Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CLING AND CLOBBER! -- Devotional for June 30, from "Good Seeds"

Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9,21)

Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians contains some of the deepest doctrinal teaching found anywhere in the Bible. But when we come to chapter 12 we see Paul setting aside his professorial robes and demeanor to talk to us in the kindly tones of a father. We can almost hear him say, with Solomon, “My son, listen carefully to my words, for they will bring real life to you, and radiant health” (Proverbs 4:20,22). In the brief thirteen verses of Romans 12:9-21, Paul gives no less than twenty-eight quips of wise advice and practical counsel. His theme is the same as any godly preacher or father: the struggle between good and evil. He begins his little book of Proverbs by urging us to “abhor what is evil, while clinging to what is good” (verse 9), and then ends in similar fashion: “Do not be overcome by evil; rather, overcome evil with good.” We live in an evil world. No matter how hard we may try to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we are inundated daily with words and ideas and images of unimaginable filth and degradation. “Everything seems okay to me,” we may say, but that’s because evil is often so cleverly disguised that the stench is gone, and we are attracted by the trappings draped around it by Satan. “How could anything so beautiful be bad,” is the mantra so often repeated by those under his spell. Our first task is recognizing the evil, seeing through the camouflage. As difficult as this may be, the second task is a far greater challenge: abhorring the evil, once we have identified it. The word abhor and its cousin, horror, both come from a Latin word meaning “to shudder.” Think of the worst smell you’ve ever smelled. How did you react? Not only did you regard the odor with extreme repugnance, you no doubt beat feet to get away from it as fast as you could! This is what Paul is telling us to do whenever we see or hear or smell – or are tempted to commit – anything that is evil. If you linger in its presence you will soon be overcome by it. When I was growing up it was made very clear to me what activities Christians did not engage in: smoking, drinking, cussing, dancing, wild parties – all tools and toys of the devil! I’ve pretty much stuck to this code of ethics, and I suppose it has kept me out of a lot of trouble. But what was missing in my upbringing was what Christians should do instead. But it’s not missing from the Bible. Many of Paul’s twenty-eight proverbs are of the more positive variety. “Do you want to have a good life?” Paul asks, “then find what’s good and CLING to it. Don’t stop abhorring evil, but know when to run away from it and when to stand up and fight it – and the best way to do that is to CLOBBER it over the head with good!

Monday, June 29, 2009

THE DILEMMA OF PRIDE vs. JOY -- Devotional for June 29, from "Good Seeds"

NOTE TO READERS -- I've been attending the Moore family reunion in Dana Point and Palos Verdes, California, in honor of my parents' 70th wedding anniversary. I've been dutifully writing the devotionals all along, but haven't always had access to the internet. With entries for June 26 - 29 I should have you all caught up. Write to me sometime and let me know if you're reading this. Thanks and God bless you!

And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
(Genesis 1:31)

There’s a fine line between someone showing great excitement about something good he has accomplished, and boasting and bragging about it. Have you ever been in the quandary where you were so pleased with something you had created – a story, a painting, a poem, or maybe a piece of music, and you want others to revel and rejoice in it with you – and yet you are very aware of the possibility of it looking and sounding like you are tooting your own horn? This is one of those situations where you can’t win: If you do speak up, you may wind up feeling foolish if others are not as enthused about it as you are, or guilty because now you really are looking and sounding like a self-absorbed showoff. But if you don’t call attention to this really fine thing you’ve done, you become absorbed instead with the pain of an unwelcome anonymity. There is no more miserable person to be around than a walking, talking martyr. But it just doesn’t seem right that something so good, so beautiful, exists and no one knows about it. Beauty is for beholding, right? If only this piece of creative genius could have been produced by someone else, you’re thinking, then you could with unabashed pride and joy sing the praises of the work and its creator. But since it was you who did the deed, well, humility requires that you keep still about it. After all, didn’t Solomon write, “Don’t praise yourself; let others do it” (Proverbs 27:2); and didn’t Jesus say to the guy looking for the best seat in the house, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Luke 14:11)? So, it looks like you have just two choices: 1) Speak up about your accomplishments and risk falling prey to pride; or, 2) Say nothing, put your tail between your legs, and go be the sole guest at your own pity party! But wait, God goes before us, setting for us an example. He was in the same predicament that I’m describing when He finished creating the universe and sat back to examine His work. Hear what is said and find in it a third alternative to this dilemma of pride vs. joy: “Behold, it was very good.BEHOLD! What a word! It means “look, listen, smell, touch, taste, think, enjoy” – using all of your senses, giving it all of your attention, draw near and notice something that will blow your mind, tickle your fancy and please your soul! Now, when God created the world, who could He say “behold” to? To Himself, surely, for being a trinity, there was fellowship (see verse 26). To the angels, maybe, for their creation may have predated that of the universe. But primarily He’s talking to us. If something is God made it’s not just a shame, it’s a sin, to keep quiet about it! Give God the glory for that beautiful thing He is doing in and through you, and then…toot away!

MUST YOU BE SO CONTRARY? -- Devotional for June 28, from "Good Seeds"

Be of the same mind toward one another. (Romans 12:16;15:5)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee used to say there are only two kinds of people in the world: the saints and the ain’ts. According to Jesus he’s right, though our Lord preferred to call them the sheep and the goats. What we’re talking about here is the most important question every human being must answer regarding his eternal destiny: will I trust myself or trust my Maker to get me out of this world and into the next, from earth to heaven? But there is another “two kinds of people” classification which, although not as eternal life threatening, still makes a big difference on the quality of life lived here on earth: The agreeable and the contrary. The apostle Paul seemed to be quite aware of these two groups, both of which were alive and well within the body of believers. Otherwise, why would he go to all the trouble of pleading with the Roman Christians to “live in harmony with one another” (12:16)? And why would he pray so fervently that God would “grant them a spirit of unity amongst themselves” (15:5). Have you ever been in conversation with a friend who, no matter what you say, seems to be compelled to correct you on your facts, or feels obligated to straighten out your doctrine or improve your attitude? If you say the sky is blue, you hear, “No it isn’t! Can’t you see? It’s blue gray.” If you mention that the next town is five miles down the road – “No way, it’s at least ten!” is what you hear. “What difference does it make?” you are thinking. And there’s something else you’re thinking: “Why does everything have to turn into an argument or a competition?” – and you can’t wait to vacate the present company and find someone from that other group, someone a little more agreeable. It’s not that we must agree with evil or false information – there certainly are times to say, “In all fairness, and with all kindness, I beg to differ.” But there are far more times when it is so much better to just let it go, for the sake of harmony and unity – and friendship. Harmony doesn’t mean two entities are exactly alike. In fact, for there to be harmony in music there must be two or more different sounds – otherwise, you merely have unison, which can be redundant at best, boring at worst. In Christian fellowship, unison is not the goal, but rather unity. To be of the same mind doesn’t mean we all look or sound the same. Unity and harmony bring far greater delight and beauty than the drone of sameness. To “be of the same mind” DOES NOT mean we are identical twins, or that we look for the ideal Christian and attempt to clone him. But it DOES mean we work hard not to disagree when it is not necessary to do so. If you see it differently, and say so, let the result be the variety of beautiful harmony, not the contrariness of discordant dissonance.

FAMILY REUNION -- Devotional for June 27, from "Good Seeds"

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, “Have all the Egyptians go out of the room.” Left alone with his brothers, he made himself known to them, weeping so loudly all the household of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” (Genesis 45:1-3)

This passage reflects a proud chapter of living history concerning my family of origin. Today marked the culmination of a weeklong family reunion which I and my four siblings have been planning for many months, in conjunction with the celebration of our parents’ 70th wedding anniversary. It is interesting to note the similarities between my family reunion and that of Joseph with his brothers and father those many long years ago…
1) “Have all the Egyptians go out of the room.” All 68 of my parents’ descendants (with their spouses and children) answered the call to come together in one place, from babes in arms to senior citizens with sizeable progeny of our own. And everyone invited showed up. Not one was missing. Call it cliquish if you wish, but there is something to say for exclusivism at such a time as this. Lesson: This was a picture of heaven – and heaven, by definition, will be occupied by (as the old song says) “nothing but the righteous and the holy.”
2) “Left alone with his brothers, he made himself known to them.” For four days we fellowshipped together: eating and drinking, laughing and crying, playing and praying, making ourselves known to one another – and in some cases meeting certain ones for the first time. Lesson: Estrangement disappears when you share meals, games, and deep conversations concerning your life story with your loved ones.
3) “Weeping so loudly all the household of Pharaoh heard it.” But then we gathered at the church hall, joined by extended family as well as precious “friends of the bridegroom” – dearest of Christian friends from days gone by. Lesson: What a blessing to live a long life – and yet NOT so long as to have outlived cherished friends!
4) “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’” Yes, at ages 90 and 92 Mom and Dad are still alive. Lesson: Have your parents’ funeral while they’re still living, so they can attend, listen in on all the tributes, and get in on all the fun! Another lesson: Why not do the same for other loved ones, especially those you may have been neglecting. Tell them NOW how much they mean to you. Don’t wait for wistful, graveyard goodbyes. What would you prefer, face to face fellowship or a one way conversation with a headstone?

GOD'S BIRTHDAY PRESENT TO YOU -- Devotional for June 26, from "Good Seeds"

NOTE TO READERS -- I've been attending the Moore family reunion in Dana Point and Palos Verdes, California, in honor of my parents' 70th wedding anniversary. I've been dutifully writing the devotionals all along, but haven't always had access to the internet. With these next four entries, I should have you all caught up. Write to me sometime and let me know if you're reading this. Thanks and God bless you!

And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly (Romans 12:6). As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Peter 4:10).

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when our birthday approaches? Well, it depends on our age, I suppose: every birthday from about age thirty on up becomes a negative reminder of what we’re losing: our youth! But children are exhilarated at each new birthday. For one reason, they can’t wait to grow up, when they will have the privileges enjoyed by the more mature. But there’s a far more pressing motivation: presents! Yes, this is the time when kids can expect and enjoy with impunity a plethora of gifts just for them. Like Christmas, a birthday, for a child, is all about the presents. As hard as we work to train our children not to be focused on self, and greedy for goodies, I believe God is far more pleased to see in us this positive childhood attitude of what gifts we hope to get (for we are His children after all!) than the worried adult reaction of what hoarded resources we fear to lose! As our Father He knows how to give good gifts to His children, for “God gives us all things richly to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17). But more specifically, God carefully selects just the perfect gift for each one of us on the day of our “birth.” The Bible speaks of these charismata, these gifts for believers, in four different places in the New Testament: Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4. Many gifts are mentioned, some more than once. The fact that they are discussed in varying contexts with differing applications seems to imply that the list of spiritual gifts is not conclusive or exhaustive, but rather merely suggestive. And as there are no two snowflakes alike, so there are no two Christians alike. It follows that the gifts assigned to us would have to be different, to match the unique tasks God has for each one of us to fulfill. But there is one common thread running through the entire list, and if the gift and how we use it does not meet this criterion we’d better check our sources one more time. Though Paul seems to be the expert in this field, it was Peter who summarized it best: If we desire to be good stewards of the gifts entrusted to us, we must employ them for one purpose alone: TO SERVE OTHERS! Spiritual Gifts, as varied as they may be, are never to be thought of as toys to play with, but rather as tools to work with. And the work we do is not primarily done in dusty libraries or hallowed halls, but out in the world of men. What did God give you on your spiritual birthday? Is it still wrapped up? Is it on the shelf? Are you just toying with it? Or are you employing it daily in serving one another?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

THE KING IS DEAD! -- Devotional for June 25, from "Good Seeds"

But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? No, for such are seen only in Kings’ palaces? But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, and much more, for he was the one of whom it was written, “Behold, I send my messenger who will prepare the way before you.” Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:8-9)

In this passage Jesus gives tribute to the one who was, in His own words, “the greatest man ever born of woman.” John had not yet passed from this life, but his death was imminent. How thoughtful, then, of Jesus to say such kind words of His friend while he was still alive, so that while languishing in prison he could hear and be encouraged by them. It is in the crucible of testing such as John was enduring at this moment where even the strongest of believers, and bravest of preachers, can begin to have doubts about even the most basic of truths: “Please, go to Him and ask, ‘Are you the promised One, or shall we keep looking?’” (verse 3). Is this the same man who earlier had boldly announced to the world, “See before you the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world. He comes after me, yet He existed before me. You must believe me when I tell you: He is the Son of God!” (John 1:29,30,34). Jesus valued John for his fearless preaching regarding the identity of Christ and the repentance due Him in order to enter the kingdom of God. And is this the same man who said, “The thong of His sandal I am not worthy to untie. He must become greater; I must become less” (John 1:27; 3:30). Jesus valued John, too, for his genuine humility. The character and accomplishments of John the Baptist prove to us that a man can be an audacious witness for Christ and a humble servant of Christ at one and the same time. Today the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, died, suddenly and mysteriously, at the relatively young age of fifty. The news sources are totally dominated by and bogged down with reports and tributes to this international icon of modern culture. Many attributed to him the status of a god – but now their god is dead! He is credited to be the greatest entertainer of the past several decades, maybe of all time, as well as the one who inspired many in their own musical careers. The world today honors its fallen hero. But what would Jesus say about him? Probably not all that much, for His eyes are “upon the faithful of the land” (Psalm 101:6). His search continues for men who will build up the wall and stand in the gap for Him” (Ezekiel 22:30) – not kings of culture, but slaves of Christ. it was a man like John the Baptist, both humble and noble, beyond words. Will you be such a man? Will I?

STANDING DOWN TO JESUS -- Devotional for June 24, from "Good Seeds"

John said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so my joy is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30)

Whenever a man speaks as no man has spoken before him, whenever his actions belie the run-of-the mill common man, placing him instead on a pedestal far above the guy next door, the temptation arises to hoist him to our shoulders and give him a hero’s welcome, or (shudder!) bow down to him with accolades worthy only of a god. This had been the experience of John the Baptist. Oh, he was not your handsome movie actor type, or a greater-than-life sports icon, and yet he was one who for a time attracted crowds with both his appearance and his message, such as Israel had not experienced since the days of Elijah. But he would have none of it, none of the attention, and none of the credit, for his entire reason for being was the glory to God, and to give it, in the words of Paul, “whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20). As it turned out, Paul glorified God over a long and fruitful life, while John the Baptist did it for only an extremely abbreviated career. The lesson he learned in that brief span is a lesson most of God’s would-be heroes don’t seem to learn in a lifetime, which is simply this: whatever talents, skills, opportunities, advantages, or gifts we may have are just that – gifts, from the gracious hand of God. And if with these gifts He lifts us up in the eyes of men, it is so that we, with the following we may have achieved, would “give it up for” Christ, giving any glory we may have desired for ourselves, all to Him, saving none for self. Truly our purpose can be no higher or greater than to be moons reflecting the light of the sun (the SON) onto a darkened world. If we try to shine our own light it will be as obnoxious as tooting our own horn – immediately in the eyes and ears of God, and eventually in the eyes and ears of those we seek to impress – and as ineffectual, as well. Whenever we sense men treating us and speaking of us as stand-ins for Christ – or our wanting them to – we must, like John, redirect their thinking and loyalties away from us to the Savior. We don’t tell them we are dirt, or that we are nothing, for truly we have a specific function in the family of God: it is a marriage, where Jesus is the Groom and the church His bride, leaving us to be no more or less than His best friends, standing up in witness, standing down to His glory, and standing by to exemplify pure joy at the sound of His voice – content not to have ours heard at all, especially if it may distract folks from Him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TWO MORE 3:16's -- Devotional for June 23, from "Good Seeds"

By our common confession great is the mystery of godliness, for Jesus was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the spirit, beheld by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory (I Timothy 3:16). All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (II Timothy 3:16).

The devotional for March 16 (3/16) listed some of the wonderful “3:16’s” of the Bible. Now here, in Paul’s two letters to his young pastor protégé, Timothy, we find two more. We know the verse and chapter divisions of the Bible are not part of the original, inspired record, but were inserted by “editors” hundreds of years later, to help casual readers of the Bible to become serious students of the Bible. But if that is true, then how could it be anything but a coincidence to find twelve particularly inspiring passages of Scripture which share the same “address”? I can’t answer that, but what I can do is read these verses and commit their truths to my heart. And the “3:16” can be a helpful memory device. We could put The Three-Sixteens on the list along with the Twenty-third Psalm, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer, as Scripture passages worth memorizing. In I Timothy 3:16 Paul describes the mystery of godliness in two ways: 1) The identity and character of our Savior, and 2) The job description of the saint. The second follows the first: once we realize just who Jesus is, how could men do anything else but worship Him as God, and how could those worshipers desire anything more than to share the claims of Christ with anyone who will listen! The very Son of God came to the earth to live as a man (“revealed in the flesh”); but His miraculous words and deeds proved He was more than a man (“vindicated by the Spirit”); If He was not acknowledged as God by men, there was no lack of such knowledge by heavenly beings – including Lucifer and his cronies (“beheld by angels”); and when He ascended to heaven before His open-mouthed friends (“taken up in glory”), all they could do was to go out and “proclaim Him among the nations.” A glorious result was promised: He would be “believed on in the world.” This verse gives the clear message of Jesus and a firm mandate of what we’re to do with it: PREACH IT! And II Timothy 3:16 explains in greater detail what makes up such preaching: “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” Ask any pastor worth his calling what is his greatest task and he will say – at least he’d better say – “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.” “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel” said Paul (I Cor. 9:16). What say you, pastor of today?

Monday, June 22, 2009

"IT'S FRIDAY, BUT SUNDAY'S COMING!" -- Devotional for June 22, from "Good Seeds"

And when the crowd that had gathered for the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. This all took place on Friday afternoon. But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb. As they stood there puzzled, two angels suddenly appeared, clothed in dazzling robes. They asked the terrified women, "Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He is risen from the dead! (Luke 23:48,54; 24:1,2,

This is the title of a dynamic sermon by Tony Campolo. It was on a Friday that our Savior was crucified. Friday speaks of the sins and sorrows of this life. From the cross, just before He succumbed to death, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And then He died. He took the ultimate punishment for sin, your sin and mine. Physical death was not the end of it, for He went to the depths of hell, suffering in an instant the eternal death that is the price for sin. The most accurate definition of hell is, “separation from God.” Christ’s death began when His Father turned His face away, unable to look on the sin of the world borne by His Son. Of course, there are those who say they’d just as soon be separated from God, as they’re not on very friendly terms with Him anyway. To such ones let us clarify: separation from GOD means separation from all that is GOOD! If they joke and say, “I’d rather go to hell anyway – that’s where all my friends will be! Ha-Ha!” – we must remind them that if friendship is a good thing, it can’t exist in hell. Separation –- it’s the law of this life, and the tragedy of the next, unless…we could somehow be rescued from this fate literally “worse than death!” Remember, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. It was on Sunday that our Lord came out of the tomb, alive forevermore, proving once and for all that He is stronger than death! His Sunday,His resurrection day, came. But ours is yet future, the day we will be raised from the dead, or lifted off this earth, and given bodies incapable of disease, aging or death. That’s when we will see our Savior’s face in all His glory. And that’s when we will see one another again, nevermore to say goodbye. That’s the next time implied in the promise to Christians that they will never see one another for the last time. When Christians part they say, “I’ll see you again, either here, there…or in the air!” If Earth means separation, Heaven means reunion. Any delights we may experience in this life are at best only a small sampling of the confection of perfection that Jesus Himself promised to anyone and everyone who will receive His payment for their sin, and believe on Him as the only way to the Father, to heaven, to eternal bliss.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SAVING JAIRUS'S DAUGHTER (or, PEOPLE TIME vs. GOD'S CLOCK) -- Devotional for June 21, from "Good Seeds"

A messenger came from Jairus’s house and said, “Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the Teacher any more. But Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe, and she shall be made well.” Coming to the house they found everyone lamenting. Jesus said, “Stop weeping, for she has not died but is asleep. Then they laughed at Him, for they all knew that indeed she had died. (Luke 8:49-53)

Do you know the true story of “Saving Private Ryan”? Four brothers were serving in the U.S. military during World War II. One was killed, and then another. When the third died in battle, it was decided that the last remaining son, Private Ryan, who was somewhere out on the front lines, had better be found and brought home to his grieving mother before she became totally childless – and died of a broken heart. Any mother worth her title would say all of her children are special and of ultimate value, no matter how many or few, but to have just one – or just one left – and then to contemplate losing that one – well, it’s a thought most unbearable! That was the case of Jairus, the Jewish synagogue official in the days when Jesus walked the earth. He had one daughter, and she was dying. In desperation he went to look for Jesus, and found Him in another city, ministering to the multitudes. He begged Jesus to come heal his daughter – and quickly, before it was too late. Jesus made like He would go, but was waylaid by the press of the crowd and a particular need right at his fingertips (actually, it was at “the hem of His garment” (43-48). It is as if Jesus said, “Okay, I’ll come, but just a minute.” Wait, when we need Jesus we don’t want to hear Him say that – not when time is of the essence! And sure enough, the next interruption was that of a messenger bearing sad tidings: Jarius’s daughter didn’t make it. No need to hurry now, or bother the Teacher any longer. A life was gone. All hope was lost. Reminds us of the case of Lazarus: Jesus heard that His very dear friend was dying. Nevertheless, He didn’t go right away. And during the delay, Lazarus died. Jesus said to his sisters the same thing He told this girl’s parents: “He (she) is not dead, but only sleeps.” Their response: mocking, sarcastic laughter. The confusion came from the fact that the word sleep was commonly used in those days as a euphemism for death. But an even greater confusion arises over our concept of time, and God’s. Did Jesus hurry? No. Was He late? Yes. Wait…No, I guess not! What’s the lesson? Go ahead and use your calendar, and look at your watch, if you have to. “People time” is necessary to keep us on track and faithful in our commitments. But don’t hold your human timepieces – and expectations – up to God. He runs on a totally different schedule. And “God’s clock” is always right.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

SHEEP NEED A SHEPHERD -- Devotional for June 20, from "Good Seeds"

A child left to himself will bring shame to his parents (Proverbs 29:15). In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). I exhort the elders among you, shepherd the flock of God, not lording it over them, but proving to be examples (I Peter 5:1-2). When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36).

Human history is checkered with cases of wicked despots ruling nations with an iron fist, and of self-serving monarchs caring nothing for their subjects, except for what tribute and riches they can bring into the royal coffers. Sad to say, such ruthless and callous leadership is far more widespread on the far smaller scale of the family, where cruel or absentee parents do their children equal injustice whether they mistreat them or retreat from them. Man’s inhumanity to man seems to show itself most awfully when certain individuals, empowered by imperial bloodline, genetic genius, or a sinister ambition for superiority, move to the fore and begin to take charge of the lives of their fellows. The idea of the common people having the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is totally foreign to such tyrants. Societies so quickly break into castes, where groups or individuals are assigned, at the bottom, to a position lower than dirt, all the way to the top, to near equality (in their minds) with God. Such disrespect and mistreatment of human beings eventually leads to a swing to the opposite extreme: rebellion against all authority and leadership, leading at best to aimless wandering, at worst to bloody revolution. God makes it clear in His Word that when customary, normal leadership is lacking or rejected, downcast hearts and shameful behaviors will be sure to follow. Anyone who has served for any length of time in a place of authority, whether as a parent, a boss, a police officer, a judge, or a pastor, knows the fear and sometimes heartache that come with having to administer correction, reproof or punishment to those under their charge. Regardless of the position, and whether inside or outside of the church, God has given a clear mandate to all leaders: “Do not lord it over your people, but lead by example.” Jesus taught that a godly leader looks a lot more like a servant than a master (see Matthew 20:25-28). But still, people are sheep, and sheep need shepherds. Those called of God for the job must not shirk their duty to lead, but to be sure to always do it in love – and always by example: showing, not shouting; beckoning, not barking, and with compassion, not criticism or complaining. It’s a pretty tall order, but we’ve got Jesus, “the Great Shepherd of the Sheep” (Hebrews 13:20) to show us how.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"...WHO DID NOT DIE..." -- Devotional for June 19, from "Good Seeds"

And Hezekiah became mortally ill. Isaiah the prophet came to him and said, “Thus saith the Lord: ’Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’” Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitter tears. The Lord spoke again through the prophet, “I have seen your tears and heard your prayer. In three days you will be healed, and you will live fifteen more years.” (II Kings 20:1-6)

This is probably my all time favorite movie line. It was spoken by Rizzo the Rat who was assisting Mr. Charles Dickens (played by Gonzo) in narrating the story in “The Muppets’ Christmas Carol” – undoubtedly the best movie version of this classic Christmas tale. No, I’m serious – the BEST! And this line is part of what qualifies it as such. You know the story: when old Scrooge comes through his transformation, he not only feels good, but does good, to everyone he meets, and that would include his lowly employee, Bob Cratchit, the one who had most suffered Scrooge’s cruel venom. I wonder if the author had another “Scrooge” in mind – a biblical one – when crafting the character of his villain-turned-hero. I’m thinking of Zaccheus, who when he turned to the Lord, not only proclaimed a feast for all his friends (wait, he didn’t have any friends – business associates, then), but he also proclaimed two “New Life’s Resolutions”: to give half of all his wealth to the poor, and to pay back fourfold the amount of money he had extorted from his tax victims, er, clients. Dickens’ Scrooge also turned to the poor with his wealth, starting with Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim. And it was because the best medical treatment money could buy had been ordered up and paid for by old Ebenezer Scrooge that Rizzo could say with such feeling that a certain little boy – “who did NOT die” – was now running and laughing and playing with his friends. And it was all because of the kindness of a man who up until this moment of truth knew nothing of kindness. Another “Tiny Tim,” again a biblical one, could have the same thing said about him. His name, Hezekiah: not a little boy of London, but a great king of Israel. His time to die had arrived, according to God Himself. Hezekiah pled with tears, “In all respect, Lord, I beg to differ – and I beg of You, let me live, if only just a little longer. I’ve served You faithfully through my life, but I really don’t think I’m done. Don’t you agree?” And, amazingly, God did agree, and added fifteen years to his life. This is uppermost in my mind today, the day we heard the results of my wife’s tests. The doctor said, in effect, “I don’t know everything, and I don’t know your future, but it doesn’t look like today will be your day to die. Go! Live! Celebrate!” And we did. That Whopper Jr. washed down with a chocolate shake never tasted so good…Karen enjoyed it, too!

"IN HIS GRIP, AND WALKING IN IT" -- Devotional for June 18, from "Good Seeds"

The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord, and He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they won’t be down for long, for they are firmly held in God’s grip. Once I was young, now I am old – but in all my years I have never seen the godly forsaken, nor their children begging in the streets. (Psalm 37:23-25)

I remember hearing this exchange between my son-in-law and one of his college buddies whenever they parted: “In His grip” said one; “And walking in it,” replied the other. If this was a cliché (for I heard it often), it nevertheless seemed to have great meaning to them – and it really impressed me, to the point where I have now adopted it as my salutation of choice at the end of my letters. As I write, “In His grip,” I breathe a prayer that my friend will also be “walking it.” I used to wonder where this phrase came from – and then I found it, expressed so clearly, in the middle of one of my favorite Psalms: “Though a good man may fall, he won’t be hurled headlong, for God firmly holds him in His grip.” But wait, I’ve known people, and so have you, who are strong Christians and yet have experienced terrible and tragic accidents, leading to serious injury, and sometimes death. This is not easy to explain…but let me try: First, we must know that nothing takes God by surprise. He is in charge, and in total, loving control of even the tiniest detail of His children’s lives. I can still hear Evie singing: “He never promised you’d only see sunshine; He never said there’d be no rain. He only promised us a heart full of singing about the very things that once brought pain…give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus: shattered dreams, wounded hearts, broken toys; give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus, and He will turn your sorrow into joy.” So just know that even in the deepest dungeon of depression or despondency, or when experiencing the dullest boredom or the sharpest pain, God is there to catch you in the safety net of His everlasting arms. Sometimes the pain is not physical but financial, not mental but relational. But God is with you, holding you in His grip, even when you have lost your grip on Him. Just as a war is made up of many battles, so a Christian faces many trials, often as many and as fierce as those faced by unbelievers. They endure them, but we embrace them, as we remember God’s promise never to forget us or forsake us. And in the long run the life of the believer will bear fruit, personally and in his progeny, proving once and for all that the life of the Christian is always the best. And when those who are “without God and without hope in the world” (Eph. 2:12), see that it isn’t our lack of trials but our security in God’s care that makes all the difference, maybe they will want to be “In His grip, and walking in it” too!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

THE SCARIEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE -- Devotional for June 17, from "Good Seeds"

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

If the apostle Paul, surely one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, was one step away from becoming a spiritual castaway, where does that leave you and me? He’s not talking about losing his place in heaven, but rather being sent up there earlier than expected, due to failure down here. Paul was personally aware of that very scenario, for later in this letter to the Corinthians he reminds them about some of their own number who were sick, and some who even had died, due to their sins, sins that defamed the name of Jesus, and desecrated their witness of Him (see I Corinthians 11:30). The message is clear: our past faithful service is no guarantee of present and perpetual favor with God! What a sober warning to those who say, “Don’t ask me to teach Sunday School (or host a home group, come to work day, join the choir, serve on a committee, etc.), for I’ve put in my share, and it’s time for the younger ones to get into the act. Let someone else catch men, I want to go catch fish, for a change!” Although our capabilities for service may change as we grow older, there’s no such thing as retirement in the Christian life (and those who ask for it may not know it, but they’re “really asking for it!”). Regardless of his long and faithful career as a preacher and church planter, Paul knew the moment he stopped living 100% for His Lord would be the moment God would have to put him on the shelf. And that’s not where he wanted to be! I don’t know about you, but as much as I crave heaven, I don’t want to go there one second earlier than my appointed time. I don’t want to be like the soldier who re-enters civilian life earlier than planned due to a dishonorable discharge. The cases of Christians being zapped from this life and into the next because of shameful moral or spiritual failure are not common (but we read of Ananias and Sapphira, and shudder! – see Acts 5). The rest of these dropouts may live out their lives, but live them like zombies: still walking this earth, still breathing God’s air and enjoying His blessings – and still darkening the door of His church – but no longer of any use to God or man. Why? Because they have ceased to BUFFET their bodies (a training word, meaning “beat”) into seasoned, disciplined men and women for God, but instead choose to buffet their bodies (a French word meaning “indulge”) with the decaying delights of this world. Christians used to be known for the evil they didn’t do. That needed to be balanced by the good they do, but now the pendulum has swung too far the other way, the world’s way – and it’s scary what’s happening to the witness and the joy of today’s average Christian. Let that not be you or me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SPIRITUAL GIFTS, IN A NUTSHELL -- Devotional for June 16, from "Good Seeds"

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; varieties of ministries, but the same Lord; and varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all person; but to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Cor.12:4-7)

It was no accident that God chose a literary genius to write most of the New Testament. Sometimes the apostle Paul liked to go on and on in intricate, erudite detail and with page long sentences (maybe to test our study skills!). But we can be thankful that at other times he was brief, succinct, and clear as a bell! Today’s passage is an example of this, where we find a beautiful summary of the Bible’s teaching on the subject of spiritual gifts. The last statement in the passage is the first and most important fact to know: the skill, specialization and particular leaning God intends for us comes as a gift, carefully selected and doled out to each individual by the Spirit of God for the unique work He intends for us to do. That work is legion in variety but singular in purpose: “the common good.” Jesus “went about doing good,” and when He returned to heaven, He left us here, following “in His steps,” to continue in and complete that good work. Christians are not to be merely good, we’re to be good for something – otherwise we’re good for nothing, right?! And it is by spiritual gifts that we can be and do good, for man’s good, and God’s glory. The Trinity is at work in these spiritual gifts. Look at the verse again: “The same God” = The Father; “The same Lord” = the Son; “the same Spirit” – the Holy Spirit. And another trinity is seen here in the variety of ways spiritual gifts are to be understood and put to use:
#1 Motivational Gifts: In Romans 12:6-8 Paul lists seven gifts, all having to do with the grid upon which its user operates. They are like colored glasses: the one with the gift of service sees every event or person in his life as an opportunity to help; but that same scenario would be viewed by the prophet as a teaching moment. And so on with the other five motivation gifts.
#2 Ministry Gifts: In Ephesians 4:8-14 Paul speaks of gifts as particular gifted men and women that God places in the body: apostles (missionaries), prophets (teachers, warn-ers), evangelists, and pastors (shepherds). Add to these children’s workers, worship leaders, etc.
#3 Manifestation Gifts: In I Corinthians 12:8-31, Paul describes the fruit which comes from the application of #1 to #2. Regarding the learnings and warnings and miracles that come, we are not to seek or specify such results – that’s God’s business. We just do our job with our gift. This is the fulfillment of Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” --

Saturday, June 13, 2009

LET'S ROLL! -- Devotional for June 15, from "Good Seeds"

Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come, let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised Philistines. Perhaps the Lord will work in our favor, for He is not restricted to save by many or by few.” (I Samuel 14:6)

There are two kinds of Christians in this world: First, those who say, “Let’s sit still and see what God will do.” And Second, those who say, “Let’s roll and see what God will do.” Either way, we know it’s right to let God do what only He can do. But what about man’s responsibility in the equation? The first way could be considered the best way if by it we are saying we won’t trust in the arm of flesh, but only in the strong arm of our God. And so we wait on Him to act, for our good, for His glory, by His timetable. But too often it is not really that at all, but rather the coward’s way, or the sluggard’s way, both of whom would blame the sovereign choices and deeds of God for their own inaction. This was King Saul: when Goliath stepped forward with his arrogant challenge, big tall Saul never felt so small, and his stunted faith manifested itself in fearful inaction. That’s when Little David piped up, saying, “How dare this uncircumcised behemoth insult the name of our God like that! Let me at him! I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’ve got to do something. And maybe when I do, God will strengthen me to gain a victory!” And of course we know what happened. We can’t always tell the difference, either in others or ourselves, between cocky self-assurance and God-inspired confidence, but God always can. David went forth in the name of His God, armed with a sling, and by an aim guided by the Lord, single-handedly brought that giant down to the ground. David is a picture of the second kind of saint, the one who says, “I’ll take action, the best I know how, and then just see what God will do.” Just a few years earlier, David’s new friend Jonathan, the son of David’s old enemy, Saul, finds himself in a similar situation. The king was in his wait and see mode. Not much was happening in the battle; nobody losing, nobody winning. “Are we at war, or not?” thought Jonathan. Yes, sometimes the right thing to do is to wait out the enemy, or at least to draw back and plan our strategy. But how often is our waiting and debating just another form of cowardice and faithlessness? We could accuse Jonathan of youthful impatience, or just plain boredom, but we dare not say so when we hear his words of confident, proactive faith to his armor-bearer: “We don’t know if God will honor our attack with a victory, but what we do know is that He doesn’t need a whole army to do it! Look what He did through David. There’s twice as many of us here, little buddy. Let’s roll!” (see verse 14 for the results).

RULES FOR REJOICING -- Devotional for June 14, from "Good Seeds"

Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven. (Luke 10:20).

If we can understand Christ’s meaning when He tells us we cannot be His disciples unless we hate everyone we love – and unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood (see June 13) – then maybe we can understand what Jesus means when He tells us not to rejoice whenever we have wonderful spiritual victories. Again, this is colorful, metaphorical language, using hyperbole (exaggeration) to get a point across that we might otherwise entirely miss. As part of their training, Jesus sent seventy of His followers out on a mission not unlike that of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord, to declare the coming of the Messiah. “The harvest is plenty,” He said, “but the laborers are few. Will you go, then, to work the soil, plant the seed, pull the weeds, and pick the fruit wherever you may find it?” They were to go into the highways and byways and the cities and hamlets of Israel, following certain specific instructions regarding personal preparations as well as ministry operations. It was to be a faith venture, depending on neither bulky backpacks of supplies nor a pre-planned itinerary, but rather leaning solely upon whatever the Spirit of God would supply and where He would lead, moment by moment. Jesus warned that it would not be smooth sailing, but to expect rejection and persecution every inch of the way. Theirs was to be a spiritual work in the physical world: First, they were to preach – to lost souls regarding the kingdom of God; Second, they were to reach – reach out and touch the bodies of people who were under the power of the devil. They were given powers both for physical healing and spiritual exorcism. And so they went, and so they did. We don’t know how long they were gone, but when they came back, it was like Joshua and Caleb upon returning from spying out the Promised Land: there was no talk of the giants of suffering and persecution, but rather rave reviews of what God had begun to accomplish through them. “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons were subject to us in Your name.’” Jesus agreed, saying, “Yes, I was watching, and I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening” (vss. 17-18). But then, in the midst of their unabashed excitement, Jesus seems to pour water on their on-fire spirits: “Cool it, fellas! There’s something far better than this, something that will make your recent victories look like dismal defeat by comparison. And it’s nothing you did for me, but what I’ve done for you. While you were busy believing and trusting in me, I’ve been busy preparing a place for you − and someday we’re going to be next door neighbors – in heaven. Want to rejoice? Rejoice in that!

RULES FOR LOVING -- Devotional for June 13, from "Good Seeds"

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

This is one of the more difficult to understand verses in the Bible. But just like the most precious diamonds come from the deepest mines, so the truth contained in this passage is a gem of greatest value to the soul. However, in order to extract that truth, we must employ some pretty specialized tools, for Jesus is using a way of speaking which requires more than an elementary level of comprehension. “When the literal sense makes sense,” says one of the rules of biblical interpretation, “seek no other sense.” We apply that rule to Christ’s otherwise shocking statement in John 6:54, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” If we take this statement literally, as did some of Christ’s hearers that day, we, like they, would take great offense at what He said (or maybe we’d build a false theology around it!) Either way we’d be missing the big picture, which is simply that Jesus is making His case for commitment: “There’s no room in My kingdom for a casual faith; nor is there room for those who’ve not yet decided just who their god will be.” In the John passage Jesus is not talking about cannibalism, but rather identification. He is saying that just as physically we are what we eat, so in matters of the soul we become what we feed upon. As we hear His Word and obey it, we begin to be identified with the very character of Christ. Discipleship, then, is not a matter of taking on new information, but rather becoming a totally new creation. How does this happen? Well, it starts by a simple act of faith, as we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior. But then it continues through the gradual process of training into Christlikeness. Jesus said it this way, “A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone, after he is fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). In the same way, in the Luke passage Jesus is not telling us to literally hate our loved ones – indeed He took the question of love for humanity to the highest pinnacle when He commanded us to love even our enemies! But He is impressing upon us that loving man and loving God are two entirely different things – they’re not even in the same ballpark, or on the same planet! How could we possibly think loving our loved ones could qualify us as lovers of God? This is the argument of today’s benevolent humanist (atheist) who preaches a gospel of love, but says God has no part in it – in fact, He just gets in the way. Hmmm! What does the Bible say about this? “Only a fool would say in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). And yet, when love for God is our highest priority, love for humanity spills all over everyone around us, friend or foe.

Friday, June 12, 2009

PASSIVE, AGGRESSIVE, OR ASSERTIVE? -- Devotional for June 12, from "Good Seeds"

Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39). In His own defense Jesus said, “Everything I’ve said and done has been out it the open. So why are you treating me like a conspirator?” At these words one of the guards standing by slapped Jesus across the face, saying, “How dare speak to the high priest like that!” Jesus replied, “If I’ve said anything wrong tell me; but if I’ve just been speaking plain truth, why did you strike Me?” (John 18:23)

An old gospel song says, “I have but one sincere desire: I want to be like Jesus.” This indeed is the job description of every Christian: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ has left an example for you to follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21). He is indeed the perfect role model for perfect human behavior – not that we could even come close to that by our own efforts. Bear in mind, though, that Christlike living is not the means of salvation, but the fruit of it. And this is the quality of life Jesus is teaching, and then exemplifying, in today’s Scripture reading. But upon first glance, it almost appears as though Jesus is NOT practicing what He preached, for although He taught us not to resist evil men, even to the point of inviting them to continue to assault us, when He found Himself in such a situation, He didn’t take violence aimed at Him lying down, but rather showed calculated resistance to His persecutors. We can best explain and refute this apparent contradiction by making the distinction between the three terms: passive, aggressive, and assertive. To let someone just slap us around, violating our person physically, mentally, or emotionally, without protecting ourselves by putting up a defense –- that is the passive response. Though it may seem this is what Jesus taught, His reaction when struck on the face proves otherwise. A dead body can be passive, but we are very much alive with His life, a life we would share with the world. So we are not to be passive when assaulted by evil. But neither are we to be aggressive. To meet violence with violence reduces the conflict to no more than a street fight between warring factions, and the gang with the most guns wins! We know there is such a thing as “just war” where aggression for the sake of the preservation of life and freedom may be called for. But what Jesus was preaching is what He practiced when He was on trial for His life: assertiveness. It is neither aggressive nor rude to bring your attacker’s motives to his own attention. And so, the next time I’m assaulted, I want to be like Jesus: not seeking to protect myself, but seeking a lost soul by bearing witness to the righteousness of God, with the hope of drawing my enemy into the fellowship of His beloved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

THE BEST THING GOD GAVE US -- Devotional for June 11, from "Good Seeds"

(to my readers: In case you didn't get the message below, today is Karen's and my 43rd wedding anniversary. He doesn't love us any more than He did back then, but it sure feels like it! And we know we love Him, and each other, more now than ever before! I hope this entry makes that point -- and I hope it finds you basking in His love, too!)

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled. Rejoice in the wife of your youth; let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love. Such an excellent wife is the crown of her husband. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me. Put me like a seal over his heart, for love is as strong as death. I became in his eyes as one who finds peace. This is my beloved, and this is my friend. (Hebrews 13:4; Proverbs 5:18; 12:4; Song of Solomon 7:10; 8:3,6,10; 5:16)

The Bible tells us to honor God as our Creator, and Christ as our Savior. But right up there with fearing God is the instruction to “submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” This means that not only are we to “honor the king” but also to “love the brotherhood.” And to guarantee no one is left out, Peter concludes with, “honor all men” (see I Peter 2:13-17). But there is one institution God placed over us that is far nobler than all others: marriage! This one-to-one relationship of intimate companionship between a particular man and woman is a gift of God’s grace second only to that of new life in Christ. No wonder Satan works so hard to counterfeit this gift, for this is how he steals man’s worship away from God to himself. When God told Eve what the sole source of life would be, the devil came by with a far more attractive offer: “Hath God said?” he whispered, and then suggested she and Adam turn off the restricted “God-road” and try the more interesting “Man-Road” to life. They didn’t know this was “the broad way of destruction” Jesus described in Matthew 7:13. This glitzy Hollywood highway of unholiness has everything to do with the desecration of marriage, which Hebrews 13:4 says has two lanes: adultery and fornication. Look around today and see the devastation of our nation, through its families, in the unfaithfulness and brokenness that has diseased and destroyed its marriages. Nearly every crime and social evil in the world stems from the best thing God gave us being turned into the worst thing Satan could do to us, in the desecration of the marriage bed! I’m happy to point out to others the beautiful passages of Scripture about the wonder and beauty of married love, but I can take it one step further: I can say, with Paul, “Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1) − and by this I mean, “I’m not just preaching cold doctrine about marriage here, for I’ve experienced warm married love myself, for 43 years – as of TODAY! So I speak from experience when I say my wife is the best thing Jesus gave me after He gave me my life!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WORRY OR PRAY: YOU CHOOSE -- Devotional for June 10, from "Good Seeds"

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. (Philippians 4:6)

When I asked my severteen year old granddaughter for her favorite Bible verse, she named a few typical ones. Remembering that she was memorizing the book of Philippians, I said, “What about a verse from Philippians?” “Oh yeah. Okay, how about Philippians 4:6-7,” and she promptly rattled it off word for word. But then she paused and said, “You know, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.” “What is?” I queried. “Well, there are a lot of things I may wonder about but they don’t really bother me. But then there’s my future; you know, things like college and boyfriends.” With that her sisters chimed in with more questions about what she’ll do after college, where she’ll live if she’s not married by then, and on and on until she said, “Enough already! You’re getting me uptight.” Life indeed is full of unknowns. For some of these it’s almost a delight to just wait and see what God will do; but for others there’s no joy at all, but just anxiety that life won’t turn out the way we want it to. Well, it is concerning THESE things that we are exhorted to pray. Yes, everything that troubles you or makes you anxious becomes the agenda for your prayer petition to the Lord. Welcome each concern as one more thing to talk over with God. This reminds me of a song: “You’ve got to turn it over to Jesus; yes, turn it over to Jesus. When you turn it over to Jesus you can smile the rest of the day.” Make your list; then present it to God in prayer, with full confidence that “He’s got it all in control. Yes, He’s put that reassurance way down in my soul: He’s got it all in control” (another song). Have you ever heard someone pray (or have you prayed this way yourself): “…and Lord, we’ll thank You ahead of time for what You’re going to do.” That’s putting faith to work: thanking God now for what He’s yet to do for you. If it is true that “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), then it must be equally true that the prayer of faith will be absolutely pleasing to God. When we trust Him like that there will then be nothing hindering Him from bringing about His perfect will in your life, whether it be guiding you, and providing for you, throughout your college days, or bringing you into the relationships that He knows are best for you, and the best way you can bring glory to Him, whether they be kinship, friendship, or marriage. In your Scripture memory, learn John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9, but maybe the next one should be this wonderful verse in Philippians, to remind you that you never need to worry – if you know how to pray!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

EVER HEARD GOD SING? -- Devotional for June 9, from "Good Seeds"

The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You will fear disaster no more. In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: Do not be afraid, O Zion; do not let your hands fall limp, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy. He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

We sing to the Lord at every opportunity, and with good reason: He is our Redeemer, our Comforter, our Healer, our Friend. And He receives our worship. But the prophet Zephaniah speaks of a day yet future when the tables will be turned and God will sing to us, not in worship, but with great joy. What more confidence or comfort can anyone receive than when sung to? God’s people, both Israel and the church, having gone full circle in their apostasy, will at last turn their hearts toward home, as all prodigals come back to their waiting, welcoming Father. In the interim God has been carrying out His final justice against the nations of men that remain in rebellion to the bitter end. They who wreaked disaster upon God’s people will wreak it no more. The hands of His saints, that once fell limp in fear, losing their grip on their feeble weapons, will now feel the powerful grip of their victorious Warrior King. “Every eye shall see Him,” we read in Revelation 1:7. That includes those who pierced Him, who will wail in abject terror of Him whom they still will not receive or believe. These God will justly deliver to the place of the damned, but then He will come back for us – and that’s when the celebration begins! The Bible says the heavens exult whenever a soul on earth turns to the Savior. These same angel choirs may join in with our triune God on that future day – but just maybe they instead will stand down to this Triumphant Trio, as will we, when God smiles the biggest smile, laughs the biggest laugh, and sings the most powerful song ever known in heaven or on earth, as He exults over His beloved in one joyous melody after another! Just because He’s God doesn’t mean He must contain Himself in all dignity. C.S. Lewis’ Christ-figure, Aslan, having defeated the White Witch, picks up the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, fairly throwing them into the air, as He roars the loudest roar His Lion lungs could offer, before sailing off with the children on His back for a victory lap around Narnia. God will be Victor indeed, and we will be His prize! When Paul asked, “Who is our hope or joy or crown of exaltation? Is it not even you?” (I Thessalonians 2:19), we can almost hear God say, “Paul, you took the words right our of My mouth!”

FINDING FAVOR -- Devotional for June 8, from "Good Seeds"

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). The Lord caused all that Joseph did to prosper, so he found favor in his master's eyes (Genesis 39:3,4). And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her (Esther 2:15).

Is it important that we seek the favor of others? Isn't it much better to just do our best and then let the chips fall where they may? This seemed to be the apostle Paul's attitude. After admitting that “it is required of a steward that he be found faithful,” he went on to say that ”it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you or by any human court” (I Cor. 4:2-3). A small thing? Maybe. Certainly we should not be gauging our words or actions primarily on what others might think – and yet, how can we avoid the watching eyes, the judgmental thoughts, and sometimes even the critical words of those around us? Three examples are Noah, Joseph and Esther, three saints of God whose lives fell under the intense scrutiny of the people around them. Esther was a woman of high character, a pristine example of the Proverbs 31 woman: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting, but the woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (verse 30). Though she sought simple, inner beauty, she was fraught with stunning outer charm. Through no effort or choice of her own, she had been endowed by her Creator with striking perfection of form and face. And it was chiefly these surface qualities that brought her into the king’s harem. She didn’t bemoan her fate of being loved only for skin-deep beauty, but rather allowed God to use it for His purposes and glory. The favor she found in the eyes of her king resulted in the salvation of her kin – the entire Jewish nation! And then there was Joseph (see Jan. 2), the patron saint of all “Second Fiddlers.” His highest place was to serve under another, and every master he served found great worldly success and personal satisfaction for the sole reason that he had the good fortune of choosing Joseph as his Number Two. Both by demeanor and by word, Joseph made sure all who knew him knew it was God, and not himself, that caused all that he did to prosper. He made the clear disclaimer that any good seen in him, or coming from him, was due to God dwelling and working in him. The favor found by Esther in the eyes of her husband, and that gained by Joseph in the eyes of his employers, are summarized by the life of Noah, who found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Oh that you and I could be so trusted by God to give Him the glory when He gives us the beauty or the cleverness or any other trait that brings success to us and blessing to others.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

CLOSED DOORS, OPENED DOORS -- Devotional for June 7, from "Good Seeds"

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. (Acts 16:6-10)

One of the means by which we discern God’s leading in our lives is through circumstances. Abraham’s servant was sent to the old homeland in search of a suitable wife for his master’s son. Imagine having such an assignment! But the undaunted servant just pointed his camel in the direction he was sent. Sure enough he was led, purely by circumstances (or so it seemed) to just the right place, and to the perfect young maiden for Isaac. In recounting the course of events to her family the faithful old servant reflected, “And I, being in the way, the Lord led me” (Genesis 24:27). Though we don’t see the big picture of what we are to do, still we can by faith just take the obvious next step. Abraham had been told by God to leave his homeland for another country “that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). He knew from whence he was to depart, but had no idea where he would finally wind up. He only knew a general direction, and that he was to go NOW! But as he went, the Lord led him, step by step, until he came to the place appointed for him by God. Later Abraham’s faithful servant, walking in his master’s steps, had the same happy result. We see the same principle at work for God’s missionaries as they traveled here and there sharing Christ. They had their own ideas of where they should go. They went or stayed as “seemed good” to them (15:34). But the time came when they were prevented in going where they had planned. We don’t know the process, exactly. All we’re told is that Jesus closed the door. How did He do this? Probably through circumstances, making it impossible to proceed as planned. This could have frustrated them, but it wasn’t long before the Spirit of Jesus spoke again, this time revealing to them an opened door. If we follow their example in obeying God’s closed doors as readily as we enter His opened doors, we too will be led by the Spirit of Jesus to just the place He wants us to be.

MY MIRACLE MAG-LITE -- Devotional for June 6, from "Good Seeds"

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105).

We know that God’s Word gives light for all of life. It is the sun providing illumination for as far as the eye can see and beyond. It reveals the big picture of the general principles of life. In the Bible we learn of the nature of God and His creation. We also learn of man and his sin and sorrow. When these two concepts meet in the pages of Scripture, God makes sure to reveal to us His plan for restoring us to the relationship He first designed us to have with Himself and the world He put us in. The Bible is the only trustworthy source of illumination regarding all the whats, whys, whens and wherefores we could possibly ask about our existence and our destiny. There we learn of the sin which separates us from God, and of the Savior who came to restore the peace in our troubled hearts by doing battle with the enemy of our soul. All that’s left for us is to do business with Jesus by believing in Him and receiving His grace, His pardon, His restoration to full fellowship with God. It is only in the Bible that we can discover these far reaching, eternal truths. It is a “sun” to illumine the entire world, and a “searchlight” to expose dangers and delights on the far horizon. But in today’s passage we see another metaphor revealing another aspect of the light God’s Word provides: it is a “lamp,” a flashlight we wield in our hand, shining just enough light to keep our feet from stumbling, secure and safe for the next step on the pathway, and maybe also to help us locate road signs and local landmarks for our next turn. Sometimes I find myself searching for someone’s home after dark. I take my powerful Mag-lite with me and shine it on mailboxes, curbs or garage doors in search of the address of the residence I’m looking for. I don’t need to see the color of the house, size of the yard, or kinds of vehicles in the driveway. I just need that address – and that powerful little “torch” in my hand, properly pointed, does the trick. “What is that in your hand?” God asked Moses, who was complaining that he did not have the wherewithal to guide the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses answered, “A staff.” Well, what is that in your hand, oh Christian? We have God’s Word totally and constantly within our reach, but how often do we read it and put it to work for us? Let us take our Miracle Mag-lite – our wonderful Bible – off the shelf, dust off the lens, turn it on, and point it at the path where our next step will fall. We may be surprised at the stumbling stones we will avoid, and the signposts we will find!

HOSPITALITY: A TEST OF FAITH -- Devotional for June 5, from "Good Seeds"

Be hospitable to one another. (I Peter 4:9)

What other word resembles the word hospitable? How about hospital? Of course we know hospitality speaks more of homes than hospitals, but it is instructive to see how much these two have in common:
It is both in a good home and in a good hospital where…
1)...you most want and need to be when you are sick.
2)...you most desire and enjoy visits from loved ones.
3)...you can expect someone always to be on hand and on call for the sake of your every need, and individual needs are given the utmost attention.
4)...the pantry is never bare, and everyone is provided the healthiest, if not always the tastiest, of nutritious food to eat.
5)...the “medicine cabinet” is well stocked with all necessary remedies for pain and illness.
6)...you go for the very best of rest and recuperation.
7)...cleanliness is emphasized, not just for outward appearance, but for the sake of inward health.
8)...The roof doesn’t leak, the building is sturdy, the plumbing and electrical are in good order.
9)...The doors are locked at night, and yet if someone desperately needs help at any time of the day or night, he can find entrance.
Now, you may be thinking that although these certainly are the things you can find and expect in a hospital (though you pay the big bucks to get them!), in most homes the resources, standards and expectations are much lower. That may be the reality, but must not be the norm, for the Christian. His guests should be treated with no less care or respect than what they’d receive in any hospital in the land. It should be a blessing and a joy to be so loved and accepted by a friend as to be thought of and treated like “family” – but only if family in that household are treated like royal guests! It is sadly true that “familiarity breeds contempt,” which comes soon enough when you live with someone day in and day out, for weeks and months and years. And so, as Peter was admonishing the church to “be hospitable to one another,” he was really saying they must treat those closest to them as if they were strangers who had just arrived at their door cold and hungry and tired – in the middle of the night! Hospitality is an art form that was highly perfected in Bible days, but seems to have fallen on hard times today. Maybe we will take it more seriously when we realize it is a telling indicator not only of the health of our home, but also of the authenticity of our faith!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

MY PASTOR: GOD'S GIFT TO ME -- Devotional for June 4, from "Good Seeds"

When He ascended Christ gave gifts to men and then sent those men as gifts to His church. Some of these would be pastors, whose responsibility it would be to equip God's people to serve Him in the world, and in the church. What Jesus is looking to achieve through all this is unity in our faith, and maturity in our works, all of which would measure up to His highest standards. (Ephesians 4:7-8,11-13)

A truth in the Bible that is as beautiful and fascinating as it is practical and useful is the truth concerning gifts. Now this word immediately makes us think about what you and I might give to each other, or even to the Lord. But the Bible says a lot more about what our all-powerful God can give than what a feeble man can give. In Romans 12 God’s gifts to men are seen in the context of the propensities and power that He places within us when He brings us into His family. In I Corinthians 12 God’s gifts to men are examined in terms of the effects and benefits they provide when properly exercised. But here in Ephesians 4 God’s gifts are not seen as powers or products at all, but as persons. Christ has surely given gifts to His people, but He has just as surely given some of His people as gifts! The church is described as a body, where Christ is the head, the command center, while the saints make up the great variety of body parts, each with a specific job to do. There is the church universal – all Christians everywhere, of all time. But it manifests itself in certain times of history in millions of localities all over the world. Think of these local churches as being like the first man, when he was first made: form and function were all in place, but until God breathed into him the breath of life, he wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything, because really, he wasn’t anybody, yet. That’s what a local church is: a nobody, a nothing, an unfinished creation, and as such not ready to take its place in God’s kingdom – until He gives to it men and women whom He uniquely designed and designated for its particular needs and tasks. The Bible teaches “the priesthood of the believer,” where each Christian, because he is indwelt by the Spirit of God, can live and move and have his being as a free-standing child of God. And yet, God would have everything in His kingdom done “properly and in an orderly manner” (I Corinthians 14:40). So, before going back to heaven, Jesus gave gifts to men, and then gave these men as gifts to His church – that is, to each and every local church. It’s high time we start seeing our pastors for who they really are, God’s gift to you and me!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ORDINATION: HUMAN RECOGNITION OF DIVINE CALLING -- Devotional for June 3, from "Good Seeds"

And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)

Here we see Paul in the first chapter of his career as a missionary (notice he was still called Saul). He had been a Christian for some time by now, but had submitted to an ordeal of testing and training in Arabia not unlike that experienced by Moses in Midian, both men emerging from an extended time of wilderness isolation with “BD” pinned to their tunics – for they had finally matriculated from God’s seminary of suffering and silence and received of Him the acclaimed “Backside of the Desert” degree! (Compare those quiet first 30 years of our Lord’s earthly career). At long last Paul was ready to enter public ministry. But wait, how do we know that? Was it just the confirmation of his peers that made such a determination? No, for as in every other facet of Christian experience and service, the call of Paul was a “God thing.” Leaders in the church at Antioch had met to fast and pray. (By the way, how common is such a gathering today? Oh, we Christians love to meet together for worship and fellowship, as well as for church business and ministry “busyness,” but how often do we hold back a bit on the game nights and church campouts, and rein in the banquets and potlucks for a little while – how often, in fact, do we just leave food off our plates and away from our palates for a season – in order to meet the Lord uninterrupted and unencumbered for a time of sincere prayer?) We are not told what motivated the men to wait upon the Lord in this extreme way, only that the result was the birthing of the first missionary movement of the church! Paul later wrote, “Looking back I now know that God separated me from my mother's womb, called me by His grace, and revealed His Son to me and in me, that I might preach Christ to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16). All that being true, it took a service of ordination, where Christian co-workers, recognizing that Paul was a marked man chosen particularly by God for a particular work, solemnly laid hands on him. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), thus confirming the partnership between God and godly men in His kingdom work. The amazing thing here is that when these men spoke, it was the Holy Spirit’s voice that was heard! But now, let’s bring it home to where we live: What about us today? Does the Spirit of God have a work, a calling, a place of service, for you and me? You bet He does! And it’s high time we get serious about it. And then, once our call is confirmed by God and affirmed by men, we’d better start packing our bags!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TENDER LOVE VS. TOUGH LOVE -- Devotional for June 2, from "Good Seeds"

As your spiritual father I certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead I was humble among you, like a child playing at your side, and like a mother softly singing to you, and gently feeding and caring for you (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). The Lord disciplines those He loves, and punishes each one He calls His own. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children (Heb 12:6-7).

Jimmy Rodgers sings this sweet song: “Tender love and care I will give you always; tender love and care, both in big and small ways. When you need me you’ll find me there, at your side anytime, anywhere, giving tender love and care to you.” These are the words of a man in love, but they also speak of a mother’s love, and even more, of God’s TLC for you and me. How could anyone say there’s enough of this kind of love in the world, for as another song says, “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” And shouldn’t this be the way wives and husbands treat one another? Certainly! Oh, if only it could be that simple! What about the husband who says, “Honey, if you love me, you’ll put up with my language, my magazines, my booze, and all my other innocent little shortcomings.” Any wife who swallows this line to the point of practicing tender love and care on a grown man who demands to be catered to like a helpless and innocent infant, will find herself boosting his childish ego while feeding his evil addictions. He calls it love and reminds her that it is her duty to give it. She calls it love because without knowing it her instincts have kicked in and she’s practicing unconditional motherly love again. I shudder to think what God calls it, but I know this: what could and should be a beautiful thing – tender, compassionate, unconditional love – has become the lock and key that keeps her man in a hellish prison, a prison of their own making! The Bible provides the perfect balance to TENDER LOVE, and the perfect cure for its ill effects (when it turns from godly sweetness to satanic saccharine) – a cure called, TOUGH LOVE. When a husband or a wife has returned to immature childhood and starts throwing tantrums, demanding to have his or her carnal needs met and pleasures satisfied, it’s time to set aside the tender love and bring in the tough love, the same as any wise parent would do. Alanon calls this action: “Detach with love.” Though it may look like a rejection, it is rather a subjection, to the kind of discipline that drives the evil out of the heart, and draws the loved one back home. We must never stop loving, but learn when it’s time to set aside Miss Tender and call in Mr. Tough.

Monday, June 1, 2009

KEEP ONE EYE ON THE CLOUDS -- Devotional for June 1, from "Good Seeds"

Seeing the things that are coming upon the earth, men’s hearts will fail them for fear, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. Then they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things happen, look up, lift up your head, for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:26-28)

On our morning walk my wife and I pass by some children waiting for their school bus. Apparently their parents have neglected to teach them not to talk to strangers – but then again, we do live in a very friendly rural neighborhood! – so lately we’ve taken the liberty to greet the children as we walk by. Since spring has sprung I’ve been asking them a question they take great delight in answering: “How many days left of school?” One of the girls is particularly ready when she sees us coming, and shouts out, “Twenty-one!” – or whatever the count has come down to – before I’ve even had a chance to finish my question. Yes, when Steve and Karen “come to pass” the children “lift up their heads” and think about their emancipation from the drudgery of school, which surely “draweth nigh.” “Spring is bustin’ out all over,” and teachers know that from May 1st till the last day of school they’re doing well if they can just maintain order. Verdant lawns, vast fields of wildflowers, and virile young men and woman are all totally and helplessly infected by this annual disease known as “spring fever.” And there’s no known cure. You just have to wait it out. But signs of its coming are everywhere, whether it be the scent of nectar in the air, the shade from thickening foliage in the treetops, the delight of gradually warming and lengthening days, and, in our part of God’s world, the daytime sight of fawns and the nighttime sound of coyotes in the adjoining field. This is hardly a picture of what our passage is speaking of, for the time is coming for unbelievers when it will be anything but a delight when they see things coming upon the world, things long predicted but universally ignored, and their hearts will beat out of their chests with fear. But the same things that scare Christ-rejecters to death will bring Christ-followers to life, as we look up into the sky, past the clashing of heavenly bodies, and welcome the crashing in of another Heavenly Body onto the scene. It is our Lord Jesus, returning in like manner as He left: through the clouds. The tragic end of the natural order, and of civilization as we know it, will spell the magic beginning of a new world “where only righteousness dwells” (II Peter 2:13). Will you be among that happy throng whose heads will be lifted up, and whose hearts will leap with joy, as they see their blessed Savior, the Lord of all Creation, coming onto the scene? Then, at last, you will receive a new body, free from pain and age and disease. Surely our redemption, of both body and soul, “draweth nigh.” Yes, my friend, stay busy for the Lord down here, right now, but as you do, keep one eye on the clouds. Maybe you’ll be the first to spot Him, the One who is coming, for you and for me!