Psalm 34:8

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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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If you’ve ever watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, you heard Linus van Pelt quote from Luke’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading. Charlie Brown complains that Christmas has become so commercialized. (The animated classic first aired in 1965) Exasperated, Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus replies, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Linus takes the stage and asks for the spotlight, “Lights, please.”

“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” Luke 2:8–14 (CSB)

Click here to watch Linus tell the meaning of Christmas.

Application

If you’ve seen the program, you may have missed a crucial point. In the middle of his quote of Luke’s Gospel, Linus drops his blanket as he says, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

In dropping his security blanket, Linus drives home the point that because Jesus came, there’s no reason to be afraid.

Have you dropped your security blanket
to embrace the good news of Jesus?

This devotional was originally published June 28, 2019

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Zechariah breaks into spontaneous praise
Image credit: LumoProject

We begin reading Luke’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading. Unlike John and Matthew, Dr. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus. He had to interview people and learn a lot about Jesus before he could write his Gospel. Dr. Luke spent considerable time traveling with Paul and he records these adventures in his second book, Acts.

Luke begins his gospel addressing Theophilus. He is only mentioned here and the beginning of Acts. His name means lover of God. Some have suggested that Theophilus may have financed the writing of the Gospel and the Acts. But that is speculation.

Luke tells us about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were cousins. Zechariah and Elizabeth were along in years and had not had any children. Dr. Luke gives us the impression that Elizabeth, like Sarai in the Old Testament, was postmenopausal. Both Sarai and Elizabeth experienced a miraculous conception. But if these women experienced a miraculous conception, Mary’s was extra-special! Dr. Luke tells us that Mary was not just a young woman kind of virgin, but she was a virgin kind of virgin; she had never had relations with a man.

Both Zechariah and Mary asked Gabriel a question. The question sounds similar, but they were very different. “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18 (CSB) Mary asks, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” Luke 1:34 (CSB)

Zechariah asked, How can I know this is true? and Mary asked, How is this possible? Both Zechariah and Mary accepted their role in God’s plan. Zechariah had to pay for his question with nine months of silence.

Can you imagine Zechariah’s experience with the angel in the Most Holy Place in the Temple and then not be able to tell anyone about it for nine months? I’m sure he had a lot of time to reflect on the nature of his desire to be absolutely sure that Gabriel was telling the truth.

One additional point I want to draw from Luke 1. Elizabeth is five months pregnant when Mary visits and tells her that she’s pregnant, too. Upon learning that Mary is pregnant, Elizabeth, feels John kick (remember that Gabriel said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born (Luke 1:15). Elizabeth is midway through her second trimester and feels John’s reaction as he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Note: The first person to celebrate the announcement of Jesus’ conception is a pre-born baby! Given today’s political climate and the never-ending debate over abortion (including second and third-trimester abortions), I think it’s very important to highlight this encounter.

Finally, note that Mary and Zechariah burst into praise as they remember their encounter with Gabriel.

Application

Zechariah and Mary had their encounters with God’s “messenger” (that’s what “angel” means) and they couldn’t help but break into praise.

Spontaneous praise should be a normal response
to hearing God’s message.

When was the last time you heard a message from God and you couldn’t help but burst into spontaneous praise? Maybe you need to look back over Luke 1 and let God speak to you.

As with Elizabeth, God knows your situation. He cares. And He’s big enough to do something about your situation. He may bring a miracle. He may use some type of therapy. Or He may do something else that He sees as being better than that.

Remember that you can trust God to work together all things so that you would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

This devotional was originally published June 27, 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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