Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MARCHING ORDERS: ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS -- Devotional for March 31, from "Good Seeds"

Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and My people, Israel, to the land I am giving to them. No foe will be able to stand before you. Just as I have been with Moses I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you. Only be strong and very courageous; do not tremble or be afraid, but be careful to obey My law. (Joshua 1:2,5,7,9)

The greatest leader who ever lived has just died. His burial place is a secret known only to God. This is a good thing, for otherwise the people might waste precious time in pilgrimages to their captain’s grave, when God has another trip in mind – the claiming of the Promised Land. The time for mourning is over, the time for marching has come. Their general is out of the picture. Enter now his chief lieutenant, stepping forward, though shaking in his boots, to report for duty. As much as God values and honors every faithful servant of His, He never depends on just one. He has a whole army of servant-leaders in the making, each with his unique gifts, calling, task, and place and time of service. Woe to those who let tears of grief bind them to joys now dead, while blinding them to jobs dead ahead! Indeed, a new leader is waiting in the wings whom God has selected and prepared to take them forward on the next leg of the journey home. For the Israelites this journey would not be by way of pleasant “green pastures beside quiet waters,” but rather through “the valley of the shadow of death,” for there would be foreboding enemies to fight and conquer before they would reach the land flowing with milk and honey. Is not this the plight of every Christian of every age, including you and me today? “I beg your pardon,” says our Lord, “I never promised you a rose garden!” God’s marching orders do not mask the difficulties ahead: 1) You have a river to cross, representing an encroachment into enemy territory, marking an entering into the fray; 2) You will face real and present danger – evil foes with ugly faces, some outside the camp – others within. And, as if that were not enough, 3) There will always be that inner demon of fear to conquer: Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt; Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. But for those two dreadful foes God gives two promises far more precious than blue skies and rose gardens: 1) He will stand with us as faithfully as with those who have gone before us; and 2) He will never leave us alone with our enemy or fail to uphold us in our weakness. I can follow His marching orders, as long as I have the precious promises that go with them. How about you?

Monday, March 30, 2009

HATING THE SIN, LOVING THE SINNER -- Devotional for March 30, from "Good Seeds"

Have mercy on some; save others, snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 22-23)

Which one of these would receive your vote for the strongest Christian: 1) He who would walk into a bar to talk to someone about Jesus; 2) He who avoids “every appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22)? To answer the question we need to determine which of these requires the most dependence upon God. Candidate #1: Just as we cannot be released from the eternal penalty of sin apart from the Sin-Bearer, so we cannot have victory over the daily power of sin apart from the in-dwelling Spirit of God. It takes heavenly resources to say “no” to all the questionable activities and indulgences that would lure us into their dens of iniquity. Evil lurks not just behind every bush, but in every store, on every TV and computer screen, and in every interaction with others. It requires constant vigilance linked with total dependence upon God to avoid every form of evil. Candidate #2: Who among us could claim the holy boldness of a Daniel, the spiritual aptitude of a Paul, the personal fortitude of a Peter, and the moral fiber of a Joseph, to walk into the flaming outskirts of hell, and not be burned? A bar is a such a suburb of perdition, a lair of Satan. What believer in Jesus could enter and not become prey? What Christ-follower could stay on the narrow road to heaven while engaging Satan-followers for the gospel who are glibly floating down the wide river of indulgence, addiction and perversion, to the treacherous falls emptying into the lake of fire? It takes much more than courage to speak and shine for Jesus – it takes a closeness to Him, and a level of commitment, far beyond that of the average Jack or Jill Christian! It requires the ability to talk the talk of the disciples of darkness, all the while walking the walk of the child of the King. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9:22, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” What does this mean? One thing it surely does NOT mean is that I allow myself to be made into the likeness of the lost world I am seeking to save. Members of the CMA (Christian Motorcyclists Association) mingle with outlaw bikers for the express purpose of leading them to Christ, but they never drink and carouse with them thinking that will win them a hearing. They know better than that! The strongest Christian, then, is the one who may wear the leathers and ride a hog, but keeps one hand tightly in Christ’s grip even while with the other he “snatches from the flames” of hell itself those in Satan’s grasp. He hates the sin-polluted garments, but loves the biker – or whatever other brand of sinner – all the way to the Savior!

XOXO -- Devotional for March 29, from "Good Seeds"

Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16:16; I Cor. 16:20;
II Cor. 13:12; I Peter 5:14)

Have you ever received a letter from a loved one that had X’s and O’s written all over it? Kisses and hugs are two wonderful ways to show love and affection to those closest to us. There is a huge variety of expression and a wide spectrum of meaning in the kiss: grandchildren blow kisses to grandma and grandpa; a father and daughter exchange “butterfly kisses” with their eyelashes; “Let’s rub noses like the Eskimoses!” goes the old song; Europeans and Russians meet and greet as complete strangers with a brief whisper of a kiss on alternating cheeks; parents and children say goodnight with “a kiss and a hug”; subjects in a kingdom kiss the hand of their Sovereign, as do devout Catholics their Mother Superior and Father Pope. Psalm 2:11-12 names the kiss as an expression of holy worship: “Approach the Lord with reverence; rejoice with trembling; kiss the Son, lest He become angry and you perish in the way.” But where was such fear of God when Judas kissed the Son, his Master, as an act of betrayal!? Was Solomon prophesying this act in Proverbs 27:6? “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” And regarding the kissing that goes on in the human family, everyone instinctively knows the difference in meaning between a kiss on the cheek, a kiss on the forehead, and a kiss on the lips. Yes, a kiss can range from the most innocent expression of affection between friends to the most vile act of betrayal between enemies. We see the spectrum of emotion and devotion of a kiss flowing from parental love to romantic passion, as it ranges from the most generic and public greeting between strangers to the most private, personal and passionate expression of ecstasy between two people in love. But now, understanding all this, where does the “holy kiss” mentioned over and over in the New Testament fit in? What is a kiss? It is no less than an outward expression of inward feelings of love and devotion. This is a behavior highly encouraged between members of the family of God. But it says, “holy kiss.” What makes it holy? The word means pure, separated unto God, cleansed from evil. The juxtaposition of these two words may sound like an oxymoron to those who can only think of kissing in terms of unbridled, self-serving passion. It is not to be so among believers. But it is also not to be so that we keep safe distances, putting up barriers of privacy, when Jesus wants us warmly greeting one another with intimate love from the heart, expressed in this sincere and pure gesture of mutual respect and affection: The Holy Kiss.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

DISASTER MOVIE - Part Two -- Devotional for March 28, from "Good Seeds"

I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:21-22)

As much as science fiction writers love the Bible as a resource for their plots and scenarios, they totally miss its true message, encrypted in Scripture to feed men’s hearts and save men’s souls – not to pump up their adrenaline or fill up their pocketbooks! They miss the point in at least three ways: FIRST, the Bible is not reckless fantasy, but recorded facts. It is history of the past – and of the future – written clearly for our learning. SECOND, the God of the Bible is not an impersonal power to be reckoned with, or a fickle and arbitrary warlord to bargain with. Nor is He just another name for Fate or Destiny, putting a face on the Force that sees the universe through to its ultimate and inevitable demise. No, God is the Creator of a perfect world – albeit a perfect world gone wrong – but He will yet have things His way: a perfect world peopled with perfect creatures, all in His perfect time. But His Word makes it clear that achieving this will require the winning of men back to Himself. This He accomplished through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has done His part. Now He waits for men to reciprocate. But there will be those who will not hear His voice or heed His call, and for them there will be only one alternative: soul destruction in the place of torment and outer darkness. Talk about a horror film! Talk about a disaster movie! Such a destiny for the self-proclaimed enemies of God will be the greatest disaster – and tragedy – of all! But God does not look upon the Christ-rejecter with hatred in His eyes, ready and anxious to strike! No, His gaze is that of unrequited love, looking longingly after them with a torn heart, with the tear-filled eyes of Jesus as He watched the Rich Young Ruler turn away, rejecting the riches of God’s grace in favor of his own receding, deceiving wealth. THIRD, the final reckoning will finally come, to be sure, and the world as we know it will come to an end forever, but until that time, as the post-flood promise affirms, heavenly bodies will hold to their courses, and the earth will continue to sustain life in its beautifully delicate balance. It is the ultimate in arrogance to imagine we feeble humans could amass the power to destroy our planet, either with bombs or ecological mismanagement! This is the worst written disaster movie of all – more like a comedy (of errors!) The only global warming that will destroy the world is the one God will rain down on that final Day of the Lord. O ye modern prophets of doom, let THAT be the sermon you preach!

Friday, March 27, 2009

DISASTER MOVIE - Part One -- Devotional for March 27, from "Good Seeds"

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed with an intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up…But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness (II Peter 3:10,12-13).

A film genre people never seem to tire of is the disaster movie. Why is it that we revel in widespread, even universal, destruction? Could it be that there’s a certain mystical, almost grotesque comfort in the thought that no matter how righteous or wicked people are, they all will be swept away together in that final “act of God.” Yes, when the tsunami, earthquake, stray comet, malevolent men from Mars, or in the case of the movie I just saw, a runaway solar flare, makes its appearance, everybody dies! “Misery loves company,” they say, so let’s all go down together! Well, I suppose I can be mesmerized by this spell as much as the next guy – hey, I shelled out the shillings to follow this sci-fi flick, didn’t I! But I was amazed how vividly Hollywood’s ingenious computer-generated graphics portrayed the final destruction of human beings and their precious cars and structures and cities – how the whole earth and its works were suddenly destroyed with an intense heat – almost exactly as Peter prophesied it! Movie producers seem to love searching the Scriptures for subject material for disasters of “biblical proportions”! Too bad they don’t read a little further, for then they would discover, to their great surprise – and for their own salvation – the back story, the deeper meaning, that even the most casual Christian understands. But it’s a story these men will never portray, while remaining outside the camp of God’s grace, for they see God as the undiscriminating Bad Guy in the Sky, the ultimate “God”zilla monster to face down, the universal enemy of the human race who, when on the attack, causes nations and cultures formerly at war with one another to join forces against this hated Immortal Power. Of course, this is exactly how God’s rebellious creatures have always viewed Him, until they come to see by faith His true identity: Father/Creator, and Lover of our soul. He has done everything to win back his wandering prodigal sons, and now, He patiently waits. But the time of waiting will one day be over, and that final war will begin. It will be over in an instant, and the result will be a new world “wherein only righteousness dwells.” “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought we to be?” (verse 11). That’s the climax and conclusion of the most vivid disaster movie of all – one you dare not miss! Your survival, and eternal life, depend on it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

MY FAMILY: MY MISSION FIELD -- Devotional for March 26, from "Good Seeds"

Parents, bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Husband, cleanse your wife by the washing of the Word. (Ephesians 5:26)

The Great Commission is directed to each and every Christian to “make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The world is our mission field. But in breaking down that mission field into workable areas we see three things to be true: 1) The primary focus for ANYONE WITH FAMILY TIES is that family. This would include anyone with living parents, siblings, or other blood relatives. Don’t focus on the unsaved world at large, those you don’t know, or contacts through friendship, work, or other means, at the expense of giving your primary attention to your own kindred. If Jesus condemned the Pharisees for exempting themselves from caring for their own relatives when needs in other circles seemed more pressing, would He not do the same to us? 2) A MARRIED MAN is exhorted to “cleanse his wife by the washing of the Word” (Eph. 5:26). His love for her, expressed in nourishing and cherishing (verse 29), is second only to his love for his Lord, who is the ultimate source of married love. A spouse will walk either closer to or further away from the Lord in direct proportion to the quality of nourishing and cherishing received from the partner. Even an unbelieving spouse can be nourished, or sanctified, in this way by the believing partner (I Cor. 7:13-16). A man cannot save his unbelieving wife, but she must be his chief target of witness, even as he remains her primary link to the Savior. I would not consider myself a good Christian leader, worthy of following, if my own wife did not look up to me as an example of godliness, and did not receive from me the encouragement and help in her own walk with God. Someone said, “The greatest mission field you’ll ever have is within the four walls of your own home!” And this is doubly true when the home has children. 3) Moses commissioned PARENTS with the responsibility to teach their own children the Word and ways of God (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). My godly influence in the church and society at large is emasculated if my authority is weak, inconsistent or non-existent at home, with my wife and children. Who would listen to a man in the marketplace who is ignored or disrespected at home? The New Testament confirms the ancient Jewish exhortation with the words of Paul, “Fathers, DO NOT exasperate your children, that they lose heart, but DO bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).

WORSE THAN AN UNBELIEVER -- Devotional for March 25, from "Good Seeds"

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. (I Timothy 5:8 NLT)

According to the Bible the worst condition to be in is out – outside of the family of God. These are those who the Bible says are “without God and without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), and who, when losing a loved one, must “grieve as those who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). And yet, it seems, there is another group even worse off than these, for Paul calls them, “worse than unbelievers.” These are people who claim with their words to be in the fold of God but deny it by their works. There’s no worse deception than self-deception, for the one person most prone to fall for your lies is you! And who are the sorry individuals in this lot? None other than those who neglect the care and feeding of their own blood relatives! The Bible says these people contradict whatever they say they believe by the things they do, or in this case, what they don’t do. Actions will always steal the floor from words, for it is surely true that “What you are speaks so loud no one can hear what you say.” As “Faith without works is dead,” so belief without commensurate behavior is a lie. “By their fruits you shall know them.” Paul calls such ones worse than unbelievers in that even people who don’t know God still normally take care of their obligations in such matters. Just look at the oriental cultures. In fact, a whole separate religion, called Shintoism, has grown up around caring for (and then worshipping) their elderly. Jesus found some “worse than infidels” right in the midst of the most religious of the land, the Pharisees. They had concocted a loophole in Jewish law called CORBAN, which permitted them to take the money earmarked for the care of their aging parents and place it instead into their temple coffers and pet religious projects. The Bible says that the practical responsibility of every Christian is to care for others – and the closer the relationship, the greater the obligation. How many widows and others with legitimate needs have been turned over to public assistance because they have uncaring kin? The impersonal government welfare system is a poor substitute for a son or daughter, nephew or niece, whose family ties qualify him or her to give the quality of care totally unknown in secular world.

Worse by far than an infidel,
That’s what a man must be
Who follows his dreams
And self-centered schemes
While neglecting his own family.

THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES -- Devotional for March 24, from "Good Seeds"

As for the days of our lives they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet all too soon our time is up and we fly away. So, teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:10-12)

You might accuse me of borrowing this title from a T.V. soap opera, but actually I think it’s probably the other way around. Although those TV shows packed in a lot more drama per square inch than what transpires in the average household, life has a tendency to dole out, along with occasional pleasure, more than its fair share of conflict, disappointment, deceit, and love sought, stolen and lost. Those who live out the average lifespan of 70 to 80 years, as spelled out in this Bible passage, have been around long enough to see it all, and to experience much of it. When we think about life, we can’t help but ponder the days, the weeks, the months, the years, and tiny moments, and the events and people – and drama – that fill these time slots. As much as we remind ourselves that it’s quality that counts, not quantity, most of us still enjoy counting the years, and would prefer them to continue as long as possible. Even those languishing in poor health, barely surviving in heart and mind, would endure these and live on through the long days and years, rather than to thrive and shine for a brief moment before a noble but premature death. The will to live is as instructive as it is instinctive, for the desire for immortality is a sign of our vitality. It explains to us our nature, even as it expounds upon God’s eternal purpose for us, which is to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). The wish to die is a curious thing. We usually associate it with poor mental or spiritual health. Shakespeare’s Hamlet could not have been very stable in mind or heart to say, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Remember, it was in contemplation of suicide that he said this. But then we read the apostle Paul’s soliloquy, where he mused, “I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart…for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21-24). But the difference between Paul and Hamlet is like night and day, for it was not depression, but anticipation that made death seem like a good option to the old saint. The words I purposely left out above make it plain: “the desire to depart and be with Christ.” There was much yet to be done in his earthly life, he knew, but if he could choose, it would be heaven, not earth, and the sooner the better! But in the meantime, he filled (not just numbered) the days of his life with faithful service. And that’s just what you and I need to do.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

IT'S HOW YOU LIVE THAT COUNTS -- Devotional for March 23, from "Good Seeds"

NOTE TO MY FAITHFUL READERS -- Please excuse my tardiness on entries of late. Our grandchildren have been sleeping in my study, right next to my computer, robbing me of my late night reverie in the Word, not to mention their parents entertaining us with games and movies in that same time slot. We hated to say goodbye to them this morning, but now...to get back on track. Bear with me!

Redeeming the time, for the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16)

Have you heard this interesting proverb: “Beware of spending too much time making a LIVING, while spending too little time making a LIFE.” And here’s another one: “It isn’t HOW LONG you live, but HOW you live, that counts.” We meet people in the pages of the Bible and of history whose lives exuded pristine character and executed unbelievable accomplishments, even while living surprisingly short lives. The earliest example of this is old Enoch of pre-flood civilization. But he wasn’t all that old! In fact, he went to glory at the extremely youthful age of 365! For a time when life expectancy was three times that, he died in the prime of young adulthood, relatively speaking. It is interesting that his own son, Methuselah, lived longer than anyone else in recorded history, dying at the ripe old age of 969! We know nothing of that old man’s character, but the record shows that his father, Enoch, “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22,24). (By the way, will it also be said of you, when you’ve finally passed into His presence, that you walked with God? Can it be said of you even now?) And when I see how young certain great saints were when they died, men and women who accomplished three times more than many who lived three times longer, I am astounded. It makes me feel guilty for being so healthy and carefree at age 63, while still such a spiritual pygmy and with yet so little to claim as works that might pass the “gold, silver, precious stone” test (I Cor. 3:11-15), when I see by comparison men like David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians, whose candle burned bright for Jesus – but only into his thirties. Or what about Oswald Chambers, writer so prolific and spiritual, mentor of missionaries – who died in his forties (but still he mentors me daily as I reach for “My Utmost For His Highest”)? Then there’s the “Prince of Preachers,” C.H Spurgeon. I have in my library his entire sermon collection: over 20 volumes of 400+ pages each. How did he do it, when he died in his fifties? Yes, how could these men have grown so deep and accomplished so much in so little time, and with so many obstacles? I’m sure I don’t know, but it brings up an almost disturbing point: Even though the Bible does say long life is a happy result of living a good life, and that God cuts some of His saints down in their prime who have become a shame to His name, still, look at all the exceptions. So often “the good die young,” while the profane and crotchety live on and on and on! Which would you prefer: to live a long but useless life, or to enjoy only a brief existence on earth, but in that time sow many seeds for eternity?

SEEING IS BELIEVING -- Devotional for March 22, from "Good Seeds"

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I retract in dust and ashes. (Job 42: 5,6)

The Bible says no man can see God and live. But this verse seems to say no man can live who has NOT seen God! The conundrum is solved in Jesus Christ, who said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father, for I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) After His death on the cross Jesus rose from the grave, and was seen by many, including His disciples – but one of their number, Thomas, was not among them, at first. Yes, good old “doubting Thomas,” who earned that moniker from his disbelief concerning the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples had been meeting behind closed doors, at first to lick wounds inflicted by their dashed hopes, but later to wonder together at just what it could mean that Jesus indeed had been seen alive – this One whose horrible death they had so recently witnessed. On one of those occasions Jesus appeared to them, in the flesh. His words, as always, were few and powerful, words beginning with the simple greeting: “Peace be unto you!” but then ascending into divine breathing – “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” But Thomas wasn’t’ there. It seems he skipped church that day! (There’s got to be a lesson somewhere in this for us!) Now, the one time when a man should just sit quietly and listen, Thomas spoke up, revealing not only his folly but his lack of faith: “Unless I see His hands and feet, and feel the imprint of the crucifixion nails, and put my hand into His side where He took the sword, I will not believe.” And for eight days straight Thomas repeated his terrible tirade of unbelief to anyone who would listen. But then, back “in church,” Thomas in attendance this time, the Master appeared once again: “Peace be to you.” But then He turned to Thomas, looked him square in the face, and with a firm, sad voice, said, “Okay, Thomas, reach here your finger (showing him the nail-prints in His hands) and place here your hand (exposing to him the scar in His side), and be no longer unbelieving, but believing.” In great shame, but with renewed faith, he fell on his face before the Savior, crying out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:21-28). After Job’s horrendous test of faith, he concluded, “You are no longer just the One I learned about in Sunday School – Someone to admire from afar – for now I see You, with the eyes of my heart!” Having said that, he returned to the ash heap, this time in contrite repentance. Wasn’t this also Isaiah’s reaction after His vision of the Holy God, “Woe is me, for I am undone, for my eyes have seen the Lord” (Is. 6:5)? Could it be that it is only when we see the Lord with the eyes of faith that we will acknowledge our dependence upon our own clever wisdom to be what it actually is: unbelief! Surely no man can truly live until he has “seen” the Lord like this!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

GOD'S WILL - FIRST THINGS FIRST -- Devotional for March 21, from "Good Seeds"

So then, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:17).

The Bible gives many definitions of foolishness, but the one in today’s passage is the most telling of all, as it seems to say that the biggest fool is the one who doesn’t know God’s will (and doesn’t care!?) Even though the Bible tells us that God’s ways are high above our ways, and His thoughts far beyond our ken (Isaiah 55:8-9), and even though it asks the rhetorical question with the universally obvious answer, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” still, God has promised to reveal to us certain details regarding His purpose for the world – and for you and me individually. We may survive without them, but only at the animal level. We may survive, but how could we thrive when our hearts were made to be His dwelling place? We were not just made BY God – we were made FOR God, and, that being so, we will never find our place in life – or peace in this life – apart from knowing Him, seeing ourselves through His eyes, and letting Him guide us in our earthly journey every step of the way. To attempt to go through life “without a clue” regarding what He has planned and provided is as dangerous as it is foolish. In the classic passage on this subject, Proverbs 3:5-6, you and I are exhorted to “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart; lean not on your own understanding; acknowledge the Lord in all of your ways, and He will direct your paths.” This isn’t just friendly advice – this is a warning signal flashing, “Danger Ahead!” Now, in our quest to know God’s will there are two distinct areas of knowledge to be gained: FIRST, we need to know the mind of God regarding the big things, the deep things, the eternal things. To discover these His Word acts as a telescope, giving us the big picture, the perspective on His plan of the ages. God is pleased to reveal to us His will regarding the deepest possible issues of life. In that vast outer space we can see through this telescope at least nine shining stars – nine different things God specifically says are His will for all men: Salvation, Spirit-filling, Sanctification, Suffering, Service, Soul-winning, Supplication, Submission, and being a Student of the Scriptures. We start by coming to grips with these truths, but only as we place ourselves by faith “in His grip” will we be ready to begin inquiry regarding God’s will in a SECOND area: the personal details of our individual lives. For answers to our questions about finances, happiness, success, relationships, etc, God’s Word will function as a microscope. But it is only when we desire HIM more than what HE CAN DO for us that He becomes willing to answer our questions and provide our needs.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MIRROR, MIRROR OF MY SOUL -- Devotional for March 20, from "Good Seeds"

He who is a hearer of the word but not a doer is like a man who sees his face in a mirror just once, but then no more. Eventually he forgets what he looked like. But he who looks steadily into God’s law will not only remember it, but do what it says, and God will greatly bless him for it. (James 1:23-25).

Anyone in his right mind would far prefer to be identified by his strengths and known for his abilities, than to have exposed to a watching world the glitches of his personality and flaws of his performance. But all too often this preference leads to exerting more effort to mask failures than to overcome them! Certainly it would behoove all of us to follow the counsel of old Socrates when he said, “Know thyself.” We must know our limitations and weaknesses if we are going to survive in the real world. We must become enlightened about our dark side before we fall headlong into the pit it so steadily and stealthily digs for us! To know our weaknesses and sins, however, is not to wallow in them, but to more intentionally and intelligently war against them. We face our liabilities as the enemies of our souls in order to overcome and eradicate them. A little child is so quick to say, “I can’t,” even to a fault. Enter a caring parent or teacher, who says: “How do you know you can’t – you haven’t even tried.” But as the child enters the teen years the opposite often occurs: the confidence of youth quickly morphs into arrogance, eventually colliding with ignorance, tuning him into a know-it-all. Such ones begin to think of themselves as invincible (which explains why so many young drivers are killing and being killed out on the highways). Wisdom tells us to look in the mirror, intently and constantly, not to admire our own beauty, but to find faults and get rid of them. The Scriptures describe the kind of mirror we must use: not one of shallow, egocentric introspection, but of deep, Christ-centered inspection. The wicked-but-beautiful queen in the story of Snow White finally heard what she had long been dreading from her brutally truthful magic mirror: she was no longer “the fairest of them all!” God’s Word is that mirror for you and me, and we would do well to go to it daily to hear God’s candid assessment regarding the state of our soul. Any weaknesses it reveals must not send us into a fury of jealousy of others, or rage against the mirror, but send us rather to our knees in contrite confession of sin, and of God, humbly asking Him to set us free from the misery brought on by our own arrogant ignorance.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WHERE IS GOD? -- Devotional for March 19, from "Good Seeds"

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I could ascend into the heavens, You are there. If I could make my bed deep in the earth, You are there. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me,’ the darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:7-12),

In this Psalm David mused, “Is there anywhere, Lord, where You are not?” The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent – everywhere at once, and that He is omniscient – all-knowing and all-seeing. These are theological answers, but I think David was looking for a personal one: “Lord, sometimes I feel so all alone. I don’t know if I’m hidden from You, but You sure seem hidden from me! Where’s Your comforting nearness I’ve so often bragged about? Where’s that peaceful presence I’ve grown accustomed to? These are all but gone now. Does that mean You are gone, too? O Lord, if You can hear me, please know that I am feeling so thoroughly isolated and alone right now.” Is this verse reflecting the sentiment of Jonah, whose disobedience mimicked Adam’s in the Garden: both men couldn’t wait to get away from God, and were looking for a good hiding place. No, this is different: David wasn’t fleeing from God, but seeking Him. But the question remains: “Is it possible for a disconnect to take place between my soul and my Savior?” The song, “They Call the Wind Moriah” expresses this fear in mournful tones, “And now I’m lost, so gol’ dern lost, not even God can find me!” It is at such times that we need to turn away from feelings and fears and lean hard on what we know is true. And the truth is, God is never lost, and we are never lost to God. How much better to sing, “Jesus is near to comfort and cheer just when I need Him most.” But then why does He so often seem so far away? Maybe it’s because we are so prone to seek comfort in anything or anyone else but Him. As long as we have any other recourse or resource God will stay His hand, and stay in the shadows, until we humbly admit that, apart from Him, we are totally lost and helpless. Human wisdom says, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!” Heavenly wisdom says, “Forget the knot! Just let go, knowing God is there, to bear you up in His everlasting arms.” Too often we place our hope in ourselves, or in the comfort other people and their clever inventions promise to provide. When we push God aside, that’s when He seems most distant. But when the last threads of our human hopes slip through our fingers, that’s when we can finally find our Lord. And that’s where He’s been all along, patiently waiting! Oh to find the shortcut to the end of myself – for that’s the quickest route to the mercies of God!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

THE CHOICE IS CLEAR, THE CHOICE IS YOURS -- Devotional for March 18, from "Good Seeds"

Today I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life! (Deuteronomy 30:19)

A dear friend wrote and told me today that their neighbor, grieving the loss of her husband, had just killed herself in her home. They heard the two gunshots from their living room. They had been sharing with her about life in Christ, but she chose death for herself instead. Then, seeming to change the subject, my friend asked, “Steve, we’re puzzled about predestination. If the Lord foreknew us before we were born, and knows who will follow Him, and who will not, are we wasting our time telling the Good News to those who are hopeless?” But we were on the same subject: “Was this poor soul a hopeless case? Was she doomed and damned, so she might as well pull the trigger now and avoid a lifetime of misery?” Although serious and sincere Bible scholars and God-lovers can be found on both sides of this issue, and Scripture is at times unclear, what will we do with the verse above, and with others which clearly call out, “Whosoever will may come”? The bottom line question remains: “Do we have free will or not?” If predestination means our eternal destiny is predetermined, that by God’s design certain ones will not desire Him, what does that do to our humanity? Does not our God-created nature as well as experience scream out that we have free will? Some would say we’re free to choose the evil, but not to choose the good. Did God predetermine that Adam and Eve had to sin in the Garden of Eden? Some say yes (which means they really had no choice at all). We must distinguish between predetermination and foreknowledge. God is omniscient, so He knew what Adam would do. But that's a world away from pre-programming him to do it. Yet the words elect, called, and predestination are in the Bible. What do we do with them? 1) God knows His own, before they are His own. That's foreknowledge. 2) God has predetermined that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).That's predestination. Will He save them without their calling on Him? No. Do they call on Him because He has forced them to do so? No. Moses seemed to think a man could choose God. So do I, and that’s just what I have done. How about you? I love Him because He first loved me. And who does God NOT love like that?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LEFT BEHIND -- Devotional for March 17, from "Good Seeds"

For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. (I Samuel 12:22)

These two words, put together, spell out the most tragic of all scenarios of human existence. At the very least, it may describe what happened to me when just a lad of four or five years old. Most people, including me, have very few memories of their earliest years – but I remember vividly the day my family drove off on a Sunday morning, headed to church, and left me behind. I actually saw the car disappearing down the street from my upstairs bedroom window. My first reaction was unbelief – how could they possibly have done this to me? The second was soon to follow: sheer panic and fear! The Bible repeatedly reminds us of God’s great promise, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). But anyone less than God can be expected to forget or forsake a loved one from time to time. I never accused my parents of not loving me, but I could never expect to be on their minds twenty-four/seven like I am on God’s mind. But WHO is this promise given to? “His people,” the verse says. There will be those who someday will be totally abandoned by God, that sad company of Christ-rejecters. Those seeking to come to God or the good life – or heaven – by any other means than Jesus have a rude awakening in store for them, when they wake up from their earthly death to their conscious eternal death in hell! This is “left behind” at its very worst! Am I harsh for saying such a thing? No, I’m just quoting the most tender Soul who ever lived, who said, “No man can come to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). Another question answered by this verse is WHY? Why did God make this wonderful promise? Two reasons: 1) Because of His PERSON: “…His great name.” The Bible says, “God is love.” He doesn’t just have love – He IS love! He’s our loving Heavenly Father, and how could a father ever desert the child of His love? 2) Because of His PLAN, which is to make us “a people for Himself.” God doesn’t just love us and save us for our sake – but for His own sake. And that’s why He will never forsake us!

Monday, March 16, 2009

HOW TO KNOW YOU REALLY BELONG? -- Devotional for March 16, from "Good Seeds"

Love one another, even as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples. (John 13:34-35)

This is the most oft repeated of 28 “one another’s” of the Bible, occurring no less than twelve times. Here John quotes Jesus. Later the apostle passes on this same injunction in his epistles. And Peter and Paul follow suit in their letters. Paul emphasizes in the Love chapter that we can be experts in many of the skills of Christianity, and yet still be failures as Christians, “if we have not love” (I Cor. 13:1-3). John dictates our Lord’s sad message to the mature but proud Ephesian church, “I know your deeds, that you cannot abide evil, and put false teachers to the test, and have endured nobly for My name’s sake – and yet I have this one thing against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:2-4). All the good things about these people could not make up for this seemingly tiny glitch in their religion. But it was actually huge, for in His commendation we see no indication of love for their fellow man, and in this condemnation we see a lack of love for their Lord. And then there’s Peter. He wrote that an obedient and pure life is going to be manifested in one chief trait: “a sincere and fervent love for the brethren” (I Peter 1:22). Peter himself at first ran hot and cold (one thing we can say for Peter is that he was never lukewarm!) But after he denied Jesus at His pre-execution trial, and following Christ’s benevolent post-resurrection offering of forgiveness to His miserable friend, Peter never again would doubt his Lord, or be cold in his love. In the painful restoration ordeal, Jesus repeated three times (surely matching the three denials): “Peter, do you love Me?” Peter had to be thinking, “Does Jesus doubt my love for Him? Well, who could blame Him? But how can I prove that my love for Him is constant, supreme, and fervent!” And then, as if reading his thoughts, Jesus gives Peter the perfect opportunity to provide such evidence: “Feed My sheep.” Peter knew the love Jesus was talking about had to be practical. John spelled it out so clearly: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar!” (I John 4:20). We can almost hear Peter’s Amen to that: “There’s no such thing as loving The Great Shepherd without loving His sheep. And the love is not just talk – no, it’s dealing with wayward sheep (or washing dirty feet).” Not much fun in that, but that’s how we love. And it’s not just perfunctory – it’s passionate! “Above all,” Peter wrote, “ keep fervent in your love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). Christian love at its best is when it is practiced on others at their worst! When we love like that, all men will know, God will know – and WE will know – that we belong to Him!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WOMEN'S MINISTRIES -- Devotional for March 15, from "Good Seeds"

Guide older women into lives of reverence so they end up as neither gossips nor drunks, but models of goodness. By looking at them, the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure, keep a good house, and be good wives. We don't want anyone looking down on God's Message because of their behavior. (Titus 2:3-6 TM)

This term has a dual meaning: 1) People ministering to the needs of women; 2) Women ministering to the needs of people. In today’s Scripture we see both angles in action. Paul is telling his young protégé, Pastor Timothy, what instruction to give the women in his church regarding certain attitudes and behaviors. But Paul knew Timothy couldn’t teach these things to the women in his church as effectively as the women could teach them to one another. So, after gathering together the more mature women for moral and practical instruction, he was to delegate them to infiltrate the homes and personal lives of all the church members, through the young women. What a blessed privilege, and awesome responsibility, to be entrusted with eternal truth, as seed to be sown in the lives of those looking up to them! Thus began “Women’s Ministries” in the local church! Just as in the qualifications for church leaders, the emphasis here is on personal character. Paul told his friends, “Be followers of me, even as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). So the older women in any church must be able to say the same to the younger ones. Some of the instructions have to do with marriage, but the emphasis is on inner and outer purity, regardless of marital status. Solomon would call that beauty. So should we! Paul gives two reasons for these instructions: 1) The best teaching is modeling: we learn by casual imitation much better than by formal instruction; 2) The reputation of Christ and the gospel is at stake. It sounds like the most important ministries in any church are those carried out to and by the women! Timothy’s task was daunting: to find excellent women, to mentor them, and then send them out as “missionaries” right inside the church! Again Solomon speaks: “An excellent woman who can find, for her worth is far above jewels!” I know of a single gal who used to say, “I’m thinking about the man who hasn’t found me yet. I feel sorry for him, but I’ll keep praying for him!” On last account, she remains unmarried, but she’s been discovered by another Husband: the Lord and His church – and she continues to shine like a diamond in her witness for Jesus in the households of the church and highways and byways of the world!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A.W.E. -- Devotional for March 14, from "Good Seeds"

“An excellent wife who can find, for her worth is far above jewels” (Proverbs 31:10).

A Woman of Excellence…that spells AWE, which is what we are filled with when we see what God can do in the life of a woman totally sold out to Him. Women of former times and foreign cultures often felt useless and unfulfilled if they didn’t marry and have children. And this pressure on women, though more subtle, continues today. Certainly marriage and family are the primary means for propagating civilization, to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” But parenting is not the only way of passing on righteousness and truth to succeeding generations. Paul himself recommended celibacy, freeing a man or a woman from the responsibility of spouse and children in order to give undivided attention to God and the work He has gifted and appointed them to do (see I Corinthians 7:32-35). But the work of a man is always going to be different than that of a woman – and that’s a good thing! The female of any species is a specialist in nesting and nurturing and homemaking. Sometimes it’s necessary for a father to adopt the role of “Mr, Mom” (and some of them do a passable job of it), but it’s more natural for a man to do the heavy, outside work. He’s the “General Contractor” of the home, while his wife is the “Interior Decorator.” He’s the Bread-winner, but she’s the Bread-giver. He’s the CEO of the home hospital, but she’s the doctor and nurse! But where there’s no husband, and no children, a woman can be just as much a woman of excellence, and in many cases even more so, as she focuses her energies wherever they are needed, inside or outside of her own home. The precedent was set in Bible times in the person of Priscilla. She worked right alongside her husband in nurturing the mind and heart of an unlearned but very promising evangelist, Apollos. And she didn’t just serve coffee and brownies! We read in Acts 18:25-26 (TM), “Apollos preached with power in the meeting place, and was accurate in everything he taught about Jesus – up to a point, but he only went as far as the baptism of John. So, when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and told him the rest of the story.” Looks very much like Aquila had found himself “an excellent wife,” competent in things of the Lord, not just of the household. How many single women have served on the mission field, teaching Bible truth, establishing churches, building up believers (Gladys Aylward, a prime example) – doing in the lives of needy abroad what their counterparts do as wives and mothers in the lives of the needy at home. Neither is more AWEsome than the other!

Friday, March 13, 2009

W.O.W. -- Devotional for March 13, from "Good Seeds"

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised! Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:31)

Down through the ages of civilization there has been an ongoing battle between the sexes: men lording over and putting down women; women rising up in rebellion against the unwelcome authority of husbands and other male rulers. But when we turn to the Bible and read Solomon’s description of a woman, all we can say is, “WOW, don’t look now, but here indeed is a Woman Of Worth! When God created the animals that filled sea, sky and land He looked around and realized He wasn’t finished yet. Oh, He could have taken any of these for walks in the Garden of Eden, as a man walks his dog, but what creature would walk beside Him and talk to Him as a man to his friend? None of the above. So, “God created man in His own image…” – now get this, “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Men like to see themselves as superior to women, but God sees the two as one: He created man male and female. These two are not synonymous, for men and women are not the same – in fact, totally opposite in so many wonderful ways (“Vive la difference!” say the French). But this is not to say they are not equal in value. there can be no doubt that the female stands next to the male as an equal, noble, fellow creature. But when sin came in it ruined everything: it stained Adam’s very nature and tainted Eve’s every feature. God had breathed life into the first man. But when sin entered, and death by sin, God created life again, this time not by His breath but by His Son. And when men and women alike receive that new life, it can be like before: the Adams and Eves of Christ’s kingdom can once again be one with their Creator and with one another. When Adam saw Eve for the first time all he could say was, “WOW!” We like to think he was impressed primarily by her raw, naked beauty. Oh she was perfect, to be sure, but what stood before him – and what blew him away – was “A Woman Of Worth.” And still today that’s what blows men away! Outward charm learned in charm school, painted beauty picked up at the beauty shop – these things are indeed only skin deep, and a women who has to depend on them to get her man – or get her way – will be insecure, unhappy, and afraid all her life. But look! See before you a woman who has learned the secret of inner worth. She will receive the praise of her works, her God, and all the men of the land. And what is that secret? She fears the Lord! W.O.W.!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

MORE THINGS WE KNOW BY INSTINCT -- Devotional for March 12, from "Good Seeds"

“I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it. A man shall not teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

As to instinctive instruction in the hearts of men God didn’t stop with revealing certain things about temporal life (see March 11). We also seem to have an instinctive awareness, and longing for, eternal life. That which He has planted in the hearts of all men of all generations and civilizations is the glorious end for which all men long. Some call it Valhalla, others, Nirvana. The Bible calls it heaven. But whatever name you give it, the time is going to come – in our hearts we just know it’s true – when all our striving and suffering will be over. There will be a restoration of the original garden of paradise where God planted our original parents! Regardless of his religion or lack of it, every man longs for the fulfillment of his wildest dreams. He hopes against hope that death is not the end – indeed, that death will come to an end! In the search for that illusive “fountain of youth” scientists are frantically working toward the day when the cure for the ultimate disease, aging, will be found. Cryogenics offers hope regarding the ailment that is now killing you, by putting you into a deep, cold sleep, bringing you back only when the cure has been discovered. Humanitarians long for that day when “man’s inhumanity to man” will have come to an end. Noble diplomats and altruistic politicians dream of when men shall “study war no more,” when they shall “beat their swords into plowshares.” Educators wish for perfect conditions for teaching, and for students properly conditioned for learning, some going so far as to hope that someday there will be no more ignorance – no more need for the painstaking teaching/learning process. Every person on earth has his own definition of “The Great Society.” It is surely just as instinctive to know there is something more than just what this life affords, as it is to know that we exist, and that God exists. We read in Romans 1:19, as well as in Psalm 19:1, that creation declaims its Creator – the outward evidence confirms our inward instinct. And now we read Jeremiah’s validation of our universal inner longing for that which is out of this world. Through His written revelation, a word of prophecy far more sure than our nebulous instincts (see II Peter 1:19), God tells us that He has provided the solution to the dilemma of death, and paved the way to eternal life. The job of those of us who have discovered the Scriptural validation of everyman’s deepest longings is to share that Good News with every man we meet!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

THINGS WE KNOW BY INSTINCT -- Devotional for March 11, from "Good Seeds"

That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.. (Romans 1:19,20)

We say we are glad not to know the future, for such knowledge would either tint or taint each of our decisions and actions, and we could not find joy in simply living in and for the present. Yes it is not only a promise from God, but a blessing, that He has our future well in hand, and that we need only trust Him moment by moment for divinely appointed direction and provision (see Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 6:25-34). And yet, it seems God DOES want us to know certain things about our life. He has chosen to reveal these things to us through one of two sources: Creation, or Revelation. When God made the first man, Adam, it says “He breathed life into him so he became a living spirit” (Genesis 2:7). It also says that He made man “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). As God brought mankind into being, He put into us not just the breath of life, but certain basic realizations about life. He built into the warp and woof of our very nature certain understandings. Consider two such understandings: 1) Self-awareness. Other living things seem not to know what they are, or even THAT they are, but a man instinctively knows a) he resides in a certain place, taking up a certain space, and that b) he exists, not in some eternal now, but in the context of time that also includes the past and future. He seems quite aware of his humanness, without needing to be instructed. Few people today would disagree with this assumption regarding man’s instinctive self-awareness. But many would take exception to this second assumption regarding our instincts, though it is just as valid: 2) God-awareness. Though some refuse to admit the existence of God, they would have to assassinate their brains into order to explain the existence of orderly design in the universe apart from an Orderly Designer! They’re left with the nonsense theory that the world came about by mere accident, and then went through processes of self-improvement over millions of years by millions of mutations – flukes of nature – to bring about a world filled with beautiful, intelligent, civilized and creative human beings as we see today. It is no more logical to expect a world to have a World-Maker than to know that to have a violin, there must be a violin maker. How can those who would agree to the second so vehemently deny the first, and reject the fact that the argument is identical? You tell me!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN? -- Devotional for March 10, from "Good Seeds"

CHRIST IN you, the hope of glory…If any man be IN CHRIST, he is a new creation… (Colossians 1:27; II Corinthians 5:17)

A Christian, by definition, is one in whom Christ dwells – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He is a “Christ-in!” But turn this coin over and you’ll see that a Christian is also and equally one who dwells in Christ: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation….” The moment we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are in Him and He is in us. We are changed into His likeness, even as we receive citizenship into His kingdom. A new hymn, Power in the Blood (with the same title as the old hymn), has these beautiful words: “I love the blood! There is power in the blood, power that changes and frees us. I love the blood! When God looks through the blood, He doesn’t see me – He sees Jesus!” Although we still sin, God looks at us through “Christ-colored glasses,” and sees us as righteous. Indeed, He couldn’t look at us at all unless our sin stains had been washed away, for He cannot abide evil, nor can evil or evil ones stand in His presence, or withstand His holiness. All this being true, God is not naïve, nor is He blind to the fact that His redeemed ones still sin. But if it is the nature of a sinner to sin, should it not be the nature of a saint to “do always the things that please Him”? (a direct quote from the Bible, but it is speaking of just one man, the Man, Christ Jesus)! All men are sinners. When we receive the cross-work of Christ on our behalf all our sins, past, present and future, are covered and paid for. We are born again, with a new nature. But, we still live in these old bodies, and in this old world, assailed by that old devil and his minions, and so our tendency remains to sin. The main difference is, we have learned to hate it, we have learned to confess it, and we have learned who only can have the victory over it (Jesus!) And we see now what all men will see eventually, how sin desecrates all that is good, and destroys fellowship with all who are good. Only one sin – maybe not even a sin anyone else knows about yet, but just some unkind or ungodly thought or attitude lurking in the depths of our soul – can take us instantly and completely out of fellowship with both God and man, and plop us right back on the lap of our former father, the devil! And so I must remember not only WHO I am, a Christian, one in whom Christ dwells, but also WHOSE I am – one who is in Christ. I must not think of myself as in this world, in my career, in my family, or in my “groove” (doing my own thing, what I do best, or what pleases me the most!). No, as a Christian I am in Christ, as He is in me – and that is my only hope of glory, of joy, for now and forever!

MASTER YOUR ANGER, OR... -- Devotional for March 9, from "Good Seeds"

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life. (Ephesians 4:26-27 TM)

How is it that we who stand for righteousness, and stand in Christ’s righteousness, can so easily fall out of step with that righteousness? One day, while busily working for God, I found myself working against Him – oh, not so much in my deeds or words, but in my attitude and tone. It was a case of anger welling up inside of me, threatening to do its dastardly work. Is it not true that when anger gets the best of us it tends to bring out the worst in us! But anger has its place and purpose. It is not the automatic antithesis of righteousness – indeed, it can be the very expression of righteousness! Psalm 7:11 says, “God is angry with the wicked every day.” But His anger with sinners does not mean He doesn’t love us, for He loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us (John 3:16). God’s anger was motivated by the sinful deeds of men, but it moved Him to righteous deeds on their behalf. Anger can be a weapon in the arsenal of God – or of the godly man. But anger is always wrong when it takes over and we are no longer in control of it. Ephesians 5:18 speaks of this regarding alcohol, but anger can have the same effect: “Be not drunk with wine, for it will ruin your life, but be filled with the Spirit.” When anger wields you, you become a weapon for destruction worse than any two-edged sword. But when you wield anger, it can become a weapon for righteousness. A weapon is a tool used in warfare. Anger can be used to destroy evil, but how often does it damage and destroy the innocent? How often do we “fly off the handle,” hurting the ones we love, our anger all the while making no inroads against the evil we claim to be attacking? There are times when we will feel and must express God’s righteous indignation. Indeed, NOT to be angry at the things that make God angry is to fall into the hands of the enemy. But anger is an emotion, and emotions are the caboose of our life’s train – not pulling it, but pulled by it. The engine is our spirit, controlled by God’s Spirit. Lesson #1: What makes us angry reveals how close we are to the heart of God. Lesson #2: Whether we are in control of our anger or anger is in control of us reveals how close we are to the Spirit of God. Jesus got angry, but did He give place to anger, letting it rule His life? No. And was He ever irritated and frustrated with others, to the point of barking and biting? No, never! Master your anger…or it will master you!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

LITTLE ANGEL, LITTLE DEVIL -- Devotional for March 8, from "Good Seeds"

Be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

I remember a little Sunday School song we sang as kids: “Let your conscience be your guide, don’t you think you have to hide, open up your heart and let the sunshine in.” Is that good theology? Is it even good advice? We’re all familiar with the comical cartoon caricature of a miniature, haloed angel with the face of the person whose shoulder it is perched on, sharply squeaking out its moralistic diatribes! That would be the conscience, desperately trying to teach us right from wrong. The idea was, follow his advice and you’ll stay out of trouble. But wait, what about the other guy, the little pitchfork-wielding devil on the other shoulder (same face, but with a wicked grimace)? He was on hand for no other reason than to get you into trouble. Is this more accurate religion? Well, now we have dualism: the good and evil side of “The Force” drawing us into its eternal conflict (see Feb. 13) – still not too close to what the Bible teaches about right and wrong. But today’s passage does give three scenarios, each with the angel/devil influencers whispering in our ears: 1) Wise man vs. foolish man; 2) Doing good every day despite every day being evil; 3) Thoughtless actions vs. understanding God’s will. These Bible truths will help guide us through the maze of good and evil – but they are not the whole truth. Proverbs 3:5,6 gives the rest of the story: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” The world says, “Trust yourself.” The Bible says, “Trust only in God.” The world says, “Follow your heart.” The Bible says, “Your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). You just don’t know enough, and you’re not good enough, to keep yourself on the road to life. The world says, “Listen to your conscience.” The Bible says, “Listen to God” (not those little false gods on your shoulders!) The world says, “You only go around once, so get all the gusto you can while the getting is good!” The Bible says, “Each day presents many opportunities for evil; but you can turn each one into an opportunity for good.” I like what Dr. Laura says at the close of her daily radio program, “Now go do the right thing!” There are so many things we could do on any given day. But only by listening to God’s heart will we do the right thing, the good thing – the God thing!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

PEACE THAT IS SEASONED WITH SALT -- Devotional for March 7, from "Good Seeds"

You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with one another. (Mark 9:50b)

Here we have the first of the “One Another’s” found in the New Testament. Of the more than 70 times this phrase is used, most are exhortations to the church by the apostle Paul. But in today’s passage Jesus is speaking. And our Prince of Peace tells us to be part of his kingdom of peace by being at peace with one another. As we examine this verse a little closer, two questions emerge. Question #1 reveals the problem: Why is peace spoken of here in the context of “one another” rather than in the arena of the world at large? Well, why are most murders committed within households? Why are family feuds (and church fights!) the ugliest of all conflicts? Why do we “always hurt the ones we love”? And why is it easier to love outsiders than insiders? Question #2 reveals the solution: What do the attributes of salt have to do with the achieving of peace? The answer becomes clear as we define our terms. Salt preserves and enhances life (see March 6), but what about peace? Man tends to think of peace simply as the absence of conflict, or as someone put it, “the pause in the fighting when we stop to reload!” Peace between warring parties, be they nations or families or individuals, is always tenuous, and always temporary. It can be broken in an instant, the moment self-interest replaces concern for the welfare of others. But the Bible’s definition is totally different: Peace is not the absence of anything, but rather the presence of something. When light shines into a room, the darkness dissipates and disappears. You need not pray against the darkness, you just turn on the light! Conflict is that darkness. Turn on the light and the fight is over! The light, in the words of Jesus, is represented by the qualities of salt. A “salty” Christian is one whose very essence is the presence of Christ. Indwelt by God’s Spirit, he is now a “partaker of the divine nature” (I Peter 1:4). He has not only the communicable attributes of God (those traits which can be shared, such as love, mercy, and peace; the non-communicable attributes, such as omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, belong to God alone, and He “will not share His glory with another”). The Christian is not all-powerful, but the power of God is at his disposal. When did God first use His power on mankind’s behalf? When He created life. And how has He used it since? By sustaining life, giving us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (verse 3). And that’s what salt does, it preserves, and then enhances, life. And what is the result? Peace!

Friday, March 6, 2009

GO BE THE SALT OF THE EARTH! -- Devotional for March 6, from "Goods Seeds"

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)

Jesus told His followers, “You are the salt of the earth…” He compares us to salt both in the general teachings of the “Sermon on the Mount” of Matthew 5, and in the “Dire Warnings” of Mark 9. Common salt is a crystalline compound, NaCl = sodium chloride. It is in bountiful supply in nature, both on land and sea. It has many uses: for food – a preservative, and a flavor enhancer; and for health – a cleansing and healing agent. If God insists on comparing us to sheep, with all the weaknesses of those dismal creatures, I’m glad He also elevates us by saying we can be like salt. He doesn’t call us diamonds: rare, precious, expensive, exclusive. No, we’re salt! What could be more common than salt? And yet with words and deeds that are “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) the Lord can work through us to enhance the lives, preserve the souls, cleanse the hearts, and heal the wounds of others, whenever we come in contact with them. Jesus doesn’t want such attitudes and behaviors to be the exception, but the rule! It is certainly the rule with salt: wherever it is, whatever it touches, it does its life-enhancing, life-preserving work. That’s why is it so strange that our Lord would suggest a scenario that, to my knowledge, has never happened: salt losing its flavor. But what He is saying, I believe, is that it is as unthinkable for a Christian NOT to have these salt-like qualities that cleanse, heal, inspire, and bring out the best in others, as it is for salt to lose its saltiness. But if salt ever did stop being salty, it would stop being salt, at least as far as its usefulness, and start being an element of the earth even more common than salt – EARTH! (Its only use then would be for paving footpaths). Jesus said salt could lose its flavor, and Paul said a Christian could lose his usefulness: “I discipline my body lest I should become disqualified – a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27). I don’t want to be former salt – a “has-been Christian!” If we’re of no further use on earth, Jesus may as well take us home. Hey, going home to heaven is not so bad! But wait, don’t we want to finish our course first? That means staying in the fight and keeping the faith (II Timothy 4:7). I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to receive a dishonorable discharge from my earthly tour of duty. There’s a crown of righteousness awaiting those who never lose their saltiness. I want that crown. Do you? Okay, then just go be “the salt of the earth” – for your particular corner of it!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WAITING FOR A CALL-- Devotional for March 5, from "Good Seeds"

If I bring judgment upon the land, and my people respond by humbling themselves, and praying, and seeking My presence and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there for them: I’ll hear their prayers, forgive their sins and restore their countryside – and country – to robust health once again. In the meantime, I stand alert, listening, awaiting their call.
(II Chronicles 7:13-15 TM & SM)

This day in the year 2009 is especially significant for the citizens of California, the U.S.A. and the world. Today the state supreme court will hear arguments regarding the overturning of a proposition recently mandated by a strong majority of Californians which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Some opposed to this bill are comparing those who support it to German citizens who voted in the Nazi Regime! The deadline for the court’s decision is 90 days from today, at which time we will know the moral course that will be taken, not just by one state, but by our nation, and the entire world, for indeed our country tends to follow the lead of its most populous and powerful state and, for good or ill (in the past it’s always been good), the world tends to emulate the policies and values of America. At this writing Americans are feeling the strain and stress brought on by 1) a broken economy, 2) an enemy-making foreign policy, and 3) fear that we are taxing our natural resources to the breaking point, and that maybe sooner than later we will run out, and the world will run down. These are no more than elements of judgment from on high, reminders that things aren’t right – and we humans are at fault. But all is not lost, the situation is not entirely desperate, for the Bible says there is something we can do about it, to fix it. Notice unbelievers have no part in the solution – this is a mandate for God’s people! Our land is being judged, and Christian and non-Christian alike feel the blows. What should we do? First, we examine our hearts: no more pride, no more defensiveness, no more laying blame. No, we humble ourselves before God, we pray like we’ve never prayed before, we get down, get low – on our faces – before His presence. But it must not be the saccharine, sentimental worship so common in our churches today, but rather a worship replete with repentance, for our sins of omission – ignoring God, and sins of commission – replacing God with our pet projects and delights. And when we do these things – and only then – we can with confidence expect God to be there, awaiting our sincere call, restoration and blessing in His hands…for ourselves, our nation, and our world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A HALLMARK QUOTE -- Devotional for March 4, from "Good Seeds"

For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. (Philemon 7)

I don’t remember who wrote it, or the particular circumstances, but a thank-you note I received many years ago still sticks in my memory and clings to my heart. Why? Only because of a beautiful phrase it contained. It was not a singsong greeting card verse, nor was it a tried and true – and tired – cliché, written in the all too familiar language of “Christianese.” And it wasn’t especially clever or creative or cute. Rather, it was a quote from an obscure book crammed way in the back of the New Testament, a book too small for chapter divisions. It is the shortest, but most personal, of Paul’s letters, written to his friend, Philemon. It recounts the story of this man’s runaway slave, Onesimus, whose flight from bondage brought him to Paul’s prison cell. There was no hope for it, but that this young rebel would meet the Lord Jesus through the benevolence and witness of the aged evangelist. Think of the most useless, reckless, rebellious, obnoxious young man you’ve ever met, and you’ve pegged Onesimus! We don’t know the circumstances of his conversion. Only the consequences. As Paul preached Christ, forgiveness reached his heart, and another prodigal son came to his senses and fled forthwith to his Father – the one in heaven and one on earth as well. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this relationship with those he had brought to the Lord: “You may have many spiritual teachers and tutors, but you have only one spiritual father – me – the one who begat you in Jesus” (I Cor. 4:15 SM). And yet there was another father still to be reckoned with – Philemon. So Paul sends Onesimus, bearing this letter, back to his master. Paul is not buttering Philemon up with saccharin smooth talk, nor is he manipulating or pressuring him with human tactics, or pulling rank on him with reminders of his apostolic authority. Rather, in the spirit of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness, he appeals to his friend: “Wait till you see the changes in our young man. He fled from you an inept, uncooperative slave; he returns a humble brother in Christ.” It is in this context that this “Hallmark” quote came about. Say, why don’t you try it: next time you send a note, copy this quote. If you mean it, it will mean everything to your friend, and maybe it will soften his heart and redirect his thinking. Kind words have that effect. And this is God’s Word, after all, going out with the guarantee that it “will not return void, without accomplishing that for which it was sent” (Isaiah 55:11 SM).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

LISTEN TO YOUR "JETHRO" -- Devotional for March 3, from "Good Seeds"

This is not good!" Moses' father-in-law exclaimed. "You're going to wear yourself out – and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice. (Ex 18:17-19 NLT)

Our speaker at a senior adult Bible conference gave this advice: “When they’re young, speak to your children about the Lord; but when they’re grown speak to the Lord about your children.” He went on to spell out what we pretty much already knew: The time comes when we can no longer teach and train our children, when whatever we’ve done in that department, for good or ill, is over and done with. Happily, we still have effective parent work to do – it’s called prayer! This was good advice, and I try hard to follow it. But in my heart of hearts I grieve over this “Older Parent Gag Rule,” and I wonder, though it seems sensible from a psychological point of view, what God thinks about it. Well, what does the Bible say? Today’s Scripture gives the words of a man who seems to disagree with our speaker! Enter Jethro, an uneducated shepherd, presuming to advise the greatest leader in history – not just advise, but admonish! Was it right for him to assume the role of teacher/mentor/father/counselor over someone who by virtue of maturity and experience could be his peer, and who by virtue of his walk with God, was surely his spiritual superior? We all resent unasked-for advice – from anyone, but especially from our parents! I guess Jethro never read the right books, for while visiting his daughter and family, he saw something terribly wrong, and spoke right up about it. It concerned “burnout,” an issue even more relevant today than in those slower, quieter times. He saw right through Moses’ sincerity to his stupidity, and was not afraid to call him on it! Apparently Jethro wasn’t worried whether he might offend his son-in-law. I guess he was more concerned about the issue of right and wrong than the issue of sensitive feelings! (By the way, the solution he suggested is the same one people pay big bucks to hear today!) Lesson #1 – for fathers: Be careful to not just blow off steam about what you don’t approve regarding the younger generation. They won’t listen, so it won’t help. Lesson #2 – for sons: Hear the opinions and invite the counsel of your parents. Remember, a man doesn’t have to be a Bible scholar for God to use him to teach and help you. Just look at old Jethro! And look at Moses, too, who wasn’t affronted or offended, but accepted the almost harsh words from this old man as if they were from God. Maybe because they were! Do you have a Jethro? Will you be his Moses?

Monday, March 2, 2009

THE SADDEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE -- Devotional for March 2, from "Good Seeds"

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. (John 1:10-11)

Imagine this: your own child, the fruit of your loins, the love of your life, grows up, moves away, makes a life for himself, but leaves you far behind. Then chance or business brings him near, and you bump into each other. You cry out in joy and reach out to hug him, but he backs away, saying, “Who are you, old man? And who are you to touch me and speak to me this way, for I’m sure I don’t know you?” We often hear stories of an elderly father who, due to the ravages of dementia, no longer recognizes his son. But whoever heard of a son forgetting his dad? It’s inconceivable! It would be a tragedy of epic proportions. And yet, that is the story of the sadness of Jesus. It was foretold that He would be “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And this was never more realized than in the scene painted by John, portraying Jesus as the God/Man, Creator of the universe, walking into that universe, acquainting Himself with the nature and ways of man, becoming a man Himself, not quite making Himself at home in the world, but making friends, nevertheless; saying and doing things that a common man with all his faculties, and sinful frailties, could never say or do – and yet, through it all, remaining totally unrecognized and unregarded. He was no “Good King Wenceslas” – it was not His intention to walk the streets of His kingdom incognito, for Jesus proclaimed His identity time and again, and then proved it by a perfect life, by life-changing teaching, by fantastic miracles, and especially by His amazing, compassionate love. He came to His own creation and introduced Himself, but not only was He disbelieved, He was disrespected and finally dispatched by means of a cruel cross. Think of Pinocchio not acknowledging Gepetto; think of an organ transplant survivor ignoring the donor, and surgeon; think of a man picked out of the angry sea not grateful to his rescuer. Think of these incongruities, these near impossibilities, and you have the story of mankind, the story of the gospel. It is the Good News of salvation, in contrast to the bad news, as our wretchedness, our lostness, our blindness, are all solved, and all soothed, when we are saved. But even farther back of the bad news is the sad news, portrayed in this, the saddest verse in the Bible. What can you and I do to take away the sadness – OF JESUS – who continually and longingly gazes upon the world of lost men, men who still don’t recognize Him, including those whose pseudo-spirituality causes them to disdain and reject the One who is their only hope.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

COZY CODDLING OR GODLY CORRECTION -- Devotional for March 1, from "Good Seeds"

But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. (1 Kings 12:8)

When Saul of Tarsus turned to Jesus, he still had a lot of things to sort out. What’s the first thing he did to get answers to his questions? He turned to Jesus! There were godly men he could have consulted with, some of whom had actually walked and talked with the Master, like Peter. And eventually he did this very thing. But the first place he went was away by himself to a lonely place, to meditate and pray. He already knew the Word of the Lord, but now he needed to get to know the Lord of the Word. He wrote, “I did not rush out to confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles. Instead, I went away into Arabia” (Gal 1:16-17). Like Moses, before Paul could be truly effective as a servant of God, he was going to have to complete his education with a B.D. degree (Backside of the Desert). Lesson #1: When you are hurting or doubting, or confused about what to think or do, consult God first. Get your Bible and disappear for awhile, away from distractions and interruptions, and have some serious conversation with God. But Paul was not too proud to say he then listened to other Christians, to get their take on things. Lesson #2: Get counsel from others. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are, Love God and Love your neighbor, in that order. Maybe we should get our counsel in that order, too! God rarely speaks from heaven; He prefers to speak through humans! It’s a grave mistake to say, “I don’t need Christians, I just need Christ.” We don’t immediately “consult with flesh and blood,” but eventually we do, if only to check on the genuineness of what we may think God is telling us. But we can run into big trouble in the advice department. We may already have pretty strong preferences regarding how we feel and what we think we should do about our dilemma, so the only thing left is to find friends who will agree with us, and then cry on their shoulders. We’ll get all the sympathy we want, if we just pick and choose our counselors “wisely!” By the way, isn’t that just what Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, did? When he became king, first he did the smart thing and consulted with his father’s advisors regarding fiscal policy. When he didn’t like what he heard, he did the stupid thing: he turned to his school buddies. Lesson #3: To confirm your opinions and reinforce your prejudices, turn to peers – you’ll get sweet comfort and cozy coddling. But to get God’s take on things, turn to parents (and parent-types) – you’ll get wise counsel and godly correction.