Saturday, August 29, 2009

JESUS ONLY -- Devotional for September 1, from "Good Seeds"

Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My Beloved Son – listen to Him!” And all at once they looked around and saw no one with them any more, except Jesus only. (Mark 9:7-8)

In Bible days it was one thing to see the face of God – no one ever did (see August 31), while quite another to hear the voice of God – though rare, it was not entirely uncommon. God spoke aloud to Abraham and Moses and sometime to all Israel. Though “a word from the Lord was rare in those days” (the days of the Judges – see I Samuel 3:1), God audibly spoke a great and terrible prophecy to the child Samuel. Before the birth of Jesus God whispered in the ears both of Mary and Joseph, through the lips of angels, regarding the birth of the Christ Child. Thirty years later God again spoke with His own booming voice, as everyone within distant earshot surely heard the proud boastings of a Heavenly Father over His Son at His baptism. A similarly thunderous confirmation came when Christ foretold His death. And then it happened one more time, when Jesus revealed His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had taken Peter, James and John up with Him, where these four were joined by two more, the resurrected Moses and Elijah. And then something happened that had never happened before, and never since (though we are told it is coming!): The physical appearance of Jesus was transfigured into a brightness so great the men had to look away. Matthew wrote that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (17:2,3), “exceedingly white, like snow,” Mark added (9:3-4), “such as no launderer on earth can whiten them!” Even at that, this was only a tiny fraction of Christ’s former – and coming – glory! And this is the occasion spoken of in today’s Bible reading. “No man has seen God at any time,” the apostle John later wrote, “but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed Him” (John 1:18). (Did you doubt the deity of Christ? Doubt no longer!) Peter, not knowing what to think of it all, still was not at a loss for words. Without thinking, without praying (two dangerous “withouts” for all of us!) he suggested they build some shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus – putting the three on an equal plane. That’s when the lights went out, and the thunder roared, for God fairly shouted from heaven, right into foolish Peter’s ears, “This is My Beloved Son, look at HIM, listen to HIM. Don’t let men, good men – even great men of old – take your eyes off of HIM!” And to make sure Peter and his buddies got the point, God whisked the saints back to heaven, leaving Jesus only. Who will God need to remove from your attention, from your life, in order to get your eyes back where they belong? Don’t make Him say it again: It’s got to be JESUS ONLY!

SEEING GOD -- Devotional for August 31, from "Good Seeds"

(NOTE TO MY FAITHFUL READERS: Karen and I are leaving Sunday, August 30, after church, to go visit my parents. Mom is really suffering now, at 90 years old -- just a lot of old age symptoms. Dad's doing fine, at 92. We'll be celebrating his 93rd while there. But we're also going to celebrate Karen's birthday (the 30th, as you read about on the blog is her birthday). I'm taking her to Disneyland on Monday for her present. We'll be gone from our home internet until Thursday, so I'm trying to do a few devotionals ahead of time. The rest I'll make up later, after getting back. Blessings to you).

Moses said to the Lord, “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee.” And God said, “My presence shall go with you, for you have found favor in My sight.” Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory.” God answered, “I Myself will make all my goodness pass before you, but you cannot see my face, for no man can see Me and live.” (Exodus 33:13-14,17-20)

The Bible specifically teaches that we cannot see God with our eyes. There are at least two reasons for this: #1 – The nature of God: Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Theologians describe the nature of man as being bi-partite: a spirit indwelling a body. But God is pure spirit. A body would negate his attribute of omnipresence: existing everywhere at once. #2 – The Word of God: John wrote, “No man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Samson’s parents surely knew Exodus 33:20: “No man can see Me and live,” for after a visit from God (they assumed) they panicked, “We have just seen God – we shall surely die!” (Judges 13:22). Jacob had a similar experience when he wrestled with God, though his response was more hopeful: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared” (Genesis 32:30). These and other Old Testament “God-sightings” have a very clear explanation: it is rather the angel of the Lord that they saw. And in these cases it was not an actual angel, but rather the pre-incarnate Christ, who is sometimes referred to in the Bible as “The Angel of the Lord.” As the Son of Man, Jesus “emptied Himself:” though still God, He took on the limitations of frail humanity (Philippians 2:7-8). Since a physical body can be seen with physical eyes, it is then possible for men to “see God,” but it is the Son of God they see – whether commonly during the 33 years of His earthly journey, or on the rare occasions when He appeared as God in a body, hundreds of years BC (“Before Christmas!”). But now we come to a conundrum that seems to shoot holes in my very tidy theology. Reading on from today’s passage we are made privy to a very intimate conversation between God and Moses: “Look, Moses, at that rock. Go stand on it and wait for My glory to pass by. At that time I will put you in the cleft of the rock – protecting you from death – and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand…and you shall see My back – but still, never my face.” Wait a minute! God is a Spirit. If a spirit has no body, it has no face, no back – no hand, for that matter. I can’t explain this. But still, I think I know what it means: Though Moses came the closest of anyone to ever seeing God, rather than emulate him, I will seek entrance into God’s presence by the Jesus way: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY LOVE! -- Devotional for August 30, from "Good Seeds"

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel – and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. (Genesis 29:20)

My wife Karen and I raised three daughters. To help prepare them for marriage, we needed to help them through the dating days. I remember telling them something I’d heard from Dr. Dobson: “What is reserved for the future will not spoil with the keeping.” In other words, just because you think you have met your “Mr. Right,” there is a lot of groundwork to be laid first, before giving yourself to him, heart, soul and body. And while you’re doing your research, and enduring your maturing, nothing (no one) is going to go away that shouldn’t go away. Nothing’s going to spoil with the keeping. Your love, his love, and the hopes and dreams you share together – or suffer alone – will not perish, though they must sit in solitary confinement in the pantry of patience for what seems like eons of time. If it was meant to be, then it will still be there, but now in full blossom, when the time is right. In the meantime, though, you must not think or behave like married people. In plain language, you do not go to bed with him! Having to hold off on the thing your body is now ready to do, because your life in every other way is not ready – is part of the disciplinary process: the building of character, the molding of morality, and the trusting of God. But now, rewind back one generation, to the time when this all-wise father was but a lad of fifteen -- not much more than a wise-guy then! He’s just been invited to a birthday party – of a former girlfriend, no less! But there he meets the girl of his dreams. It was absolutely love at first sight! They talked small talk, of course, for they were just kids, but why were they talking marriage, too? Because somehow Mr. and Mrs. Right had found each other! Jacob had to wait seven years for the girl of his dreams. Well, Steve had two more years of high school, and five years of college ahead of him…seven years! It might have been easy for Jacob; I guess his love was far more mature, godly and disciplined; in other words, it was actual love, that thinks of the welfare of the other, and not puppy love, that thinks only of having all his own little puppy needs met. As it turns out, we waited five years, and tied the knot at age twenty. And now, this day, my bride is forty-four years older (I would not dare disclose her age in plain numbers!), and I can say now, looking back with imperfect memory, that those five years did indeed fly by, feeling more like just 5 days, or five minutes, because we surely did, in our own growing puppy way, love each other! And, knowing that what we anticipated with great joy and excitement – what would be the height of pleasure short of heaven – could be spoiled in one act of indiscretion, we did indeed wait. So…Happy Birthday, my love!

BE A BEAUTY-BRINGER -- Devotional for August 29, from "Good Seeds"

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you shall have welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

There’s an old fable about two different men who were out scouting for a new place to live. As coincidence would have it, they both came to the same town, but a day apart. When the first man arrived, he entered a local café and struck up a conversation with the fellow sitting next to him at the counter. “My family and I need a fresh start, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little about your town, you know, what the people are like, city services – things like that.” The townsman answered, “I’d be glad to, but first let me ask you this: what’s it like where you live now?” “Oh the people are kind and helpful, the streets and parks are well maintained, and our mayor is doing a good job.” The townsman said, “Well sir, you’re in luck, for this town is also quite clean and very people-friendly! I think you’d fit right in!” The man thanked him and made a beeline for home to tell his family the good news and to start packing. The next day the second man came. He found himself in that same café, sat next to that same townsman and asked the same question. “Sure, I’ll tell you,” he said, “but first, please tell me, what’s it like where you come from?” “Oh my town’s the pits!” said the visitor. “The people are rude, the streets are full of potholes, local taxes are outrageous, and we’re about to fire the city council!” “Hmm,” pondered the townsman, “I’m afraid it’s like that here, too.” The visitor went out, as disgruntled as when he came in. Now, what about this townsman? Why did he tell contradicting stories about his fair city? So deceptive! So dishonest! Or was he just being wise? He knew people tend to see only what they are attuned to seeing. He knew each of those men would bring to his new home what bothered or blessed him most about his old home. If we look for faults we’ll have no trouble finding them. But if we seek peace and happiness, we’ll find abundant opportunity anywhere to follow that wonderful pursuit! Negative people live in the dark and bring their darkness with them wherever they go. No wonder the townsman didn’t encourage that second man to come – who’d want him for a neighbor! But optimistic people have a knack for beautifying whatever spot they land on. This isn’t pop psychology, it’s practical godliness. God Himself instructed His people to bless their neighbors and beautify their surroundings, no matter where He chose to plop them. Aren’t you also in exile on this old earth? But if you’ll be a beauty-bringer, you’ll not only be a people-blesser, but a God-glorifier, too! Augustine said it this way: “If we live good lives, the times are also good. As we are, such are the times.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

WHAT GOES ON AT YOUR CHURCH? -- Devotional for August 28, from "Good Seeds"

Then Hilkiah the high priest said, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan the scribe who read it to the king. Now when Josiah heard the words from the Book he tore his clothes. Then he commanded the priests saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and my people concerning the words of this Book that has been found.” (II Kings 22:8-13)

Have you heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”? This is Solomon’s proverb (and now Steven’s poem!): “What shall be is what has been done, for there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Here’s how we might say it today: “Been there, done that, bought the T shirt!” This is what comes to mind when I read about what went on “in church” back in the days of Israel’s kings – or should I say what didn’t go on? There was the beautiful temple of Solomon in the holy city of Jerusalem. In place were the implements of worship, skillfully administered by Priest Hilkiah and his associates. Also on staff, for the day-to-day work of this revered religion, was a full-time church secretary, Shaphan the scribe. And don’t forget the board of trustees, the doorkeepers, in charge of church property and finance. But with all this, something was still missing, and had been missing for a very long time. And when it was discovered, or rather re-discovered, it set off a chain of events that brought the king to his knees before God, and a revival took place in Israel the likes of which had never before been seen! The better kings of Israel were sometimes called shepherds, and eighteen year old Josiah was among the best – a true shepherd-king. He had a heart for his people and his God, though as yet very little spiritual understanding. But what good he knew to do, he did. The House of God was in need of repair, so he called a workday. Materials would be needed, and money to buy them, so he instructed his secretary to tell the priest to tally up the building fund and turn in a full report. As Hilkiah puttered around in the back rooms of the temple (maybe looking for a stray offering plate full of loose change!) he made an amazing discovery: He found an old Bible – that is, a scroll of the Book of the Law. He called Shaphan to take it to the king, along with the money accounting. When the scribe read God’s Word to Josiah, a spiritual reawakening began, right then and there! Isn’t that how revival always begins – with a word from God? So Christian, dust off your Bible, open it, and read! It will send you to your knees in repentance and worship, and then set you on your feet to serve the One who is the only reason to do church in the first place! By the way, what goes on at your church? All that matters is that God and His people be on speaking terms!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

WATCH YOUR STEP! -- Devotional for August 27, from "Good Seeds"

Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin. (I Peter 2:21-24)

The premise of a widely read and much beloved novel came from this Scripture. The key players in the story are an odd collection of people from various walks of life. Though each has his own unique problems, a common denominator is introduced in the pastor of the local church, and the suggestion he makes to each: “For one year conduct you business and face your problems the way you imagine Jesus would if He were here now.” The title of this book, In His Steps, comes straight from I Peter 2:21. But with it, unfortunately, comes a questionable theology. A similar sentiment, stated in question form, has more recently found a presence in the jewelry, refrigerator magnets, posters and youth group pep talks of today's Christian community: WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s a good question, as is that pastor's challenge to speak and act as Jesus would. The danger comes if some take this to mean that as long as we try hard to be like Jesus, He will be pleased with our efforts and welcome us into His kingdom. That is not at all what the gospel teaches! If the perfect law of God presents the standard of behavior required for fellowship with Him, how much more does the perfect Son of God set the bar so high we must relinquish any hope of reaching it! And yet there is good gospel in this passage, gospel for the one who already has confessed his hopeless condition to God, and then has placed his faith in the finished work of Christ. Once that is settled, we can take a fresh look at the perfect life of Christ, and find great gain in it. Verse 22 says Jesus “committed no sin.” Even though in this life we will never be sinless, as we grow in grace we certainly can and should sin less! We can walk in His steps by seeking a CHARACTER OF HOLINESS. Verse 23 says that when Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners, He did not respond in kind, but responded to mistreatment with a MOTIVE OF LOVE. And He will empower us to do the same. Finally, Jesus went to the cross. Surely we cannot walk in His steps to such an extreme, and we could never die for someone else’s sins! But the cross had a meaning to Christ which applies equally to us: it was a sign of His obedience. We follow in His steps when we also live an obedient life. May our ACTS OF OBEDIENCE point the way to Jesus to those who are watching us, and “wondering where the hope they see in us comes from” (I Peter 3:15).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

THE ONLY GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS -- Devotional for August 26, from "Good Seeds"

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control. (Judges 17:6; Galatians 5:23)

The first verse above seems to say anarchy is inevitable when there is no king. But consider this: God set aside a certain family of man, the Jews, not for preferential treatment but for singular service. He told Abraham it would be through his seed "all nations of the world would be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). But for this the people would need to stay close to God. Abraham and his sons, the patriarchs of the Hebrews, talked to God, sometimes even “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). When the priesthood was established it doubled as a civil government. God gave moral laws to men, to protect them – and spiritual laws, to remind them who made them and loved them, and to whom they owed their thanks. Men were urged by godly leaders and spiritual bards not to “lean on their own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all their hearts,” (Proverbs 3:5,6). They were to “put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3), that is, in their earthly heritage, possessions, or politics. Still, with all these going for them, the people of God walked away from Him at almost every opportunity. When we come to the time of the Judges, the hearts of God’s people were hardly under His influence, much less His rule. They obeyed their own egos and appetites instead, doing whatever pleased them at the moment, with no thought of God, righteousness, or consequences. They “sowed the wind, and reaped the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). Choosing to go their own way, perfect Gentleman that He is, God left them to their own devices (America, are you listening?). The result was chaos on every front. Before they could be totally destroyed from within or without, God raised up judges. These were not priests or prophets or kings, and some were rather dubious in character, yet God used them to turn things around, and turn men back to Himself. But the syndrome of rescue, relief, restoration, relapse, repression, remorse and repentance just kept cycling. The answer would have been to come back to God and stay there, but never achieving that, and sick of the cycle, they demanded a king, thinking he could straighten out their private lives. Replacing judges for kings is like trading wives – you’re just giving up one set of problems for another. But God has another plan: don’t trust in judges or kings (human government), and don’t trust in chariots (military armaments), and certainly don’t trust in yourself (what seems right in your own eyes). Rather, get yourself under the control of God’s Holy Spirit. There you will find the only government you need, and that works: self-government -- self-discipline.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"NEW LAMPS FOR OLD" -- Devotional for August 25, from "Good Seeds"

“For I will comfort them, turning their mourning into gladness, and their sorrow into joy. And to those who mourn in Zion I will give beauty for ashes, and a garment of praise for their spirit of heaviness. (Jeremiah 31:13; Isaiah 61:3)

In the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, the evil chancellor contrived a scheme to steal the young boy’s fantastic find. Dressed in peddler’s rags, he went from house to house calling out, “New lamps for old! New lamps for old!” When he reached Aladdin’s neighborhood, he succeeded in making his desired exchange with the boy’s unknowing mother. What that evil man did to the unfortunate lad for greedy gain God does to us in our misfortune, for our good –- indeed, for our salvation. God’s promise to His people in their captivity, their affliction, in their brokenhearted condition (Isaiah 61:1), was to give all good to them in exchange for all their bad. “Their bad” would include not just the trials innocently endured at the hands of ruthless enemies, but also and especially the sorrows sustained at their own hand, by their own doing, for their own sin. Knowing we could not save ourselves, God came down to do the job. If someone commits a wrong against you, could he get right, with the law of righteousness and with you, simply by declaring himself forgiven and cleansed? What a totally preposterous idea! Forgiveness is the prerogative of the one offended, and no one else. Following His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, which marked the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth. What would He do first? Look for someone to heal? Zap a nature miracle? Start selecting His disciple dream team? None of the above! It was the Sabbath, and His upbringing told Him it was time to go to Sunday...that is, Synagogue School! The religious leaders were feeling big-hearted that morning so they handed this dubious “favorite son” (not knowing He was the Favored SON) the scroll. Without hesitation He took it, turned right to Isaiah 61, and began to read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, anointing Me to preach the Gospel….” And what was that gospel? Only this audacious claim: “Today this Scripture is being fulfilled – in Me! Who is this One coming to care for your souls and forgive your sins? Well, you’re looking at Him!” The gospel is this outrageous truth that any sin you or I could ever commit is first and foremost an offense against God, and apart from HIS forgiveness, we can never truly be cleansed of our guilt. Jesus came to offer the beautiful garland of healing forgiveness in exchange for the ashes of our grief over our own ugly sinfulness. I’ll take that new lamp for my old one any day of the week! How about you?

Monday, August 24, 2009

TAKE ME HOME, I'M READY! -- Devotional for August 24, from "Good Seeds"

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. (II Timothy 4:6-7)

The life that has coursed through the old apostle’s body for so many years is now running out of it – even as the ink drains from his pen. And yet, with a deftness and boldness belying his age, he scratches out these final words to his young protégé, and to you and me, “I present my life once again, one last time, to Jesus. I have poured myself into His work – now I pour myself out to Him, my final expression of faith, the last offering of praise from this old body.” Although no one knows ahead of time the exact moment of his death, sometimes God reveals to His dear one when the time is nigh, even while he can still think and speak. The time of Paul’s departure had come, somehow he just knew it. It was time to speak his last words. Do we detect any fear in them? Any question marks anywhere? How about just a hint of regret, a tint of sorrow? No! Not a bit of it! Even as he says, "The process has already begun," without pause he continues, “and I’m all ready to go!” I talked to my dear old friend, Clara Neilsen, just moments ago on the phone. I told her my parents hit the golden years long ago, and now they’re leaving them behind, in favor of those Golden Gates! I told her Mom hasn’t lain in a hospital for maybe 40 years, but now she’s spending many an unpleasant day down there. “Is she ready to travel?” Clara asked. “Oh yes, she’s ready,” I answered. “Well, Papa made it to just shy of 93, but when it was his time to go, he reached up his arms and said, ‘Take me home, I’m ready.’” Wow! But now, dear reader, what is your goal in life, your highest aspiration, your greatest ambition? Should it not be this: to be able to say, with your last breath, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Now pour my soul out of this old body, Lord, and pour me into my new one! Take me home, Father. I’m ready to go”? What is your favorite Bible word? Grace? Jesus? Heaven? Those are great choices, but now, how about this one from today’s passage: Rapture? “Where does it say that?” you protest. “I just see the word departure.” “I rest my case,” say I, “for that is its exact meaning: rapture means departure!” We use the word rapture to mean, “ carried away by over-flowing joy.” Again, I rest my case. Who wouldn’t be overjoyed to slip the surly bonds of this old earth, the gravity pull of this old sinful body? Who wouldn’t kick up his heels in ecstasy at his long-awaited and well-planned prison break? Can you say, with the poet, “Ere long my soul shall fly away, and leave this tenement of clay; This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise to seize the everlasting prize”?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

TOO BIG FOR YOUR BRITCHES -- Devotional for August 23, from "Good Seeds"

Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Thomas Paine said, “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” We know that Joseph lost his coat but kept his character. Just today I received news from a friend and fellow church member in a church I used to attend, that the pastor had just been asked to resign. It seems he had been counseling a woman privately, against church policy – a policy he had helped to craft – and when advised by his elders to desist, mysteriously he refused. There was no affair, to anyone’s knowledge, but the situation was causing quite a stir in the church. His action had raised some eyebrows, and his character was beginning to be questioned. Several of his close friends had strongly urged him to protect himself from any suspicion by taking himself “off the case” and turning it over to a professional female counselor. They were greatly saddened when he refused to listen to them, for they knew what they had to do next, as mandated by Matthew 18:15-17: take it to the elders. Now this is a pastor who was highly regarded and much loved by the people. There was no vendetta against him, no looking for loopholes so he could be fired. It seems the only case made against him was the one he made against himself, by his own pride. What a terrible shame that after so many years of faithful service, skillful teaching and helpful shepherding, his tenure would come to such an abrupt and immediate end. Why did it happen? What principle was violated that this pastor’s peers, no matter how much they loved and respected him, could not abide? Just another of the biblical ONE ANOTHER'S. The injunction to “be subject to one another” is not aimed only at the Christian in the pew, but also pointed squarely at the pastor in the pulpit. What happened to him is the same thing that happens to any leader, be he a CEO, a congressman, a governor, a schoolteacher or a parent, when he takes too big a gulp of his own importance: he deceives himself into thinking he is right in his decisions and righteous in his ways, regardless of what others may think. When you become “too big for your britches,” they cease to cover you and your sin is exposed. The Bible says, "The fear of man brings a snare," but in this case it was "the fear of Christ" that was missing, which would have helped this pastor to see how badly he needed to heed the cautions of his friends.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

GOD'S SALVATION: THE WORLD'S ONLY HOPE -- Devotional for August 22, from "Good Seeds"

God made history with salvation. The whole earth comes to attention to see God’s work of salvation! Shout your praises! Let loose and sing! Strike up the band! – a tribute to God when He comes to set the earth right. Yes, He’ll straighten out the whole world. He’ll put it right, and everyone in it! (Psalm 98:2-4,9)

Psalm 98 is a song we need to sing in this godless age. As we look around our world today, though Christians are everywhere, the Christian gospel has fallen on hard times: Islam is growing at breakneck speed, while God’s people sit and stew – and shrink! Even just looking demographically at our western nations gives cause for concern. The general population is diminishing dramatically, with the replacement birth rate between 1.2 and 1.6 children per family, while Muslim families in these countries are multiplying at an alarming rate. It is predicted that if these shrink/growth numbers continue, Islam will replace Christianity as the dominant faith in the western world within a few generations. But we don’t look to statistics, but to the Scriptures, to strengthen our hearts, and to find our strategy, and the Bible says history will be strewn from beginning to end, from east to west, with God’s salvation! Sometimes it speaks of the future as having already transpired, or as happening now. If the prophets of God are that confident, why are the people of God so cast down? Even apart from the threat of Islam, the western world has largely left Christ behind, relegating Him to a former, “less enlightened” age. In His place it has set up the gods of pleasure and treasure. The outcome of this transference is a transformation of society that is already manifesting itself in elevated depression and suicide, crowded prisons and divorce courts, and in the downturn of our economy equaled only by the downturn of church attendance. People today have an insatiable appetite for goods and gadgets that provide instant gratification to the mind and body, but which leave hearts starved for soul nutrition, for the deeper meaning outward things can never satisfy. And popular religions now having their fling will also prove to do nothing for man’s inner longings. Why? Because those longings have to do with the guilt men carry, the guilt of sin that weighs them down. The only remedy for that condition is God’s salvation, and God “made history” when He sent Jesus to die for man’s sin. This Word has gone out into all the world, but most ignore it, looking for something or someone else to set things straight. Guess what: there is nothing else, no one else, no other solution, no other hope! Maybe the time has come for us who know this is true to shout salvation from the housetops, to “strike up the band” for Him who will straighten up the world, once and for all!

Friday, August 21, 2009

GENIUSES NEED JESUS, TOO! -- Devotional for August 21, from "Good Seeds"

You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8)

Secular scientists feel obligated by their discipline to deny God’s existence, and therefore His hand in creating and sustaining the world. It isn’t a question of whether they would like to believe in God – they cannot. Why? Because “no man can serve two masters,” and the one they have chosen allows no room for a Creator, much less a lover of their soul. But isn’t it odd that it is only the atheist scientists who have this dilemma? There are today, as there have always been, scientists who stand as tall in their field of study as any of their secular counterparts, who not only believe in God but boldly assert it is that very belief that clarifies their observation and makes sense of their research. Of course the unbelieving men cannot allow themselves to acknowledge the scientific astuteness or intellectual honesty of their “deceived” brothers. They see religion as an offense to the intellect, and a roadblock to right thinking, a thinking that can give no credence to “Intelligent Design.” We suspect, however, that the roadblock is not the scientific process by which they live and die, but rather their worldview. But we need not trust our suspicions, for Jesus spelled out the root of the conflict when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Why can’t secular scientists see God – see Him indeed all His deeds: in every sunset, every rosebud, every organ of the body, every newborn child? The reason a scientist cannot acknowledge God is the same reason any unbeliever cannot do it: because his heart has not yet been “put right.” Believing in God is not a mind problem – it’s a heart problem! The heart: that’s the “inside world” of a man, the sum total of his capacity to think, feel, and decide. Jesus hit the nail squarely on the head when He said to those who questioned His authenticity and challenged His authority: “If any man is willing to do God’s will he shall be assured of my teaching, that it is truth straight from God” (John 7:17). We see here that it is not a question of being able to acknowledge God (as the secular scientists assert when they say logic and science do not allow for deity), but rather of being willing to do so. And so, we need not shrink at the arrogant boastings of an unbelieving scientist; he is no different than a know-it-all teen who has the world on a string and knows he knows more than anybody else! We shrink rather at the God who someday will show Himself, in power and great glory, to these men. But by then, for them, it will be too late. “Knowing the fear of God, we persuade men” (II Cor. 5:11), including certain scientists, who may be geniuses in the study of the outside world, but are total ignoramuses in the things of the heart.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

THE WOE IS OURS -- Devotional for August 20, from "Good Seeds"

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant in mixing strong drink; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the righteous. (Isaiah 5:20-23)

The best thing about being a leader – whether you are a parent or a president, a teacher or a pastor, a CEO or a ranch foreman, a ruler of a small country or the King of the World – is to see your people living well, in harmony with one another, and with nature and nature’s God. What joy a shepherd would have, to oversee such a flock as that! But this is so seldom the case, for in every societal group there are those who call evil good and good evil, and convince the rest that he’s right. The hardest job a leader has is having to identify evil teachings, and teachers, and then to speak out woes and carry out punishment upon those feeding upon and destroying the flock. There are wolves in sheep’s – or grandmother’s – clothing, who if not removed will make room for chaos, and chaos’s god, to move in and reign supreme. The evil we’re talking about is not overt crime, but rather ethics and morals that have been turned on their heads, as described in today’s passage. Now, if it were the surrounding heathen nations that Isaiah referred to, that would be bad enough; but no, he’s talking about his own people, God’s chosen people! Wasn’t it God Himself who said, “Therefore MY PEOPLE go into exile for their lack of knowledge” (verse 13)? Turn hundreds of pages and years ahead from these words of Isaiah’s God to those of the Son of God, and hear yet more woes upon those who should know better, the Jewish spiritually elite: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows, even while making a pretense to pray for and care for them; woe to you also because you travel on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when you succeed, he becomes twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:14-15). Do we think God enjoys enumerating the heart crimes of His people? No! It breaks His great, loving heart. But if He’s talking to us, we’d better listen – America had better listen, for we find ourselves in the very climate Isaiah describes. Whether in fiction or real life, it is difficult to find a true hero today. The “good guy” has a mouth and morals that shame all decency. He gets drunk, sleeps around, beats people up, curses his boss – and yet we and our children fawn all over him. We ought to know better, but if we continue to follow such leader-heroes as these, the woe is ours – and so, too, will be the exile!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT THE CHURCH? -- Devotional for August 19, from "Good Seeds"

“I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus must have thought the church was pretty important, to make a statement such as this. Just what is so great about the church? Why does it still exist today, and why are there churches all over the world? These three descriptions of the church may help to answer these questions:
#1 The Church is a HOME. Joe Christian travels halfway around the world; he sees a church and walks in; suddenly, he’s home again! The Bible says a Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. But until we get there, God has provided a “home away from home” for His people. The church is our earthly home until we reach our heavenly home. A good church gives the Christian what a good home gives a family: nutrition, warmth, safety, security, fellowship, and fun. Some might think it’s pretty boring at home, so they go out on the town to have some fun. But as soon as loneliness or sickness strikes where do they go? Home! The church is a haven for lonely saints, and a hospital for sick saints. (Something to remember the next time a fellow church member irritates you: maybe he's sick; maybe he's lonely).
#2 The Church is a SCHOOL. Schools are dedicated to the education of minds and the honing of skills, so students can get along in this world. Ignorance is weakness, but knowledge is power! If that’s true of everyday things like history, science and mathematics, it must be doubly true of eternal things like grace and peace, and heaven and hell. When we come to church, we don’t leave our minds behind, but bring them with us so we can keep learning the things we need to know not only to survive and thrive in this life, but to get safely into the next.
#3 The Church is a LIGHTHOUSE. Take a look at today’s news: the world is a dangerous place! There are wars way over across the sea – and sometimes right across the street! You’d think that as nations become more civilized, there would be a reduction in public evils such as neighborhood violence, unethical business practices, shady politics – and a lessening of private evils like gambling, drunkenness, immorality and divorce. But things aren’t getting better, but worse. In the midst of all this darkness, the church can shine the light of Jesus: there is the payment for sin, the promise of mercy, and the provision of grace, for any soul that calls on the Lord. All around us people are drowning in the sea of despair, confusion, and sin. Can your church be a light for their darkness? You bet it can! Do you want to rescue your unsaved friends and family from the waves of sin? The only thing that can save them is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that's why Jesus built His church.

PREACHING AND TEACHING GOD'S WAY -- Devotional for August 18, from "Good Seeds"

Because the Preacher was wise, he taught the people everything he knew. He used proverbs to nail down important truths, which he collected and classified for easy reference. This Preacher was not only a wise man, but also a good teacher, not just spouting facts, but presenting truth in an interesting manner. His teaching served as a goad to spur his listeners to action. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-11)

Solomon was a man with his feet in two different worlds: his vocation was King, but his avocation was “Wisdom Czar.” It’s interesting that his first responsibility, ruling Israel, was not his first love; he much preferred to dabble in his hobby of collecting, creating and compiling tidbits of practical wisdom, which became the Bible book of Proverbs. But there’s a sad note here: though known as the wisest man who ever lived, he sometimes failed to put that wisdom into practice in the most crucial areas of his life. Oh he was a wise and good king, to be sure, and Israel knew only peace, prosperity and popularity among the nations during his rule, but when Rehoboam succeeded the throne, it seems Daddy didn’t prove to be the role model his son needed to sustain the nation, especially in the ways of God (I Kings 12). Solomon’s life is a proverb for us all: Beware the tendency to fall and fail in the area of your greatest strength. Solomon had great genius, and found great joy, in collecting and creating these little microcosms of good advice for wise living. Though a king, he preferred the moniker of “Preacher.” If he could have written his own tombstone epitaph, it might have sounded something like this: “Here lies Solomon, son of David, Preacher of truth, Collector of proverbs, and Wisdom-Librarian of Israel.” And then he would have written what we find in Ecclesiastes 12:9-11. He wrote autobiographically and, because he was the king, permitted himself to speak a bit arrogantly, too. But in these words he succinctly describes not only his own job description, but that of any preacher or teacher worth his salt. It has five parts: 1) His focus is warm bodies, not cold facts: a teacher is a people person; 2) He is not stingy with truth: “Woe unto me if I share not God’s wisdom!” It is a teacher’s legitimate compulsion to teach, for as long as he has breath; 3) He knows how to find the root-truth and then to compact it into a marketable seed containing in kernel form all its related nuances and applications; 4) he makes learning fun and exciting, using stories and colorful metaphors; 5) he knows his teaching is all for naught if it doesn’t result in the re-training of behavior: we don’t just fill heads, we touch hearts and put hands to work! I have this passage on display right next to my computer screen, to remind me, while preparing for teaching and preaching, why I do it, and how to do it God’s way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

P B P G I F W M Y -- Devotional for August 17, from 'Good Seeds"

As long as I’m alive in this body there is good work for me to do. But if I had to choose right now whether to stay on, or move on, it would be a hard choice. The desire to break camp here and go to be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But right now I guess it might be better for me to stick it out here a little longer, to be your friend as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. (Philippians 1:22-25)

Can you pronounce this word? You can’t? Well, that’s because it’s not a word at all, but code for a whole sentence: Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet. People used to wear little pins with these letters inscribed on them. What a great conversation starter! Have you ever come to a point in your life when you’ve made so many mistakes (or, committed so many sins) that you just wanted to give up? “Stop the world, I want to get off!” you shouted. We all can feel like such failures at times. But a failure is not someone who fails over and over, but rather who has quit trying to succeed, who has indeed “gotten off” the world. Imagine how Saul the Christian-killer felt the day he met Christ on the Damascus Road, the day Jesus blinded his eyes so He could open his heart to what he had been doing. Guilt could have sent Saul into a bottomless pit of depression and despair. But God forgave him, and then gave him a new start, a new job – and a new name, Paul, to go with it all! He wasn’t proud of what he had done, but he was done looking back. His newly restored vision was aimed squarely on the road before him. And he told anyone who would listen, “Say what you want about me; all I know is, when I gave up on me, God didn’t! He’s using me now, and apparently He isn’t finished yet! Oh, I’d much rather be in heaven with Him, but I guess He'd rather be on earth with me, to keep me around here – and around you – for just a little bit longer.” A song called “Wait and See” expresses Paul’s testimony (maybe yours and mine, too). It goes something like this: “I was trouble since the day I got here, and trouble till the day I disappear – that will be the day that I finally get it right!” But in the meantime, he claims the promises of God, that He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), that He has good work for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and that He will be with us and in us every step of the way, to get the job done (Hebrews 13:5b). That’s why the songwriter can sing – and I think I want to sing it with him – “There is hope for me yet, because God won’t forget all the plans He’s made for me…I’ll have to wait and see, for He’s not finished with me yet!” Every Christian needs a statement of faith. But maybe he needs a statement of hope, too. Here’s a good one: P B P G I F W M Y!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

LET THE BEAUTY OF JESUS BE SEEN IN ME! -- Devotional for August 16, from "Good Seeds"

Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another. (I Peter 5:5)

Scripture refers to clothing a lot more than we might expect. I say this because the Bible is a spiritual book, emphasizing spiritual themes and qualities. It’s always taking us from the exterior to the interior, from skin deep to the deep, inner soul. It doesn’t deny the outer man; indeed, recognizing its proper place, it rejoices in it. One false faith considers the body to be evil. This belief leads to one of two extremes: 1) It separates the body from the spirit to the point of giving permission for indulging fleshly passions with impunity; 2) It denies the body its normal functions and desires, casting aspersions on all the things God gave us “richly to enjoy” such as food, drink, marital love, and God-honoring good times. We were created in the image of God, giving us an instinctive awareness of and longing for the Eternal God and eternal life. But as he was given a body to house his soul, a man is not a man apart from that body. Before the fall, the first man and woman were pure inside and out, free of sin, and free from any harm from the elements, animals or illness – all while totally naked. Adam and Eve were souls, living in a body, with only their skin for clothing! Of course, sin changed all that. But God has begun the process of changing it back again, of restoring paradise, reversing the effects of sin by eradicating its power through the atoning cross-work of Christ. Oh, we still wear clothes, of course, for sin is still very much with us and all around us. But at every opportunity God’s Word reminds us that life is no longer just about the external body with its wrappings and trappings. Solomon was a man who went far astray from God’s way with his perennial “Miss Israel” beauty pageant in his court, but when he came to his senses he gave us God’s mind on the subject: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). Peter echoed that theme in his exhortation to the fairer sex: “Let not your adornment be merely external: braiding the hair, putting on makeup, wearing jewelry, and worrying over your wardrobe – but rather let your adornment be a pure heart and respectful attitude” (I Peter 3:2,3). In the end-times vision Christ gave to John, the saints in heaven are always dressed in white, representing worthiness, a faith-gift (better than a face-lift!) from Christ Himself (Rev. 3:4,5; 4:4; 7:13). But there’s another garment Christians can wear right now: the robe of humility. If we try to conjure up this trait on our own, it quickly turns to “putting on airs,” and our pride and shame are as exposed as the Emperor in his “New Clothes.” But when we “clothe ourselves with humility,” the nakedness of our sin is covered by the beauty and purity of Jesus Himself.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FATHER KNOWS BEST -- Devotional for August 15, from "Good Seeds"

Now the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, ”Behold you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Appoint for us now a king.” This was displeasing to Samuel, so he went to the Lord about it. God said, “As you listen to the people you’ll realize this: they have not rejected you as their judge – they have rejected Me as their King.” (I Samuel 8:4-7)

Here’s another example of craving what we want and insisting that God give it to us – and coming to ruin for it (see August 14). The Israelites had finally made it to the Promised Land and had begun their existence as an independent nation, under God. But this became a point of disagreement between them and their, their…what was Samuel’s position, anyway? He wasn’t a king or governor, nor was he a prophet or priest, in the strictest sense. The Bible calls him a judge. But he was more, for in him was a rare combination of political genius and spiritual guru. He led and fed his people as a shepherd cares for his sheep (see I Samuel 12:23). But when his sons, who were to succeed him, proved themselves unworthy, an outcry arose to trash the theocracy altogether, in favor of a monarchy. What were they thinking? Samuel spelled out for them just exactly what they were getting themselves into (verses 10-18). Their response, “Yeah, yeah, we know! Just the same - and we are of one mind on this - we want a king, just like all the other countries around us (vs. 19). Then we can proudly take our place among the nations, and go to battle against any of them, if necessary, our king meeting and defeating theirs.” From the 20/20 perspective of hindsight we know that God indeed intended for Israel to have a king. But the people were not following God’s timetable nor were they listening to His voice regarding His choice of the right man. If they wanted what God wanted, it was merely by coincidence. Their motive was envy – to “keep up with the Joneses.” God’s plan was to establish His only Son, Jesus, to rule over the world in righteousness forever. And He would be born of the royal family line of David. But caring nothing about God’s plan, the Israelites went out and found and crowned Saul – tall, dark and handsome Saul! But he was the wrong man, and it was the wrong time, and the result was a shameful fiasco. What is the lesson here? Next time you want something so bad you can taste it, you’d better spit it out quick, as a bad taste in your mouth. Wait for God’s perfect timing and provision. Remember, “Father knows best.” Don’t worry if there’s leanness in your life or ministry right now, you just keep feeding your soul on that bountiful supply of heavenly manna. Putting your present desires on hold for now may be the path to the perfect job God has in store for you, in His perfect time!

UNWELCOME ANSWERED PRAYER -- Devotional for August 14, from "Good Seeds"

He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls. (Psalm 106:15)

Hear this wisdom from an ancient pagan religion: “When the gods are angry they answer your prayers.” We will accept God’s truth wherever we find it, and this statement reflects the biblical principle of Unwelcome Answered Prayer, as seen in today’s verse. The prayer God delights to hear from His people is that of faith and thanksgiving, as we read in Psalm 106:4-5: “Remember me, O Lord, in Thy favor toward Thy people, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy salvation and glory in Thine inheritance.” Oh if we could just pray this prayer – and stop there! But the psalmist goes on to tell the sad story of Israel’s wickedness in the wilderness. Wickedness? Are we talking about heinous sins of immorality and depravity? No. The sin that was so big in God’s eyes was the spirit of discontent. On the first leg of their emancipation journey, the Israelites’ faith is tested when they find themselves caught between a rock (the Red Sea) and a hard place (Pharaoh’s army). If they had merely cried out in distress, that would have been no problem for God – He delights in rescuing us from desperate circumstances. But the Bible says they “rebelled by the sea, not remembering His abundant kindnesses” (vs. 7). God is patient with our weakness, but cannot abide disobedience. Compare this to the human family: a little girl falls and scrapes her knee; Mommy runs to her cries, dresses the wound and dries her eyes. Next day this same sweet innocent little girl accompanies Mommy to the supermarket, and there sees something she wants. Again she cries, but this time it’s not a call for help to meet a genuine need, but rather a cry of insolent insistence demanding to have it – NOW! Her mother knows the item is not something her daughter should have at this time, but when she says "No," Sissy makes a scene by throwing a tantrum. What should Mama do? I’ve seen children get a tongue-lashing or even a swat right out in public. More often than not the child is appeased, just for temporary peace, to avoid a scene – but wait till they get home! Now, back to the Jews: still in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, the children of Israel express their discontent with this tasteless (but nutritious) manna. Imagine, a from-the-sky miracle provision from God every day, and still the people moan and nag. They throw a tantrum – so God gives them the meat they crave. But “when they get home,” He really gives it to them (see Numbers 11:31-34). Beware of craving what God is saving for later, or what He knows will harm you. Don’t force His hand to answer your foolish prayer – He might just give you what you want. But then don't be surprised if such a thing from His hand feels more like a spanking than a blessing!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

THE CHRISTIAN'S EDGE -- Devotional for August 13, from "Good Seeds"

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

What was it about Jesus that made His enemies not only criticize, but also cower and cringe, whenever they rubbed shoulders with Him? Did Jesus dominate the conversation, wowing them with superior knowledge, powerful charisma, and persuasive arguments? Not exactly, even though one characteristic that put Him “on top” in every confrontation with gospel-rejecters was His ability to out-think them. That alone, however, does not give the full picture, for Jesus came “to seek and to save – not blow away – those who are lost” (Luke 19:10). The motive behind His method was love, always love. He did preach the truth about heaven and hell, and good and evil, but the gospels tell the gospel story in Christ’s good life, too, as well as His good words.He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) completes the picture of our Savior. And now, enter Peter and John, two of His disciples. Jesus had picked them up along the seashore and transformed them from fishermen to fishers of men. By the world’s standards they remained uneducated and untrained, but wouldn’t we trade our university and seminary degrees in a heartbeat to walk and talk with Jesus, even if for just one day? The disciples had gone pace by pace and face to face with the Master for three years! But then they lost Him, on the cross. Only later did they learn that that was the only way He could find them, and save them. They experienced the new birth the same as any Christian does; and they endured the painstaking process of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ the same as we do today. The formula can be depended upon to work for any man or woman, in any time or place: SALVATION + SANCTIFICATION = WITNESS. So there stood Peter and John, on trial, oddly, for being witnesses. They couldn’t stop talking about how they’d seen Jesus alive again after He had died. “Is this not the Christ? Does this not prove His power over death? Does it not give us a sure hope that we too will live again, after we die? Because He lives, we, too, shall live!” (see I Corinthians 15:20). This was the message Peter and John got caught preaching and for which they were being examined by the religious big shots! Let’s listen in on the deliberations: “These fellows are as mystifying as they are irritating: we know they are uneducated, and yet the whole world follows after them, while ignoring us. Now just explain that!” Okay, we will! The edge of the Christian (meaning “little Christ”) comes from his Master: he’s not just in the world, he has come to win the world, and he will do it because he OUTTHINKS and OUTLOVES that world!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WHAT GOOD IS A FUNERAL? -- Devotional for August 12, from "Good Seeds"

In the year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord. (Isaiah 6:1)

After officiating at the funeral of my friend’s father, I found myself wandering through the back halls of the mortuary. I came across a beautiful plaque on a table with these words inscribed on it (No, I didn’t steal it…at my request a secretary made a photocopy of it for me!)

#1 is a sociological statement that a death has occurred.
#2 helps confirm the reality and finality of death.
#3 provides a climate for mourning and the expressions of grief.
#4 allows the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of many.
#5 is one of the few times love is given and not expected in return.
#6 is a vehicle for the community to pay its respects.
#7 is a celebration of a life that has been lived well.
#8 encourages the affirmation of religious faith.

I showed this list to another friend who will be burying his mother tomorrow. As he looked it over he said, “There’s one more that you do, Steve, that seems to be missing from this list…
#9 is a perfect time and place to share the message of salvation. The list did mention the affirmation of religious faith, but that sounds more like a church service than a funeral. At a Sunday morning worship time you can pretty well expect the majority of the people to be in agreement with the preacher. It would be a little different in the case of an evangelistic service held at the local fairgrounds, or a street meeting with a brave soul shouting out his testimony of Jesus against catcalls and traffic noise. A funeral is like that: you have people in the pews or at the graveside who have come out of a sense of duty to pay their respects to the deceased, or out of love to say goodbye to a dear one, but who never intended to subject themselves to a Bible sermon. They would never purposely go anywhere near the preaching of the gospel – and yet, here they are, sitting, hopefully listening, to what the preacher has to say. What is he saying, anyway? Well, any pastor worth his calling had better be talking about eternal things, and not just things of this earth, and about one of earth’s residents who has just taken up residence elsewhere! There’s nothing wrong with the above list (even if it was written to boost the undertakings of the undertaker!), but any funeral that stops short of giving clear directions to the heavenly gates, and how to get off the road to perdition, that talks about man’s goodness but neglects God’s grace, might as well stop at #1: “Yep, sure enough: looks like someone has died!” The funeral preacher’s job is to help turn the eyes of the grieving ones away from their King Uzziah, and onto King Jesus!

Monday, August 10, 2009

GOD'S HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT FOR WIVES -- Devotional for August 11, from "Good Seeds"

Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be won to God apart from words, as they are captivated by your lives of holy beauty. (I Peter 3:1-2)

It is a proven fact that women have it over men hands down in the verbal communication department. Studies have shown that not only do little girls learn to talk sooner than little boys (who say all they want to say through their feet and fists), but the fairer sex continues throughout all stages of growth and development to dominate their male counterparts, if not in ability, at least in loquacity, in drawing upon the gift of speech to the greatest possible degree. Just read any Jane Austen novel, or view one of the popular movie adaptations, and you’ll see and hear colorful evidence of this fact. This being true, what God is suggesting through the inspired pen of the apostle Peter is no easy task for the ladies. Some might dare to suggest we’re talking more like a miracle here (not I, of course, unbiased gentleman that I am!) to expect wives to clam up in the presence of husbands who constantly say it, do it, or get it – wrong! Leave it to the irony of heaven to teach us that man’s way (or in this case, woman’s way) can never accomplish God’s will. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). To win the fight, turn the other cheek. To gain the crown, lay it down. Lose to gain. Winners are losers, losers are keepers. And just as James taught that “the wrath of man will never reflect, nor produce, the righteousness of God” (1:20), so the words of women will have little effect on men regarding the Word of God. If they want to have a deep and lasting – and godly – influence on their husbands, wives will have to lay down the weapon they are most comfortable with, and most skillful in wielding – their tongues – and use another one, one God will provide, instead. Now someone might say, “Of course women have a stronger weapon than their words, and that’s their looks, their sex appeal.” Peter anticipated that argument, and refuted it, in verse 3: “What matters is not your outer appearance – the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes, the shape of your body – but rather your inner disposition.” Oh it’s all too true that with these things a woman can have her way with a man, but it won’t be God’s way, and therefore will not bring lasting happiness to man or woman, or glory to God. How can we define and describe what God means by “lives of holy beauty”? That’s a tough one, but it is God’s homework assignment to every wife. And when she gets it right, she’ll get an “A” both from her husband and her Lord!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

PATTERN FOR PRAYER: CONFESSION -- Devotional for August 10, from "Good Seeds"

I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now day and night, with mourning and fasting, on behalf of the sons of Israel, confessing our sins, theirs and mine. Remember Your promise: “If you return to Me and keep My commandments, I will bring you back to the place where I have chosen My name to dwell.” O Lord, I delight to revere Your name; will You not make Thy servant successful today before this man? (Nehemiah 1:4-11)

We think of the best sermons coming from preachers, and the best prayers from men of the cloth. But some of the best preaching and praying found anywhere in history came from the heart and lips of a laymen, a man more readily found in the secular halls of government than in any sacred place of worship. We’re speaking of a fellow whose life proved (to paraphrase an old cigarette commercial) that “you can take the man out of God’s country, but you can’t take God’s country out of the man!” Nehemiah the Jew had lived his whole life as an exile in a heathen land, far from his beloved Israel. But rather than wasting away in sorrow or bitterness, he had made the best of it, eventually rising to the noble position of cupbearer to the king. But his heart remained true to His God and faithful to his countrymen, so when word came that Jerusalem was in shambles, reflecting the spiritual condition of his brothers who were eking out a living there, he immediately fell on his knees before God. We can see in this man’s face and hear in his words a beautiful pattern for prayer that we would do well to follow. His prayer was rooted first of all in his relationship to God. Anything and everything that bothered him was first and foremost a spiritual issue. Now, he knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to take ACTION (the nickname of a character in “West Side Story,” probably called that because he fought first and asked questions later!) Nehemiah could have been a man like that: he wanted make a beeline to Jerusalem right now! Of course, he knew he would need permission and help from his employer the king. But even before that, he knew what he first must do. Not so much by plan as by instinct he retired to a secret place, to weep, to mourn, to fast, and to pray. He started where we all must start, on his face. There he saw himself as God saw him. There, also, he saw God for who He is, high and lifted up – and he worshiped! Do we revere our awesome God, in worship, as did Nehemiah, even before calling on the name of God, for help? After confessing His Savior, and confessing his sin, only then did he confess his needs. Prayer is all about confession. Will we pray like that?

THE MOST COMFORTING WORDS -- Devotional for August 9, from "Good Seeds"

Comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:18)

The mother of a dear friend just died. After nearly 93 years, she “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and flew away. As Christians are fond of saying, “She went to be with Jesus.” Is that just a euphemism for death, or is it a fact? After the apostle Paul explained the order of things regarding the death and resurrection of the believer in Jesus, he said, “Now you who have lost a loved one need not grieve as do those who have no hope” (verse 13). Our confidence of a heavenly reunion is not based on wishful thinking, but on 1) the fact of Christ’s resurrection, and 2) the “more sure word of prophecy” regarding any man who trusts God with his life in this life. Our hope is rooted in the empirical evidence for Jesus’ victory over death, that after He died by crucifixion and lay three days in the tomb, He came back to life, appeared and spoke to hundreds, and the last time He was seen He wasn’t going down, but up! It was a drama narrated by angels, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand staring into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in just the same way as you have watched Him go” (Acts 1:11). Our belief in Christ’s resurrection and ascension is based on reliable historical evidence. Our assurance of His return, and of our own resurrection and ascension into heaven, is grasped by faith. The question then comes down to this: Who better than God can we trust, regarding eternal realities? Scientists? They only know what they can observe, measure. and prove in the laboratory. Philosophers? They only believe what they can conjure up in their minds. Man’s religion? Well, on that score, you can pick and choose, looking for what best suits you. And if you can’t find it, you can always make up a new one. Maybe that's why there are so many religions in the world today. If truth is no more than what you want to believe, then it’s a level playing field, and no one can say “his truth” is better than anyone else’s. The Bible offers us no comfort for this kind of creative thinking (Philippians 3:3), but gives us instead the truth of the matter straight from God: When Christians die they will live again, and see Jesus, and one another, face to face. Oh that this promise of God were the theme behind all our dealings and discussions with one another (the best “one another”), for then we would not badger and criticize one another (the worst). What our hurting brothers and sisters need to hear from us are words of hope and encouragement. But if we fail to comfort one another with such words, what good are we to one another, anyway? Christians never see one another for the last time! This is a hope we can stake our lives on, and face death with. Now go comfort one another – someone you know – with these words. Do it today!

Friday, August 7, 2009

CLING TO GOD'S SURE PROMISE -- Devotional for August 8, from "Good Seeds"

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

A long time ago I bought two brand new matching Bibles for my wife and myself. I used mine in personal study and public ministry until it finally wore out. By that time Karen had gone to a new Bible so I took over hers, which was still in good condition. This was a boon to me, for since all my favorite passages were in familiar locations, I didn’t have to make that unhappy adjustment serious Bible students face when they finally must get a new Bible. But alas, now this Bible is falling apart… literally! (But don’t they say that a Bible that’s falling apart belongs to a Christian who isn’t!?) And so, although this Bible is now in far worse condition than my old one (which I since have lost), I cannot seem to put it aside for a new one, regardless of how many Karen has bought me and urged me to put into service. All this to say that as I pour over the pages of this old and precious His/Hers Bible I relish reading what one or the other of us has written in the margins, whether it be sermon quotes, personal comments, cross-references, or in the case of Jeremiah 29:11, a bit of wistful personal history: (Karen’s handwriting) “August 8, 1979 – this is the verse Jan Bentley gave to me as we moved to Los Angeles and seminary.” That was exactly 30 years ago today. It was tough in those days, as I recall, to go from giving tests (I had taught school for eleven years) to taking them. I remember often saying, half to myself, half to God, “What have I done? What am I doing here? Was this a mistake?” It is when we are most unsure of ourselves that we must go back to the “more sure word of prophecy,” or as in this case, the sure promises of God. Now, just as in the old song, God also says: “I beg your pardon – I never promised you a rose garden!” He doesn’t promise smooth sailing, with skies always blue. He never promised to reveal to us the mysteries of our personal future, nor does He promise us a satisfactory explanation of the miseries of our uncomfortable present. But what He DOES promise more than compensates for what we may lack. Promise #1: I know what I’m doing. God assures us that we don’t have to know all the details, for He’s got it covered. Promise #2:I have a personal plan for your life.” What He said to us through Jeremiah He reaffirmed through Paul: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Promise #3: Regardless of the dismal outlook, just know it’s going to turn out great for you so why don’t you try the uplook instead! Now, you don’t have to stubbornly hang on to an old Bible, as long as you tenaciously cling to its promises!

PROPER BRAGGING -- Devotional for August 7, from "Good Seeds"

Your commands give me an edge on my enemies, for they never become obsolete. I’ve even become smarter than my teachers, ever since I’ve pondered and absorbed Your counsel. I’ve becomes wiser than the wise old sages, simply by doing what You tell me.

No one likes a bragger. I mean, who can empty a room faster than the guy totally full of himself?! Someone put it this way: “When you have pride, you soon will slide!” – which almost sounds like how Solomon put it: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov.16:18). But there is another kind of pride, another sort of boasting, another breed of bragger, that not only meets with God’s approval, but is His standard of speech and conversation for the believer. It is the language of praise, for praise is no more or less than bragging on God! Hear the Sweet Psalmist of Israel: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth, for my soul shall make its BOAST in the Lord” (Psalm 34:1). Turn over a few pages in heaven’s hymnbook to hear the same from other’s lips: “In God we boast all the day long, and praise His name forever” (Psalm 44:8). But the clearest and best recommendation for boasting comes from the mouth of God Himself: “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, the mighty man of his strength, or the rich man of his wealth; rather, let him who boasts boast of this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). In I Corinthians 1:20-30, Paul speaks of these same boastful worldlings: the wise, the mighty, and the noble. But then he names a fourth group, those who will someday put the proud boasters in their place: “God has chosen the foolish, the weak, and the lowly ones of the world to put to shame those who are strong by worldly standards” (verse 27-28). Someday the ones who have nothing within them to boast about – except the Lord! – will nullify all other proud boasters! So Paul concludes, and so must we: “Let him that would glory glory in the Lord” (verse 31). With this as background, we can now defend that audacious and spirited youngster of Psalm 119, and join him, too, as he brags on God, or more specifically, on God’s Word. When it is eaten like a bear eats honey, and absorbed like fish gills absorbs oxygen, and obeyed like a slave obeys his master, even the least experienced believer who trusts in Jesus can and will stand head and shoulders over the strongest enemy, the smartest intellectual, and the wisest old wise man in the land. This was the way it was 3000 years ago; this is the way it is today, and will be forever. Aren’t you glad God’s Word never gets old, and will never be replaced! Don’t you feel like bragging, too?!

CASTING CARE / TAKING CARE -- Devotional for August 6, from "Good Seeds"

Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)

An important law for living that most of us never learn – but if we could learn it we would be relieved of so much self-inflicted stress – is simply this: “Know what is yours to do, and what is yours to leave alone; know what is your responsibility and what is others’, or God’s; know when to act, and when to wait.” This lesson for living is reflected in the well known Serenity Prayer by pastor/theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change, the COURAGE to change the things I can, and the WISDOM to know the difference between the two.” When we begin to understand the division of labor regarding job descriptions we can learn to say, about some things, “That’s my job, and so by God’s enabling grace I’m going to do it!” – but about other things, to say with equal conviction and determination, “That’s somebody else’s responsibility, not mine, so I’ll steer clear and stand down.” Christians, especially, have a tendency to get in trouble here. We barge into other people’s lives with well-intentioned but unwelcome unasked-for-advice or help. “Oh, but I’m not speaking or acting for myself,” we say. “No, I’m on a mission for God, commissioned by Him to be His spokesman, His emissary!” And before we know it we are playing Holy Spirit, thinking to bring conviction of sin, or presuming to know God’s viewpoint and God’s will for someone else! To share a word from the Bible, or a simple “cup of cold water,” can be very helpful, but any more than that can quickly become sinful presumption (see Psalm 19:13). Wisdom, says Niebuhr, is knowing the difference between what we can do, and what is totally beyond our power to do, to bring about healing and wholeness. Wisdom, says the Bible, is distinguishing between what God wants me to do and what only He can do. As soon as troubles and cares enter our lives we must learn to immediately CAST them on Jesus. He will not take them from us, apart from our giving them to Him. They will fester within us, poisoning all around us, until we cast them from us. But as soon as we do, God goes into action – for just as it is our job to CAST care, so it is God’s job to TAKE care! It’s a game of catch: we throw our cares to God, and He will catch them – every time! And He will do with them what only God can do: turn them into blessings, into victories, or, as the rest of the serenity prayer says, “Help me accept hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, as I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonable happy for now, in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen!” Amen, indeed!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

SELF-PROTECTION IS A MUST -- Devotional for August 5, from "Good Seeds"

Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powerful rulers of the godless overworld, and the spiritual forces of the dark underworld. So take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:11-12,16)

Wherever the apostle Paul turned he found himself engaged in spiritual warfare, facing resistance and fielding flaming missiles originating from three arenas of evil: 1) The heathen world, where he confronted false religions with their false gods and false prophets; 2) the religious world, where his former Pharisee friends came at him with the full force of the Jewish Law; and 3) his own Christian companions and co-workers, who for reasons of their own had now turned against him, causing strife and disunity within the body of Christ. No wonder he could describe in such vivid word pictures the forces of evil a Christian will face – he lived it, every day! There is a time to turn the other cheek, but there is also a time to put on the full armor of God and resist the evil one, to the death if need be. When Satan attacks, we must go into protective mode. We must "not be ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11), but rather put in place some devices of our own, as guided and provided by God. I play guitar for hours on end, in church, around the campfire, and late at night at home, just for fun. How can my fingers endure the constant impress of the fine steel strings? Calluses – skin still clinging to my fingertips, but dead and hard, protecting the softer inner flesh from pain. How can a factory worker or cabinet maker or rock musician endure the constant barrage of whirring machines, buzzing saws, or screaming amplifiers without losing his hearing? Deeply inserted ear plugs. And speaking of music, we are installing a Plexiglas cubicle for the drum set at our church, in order to contain and control and balance the sound, to keep the rhythmic beat where it belongs, at the base and in the background, to embellish the harmonies and voices, and not overpower them, for the glory of God. Just so, the time may come when those of that third category – our so-called friends – begin to hurl their stones of criticism at us, or shoot their darts of jealousy or judgment. That’s when we will need to put a plexi-shield around our hearts so that the missiles will just bounce off and we can move ahead, unscathed. If erstwhile ministry partners begin to rain on our parade, we take out our umbrella. Or if they would pull us down in the muck of discouragement, we step back up on the Rock of Ages. When the missiles start to fly, my friend, don’t stand around unprotected: find your shield of faith – and put it up!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

GOD IS MY JUDGE -- Devotional for August 4, from "Good Seeds"

But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait for the Lord. (I Corinthians 4:3-5)

We must not let others tell us who we are or how much we are worth, for they just plain don’t know. They may overstate or undervalue, but they won’t get it right. It’s just their opinion, of course, but in such a matter don’t we want the truth? Even our self-knowledge is riddled with opinion. Socrates said, “Know thyself,” but who does, really? Others can be of help, seeing and pointing out our blind spots from their particular vantage point. Still, there is only One who sees all and knows all, and that is our Lord. The Gaithers wrote these beautiful lyrics: “I am loved, I am loved, and the One who knows me best loves me most.” That could only be God, right? – for on the human level usually the more we get to know someone the harder it is to love him. With people knowledge hinders love more than helping it. Maybe that’s why we say, “Love is blind." But this is not the case with God. Knowing our every sin and flaw, He still maintains His high view of our worth, regardless of what others – even we ourselves – might think of us. Another song says, “I am not worthy the least of His favor, but Jesus left heaven for me.” Surely it was His great love, not my great loveliness, that made Him come down to walk with me, and rescue me. It was all of His gentle grace, manifested on the cruel cross -- all of Him, nothing of me. He is the altogether worthy One! And yet, when Jesus watched with compassion as an insignificant little sparrow fell to the earth, He said, “Are you not of greater worth than many sparrows?” (Matthew 10:29-31). If Jesus dictates my worth in such terms, I must not let others, no matter how well-meaning, dictate my flaws and failures to me. If I am right before God – and He will let me know if I am not by the still small voice of His Spirit – then I must not give audience to those who may have unknowingly become the mouthpiece for “the accuser of the brethren” (A vividly descriptive name for the devil – see Revelation 12:10). If it is my sole desire to please God in my work and in my worship – and only He knows the deepest motive of the heart – then it matters little what someone else may think. If he doesn’t like what I am doing, maybe it is his problem and not mine! He stands or falls before God alone, just as I do. God will do His business with him, even as He does it with me, and I don’t think God needs or wants my help in judging the work and worth of another, or his in evaluating me and mine.

Monday, August 3, 2009

TWO COMPONENTS OF HOPE -- Devotional for August 3, from "Good Seeds"

Gird your mind for action; keep sober in spirit; fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:13)

For the Christian, hope is just another word for heaven. Our ticket there is paid in full by the grace of God, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for us to do. In Ephesians 6 Paul says we’ll need the whole armor of God if we expect to stand strong against the attacks of the devil or make inroads into enemy territory with the gospel. First we must “gird our loins with truth” (verse 14). Peter’s command is the same: “gird your mind for action.” Apart from the truth our actions are fruitless and useless. Without it we can make no headway in the conquest of evil or the establishment of righteousness. COMPONENT #1 is knowledge. “What king,” asked Jesus, “when he anticipates meeting another in battle does not first sit down to contemplate his chances, calculating the risks as he considers his strengths and weaknesses?” (Luke 14:31). When we go out to face a world under the spell of the Evil One, we don’t start with hype and pep rallies. We don’t start with self at all, but with the Savior. We go away to a quiet place to get alone with Him and His Word. At His feet we sit, with an open Bible, conversing and communing. We learn to know Him first; then we learn of His purpose and plan, and our part in it. These private times with God prepare us for gathering with the saints to strategize, study, and worship together. But in it all we do not leave our brains behind. We do not depend on unreliable feelings and emotions, but on solid truth. Paul said, “I shall sing with the spirit, but I shall sing with the mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15). It is when Christians lose their hunger for the Word of God that they begin to fail in the ways of God. It is when they become slovenly as workman in the Scriptures, failing to "handle accurately the Word of Truth" (II Timothy 2:15) that they garner shame and lose their reputation with God and man alike. Believers give the devil opportunity to make inroads into their fellowship and to wreak havoc with their message, when they do not gird their minds with the precious and powerful Word of God. COMPONENT #2 is sobriety of spirit. “Be not drunk with wine” said Paul, “but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” We must not foolishly allow ourselves to become intoxicated with the wines and ways of the world, deceived by empty pleasures and false promises. “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ we know better: destruction is coming. They are asleep to reality, but we are awake and alert to it” (I Thess. 5:2-7). We are not somber children of the night (gloomy, melancholy, temperamental), but rather sober children of the day (disciplined, temperate and full of hope).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

HE CAN ALSO TURN THE WINE INTO WATER! -- Devotional for August 2, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus said, “Fill the pots with water, then draw some back out and take it to the headwaiter.” When the man tasted this water which had become wine, he said, “You have kept the best wine for last” (John 2:7-10). Wine is a mocker, and strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived (intoxicated) by it is not wise. Give strong drink unto him who is ready to perish, and wine to the bitter of heart (Proverbs 20:1; 31:6). Woe unto those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant in mixed drinks (Isaiah 5:22). “Stop drinking only water, Timothy, but use a little wine for your stomach, because of your frequent illnesses” (I Timothy 5:23). Do not be drunk with wine, for that will ruin your life; but rather, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

What is the lesson God would have us learn from the reading of this medley of verses from the Bible on the subject of alcoholic beverages? The wedding party ran out of wine. If Jesus were T-totally against drinking He would have given a sigh of relief – but He worked a miracle instead, didn’t He, to keep the wine flowing at the reception. And yet it is universally known, and clearly taught in Scripture, that alcoholic beverages, as pleasant to the palate and pleasing at the party as they may be, have the capacity, upon inordinate consumption, to distort judgment, destroy relationships and property, and even deliver untimely death. Still, though the conscientious young Pastor Timothy sought not to endanger his testimony or his own health, through alcohol, he was encouraged by his mentor to drink a little wine, for the very purpose of improving his health. Drinking may be defensible when indulged in socially, consumed in moderation, and certainly when used medicinally, but it cannot be condoned when it becomes a means of private self-indulgence and addiction. In all of history, surely nothing known to man can be said to have inflicted greater harm to the individual, his friends, his family, or his faith than the abuse of alcohol! I recently viewed a U-tube recording of a man singing a most unusual song. It had an obvious country western flavor, but rather than a concert or bar setting, he was in a room, surrounded by friends, some singing along, others unable to join in with anything more than tears. This is what he sang: Tonight I’m as low as any man can go. I’m down and I can’t fall much farther. Once upon a time You turned the water into wine. Now I’m on my knees, I’m turning to You, Father – Could you help me turn the wine back into water?” Right now will you plead for such a miracle from Jesus on behalf of someone you know who is a POW in the battle of the bottle?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

CARE AND FEEDING OF THE FLOCK -- Devotional for August 1, from "Good Seeds"

Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. (I Samuel 12:23)

A good friend of mine is a pastor’s widow. She and her husband served the Lord faithfully in several churches. He never retired, but just kept preaching and pastoring until the Lord took him home. Recently she told me of a neighbor of hers who, knowing nothing of her personal history, proceeded to lambaste the church in general and pastors in particular – men, he says, who are too lazy or inept to hold a normal job, so they make their living by living off of weak and gullible people. When she told me this it made me think of my own life and career, for I, too, have never really held what some might call a regular job. My whole life has been dedicated to shepherding sheep. I started out as a schoolteacher, feeding little ones the knowledge and leading them into acquiring the skills necessary to find their own way through life. But after eleven years as an educator, I went to seminary for more training and eventually became a pastor. I’m still a shepherd, but now I work beyond the mind toward a focus on the heart and soul of those under my charge. I would be devastated to be characterized as one who “preys upon” people, for my chief job and joy is rather to “pray for” my people. It is a heinous sin indeed when a pastor takes advantage of his sheep, milking them of their resources and self-respect, for the sake of his own personal gain. But one of the earliest and best pastors of all time, Samuel, described the greatest evil of a pastor in another way: “God forbid!” he said, “that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” The job description of the pastor is twofold: FIRST, he is a priest, who speaks to God on behalf of the people. But in order to accurately and effectively pray for his people, a pastor must first know them, and genuinely love them. The Bible says, “The Good Shepherd calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3). To know someone, his name is where you start, for a name represents character – his strengths and flaws, and history – his hurts and hopes. Although in the real world the more we know about someone the less we tend to like him, in the Christian world that knowledge leads to greater compassion and love for him, and fires us up to pray all the harder and better for him. The SECOND function of a pastor is that of a prophet, who speaks to the people on behalf of God. When Samuel said, “I will teach you in the good and right way,” he was saying that after praying for the people God often gives him insights from His Word that can be part of the answer to those prayers. So, is the pastorate a people-abusing non-job, or is it the most noble work in the world, of partnering with God in the care and feeding of His flock?