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Thank you very much

We finish reading through Romans in today’s Bible reading. He ends the letter like he does all of his letters with greetings to specific individuals who have ministered to him and to the church at large.

Of course, they don’t do it for the recognition (or they shouldn’t), but people like to be recognized for their work. Unfortunately, church work is notoriously a thankless work, so it’s especially helpful for those in the trenches to know that someone (in addition to the Father who “sees in secret”) sees what they’re doing and voices their support.

I have been very fortunate in the churches where I have served as pastor. On a regular basis, someone will walk up and sincerely express their appreciation. I have to say, it really means a lot.

Unfortunately, there are many pastors who work tirelessly “doing the Lord’s work” who rarely hear words of appreciation. And worse, some only hear backbiting and criticism.

Appreciation can be expressed, not only in words, but also in other ways. Sometimes pastors are given a couple of movie tickets and a little cash to cover a date night with the wife. Sometimes pastors are given a raise or a special love offering. Sometime they’re given a little time off, time away, time to unwind, time for a conference with other ministry leaders, or time to minister in a different setting. All of these ways are simple ways to say, “We love you and appreciate what you do for us and for others. Keep up the good work.

Application

When was the last time you expressed your appreciation to your pastor, Bible study teacher, elder/deacon? When was the last time you expressed your appreciation to your kids? Your spouse? “Now” is always a good time.

I promise it will mean a lot!

This devotional was originally published June 5, 2019.

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Be kind

In today’s Bible reading, Paul highlights the fact that his ministry isn’t about him. He constantly points out that he is reaching out to others. His focus is never about him.

He emphasizes here (and elsewhere) that one of his purposes — and one of our purposes — is to build up other people. Look at Social Media. Look at TV shows. Look at movies. Look at the headlines. Putting people down is everywhere. It seems that every month (every week?) another teen has made a really bad choice because he/she was bullied on Social Media. “Be Kind” seems to be the motto of the day.

Application

We shouldn’t have to be reminded to be kind. (Ephesians 4:32) We shouldn’t have to be reminded that it’s not about us. but Paul reminds us anyway.

Who can you build up today? Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s a coworker. Maybe it’s a complete stranger. Building up someone is never a bad thing to do.

And be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another,
just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:32 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published June 4, 2019.

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A stickman is stumbling

In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses an issue that is commonly misunderstood in Christian circles. He discusses this issue elsewhere, but I’m limiting my discussion to the words he uses here.

One of the issues we must deal with as believers is the tension between liberty and love, or freedom and maturity. Believers are not under the Law, but under Grace. But this doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want to whenever we want to. The tension comes when we consider the fact that other believers are not at the same level of maturity as us. Therefore, we need to extend grace to them, and they need to extend grace to us.

In Paul’s day, the hot-button issue was eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After being slaughtered, the sacrificed animal could be brought home and cooked up for dinner. For some, eating a sacrificed animal was tantamount to sacrificing it yourself! For others, it’s just another meal to be enjoyed. Paul says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 (CSB)

For Paul and his context, it was eating sacrificed meat. For our context, it may be going to a party where people may be drinking and dancing. Paul is not saying that believers can’t drink or dance. Rather he says that if drinking or dancing causes another believer to drink to excess or otherwise stumble into some other sin, it’s better to not exercise our freedom at that time in the presence of that other believer.

Does this mean that we’re hypocrites practicing “situational ethics”? No, it means that we recognize that we’re not at the same point in our walk with Christ. Some of us aren’t (yet?) capable of doing some things that others are free to do.

Let me throw this out…. the party I mentioned above where people are drinking and dancing … what if the party is a wedding reception at a local country club? Does that change the situation? Does that change whether a believer should attend? What if the believer has been sharing her faith with the mother of the groom? This could open doors to share her faith with other family members. But should the faith-sharing believer not go to the wedding reception simply because a church member (who has no connection with the wedding party and thus, isn’t invited to the wedding) might be “offended”?

Paul’s use of two words may help us to understand how to handle the situation. He says believers should not put a stumbling block or a pitfall before another believer. (Romans 14:13) Both words can be translated as “stumbling block”. But the use of both words seems to indicate there’s a difference between the two. The second word can mean, not only something that someone trips over, but also a snare or a pit.

What Paul is trying to say is that believers should watch how they live so that other believers won’t stumble into, be ensnared by, or otherwise fall into sin. In other words, don’t set up someone to sin.

Scripture consistently condemns drunkenness, however, it never condemns consuming alcohol. Actually, Paul encourages Timothy to drink wine for “medicinal purposes”. (1Timothy 5:23) Drinking alcohol with a meal was commonplace until about one hundred years ago, even in the homes of the church leaders in current “teetotaling” denominations. The “Prince of Preachers”, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon enjoyed his beer and cigars back in the 1800s. And I remember the painting of Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s first President that hangs in the Rotunda on campus. If you look at his left hand, it’s oddly placed in his pocket. Actually, the pocket was painted over Dr. Carroll’s cigar.

If you knew that a new believer had been delivered from years of alcoholism, you wouldn’t serve wine to him at dinner at your house. In fact, if you’re living according to the Law of Love that Paul has been discussing, you yourself wouldn’t drink wine at that time either. Even in your own home. Is it ok to drink in your own home? Sure, so long as you don’t drink to drunkenness and you don’t cause another believer to stumble into sin. In other words, you’re free. But don’t set a trap for someone else. Elsewhere, Paul says, you’re free, but don’t use your freedom as a license to sin. (Galatians 5:13)

Application

I have already provided several examples of how to apply living with the Laws of Liberty and Love. The bottom line is that you don’t need to look over your shoulder, afraid your pastor or deacon might see you take a sip of beer. Your pastor and deacon should be more mature than that.

Instead, you should live with a mind to avoid setting up someone to fail when tempted. Build them up. Set them up to succeed. (Romans 14:19 CSB)

This devotional was originally published on June 1, 2019.

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BSA Citizenship in the World Merit Badge

Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.

Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.

Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)

Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)

I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!

Application

Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.

Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.

There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.

And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.

This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.

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A living sacrifice

Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.

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