Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NONE OF GOD'S BUSINESS? -- Devotional for April 29, from "Good Seeds"

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Arise, take up your pallet and walk”? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He said to the man, “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” (Mark 2:9-11)

We’re back in church. Well, not a church building, but I’m using the term in its intended meaning: “a gathering of people.” In this case it was a gaggle of people, standing shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall, in someone’s house. (Ooh, a packed sanctuary – every pastor’s dream!) Jesus is teaching when lo (actually it was “high”!), another interruption occurs: a scratching sound up on the ceiling. A hole begins to open, and everyone scatters to avoid falling debris. But then, they freeze at the sight of a paralyzed man being lowered by ropes on a stretcher, right down into “the front pew” in front of Jesus. It seems his buddies couldn’t get him in the front door, so they got creative and made a door of their own – right through the roof! The people were impressed by the persistence of these fellows (we can well guess the homeowner was less impressed than depressed about this bold daylight defacement of his property!) But Jesus was amazed, not just at the clever solution these guys devised, but at the faith it showed. He went right to work on their friend, to heal both body and soul -- but not before yet another interruption, this time from the religious elite, always on hand to try and catch Jesus in a mistake. And this time they had Him: “Such blasphemy, to claim to forgive this man’s sin. Everyone knows only God can do that!” (Our answer would come quickly – if not a bit sarcastically – “Your point being?”) But they were right, of course, in that this man’s sins weren’t against Jesus, so His offer of forgiveness had no meaning – if Jesus were just a man. We can forgive someone who has sinned against us, but offenses between others are none of our business. But when we see every sin of every man as first and foremost an affront to that man’s Maker, then we can understand that all forgiveness is God’s business. Christ’s answer to the Pharisees’ question was the most amazing statement made by anyone that day: “Which is easier, to heal this man’s bones or to forgive his sins?” Someone might answer, “Neither, because both are impossible – unless of course you’re God!” Ah, that’s it! If just a man, Jesus would be a liar and imposter; but if He’s the Creator couldn’t He make deformed legs straight again? And if He’s the Redeemer, couldn’t He make wounded hearts whole again? Couldn’t He do that for me? For you?

THINK THINGS THROUGH, THEN FOLLOW THROUGH* -- Devotional for April 28, from "Good Seeds"

Now these are the numbers of the divisions of men equipped for war who came to David…Of the sons of Issachar, two hundred chiefs, with all their kinsmen, men who understood the times and the seasons, with knowledge of what Israel should do. (I Chronicles 12:323)

All twelve Jewish tribes sent their best men to their new king at his field headquarters in Hebron, to become a unified and powerful new army of Israelites. As they gathered for training and instructions, a census was taken. Of the other tribes the greatest support was 120,000 men, while the least was 3000, from the tribe of Benjamin -- that small number due to some continued allegiance to their fallen King Saul, a Benjamite. But no doubt a smaller group yet was the contingency from the tribe of Issachar. We don’t know their exact number, as it just says, “200 officers plus their kinsmen.” But a careful reading of the text reveals a subtle shift in emphasis from quantity to quality. Isn’t that always God’s way? (compare Issachar’s 200 to Gideon’s 300 – see April 24). The other tribes boasted: mighty men of valor; equipped for war; masters in battle formation; skillful in the wielding of spear and shield and other war weapons. What does it say about the men of Issachar? They had the two greatest weapons of all: First, Knowledge: These men didn’t just know how to fight, they knew how to think! They were not just warriors, they were students! What about you and me, as daily we go to battle against sin and Satan? We dare not just go out aimlessly slashing for Jesus. He expects us, and equips us, to use our heads, and that means constantly exposing ourselves to truth and information. Read good books (starting with the GOOD BOOK), listen to good sermons, and spend time hanging around smart and spiritual people. We must first be students of God and His ways, but we must also study our enemy, for we must not be “ignorant of his devices.” Second, Wisdom: the application of knowledge to life situations. Knowledge tells us what to think; wisdom tells us what to do. Ideas have a short shelf life - they must be acted upon before the expiration date! Issachar’s men seemed to know just what to do, and then did it. What about us? Are we aware of what’s happening in the world around us, in light of God’s Word within us? And do we have the courage, after thinking things through, to follow through, with decisive action?

*Eddie Rickenbacher’s six word formula for success

Monday, April 27, 2009

WHY DO WE PUT UP WITH THEM? -- Devotional for April 27, from "Good Seeds"

Bear with one another. (Colossians 3:13)

Of the 28 one another commands in the Bible this one is very possibly the most difficult to obey – at least for many of us. There are two broad categories of things that cause us frustration and worry, and steal away our joy: 1) difficult circumstances; 2) difficult people. Though it’s true we all struggle with both, it’s probably also true that each one of us has a greater weakness regarding one or the other. I’m thinking of two Old Testament heroes, Joseph and Moses. For Joseph it was circumstances that got him down the most. Every time he turned around something terrible was happening to him, something totally beyond his ability to prevent, control or fix. He was misunderstood, mistreated, maligned, thrown into pits and prisons, and in each case he was completely innocent of the charges brought against him. Though he was justifiably put out with his circumstances, each new one worse than the one preceding it, you never hear him railing against the people who brought about this series of unfortunate events – his family, his master, his jail mate – all of whom did him wrong. He was highly frustrated, to be sure, with the unfairness with which he was treated, and yet he didn’t turn ON people, and eventually learned to turn TO God in it all. But then, what about Moses? God chose him to lead the nation Israel on a 40 year treadmill through the desert to the promised land. There were some pretty terrible circumstances to endure along the way, about which the people constantly moaned and complained, blaming Moses for it all, by the way. We sometimes forget that when the people were dying of hunger or thirst, or were on the verge of annihilation by enemy armies, Moses was just as much a victim of these circumstances as they were – and yet we never hear him complain. Oh, he was an expert complainer, but his beef was never with God or the difficulties He had put them all through, but rather with the stiff-necked people God had stuck him with! Think now, which one are you? You could be a Joseph: strong against irritating people but heavy-hearted and broken by adverse circumstances. Or you could be a Moses: a rock in troubling times, but totally impatient with impertinent or implacable people. (I would still say the harder of the two is dealing with irritating people, but then that would be showing my hand – my Achilles heel). Though the saying is true that “it is better to be alone than in the wrong company” (see Proverbs 21:19), it is also true that sometimes it is God’s will that we just stay and listen -- and endure -- for the sake of the one whose only connection with heaven’s help and healing may be us!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

JUST KEEP REFLECTING -- Devotional for April 26, from "Good Seeds"

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before men in such a way, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:16)

The Bible has many descriptions of God. One of His most fundamental characteristics is light. I John 1:5 says, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” Darkness is not an independent entity, that is, it has no self-contained existence. It is simply the absence of light. How do you dispel darkness? Easy: just turn on the light! The first verse in the Bible says our world began at creation. The second verse says that world was without form and empty. We know it was also dark, for the third verse says the next thing God did was to create light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was light.’” Even as on the sixth day when God created man in His own image, breathing into him a living soul, so on the first day He created the universe in His own image, infusing it with light. This was light as a concept, an element, which science describes as “electromagnetic radiation occurring in various wavelengths.” On the fourth day God took this concept of light and put it into action in particular bearers of light, which in turn filled the universe with illumination. These are in two categories: 1) Active light-radiators: fiery balls of burning gases that are the stars, including our own sun; and 2) Passive light-reflectors: cold masses, like the planets and their moons, which reflect the light from the light-givers. This little science lesson has a powerful spiritual application. The Bible says God is light, but when it speaks of Jesus, the Son of God, He is never presented as a mere reflector of God’s light. He is the SON, to be sure, but in Malachi 4:2 He is called the SUN: "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” Jesus is the second person of the trinity, and as such, along with the Holy Spirit, is all that the Father is in His essence. As God is light, so Christ could say, “I am the Light of the world. He who lives in Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). If God (Jesus) is the Sun, we are His moons, for He also calls us “the light of the world.” We are lesser lights whose glory it is to reflect His glory to a world so dark and dismal, so empty of anything truly substantial, certainly nothing eternal. Our job description is clear (as seen on a church bulletin board): “To live in such a way that those who know us but don’t know God will come to know God because they know us.” How do we destroy the darkness? Just turn on (reflect) the light of the Sun of Righteousness. God is LIGHT: let Him radiate; we are His lights: just keep reflecting!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

THE "WORSHIP" OF JOB -- Devotional for April 25, from "Good Seeds"

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. (Job 13:15).

My friend Bob is going through the greatest test of his life: His loving wife of 60+ years is languishing in a care facility going deeper and deeper into a dark hole of physical frailty and memory loss. He faithfully visits her every day, even though her words and actions are tearing him apart inside. It’s one thing to helplessly watch her slip into a passivity so contrary to the vivacious woman she has always been, quite another to receive such unfriendly stares, totally empty of any recognition. He’s asked her twice recently if she knows who he is. The first time she said, “Are you Daddy?’ The second time: “I guess you are who you are.” He told me today that he definitely won’t ask that question again – too painful! How awful to no longer be known – or loved – by the one who stood at his side as they faced life’s trials together. He’s still at her side, but now faces those things quite alone! He told me he recently heard a Bible teacher say that we worship at our best while experiencing pain at its worst. I thought that might have brought him encouragement and comfort. It didn’t. “Just the opposite,” he said. “It makes me feel bad. Oh I know the verses like, ‘All things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose,’ (Romans 8:28), but I also know I’m doing anything but worshiping God in the midst of my pain. As a matter of fact, I’m just a bit put out with Him about it. Why doesn’t He just take her home? What possible purpose could He have in this useless lingering, this meaningless suffering, for both her and me?” I just quietly listened at my end of the line. What could I say? What do I know about such things? And then he said, “Don’t worry, Steve, I’m not losing my faith, but all I can think about, it seems, are my doubts and my pain.” My friend is a modern day Job, to be sure. We tend to connect Job with patience – “He has the patience of Job,” we say. But when I read those 42 chapters I don’t see patience – I sense worship. In my opinion Job was the greatest worshiper of all time. He questions God’s sanity in even allowing him to be born, but he never turns away from Him as his wife suggests he do. “Where would I go, when I know that after I go to my grave (even if my God were the one sending me there), I would pass right into His presence again” (Job 19:25). The closest thing to this was when the disciples answered Christ’s question, “Will you, too, go away?” with, “Where would we go, Lord? You have the words of life!” That's it. That’s Bob, right up there with Job and Peter and John: “I’m not going anywhere. I’m still right here, trusting You, Lord.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

A BAND OF BROTHERS -- Devotional for April 24, from "Good Seeds"

Two are better than one, for if either falls, the other will lift him up; but woe to the one who falls where there is not another to help him. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst (Matthew 18:20).

Gideon had his 300 men, but in the face of Midian’s hordes, they were like three facing a thousand. Like three, yes, but not at all like one. God called Gideon to fight this enemy, but He didn’t expect him to do it alone. Oh, it didn’t need to be man for man, sword for sword, but Gideon did need a band of brothers to stand with him in the fray. Not that God only works through groups, for there have been times when a servant of God is left entirely alone, and yet God accomplishes His work through him. The greatest example of this is Jesus: on the eve of His crucifixion, with the devil tempting Him to bypass the cross, He longed for human companionship. But His disciples preferred their sleep to their Savior. And when He hung on the cross, He took the pain – and bore our sins – without a friend. He died alone, forsaken by all, for you and me. There may come a time when you and I must face our foe – and whatever life dishes out to us – alone. But this is not the way God usually works. And we will NEVER have to go it alone without Him. Only Jesus would ever have to pray, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” For all other “sons” of God the promise remains, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Even if supported by an army of human helpers, the man without God is totally vulnerable, while a man alone, but with God, is completely safe, for “underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” “One plus God is a majority,” is surely true. Still, the norm for facing the enemy, and the storms of life, is partnership. At a low point in his life Paul mourned, “No man stood with me, but all forsook me” (2 Tim 4:16). He speaks of his once faithful co-worker, Demas, as having deserted him in the end. Though a singular giant of a man of God, Paul constantly mentions others by name as his partners in ministry. Margaret Mead unknowingly reflected a principle of God’s work through His church when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!” D.L. Moody went a step further: “Give me 100 men who love only God and fear only sin, and I will change the world.” Will you be part of a band of brothers like that?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

WEAK ENOUGH TO BE A GIDEON? -- Devotional for April 23, from "Good Seeds"

And the Lord said to Gideon, “The men who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’”…Then the Lord said, “I will deliver you with 300 men. Let all the others go.” When the men blew their ram’s horns and broke their pitchers with torches inside, and cried out, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” the whole Midianite army fled in fear. (Judges 7)

“The Gideons” is a fellowship of dedicated laymen whose sole purpose is to print and distribute Bibles among key people groups throughout the United States and the world. They make no apology for requesting monies to finance this huge endeavor, but most of the funds, and all of the work, proceed forth from these men and women themselves. As I listen to the testimonials of people coming to faith in Christ after reading a Gideon Bible found in a motel dresser drawer, or from talking to a Gideon member’s wife as she shared a white testament – along with her own testimony – with a medical worker, it makes me think of their namesake, Gideon of old, and the strategy God laid out before him for conquering his foe. The Midianites were poised to swarm down upon Israel. They were an army of swordsmen too many to count (“as numerous as locust, and as the sands of the seashore, and camels without number” verse 12). Gideon, a poor farmer, had been called of God to assemble an army to drive out this enemy. Though he gathered a respectable 32,000, “what were these among so many”? (John 6:9). “A paltry few,” we would say. “Still too many!” said the Lord, and for a very good reason (see verse 2). The first strategy was to hone the volunteers down in numbers, while building them up in consecration. 32,000 may have made a dent in the might of Midian, but 300? What could they do? Not a thing, apart from the hand of the Lord resting upon them! The second strategy was a clever bit of trickery which, combined with the fear already in the Midianites’ hearts due to a dream one of them had had(see 13-15), was used of God to totally rout the entire enemy force. Think: Every time a modern day Gideon shares God’s Word with someone, that is the breaking of a pitcher to release the light of truth, and the sounding of a trumpet and the shout of a man to alert lost souls that God is on the march. There is probably no more unlikely story in the whole Bible (unless it is little David facing the giant Goliath) illustrating just how much God delights in using the tiny faith and resources of the few for the conquering – and the salvation – of the many. How weak are you? Weak enough to be a Gideon?

NOTE TO MY READERS -- I was "inspired" to write this one from attending the Gideons' Pastors Appreciation Banquet here in Sonora this evening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

THE 4-D CHRISTIAN -- Devotional for April 22, from "Good Seeds"

Be devoted to one another. (Romans 12:10)

Ever heard of a “3-D Christian”? He is one whose life is characterized by right DOCTRINE, DUTY, and DEVOTION. What we believe has everything to do with how we live. The Bible is our sole source for faith and practice. But these two alone do not constitute the balanced Christian life. We have this on good authority from Christ Himself, who commended the church in Ephesus for these very things, but then with a pained p.s. added, “But I have this against you: you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). The word devotion is defined as religious fervor as seen in the practices of worship. But it goes deeper than that. We picture someone genuflecting in church, or taking communion, or praying at the altar, or lighting a candle, but true devotion is not primarily these outward rituals and observances – things WE do. It has to do, rather, with a singular and ardent loyalty and dedication to a person, that is, to God – the One we worship. Real devotion is all about a real Person, Jesus Christ. It’s not about what I do, but who He is. The word devote comes from a French word meaning “to vow.” Standing before the marriage altar the man says, and hears from the woman in return, “I will love and cherish you, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and absolutely forsaking all others I will keep myself for you alone, so long as we both shall live.” Real love, as defined by Christ, is no mere casual friendship, but commitment of the highest order, ready to live, willing to die, for one another. Preferences come and go, but a man with a conviction says, “I will die before I will deny!” Devotion has that same intensity of loyalty, turning away from all other diversions or attractions, dying to all other loyalties, dying to self and selfish aims and desires. How can we claim to be Christians without such a devotion to our Lord accompanying our doctrine and our duty? These three things flow naturally out of an intimate knowledge of and love for our Savior. But, after all this, the apostle Paul adds one more component to the Christian life: devotion to one another. John wrote, “Anyone who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar” (I John 4:20). Jesus summarized the entire law in two commands, Love God, love your neighbor. It is amazing (appalling, actually) how easily we Christians can compartmentalize our faith to where we are so mature and skillful in the “3 D’s” and yet downright infants (dare I say idiots?) in our devotion to one another. The early Christians stood out from the world, not by their religion, but by their relation, as people would comment, “Behold how they love one another!” Is that a picture of you and me?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

QUANTITY FOLLOWS QUALITY -- Devotional for April 21, from "Good Seeds"

And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42,47)

Someone said, “In thinking about past Christmases, why not go all the way back to the first one.” That is surely true, for isn’t it possible to get all sentimental and nostalgic about the fun we had at Christmas time when we were children – and still entirely miss the reason there even is such a thing as Christmas. That same principle holds true regarding church. People can hark back to the simple joys of the old country church, or feel their religious spine tingle as they ponder the candlelight and organ music and somber prayers and mysterious rituals of church as they once experienced it – and yet totally miss what the church actually is. To discover the meaning of church, again we must go back to the first one. And here in Acts 2 we read what went on in the earliest church. Though surely not aware of it, those Christians were involved in five distinct activities, which resulted in two special blessings from the Lord. Notice that nothing is said here about church buildings or pastors or budgets or boards or rituals or even sermons and songs, and yet these people “had church” like nothing seen since. They were continually (daily) devoted (not just dabbling) in: 1) Truth, as it came to them through those who had had a real encounter with Jesus; 2) Fellowship. In 75 A.D. they knew nothing of potlucks and small talk, but much about putting into practice the “one another’s” of the New Testament; 3) Remembering – what Jesus did for them when He died for them: every time they ate bread or drank wine, they let these elements call to mind their Lord’s supreme sacrifice; 4) Prayer - Seeking God’s face and blessing, showing the dominant heavenward focus of the believer; 5) A spirit of joyful gratitude to God, tempered by a fearful awareness of His absolute holiness – two things which are played out in Worship. Now, what two effects followed these five causes? A) Favor with outsiders. We think living the Christian life as we should always results in suffering and persecution, but sometimes unbelievers reserves judgment as they are drawn to us (to our God through us), maybe even secretly admiring us – to the point of wanting what we have. And that’s just what happened in "The First Church of Jerusalem": B) Quantitative growth. When we do what pleases God (quality), He is pleased to multiply our influence, and very often our numbers, too. (quantity).

TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL -- Devotional for April 20, from "Good Seeds"

Do not be drunk with wine, for that will ruin your life. Instead be filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). No longer should you drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (I Timothy 5:23)

The dictionary defines teetotalism as “complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks.” The first part of the word, “tee” = the letter “t,” is the initial of the second part of the word, total. Does the Bible tell us to be teetotalers? Well, in Paul’s personal letter to his young pastor friend, Timothy, he told him very specifically to drink wine. That’s true, but that’s not the entire truth of what he said, or meant. He wasn’t telling Timothy that it’s okay to freely indulge in alcohol as a recreational beverage. He knew well the danger of addiction, which can come through the taste and “zing” promised by alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with good taste, or even a body thrill – just compare hot chili peppers: they pack a punch and add spicy nutrition. Something can be both good AND good for you! But beware turning the control of your body over to the thing that will not feed you, just feed on you, the thing that heads straight to your lusts, bypassing your will. Imagine giving carte blanche to someone to do with you what he will. You might so totally trust a good friend that you would do almost anything he asked, with full confidence that it would do you no harm, only good. Could you say that about a stranger or some shady fellow, or about that one whose very name embodies evil? (Why else is it called “that old devil rum”?) Despite those who rejoiced at the repeal of prohibition, or those who laugh in scorn at anyone who associates beer, wine and whiskey with the devil of hell, it is undeniably true that alcohol is one of Satan’s most effective instruments for ruining lives. When Paul encouraged Timothy to drink wine, it was to be just a little, for his health. Doctors today recommend the same thing: a few sips of the fruit of the vine for calming the stomach, or as an aid to arterial health. And as “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” a drug doesn’t have to taste bad to do you good. (Who could honestly say he likes the taste of cod liver oil?) But the bridge is very short between taking a little wine for your stomach and consuming large quantities of alcohol in search of fun, or to deaden the pain of an empty life. On the one side it’s a life-giving tonic; on the other, a deadly poison. As for me, I will take my tonic as pure, delicious grape juice, and t-totally avoid taking the chance of coming under the control of anything but my ultimately trustworthy God, who has only my best interests, and His best glory, in mind.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

POSTPONED, BUT LOOMING: GOD'S CARE -- Devotional for April 19, from "Good Seeds"

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)

A good friend wrote with an update regarding her husband’s job status. In a former letter she spoke of pending layoffs, that they were on pins and needles wondering if he would be next. The update: “Well, the good news is, he didn’t get laid off; but the bad news is, nobody did – because the layoffs have been postponed, but still are looming.” Then she closed by saying, “We’re getting lots of practice being ‘anxious for nothing.’” There’s an interesting play on words here. It almost sounds like she’s saying, “We’re worrying for no good reason; it was all for nothing that we were anxious.” But we know she was quoting the Bible verse, “Be anxious for nothing,” which means those who trust in God need not let anything which could normally be considered a legitimate reason for worry, to worry them, for God is in control. I was expressing my worry to a friend the other day, about our welfare in our old age. Then I caught myself: “Oh, I don’t mean worried, I’m just concerned, for I don’t want to be a freeloader on others. I want to do the right kind of planning ahead of time so that my wife and I can be cared for when we can no longer work to provide for our own care. And I’m not sure I’ve covered all my bases in that regard, so now I’m a little worried….er, ah, concerned, about it.” My friend made no value judgment about the quality of my preparations for the future. That would surely have stung. Instead, he drew my attention to a promise of God, which served (as most Bible truth does) to both clobber me and comfort me at one and the same time. Here is the context of that promise: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he falls, he shall not ultimately fail, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” And here’s the text: “I have been young, and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his little ones begging bread” (Psalm 37:23-25). Pow! That hit me right where it hurts – and helps! Hope this helps my friends, too, as they keep practicing being “anxious for nothing”!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

DESIRE THE FIRE -- Devotional for April 18, from "Good Seeds"

But if I say I'll never mention the Lord again, or speak in His name, His word burns in my heart like a fire. It's like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can't do it! (Jeremiah 20:9)

Have you ever had a piece of your clothing catch fire? What’s the first thing you do? You take instant measures to put it out. Everything else goes on the back burner (pun intended!). Speaking of burners, Karen, my wife, tells the story about how when she was twelve years old, her favorite pajamas caught fire -- with her in them! Her mom was cooking something tasty for breakfast. Karen’s back was to the gas stove, talking to Mom before getting dressed for school. The house was cold, but it was warm in the kitchen – by the stove. In fact, she was beginning to feel VERY warm! That’s when she smelled something burning -- her PJ’s! In sheer panic she ripped them off – with no thought as to who else might be present in the room (we’re happy to report there was no one else but her mom – and her guardian angel!) Now, back to Jeremiah. He was a prophet whose specialty was bold street evangelism. He was the guy with the sandwich board sign warning all within view and earshot, “Turn or burn!” He wrote, “When I speak, my words explode with the message, ‘Violence and destruction!This is truly a word from the Lord, but speaking it has made me a household joke, even to my friends!” (see verses 8,10). Yes, the results were not very satisfying, for nobody was listening to Jeremiah, and he was really down about it. I like this guy: he’s brave in danger, but he’s also vulnerable to discouragement. In fact, the day finally came when he decided, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done. No more witnessing for me. If these people want an eternity apart from God and all that’s good, I guess that’s what they’ll get – and I can’t stop them, so I guess I’ll just stop trying.” But it turns out Jeremiah couldn’t stop trying. The word of the Lord continued in a slow burn down in his soul, until it caught fire to his bones and then flamed in his heart, till finally bursting forth once more from his lips! What about you? Is the gospel of salvation through Christ planted deep within – the truth that turned your life around, and put you on higher ground, and the road to glory? Do you have friends who desperately need to hear that truth? Is that message setting your heart aflame, or are you comfortably lukewarm inside, nothing crying to get out -- no urgency to share the Good News? Maybe God needs to do a work in you. But in the meantime, there’s something you can do: pray for a desire to share Christ with the lost world around you. And then pray for the fire! Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you SHALL BE My witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

Friday, April 17, 2009

NOT A JOB FOR JUST ANYBODY -- Devotional for April 17, from "Good Seeds"

Concerning you, my brethren, I am convinced that you are full of goodness and knowledge, enabling you to admonish one another. (Romans 15:14)

If there’s anything we resent, whether from friend or foe, it is unasked-for advice. Though we tend to discount its content, the fact that we received it at all is not so easily ignored, as it so often leaves us with sour feelings. The unwelcome words may be correct, and would probably be very helpful if heeded, but bitter resistance just get in the way. Instead of hearing the wise counsel of this bossy fellow, we’re listening to the whiny counsel of our bleeding heart: “Where does he come off telling me where I’m mistaken? Is he so perfect? Why can’t people just mind their own business and leave me alone?” But wait! Are we really that satisfied with our current level of maturity? Are we really that convinced we’re okay just the way we are, and don’t need any improvement? Growth and learning are signs of life. Without them we are dead, even while we live. We must realize that although God accepts us just the way we are, He loves us too much to leave us that way. And so, we must learn to discern the voice of God speaking through other voices around us. He is speaking, but are we listening? We must be so in tune with God that when He talks to us through others, we recognize His voice. Let’s not miss what He has to say. Peter wrote, “Our beloved brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him. Although some of his words are hard to understand, don’t listen to the ignorant and unstable men who twist them to mean something quite different” (II Peter 3:15-16). We, too, must be careful not to misinterpret the words of advice we hear from others. They might even mean them for evil, but God can fulfill His perfect plan for us through them (see Genesis 50:20). Even Paul’s enemies recognized the truth in, and the source of, his preaching: “If a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God”(Acts 23:9). If we are tempted to say to ourselves, in contempt of the unwelcome advice we hear, “Just consider the source,” that’s good, but then let’s be sure to get past the human source and look for the heavenly. When inviting Christians to admonish one another, Paul gives two warnings: 1) Have a firm grasp of the facts: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We must have the iron of truth in us in order to bring truth to another. And, 2) Be in the firm grasp of God (in His goodness). The human variety won’t do, godlikeness is required. Colossians 6:1 says, “If a man is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Admonishment – it’s not a job for just anybody.

AN APPOINTMENT WITH A "TAX MAN" -- Devotional for April 16, from "Goods Seeds"

Zaccheus said, “half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and those I have defrauded I will repay fourfold.” Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8-9).

Zaccheus was a household name when I was growing up, at least in the households of us children who went to Sunday School, for that’s where we learned to sing, “Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he; he climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.” Children readily identify with Zaccheus, for several good reasons: 1) He was a small man, possibly no taller than a school child. Kids could feel on an equal plane with him. 2) He climbed trees. What kid doesn’t like to do the same! 3) He wanted to see Jesus. Growing up in this godless society young people soon pick up the terrible habit of using God’s name in vain – which is worse yet when they profane the precious name of our Savior, “Jesus Christ.” But when children are small, and are introduced to Jesus, they easily learn to love “Him whom they have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:29). Oh the faith of a child! – there’s not a doubting Thomas in the lot of them! Even the most callused infidel will find his heart softened when he hears a little boy or girl sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me.” Well, this crusty little scoundrel of a man, who was despised by his handlers as much as he was hated by his victims, suddenly found himself drawn to Jesus – even though he surely knew a meeting with this Man would spell the end of his lucrative ways. By the way, that’s just what the rest of the Sunday School song is about: “And when the Lord came passing by He looked up in the tree, and He said (and here’s the part we shouted with divine authority!): “Zaccheus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today.” He was not only hated by others for the “legalized extortion” which was his daily business; surely he loathed himself, too. Wouldn’t such a one as this fear the frown of heaven and run as fast as his short legs would carry him in the other direction when he saw Jesus coming? You’d think so, but somehow he knew Jesus would not speak condemnation, but instead be his salvation. Indeed, Jesus was heard to say at another time and place, “I am come that they might have life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). But in this very time and place, in the hearing of Zaccheus, Jesus proclaimed, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Next time you want to lambaste the “legal thievery” of the creators and enforcers of unjust taxation, why not pray instead that they have a face to face with Jesus!

PROTEST OR PROCLAIM -- Devotional for April 15, from "Good Seeds"

The Pharisees asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Knowing their evil motives, Jesus answered, "You hypocrites! I know what you’re doing! Show me now the coin used for the tax." When they handed him a Roman coin, He asked, "Whose picture and title are stamped on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. "Well, then," He said, "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God." (Matthew 22:15,17-21)

April 15th could hardly be called a holiday, though every American knows well this date as the deadline for filing their income taxes. Now, Jesus was no politician, and the Pharisees were banking on that fact as they tried to trick Him into saying something incorrect about Israel’s fiscal policy, thereby damaging His credibility among His followers. But the religious leaders were once again silenced by the practical wisdom of the Son of God – a wisdom we could surely use today: 1) God has established human government, so submitting to it is submitting to Him. 2) God knows our leaders by name (indeed, He’s the true “electorate”!) 3) There is a higher loyalty than to earthly kingdoms, and that is to the King of heaven. “We need not fear what man can do to us” (Hebrews 13:6), for “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). And He will do right by all who trust in Him, regardless of what wrong they suffer at the hands of an inept or evil government. We see by today’s passage that protesting taxes is not a recent phenomenon! Of course, these days we pay taxes that are administered by elected representatives, while back in first century Judea citizens were forced to give arbitrarily inflated tribute to a foreign government that had usurped their theocracy and stolen away their freedoms. Nevertheless, citizens of modern nations have to put up with more than their fair share of unfair taxes. “No taxation without representation!” was the battle cry of the colonists as they dumped English tea overboard in Boston harbor, refusing to pay the exorbitant import tax Mother England had attached to it. This was the straw that broke our forefathers’ backs, driving them to demand – and fight to the death for – freedom from oppressive British tyranny. Now the tea party idea has again struck a cord with many Americans, and what better day to hold their non-violent protests than on our “National Tax Day!” The outcry from the conservative element of our citizenry, many of them avowed Christians, is deafening! Oh if we would proclaim the name of Jesus with as much passion as we protest the inequities of government!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WHERE SELDOM IS HEARD AN ENCOURAGING WORD -- Devotional for April 14, from "Good Seeds"

Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a word of encouragement does wonders! (Proverbs 12:25)

Did I get that right? Is that how the song goes? No, but that’s how life goes: our skies are all cloudy all day, due largely to the words of discouragement that flow so freely among the sons of men. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,” is how it’s supposed to be, but “Where does that happen?” someone asks. “In your dreams!” comes the caustic reply, for in the real world discouragement abounds. It’s one thing when circumstances beyond our control come in and do a number on our sense of well-being, but quite another when people claiming to be our friends show up and pipe up with their dismal tones and doubtful words. Someone said, “I can go all week – and on into the next – fueled by one heartfelt, well-defined word of encouragement!” Yes, it’s true: We live by encouragement – and we die without it…slowly, quietly, miserably! But let us define our terms. Social rules tell us to speak kindly to everyone, and of course that’s a good thing. “If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind,” goes the old maxim. But we should not indiscriminately pass around meaningless kudos and casual compliments to everyone we meet. (Maybe we’re just trying to get something for ourselves in return). Kindness is unconditional, but praise must be earned. Doling out thoughtless and empty tribute goes by another name: flattery (the dark cousin of true praise). After making this distinction, we can begin to look for genuine and positive qualities and accomplishments in others. But these must be things they’ve had a part in, not things they were merely born with. Praise is not earned (and therefore should not be given) to someone who has merely been endowed with beautiful hair, a shapely body, a quick mind, an amazing talent, or a handsome face. We praise God because He is ultimately worthy, in every sense of the word. But we praise our fellow man, too, for the qualities and accomplishments we see that have come through diligence and discipline and patience and perseverance. Now another distinction is in order. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? – Only God is good.” (Matthew 19:17). Of course He was talking about ultimate, perfect goodness. For anyone less than deity, it is a relative term. That being clearly understood, our job is laid out before us: to be like Christ, in “going about doing good,” and that would include speaking good things to and about everyone we meet, all the time. Who knows what lives we will save – and turn toward our Savior, by our heartfelt, well-defined, encouraging words?

Monday, April 13, 2009

THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS -- Devotional for April 13, from "Good Seeds"

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. (Philippians 3:10)

The words fellowship and suffering don’t sound like they belong together in the same sentence. When we fellowship with our friends and family it’s usually a pleasant time that we’re having. Maybe we’re playing games, sharing a meal, enjoying some entertainment, or engaging in stimulating conversation. The very word fellowship communicates the idea of comfort and joy, while the word suffering speaks of misery and pain. Yet God has linked these two words together in the experiences and writings of Paul, and placed them in His Word for our learning. Is He trying to tell us that our deepest fellowship with Him can be found not just in spite of, but in the midst of – and because of – our sufferings? A fellowship is not a club, nor is it an inner circle of elite believers or a higher level of super-spiritual saints. The word as it appears in the original Greek, is koinonia, which can be defined as “a mystical participation.” In today’s Scripture that participation is not with our fellow man, but with Christ. When we turn to Him in faith for salvation we die TO our sin, even as He died FOR it. We are “conformed to His death.” Now we belong to Him, and the fellowship runs deep. As we died with Him, once for all, in His death, so He suffers with us, daily, in our pain. What a marvelous mystery that Jesus feels the sting when His brothers and sisters hurt. When I suffer the pain of bodily injury or illness, or endure the misery of old age – or when my heart twists in some mental or emotional anguish, I can cast myself on Jesus, knowing He is fellowshipping with me in my suffering. He takes my pain personally. He’s close enough to catch my diseases – but also close enough to catch me and help me – and heal me. As I rest in His everlasting arms and hear His soft lullaby to my spirit, I sometimes sing my testimony back to Him with these words:

All my life was full of sin when Jesus found me; all my heart was full of misery and woe. Jesus placed His strong and loving arms around me, and He led me in the way I ought to go. No one ever cared for me like Jesus; there’s no other friend so kind as He; No one else could take the sin and darkness from me –- O how much He cared for me.

“Thank You, Jesus, for the intimate union we enjoy together in the fellowship of Your sufferings. And thank You for catching me when I fall, and for holding me when I hurt!”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

LESSONS IN STRIPS OF CLOTH -- Devotional for Easter Sunday, April 12, from "Good Seeds"

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7). Joseph took Christ’s body down from the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb (Luke 23:53). Peter peered into the tomb and saw the empty linen wrappings (Luke 24:12). Jesus commanded, “Roll the stone aside!” Then He shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” Lazarus emerged, bound in grave-clothes. “Unwrap him and let him go!” came the final command. (John 11:38,43-44)

There is an object lesson for our learning in these simplest of all garments: strips of cloth. Joseph and Mary, having not even a diaper for their baby, grab some old rags lying around the stable, probably used to swab down the animals. So poor. So vulnerable. The swaddling clothes show CHRIST’S WEAKNESS IN LIFE. But a lifetime goes by – in a brief thirty-three years – and Jesus is crucified on a cruel Roman cross. For you. For me. Along comes another Joseph, a rich man who had indeed gone “through the eye of a needle” to come to Christ. Maybe he joins the Centurion in recognizing who Jesus was only by His death. He asks Pilate for the body, and has it wrapped, mummy-like, in a long linen cloth, before placing it in his own tomb. Another lifetime passes – an eternity in three days! Before dawn some women come to the tomb to anoint the body. Their biggest concern: “How will we ever roll back that heavy stone?” But something far bigger is waiting to greet them: an empty tomb! But, as Peter later sees, it wasn’t just the tomb that was empty, for so were the linen wrappings. The empty shroud shows CHRIST’S VICTORY OVER DEATH. But let’s go back now, to the middle of His earthly life: a once in a lifetime event takes place – and yet it can happen again and again, in our lifetime, to you and me: Christ’s dear friend, Lazarus, is dead. Tears are shed by all, a prayer is said by Jesus. The answer comes immediately, and Lazarus comes forth from the grave, alive! But he can barely move, until his friends peel off the cloths. Jesus is in the business of loosing us from the wrappings and trappings of sin and self. And He bids us help Him in loosing others. Lazarus’ graveclothes show CHRIST’S POWER TO THE PEOPLE! “That I may know Him and power of His resurrection” (Phil.3:10). Lazarus was given new life. So are we. But he died again. So will we. But Jesus rose again, never to die again. And that’s His legacy to us, for He is “the firstfruits of them that sleep” (I Cor. 15:20). Will you learn these three lessons in strips of cloth?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

HE DOES ALL THINGS WELL -- Devotional for April 11, from "Good Seeds"

Though He slay me yet will I trust Him. (Job 13:15)

We don’t know how much time passed between the multiple tragedies Job experienced and his eventual healing and vindication, but it was time enough to bring him to the edge of death and the brink of despair. His outward dilemma could well have led to inward disaster, and this would have spelled greater victory for Satan than what killing him would have accomplished. Adam was given Eve for a “helpmeet” – a helper meet (appropriate, fitting) to his needs. A wife is the best teammate a man could ever ask for. No wonder married people call one another “partners!” But when sin enters the relationship, the door is opened wide to Satan – and He can do his most dastardly damage through a man’s most intimate soul-mate. Such was the case with Job’s wife. Seeing his suffering and finding herself unable to be that “fitting helper,” she turned against him and his God. While attempting to be a human helper, a wife must continually call on the Heavenly Helper. Refusing to call on God allowed Job's wife to turn on Him instead. Why can’t people just ignore God when He seems to neglect them? They can’t – they’ve got to curse Him, it seems! Mrs. Job was worse than a doubting Thomas that day: He wallowed alone in his dismal doubts, whereas she seemed bent on spreading the doubt, causing another to stumble. “But in it all Job did not sin” (Job 2:10). Solomon wrote of him in Proverbs 1:10, “When sinners entice thee, consent thou not!” Notice death is the predominate theme in Job’s suffering: “Curse God and die!” mocked his wife, to which Job retorted, “Though He kill me, I will never deny Him.” This was to say, “I will trust His reasoning, and not question His timing, though I’m clueless about His purpose in it all!” We are privileged to see the entire scenario, that God would not allow Satan to kill Job, but this man had no such assurance, and for a very good reason: trusting God in the dark is the crucible of faith. Just look at the three Hebrew children: as they were cast into the fiery furnace they spoke with a holy defiance: “Our God is able to deliver us from the flames, but even if He chooses not to, let it be known to you, O Nebuchadnezzar, that we are NOT going to bow to your golden idol!” At this Easter time we think of Christ on the cross. His words were few, and full of pain. At one point He cried out, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” But in it all He did not sin. Though God would indeed slay Him, Christ submitted to His Father’s greater plan, to “preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). You see God’s working in His Son, in the three young men, and in Job. Now, will you let Him work in your life, too, through your pain – and in it all not to sin, but trust Him to do all things well?

Friday, April 10, 2009

THE WRITTEN WORD: A FRESH BLESSING -- Devotional for April 10, from "Good Seeds"

Then the Lord answered and said to me, “Record the vision, and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run." (Habakkuk 2:2)

Francis Bacon wrote, “Reading maketh a full man, writing, an exact man.” Commenting on the second part of that quote, I came up with this little rhyme: Not writing, my brain becomes lazy; gone the thoughts I should have stored. Ideas and prayers get all hazy, that I don’t take time to record. It is difficult to imagine a world without reading and writing. Though these are surely inventions of man, they are certainly in keeping with the image of God in which man is made. We read about Moses coming down from communing with God on a mountain, carrying with him the Law written by “the finger of God” on tablets of stone. God is a communicator, and we follow suit. We are creatures of intricate language, which we instinctively use and pass on. A newborn is already familiar with the sound of its mother’s voice. And look how quickly and naturally an infant learns, by hearing, to speak and understand. Listening and talking are intrinsic to being human. But what about reading and writing? Some cultures today are still entirely illiterate. Are such people groups inferior to others? No, it’s just a matter of having written language introduced to them. This is something that Wycliffe Bible Translators and other such groups are currently doing in some of the out of the way places of the world. They send in highly trained linguists who befriend the people, get to know their culture, learn to communicate with them in their spoken language, and then gradually develop a written language for them that they will soon be taught to read. God communes with mankind heart to heart, but also seeks to communicate voice to ear and script to sight. Peter wrote, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (II Peter 1:21). But God told the prophet Habakkuk that His intention was for men to write down for the many what He has revealed to the few. The Bible is the result of following the divine injunction to “record the vision.” What does this mean for you and me? First: to take advantage of the written Word of God, teaching others to read, and then giving them eternal, soul-nourishing content to feast their eyes and minds upon. When was the last time you gave someone written material about eternal truth? Second: to use writing to train ourselves and others in the ways of God. Write down your thoughts, plans and prayers; write personal notes of encouragement to friends, flowing with God’s precious promises. And what about writing a letter to God? The written word outlasts the moment, as a fresh blessing to the reader!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST -- Devotional for April 9, from "Good Seeds"

He has committed to us the Word of Reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating the world through us: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:19-20)

When we look at world conditions today we exclaim in dismay, “Our world is surely going to hell in a hand-basket!” Though it may not be of much consolation, at least it provides a little historical perspective and therefore some balance to our minds and hearts to realize this is not a new development. God’s people have always sung, “This world is not our home, we’re just a-passin’ through; our treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” A.W. Tozer expressed it this way: “The Christian is a man of heaven, temporarily living on earth. Though in the flesh he must live among the race of fallen men, in spirit he is divided from them, as inwardly separated from worldly society as the Israelites were from Egypt, once they crossed the Red Sea.” (Renewed Day By Day, April 9). But God has put us here – that is, left us here – for a purpose. We are citizens of heaven, to be sure, but we reside for a time in this foreign country, a culture to which we’ve become estranged by our adoption into God’s forever family. We don’t belong, so why doesn’t God just take us home and get us out of this mess? Many Christians view life on earth as a painful existence they must ride out and endure, so they hole up in scattered “holy huddles” until they die (always secretly hoping to be part of the privileged last generation that will enter glory by a far more glorious path – the rapture!) The apostle Paul himself admitted how he would prefer to “depart and be with Christ, for that is so much better” (Philippians 1:23). But he put down this personal preference in favor of the agenda God had laid out before him, “to live on in this life a little while longer, staying fully engaged in fruitful labor” (verse 22). And that is God’s plan for all His children, until such time as they are called in from service and brought home to their reward. It is not just to preachers and missionaries that God has committed “the message of reconciliation,” for all His people are privileged to serve as “ambassadors for Christ.” Yes, that’s our job, to be ambassadors, representing one nation to another, proclaiming the claims of Christ to the world of lost men. Our job is not to reform society, but to redeem it! We don’t need better laws for the land, we need clearer communication of God’s truth to man. We need to be His Ambassadors, each one of us telling the person next to us about Jesus: who He is, what He’s done for us. That’s all. That’s enough!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

THE GREATEST MIRACLE -- Devotional for April 8, from "Good Seeds"

Son of man, can these bones live again? Behold, I will open your graves and bring you out, My people. Then you will know that I am the Lord. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life. (Ezekiel 37:3,12-14)

When God created the universe, it was a great miracle. When He breathed His own life into the first man, it was a greater miracle yet. But when God connected the dry bones of men long dead and placed on those bones sinews and flesh and skin – and finally the breath of life, to bring “an exceeding great army of men” (verse 10) back to life, that had to be the greatest miracle of all! It pictures the miracle of the new birth, which Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus: “I’m not talking about when you were born from your mother. That’s how you came to be. That’s a natural thing. But I’m talking about a supernatural thing: a rebirth” (see John 3). To make a man out of the dust of the earth – it would take a POWERFUL God to do it. But to remake a man out of the crust and rust of sin, it would take a LOVING of God to do it! God so loved the world of sinful, dying men, that He came to the earth, in the person of His Son, and bore the effects of that sin on His own body. He took the pain, took the punishment, suffering death for all men, the death they were dealt by their sin, the death they deserved, the death that doomed them – He took that death away from them and placed it upon Himself. Men were redeemed from the pit of hell and promised a place in heaven. That’s got to be the absolute greatest miracle of all time! It was not just a miracle of power, but of grace and love and forgiveness. Easter is the time when we ponder anew the question God posed to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live again?” The prophet knew well the logical answer: “Of course not! These bones are the last vestiges of men whose memory may soon be as cloudy as the dust they are just about to become!” But he was talking to God, and God had a reputation for surprises, so the answer he gave was as evasive as the question was illusive: “O Lord God, Thou knowest!” But God’s not a philosopher, content to sit around all day and contemplate. He’s a God of action – and He expects us to get into the act, too. So He commanded Ezekiel to start preaching to those dry bones. What about you and me today? Will we just pick our way through this sinful world – an ugly graveyard of dead men’s bones – on our way to glory? Or will we speak out the Word of Life, the Gospel of the Risen Christ (for that is our part), and then wait for another manifestation of the greatest miracle (for that is God’s part), when the dead bones of our unsaved friends come to life!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

THE GOOD LIFE OR THE GOD LIFE? -- Devotional for April 7, from "Good Seeds"

Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her, and said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:14,16)

A kiss can mean so much (see March 29), but a “cling” can mean so much more! When Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, she was saying farewell to the faith of her mother, in favor of the faith of her fathers (a false faith, by the way, full of superstition and confusion). In obeying a mother-in-law’s request, she was denying the Lord’s bequest. Now it was not because Naomi didn’t love her two widowed daughters-in-law that she bade them return home, as she herself must now do, but because she loved them. She surely was not thinking in spiritual terms here for she, too, was swallowed up in misery at the loss of her own husband. Her only consolation was to return to her comfort zone – another word for home. She could truly empathize with these two girls and say with great persuasion what they no doubt wanted to hear: “You girls go home now, to your own families, and to your own culture and religion, for there you can make a new start and find a new life, as you surely will find a new husband. Go, my daughters, with my blessing. I go home to die, but you’ll go home to live again.” If this were evangelism Naomi got it exactly backwards. If this were counseling, maybe we could credit her with using “reverse psychology.” But it wasn’t either of these things, but just old depression having its say. Nevertheless Naomi, despite her discouragement, despite her admission of failure, despite her failing faith in God (indeed, she was perfectly content to blame God for her plight) – yes, despite all these things she was still a daughter of heaven, and heaven’s Ruler still had plans for her. Why was it that this outsider, Ruth, was more sensitive to this possibility than her godly mother-in-law? Well, although Ruth didn’t know much about these kinds of things, she surely knew a kind lady, through whom she sensed a connection to the God she had yet to meet, and something inside told her that the God-life is better than the good life. Read the book of Ruth, the love story not just of a wonderful godly husband who swept this trusting young woman off her feet, but of the God of love Himself, who can manipulate circumstances (theologians call this providence) so that the god life and the good life don’t have to be mutually exclusive! What about you and me? What part, if any, can we play while waiting on God’s providential care? Stop dating (kissing) God and His people, and start clinging!

Monday, April 6, 2009

PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY -- devotional for April 6, from "Good Seeds"

Moses gathered seventy elders around him, and the Lord dispensed His Spirit among these also, and they prophesied. But then two others, Eldad and Medad, not of the seventy, also prophesied. A messenger brought this news to Joshua in the tabernacle, who desperately urged Moses to restrain them. But Moses said, “Don’t be jealous for my sake, for what could be better than if all God’s people were prophets, and if He would place His Spirit upon them all! (Numbers 11:24-29)

A huge hindrance to the spreading of the gospel and the maturing of the saints is jealously in the leadership. (Amateurs do just a so-so job at being jealous, but professionals are the real experts!) What happened with Moses also happened with Jesus. It seems a Samaritan town refused hospitality to Christ as He was making His way to Jerusalem, causing such anger and jealousy for their Master’s honor that His followers urged Him to rain fire down upon these no-goods, even as God had done to Elijah’s rivals (see Luke 9:52-56). And on another occasion the apostle John (later called “The Beloved” but in these earlier times he and his brother had another moniker: “Sons of Thunder”) reported to Jesus of someone casting out demons in Christ's name, though he was not a “card carrying disciple!” “You’ll be proud to know we stopped him, Lord!” But it was this attitude among the faithful that needed to be stopped! “Was he saying or doing anything out of character from what we have been saying and doing, and from God’s Word and ways?” “Well, no.” “Then couldn’t we assume him to be on God’s side, as we presume to be? And if he’s not against us, logic dictates that he’s for us – so…” (and now notice our Lord’s voice raising just a bit), “…forbid him not!” (see Luke 9:49-50). How many so-called Christian leaders today would take their followers up on just such a plan of forbiddance, motivated by professional jealousy. But not Christ, or that one who walked so closely “in His steps” – Moses. Both men not only corrected their followers, but turned their rebuke into a teaching moment: “I didn’t come to destroy people, but to save them,” said Jesus. “What you see as a liability to God’s kingdom, I see as an asset,” said Moses. This happens all too commonly in churches today between pastors and those who serve with them (under them, say some – but then, there’s the rub!) These others may be led by God to go in a very different direction. May that pastor’s tribe increase who releases his hold on his partner in ministry, and trusts God to work it out for HIS best plan – for it is the tribe of Moses – and of our Master, too!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

WORSHIP GOD! -- Devotional for Palm Sunday, April 5, from "Good Seeds"

The whole multitude began joyfully praising God with a loud voice, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hearing this, the Pharisees said, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the very stone will cry out!” (Luke 19:37-40)

Have you ever been in church where someone rudely interrupts the pastor right in the middle of his sermon, totally upsetting the flow of the service? Oh I suppose it’s a possibility, though I’ve never witnessed it. But it happened to Jesus all the time. He would be teaching away when suddenly a cry was heard, “Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me.” Someone was surely in greater need of the healing touch of His hand than of the soothing words of His mouth. And this didn’t just occur during the sermon. Look what happened on that first Palm Sunday: right in the middle of a precious time of seamless praise, a spokesman for the religious establishment piped up with a complaint: It would be one thing if folks were ticker taping a popular politician, or welcoming home a local hero, but it was obvious to these astute teachers of the law that these simpletons were doing far more than that. The words they were singing seemed to be identifying Jesus not just as an honorable man, but a conquering god. Well, anyone who knew the person and work of God as well as the Pharisees would know that this was downright heresy, and must be quickly nipped in the bud. To give the kind of praise to a man that belonged only to God was a violation of the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). When Paul was bitten by a deadly viper and he didn’t die, the superstitious islanders thought he was a god (Acts 28:2-6). When John saw the angel of the Lord in great glory, he fell down to worship him. What that angel then said to John is what must always be said whenever anyone less than God is worshiped as God: “Get up! For I am no more than your fellow servant. Do not worship me – WORSHIP GOD!” (Revelation 22:8-9). But this is not even close to what Jesus said in response to the worship He was receiving: “If the mouths of these were stopped up, the once silent rocks would somehow find a tongue to extol their Creator!” As C.S. Lewis observed, we can dismiss Jesus as an ego-centric maniac, or worship Him as the God of the Universe, but let’s not have any nonsense about Him being merely a great teacher. His words to the Pharisees remove that option. You cannot ignore Him. You can deny Him, or worship Him. You must choose – and your eternal destiny resides in that choice!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I WONDER! -- Devotional for April 4, from "Good Seeds"

On their way from Jericho to Jerusalem Jesus and His disciples were followed by a huge crowd. When two blind beggars heard that it was Jesus, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The people told them to pipe down and stand aside, but that only made them cry the louder. Jesus turned to them and said, “What would you have Me do for you?” “O that we might see again,” they replied. Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately their sight was restored to them. Then they joined the happy throng of followers. (Matthew 20:26-33)

This paraphrase DID NOT come from the Jefferson Bible. We honor Thomas Jefferson as one of the greatest statesmen and patriots of our great nation’s formative years. He was also a gifted writer; just look at the incredibly beautiful and powerful wording of the United States Constitution. But when he put his hand to rewriting the Bible, what happened? Well, as much as He admired Holy Writ, he had trouble believing most of it. He wrote, then, not with pen and ink, but with a pair of scissors, cutting out anything smacking of the miraculous. I wonder – is that wise, to just ignore, or even deny, the parts of the Bible that go against nature, or your views – or that just make you squirm? Here we see Jesus, in the normal course of a day’s activities, lending His human ear to two men in pain, but then immediately drawing on His divine power to make them whole again. Compare that throng to a typical Sunday worship service of our day: the saints are fellowshiping comfortably with their Lord, moving along through the songs and announcements, and then listening respectfully to the sermon (though as the noon hour approaches their attention is stolen away by those hunger grumbles in their tummies!) – when all of a sudden, someone interrupts the pastor with a heartfelt “Amen”, or maybe a less than subtle sob is heard. “Oh no! Does this mean we’re going to have an invitation? The Community Church folks will surely beat us to the best tables down at the restaurant!” When was the last time you let the praise of a rejoicing brother, or the cry of a hurting stranger, touch your heart? When was the last time you took your eyes off the folks and things that irritate you, and focused them instead on Jesus, watching and waiting to see what wonderful thing He would do? By the way, tomorrow would be Palm Sunday, and next week, crucifixion! I wonder how different the impatience (unbelief?) of Christ’s followers today is from that fickle crowd, putting Him in a box where they no longer could worship Him, and soon would kill Him. I wonder!

Friday, April 3, 2009

AS SIMPLE AS A-B-C -- Devotional for April 3, from "Good Seeds"

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)

I heard a very smart preacher make this wonderfully simple observation about Faith in Christ: “The only reason we can’t understand the ABC’s is that we are DEF!” Theologians grapple with the question, “How does one come to faith in God?” They argue over whether a man can come by his own volition, or if God first must choose him and draw him. Following the logic some conclude that God, according to the private counsel of His own mind, surely has chosen some people for paradise and the rest for perdition. Deep discussions follow about election and predestination and fore-ordination, sometimes leading down a prickly path far astray from basic Bible truth. But our question is quickly answered in one brief statement in one tiny verse: “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Faith in God originates in the Word of God, as it is preached and received. Some people think Ephesians 2:8 gives another source of faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Faith is a gift from God, they say, and maybe He chooses to give it to some but not to others. But the more obvious meaning of this verse is that it is salvation, not faith, that is being offered as a free gift. Indeed the next verse points to this when it says, “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” If it’s still talking about faith, there would be no reason to say “not of works,” since faith and works are at opposite ends of the spectrum. But if it’s talking about salvation, well, many do indeed seek salvation through good works. The ABC’s, then, are simply this:
A = Admit you are a sinner in need of salvation.
B = Believe Jesus is the only one who can give you that salvation.
C = Confess Him as Savior.
Where do we get this information? A: If our own conscience and experience do not tell us we’re sinners, God’s Word will fill us in! B: How can we know about a Savior unless someone tells us, and the only reliable Someone is God Himself, through His Word, which is then preached to us. C: Again the Bible shows the way: The resurrected Son of God, who died for the sin of mankind, must be believed in our heart, and confessed by the lips. Yes, it’s as simple as A-B-C!

ONLY JESUS -- Devotional for April 2, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one can come to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

What makes Christianity what it is? Jesus. Only Jesus. Apart from Him we have only Old Testament religion with its knowledge of Jehovah and His Law, and the sacrificial system He instituted for the reconciling of man to God. These served their purpose in their time, but were never said to be God’s final Word to man, or man’s final path to God. The most wonderful thing about the Old Testament is its prophecies. Not only do the words of the prophets foretell the coming of mankind’s Savior, but every ritual, every feast, every law, and every custom observed by the ancient people of God speaks of the Messiah, who would “crush the Satan-Serpent’s head” as God Himself said to our first parents in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). Yes, even in the midst of this curse upon man and the land, God shows the light at the end of the tunnel of human history, of human misery. And that’s just what Jesus came to be – and claimed to be – when He said, “I am the LIGHT of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus is also called the “LAMB of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John the Baptist was referring here to the sacrificial lambs of the Jewish religion. But the New Testament boldly states: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin” (Hebrews 10:4). These animal sacrifices pointed to the One who was to come, who as a perfect human being was uniquely qualified to stand in for every imperfect human being – to take the fall for us all. When God saw the blood of the animal, He saw through it His Son, who one day would come and die on the cross. Seeing also the faith of the one making the atoning sacrifice, God forgave sins and placed men in right standing with Himself. But the time would come, and it finally did, when God would “take away the first in order to establish the second, by which we are saved, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all” (Hebrews 10:9-10). It is a false notion to think mankind could ever be saved by his own merits, apart from a life-for-a-life sacrifice by another on his behalf. Another common misconception is that man can be saved and sanctified by the LIFE of Christ – by His pure example, His flawless teachings, or His amazing miracles. No, these things only serve to widen the gap between sinful man and a holy God! It took His dying on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin and yours. Only this – only Jesus, could bring us to God and His heaven. Only Jesus!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

APRIL FOOL'S DAY -- Devotional for April 1, from "Good Seeds"

The Fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1)

The first day of April has long been known as April Fool’s Day, a day we can play pranks on people and get away with it! No one really knows exactly how, when or where it got started, but it is as universal as it is ancient. We do know it is related to the coming of spring, as nature itself seems to enjoy playing tricks on us with its fickle weather changes. Case in point: Last Friday we donned shorts, played in the yard and got sunburned – but then on Sunday we nearly didn’t make it home from church due to a huge snowstorm! But impending spring seems to bring out the child in all of us, and we can’t resist cutting up a bit. April Fool’s day grants us license to play practical jokes with impunity, not unlike how some see Mardi Gras as the church’s permission to indulge in the flesh, prior to the disciplines of the Lenten season. But April Fool’s Day can have some positive value: 1) A test of friendship: Will your buddy still be your friend after you play a trick on him, like sending him on a fruitless errand (ever heard of a “Snipe Hunt”?), or in some other way fool him into believing something that isn’t true. I remember as a Tenderfoot at my first Boy Scout Camporee I was sent on a mission to locate a “Left-Handed Smoke Shifter.” The other troops were very obliging, telling me they didn’t have one (or theirs was broken) but to try the next camp. I went all over the place determined to not fail in my first test as a serious scout – before I realized I’d been seriously duped! It was the twittering laughter from one group that put me straight! Or, 2) A development of character. In the movie “Fireproof” the station chief wanted to bring one of his men down a notch from his narcissistic arrogance, so he challenged him to a hot sauce contest. The captain went first, feigning great pain as he completely downed a small bottle of the fiery liquid. The other man then took his bottle of hot poison. As he began to drink he screamed out in pain and ran to the sink to for a drink to stop the burning. Great laughter followed, and that was the end of it – until a couple of days later when his boss said just two words: “Tomato Juice!” The younger man realized he’d been “had” but hopefully he had learned his lesson. Teaching someone a lesson through pranks may have some value. Looking for fun at another’s expense is not so cool. But the Bible gets far more serious than either of these when it identifies a fool as the one who toys with his own eternal destiny by entertaining the possibility that there is no God. “Imagine,” sang the Beatles, “no hell, heaven, no God…wouldn’t it be wonderful! No, it wouldn’t! These lyrics are from the pit, and will take you there! The devil is the Joker – but when this joke is told, nobody will be laughing, for its punch line is damnation! “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).