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Leadership

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military

A few weeks ago, I commented on a parallel passage that Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18ff. Today’s Bible reading records Paul’s comments on letting God’s Word rule in our hearts. The results are the same in the two passages, so I would argue that being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) is the same as letting God’s Word rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

Being filled with the Spirit and letting God’s Word rule in us overflows into our relationships with our spouse, in our family life, and in our work life. If you are a growing believer with a dynamic walk with God, your other relationships will be changed.

Oftentimes when we come to passages like Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, preachers will focus only on the relationship between a husband and wife. Paul addresses other relationships that are affected by a walk with God as well! And all of these affected relationships can be summarized by, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people,” (Colossians 3:23, CSB)

Lest we get bogged down with the “s” word (“submission”), it’s simply a military term that means to line up in order. Take a look at a military unit. You see a group of soldiers of somewhat similar size and physical strength with somewhat similar intelligence. So on some levels, every soldier is equal.

But military rank has nothing to do with size. Military rank has nothing to do with physical strength. Military rank has nothing to do with intelligence. And in a good military unit, every member salutes his/her commanding officer, all the way up the chain of command. And yet, no commanding officer worth his/her salt will ignore or otherwise mistreat a subordinate. For one thing, the subordinate soldier may have an important piece of intel that the senior officer needs to know in order to lead the unit.

Admittedly, this illustration breaks down a bit when it comes to the marriage/family units (no one is a “commanding officer” and no one is a “subordinate”), yet the principle is the same: each of us has a different “position” in our relationships with each other, and under Christ as Head of the Church.

Application

Let me say this as firmly as I can: The Christian life is not about changing our behavior. It’s about changing our relationships, beginning with our relationship with God and that overflows into our family and work relationships. None of us is any “better” than another. But all of us have a role to play.

Finally, note that in all of Paul’s instructions of submission (in this passage and elsewhere), Paul never tells anyone to make anyone else submit. In other words, Paul never tells a husband to make his wife submits to him. Paul never tells an employer to make his/her employees submit to him/her. The instruction is always given to submit oneself.

That’s the key takeaway from Colossians 3:23.

This devotional was originally published June 22, 2019.

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one man buried his talent in the ground
Image source; Lumo Project

Today’s Bible reading includes a familiar parable of the talents. In the parable, a man prepared to go on a journey and entrusted his possessions to three servants. To one, he gave five talents, to another, he gave two. To another, he gave one talent. He gave to the servants according on each man’s ability. (Matthew 25:15)

Matthew doesn’t record any instructions given to the servants. However, in Luke’s version of the story, the master told the servants to engage in business. (Luke 19:13) In Mark’s version, the master told the servants to be alert. (Mark 13:34)

Each of the servants who had been given more than one talent immediately used the talents to get more. But the servant who was given one talent, went out and buried his talent in the ground. Some time passed before the master returned. When he returned, each servant brought the proceeds of his investments. The one who was given five presented ten back to the master. The one who was given two presented four back to the master. Each of these servants were praised for their diligence. But then the one who was given one talent presented his dirty talent. After scolding this servant, the master ordered that the one dirty talent be given to the servant who had earned five.

Application

One might say the master was cruel to take from the man who only had one talent and to give that to the one who had ten talents. But we must realize several times in the parable, we’re told that this was the master’s property. It was never the property of the servants. The master was wise to not give five talents to the one he only gave one to. He would have ended up with fewer talents when he returned from his journey. The master could do anything he wanted with his property, before and after his trip.

This entire chapter is a warning to always be alert. The servants who made more talents did so immediately on the master’s departure. They didn’t wait until just before his return. The didn’t know when he would return, but they wanted to be ready whenever he did. And they knew he would.

Are you ready for your Master’s return? Are you being a good steward of what has been entrusted to you? Whatever has been entrusted to you should be used for His glory, for His honor. And when He returns, you will be required to give an account for what was entrusted to your care. You may not have been given much. Or you may have been given a great deal. Regardless, you will still give an account for how you used what you were given.

Be alert. Be ready. And be busy about your Master’s business.

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Gold is purified by fire in a crucible

In today’s Bible reading, Matthew tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Most often when people talk about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they talk about Jesus’ baptism and his healing ministry that followed.

It’s unfortunate that in 1227, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to put a chapter break between Matthew three and Matthew four. It’s unfortunate because when you’re reading one chapter at a time, you miss the fact that the end of chapter three talks about Jesus’ baptism. Chapter four talks about Jesus’ temptations. With the chapter break, it’s easy miss the flow between chapters three and four.

I would argue that Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism by John. I would also highlight the fact that in all three Synoptic Gospels,* Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by His temptations, followed by his healing ministry.

Why is this important? You cannot separate Jesus’ temptations from His endorsement from His Father and His healing ministry. Jesus’ ministry includes His temptations. Why? I have heard that every leader — and especially every minister — must go through a period of testing. Not testing to see if they’ll pass the test, but testing to remove impurities like you would with silver or gold in a crucible.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)

When God tests a heart, He isn’t doing it to learn if you can pass the test. Instead, He tests the heart to purify the heart, to remove the bad things from the heart. He tests the heart, not to see if you can pass the test, but to prove/demonstrate that you can. God didn’t wonder if Jesus would pass the test in His temptations. He did it to show Jesus’ sinlessness and to provide a model for those who would pursue ministry and other leadership roles.

Application

Have you been tested? Maybe you’re going through a period of testing right now. Don’t be misled by my discussion of testing for ministry. All of us are ministers. All of us need to be tested. It’s for our good and for the good of those who we will minister to.

Don’t look at times of testing as cruelty on the part of God. Look at those times as the goodness of God to make you more like Jesus, chipping away and burning off those things that don’t look like Him, and to demonstrate to those around you how much you do look like Jesus.

* The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called synoptic because they look similar in the stories they tell and their wording. They can easily be harmonized to show their similarities and differences. John’s Gospel is not a Synoptic Gospel, because he tends to be more theological in his presentation, as opposed to chronological.

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In today’s Bible reading, we see Paul doing a very foolish thing. He says that God has told him that if he returns to Jerusalem, he will face trouble. In fact, Paul says that everywhere he goes, the Holy Spirit confirms that if he goes to Jerusalem, he will face imprisonment and afflictions. (Acts 20:23) So why would he go to the very place where he would face such hardships?

Dr. Luke answers that question with Acts 20:22: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there.”

Earlier, I said that Paul did a very foolish thing. Actually, it wasn’t foolish at all. In fact, it was the wisest thing he could have possibly done!

Application

Where the Holy Spirit leads, you will find peace. Now, I didn’t say that where the Spirit leads, you will find prosperity. No, where the Holy Spirit leads, you will always find peace and God’s blessings. You don’t want to be where God doesn’t want you to be.

Many years ago, I lamented to a friend that I hadn’t yet been called to my first church ministry position after seminary. He wisely remarked that “No place is better than the wrong place. Trust me, I’ve been there.”

As our son prepares to go back to Australia with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for two years, many people have asked Amy and me if we were concerned with his leaving and going literally to the other side of the world. We respond, that if God is calling him to study and minister there, the last place we want him to be is here with us. Yes, we will miss him. Yes, we will be concerned with his welfare. But we know that he is in the hands of a totally sovereign God who is always good and Who loves our son more than we do.

If you have a sovereign God (and we do), your anxiety level drops a great deal. God knows what He’s doing and is always in control of every situation.

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Billy Graham

Several places throughout our reading through the book of Acts, including today’s Bible reading, various Apostles will stay in a certain area for an extended period of time. Today, it’s Barnabas and Saul who stay in Antioch for a year. (Acts 11:26) Why? Wasn’t it important for the Apostles to get as many converts as possible? Wouldn’t staying in one place for a while limit their reach?

It comes down to what is the purpose of a church. Is a church a place to make converts? Or is a church a place to make disciples? There is a huge difference between the two! Converts are people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t charge His Disciples to make converts. He charged them to make Disciples. (Matthew 28:19) Nowhere in the Bible is anyone charged to make converts and immediately move on to the next place. And that’s why I have a problem with so many ministries that go into an area with an “evangelistic crusade” and quickly move on to the next city.

When I was a college student, Billy Graham visited our campus (UNC Chapel Hill) to deliver a series of lectures in Carmichael Auditorium. Carmichael is where the UNC Tarheels played basketball back in the day. His visit was billed as a lecture series, but it was essentially a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Being a college student with some well-connected Christian friends, I saw one of the keys to Graham’s success.

A year or so before Graham’s visit, students from several student ministries organized the event and worked behind the scenes to unite the ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. At Graham’s insistence, every person who responded to his altar call was to be contacted with a one-on-one visit within twenty-four hours of his/her decision. Why? Because Graham saw that disciples were more important than decision-makers. He wanted every decision-maker to become a disciple, someone who learned and became more like Jesus. It wasn’t enough to have several hundred or even several thousand people to make decisions to follow Jesus. Graham wanted people to follow and become like Jesus. And that can only happen when people who make decisions are connected with people who are already following Jesus.

New converts need to be fed and nurtured in their new faith. And for that to happen, they have to be plugged into discipleship ministries with other Believers who are growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus. While learning about Jesus is important, becoming like Him is the most important thing.

Application

What about you? Are you plugged into a discipleship ministry? Notice, I didn’t ask if you went to church. I didn’t ask if you went to Sunday School.

Going to church is a very important part of discipleship. So is Sunday School. So are small groups. But more important is being plugged in, getting to know — and being known by — other Believers on a deep level. And that can’t happen by just going to big worship services in a big church. It can’t happen by just going to small worship services in a small church. You have to connect.

Are you connected?

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