Devotional

To Know Jesus

The issue of church growth seems to haunt every pastor at some point.  Why?  Because so much is being said about it.  I was at a conference this weekend where during one of the break-out sessions I was told all kinds of methods about church growth.  I must be honest; I struggle with that.  I have a real problem with the methods when I read what Scripture tells us.  Listen to this:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8

It seems to me that by far the greatest thing I can offer someone is Jesus Christ.  We must share the Gospel.  He is the draw.  He is the need.  Knowing Jesus is the goal of life!

If we get sidetracked, we start to look a lot like the Judaizers Paul was referring to in Philippians 3.  They worked very hard to earn God’s favor. But let’s be honest, any attempt at cleaning up our own sin just smears it.  It is like all of those times I have sent one of my kids to the bathroom to clean up after eating something sticky.  Sure they try hard, but they get it everywhere else.

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Let Jesus clean up the mess!

Would you say that your heart considers everything else a loss next to knowing Jesus?  If not, what needs to change?  

Listen Without Complaining

It appears that hardwired in every child is an ability to never quite hear what their parents say.  It is almost as if everything that is said to a child must be immediately met with “what?” even if they physically heard what you said.  The struggle to communicate to them and see results is quite intense.

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I am sorry, are you talking? 

I have lamented this many times to people and never really thought it applied to me anymore.  Certainly I have grown up, right?  Then I read Numbers 14.  In Numbers 14 Moses is leading the Israelites along after freeing them from Egyptian slavery.  One might think that they would be willing to listen well to God because He has powerfully showed up. He rescued them.

Instead they complain.  They grumble against God.  They wish they were back in Egypt.  They even decide to vote in a leader to take them back!  Basically they look at God and say “yes, I know you are demonstrating your love for us, but I don’t really think you love us.”  They are in one sense hearing and seeing God act out a radical love for them and in the very next breath complaining that they aren’t slaves anymore.

I have been guilty of this.  I have had times when things just weren’t going my way, and even though I saw God minister to me in His grace during those times, I still complained about it.   I still questioned God there.  I guess adults are just older kids.

When Jesus hung on the cross, people around him mocked him and even cast lots for his clothing. In a most dramatic fashion, they did not hear what was being said.   Even though He had shown the kingdom of God to them in the flesh, they just did not listen.  They would rather do things their own way and in doing rejected the only means of freedom.

The challenge is this:  Do not get so caught up in religious tradition that you miss the message of Christ to you.   I pray that as we enter into this coming season leading up to Easter Sunday that we would hear loud and clear the voice of God “I love you.”

 

If only….

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Keep walking….don’t go back

If only….

Those two words can capture much regret, disappointment, and sadness.  If only I had said something else.  If only I had not acted on that impulse.  If only I was able to go back and change that moment.  Scenes get replayed and wounds get opened again and again.

Isn’t it interesting how the human heart works?  One moment God is clearly leading you and you are rejoicing, but the moment a challenge comes, you wonder where He is.  Have we really gotten so weak that resistance of any kind makes us retreat?  I guess it really isn’t new, though, is it? In Exodus 16 Moses had just freed the people from slavery.  This was no vacation in the Caribbean; they were slaves.  But the minute it got hard, they complained.  The grumbled.  They criticized their leader.  I mean, really?  Listen to yourselves!   They even fantasized about going back!  They remembered the food they ate there forgetting that it cost them their freedom. (and probably wasn’t as good as they claimed)  They longed for their chains because at least they knew what was next.

But this is not the journey that Jesus Christ calls us to.  The Christian life is not one of ease and luxury.  It is a life of sacrifice and trial.  There will be pain.  There will be challenges.  Your character will be attacked for no reason.  What do we do?  We do not go back to the chains.  The freedom that He bought for us broke those.  Instead, we keep walking hand-in-hand with our Savior.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Do not go back to slavery again.

When It Rains….

It occurs to me that those who say “when it rains, it pours” have never actually seen it rain because it more often than not does not pour when it rains. What a mess it would be if it always poured when it rained!  But what do we remember?  We remember the times that it poured.  The water comes down so hard that puddles form in our yards and anyone that was caught outside looks like they were dunked in the lake.  And then the next time there is a hint of rain we think it will happen again.

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When it rains…..

There is something about the human brain that processes those negative things in a way that gives them more of an impact.  We remember them.  We dwell on them.  We relive them.  This is why I remember my times of discouragement vividly, even though I have been encouraged on more occasions.  I have more good days than bad days.

I was reading through Exodus and it turns out this is nothing new.  Moses was told by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery.  You would think that when God told him that He would accomplish this and go with him that the people would be excited.  They have been in slavery for a while now and would no doubt appreciate the good news.  Well…not exactly. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to hear it, they just couldn’t.

Moses reported this to the Israelites but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.” Exodus 6:9  

Discouragement is a powerful emotion.   Despite what God had told them and even the history lesson he gave them to prove it to them, they still could not see any sort of hope in their circumstances.  The pain was just too big and real.  Have you been there?  Do you know anyone there today?

Who can you encourage today?  There are people in the midst of their own person downpour right now looking for hope.  Can you offer some encouragement to them?  Remember that often the most helpful thing you can do is be there.

Are you discouraged?  Look for hope in your life today.   Listen to what the Lord says and be encouraged:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Remember that in the story of Moses, God did accomplish what He said He would do.  God has not left you. He has not ignored you.  He is not sick of you.  Look to Him today and realize that sometimes when it rains it doesn’t pour.

Surrender or Drown

I have trust issues; I think we all do.  It is not that I don’t believe God will do what He said, I do.  My problem is in being too impatient to really wait for it. Well….no, that’s not entirely true either.  Let’s couple that impatience with a desire to be in control and maybe we are getting closer.  No matter how you describe it, at its core,  it is a lack of trust.  I guess I was convicted by my own sermon yesterday because as I sang the closing song I thought “Lord, I have held so much back out of fear or as the result of past hurts.”  Fear and trust apparently don’t like hanging out together because when fear is around trust shows up only in shallow ways, not the deep, abiding way we are desperate for.

The song we were singing “All to Jesus, I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I surrender all, I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” Hmmm….I can’t imagine anyone can really say that they have surrendered ALL. Some, sure.  Most, maybe.  But to surrender all is much more costly. And so I sang that song longing to surrender all, with the realization that fear and doubt are always ready to make me start to grab onto things.

The picture I get in my mind is this: 

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Trust is easy when things are calm

Let’s say you are out in a canoe and you have all of your fishing gear there with you. This is not just any gear either, this is the best gear you own.  You are floating along when all of a sudden you run into something, turn sideways, and flip over.  In that moment it would be difficult not to try to grab your gear before it floats down the river.  But do you know what is better?  Surrender.  Surrender those things to the river because if you don’t, you will drown trying to save them.  If you make an attempt to gather all of your belongings, you have made a choice that those things are more important than your life.  But what good will that stuff be to you if you are dead?

 

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

It doesn’t take very long for life to flip you into the water.  The question is:  what do you do when that happens?  If you are to trust in Jesus with all your heart, then you will grab onto Him and surrender everything else because life in Him is far more valuable than grabbing onto things that will drown you.

 

 

Staying Untangled

It seemed like a reasonable request to him, but to me it might be a bit much.  “Dad, you need to change the carpet in here right now.”  Why the sudden concern over the flooring choice in our living room?  Like most things in life with him, it starts with a John Deere tractor.  As it turns out, the new cultivator he bought with his Christmas money does not work well on the longer carpet.  It gets tangled up and it falls off.  We have ourselves a frustrated farmer. The only solution is to change the carpet.

We might laugh at that, but it isn’t actually too far away from how serious God is about our sin.  Jesus even went so far as to say that if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  Which, by the way, is hyperbole — don’t really cut your hand off. But what it does is show how serious it is to stay untangled in the “carpet” of your sin.  Run from sin. Stay away from sin.  Change your scenery if it is just causing you to stumble.

Remember that this world is doing everything it can to take you away from God. Change whatever you need to avoid the trap of sin.

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Stay untangled

The Truth About Yourself

 

Looking into a mirror seems to be an enjoyable activity for every baby I have ever met.  When we get older, however, that enjoyment seems to wane a bit.  What started off as a simple admiration of someone so beautiful you could hardly contain yourself, has turned into a daily attempt to make yourself presentable to the world.

  In the book of James, it says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  He goes on to say that if you just listen to the word but don’t do it, it is like looking in a mirror and then looking away only to forget what you look like. Do not be deceived into thinking that by simply hearing the Word in some fashion that you are doing what God desires.  You maybe have heard of Jesus or are able to recite certain verses from the Bible even, but if it doesn’t connect and become your own – as in, if you don’t respond to it, then you really haven’t received it.

 

Look intently to allow it to show you the truth

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No need for a comb today

The mirror does not lie about what you look like, it doesn’t look at you and say “hey, you know what, your hair is a mess, but nobody will notice” No it says – hey, your hair needs to be combed.  But the mirror also does not do anything about your problem. So if you walk up to the mirror with messy hair and you do nothing with your hair, guess what, you will still have messy hair.  But I looked at the mirror!   Yes, but you didn’t do anything with the information.  You didn’t respond to what it revealed about you.

Look intently into the perfect law and  keep looking.  Get a good look at what you see there and let the truth of what it shows bring you before the Lord who can do something about it.  Let the mirror of God’s perfect law show you the condition of your heart so that you get a good understanding of it and feel the need to have it repaired by Christ.

Let the truth lead you to action

 What do you see?  Okay…now do something about it.  He says that you will be blessed when you do what the Word says.  This is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about.