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Missions

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devote yourself to prayer

As a pastor, I receive emails from time to time asking me to complete a survey in exchange for a copy of an ebook. I completed one of those surveys this morning. To be honest, I really didn’t like my answers!

Today’s survey questions asked about my prayer life:

  • How much time do you spend praying?
  • What do you spend the most time praying for?
  • How often do you pray with other people?
  • When was the last time you spent more than ten minutes in prayer?
  • When was the last time you spent more than thirty minutes praying?
  • When was the last time you spent more than an hour praying?
  • How satisfied are you with your prayer life?
  • etc.

Like I said, I didn’t like my answers. But they were great questions; questions that believers need to be asked from time to time.

In today’s Bible reading from Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer. In light of today’s survey questions, I thought I’d dig a little into what Paul actually wanted his readers to do.

The English word devote is translated from a couple of different Greek words. But the words Paul uses in Colossians 4:2 are used elsewhere in a similar way. Here are a few examples.

  • They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 (CSB)
  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (CSB)
  • Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, Acts 2:46 (CSB)
  • But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 (CSB)

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for a dictionary) says that this Greek word means,
1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one.
2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.
3. to continue all the time in a place.
4. to persevere and not to faint.
5. to show one’s self courageous for.
6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly.[1]

Another lexicon says this Greek word means, “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”[2]

Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite difficulty.

In other words, “devoting oneself to prayer” is much more than “saying your prayers”. It’s much more than going through a list of prayer requests. In the context of praying with other people, it’s much more than merely updating the names of people and their needs on our corporate prayer list.

My answers didn’t fit very well with what Paul was telling the Colossians to do!

Ouch!

Application

How would you answer those questions? Would you be satisfied with your answers?

So what are some practical things you can do today to change your answers to fit more with the actual instructions Paul was giving the Colossian church?

Write your answers in a journal. Then devote yourself to prayer.

Periodically go back and review your answers and see how God has grown you in the spiritual discipline of prayer.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

This devotional was originally published June 22, 2019.

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Today’s Bible reading includes Jesus’ “Great Commission”. Jesus has spent about three years with his disciples and is commissioning them for their ministry. Grammatically speaking, there is one command with several participles that describe how the command is to play out.

He begins with “As you go”. He assumes that His disciples will go. Because He has all of the authority, He gives them this great commission.

Next is the command to make disciples.

The next set of participles describe how to make disciples:

  • by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully identifying them with the Trinity.
  • by teaching them to obey Jesus’ teachings. Jesus gave a lot of commands. But in John 13:34–35, He gives them a new command: Love each other. Jesus’ new command wasn’t really new, he was just giving the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36–40) a new emphasis. In John 13:35, He says that people will recognize His disciples by their love for each other. This isn’t to discount so many other things about them, but their distinctive was to be love. Not an ooey-gooey squishy love, but a real — almost tangible love that Paul describes in 1Corinthians 13:1–13.

That’s it! That’s all it means to make disciples. The Great Commission is simple. But it isn’t easy. Teaching people to obey Jesus’ teachings is a life-long journey.

When Jesus linked teaching with how the command is to be applied, He isn’t talking about taking something from one person’s brain and transferring that to someone else’s brain. In the New Testament times, a disciple wasn’t just a student of a teacher. A disciple was a learner, much like an apprentice under a mentor who poured his life into the apprentice’s life.

Jesus’ commission isn’t to get people to make decisions. The commission is to make disciples. There is a world of difference between these two!

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders in the church at large don’t get this. It’s much easier to get someone to “bow your head and repeat after me” than it is to make a disciple. Decision-making is very quick. Disciplemaking takes time. Unfortunately, churches are full of decision-makers, and lacking on disciples.

In 2Timothy 2:2 Paul adds another dimension to disciplemaking: Make disciple-making disciples. Until a disciple passes his/her own walk down to a younger (in the faith) believer, we haven’t completed the task to make disciples. Unfortunately, most church-goers have never been “discipled” and are therefore incapable of making disciples.

Application

Have you ever been discipled? Maybe you need to talk with your pastor about growing deeper in your faith by meeting regularly with a more mature believer who can pour his/her spiritual life into yours.

Have you made a disciple? The commission wasn’t just for Jesus’ immediate disciples. The commission is for us, too!

I once heard someone wisely say that every Christian needs a Paul (a more mature believer who is discipling you), a Barnabus (someone on about the same spiritual growth level as you), and a Timothy (someone you are discipling).

Indeed!

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nuclear_explosion

I will probably upset someone with this devotional based on today’s Bible reading. It’s because I don’t share the most popular view of eschatology. As a result, I see this passage very differently than many people. But we need to seek to understand and apply the Bible according to the Bible and not according to popular theology and popular Bible teachers. The majority can sometimes be wrong.

I recently got into a text discussion with a friend over this very topic, eschatology, the study of the End Times. It’s the only view that many Christians have ever been exposed to. The popular view of today’s passage looks to the future for the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, often with an America-centric slant. The popular view sees all of this passage as being in the future. But is this Jesus’ focus?

If you read Matthew 24, Jesus appears to deliver the entire chapter in one speech. In other words, look at the passage as a whole to seek to understand what Jesus is saying. He begins with a prophecy that the Temple will be destroyed. Next, He describes signs of the end of the age. The next three sections in the chapter deal with Jesus’ Second Coming, concluding with a strong statement that no one will know the day or the hour.

Obviously, the destruction of the Temple isn’t in the future; it happened in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem. But the rest from Matthew 24:3 could have happened in the past, are now happening, or will happen in the future. Is Jesus giving us a step-by-step description to guide our worldview? Or is He simply giving us a “watch for these signs and be alert” warning?

I believe He’s giving us a warning to watch and be alert rather than a timetable. The central application point is Matthew 24:12-14.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:12–14 (ESV)

Application

Jesus couldn’t be more clear that the timing of His return is unknowable. So why do so many seem to be obsessed with when He will return? Shouldn’t we instead be faithful with proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v. 14) and stay alert (v. 42, 44, 46), faithfully loving and serving Him?

If you tend to focus on the timing, step back a bit and look at the passage as a whole. Look at the book of Revelation as a whole. You’ll find that our call is to make sure we’ve been saved (had a conversion experience) and that we will be saved in the end (ultimate salvation for those who endure and not fall away) as well as to bring as many to heaven as we can.

Make sure that your love for Him and His people doesn’t grow cold. (Matthew 24:12) Be faithful today. Be obedient today. Be watching today. Get to know and love God better today. Live to God’s glory today. Sure, watch for the signs. But concentrate on growing deeper in your relationship with Him today.

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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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Jesus sends our His Disciples for ministry
Image source: LumoProject

In reading through today’s Bible reading and looking back on the past four weeks of “stay at home” to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I must say, I’m very much in a reflective mood.

As you look at what Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-15, you see a lot about what the Disciples were commissioned to do, but Jesus didn’t tell them how to go about it. One obvious point is that not once did He say anything about setting up a building as a center for ministry.

In one YouTube video I saw today, the speaker said that some church leaders (of large churches) in Canada suggested that they may not be able to return to “normal” church services until August or September. August or September!

In light of Jesus’ commissions for His Disciples in today’s reading and our recent inability to do church like we’re used to, we really need to ask some serious questions about how we are supposed to do church as we move forward.

As we begin to talk about going back to church — at least at first — we won’t be able to go back to what we’re used to. We will have to do some things differently. The mission remains, but the methods must change.

Perhaps God is giving us a chance to press the “Reset” Button. Perhaps what we’ve been doing for the past five hundred years needs to look different as we move forward. Maybe we need to stop doing some things we’ve been doing because the methods have served their purposes for a time and it’s time now to move on to more relevant things.

In some ways, we have already done this. Compared to fifty years ago, how many churches still conduct “Bible Drills” and Vacation Bible School? How many churches have an active “bus ministry”? How many churches have “Revival Services” twice a year anymore? How many churches still have a choir that wears choir robes for Sunday Morning church and present two cantatas per year? How many preachers still wear three-piece suits on Sunday Mornings? How many churches still have weekly door-to-door cold-call visitation?

Things have changed. We have already laid aside many things that may have run their course for our specific context. Note: I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t do any of these things anymore. I’m just saying that in many contexts, these methods aren’t as effective as they used to be. As a result, we have retooled our methods, as retail stores have abandoned brick-and-mortar-only approaches to selling products to customers. The market changes and our methods of delivering on our mission should also change to reflect those changes.

Just before we began to talk about merging churches, I preached about our need to do whatever it takes to reach different types of people: The lost, the traditional church-goers, and the former traditional church-goers.

Application

I have a few quick questions for our church specifically, and to other church-goers in general. When you look forward to getting back to meeting together as a church, what are you looking forward to? What do you miss? Finally, what needs to change when we go back?

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a webinar about finishing well as a believer and church leader. Someone commented that preachers oftentimes say that they are “called into the ministry”. He followed this by saying, “No. You aren’t called into ministry. You’re called to intimacy. Ministry will flow out of intimacy.” As I reflected on this profound quote, I wondered if the intimacy he referred to was limited to (vertical) intimacy with God or if it includes (horizontal) intimacy with others.

Especially in light of today’s reading and my comments above, I believe it includes both types of intimacy. Having said that, I have to ask how much of my ministry has not been focused on vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others) intimacy (ie, the mission), but rather on the methods.

I have a lot to learn.

Nothing is more relevant to the world right now than the message of the Gospel. People are reaching out, looking for hope. Looking for answers. Record numbers of people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible App. And I have been shocked at how many people are viewing our Sunday Morning Messages on Facebook Live.

May we be true to our mission and flexible in our methods, seeking God’s leading all the time.

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1 2 3 10

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