Saturday, October 31, 2009

HALLOWEEN: THE NEW CHRISTMAS? -- Devotional for October 31, from "Good Seeds"

A festival, a new moon, a Sabbath day – these things are a mere shadow of what is to come. But the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17).

Holidays are reflections of what we hold most dear; they are shadows of past, or future, realities. Christmas is still the favorite holiday for most people, but for some, Halloween is catching up in popularity. We could grieve at this development when we realize the vast difference between these two holidays in what they represent: The word Christmas means “celebration of Christ.” The etymology of Halloween implies that people may just prefer worldly heroes to heavenly ones – and maybe also a lifestyle free of the standards of holiness. But to look at how the world celebrates Christmas, we should not be either surprised or dismayed that Halloween is rivaling Christmas in some quarters. Neither of these, for such people, have much to do with God, with His care and love for His creatures, or with His ultimate plan of the ages. We may try to make a distinction between sacred and secular holidays, but any holiday that directs our attention upon the temporal things of earth, and draws our eyes and hearts away from heaven, as both our present citizenship and future destination, is secular. And by “secular” I don’t mean neutral: not evil, not good, but just in some innocent middle ground. Guess what: there IS no middle ground! “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” wrote Paul (Romans 14:23). “He who is not against us is for us,” said Jesus (Luke 9:50). And you can’t have it both ways, either. All holidays, by their very nature, involve worship: lavishing high praise upon, and attributing ultimate worth to an individual, event, or idea. A holiday will find you focusing either on God, or something or someone less than God. But in the first of the Ten Commandments God said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus put it this way: “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Luke 6:13). And so, if either Halloween or Christmas finds you buying and decorating and cooking and partying and “candying” (Trick-or-Treat in October, Sugarplums in December!), and spreading good will to all, the real distinction between these two rivals is lost, so who really cares which one wins! By the way, the same could be asked about any holiday you may be inclined to keep: Is it all about God, or man? Does it feed the spirit, or the flesh? Does it draw us to heaven, or tie us to earth (or – shudder! – drag us below). Let these be the questions we ask ourselves next time we carve a Jack-o-lantern or turkey, trim a Christmas tree, send a Valentine, dye an Easter Egg, light a firecracker, or sing Happy Birthday. Any of these can be done to the glory of God, or man. Don’t worry about which holiday is the best. Worry, rather, about what or whom you are worshiping while you are reveling!

Friday, October 30, 2009

HALLOWEEN: A SECULAR HOLIDAY? -- Devotional for October 30, from "Good Seeds"

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against evil powers, against the rulers of this present darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

Today is the eve of Halloween Day, which in turn is, of course, the eve of All Saints Day. I say “of course” as if I expected this to be common knowledge, at least among Christians. But, sadly, it is not. Many of us do not know the spiritual roots of this supposedly secular holiday. The Holy Day is actually November 1st, formerly called “All Hallowmas.” The word hallow means “to make holy, to set apart for sacred use.” Did we say Halloween is considered to be a secular holiday? Well, it is, but only in this unfortunate sense: The day set apart for the honoring of great men and women of the faith, both of Bible days and since, certainly is a holy day. But how many Christians these days pay it even the slightest notice? Instead, they, along with the unbelieving world, have been swept up into the hype given to the day before that day: All Hallow’s Eve. This is the day, supposedly, when evil comes out to play, when the forces of “this present darkness” shout their last hurrah, before righteousness returns to restore order. And so Halloween, at its roots, is not about innocent, ”secular” evil (is there even such a thing?) No, it is rather the day when the Arch-Enemy of God, Satan himself, and all his pawns, cronies, demons and agents are given free reign in the hearts of men. And they’re given such permission seemingly with impunity since, after all, it is THEIR day! Compare Halloween with Mardi Gras and you’ll have it about right. Lent, on the calendar of liturgical churches, is the forty day period before Easter, when the faithful give up pleasures of the flesh to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. “Fat Tuesday” is the day just prior to the beginning of that time of enforced seriousness when permission is again given, even to professed God fearers, to indulge themselves in ways they would never normally do. Of course, when people of the world see their religious friends dancing in the streets – and dancing with the devil! – they are overjoyed, and join right in, saying, “Now this is a religion I can live with!” But is it true religion to barter with God, promising to be good at certain times in exchange for His looking away at other times? And does it please God when we take the things representing mankind’s undoing and make them our playthings, even if only for one night? “Woe to those,” wrote Isaiah, “who call evil good and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, and who are heroes in drinking wine” (5:20,22). Could you find a better definition of Halloween than that – and a better reason to turn away from it?

SOMBER SOLILOQUY -- Devotional for October 29, from "Good Seeds"

Inspired by doubters around me, I think, “Soul, where is this God of yours?” I roll the question over and over in my mind, emptying out the pockets of my life. Wasn’t I always at the head of the worshiping crowd, right out in front, leading them all, shouting praises, singing thanksgiving, celebrating God? What happened? Why am I now so down in the dumps, crying the blues? I must once again fix my eyes on God. Surely I will be praising Him again – so maybe I’ll just start now! See, He’s put a smile on my face. Thank You, Lord – You are my God! (Psalm 42:3-5)

“To be, or not to be – that is the question.” The Psalmist and Hamlet are brothers when it comes to dismal self-talk. Moods can so quickly overshadow us: one moment we are exalting our God, exulting in life, with heart assurance that nothing can stop us now, when in walks an enemy – or a friend (either is just as capable of the deed) – and the slightest, most innocent suggestion of doubt from him does us in. One day while feeling rather ambivalent about an important decision looming before me two emails arrived, one after the other, from two dear friends. The first gave such words of encouragement I just knew I could fly! The second, commenting on the same subject, from one every bit as wise and dear, put such a damper on the project that I was ready to dismiss it as suitable for another man of another time, but not for me. When we allow ourselves to be influenced to such a degree by those around us, no wonder we lose touch with the still small voice within us. Without that voice, all we have left is our own, saying, “What was that all about? What was I thinking? I’ve got to get back to reality!” But what kind of reality is it that has no room for God, no time God, no sight of God? How could this doubter I seem to have become ever have thought I could lead others to the throne of God? As I “empty out the pockets of my life” I find little more than loose change and old ticket stubs, reminders of former good times, with no promise of future happiness. See, I’m doing it again! How quickly we who are experts at cheering others up fall into our own far more exotic doldrums of despondency, with far greater resistance to the kind of encouragement our clients have received from us! No counselor can reason me into cheerfulness; no soul physician can reach in and pull me out of myself; no heart friend can sit quietly by and with his assuring presence rescue me from this secret soul suicide. When in such depths, nothing can be done by even the best that human help can afford. So, what do I do? I turn my eyes upon Jesus; I look full in His wonderful face – and those things of earth that have done me in grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

THE FLIP SIDE OF FAITH -- Devotional for October 28, from "Good Seeds"

The righteous man will live by his faith, but wine betrays the haughty man. The just shall live by faith. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Habakkuk 2:4-5; Romans 1:17; 14:23)

Solomon often expressed God’s wisdom in couplets of two contrasting ideas. For example, Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” That pattern for wise sayings used by King Solomon works also for solid doctrine in the writings of the prophet Habakkuk: “A man is led aright by his faith, astray by his addictions.” No doubt the two most important words in the entire Bible are grace and faith. Grace is the way God relates to man, while faith is the way men come to God. There is no theology more significant or crucial than that encompassed by the partnering of these two themes (Ephesians 2:8-9). Anthropologists want us to think the religion of Homo sapien evolved from simple to complex, right along with his physiology. In the minds of pre-human man, they would say, thoughts wouldn’t have gone much beyond those of pain, pleasure and survival. And yet, when we go back thousands of years in history we find Abraham, a man who “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). An old philosopher defined his own humanity this way: “I think, therefore I am.” A far more ancient thinker took that rudimentary statement a long step further when he said, “I believe God, therefore I am safe in His care” (Paul: Acts 27:25). And in more recent times (a mere 500 years ago!), when Martin Luther stumbled upon these Scriptures about faith, he found the footing he needed to take his stand against the religionists of the day who were teaching salvation by works: “Do you want to be righteous in the eyes of God, to be forgiven of all your trespasses, past, present and future? Come to Jesus. He will save you, by GRACE ALONE, through FAITH ALONE – truths found in SCRIPTURE ALONE!" This was not a popular slant on the “truth” being taught – or rather sold! – by Luther’s contemporaries. And even today faith teaching remains a burr in the saddle of those who think we can please God through our own efforts. This is taught even by those who claim to believe the Bible from cover to cover – the Bible that says not only that “our iniquities, like the wind, have blown us away, but that even our acts of righteousness are no cleaner than filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand – all other ground is sinking sand.” Indeed, all other grounds for right standing with God are sin, all grounds not of “faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave His life for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CHOTTO MATTE! -- Devotional for October 27, from "Good Seeds"

Wait for one another. (I Corinthians 11:33)

Do you remember as a child walking with your mom or dad and trying to keep up? Adults walk faster than children not only because they have longer legs, but also because they are in a bigger hurry! If you were in Japan you might hear parents saying, “Isogei!” (ee-so-gay): “Hurry Up!” Running to catch up, their children might reply, “Chotto Matte!” (cho-toe-ma-tay): “Wait up! Just a minute!” It isn’t just age difference that causes one person to move along at a faster or slower pace than another. Some (adult types), thinking only of their destination, view the distance between where they are and where they want to be as a huge irritation. Others (child types), knowing how to relish the moment, stop and smell the roses along the way. Which type are you? Do you sit down at the table and dive right in, or do you wait patiently for others – and do you pause to pray? We think of the dinner table as a place to be waited on, but Paul reminded the Corinthians that it was a place to wait on – and wait for – others. Actually, he was referring to communion, which was not a time to indulge in food, but to revel in worship. Apparently a serious problem had formed in the church at Corinth, where members were using the Lord’s table as an excuse for gorging on food and guzzling down wine, to the point of gluttony and drunkenness! But was it only self-indulgence that Paul condemned, and that was incurring judgment for these Christians? No! There’s another sin here, far more subtle, but apparently just as lethal. Paul alludes to it twice in his first letter to the Corinthians: “What? Have you not houses in which to eat and drink?” (verse 22). “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not incur judgment when you come together” (verse 34). The sin was not so much in their eating and drinking (otherwise Christians might properly fear God’s disapproval of any meal they might share together, down at the church, or over at the restaurant); nor was it their potential disregard for the sacred meaning of the communion elements. When Paul spoke of partaking of the bread and cup in an unworthy manner, and that those who did so were in jeopardy of literal judgment of the body (illness and death, verse 30), he was also referring to the way they disregarded one another! Their self-indulgence was not only a desecration of the worship of God, violating the first part of the great commandment, to “Love God with all your heart,” it was also a desecration of fellowship with one another, violating the second part, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And so, may all the supposedly mature and spiritually driven Christians among us listen to our rose-smelling little brothers, and wait for them, and upon them – Chotto matte!

Monday, October 26, 2009

EVANGELICAL VS. EVANGELISTIC -- Devotional for October 26, from "Good Seeds"

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 6:1; 5:13-14)

The root of both of these words is the Greek word translated, “Gospel,” meaning “Good News.” But these two terms are not synonymous, in the strictest sense. People who are evangelical emphasize salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion. They place the authority of Scripture over the authority of the Church, and the deem preaching more important than ritual. But now, what about evangelists? They believe exactly the same as the evangelicals. The only difference is, they do something about it! They don’t just sit around believing; they don’t find their greatest joy in merely gathering with one another to clarify their doctrines and reinforce their dogmas. Oh, they DO these things right along with the evangelicals, but then they get up and go out, into the world, into the mission field of their neighborhoods and schools and workplaces and social gatherings and athletic events, and they share the good news of Jesus Christ! They don’t try to preach, and they don’t judge; they just tell what Christ has done for them. They hope it shows, in their faces, in their temperaments, in their attitudes and lifestyles. They know the importance of body language, but they use mouth language, too, “always ready to give a reason for the hope that is within them” (I Peter 3:15), once others notice that hope that is written all over their joyful, confident lives! Evangelism is no more than one beggar telling another beggar where to find the food. Evangelicals have that amazing capacity for holding their blessings in check, inside and under control. They keep their gospel and their joy pretty much to themselves, or they might branch out and share it with one another, you know, down at the church on Sundays, or in little holy huddles in homes, behind closed doors. But evangelists, now – they just can’t keep it all in, so some of it just spills! And they can’t seem to stay inside the four walls of theirs homes and churches with their faith: when they’re in a restaurant, their meal prayer is too loud (probably not bothering the sinners that much, but really embarrassing the saints!) They forget to speak in hushed tones when they say, “Praise the Lord,” or “I’ll pray for you” in public places. By the way, if you had to choose, which would you rather be? An evangelical-only is an unfinished, underdeveloped Christian. An evangelist is both: he’s a Christian to the max. But if that’s true, why is it also true that brand new Christians are the better evangelists and the old saints have set aside evangelism for their more controlled and mellowed evangelicalism?


Do the work of an evangelist. II Timothy 4:5

In writing to the Ephesian church Paul listed some of the Big Gun appointments God makes to local churches: “And He gives some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers (4:11). The ministry gifts are gifted men, certain men with certain strengths appointed by God to particular churches for a particular time. Paul knew he was an apostle, “the apostle to the Gentiles” (II Timothy 1:11). John the Baptist was a prophet – in no uncertain terms! Phillip we know as an evangelist: just look how quickly he jumped at the chance to witness to that confused traveler in the desert! (Acts 8:26-40). James was a pastor; Apollos, a teacher. But what about Timothy? His name describes his demeanor, his temperament: “Timothy the Timid!” Even his tummy reflected his timidity (see I Timothy 5:23). Paul had to remind him that his “spirit of timidity was not of God,” so it was high time he started claiming the power of God over it (I Timothy 1:7); it was high time he started “disciplining himself for the purpose of godliness” (I Timothy 4:7); high time to shake off the shame that overpowered him whenever he wanted to give a testimony for his Lord or claim friendship with his mentor (for was it not true that whoever associated with Paul wound up sharing his persecutions and prison terms?) And it was high time Timothy stopped hiding behind his youthfulness, letting others ridicule him as a greenhorn Christian. This was a closet to come out of, and it couldn’t be too soon! Had not God gifted him, right along with his peers? Had not the presbytery laid hands on him, conferring on him ordination, right along with Titus and James and all the other pastors of his time? PASTOR. That’s it! That’s what Timothy was. One of the big guns of Christ’s church? Well, if you’re thinking boss? No! A shepherd. A CEO? No! An “equipper of the saints” (Ephesians 4:12). A pastor doesn’t “lord it over his people” (I Peter 5:2,3), but serves as an “example of those who believe”(I Timothy 4:12-14). And I believe that all in good time young Pastor Timothy became powerful Pastor Tim! But as a pastor, was he exempt from the duties of church planting (apostle) and proclamation (prophet) and deep study (teacher), and bold witnessing (evangelist)? No! He had his pastoral appointment, and he was not to be a jack of all trades, and yet – and boy does this apply to you and me today – though they were not his specialties, he was to do the work of all these other specialists, as need and opportunity arose. And so, Pastor Steve: you, too! Do the work of an evangelist. Just sow the seed, and move on. (But if you want some joy, look back once in awhile and see what God did with that seed!)

THE CALL OF GOD: POINTED AND APPOINTED -- Devotional for October 24, from "Good Seeds"

The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” When they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them out. The men sailed to Cyprus, where they immediately began to proclaim the Word of God. (Acts 13:2-5)

Though the call of God upon His missionaries is primarily a spiritual thing, it is not entirely separated from geography. Before he was converted, Saul’s base of operation was Jerusalem. From there he branched out to neighboring cities rooting out followers of Jesus and dragging them back to headquarters, where they would be flogged, jailed, and in some cases put to death. If you asked Saul he would tell you he was doing God’s bidding: he had spiritual work to do and he was going to do it! And he would do it within the parameters of his own particular mission field. It just so happens that this mission field of his extended to the town of Damascus. POINTED in that direction, he kept his APPOINTMENT with destiny, for that was where Saul met his Waterloo. In fact, that’s where we say goodbye forever to Saul, and hello to Paul. “Same guy,” you say? Hardly! For Someone met him there, and after he was APPOINTED to his new assignment, he became a clear picture of what he later would teach as the position of the Christian: “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation: old things pass away; behold, all things become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). And if you asked Paul now what was God’s bidding, though he again would say, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49), that business would be in building the church, not destroying it. It would be the exact opposite of his former profession: “I must go, for I am an appointed instrument of Christ’s, to bear His name before Gentiles and Jews alike – whoever stands in my path! (Acts 9:15). When Christ appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, it was like what happens when a mounted cowboy enters the rodeo ring: he appears out of nowhere to the little doggie, and confronts him, and in no uncertain terms, constricts him! Jesus stopped His enemy cold, in his tracks, and bound him – not his legs, but his eyes – getting his full and total attention. And here Jesus APPOINTED Saul to a new task. POINTING to the same road He said, “Get back on your horse and keep going to Damascus, and there you’ll find out “what I’ve got planned for you, and what things you will suffer for Me” (Acts 9:16). That suffering started right away: when he arrived no one would touch him, for no one could trust him. He was white hot with the fire of God, and folks feared getting burned. By the way, that’s the sign of a man appointed and called of God. Is that you? Is that me?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

GREATER OR LESSER WORSHIP? -- Devotional for October 23, from "Good Seeds"

(NOTE TO MY READERS: Again, I've fallen behind. I just returned from our church's Men's Retreat at Mt. Hermon. I did write devotionals at camp, so now I'm busy transcribing and editing them to the computer and eventually, to this blog. I appreciate your reading, and even more, your prayers for me, as I will pray for you, for your growth in the Lord. By the way, though I know of a few who have at least at one time were reading this, I would love to hear from you now, and let me know how I can pray for you, 2) If you have any comments on these devotionals, 3) If you have any ideas for me for future devotionals. email:
phone: 209-532-4816 cell: 209-768-2822).

God everlasting is the Creator of the ends of the earth. Men exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator. (Isaiah 40:28; Romans 1:25)

The Bible contends that the best thing you can do for your health – body, soul and spirit – is to worship God. Sadly, only a minuscule number of earth’s population has discovered that fact. Putting it into practice, they prove to themselves and all who watch them that it is true. They start by acknowledging the reality of God by recognizing Him as the Creator of the universe. This same God revealed Himself to mankind in His Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we can come to know this Master Designer as our Heavenly Father – our Abba Father! To worship the Son of God is to worship Father God. Walking with Jesus, filled with His Spirit, we begin to sense God’s presence, bask in His love, and soon we are bowing before His majesty. What are the results of such awareness and worship? Health and wholeness, in every fiber of our being. To worship God as both Sovereign King of the Universe and Lover of our souls is not a sacrifice for us, but rather an investment in our own vitality, and an investment in eternity! Oh that all people on earth would know our God like this! But most do not. Not that they don’t worship, for all human beings worship. A man’s very nature dictates that he must. He instinctively seeks out, identifies and attributes worth to anything he identifies as having ultimate value and beauty. But the health and wholeness afforded to worshipers is not given to those who worship anything less than or other than God Himself. When people first encounter the true and living God they tend to shrink away: “He’s too distant, too ethereal, too altogether other than ourselves,” they say. That’s what they say – but if the truth were known, it is His ultimate goodness and holiness, juxtaposed to their sinfulness, that sends them packing, as far away from God as they can get! But think about it: if a man will not worship God, still, by nature he must worship, so what remains as objects of worship for him? There are only two kinds of people, those who worship the Creator God, and those who worship what God created. Humanists worship man: his works, his thoughts, his pleasures; pantheists worship the earth and its creatures; idolaters worship gods of their own making, usually not recognizing them as agents of Satan himself! Are those engaged in this lesser worship investing in their own welfare, or sacrificing it? The answer is in the payoff: worshipers of anything less than God eventually destroy themselves. Why? Because idols are parasites: they suck the lifeblood from their worshipers; whereas Jesus IS the lifeblood of His worshipers!

Friday, October 23, 2009

MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE DARKNESS -- Devotional for October 22, from "Good Seeds"

We were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. (Acts 16:6)

The very first missionary movement was in the years of the early church, immediately following the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Paul was among the first, and without doubt the greatest, of the early missionaries. Earlier, when Jesus walked and talked with His disciples, He occasionally would send them out on their own, with the edge of His clear and personal commission, but without the advantage of His indwelling Spirit. Jesus promised that when He returned to heaven He would leave His presence with them, and IN them, in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18). We still must listen to the voice of Jesus as He directs us in spreading the gospel, by hearing and obeying the voice of His Spirit. Paul heard it loud and clear, many times, including the times God continually forbade him from going east, into Asia. The area referred to in this verse is modern day Turkey, part of the middle east, the gateway to the far east. We know that western Christians later traveled to China for trading for silks and spices, and history tells us that Marco Polo did indeed share some semblance of Christianity during his many overland trips from Europe to China. Later, in the 18th century, Japan was visited by Christian missionaries. But suddenly, for political reasons, that island nation was closed to western influence for over a hundred years. Then came the terrible war where nations under the imperialist attacks of Japan defended themselves, culminating in the only two times (to date) when a nuclear bomb was used in warfare between nations. When peace was made with Japan, Christian missionaries once again came to introduce the Good News of the Risen Son to the “Land of the Rising Sun!” Though Japan is one of America’s “most favored nations,” they have assimilated western culture’s materialistic ways far more thoroughly than accepting the way to God through Jesus. Now the question comes to me and my wife: “Are we still under the curse of Acts 16:6, or will God open a door, specifically for us, to go to Japan with the love of Jesus?” First it was our Japanese exchange students, and then it was our Japanese-American friend, Yoshi, who have introduced to us these beautiful people, 99% of whom are still without Christ. The bright lights of this 85% urban nation cannot mask its spiritual darkness. This song expresses my awareness of Japan’s darkness, and my desire to go turn on the light: We are going to Japan because they need to see the light of Jesus in Japan…will you go there with me? We are going to Japan because they need to know the love of Jesus in Japan…that’s why we want to go. We are going to Japan because there’s darkness there, to make a difference in the darkness, shining forth His care, glowing with His care, sowing seeds of care…bringing Jesus there!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DANGEROUS RETIREMENT -- Devotional for October 21, from "Goods Seeds"

Jesus told of a rich man who said to himself, “I have many goods laid up for many years to come; so now, I will take my ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you!” Such is the end of the man who lays up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? And what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Luke 12:19-21; Mark 8:35-37)

We all know people who are retired. Some scrape miserably along, while others live high and happy. Some retire at a surprisingly young age, while others wait for that magic sixty-five year old marker, or even later, when they are finally able to make it happen. Some men retire only to hang around the house with nothing to do but drive their wives crazy! Others finally get to do what they’ve always longed to do, but never had the time or resources, and virtually blossom into a second life, finding many more years – much better years – of productivity and satisfaction. Still others, whose only life was their job, sadly waste away, disappearing before dying, when they see how the world – their world – is doing so well without them, having quite forgotten them! What does the Bible say about retirement? The closest thing I could find were these two teachings of Jesus: one a story, the other a sermon, neither giving a very rosy picture, nor conferring much approval from heaven –- even though the scenario Jesus painted of the rich retiree is the goal of the hard working Type-A business or professional man or woman today. But, as always, the Bible washes away the glossy fa├žade, revealing the true interior. If wealthy retirement is a white-washed tomb, a pauper in spirit is the putrid dead man’s bones that reside inside! (see Matthew 23:27). It isn’t that our Lord condemns wise planning and investing enabling one to discontinue the daily nine to five grind in order to follow more meaningful, creative and productive pursuits. Indeed, many Christian retirees are able to give service in Jesus’ name, working as volunteers for ministries or missionaries without needing any outside support, thus leaving funds alone that are needed by those on the front lines for God who have little mouths to feed and bills to pay. The issue is not whether or not one retires, but rather what is his highest goal, his highest treasure (Matthew 6:21). If he spent his working years working for money, money will continue to dominate his retirement years. Some men leave goodwill behind – others just leave a good will! The rich retiree was called a fool, not for his wealth of pocket, but for his poverty of spirit. May that not describe you or me!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"BUCKET LIST" -- Devotional for October 20, from "Good Seeds"

Hezekiah became mortally ill. The Lord told him through Isaiah the prophet, “Set your house in order, for the time has come for you to die.” But Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly: “Will You so soon take my life, though I have walked before You in truth, with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight?” Word came again from God through Isaiah: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you, adding fifteen years to your life, and deliver you and your city from the hands of the Assyrians.” (II Kings 20:1-6)

A few years ago I wrote out a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I die. I arranged them into a poem that starts out like this: “Now here’s a little list / It’s written on my wrist / Of things I want to do before I die: / Now I know that my want-to’s / Won’t always be my get-to’s / But maybe some will come if I just try.” I wonder what want-to’s were on Hezekiah’s list when Dr. God came in with this dismal prognosis: “You are about to die and not live.” I suppose we all could present our list to God from our deathbed and beg for the miracle healing that this good man asked for – and received. Well, we can always ask! But how many of us will have that dubious good fortune to know the expected time of our death? (I’d rather not know). Either way, maybe we should live each day as if it were our last day – live it to the full, doing the next task on our list, so we can check it off, for the glory of God! Probably one of the most serious comedies I’ve ever seen was “Bucket List.” It’s a movie about two old men sharing a hospital room who are told they’ve got six months to live. I was struck by what one said to the other: “What do you think happens? You go home to some ceremonial procession unto death, all smothered by pity and grief, where everyone you love stands around watching you die – while you try to comfort them! Is that what you want?” I guess it wasn’t what either wanted, for the two old codgers drew up a list of things they would like to do before they “kicked the bucket.” It was their “Bucket List.” And off they went, skydiving and the like! Instead of worrying about our inevitable death, maybe our minds and hearts would be put to better use if we would let that emotional steam drive our body’s engine to keep busy for God. Two facts are undeniable here: 1) He’s got things for us to do until they day we die; but 2) We won’t be finished with the list when it comes our time. When Paul said, “I’ve finished the course” (II Timothy 4:7) I don’t think he meant he’d checked everything off his list. But still, he had “fought the good fight; he had kept the faith.” Will we be able to say as much? And are the things on our Bucket List worthy of an extended life?

Monday, October 19, 2009

CHANGE MY HEART, O GOD -- Devotional for October 19, from "Good Seeds"

If any man is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come! (II Corinthians 5:17)

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage lately, maybe because I’m so happy with the girl who sought me and caught me so many years ago...(I guess I did my fair share of chasing, too!)...but also because I’ve been talking to some dear Christian friends whose marriages are all but over. In each case, when they first met and got married they truly loved one another -- and I’m confident they love one another still. And yet they have become so dissatisfied and unhappy. She’s looking for some major changes in her husband: “I knew this was a weakness of his when I first met him, but I thought I could change him over once I won him over!” He thought she loved him unconditionally, but now he’s finding out what she loved what her perception of how wonderful he could be once she performed her magic on him! Compare this to when you and I first came to Jesus: He didn’t look us over and say, “Well, you’ve got potential. I’ll take you into My family on condition of the changes I’ll expect to see in you.” That’s how a lot of people view salvation – but that’s not right! Christ expects nothing from us but faith. The goodness and holiness He longs to see in us He gives to us, by His grace. Nevertheless, the story isn’t finished, for we truly are saints in the making. God takes us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. But wait! Isn’t that also how it is in human relationships? Yes, but the difference is that it’s still God who makes the changes. We don’t resent it when He does it, whereas we resent very much our friend or spouse trying to fix us! When we finally come to realize that not only is it not our responsibility to change someone else, but that it is also quite outside of our power to do so, it’s actually quite freeing! A husband, for example, has no real power over his wife’s feelings, beliefs, or decisions. She's in the Lord's hands. Not that God ever forces someone to receive Him, but by His Spirit He brings conviction, and by His sovereignty He brings conditions that can work to bring her around to HIS way of thinking, much better than any human being could do. And any preaching or fixing from a spouse will be pointless, even damaging. I Corinthians 7:15 says one is "not under obligation in such cases." He is not ultimately responsible if she strays from the Lord, even as he has not the power to draw her back. That power resides in God alone. But that's why we pray, for "Where prayer is focused, power falls." A wife won’t be won by her husband’s persistence or insistence, or by his superior arguments, but rather by seeing Christ in him. Let God bring conviction; let Him orchestrate the conditions. In the meantime you just keep loving, keep praying, and keep trusting!

LIFE: FORWARD AND BACKWARDS -- Devotional for October 18, from "Good Seeds"

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to preserve many people alive. So therefore do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:20-21)

One of the greatest stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. The narrative is presented in such a way that the reader is always more aware of what is happening than the individual players in the plot. When Joseph is time and again treated so cruelly and punished so unjustly, we observers don’t for a moment believe in anything but his innocence. Though we are told all along that in spite of the ill treatment he received, he had a heavenly Midas touch, where anyone connected to him in any way was blessed by God – still Joseph seemed largely unaware of it. Like Job, Joseph was oblivious to the way God was working through all the adverse circumstances of his life, all his personal pain, to bring good to man and glory to God. The tables were eventually turned where Joseph becomes the one in the know while his brothers remain in the dark. But his intention in concealing his identity was not to play a cruel game of revenge on his brothers, but rather to test them to see if their hearts had been softened through the workings of God on their character through the years. I picked up a little “fortune cookie theology” at a Chinese restaurant the other day which beautifully describes the story of Joseph – and maybe your story and mine as well: “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.” Joseph lived his life forward: he did what was right regardless of what wrong was done to him. He was well aware of the ill treatment he received, and often complained about it (so…he was human after all!). “You meant evil against me,” he flatly told his brothers. But he understood his life backwards: before anger or bitterness could rise in his heart, he went on, “…but God meant it for good.” In retrospect, looking back on his life with godly hindsight, he now knew how it had to happen just that way, in order for God “to preserve many people alive.” What a joy for Joseph to eventually discover that God had entrusted him with a significant part to play in His benevolent dealings with mankind. It seems to be a rule of life that “if all were known, all would be forgiven” – and I’m talking about men forgiving God! We’re so quick to blame Him for neglecting us, but who among us really knows what He’s up to? So maybe we should just keep living our lives forward, living righteously, obeying Him, trusting Him – and just wait for the understanding to come later. Knowing “we’ll understand it better by and by,” and that we will thank Him for it all then, why not in faith just praise Him for it all right now!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

ARE YOU IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING? -- Devotional for October 17, from "Good Seeds"

(Dear reader: Hang in there, I'll get caught up yet. I'm still under the influence of jetlag from our return from Japan last Friday, and lagging behind in entries, due to lack of time in Japan to write)

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)

This is an expression I have used, unaware it came straight from Scripture. When seeing someone after a long separation due to illness or depression, I might say, “Well, it looks like you’re in the land of the living after all!” David relates our well being to God’s goodness, apart from which we sense nothing but hopeless despair. Many things militate against hope. The first of these is when our bodies don’t cooperate. That’s when we can get pretty despondent. But the worst of these may be when life doesn’t cooperate, and we begin to languish in the doldrums of discouragement. Even the best of us – even as sterling an example of a Christian as the apostle Paul – can be forced to endure trials so harsh as to cause us to entertain thoughts of our own death, thinking of it as the better alternative to what we are now made to suffer. In Paul’s very personal letter to his friends in Corinth we hear his candid thoughts about death: he’s not wishing for it, but he’s definitely resigned to it: “We would not have you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living” (II Corinthians 1:8). Have you ever been burdened excessively, beyond all your inner resources for coping or enduring, and you just wanted to die? It could be the suffering of pain, physical or emotional, or the oppression of guilt, or a loss we just knew would be our undoing, or something else we were sure meant the end of life as we knew it – and the sooner that end came, the better! God sees us in such predicaments, but He doesn’t leave us in them. And He wants us to see Him, in them. David said the despair was there, knocking at his door, but right behind it, shrouded in the mist, hovered the Spirit of God, the very presence and essence of the goodness of God. But seeing this, seeing Him, takes faith: “I would have despaired had I not BELIEVED.” And that vision of God, of His goodness, fueled by faith, gives us the strength to wait for Him to “complete the work He has begun in us” (Philippians 1:6). Knowing He’s at work in our lives gives us the patience to wait. Knowing His goodness will finally have its victory in us can give great encouragement to our hearts. When things go wrong for children of the world, they take a pill; but when things go wrong for the children of God, we take courage, finding strength in Him to help us in our time of need. This is what it means to be “in the land of the living.” Is that where you and I reside today?

GOD'S GUIDANCE IN 3-D -- Devotional for October 16, from "Good Seeds"

Someone made this interesting observation: Why is it that when a man speaks to God we say, “Ah, he’s praying!” but when that same man claims to have heard God speak to him we get suspicious. Indeed, I’ve already gone on record as that suspicious one (see September 27), but I would balance my doubts with the three D’s of determining God’s guidance in a Christian’s life.
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Anyone who truly makes God number one in all his ideas and decisions and passions can claim this promise from God: that He will place within His trusting child’s heart the very desires He wants him to have. What a wonderful thing it is when what we want is also what God wants! That can only happen when we surrender our wills to His will. Do you crave God’s direction for you life? Give Him your compass; relinquish your plans…and then wait for His desires -- to become yours!
He was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia. He tried to enter Bithynia, but Jesus would not permit it. But then a man of Macedonia appeared in a vision saying, “Come over here,” by which Paul concluded that God was calling him to preach there. (Acts 16:6-10)
Paul wanted to go east with the gospel, but every door slammed in his face. But another door opened wide as God seemed to be saying, “Go west, old man!” A closed door is an obvious sign from God what NOT to do, where NOT to go. An open door needs more discernment, for there may be many possibilities. But now, how else does God lead?
Having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi departed for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)
Although this is the most subjective of the three D’s of God’s direction, we cannot deny the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, which sometimes comes to the waiting soul by way of a dream. Inner convictions, rooted in Scripture but separated from the turnings of circumstances or the opinions of well-meaning friends, have a crucial role in revealing to us God’s will for our lives. But all too often we are deaf to the still, small voice of God speaking deep in our hearts. “Surely the Lord was here, but I was unaware,” said Jacob (Genesis 28:15), who learned that night how receptivity improves as self-reliance dissipates. The more desperate we are to know Him, the more likely we will hear when He calls our name. And when we do hear His voice, we must answer, “Speak Lord, for Thy servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:10).

Friday, October 16, 2009

THE NEMURI NEKO: THE SLEEPING CAT -- Devotional for October 15, from "Good Seeds"

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat; the calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and the cow will graze near the bear. And a little child shall lead them. A toddler will play safely near the hole of a cobra, putting its hand in a nest of those deadly snakes without harm. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill in all My holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

While visiting TOSHOGU, one of the sacred Buddhist shrines of Japan, I came across an interesting illustration of prophetic, biblical truth. Yes, embedded within the false and confusing religion of lost mankind can sometimes be found hints and clues which could lead them to the truth of God. Mounted on an inside wall of one of these ancient buildings is the famous Nemuri Neko, a wood-carving of a sleeping cat. Nearby is another carving, showing sparrows at play. A caption reads: “Viewed together these carvings stand as a symbol of peace, for it is not in either the cat’s or the birds’ nature to be so docile while in such close proximity.” The idealist mournfully pleads, “Why can’t we all just get along!” The bumper sticker dryly encrypts: “Contemplate whirled peas.” The most embattled century of human history saw The Great War, not called World War I until there was a World War II! Why didn’t “the war to end all wars” do its job? And whenever there are not hot wars bloodying the countryside, there are cold wars boasting threats of world destruction, all in the name of self-preservation. The longing for peace has led nations to make treaties and to form alliances, and to put in writing promises of future non-aggression. The League of Nations following WW I, and the United Nations following WW II, were sincere attempts at making the world a safer, saner place to live! So, why is the entire world still a war zone? Jesus is called “The Prince of Peace.” The Bible says there is no other governor or government that can establish righteousness on the earth and guarantee freedom to go about life in a peaceful environment, unafraid. When will men learn that regardless of their craving for world peace, there will not and can not be true peace until the Prince of Peace has landed! Only then will the scenarios painted for us by the prophet Isaiah become a reality, where “the beasts of the wild shall be led by a child” (from the spiritual, "Peace in the Valley"); only then will the quest for peace etched in wood at Toshogu temple become a reality. Without the provision of personal heart peace now, as well as the promise of world peace someday – both available only in Jesus – we remain sparrows fluttering nervously in front of a not always sleeping cat!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GOD'S POWER SUPPLY FOR BELIEVERS -- Devotional for October 14, from "Good Seeds"

Serve one another. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another. (Galatians 5:13; I Peter 4:10)

Since many children don’t start the day with good nutrition some schools provide breakfast for their students, based on the premise that heads can’t be filled if tummies are empty. The work of learning can be applied to the work of fighting, for everyone knows “an army marches on its stomach.” The Bible says “you must not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain” (I Corinthians 9:9). Common wisdom tells us that no work can be accomplished without a power supply. Pastor J. H. Jowett said, “He who gives the command will also give the equipment.” And Bible teacher and author David Roper wrote, “No one is without a divinely appointed task, and the divine means for getting it done.” These are many ways of saying what Paul and Peter taught the church regarding the role of each of its members: On the day of a new Christian’s spiritual birth God gives him His Spirit, to live inside him, to assure him of his place in God’s family, and then teach and to guide him. Along with this gift of God’s presence comes another “birthday” present: a special, spiritual gift. There are as many nuances in the variety of these gifts as there are individual Christians who receive them, and yet there is just one singular purpose for all: that they “be employed in the service of others.” As common as the knowledge of this truth is among Christians, it is sad to see how very uncommon it is in practice. Even those who are taught from the beginning to live first for Jesus, and then for others, still spend way too much time – and expend far too much energy – looking out for number one! And it is because we concern ourselves so broadly in seeking just the perfect place of ministry, that we spread ourselves so thinly over the masses in serving them in the name of Jesus! We compete for places of honor and recognition, when the only competition among believers in Jesus should be our attempts at outdoing one another in serving one another! This is what Paul was saying to the Christians of the church at Galatia: “Beware of using God’s gift of freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do – which will destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows.” If the record shows that “Jesus went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), why do most of us content ourselves with just “going about”? Oh, we may be earnestly trying to serve our fellow man, but if we’re doing it with only human energies and agendas we are no more than “Peace Corps Christians.” But if we are in touch with heaven’s directives and resources – God’s power supply for believers – there is no limit to what God can and will do through us!

Monday, October 12, 2009

KAMI SAMA -- Devotional for October 13, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus said, “I and My Father are one.” Upon hearing this the Jews started gathering stones to stone Him. (John 10:30-31)

The word for god in the Japanese language is kami. When we use the word to refer to the one and only true God, we capitalize it. To make a similar distinction the Japanese add sama, a term of great respect. Kami sama could be translated, “the most respected God.” I’m writing this now from Japan, “the land of respect.” That is a key word here. Everything is about showing respect and honor and consideration. If it is done between people, why stop there? Why not continue it on into your religion? And so the people bow to one another, countrymen and foreigners alike. And they bow to God – that that is to god, or gods, or God – it doesn’t seem to matter. I used to think I had an edge on understanding Japanese religious thought by presenting to them this “unique” concept of kami sama, introducing to them the one and only true God, Creator of the Universe, that that would make all the difference in their thinking and set the stage for evangelizing them. But I’ve come to realize this is not a new concept to them. Just yesterday at a local store I was talking to a Japanese man who wanted to practice his English on me. I said, “I believe in God.” He said, “So do I.” Then I said, “But I believe in Jesus.” At that his face turned sour and he said, “No, Buddha!” This sparring match between “lesser gods” is what almost always happens when presenting the gospel in Japan. They have no problem with believing in God (though their understanding of Him is a far cry from the Bible) – it’s Jesus Christ they have trouble with. But is this anything new? To the Jews of New Testament times Christ’s introduction of Himself as the Son of God, as co-equal with God, was tantamount to blasphemy. Such a one, according to Jewish law, was to be immediately put to death. But for the religions of the world with a pantheon of gods, Jesus is given an equal respectful place, right up there next to Buddha (or maybe just one step below him!) To present Jesus as the face of God, the Son of God, the Word of God, the only way to God (even for the Christian who believes in the deity of Christ it is difficult to express this truth without getting it wrong) is a challenge indeed. But apart from Jesus, kami sama is only “Mr. God” – He can never be my Abba Father, my Savior – the Lover of my soul!

THE CHRISTIAN'S COLUMBUS DAY -- Devotional for October 12, from "Good Seeds"

But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-9).

People are strongly divided in feelings and opinions regarding the place of Christopher Columbus in the history of the United States. First of all, he didn’t “discover” this land. Yes, it was news to the Old Country that there was a New Country – another continent between Europe and Asia, heading west. But it wasn’t exactly an uninhabited land – it wasn’t new to Native Americans who’d lived here for centuries! And strictly speaking, this Italian explorer, sponsored and outfitted by Spain, wasn’t the first European to touch down on the Western hemisphere, for don’t forget good old Leif Ericksen and his fellow Norsemen, whose Viking vessels had anchored along these shores many years before the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria! And then there’s the problem about what soon followed Columbus’s claim of the New World: with the exchange of goods and services came the ravages of smallpox and the curse of slavery. Why is it that whenever one culture visits another as much or more harm comes from it than good? No matter what the question, regarding the troubles of mankind, the answer is always the same: SIN. Bring it home, now, to where we live: when you or I enter a room of people, do things become better, or worse? What do we bring with us when we come? What do we take away? Every visitor is a Conquistador of one kind or another! But when we read about the early church and how it spread, like wildfire through both the Jewish and Gentile world of the first century, a whole new perspective opens to us regarding God’s plan for man in his dealings with his fellow man. Before His return to heaven, Jesus left us with The Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We are to start with our neighbors across the street, but not to stop until we’ve crossed the sea, in sharing the Good News of salvation and heaven with anyone who will listen. And so, let the followers of Jesus from all over the world accept this dubious American holiday as a reminder of the Christian’s quest: to plant the flag of forgiveness from sin through Christ on the shores of men’s hearts wherever our travels may take us!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

SEEING EYE TO EYE -- Devotional for October 11, from "Good Seeds"

Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the Jewish leaders, that He would be killed, and be raised up on the third day. At that Peter took Him aside to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord – this shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s. (Matthew 16:21-23).

Just like in any family, Jesus and His disciples didn’t always get along. And the provocations weren’t always just the minor Irritations (Stage 1 conflict) that are inevitable between people who spend life together, twenty-four/seven. But neither were they the conflicts that come when people lose respect for one another and start becoming mean or bitter -- even though today's Scripture may give that idea. Just a few moments earlier, Jesus had put out a test question to the disciples, and Peter had answered correctly, for which he received this wonderful accolade: “Blessed are you, Peter, for hearing the voice of My Father in heaven!” (verse 7). But now, when Jesus entrusted to His friends privileged information regarding the immediate future, Peter, empowered by his newly favored position (or so he supposed), ventured to express his opinion, presenting it as the better way. Jesus did not spare for His friendship with Peter: upon hearing words so foreign to God’s program, not to mention so totally contrary to what He had just told them, He came at Peter with this fiery rebuke, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Would Jesus now resort to name calling? To be called “Satan” was a terrible thing, but to be identified as a “stumbling block” to Christ wasn’t much better! Was Jesus put out with Peter to such a degree that He would risk distancing Himself from His friend with such harsh language? No, this was not a case of Aggravation (Stage 3 conflict), but rather Disagreement (Stage 2 conflict). In such cases the controversy and polarization that take place come not from harsh anger, impatience, or any of the other factors that lead to aggravated verbal assault. Rather, it is merely a case of misunderstanding. Careful, honest dialogue may be all it takes in such cases for clarification and realignment to take place. Other times it may require some pretty confrontational language, to get the point across. But either way the conflict is not about persons, but ideas. Christ was not rejecting Peter himself, but rather his wrong understanding, letting him know in no uncertain terms how he had so quickly fallen into the thinking of the world, and how Satan had so deftly taken him in to use him as his spokesman. By the way, how good are we at correcting the errors of our brothers without rejecting them?

SHUT THE DOOR TO EVIL -- Devotional for October 10, from "Good Seeds"

“The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; behold how great a forest is set aflame by it, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:5,6)

I was reminded of the truth of this verse one day when some gossip got back to me…about me! But then I thought, “I’m not much better. Just when am I ever going to get control of my tongue?” The temptation is to want to just shut up completely. But talking is not like a drug addiction, where a cure would mean zero intake (zero intake of food would soon result in a zero heartbeat!) Rather it can be compared to over-indulgence in eating, where the cure is manifested by self-control. And with speaking there’s a definite positive side, for with our tongues we can also praise our Creator and encourage our fellow man. Whenever we open our mouths to speak, let it remind us to consider our motives, and try to foresee the effect on our hearers. Ask God, “Is this something You are directing me to say now?” An important way to shut the door to evil is to shut our mouths while God purifies our hearts. Another is by shutting our ears to the evil coming from the lips of others. Sometimes it’s better to just walk away, closing the door to their poison. And this sort of talk can even come from Christians! Remember Jesus’ words to Peter, one of His closest friends: “Get thee behind Me, Satan, you are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting you mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23). Lord, help us all to learn to “shut the door to evil,” never bidding entrance of its poison to our soul.

Oh, why do men talk? They talk to be heard.
But sometimes they speak such a poisonous word!
‘Tis a gift to be silent, giving moments to think –
Giving God your attention, keeping self from the brink

Of disaster with others, ruination with men.
Shut the door to the devil, close the gate to his den.
Here’s a rule for myself: Speak ill of no man,
Throw opinions away – instead of words, lend a hand.”

Give audience to no one who comes with fresh tales
Of a man’s reputation – finding joy when he fails.
Those wicked truth-twisters, from their lies turn away;
Satan’s brothers and sisters, heed not what they say.

Never wish them “God speed;” never open the door;
To their voice give no ear; never give them the floor.
Godly silence is golden, but there’s a right time to talk –
A right time to listen – but a right time to “walk!”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

DREAMERS AND DOERS -- Devotional for October 9, from "Good Seeds"

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him. Then he had another dream and related it to his father, who rebuked him. (Genesis 37:5,9-10)

“There are some people who live in a dream world, others who face reality; but then there are those who turn one into the other.” When I read this quote, sent to the world in general from some nameless internet well-wisher, it made me think about this question of dreamers vs. doers. At this writing our American President has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – but it comes to him for his lofty plans and promises, having not yet accomplished any of them, and with many citizens thinking he’s on the wrong track altogether. Solomon wrote, “Man throws the dice, but God controls the outcome.” But, although we cannot determine our future, our daily habits have a great influence on it. It is neither destiny nor dreams that determine a man’s fate, but rather his personal discipline. Some dream, others do, still others dream as they do – doing while dreaming. Someone awakes from a busy night of dreaming. Does he remember his dreams? Does he need to? For such are the mixed-up dreams of subconscious sleep, little more than a hodgepodge of yesterday’s mistakes and missteps – errors turned to horrors! – thoughts best ignored and forgotten. But then there are the dreams we dream by day – not dreams at all, but hopes and wishes, plans and desires, thoughts we can control, and yet they remain in the realm of pre-reality. When we awaken do we think of the day ahead, of what could be, and what could happen if we listened to God and did His bidding? John Maxwell said, “I rarely awaken to a new day without knowing what I will be doing that day.” It’s a good thing to make our plans, but only as long as we are braced for being surprised by the surprises of God! When our feet hit the floor, are our hearts in gear with God? If so, we can hit the ground running: running to our Savior in prayer, running on His Scripture-wisdom as a car runs on gasoline, and then running by the power of His Spirit in the work He leads us to do. That leading starts not in the world of stark reality, but in the world of God-inspired dreams. Don’t be afraid of dreams, or of dreaming, but be very much afraid of only dreaming, while never doing. What can you and God do together today to turn your dreams – His dreams for you, and revealed to you – into reality, for His glory? One more thing: You must not share your dreams with just anyone: not many of your relatives, and not most of your friends. But share them with God – and then ask, “Lord, what would You have me to DO?" Doing God’s will is the litmus test of the genuineness of the dream.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"HIGH FLIGHT" -- Devotional for October 8, from "Good Seeds"

(DEAR READER: I'm writing from Japan, having lost 16 hours in my flight over the Pacific -- and nearly lost my teeth in the rough weather as we skirted a typhoon over Japan between Tokyo and Osaka. This entry was written in the sky, inspired by the poem "High Flight" which I had purposely brought along to read en route. Quotes from the poem are in bold). I've had a wonderful reunion with Karen, and with some old Japanese friends, and am staying quite busy in a delightful balance between ministry, relationship-building, and enjoying Japanese culture and God's creation. The typhoon washed the atmosphere and environment, and everybody said I brought California weather with me, as we've had some amazing blue sky days with a minimum of humidity. I've learned to say, Subarashi hi deska" - meaning, "What a beautiful day!" Though you can almost see my white knuckles in this entry, can you also see that God is good, continuing to take care of His own!)

Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not get tired; they will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:31)

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,” wrote the young pilot-poet, John Gillespie Magee Jr. Well, I have done so, too, though happily not at the helm of my flying machine as was he, but as a simple passenger. This son of missionary parents postponed his Yale scholarship to fly and fight against the Evil Axis as a member of the Spitfire Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings. Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbled mirth of sun-split clouds.” Though still in his youth, he was one who “waited on the Lord,” renewing his strength in Him, and as a “vigorous young man” did with his plane “a hundred things you have not dreamed of.” Now, I have no dream of “wheeling and soaring and swinging high in the sunlit silence.” Indeed, my goal and prayer is to keep a straight course, survive this typhoon, and land safely in Japan. I’ll leave the thrill of the ride to somebody else! I’m happy to have a Pilot higher up past the heavens, who’s got His hands on my pilot further up – in the cockpit – as they, together, deftly “fling this eager craft through the footless halls of air.” Nevertheless, how well I know that waiting on the Lord as I now do is no guarantee of a safe earthly landing. Back in 1941 that young pilot went unscathed throughout his whole time of training, even though he’d “topped the windswept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew.” How high was that? 5,000 feet? 10,000 feet? Try 30,000 feet, from whence I pen my prose! But the time came, all too soon, before his first combat mission – before even his 20th birthday – when he climbed “up, up, the long, delirious, burning blue” – for the last time! He met his untimely death during a final training flight, but not before he had “trod, with silent, lifting mind, the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out his hand, and touched the face of God!” How long must one live to truly live? He was a young man presumably with his whole life ahead of him; but one day, as he flew, he just kept on flying – like Enoch just kept on walking – right into the presence of God. I, too, would not outlive my faith in God or my exuberance for life and His creation. I have already long outlasted that young man in years, but please, God, though I may not be flying any more – or even running – may I keep walking with You, and believing in You. And yet I still would fly where never lark or eagle flew. I, too, would reach out, and with my hand and heart, touch the face of God!

Monday, October 5, 2009

FIND A GOOD WIFE -- FIND A GOOD LIFE! -- Devotional for October 7, from "Good Seeds"

(DEAR READER: Now you're going to think, "Now he's not falling behind but jumping ahead." Well, here's the deal: Tomorrow I leave for Japan, to join Karen, my wife, in ministry (who's been there already two weeks. I'll be writing a devotional a day, as usual, but I don't know if I'll have an internet access. So while I'm ahead two days now, I may fall 8 or 9 days behind, in publishing the devotionals. We return on October 16 and shortly thereafter you will find a plethora of devotionals, inspired, no doubt, by the experiences and relationships of my 10 days in Japan. I will be teaching, preaching, and doing puppets and music on Sunday, Oct. 11, and after that spending time with Hiro, our Japanese "son" and his wife and two little ones -- granddaughters we have yet to meet! See you soon again!)

A father can give his sons homes and riches, but only the Lord can give them understanding wives. A worthy wife is her husband’s joy and crown – the other kind corrodes his strength and tears down everything he puts up. But find a good wife, you find a good life – and even more: the favor of God! (Proverbs 19:14; 12:4; 18:22)

It’s pretty hard for these two things NOT to go together. I know a man who is constantly on the lookout to better his circumstances, to improve his situation, to find just the right job that will make the most of his gifts and talents and not waste his time with trivialities and troublesome people. If you met him, you would think to find a worrisome, discontented, and frustrated fellow. But amazingly, that’s not the case at all! And if you asked him if he was happy, the word “deliriously” would probably pass his smiling lips. How can this be, that a man struggles to find a good fit in his life’s vocation, and yet he appears to be just about the most joyful fellow in town? There’s only one explanation: he is one of those men blessed by God with a worthy wife! The Bible says such a woman has the amazing God-sent capacity to not only win her husband’s favor, but to cause him to shine, both in his inward temperament and in his outward testimony. But she is not just her husband’s joy, she is also his crown. If this man I’m talking about is not the most successful in his chosen field, or if he’s not terribly well known in the world at large, still – he is the hero at home! To his wife he couldn’t be more famous! He is the crowned one! What is a crown? It’s the hat worn by the high man, the one in charge, and honored as such. We think of a crown as a metallic, bejeweled affair, with kingly pomp and flair, but originally the word referred to the simple woven wreath awarded to the “one who won” a local – or an Olympic – sporting event. It’s interesting to note that the word for “crowned one” in the ancient Greek language is Stephanos, from which we get the name Steven. Interesting also – at least to me – that that is my name, for I am THAT MAN, that favored one, I’m happy to confess, in the story above! My earthly father gave me my name but, as Solomon said, he could never have given me what my Heavenly Father presented to me these many years ago: my beautiful wife! The old King James Bible says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” Oh she’s a good thing all right, for regardless of my continued struggle to make my mark in this world for God, she makes it clear to me every day that I’ve already made such a mark with her! The best thing God gave me was His Son, when by faith I received Him as my Savior. But the second best thing He ever gave me was my good wife – for with her has come such a good life that I just smile and wink at all my silly struggles!

GIVE "PRESENTS" TO ONE ANOTHER -- Devotional for October 6, from "Good Seeds"

Regard one another as more important than yourself. (Philippians 2:3); Give preference to one another in honor. (Romans 12:10b)

Is this truly one of the “one anothers” of the Bible? Well, the verse actually reads, “Give preference to one another,” of course, but when my little daughter changed that unfamiliar word into a familiar one, the mispronunciation became a downright inspiration! Nothing excites a child more than receiving presents! If you asked the average kid what his two favorite holidays are, more than likely he would answer, “My birthday and Christmas” – in that order. Makes sense: these are the two holidays where he receives presents. He may prefer his birthday to Christmas for the simple reason that on his own birthday he doesn’t feel as guilty acting like “it’s all about me,” when he may feel some compunction, at least as he begins to mature, about wanting the gifts and attention to be showered on him when he knows good and well Christmas is SOMEBODY ELSE'S birthday, and maybe the one to be honored should be “HIM, not ME!” But let’s get back to the correct word in the verse: preference. This means you put yourself, your own interests, your dislikes and delights, your opinions – even your favorite subjects of conversation – aside, deferring to those of others. This is a lot harder to do than we at first might think. The Bible says it is our sinful nature that causes us to look out for number one. Secularists draw the same conclusion, but with a far more benign reason: it's just the instinct for self-preservation, without which our race would have gone extinct eons ago! Both are right. Still, to put the protection and preferences of self second to those of others is not considered by most people a foolish -- but rather a quite noble -- thing to do! Paul wrote to the Philippian church to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3). To behave this way requires not only a whole lot of maturity and a huge dose of humility, but also a big pile of faith. Why faith? Because giving preference to the welfare and well being of others may leave us destitute or defenseless, or so we are tempted to think, and to fear. But faith knows well that old song, “God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way,” and will help you to sing it, as you put your trust in God’s resources rather than your own. It goes against our human nature to put others before ourselves, but Christians have been given a new nature, a nature that says to our soul, “Love God and love people, and don’t worry about yourself, for even if they don’t take care of you, God will!” So go ahead, give presents to others – give till it hurts, and you will be healed!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

LIVING AS SINGLES, THOUGH MARRIED -- Devotional for October 5, from "Good Seeds"

One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, and how he may please the Lord; but the one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, and how he may please his wife. His interests are necessarily and properly divided. (I Corinthians 7:32-34)

Two opposite syndromes are making a foray into marriage these days. They are opposites, though actually different sides of the same coin. One is seen when two people are married but the lifestyle of each resembles more the way single people live. The other is when people who are single are living as if they were married. Both are a desecration of marriage as God intended it to be, and neither will bring happiness to man or glory to God, because both ignore the basic foundation of marriage. Let’s look at them one at a time. The apostle Paul was unmarried himself, and he strongly recommended the single life to those who wanted to be single-minded in their service to the Lord. But not all people have the gift of celibacy: the ability to live alone – and live a holy life – without craving intimate companionship with the opposite sex. Indeed it is a very small portion of the human race that would purposely choose such a life. And this is surely of God, for wasn’t it His command from the beginning that His creatures multiply and fill the earth? Paul acknowledges this and says that if you’re destined and determined to be married then do so. But if you desire to be a servant of God, just know that your work for Him will be interrupted by the necessary TLC required by your spouse. In the lives of Christian married couples, though each individual’s DEVOTION must be to God first, and one another second, still the WORK done for God must necessarily come second, while the nurture of marriage and family must be first. This is not a compromise or a contradiction – it is God’s way! But so many people, good people, even godly people, miss this, to the hurt not only of their own happiness but of their witness before a world that hasn’t a clue what marriage is really all about! Though only a tiny portion of people are intended and gifted by God to be single, the trend toward the single life is growing at an alarming rate. How can people who long to be married, and are made so by God, nevertheless remain indefinitely single? Only by living the married life, without the commitment. This is the “Jet Set Generation” adults seeking out intimacy without permanency. Don’t they know they can’t have one without the other? They long for the advantages of marriage but loathe giving up their precious freedom. Isn’t it just like Satan, to counterfeit and desecrate the good things of God? And isn’t it just like people to fall for it, thinking the devil’s got a better way than God’s way?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

THE MARRIAGE FAST -- Devotional for October 4, from "Good Seeds"

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then, come together again, lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control (I Corinthians 7:5).

The practice of fasting – giving up food for a period of time – has long been practiced for the benefit of both body and soul. As a spiritual discipline its purpose is to draw you closer to God: intentional deprivation brings on the pain of hunger, which then has a way of deliberately putting your mind on one thing (God) because you are reminded every moment of another thing (food). But there are other fasts that food fasts, achieving similar positive results. Today’s Scripture speaks of a marriage fast, where a husband and wife separate from each other for a time. When Christians marry it is “under God,” which means their first allegiance remains to God. They know, or will soon learn, that when they keep God Number One, even before one another, He will maintain the health of that marriage where nothing and no one else can come between. But just as people get sick sometimes, so marriages can get terribly sick. It happens when the basic rules of marriage (Genesis 2:24-25) are violated. Maybe the glue bonding the two of them together is losing its stickiness and they begin to feel strangely independent of one another. Or maybe other people – relatives, friends, even those they are ministering to – begin to take precedence over their mate in thoughts, feelings and activities. Or maybe the two of them have allowed differences and disagreements to drive a wedge between them, and they’ve let many a sun go down “on their wrath.” The Bible tells us what to do in such cases. It’s a surprisingly unlikely prescription, for you’d think He would recommend coming together to practice oneness, but instead He recommends a temporary separation. This separation will be a fast from the full spectrum of intimacy: conversation, meals, fellowship and especially the marriage bed, which is specifically what Paul had in mind here. Separate living quarters will have to be arranged. This is all to be done by mutual consent: partners agree to separate, and they also agree to pray. They will ask for a closer walk with their Lord, for a listening ear to His voice, and for a revealing of His plan for the healing their marriage. This isn’t the time for marriage counseling (that may yet be necessary), or for crying on others' shoulders – or for taking action of any kind. Remember, the very nature of prayer is that you stop doing: you let go - you let God! Most important of all, you also plan beforehand to come together again at an agreed upon time. The difference between a fast and a strike is HOPE. You’re not holding out until you get your way. You’re waiting, rather, for God to show both of you His way!

Friday, October 2, 2009

PRAYER AND FASTING -- Devotional for October 3, from "Good Seeds"

So I gave my attention to the Lord God, to seek Him by prayer and fasting (Daniel 9:3). But such things come not but by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21).

Of all the Christian disciplines, surely the two most difficult and least favored are prayer and fasting. We give plenty of lip-service to prayer, Though we don’t do it very much or very well, we sure like to talk about it: “Please put me on the prayer chain; I’ll remember you in prayer; let’s all pray about that!” Oh the good intentions we Christians have, and the promises we make, concerning storming the gates of heaven with our supplications and petitions. But how much praying do we actually do? And how well do we do it? Someone once said, “Everything in the Christian life is easier than prayer.” He might be right – if it weren’t for fasting, which has got to be the toughest one of all. But these two are really very much alike – and it’s what they have in common that makes them so difficult. They’re both so hard to do because they’re all about what you can’t do, and still say you’re doing them. For fasting, you don’t eat; once you start, your fast is over. When praying you don’t work or figure or do or fix or try or build, but rather you just come to God hungry, thirsty, weak, helpless – like a man who fasts – and you lay it all out before Him. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” – that’s real prayer! In both cases you don’t do anything, but rather you turn everything over to God. “The hardest thing in the world to do,” said someone, “is to do nothing, for it is impossible to stop and take a rest.” That’s the difficulty of prayer and fasting: in doing them you’re doing nothing, and you are desperate to stop doing nothing so you can get back to doing something (or eating something!). Just as there are two kinds of sins: commission and omission, so there are two kinds of disciplines: doing, and not doing. Prayer and fasting fall into the latter category. Why do we fold our hands when we pray? Because there’s nothing for them to do. Real prayer is setting aside OUR work, in favor of GOD’S. And why do we close our eyes? Because we’ve stopped looking at what man can do in order to see what God can do. Praying – and fasting – are all about shutting down our human machine for awhile, to give place to God, to let Him do His will and work in us. Fasting is painful, to be sure, but we are not made perfect by the pain, but rather our attention is diverted by it, from self to God. Every time we feel a hunger pang, it drives us to God, to say with Job: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). Both prayer and fasting are all about re-focusing, from the physical to the spiritual. Both are important, but the latter is greater. When we die, our soul lives on. So which should receive our best attention?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

TALKERS AND DOERS -- Devotional for October 2, from "Good Seeds"

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves let him do so as by the strength which God supplies. (I Peter 4:10-11)

Have you heard this one: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who say there are two kinds of people in the this world, and those who don’t”? But we’ve all heard many of these “two kinds of people” summarizations of mankind. And some of them are downright biblical! Dr. J. Vernon McGee used to say, “There are only two kinds of people in this world: the saints and the ain’t’s!” He took the words right out of our Lord’s mouth, except He called them “the sheep and the goats” (Matt. 25:32). But now, among those sheep the apostle Peter makes another distinction. First he says "we’ve all received a special gift from the Lord." Indeed Paul lists seven distinct motivational gifts (leave it to Paul to say, “There are SEVEN kinds of people in God’s kingdom!”) But Peter is to Paul as Mark is to Matthew, saying virtually the same thing but with fewer words. Peter reduces the many gifts into two broad categories: The gifts of speaking, and the gifts of serving – the talkers and the doers. Now it’s only natural that each thinks his is the better gift. There should be no bragging or arguing about it, but it’s a good thing to like best what you do best – as long as you remember where it came from. You don’t get the credit, you don’t get the glory, but you do get the joy that comes from doing well what you were endowed by your Creator to do. Just today I was talking via email to my wife, who is in Japan on a short-term missions endeavor. She was bemoaning the fact that she’s not as gung-ho in ministry as the other team members, and it was making her feel so unspiritual. I told her, “Maybe you’re the only normal one in the group, and you’re there to provide sanity and balance.” I may have been on the right track, but here’s a better way to say it: “You have different gifts than they have. Maybe in what is going on right now their gifts of articulating God’s truth are more needful, and so are at the forefront. But your gifts of friendship and fun (she does the crafts) are just as beneficial – and just as spiritual, for that matter. I’ve long known my wife to be as deft with her hands as I am clever with words. That’s why I married her: opposites attract, and we each need what the other has. She’s always telling me, “I can’t say it as prettily as you.” I come back with, “But I’m the one with no brains when it comes to practical matters. What would I do without you?” And what would the Japan team do without her? Happily, they’ll never know, for she’s there, smiling and serving – and being a good listener to those with the spiritual gift of gab!!