All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?
If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!
Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.
One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.
And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.
Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.
But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.
There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.
So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!
This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.
Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!
One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:
to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’
The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.
But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!
Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)
And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!
And what an amazing responsibility!
Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!
If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?
Who can you tell today?
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. Print.
This devotional was originally published August 28, 2019.
Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.
They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?
If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?
Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!
If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.
Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.
Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)
Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.
If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).
This devotional was originally published August 27, 2019.
I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.
Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.
Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.
Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.
Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)
Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.
I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.
This devotional was originally published August 23, 2019.
The Resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn’t. So what difference would it make if it did or didn’t happen? What if it never happened and the entire Christian movement — from the very beginning — is based on hopeful wishes of Jesus’ Disciples? Would that make much difference?
Paul thinks the Resurrection is a pretty big deal. In today’s Bible reading, he goes so far as to say that if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t actually happen, then Jesus is dead. If Jesus is dead, then Christians are liars for claiming He’s alive when He’s dead. He says that if the Resurrection didn’t happen, then we don’t have forgiveness of sin, and our faith is useless. (1 Corinthians 15:17) Useless!
Paul says that the Christian movement didn’t just arise out of a vacuum. He says that Jesus’ death and His Resurrection were grounded in the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Christian movement wasn’t a new religion invented in the middle of the First Century. Instead, it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It wasn’t just a sectarian branch of Judaism. It was the fulfillment of Judaism! All of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Jesus!
Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe! Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be transformed from strangers and enemies of God to being sons and daughters of God. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be adopted by the most loving Father anyone ever hoped of having. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I have hope for an eternity with God in heaven. And because of the Resurrection, you and I have been given all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)
Spend a few minutes contemplating the magnitude of the reality of the Resurrection. Then spend a few minutes today praising God for the miracle of the Resurrection.
This devotional was originally published August 20, 2019.