Month: December 2018

Suddenly

In my last job, there were at least four times when career-ending disasters occurred with one of our major clients. Not because of a lack of diligence but from simple, human mistakes. Each of these times, within management, there was a sense of impending doom. I prayed. I’m confident others prayed. Each time these disasters turned to “mist” and dissipated with little or no harm. So, I can testify that God answers big prayers.

God will answer your big prayer.

When we pray we know: 1) God loves us. 2) We are not here in this world as orphans, but we’ve been given the Holy Spirit. 3) All authority has been given to Jesus, our Lord.  So, we know that, just as with Jeremiah, the triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is for us and not against us. (Jeremiah 29:11)

From Scripture, we know God answers prayers about who, what, when, and where but God rarely, if ever, explains “why.” Don’t ask Him why; He’s sovereign.

We know that when we petition God, we must be consistent until there is, within us, confidence from the Holy Spirit. Old-timers called this “praying through.” Remember Christ’s parable about the widow demanding justice from the judge (Luke 18:1-8). 

By now you’ve noticed the repetitive “we know”’s in the preceding paragraphs. The “we know”’s are to remind us that we are on familiar turf when it comes to making our requests known to our Father. So, God may seem silent to you but be sure He is at work on your behalf. As with all prayers, true reality is first made real the spirit, by God, and then manifested in this physical world. (Daniel 10:10-14). And, God is the God of “suddenly.” Often, when God answers prayer, His response is sudden, when you least expect it.

Here are two examples of God’s suddenly:

Isaiah 29:5-7 (NIV), ...Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire. Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel [A symbolical designation for Jerusalem], that attack her and her fortress and besiege her, will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night—

Isaiah 48:3 (NIV), I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.  

So, ask, make your petitions known to your Father, pray in the Spirit, ask in the name of the Son. God desires to answer your prayer. Your small ones but also your big prayers.

Nooks & Crannies

Wired the way I am, nooks and crannies drive me nuts. When I clean my car I want it clean but it has air vents, and seats that don’t come out, and a trunk release that was designed to also function as a small waste basket. The way my shower is made, it is impossible to get under the corners to clean them. When I install software upgrades on my computer I know those leave behind bits and pieces of the old version, and it is tedious to comb through system folders to remove those nits and nats. And, I have nooks and crannies within me. Those are the worst.

How do I know what I don’t know? Do I completely believe what I claim to believe? Forgiveness is riddled with crevasses that leave me wondering what needs to go and what is supposed to stay. Yes, I am surrounded on every side by nooks and crannies that need cleaned or filled or just left alone.  

Jesus doesn’t leave nooks and crannies undone. That is a comfort to me. John 8:36 (NIV) says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” No nooks, crannies, nits or nats. In 1 John 1:9 (NIV), “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Again, we’re not only forgiven, but we are purified. No unclean crevasses.

Wrapping this up, take a quick look this very familiar verse in Romans 8:27-28 (NIV), “And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.

God works “all things together for the good of those who love Him…” All things, no nooks, crannies, nits or nats. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to battle with your car’s air vent, but it does mean that in all things you can have peace for Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

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Have you made Jesus an idol?

Idol

Many times you or I have projected our expected characteristics onto some exceptional person only to find out they had “clay feet”. And, perhaps, their actual character was deeply flawed. It is human nature to want people to be the way we want them to be. We idolize them; not just ideal-ize them but we make them an idol. An old saying from when I was growing up was “he worshipped the ground she walked on” when talking about a guy that was head-over-heels “in love” with some girl.

When an object is a person, it’s easy for any of us to transform him or her into an idol. The main ingredient is blindness or intentionally redefining what our idol says and does. Once we do this then we simply attach to that person the characteristics which we like. Before you know it, you have your very own idol to worship. 

I am certain that nearly every Christian is selective in what they venerate about Jesus while avoiding other characteristics that run contrary to who we want Jesus to be. However, unlike a musician, movie star, or great philanthropist, Jesus is perfect. We accepted Him as Lord and Savior, and there is real danger to us if we slip into turning Jesus into an idol. If we blind ourselves or reject or diminish who Jesus “is”, what He has said, or what He has demonstrated, then we are no longer worshiping Jesus but an idol we created.

The Holy Spirit provides us with the guidance we need to prevent us from creating an idol of Jesus. This guidance is found in Romans 12:2 (NIV), which states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Our human nature constantly desires to create idols. So, we need to no longer be conformed to this worldly pattern but we need to be transformed so we see, think, and act as God desires; in truth, we are learning how to be citizens of God’s kingdom. Oh, I need to add this: pray. Talk to Jesus about the things you’ve buried or ignored. Bring them into the Light and your intimate Savior will help you.

Faith is like breath

Woman with arms stretched out
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At least three times in the last month I have been told by different people they were afraid that they were no longer saved. They didn’t know if they believed anymore.

When I get this many comments on a single topic it makes me realize there are many more people with this same concern. So, let me briefly address this concern. However, there are two key passages you need to keep in mind as we walk through this devotional, together.

(1) Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
(2) James 2:18 (NIV) “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

These two verses do not contradict each other but complement. What would you do to check to see if a person is alive? You’d check for a pulse; is the breath of life still there? We are saved through God’s grace. Our faith is made alive by God. Breath is active, breath is life. Faith is active, it produces, it works; the evidence of a healthy life in Jesus is an active faith. Now, it is possible that a person is in such bad shape that their breath is undetectable. People that fear they are no longer saved are nearly always in this condition. 

The life of Christ is in the apparently dead person but life is there within them and renewal is available for the asking. Is repentance needed? No doubt. Is restitution needed? Probably. Is rededication to the will of God needed? Absolutely. But all are freely available by the power of the Word of God within that person.

Within our relationship with Jesus we are reminded by Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

The “working out” is a very personal thing, as you would expect between a parent and a child. Even more importantly, this “working out” has nothing to do with losing your salvation. This is about becoming the person God knows you can be.

There’s a coupon for you

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If you hand a full-price coupon on soap to the cashier in your grocery store they take the coupon as a substitution for cash for the amount due. When you do this you are redeeming the soap with the coupon. The coupon is the substitution for the full amount required for you to get the soap; the store, as the owner of the soap, accepts the substitutionary transfer of ownership, and the soap is the “redeemed” as its ownership has been transferred from the store to you. 

Now, let’s apply this to John 3:16 (NIV): For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  • For God so loved the world  – God is the purchaser. 
  • that he gave his one and only Son – Jesus, God’s Son is the coupon. This is the substitutionary work Christ did on the cross. There is an excellent study on Substitution here: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/jesus-our-substitute/
  • that whoever believes in him – The believer is the soap that “asks to be purchased” – think VeggieTales 😉 
  • shall not perish but have eternal life – The transfer of ownership is complete. The soap (redeemed) now belong to God.

The redemption of people is the driving message of the Bible. God’s love of humanity is beyond anyone’s ability to understand but we should all be thankful for it. 

Entropy

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My mother understood entropy better than any physicist or engineer I’ve ever known.  Every spring and every fall Mom did top to bottom, side to side cleaning, clearing, creating, and curating of our house and all the stuff in it, including us kids. Likewise, Dad did repairs, remodeling, and general rummaging about, under Mom’s direction. Twice each year she fought the good fight against entropy, the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity per thermodynamics. She won all the battles except for the biological ones. The kids grew up, Mom and Dad grew old, and, eventually, entropy won.

With Christmas 2018 now in our rear view mirror, we are preparing for our national tradition of New Year’s resolutions. This usually is intended as our individual and social battles against this aspect of thermodynamics. Most of us will fail quickly, all will fail eventually. Still, the fight is worth the effort.

For a Christian, we have a kind of spiritual entropy with which we must challenge. It’s not the same as that of the world. We don’t lose our salvation, our spiritual condition does not return to some inert uniformity. No, we are made alive in Christ. This is not by us but by He who lives in us. Jesus imparts to us a vibrant life that is active now and will be fully manifested once the shackles of this world are thrown off.

However, we are not yet fully escaped from thermodynamic entropy. As we walk through this world its “dust” clings to us, attempting to return us back to its process of degradation. We need to get that worldly dust out. Though it reminds me of Mom, it is Jesus who taught us that it is important to clean the world off of us. This was memorialized when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. You can read the whole account in John, chapter 13. The verse I wanted to close with is verse 10, where Jesus says to Peter, ” Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean…

Already, as a Christian, the laws of this old physical world have no hold on the regenerated you “…because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 NIV)

The gift of a penitent heart

Yes, this is a Christmas story, of sorts. So, of course, we’ll go to Luke 22 (NIV):

60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.
61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

A good Christmas gift is something we want, but the best gift is something we need but have no means to acquire. Today, we will discuss penitence, something we can’t buy.

Everyone, at some time in his life, has fallen. Many have fallen many times; few, few times. And the more a person knows their life and watches its critical flow from day to day, the larger seems to grow the number of these falls, and the oftener reaches out to God their penitential prayer, “Turn yet again, O Lord!”

Peter needed something that he was utterly unable purchase. Peter needed to be restored to Jesus. This could only start by penitence. From this passage in Luke we find four outstanding characteristics of the state of penitence:

(1) It is a divine thing. It began with God. Peter did not turn. But “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”
(2) It is a very sensitive thing. A look did it. “The Lord looked upon Peter.”
(3) It is a very intense thing. “Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
(4) It is a very lonely thing. “Peter went out” — out into the quiet night, to be alone with his sin and God.

These are characteristic not only of the penitential state but of all God’s operations on the soul. The Lord turned and looked upon Peter. There is nothing more sensitive in all the world than a human soul which has once been quickened into its delicate life by the touch of the divine.

We seldom correctly estimate the exquisite beauty and tenderness of a sinner’s heart. We apply coarse to move it, and harsh stimulants to rouse it into life. And if no answer comes we make the bludgeon heavier and the language coarser still, as if the soul were not too fine to respond to weapons so blunt as these.

There is coarseness in the fibers of the body, and these may be moved by blows, and there is coarseness in human nature, and that may be roused with threats; but the soul is delicate as a breath, and will preserve, through misery and cruelty and sin, the marvelous delicacy which tells how near it lies to the spirit of God who gave it birth.

Christ’s gift to Peter could not be given until Peter fully understood his need. Notice, Christ turns first to Peter. When we are in the act of sin, it takes an act of God to break the hold of sin. Jesus gave that to Peter by a single look. Jesus never forgets us, no matter what are the circumstances.

Now, there are two prevalent human responses when sin’s grip is broken; these are human penitence or divine penitence. We may have thought we had been stronger men and women, and when we were put to the test we found to our dismay that we had failed. And this embarrassment is what we are apt to mistake for penitence. But it is no Divine gift of grace, this human penitence — it is merely wounded pride — sorrow that we did not do better, that we were not so good as ourselves and our neighbors thought.

Contrast this with the publican’s prayer of penitence in the temple (Luke 18:13). It was not wounded pride with him. And we feel as we read the story that the Lord must have turned and looked upon the publican, when he cried “God” — as if God were looking right down into the man’s eyes — “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Stricken before his God, this publican had little thought of the self-respect he had lost and felt it no indignity.

Jesus looked at Peter, his sin was made real to him, so he ran to be alone and weep, not from pride but from a penitent heart. That was a gift to Peter – Godly sorrow.

There is nothing more sensitive in all the world than a human soul which has once been quickened into its delicate life by the touch of the divine. People seldom correctly estimate the exquisite beauty and tenderness of a sinner’s heart. Peter’s penitence was not only an intense thing and a lonely thing, but it was also an immediate thing.

We spoil the grace of our penitence many a time by waiting until the sin grows old. We do it on purpose. Time seems to smooth the roughness off of our sin and take its bitterness away. And we postpone our penitence until we think the edge is off the sharpness of the wrong. As if time, as if eternity could ever make a sinner’s sin less black. Sin is always at its maximum. And no one ever gets off with penitence at its minimum. The time for penitence is just the time when we have sinned.

Christ’s second gift to Peter was restoration. We read about this in John 21:15-19. Peter would not and could not have received his second gift without the first. It would be like getting batteries without a toy car to put them in; nothing would happen.

A penitent heart is a great gift. It is one we need but cannot acquire on our own. However, it does have a shelf life. Receive Christ’s gift to you. Open it. Its value is beyond measure.

*Note: This devotion rests heavily upon “Penitence – The Ideal Life” by Henry Drummond, a 19th-century Scottish evangelist.

“Oh silly rabbit

Oh, silly rabbit, Trix™ are for kids.”

That was the slogan for sugary Trix cereal that made me ask Mom to please, please buy some when she went to the grocery store; she rarely did, but that’s a story for my shrink. 😉

So, after many decades I still think, “Oh, silly rabbit.” when someone asks for something that is not for them. “Daddy, can we go up to the highest diving board thingy and jump off?”, says a six-year child to her parent. “No, honey, that’s for big kids.”, says the parent, thinking to themselves, “I wouldn’t make half-way up before I puked.”

Unfortunately, some people feel that way about the Bible; it’s not for them. They may have five Bibles in their home but never read any of them. Bryan Chapell, the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, made this insightful comment to people that think the Bible isn’t for them. He said, “Do you view the Bible as a disconnected series of moral tales interspersed between impossible commandments, woven into a maze of mysteries that somehow produces a message about a nice Jesus in the New Testament to counter the mean God of the Old Testament?”

The Bible is unique in all the world for it lives. It lives because it is the Word of God; Jesus is that Word (John 1:1). Jesus lives, and He not only causes His Word to live in the Bible, But He also desires to live in us and through us. There’s an old hymn that has this chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Here is are two cohesive points of the Bible I want to bring out:

1. Regarding God the Father, He is not the mean father of the Old Testament. Notice what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in Galatians 4:6, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” [i.e., Daddy, Father] Jesus suffered and died on the cross so we could know our Abba, Father. That doesn’t sound like a mean dad.

2. Red letter Bibles are helpful, but they are a bit misleading. I say this because the whole Bible, from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 is the living Word of Jesus. If you don’t just read the Bible, but you dig, study, connect the dots, you discover an astounding, plan. You see, the Bible is about God’s love, played out on the stage of Adam’s history, for the redemption of people that desire to be in God’s family and for the full restoration of God’s Creation.

When you understand these two aspects of the Bible, then it all fits together. For, you see, Abba Father has not left us to fend for ourselves. He is our Father, and He cares for us. We know this for certain for when Jesus, the Son of God, returned back to heaven Jesus didn’t leave us as orphans but sent the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to us, for us, so that God would be in us and lead us into all Truth (John, chapter 14).

The Bible is for kids, even grown-up kids. Now that’s good news.

Trix™ is a trademark By General Mills, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13401815

God’s will for you

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Many years ago I quit a job where I was vice president. It was a good-sized company of a couple of hundred people, and I did and still do respect to people there. However, during my whole tenure there, I never could get the peace of God in my work. In truth, I was there due to the wrong decision I made, and I knew it.

Finally, I resigned with no employment prospects in site. We ended up having to sell our nice, two-story, four bedrooms, two bath house and rent a mobile home in the backyard of my in-laws. Oh, and in the process, my wife and I found she was pregnant with twins. It was a very challenging time for me.

Actually, it worked out quite well for the family since my mother-in-law’s help with the twins was just a few steps away. One of my sons helped Grandpa roof his garage, and the kids had a great time with cousins and family. I, on the other hand, was not doing so well.

I felt I had failed my employer, failed my employees, failed my family, failed God. And, during this time I couldn’t get hired by anyone. I was even turned down as a Fuller Brush salesman and a telemarketer, really. Nothing I tried worked, except prayer. I began spending hours in prayer each day.

The passage of Scripture 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV), Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” was something I believed and practiced but it was also a struggle. God was tearing down the faith I had in my skills and the person I thought I was. To rebuild me he had to tear my house down to the foundation. Thankfully, Jesus was (and is) my foundation.

God rebuilt me, piece by piece; some I’ve seen and many I just know. God has blessed me beyond anything I could ask or think, but it took a painful refurbishing, one well after I’d received Jesus as my Lord.

I can affirm that I always attempt (key word is attempt) make my first response to any circumstance one of rejoicing, praying, and thanking Jesus to whom I belong. Whether in poverty or prosperity (Philippians 4:10-13) I know I can be content, That’s real peace.

However, during my whole tenure there, I never could get the peace of God in my work. In truth, I was there due to the wrong decision I made, and I knew it.

Finally, I resigned with no employment prospects in site. We ended up having to sell our nice, two-story, four bedrooms, two bath house and rent a mobile home in the backyard of my in-laws. Oh, and in the process, my wife and I found she was pregnant with twines. It was a very challenging time for me.

Actually, it worked out quite well for the family since my mother-in-law’s help with the twins was just a few steps away. One of my sons helped Grandpa roof his garage, and the kids had a great time with cousins and family. I, on the other hand, was not doing so well.

I felt I had failed my employer, failed my employees, failed my family, failed God. And, during this time I couldn’t get hired by anyone. I was even turned down as a Fuller Brush salesman and a telemarketer, really. Nothing I tried worked, except prayer. I began spending hours in prayer each day.

The passage of Scripture 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV), Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” was something I believed and practiced but it was also a struggle. God was tearing down the faith I had in my skills and the person I thought I was. To rebuild me he had to tear my house down to the foundation. Thankfully, Jesus was (and is) my foundation.

God rebuilt me, piece by piece; some I’ve seen and many I just know. God has blessed me beyond anything I could ask or think, but it took a painful refurbishing, one well after I’d received Jesus as my Lord.

I can affirm that I always attempt (key word is attempt) make my first response to any circumstance one of rejoicing, praying, and thanking Jesus to whom I belong. Whether in poverty or prosperity (Philippians 4:10-13) I know I can be content, That’s real peace.

That she should be delivered

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And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:6-7 AKJV

As I was reading this passage of Scripture, I noticed it says, “she should be delivered.” That made me think of my grandmother Moore. I never met her because she died from giving birth to my twin uncles.

Indeed, giving birth is a delivery for the woman. How amazing God is, that He took Mary’s delivery to bring into this world Jesus, who is the great Deliverer. In the world of academia, it is common to call a man or woman a person of letters, B.A, M.S, Ph.D., prolific in scholarly letters, and so forth. But for the great Deliverer, He is a person of titles. He is the King of kings, the Lord, of lords, the Master, the Savior, our Redeemer, Emmanuel, Christ, the Word (Logos), the Son of God, the Son of man, the Son of David, the Lamb of God, the Second Adam, the Light of the World, the King of the Jews, and more.

God chooses common, easily overlooked things to bring forth His most powerful and unexpected actions into this world (see John 6:9). And so it was when God put on flesh and lived among us (see Hebrew 2:14) He came by birth, by the delivery of Mary. By this God continues to reaffirm His original intent. He shows us that what is recorded in Genesis 1:31 (AKVJ) is true, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

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