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Giving

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watering can

In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his discussion about the factions that exist in the Corinthian church. He drives home the point that yes, he planted and Apollos watered, (1 Corinthians 3:6) but only God produced the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:7)

If we could summarize chapter three in just one word, it would be growth. We should all work on growing in our faith. Of course, God gives the growth, but we must actively participate in the process. Paul lists a major hindrance to growth is envy and strife. (1 Corinthians 3:3)

In fact, because of the division in the church, Paul says he was unable to address them as mature believers. Rather, he had to address them as babies in Christ — even as unbelievers — because that’s how they were acting.

Paul concluded Chapter Two discussing the two categories of people: Lost and Saved. You’re either one or the other. However, in the past hundred years or so a harmful doctrine has been preached (yes, I’ve preached it, too) in many evangelical churches, adding a third category: the Carnal Christian, defined as a believer who has backslidden. They base the doctrine on the first few verses of Chapter Three. But that isn’t what Paul says! Paul says the Carnal Christian is a Saved person who never grew in his/her faith, not one who lapsed into sin. In fact, lapsing into sin — aka “backsliding” may be a sign that you were never saved in the first place!

Application

For Paul, the Christian life should be on an upward trajectory of growth. Instead, (to mix metaphors) it’s as if the Corinthians walked through the door of salvation and stood at the threshold, never taking steps into the foyer, much less exploring the household of faith. For a Christian to stagnate should be almost unthinkable.

Rick Warren correctly observed that everything that is healthy grows. If a Christian isn’t growing, he/she isn’t healthy. Perhaps, like me, no one said that you need to grow, much less tell you how to grow. For ten years after I was saved I attended church, had some spiritual experiences, occasionally read my Bible (only a couple of favorite books and “inspired finger” verses), and I thought that was all there was until I got to heaven. Perhaps you can relate to my experience.

I pray that these devotionals are encouraging you to pursue a growing relationship with God Who is your Creator and your Father. These devotionals should serve as a springboard to read the Bible for yourself, to dig deep in the Word, and to consider how it applies to your life. Practice the Spiritual Disciplines to grow in your faith. Use these devotionals to spur on your personal Bible reading, not to substitute for it. Feed on God’s Word. Drink its intoxicating truths. Taste and see that the Lord is good and find your refuge in Him. (Psalm 34:8) As you do, watch God give you spiritual growth.

Let me know how I can help you to stay close and stay clean in your growing walk.

This devotional was originally published August 2, 2019.

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large prayer gathering

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Because of social distancing, this year’s observance will be very different than those in the past. Normally, churches and communities will gather for a worship service, a prayer breakfast, or a prayer service. Oftentimes, local politicians are invited to pray — or to be prayed over — during this time. For the national observance, popular Christian artists will perform for large crowds and popular Christian leaders will be asked to speak.

I’m not sure how much prayer actually happens at these events. In the events I’ve organized, I tried to make our time very prayer-centered rather than preacher-centered or church-centered. We used public forums to avoid the accusation that this was a “Baptist Thing” or even a specific church thing. We invited all churches and individuals to participate, per the National Day of Prayer’s guidelines. We tried to center the event on praying for the seven mountains/spheres of influence in America: Family, Religion, Education, Government, Media/Communication, Celebration (Arts, Entertainment, Sport), and Economics (Business, Science, Technology).

But what about Jesus’ statements where Jesus told His Disciples to not pray in public? (Matthew 6:5–8) A college friend of mine and I have had some heated disagreements on the application of this passage to the National Day of Prayer. He says that Jesus said Believers shouldn’t pray in public. My contention is that Jesus isn’t condemning the public display of prayer, but rather publicly praying for the purpose of being recognized and being applauded for doing so. Jesus’ emphasis is on the heart, the motivation for praying in public. He says the same for publicly giving to the poor and publicly fasting. His point is that if you’re only in it for the public recognition and public applause, that’s all you’ll get. If instead, you’re looking for the recognition and applause from your Father, then pray in secret, give in secret, and fast in secret.

So in the future on the National Day of Prayer — or the next time you go to church for that matter — consider your heart. Are you going to an event to be seen? Are you going to an event to be recognized? Are you going to an event in order that people will know how committed to prayer you are? Then be careful! If you’re wanting the applause of people, that’s all you’ll get. But if you want God to hear your prayers, pray in secret. Sure, pray in public, but don’t let all of your prayers be heard in public.

God’s more interested in your heart, not your public display of your faith.

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pruning a rose bush
Spring pruning roses in the garden

Reading the Bible can sometimes be a little unpleasant. If in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus points out some things about divorce and remarriage, as well as money. His words are uncomfortable because His words are not accepted by many, even those who claim to follow Jesus.

I am surprised at how quickly Christians turn to divorce and how quickly remarry someone else. It’s as if they forget that it’s better to not make a vow and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Christians seek a church wedding — for the marriage to be blessed by God — and so quickly renege on the vows they made to their spouse and to God. It isn’t right (according to Jesus). He allows (though doesn’t require) divorce in very limited circumstances. And yet, they idolize their own happiness instead of seeking the eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Finally in Matthew 19, He addresses a man who self-righteously asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life. When Jesus points him to the Law, the man claims to be blameless. And then, Jesus pokes him in the idols. He tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he had a lot of possessions. I would rephrase that to say that a lot of possessions had him. There’s nothing wrong with having money. God blesses many people with more money than they need to survive. And with these blessings, God expects those blessings to be passed on to others. (Luke 12:48)

Application

Reformer John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. I cannot refute that statement. It is so true! I need no help from the world or the devil to come up with all kinds of things to distract me from living wholeheartedly for the glory of the Lover of my Soul.

As I began this devotional, I said that if in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved. I meant that. Either you’re only reading comfortable parts of the Bible, or you are merely letting your eyes skim the ink on the page.

As you read, ask God to show you those areas where your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs don’t line up with His Word. (Psalm 139:23–24) And be prepared for Him to answer that prayer. The Holy Spirit will let empower you to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

Notice that behavior is only part of what needs to be changed as we grow in our relationship with God. Our idols live in our beliefs and attitudes and they express themselves in our behavior. Behavior that doesn’t line up with God’s revealed will in the Bible is fruit. It’s the leaves and branches that we tend to focus on, thinking that if we can just control them, we can have a good relationship with Him. But pruning leaves and branches actually work to bring out more of what you’re attempting to cut off. It’s true of pruning your rose bushes and it’s true of attempting to prune your behavior to enhance your walk with God.

God completely loves you with an everlasting love. He completely accepts you as you are when you come to Him. But He loves you too deeply to let you continue living with your idols.

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Judgment Day portrayed in stained glass

Jesus tells a series of parables in today’s Bible reading. Each is different, yet all have a common theme: judgment.

Judgment isn’t something we like to talk about. It isn’t very kind, is it? It isn’t very nice. It’s kind of … well, judgey and we aren’t supposed to judge, right? (Matthew 7:1)

But these parables aren’t about our judging, but rather God’s judgment. And God being our Creator, He gets to call the shots. He’s the judge. And He always judges with righteousness without playing favorites. From today’s Bible reading, Jesus continually drives home the point that a time is coming when God will judge everyone. Every. One. Including Believers. We will all face the judgment of a Holy and Righteous Judge.

Application

So when that Day comes, what will you do? What will you say? If you aren’t a Believer, it won’t matter what you say. You have chosen to reject God’s offer of salvation based on Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross. And God’s offer will expire. You will not get a second chance.

But, if you are a Believer, what will you do? What will you say? You have chosen to accept God’s offer of salvation based on Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross.

In either case — Believer or not — you won’t get extra time to get better. You won’t have an opportunity to work off some sins in order to gain a higher place or earn a few more jewels for your crown. (Hebrews 9:27)

No one knows when the harvesters will come for them. But when the angels come to separate the wheat from the weeds, their separating judgment is final. And when you stand before God’s judgment seat, the only question will be, “What did you do with Jesus?” Nothing else will matter. It won’t matter how good or bad you behaved. It won’t matter how much money you gave to support God’s work. It won’t matter how many people you bring into heaven with you. It won’t matter how kind you were.

All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.
You either have faith in Him or you don’t.

So what have you done with Jesus? Have you sought to follow Him? Have you made Him the Lord of your life, working diligently to kill indwelling sin in your life? (Luke 9:23) Have you treasured Him above all else in your life?

If you can’t answer yes to these questions, please reach out to me. I’d love to tell you more about a life-transforming life of following Jesus every single day.

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In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters lots of people and heals many of them. He begins with some men bringing a paralytic on a stretcher. Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (Matthew 9:2)

But wait, his friends only brought him to be healed! Why would Jesus tell him that his sins were forgiven? Neither the man nor his friends asked for forgiveness. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven because He knew that healing the man’s paralysis wasn’t his greatest need.

Matthew concludes Chapter Nine with Jesus telling the disciples that the fields are ready for harvest. He’s looking at the spiritual need, having met the people’s physical needs.

Too often we become shortsighted, concerned about things that really aren’t the main things. How often we overlook the most important things, like our spiritual health.

Don’t get me wrong. Physical health is a big deal, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with physical issues. But in the grand scheme — in light of eternity — our physical lives can be compared to our breath vapor on a cold day. What is most important is our spiritual health.

Application

Lots of people watch what they eat. Many make a trip to the gym a part of their day. How about you? Are you being a good steward of your body?

But like I said, the bigger issue is your spiritual life. So what are you doing to steward that? Are you spending time every day praying? I’m not asking if you are “saying your prayers.” Are you conversing with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe — your “Papa” — every day?

Are you regularly reading and studying your Bible? Telling other people about your relationship with Jesus? Regularly meeting with other believers so you can encourage each other in your faith? Regularly giving financial support to your church and ministries that are close to your heart?

This devotional appeared first on April 17, 2019.

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