Saturday, February 28, 2009

THE COUNT -- Devotional for February 28, from "Good Seeds"

The very hairs of your head are numbered… So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Matthew 10:30; Psalm 90:12)

When I was a kid there was no such thing as “Sesame Street” (PBS’s puppet-based TV program designed to teach children to read). But when our three daughters were growing up we all got a steady diet of Bert and Ernie, Kermit the Frog, and my favorite, The Count. In appearance and accent this puppet resembled Count Dracula, but in temperament he was gentle and friendly, like Elmo or Big Bird. The Count’s entire life was dedicated to…counting. He found great fulfillment – even ecstatic delight – in counting the things around him, like the candles in his candelabra, the apples in a fruit bowl, the fingers and toes of all those in the room – and maybe even the buttons on their shirts! He counted with such happiness it almost seemed like he was “counting his blessings!” Maybe that’s why I was so enamored by him: he found great joy in the little things of life. He didn’t make mountains out of molehills, but I think he would willingly have made little vests and trousers for all the moles in the molehill – once he’d counted them! God is like the Count in that He concerns Himself with the tiniest possible details of His tiniest creatures, as well as all of our disasters and delights, small or large! It takes no greater effort for God to make an exact count of all the stars in space than to number the hairs on your head. Henry Dyer said, “God is great in GREAT things, but He’s very great in LITTLE things!” The very fact that God notices when the tiniest sparrow falls to its death is a reminder that He notices me, and cares about me, when I haven’t got a friend – when I haven’t got a prayer! He is intimately aware and in control of every ache and pain I endure. He is the only One who will never be irritated with my complaints about my medical or emotional or relational distresses. No one can endure a hypochondriac for long – no one, that is, except God! The psalmist wrote, “O God, You know when I sit or stand…and when I wander away. You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 SM). Yes, God keeps a diary, and in it He writes about you and me, by name, every day! He notices everything, missing nothing. He watches us, like a doting father his tottering infant. And so, not just day by day, but moment by moment – not just mile by mile, but step by step, He guides and upholds us. Every hair on my head, every cell in your body, is of greatest concern to Him. So why should we hold back from bringing anything that concerns us – to Him?

IT'S ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES -- Devotional for February 27, from "Good Seeds"

“Consider now how things are going for you: Little crop comes from your much planting; you have food and drink, but not enough to satisfy you; you have clothing, but not enough to keep warm; you have money, but somehow it disappears, as though your pockets were full of holes. You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And what little you brought in I blew away. Why all this? Because My house lies in ruins while you are all busy building your own fine houses.” (Haggai 1:5,6 SM)

There is a hard and fast law that operates in life: The law of priority: Putting first things first. The question of why some things must come before others is easily answered: The second thing won’t be right, won’t satisfy, or possibly won’t come about at all, unless and until the first thing has been accomplished. For example, you couldn’t expect to reap a harvest if you didn’t bother to plant any seed! And you wouldn’t think to be accepted into a college, or hired for a job, if you didn’t meet the required qualifications. And certainly you couldn’t walk out of a store with goods in tow if you didn’t walk into it with money in hand – unless you were a thief! But that’s exactly how human nature operates: we try to beat the system: we shop for a bargain – a “steal of a deal.” We gamble a little money hoping to win millions, always trying to get something for nothing. We cut corners, like a 15 year old wanting to drive. He knows how. So what if he doesn’t have a license? It’s just a formality! Same with marriage: Isn’t love enough? What difference could a stupid piece of paper make? And before we know it, we are putting a whole variety of personal carts before their necessary horses! This was the case with the ancient Israelites. They went through the motions of their religion, giving their God a place in their week, in their budget, and in their thinking. Yeah...LAST PLACE! We might think we’re a lot better by moving Him up to third or even second place. But the universal law of priority applied in the spiritual realm says we are to “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). When God’s people back in Haggai’s day broke that rule they began to see “all these things” – both the necessities and the niceties of life – dissipate and disappear before their very eyes. It all started when they began putting their own houses before the house of God. God gave us families and homes and “all things richly to enjoy.” But it never works to worship the gift to the neglect of the Giver, or to honor the creature over the Creator. What does work is to put Him first -- for then He will put everything right.

Friday, February 27, 2009

MIND YOUR OWN BEE'S WAX! -- Devotional for February 26, from "Good Seeds"

We hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people's business. (2 Thessalonians 3:11)

I should think there is a fine line between properly and benevolently concerning ourselves with the cares and woes and needs of others, and sticking our oar in where it doesn’t belong. We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve been tempted to say (or have actually said) to someone guilty of the latter: “Go mind your own business, will you!” Because we are social creatures by nature, we inevitably butt heads with others when we just wanted to rub shoulders! We huddle together to make plans, and make war instead! We snuggle for warmth, only to freeze to death from the cold shoulder we encounter! We too often come to the same unfortunate conclusion about someone close to us that is often expressed by a frustrated husband: “My wife – I can’t live with her, and I can’t live without her!” These comments, so far, reflect nothing more than common knowledge, but today’s Scripture provides some uncommon wisdom on how to think and what to do about this problem: “Refusing to work, they meddle in other people’s affairs.” In other words, people with the greatest tendency to meddle in other people’s business are those who just aren’t busy enough in their own! But people don’t make other people’s business their business without a good reason. And that reason is that they haven’t an agenda of their own, so they beg, borrow or steal someone else’s. This is not as innocent or harmless as it may sound, for isn’t this the very sin of Satan? Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Is this specialty of his something unique and noble? No! Lying is not new knowledge but rather a perversion of truth. Then Jesus said that he was “a murderer from the beginning.” And what is murder if not the desecration and destruction of life? The “new morality” Satan inspires is nothing more than the old immorality. The devil has not one original “bone in his body” – and neither do any of his followers. But for the followers of Christ God has personal, unique and glorious plans, and He expects us to busy ourselves with them. He wants us to test our mettle in positive, constructive, creative endeavors, every moment of every day of our lives. Mettle…now there’s an interesting word! Webster defines it as “vigor and strength of spirit or temperament.” Think about it: Maybe if we were more mettlesome, we would be less meddlesome! The best examples of such character are the tireless ant and the industrious bee. Maybe if we spent more time carrying our own load, and “minding our own bee’s wax,” for the glory of God, we’d have less time to bug – and buzz around – the people around us!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OPPORTUNITY IS NOT A LENGTHY VISITOR -- Devotional for February 25, from "Good Seeds"

So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! "Bring me another jar," she said to one of her sons. "There aren't any more!" he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing. (II Kings 4:5-6)

This passage contains a thought I deliberately omitted in the February 23rd devotional reading: “Bring more jars, boys!” “There aren’t any more, Mom!” And instantly the heretofore non-stop oil spill…came to a stop. Lesson #3: Container determines content. Let’s play with some what-if’s here: What if the widow’s sons were uncooperative or lazy and returned with only two or three containers? We know the answer: The household would wind up with two or three jars of oil. But what if the boys were particularly ambitious (and the neighborhood exceptionally replete with jars, and their owners wonderfully generous), so that 50 containers were collected by our dynamic duo? Again, we know the answer: There would be a HUGE supply of oil, with not one empty jar in the house! Can we find an equivalent scenario in our everyday lives? This was no everyday occurrence; it was a miracle of God. Nevertheless, several well-known principles come to mind: “You get out of life just what you put into it.” “You reap what you sow.” “Cast your bread upon the waters, and soon it will come back to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” Now, these laws work for any man, regardless of his belief in God, or lack of it, right? But there is a spiritual application here that we dare not miss: “The depth of your faith determines the breadth of God’s blessings.” It may be laziness that prevents you or me from diligently serving the Lord, maybe in reaching out to others with material sustenance or spiritual bread. Or, it may be something far worse than neglect or bad habit – it may be unbelief! Did those two sons believe what Elisha said, or were they just doing what they were told? Obedience to parents is always honorable, but an obedient faith linked to their faithful obedience would have impassioned them to redouble their efforts. Lesson #4: In this life, there’s always a time limit. The mother was able to keep pouring the oil from her original flask as long as there was something to pour it into. When the jars stopped, the oil stopped. Is there a time limit for us, to get the gospel out? Yes. Doors of opportunity close. People move away or die. Are there some more jars you need to go get – while the getting is good? Turn off the T.V.! Get on the phone! Get in your car…and go to it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ANOTHER WORD FOR HYPOCRITE -- Devotional for February 24, from "Good Seeds"

We have heard of your LOVE for all of God's people. (Col 1:4)

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” Oh if that were only true of me and you! Christians reveal their identity all too often by far less noble characteristics. Let me dare to name a few: skillfully picking apart someone else’s theology, a holier-than-thou attitude, condemning those who disagree, arguing over fine points that divide while ignoring key ideas that unify, legalistic nitpicking, criticizing differing worship styles, tongue-wagging gossip about fellow believers, tongue-clicking condemnation of unbelievers…Need I go on? Jesus made his own list in Matthew 23. Too bad when Pharisee – or Christian – can be just another word for hypocrite! And what a dreadful thing this is when LOVE is one of the components, along with FAITH and HOPE, of the Christian’s job description. Sadly, as the apostle so deftly states in I Corinthians 13, Christians can be experts in Faith and professionals in Hope, but totally incompetent and unengaged when it comes to Love! The shortest and probably the best of all the books written by Francis Shaffer is entitled, The Mark of a Christian. You can read it in an afternoon, but you couldn’t learn it in a lifetime. Why? Because the “mark” is none other than the quality of love that distinguished Jesus from the rest of mankind, and would do the same for His followers, if we ever actually began to achieve it. In the Boxer Rebellion in China Christians were being sought out and killed. They fled the persecution, of course, but no amount of hiding could conceal their true identity, for their love for God and man, and especially one another, was written all over their faces, and spelled out in their every word and deed. The distinguishing details of true Christian love are listed for us in the Love Chapter, but in this tiny verse in Colossians the single most important nuance of Christian love is made even more clear: True Christian love is the love between Christians. The book of Acts records the formation of the early church, but not once is the word love used in its pages! It took one of its pastors, John, the Apostle of Love, to take us beyond the history and government to the heart and soul of the church – and he didn’t pull any punches! “If you say, ‘I love God,’ and hate your brother, you are a liar!” (I John 4:20). You might love the Bible, the unsaved, even your enemies –- all commendable things -– but if you don’t love God’s people, God knows you still don’t really love Him (and the world knows it, too!) Do you know anyone who knows you are a Christian primarily because of your love for Christians? That’s the final test.

Monday, February 23, 2009

GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES -- Devotional for February 23, from "Good Seeds"

Tell me, what do you have in the house?" "Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil," she replied. So Elisha said, "Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and pour the oil from your flask into the jars." So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, "Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over." (2 Kings 4:2-7 NLT)

"God helps those who help themselves."
Is that true? Can you find this statement in the Bible? Well, maybe not exactly as quoted here, but the principle is illustrated in the story of the desperate widow. She had no husband to bring home the bread, but two sons under foot and always hungry! But they weren’t going to bother her much longer, for her dead husband’s creditor had just given notice: “Two thousand dollars, or your two sons – your choice!” (Those were indeed harsh times!) Now, what was the first thing this woman did? She cried out for help. It doesn’t say she prayed to God. She may have, but when the man of God came by she also made her needs known to him. Lesson #1: Pray to God, but don’t be shy about turning to God’s people, too. They can do three things for you: 1) They can storm the gates of heaven on your behalf; 2) They can be used by God to answer your prayer; or, 3) They can give you wise counsel as to what to do next. And that’s just what Elisha did. From his counsel comes Lesson #2: Start with what you’ve got. Isn’t that what Jesus did when He turned a lunch for one into a feast for five thousand? God did a miracle through Jesus for that crowd, just as He did a miracle through Elisha for that widow. But in each case He didn’t make something out of nothing (He could have, of course. Remember how the world was created?) God truly takes over where our resources run dry, but let’s truly run them dry! One man said, “Pray – but row away from the rocks!” Absolutely! If you’re little boat is in trouble, and you have some oars, can’t you pray while you row? This widow seemed helpless, and God was going to intervene, but He chose to work through what she had. She had some oil. Not enough to help, but enough to plant, for as it turned out it was seed for God’s harvest. But GOD wasn’t going to plant it. WE plant, WE water – then “let go and let God” bring the increase. Beware of prayer: don’t let it prevent you from doing what God (through God’s people?) is telling you to do!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

M.O. FOR THE CHRISTIAN -- Devotional for February 22, from "Good Seeds"

We give thanks to God…since we heard of your FAITH in Christ Jesus, and your LOVE for all the saints, because of the HOPE laid up for you in heaven… (Colossians 1:3-5)

Modus Operandi: this Latin term used by crime-fighters refers to the method of operation, the distinct pattern or predictable procedure that suggests the work of a single perpetrator of more than one crime. There’s a good reason to apply this term to a Christian. Oh, he’s not a criminal, but see how the two are linked in this sober reflection: “If you were accused of being a Christian in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to get a conviction?” That evidence would fit into a particular set of values leading to a pattern of behavior difficult to conceal, as clearly listed in today’s passage: FAITH, LOVE, and HOPE. I remember a song from my childhood: “I’ve got faith, hope and charity; that’s the way to live successfully. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.” It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the Bible really does say it, that success for the Christian is defined by these three things. Now, Faith is not just part of our Sunday finest that we pull out and put on before going to church. Hope is not that wishful thinking we turn to when all logic and reality tell us “it ain’t gonna happen!” And Love is not “that feeling you feel when you feel like you’ve never felt before!” (I heard that definition at Bible camp when I was a kid, and it stuck!) But true Faith, Hope, and Love are three very distinct marks of the Christian – whether he’s fellowshiping with other believers, or hobnobbing with mainstream society. And, try as he may, he cannot hide them. Hope, for the Christian, is not putting our minds in neutral, trying to deny all that we’ve been taught in school, so that we can dream about a fantasy certainly too good to be true. No! Paul speaks of “that blessed hope” in Titus 2:13, as the looking forward to the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus, when He returns to take us to our real home. The Bible doesn’t speak of Hope as an attitude or opinion so much as it is a person and a place. Hope is the focus of our thinking, the direction of our journey. But Faith IS that attitude, far more than a strong opinion, but an assurance rooted in the evidence God gives us by the work of His hands (things seen), and His work in our hearts (things not seen), that the things we hope for are not a mere dream, but a reality yet to be realized. Without this faith (and hope and love) it is not only “impossible to please Him,” but impossible to distinguish the Christian from the world-ling. How about you? Is there enough evidence to convict you of the crime of being a Christian?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CURSE OR BLESSING? -- Devotional for February 21, from "Good Seeds"

And He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:6)

This last phrase of the Old Testament ends with a curse, whereas the closing greeting of the New Testament is a blessing (“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all”). Aren’t you glad we have the whole Bible! But we need to know the curses as well as the blessings. The Good News loses its meaning without the bad news: if we were not lost, there would be no need to be found; if we were not drowning we would not need to be rescued. John Newton wrote, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Paul speaks of the patent denial of unbelievers regarding the bad news: “While they are saying, ‘Peace and Safety!’ destruction will come upon them suddenly.” (I Thessalonians 5:3). They must learn that saying something is so doesn’t make it so. Or turn it around: denial of truth puts no dent in its veracity. So, what is the curse in this verse? God is telling us that there will be families where fathers’ hearts are one with their children, and those children will, in turn, love and respect their parents. Strong families are the backbone of society – always have been; always will be. But when fathers and sons (daughters and mothers, too, of course, as well as husbands and wives), turn away from or against one another, this is a precursor to the destruction of the society wherein they reside. It is just one more specific symptom of the syndrome spoken of in Galatians 6:7, “God will not be mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. The one who sows to the flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life.” I am a father of three children, and grandfather of eleven. I cannot imagine the shame and sadness I would feel if all the hearts in my little clan were not at peace with one another, and the horror my family would face as we reaped the whirlwind of warring words, attitudes and actions! In our happy family we all do our best to keep short accounts, and to maintain open communication filled with expressions of love, not just news and chatter. And yet, we do not – we must not – depend solely on our own human endeavor to maintain a happy family. Today’s verse seems to put God in the driver’s seat: He is the initiator of our blessings. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19), and when people, and their kids, get right with God, they get right with each other. Gone, then, will be God’s curse – and in its place, His grace!

NEVER SURRENDER! NEVER GIVE UP! -- Devotional for February 20, from "Good Seeds"

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest – if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

II Timothy 3:16,17 tells us that, “all Scripture is inspired by God, and is therefore profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” One of those Scriptures is today’s verse, an exhortation from the Lord, linked to a wonderful promise. The goal of the Christian life is not salvation – that’s the starting block, not the finish line! The prize we compete for, the paycheck we work for, is the harvest. And it would not be wrong – if we plow and sow and water and fertilize and weed and prune, a little bit each day – to look for fruit, if only just a little, each day. Longfellow wrote, “Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, is our destined end or way; but to act that each tomorrow find us farther than today.” Our Lord implores us not to become weary. When does this happen? “When I work too hard,” you say. Yes, we must balance hours of concentrated labor with moments of rest and recuperation. But the implication here is not mere physical exhaustion from overwork, but mental and emotional discouragement from being overwrought. This is a condition that comes more from looking at our load than from lifting it, and from listing and licking our wounds instead of lying still to let them heal. We forget to count our blessings when we’re so busy recounting our burdens. God’s correction is in order here: regardless how daunting the task, you need not become discouraged from it. Know this: there is not an automatic one-on-one relationship between difficulties and discouragement. But there is an antidote to the doldrums that lurk around the corner of every difficulty. Actually two. The first is the built-in value of the thing we are doing. Whether or not there is a reward at some future time, it is a good thing that we are doing good things – if they are God-things: activities that build up others and bring out the beauty of nature and the glory of nature’s God. There is power in “good things” to bolster drooping spirits. But God will be no man’s debtor. When we serve and please Him with loving words and righteous deeds, we can know that sometime, in His time, we will reap a harvest. But there’s a condition: DON’T QUIT. It’s a race, and you’ve got to stay in it, to the end! “What is this saying to you and to me? That it’s too soon to quit, and too late to flee! So just stay on task, moving forward, not back. Go take that hill – but don’t take no flak! Never surrender! Never give up! It’s always too soon to quit. Go get your orders from heaven’s headquarters, and go out and get on with it.” (Poem by SM).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PARADISE FOUND! -- Devotional for February 19, from "Good Seeds"

I will make My dwelling among you…I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people…I brought you out of the land of Egypt…I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:11-13)

Some scientists like to describe the long ascent of man from the wild ape to the god-like genius he now considers himself to be. Funny they should give evolution the credit for making man stand erect, when the Bible clearly says it was God who accomplished that task – and He made us that way from the beginning. Adam was God’s best friend, from the moment he was created, but when they two walked together in the Garden of Eden it was not like a man and his dog. Turn it around: it was a man and His God! We know from the account of man’s earliest history (Genesis 1-3) that it was the Creator’s greatest joy to stroll with our first parents in that first paradise. That joy was dashed the moment humans began ignoring their Maker. Since that time “all we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned – everyone of us – to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Yes, humanity began to stoop to an animal-like state, unaware of the glory, the love – the existence even – of his Creator. And the result of rejecting God’s goodness to His creation has been man’s inhumanity to man! Though we have all but forgotten our original glory of walking hand in hand and fellowshipping face to face with the Lover of our soul, God has never forgotten His earliest desire for intimacy with the crowning jewel of His creation. Maybe that’s why the Bible keeps talking about God’s desire and intention to restore that original paradise. The word paradise means, “a walled garden.” The bricks of that wall are righteousness and holiness. No wonder another name for heaven is paradise, for that is a place wherein only righteousness dwells, where man will once again freely fellowship with his God. But even now, God promises to those who trust in Him to make His dwelling place – to set up His tabernacle – in our very midst. The words of a song depict that beautiful scene: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.” But this only can be true for those who, by God’s grace, have come out of their own particular land of Egypt, their private place of sin-bondage. The choice is easy – or should be: turn away from Egypt, and turn towards Paradise. The thief on the cross made that journey of faith, and Jesus told him the same thing God told the Israelites, and tells us today: “This day you shall be with me, in Paradise.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GOD'S SEEDS: TIME-RELEASED CAPSULES -- Devotional for February 18, from "Good Seeds"

I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow” (I Corinthians 3:6).

I live in Sonora, a small town with a rural lifestyle. Even so, most of its residents still live the life of the sophisticated city dweller, enjoying and depending on all the latest technology today’s society promises. We don't expect a small child to work for what he wants, or even to wait for it. He knows what he wants and fusses and cries until all his needs and wants are satisfied (nothing big here, just the basics of food and warmth and comfort). But as he grows up hopefully he learns to wait and work for what he wants and needs. But today’s society allows us to almost be children again. Consider these cases of instant gratification of our wants: we can insert the nozzle, pull a lever, and immediately gasoline flows into our car's gas tank; we can sit down at the computer, type a few lines, push “send,” and off goes our letter to friends on the other side of the world – or the other side of the street; or we can pick up the remote, depress a few buttons, and into our living room floods an endless variety of information and entertainment. Though not necessarily wrong, this kind of living does not reflect the way God would have us view our world and do our work. The Bible compares human life to farming. The lives of those who till the soil are dominated by a steady, cyclical stream of planting and harvesting – things that require a great quantity of care and time. In my sixty-three years of life, I know God has faithfully sown His good seed in me, and He patiently awaits a fruitful harvest. And I also know that sometimes I have rushed the process, or allowed the infestation of weeds, or tried to pick and eat the fruit before it has ripened. The same is true with seeds we plant in the lives of others. We must work painstakingly, but then wait patiently. When does the farmer sow the seed? Constantly? No, seasonally. There are times when we don't seem to hear from Heaven. Oh, we can always read our Bible to receive the implanted Word of God, but there are times when our lives feel more like a fallow field than cultivated rows brimming with life-bearing seed. Just remember, the seed is there, but like the pharmacist's time-released capsules, there is a need for waiting, for just the right time for germination. We plow, we plant, we fertilize, we pull weeds – but after working comes the waiting. We dare not depend on our own efforts but upon God's process, power, and perfect timing, to bring about the harvest. In His time...yes, He makes all thing beautiful – in His time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TIME FOR A SPIRITUAL TUNE-UP? Devotional for February 17, from "Good Seeds"

A fool gets into constant fights. His mouth is his undoing. His own words endanger him…. Those who love to talk will suffer the consequences. Men have died for saying the wrong thing. (Proverbs 18:6,7,21)

James calls the tongue a helpful tool useful in providing direction, like a bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship. Yes, our words can be used by God to help others find their way through the storms of life. But almost without warning the tongue can turn into a powerful WMD (weapon of mass destruction). Even the smallest, most innocent sounding comment can spark off a huge forest fire (see James 3:3-6). Solomon reminds us that our mouth can be our undoing. How often have you said something that you later realize you should not have said? And as much as you try to take it back, and seek forgiveness, the damage to your hearers is done. Of course, unkind ears can work in tandem with an untamed tongue, to guarantee the widest possible destruction. Someone says something hurtful to you, but soon comes back with a heartfelt apology. Now the ball is in your court. You have two choices: 1) You could be gracious, offer forgiveness, give a hug, and let it go. You realize it could be, and often has been, the other way around, with you wishing you hadn’t said something, and begging for mercy. Or 2) You could make him suffer while you play out the role of the righteous martyr to the greatest possible degree. It takes two to tango – or is it “tangle”? Either way, whether it’s a fiesta or a fight, two people can get along famously, or bicker furiously. Each has a part to play, in starting the trouble or bringing it to an end. Both Solomon and James emphasize the damage done by talking too much, without having thought it through – and prayed it through – first. But James gives the other side, too, telling us that so much grief could be avoided if we would listen, truly listen, to what others are trying to say. In James 1:19-20, we read, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” A case in point is a tiff between a husband and wife, which came about through both uncareful speech and uncaring hearing. In a jealous rage, he shouts, “I knew it was true, and now you admit it, that you were looking at that nice guy!” She screams back at him, “I didn’t say nice guy, I said night sky! Can’t I even enjoy God’s creation without getting into trouble with you?” Was this a scenario Solomon was painting with these words: “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight” (18:17). Maybe we could all use a spiritual tune-up, on our mouth AND on our ears!

Monday, February 16, 2009

JESUS ONLY -- Devotional for February 16, from "Good Seeds"

Then a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” And all at once they looked around and saw no one with them any more, except Jesus only. (Mark 10:7,8)

The Bible says “No man has seen God at any time.” And maybe that’s good, because it also says that His glory (radiance) is so bright it wouldn’t just blind us, it would kill us! We can’t see God for the simple fact that our eyes were designed to see only material objects and God is spirit, not material. Confinement to a physical body would restrict His attribute of omnipresence – being everywhere at once. Someday we will go to heaven. But we will still have bodies, and be recognized as who we are now. Oh, we won’t have the restrictions that sin puts upon us here (disease, injury, aging, etc.), but we will still be restricted in other ways, being still confined to a body. We will have 20/20 vision, but I doubt if we will ever see God with our eyes. We won’t need to, for then our spirits will be so hyper-sensitized that we won’t need to see Him to know Him and love Him. (Don’t we have a taste of that even now?) Though man cannot see God, He manifests Himself to us in other ways. We can’t see His form, but at times He allows us to hear His voice. Samuel had that experience. So did Peter, James and John, up on the Mount of Transfiguration. And they heard Him loud and clear, I think, because God was correcting a serious error. Jesus had brought His three best friends to this mountain top to reveal His glory to them. In the dazzling brightness, suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared. The disciples were taken aback, with nothing to say. Well, not quite nothing! A good rule to follow when you don’t know what to say is, don’t talk at all. It seems Peter didn’t know that rule, for he piped up, “Say, Jesus, thanks so much for this great experience. Can we stay up here a while longer so we can drink this whole thing in? I know, how about if we camp overnight. Me and my buddies can handle the elements, but we'll put up three little private tents, for You and Moses and Elijah.” That did it! Before Jesus could answer, a voiced boomed from out of the clouds, “Do you have any idea what you’re saying, Peter -- and who you’re talking to? Don’t you know it is God you are looking at? You should be dead by now! Doesn’t His shining radiance give you even a clue that He is My Son? These other two are just men, like you three. Don’t put them in the same category as Jesus. See, they’re gone! Now you just concentrate on Jesus, and Jesus only, from here on out. You got that?” Jesus…plus. That’s still the biggest error today. But the voice still rings from heaven: “It’s JESUS ONLY…YOU GOT THAT?”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I CAN HEAR MY SAVIOR CALLING -- Devotional for February 15, from "Good Seeds"

Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak Lord, for Thy servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:10)

Samuel was a hero in the truest sense of the word. He was not above wielding the sword of the Lord when the occasion called for it, but he is best known for wielding the Word of the Lord. Oh, it wasn’t like today where there is a Bible in every home, and in every hotel room! A copy of the Law of Moses could be found in the Jewish tabernacle, but back then God’s message came more through the spoken word than the written word. II Peter 1:21 tells us how it was done: “Men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God.” But in the time when Samuel came on the scene, the hearts of God’s people had become quite hardened. And just like today, when hearts get hard, ears go deaf. Jesus talked about the uselessness of “casting pearls before swine.” Maybe this is why we read in I Samuel 3:1 that “word from the Lord was rare in those days.” And yet God had a message for His people. The acting priest in the temple was Eli. He had taken on Samuel as his apprentice. But Eli was no prophet. In fact, he had pretty much failed as priest – and even as a father, for his two sons had brought disgrace and shame to the temple, and to the name of God. Word came to Eli through an unnamed prophet that God had rejected his sons, and would raise up for Himself a faithful priest who would intimately know God’s heart and boldly speak His Word (2:35). Now, by definition a priest is one who speaks to God on behalf of the people, while a prophet is one who speaks to the people on behalf of God. Samuel grew up to be God’s man in both roles. But when just a boy, serving Eli in the temple, he did not yet know God. And then it happened. One night, while Samuel was trying to sleep, the Lord came and spoke his name. Of course he thought it was Eli, so he obediently ran to his master. Eli told him, “You’re dreaming, Sammy. Go get a drink of water and go back to bed, there’s a good boy!” The same thing happened a second time, then a third. By now Eli realized this was no mere human happening – this was a God thing! And so he instructed Samuel, “If you hear Him call again, say, “Speak Lord, for Thy servant is listening.” Eventually Samuel became a powerful prophet, but it all started the night he learned to listen to God. How could we think we could ever speak God’s Word without first listening to God’s voice? What about you? Is a word from the Lord rare in Your life? Do you long to be a Samuel, with ears tuned to the key of heaven? Can you hear your Savior calling? Will you invite His voice, and His will, into your heart today?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

HOW DO YOU SPELL L-O-V-E? -- Devotional for February 14, Valentine's Day, from "Good Seeds"

I Corinthians 13:4-8
We know the Bible is not a textbook, and yet, whenever it speaks on a subject, what it says is right. In its pages we can find truth regarding nature (science), human nature (psychology), and God’s nature (theology), and it contains many lessons for our learning, for both mind and spirit. One of those is a spelling lesson. In First Corinthians 13 Paul spells out the word love, not with 4 letters, but with 16 metaphorical definitions. The Bible is often regarded as God’s Love Letter to us, and so it is. But here we find God’s guidelines for our love letters – our Valentine’s Cards – to one another. Here is The Love Chapter, translated (NAS), paraphrased (TM), and commented upon (SM)…
(do we dare insert our own name in the place of this word?)
- is patient: never gives up – doesn’t keep looking at its watch.
- is kind: cares more for others than for self – is a “hands-on” love.
- is not jealous: doesn’t want what it doesn’t have – but wants very much, and hangs tenaciously onto, the gifts of God that it does have!
- does not brag: doesn’t strut – does not walk into a room saying, “Hey, here I am!” but rather, “Ah, there you are!
- is not arrogant: doesn’t have a swelled head – doesn’t find it necessary to build itself up by tearing others down (or vice versa).
- does not act unbecomingly: doesn’t force itself on others – doesn’t get in your face or violate your space; understands timing and spacing.
- does not seek its own: isn’t always “me first” – is frugal with its own needs, just so it can spend freely and generously on others.
- is not provoked: doesn’t fly off the handle – tempers its temper.
- does not take into account a wrong suffered: doesn’t keep score of the sins of others – its mind “works pretty good to forget with!”
- does not rejoice in unrighteousness: doesn’t revel when others grovel – hates the fact that it loves to dig in the dirt, to grub up gossip!
- rejoices with the truth: takes pleasure in the flowering of truth – has a healthy fear of lying and liars, the destroyers of all that’s worthwhile.
- bears all things: puts up with anything – doesn’t take itself so seriously that it cannot live with adversity and laugh at inconvenience.
- believes all things: trusts God always – and doubts its doubts.
- hopes all things: always looks for the best – views all of life through God-colored glasses.
- endures all things: never looks back, but keeps going to the end – remembers that the best is always yet to come!
- never fails: never dies – will continue in heaven what it started here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

THE LUCK CULT -- Devotional for February 13, from "Good Seeds"

We toss the coin, but the Lord controls its decision; we throw the dice, but God decides how they fall; make your motions and cast your votes, but God has the final say. (Proverbs 16:33, LB, NLT, TM).

“Good luck!” This is a phrase of well-wishing used between friends – but does it have a place in the conversation of Christians? The Bible introduces to us a God who not only created all worlds, but orders all events. When men reject this God, they lose all sense of direction, relinquishing the only dependable guidance system they have for their drive down the highway of life. They turn instead to other sources, or as often as not, choose to “drive blind.” When they hear the gospel of salvation, requiring them to confess sin and turn to the Savior, they all too often turn away instead, saying, “Thanks, but I’ll take my chances on my own!” The god of this world enjoys his many aka’s, one of which is “Blind Chance.” Not only does this god get the glory for the formation of the universe, but also is credited with the ebb and flow of history, including the ups and downs of the everyday lives of everyday people. They reject FATHER GOD, turning instead to LADY LUCK, to take away their pains and provide their pleasures. She is the goddess worshiped by millions in this seemingly harmless but actually soul-destroying false religion called “Chance.” Even the most sophisticated civilizations have their many expressions of worship in the Luck Cult. At this writing it is Friday the 13th, a day deemed by millions to be a harbinger of bad karma. “If I can just get through today without pain or loss, I’ll consider myself lucky indeed!” So goes the thinking. Though most people realize the importance of honest work in the making of a living, how many of them wouldn’t hesitate to shake hands with a “one-armed bandit,” or lay some of their hard earned money down for a turn of the wheel of fortune at a nearby casino…or maybe just “invest” a few bucks on an even more conveniently available lottery ticket (no wonder they’re called “convenience stores!). This religion is rooted in the philosophy of dualism, whose gospel was spread far and wide by the popular Star Wars movies. In them an impersonal deity called “THE FORCE” is presented as the ultimate power of the universe, energizing all its circumstances and motivating all its creatures, for good or for ill. Its good and evil sides are equal in power, but take turns in the roles of dominance and submission. The only thing that is eternal in this religion is the never ending struggle between the two sides. Followers of this way of thinking find themselves caught up in wonder and worry about their own good or bad fortune. Aren’t you glad none of this is true, that God’s in charge of me and you; that nothing is left to chance, but rather all transpires according to His benevolent plan, and that the struggle between good and evil will someday come to an end, and our Good God – not good luck – will win…and we who choose Him, will win with Him!

PROACTIVE CONTENTMENT -- Devotional for February 12, from "Good Seeds"


I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:13,19)

Christ alone is the only explanation – and the only provision – for Paul's contentment, or yours, or mine. The apostle is telling us, "Whatever I'm called on to endure, or to do – or to do without – I can do it through Christ – and only through Christ. And I could never do it on my own, by myself, by my own strength. Oh sure, I experience setbacks and shortfalls right along with everybody else, but since I know Christ, I know that my experiences of weakness are only temporary, and for a good purpose, to teach me both patience and endurance. And in due time God will come through for me to supply whatever He knows I need." Contentment is a bridge to God and to godly living. But it’s a toll bridge, requiring two coins: Coin #1: Assurance of God's supply (“And my God shall supply all your needs”). Coin #2: Confidence in God's power (“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”). By faith we make our payment, and immediately we find ourselves teaming with God, working in tandem with Him in this "collaborative religion.” Jesus put it this way, "I work, and HE works...but I do always the things that please Him." Paul is saying the same thing, and so should we: "I do what I can do, but I don't depend on that, for I wait upon Him, for His guidance and His empowerment, even as I work. But as I work according to His will and in His strength, I make the amazing discovery that there is no limit to what God and I can do together!" This is a discussion about contentment, and yet precious little has been said either about kicking back, taking it easy, and relaxing, or about sitting still, frozen in place, gritting my teeth, wondering if I can endure my next test or assignment. No, because contentment is not about remaining still, either in dizzy sleep or dismal worry. Rather, it is moving forward, by God's game plan, saying, "Whatever it is, I can do it if it is indeed what God wants me to do, for it is His work. If I fail, that would mean He failed -- and God cannot fail...He's God!" Contentment, by God's definition, is not inactive but proactive, which means initiating action with full assurance that since God is at work in me, my efforts will accomplish what He intended. What Isaiah said about God's WORD, that "it will not return void" (without accomplishing what it was sent out to do), can also be said about God's MAN or WOMAN. We must understand this powerful link between godly confidence and God-pleasing contentment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

FALSE RELIGION -- Devotional for February 11, from "Good Seeds"

NOTE TO DEVOTIONAL READERS: I made some changes to Feb 10 entry, to make it fit Feb 11's a little better, calling it "True Religion" and this one "False Religion" They are really part I and II of the same subject, which I often do.

Know this: in the last days difficult times will come, where men will hold to a form of godliness, all the while denying its power. They will be masters of facts, but simpletons regarding truth. (II Timothy 3:1,5,7)

Anthropologists like to predict that when human civilization reaches its zenith, religion will have evolved out of mankind’s thinking altogether. But the Bible makes another prediction, quite contradictory to that of science, but not any more complimentary or comforting. Today’s Scripture is a prophetic word from God telling us that religion will survive and even thrive in even the most sophisticated society in future times. But it will be powerless religion, able to occupy our energies and entertain our senses, but unable to move us graciously through this life and carry us safely into the next -- in other words, powerless to save. The popular thinking of today is not far from this “Last Days Religion.” What is commonly taught in our schools, expounded in our politics, and yes even preached in our pulpits, is that mankind can, by his own ability and nobility, raise himself up out of the mire of evil and poverty, and place himself on the solid ground of righteousness and prosperity. This is popular religion, but it is false religion. When someone is drowning can he save himself? No, he needs help from the outside -- topside! Mankind is drowning in the cesspool of sin, slowly sucked under and gradually suffocating in the quicksand of evil. As a man cannot extricate himself from a hole in the ice, or from a miry bog, so he cannot rescue himself from the embrace of evil. But he keeps trying. Jesus said, “Come unto Me…” but men say, “No, we don’t need Your help. We’re not babies, we’re not cripples; we don’t need to be carried, and we don’t need crutches or wheelchairs.” This is how the religion of the Bible is characterized by the world: a pacifier for underdeveloped souls, a crutch for weaklings. The truth is, all men are stunted at the soul level, and all are in over their heads, and closer to death and soul destruction than they realize. But every time a drowning man rejects the life ring thrown to him, he moves that much closer to his watery grave. False religion boldly asserts, “I can pull myself up, save myself from danger and death by my own efforts.” True religion simply admits, “I see now that I’ll never make it on my own, so I’ll reach out and take hold of the lifesaver.” And that lifesaver is the Savior from sin, Jesus Christ. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, said, “I only know two things: I am a great sinner; He is a great Savior. Regardless of what facts you may know, this is the only truth you need!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TRUE RELIGION -- Devotional for February 10, from "Good Seeds"

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Religion is a good word, for it represents the loftiest and most crucial subject for us to ponder, discuss, and apply to our lives. Nevertheless, the rules of polite society dictate that we steer clear of both politics and religion, if we wish to maintain peace and harmony and preserve friendships. Young ladies of the Victorian era were taught to limit their conversation at social gatherings to the weather, or at most maybe a little harmless local gossip. How sad when we are similarly restricted, for what could be more interesting, or needful, than to talk about the meaning of life? Religion, by definition, is the body of truth that ponders and seeks to answer the three root questions of life, related to the three time zones of human existence: 1) Where did I come from? (The past); 2) Where am I going? (The future); and 3) Why am I here? (The present). The genuineness of any particular religion can be judged on how well it answers these questions. And of course the truthfulness of a religion will depend on the reliability of its source of information. When that source is primarily superstition, the religion is mythology or paganism. When the source is observation, the resulting belief system is science (which is still a religion whenever it attempts to explain the obscurities of the past and future that it cannot observe, but only surmise and theorize!). When the source is human intellect and reason, it is called philosophy. But most religions are rooted in revelation from a god or gods. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of such religions whose founders claim to have heard a word from a world outside our own, upon which they base their teachings. Even though the variety and number of religions is legion, they all can be broken down and placed in one of two camps. Yes, there are really only two religions in the world: one is HUMAN ENDEAVOR, and the other, DIVINE ACCOMPLISHMENT. The first is man, reaching up, seeking meaning, survival, happiness. It is man calling the shots. The second is God, reaching down, seeking a restored relationship with His creation. Job spoke for all humanity when he asked, “Can you, by searching, find God?” (11:7). The inadequacy of all man’s religions seems to answer that question in the negative. But God sought out man by sending His Son into the world. Religion that bypasses the cross is inadequate to answer our questions, and powerless to save our souls! The one true religion can be stated in just two words: JESUS SAVES!

A GLAD HEART -- Devotional for February 9, from "Good Seeds"

I have set the Lord continually before me…therefore my heart is glad. (Psalm 16:8,9)

What makes your heart glad? Good food? A cozy home? Good health? Good friends? A happy family? Lush forests? Clean air? Clean oceans? Open highways? Good fishing? A stable economy? Full churches? Empty prisons? Long life?… The writer of Proverbs 30:8-9 was probably thinking along these lines when he wrote, “O Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches; if I am overfull I may deny Thee; but if I am in want I may steal, and profane Thy name.” Does not this conservative balance between plenty and simplicity describe the fulfillment of the American Dream? Is it not the purpose for the formation of our nation? And aren’t such conditions the results of a strong belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? For that matter, why limit it to the way of life of the free world, for is it not the goal of such systems as socialism and communism to have no classes of rich and poor, but that every citizen be suitably clothed and fed, with a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage? The establishment of a balanced and tranquil society, at peace within and without, could certainly be considered both the subject and the object of every political speech and piece of legislation of every benevolent nation in the world. But does achieving such goals bring genuine satisfaction? Just look at America for a moment: it is filled with citizens who have achieved many of these conditions, but do we see gladness of heart as the predominate attitude? No. The nation most rolling in wealth is also the one most wallowing in depression, crime, broken homes, and broken lives. Glad hearts are a rare commodity indeed in the great societies of today. So, almost in desperation, we turn back to the Bible. What does it say is the source of true heart happiness? We hesitate to repeat it, fearing its simplicity will spell its rejection – and yet even a casual perusal of the Scriptures spells out the obvious truth, summarized so simply and beautifully in today’s verse: “I have set the Lord continually before me…therefore my heart is glad.” It is only by believing in and relying on the Savior and Lover of our souls that we can find gladness at the deepest level of our being. Despite the best efforts and greatest successes of government, science, education, and noble humanitarianism, we are left still so cold and dissatisfied. The secret to a glad heart is so simple you could miss it: set the Lord continually before you; in all your ways acknowledge Him; and delight yourself in Him alone!

Monday, February 9, 2009

CONFIDENT CONTENTMENT -- Devotional for February 8, from "Good Seeds"


Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am...I can do all things through Him who strengthens me...and God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:11,13,19)

A friend of mine in Bible College used to love to quote this verse, with a little addendum: "I have learned to be content in whatever state I am, as long as it's Florida!" It was his lifelong dream to start an orphanage in that “state.” He wanted to help kids, but he wanted to do it in style! (By the way, he never made it to Florida, but he didn’t do so bad serving as a missionary in Portugal!) This little Bible misquote describes most of us: happy enough to accept our lot in life, as long as we can insert certain parameters. But the apostle Paul would disagree, saying rather that we must "bloom wherever we are planted," regardless of geography or circumstances. Bloom is a good word here, for it implies thriving, not just surviving! But genuine contentment has a divine element. Oh, we can buck up and endure for awhile, but apart from heavenly resources, we'll eventually break. If we depend on man (ourselves or others) we get what man can do; but if we depend on God, we get what God can do! Or, to say it in another way, “Look to man and you'll feel resentment; but look to God and you'll find contentment." As much as he suffered loss and experienced persecution and endured a steady stream of God’s surprises, the apostle Paul mastered the art of contentment. And he passes the secret on to us in the last half of chapter 4 of the letter he wrote from prison. First, he gives his testimony: "You may think of me as a very hurting and needy person. Well, although my circumstances would certainly support such a conclusion, actually I'm doing just fine, and I'm quite happy pretty much all the time!" It's not that Paul wasn't grateful for the help he had recently received from caring friends, but he recognized that all the good that came to him was ultimately from the Lord. While our thanks goes to others, our praise flows to God. Paul's testimony would sound more like a "bragimony" if it were not God’s strength that he was leaning on, and not his own – so it was God he was bragging on, not himself. And we can say it, too: "Don't think I'm so great, and yet, you can safely follow my example of trusting God for everything -- because HE'S so great!" We, like Paul, must learn to give credit where credit is due: "My power for living well in any and every circumstance doesn't come from within but from without, for I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST!" My confidence is in Christ – and in Him I am content!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

P-B-P-G-I-N-F-W-M-Y (part 2) -- Devotional for February 7, from "Good Seeds"

But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:27)

“Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet!” Once the warning regarding our tendency toward self-absorption is understood and heeded, this little slogan can serve as a very healthy way to look at ourselves. It is also a useful tool in dealing with others, for even as we ask our friends to give us a break, we need to do the same for them. (Isn’t this what the Golden Rule is all about?) Patience, with others AND ourselves, is a crucial but very difficult skill to master. The best way to learn patience is to try to view life from God’s perspective. A man tends to believe only what he can see with his own eyes, and then makes judgments of himself and others based on a very partial and biased viewpoint. God spelled this out to the prophet Samuel, almost rebuking him for seeing only as man sees, and not going any deeper. He told him, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Although we will never be all-knowing as God is, He urges us to try to see the world, and the world of men, through His eyes. God treats us gently, as simple children, as wayward lambs, for “He knows our frame, that we are but dust.” Ought we not to have the same tender lovingkindness toward others – and then be a little easier on ourselves, too? The request here is for patience, not just because we are weak, but because God is at work. He has a plan for our lives and a timetable for carrying out that plan. But conflict comes when either we think we know His plan and timing, but we’re way off, or we don’t even care about His purposes for us and we strike out on our own. We must strike a balance between “being still and knowing He is God,” and being decisive and getting to work. It is the latter that today’s verse speaks of. Asking others to be patient with us, and then waiting on God to work in us, must not preclude or replace our being a proactive part of our own development. When we are young and immature we require others older and wiser and responsible for us to break us and shake us, whether they be parents, headmasters, or drill sergeants. But the time must come when we take the responsibility for our own discipline. It is at such a point where we must echo Paul’s self-talk: “I buffet my body, and make it my slave…” The only other alternative is to use the French pronunciation of this word, “I buffet (indulge) my body,” which leads to one tragic result: I become a pathetic slave to its appetites and weaknesses. So be patient, yes, but also be proactive, for God’s sake…and your own!

Friday, February 6, 2009

P-B-P-G-I-N-F-W-M-Y (Part 1) -- Devotional for February 6, from "Good Seeds"

I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)

PBPGINFWMY -- Can you pronounce this word? Maybe not, but can you fathom it? It is a request we make of our friends, on our own behalf, to…
“Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet!”
This is a legitimate plea because it is firmly rooted in the Scripture that says God has planted His seeds in us and He has a vested interest in us. He has saved us, but He’s not done with us as yet. We’re a work in progress. Seeing ourselves and other believers this way takes a lot of the pressure to please off of us, and yet helps us to keep going, even if with tiny baby steps. But a warning is necessary in order that this entreaty not be misinterpreted or misapplied: It must not be used to coddle, comfort, or forgive ourselves in the midst of, or in anticipation of, our own bad behavior. We must not blame God’s unfinished business in molding our character for the sins and bad habits we continue to wallow in. We must say this slogan as people on the move toward growth and maturity, not as people on their duffs demanding tolerance and forgiveness from others and God, all the while making no demands of themselves whatsoever. We must have kindness in others’ troubles, but courage in our own. But we too often turn this around, expecting and demanding sympathy and wiggle room from others, while keeping the standards stiff and high for them. The whole area of self-image and self-concept has gotten a lot of attention in our modern society, and has crept into our theology as if it were gospel truth. Well-meaning but misinformed Christians can be heard saying, “We must learn to love ourselves better before we can ever learn to love God and others.” There are two errors in this self-image gospel: 1) Its understanding of love. Love, by definition, is no more or less than “Giving to the needs of others with no thought of personal reward.” By this definition, “self-love” is a misnomer, it can’t exist, it can't be done, since love means the self is put aside, taken out of the picture, for the sake of someone else. 2) Its notion that we need to LEARN to put ourselves first. Ha! That’s a laugh! Putting ourselves first is the first thing we learned to do. In fact it’s not a learned behavior at all, it’s instinctive…or, to be more biblical, it is inherited, from our first parents (who, by the way, did learn it, they “learned by doing,” when they made that lethal choice to serve and please themselves over obeying their Creator/Friend). And what do you suppose the excuse Adam and Eve gave to God sounded like? Maybe…PBPGINFWMY!

BEEN TO A FUNERAL LATELY? -- Devotional for February 5, from "Good Seeds"

A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. (Ecclesiastes 7:3,4)

Every man wants to live long enough to bounce his children’s children on his knee, and maybe to see some of the fruit of his life’s labors. But those who live long also have the dubious privilege of attending a lot of funerals! Of course, there are those who refuse to go to funerals, and some who won’t even talk about death. Could it be they’re caught up in the foolish superstition that says if you ignore something long enough it will go away? Some people believe in the power of the imagination, thinking they can have what they want, or avoid what they don’t want, simply by the process of visualization. But it’s downright foolish – dangerous, even – to think we can keep the death angel away from our door simply by the power of positive thinking. (Such folks might say they “wouldn’t be caught dead” at a funeral, but their own is one funeral they won’t miss!) In Proverbs 17:22 Solomon wrote, “A merry heart does good, like a medicine.” Today we know this to be true: a hearty laugh sends endorphins through our system, causing both emotional pleasure and bodily well-being. But then Solomon provides a balancing truth in his other book of wisdom with this sober advice: “It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals, for you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time” (Ecclesiastes 7:2 NLV). We like to quote the proverb, for we don’t mind being told that we should laugh more. But who would think there could possibly be any therapeutic value in sorrow? And who in his right mind would choose a funeral over a party? And yet, the Bible teaches that grief can have a refining effect on us that levity and laughter know nothing of. There are two kinds of sorrow at a funeral: the first is the grief felt by those who have lost their loved one, which may never completely pass in this life. Nevertheless, the second is worse: it is the sorrow of Jesus for the one who has said goodbye to the deceased, but who is himself not ready to go, and who refuses to let this funeral make him think of his own, at some future date, for which he is not prepared. He is the fool Solomon spoke of who can’t wait to get away from this sad time and get back to the good times, the fun that will help him forget what is coming soon enough – his own death. Oh for the “sorrow according to the will of God, that produces a repentance that is without regret, leading to salvation” (II Corinthians 7:10). The funeral for such a one can be a festival after all: a celebration of his graduation into heaven!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

REVIVING PRECEDES REJOICING -- Devotional for February 4, from "Good Seeds"

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Too many Christians have privately given up on God, even though outwardly they maintain a religious facade. They say they believe in Him, but their words and attitudes deny it, and when times get tough they worry and complain right along with the rest of the world. If God doesn't make it all smooth sailing they stop imploring heaven and start challenging it: “Is there anyone else up there? Maybe I'm just going to have to fend for myself from here on out!” Oh, they may still mutter a memorized meal prayer, and mumble a few amens with the saints down at the church, but gone are the days of close, personal, intimate conversation with their Heavenly Father. Convinced that God is no longer thinking or caring about them, they stop thinking or caring about Him. Before they know it they are living the life (the lie) of the “Practical Atheist.” That's the guy who says he believes in God, but the way he thinks and lives denies any true knowledge of a Caring Provider. Does this describe anybody you know? Does it describe you? Oh, you may not fit the exact description of a practical atheist, but if your faith is failing, if you find no joy in church or the Bible or Christian music – and if God’s people are beginning to bug you or bore you – the symptoms are close enough. You might be saying to yourself, “If I felt better – if things were going better – then I could rejoice in the Lord a lot better. Once I get those things fixed, then I’ll rejoice, and maybe even rejoin the fellowship of rejoicers! But right now, it’s better for all concerned if I just stay away!” Anyone thinking this way has it exactly backwards: It isn’t a matter of fixing our circumstances so that we can rejoice, but rather we must rejoice first, in the midst of the circumstances, knowing God’s in charge. But who can rejoice like that? Only one who has been revived. The only remedy for the sick condition of powerless religion is given in Psalm 85:6, “Will you not revive us again, O Lord, that we may once again rejoice in You?” Don’t try to pray your problems away. Rather, pray for the fire in your heart to be rekindled: “Lord, first revive my soul – that’s more important than restoring my health or re-ordering my life.” But Jesus said that when we make soul business our first priority, the body business will be taken care of. He sees to it. That’s His promise (Matt. 6:33): Put the things of the spirit first, “His kingdom and righteousness,” and then “all these things,” the troublesome things of this life, will fall into place (by His providential hand, of course). So, get revived, brother, and then the rejoicing will return!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

REVIVE ME AGAIN! -- Devotional for February 3, from "Good Seeds"

O God, will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Psalm 85:6
This beautiful hymn was written back in the mid-1800’s by a Scottish pastor named William Mackay. Before he was a pastor he was a physician (like good old Dr. Luke of Bible times). One day he was meditating on Psalm 85. As he was no doubt preparing to preach on this passage, no one was more surprised than he was when his ponderings resulted in a hymn rather than a sermon! Verse 6 supplied the title: “Revive us Again!” You air a subject, but you aim a sermon! This sermon in song is a passionate prayer-arrow aimed straight up: “O God, will you not revive us so that we may once again rejoice in You!” The word revive comes from vive: life, and re: again. So the word means, “to cause to live again.” Every time you go to sleep at night and then wake up in the morning, you are revived. When someone faints, or is knocked out cold, or goes into a coma, and then is brought out of it, he is revived. Just so, when someone who is dead spiritually enters the family of God through faith in Christ, he is revived. He is brought to life from the dead, even as Jesus was revived when He arose from the grave three days after dying on the cross. But even those of us who have been revived once and for all from spiritual death can still, at times, be little more than death warmed over in our faith. If not knocked out cold, at least we can get mighty sleepy, and we need to be awakened – to be revived again. The fact that Pastor Mackay was a doctor of bodies as well as of souls made him realize just how closely connected these two are. I think he probably suspicioned what we now know to be true about psychosomatic illness: when something happens to us physically we are greatly affected, and infected, spiritually. One man described it this way: “Our bodies and souls are so closely related they catch one another’s diseases.” Sometimes when things don’t go right on the outside – our finances or our friends fail us, or our bodies just don’t cooperate any more – we start feeling pretty sick way down deep in our hearts, past the pump to our spiritual control center. Yes, when our bodies drag us down, our souls can get pretty droopy. We may be tempted to think God has stopped caring about or even noticing us, that He’s gotten Himself busy with the truly needy ones – and He certainly has His hands full with this old world that’s going to hell in a handbasket! Why would He take time for me anyway? If you catch yourself thinking like this, it’s time to shut off the worry valve and turn on the prayer spigot, which starts like this: O LORD, REVIVE ME AGAIN!

Monday, February 2, 2009

EVANGELISM: THE SAMARIA SCENARIO -- Devotional for February 2, from "Good Seeds"

We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent. If we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell (II Kings 7:9).

“Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” This practical definition comes from the scenario painted for us in II Kings 6 & 7. The citizens of Samaria were not dying of leprosy, but they were dying nevertheless. They were not outcast beggars, but beggars still, just of another sort. Oh, they had plenty of money, enough to offer 80 shekels of silver for one donkey’s head (suitable for mounting...but for eating??? – see 6:25). Sooner or later we will all discover that no amount of money, or any other human resource, can buy what we need most and crave at the deepest primal level. A glance at the world around us today shows this same Samaria scenario: There are just two kinds of people: 1) the lepers – the down-and-outers; and 2) the beautiful people – the up-and-outers. Whether we’re up or down, we’re all out: out of eternal resources, out of fellowship with God and therefore on our way out of this world unfulfilled, undone, and unprepared to meet our Maker. When someone comes to faith in Christ, he begins to discover the fabulous wealth he has become heir to, and he lustily sings with his new brothers and sisters, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!” Of course it’s right and good for Christians to express their gratitude to God, and count their multiplied blessings. But shame on us if we find ourselves reveling – wallowing, even – in the rich booty that accompanies our blood-bought victory over sin and death and hell, and yet living out our days with not the least twinge of conscience to go to the teeming masses of the unsaved with the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ! Look at the verse again: “This is the day of Good News!” Those four lepers came to realize this news of rescue and release was for everybody, not just for them, or any other elite class of self-proclaimed privileged characters. Up to this point they had been keeping it, hoarding it, to themselves. It’s not just a dirty shame to keep silent about Jesus, it’s a downright sin! What was true for them then is just as true for us now: If WE may soon be too late! We have all of eternity in which to praise God, but only this earthly life in which to share Christ. Now, therefore, fellow believer – enriched beggar – isn’t it time for you to go and tell someone else where to find the only food that feeds the soul, and the only Savior who rose – and raises – from the dead?

EVANGELISM: A BOLDNESS BORN OF DESPERATION -- Devotional for February 1, from "Good Seeds"

If we go into the city, we'll die there in the famine; if we sit here, we'll die here. So, let's go pay a visit to our enemies. They may spare us. But if they kill us, well, better to die a warrior there than a worrier here! (II Kings 7:4, paraphrased).

Leprosy was the dreaded disease of Bible days, striking the same fear in the heart as aids or cancer does today. Although leprosy is highly contagious, making its victims permanent social outcasts, lepers in Bible days were almost never seen alone. Misery loves company, and those condemned to the slow maiming and debilitation of this disease lived in little packs, for mutual comfort and fellowship. One day a group of ten lepers dared to approach Jesus and begged for mercy – and He immediately healed them all! Hundreds of years before a smaller leper gang found themselves in the curious quandary of being condemned to starve to death before their disease could ever have a chance to finish them off. The Jewish city of Samaria was under siege by the Syrians. Water was scarce; food was gone. In desperation some of the citizens had resorted to a cannibalism of unimaginable proportions: eating human flesh – and not of their enemies, but of their own children! It is interesting to see how different people react to the same desperate conditions. This little leper pack reasoned: “If we’re going to die, let’s not do it inch by inch, cowering shamefully behind high walls and in dark corridors, starving to death right along with our disease-free but unfriendly brothers. Instead why don't we make a radical raid on the Syrian’s camp. Maybe we can get a tasty morsel to eat and die with a sweet taste in our mouths, before they shish-kabob us on their swords! Though more violent, a swift and exciting death would sure be a lot better than the boring, miserable, predictable end we are now facing. So let’s go for it! Let's go for broke, and go out in a blaze of glory! What can we lose? Well, our lives, of course, but who knows what we might gain as we go?” Desperate circumstances can elicit extreme boldness. As it turned out, the Lord had routed the enemy, in answer to Elisha’s prayer, and when this “fearsome foursome" came upon the camp they became the sole proprietors of more booty than they ever dreamed existed! But in the midst of their self-indulgent eating and drinking their consciences pricked them, and they said: “Here we are, gorging ourselves on this glorious food, while our countrymen are still devouring one another, totally unaware that the enemy is defeated. What do you say we go and tell them the good news!” By the way, isn’t this the same motive behind a Christian sharing the Good News of salvation with the self-destroying world all around him?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

PURE HEARTS CAN STILL BE WOUNDED -- Devotional for January 31, from "Good Seeds"

Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; (I Corinthians 7:15); Let go (cease striving) and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

As much as it hurts to be defrauded by someone, how much worse the feeling (at least eventually) and the guilt (right now) that stains the life of the one who has wounded another. The most miserable person in the world is the rebel, the one falling away – or running away – from a spouse, or a friend, or a Savior! Understanding this will help remove the victim mentality from the one being deserted, and help to transform his anger and hurt into great sorrow and compassion for the one who has inflicted the pain. Jesus felt keenly the sting of rejection by the very people He’d come to save. One day His disciples found Him weeping at the city gates. Through His sobs they heard Him say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to draw you to My breast, as a mother hen her chicks, but you would not come"(Matthew 23:37). O that we could follow Christ's example, drawing on His perspective to see life – and His power to live life – as He did. But to receive these things we must be willing to suffer as He did, without paying back in kind. Does your heart ache with unrelenting pain? So did His. He turned the other cheek. So must we. He never pressured anyone to come to him. Neither should we. When a wife turns her back on her husband, he must let go – not of his commitment to her, but of any hate or hurt he may feel towards her. He must do this for his own sake as well as hers. Corrie ten Boom’s sister Becky, who was dying from the torture they both were enduring in a Nazi death camp, pleaded, “No hate, Corrie, no hate!” A wise and loving exhortation, as she saw how resentment was drawing her sister into Satan’s clutches. Although purity of heart will not automatically protect us from persecution and suffering, it will transform that suffering into ministrations of grace toward our enemies. Maybe this is why Jesus told us to “Bless those who curse you; bless and curse not.” We must understand what power we do and do not have in the lives of others: A wife has no authority over her husband to make him keep his vows – to the Lord, or to her. But she – and we all – have the very power of God at our disposal when we let go – of the hurt, of the hate, of the circumstances – and leave room, and time, for God to come in and do His work. Your pure heart can be wounded, to be sure, but “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” – and they shall see God at work on their behalf, for His glory!