Friday, July 31, 2009

ANGELS: THE STRAIGHT SCOOP -- Devotional for July 31, from "Good Seeds"

He will give His angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father. Are not these angels all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Psalm 91:11-12; Hebrews 1:14; Matt. 18:10)

Relatively little is said in the Bible about angels. I’ve chosen three well known passages which speak of the relationship between angels and people. In order to understand the character and purpose of angels, we must learn the important distinctions between mankind, angel-kind, God-kind. There is so much false information running through our beliefs simply because we don’t respect the very clear differences between these three kinds of beings. It’s almost a macro-evolutionary thinking that allows people to believe a man can become a god, or an angel – or that God could become an angel, or a man. Now right away we remember that God did become a man, when the eternal Son of God was born of Mary and lived a human life on earth. But the Son of God did not morph into a man, changing His nature from eternal God to mortal man. Rather, immortality took on mortality, the two existing together in one person. This is not something that happens. It happened, yes, but just once. God took on humanity, in order that man might take on immortality, but God did not cease being God when the Son of God became the offspring of Mary. In the same way, we do not cease being fully human when we “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). Now, what about angels? They are a separate kind of being, created prior to man, for when the serpent beguiled Eve this was an angel using an animal to tempt mankind to reject God, the Creator of all. The only change an angel could make was to turn from good to evil, which in the case of Lucifer had already happened. The angel did not become a snake, he just used it, to get to Eve. Some folks think when people die and go to heaven they become angels – the caricature is always of the same face, but the guy now has wings and is playing a harp! Let’s get the facts straight by getting the straight scoop from Scripture: Evil angels want us to be like them, and if we follow their lead in rejecting God, we will be with them for all eternity, in the place designed for their eternal destruction. But good angels are servants of the most high God, whose only intention is to keep us on track to find, love and serve our Lord, so that we will spend eternity with Him, and with them too, in the heavenly realm. Angels are God’s servants, and our friends.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A GOOD WAY TO WITNESS -- Devotional for July 30, from "Good Seeds"

Be kind to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)

There are many kinds of people in the world. Differences in the population of mankind can be seen very clearly when we consider things like race, gender, nationality, age, personality type, intelligence, skills, tastes and preferences, etc. Just as God put great variety in the plant and animal kingdom, so He built into the family of man the potential and capacity for tremendous variety – and that’s a good thing, right? But there are a few areas where deviation from a certain standard gets us in trouble. One of those has to do with the way we treat one another. The very fact that we are so different from one another can cause us to be intolerant, even hateful, towards those with whom we can find almost nothing in common. But this is a violation of the cardinal rule for interpersonal relationships that Paul expressed in his letter to the Ephesians. Now this was a church made up of people who were highly sophisticated in culture, and well advanced and mature in their Christian faith, too. But as he got to know them he discovered they were failing miserably in this most rudimentary area: being kind to one another. When Jesus was asked what is the most important of all God’s laws, He answered, “Well, it’s a tie: ‘Love God, and love your neighbor.’” If that’s true, then the Ephesian church was in a sad state of relational disrepair, for not only did Paul have to remind them to be kind to one another, but Jesus Himself had to reprove them regarding their lack of love toward God: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). The truth of the matter can be summarized in this one concise statement: “If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind!” There is no superior race or nation; extroverts are not better than introverts; women are not inferior to men; city dwellers are not more favored by heaven than country folk; and, it’s not wrong to live “on the wrong side of the tracks.” BUT, it is definitely wrong to be unkind to your fellow man, or to any other part of God’s creation, for that matter. Yes, I think we can say unequivocally that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong when it comes to our treatment of one another. Kindness is the rule. What is kindness? It is thinking of the comfort and well-being of another, and saying and doing whatever furthers those conditions. Jesus said it takes no effort to be kind to those who are kind to you, but when you can treat an enemy with kindness, and “do good to those who hate you and despitefully use you.” you are on the way to becoming a kind person. What does kindness accomplish? Paul tells us the ultimate fruit of kindness: “Is it not the kindness of God that leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:14). Want to bring someone to God today? Then show a little kindness – or maybe a lot!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

LOVE IN LEADERSHIP -- Devotional for July 29, from "Good Seeds"

Love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own; is not provoked in taking into account a wrong suffered. (I Corinthians 13:5).

I’m reading a book that talks about the connection between love and leadership. Love and marriage go together, we know that; same with friendship, but what exactly does love have to do with leadership? When I read I Corinthians 13:5 today my friend’s former pastor came to mind. Apparently this man has a secret problem with anger coupled with a propensity toward lording it over others. My friend tells me that in public ministry these things don’t usually surface and the majority of the flock is unaware of these weaknesses in their shepherd. But they come out in the elders meetings, where the pastor trash talks to his men about how they and others do not live up to his standards and expectations. The staff pastor reporting this to my friend revealed how shocked and disappointed he was to see in a leader he had long admired such venomous prejudice, bordering on hatred, expressed against believers in another church because of a minor doctrinal variance. He said he was downright embarrassed for his pastor. Now, to be embarrassed for someone else means you are expressing this emotion in his place, by proxy, because it is obvious to you that it is called for, even though he is apparently totally oblivious to it. That in itself is an embarrassment! For an adult, especially a leader, to behave like a spoiled child, a reckless driver, or an unbroken mustang, is to “act unbecomingly.” This shows more than a lack of breeding or training. Rather it is a clear manifestation of the absence of agape, the brand of love explained in the Love Chapter: First Corinthians 13. Why is it that the higher a man ascends on the corporate, social, or ecclesiastical ladder, the more easily he gives in to the temptation to exert his will and authority over others, and to do it with less and less care for the way it will be received by them, or what it will do to them – and more, how it will tarnish his testimony as a soul supposedly rescued from the power of sin. When we as leaders become aware of a wrong, whether inside or outside of the camp, we are faced with three decisions: #1 – Is this a wrong to be taken into account: where we record its details, finger its perpetrators, and proceed with disciplinary or punitive measures? #2 – Is it a wrong to be suffered: to be endured silently with no action taken? Or, #3 – Is it a wrong worthy of our personal involvement, and if so, are we able and willing to monitor the degree and quality of our own words and emotions? Whether we ever thought of it this way before or not, these are the parameters and measures of God’s love as it plays out in the everyday affairs of men – and in the kingdom of God.

WHAT MORE CAN I SAY? -- Devotional for July 28, from "Good Seeds"

The Lord said to Joshua, “Moses, My servant, is dead. But for you and your people, life goes on, and as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Please know that I will never leave you nor forsake you. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:1,2,5,9)

What do we do when someone great in our life dies? Well, we certainly grieve the loss of any loved one, but when it is our mentor, or hero, the loss goes deeper than grief. It feels like a part of us has died as well, and we are emasculated: bereft of skills and tools, drained of life and energy, as if these things were ours only while we were connected to our living hero – and now, he’s gone. This is God’s opportunity to remind us our strength can never be rooted in our fellow man, for God alone is the “fount of every blessing.” Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh describes himself as having “talent on loan from God.” His arrogant tone veils the truth of what he says, for is not God the only source of any good thing we are or have? To claim that our goodness is rooted in our own greatness is foolish conceit to the max. But to lean on others for our strength is just as wrong – and risky. Indeed, we are jeopardizing their continued life on earth when we put them on such a pedestal, for God “will not share His glory with another” (Isaiah 42:8), and He will go to the greatest length to teach us that we must depend on Him and Him alone. It was when Isaiah’s hero, King Uzziah, fell into sin and died that Isaiah “saw the Lord, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). And it was when another man who was larger than life to millions, Moses, came to the end of his days that his protégé, Joshua, began to hear the voice and follow the leading of the Lord. This is not to say he wasn’t terrified to go it alone, apart from his master, in leading the unruly Israelites. But for our sakes we can be glad for his fears, for otherwise we would not have these powerful words of encouragement that can properly be applied to anyone who loves the Lord but fears the future. To get through our grief we must face facts. God is brutally blunt, to the point of near disrespect to this superman (to man) and super-servant (to God). But how else does one say it: “Moses is dead. His body is gone – I buried him Myself in an unmarked grave in the wilderness – but his memory, it seems, lives on, to the point of dismaying your heart and stalling your progress. Get over him, Josh! You’re a great man, too, but to get on with life you must deal with your fear. You have no less than Moses had – you have ME! As I was with him, so will I be with you. What else can I say to cheer you up, man?” What else indeed, Christian friend today?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

GENUINE WORSHIP: IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT FAITH -- Devotional for July 27, from "Good Seeds"

Though you have not seen Him you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. (I Peter 1:8)

The Bible says that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), but did you know that it is also impossible to truly worship Him, apart from faith? There are many definitions of worship, but it can hardly be described apart from the total involvement of the soul of a man: his mind, his will and his emotions. Peter says belief in Jesus leads directly to rejoicing in Jesus. If you don’t know Him, how could you love Him? But if you have come to know and love Him, how could you not rejoice in Him? The words of an old praise song reflect this truth: “The greatest thing in all my life is KNOWING You…” But then we sing the second verse, which almost seems to contradict the first: “The greatest thing in all my life is LOVING You…” And then, it happens once more, when the third verse boldly asserts, “The greatest thing in all my life is SERVING You.” But there is no contradiction here, only a progression, for how could we know God without loving Him? And if we love Him, how could we not worship and serve him with every ounce of our being? Our lips will not remain silent, and our joy will not be tame, for it cannot be contained. As hard as we try, our ability to express our love for Him will never be able to keep up with the glory of God that He progressively reveals to us. But knowing God, and loving and serving Him, are all predicated on one other thing, which is the most basic underpinning of our life in Christ: faith! Faith is the conviction of the reality of something or someone apart from empirical evidence (see Hebrews 11:1). Following Christ’s resurrection He appeared in the flesh to His friends. But old “Doubting Thomas” was not present at the time and he wouldn't accept it: “Unless I can put my finger into the nailholes in His hands, and place my hand where the sword pierced His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). In his heart Thomas wanted so badly to believe, but his mind wouldn’t allow it. Where did that leave him: sour-faced, sulking, certainly not worshiping – and hardly fellowshipping! (Sound like anybody you know?) What convinced Him that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead? An actual appearance, a personal audience with the Savior. But Jesus wasn’t happy with Thomas. “You’ve lost the blessing that others will enjoy, those who will not see Me as you see Me now, and yet will believe.” And Peter picks up right where Jesus left off: “Having not yet seen Him, you love Him. How blessed indeed are you!” It is only such a faith that will enable and equip us to praise God with genuine inexpressible joy!

KEEP TRUSTING IN THE MIDST OF THE TESTING -- Devotional for July 26, from "Good Seeds"

That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:7)

The recipients of this letter from Peter were Christians who believed in Jesus Christ with all of their hearts. From his opening remarks we can see that they had already experienced quite a bit of pain and persecution for their trouble. In verse 6 Peter says he’s well aware of the distress of multiplied and variegated trials they were now suffering. In verse 7 he speaks of the trial by fire their faith had been put to. But he’s not just commenting, he’s commending: “Good for you,” he says, “for hanging in their when many would have turned back to their old lives long before now.” As minister of music in my church, I am constantly on the lookout for the genuine article when it comes to worship (in myself, too, of course). Jesus said we must worship God “in spirit and in truth.” There is so much hype and hypocrisy, so much opinion and comparison, so much emotion and entertainment, and so much commercialism and criticism in Christian worship today that it must be a great joy to our Lord when He senses someone breaking away from all that, and hears not just the voices but the hearts of His children crying out, “It’s not about me, Jesus – it’s all about You.” Does it take a test of trials and temptations and troubles for us to finally be found, as were Peter’s friends, in a state of “praise and glory and honor”? Yes, I think maybe it does. When we who believe in Jesus live lives of relative ease and comfort, when things are more or less going our way, when our basic human needs are provided for by the normal resources of our advanced civilization – when “God’s in His heaven and all’s well with our world” – what do we have to thank or praise God for, really? But when the bottom falls out: when we lose a friend or loved one, when we lose our job or our health, when tragedy or despondency strikes – in other words, when our faith is put to the test – this is when we start really worshiping God, or turn our backs on Him and walk away. Gold is refined by placing it in a crucible and turning up the heat. The impurities then rise to the surface and can be scoured off and removed. And when that happens to you or to me, it may hurt like the dickens but this is how we get to know God, and how we learn to love Him and worship Him. When we keep trusting Him in the midst of the testing, that is when He knows the refining process is doing its job. What is the most precious thing about us to God? Our faith. When He turns up the heat, and we turn on the praise, that’s when He knows He’s got us. Has He got you?

A CLEAN POLITICIAN (NOT AN OXYMORON) -- Devotional for July 25, from "Good Seeds"

Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus and great among the Jews, having gained favor with the multitude of his kinsmen; for he was one who sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of his whole nation. Mordecai became great in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces. And he became greater and greater. For his people the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. In each and every province and city there was gladness and joy. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them. (Esther 10:3; 9:4; 8:16,17)

It is such a temptation for public servants to become self-serving. The favor they receive can so readily turn to favors they give, and graft and corruption soon become the name of the politics game. Some might say it’s no more than just the business of commerce: you receive goods and services for the money you pay. How sad that this sort of thing is said – sadder yet that it is so often true, especially in the light of the fact that a politician is a public servant, and service is the commodity of his trade. Just as the term “honest lawyer” seems to be an oxymoron, so the phrase, “clean politician” likewise seems to be a contradiction in terms. How have lawyers and politicians gotten these bad reputations? It isn’t that there are so many crooks in law and politics, but even among the good ones, it’s still mostly as Jesus described it in Matthew 20:25: “You know the rulers of government exert authority and lord it over you.” But then He went on to describe the way it is supposed to be, and the way a true Christian would act as a lawyer or leader: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” In the New Testament we find the principles by which we are to live, whereas the Old Testament provides examples and stories that illustrate New Testament truth and bring it to life. The story of Mordecai is one such life illustration. He beautifully fulfilled the job description of the servant/leader laid out by Jesus, both in behavior and character. He never sought personal reward or fame, or even attention. He never wanted to be great or to be praised, but just tirelessly worked for the “good of his people and the welfare of his nation.” This is what our American presidents always say they are doing. Each one, in his administration, proves whether or not this was his actual motive. But there is such a thing as godly politics. Today’s Scripture tells us where they lead: the people are happy and healthy, society is peaceful and prosperous – and other nations want desperately to be like them. This is how it used to be in America. What happened?

Friday, July 24, 2009

JUSTICE, MERCY, AND GRACE -- Devotional for July 24, from "Good Seeds"

For the WAGES of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. But when the kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, according to His MERCY, that being justified by His GRACE, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Romans 6:23; Titus 3:4-7)

We often say that all we want is our fair share, what is rightfully ours. “I’m not asking for the moon,” we say, “I just want what’s coming to me; you know, what I deserve.” If we’re thinking only of good things when we say this, we’re forgetting that if justice means getting our just deserts, then that would mean punishment as well as reward. But we usually reserve this negative side for others. “If you do the crime, you’ll do the time!” we say. “Three strikes and you’re out,” is the law in some states, condemning third time offenders to serious prison terms, with no possibility of early release. After all, we’ve got to protect our neighborhoods from predators and bad guys, right? But when it comes to our own petty offenses, we expect clemency and understanding and mercy. Someone once said, “You need kindness in another’s troubles, and courage in your own.” But we’re so quick to turn it around, demanding justice for others, while begging mercy for ourselves. Justice, mercy, and grace are all in the Bible, and they all touch our lives in significant ways. JUSTICE means getting what we deserve. The next time we demand justice for ourselves, we’d better examine what the Bible says about that, for if we’ve ever sinned, even just once, we’re in big trouble: Ezekiel wrote, “The soul that sins, it shall die” (18:20). That’s justice. Is that what we want? It doesn’t say he who sins big. Even a little bit of sin – even just one – is a death sentence, according to God. Paul spoke of justice in terms of our paycheck. He said if our work is sin, our wages will be death, eternal death! We say, “In that case, forget justice; give me mercy.” Mercy is the converse of justice. Mercy admits that the punishment is deserved, but let’s me off the hook. MERCY means not getting what we deserve. Mercy is our “get out of hell card.” But where does that leave us? Nowhere. But we want to be somewhere. We want to be in heaven. That’s where grace comes into the picture. What’s grace? GRACE is getting what we don’t deserve. Justice is getting that bad thing we deserve; Mercy is not getting it, but Grace is getting that good thing we don’t deserve, but desperately want and need! Grace is our “Go directly to heaven” card. A benevolent court could look the other way and give us mercy, but only God can give us grace: when He looks through the blood of the cross, He doesn’t see His sinful child, He sees His sinless Son. Do you want grace? Turn to Jesus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

EXTREME LOVE / RECKLESS LOYALTY -- Devotional for July 23, from "Good Seeds"

David had a craving and said, “O that someone would give me a drink from the well by Bethlehem’s gate.” Hearing that, his three mighty men broke through the Philistine camp, drew a cup of water from the well, and brought it to their king. When David saw it, and realized what they had done, he would not drink it, but poured it out upon the ground in worship, saying, “Far be it from me, Lord, that I should drink the blood of the men who jeopardized their lives for the sake of my simple desires.” (II Samuel 23:15-17)

David, the shepherd boy turned mighty warrior, was holed up one day in a stalemate against the constant bane of Israel, the Philistines. At this particular time they had control of David’s hometown, which must really have galled him. As he gazed longingly toward his beloved Bethlehem, he spotted the water spring next to the city gate. No doubt his mind wandered back to the time when as a small boy he had played around that well – and now he could almost taste its cool, refreshing water. Have you ever been just talking to yourself when someone nearby overheard you and responded? That’s what happened to David when in his reverie he mumbled under his breath something about wishing he could have a sip of that sweet Bethlehem water once again. But here’s where a guy who’s surrounded by friends so loyal they would die for him has to be careful. The bulk of the Israeli army had withdrawn (verse 9), but David and his three closest friends had stayed behind to see what inroads they could make into the Philistine camp. God seems to have wanted us to understand the value of such friends, for quite a bit of Scripture space is taken up describing the character and conquests of “The Three Mighty Men,” especially as seen in this particular anecdote. With not a word to their captain (who never would have permitted such a foolish risk), these three musketeers gave each other knowing looks, and then, without hesitation, crept out into no man’s land, and sneaking past the Philistine guards managed to gather a draught of that precious water for their king. When they returned and gave it to David, he was overcome with the strongest of emotions – and remember, this was a man who could really emot! But we must not be confused or offended by what he did next, for instead of showing his gratitude by drinking the water, he showed love for his best friends, and worship of his God, by pouring the water out onto the ground. To David, it was no longer water, but the very blood of his buddies whose love and loyalty took them way beyond the constraints of common sense. By the way, when was the last time you or I loved our friend – or worshiped our God – with such an extreme love and reckless loyalty as that?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE GRIEVING PARENT'S PRAYER -- Devotional for July 21, from "Good Seeds"

But now he has died, so why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me. (II Samuel 12:23)

Today is the birthday of our only son, Peter James Moore. And tomorrow is his deathday! For one day, back in 1971, we had a son. For one day, then God took him away. That day proved to be the most difficult day of our entire lives. Oh, we learned the cause of death: his lungs weren’t quite right, for indeed he was a few weeks premature. But we thought we’d weathered the storm, and we held him, and welcomed him into the family, and started making plans for him. But then, in a moment, he was gone. We didn’t even have the opportunity, as David did, to fast and pray, and to plead and contend with God, over him. It all happened in the wee hours, while we were sleeping. And unlike David, we knew of no sin in our lives that God was dealing with. David had lusted over another man’s wife. To make her available for himself, the king arranged for that man’s death on the battlefield. David’s son, born to Uriah’s widow, is the child in question in today's passage. When the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin, he cried out in sincere repentance. The prophet then said, “God has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” Before David could sigh his relief, however, the Word of the Lord continued, “But, because of your dastardly deed, I will take away your son – yes, he shall surely die” (vss. 13-14). This, of course, was unacceptable to the king, and he proceeded to wangle his way with God. Was he not the “sweet psalmist of Israel”? Would not God indeed hear his sincere cries and relent from His former intention? But it was not to be. For Steve and Karen it was 17 hours; for David and Bathsheba it was 7 days – but in both cases, a little boy was all too soon dispatched to eternity. I can’t tell you why we lost our son. Only God knows. But from here on, our two stories match, for we learned to pray with David: “Our little one won’t come back to us – but someday we will go to him.” Yes, we will see our Peter in glory. He will be waiting and watching for us as we approach the heavenly city, ready to smother us in his strong embrace! In this grieving parent’s prayer we learn some vital life lessons: 1) There is such a thing as “the age of accountability,” and little ones who die before they could possibly express faith in God, will positively go to God! 2) There is such a thing as life after death, for it was not a decomposed body in a grave that David hoped to see, but a living, laughing, loving son, vibrant and alive forevermore! 3) Since only the righteous and the holy will darken (brighten!) the door of heaven, if we want to see our departed saved loved ones again, we must be saved, too. And there’s only one way: to choose heaven we must choose Christ!

Monday, July 20, 2009

THE JESUS WAY TO CELEBRATE YOUR BIRTHDAY -- Devotional for July 22, from "Good Seeds"

DEAR READER: I have decided to honor the birthdays of my immediate family in GOOD SEEDS. As I was writing "The Jesus Way to Celebrate Your Birthday" I remembered that July 21 is the birthday of our departed son, Peter. So please note these date changes: "The Jesus Way to Celebrate Your Birthday" (see below) has been assigned to July 22, and "The Grieving Parent's Prayer" is for July 21, in honor of Peter's birthday.

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

I have birthdays on my brain right now, maybe because July is the dominant birthday month for my little clan: 6 of us out of 20 have a July birthday. A birthday is a very significant day for every human being: 1) It marks the entrance into the world of a brand new, unique, never-seen-before and never-to-be-seen-again personality; 2) It establishes a personalized holiday wrapped around just one person (of course millions of people in the world share your birth date, but you almost don’t want to know about it, as it waters down the attention you’d like to receive as uniquely your own for just that day); 3) No matter how important, or insignificant, you may be in the world or in your own eyes, you stand on an equal plane with presidents and rock stars – and with paupers and criminals – in that you have a birthday, and you have every right to celebrate it! Nobody doesn’t have a birthday, and nobody has more than one. The birthday is the great equalizer among humanity. In a small church I pastored we announced and celebrated in song the birthdays as well as anniversaries of our members on the first Sunday of each month. I remember saying, “As nice as it is to have a birthday, and as much as we rejoice with you on yours, it doesn’t take any real effort or character to keep having birthdays – you just have to stay alive! But the anniversary is a more noble holiday, and so we especially commend the couples who have kept their married love alive all these years and are still going strong!” A birthday is a personal holiday, but is it truly a holy day? Not necessarily – but it can be, and should be. Something that is holy is set apart from desecration and sin, and separated unto the Lord, for His glory. Jesus could have been talking about boastful birthday boys and girls (and men and women) when He spoke of those wishing to be great, to have accolades and attention focused on them, to be served cake and ice cream, to be given the seat of honor, to be showered with presents and extravagant, if not entirely sincere, compliments and courtesies. We give these to others on their birthdays, if only to earn the same for ourselves when it comes our turn. How noble is any of this? I remember reading a book to my children about a little girl who awoke on the morning of her birthday and decided she would treat each person she met that day as if it were their birthday, but never say that it was hers. That’s the Jesus way to celebrate your birthday: make it a day to bless others; and as far as honor and attention for you – leave that up to Him.

EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST DETAILS -- Devotional for July 20, from "Good Seeds"

God forbid that I should boast in anyone except my Lord Jesus Christ, or in anything but His cross, through which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Sometimes when a person makes a significant faith decision for Christ he is encouraged to select a “Life Verse,” a passage of Scripture upon which to anchor his life. When I prepare someone for baptism I help him find such a verse, and then quote it while standing with him in the baptismal font. The pastor who counseled me when I went forward to dedicate my life for Christian service urged me to pick a life verse for myself (see July 19). I didn’t want to use the typically popular verses most of my friends were choosing, so I selected a rather obscure one: Romans 15:1. Years later I chose a new life verse that I felt more clearly expressed my philosophy of life as a Christian: Galatians 6:14. This verse fairly reeks with the passion and conviction of one totally sold out to God, one who craves glory – not his own, but God’s – in everything he says and does. Paul expresses this most succinctly in I Corinthians 1:31, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (see also Jeremiah 9:23-24, and II Cor. 10:7-18). While serving at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp recently I noticed this bumper sticker on a fellow music teacher’s car: “The only important thing in life is music – everything else is just details!” What a great example of single-minded devotion and passion! I, too, would claim that same conviction – with just this variation: exchange one five-letter word for another – change MUSIC to JESUS! What a beautiful paraphrase we then would have for Galatians 6:14: “The only important thing in life is JESUS – everything else is just details!” Oh that this were genuinely true in my life, that Jesus would not only be eternally in my heart, but constantly and continually on my mind, as the “Altogether Lovely One,” as the only subject worthy of my consideration and conversation, regardless of my situation or the company I keep at any given point in my life! In Matthew 6:33 we read: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (is not the embodiment and personification of that righteousness nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ?), "and all these things shall be added unto you” (and are not “all these things” just details, by comparison?). My new life verse goes on to say that as far as the glitter and gold and glamor of this world are concerned, well, I am dead to these things, and they are dead to me. “Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins,” wrote the psalmist, “may they not have any grip on me” (Psalm 19:13). Hmmm, my new life verse might just be harder to live by than any other one I know. Since I will not achieve it any time soon, maybe it’s a good one to keep constantly before me.

MY LIFE VERSE -- Devotional for July 19, from "Good Seeds"

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

When I was twelve years old I attended a Bible Camp, no doubt right around this time of year. Actually I went to camp every summer, but I remember that particular year as the time when I dedicated my life to the Lord for Christian service. In those days churches and camps had a lot more public appeals at the end of the meetings than they typically do today. These “invitations” urged listeners to examine their lives, and if some heart work needed to be done, to come down to the front to make a public profession of a personal need. A lot of kids “went forward,” but I always held back. I remember my inner struggle every time there was an invitation: “I suppose I should go down. Look, everyone else is. What’s the matter with me? But it’s so embarrassing! Besides, what would I be confessing?” And so, I didn’t go, even though it made me feel spiritually inferior to my friends. But then came that particular July day at Hume Lake Bible Camp when the speaker said, “I’m talking to you Christian kids now: have you thought about God’s will for your life? Do you want to be prepared for what He has prepared for you to do?” Well, that made sense to me. This was an invitation I could respond to. Indeed, I could go forward and no one would mistake it as a first time decision for Christ, for I had done that when I was four years old at my mother’s knee, and had been baptized at age seven. Of course I didn’t know that God would be calling me into full time Christian ministry – all I knew then was that I wanted to make myself totally available to Him for however He chose to use me, and I wasn’t ashamed to say so publicly. So I broke my altar call boycott and went forward! That night in my cabin I got alone with God and my Bible and found Romans 15:1. This would be my life verse, I thought. It just reached out and grabbed me – well, God did, through the pen of the apostle Paul. And the next two verses bring the point home: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.’” Now today, July 19th, is a day I would normally want a little extra attention – after all, it is my birthday! But God tells me to climb outside of myself by bearing the weaknesses of others (and that includes bearing with weak brothers!). Ministers of God must be like Jesus: 1) Prepared to serve, “not to be served” (Matthew 20:28); 2) Ready to suffer. People don’t know any better way to reject God than to shoot His messengers. Is this what I signed up for when I was twelve years old? I guess so. It’s a harder verse to live up to than I thought back in those innocent days.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

MY UNDOING -- Devotional for July 18, from "Good Seeds"

To quarrel is foolish; a man with good sense holds his tongue. Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal. Self-control means controlling the tongue. A quick retort can ruin everything. A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels. Gentle words cause life and health; griping brings discouragement. A good man thinks before he speaks; the evil man pours out his evil words without a thought. The man of few words and settled mind is wise; therefore, even a fool is thought to be wise when he is silent. It pays him to keep his mouth shut. A fool gets into constant fights. His mouth is his undoing! His words endanger him. Those who love to talk will suffer the consequences. Men have died for saying the wrong thing! A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults. This is to his credit. Keep your mouth closed and you’ll stay out of trouble. Don’t be hot-headed and rush to judgment; you may start something you can’t finish and go down before your neighbor in shameful defeat. So discuss the matter with him privately. Don’t tell anyone else, lest he accuse you of slander and you can’t withdraw what you said. Be patient and you will finally win, for a soft tongue can break hard bones. A rebel shouts in anger; a wise man holds his temper in and cools it. (Proverbs 11:12; 12:18; 13:3; 15:1,4,28; 17:27-28; 18:6,7,21; 19:11; 21:23; 25:8-10,15; 29:11)

When Solomon was inaugurated as the new young king of Israel he turned to God in prayer. He could have asked for long life, or riches, or power over his enemies that would bring him great popularity and fame. But he asked for something else instead: “Lord, that Thy servant may have an understanding heart, to judge Thy people in discerning between good and evil” (I Kings 3:7-9). It pleased the Lord mightily that Solomon had asked for wisdom, and nothing else, so much so that not only did He grant Solomon’s wish, but also granted him the things he very well could have asked for, but did not: riches and honor. His was a peaceful reign, giving him time and opportunity to develop and practice his gift of wisdom, and to write it down for others. As I meditate on his book of wise sayings, the Proverbs, I come across one theme more than any other: the wise use of the tongue. As I meditate on this theme from the Proverbs I’m reminded how often I stand in violation of the rules of engagement regarding my words to others. As I echo Isaiah’s lament, “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5), may I also receive the cleansing of those lips following sincere repentance.

SUGAR BABY -- Devotional for July 17, from "Good Seeds"

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout, and looking for the consolation of Israel. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. He was in the temple when the parents brought in the child Jesus. The old man took the baby into his arms and blessed God, saying, “Now, Lord, let Thy bondservant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.” (Luke 2:25-32)

I have hanging in my study a charcoal drawing of an old man playing an accordion facing a teenaged girl holding an electronic keyboard at her side. It’s a picture of the juxtapositioning of the generations, of age greeting youth, of the old-fashioned threatened by the new-fangled. A far more vibrant picture of that was painted for me today at our fine arts camp. A fellow staffer brought her 5 month old baby to camp. The thought didn’t occur to anyone that this infant may cramp the camp a little. In fact, just the opposite has transpired, as students and adults alike have accepted this new little “Sugar Baby” as just one more member of the Sugarloaf family. Not that little *Nalani has not stolen the affections and won the hearts of all who see her, for she is Sugarloaf’s newest and brightest little star! Now, I believe this is more than just the fascination of our race for all things bright and beautiful, all things tiny and innocent. (Are we not all suckers for fetchingly adorable little puppies and kittens?) But there is something more than that going on here, with this little one in our midst. I think we see her as representative of what this camp is all about: meeting, loving, teaching – and learning from – the next generation. Whenever we see a youngster it makes us think of the world he will face – not just how that world will treat him, but how it will be changed by him. This is true for each camper here, from the oldest teen down to this most precious little “Sugar-Baby.” But now I’m thinking of another brand new Baby who came on the scene many, many years ago. His parents brought him to church to be dedicated. When an old man saw Him he saw what we, too, must see: more than a mere representative of the next generation, but the true embodiment of mankind’s salvation. Maybe our little Nalani could be a *breath of heaven to us, reminding us of the Son of Heaven who came down long ago to bring new life to an old and dying world.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TAPS -- Devotional for July 16, from "Good Seeds"

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).

Probably the noblest musical instrument mentioned in the Bible is the trumpet. I’m partial to the stringed instruments myself, but a lyre or a harp of ten strings would never work to call men to battle, or to warn citizens of danger. Of course the trumpet of Bible days was no more than a ram’s horn (called a shofar), a very simple instrument that produced only a root pitch and its overtones. This is the same type of sound that can be gotten from a modern day trumpet without the valves – a bugle, basically. Conventional scales and the melodies built upon them are not playable on such instruments. But with the available tones of root, fifth and third, a whole other type of melodic “scale” can be achieved. The tunes playable on this rudimentary trumpet seem perfectly suited for calling people to attention or to an action of one kind or another. With a harp David strummed the accompaniment for his songs (the Psalms), that he would sing to his sheep – or to his king – for the purpose of quieting disturbed minds and frazzled nerves. But the trumpet has just the opposite purpose and effect: to disquiet minds and hearts, waking them out of a stupor or slumber so they can go into action. It is for such purposes that we have bugle calls today. They are used largely in the military, whose members learn to identify the meanings of the various calls. There is one to wake them up in the morning, another to lower the flag by night, and to say goodnight – and others, too, which communicate very specific activities or commands. In Bible days the shofar called hearers to duty or warned them of danger. No wonder we read, then, of the importance of clear and distinct tones sounding forth from the bugle, as the apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:8: “For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?" When Christians gather in the name of Jesus, they put out a call to worship. With the thoughts and words of Scripture set to music they beckon their battle weary brothers and sisters to come away and rest awhile – not to sleep, but to lie down in the green pastures of God’s Word, to rest at the feet of Jesus and like Mary to linger at and ponder on His every word. My favorite bugle call is “taps,” which is just such a call, not to take up arms, but to lay them down for awhile, to see the world, both its joys and its trials, through the eyes of our Lord. So, even as sleep overtakes my eyes this night, I reflect on the words of this noble bugle call…
Day is done; gone the sun
from the lake, from the trees, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest…God is nigh.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A NEW LEAF OR A NEW LIFE? -- Devotional for July 15, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

It is part of the human experience to initiate new starts in our lives. As we grow, the anniversary of our birth becomes less an excuse to have a party with refreshments, games and presents, and more of a time to take stock and ask ourselves where we’ve been and where we’re going. And then there is the birthday of the year itself, New Year’s Day. Some folks celebrate it as if it were a real person requiring attention and honor. But whether or not we do that, how difficult is it to wake up on any given January 1st and not contemplate making some changes in our lives, via New Year’s Resolutions? Holidays that commemorate the noble character and heroic deeds of the great men and women of our nation can stimulate us to be better students of history, and better citizens, too. What else can work powerfully to turn our focus inward? Someone finally hits bottom in his struggle with alcohol or some other equally debilitating addiction. It often takes some publicly embarrassing or personally painful trauma to bring this about, such as causing a car accident or losing a marriage partner, to make him realize it’s time to “turn over a new leaf.” Whether by an ever-increasing dissatisfaction with life as usual, or by some heart rending personal tragedy, at one time or another most everyone will become disenchanted with his life and crave a new start, a fresh beginning. Outward signs always point to inward need. Jesus put it most succinctly when He said, “You must be born again.” The phrase born again has become associated with the modern evangelistic movement, seen at the local church level as well as in citywide crusades that feature powerful sermons by no-nonsense preachers. Modern thinkers, some even within Christendom, tend to look askance at the phrase, often because of its association with hyper-fundamentalism, but to do this is to forget that it comes straight from the Bible – indeed, straight from the lips of our Lord Himself, in His evangelistic sermon to an audience of one: Nicodemus. This man was a seeker, to be sure, but he came with a boatload of baggage, mostly in the form of self-righteous, religious trappings and traditions. Jesus would have none of it: “It’s all part of your old life, Nicodemus, not something to be salvaged, but to be trashed. The solution, as the problem, is as simple as it is universal: you must be born again. You don’t repairs – you need a replacement!” Is this a message modern man is missing, too, in the midst of all his introspection, self-help programs and self-improvement schemes? Jesus has the same message today, to God-rejecters and Christ-seekers alike: “You must be born again!”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ONLY FOR A SEASON, ALWAYS FOR A REASON -- Devotional for July 14, from "Good Seeds"

In this salvation you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials. (I Peter 1:6)

Peter left off his explanation of salvation in verse 5 by referring to it as something “ready to be revealed in the last time.” The Bible presents salvation as belonging to all three time zones: The Past – we are saved from the condemnation and relieved of the guilt caused by our sin; The Present – we are being saved (given victory over) the temptations and troubles that beset us on a daily basis; The Future – we are yet to be saved (rescued) from the pain, sin and loss that are our undoing now. We are assured of our heavenly inheritance, but if full salvation means we are currently partaking of that inheritance then no, we are definitely NOT yet fully and finally saved. And this is the component of salvation Peter is referring to in this verse. When we have our new bodies, they will be like Christ’s resurrection body: no longer subject to the restrictions or illness or pain…or death – the things that dominate us in this life. The Bible says, “This perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” In that day the boast will ring throughout the earth: “Death is swallowed up by victory.” And the saved of earth will righteously mock the one who “lost a soul that he thought he had” with this chant: “Oh grave, now where’s your victory? O death, now where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:53-55). After describing this great salvation, Peter says the Christian ought to be rejoicing daily – and greatly – in such a glorious thing. But if anyone is a realist, it is Peter. He was the one who had boasted to Jesus, “Even though all Your so-called friends may deny You, Lord, I – Your true and trustworthy follower – will never deny You!” he was soon to learn this was the only foothold the enemy needed to “sift him like wheat” (Luke 22:31). So now he brings up two things to consider when the trials come, tempting us to stop praising the Lord over this wonderful salvation: 1) Our suffering will only be for a short time. Oh, it may last a lifetime, but what is that, in relation to eternity? Soon we will "slip the surly bonds of earth" and fly right into God’s presence. Because of this wonderful salvation, our trials are ONLY FOR A SEASON. 2) Our suffering has meaning - it is ALWAYS FOR A REASON. Peter says, “if necessary.” Only God knows if and when it is necessary for us to have humbling experiences. Through our weaknesses, God shines as our Strong Tower, our Strong Deliverer. We tend to want to be the strong one – but that’s God place. Or there may be other reasons, known only to Him, for our suffering. Just know this: For the Christian, there is no wasted pain, for…our trials are only for a season, and always for a reason.

Monday, July 13, 2009

INSURED BY THE GOD OF HEAVEN -- Devotional for July 13, from "Good Seeds"

Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (I Peter 1:3-5)

Here we read one of the clearest and best explanations of salvation found anywhere in the Bible – and this from a simple fisherman! Why does God save us at all? Well, because we’re lost, of course. But that’s not the answer Peter gives. There’s a bigger reason, rooted not in man’s need, but in God’s nature. It is not primarily because we are sinners by nature, but because He is a Savior by nature. Our salvation is rooted in the rich soil of His mercy. Therein lies the foundation for regeneration – for our new life in Christ. Once saved, we have “living hope” - the confident assurance that we will live again, even after we die. We know this is what Peter meant, by what he said next: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Our salvation is first motivated by God’s loving kindness toward us, but then it is energized by God’s power in raising His Son from the dead. Peter has been explaining salvation, but now he starts extolling it, like a salesman singing the praises of his product: It is an inheritance that is totally safe and secure (reserved in heaven for you); it cannot be destroyed (it is imperishable); it cannot be defiled (it has no expiration date), and will never lose its luster and beauty (cannot fade away). Years ago when I was shopping for health insurance, one company assured me that if it runs out of money to cover my legitimate needs, it also is insured, by Lloyds of London, no less. That sold me, and I signed up. But Peter says God’s insurance policy is far more secure than that: “You are protected by the very power of God, and when the time comes to make your claim, you’re covered, and you’ll be paid in full." All we need to do is buy the policy – that is, somehow we must latch onto this salvation and make it ours. it can’t be bought with money, of course, or by any effort on our part whatsoever. As we take a closer look at these verses, we see that everything that is being done is being done by God. But that doesn’t mean we are passive bystanders. No, we have a part to play. We must in some way attach our name to our heavenly insurance policy. How do we do this? Simply by believing in God, and trusting that what He has done for us is all we need. We are protected and fully insured of a "home in gloryland: - not by the promises of Lloyds of London, but by the power of God in Heaven.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

THE PSALM OF THE SHEEP -- Devotional for July 12, from "Good Seeds"

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory, and no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in Thee! (Psalm 84:11-12)

This psalm is the song of the faithful sheep, responding to his loving Shepherd. The hymn, “Where He Leads Me, expresses it this way:
I can hear my Savior calling…
Take thy cross and follow, follow Me.
I’ll go with Him through the judgment…
I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.
He will give me grace and glory…
And go with me, with me, all the way.
Where He leads me, I will follow…
I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.
How do we know we can trust this Shepherd, that we can follow Him wherever He leads? First, He is our SUN and SHIELD. He lights our way, and warms our hearts. “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need,” reads the Twenty-third Psalm, in the Living Bible paraphrase. He is my Provider, but also my Protector, my Shield against all harm. “Though I may fall, I will not ultimately fail, for He holds my hand” (Psalm 37:24). I may fall into the pit of disease, or despair, or seemingly senseless suffering. Or (shudder!) I may fall into self-serving sin, and pay the consequences in my body and spirit. And yet, I will be rescued from “the pit” – the place of ultimate punishment and separation reserved for Satan and all who prefer to follow the snake than the Savior! This promise of ultimate salvation is what makes John 3:16 the most beloved verse in the Bible: “…whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish (enter eternal torment), but have everlasting life.” “I’ll go with Him through the judgment,” with my face held high – not standing on my own righteousness, for the best I can offer is but filthy rags – but “standing on the promises of God,” which means standing in the righteousness of Christ. Second, He gives GRACE and GLORY. Grace is the gift of life, and then all the subsequent resources to survive and thrive in that life. Glory is joy. Now, in this life our joy is mixed, and often interrupted, but someday it will be unmitigated, pure and, well, glorious! He gives me “all this (grace), and heaven, too (glory).” Although there may be things I ask for now that He does NOT give me (and it’s my good fortune that He does NOT!) – still, the promise stands that what is actually and ultimately the best for me, He will not withhold, but bless me with it, at just the right time. In the meantime, my job is simple: keep walking uprightly – in His grace; keep waiting patiently – in this place; and keep looking intently – on His face!

Friday, July 10, 2009

THE PRIMARY RULE FOR CHRISTIAN PARENTING -- Devotional for July 11, from "Good Seeds"

Job’s seven sons would hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, inviting their three sisters to come eat and drink with them. Now, at the end of each feast Job would consecrate them by rising up early and offering burnt offerings, one for each of his children, for he thought, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4,5).

In this passage we very well may have the first mention in the Bible of “the birthday party.” Though Job’s three daughters didn’t seem to get parties, they weren’t left out of the fun, for they were the honored guests, seven times a year, at their brothers’ celebrations. What is this verse telling us? First, parties aren’t just for kids. Of course, you don’t have to tell that to adults today, for they’re always looking for an excuse to “party down.” Second, a birthday party needs just two things: 1) presents…whoops, I got that wrong – I mean presence, the presence of cherished friends and family. And it also needs 2) refreshments. Whatever Job’s kids ate and drank, it was surely the equivalent of today’s cake and ice cream and punch. But that’s what worried Job: how was he to know if the punch was spiked or not? He’d tried to raise his kids right, doing the equivalent of taking them to Sunday School and teaching them the Golden Rule. But now that they were adults Job could only hope they were staying on the straight and narrow path of righteousness and godliness. But with all this partying, well, can we blame him for being just a little concerned? Maybe they were getting careless with the wine, letting it loosen their tongues, and their morals, just a bit. Funny how what Job’s wife would later suggest he do – curse God – was the very thing Job regularly prayed would never be on the hearts or lips of his children. But he didn’t turn his concern into control; he didn’t concoct a “shame on you sermon” for a situation that might seem to call for it; he didn’t even try to sneak in a little innocent unasked for advice. No, Job knew the rule: “When your children are young speak to them about God; but when they’re grown, speak to God about your children.” The man known for patience should be just as well known for prayerful parenting. In contrast, look at Eli, who realized too late what his lax discipline had produced, but then thought he could fix it with a tardy rebuke: “Not so my sons.” They only scorned him to his face! You can’t preach to grown children, for kids soon learn to tune parents out for that sort of thing. Maybe they’ll listen to others – maybe not – but know for certain God will listen to you, for their behalf, every time you speak their names in His hearing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Z-PAK vs. GOS-PILL, Devotional for July 10, from "Good Seeds"

My words are life to those who find them, and health to all their whole body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:20-23)

Isn’t it true that we don’t give much thought to our health and well-being until we start losing it? I’ve spent the last eleven days with a doozie of a cold. It doesn’t matter if I starve it or feed it, it keeps growing. So today I broke down and saw a doctor. One thing I like about this particular physician is the education I receive: he not only treats me, but he teaches me, how I probably got sick, why it has progressed, and what I need to do about it. “We’ve got to go down to the bare components, find out why they’re not working as they should, remove whatever sludge and poison we find, and then jump start them and get them purring again.” Well, this isn’t an exact quote, but the point is, we get these boisterous and snotty symptoms (coughs and, well, sludge!) all from little hidden abnormalities. My illness started with a virus – now there’s a mysterious organism: last I heard scientists still can’t decide whether it’s a plant or an animal! And I don’t know where it came from – exactly, though I suspect it was a gift from someone I love very much, since it was upon returning from our family reunion when my throat first got scratchy. Viruses, say the best medical experts, come and go, pretty much on their own, with no design or diagram known to man (kind of like the wind – see John 3:8). But we know their agenda: to wreak havoc on our frail bodies! I don’t know if my virus blew out or not, but it seems my cold caught a cold of its own, when the bacteria flew in. But these guys we can fight. The doctor almost rejoiced at my symptoms: “Okay, Steve, what you’ve got is something we can fix. Take two of these pills today, and four more in the next four days, and you’ll be good as new.” (I kept waiting for the rest of his sentence, “I guarantee it,” but it never came). In the meantime, I’m looking for the deeper meaning in all this. What lurks deeper even than the molecules and microbes roaming about in the dark realms of our bodies? Answer: the Word of God. God makes a bold claim when He says, “My Words are life and health to all who find them!” Better than the “Z-pack” purported to zap those burly little bacteria that still haunt me (especially at night) is the “Gos-pill” of the truths of Scripture. Reading the Bible brings health to my bones, says God, better than any medicine (not that I would foolishly decline the latter: “Do what you can do, and should do, but then sit back and wait, and watch God do what only He can do.” That’s my motto). And while I keep watching out for critters and crud, I must be even more vigilant for the health of my heart, for “from it flows the very springs of my life.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

GOD'S PRAISE BAND -- Devotional for July 9, from "Good Seeds"

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you His righteous ones, for praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre, and sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalm 33:1-3)

There are some believers today who say instrumental music does not belong in the New Testament church. They admit lyres and harps were certainly a part of Old Testament traditional worship, for the Psalms verify that fact; but since the New Testament is silent about musical instruments being used in worship, we are told we must be content with “the only musical instrument made by God” (I have this inscription on a T shirt, preceded in large letters by the word, V O I C E). Now we probably shouldn’t go so far as to group these people with those who say, “If God intended for man to fly He would have given him wings,” but to be so rigid and wooden in Bible interpretation exposes one to inconsistency and unnecessary ridicule. For example, do these “non-instrumental” Christians have Sunday School in their churches? They’d better not, for there’s no mention of such a thing in the New Testament. Nor do we find church buildings discussed there, or dedication of babies, or Bible teaching curriculum, or Christian colleges, or career pastors, or even Christian books, for that matter. Just because something is not specifically named in the New Testament doesn’t mean we must do away with it – or avoid coming up with it. There are principles and precedents given in Scripture that can guide the way we live and worship, and once properly interpreted, we can be confident we are living according to God’s law and pleasure. When the woman at the well tried to pin Jesus down as to the proper place to worship God, Jesus refused to let His Father be put into a box, but gave her this practical, if not so specific, principle: “Those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). In other words, it’s not where your body is located, but rather if your heart is right with God, that makes all the difference when it comes to worship. A more common controversy in Christendom today has to do with the kinds of instruments being played in church, or the way they’re played. And people can get pretty hot and bothered over the particular “style of worship” they are sure is – or is not – pleasing to God. What are we to think or do about this? Maybe two principles gleaned from today’s passage can offer some assistance: 1) No music is right for God if the man is not right with God; but if the worshiper is becoming to the Lord, so will be his praise; 2) God barely distinguishes between the instrument HE made and the ones WE make, as long as we play them with skill, with thanks, and with shouts of joy!

THE RIGHT KIND OF SELF-LOVE -- Devotional for July 8, from "Good Seeds"

There should be no division in the body, but rather members should have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (I Corinthians 12:25-26)

The human body is a fascinating organism. It is made up of hundreds of systems and components which, when healthy, run like a well-oiled machine. Actually, that analogy should be reversed: men have invented machines to work with the internal harmony they first observed in the machines designed by God. For example, it was not until we began to understand the function of the eye that we came up with the camera. Highly complex robots have been developed to do the work of 50 men, and yet there is no robot as robust and clever and flexible and intelligent as the one God made -- Adam being the prototype! The Bible writers understood enough about the human body to realize what a perfect model it provides for the church. When Paul said "there must be no division in the body," he didn’t mean no division of labor, for that is certainly necessary for any machine or organism to function. He clarifies his meaning in the very next phrase: “but rather members should have the same care for one another.” This is one of the beautiful “One Anothers” of the Bible. It may appear that one member is more important than another, but appearances can be deceptive. Was it not the malfunctioning of a lowly “o” ring that caused the Challenger spacecraft to explode after take-off, killing all its precious human cargo? Technicians learned a costly lesson, the lesson of this verse, from that experience: “If one member suffers (the lowly “o” ring), all members suffer with it (the noble astronauts).” The church is to be different from worldly organizations, if for no other reason than that it is not a lifeless organization at all, but a living organism. People in law firms and factories and retail businesses can readily become wrapped up in internal disputes, jealousies, and in-fighting, as each looks out primarily for his own welfare and interests. But this must not take place in the church. In fact, it doesn’t belong in a marriage, either – another beautiful picture of the church. In Ephesians 5:28-29 Paul says a husband ought to love his wife, not as a separate entity outside of himself, but because she is part of him – one with him: “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself – for no one ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Then Paul makes the conclusion: “and that’s how Christ loves the church.” Today’s passage carries the application to yet another level: “And it is with such care that Christians love each other – as if they were a part of each other – because they are!”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WHAT COULD BE HARDER THAN BEING A MARTYR? -- Devotional for July 7, from "Good Seeds"

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1)

We who know God love life. What could be better than to live life as it was intended to be lived by the Master Designer Himself? And yet sometimes – very rarely, but it does happen – a person is given the choice between renouncing his belief and loyalty to Jesus, and by such recanting preserving his life, or being put to death for refusing to do so. This almost looks like suicide, to choose death over life, when that life could be preserved by a simple change of heart. On the other end of the spectrum of conviction are those who will believe or say or do anything in order to save their lives. Those with no hope for “the good life in the next life” would tend to be such desperate clingers to this old earth. The greatest man who ever lived (according to Jesus – see Luke 7:28) lived only until age 30 or so. Yes, John the Baptist was probably the first Christian martyr, for he preached the righteousness of God, and held onto it in the face of imprisonment, to the point of ultimately being beheaded, because he would not stand down. And yet Jesus went on to say that even John, “the greatest man ever born of woman, “ was not greater than any other humble servant of God. A contradiction? No, rather a confirmation that one does not have to be a martyr to be a saint. In fact, a case could be made for it actually being easier to die for Jesus than to live for Him. Oh, no one in his right mind wants to die, for any person or cause, and yet the thought of present drudgery or misery or persecution coming to an end in exchange for heavenly bliss, well, that could be pretty tempting. Some misguided preachers present the mistaken notion that when you place your faith in Jesus all your problems will disappear, for “Jesus wants you to be healthy, wealthy, prosperous and popular. Just name it and claim it, friend, and it’s yours!” People who believe “the good life in this life” to be their due from God, but then don’t get it, could fall into a “martyr complex,” and like Jonah, say to God, “If I can’t have it my way then I wanna die!” That is not persecution for righteousness’ sake, which earns a heavenly crown for sure, but rather it is persecution that is nigh onto being fully deserved. Be sure that your suffering, or even your martyrdom, if it comes to that, is for your SAVIOR, and not for your SELF! In the meantime, I think it can be shown that it’s just as hard – and maybe harder – to live for Jesus day by day, hour by hour, than to just give up your life, and be done with the suffering and pain, once and for all. What could be harder than being a martyr? Try being a saint!

Monday, July 6, 2009

PARKING LOTS -- Devotional for July 6, from "Good Seeds"

When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

Any time you drive by one of the many Indian casinos that dot the American landscape today you see the parking lot bulging beyond capacity. The casino in our rural area just finished construction of a multi-level parking garage that rivals any big city parking facility. And these places are always open for business and buzzing with activity. Why are people so anxious to throw their money away? But gambling’s not the point of this discussion. We’re just talking about parking lots. Even on Sundays, you can hardly find a parking space at a casino. Now, if you can’t find a spot, as long as you don’t mind the walk, you can always go down the road till you come to a church – they’re everywhere – where you’ll find plenty of spacious parking! Why is this, that wild horses can’t keep people away from frivolous gaming, yet those same people will avoid deeply meaningful fellowship and worship – avoid it like the plague? Why is it they’ll drive any distance to gamble away their life savings, but won’t go around the corner to investigate and invest in their life’s destiny? They’ll flock in hoards to casinos – like cattle to the slaughter, but stay away in droves from the still waters and green pastures – like sheep that don’t know their own shepherd. But there’s our answer: After our first parents had sinned, friendship with their Creator was broken. Rather than confessing their disobedience and begging for mercy and forgiveness, which surely would have been granted, they chose instead to cut off relations with God altogether. Besides, by that time they had already taken up with a new master, and even they knew “no man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible says someday each and every human being, in the resurrected state, will pass before the judgment bar of God, who will ask just one question: “What have you done with My Son?” Each man’s answer will be the deciding factor regarding his eternal destiny – whether he winds up in heaven or hell. Just as the fruit on the tree of Eden was the crossroads for Adam and Eve, so Jesus on the tree of Calvary is the crossroads for the entire human family. Those who disobey God in this generation are no different than those who disobeyed Him in that generation: they’re going to hide themselves, away from God’s presence, in all the lush greenery of His creation, and of their own clever invention, rather than come to Him – come back to the very One their soul, if they would admit it, longs for. In the meantime, don’t be surprised by the parking lots – just be sure your car’s parked in the right one!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

DON'T FORGET GOD -- Devotional for July 5, from "Good Seeds"

The wicked shall be cast into hell, and all nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)

The Russian author, Dostoyevsky, reminded us in his book, The Brothers Karamazov, that “if God does not exist, everything is permissible.” We are now seeing this “everything” coming to pass in our modern culture. We have nearly lost our capacity for shock and outrage at the disgusting things that have become everyday occurrences in our society. What’s to blame for this alarming trend? The truth is, it is not something that has been done to us, but rather something we have done to ourselves. As always, the real crisis is spiritual, a corruption of the heart. The result: an aversion to eternal things, leading to an undue concern for all things external and temporal. Steeped in the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life, modern man loathes the very thought of God, wanting to be free of Him. “I suppose religious faith has its place,” they say, “but it’s a private matter.” Hmm…sounds more like a smoke screen for wanting to put God out of their lives, out of the universe, out of the equation. The fact is – and history bears this out – when millions of people stop believing in God (or behave as if there were no God), tragic consequences follow, both public and private. For example, in Romans 1:18-32, we read that those who stop honoring God exchange His blessings and His glory for depravity and soul destruction. The Bible clearly spells out what will happen to persons and nations who set God aside as unnecessary or irrelevant: “The wicked (individual unbelievers) shall be cast into hell, and all nations that forget God.” I fear America is becoming one of those forgetful nations, and we are already beginning to pay the price. The Bible clearly teaches that freedom from God means bondage to sin (see Romans 6). We surely pay the price of sin with the coin of sorrow. America is no longer the happy place it used to be. It’s in a sad state economically, morally, and spiritually. There’s no question that we are a society in decline. We still print, “IN GOD WE TRUST” on our money, but for most people, it’s really "In GOLD we trust." We say, “One nation, under God” in our flag salute, and we proudly sing, “God bless America,” but for more and more Americans, these are just empty words. As Jehovah said of His chosen nation, so He says of us: “With their lips they honor Me, but their hearts are far from Me” (Mark 7:6). Their words feign worship, but their hearts are saying, “God, we won’t bother You if You won’t bother us, okay?” It almost looks as if God has performed a disappearing act in today’s society. But someday “every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7), and “they shall look on Him whom they pierced” with their unbelief (John 19:37). Let that not be you or me!

Friday, July 3, 2009

"I CAN READ HIS RIGHTEOUS SENTENCE... -- Devotional for July 4, from "Good Seeds"

DEAR READERS: Beginning today (July 3) I will attempt to publish the devotional for the following day, so when you open up the blog on any given day, there you have the devotional for that day. No promises, just a good intention that I will try to fulfill. I'm already in the "Fourth of July Spirit" having written a devotional about our nation, where it's been, and where it may be headed. Some of what I've written here is excerpted from a sermon I wrote and preached over 10 years ago (This is my only pulpit now -- may it "flame with righteousness!") If these words spoke to contemporary America then, all the more now, I think. Funny how I should have this conversation with a fellow customer at the store this afternoon, right in the middle of producing today's devotional. Nothing like an up to date illustration!

Remember HIS Righteousness.

In His grip, Steve

PS - Do you recognize the line from one of our patriotic songs in today's title?

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)

Back in 1831, when our nation was young, a well-known French thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited America and went home to write these words:

"I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests – and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system and in her institutions of higher learning – and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!

Now, although I’m as “proud to be an American,” as I ever was, I’m not proud of the unrighteousness and ugliness that seem to have soiled our reputation of late. A man I met in a store today told me that he’s downright worried about where our country is going, and he’s just about ready to move to Australia. I responded, “I hear you, but I won’t follow you.” I wish I would have thought to share with him what follows here: I too am filled with foreboding when I see all around me evidence that America is slipping from greatness -- but I know the reason, and I know the remedy. Solomon said it so plainly: God exalts any nation that exalts Him, but He won’t play favorites. When millions of citizens think they can toy with sin and get away with it, well, as Billy Graham said, “If America doesn’t clean up her act pretty soon, God owes Sodom an apology!” We’re seeing it already, where our nation’s reputation is no longer the pristine one of a people dedicated to righteousness. The dedication of many has turned to other things, things money can buy and that electronic devices can receive, polluting our once sacred homes. Our heroes have become living icons of pop entertainment, the superheroes (or silly heroes) of the animated screen, or the super-killers of virtual reality violence. Where is the “righteous good” in any of this, of which de Tocqueville spoke? An Asian businessman was having lunch with a great American of our day, and the conversation turned to America as seen through the eyes of foreigners. He observed that while the world still regards the U.S. as the leading economic and military power on earth, it no longer beholds us with the moral respect it once did, as a “shining city on a hill.” Instead, it sees a society in decline. Something has gone terribly wrong with America! We can’t fix it by laws and politics. The only cure is a restoration of righteousness at the core of our society. (By the way, I DID manage to share THIS in my conversation with my Australia-bound fellow American).

A PICNIC FOR THE LORD -- Devotional for July 3, from "Good Seeds"

When the people heard the words of the law, they began to mourn and weep. Then Nehemiah said, “Do not do so, my people, but come, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared, for this day is holy to God. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

This is surely a portion of Scripture that needs to be set against others in order to get the whole counsel of God on the matter. I’m thinking of Paul’s sober words in II Corinthians 7:8-10: “Though my letter caused you sorrow, I don’t regret sending it – in fact I rejoice, not that it made you weep, but that you wept according to the will of God, and came to repentance.” If the sorrow expressed by the children of Israel was like this, wouldn’t that be a good thing? But Israel’s godly governor was not pleased. Consider Isaiah: when he saw himself through the eyes of his Maker he repented “in dust and ashes,” and it pleased the Lord (Isaiah 6:1-7). Wasn't it the same thing here, with Nehemiah’s people? Apparently not! Reading on in II Corinthians we see another kind of sorrow, “the sorrow of the world.” Godly sorrow causes us to see ourselves through God’s eyes, and He is a Father who is always looking out the window for the return of His prodigals, ready to receive us, forgive us, and throw us a welcome home party! The world, however, has no such Heavenly Father, only “their father, the devil” (John 8:44), who promises only temporal pleasure, followed by eternal agony. And when humanity loses hope, neither man nor angel can restore it. From the beginning of time, this “angel of light” has tainted man’s perspective of his Maker with suggestions like, “Hath God said?” and “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:1-4). Just what does the devil want, concerning mankind? That we would be his subjects, or his victims. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10a). With the eye of a prophet Nehemiah saw Satan at work in the seemingly proper penance of his people, and he quickly gave these instructions: “The enemy’s out to destroy you – ‘don’t be ignorant of his devices’ (II Cor. 2:11). God has forgiven you, and wants to gird you, but you’ve got to act…NOW! First, dry you eyes, then fire up the barbeque, mix up some lemonade, somebody strum a guitar, invite the neighbors in -- and let’s have a picnic for the Lord!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

THE HARDEST JOB -- Devotional for July 2, from "Good Seeds"

After those days,” says the Lord, “I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be My people. And they shall have no need to teach their neighbors and brothers, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10-12)

What is the hardest job for the Christian? Some say it is praying. And that may be true, if only because of our tendency to want to DO it ourselves, and praying means we’re turning not just our troubles and trials but also our tasks over to God. Oh, God would not have us be lax in our duties, but all too often we think we can handle things, and neglect to bring Him into the equation. Somebody once said, “Everything in the Christian life is easier than prayer.” He may be right, but I was thinking of another one. “Is it sanctification, then?” you may ask. Every time we turn around we speak a cross word, think an evil thought, do a selfish act, give a jealous look. The harder we work at living a clean and holy life, the more we fail and fall into temptation and sin. Yes, living a righteous life has got to be the hardest thing for any child of God to do (even though He empowers us to do it). But there’s still another one, and when I say it, I know you’ll agree with me, that it really is the most difficult job for any Christian, a job any of us would most happily trade for another. If you read today’s passage you’ll have guessed it already. Our most difficult assignment is…oh, I know it’s a blessed privilege, and brings the greatest joy when we succeed, but sometimes I’d trade that high joy in for any lesser pleasure if it meant I didn’t have to…what? Talk to unbelievers about Jesus. I’m talking about witnessing, evangelism, sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ. “I’ll tell the world that I’m a Christian,” goes a song we used to sing in church. “I’m not ashamed His name to bear…I’ll take Him with me anywhere.” A nice thought, a lofty goal – but I’m afraid that, for me at least, it just isn’t true! Oh, I’m not ashamed of Jesus, but I am shy about speaking right out as some of my braver brothers and sister do. Nevertheless, this is our task. I know, evangelism is nothing more than “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food,” and I’ve even taught the lesson of the lepers of Samaria: “This is a day of Good News," they said, "but we are keeping silent. If we wait it may soon be too late. Come, therefore, let us go and tell” (II Kings 7:9). Sounds so noble, so right, so easy. And I need to do it. But that doesn’t stop me from longing for the day when the greatest evangelist, God, takes over my job and writes His name in the hearts of men. And what a joy it will be when everyone we know will know the Lord!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CHOOSE FRIENDS SLOWLY AND WISELY -- Devotional for July 1, from "Good Seeds"

He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Leave the presence of a fool or you will not discern words of knowledge. (Proverbs 13:20; 14:7)

The family we are born into is not of our own choosing. Our parents, siblings, cousins, etc., well, we’re stuck with them, aren’t we, for good or for ill! Think of it like the cultures in which marriages are arranged by the parents. What use would there be for dating if mating were pre-ordained by the family elders? The right attitude to take in either of these scenarios is to make the best of it by being the best brother, sister, son, daughter, husband, or wife that you possibly can be. In Acts 17:25 Paul spoke of the “appointed times and boundaries of habitation” that every human being is subject to. It is by the sovereign plan of God that we live in the country and family and era of history that we do. We can complain about it if we want to, but beyond there's not much else we can do about it. This, however, is not the case when it comes to friendships. We can choose whom we will be close to, and whom we will avoid like the plague! And in the cultures that allow young people to choose their own mates, this is the most important friendship choice of all. There is no more beautiful wedding invitation card than the one inscribed: “Today I marry my best friend!” But the wisdom you use in choosing your mate should also go into choosing your friends. It takes some people far too long to realize that the companions they run with are not turning out to be terribly good for them (and when they finally do, they don’t know what to do about it). Divorce in marriage is a terrible thing (even if sometimes it is the couple’s only recourse in order to keep from killing each other!) Just so, sometimes it becomes evident that your so-called friend is poisoning you and you’ve got to break away. Solomon warns against choosing a fool for a friend. A fool – that’s anyone who thinks first of himself, who indulges the flesh, who disregards his Creator, who disrespects his neighbor, and who cares little for learning. Who, indeed, would choose such a one for a friend? And yet, a fool can fool you! He has many qualities that attract others to him, just as a spider attracts a victim to its web. How can we discern whether or not our friend is really a friend? The best test is simply this: after spending time with him, are you better, or worse, as a person, and as a child of God? A fool will lead you into harmful paths (Psalm 1:1), entice you to do evil (Proverbs 1:10), and draw you away from knowledge. Jeremiah said, “Better to be alone than in the wrong company” (15:17). True, but how much better to be in the company of a good friend! You don’t need many. One or two will do. But take your time. Choose wisely.