Sunday, May 31, 2009

THE TEEN COMMANDMENTS (Part 2) -- Devotional for May 31, from "Good Seeds"

A fool gets into constant fights. His mouth is his undoing. His words endanger him. Men have died for saying the wrong thing. A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults. This is to his credit. A soft answer turns away wrath. (Proverbs 18:6-7,21; 19:ll; 15:1)

#6 Don’t speak too quickly – listen first. He who thinks twice has only half as much to say. When you are upset at what your parents say, or how they say it, count to ten before answering back. And while you’re counting, continue listening. Did you really hear what Mom or Dad is trying to tell you? Why do you think God gave you two ears but only one mouth, if not to be a better listener? “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
#7 Don’t delay reconciliation. “Don't let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Some speak their piece far too quickly, but speak words of peace far too slowly – or not at all!
#8 Don’t fight anger with anger.The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). You may fight fire with fire, but you cannot answer anger with anger and expect peace to follow.
#9 Earn for yourself a guilt-free future, where you will have NO REGRETS about how you’re living now. Live life in the present based on lessons of the past, but always with a view to the future. Try to imagine the long-range effect of the actions, attitudes and words you are giving and exchanging now. If you don't like what you see with your mind’s eye, ask God to help you make the necessary changes now.
#10 Living with a man won’t be all that different from living with a mom. How will you handle the sandpaper friction you will inevitably experience from time to time with your mate? Whatever strategy you think might work then, with him, put into practice now, with her. If it doesn’t work now, it won’t work then. If your strategy needs tweaking, tweak it! – then try it again. The Japanese people endure a very constricted and confined living space, where they could so readily rub each other the wrong way – but they don’t! Indeed, they get along quite well, with kin and stranger alike. What’s their secret? “If you don’t want to kill, learn to be still.”
Most teens still love and are loved by their parents, and yet you’d never know it by the way they act and talk around each other. But this kind of love grows and thrives when we “accept one another” (see May 29) and when we “bear with one another” (see April 27). Such a love will “cover a multitude of sins" (I Pet. 4:8).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

TEEN COMMANDMENTS (Part 1) -- Devotional for May 30, from "Good Seeds"

My son, observe the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother. Bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. (Proverbs 6:20-21)

A seventeen year old friend wrote and told me her mom thinks she’s rude and uncooperative in the family. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write back with a bit of counsel. Now I know unasked for advice just begs to be ignored, but I chanced it anyway, on the chance she would listen to another parent, speaking to her on behalf of her own. The Wise Man of old tells the young that if they would have a good life they must “heed the commands of their fathers and hear the counsel of their mothers.” So, I offer these Ten Teen Commandments to my young friend – and to all her teenaged counterparts far and wide.
#1 Walk a mile in her shoes. Picture yourself in your mom’s shoes, with a teenaged daughter of your own. Even though that may be 25 years from now, believe me, you will remember these days, and the way you treated your mom. Do yourself a favor and try to see you from your parents’ point of view. Do they have a case? Are you at times mean and ungrateful? Others may doubt it, but those who live with you know you best. Their opinion holds the greater weight. That being true, consider this:
#2 Close approximation tends toward irritation. Think of an overcrowded porcupine family (ouch!), and you’ll get the idea. So make way and make room – give space and give grace, to one another.
#3 No matter what kind of person you are, if you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind! We need kindness in another’s troubles and courage in our own. Let kindness be the rule for everything you say and do, for And part of kindness is politeness: “Great big doors open with ease, with words like ‘Thank you,’ and ‘If you please.’” Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome words come out of your mouth, but only words that are good for the building up of others, words that minister grace to all who hear them.
#4 Don’t try to fix anyone but yourself. If your mom is 95% in the wrong, that means you only have your own 5% to work on. Leave her to deal with her big part, while you take care of your small part. (But don’t be surprised if your percentages are off by a bit!)
#5 Treat your parents as you would be treated. Don’t let it bother you that they, the more mature ones, don’t act first. The first one to think of it must be the first one to do it. That’s the rule for the Golden Rule.

Friday, May 29, 2009

ACCEPT, TOLERATE, LOVE -- Devotional for May 29, from "Good Seeds"

Wherefore, let us accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

Of all the “one anothers” of the Bible, this one is probably the most foundational. Someone might say, “But wait, what about ‘LOVE one another?’ Isn’t love the starting point of all relationships?” I would have to agree with that, of course, but love is not only “a many splendored thing,” it is also a multi-faceted thing. And the first face of love I see is when someone accepts me, just as I am, with all my warts and lumps, all my dirty sins and secrets. But this verse immediately goes beyond mere moralizing by bringing our Savior into the picture. Just as God commands us in the Old Testament: “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44), so Jesus implores us in the New Testament: “Accept one another – after all, have not I accepted you?” It’s no good trying to love someone, especially someone who may be extremely difficult to love, if we don’t take love's first step, which is acceptance. Another word for this is tolerance. To tolerate someone we must start by admitting what makes him different, and what irritates us about him: his idiosyncrasies, oddities, habits, or even his beliefs! The word admit here has two meanings, both of which must come into play in the process of acceptance: Admit means 1) to recognize as true, as in, “Did you take the last cookie?” “Yes, I confess – I admit it.” But admit also can mean, b) to accept, to receive, like when you are granted admittance to the college of your choice. To accept someone means I grant him his space, maybe right next to me, on the planet! I tolerate him by first seeing what separates us, but then I try to see what adjustments I can make, or actions I can take, to live with, or deal with, our differences. To accept someone I frankly just can't stand DOES NOT mean I have to like him, agree with him, or go along with him. But it DOES mean I acknowledge him as a fellow creature of God, and therefore deserving of the respect from me that he already has from his Creator. But if I am convinced he is wrong in his thinking, or that his present course of action will lead him to destruction, accepting him may mean going into action on his behalf. But wait! Trying to fix or change him starts to look a lot like I no longer accept him! But praying God’s mercy and grace to visit him would not stop me from accepting him, tolerating him – yes, even loving him – just as he is right now. Is it true that God accepts us just the way we are, and yet loves us too much to let us stay that way, when we could be and do so much better? Yes. And if He looks at us that way, why shouldn’t we do the same for someone else – for the glory of God!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

WE'D BETTER WAKE UP, BEFORE WE BLOW UP! -- Devotional for May 28, from "Good Seeds"

When the men of the land have done all these abominations, the land will have become defiled. (Leviticus 18:27)

The book of Leviticus surely stands out as among the least underlined, least understood, least appreciated, least read and least popular books of the Bible. Some may wonder why or how it found its way into the canon of Scripture. The fact that it doesn’t stand alone, but takes its place among the five books of Moses, still doesn’t endear it to the average reader. It drones on and on in vivid, livid – almost lurid – detail describing and proscribing the depths of moral degradation men and women, even men and women of the faith, can stoop. It contains the moral code to which God holds all nations if they want to thrive, or even survive. You need not even go so far as Leviticus – just look at history, and you’ll see that when a civilization slips into depravity it is only a matter of time before it disappears into obscurity. Still considered one of the greatest civilizations of all time, the Roman Empire never was conquered from without, but gradually imploded and finally died – by a slow, sickening suicide! It’s not widely known that it was not just the epicurean spirit of “eat, drink and be merry” among the rich, and the thirst for blood in entertainment and sporting events for the masses, that did them in, but also and primarily the perversion of sex to such extremes that eventually no act, no matter how vile, was prohibited or condemned. Wait a minute – what culture are we talking about here, Roman, or American? And who are we talking about, Hugh Hefner, or Solomon? That’s right, that erstwhile godly king took the blessings of riches and fame and wisdom endowed by his Creator and turned them into playthings to placate his lusts and stimulate his pleasures. He testifies to this in Ecclesiastes 2:10, “I did not refuse myself anything my eyes desired, nor did I withhold my heart from any pleasure.” (But keep reading: a decade or two later – a verse or two in the Bible – Solomon admits how this very lifestyle left him so sick in soul, and so sick of life: “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”). If God did not spare the noble Romans – nor even His Chosen People – from destruction when they toyed with the most sacred gift given to humankind, defiling the marriage bed by taking sex far beyond it, how can we possibly expect Him to wink at America and other modern nations for very much longer? A few verses earlier Moses got quite specific: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female – it is an abomination.” Nowadays the only abomination seems to be to call this an abomination. Time to wake up before we blow up – from within!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

GOD'S POWER EXHIBITED IN MAN'S WEAKNESS -- Devotional for May 27, from "Good Seeds"

They saw a man blind from birth. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither one, but rather that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

In the midst of suffering a thorn in his flesh that would not go away, despite the best of doctors, and the sincerest of prayers, Paul tells us what he heard God whisper to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power will be perfected in your weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). When we “let go and let God,” His grace will be sufficient for our every need, and His glory will be manifested. But what about the man born blind? Where was God when this man needed Him? His condition was so pathetic the disciples, though they could do nothing to help him, couldn’t help but say as they passed by, “What a terrible thing this is!” In their feeble attempt to make sense out of senseless suffering, they sought to lay the blame upon whomever they could, if only to protect the reputation of the one responsible for such an "act of God." The God they knew was only good, so only good could come from Him. But He was also just, so no sin could possibly get past Him, unpunished. Hence the question, “Whose sin is God dealing with by allowing this man to be born blind?” But Jesus rejected their reasoning. In fact, He lay the responsibility for this man’s infirmity right back at the feet of deity: “This is indeed the work of God,” He said. But it was a work of God still in the cocoon. Even if the man was 40 or 50 years old, he was still a babe as far as God’s work in him was concerned, for God wasn’t finished with him yet, as they all soon saw (and as the blind man soon “saw!”). Now, put yourself in his shoes: look at yourself – your weaknesses, your illnesses, your handicaps, your shameful habits. Admit it: you think these things are going to do you in, that you will continue in your misery, a victim, a loser -- and then you will die! Now, if you expect me to say you’re wrong, I won’t say it. I can’t know if your illness will indeed prove to be God’s discipline, or maybe God’s deadline. Neither can I say that God is not planning to gain great glory from your sufferings and shortcomings. But I CAN say that that should be the goal of every Christian regarding his sins and infirmities: to let them drive him to his knees in contrition, and while there, to pray with Paul, “O that Christ would be exalted in my body – that my suffering would display His power; for then I won’t care whether that power leads to my healing or my home-going. Whether I live or die, God, you get the glory!” (Philippians 1:20).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

GOD'S "EXHIBIT A" IN THE COURTROOM OF WORLD OPINION -- Devotional for May 26, from "Good Seeds"

(Note: this entry has replaced what I posted yesterday, as it was too long -- to fit on one page in the upcoming book. Check out May 27 for the expansion of this theme).

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin, nor did he blame God. (Job 1:21-22)

Every infirmity you or I will ever experience is allowed by God for one of – or any combination of – these three reasons: 1) The discipline for sin; 2) The deadline of life; 3) The display of God’s glory. In the story of Job we see that his suffering was neither because of his sin nor did it prove to be the pathway to his impending death. Rather, it was for this mysterious thing called “the glory of God” (see May 22). Satan had mocked God, saying, “Do you think Job serves you for nothing? Look how You bless him – no wonder he worships You! Turn off the bounty and I guarantee he’ll mutiny, with curses worse than any sailor!” (see Job 1:9-11). So God took up the Evil One’s challenge and gave him a free hand to torment Job. He went right to work, stripping Job of everything but his wife and his life. But the only curse Job would utter was upon those who taunted him to curse God, and tempted him to mistrust God – a curse, by the way, that was unknowingly aimed right back at Satan, his true enemy: “Even if God goes to the nth degree and kills me, I still will never deny Him. I may not know what He’s doing, but He does, and I trust Him – no matter what you say!” In this powerful statement of faith God was glorified more than by any other thing any man could ever say or do! Job’s dauntless faith gave God a great victory over Satan. The demonstration of extreme faith brings the manifestation of great glory. Job was indeed God’s “Exhibit A” in the courtroom of world opinion, an exhibition of what God can accomplish in a life totally sold out to Him. Now, what about you and me? Could we even come close to exhibiting such faith, such trust? That’s a question that can only be answered moment by moment, as we entrust to God everything we have and everything we are. One of our songs says, “Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my soul; I live for You alone. Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me.” When we can say this – and mean it – God has us right where He wants us. When we desperately hang on to our possessions, our investments, our relationships, our reputation, it is our own glory we are seeking. God will give it to us, but get none from us. But when we learn to hold loosely, with an open hand, all that is not eternal, God can confidently put us on display before a watching world – like He did with Job – as an exhibition of the extreme goodness of a man whose only concern is the greater glory of His God.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A PRAYER GOD DELIGHTS TO ANSWER -- Devotional for May 25, from "Good Seeds"

It was reported to King Jehoshaphat that a great army of the enemy was coming against his people. He was much afraid, but he turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast. Representatives gathered from the four corners of the land to cry out to God together in their distress. Then Jehoshaphat earnestly prayed, “O our God, we are powerless before this great multitude, nor do we know what to do – but our eyes are upon You!” (II Chronicles 20:2-5,12)

When we think of great leaders in world history, the names of Moses and Alexander the Great and Napoleon and George Washington come to mind. I now would like to add one more to the list: Jehoshaphat. But if a leader is not allowed to be afraid, then his name would have to be stricken, for when he got the news of an impending attack by a superior army, he started shaking in his royal sandals! But fear does not disqualify good leaders – it defines them! They confess their fears, but then carefully analyze their dilemma and quickly formulate a plan of action. This godly king honestly admitted two weaknesses: 1) I’m scared to death; 2) I don’t know what to do. But he didn’t let time-wasting complaining or soul-destroying worry eat away at his chances for survival. He knew that “doing beats stewing” so, although he was clueless as to the right military action to take, he knew enough to know this was a job for God – and no one else! Oh that our military and political leaders today would do what Jehoshaphat did! First, he called a fast. He didn’t ask the people to do what he was not also willing to do: to put aside all their own strategies and resources. Fasting is a vivid act of practicing what you preach: telling God you value whatever He has to offer more, even, than your natural, bodily needs. Job said it this way, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). And so, this godly leader gathered his generals, not to plan their defenses, but to get on their faces! They brought nothing to the drawing board but humble hearts. What a prayer for you and I to pray, whenever we meet vicious enemies or impossible odds: “O God, I am powerless before this _____, neither do I know what to do… but my eyes are on You!”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

THE CHRISTIAN AND HIS MUSIC -- Devotional for May 24, from "Good Seeds"

Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16)

These two passages of Scripture are excerpts of two letters from the same writer, the apostle Paul. When we put them together we discover that although they seem to be saying the same thing, each adds nuances of meaning worth examining. The Ephesians were exhorted to be filled with the SPIRIT of God, while the Colossians were implored to let the WORD of God richly dwell within them. Although these are two different disciplines, they have a single result: worship, or, more specifically, singing. The Ephesian Christians are encouraged to sing AND make melody in their hearts to the Lord. Is this just two ways of saying the same thing, or is Paul talking about two different things? One Greek scholar opined that while singing obviously refers to vocalizing words and tones with the human voice, making melody refers to the producing of music by means of man-made musical instruments. (By the way, if this is true, there goes the support for the argument made by various groups down through the ages that says the only worship music seen in the New Testament – and therefore the only kind acceptable today – is vocal music!) And then to the Colossians Paul emphasizes that the main theme for our music should be thankfulness. But at the crux of these passages are two common threads: 1) Our songs can be rich in variety: singing Psalms refers to singing right out of the actual songbook of the Bible, “The Psalms.” This could also refer to putting any words of Scripture to music. It’s just as well we don’t have the ancient melodies, for they would probably not sound very inviting to our ears. How much better to have the words intact, but to put them to the sounds that please our contemporary tastes. What’s wrong with that? Nothing! Hymns are songs with original words reflecting the truths of Scripture, songs about the acts and attributes of our great God. Spiritual songs are less didactic and more personal; they don’t talk ABOUT God, they talk TO Him. They are our loves songs to God. 2) Songs are another means of teaching, preaching, exhorting and encouraging. A song goes through our head, and keeps going, straight to the soul. Sermons teach our minds, but songs spark our hearts into responses of obedience and love.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

IMPERATIVES FOR GOD'S OPERATIVES -- Devotional for May 23, from "Good Seeds"

TRUST in the Lord, and do good. DELIGHT yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. COMMIT your way to the Lord, and He will bring forth your righteousness as the noonday. REST in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. (Psalm 37:3-7).

I like that word: operative. Used as an adjective, it means efficacious or effective. But when used as a noun, it refers to someone who exerts power or influence over things or people. It could refer to a craftsman, an artisan, or a mechanic. But it is sometimes used to describe a secret agent – and this is the operative definition I’m thinking of here. Paul wrote, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating the world through us on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to Him” (II Cor. 5:20). Christians are agents for God, representing heaven to earth’s inhabitants. The Bible says God "knows those who are His," and the world knows, too – and we know – by the kind of life that we live. Someday the saints will “go marching in,” past those heavenly gates to our eternal home. But right now we stay busy living for Jesus in “enemy occupied territory” (as C. S. Lewis describes the position of God’s operatives on active duty). The lifestyle we are known for is defined by four specific commands, or imperatives, listed in Psalm 37:3-7 (let the three-seven connection in this Scripture reference be a mnemonic device to hone us in to this wonderful truth): #1 – TRUST in the Lord. David sang, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). And Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast in anything but the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:14). It’s interesting how the words boast and trust are used almost interchangeably in these verses. So, my fellow operative, how are you doing in the trust department? #2 – DELIGHT yourself in the Lord. When your mind is free from the normal obligatory tasks of daily life, what themes, what delights does it default to? When concentrated thought and hard work finally give way to leisure and pleasure, what does your heart come home to? Is it Jesus? Is He the theme of your song? Do you think of Him all the day long? #3 – COMMIT your way to the Lord. Do you turn to Him for guidance, for help, for provision…first? Or is prayer your last resort? #4 – REST in the Lord. Where do you go for R&R? Your home? Your best chair? Your comfortable bed? Does spending time with Jesus feel like an obligation to you, or is He the one you turn to in the midst of your obligations? He waits for your attention. Do you wait patiently for His intervention, healing, and soul comfort?

THE THREE PURPOSES OF SICKNESS -- Devotional for May 22, from "Good Seeds"

But that with all boldness Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)

A missionary was tending to a sick friend, when a little neighbor girl entered the hut. She was a Christian, too, so when the band of believers bowed to pray she took her turn. She didn’t pray for relief and healing, nor for faith and endurance. These good requests others had already covered. Instead, she prayed for understanding: “Dear Lord, please tell us: Is this a sickness due to sin? Is it a sickness unto death? Or is it a sickness for the glory of God? Amen.” The missionary was rather taken aback by this unusual prayer, but the more he thought about it, the more he began to see the depth of spiritual truth it revealed. Surely these are the three reasons given throughout the Bible why anyone suffers physical pain and illness: #1 Sickness due to sin. In I Corinthians 11:29-30 Paul named a particular sin that was rampant in that church, and then made this startling statement: “For this reason many among you are weak and sick….” We pay the price of sin with the coin of sorrow. Whether we are breaking the moral or ethical code, or flaunting the laws God or of His world – including those of good health and nutrition – we reap what we sow. In the early church, when someone got sick they were to call for the elders. This wasn’t a rejection of medicine, but the recognition of what doctors know all too well today regarding the spiritual roots of physical distress and disease. Along with the anointing of oil (today: taking a pill), a prayer is offered – for there just might be some sin to be confessed (see James 5:14-16). #2 Sickness unto death. None of us knows the day of our death, nor the means. We sometimes wonder why “the good die young” while hardened sinners live on and on. We read of Hezekiah (II Kings 20:1) and Lazarus (John 11), how each man’s time had come to die. And yet both were spared, to live a little longer. We see many today whose life spans are lengthened through medical wonders. And yet, despite the plentiful miracles of medical science, and the rare miracles of God’s healing, we all die. So it is not wrong to ponder the possibility, “Will this injury or illness be the avenue for my graduation into glory?” We must not dwell on it, or worry about it, but it’s only right to consider it. But there’s one other: #3 Sickness for the glory of God. Job is the best example of this: His suffering had nothing to do with his sin, nor did it lead to his death. Although his character was tempered by his pain, it had an even higher purpose than that, for a glorious victory was being won in heaven that earth knew nothing of – God’s conquest over Satan.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

HOW TO GATHER A CROWD -- Devotional for May 21, from "Good Seeds"

When a lame man saw Peter and John entering the temple he ask for alms. Peter said, “We have no money, but what we do have we give unto you.” And with that he lifted the man by the hand and said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk!” Immediately the man stood up, walked, and then began leaping and praising God. People gathered, staring in disbelief. When Peter saw this, he spoke up, “Men of Israel…” (Acts 3:3,6-8,11-12)

When our daughters were in their teens they went on a summer gospel team to Europe. They followed a simple formula: pick a public place and start entertaining. With their song, puppet, pantomime and clown acts (this was serious clowning – not just “clowning around”) they were able to gather a crowd in no time. After giving the people a good show, they invited them to stay around to talk. They unabashedly announced that they had another even more important reason why they were there, and then began to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, one on one, with those who lingered. The announcement that “religion” was their real purpose would of course send most of the people packing, but seeing the robust faith in the faces and antics of these dedicated teens caused some tourists to risk staying around for another sermon, in words this time. Now Peter and John had no such plan in mind to preach that day – they were just going to the temple to pray. But when the lame man accosted them, Peter sensed a holy boldness inside that could not be denied or held back. What else could have given him the audacity to look the man straight in the eye and say, “In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk!” I mean, what if it didn’t work? Peter would be red-faced, John would disappear into the temple, the lame man, joined by the crowd, would be saying, “What kind of sick joke would make a man…” But none of these doubts entered Peter’s thinking, and none of these doubtful things happened. God was gathering a crowd to hear the gospel, and He knew this was the only way to do it, on that particular day in that particular place. The lesson here is clear: We need to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice (May 20). In this case, it wasn’t praying, or dying, it was preaching. God did all the preparation: the cripple’s desperate plea, Peter’s empty pockets, the Holy Spirit unction to face and heal the man, and then the most important thing of all – for Peter to see the whole thing as a side event (not a sideshow) leading to the main event: an opportunity to share Christ with a crowd that had been miraculously gathered and prepared. How about you and me? Will we be ready, when Jesus wants to use us to speak boldly for Him?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

READY TO PREACH, PRAY OR DIE AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE -- Devotional for May 20, from "Good Seeds"

“And now, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course…For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” And when Paul had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Acts 20:22,24,27,36)

Not too many of us could stand beside Paul and say with him that we are innocent of the blood of all men. Not that we have killed anyone, but Paul was referring to those he had rubbed shoulders with that he had not failed to tell of forgiveness through Christ. How many unsaved relatives, friends, class buddies, workmates or neighbors do we see every day that we have not once shared Christ with? What excuse will we give at the Judgment Seat of Christ when He asks us why we shrank from speaking His name? “Well, Jesus, I just didn’t know what to say. I wanted to speak up, but I just wasn’t prepared!” It’s true, many of us are in no way prepared to open our lips in testimony of the grace of God. Oh, we can talk all day about the latest movies, world events, national politics, the weather – maybe even about the church and Christian things – but we just can’t seen to speak the NAME, and make the claim that we walk the narrow path of righteousness in Christ. Maybe because we indeed are NOT walking that path, though we continue to “pay our dues” by going to church and hanging around Christians. A professor of mine in seminary used to say to us: “Men, I’ve failed unless I send you out of these hallowed halls prepared to preach, pray – or die – at a moment’s notice!” I wonder if he was thinking of Paul’s parting words to his dear church in Ephesus. The old apostle, having put in his time and taken more than his share of beatings for his faith, was nevertheless assessing his future, not his past, in this powerful three point sermon: PREACH -- “I have a one track mind, and that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the focal point of the whole counsel of God, and of my whole life. PRAY -- “And now I commend you, my beloved, to God” (verse 32), "and while he bowed to pray, they fell on his neck, weeping." DIE -- “The Holy Spirit has told me that bonds and afflictions await me” (verse 23). Having died daily to his own plans and desires, he was ready to die finally and go on to his reward. But in the meantime, having prayed and preached consistently since his conversion, why would he stop now? Can you and I make this bold claim? Do our feet fit in Paul’s sandals? Are we ready, now, to preach, pray, or die – OR LIVE – for Jesus?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PRAYER -- Devotional for May 19, from "Good Seeds"

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)

This verse makes the best case of any in the Bible for understanding prayer as a two-way conversation. We may agree in principle, but practically speaking, our own voice is the only one we normally hear when we’re praying, so for most of us prayer is a soliloquy, not a dialogue. But this verse makes a far greater emphasis on what God says than on what we say. Our only job is to call to Him. When I invited a man in my church to join our “Band of Brothers” prayer time in my office prior to the church service he said he’d come if he didn’t have to pray out loud. “That’s hard for me,” he said. And it’s true, we all struggle with “having the floor” when all ears are on us. We want to be able to just talk to God, but with everyone else listening in, we’re afraid of the opinions of those human eavesdroppers. One solution would be to pray silently, even while together. But corporate prayer really does have the wonderful advantage of encouraging others in their faith in our prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. I wish I had thought of this verse to share with my friend: “Just call on God – it doesn’t matter what you say. You open up the conversation, and if you’ll let Him, He’ll take it from there!” I wish I would have said that. But from now on I will, and I hope to practice what I preach and stop thinking so much about the words of my mouth, and concentrate more on the answer of God’s heart. If this verse is true, then we are in for some truly amazing things when we go to God in prayer. He’s not just going to answer back with words – indeed, we should not expect to hear audible words at all. If we creatures know that “actions speak louder than words,” wouldn’t the Creator put that maxim into practice at every opportunity? Maybe we all would pray more if we would think less about what words we might have to say to fill up the quota and meet the minimum daily requirements of what we think would be a decent prayer – and instead just finish our part posthaste in order to get started on God’s guided field trip where He will show us “great and mighty things which we do not now know.” Some people think of prayer as telling God what you know, when really just the opposite is true: it is listening and watching as God tells and shows us what we don’t know, but desperately need to learn. We think of prayer as worship time, and study as learning time. I’m thinking now that prayer is the best of both worlds: the time when I tell God my hurts and needs, but also the time He tells me -- and shows me -- just how He’s got it all in control!

Monday, May 18, 2009

CHILDISH vs. CHILDLIKE -- Devotional for May 18, from "Good Seeds"

I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

Any adult who has spent much time around a kindergarten teacher knows that feeling of being talked to and treated like a little child. Although Robert Fulghum made a good case for adults not taking their maturity too seriously in his essay, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, still, for most of us, when we grow up we want to “put away childish things,” and speak and act and live – and be treated – as mature men and women. But there’s a conflict raging inside every adult between the external “man” and the “inner child.” Jesus Himself said, “unless we come as a little child we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” But I think He would make the distinction between being childlike, which is a good thing, and being childish, which is something certainly to outgrow – and the sooner the better! But the job description of a child is that he wants to play and have fun. Is that something we have to put away and outgrow in order to be taken seriously in the adult world? No. We all love to play and laugh and have fun. Maybe this is why standup comedians are so popular: they bring out the child inside of us. But the secret to their success is that they don’t treat us like children to do it. Hopefully not just entertainers can learn the secret of treating fellow adults with the respect they earned with their matriculation from elementary school, and still coax and cajole them, with the persuasive power of the kid next door, to “come out and play.” But what is it about children that Jesus wanted to emphasize? It was their humility. To be a child means that he, unlike his teenaged brothers and sisters (!), doesn’t know and can’t do everything. Children cry easily, give up quickly, run to Mama at the drop of a hat, jump on Daddy’s lap whenever it is empty, and usually confess their weaknesses and sins readily enough, in exchange for the forgiveness, restoration and help they discover is available to them when they are humble. Heaven will be populated with only saints, to be sure, but we can’t help but think, from reading this passage, that Jesus is assigning the mansions to the childlike humble ones, and the shacks to the self-styled arrogant ones – who may turn out to be the most childish of all! Oh that you and I will finally outgrow the tendency to proudly cover our sins, and grow into a childlike saint who quickly confesses them so we can jump back up on our DADDY’s lap!

NAMING NAMES -- Devotional for May 17, from "Good Seeds"

May the Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and finally found me. (II Timothy 1:16-17)

Even though the Bible was written for the benefit of anyone who would take the time to read it, Paul told his young protégé that it is the man of God who will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work by its doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16-17). Yes, the Bible is not only a textbook full of important facts of history and theology, but also a training manual for living a godly life. But even better than these, it is a love letter to mankind from God. A large portion of the New Testament is composed of epistles, or letters. Most of these were addressed to individual churches, but a few precious ones were private letters to certain, specific friends. Now, everyone likes to receive a personal letter, but there’s a certain, almost forbidden, excitement about reading someone else’s mail! And yet, we are not forbidden to read these, but very much encouraged to do so, for although they are highly personal, they are also greatly practical and beneficial for all who read them. But letters have names, real names of real people, in them. The apostle Paul was not at all shy about “naming names” – reporting the errors and sins of particular people, so that his readers could be forewarned and forearmed about former friends who were now working for the enemy (see 1:15 and 2:17). (I guess they didn’t worry about libel and lawsuits in those days!) But Paul also was very quick to name those who were an encouragement to him. We don’t talk much about this fellow, Onesiphorus (maybe because his name was so hard to pronounce!), but Paul thought the world of him, and told the world of Bible readers about him! From our vantage point we see Paul as a victorious hero as he contended for the faith, but in his own lifetime, among even his own people, the Christians, he was somewhat of an enigma at best, and a downright irritation and troublemaker at worst! So when he wound up in a Roman prison for his faith, some were no doubt thinking, “Serves him right, the old scoundrel!” And now he had nearly fallen off the face of the earth, as nobody seemed to know where he was, and nobody seemed to care. But Onesiphorus cared, to the point of scouring the Roman prisons until he found his old friend. Imagine the joy of these two when they finally met! And imagine something else: if your name was listed in the Bible, would it be as a troublemaker, or an encourager?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

PARENTING: FINISH THE JOB -- Devotional for May 16, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus went back home to Nazareth with His parents. And as He continued in subjection to them, He kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:51-52)

Regarding a child’s training regimen, timing is everything. Some young people find the home they grew up in so comfortable and the food and fellowship provided by their parents so enjoyable that they feel no compunction to move out. That magic threshold in late teens, after graduation but before marriage or steady employment, comes and goes for these youngsters (If they noticed it at all, it was little more than a bump in the road!) This “failure to launch,” as family therapists call it, postpones indefinitely the normal experiment of the next generation to make their own living and find their own life. More common is the opposite extreme of timing where a child desires or insists on leaving home way before the time. He’s far from ready to be emancipated, as huge gaps in his training still remain. Sometimes this is just motivated by normal youthful eagerness and self-confidence, but all too often a child is forced to make a premature exodus by an abusive or otherwise miserable home environment. There’s no fancy psychological term for this, it’s just plain old “running away from home.” In either case, the timing is off and the plane is headed for a crash before it even clears the runway. When we were making a move to another state, our youngest was going to have to start in a new high school – in her senior year, no less – where she wouldn’t know anyone. She cleverly worked it out with a girlfriend to live with her family for that year so she wouldn’t have to suffer this traumatic change. She had no idea we’d resist her creative plan. I remember telling her, “Heidi, it’s not that I don’t think you would be fine, but if we did this we would be skipping our last year of parenting and your last year of training, which very well may be the most important part of your development.” Well, I’m happy to report that she followed in the footsteps of Jesus and continued in subjection to her parents for that last year (see verse 51), in a new home in a new state in a new school, with new friends materializing soon enough! And as we look at her now we see a flower in full bloom: a faithful wife of a loving husband, a skillful mother of four darlings, and still making new friends and keeping the old ones with the greatest of ease and expertise! But the BEST part of all is to see how “the Jesus way” (see verse 2) is still playing out in her life, for she continues, day by day, to keep growing mentally, bodily, spiritually, and socially. There’s a lesson here: Parents, finish your job! Kids, let them! Do it the “Jesus way” and you can’t go wrong!

CURE FOR DEPRESSION: NIX THE ISOLATION -- Devotional for May 15, from "Good Seeds"

“Lord I have been most zealous to serve You when others have forsaken You, and now here I am, the only faithful one left!”… “You’re right, Elijah, except your numbers are a bit off: You’ve been faithful, yes, but you’re not alone. In fact I can give you the names of 7,000 others right now who haven’t given in to the evil one. Maybe it’s time you get in touch with some of them yourself!” (I Kings 19:14,18)

Here we have the words of a man in the throes of depression. Joshua had fled to an isolated mountain place, hiding out from Queen Jezebel who had put out a bounty for his head. He had just had a great victory over the priests of Baal, but that infuriated the Queen – and now his life was in danger. Joshua was past being worried or scared – he was downright depressed! Depression puts us in a frame of mind where we cannot think about anyone else but ourselves. It isn’t a sinful egotism or arrogance, it’s just the way that particular mental/emotional malady operates. For Elijah, self-pity was the chief symptom, which is the inevitable product of a lethal combination of over-work and under-fellowship. God, the Great Physician – in this case the Cosmic Therapist – didn’t just say, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, tell me more. What else are you feeling?” No, God had heard enough to make His diagnosis and formulate the cure. How often do we make Elijah’s mistake and become convinced that we have been deserted by all others and now are completely alone in our faithful service for God? Isolation has the insidious capacity of reproducing itself: we think we’re alone, so we go it alone, shirking all human company and companionship. Jesus spoke of seed sown among the weeds, which, He said, represent the pleasures and cares of the world. Elijah had his share of both: he had just single-handedly defeated the prophets of Baal, a cause for great fame and pleasure. But that victory brought down the Queen’s wrath and her only thought was, “Off with his head!” – a cause for great care and worry. We must learn that both the fanfare of our successes and the dissonance of our failures are equally able to drown out God’s still, small voice in our hearts. And maybe even our own complaints to God will prevent our hearing His soothing response, and His heavenly two-fold prescription: 1) Get the facts straight – you’re a good man, Charlie Brown, but you’re not the only one; 2) Those other good men may need you sometime, but right now, you need them. Go find a Christian brother and team up with him, sharpen his iron as he sharpens yours – and never go it alone again! You’ve got Me, but you need them, too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A BAND OF BROTHERS -- Devotional for May 14, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus stepped into Peter and Andrew’s boat and asked them to row out a bit, and from there He continued teaching the multitude. Then He said to Peter, ”Okay, time for some fishing; head for the deep water.” Soon their net was so full they had to signal their fishing partners, James and John, to come assist before their boat sank with the load. Peter was seized with amazement at this miracle, and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus responded, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” And when they brought their boats to land, they left all and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)

It’s fun, and possibly instructive, to picture Christ and His followers as the first church. Of course Jesus was the pastor (Hebrews 13:20 calls Him “The Great Shepherd of the Sheep.” We know Judas was the treasurer (THAT didn’t have a very happy ending!) No doubt Peter was in charge of men’s ministries…but wait, wasn’t the whole church men’s ministries? Yes, for at first it was just men Christ called to be His disciples (starting down at the boat yard). Women followed Jesus, too, and He greatly encouraged it, but this didn’t change the nature of the Twelve, the original “Band of Brothers.” That term first caught my attention as the title of a television mini-series about American soldiers at war. I love what the phrase implies: 1) We are BROTHERS – there’s such a thing as siblings, which would include sisters, but when you use the word brothers, it means they’re all male, all men. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re blood related. The military band of brothers had the common bond of living, training and fighting together. Christian brothers are linked by our common love and service for our Lord. We think of the link between brothers as closer and stronger than that of friends. You move in and out of friendships, but you can’t stop being or having a brother simply because of a mood or a disagreement. It’s like a marriage: you can be happily married, or miserably married, but you’re married, either way. The separation of spouses by divorce is hardly more tragic than the breaking of the bond of intimacy between men who are brothers. 2) We are a BAND of brothers. We are linked. We are tied tightly together. We are members of a body, as the Bible describes it, with Christ at the head. When one of us is stepped on, the rest of us say, “Ouch!”…almost as if we share the same nervous and circulatory systems. To the men reading this let me ask: “Who do you consider to be a brother like this? Do you have a band of brothers? No? Then go join one. Can’t find one? Start one! Men need men!

DRUNKENNESS: Part 2 - NOT JUST A CURE, BUT A VICTORY! -- devotional for May 13, from "Good Seeds"

(NOTE TO READER: This part 2 reflects a revision of part 1 with some additional thoughts. Please see the entry for May 12 the get the whole picture)

Do not be drunk with wine, for that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. (Ephesians 5:18)

The Psalmist sang these beautiful lyrics to His Lord: “l lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord” (Ps 121:1-2). What, exactly, is the source of help for anyone in trouble, including an alcoholic? If he looks to the hills, letting them represent the entire created order – whether it be the alignment of the stars, the development of medicinal cures, or the involvement of other human beings – he finds himself no closer to the craved restoration of his emotional and spiritual health than before. Why? Because the cure is not to be found in the creation, but in its Creator: “My help cometh from the Lord.” And so, the FOURTH thing any alcoholic must know is that God is his only hope. Many sufferers do realize this, but when they turn to the Lord for help they put Him in a box, telling Him exactly what they expect from Him: “What I want and need, O God, is a miracle!” When they do this it escapes their notice that miracles occur only occasionally in the Bible, and even more rarely in history since. Defined as an act of God defying the laws of nature, we observe that God has practiced extreme restraint in the granting of miracles for the sake of His suffering ones throughout the course of history. In fact, I would imagine that for every single miracle performed by God, ten thousand cries for one have gone up. And so, a FIFTH bit of advice to the alcoholic seeking relief and restoration would be: Don’t beg God to instantly and miraculously take away your cravings. It’s not that He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, but to insist on a miracle is not unlike a baby demanding to have its needs met without any personal investment in return. It’s okay for a baby to do that, but more is expected of an adult, and for good reason. A baby learns nothing from having its needs met automatically and unconditionally – this is simply what is necessary if it is even going to survive and pass into the stage when he can take part in his own nourishment and healing. If God just zapped an alcoholic’s cravings and instantly healed him of his addiction (as wonderful as that would be!) that man would come out healthy again, like a brand new baby, but not whole, like a man who had fought the enemy and won. Realize this: God doesn’t just want to give you a cure, He wants to give you a victory! When you team with God, knowing when to do what He directs and empowers you to do, and when to step aside to let Him do for and in you what only He can do, that is victory indeed!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DRUNKENNESS: PART 1 - A SPIRITUAL BATTLE -- Devotional for May 12, from "Good Seeds"

(NOTE TO READER: This entry has undergone a significant revision from its earlier form, as of 7:00 am, May 14)

Do not be drunk with wine, for that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you (Ephesians 5:18)

In this day of runaway alcoholism, it’s too bad the Bible doesn’t say anything about it! Or does it? Well, the word representing the cause of the problem, alcohol – the active ingredient in the beverages – was not used in Bible days, but the word for its dastardly effects was in wide circulation: drunkenness. And it was a well-known fact that those who became overly fond of drinks laced with this poisonous ingredient soon became enslaved to it. The Greek word translated drunk is the same word later translated filled or controlled. So the problem doesn’t seem to be related to the verbs (drunk, fill, control), but to the nouns (wine, Holy Spirit). This verse is saying that it is God’s will and plan that we be totally taken over and completely controlled by Him. This is how man’s highest good and God’s greatest glory is achieved. But the verse also says that it is a desecration and ruination of the home God made for the habitation of our soul (our body) to allow it to come under the influence of any substance, activity, or person, relinquishing supreme command and total control. Knowing these things will help us better understand and help our alcoholic friends. Not claiming any particular expertise in alcoholism counseling, I nevertheless recently sat face to face with a man who fairly cried out to me for help. What could I tell him? FIRST, anyone in the clutches of an addiction must acknowledge the power of this dragon and the depth of his lair. SECOND, he must realize he cannot cure himself. That would be like thinking a drowning man could rescue himself. Impossible! THIRD, he must know that the greatest self-deception is to think he can face and fight Satan alone. Such a man will lose every time. Though the devil is the epitome of evil, he is still an angel, and as such is far superior in strength and knowledge than any man. But, though he towers over sinful man, he cowers before a holy God, and any man who is totally sold out to Him. So, when the devil knocks at your door, don’t go – send Jesus. “One little word” wrote Martin Luther, “shall fell him!” But this must be a word from God, not man. The battle against the bottle is a spiritual battle. The only hope for victory resides not in personal endeavor (promises to yourself), nor public support (promises from others), but in the armaments of heaven (the promises of God). Reaching INSIDE for help will be of no help; reaching OUT for help might provide some, temporary assistance; but it is only when a man reaches UP, crying out to God, that he will find the only genuine cure for the terrible scourge.

Monday, May 11, 2009

DON'T GLOAT - IT MAY CUT YOUR THROAT! -- Devotional for May 11, from "Good Seeds"

Do not rejoice when your enemy meets trouble. Let there be no gladness when he falls – for the Lord may just become displeased with you and stop punishing him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)

The spectrum of wrongdoing is positively kaleidoscopic! There is the obvious law breaking, as well as everyday immoral and unethical behavior. But there is another kind of evil that is especially insidious because it lurks and stalks within the bounds of feigned righteousness. We see this in one who takes great pains to maintain his own goodness, all the while going to great lengths to point out the faults and failures of others. In a word, it is gloating, which far surpasses its close cousin, boasting, both in motive and final result. The braggert’s favorite topic of conversation is himself, whom he builds up by calling attention to his own strengths and accomplishments. No one can doubt his attitude is positive, even if self-serving. But the gloater is far cleverer: he would rather talk about others -- but it’s all negative, as he seeks to raise himself by lowering others. If he can make a case for their inferiority, this automatically establishes his superiority – and without even a trace of bragging! Consider David. As one who had “killed his ten thousands,” he had plenty of human enemies, the first of whom was a Philistine giant. When David felled him like a tree in the forest Goliath and his comrades met trouble indeed. They were the aggressors, while David was only defending his homeland. But this was war, and war means breaking things and killing people. There’s no question that David rejoiced mightily to see his enemies fall and flee. But now fast-forward to another confrontation, with another brand of enemy, the enemy within the camp. The very man David had fought to defend, his king, saw David’s noble character, and popularity, decided this represented a threat to his rule and dynasty, and so led a posse to flush him out and kill him. But the tables turned and David came upon Saul sleeping in a cave. He could have easily killed him. He didn't do it, choosing rather to make a moral appeal to his king: "I have preserved your life when I could have destroyed it." He spoke strongly, but HE DIDN'T GLOAT! Had he done so, God might have put His judgment of this errant leader on hold while He took David to the woodshed. What about us? How many times have the wheels of God’s justice concerning obvious wrongdoing in others skidded to a halt because He detected in us that far more insidious kind of wrongdoing: gloating over our enemy? And how often is that enemy a brother or sister in Christ? Remember: we have the glorious privilege of helping God keep on track in His dealings with sinners!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TO BORROW TROUBLE IS TO WORRY TWICE -- Devotional for May 10, from "Good Seeds"

Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

Today a friend of mine shared with me his theory about worry: don’t do it! He remembered what his mom used to say: “Why borrow trouble from tomorrow.” They’re right of course, for isn’t this what our Lord taught? To worry about what bad things might happen tomorrow is to suffer twice for something you need only suffer for once, when it happens – or not at all, for who can know the future? Only God – and He’s not telling! In today’s verse Jesus makes two observations about the troubles we anticipate: 1) “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” We can’t know now how things will work out for us tomorrow. We can certainly envision our coming trials – and that’s our problem: our imagination works extremely well, giving us plenty to worry about – but we just can’t know what resources, what help, what deliverance will come our way at the moment those things are needed, which isn’t now. 2) “Each day has its full quota of trouble.” In Jeremiah 29:11 we read this amazing statement: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those plans may include a fair amount of pain and suffering, but God has His reasons, and for those who are His, it will always turn out for their good, and His glory (see Romans 8;28). In the meantime, God promises “He will not allow us to be tried beyond what we are able to bear, but will with the trouble provide a way of escape” (I Corinthians 10:13). God promises to give us, for the particular moment, and for the particular trial, whatever resources we will need to deal with it. What He does NOT promise is the power to face now what doesn’t even yet exist (and may never materialize). Remember this: Worry is not a weapon against the enemy – worry IS the enemy! Worry about future pain won’t prevent it, but it very well can ferment it! Vain imaginations go into the vat; time plus worry complete the fermentation process, producing the wine of spiritual and emotional defeat. Mark Twain, in his folksy way, hit the nail on the head when he quipped, “In my life I have known many troubles – most of them never happened!” So don’t borrow trouble. Why suffer twice? Be like the infant taken to the doctor for his vaccinations: he coos and giggles all the way there. Not knowing what’s in store, he can enjoy the moment and not fret the future. Oh when the needle pricks, he’ll cry hard enough – it’s okay to cry when it hurts. But it’s not okay, and highly unnecessary, to cry ahead of time.

HOLY MOTHER -- Devotional for May 9, from "Good Seeds"

From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through believing in Christ… For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now is in you. So kindle afresh the gift of God, which is in you. (II Timothy 3:15; 1:5-6)

It’s pretty easy to figure out that the word holiday is a derivative of holy and day. Even though some of our popular holidays would not readily be thought of as “holy” days, still their significance is deep enough to make them worthy of our attention and honor. It’s too bad some think of holidays as no more than just a little extra time off from work or school in order to get in some bonus sleep, or travel, or play. Well, we all enjoy a break from labor and routine, but holidays are not for the purpose of making space, but filling it – to fill our heads and hearts with reminders of what life would be like if the person we are celebrating had never come on the scene, or if the event we are commemorating had never transpired. Take Independence Day, for example: this is the day we remember our founding fathers and celebrate the freedoms they worked and fought and died for. The shooting off of fireworks and the singing of the national anthem on the 4th of July are almost sacred rites to any patriotic American. And then there’s Valentine’s Day, a day to remind us to show and shower our love on those most important to us. Such holidays are not only fun, but highly significant. But are they holy days? Mother’s Day is another such holiday, celebrated just as easily and meaningfully by God-lovers and God-ignorers alike. Everyone has a mother, and everyone understands that to honor the one who brought you into the world, and then taught you to stand strong in it, is a good thing. But for those who believe the human race and the human family come directly from the mind and hand of God, Mother’s Day is properly viewed as a true holy day. This word means set apart, separated from evil and unto good. Something that is holy is protected and preserved and honored so it can thrive and function in the way it was designed. By this definition, our bodies are holy; so is marriage; so are mothers. And godly mothers take very seriously their job of passing the faith along to their children, to give the most precious thing they hold in their hands, God’s Word, to the most holy thing they hold in their hearts, their children. Should not we also set apart as holy those who have so honored us with their attention, their love, and their very lives!

Friday, May 8, 2009

WE BRING OUR OFFERING -- Devotional for May 8, from "Good Seeds"

Then Miriam the prophetess took a timbrel and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; He has hurled both horse and rider into the sea." (Exodus 15:20-21)

I was recently in the company of some fellow pastors at a retreat. I asked one of them, “Who’s leading the music?” He answered with a smile, “We handle that ourselves, for you see, we’ve got our own little pastors’ praise band.” I lamented, “Boy, I sure wish I’d brought my guitar!” “You can’t get out of it that easy,” he replied, “I have an extra!” I must say that our five guitars, all plugged in and switched on, accompanying those well tuned and practiced males voices – well it doesn’t get much better than that! But today, it DID get better, when I heard 50 young ladies from a Bible College singing beautiful melody and rich harmony, accompanied by the “timbrels” of our day (drums, keyboard, acoustic piano and electric bass). Their sound sent my soul to heaven with tears of joy streaming down my face! It was the beauty of the music mixed with the depth of the poetry in the lyrics that did the trick. Even as Miriam of old led an all girl praise choir in worship of the Lord of Hosts who had just delivered her people from certain death or recapture by the Egyptians, so today Holly and Jordan (two of the choir members we talked to afterward), along with their sisters in song, led our tiny audience in worship of that same huge Lord of Heaven. The piece that caused me to swoon – or rather to soar into the heavenlies – was a medley, arranged by one of their fellow students, of two songs which together describe what it is we are doing when we sing to the Lord: We are bringing to Him an offering. God’s chosen people were instructed to bring an unblemished bullock, goat or lamb, and shed its blood before the Lord as a sacrifice for sin. And they also worshiped Him with offerings of the firstfruits of their land and labors. Hebrews 13:15 instructs God’s people today to “continually offer up to Him a sacrifice of praise to God: the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” And Romans 12:1 reveals the true meaning behind such an offering: “I urge you, brethren, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God.” RARELY is a believer called on to DIE for His Lord, but DAILY we are commanded to LIVE for him, and give to Him our all. And so, not just on Sundays at church, but daily, hourly,every moment, at home, at work, at play, we bring to God an offering of our time, our talent, and our treasure. For “all that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be, we give to You…We are an offering”… “Oh Lord, I bring an offering to You.”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

MY LORD'S A-WRITIN' -- Devotional for May 7, from "Good Seeds"

I saw a Great White Throne, and before it stood the dead, great and small. And the books were opened, and another book was opened, the book of Life. The dead were judged from the things written in the books, according to their deeds. (Rev. 20:11-12)

An old slave song goes something like this: “He sees all you do, He hears all you say; my Lord’s a-writin’ all the time.” This spiritual is rooted in Scripture, as it refers to what the Bible teaches about God keeping close tabs on His creation. But what exactly is God writing? About whom is He keeping such copious records? What is the nature of the books He is writing in? And finally, when will this information be retrieved, and for what purpose? The Bible says a time is coming when the “books” will be thrown open. Every sinner’s name is in there, and since every human – male or female, old or young, alive or dead – is a sinner, it is a complete roll book of the entire world of all time. And next to each name is listed that person’s deeds. Every man will then be judged according to his works. Those who depend on good deeds to save them will find out at the “Great White Throne” of God that all human beings are equally and thoroughly condemned by their sins. No good work of a man can reverse the effects of his sin – only the blood of the Lamb can do that. “The wages of sin is death,” but Christ’s death paid for our sin. Those who will not accept His payment on their behalf will have to pay it themselves, with their own eternal death. Judgment Day will be the unbeliever’s “Day of Discovery,” when he finds out that man’s way doesn’t work. But by that time, tragically, it will be too late to do anything about it. Besides these books of condemnation, there is another book, “The Lamb’s Book of Life,” in which are recorded only the names of those who do not depend on sacrifices of works, but on a sacrifice of blood, to save them. In the very beginning of the history of mankind, we see these two attempts at right standing with God, in the very different sacrifices brought by the two brothers, Cain and Abel. And it was then that God established the pathway to forgiveness and blessing: it would not be the by the sweat of his brow that a man would achieve right standing with God (Cain brought produce from his fields), but by the sacrifice of blood not his own (Abel brought “a firstling from his flock” -- Genesis 4:4). That’s when God started writing, and these two brothers’ names can be found on the first page of God’s two books, the Book of Condemnation and the Book of Life. By the way, where will your name be found? God’s still writing, you know!

INDELIBLE INK, OR INVISIBLE INK? -- Devotional for May 6, from "Good Seeds"

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life shall ever come into the Holy City. Those whose names are not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 21:21,27; 20:15)

An old hymn says, “There’s a new name written down in glory and it’s mine, oh yes it’s mine. And the white robed angels sing the story: a sinner has come home…with my sins forgiven I am bound for heaven, never more to roam.” Where are these names written? Revelation gives the answer: in The Lamb’s Book of Life. When someone gets saved, two things happen in heaven: FIRST: the angels burst into songs of rejoicing (Luke 15:7). (I wonder if the souls of saints who’ve gone on before will be singing along?) And SECOND: The name of the new Christian is recorded in our Lord’s personal “Forever-Family Log Book.” And He doesn’t use pencil, either, but writes with permanent, indelible ink! Then someday, as suggested by another old hymn – and rooted in Scripture – there will be a roll call in heaven: “On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise and the glory of His resurrection share; when His chosen ones share gather to their home beyond the skies, and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!” How does one get his name into God’s roll book? Confess – first confess that you are a sinner, lost and condemned; and second, confess Jesus as your Savior. Revelation 20:12 talks about this book of life, but then it mentions other books, too, in which are recorded all the deeds of all mankind. And all men will be “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” It’s not a matter of good deeds being compared to bad, for by that standard many people (wrongly) assume their good will win out over their bad. No, the only question will be, “Have you ever, or have you never, sinned?” One sin will send a man to hell. But, praise God, one righteous deed will take that man to heaven – the deed of Christ’s death on the cross. We receive Him, He writes us in. It’s as simple as that. But if there are millions of names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in indelible ink, why is it that so many act as though their names were written in invisible ink? These are the names of invisible saints, who would rather keep their faith a secret. Why? Some for fear of persecution, maybe. That’s understandable, but overcome-able. But others lay low and remain anonymous so they can still dabble a bit in the world. Somehow I think the celestial singing stops right about then! Are you a soul heaven rejoices over, both for your salvation, and your service? Is your name written in indelible, or invisible, ink?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

CINCO DE MAYO -- Devotional for May 5, from "Good Seeds"

At one time all people spoke a single language. “Come,” they said, “let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies, a memorial to our unity and a monument to our greatness.” But the Lord saw what their common language was doing, so He came down and confused their tongues. Unable to understand one another, they abandoned their project and scattered far and wide over all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

On the first read through of this fascinating narrative one might get the impression that Godkind and mankind were rivals and that deity was beginning to worry about losing the upper hand. Verse 6 quotes God, “With their common language and political solidarity there’s no limit to what they might do.” But Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”? Why wasn’t God pleased with this show of peace and teamwork between fellow human beings? Two reasons: First, it was just one more manifestation of man’s rejection of his Maker and Provider: “We don’t need God, we can fend for ourselves just fine, as long as we band together. Through gathering numbers we can amass strength great enough to defy the heavens!” This is what the Tower of Babel was saying – just one more expression of the Serpent’s tempting words to Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Follow my lead and your eyes will be opened and you will be just like God” (Genesis 3:4). What Lucifer couldn’t achieve for himself he continues to try to attain vicariously through his gullible human admirers. God says, “I will not share my glory with another” (Isaiah 42:8), whether it be one angel or an entire race of men. Second, it represented a defiance of God’s order at creation to multiply and fill the earth. An interesting parallel can be seen in the early church: Before His ascension to heaven Jesus had commissioned His followers to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). But they mostly ignored this command and huddled together in Jerusalem – until God sent persecution. Then they scattered “from Judea to Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), carrying the message of Jesus with them. Two other thoughts here: 1) God knows, and culture proves, that evil escalates in the denser population of cities; and 2) God loves variety: He created the original dog pair, but look at the kaleidoscope of breeds today, to our delight and God’s glory! We can even take this 5th day of May and join in with our neighbors south of our border in their proud affirmation of their nation in colorful celebration of freedom.

CONSTRUCTION ZONE -- Devotional for May 4, from "Good Seeds"

Build up one another. (I Thessalonians 5:11)

The New Testament paints three beautiful portraits of the church: It is the BODY of Christ, the BRIDE of Christ, and the BUILDING of Christ. Each of these needs constant support and nurture to stay healthy and vibrant. A body needs nourishment and exercise, so God commands us to care for one another and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. A bride needs attention and affection, so we are urged to be devoted and to be kind to one another in love. A building needs order, symmetry and structural strength, so we are exhorted to encourage one another, to give preference, and to be subject to one another, doing all we can to build up one another. When an edifice of any kind is under construction, certain principles must be adhered to: 1) there must be a plan; 2) it starts with a firm foundation; 3) every piece has a purpose; 4) there is a certain order to be followed; 5) some components will show in the finished product, but most will be hidden from view; 6) bricks and boards are not merely laid one upon another, but firmly fastened; 7) like a body, a building is not merely “cold flesh” – it has a circulatory system, a network of pipes and wires distributing information and conducting power from one section to another. And most of all, 8) There must be leadership and division of labor: a master builder directing willing laborers, all working with unity of purpose. Each one does his assigned task, for which he is ideally suited by calling, strengths and skills. Like an athletic team, each member of a construction team is expected to perform his own task. In football, this would mean receivers are trained to go out and catch the ball; lineman are selected for their bulk, and then taught to alternately guard the ball handler from invaders, or be the invaders themselves; the quarterback calls the plays designed to get the ball into the end zone. It’s a concerted team effort: the center snaps, the kicker kicks, the linebacker tackles. You get the point: each man does what he does best, and he respects his teammates, depends on them, and gives them permission and room to do what they were equipped to do. Just so, the church is to be a team of specialists, each one gifted and assigned by God to make a particular contribution toward the construction of the edifice. But just remember this: the building we are constructing is – one another! Everything that is done for the kingdom of God and the glory of God must also work to the good of the people of God. If the latter is not happening, something’s wrong with the former. We must never think we are building Christ’s church if we are not building up one another!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

FROM 401K TO 911K -- Devotional for May 3, from "Goods Seeds"

A man builds his life with gold, silver, and precious stones, or else with wood, hay and straw. On THE DAY of judgment the quality of each man’s work will be tested by fire. If it remains, he shall receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will lose his reward; he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire. (I Corinthians 3:12-15)

Some people live like the fabled grasshopper, working for the bread, and living for the pleasures, of today, fiddling his life away with little thought of tomorrow. But most of us prefer the ant as our model, knowing the value of working a little harder each day in order to store a little away for the future, when the harvest may not be as plentiful, and when we will not be as able to plant and reap. In other words, most people hope and plan to outlive their working years so they can spend their remaining years at the comfortably slower pace of old age R&R (relaxation and retirement). As safe and secure as investment packages such as the 401K are purported to be, economic downturns can happen at any time and totally destroy the retirement savings of even the most hard working and conservative investor. Overnight his 401K can turn into a “911K”! And what can calling this universal emergency hotline do for him at such a time? Strangely enough, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about retirement on earth – possibly because God’s intention is that we work here and retire in heaven! Oh, our production may lessen as our pace slows down, but there will always be something for God’s faithful saints to do or dare, if nothing more than sharing words of wisdom and occupying till He comes with fervent prayer. Not that we can draw a paycheck as a prayer warrior, but what is the expiration date on God’s promise to not let “His righteous ones beg for bread” (Psalm 37:25)? We spend far too much of our valuable time and effort on making a LIVING, while spending far too little of those precious resources on making a LIFE. And yet, in the spiritual realm, no one is a grasshopper – every man is an ant investing in his own future, his eternity future, by his thoughts and motives, words and deeds, attitudes and actions. What have you set aside, or rather sent on ahead, for your retirement in heaven? God says many will be surprised to find all that’s left of their heavenly 401K will be ashes and smoke, after exposure to God’s testing fires. And it will then be too late to call 911, asking God to put out the flames. After Believer’s Judgment Day, we will have no second chance to plan or prepare for our heavenly retirement. Our time will be up, for time will be no more. What will you do today to prepare for your eternal tomorrow?

EULOGY -- Devotional for May 2, from "Good Seeds"

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; yes, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from all their toils and trials, for their good deeds follow them. (Revelation 14:13)

Think of a typical funeral: a fully occupied casket or urn is in place at the front of the hall, or at the graveside. The sight and scent of flowers dominate the atmosphere, as if to cover up any sensory indications of death. Soft music can barely be heard in the background, and yet stands out, for lack of anything in the foreground. As friends and relatives drift in they are formally but kindly greeted and guided to their seats. A few subdued pleasantries are exchanged, and then the service begins. The one officiating welcomes all attendees, and speaking on behalf of the bereaved, thanks them for coming to pay their respects. After a prayer, and maybe some more music, the obituary is read: “Our dearly departed was born at that time, at that place, lived there and then there, doing this, and that…and then died – at this time, in this place.” People listen, albeit absent-mindedly, at this official but dispassionate rehearsal of the bare bones of a life that has come and gone. But then they are invited to participate in the proceedings by standing and sharing what the deceased meant to them, and how he or she “will never be gone” because of the indelible impressions, the “heartprints,” this dear one has left behind. What could the speaker add in a prepared eulogy that could possibly match the detail, beauty and sincerity of sentiment that have just flowed from the mouths and memories of loving mourners? But he has a sermon to preach, a basic Bible lesson on the uncertainty of life, the inevitability of death, and the hope of resurrection and reunion. A bold challenge may even be sent forth regarding those left behind – present company included – that they consider their ways and examine their hearts, to be prepared to meet their Maker (that it may be a friendly meeting) when their time comes. The focus of attention flows from man, to God, but then back to man again, as tears are shed, flowers are strewn, necks are hugged, dirt is poured – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Then folks get in their cars, drive slowly through the town, eventually sitting down somewhere to eat and talk, a strangely appropriate venue for building and rebuilding relationships. But always in the back of minds is this blessing – this eulogy – of the one whose parting was just marked, who has gone on to his long awaited rest and reward, leaving work behind for others to take up. But his good deeds will follow him, leaving a clear path for us to walk in, leading us straight to his Savior. Will this be the eulogy spoken over you? Will this be your legacy?

Friday, May 1, 2009

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! -- Devotional for May 1, from "Good Seeds"

If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)

With spring oh so bloomy, it’s hard to stay gloomy! We don’t normally think of May Day, this first day in May, as a holiday, but President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first Thursday in May to be "The National Day of Prayer.” The Bible warns us not to be deceived by the pleasant and peaceful appearances of nature and society (I think of the naïveté expressed by the poet: “God’s in His heaven, all’s well with the world”). Once aware of the evil all around and within, we fall down to repent of our sin, and then get up to clean up our act. Nehemiah is our model: He saw the sin of Israel and claimed it as his own as he prayed on behalf of his countrymen (Nehemiah 1). Even as I revel in the sunshine of May, enjoy the scent of lilac and jasmine, and swoon at the short-lived beauty of delicate tulips and giant irises, I am not deceived into thinking all’s well with the world. So, as I enjoy this May Day, I also enjoin my Christian brothers and sisters to gather daily, especially a few days hence on the National Day of Prayer, to pray together for our families, our churches, our nation, and our world. Heavenly rescue is promised in response to our sincere and humble cry of…

This is a time when we’re well into spring,
A time when the residents of earth like to sing.
Nevertheless, our desperate cries ring…

We say all is well in this part of the world.
With freedom unfettered, our flag is unfurled –
Still, from God’s own sincere prayer must be hurled…
Mayday! Mayday!

Just like a ship taking water, going down,
All of the passengers surely could drown –
A desperate SOS goes to the town…
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Once oh so godly, so sick now our nation;
Like countries before us, we face condemnation –
So humbly we cry out from this small prayer station…
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

(poem by S.M)

HEADS I WIN, TAILS YOU LOSE! -- Devotional for April 30, from "Good Seeds"

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. Proverbs 1:10

The book of Proverbs may be summarized by a two-sided coin, described in chapter 1: We see the positive “Heads I win” side in verse 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” To be a winner, I must be wise. That wisdom comes only from God – not by merely being a student of Him, but by being subject to Him. We need more than knowledge of the Lord, leading to a good life; we need the fear of the Lord, leading to a holy life, living in awe of His majesty and love. It is the spirit so simply explained by the talking animals to the four children in C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia. When told that Aslan would soon make an appearance, they asked, “Just who is this Aslan?” “Oh, He’s the Great Lion, the Son of the Emperor over the Sea.” “A lion? Is He quite safe?” “Safe? Of course He’s not safe – but He’s good!” Henceforth those young seekers learned the proper way to relate to God, and would teach us the same: “Is He quite safe? Well, He is the Master of the Universe; nothing can stop Him, no one can thwart Him, or control Him, or even understand Him…of course He’s not safe – but He’s good! And He will bless those who bless Him, honor those who honor Him, and give wisdom to those who fear Him.” But then there’s the negative “tails you lose” side of the coin (verse 10). This has to do not with God, but with man, specifically men who, as pawns of Satan, would lead us astray and demolish our lives. Is not this the goal of the evil one for every life God has created, for whom His Son died to redeem? That Redeemer Himself described it in John 10:10a, “The thief comes only to steal, to kill, and in the end, to destroy.” And so the wise man of old warns us not to be “ignorant of the devil’s devices,” and to understand that not everyone we rub shoulders with – and make friends with – has our best interests at stake. Just as the first Psalm speaks of “the wicked in whose counsel we must not walk, the sinners in whose path we must not stand, and the scorners in whose seat we must not sit,” so the first Proverb, in its typical conciseness, says there are people enough out there (even just one could do it) who are out to kill us. It takes the New Testament gospel, as summarized in the rest of John 10:10, to guard us from the enemy, and gird us up for battle: “I am come that you might have life in all its fullness.” But claiming the name of Jesus doesn’t mean we don’t look our personal temptress in the face for just one second, to do the right thing, to JUST SAY NO, before giving in to the wrong thing. But then we turn away, not giving her a second chance – by giving her a second look!