph before His death: “Here dies Jesus: King of the Jews.” Just as Christ delegated His work to His followers before returning to heaven (John 14:12), so He shares these three roles with those worthy of His trust. Though we recognize Jesus as our true King, He delegates His authority to lesser “kings,” such as governors, prime ministers, presidents – earthly rulers of one description or another – for the welfare of society. Though some view it as the enemy, human government really is designed by God to be our friend. But sometimes – at the more benevolent times of history – a king rises to power who also serves his people as a priest. Ronald Reagan was such a man of prayer, following in the path of Jehoshaphat of old. And just as a ruling king may pray like a priest, so a commissioned priest may preach like a pastor. Such a man was Jahaziel. After his king led the people in prayer, this priest heard God’s answer to that prayer and, speaking now as a prophet, proclaimed it to the people. O that pastors today would be so clear and bold in their proclamation: Thus says the Lord: “Why are you dismayed? Are you not My people? Are not these who are accosting you My enemies? This is not your battle, but Mine! So step aside, and get ready to rejoice!”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

HOW TO PRAY WHEN FACING DANGER -- Devotional for December 27, from "Good Seeds"

It was reported that a great multitude was coming against Israel from beyond the sea. King Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he turned his attention to seek the Lord with these words: “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude which is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” (II Chronicles 20:2-3,12)

The best hymn on friendship is also the best hymn about prayer…
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

In movies whenever trouble hits, the hero hits back – but if there’s anyone religious on the scene he starts mumbling the Lord’s Prayer. Here people are facing life threatening danger from evil enemies, natural disasters or unnatural aliens, and all this supposedly holy man can think of to pray is, “Give us this day our daily bread”! Well then, how should we pray when facing trouble? Try the prayer of Jehoshaphat: the prayer of humility and faith. Jesus pointed out the first ingredient of the prayer that gets answered, HUMILITY, in His observation of two men praying in the temple: the Pharisee rehearsed before the Lord all his own good points, as if to prove to God that his prayer deserved to be heard and answered, while the publican could do nothing but beat his breast in penitence and beg for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). Jehoshaphat prayed like the publican: “Lord, I’m scared to death! With my meager strength and resources I haven’t got a chance against this great enemy. But not only am I powerless, I’m also clueless. That’s right, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do.” But it wasn’t just the humility of Jehoshaphat that got God’s attention; it was also his FAITH. James wrote, “It is the prayer of faith that restores those who are ill” (5:15). Jesus concurred when He said, “It is not those who are healthy who call the physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). Jehoshaphat did well to turn his attention to seek the Lord, but he didn’t stop with, “I don’t know what to do…” He continued with, “…but my eyes are on You. Humility admits our weakness, but faith acknowledges God’s strength. A scrawny little kid can face the town bully simply by saying, “My big brother can beat you up!” Relationship is the key: you know your Big Brother by name, you know where to find Him, and you know He loves you and will come to your aid. That’s what we’re saying when we call out, “O my God, I need You. Will You please come to my defense? I’m totally inadequate, but You’re totally in control, and bigger than any problem I could ever face.”
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

WHO CAN LIVE BEFORE HE IS BORN? -- Devotional for December 26, from "Good Seeds"

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephratha, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity past. (Micah 5:2)

In the mid nineteenth century a man named Joseph Smith came up with a new religion, which claimed to provide closure for some of the unfinished business of the Bible. For example, he taught that the ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas are the lost tribes of Israel (even though DNA tests prove they are Mongoloid, not Semitic). The church of Jesus Christ, in Smith’s opinion, had become weak and ineffective. But with the reestablishment of an Old Testament style priesthood and the provision of a new body of heaven-inspired doctrine it would be revitalized and renewed, attracting millions of enthusiastic saints of in the “Latter Days.” And because they are “good” people – patriotic, community minded, and strong proponents of higher education, family values and biblical morals and ethics, they are viewed by many as just another – if not new and improved – version of the Christian church. But being christian requires more than general goodness. One must believe the Bible concerning God, man, and the world. The person and work of Jesus Christ Himself is the primary issue. And here’s the rub: What the Bible says is unique to the Son of God the Mormons say is characteristic of all “sons of God.” They teach that married couples remain married throughout eternity, and continue having children. Each baby procreated in heaven is a spirit being in need of an earthly body and a family in which to be nurtured. According to this religion the nature of all men is what the Bible teaches is the nature of only one Man, whose “goings forth were from long ago, from the days of eternity past.” Since Christ is fully God He is eternal – there was never a time when He did not exist: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1). And so this One who existed before He was born (as Micah prophesied) was incarnated into the human family through the work of the Holy Spirit and the obedience of a humble virgin. On that day long ago, which we call Christmas today, God became man. This is the “old religion” of incarnation, leading to redemption – two miracles making peace between holy God and sinful man. How unfortunate that a “new religion” would take the one-of-a kind “God-becoming-man” and make it an everyday occurrence…and call it an improvement! More than unfortunate, it is tragic – and damning – to make every man a god, removing from him his need for the God-Man, the one Man who could bring him to God!

JESUS, NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES -- Devotional for Christmas Day, December 25, from "Good Seeds"

For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

In America we choose our children’s names primarily by the way they sound to us, but in other cultures names are assigned for what they mean. An old gospel song says, “Jesus: O how sweet the name!” There’s no denying the very sound of His name brings joy and comfort to hearts, but could this be because it is associated with the most wonderful personage of all human history? Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, both meaning “one who saves.” This name for our Savior is not the only one that is as beautiful in sound as it is in meaning. Take a look at the names given Him through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before He was born into the human family: WONDERFUL – When we sing, “His name is wonderful,” we tend to think of this word as an adjective describing the name Jesus. But if the songwriter was contemplating Isaiah’s prophecy, then I suspect he was using the word as a noun, which we remember from our English grammar as meaning “the name of a person, place or thing.” Another noun-name for Jesus, then, is Wonderful. The next time you pray, try addressing Him this way and see how it opens your eyes to the spectrum of beauty and wonder that is our Savior. COUNSELOR – This would be a favorite name of Jesus used by anyone needing guidance on how to think or where to turn. Don’t let it bother you that this is part of the job description of the third person of the trinity. Jesus had walked and talked with His disciples for three years, but the time came for Him to leave them, and leave the continuation of His work in their hands, as He approached “the cross, the grave, and the skies.” In order not to leave them “as orphans” (John 14:18), He promised to give them “another Comforter,” the Paraclete (“called alongside to help” – verse 7). The Spirit of God possesses all the attributes of God, but no more so than the Son of God – so we can call Jesus THE MIGHTY GOD. The next name Isaiah gives Christ comes straight from the first member of the godhead – THE EVERLASTING FATHER. This cannot be explained any better than to say Jesus "always did the things that pleased His Father" (John 8:29). They are truly, “Like Father, like Son.” We long for peace, and work for it, even thinking we can achieve it by our own efforts. When will we learn that peace will never exist between men until first the PRINCE OF PEACE has landed in the hearts of men! Someday Jesus will establish an eternal reign of peace over the universe, but peace is available right now to all “with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS -- Devotional for December 24, from "Good Seeds"

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, Simeon by name, devout and righteous, who had been looking for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before He had seen the Lord’s Christ. The Spirit led him to the temple on the very night when the parents brought in the child Jesus to carry out the custom of the law. He took Him into his arms and blessed God saying, “Now, let Thy bondservant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation. (Luke 2:25-30)

“Christmas with a Capital C” is a new song by GO FISH, a group that targets children as their preferred audience. The group's name is appropriate for two reasons: 1) It’s a simple, non-threatening game, enjoyed by all ages; 2) The sign of the fish has been the symbol for the church of Jesus Christ since its inception. The song begins with an introduction something like this: “‘Happy Holidays!’ How do you feel when people say this to you at Christmas time? If it puts you out when this sacred Holy Day is reduced to a worldly holiday, let me suggest to you something you could say in response: ‘Happy Holidays’? Well, thank you – I am pretty HAPPY, but there’s only one HOLIDAY that makes me feel that way (and then they start to sing)…It’s called Christmas, what more can I say; It’s about the birth of Christ, and you can’t take that away. You can call it something else but that’s not what it will be: It’s called Christmas with a capital C. The very word Christmas means “celebrate Christ.” On the first Christmas Jesus was the only reason for the season. The first celebrants were the angels – oh, and Mary and Joseph, too. Who else even knew about the birth of the Messiah? The innkeeper knew a baby was about to be born, but the only witnesses of that birth were the parents – and the animals in the stable back behind that crowded inn. The angels announced the birth to shepherds out in the fields, who went immediately to see the Child. The Wise Men would not be arriving till many months later. So, who were the first Christmas celebrants? Parents, angels, shepherds. When was the first Christmas? The night of that miraculous birth, of course – but eight days later another possibly much deeper “Christ-mass” took place, this time in the temple. Today people like to say “Christmas is for kids,” or at least, “Christmas brings out the kid in everyone.” But it was no little children with “visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads” who rejoiced that day, but rather an old man, who was just hanging onto life until he saw “the Lord’s Christ.” And it’s still true today: Life, even the good life, spiced up with exciting holidays, will mean nothing to you, and do nothing for you, until the Christ of Christmas is born in you!

MANKIND, GOD-KIND, OR ANGEL-KIND? -- Devotional for December 23, from "Good Seeds"

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten Thee”? And when He brings the Firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Of these angels He says, “I will make them winds, and My ministers a flame of fire,” but of the Son He says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” (Hebrews 1:5-8)

Shame on us to ever say we do not know who Jesus is, or worse, to say He is anything other than, or less than, what the Bible clearly says that He is. Even a cursory review of traditional carols will reflect biblical truth concerning the Christ of Christmas. Of course, we need to get past those that leave Jesus in the manger. As the tiny infant of Bethlehem He could hardly “bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,” or “prepare us for heaven to live with Thee there.” A baby cannot attend to anyone else’s needs when his own are in such demand. Yes, in spite of the good intentions of the Cradle Song, we’re sure the baby Jesus did His share of crying, and infant mischief, too, for the only Begotten from before the beginning had just taken on the mantle of human flesh. Neither the virgin’s son – the Babe of Bethlehem – nor the carpenter’s son – the Jesus of Galilee - could bring us to heaven. For that our Lord went to Jerusalem, never stopping until becoming the Christ of the Cross! Though His birth saw the “dawn of redeeming grace,” it wasn’t until His sacrificial death that God’s grace was made available to all who would come to Him by faith. But in order to understand the true identity of Jesus Christ, we must comprehend what the Bible teaches about intelligent life. There are three kinds: mankind, God-kind, and angel-kind. The distinction between these was clear until Jesus came, for He crosses over from God to man, taking on the nature of the latter without relinquishing the attributes of the former. Some want to take it a step further, classifying Jesus as an angel, but man’s attempts to embellish Christ’s glory only serves to diminish it. When Jesus took on human flesh He became, as a man, “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5). But He was simultaneously much higher than angels, too, for from the beginning He was the Firstborn (the preeminent One), who would “rule over all the works of His hands.” God will “put all things under His feet, and crown Him with all glory and majesty” (5-6). Jesus was like an angel in the sense of bringing a message from heaven to earth, but He was both God and man in being that message. Christ didn’t merely preach the word of God, as one more (shudder!) founder of a great world religion – Christ was the “WORD of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Our only response can be…“O come let us adore Him!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

BEARING FRUIT IN OLD AGE -- Devotional for December 22, from "Good Seeds"

The righteous will flourish like the palm tree; they will grow like the cedars of Lebanon. They shall be full of sap and very green, and continue to yield fruit in old age. (Psalm 92:12,14)

In God’s world, all that is healthy grows. This is a rule of life. Furthermore, all that grows produces. Some plants produce fruit; others, flowers – but all healthy plants form and continue to rejuvenate their various parts, whether roots, stems, branches or leaves. Think of an old cherry tree. It may have long since grown to its full height and girth, but every year, according to its God-ordained cycle, and in response to the earth’s seasons and the husbandman’s care, it produces first robust leaves, then beautiful blossoms, and finally the plump and luscious fruit for which it is so loved. The words of a poem about a fruit tree that was quite mature but still healthy go something like this:

Although quite old it’s not quite finished,
Because its root is not diminished.
And just like me and just like you,
It keeps on doing what it was made to do.

And what is true for living things is also true for living beings. Though you and I may have long since reached our “full height and girth,” how do we know we’ve achieved our greatest potential? We must resist the temptation to excuse ourselves from activity or offer the excuse for lack of productivity by saying that we are now “over the hill.” It’s both a tragedy and a travesty to hear people say they’ve put in their years of service and it’s high time the younger set takes over, while they pull out and move away from harsh weather and serious responsibility. They want to retire and travel and live the good life while they still have the health and wealth to do so. “What’s so bad about that?” you ask. Just this: the amassed resources and highly developed skills of mature Christians could be dedicated to God’s kingdom like never before. In their later years they could bear fruit as beautiful and plentiful as any borne by their younger brother and sister fruit-bearers. Longfellow expressed his longing to keep growing and bearing fruit well into his sunset years with these stirring words:

What then, shall we sit idly down and say,
“The night has come, it is no longer day”?
The night has not yet come, we are not quite
Cut off from labor by the failing light.
Something remains for us to do or dare –
Even the oldest trees some fruit may bear.
For Age is opportunity no less
Than Youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The night is filled with stars invisible by day.

Today’s culture has been poisoned by the cult of youth: the chic and the sleek; the svelte stars and buff athletes; the smart, successful, and very rich young executives. But God’s beautiful people are not ones to fawn over, but to follow, as they just keep on going, growing, and bearing fruit for Jesus, not caring how they look to anyone but their Heavenly Husbandman.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

THE CROSS: WHERE LOVE AND HATE MEET -- Devotional for December 21, from "Good Seeds"

Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness (Hebrews 1:9). But Christ died for sins, the Just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God (I Peter 3:18).

What does God hate more than anything in the universe? Sin. Why? Because sin is the one thing – the only thing – that separates Him from what He loves more than anything in the universe. And what is that? Sinners – well, mankind – but all men are sinners. We didn’t start out that way, of course. Speaking to Lucifer God said, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:15). At the moment pride entered his heart the highest angel of God became the arch-enemy of God. He sought to be on an equal plane with the Almighty, and it was this self-same sin of envy that the devil tempted our first parents to commit: “You can be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Not only have we all inherited the physical characteristics of our human prototypes, we also have in our spiritual genetic code the same sinful nature Adam and Eve procured when they disobeyed God: an automatic leaning toward wrong thinking and doing. Oh, we know in order to survive in this life we must become civilized, so our parents and our culture teach us to be civil. But whenever our guard is down – our sin nature rears its ugly head: attitudes, thoughts, desires and actions quickly default to ugliness and ungodliness whenever our pride is threatened, our rights are violated, or we experience an onslaught of suffering. But God loves us still. Although we were made “a little lower than the angels,” we are the “apple of God’s eye.” When He sings, “These are a few of My favorite things,” all that comes to His mind are the people who populate this planet – and He knows each one by name! And just because our nature is now depraved, that does not make Him love us any less. How did Shakespeare put it? “Love is not love that changes when it changes finds.” If that is a description of human love, does it not epitomize divine love all the more? When the Bible says, “God is love,” love is a noun reflecting His motives. But when it says, “God so loved the world,” love is a verb describing His actions, for the verse goes on to say, “…that He gave His only begotten Son.” Christ loved us so much, even “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8), that He demonstrated it by going to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. The message is clear: God loves sinners with as much passion as He hates their sin. The cross is where that love and hate meet – and because it was “the Just for the unjust,” love wins! That’s why the cradle – He came to live among us – led to the cross – He came to die for us…which brings us back to God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

TEACH RELIGION? NO, PREACH CHRIST! -- Devotional for December 20, from "Good Seeds"

He was in the world, the world He made, and yet it did not know Him. He came to His own people, but they didn’t want Him. But whoever does want Him, and believes Him to be who He claims to be, He will transform them into their true selves, what He intended them to be from the beginning – His children. (John 1:10-12).

The title of a beautiful old Christmas spiritual identifies the central figure of all history at His entrance into the human family as “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” but then it goes on to shamefully admit mankind’s ignorance of Him when it says, “We didn’t know who You was.” People have debated the character of the Christ since the days when His coming was first prophesied back at the dawn of civilization in the Garden of Eden, when God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between your seed and the seed of the woman. He shall crush your head; you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). But just who is this seed of the woman? The Bible teaches that God, though one, is present in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom were present and active at creation. The God who “in the beginning created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) is this triune God. John speaks of the role of the Son – whom he called “The Word” – in that creative process: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, creating the world, for this Word was God” (John 1:1-3). The false belief called Deism teaches that though there is a Creator God, He remains hidden and distant from mankind. Deism may teach God’s transcendence, but the Bible reveals His immanence: though God is altogether “other” than man, He desires very much to be known and loved by His creatures, so He made a plan to come and live among us for a time. But it wasn’t merely for a friendly visit. In fact, that would be impossible, for since the inception of sin there was, as prophesied, no friendship between God and man, only enmity and animosity. And so, God’s Son came into the world, not as an ethereal spirit but as a human baby – in the form of a man so that men could know Him. But the bond of friendship between God and man didn’t happen for most people – not then, and not now. People still don’t know who He is. As the spiritual goes on to say: “Didn’t know You came to save us, Lord, to take our sins away. Our eyes was blind, we could not see. We didn’t know Who You was.” What is the cause of this spiritual blindness? Paul speaks of a veil that remains over people’s eyes, which causes hardened hearts. The teaching of the tenants of religion cannot remove the veil. Only one thing can penetrate hard hearts: the preaching of the person of Christ, for “Whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted” (II Corinthians 3:14-16).

Friday, December 18, 2009

NO REGRETS -- Devotional for December 19, from "Good Seeds"

According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)

What is your goal in life? A rather personal question, you say, and difficult to answer. No, not really. Regardless of the specifics of what you want to accomplish before you die, or what you want to be remembered for, I can state in two words a life goal that would be as meaningful to men on earth as it is pleasing to God in heaven. Actually, I’ve already stated it: NO REGRETS. As many mistakes as I’ve made – and will yet make, should God give me more moments and years to live – I still want to be able to say with my last breath, “I am not ashamed of the life I have lived.” Oh, I’ve sins a-plenty to be accounted for, but that’s just it, they have already been accounted for, all of them, paid for, by Jesus, on the cross. That out of the way, I can proceed with my life’s goal, or as Paul calls it, “my earnest expectation and hope,” which is to exalt Christ in my body, as long as I live. A man may have all kinds of aspirations as his life flows, but when it begins to ebb, those many aspirations are reduced to one: respiration. He is desperate to keep on breathing; his life’s goal has mutated to mere survival; his life’s song has become, “Stayin’ alive!” But we don’t see this in the Bible. No, the goal of the God-pleaser is not to stay alive, or to live a long life, but to exalt Christ. What does it take to do this? Faith. But faith is weak and useless apart from boldness. The motivation of our faith is Christ, but the mechanism of it is boldness. And what is the source of such boldness? The answer may surprise you: logic. It just makes more sense to step out boldly on what you believe, than to hang back in doubt and fear. When I think of holy boldness, I think of Jim Elliott, the young missionary to the Aucas of Ecuador. His boldness landed him, in an airplane, along with four buddies, on a river where they were killed by these headhunters, before having a chance even to communicate the gospel to them. Jim Elliott didn’t live long, but he lived boldly for Jesus. He died with no regrets. He died with a legacy not only that those who followed him could emulate, but that led to the salvation of the very men who killed him, and many of their fellow tribesmen. Jim wrote something in his journal that reflects the logic to which I refer: “That man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” What did Jim Elliott give? His very life, as it turned out. What could have saved it? Nothing but cowardice and complacency. And what did he gain? Many souls, as it turned out. I, too, want to gain souls for Jesus, that cannot be lost. I, too, want such a life, short or long, of no regrets! How about you?

THE SEVEN BEST WORDS OF THE CHURCH -- Devotional for December 18, from "Good Seeds"

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all His works. (Psalm 73:28)

Pastors are well aware of “The Seven Last Words of the Church,” and listen with trepidation for them to be stated in one form or another by members of their congregation. “We’ve never done it that way before!” is one way to say it. Or turn the coin over (it’s still just as worthless!): “We’ve tried that already; it doesn’t work.” People just love to talk with authority about God’s business, as if they were all-knowing and all-wise about human nature, and about the future. Now we’re hearing a rather humorous tag added to a tired old cliché: “Been there, done that – bought the T-shirt! (yet another “Seven Last Words” with which to rain on someone’s parade!) What can we do when people we thought were our friends, or at least our teammates, throw cold water on our dreams? We can turn again to Psalm 73. The coda for Asaph’s song takes us from the doldrums of the blues to a praise song of victory: “Instead of dwelling on the meanness of men, I’m going to concentrate on the nearness of God!” People easily discourage us, even when they think they’re helping us. When we spend too much time with others, and not enough with God, we’re going to hear a lot of opinion, even about God’s will for our lives. But the verse specifically says, “the nearness of GOD is my good” – not the nearness of people. He has things to tell us, but He’s a Gentleman: He waits till everyone else is finished -- and He waits till He has our ear. But how often are we tuned to His “still, small voice” (I Kings 19:12)? It’s not that the ideas of others are of no consequence, but they are important and helpful only as they confirm what God is telling us. And if we don’t hear God’s voice we might be tempted to think that the ideas of others are spelling out God’s will for us. Indeed He often does speak to us through others, but remember who else can speak to us through even our best friend: Jesus identified this “wolf in sheep’s clothing” when he said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for you are a stumbling block to Me, for your mind is not set on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23). So, when you hear the seven last words of the church coming from well-meaning but self-serving (Satan-serving?) friends, answer back with the seven BEST words of the church. Tell them, “Regardless of what you say does or doesn’t work, God tells me what I must do, and I suspect it’s what He wants all of us to do, which is simply…“To know Him – and make Him known,” or as our verse says it: “I have made God my refuge, and now I’m going to declare His goodness to everyone I meet!” If that doesn’t put your friend back on your team, at least it might stop him from pulling you off of God’s!

WHEN FACING SURGERY -- Devotional for December 17, from "Good Seeds"

When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? Besides You I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:21-26)

To get the most out of the Bible we must approach it in two ways. First, we must INTERPRET its meaning. This is impossible for anyone who doesn’t know God. I Corinthians 2:14 says, “a natural man will not accept the things of God, for they are spiritually discerned.” The Word of God is our textbook, but we cannot understand it apart from the Spirit of God, our Teacher. Starting with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we then proceed to apply the tools of interpretation to discover the original intent of these words for the original recipients. But II Timothy 3:16 says all of Scripture is profitable to all of God’s children, so we, too, are the intended recipients. Second, we can APPLY its principles. In studying this particular Psalm, we discover why the writer cried out with such passion: he was deeply vexed by the fact that the wicked ignore God and indulge in sin, and yet continue to live pleasant, trouble-free lives, while the righteous obey God and walk the line of clean living, and earn only suffering for their trouble. “It’s just not fair, God!” But in the middle of his turmoil he takes another look, at himself, at his enemies, and at his God. When bitterness had blinded him and nearly destroyed him, he felt a faint tug on his hand – on his heart. It was God: not just information from God, but the very person and presence of God, washing over him, rejuvenating him, body, soul and spirit. It came in two waves: 1) the comfort of counsel to help in his present distress; 2) the comfort of hope regarding his future glory. Now, imagine reading this passage to a friend facing surgery. How might it apply? “I have a condition that is piercing me. It worries me, for it could kill me. But I will soon be unconscious, when the doctor will cut and mend, applying all his God-given skills, while I am oblivious – “senseless and ignorant” to what’s going on. But, “like a beast” – a creature that doesn’t know its Creator – I will still be known of God and cared for by Him. He’s my Great Physician, in control of my doctor – and of my life – and afterwards, whether I come out of this better or worse, alive or not, He won’t be done with me, nor I with Him, till He whisks me out of this life and into the next. There’s nothing I desire more than Him, and I’ve got Him, and He’s got me, right here, right now – and forever!”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CHOOSE LIFE, EVERY DAY -- Devotional for December 16, from "Good Seeds"

See, I have set before you prosperity and adversity, life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life! (Deuteronomy 30:15,19)

If we didn’t know better we might think this was God talking to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were perfect in the day they were created, and they were given a perfect paradise in which to live. But this didn’t mean they had no meaningful work to do, nor important decisions to make. They were made in the image of God, and two characteristics of that image are 1) to create and produce; and 2) to consider options and make choices. God said to them, “I have set before you Prosperity, Life and Blessing, represented by the tree of life, and all these other trees full of fruit from which you may freely eat. But I have set before you Adversity, Death and the Curse as well, which are also an option for you, all wrapped up in “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from which you must not eat, for then you will surely die” (Genesis 2:9,16-17). But we know today’s Scripture is not quoting God speaking to our first ancestors as they were about to set human history into motion, but rather Moses speaking to our spiritual ancestors as they were about to enter another paradise. But the message is the same: a benediction spiced with a warning. If we are to believe God when He said, “I am the Lord – I change not!” (Malachi 3:6) we must conclude that today’s saints are just as much candidates for God’s blessings and warnings as believers of any other age. His loving promise “never to fail us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6) does not immunize us against His judgment when we stray from His Word and ways. His choosing us as His “bride” doesn’t mean we cannot or will not go a-whoring after other ‘husbands.” A quick perusal of Paul’s history lesson in I Corinthians 10:1-5 reveals the responsibility of God’s chosen to choose Him back: “You’ll remember that although the people of God were all under the cloud, and passed through the sea, and were baptized into Moses and ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, partaking of that spiritual Rock which was Christ – nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased and were destroyed in the wilderness.” Privilege does not preclude responsibility. We are blessed to be Americans, but we know our “freedom isn’t free!” Having received the free grace of God in Christ doesn’t mean we have no need to grow in that grace by the exercise of faith – “For by [His] grace we are saved through [our] faith” (Ephesians 2:8). The choice is given by God to all. What man in his right mind would ever choose the curse over the blessing? And yet most people do choose that wide road that leads to destruction – death over life. Let that not be you or me! Let us choose life – every day!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I TRUST GOD -- Devotional for December 15, from "Good Seeds"

I urge you, keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you -- only of the ship. For the God I serve and to whom I belong has assured me of our welfare. So keep up your courage and do not be afraid – for I TRUST GOD! (Acts 27:21-25).

Reading what Paul said to his fellow shipmates during a bad storm, “Courage men, for I trust in God,” brings to mind a song written by Child Evangelism specialist, Lowell Eason, who mentored me as a children’s pastor back in my college days…
When the devil comes a-creeping and I hear his footsteps sneaking,
I trust in God.
When he beckons me to pleasure, hoping sin I will not measure,
I trust in God.
When he points to jewels that glisten, tempting me to look and listen,
Then I ask my Lord and Master to uphold me from disaster.
Then the devil goes retreating, just as sure as he came sneaking…
I trust in God.

This song speaks of the kinds of temptations that are “common to man” (I Corinthians 10:13), rooted in our covetousness nature: the desire for pleasure and treasure. But there’s another temptation even more lethal: the temptation to doubt God’s interest in us, or His ability to help us. This is serious doubt indeed, for it questions the very nature of God. An atheist came up with this piece of diabolical logic: “If God is God, then He is not good; but if God is good, then He is not God.” In other words, if God is God – totally in control and all-powerful – then He is not good, for a good God who could prevent disaster certainly would. And if God is Good – hating all evil and suffering – then He is not God, for a real God would be able to overcome what He indeed abhorred. Just know this: the temptation to think this way is rooted not in logic, but in unbelief. It makes sense only to minds that deny an Intelligent Designer and Benevolent Sustainer, even while surrounded and inundated by His footprints! The passengers and crew of the storm-tossed ship were scared to death, for they knew they were going down. They might have wanted to believe God would save them, but doubt precluded trust. It took a man who had open and constant communion with God to hear heaven’s promise, and to believe it strongly enough to blurt it out. But it wasn’t what Paul said that convinced them – it was what Paul believed. Sometimes we need to tell the fearful doubter next to us: “Don’t worry, I have faith enough for the both of us. I’ll believe for you until your faith takes root. Don’t be afraid: you may not trust God, but I do. You don’t know Him like I do, or you would trust Him like I do, too! In the meantime, just hold this hand of mine – for God’s got my other one!”

Monday, December 14, 2009

KOINONIA CHRISTIANS -- Devotional for December 14, from "Good Seeds"

Have fellowship with one another. (I John 1:7)

The honcho of a company or crew is its boss. That’s as true in Japan as in America, for this word comes straight from that land, with no need of translation. And what about the term, macho? Even if you insist you don’t know any Spanish, you probably would use this word to describe someone full of aggressive masculine pride. Koinonia is another one of these words which, although belonging to another language, is used often enough in English conversation, at least in certain circles, to be adopted as part of the common vocabulary. But of course fellowship, the English translation of the Greek koinonia, is the far more common term. Fellowship is one of those Bible words, like grace and faith and love and hope, that is so colorfully rich in nuance of meaning that it far surpasses what some dictionaries – or Bible teachers! – might reveal. But also like those words, fellowship has been dumbed down in its meaning by widespread generic use. Commonality leads commonness. And, because “familiarity breeds contempt,” many Christians, especially those who consider themselves above average in spiritual maturity, tend to miss the deeper beauty, and downplay the crucial importance, of fellowship, even as they mis-define its meaning. There’s an unfortunate human tendency to disregard –- even hold in contempt –- what we do not fully understand. And so it would be very helpful for us to learn the meaning of the Greek word, koinonia, when talking about fellowship. We are far more apt to refine our definition and application of a word we discover to be the very word used by our Lord and His contemporaries. When they said koinonia they meant, “sharing in common.” For us that might include potlucks and picnics, games and get-togethers, and coffee and conversation, but oh, it goes so much further than that! Koinonia is also sometimes translated “communion” in our English Bible, depending on the context. Just as intimacy is the end for which acquaintanceship is only the beginning, so is communion miles deeper than communication in the measurement of relationships. Two workmates can have fellowship down at the water cooler, but we reserve koinonia to describe two Christians struggling together under one load down on their knees, or a congregation sharing in common the stress and distress of one of their number who has come to the end of his rope, and hope -- by gathering groceries, providing transportation, or helping with the utility bill. Maybe this is why koinonia is also sometimes translated “contribution” or “provision,” the practical outcome of true Christian fellowship (see Romans 15:26). There are never enough “Koinonia Christians” to go around, while even one “Lone Ranger Christian” may be one too many!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A WIN-WIN ALL THE WAY! -- Devotional for December 13, from "Good Seeds"

According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me. I do not know which to choose, and am hard-pressed from both directions: having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is so much better, yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:20-24)

Whenever someone says, “It’s a matter of life and death,” we know he’s talking about something life-threatening, a danger to be avoided at all costs. But when Paul spoke of life and death, he was rather ambivalent about it. This interesting word perfectly defines the apostle’s dilemma: he had simultaneously contradictory feelings about his future, causing him to fluctuate between one thing (going to heaven), and its opposite (staying here a little longer), resulting in uncertainty as to which to prefer and seek. Paul was so excited about seeing Jesus face to face that he was willing to endure whatever it took to bring him there – and the sooner the better! But what he couldn’t endure was the possibility that he was being hasty at heart. Maybe his mansion wasn’t ready yet – that is, maybe God still had more work for him to do on earth before his graduation to heaven. If so, he’d better dig in and get back to it, and stop daydreaming about glory! Paul was no doubt strongly suspicious that this was indeed the case, but as we eavesdrop on his intimate personal testimony, we detect anything but gloom. As he analyzed his prospects he saw only a “Win-Win” proposition, which filled him with a joy he had difficulty hiding. “For me to live is Christ” – what could be better than having the knowledge of God filling him and the joy of the Lord strengthening him? Only one thing: having the very presence of Jesus embracing him, for “to die is gain!” It was this same man who coined the phrase, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). Is he speaking only of himself? No! Anyone coming to God through Christ can make that same confident claim. But we admit that since this life is the only one we know, there is some trepidation about the trip to the next. While visiting a very alert 102 year old man in a nursing home our conversation naturally drifted to the subject of heaven. I was amazed at something he said: “Though I’m anxious to be well on my way, I’m not desperate to be there right now.” That’s it! That’s the “sanctified ambivalence” that both haunts and upholds every saint today. But let this be our wonderful consolation: it’s a Win-Win all the way!

THE CHRISTENING -- Devotional for December 12, from "Good Seeds"

Then Ezra the priest brought out the Book of the Law of Moses before the assembly, and standing at a wooden podium made for that purpose, read from the Book from early morning till midday. When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood, giving God’s Word their respectful attention. (Nehemiah 8:1-5)

The Jews had been in exile, but now were returning to rebuild and re-align themselves with their God. It had been their disobedience that had removed them from His blessing and protection in the first place, making them vulnerable to the attack of enemy nations. God permitted this exile from their homeland in order to teach them what happens when God’s people neglect God’s Word. And so, when the ancient scrolls were found, dusted off and read out loud at a public meeting, the people were overcome with a strange mixture of joy and guilt. It was a turning point for those “wandering Jews,” as they re-discovered what they had lost, and were now on the road to spiritual recovery. Here’s another true story of neglect and its dire consequences: Many years ago, a wealthy European family planned a christening of their newborn baby. Many guests were invited for the occasion, and came in the very latest fashionable dress. Their coats were carried upstairs and laid upon the beds. After the usual lot of commotion and conversation, the time came for the christening ceremony. But where was the baby? No one seemed to know. The nurse was sent upstairs to look, but she returned in alarmed distress, for the baby was nowhere to be found. After several minutes of desperate searching someone remembered seeing the child lying on one of the beds. A frantic search produced the lifeless baby, found among – and smothered under – the wraps of the guests! The chief reason they had come had been forgotten, neglected, and now destroyed! This Christmas many will forget, neglect and even destroy Christ. Every year He is smothered by the giftwrap, ribbon and make-believe that fill the festive month of December. There is no end of celebration, but people seem to have forgotten the “reason for the season” – that the very word Christmas means, “celebrate Christ.” What happened that first Christmas, where there was “no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7), happens every Christmas, as people have no room on their calendars – or in their hearts – for the Christ of Christmas. Others will smother even the mention of His name, and feign to forgot why we gather to eat, have parties, and exchange gifts. Those early Jews came back to the written Word of God. When will we return to the Living Word of God, rescue Him from the wrappings and trappings of Christmas, and give Him back His Day, as we give Him back His rightful ownership of our lives?

Friday, December 11, 2009

REACH THE REACHABLE, WIN THE WINNABLE -- Devotional for December 11, from "Good Seeds"

Paul solemnly testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when they resisted and blasphemed he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now I shall go to the Gentiles.” Then the Lord spoke to Paul in a night vision saying, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no man will stop you – for I have many people in this city. (Acts 18:5-6, 9-10)

WD-40, the miracle lubricant with a thousand uses, is so named because it wasn’t until the fortieth try at Water Displacement that the inventor came upon the winning formula. He believed he was onto something, but it took tremendous stick-to-it-ive-ness to achieve success. On the other hand, it is said to be a sign of insanity to repeat the same mindless, useless behavior over and over thinking, “next time it will be different.” It takes great wisdom to discern between perseverance and insanity. When sharing Christ, this distinction is crucial. Paul’s heart was for his own people. Whenever he entered a city, he always went “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16), reasoning with them in their synagogues concerning the claims of Christ. But invariably he met strong resistance. Did he give up and go back to tent-making? No. Verse 5 says, “He devoted himself all the more to the Word of God.” But surely he asked himself, “What will be the best use of my time and energy?” Just as Jesus had instructed His disciples: “Leave any city that does not listen to you, shaking the dust off the soles of your feet as a testimony against them" (Mark 6:11), so Paul “shook out his garments” as a gesture of non-responsibility, as if to say, “Don’t blame me on Judgment Day when you find out what I told you about Jesus is true after all!” He had to discern just how long to labor among the Jews before turning toward greener Gentile pastures. But we know he did finally make the decision to look for an open door for the gospel rather than to continually beat his head against a perpetually closed door. And when he did this, two things happened, which confirmed his decision: 1) the Gentiles in Corinth were so hungry for the truth that when Paul preached, “they heard, believed, and were baptized” (verse 8); 2) God spoke to Paul in a dream, assuring him of safety and success. And then God said a curious thing: “I have many people in this city” (verse 10). Wow! What missionary wouldn’t love to hear such a statement about his chosen field! But not hearing it, we go back to the wisdom exercised by Paul: Win the winnable; reach the reachable; teach the teachable. Don’t waste time on resisters; rather, pack up and move on. Jesus has many people “in this city” – or that one. There will never be a shortage of souls who need the Lord!

FULL AND EMPTY -- Devotional for December 10, from "Good Seeds"

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come, for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness while denying its power, always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth. (II Timothy 3:1-7)

We invited the couple next door to come over to our house sometime to play table games. The wife was thrilled and tried to say yes, but was stopped by her husband when he explained why he didn’t play games. Regarding the reasons a person may give for not doing something, it is surprising how logical they sound to him – and how ridiculous they sound to others! He thinks his wall of defense is solid, with no idea others see right through it as if a transparent window. By the way, due to his wife’s cajoling, the husband eventually agreed to come. We said, “Great, how about tonight?” More excuses. It’s no big deal if someone doesn’t want to play table games, but what if the invitation were of a more serious, soul-changing nature? With the intention of sharing Christ with a friend, we invite him to come to church with us, maybe to the special Christmas program, or just a regular worship service. What do we usually hear? “Thank you, and yes, maybe sometime I’ll come, but I can’t right now, for you see…” and now, here come the excuses: “Work has really worn me out lately and I need my Sundays for rest;” or, “I think I’m coming down with something; it wouldn’t be very “Christian” of me to spread my germs!” Or this most common excuse of all: “My life is already so full, I don’t think there’s room to fit in one more thing – even a good thing like this.” And so, folks with lives FULL to the brim with the cares and pleasures of everyday life, remain EMPTY of the cures and treasure of eternal life! Corrupt loves and powerless beliefs fill the soul space where only Christ can fit and occupy and satisfy. December is no doubt the most FULL month of the year. But, although the calendar is so FULL of days marked for special events, it reminds us of some EMPTY things: The manger, where a special Baby lay on that first Christmas, is EMPTY. The tomb, where they buried Him after He died on the cross for our sins: EMPTY! Then He returned to His Father, and once again heaven was FULL of His presence. But the hearts of all who do not yet know the Savior remain EMPTY. Oh, they are FULL to overflowing with the good things of life – just as that Bethlehem Inn was FULL – but none of it satisfies that EMPTY space reserved just for Jesus. May our hearts be FULL of joy, at this Christmas time and always, because of Jesus, because we know Him as the Filler of every emptiness, the Satisfier of every longing – the Savior of our soul.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

...MEDDLING! -- Devotional for December 9, from "Good Seeds"

Preach the word in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (II Timothy 4:2)

I Timothy 4:8 tells us that bodily discipline has some limited merit, but that “godliness is profitable for all things.” The previous verse gives context to that word, godliness: “being constantly nourished on the words of faith and sound doctrine.” It is only in the Bible we find the godly life rightly defined, and only by obeying it can that life be refined. II Timothy 3:16 says Scripture is profitable for teaching (what to know), for training (how to live), but also for correction and reproof (beliefs and behaviors that poison the soul). I remember hearing my childhood pastor, Dr. J.C. Brumfield, say on occasion: “Now I’m going to quit preachin’ and start to meddlin’!” When he said this we knew he was going to start naming – not names, but sins – and that any sleeping in the church would soon be replaced by squirming! This is the third level of intensity God sometimes intends for us to use to build up one another:
Level Three: REBUKE (reproof and correction). It’s one thing to present truth, another to make application, but sometimes we must go one step further by being very specific (and sometimes very personal) in pointing out error in thinking, or sin in doing. Now we know that the conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit’s job, not the man of God’s, no matter how holy he may be. Still, the time comes when God uses one Christian to admonish another, not to judge, but to correct or reprove. The Greek word translated reprove means “to rebuke, admonish, to convince through evidence, to tell a fault." In I Thessalonians 2:11-12 Paul describes his relationship with that church: “You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you, as a father would his only children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of God.” This is the normal approach of a father to his children, or of a pastor to his flock: that of exhortation. I Corinthians 14:3 says, “One who prophesies (preaches) speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” As difficult as this might be for the child – or for the church member – to take (as the writer to the Hebrews says: “I urge you, brethren, to bear with this word of exhortation” (13:22), occasionally gentle exhortation must give way to stern reproof, as that same writer indicates: “It is for discipline that you endure, for God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (12:7). And so it is that sometimes you and I must give or receive a hard word of reproof, when we would much rather speak or hear a gentle word of encouragement. But if done with great patience, for the sake of good instruction, in the end this will be the sweetest of all the one anothers.

TEACHING, PREACHING, AND... -- Devotional for December 8, from "Good Seeds"

(NOTE TO MY READERS: Sorry for again falling behind. This time it was due to losing our power during a pretty fierce first snowstorm of the year. I worked at my laptop nevertheless, until the battery gave way! But here now I bring to you devotionals for yesterday, today...and tomorrow, having been blessed with some extra time to write (snowed in, I couldn't drive to work -- what a shame!), and the restoration of electricity and access to the satellites roaming the stratosphere for the sake of our mutual (yes mutual, I look forward to hearing from you!) communication).

Exhort one another (I Thessalonians 5:11); Exhort one another daily, as long as it is called “today,” lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13); Encourage one another all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).

II Timothy 3:16 says that “all Scripture is profitable teaching, training and correcting.” But what about exhorting? How does this fit into the believer’s toolbox? Paul encourages us to “speak, exhort, and reprove with all authority” (Titus 2:15). These three levels of intensity used in building up the church, match the three uses of Scripture:
Level One: SPEAK (teaching): First, we read the Bible, out loud (I Timothy 4:13), a crucial. foundational step. Then we teach the Bible, “giving the sense” (Nehemiah 8:8). These are directed to the head – but information and instruction do not a sermon make. We air a subject, but we aim a sermon, and the target of God’s Word must always be the heart.
Level Two: APPLY (training): Now the exhortation begins. This word is parakaleo in the Greek, meaning, “to call near.” It can have a stern side, when we beseech, urge, entreat, implore, invoke, or advise our listeners. It also has a softer side, where we comfort, console, and encourage. This single word defines the dual role of the pastor when wielding the Word of God: to disturb the comfortable, and to comfort the disturbed! When we exhort, we invite our listeners to move in and take a closer look at the truth, to find personal implications and make practical applications, as seen in these Scriptural examples… “I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to make good on their promised gift” (II Corinthians 9:5). “We hear that some among you are leading undisciplined lives, doing no work, but acting like busybodies; such we exhort by the Lord Jesus to work in quiet fashion so as to eat of your own bread” (II Thessalonians 3:11-12). “By exhorting in sound doctrine refute those who contradict the truth” (Titus 1:9). “Exhort the young men to think and act with good sense” (Titus 2:6). “Exhort servants to be subject to their own masters, well-pleasing, not argumentative” (Titus 2:9). “While I was planning to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to exhort you that you should contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3). “With many words he exhorted them saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ ” (Acts 2:40). Proclaiming truth is teaching. This is vital, but not enough, for it is only by preaching that men are won to Christ, and preaching is exhorting: “So with many exhortations John the Baptist preached the gospel to the people” (Luke 3:18). “And after the reading of the Scriptures the synagogue official said, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it now’” (Acts 13:15). Yes -- Say it now!

REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR -- Devotional for December 7, from "Good Seeds"

The spies returned to Joshua and said, “Do not send many, for Ai is small.” But when the nations met for battle, Ai struck down the army of Israel, and the hearts of God’s people melted. (Joshua 7:3-5)

Ai was a tiny kingdom, maybe the size of just one of the tribes of noble Israel. Japan was a small country, maybe the size of just one of the states of mighty America. Little was known of Ai until spies came back with a confident report: “Don’t trouble yourself, Joshua; two or three thousand troops should be more than sufficient to shove this tiny city-state aside.” But when the two forces met, the mouse totally routed the elephant and, as the text renders it, “they struck them down on the descent” (verse 5). In the early days of December 1941, though well aware of Japan’s imperialistic advances, we had no idea our Pacific Fleet was about to be attacked while sleeping in its cozy Pearl Harbor hideaway. Japan proved to be a formidable enemy, and “struck us down on the descent” with wave after wave of bomb laden Zeroes. Nevertheless, the greatest enemy America faced was within – the enemy of complacency. For Israel, it was the same: though Ai was surely a “mighty little giant” (ch. 7), later it was proved that they could be quite handily beaten, once things were in order on the home front (ch. 8). It was the same at Pearl Harbor as at Ai: the problem was not the power without, but the weakness within. And as it is with the armies of any nation, so it is with individuals of any generation: As soon as we let our guard down – which happens whenever our self-confidence goes up – we are doomed to destruction. I Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.” What was Israel’s weakness within? It all came from their previous miraculous conquest of Jericho. The Lord had won that victory for His people without their wielding any weapon but that of praise. God told them to blow ram’s horns as they marched around the city, a sound that signaled a victory just won. Praise, by definition, is thanking God in advance for what we know He can do and by faith believe He will do. They trusted in nothing but the plan and power of God that day. What else could they do? And God brought a glorious victory! All He asked in exchange for His bringing down the walls of Jericho was that they not covet the spoils, but let them be covered – buried with the rest of the city, as a memorial to His intervention on their behalf. In the midst of violating that command they approached Ai. You, too, have an Ai. “I can handle this one, Lord. Don’t trouble Yourself.” Let not such words pass your lips! Remember Jericho: only God can save you; remember Ai: the smallest enemy can defeat you. Remember Pearl Harbor: complacency can kill you!

SPIRITUAL MATURITY -- Devotional for December 6, from "Good Seeds"

You who are spiritual, restore…. (Galatians 6:1)

Solomon wrote, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). This definition of a “woman of worth” applies directly to anyone who would call himself spiritual. Spiritual people are not ones who LOOK good but rather who ARE good, deep inside, and who DO good on the outside, for the good of others and the glory of God. The Bible tells us that when sin needs to be dealt with, when wrong needs to be made right, when weak souls need to be strengthened, when relationships need to be mended – when the body of Christ needs to be built up in any way – only spiritual people can be depended upon to do the job. What are the characteristics of a man or woman whom God would recognize as truly spiritual? These three would be paramount in God’s list of qualifications:
#1 – TRUE OBEDIENCE. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). It’s no good being a worshiper of Jesus if we are unwilling to be a worker for Jesus. In Luke 10:38-42 these two emphases are personified in Mary and Martha. In this case Mary was obedient in her worship and Martha disobedient in her service, but it could just as easily be the other way around. “Lord, Lord” are the words of prayer and worship, but Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and yet do not do what I say” (Luke 6:46). A man approached Jesus one day and said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go, but let me first go bury my father” (Matthew 8:19,21). True obedience makes no room for this “me first” approach to discipleship. True obedience leads us from mere good intentions to…
#2 – GENUINE SERVICE. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s workmanship, created for good works which God planned from the very beginning for us to do.” Don’t ask a man to do a special job for God who is not already about his Father’s business in the everyday affairs of his life. James says, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only – for faith without works is dead”(James 1:22;2:26). Don’t ask a man to heal or mend or build in the kingdom of God who is strong in knowledge but weak in follow through. Again James is right on the money: “It is sin to know the right thing to do, and yet not do it” (James 4:17). We dare not ask such an unspiritual man as this to deal with spiritual matters.
#3 – VITAL REPRODUCTION. Christ’s last command must be our first concern: “Go make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). True spirituality is easily measured: by an obedience to Christ that shows itself in the way we put Him first, serve Him, and reproduce His life in others.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

THE TRAGEDY OF AN ABORTED LIFE -- Devotional for December 5, from "Good Seeds"

“Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:18)

What is the tragedy of abortion? Just this: a human soul is dispatched straight to eternal life without the benefit of an earthly life. In Psalm 139:13-16 we read of God not only creating but communing with the tiny human being, following conception but preceding birth. His ultrasound vision sees our miniature grasping fingers and beating heart, but more than that, His MRI eyes take pictures of the slices of our lives yet to be lived. Scientists call it a fetus, but God knows – and in their heart of hearts men know, too – that this is not just a living organism, but a complete human being. A developing baby lives in its mama’s womb until it is ready to enter the world of earth and air. But when death occurs before the capacity for decision-making has developed (either before or after birth), a human being goes to heaven’s paradise (see II Samuel 12:23). “Well, what’s so bad about that?” you ask. “Such a one is the lucky one, skipping this ugly world and going straight to the perfect world, that beautiful life with God in heaven!” But it IS bad – it spells loss on two levels: 1) Personal loss – Human life is defined as an eternal soul residing in a corporal body: spirit plus body. And our life is not complete, not fulfilled, when these two parts are separated. Indeed the very definition of death is “separation of the soul from the body.” We instinctively know that we’re “not good if detached!” The Bible also indicates that it is God’s plan for us to dwell on earth, for a time, and afterwards in heaven, for eternity, where our temporary body is replaced with a permanent one. So when unborn children are dispatched to the bosom of the Father, skipping life lived out in a corporal body, they miss the life God intended for them to live in the temporal kingdom. It’s a tough life, starting with struggle, but He is not willing that any should perish: He desires salvation for all. But not only does the individual lose out on this significant part of the purpose for which they were created. So does the world around him. Yes abortion is also 2) Humanity’s loss, Every individual created by God has a contribution to make to the family and community he was born into. Although the believing thief on the cross next to Jesus was promised a life in Paradise in exchange for his faith, there was no opportunity for him to live out that faith on earth. It is clearly evident that to die young, even as young as when still in the womb, is a tragedy. Not so obvious is another scenario: to be dead even while alive (spiritually dead in sin, see Ephesians 2:1), or, like the thief, to not come to life until life has come to an end.

THE CASE FOR PRAYER -- Devotional for December 4, from "Good Seeds"

We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work. (Colossians 1:9-10)

In making a case for prayer here are some principles to consider:
#1 Prayer is thanking God for things we know originated with Him.
#2 Prayer is asking God for things no man can provide.
#3 Prayer is telling God things that are for His ears only.
Jesus gave His followers a pattern for prayer in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A better name for it would be “The Disciple’s Prayer.” Not that Jesus never prayed for the things in that prayer, but His prayers went far deeper, and the disciple who would follow His Master to the extreme will model his prayer life after those prayers as well. Today’s Scripture records another pattern for prayer we would do well to follow: The Apostle’s Prayer. We ask our Christian brothers to pray for us all the time, but how often do we ask for the things enumerated in Paul’s prayer for his friends at Colossae. I’m sure if he had asked, “How can I pray for you?” he would have received a laundry list of their aches and pains and disappointments, the very things that dominate our prayer times today. So maybe Paul didn’t ask. Maybe he prayed for other things, things they needed more than comfort and healing and provision of perceived needs – things that if benevolently provided by God according to the apostle’s requests, would have more than made up for the people not having their own way with God. Next time you ask for prayer, ask for the Four W’s: The knowledge of God’s WILL; spiritual WISDOM; a worthy WALK; and fruitful WORK. And next time someone asks you to pray for them, go ahead and intercede for the thing they requested, but then, keep going. And if they’re within earshot of your prayer, they will be blessed to know that God is interested in them, and will care for them, way past the body, deep into the soul; way past obvious hurts and expected cures, deep into surprising serendipitous solutions; and way beyond the painful past, out into a glorious future! When we ask God for the Four W’s for our friends, and we hear them praying them for us, we stop treating God like a divine genie, and learn to know Him as the all powerful creator of the universe who can take care of us without losing track of the rest of the world or hurting humanity. When we learn to pray in this deeper way, we begin to recognize God for who He really is, and a fourth principle of prayer begins to dominate our prayer life:
#4 Prayer is the heart of man reaching out to the heart of God.

Friday, December 4, 2009

ALMOST PERSUADED -- Devotional for December 3, from "Good Seeds"

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Almost you have persuaded me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)

I read this quote by Shane Claiborne in my sister’s blog:

To all my non-believing, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians, Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

What Sue said next was just what I was thinking – maybe you, too…

I would hate that to be said of me: that my life was an obstacle to God. The more I think about me, however, the more I realize this can be the case. God doesn't want us over-meditating (or over-medicating!) on our shortcomings. We have them, He knows it – He died for them. Rather, we need to ask Him to fill our gaze with Himself and the cross. Christmas leads to the cross. The season is upon us. May others find Him through our lives and eyes upturned to Him alone. Oswald Chambers wrote, "I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives." Always going back to this "relationship with God" thing. I love that. Not rules, not rituals. We are loved, and drawn to God, by His cross. I need to get my focus right…and let Him take care of the ones who are ready to come into relationship with Him….(from the blog of Sue Donaldson)

To all this I would add...

Ghandi was heard to say that he had no problem with Christ – it was just Christians he couldn’t abide! But along with meditating on our shortcomings – and doing something about them – maybe we need to consider what else it might take to win those still lost ones to Jesus. When the apostle Paul heard these wistful words from King Agrippa, “Almost you have persuaded me to become a Christian,” was he driven to dark introspection to discern the flaw in his character or the inconsistency in his testimony that surely had blocked the way to the king’s conversion to Christ? There’s no mention of that in the record. Yes, we must clean up our act, but how quickly sincere spiritual self-medication turns into subtle self-absorption, and before long it’s all about us, when it should be all about the one who needs us, and THE ONE still willing to use us. What did Paul do when he heard Agrippa’s words? I think I know – and it’s what we should do: He grieved for a moment, but then he got down on his knees to pray for that crusty old soul. Blaming ourselves never got anyone into God’s kingdom; forgiving ourselves doesn’t do the trick either. Forgetting ourselves and concentrating on our Savior is the better way. Do you know anyone at the “almost stage”? Don’t give up on him. Rather just give him – and yourself – up to God!

THE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS -- Devotional for December 2, from "Good Seeds"

“The people that walked in darkness saw a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

The lights are coming on all around us. Right after Thanksgiving houses and yards, as well as city streets and businesses, start bursting with the colorful lights of Christmas. Nighttime is never so beautiful as at Christmas time. Our Christmas Eve family tradition is a common one: we get in the car and head for the neighborhoods reputed to have the brightest and prettiest (gaudiest!) lights and decorations. Happily for us, there are plenty of homeowners out there who are glad enough to accommodate us, and feed our need for lack of speed, so we can get a full view and go, “Ooh, Ahh!” Sometimes we say, “Oh look, there’s one that shows the real meaning of Christmas!” Yes, there are still lots of folks, whether Christians or no, we do not know, who are willing enough to put out bright and beautiful versions of that first Christmas scene, of the holy family surrounded by shepherds and animals and Wise Men (which surely wasn't so bright, but dirty, dismal, and dark, even if brightened a bit by the miracle star overhead). Still, as we meander through the neighborhoods we are accosted by the more dominant Santa Claus -– and commercialized -- versions of Christmas. But the common denominator of it all is light, lots of bright, colorful, “huge-electric-bill-but-who-cares-it’s-Christmas” light! Long ago Isaiah prophesied of another light, one not measured in earthly lumens but in heavenly glory – not manifesting in candlepower but in Holy Spirit power. The prophecy spoke of people whose inner darkness had been untouched by the SUN in the sky, who would someday be enlightened within by the SON from on high! And how can we who have experienced the light of Jesus deep in our hearts be satisfied with any of these lesser outward illuminations, for His salvation lights our way throughout our earthly walk, all the way to heaven. Jesus is the light of the world -- but most people still walk in darkness. Let’s go back two thousand years: Jesus had come and gone. The Scrooge of the day was a religious unbeliever named Saul of Tarsus. He followed a dark path in his persecution of Christians. But on his trek through the Damascus neighborhood he came across a Christmas light so bright it blinded him – but saved him, too! Hear the account, in his own words: “And it happened that as I made my journey, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light” (Acts 22:6). Still today there are those who though surrounded by bright holiday lights have only darkness in their souls. They, too, have yet to experience the true light of Christmas. What better time of year to introduce a friend to Jesus, the light of the World!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THE ITALIAN WITCH! -- Devotional for December 1, from "Good Seeds"

Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14)

A friend of mine told me of his daughter’s mother-in-law, whom she calls an “Italian Witch.” How sad when in-laws become outlaws, especially when this can be one of the most precious of all human relationships. When my wife and I married, we adopted each other’s mothers as our own, and immediately called them “Mom.” Although this caused a little confusion when both women were in the room at the same time, at least it did not cause any consternation, for both mothers received equal billing. The mother that raised us is obviously the one we’re closest to, but to honor our mother-in-law is a corollary to the law of marriage given in Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife.” Of course we never stop loving and honoring our parents, but a marriage where Mom remains the number one lady in a man’s life is doomed to destruction! But a husband that pours out love upon his mother-in-law demonstrates to both his own mother and his wife that he is truly leaving and cleaving, and an example is set for his wife, who will without doubt follow suit. In the case of Old Testament Ruth, both her husband and father-in-law had died. The same was the case with her sister-in-law, Orpah. Their mother-in-law, also destitute of all her men, was sure she would soon be totally alone, as these girls were young and pretty and surely would go back to their own country and religion, find a nice young man and start a new life. We think of a kiss as a gesture of deep endearment, but in this case the clinging of Ruth was the greater expression of love. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” In this case, shallow was the kiss of a daughter-in-law. It’s possible to cling to your blood mother too much (and some, like the “Italian Witch,” cling to their sons too much), but rare is the case where a mother-in-law is cared for and clung to too much. For Ruth it was more than a social error to leave her own kind, the Moabites, and stick to this foreign culture she’d married into, the Jews. But she had already seen the difference. Even in her deep depression, Naomi came through as a true daughter of heaven, and Ruth wanted in on that: “Where you go I will go,” she told her. “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). It’s one thing for a mother-in-law to re-attach herself to her children, quite another for a daughter-in-law to cling to her adopted mom. And by the way, when a man looking for real love sees this kind of TLC in a woman, he will recognize it for what it is. For Ruth, loving Naomi was a win-win all the way around: No Italian witch for her, but a Israeli saint – and a rich Jewish hunk of a husband thrown in for good measure!

YOU ARE THERE! -- Devotional for November 30, from "Good Seeds"

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up (I Corinthians 14:26). And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30).

I remember a T.V. program I used to watch as a kid (back in the early days of television) that began with Walter Cronkite saying something like this: “The events you are about to see are all true: the places, the people – it all happened just as you witness them now, except…YOU ARE THERE!” What an interesting way to learn about the Landing of the Hindenburg, the Salem Witchcraft Trials, the Gettysburg Address, or the Fall of Troy. History can be either the most boring, or the most fascinating and rewarding subject to study, depending on how it is presented. The challenge to every history teacher – and this would include every Bible teacher – is to portray the people and events of former times in ways that put us right there with them. The French have a proverb, “The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” We know that without a clear understanding of the mistakes of the past we are doomed to repeat them. But what does history have to do with today’s Bible reading? Just this: Hymns. The hymnbook, right along with God’s Book, sends us back into history and places us right next to fellow believers of hundreds of years ago. When we sing hymns we are singing with them of the truths that are as dear to our hearts as to theirs, and we are giving glory to the same Lord. This affords us with a powerful and joyful awareness of the universal family of God, spanning all borders of time and geography. If we sing only the songs of today, written by our contemporaries, as much as they may speak to our hearts with today’s vernacular, they don’t afford to us the sense of belonging, or the experience of kinship with believers of yesteryear. As we sing of the “Faith of our Fathers,” we join our ancestors as they sang of theirs, who in turn sang of our mutual holy faith in our ever-living, never-changing Savior. Three hundred years ago they were singing, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.” Nearly two thousand years ago Christians were singing, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be; world without end, Amen!” Are you sometimes disappointed with low church attendance or flagging enthusiasm for the kingdom of God? Open a hymnal and find yourself worshipping with a vast congregation of fellow Christians -- dear friends you’ve yet to meet! But you invite them, even now, into your fellowship when you sing what they sang. And regarding the worship of their God and yours – through hymns…YOU ARE THERE!

Monday, November 30, 2009

IS FAITH A GIFT OF GOD? -- Devotional for November 29, from "Good Seeds"

“For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

What is faith? Is it just a word for religious discussion or is it of more universal interest? The dictionary goes beyond religion in its definitions. First we learn that faith is a derivative of a Latin word meaning trust. So faith means the placing of trust in something or someone. Another definition renders faith “a firm belief in something apart from empirical proof” (some might add: “apart from any visible means of support!”), which leads to the standard definition: “Faith is belief in the traditional doctrines of religion.” Our theology, however, is not rooted in Webster, but the Word of God! We find a pretty succinct definition of faith at the beginning of the faith chapter: “Now faith is the substance (assurance) of things hoped, the evidence (conviction) of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This applies to everyday life just as readily as to the spiritual life: The last time you sat down did you first inspect the chair? Probably not. You just took it “by faith” that it would support your weight and frame. But you’d probably be more careful about the parachute you were about to use, for a fall from a plane might hurt worse than a fall from a chair! We say, “I have no faith in this thing, or that person,” and well we should, for placing faith in unworthy or undependable things or people is the epitome of foolishness. Some think when Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace “through faith, and THAT not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” it means faith is a special gift of God. But the antecedent (the thing referred to) of the word THAT is salvation, not faith. Salvation is what is being offered as the free gift, while faith is no more or less than the means by which we receive it. Faith is not just for some and not for others. Everyone has faith as an operational tool. It is simply the way God made us to function: we act on what we believe to be true. It is no more spiritual – and no more a special gift from God – than our lungs or our fingers. We all have the capacity to express faith – what we do NOT have is the capacity to save ourselves. That's the work of grace. Grace is God's job – faith is man's job. We cannot do God's job for Him – we cannot save ourselves. And God does not do our job for us – nowhere in the Bible do we read that God expresses faith on our behalf. Rather, it pleads, “Be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:20). And then it tells us how: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). The question comes down to where we place our faith. Our faith choices lead to beliefs; our beliefs lead to decisions and actions, which in turn lead to our final destiny! And so, my friend, who will you trust with your eternal soul?!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

HOW DO WE COME TO SALVATION? -- Devotional for November 28, from "Good Seeds"

Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” But Lord, who has believed our report? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)

For hundreds of years Christians have debated with one another – and sometimes departed from one another – over the question of how a lost person comes to salvation. One side of the argument takes Bible verses that speak of God’s sovereign will, concluding that no one can be saved unless chosen by God. And if so chosen, it impossible for them not to be saved, for God will have His will! Since millions of people have died never having come to faith in Christ, the logical conclusion is that God must not have chosen that vast majority of men and women for His kingdom. The other side of the argument takes Scriptures like today’s passage, which says nothing about God choosing men, but everything about men choosing God! The first argument interprets Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” to mean that faith is a gift of God. Anyone who has it will believe and be saved. Those who have not received it cannot believe and so are condemned. The means to salvation is the faith God gives to certain ones of His choice. But is this really what Paul meant? If so, he contradicted himself in Romans, where he wrote: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” He didn’t say, “whomever God calls,” but “whoever calls God.” Who gets to be saved? That’s the basic question. And here, in black and white, is the basic answer: “Whoever calls out to God.” Paul goes on to tell the Romans the source of faith (notice he says nothing about a gift): “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God,” he says. It’s hard for some to admit it, but it boils down to man’s efforts – all within God’s sovereign plan, of course! How are people going to hear the message? God doesn’t miraculously zap them into heaven. Someone has to tell them. Once they’ve heard, it’s up to them to believe on Christ and then call out to be saved. But it starts with the evangelist. Now any Christian can and should be a witness for Christ, but there are some who specialize in preaching the gospel of salvation. God calls and gifts them. Men equip and send them. What is the result? Saved souls! But what is the process? Beautiful soles! I want the beautiful feet of the missionary! How about you?

CHRISTMAS COMMERCIAL -- Devotional for November 27, from "Good Seeds"

The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you Good News of great joy for all people.” And they came in haste to the place they had been told, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen this, the shepherds went back to their place, and made known the statement which had been told them about this Child, continually glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as had been told to them. And all who heard them were amazed and in awe. (Luke 2:10,16-18,20)

Having a good product but not advertising it is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you’re doing, but nobody else does! Even though in this modern materialistic world advertisement has gone to seed, there is a commodity that has slipped under the radar screen of contemporary society which could do with a healthy dose of renewed creative exposure. That precious product is the Good News about Jesus Christ. As we approach the Christmas season we witness the unfortunate dichotomy between the desire to celebrate and the denial of the “Reason for the season.” Sadly, believers in Jesus Christ are caught up in the “lovely traditions” and the “crass commercialism” of Christmas right along with the rest of the world. But we are not mere consumers – we have an advertising job to do, for we have a Savior to proclaim! We need not shrink from this task; we need merely to follow the pattern set for us by the shepherds. The Christmas commercial started with the facts, as proclaimed to men by messengers from heaven: the Savior of the world has landed; the Son of God is now Emmanuel – God with us. But like any good commercial, though a clear explanation of the facts is necessary, it is not enough. The shepherds weren’t satisfied just to hear – they, like old Doubting Thomas, had to see for themselves “if these things be true.” The best advertising comes not from paid professionals, but from satisfied customers. When the shepherds saw the Bethlehem scene, exactly as described by the angel, they were convinced and ready to communicate. Passive hearers then became active eye-witnesses...and enthusiastic proclaimers! Just like those shepherds of old, when we come to know Christ for who He really is, we will never be the same. And when we make our way from the manger to the marketplace –- back to family and neighborhood and job –- we will “go into all our world and preach the gospel” – tell the story (Mark 16:15) – sometimes shouting it from the rooftops, but usually just whispering it to dear hearts, one at a time. And we will be heard, for we’ve been there! It was not the miracle proclamation of angels that convinced the crowds, but the song in the hearts – and the glow on the faces – of those who had just seen Jesus!