Wednesday, September 30, 2009

GOD'S ETERNAL NOW -- Devotional for October 1, from "Good Seeds"

But NOW is Christ risen, the firstfruits of those who have died in Him (I Corinthians 15:20). He who once persecuted us NOW preaches to us the faith he once destroyed (Galatians 1:23). The life which I NOW live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). Beloved, NOW are we the sons of God (1 John 3:2). For you were formerly darkness, but NOW you are light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8). Who in times past were not a people, but NOW are the people of God; then you had not received mercy, but NOW you have mercy in abundance (1 Peter 2:10). Behold, NOW is the acceptable time; NOW is the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2).

That seemingly insignificant little word now fills the pages of Scripture with colossal hope. It is used not only to link the present to the past, but also to contrast the two by showing how much better, thing are NOW, since certain event have transpired and certain decisions have been made. It’s highly instructive and downright inspirational just to see in these verses what a difference this little word has made in the lives of God’s people. We see this difference first in the resurrection of Christ: Had he died only He would only be a martyr, not a savior. History is full of martyrs, who garner our sympathy, even inspire our courage, but cannot save our souls. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, we would be very unsure of our salvation. Although His death paid the penalty for our sin, His resurrection proved there is a life greater than death: His life, which He gives to us. Yes, once we latch onto His life by faith we can know that right NOW we are the sons of God, and we can know that because He lives, we too shall live! And then, notice how the greatest enemy of the early church, Saul, became its greatest champion, Paul. People who knew him both ways couldn’t help but say, “Wow, would you look at him NOW!” We hear it from his own lips: “This life which I NOW live is so glorious, so filled with light. I know what it’s like for others, for that was me: thinking I was enlightened, I was actually stumbling in the dark.” Then Peter gives his perspective of God’s eternal now when he points out the striking contrast between proud religion and pure relationship: “You who think of yourselves as the chosen people of God are actually outside of His favor, apart from the Savior. Your religion teaches you of God’s judgment, but my gospel tells you of His mercy.” And, according to Paul, this salvation is available to all, NOW! But NOW put off quickly becomes TOO LATE You have no guarantee of a time in the future to decide for God. You only have NOW!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FOREWARNED IS FORE-ARMED -- Devotional for September 30, from "Good Seeds"

For a wide door for effective service has opened to me – and there are many adversaries. (I Corinthians 16:9)

Although Satan is “Public Adversary #1,” he has many helpers, some even that he has enlisted from the other side, God’s side! Charles Spurgeon had a faithful prayer team that assembled to pray every Sunday morning while he preached – but they were praying for his downfall! The wide open door for the servant of God is never without stumbling blocks placed at our feet to trip us up if we’re not careful. Sometimes God shuts one door so we will see and enter another door leading to the place and work He has intended for us. Robert Frost spoke of two roads diverging “in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could.” We think the choice is ours, to pick one road over the other. Maybe, but don’t forget that God has particular plans for His children, just as He did for His Son. The “wide door” for Jesus was the open road to Jerusalem, the straight path – a crash course! – to Calvary. Peter, realizing the danger, advised Jesus against going. The Savior’s best friend became his worst enemy that day, if only for a moment. Jesus had to say, “Peter, you’re not helping, you’re hindering. You’re speaking the devil’s words. And you’re being used by him to attempt to plant his thoughts into My mind. So get thee hence!” (see Matthew 16:22-23). Yes, there are many adversaries. We must not be unaware of Satan’s devices, or unmindful of the devil’s tools. Next time you see an open road before you and you are confident you know exactly what to do, for God is leading you – and you hear yourself saying, “Nothing can stop me now!” just watch out: something very big – or worse yet, something very small – may just trip you up, hidden until its advantage over you is secured. We may enjoy smooth sailing for a time, once we’re on God course, but the wide door of opportunity is like the eye of a hurricane – deceptively peaceful, but ready to blow you to kingdom come as soon as you make a move. Be comforted in knowing that no matter what stage of life you are in, and no matter what former strengths you may have lost and new weaknesses you must acknowledge, still there is a wide door of opportunity for you, to live for Jesus, in the unique way God has designed just for you, until your time on earth is over. But know also, that though you desire and anticipate smooth sailing, with strong good winds to fill those sails, the devil has not yet been bound. He’s still on the loose. He’s still that roaring lion, ready to pounce on your plans and devour your dedication (and a lion never roars to announce his coming, but to gloat over his sure victory). Forewarned is fore-armed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY vs. MAN'S STUPIDITY! -- Devotional for September 29, from "Good Seeds"

And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to deserve being struck these three times?” Balaam replied, “Because you have made a fool out of me, and if this whip were a sword I would have killed you by now!” The donkey spoke again: “Am I not your faithful donkey on which you have safely ridden all these years? Have I ever done anything to harm you?” Just then the Lord opened his eyes and he saw what the donkey had seen, the angel of the Lord standing in the road with drawn sword, ready to strike!” (Numbers 22:28-31)

One of the most unusual accounts in the Bible is the story of a dumb animal – by the name of Balaam! No, that wasn’t the donkey’s name, but rather that of her master. He was a prophet of God, but right now not a very good one. It seems Moab and Midian had heard of Israel’s miraculous rescue at the Red Sea, and feared the approach of “God’s horde” into their territories. So Balak king of Moab sent messengers to Balaam requesting he pronounce a curse upon Israel, to weaken them (vs 6). Although Balaam seemed willing enough to comply with this request (shame on him!), especially in light of the lucrative bribe that came with it, he stood by his prophetic “Hippocratic Oath,” telling Balak: “I cannot do anything, small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God” (vs.18). “And as His prophet,” he continued, “I am not able to speak any word but the word God puts in my mouth to speak” (vs. 38). So far, so good! But through the persistence and insistence of the enemy kings Balaam soon finds himself on the road to Moab, prepared to pronounce the curse. Then a strange thing happens, where the roles of man and beast are reversed for a moment: Balaam’s donkey becomes the prophet, speaking to her nearly speechless master words put into her mouth by God. I can see the headline now: INSPIRED CREATURE ADDRESSES DUMB ANIMAL! Here we see God allowing a man to go his own way, for a time, that he may eventually experience the absolute sovereignty of his Lord, even if expressed by the mouth of his donkey. What humiliation, to be instructed and rebuked by your beast of burden, a creature so far beneath you that you could kill it with impunity and without remorse. Someone has said, “When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, calmly submitting to it inwardly as well as outwardly, that is dying to self.” Balaam achieved this in the end, letting go of his stupidity as he latched onto God’s sovereignty, as shown by this talking donkey. What will it take for God’s sovereignty to conquer your stupidity – and mine?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

THE BRIDGE OF FORGIVENESS -- Devotional for September 28, from "Good Seeds"

Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32: Colossians 3:13)

Someone once said, “He who will not forgive another breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” That’s right: to withhold forgiveness is to prevent progress. A person with an unforgiving spirit is like a frontier wagon getting stuck in a bog of mud – you might as well forget about traveling any further: your life may not be over, but it has come to a complete standstill. And you can even forget about trying to make camp for the night. When we get stuck somewhere we might think, “Well, this isn’t so bad! I’ll just settle down and live for a time, or for the rest of my time, right here.” That may work in the case of an injury or a handicap, where you know you can no longer do what you formerly did, or go where you formerly went. “That’s okay,” you tell yourself, “I can live with this new restriction on my life, and even try to make a good life for myself in spite of it all.” That’s the commendable trait of contentment. But contentment and an unforgiving spirit cannot dwell together, for this is not a just an inconvenient alternative environment you’re in – it’s a prison you’re in! That’s right: when you refuse to forgive someone who has hurt you, you handcuff yourself from doing positive, creative things, and lock yourself into a lifestyle of revenge, even hatred – a prison house indeed! When you refuse to forgive someone who has offended you, you restrict yourself from going certain places or doing certain things – even from enjoying certain pleasures – because you must maintain a certain distance from that person. When you refuse to forgive another, you pick open the scab that needs to be left alone in order to allow for eventual healing. To nurse a grudge is to nourish its growth to epic proportions, into a giant of hideous visage and diabolical strength! Refusing to forgive takes on a life of its own, where you no longer have control of your decisions, for you have given that authority over to the one you resent. He may not even be aware of it – and surely would refuse it if he knew – but he’s the one in charge now. The third level of conflict between human beings is personal aggravation, where one person has injured or offended another. In order for healing to take place there must be a confrontation, where the grievance is addressed, the facts of the offense are spelled out, compensation is made, and forgiveness is requested and granted. Reconciliation is the glorious result. You’ve heard of addicts submitting to detoxification – well, forgiveness is spiritual detox. Without it, you remain addicted to your drug of choice; you remain in your own prison; you remain stuck in the mud. And all life progress is halted on the ugly side of the bridge! No wonder the Bible says, “Forgive one another”!

THE LORD TOLD ME! -- Devotional for September 27, from "Good Seeds"

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your family, to the land which I will show you, and I will make you a great nation.” (Genesis 12:1,2)

How often do we hear people so glibly and confidently say, “The Lord told me to do this, to go there, to speak thus…”? Have you said it? Have I? I wonder how God feels about people making Him responsible for directing their words or actions when He really had nothing to do with it? How do I know He didn’t? I don’t, but how does anyone know God did?” I have a strong feeling many Christians live in a dream world concerning the will of God. They want something so badly they contrive the confirmation that God wants them to have it, too. After all, doesn’t Psalm 37:4 make this promise, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”? Yes, but the promise comes with a condition: the blessing from the Lord is given only to those who "delight themselves in Him". Does this just mean we enjoy singing His praises and studying His Word, or is it something more? The Bible tells us that if we would gain from God we must give in, and give up, to God. To delight in Him means to cease delighting in self, erasing any personal delight that may lead us away from putting Him first. The verse mentions “desires of your heart,” but it is our own selfish desires that we must die to. “More than that,” Paul wrote, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). It is only when we have consecrated our all to God that He will place within us the desires He wants us to have. This verse is not saying God will give us whatever we want, but rather put within us the desires of His own choosing. Once we deny our desires, there is room to receive much better ones from Him, that will bring joy to us and glory to Him! It is when we have finally given all our hopes and dreams and expectations to God, for Him to do with what He pleases, that He will say, “Do this! Say that! Go there!” and we will KNOW it is God speaking, because our own desires have lost their commanding voice, in favor of His. When leaving a church I had pastored for six years, I received this nasty, anonymous note: “You say God told you to leave us. I doubt that! It’s just what YOU WANT, and now you’re trying to make it sound so spiritual, and make yourself look so holy, by saying it’s a God thing. Some of us are of the opinion that this is just a Steve thing!” Ouch! That really hurt. But my cowardly critic had a point: If we say our decisions come from God, they’d better be free from the desires that come from man!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

LEVEL ONE CONFLICTS -- Devotional for September 26, from "Good Seeds"

Love is not irritable or touchy; it keeps no record of being wronged, and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. (1 Corinthians 13:5-6)

Experts in conflict management have identified five levels of contention: Irritation, Disagreement, Aggravation, Exasperation, and Desperation. These are progressively more serious, requiring progressively more complicated means of resolution. Level One, Irritation, happens when a purely accidental incident occurs – maybe someone bumps into you inadvertently, or says something a bit awkward or off-the-wall. What should be said or done in such cases? Well, of course we say, “Excuse me,” or “Whoops!” but then we forget it and move on, right? Such minor irritations happen every day, many times a day – and we are just as often the perpetrators as we are the recipients of these annoying trivialities. It takes only an average amount of thick skin and self-discipline to pass them off without another thought. With just a normal dose of magnanimity we can brush off such incidents, give quick forgiveness and continue to assume the best about the other person, sure he meant nothing mean or malicious by it. But then, how is it that even the most mature believers are so quick to be offended at such slights and bumps in the road between them and their friends or loved ones? A husband makes a hasty, maybe even slightly unthinking, comment to his wife. “What did you mean by that?” she accuses. “I didn’t mean anything by that!” he fires back – and the fireworks begin. This quote from classic author, George Eliot (she wasn’t a Christian, and yet spoke so clearly Christianly here in this interpretation of the biblical solution):

O the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a
person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but
pouring all out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that
a faithful, friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth
keeping, and with a breath of understanding, blow the rest away.

What a beautifully poetic and practical expression of this definition of agape love found in I Corinthians 13:5-6: “Real love hardly even notices it when others do it wrong.” But so often just the opposite is the case: Although we can quickly forgive strangers when an irritation occurs, when it happens between loved ones, questions pop up. (And of course, maybe we DID mean something by it!) This is where another command comes into play: “I say to you that every careless word you utter you will give account for in the day of judgment, for by your words you shall be justified – and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matt. 12:36). A balance is called for here: Remember that the mouth is the mouthpiece of the heart, but also remember what love does when others’ words offend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

TOO SOON TO QUIT -- Devotional for September 25, from "Good Seeds"

Now, behold, today I turn eighty-five, but I am still as strong today as when Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so it is today. Now, therefore, give me this land. (Joshua 14:10-12)

The time came, not too long ago, when I turned the big SIX–O. “Hey, once you reach your sixties,” I hear my loved ones, my culture – and worse yet, myself – telling me, “it will soon be time to slow down, shift gears; time to dust off that old fishing pole and rocking chair, time to start getting used to sunsets!” My own body has been telling me this for awhile now – it seems to be falling right in line with that old standby, the second law of thermodynamics. Yes, I’m settling down, down to the ground; I’m breaking down, slowing down, running down – each trophy slowly turning into atrophy! But I stand up to this tendency; I curse this curse, and will fight with everything in me not to give up – not to EVER give up! I think of those very serious words in the movie spoof of Star Trek, GALAXY QUEST: “Never surrender, never give up!” The words they made light of, I take as a heavy -- and heavenly -- mandate! Here’s an excerpt from a poem I wrote the year I turned sixty. It remains my testimony of consecration, to fulfill God’s mission in me until He’s finished with me, here, and puts me back to work, up there! But in the meantime, it’s still too soon to quit…
How old, my friend, is too old to grow?
How far, my brother, is too far to go?
How late, my Jesus, is too late to start
In chasing my dream and in following Your heart?

Remember old Caleb, at age eighty-five,
Still laughing and growing – still so much alive!
Still out fighting giants; for God claiming hills;
Neither tired nor retired, but still finding thrills.

When his friends started yawning, he was still yearning;
When in chairs they were rocking, he was still learning:
His life, an adventure, though way past his prime –
Still grabbing the future one day at a time!

What is this saying to you and to me?
That it’s too soon to quit, and too late to flee!
So just stay on task, moving forward, not back.
Go take that hill – but “don’t take no flak!”

Never surrender – never give up!
It’s always too soon to quit.
Go get your orders from heaven’s headquarters,
And go out and get on with it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

CARELESS IN THE CARE OF GOD -- Devotional for September 24, from "Good Seeds"

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description – careless in the care of God! But you count much more to Him than birds. Have any of you, by fussing in front of a mirror, ever gotten taller by so much as an inch, or younger by so much as a day? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color or design quite like theirs? If God gives such attention to His wildflowers – most of which are never seen – don’t you think He’ll attend to you, take pride in you, and do His best for you and in you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving! People who don’t know God fuss over these things. But you know both God and how He works – so stop fussing! Rather, steep your life in God’s provisions, and God’s reality, and stop worrying about missing out! (Matthew 6:26-33)

What is the greatest sermon ever preached? Many say it is our Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). If so, what’s so great about it? Is it steeped in deep theology? Does it gush with cross-references and word studies? Does it soar with the tongues of men and flow with the language of angels? To all of these we might have to answer, “Not especially!” Jesus just speaks to everyday people with everyday problems, with everyday language that even a child can understand - a good thing since we’re all just children when it comes to the things of the heart. And that's what makes this sermon so great: it speaks to the heart. A lecture peeks into the head of a man, but a sermon penetrates deep into the heart of a man. It does this because it addresses his deepest hurts, needs and desires. Jesus looked around Him and all He saw were wondering, worrying people. Then He looked above their heads, up into the trees, and over their shoulders, out into the fields – and He had His sermon: “Folks, follow my eyes; see what I see, and you’ll cease to fret. Don’t just look at your need, look at God’s provision! Don’t just look at your looks – your looks – look at God’s! In His creatures, the birds, and in His creation, the flowers, you have a glimpse of Him and His ways. How could He possibly not care about something He made? As down-and-out as you may feel right now, surely you still can admit that you are far and away more important and valuable to God than a lowly sparrow or an uncultivated crocus – and yet look how He feeds them, and dresses them! Maybe it’s time we all stopped worrying about missing out, and start noticing instead how God is looking out – for us!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LION'S DEN ORDEAL -- Devotional for September 23, from "Good Seeds"

Then King Darius sent this order throughout the land, “I now decree that all my subjects will fear and tremble before the God of Daniel, for He is the living and eternal God; His dominion will be forever, and He works wonders for His people, as we have seen today when He delivered Daniel from the jaws of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27)

Human logic tells us that good things happen to good people, while bad things are reserved for bad people. And the Bible seems to corroborate this thinking with verses like Galatians 6:8 and Hosea 8:7: “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap; he who sows to the flesh shall of his flesh reap corruption. Sow the wind and you shall reap the whirlwind.” Surely it is a universal axiom that “God has made misery to be the child of sin.” Okay, but then why does it so often turn out quite differently in the real world? The pages of history are strewn with stories of wicked men who nevertheless lived long and prospered, before dying peacefully in their sleep, while others abhorred evil and followed righteousness their whole lives long, only to meet trouble at every turn. Daniel is a perfect example of one of these. He lived a life of quiet faithfulness, serving God and man uprightly, earning a reputation of flawless integrity – and yet he continually faced unjust persecution, and sometimes grave bodily danger. Of course we know that it was his clean record that got him in so much trouble. Noticing his pristine character, the king decided to promote Daniel to the rank of prime minister. When his fellow advisors got wind of it, jealousy drove them to contrive the wicked scheme that led to Daniel spending the night in a den of hungry lions. They could have consumed him in a matter of minutes (which is just what they did with the next human meal served up to them – verse 24), but it wasn’t Daniel’s day to die – even if it would take a miracle to prevent it. Since Darius had always thought so highly of Daniel, he was extremely relieved to find his favored servant still in the land of the living. But things were not back to normal – not for the king, and not for the kingdom. Not knowing people cannot be forced to believe in God, he tried anyway, if only because his own belief had become so strong. For years he had believed in Daniel – but now, because of the lion’s den incident, he believed in Daniel’s God! In a movie I viewed recently our hero had not lived such a noble life as Daniel, but after enduring a “lion’s den ordeal,” his father, who had been praying for him for years, came to him and said, “Son, I have asked God to show how strong He can be in your life, and that through you people will see just how good and great He is.” Then both men wept tears of joy, and praise to God, not only for rescuing His child, but for bringing a witness to the world through him!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

THE JOSHUA GENERATION -- Devotional for September 22, from "Good Seeds"

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord, which He had done for Israel. (Judges 2:7)

Societies may flourish for a time, but eventually will perish when governed by an iron-fisted dictator, when led by the wispy will of the fickle majority, or when running free to please themselves, bowing to no god but the sickly god, Anarchy. But America is not like that. It is a nation ruled by rules, not by rulers; by laws, not by mobs. But this does not mean we don’t have capable leaders and colorful heroes. At our great nation’s foundation were the noble Founding Fathers. Our constitution established a triumvirate, where a healthy if not always friendly balance is maintained between those who make the laws, those who interpret them, and those who enforce them. Laws alone cannot rule. Laws are objective, but impersonal. Enter men who abide by law, but who also model it, in spirit, not just in letter. One of our nearly forgotten patriotic songs says, “Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of Liberty, to Thee we sing.” Our laws define and preserve liberty, but those who formed them knew liberty’s roots. Our forefathers worshiped the Heavenly Father, theirs and ours. We love our great nation, and value its pristine constitution and the freedom it defines, but we will bow only before the divine Author of Liberty. Of course many in our nation make no such acknowledgment and give no such allegiance to a power any higher than their good laws and great men. But we must look beyond our heroes to our heroes’ God. Still, we know we could not have survived without the noble leaders that dot the landscape of our history. Such a man, of another nation and another time, was Joshua. The people he led were a motley sort – well, no worse, I suppose, than any other rag-tag nation of any other era, but it’s amazing how well they fared under his leadership. Joshua was not only strong and wise – he was godly. He didn’t just know the law of Moses – he also knew the God of Moses! When Egypt’s soldiers and chariots were inundated at the Red Sea, while Israel miraculously passed through dry-shod, Pharaoh said of Moses, “HIS GOD IS GOD!” A true enough statement, but not enough to earn heaven. Joshua took it a step further when he said: “His God is my God, too.” And it was by this profession of faith that he, his generation, and the one to follow, lived to bask in God’s blessing. This was the Joshua Generation. But then arose a generation that knew not Joshua, nor his elders, nor his God. They forsook the God of their fathers. It seems that now America is going that way, too. But not all! Not I! Not you? For this, for us, is still the Joshua Generation, and we have a God to claim!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A HOPE SANDWICH -- Devotional for September 21, from "Good Seeds"

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for. (I Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 11:1)

Faith, hope and love make a nice sandwich. The two pieces of bread are faith and love; hope is the meat. Just as without tuna, or ham, or peanut butter, you haven’t got much of a sandwich, so without hope, the slices of faith and love won’t give much satisfaction. This reminds me of an old joke: “Ever had a jam sandwich? It’s pretty boring: it’s just two pieces of bread jammed together!” Well, you can jam faith and love together as much as you want, but without hope, it doesn’t work. I heard Pastor Ray Johnston say I Corinthians 13:13 is the most theological verse in the entire Bible. What he said next convinced me he was right: As important as faith and love are, they’re lifeless apart from hope. We read in Hebrews 11:1,“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” This seems to say that if we don’t have things to hope for, faith can’t happen. And what about love? Real love is rooted in faith: you can’t love someone you don’t trust, right? Love relies on faith, just as faith hinges on hope. Faith and love are two of the most well known and beloved themes of the Christian life. Look at all the sermons preached and books written and songs sung about them. But these “bread slices” don’t work apart from hope. We leave out this “meat” and then wonder why our “sandwich” is so bland! All our efforts in faith and love will fail if we fail in hope. In Revelation 12:10 Satan is called “The accuser of the brethren.” Our greatest enemy’s greatest weapon is discouragement, the “kryptonite” of hope. Discouragement poisons hope, destroying any chance for faith and love to come to life. You don’t have to be a Christian very long before you experience discouragement. Paul certainly had his share – but he learned the antidote and passed it on to us: “Let us not become weary in well doing, for at the proper time (God’s time) we WILL reap a harvest IF we do not give up.” Everyone gets down, but no one needs to stay down. Failing doesn’t make you a failure; failing to bounce back does. Despondency, Depression, Discouragement –- these are the lies of Satan to keep us down until we die as failures for the kingdom, slipping into eternity with our tail between our legs! Galatians 6:9 promises that God will do His part: HE WILL show up, rescue us, and bring a harvest of fruit through us. But for so many of us that harvest never happens. Why? We don’t do our part: “IF WE do not give up,” it says. Too often when we get down, we stay down. Our speaker sent us away with this challenge: “The only one who can stop God from showing up in my life is me!” Everything matters too much for us to stay down! We’ve got to bounce back – and by His grace, we can!

THE MEN'S WEARHOUSE -- Devotional for September 20, from "Good Seeds"

When others see you, let them notice first your chaste and respectful behavior. When they look at you, even at what you are wearing, may it not be your external appearance that draws their attention. No, rather let even the way you dress reveal the hidden person of the heart, the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. This is most precious in the sight of God. (I Peter 5:2-4)

A church that was looking for a new pastor included this interesting question on their candidate application form: “What style of dress do you prefer for Sunday morning worship, and why?” The question strikes me as unusual only in that dress codes in church are usually directed more to the women than to the men – maybe because fashion and appearance seem to have greater significance to the fairer sex, and also have a greater impact on society, both inside and outside of the church. So, how should the potential pastor answer this question regarding his wardrobe for Sunday services? Some schools handle the issue of propriety in dress by requiring uniforms for students. And many churches do the same by having their ministers don clerical vestments when performing their priestly functions. But where does that leave the pastors of churches with a less formal (dare we say less Old Testament!) persuasion? In I Corinthians 7:25 Paul wrote this to fathers regarding their unmarried daughters, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of God is trustworthy.” By application we could replace virgins with other topics also not directly addressed in the Bible. Although Paul said this was merely his opinion, this is inspired Scripture, after all, so it becomes the opinion of God, too! Keeping that in mind, other trustworthy spokesmen for God can still very carefully proceed to give their “sanctified opinion” on certain matters. Here’s my suggested rule of thumb for the question before us: Let the pastor observe what the men who are looked up to in the church are wearing, and then match that. No Christian, man or woman, should draw attention, either for being too fancy or too casual. To attend church dressed in everyday or even sloppy clothes shows disrespect to the people, to the Lord, and to His house. But to “overdress” in flashy clothes is to say, “I’m a cut above, so look at me, and notice me as a person of distinction and importance!” In Matthew 6 we read Christ’s opinion about that: “Do not parade up and down the street advertising your humility – when fasting, or your spirituality – when giving.” And in I Peter 5 we find God’s policy for both men and women: “Let what you wear reflect who you are, deep inside – and may that be “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, so precious in the sight of God!”

FRIENDSHIP ISN'T A BIG THING -- Devotional for September 19, from "Good Seeds"

Make sure thy friend. A man of many friends comes to ruin, but look for that friend who will stick to you closer than any brother. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. As perfume makes the heart glad, so good counsel is sweet to a friend. Do not forsake your friend or your father’s friend, for better is a near neighbor than faraway kin. As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another. (Proverbs 6:3; 18:24; 27:6,9-10,17)

We find in the book of Proverbs a great concentration of teaching on friendship, and more in Proverbs 27 than in any other chapter. We would do well to examine both the encouragements and the warnings concerning friendship that we find in the Bible. The verses before us today focus on the positive aspects of a good friendship. Remember, when it comes to friends, quality is the only thing that counts. As the Prodigal Son discovered, friends are a dime a dozen when you have money to freely spend on them, but “nobody knows you when you’re down and out.” It is when you have nothing to offer except your hurts and your needs that you discover who your true friends are – or even if you have any! As goes the old saying, “A friend in need (in your time of need) is a friend indeed.” This is the friend who will “stick closer than a brother” to you. Kin stick together and stick up for one another because of their common roots. But because “familiarity breeds contempt,” relatives all too quickly desert their own. On the other hand, a true friendship has a kind of glue far stronger than mere common ancestry. Whatever may be the make-up of that glue, it will be a bond that keeps your friend near in your adversity, when anyone else would have disappeared long ago. We sing, “Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.” But what are those cords? The love of God, surely: the love He has for us, and puts in us, for Him and for others. When hard times come, that’s when you can easily sort your friends into levels of faithfulness. If by that process at least one remains, you are in good shape. This may be the only way – surely it is the most dependable way – to “make sure thy friend.” But then we must give this friend permission to penetrate past our defenses and walls, permission to back us down when we’re wrong, right along with backing us up when we’re right. Those who “kiss up” to us may seem like friends, but a true friend will risk wounding us if he’s confident it is the surgeon’s scalpel he is wielding and not the blackguard’s dagger. His harsh words of rebuke will turn to sweet healing balm, if we will but endure and receive them. Through these principles we can learn that friendship is not a big thing, but rather a million little things!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

THE GREATEST MODEL OF FRIENDSHIP -- Devotional for September 18, from "Good Seeds"

NOTE TO READERS: I am behind a few days now, due to a music conference I attended on Friday and Saturday, where I was totally occupied and not able to write, other than take notes and take in wonderful information and inspiration at the Thriving Musicians Summit. The next few blogs will no doubt reflect out some of what shone into my soul these past few days. -- Steve

The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. He made a covenant with him by stripping himself of his robe and armor and weapons and presenting them to his friend. Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you ask, I will do for you.” (I Samuel 18:1,3,4; 20:4)

In the Bible we find powerful models of greatness: Moses was the greatest leader of all time. How many could match Noah, who more than any other “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). Noah also “walked with God” (verse 9), as did Enoch (5:22), and their great-granddaddy (and ours!) Adam! (3:8-10). When we think of faith, we think of Abraham. Daniel was great in prayer; David, in song. Job was the personification of patience. Paul stands unrivaled as a theologian, and also the greatest foreign missionary. Elijah and Stephen are tied for the most courageous, Peter as the most outrageous! The name Mary is associated with extreme worship (seen in four Mary’s of the New Testament). Joseph exemplified purity; Solomon, wisdom (though if you asked Jesus who was “the greatest man born of woman,” He would say John the Baptist – see Matthew 11:11). But now, what about friendship? We know Jesus as the Friend of Sinners, for Who could He possibly be speaking of besides Himself when He said, “Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)? But of all others born of woman, there is probably no greater model of friendship than Jonathan. He was not a great friend because he had so many friends – indeed, we are told only of one, David. Friendship is never a question of quantity, but quality. In this age of the Internet, there is this networking tool called “Facebook,” which enables people to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. I’ve heard folks brag about how many friend connections they’ve made via their computer – in the thousands! But I’d rather hear the boasts of David and Jonathan, and pattern my friendships after theirs. Jesus taught us how to love God: with every ounce of our being. But how did He say to love our neighbor? “As ourselves” (Matthew 22:36-40). What a curious description of love! Wouldn’t silly love songs that say, “I will swim the deepest ocean and climb the highest mountain for you” sound sillier yet with, “oh and also: I will love you as much as I love myself”? And yet, this is the key ingredient to friendship, for “No man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”(Ephesians 5:29). To love another like that, to do for him what you’d do for yourself, even at your own expense, is how one human soul is knit to another. Sounds like marriage, doesn’t it -- which is one of many wonderful ways to experience friendship.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

IT'S A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP -- Devotional for September 17, from "Good Seeds"

The God who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything. For He Himself gives life and breath to all living things. (Acts 17:24-25)

The Athenians had a veritable “theme park” of idols. They were as proud of their many gods as they were confused by the position this put them in. Maybe that’s why they came up with their catch-all “Altar to the Unknown God.” In every territory Paul visited on his missionary journeys he met up with new definitions of deity and different ways to worship. This said to him that people somehow have gotten the idea that religion is something they can be creative with, and their gods can be of their own choosing and according to their own design. This, then, became the first point in Paul’s sermon – that is, after catching their attention with his bold statement: “I know something you don’t know!” He still was not talking about Jesus. Not yet. The Son of God would be the focal point of His message – indeed the Cross of Christ is at the crossroads of all human history, as His resurrection is the greatest contradiction of Satan’s counterfeits – but first the people needed some basic understanding about the Creator God. They needed to be corrected on their false notion that a man can own God, that he can fashion a figurine, give it attributes and personality, and then ascribe to it deity. Men like to bow down to gods of their own making, for by this they can worship themselves – the works of their own hands and minds (what they naturally long to do) – with impunity. So Paul starts his sermon where every preacher must start: “Let me tell you about God. First, we must define our terms: anyone claiming to be God has to be the Creator of the universe and everything in it – and if He made it, He rules it! How could any man think he could contain a God like that, that he could bottle Him up, put a label on Him, and sell Him as a product to credulous customers? And how dare he try to slake the very real thirst and satisfy the legitimate hunger of men for their Maker by offering up fare as simplistic as it is ridiculous, that God could be defined, refined, controlled and contained, whether in their lavish Main Street Temple, or in their Backlot Idol Yard! When I go with the gospel to Japan this is what I say: “I don’t come to you with American religion (for we all know our two countries worship the same god: money!). And I don’t ask you to trade in your boring local gods for an exciting new foreign one. God is not Someone we can barter for or dispute over. God is the King of the whole world, and the Giver of our very breath – and He can take it away! It is this God we must get to know – and the sooner the better!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PAUL, THE STREET PREACHER -- Devotional for September 16, from "Good Seeds"

Paul stood in the middle of Mars Hill and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious, for while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship I saw an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” What therefore you worship in ignorance I now proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22-23)

Years ago I attended a week of gospel services at our local fairgrounds, conducted by one of Billy Graham’s associate evangelists. The interesting thing about his messages was that though they were thoroughly biblical, they were laced throughout with quotes from that day’s edition of the local newspaper. We looked forward to each night’s message, to discover what current sports event, government problem, human interest story, crime, accident or juicy local gossip might find its way into his sermon – and then to see how he would use it to bring men to Christ. Isn’t that just what Paul did on Mars Hill? The first rule in public speaking is to garner attention. If Paul had started right in preaching the blood of Christ – or the end of the world – he would have been ignored as just one more religious nut. Instead, he just mingled for a while. If there had been a local paper, he would have bought one and scoured its pages for ideas. As it was, he found just the “baited hook” he needed in the colorful “news story” he picked up while on a self-guided tour through the “idol graveyard” of the Areopagus. The second rule of thumb in gaining a hearing in the public square is to pay the people a compliment (but make sure it is genuine, for they will quickly pick up the flattering tone of the salesman and turn you off). Paul saw evidence that these people were seriously religious, and he said as much to them. They were proud and pleased to see that this noble stranger had noticed one of their city’s strong points. Paul did notice it, but its strength, to him, was as a perfect point of entry for the gospel. As far as they were concerned he was no more than an interested admirer of their artistic, religious relics. So smoothly, then, does he slide from observation to declaration that his hearers hardly notice what is happening. Still thinking Paul is enamored with their “holy hill,” they hear his comment about its central altar. We might say it was like Arlington Cemetery, with every eye trained on “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” - but for them it was the unknown God. What a perfect opportunity to bring to seekers of the truth the very truth they sought! Paul said, in effect, “Good for you – you’re on the right track, but you’ve bogged down, haven’t you! Let me help you finish your journey to enlightenment. It just so happens I know this illusive god of yours – I can tell you His name, and everything about him. Interested? Stay tuned!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

E.G.R. -- Devotional for September 15, from "Good Seeds"

When Jesus came out of the boat He was met by a man with an unclean spirit, who made his dwelling among the tombs. No one had been able to subdue him so they had bound him with shackles and chains. But even from these he broke free, and day and night went into the mountains crying out in his misery and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance he ran to Him, bowed down, and cried out with a loud voice, “O Son of the Most High God, I implore You, do not torment me!” (Mark 5:2-7)

When I was a public school teacher, I enjoyed this inside joke with my colleagues: “Teaching would be the most wonderful job in the world – if it weren’t for the kids!” Then I became a pastor and discovered teachers didn’t have a corner on that joke, for I heard my fellow clerics jesting (we can only hope they were jesting!): “The pastorate would be the ideal profession – if it weren’t for people!” It’s a joke because without kids in the classroom, or people in the pew, teachers and pastors would be out of a job. But what’s really behind the joke is the fact that every classroom, and every church, has an individual or two who is, well, difficult (some might say, “a real handful!”) In the school, they are slow to learn, quick to disrupt. In the church they are slow to smile, quick to complain – and judge. While schools benevolently call them their Special Needs Kids, the church has its own buzzword for dealing with trouble-makers: E.G.R. = Extra Grace Required. Today’s cars have an EGR valve, for gas efficiency. Well, Jesus has grace sufficiency: a heart release valve for hurting, hurtful, even hateful people, whom the rest of us at best tolerate, at worst isolate (or maybe even put in “shackles and chains” -- for the protection of society and the maintenance of order, you understand!) We go out of our way to avoid these problem people, building walls and institutions to create a protective space between our precious humanity and their parasitic insanity! What did Jesus do? He went out of His way the other way, to rub shoulders with the “socially challenged.” He wore as a badge of honor the criticism He received for being a friend to publicans and prostitutes! What will we do? Are we not commissioned by the Son of God, and empowered by the Spirit of God, to do the work of God? The things Jesus did while walking among men are the things He has left us to do, “and greater works shall you do,” He said,“because I go to My Father” (John 14:12-16). So, the next time a shabby stinky ne’er-do-well, or a problem child, or a churlish church member, invades your personal space, don’t turn away, don’t build a wall, and don’t create a new program. Just remember: if it’s a case of E.G.R., a sufficient supply of that extra grace is yours from God for the asking!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A WORKER'S PRAYER -- Devotional for September 14, from "Good Seeds"

He’s the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort others in their affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (II Corinthians 1:3-4)

I love the comment I heard once and now often quote regarding the principle reflected in this verse: “God comforts us not just to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.” It takes a certain maturity to turn blessing received into blessing given. A baby demands everything and gives nothing (but cuteness!). A child receives, with little thought of giving. An immature adult takes with no intention of paying. But when we grow, we grow out of such self-serving ways. Paul wrote, “When I was a child I thought and spoke and acted like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). It requires not just maturity, but godly character, to realize everything we are and have is a stewardship from God, not to be squandered on self or indulged in for our own pleasure, but to be transformed into loving, useful service to others for the glory and pleasure of God. Frances Havergal embellished this principle in a hymn we seldom sing any more (too bad!):

Lord, speak to me that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou hast sought, so let me seek
Thy erring children lost and lone.

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
The precious things Thou dost impart;
And wing my words that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.

So our axiom can be expanded to, “God speaks to us so that we can speak to others; He seeks us, reaches out to us, and teaches us, so that we in turn will do these things to others." These verses -- both of the Scripture and the hymn -- should be on the wall of every pastor’s study, for why are we here if not to speak God's life-giving Word to a dying world, and to reach as we teach into the hidden depths of many a lonely or erring heart? By the way, though this hymn is entitled, “Lord, Speak to Me” in most hymnals today, Ms. Havergal called it, “A Worker’s Prayer.” There are Christians, whose “sins have been forgiven and they’re on their way to heaven” – and then there are Christian workers, who are saved not just to be safe, but “saved to tell others.” Which describes you?

HOW COULD I MISS SO MUCH SOMEONE I HAVE NEVER KNOWN? -- Devotional for September 13, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me have you believed? Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed.” Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory: (John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8)

In the movie, “Facing the Giants,” the coach of the Shiloh High School football team was fearing removal after six unremarkable seasons. He felt like a failure at home, too, for after four “unsuccessful seasons” of trying to get pregnant, he and his wife remained childless. “Lord, You know we love You and have dedicated our lives to You – and yet You deprive us of even these simplest of blessings. Why?” It was especially hard on the wife, for whenever she saw children with their mothers, she cringed with envy and sorrow, wishing for a little one of her own. One day she lamented to her husband, “How could I miss so much someone I have never known?” Her mother’s instincts had gone into overdrive as she imagined herself cuddling and dressing and feeding – and loving – the faceless, nameless child she feared she would never have. What she said in despondency and doubt, Christians can say in faith and hope: “O Jesus, though I have never seen You, I love You. Someday I will see You – but right now, O how I miss You!" After His resurrection Jesus had appeared several times to His disciples, but for some reason Thomas was not among them. When he heard reports that His Lord had conquered death and was again “in the land of the living,” well, it was just too much to hope for. Human wisdom says, “If it’s ‘too good to be true,’ it usually is!” If Thomas were alive today we’d say he was from Missouri, the “Show-Me State!” Without seeing for himself he just couldn’t allow himself to believe. For that weakness he will (hopefully not) forever be called, “Doubting Thomas”! On yet another appearance of Jesus to His disciples, Thomas was in attendance, and Jesus accommodated his doubts by showing him His crucifixion scars. Though his doubts were assuaged, he didn’t have the unspeakable joy that should have followed, not when Jesus had to chide Him: “My friend, I have given you your desire, but with it comes “leanness to your soul” (Ps. 106:15). There’s a blessing reserved for all who see Jesus with spiritual eyes, though their physical eyes have not yet had the pleasure. This takes strong faith, leading to deep love, causing surprising joy. Do you miss Him whom you have never seen? Good. God’s got you right where He wants you. And just like a baby was born to that childless couple, you and I will someday see and hear and touch (I John 1:1) the Lover of our souls, and walk with Him in the Paradise of Glory!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

WITH GOD, EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE -- Devotional for September 12, from "Good Seeds"

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

We live in the age of the super hero. In a few weeks the youngsters will be dressing up for Halloween again. Many no longer go as hobos or ghosts, but rather as Spider Man or Wonder Woman (or whoever holds the current title of the one with the most outrageous super powers). No matter how clever are the sinister villains that hold the city in their clutches, we can depend on god-like men or women to come flying in to rescue helpless humanity. (A little ditty is now crowding my mind and won’t leave: “Here he comes to save the day: Mighty Mouse is on the way"). Just harmless fun for kids, right? Maybe, but some never grow up to realize super powers are at the disposal of any man or woman who looks to God, and not to self, to do the job. This song by Eugene Clark beautifully illustrates my point (It was too short, so I added a verse)…

Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God;
Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in His Word.
Hearken to the voice of God to thee,
“Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Then put your trust in God alone and rest upon His Word.
For everything, O everything,
Yes everything is possible with God!

Nothing is impossible when you listen to God’s call;
Nothing is impossible when you give to Him your all.
Bring your burdens to Him every day,
Whatever happens praise Him anyway!
For God alone is on the throne – He won’t desert His own,
So trust the Lord and heed His Word,
And know all things are possible with God!

Someone said, “Imagine what things you would attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail!” But of course we don’t know that. We take risks all the time, and more often than not fall flat on our faces. Why? Maybe an important ingredient for success is missing: trust in God. Fantasy super heroes depend on a supposedly limitless internal power supply, but true heroes know that power is on available in God. As long as super heroes are treated as gods those looking to them have no access to the true God. But believer, you have all of heaven’s resource at your disposal, and if you are bent on doing God’s bidding, why would He relent from giving His enabling power? So, imagine once more: What feats, my friend, would you attempt if you knew God would lead you, and strengthen you, and you couldn't fail?

Friday, September 11, 2009

9 1 1 -- Devotional for September 11, from "Good Seeds"

Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. (Matthew 24:41; Proverbs 27:1)

No matter what year it is now, dear reader, chances are good that you know the significance of the brief title of today’s devotion. And no matter your nationality, surely you remember that on this date, 9/11, in 2001 occurred the worst attack from a foreign enemy upon Americans on their own soil in the history of the nation. Nearly 3000 civilians perished when two hijacked domestic airliners were guided like missiles by Jihadist suicide pilots right into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. What a grisly coincidence that the digits of the date match those of the familiar telephone number we use to call in an emergency! And now I join with others in a moment of silence on this, another day “that will live in infamy,” to honor and remember my fallen fellow Americans. But why did it happen? What could possibly have provoked these men to conceive and carry out such a maniacal scheme? As important as those questions may be, another question far more relevant and timely looms before us: “How do we prepare ourselves for sudden tragedy? What can be done ahead of time, so that if calamity strikes, we will be braced and ready?” Today’s two Scriptures are a good starting place. The first refers to an event of unimaginable proportion, when a large segment of the world’s population will disappear, spirited away by God Himself. The second Scripture presents a life principle based on an astute observance of the human condition: We prepare for the future first by admitting we can’t know it! The scenario painted in James 4:13-14 illustrates that principle: “Come now, you who brag on your plans for travel and commerce and financial success. Don’t you realize you have no power over future circumstances?” There are just two many variables out of the range of our clever plans or personal expertise. This is not to say we shouldn’t ambitiously pursue a good and productive life, but we must do it with the full awareness that it could all be gone in an instant. The two women grinding at the mill could be two co-workers in the Trade Center: one gone in an instant, the other left behind, to work another day and earn another dollar. Let these somber truths stand as a reminder to be on the best of terms with man and God, for at any moment you could be saying goodbye to the one while being ushered into the presence of the Other. And if you’re not right with Him through faith in His Son, the horrors of what you endured on earth will pale against the holocaust of what you’ll face for all eternity! In that day, a 9-1-1 call will be no more than a faint and distant memory!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AN UNASKED-FOR MIRACLE -- Devotional for September 10, from "Good Seeds"

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son. You shall name Him Jesus, but He will be called the SON of the Most High.” Mary responded, How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “With God, nothing is impossible!” (Luke 1:26-37)

Young virgin Mary was just going about her business when it happened. It wasn’t quite “business as usual” though, for she was engaged to be married. We don’t know if they had set a date yet, but Joseph and Mary certainly had set their hearts on one another, and a bright future together. Enter: Gabriel, bearer of tidings that would change forever the simple hopes of this simple, good couple. And Mary herself was not quite a “business as usual” person, what we’d call today “a typical teenager.” We see this first in the way the angel addressed her, “Hail, favored one,” speaking of God’s sovereign choice of the maiden to bear His Son. But later the wording is varied: “Mary, you have found favor with God.” Was it her character, her faith, her purity? We don’t know, but there was something about her – along with whatever was in the mind of God – that made her the perfect choice as the “Mother of the Son of God” (a better rendering of that common phrase). The lesson that hits home to me in this event concerns an unasked-for miracle. Joe Christian reads this passage and immediately latches onto verse 37 as a promise from God just for him; and then he “names it and claims it” regarding the particular miracle he has in mind, that he wouldn’t mind God performing for him – and the sooner the better! This brand of Christianity smacks more of Christian superstition than pure religion. If it merely irritated fellow believers, I suppose we could bear with it, in Christian love. But surely it bodes poorly for the testimony of Bible truth to the unbelieving world, when they witness Christians who are always on the lookout for a better deal from God. How is this any different from those regular attenders of another kind of “church” – the gambling casino: “Come on, Lady Luck, smile on me tonight!” This is about as far from God’s way as you can get! The miracle that was about to take place in the body and life of Mary was all of God. She was mystified by it, and someday she would be mortified by it (as Simeon prophesied: “The child will be a sword to pierce you own soul” Luke 2:34). But, having not asked for this blessed burden, she accepts it with a smile and says, “Be it done to me according to Your Word” (verse 38). That’s the kind of person God will entrust with His miracles. Don’t ask, but be ready when it comes, for whatever impossible but wonderful thing God has whipped up for you!

OH WELL! BOO-HOO! NOW WHAT? -- Devotional for September 9, from "Goods Seeds"

They passed through Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them. So they went to Troas. There Paul had a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia standing on the shore and pleading, “Come over and help us!” Paul concluded that God was calling him to preach there instead. (Acts 16:6-10)

In the film dramatization of Julia Child’s life, she gets word that her publishers have decided to scrap the cookbook they’d encouraged her to write. After six years of preparation, the project is abandoned! Her loving husband worries that she’ll feel abandoned, too. Indeed, she sits in stunned silence for a moment, giving time for the facts to sink in, but not enough time to get a pity party started! We know that from what happened next: with a definite, if not defiant, smile, she says, “Oh well! Boo-hoo! Now what? What can we learn from her interesting response: 1) Oh well – meaning, “I did what I could and what I thought I should. But the project failed. So what! It may be a failure, but I’m not! I am not the personification of my project. It may be dead, but I’m still very much alive! 2) Boo-hoo! This is telling us we must allow time and space for grieving, a very necessary step. But there’s some good self-talk here, too: “I’m not going to be a baby about this, or make it bigger than it is” – which naturally leads to 3) Now what?” This is a positive look to future possibilities: “Maybe this bad news sets the stage for much better news, down the line. (The cookbook eventually does get published, by the way, becoming the definitive and hugely popular resource on French cooking). But I don’t need to know – don’t even want to know – the final outcome. I just need to know what to do now, that’s all. For the shaken but uninjured rider who has just been thrown from a horse, the advice is always: “Get up and get right back on. Let that horse know who’s boss!” Paul and his mission team were at a loss as to where they should go with the gospel. Every turn seemed to be met with an obstacle of one kind or another. Then, in the middle of a sleepless night, while replaying over and over his disappointment about all the closed doors, God sent Paul a vision. Yes, in the night God turned on the light, and Paul awoke with a clear blueprint of what they must do. He booked passage to Greece before stopping, even, for his favorite breakfast bagel! How about you and me? Are we at the “Boo-hoo” stage of life? Then maybe it’s time to move into “Oh well,” for sooner or later God will reveal the what and where of our next assignment. But in the meantime, our duty is clear: find out the “Now what?” and get busy doing it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FALLING SHORT OF THE GRACE OF GOD -- Devotional for September 8, from "Good Seeds"

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, by which many are defiled. And let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:31).

Romans 3:23 defines sin as “falling short of the glory of God.” 6:23 goes on to say that “the wages of sin is death.” It isn’t just an uncomfortable, unfortunate circumstance to fall short of God’s glory. No, it means we’ve missed the Glory Road, “the narrow upward path to life, and we are still on the broad downward thoroughfare that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). To fall short of the glory of God is to be separated from the presence of God, forever! But Hebrews 12:15 speaks of falling short of something else – the grace of God. Grace is God’s loving-kindness. Those who by faith have taken in their first draught of grace, are invited to come back again and again for more, for as much as they want. But God will not force His grace on any man, whether to save his soul from perdition or to improve his earthly condition. And so, when we choose to think selfish thoughts, speak unkind words, or go our own way, God will not stop us. A word found twice in today’s reading describes the soul disease infecting such a person: bitterness. He falls headlong to the ground, plants himself as if a seed, which soon germinates into a root – the root of bitterness! And what comes from ROOTS? SHOOTS: the rest of the plant with its stems, leaves, flowers…and FRUITS. The Hebrews verse gives the principle: The fruit that comes of the root of bitterness will poison all who venture near. Bitterness spreads like an infectious disease, destroying everything in its path like a plague of locusts. The Ephesians verse details this plague, this poison: it’s not cyanide or arsenic – things that only touch the body – but cancers that can ruin even a redeemed soul: anger, fighting, arguing, criticism, gossip, slander, malice. Why do people, even some who call themselves God’s own, speak and behave in such hateful and venomous ways? I’m not sure – but I’ve surely seen it, and felt it. It starts in the heart of one who feels inadequate and cast aside, unloved. Instead of turning to God’s grace, he tries to effect his own cure by seeking out a friend or loved one or workmate – anyone with whom he has a soul connection – to pick on, to cut low, to criticize, to tear into, tear down, or tear apart. Any stripe of hurt or harm he inflicts on another is a stroke of help and healing for himself. But does it help? If so, why is he not better? Why is he still bitter? His only hope is to fling the root of bitterness and all its false fruits far from him, and cling once again to God’s marvelous grace!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A LITTLE THING CAN DO YOU IN -- Devotional for September 7, from "Good Seeds"

Consider how a willful horse can be directed by just a small bit placed in its mouth; consider how a mighty ship, driven by powerful winds, can be steered by a tiny rudder; the tongue is one of the smaller members of the human frame, yet consider what it can boast; consider how great a forest can be set aflame by the tiniest spark; consider the miniature mustard seed, which when planted, can grow into a tree large enough to be home for many birds; consider telling your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can't see past the log in your own eye? (James 3:3-5; Luke 13:19; Matthew 7:4-5)

A favorite theme throughout Scripture is the significance of small things. When we receive a tiny wrapped gift our friends say, “That’s got to be something wonderful, for ‘good things come in small packages!’” Jesus equated both the Kingdom of God and the faith of a man to the tiny seed of the mustard bush, saying, “Look what a wonderful future, and what wonderful miracles, are in store for those who start out with the right stuff, no matter how small!” James continues this thought: “Isn’t it amazing that we can control a powerful horse – or a powerful sailing vessel – with just a small directional device!” But then he turns the coin over to show us what powerful devastation can come from something just as small: a little match struck by someone bent on destruction; or, the human vocal mechanism under the direction of anything but the Spirit of God, resulting in the greatest of hurt and harm. And Jesus spoke of a speck in the eye. Ever had one of those? “Stop the presses!” we say. Indeed, stop the world, for life cannot continue, for us, or anyone around us, until we get that thing out! Jesus continues, “Why do you think you could do or say anything helpful to man or glorifying to God while in such a state of personal emergency!” Here’s another story from our own history illustrating this same truth: We’re working in the shop, or the woodpile – or wielding a shovel with a worn handle – and suddenly a tiny sliver of wood penetrates our finger. Try to go on in your work! Try to ignore the pain, whether searing, or just irritating. Now, compare that sliver in your finger to the sin in your soul. Even the tiniest splinter interferes with anything good you might want to think or say or do. You think you can manage the irritation or learn to live with it, but a splinter – and sin – refuses to be ignored! It will come back as an infection. You’ve got to deal with it, before it does you in! And when you do, when you get that thing out, it is amazing how quickly the pain subsides. Who wants to live with splinters – or sin – in his life? Not me!

HIDING FROM GOD BY HIDING FROM OTHERS -- Devotional for September 6, from "Good Seeds"

Confess your sins to one another. (James 5:16)

Members of the early church were intimately involved in one another’s lives. Whenever one became sick, he would “call for the elders” (14). These days we’ve become so secular, dealing with our symptoms and seeking a cure at the hands of the medical profession. But in those days people practiced their profession of faith by seeing the relationship between everything in their lives and the Lord of their lives. When they suffered, they prayed (13), as we do – but they also were quick to turn to their church friends for aid, which we so often fail to do. And help quickly came, for unlike many church leaders today, those early elders made house calls! Oh, some still do, but what is the substance of their visit? Friendly small talk? That’s always nice, of course, but those elders didn’t leave until they took care of business! Doctors weren’t as knowledgeable or plentiful then as they are now, so elders sometimes filled that role by providing whatever medical help they could. They anointed the sick one with oil, as a gesture of merciful and practical care, but their specialty was not the application of medicine but “the prayer of faith” (15): a prayer that admits human lack while claiming divine supply. But verse 16 brings in another dimension: the prayer for the hurting church member is not offered apart from his confession of sin – and not just to God, but also to man. It is when such a confession is made that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much,” including the healing of physical maladies. There seems to be a principle couched in this injunction toward confession: It is God’s prerogative whether or not to heal us, but it is our prerogative to remove the roadblocks to that healing. Picture it: Mr. Church Member is injured or gets sick; he sends word to the elders of his church to please come, and hurry! When they arrive he begs them, “Please, I’m really hurting; would you pray for me, that I may be healed?” They respond, “Yes, that’s why we’re here. But first, let’s talk: where does it hurt? Maybe we could apply a soothing balm to your wound, or lay hands on the place that's troubling you (they weren’t chiropractors, but there’s healing in the human touch); or do you need “a little wine for your stomach”? (remembering Timothy’s persistent ailment). But then, tell us, what else is going on in your life? Is God trying to tell you something through this illness? Are you hiding some dark secret from Him (as if you could!), by hiding it from us? We don’t need to hear it as much as you need to tell it! God will do His part, but we would not presume to ask Him to heal you if that healing of your body represented His forgiveness of your soul, and yet you hadn’t admitted that sin or asked for that forgiveness. Confessing to man is coming out from hiding from God!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

THE EXTREME MEASURE OF GOD'S LOVE! -- Devotional for September 5, from "Good Seeds"

JOHN 3:16

What Bible verse do we sometimes see on signs held up by fans for the television cameras at football games? That’s right, John 3:16. I wonder how many people who see this little formula realize it represents the greatest truth known to man, the truth of just how much God loves us? Maybe it’s time we tell them, again! Politicians and journalists love to quote Christ’s words, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), but then proceed to talk about the fluid and changeable “truths” of public policy and opinion. What Jesus had in mind was something far more timeless and changeless: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” A beautiful song expresses this old familiar theme in a new and fresh setting: “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son.” The verse concludes, “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The song adds this commentary: “To make a wretch His treasure” – echoing the ancient hymn about God’s amazing grace: “that saved a wretch like me.” When coming to the Lord’s Table, our hearts can be instructed anew with a fresh understanding of the bread and cup by meditating on this verse – and the first verse of this song: “How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away, as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.” Marring wounds and searing pain – that’s what the Son of God endured on the cross for us. It was excruciating physical pain, for He was God in a body, suffering in His head, hands and feet just what you or I would suffer if we were on that cross. But what He bore was far greater than physical pain – it was also, and primarily, spiritual pain. This is the product of things being all wrong on the inside, deep in the heart. It is the pain caused by sin. When Jesus took the sins of the world upon His shoulders, “He, who knew no sin, became sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21). And Holy God, who cannot look upon sin, had to turn His face away – even from His own Son! What suffering! Jesus endured the cross: all for love! God endured the loss of His Son: all for love – love for you and me! He did it all for love! This is something we cannot fathom. And yet, through this instructive figure, we catch a glimpse of how great God’s love is for each one of us. Communion serves as an object lesson, that we may comprehend the extreme measure of His love: “while we were still ugly sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When we begin to understand why He went to the cross, we will do more than just go through the motions of the Lord’s Supper ritual – we will fall at His feet in loving gratitude, thanking Him not just with lips, but with lives dedicated to holy living, made possible only by His atoning death!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

MADAM DAY, PROFESSOR NIGHT -- Devotional for September 4, from "Good Seeds"

God’s glory is on tour in the skies; God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madam Day holds classes every morning; Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth – yes, unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This paraphrase of a song of David shows what can happen when one poet builds on another poet’s work. Eugene Peterson is a godly and skillful theologian, but also a gifted wordsmith. In his hands “The heavens declare the glory of God” becomes “God’s glory is on tour in the skies.” And he renders, “Day to day pours forth speech” as, “Madam Day holds classes every morning!” I love that! The meaning is the same, but this version hits home to my heart! Some people become quite indignant when the Bible is reworded like this, accusing these bold thinkers of desecrating Holy Writ. Of course we must always be very careful to “handle accurately the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15), but this doesn’t mean we do not interpret to bring out the true meaning. We read in Nehemiah 8:8-10 that the Levites “read from the Book of the Law, and then gave the sense, to help the people understand” what they just heard. This has ever been the process of conveying Bible truth: read it, but then go back and seek to explain it. Hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation, offers not only principles which aid in bringing out the meaning, but also gives cautionary warnings concerning errors in interpretation that can lead us astray from the original intent of the human writer – and the Divine Author. But this doesn’t mean only Bible scholars can be trusted to explain the Bible correctly. Indeed, these are the very ones who often lead people astray from God’s truth. So, 1) we start with the heart! A head knowledge of theology and Greek and Hebrew cannot replace intimate fellowship and a personal relationship with the Author of salvation. The Spirit of God is our teacher, the Word of God, our textbook – but it is a spiritual book, which can only be comprehended by spiritual people. “The natural man” – including unregenerate Bible scholars – “cannot understand the things of the Spirit, for they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). And then 2) we need a basic understanding of language. From there 3) we pick up a good, reliable translation, and read it for all it’s worth! And as we read, we think and pray and 4) bring our sanctified imagination into play – and before we know it, we are expressing David’s “night unto night bringeth forth knowledge” with Peterson’s “Professor Night lectures each evening.” My response resembles that of the people of Israel: I weep when I understand, and then exult in joy, and am strengthened thereby!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DOES GOD FORGET? -- Devotional for September 3, from "Good Seeds"

Only remember me, and get me out of this place, when things are going well with you…But the head cupbearer never gave Joseph another thought, for two long years, until the Pharaoh had a dream. Then the cupbearer said, “Oh, I just remembered something!” (Genesis 40:14,23; 41:9)

One of the most cherished promises in the Bible is the one that says God remembers to forget! But when we read what God declared in Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more,” and hear what David prayed in Psalm 25:7, “Remember not the sins of my youth,” are we to take it at face value that God actually forgets? No, for that would negate His omniscience. God knows all, which means He always knows all, ergo: He never forgets. Still, what relief to hear God say, “Your sins I will remember no more.” Which of these would give you more comfort: to know that God remembers, or that He forgets?” Well, I guess it all depends on the subject at hand. Regarding my faults, I want Him to be ever so forgetful, never bringing them up again, never holding them against me. We often hear people say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” Yes, our memory of others’ offenses works overtime, and works only too well! But not with God, for He absolutely forgives and forgets. Consider this: a believer fearfully prays, “Oh Father, please forgive me, I did it again!” “Did what?” comes the surprising reply. God’s not playing a cruel game here, making us “name it and claim it.” No, He’s just reminding us that true forgiveness wipes the slate clean and gives us a fresh start. But now, Regarding my needs, I want Him to be never forgetful! And yet how often are we just sure He’s forgotten us? Joseph’s the expert here. He was hated by his brothers, not for anything he’d done, but because he was his father’s favorite son. They almost killed him, but then sold him into slavery instead. While faithfully serving his master, Joseph was again hated, this time for his moral purity. With his righteousness continually getting him into trouble, he finally cried out to God. Now, nobody hated him there in prison, but worse than being hated is being forgotten. A song laments, “But now I’m so lost, not even God can find me.” That was Joseph’s theme song! He didn’t sin, but he was getting pretty bitter. How could he know there are some lessons that cannot be learned any other way but through suffering, through waiting – through feeling totally forgotten?! But God did not forget Joseph – not for one moment! And when the time was right, he reminded that cupbearer. Friend, don’t despair. God hasn’t forgotten you either. Keep serving, keep praying, keep waiting, for you too will someday be known as “The man God remembered.”

CONDUITS OF BLESSING -- Devotional for September 2, from "Good Seeds"

Joseph said, “Don’t interpretations come from God? Tell me your dreams.” (Genesis 40:8)

An old song says, "You tell me your dreams, and I’ll tell you mine." What good does this do? you ask. But that’s the wrong question, for this is a love song, and the answers sweethearts give to one another simply serve as an excuse to linger a bit longer in one another’s company! Though there would be no official interpretation of the dreams, the unofficial ones would be wonderfully satisfying! But the dreams referred to in today’s Scripture are of a far more serious, even desperate, nature. The Pharaoh’s butler and baker have somehow fallen out of favor with the king and find themselves cellmates of Joseph in the royal prison. While there each man has a mysterious and disturbing dream. After sharing them with Joseph he correctly interprets their meanings. Now, it is a mistake for us to surmise that dreams always have great significance, or that we can receive heavenly guidance from them. Nevertheless, we do see in the Bible cases where God does indeed reveal His will to men through their dreams. Just as once in a great while God chooses certain ones to hear and record His Word to mankind (see II Peter 1:20,21), so there have been those rare individuals whom God has gifted with the miraculous ability to understand and interpret dreams, dreams given by God for a specific purpose. Two such men were Daniel and Joseph. It was an ability they neither asked nor trained for. But the 100% accuracy seems to say it was from God! Now, compare this miracle with your spiritual gift: though you may receive much satisfaction in the exercise of it, you can take no credit for any good that comes from it, for it’s all of God. Joseph had it right when he said, “Don’t interpretations come from God?” Such gifts and abilities are not God’s gift TO us, but THROUGH us, to others. We are not the intended recipients, but rather the conduits, of the blessing God is aiming at someone else. Our joy is the same as John’s when he said, “The bride belongs to the groom. But the friend of the groom, standing nearby and taking it all in, finds his joy fulfilled in witnessing the joy of the happy couple” (John 3:29-30). Joseph’s greatest pleasure was in serving God by doing His work in the lives of others. That joy can and should be ours, too. O to be as faithful as Joseph in serving God, in the midst of the most adverse circumstances! O that God would be as confident in us as He was in Joseph, to entrust to us the message or the blessing He has for someone else! And O to have the holy boldness of Joseph to not hold back but to go right to work when we see the task God has set before us. Are we as ready to say to the one God sends to us, “Tell me your dreams”?