Scriptures

Am I like the kid that didn’t hear the bell for recess? Everyone else knew it was recess time except THAT kid. I guess I’m that kid. I’m sitting in my classroom, clueless, while everyone else is down in the schoolyard, playing.

I knew some of this, but not all. After reading the information on the “Sacred Texts” website, I feel the need to be more reverent toward God’s Word.

From the Sacred Texts website, I learned the following:
…Insofar as Jewish texts reflect the revealed will of God, Jews have treated the texts themselves, like the stone tablets of the [ark of the] covenant, as sources of holiness.
…The Holiness of a Jewish text inheres [exist essentially or permanently in] both in the form and the content of the text.
…Different books possess different levels of sanctity, and Jewish custom even prescribes which books may be stacked on top of others.
…The Torah, as the pre-eminent sacred text, is considered perfect.
…Some Jewish scholars have divided Jewish literature into two main realms, Halakhah (lit. going, or path), which is understood broadly as Jewish behavior, and Aggadah (lit. telling), which is understood as the meaning attributed to those behaviors. It is not the case that Halakhah has a greater sanctity than Aggadah, for the two are understood as mutually reinforcing.

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Growing

Right now our two cats are as close as they can get to our fireplace with their ears perked up and total concentration. They hear, see, or smell something that has grabbed their attention. Oh, that I would be so aware of my surroundings.

A number of years ago, I visited a friend’s church that was structured very differently from other churches with which I was familiar. They did many things during the service that I had never done — nothing inappropriate; just different. I was caught off guard and had to work through my internal battle; I wanted to slink out the door. However, I needed to stay in the service, not just for my friend’s sake but for my own. I stayed, participated, and sensed the presence of God at work in their congregation. I need to stay in that service because I needed to be willing to grow as a Christian even if the process made me uncomfortable.

For all the uncomfortable situations our Lord may lead us into for our good, we have this promise: “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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Creeds

Bible opened to the book of John

More years ago than I’d like to admit, one of my sons began listening to the Christian musician Rich Mullins. My wife and I also liked his songs, so we bought a CD of his. One of Rich Mullins songs is, in essence, the “Apostles’ Creed” set to music. For me, that was my favorite song on the CD. 

Here are words to Rich Mullin’s song “Creed”:

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ
His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried

I believe that He who suffered
Was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and
On the third day, rose again
He ascended into Heaven where
He sits at God's mighty right hand
I believe that He's returning to
Judge the quick and the dead
Of the sons of men

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son,
Our Lord
I believe in the Holy Spirit
One Holy Church, the communion of Saints
The forgiveness of sin
I believe in the resurrection
I believe in a life that never ends
Creed

To be a Christian a person has to accept a set of truths. To accept Jesus as our Lord, we must accept that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. To fulfill those truths, we must recognize God as a trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You can see how we are traversing the Apostles’ Creed when we start affirming our acceptance of the objective truths of Christianity.

To be a Christian a person has to accept a set of truths. To accept Jesus as our Lord, we must accept that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. To fulfill those truths, we must recognize God as a trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You can see how we are traversing the Apostles’ Creed when we start affirming our acceptance of the objective truths of Christianity.

The New Testament contains several creedal statements such as:

1 Timothy 3:16:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
He was manifested in the flesh,
Vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.

The statements in the Apostles’ Creed have been further clarified down through the years in later creeds, including the one you accepted when you became part of your church. 

These foundational truths are statements of fact, which were provided by first-person accounts or accounts that were thoroughly investigated (e.g., the book of Luke) of what people saw and learned from Jesus. This is why they are called objective truths rather than subjective truths.

Christianity is grounded in the reliable record of eyewitnesses who testified to what they saw and heard from Jesus Christ. And, as Christianity grew, believers testified to what they heard and read and, most importantly, what they experienced when they placed their faith in Jesus.

Why bother to review and reaffirm these truths? We need to know what we believe, so we aren’t swayed by modern trends. The writer of the book of Hebrews put it this way: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings.” (Hebrews 13:9)

Therefore, we, as believers, need to be ready and able to give our testimony to an unsaved friend, relative, or anyone God leads into our path.

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Wandering

This is kind of a “part 2” for yesterday’s devotional.

I have a t-shirt from one of my kids that says, “Not all those that wander are lost.” I love that t-shirt because I have always loved the adventure of travel. A special memory to me is from being at Heathrow airport. Hearing all the different languages, seeing the way people of other cultures dress, looking at the arrivals and departures to see where all those people came from or to where they were going was so much fun!

During my life, I’ve found that it’s easier to keep in check my wanderlust for travel than it is to keep in check the wanderlust of my heart. I’ve had so many good things cross my path. Good opportunities for ministry, for work, for my community, for my family, all have come to me and my heart has wanted to dive into each one of them, but much fewer have been the right ones, the ones from God.

My heart’s desire for good things now rather than waiting for the right things from God is so dangerous because those good things would pull me from the path upon which Jesus leads. Oh, what a challenge it is to keep my heart under the authority of my Lord.

This is my prayer and I hope it is also your prayer:

Father God, I pray that “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” for Your Son said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” therefore I ask for Your help that I would not stray from Your path. I ask for discernment so that I would separate the good from the right and that my heart would choose that which is right. In the Name of Jesus, my Lord, I pray. Amen (Psalms 119:10 ESV), John 14:15 ESV)

As I close out this devotional, I hear in my heart the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” singing within me. I think it’s impossible for me to write about wandering without hearing this song in my ears.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
...
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it—
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Youtube of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

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This is the way

I’m not a big fan of “amusement parks” but I’ve been to many of them because I’m a parent. My wife and I raise a bunch of kids so, somehow, I’d end up at an amusement park from time to time. One of the reasons I don’t enjoy amusement parks is that people of all ages are constantly trying to “jump the line.”

When it comes to our walk with God, we must follow where He leads, and not look for short-cuts or look for ways to speed God up; oh, how I’ve tried to speed God up, but to no avail.

As children of the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9 KJV) it’s our responsibility to follow where He leads, and this is a blessing from Him. Look at this passage in Isaiah 30:19-21 NIV:

19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.
20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.
21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Verse 21 is a promise that we can claim if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior. We get a glimpse of this in John 3:8, which says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

We, as Christians, are born of the Spirit and God desires to lead us. Our work-mates may not understand us. Our families may not understand us. We may not understand, but we must listen and be obedient to that voice behind us saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Gaining Goodwill

My dad plus his five siblings were saved from possible starvation during the Great Depression because Grandpa gained the goodwill of his doctor, and for no reason other than that Grandpa’s doctor extended his disability payments. My dad’s direction in life was changed from blue-collar worker to college professor because Dad, the son of a dirt farmer, gained the goodwill of a local philanthropist who told him that he needed to be a teacher, and I gained the goodwill of a salty department head of the local community college who hired me as a full-time instructor, which opened many doors for me.

God enables, but we must act. We read in Acts 7:9-10, “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.” God still enables His children to gain the goodwill of life-changing people. We just need to be in alignment with God’s will and then ask and act. Remember, God bought you with the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus. God loves you.

Prayer: Father God, I come to you in the name of Jesus. If I ask anything that is not in Your will cause it to be cast aside. Father, I ask that Your blessings would rest upon Your children and that they would gain the goodwill of people in positions of authority and thereby receive even more excellent opportunities to bring Jesus into boardrooms, and educators conferences, and myriad places where the enemy has claimed for his own. Promote Your children, I ask. Amen.

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One is the number of joy!

I went to a “Three Dog Night” concert once. Yes, that was a long time ago. One of their hit songs was “One is the loneliest number.” The first verse is:

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one

Sorry, but that just doesn’t make a lot of sense to this old man, but it was a huge hit. However, what I want us to consider for a few moments is this: One is the number of joy, not the loneliest number.

Jesus said in John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…

Matthew Henry’s Commentary says, concerning this passage, “That which Christ here prays for is that communion of saints which we profess to believe; the fellowship which all believers have with God, and their intimate union with all the saints in heaven and earth, 1 John 1:3. But this prayer of Christ will not have its complete answer till all the saints come to heaven, for then, and not till then, they shall be perfect in one, John 17:23; Eph. 4:13.”

To think we shall someday all be in heaven and all be one in Christ, now that’s not loneliness but is a genuine joy. The number one is the number of joy!

Wisdom

My wife and I went through what I call the “Clumbsy Dance of Should I”. We were together in the same gospel group. Should I ask her on a date? The “How I met your mother” TV show postulated that in every relationship, one person is a “reacher”, and one is a “settler”. In that show, Marshall was upset to find out he was considered the “reacher”. In my case, I knew I was the “reacher.”

We started dating, and during that phase, I was fearful I would do something that would disappoint her. I was fearful because I wanted to please her. That is a simplistic example of the fear of God.

It can be confusing to read in Leviticus 19:14 or Job 28:28  to fear the Lord. In Psalms 111:10, it says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have a rich understanding. His praise endures forever!”

So, we’re not talking about the kind of fear a person typically experience when diagnosed with cancer. “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible,” says concerning the “fear of the Lord”, that it is the “fear of offending him, which will lead us to do right. This fear is not that of a slave; it is not mere dread; it is not terror. It is consistent with love, and springs from it. It is consistent with calmness of mind, and promotes it. It does not produce terror, but rather delivers from it, and preserves the mind from alarms.

God loves us. However, it’s futile to pray for wisdom if we don’t already hold in our hearts the fear that we will disappoint the LORD our God.

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God’s Love

Love is not flowers on Valentine’s Day. It’s a nice gesture but a crazy stalker can send flowers. Love is not chocolates, though I always enjoyed the leftovers. My wife thought I bought the big box to show how much I loved her; ha! However, love is a verb. It does require action.

This is why I have rewritten this devotional five times. Not because of Valentine’s Day but because the love of Christ is so much more than things, and restaurants, and alone time. The love of Christ is the salient point of life. His command to love one another is the identifier of being a follower of Jesus. To love so much that non-Christians will recognize us as belonging to Jesus simply by how much and how far we are willing to love people is not an easy thing.

Jesus told his disciples,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV) That’s the problem I’m having with writing this devotional. How do I describe this love? How do we grasp this and integrate it into our being?

My wife and I visited a church last Sunday and there was an older lady that went out of her way to make us not just welcome but to befriend us and offer to give us their help whether we joined their church or not. That’s a tiny example of Christ-like love. You don’t get that from visiting a doctor or chatting with the check-out lady at Walmart.

Or, perhaps the story of the nun in India that was cleaning a leper when a Westerner walked by and said, “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to do that!” to which the nun replied, “Me, either.”

God’s love transcends conditions or limitations. His love penetrates the darkness and transforms any situation it encounters. We carry that love within us. We are to demonstrate God’s love to such an extent it is unrecognizable when compared to that from this world. Let’s go out and astonish people by God’s love.

Giving

giving to a poor person

Tithing and giving are often contentious topics for Christians, even for couples within a marriage. So, I wrote this not to be contentious but just as a review of something we all have learned.

Recently, my wife and I ran into a dilemma. No, it didn’t hurt. However, it caught us off guard, enough so, we needed to pray and talk it through. You see at the same time a major, unexpected expense hit us we received some money, not enough to pay the bill but enough to help. After both of us prayed, we felt that the right thing was to recognize the money as an “increase” so we paid a tithe on it to our local church. We said, “It’s better to trust God than to trust money.”

A non-denominational missionary couple we know quite well spent many years working and living in Ghana, West Africa. At the time, Ghana was one of the poorest countries in Africa. Nevertheless, they taught their congregation to tithe. (No, they didn’t keep the money). Why did they teach poor people to tithe? Because God blesses giving. And, that congregation saw the evidence!

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7) This verse and other similar verses bring up a number of questions for analytical Christians.

Questions: Do you tithe 10% of your gross paycheck or 10% of the net or, now under the New Covenant, is there even a percent we must give? Does your tithe have to go to your local church? What about giving to people in need, can that count as part of your tithe? Does the New Testament even teach tithing? What about savings and retirement accounts?

So, for you analytical types, here are my answers based on my Bible studies. Do not feel guilty if you believe differently for “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Ro. 8:1 NIV)

Answers: 
1. We are not saved by works, so failing to tithe will not send you to hell. 
2. The amount you tithe, gross or net, is between you and God. The New Testament tells us to give all to God, that's what Jesus told the rich young ruler: sell all you have and give it to the poor (Mk. 10:21). So, we're getting off easy if we give 10%.
3. If you have a local church your whole tithe should go to that church. There are times when you may be between churches. During those times, pray and do what you feel led to do. 
4. Regarding gifts (i.e., alms), those are in addition to your tithe and can go anywhere God leads you to give. 
5. There is no clear "Thus saith the Lord, thou shalt tithe." verse that I know of in the New Testament. The last verse that has the word "tithe" in it is in Malachi 3:10. Still, the Old Testament is relevant and widely quoted in the New Testament Scriptures. Also, there are many passages that make it clear that we are to give liberally, contribute to projects (e.g., building, missions, VBS, etc.), and we are not to let money enslave us. 
6. Yes, we should be saving and have retirement accounts. This is wisdom. We should pray for wisdom concerning how much we put in these. If you're not sure turn to James 1:5.
7. Never give expecting to get more money. That's kind of a duh.

So, here’s the fun part. Giving is a joy because it is a tangible way of saying to God, “I trust you.” 

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