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Obedience

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John the Baptizer preaches at the Jordan River

In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.

By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .

No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?

Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.

Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.

Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.

It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.

Application

Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)

I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?

If you haven’t come to grips with that question, I invite you to call, text, or email me. I’d love to help you make the best decision of your life!

This devotional was originally published June 29, 2019.

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The Apostle Paul writes a letter
Image Credit: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Today’s Bible reading is the entire book of Philemon. It’s no longer than a typical chapter in other books of the Bible, and this one-chapter-book is short and sweet. Paul writes this letter to Philemon who owns a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus has become a believer under Paul’s ministry and Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with instructions to receive him back as a fellow believer, not as a servant. Paul tells Philemon that if Philemon has incurred any costs or damages because of Onesimus’ desertion, to charge those costs to Paul’s account. Then Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his very life to Paul. (Philemon 19)

Paul basically tells Philemon to do what’s right with regards to Onesimus, but he doesn’t really tell him what the right thing to do is. That’s a mark of a good leader. He gives the expectation, and he empowers his follower(s) to make wise choices. The mature follower will apply what he/she has learned to situations that present themselves. No one wants to be a robot, only doing what he/she has been told and no more, no less.

Finally, Paul tells Philemon to prepare his guest room for him to stay in the next time he’s in town. I think this is Paul’s final hint that he expects Philemon to treat Onesimus well. Paul basically says, you better do what’s right because I’m going to check back with you to make sure you did the right thing.

Application

I remember some really good advice we received when our first child was born: The goal is not to raise a compliant child (who does everything they’re told), but to raise a wise child who can make mature decisions.

How about you? Do you make your choices based on what you’ve been told is right and what is wrong? Or do you make your choices based on the principles instilled in you through your relationship with Jesus and what you see in God’s Word?

The mature believer will make godly choices because they know it’s the right thing to do, even without being told what the right thing is.

This devotional was originally published June 26, 2019.

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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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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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anxiety

My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.

Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)

Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.

But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)

Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!

Application

I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.

Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.

It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.

Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on this passage. You might want to check it out. Someone you know may need these words of encouragement.

This devotional was originally published June 19, 2019.

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