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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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Jesus opens their eyes
Image credit: LumoProject

Dr. Luke describes the events of the first Easter Sunday Morning in today’s Bible reading. He begins with some of his disciples bringing spices to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper burial. Because the Sabbath was only a few hours away when Jesus died, they only had time to place his body in the tomb and cover it up with some linen cloth. When they returned, they only found the linen, not the body. Two men in dazzling clothes told them that Jesus wasn’t there; He had risen just as He said! Quickly they returned to where the other disciples were staying and told them what they had seen … and what they hadn’t seen: Jesus’ dead body. It was too much for Peter, so he ran to the cemetery to see for himself.

Next, Dr. Luke tells us about some disciples who were discussing the events of the previous few days. These disciples didn’t recognize Jesus as He walked with them. He expounded on Old Testament passages, demonstrating that they pointed to Him. But the disciples didn’t recognize Him until dinnertime when He served them dinner. Then their eyes were opened. (Luke 24:31) They, too ran back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven Disciples what they had seen.

Finally, Jesus appeared to all of the Disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Obviously, some needed convincing it really was Him, so He offered his wounded hands and feet for them to know that it really was Him.

As He did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus described how the Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Psalms pointed to Him. And their minds were opened to what He said. (Luke 24:45)

Application

Note that something happened in and verses 31 and 45. Dr. Luke says that the disciples’ eyes were opened and their minds were opened. The clear implication is that unless Jesus opens someone’s eyes, they aren’t going to see. And unless Jesus opens someone’s mind, they aren’t going to know.

Seeing and knowing are two things that we as fallen creatures cannot do for ourselves. Naturally, we are blind and we can’t understand. Our eyes and our minds must be opened. We’re passive in this; it’s something that happens to us.

Spend a few minutes today praising God that He has given you eyes to see. And praise Him that He has given you a mind to understand Him.

This devotional was originally published July 30, 2019.

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The End Times

Today’s Bible reading involves eschatology. Eschatology is a twenty-five cent word that means the study of “The End Times”. I commented on a parallel passage from Matthew 24 in May. Hence the recycled End Times image.

As I said in May, lots of people claim they know when Jesus will return. But rather than speculate as to when Jesus will return, I choose to focus on being ready whenever He returns. In fact, that seems to be Jesus’ focus as well.

I don’t know when He will return and neither does anyone else. But our Father does! He’s in control of everything. Jesus won’t return a second earlier and He won’t return a second later than His Father plans. Don’t worry about when the End Times happen. We’re already in the End Times and have been since Jesus came the first time! (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20)

Thinking about the End Times can be a little scary, but it shouldn’t be if you’re a believer. Things may get bad, as they did in AD 70 when Jerusalem was overtaken (and which is a lot of what Jesus is referring to in our reading). But God is still in control!

Always keep that in mind!

Application

So what can you do to be ready? The number one thing is to have a dynamic relationship with your Father. Spend time with Him in prayer, Bible study, worship, and other Spiritual Disciplines. The bottom line: Get to know your Daddy! Enjoy your fellowship with Him and tell other people how they can have and develop a relationship with Him, too.

Don’t let yourself get distracted by the speculators. And don’t wait until Jesus returns before you spend time with Him. Do it now!

Stay close. Stay clean. Be ready. Watch. And pray.

This devotional was originally published July 25, 2019

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Despite what some preachers may tell you these days, you cannot unhitch the New Testament from the Old Testament. Today’s Bible reading demonstrates this fact.

John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin. Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. But just before baptizing Jesus, Dr. Luke referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that someone would come, announcing the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 40:3-5). I don’t know if John realized he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy or not. I don’t know how aware he was of his situation, but he did make mention of Jesus being the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins. (John 1:29)

Anyway… when John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if He is the One they’re waiting for, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 61 — the very passage He had read from when the synagogue officials handed Isaiah’s scroll to Him in Luke 4!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB)

Jesus responds, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news,” Luke 7:22 (CSB)

Reading Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ response to John’s disciples side-by-side, you cannot deny that Jesus is applying Isaiah to Himself: good news, healing, and liberty.

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 40, telling the crowd that John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness:

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:3–5 (CSB)

Yes, John’s was the voice that Isaiah said would cry out in the desert, urging everyone to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. And Jesus was the Messiah!

Application

Have you had trouble understanding the Old Testament? Have you struggled to figure out how the two Testaments fit together, if at all?

I can tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I have questioned why Christians even need to read the Old Testament. But not anymore! The more I read the New Testament, the more of the Old Testament I see in it.

Listen to Jesus. Listen to Peter. Listen to Paul and the other New Testament writers. The words of the Prophets and the words of the Psalmists roll off their lips. They knew their Bible. And their Bible was what we call the Old Testament.

As you read through the New Testament this year, don’t gloss over the references back to the Old Testament. When you read the Old Testament, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” If you look a little closer, you’ll see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. And you’ll find the Old Testament quoted or alluded to over and over again in the New Testament. It’s as if God planned it all along!

The Old Testament. The New Testament. It’s all part of One Big Story: The relentless pursuit of God for His people in a covenant relationship.

Don’t read the Bible, trying to unhitch it from its overall context. It wasn’t written that way! If your Bible has cross-references, use them to see how God interweaves His Word with His Word. You’ll be amazed to see how awesome God is!

This devotional was originally published July 5, 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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