Devotions

Don’t Think Like Everyone Else

Isaiah 8.11.

The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. – Isaiah 8:11

As soon as I read this verse, I had a whole devotion tumbling into my head. Every good parent – including God the Father – warns their children to refrain from thinking and acting like all the other kids. And that’s especially true when a culture has values opposed to God’s ways. Indeed, “Don’t do it! Don’t think like everyone else!”

For our cultural moment, that sounded like sage advice. And then I read the next verse, “12 Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.”

Fear!

In this passage (and through this prophet), God is warning his people to not be ruled by fear. He is indeed warning us not give into every hyperventilating headline. Israel was surrounded by enemies, and some Chicken Little will always be out there, crying that the sky is falling. And for Israel it was. The Assyrians were coming. That was half of God’s message. The sky was falling – “4 Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” “4 the prey hastens and the spoil speeds.”

But that was only half the message. The other half was the way to escape. That was God’s true message. “13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life,” says the prophet. “13 He is the one you should fear (revere).” Because if you do, you will find that “14 He will keep you safe.” Indeed, “14 He will be a stone that makes [other] people stumble.”

Yes, doomsday scenarios and conspiracy theories will continually draw an audience, and sometimes there are real threats on this horizontal plane. But God wants us to hear a bigger message. A more hopeful message. The true truth! He says, “13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life [and] 14 He will keep you safe.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who knows

the sky isn’t falling,

but heaven is shining

 

What Christians Leaders Should Look Life — and P.S. You’re a Christian Leader

2 Timothy 3.2.

a [Christian Leader] must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. – 2 Timothy 3:2-3

I did a Bible Study a few years ago with a young man. He told me, “As life progresses and as I think one day about settling down, I want to learn to be a better Christian man, a leader in my future household.”

We found a book. It surveyed several passages of the Apostle Paul, teaching young Christian leaders – like Timothy – how to lead. And a big part of leadership, according the Apostle, was the character of the leader.

Each chapter in the book covered essentially each word and characteristic in passages like today’s. Leaders are advised to not be greedy – “a lover of money.” To not let addiction – including being a “drunkard” – rule your life. To not be quick to anger – either “quarrelsome” or “violent.” Those are some of the “do nots.”

The “do’s” include a call for leaders to be sensible, gentle, and above reproach.

And the reason was obvious. Christianity was a new thing. People knew nothing about it. And as Christians began to evangelize, before they could ever get someone to read about the faith in God’s Word, people were surely “reading” the character of the witnesses – especially the leaders.

That’s obviously true today too. And while we could surely focus on good and leaders representing Christianity in our world today, devotionally, I think it’s more helpful to focus on whether you and I are personally good witnesses. Are you sensible, gentle, and above reproach? Do you strive to stay away from addiction, consciously tame your anger, and keep covetousness and greed in check? People are “reading” us. What do they know about Christ from our life-testimony.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants

to be a good book

To God Belongs the Glory

Psalm 115.1. 

Not to us, O Lord,

not to us, but to your

name give glory…

Psalm 115:1

The context? God’s people are being oppressed. But “why,” say the people in verse 2, “why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’”

They want victory. They hope for it. Want it. Need it. But their cry is with a heart of faith. They don’t want victory so that the world knows their name and they get the glory. They want victory so the world knows God’s name and God gets the glory!

Have you ever wanted to make a name for yourself? Well, when our youth led worship a week ago, they helped us sing Only Jesus by Casting Crowns

Make it count, leave a mark, build a name for yourself
Dream your dreams, chase your heart, above all else
Make a name the world remembers
But all an empty world can sell is empty dreams
I got lost in the light when it was up to me
To make a name the world remembers
But Jesus is the only name to remember

CHORUS
And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus
And I, I’ve only got one life to live
I’ll let every second point to Him
Only Jesus

All the kingdoms built, all the trophies won
Will crumble into dust when it’s said and done
But all that really matters
Did I live the truth to the ones I love
Was my life the proof that there is only One
Whose name will last forever _____chorus

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…”

In Christ’s Name,

a guy who wants

to be forgettable,

if others

remember Jesus

 

 

 

In Our State of Checkered Characters, How Does One Restore Their Name?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a devotion. It was finally sent out last Friday. It told the story of how no one in the early church was initially going trust Saul/Paul to be a disciple. Why? Because Saul had a violent past – he’d literally persecuted the first Christians. Indeed, he provoked and cheered on the execution of Stephen. As the story from Acts unfolds, no one – understandably – trusted Saul. And the point of the devotion was: How Does One Restore Their Checkered Character?

As I said, I wrote this devotion two weeks ago. But current events prompt me to share this devotion again. Why? Because of the chaos in Virginia politics – or at least one piece of the chaos. (See a comment on the second issue at the end of the devotion.) Here’s the headlines: Thirty-five years ago, both the Governor and the Attorney General of Virginia dressed up in blackface.

It was racist. It was wrong. They (and each of us) can make excuses for past transgressions like, “I was young,” “I didn’t know any better,” “It was a different era,” “I was simply dressing up to honor a musician.” Excuses may supply context, but wrong is still wrong. Yet, guess what? Those two politicians are exactly like every one of us.

How many of us have done something “dumb” in our past? Maybe it was incredibly racist? Maybe it was exceptionally hurtful to another individual? Maybe it was shockingly criminal? Sometimes we hold such things as deep dark secrets. Other times these transgressions are so public that it’s like we’ve been stripped naked, exposed, and can never get away from the reality of our past. Well, it doesn’t matter. Big or small, we’ve all done something for which we ought to be ashamed, haven’t we?

So how do we respond in our current Gotcha Culture, where every past mistake or transgression is cause for almost permanently dismissing a person? The story of Saul and the early suspicious church may give us a clue. Therefore, I urge you to re-read Friday’s devotion in this light. It started with rightful suspicion … but it allowed for forgiveness and restoration. Yet in between suspicion and reconciliation, it required what? It required that the sinner not make excuses. It required the sinner to humbly “own up” to the hurtfulness of their past, including accepting the consequences, whatever they might be. Unlike too many politicians, Saul didn’t try damage control or spin. He humbly confessed.

So … let’s focus on Friday’s devotion again, being clear that there is absolutely no justification or excuse for racism – past or present – just as there was absolutely no justification or excuse for Saul’s violently persecuting the first Christians. But the question is this: Can we be forgiven? Can we mature? Can our hearts change? Will we confess? Will we be humble? Will we accept the consequences of our sin, even if that means giving up our public status? Will we also stop the Gotcha Culture, that’s willing to permanently trash reputations for political points (whether they be of left-leaning Governors or right-leaning Supreme Court nominees)? Will we promote forgiveness and restoration (in ways that adequately fit the context)?  Hear the story … and please pay attention to an even bigger issue at the end!!!!

When [Saul] had come to Jerusalem,

he attempted to join the disciples;

and they were all afraid of him,

for they did not believe that

he was a disciple.

Acts 9:26

Yesterday I told you that Saul – soon to be the Apostle Paul — had been a violent and virulent tormentor of the fledgling Christian Church. He was leading persecutions, even executions. But along the road to Damascus, Jesus knocked Saul down with a bright vision, a personal encounter, and a transformative call to ministry.

That was all going on inside Saul.

Outside of Saul, however, the members of the Early Church were still “afraid” of Paul. Indeed, when he showed up in Jerusalem the first time, they didn’t trust him. As it says in Scripture, “they did not believe he was a disciple.”

If you were Saul, how would you prove that change of heart? Words are nice. “Trust me, guys.” But words are also cheap. If you’ve been harsh before, a liar before, untrustworthy before, you could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing now. So, if we want to be trusted, we may need more words.

Two things changed the Early Church’s heart toward Saul.

  • The first was a character witness, in this case Barnabas. The Christians in Jerusalem were ready to reject Saul, “27 but Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and [told them the story of Saul’s change of heart. He] described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” Meaning, if you’ve been untrustworthy in the past and you want me to accept you now, you better have a character witness who can testify to the validity of the change within you.
  • And yet, most of us are still going to be a little suspicious, aren’t we? We’ll give you just a little rope. Just enough to hang yourself if you’re insincere, right? And so words aren’t enough, you’re going to need to back up your words with actions. And in this case, Saul did. Scripture says, 28 He went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.” After they tried to kill Saul for the third or fourth time, the Early Christians began to say, “I guess he really is sincere.”

Our character is our most valuable characteristic. We can lose our reputation. People can lose trust in us. Nevertheless, it can be built back. And Saul shows us how. God is the Father of forgiveness. And we as Christians should be both wise and forgiving. Trust but verify.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is realy

more concerned about

an even bigger issue

in Virginia …

Lost in the shame of blackface was an even bigger issue for the governor and state legislators of Virginia. Before the issue of racism swallowed the headlines, the governor promoted a Virginia House Bill that endorsed infanticide under the guise of abortion rights: “The infant would be delivered … kept comfortable … resuscitated if that’s what the mother and family desired …” Meaning: if the mother didn’t choose resuscitation, infanticide. Extinguishing the life. Killing the living newborn.

Racism is a huge issue in America. It has been since our founding. Why must we be concerned? Because it’s a matter of human dignity! All people – male or female, Jew or Gentile, white or black, newborn or elderly – are made in the image of God. Racism “kills” people one degree at a time. It robs innocent people one slight and one lost opportunity at a time.

All human life is matter of human dignity. And we must not excuse harming any human life – whether one racist degree at a time or one “unwanted” baby at a time. Life is life. Period. And every life demands dignity and protection. Otherwise, in big ways and in small, we are violating one of God’s greatest commandments – “Thou shalt not kill.” And we are becoming less human.

 

What Restores a Discredited Character?

acts9.26. 

When [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. – Acts 9:26

Yesterday I told you that Saul – soon to be the Apostle Paul — had been a violent and virulent tormentor of the fledgling Christian Church. He was leading persecutions, even executions. But along the road to Damascus, Jesus knocked Saul down with a bright vision, a personal encounter, and a transformative call to ministry.

That was all going on inside Saul.

Outside of Saul, however, the members of the Early Church were still “afraid” of Paul. Indeed, when he showed up in Jerusalem the first time, they didn’t trust him. As it says in Scripture, “they did not believe he was a disciple.”

If you were Saul, how would you prove that change of heart? Words are nice. “Trust me, guys.” But words are also cheap. If you’ve been harsh before, a liar before, untrustworthy before, you could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing now. So, if we want to be trusted, we may need more words.

Two things changed the Early Church’s heart toward Saul.

  • The first was a character witness, in this case Barnabas. The Christians in Jerusalem were ready to reject Saul, “27 but Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and [told them the story of Saul’s change of heart. He] described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” Meaning, if you’ve been untrustworthy in the past and you want me to accept you now, you better have a character witness who can testify to the validity of the change within you.
  • And yet, most of us are still going to be a little suspicious, aren’t we? We’ll give you just a little rope. Just enough to hang yourself if you’re insincere, right? And so words aren’t enough, you’re going to need to back up your words with actions. And in this case, Saul did. Scripture says, 28 He went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.” After they tried to kill Saul for the third or fourth time, the Early Christians began to say, “I guess he really is sincere.”

Our character is our most valuable characteristic. We can lose our reputation. People can lose trust in us. Nevertheless, it can be built back. And Saul shows us how. God is the Father of forgiveness. And we as Christians should be both wise and forgiving. Trust but verify.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’d prefer

an ounce of prevention

to a pound of cure

when it comes to

my honor

Today’s Full Readings

List of Daily Readings

 

What Does “Power” Mean?

acts9.22.

Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. – Acts 9:22

While training for ministry, I sat with a group of seasoned pastors and green seminary students. In talking about their growing understanding of ministry, one young trainee said he was surprised by the “power” of the pastoral role. Bad choice of words! One of old veterans exploded. For thirty minutes, he lectured us on why “power” should never be used to describe a pastor’s influence.

I was impacted. I still remember it vividly today. He made some very good points! And at the same time, it was hugely ironic … this crusty pastor was forcefully using his “power position” to intimidate us into never using the word “power” again.

Power!

I couldn’t help but flinch when today’s verse said, “Saul became increasingly more powerful.” Saul had been a violent and virulent persecutor of the fledgling Christian Church. He helped lead the execution of Stephen. But along the road to Damascus, Jesus knock Saul down with a bright vision, a personal encounter, and a transformative call to ministry. And Saul – soon to be the Apostle Paul – was changed. He began to study the ways and teachings of Christ, and as it says in today’s verse, “Saul became increasingly more powerful.”

Should “power” be used to describe a proclaimer of the Word? My translation thinks so. But what does “power” mean in this context?

First, what was Saul doing? He was learning … and then proclaiming. He was “confound[ing] the Jews” by “proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” In other words, he was showing how fifteen-hundred years of Jewish prophecy pointed to Jesus as the long-expected Savior. So, was it Saul who had power … or was it the Word of God that has power, and “Saul [was] bec[oming] increasingly more [adept]” at proclaiming God’s truth?

Is “power” skill?

Is it influence? Paul was surely growing in influence – enough that leaders of the Jews would soon want him silenced … dead.

The NET translation says that Paul was becoming “more and more capable.” I hope all churches are praying for their pastors to become “more and more capable” in proclaiming the Word of God. (And I hope they’re also praying that their pastors understand that it’s God’s Word that has “power,” not their fallible, human pastor who is prideful enough to think that he or she has “power.”)

The OJB translation says that “even more [Saul] was being strengthened.” I like that. The Holy Spirit – who filled him in verse 17 – was building Saul in knowledge, understanding, and capability. The Spirit was fitting him for ministry. And let’s be clear: If Saul was effective (powerful) at all, it wasn’t because of his own aptitude; it was because the Holy Spirit was working in and through him.

Ultimately, the crusty old pastor was right. Humans aren’t powerful. If power is manifested in the church, it’s one of two things: First, “power” by humans could be manipulation. Wrong power is people using human capabilities for human gain. Indeed, wrong power is people using personal influence for personal gain. That’s what the old pastor rightly railed against! But there’s a second kind of power that we all ought to pray that we experience. And that’s the power of the Holy Spirit!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who prays:

God, get us out of the way.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Today’s Full Readings

List of Daily Readings

 

 

Learning To See Like A Prophet

jeremiah1.11.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” – Jeremiah 1:11

Jeremiah is a new prophet – and a very “7 young” prophet too. Therefore, God is starting Jeremiah with Prophet School. The Lord is training him to see.

In today’s verse, God’s training of his prophet begins. The Lord says, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And when Jeremiah said, “I see a branch of an almond tree,” we ought to notice two things: First, it was a very simple vision. Second, it was very specific. It wasn’t just a branch; it was specifically an almond branch.

What did that mean?

  • First, the word “almond” sounds much like the Hebrew word for “be watchful.”
  • Second, the almond tree was generally the first tree to bud in the Spring.
  • Thus, it is commonly believed that God’s first message to Jeremiah was “be watchful” because a new season of God speaking and fulfilling his Word is about to burst forth like Spring.

Now, “what did it mean?” is generally what we focus on when reading a prophecy. But I want to look somewhere else first. I want to look at how God was teaching Jeremiah – and maybe us – to see.

God calls prophets to speak. God calls us to speak too. He calls us to be “witnesses,” which calls us to find our spiritual voice.

So then, what must a prophet or witness do before speaking? We must first know what we’re talking about. In other words, before we declare God’s truths, we first must see … know … comprehend. We must seek first the kingdom of God and yearn to know his ways.

Jeremiah 1:11 was Prophet School. Our first calling is also to learn. To hunger for God’s Word. To seek after God’s ways. “Little child, what do you see?”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who celebrates

that you’re reading

this today. It show

your hunger. So …

Little child, what

did you see?

Today’s Full Readings

List of Daily Readingsjeremiah1.11.