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Encouragement

1 2 3 29
Scratching Itching Ears

All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?

If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!

Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.

One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.

And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.

Application

Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.

But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.

There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.

So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!

This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.

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Back in 1982, Faberge Organics Shampoo rolled out a commercial that forever stuck in my mind. The same year, as I wrapped up my Freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, one of the staff members for Campus Crusade for Christ “challenged” me to be a part of their discipleship movement on campus. It was a fancy way of saying that I was asked to lead a discipleship group the next year. The commercial and the Discipleship Process are very simple, straightfoward, and very similar. Every time I think of discipleship, I think of the commercial. And every time I think of the commercial, I think of discipleship.

Paul summarizes the Discipleship Process in one verse as part of today’s Bible reading. Have you ever wondered what “discipleship” is? “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” ( 2 Timothy 2:2 CSB)

It isn’t complicated. It isn’t expensive. It isn’t un-do-able. All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce. It’s as easy as trying a new shampoo!

In the commercial, actress Heather Locklear says she liked the shampoo so much that she told two friends. And they told two friends and so on….

Paul tells Timothy to reproduce in others what he has heard from Paul. But it isn’t just that Timothy should teach someone. He tells Timothy to teach someone who can teach others. In other words, the Discipleship Process doesn’t stop with one generation of disciples. Obviously, Timothy followed Paul’s teaching. The Process continues to this day and will continue until Jesus takes all of His disciples to live with Him in eternity.

Here’s the commercial.

Application

Are you involved in discipling other Believers?

Discipleship doesn’t require a lot of training. It doesn’t require a lot of materials. Training helps. A lot. And good materials help. A lot.

All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce what you’ve heard. And that commitment to reproduce is the key to extending it to future generations of disciples.

Ask your pastor to take you deeper in your walk with Jesus. And ask him to help you reproduce what you’ve heard.

This devotional was originally published on September 19, 2019.

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Honor your elders

When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.

Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.

In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.

I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!

Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.

Application

You can honor your “elders” in many ways.

How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.

Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?

Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.

I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.

I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)

This devotional was originally published on September 14, 2019.

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Distracting discussions

We begin reading 1 Timothy in today’s Bible reading. Paul reminds Timothy that he should teach people not to teach false doctrine or pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Why? Because they “promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan which operates by faith”. (1 Timothy 1:3-4, CSB)

Paul refers to Timothy as his “true son in the faith.” (v.2) He sees himself as being a spiritual father and role model to Timothy who is learning the ropes as a young pastor. Obviously, there were some people who weren’t teaching sound/correct doctrine, but rather speculative ideas. Rather than sticking with properly using the Law (the Scriptures available to New Testament Believers), these false teachers seemed to prefer things that distracted from the Gospel message.

I love a deep theological conversation as much as the next guy. Back in my seminary days, several of us would often talk about theological issues late into the night in the stairwell of the men’s dorm. Unfortunately, at least 99.9% of the things we used to argue about are the kinds of things Paul was referring to. Looking back, it’s almost humorous that we literally lost sleep over things that don’t matter and things that distracted us and divided us, as opposed to things that build up each other. (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t refer to false doctrine — as opposed to true doctrine — but rather to different doctrine. Paul uses this word different in 2 Corinthians 11:4 to refer to a different Spirit and different gospel. In Galatians 1:6, Paul says he’s astonished that the church has so quickly turned to a different gospel. Two verses later in Galatians 1:8-9, Paul curses those who would preach a gospel contrary to the one he had preached to them, and presumably he’s equating the contrary and the different gospel they have quickly turned to.

We don’t know what those myths and endless genealogies were. And I’m glad we don’t. But in many ways, we are probably still rehashing the same kinds of distracting discussions that Paul warned Timothy to be on his guard against.

Application

What kinds of things distract you in your Christian walk? They may be innocent things, but what kind of things — that you do or that you enjoy reading or listening to — promote speculations, rather than things that promote God’s redemptive plan for mankind? What kind of things do you need to lay aside in order to keep your focus on the “main thing”?

This devotional was originally published on September 10, 2019.

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account reconciliation

Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:

to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’[1]

The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.

But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!

Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)

And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!

And what an amazing responsibility!

Application

Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!

If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?

Who can you tell today?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. Print.

This devotional was originally published August 28, 2019.

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1 2 3 29

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