Our Bible reading for today includes a parallel passage from Matthew 7:22-23. In that sad story, Jesus reminds us once again, that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, including many who think they have “eternal security”.
In the preaching of cheap grace, preachers often invite their hearers to “ask Jesus into their hearts” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” and/or be baptized and they can be assured they are saved. Yet, only God knows who is and who is not saved!
Our church will be wrapping up a sermon series on the book of Acts in a few weeks. So far, in the first two-thirds of the book, no one has been urged to “invite Jesus into your heart” and no preacher has told anyone to “pray a sinners prayer”. Despite what a preacher or a revivalist told you, those concepts — not just the words — are foreign to the teachings of the New Testament. So what does the teaching of the New Testament say about salvation? That’s a great question!
From Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2) through the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8) through the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 16) through the conversion of John the Baptizer’s disciples (Acts 19), the appeal is always, without exception, “Repent!” And yet, that word — and that concept for that matter — is rarely heard today.
What does it mean to repent? It means to change your mind, to change your way of thinking, to turn from your way to God’s way. Yes, repentance can be expressed in
The main takeaway from the preaching in Acts to the teaching in Jesus’ ministry and in the epistles, a call to salvation is a call to die. (Luke 9:23) Not everyone will be saved; only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. And not everyone who thinks they are saved is saved.
Jesus emphasizes that the Homeowner (God the Father) decides who gets in through the narrow door and that once He closes the door, it’s too late. There are no second chances. As we’ve seen before, salvation isn’t about doing good things and not going bad things. Salvation is about knowing and being known. (Luke 13:25 CSB, John 17:3) It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Salvation is about knowing and being known.
It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You may think that you’re saved. On what basis? If God were to ask you why you should be allowed into heaven, how would you respond? If your answer begins with, “Because I…”, you need to go back and revisit the message of the Gospel. Salvation is all about what Jesus did, not you. If you’re saved because of something you’ve done or not done that balances out to be good enough, let me remind you that, all you brought to the equation was the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.
Spend a few minutes today looking at your salvation. What evidence do you have that you are indeed saved? What fruit demonstrates that your faith is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ? The people in Matthew 7:22-23 and Luke 13:25, 27 thought they would be rewarded for their behavior. They were wrong. What about you?
This devotional was originally published July 13, 2019.
Jesus says a lot about priorities in today’s Bible reading. Most importantly, He talks about people who are consumed by worry. He says,
Jesus says that God cares for sparrows and His kids are worth far more than sparrows. He says that God clothes the flowers more elegantly than Solomon clothed himself.
I’m staggered by the reality that, looking at the size of the universe — so big that some of what we think are stars are actually galaxies of thousands of stars — how a God Who spoke all of this into existence, a God who keeps everything in motion, a God who is in control of every atom in the universe could care for such an insignificant piece of His creation. In fact, not only does He know me, He has numbered every hair on my head. (Luke 12:7)
How could that be?
In light of the awesomeness of God, Jesus tells us to keep our priorities straight: Focus on God and His kingdom instead of worrying about all of those insignificant things that will last an insignificant amount of time on the infinite timeline of eternity. He says that wherever we put our treasures, our heart will be fixed on it.
Where are your treasures? Where do you spend your money? Your time? Your emotional energy? Where are your deepest concerns? How do these things line up with and relate to God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness?
Spend a few minutes today thinking about the vast expanse of the universe. If you’re able to look up at the sky tonight and observe the stars, try counting them. Then again, don’t bother because you can’t! A God who merely spoke everything into being from absolutely nothing has made Himself available … to you.
Call out to Him today. Thank Him for being there. Thank Him that He didn’t just create and then walk away. Thank Him that He is there, that He is not silent, that He is not distant, and that He is only a prayer away.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
— Jim Elliott —
This devotional was originally published July 12, 2019.
Dr. Luke gives his version of the Disciples’ Prayer in today’s Bible reading. It differs a little from Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13), the version many of us learned growing up in
Why are there so many versions of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples? The fact that there are different versions only proves the Bible is full of contradictions, right?
Uh, no! The fact that there are different versions just illustrates that different people remembered different things from their life experiences walking around with Jesus. Whoever Dr. Luke used for his source for this version of the Prayer may have only heard it this way. Whereas, Matthew wrote what he heard. Jesus may have been asked this question once and was heard by both people at the same time. Or Jesus may have taught the Prayer more than once and each source simply recorded what they heard on that occasion.
Add to that, the longer version of the Prayer that most of us learned so many years ago actually came from later manuscripts where scribes added some of their own traditions to the Biblical Prayer.
None of this should surprise us; it merely points to the fact that God used regular human beings to put together and preserve our Bible. We need to be careful in applying today’s understanding of recording history to the way the Bible writers recorded history; they recorded history differently than we do. A high view of Scripture allows for each Biblical writer to contribute his unique nuances. Rather than giving us contradictory information, each Biblical writer provides his own complementary information.
Don’t get lost in the minutiae of the differences in the versions or the manuscripts which contain a few more words than another. The Bottom Line is that God has preserved His Word for us over almost two thousand years in a remarkably consistent way. Rather than getting caught up with the differences, look at the similar content and augment that with the different content. And remember that Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to commit to rote memory a few static sentences.
Note, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Instead, they asked Him to teach them to pray.
Oftentimes we approach prayer as an opportunity to bring our shopping list to God. Over time, we tend to get the “gimmes”: Gimme this. Gimme that. And gimme lots of these other things.
Note that in Jesus’ prayer, only one sentence pertains to requesting something for ourselves. And that request is simply for our needs. Most of the prayer is praising God, asking Him to keep doing what He’s already doing, and confessing of our own shortcoming as we forgive the shortcomings of others.
There’s nothing wrong with asking God for stuff. Actually, we are encouraged to take our requests to God. (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18) Think about it, if God is our Provider, failing to ask Him to provide is to fail to glorify Him as our Provider!
How do your prayers compare with Jesus’? Are your prayers filled with “gimmes”? Are your prayers filled with praise? Thanksgiving? If you tend to spend more time requesting things — for yourself or for others — try spending a little time doing nothing but praising God for Who He is and thanking Him for what He’s done.
This devotional was originally published July 11, 2019.
Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all
Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!
As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds
Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)
One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.
Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.
Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,
The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. 
Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!
So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?
Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.
Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.
 Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.
This devotional was originally published July 3, 2019.
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?
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.
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.’”
Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite
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!
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.
 Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
 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.