Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Life to Match Your Lips

READ Mark 13-14

Oh, Lord, how I want my life to match my lips. Peter and the disciples didn’t. They blew it. “Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “ Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “ If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.”  (14:29-31)

I’ve learned in these many years of walking with the Lord that I am prone to be just like them. So my tendency is to stop making bold pronouncements of how faithful I will be. At times I’m even hesitant to sing some lines of some songs because they profess things that I know I am weak in doing.

But how I would love to have no fear of making brash boasts of what I will do for the Lord and what I won’t do that would dishonor him. How I would love to know that I’d never fail. But I don’t. In fact, I’m fairly certain of just the opposite. So now, I’m more prone to say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. Show your power in my weakness.”

Prayer: Father, that is my prayer today. Please show your power in my weakness. Help me to be faithful and have the courage to stand strong for you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

If You Are Willing

READ Mark 1-2

So often, when I read the story of Jesus cleansing the leper, I am touched by two words that Jesus uttered. The leper came to Jesus and said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus said to him, “I will, be clean.” The two words that grab my heart are “I will.” The leper had asked him if he was willing and Jesus replied that he was. That seems to be the heart of Jesus, doesn’t it? He is willing to heal us from the sickness of our sin and for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. to make us clean.

When I think of being like Jesus that seems to be the quality that epitomizes him the most — his willingness. He was willing to leave heaven and come to earth. He was willing to touch and heal many of their diseases. He was willing to forgive sins. He was willing to go to the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and we might have eternal life. He was willing to suffer and die for us.

And when I think of my seeking to live like Jesus, so often the very thing I am lacking is willingness. I may have all sorts of reasons and excuses, but  the truth is, I am just not willing so many times. I need the help of God to be willing. I need the truth of Philippians 2:13 to be real in me all the time: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Prayer: Father, you are the One who makes me willing and able. Help me, Lord, to be willing to do your will. Help me to be willing to love as you love and to live in a way that is worthy of the grace you have shown me.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Word-doing Is More Important Than Sign-watching

READ Matthew 23-24

“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:28) What a strange verse this is but not one that should cause us difficulty in understanding. What is Jesus doing? He is telling about the “the sign of [his] coming and of the end of the age” (v.3). In the midst of this information he interjects this note about the vultures. So what does he mean?

Most of you know that Janet and I recently made a trip to Africa to see our son, Arthur. One of the delights of this trip was to spend 3 days in a national park and go on game drives each day. One of the things we learned from the guide was to watch for vultures, either circling above or sitting in groups in trees. Why? Because, as we all know, the presence of vultures means there’s something dead nearby. And if there is something dead, then there might be the possibility of seeing what killed it, like a lion or cheetah. So we watched for vultures.

That’s what Jesus is telling us. Just as vultures gathering means a corpse near, so do these signs that he is telling about mean that his second coming is near. All one has to do is watch for the signs. Meanwhile, live to the glory of God while you are watching. I think Jesus was saying that the signs will be evident, like vultures, so you don’t need to get bogged down in sign-watching. Word-doing is more important than sign-watching.

Prayer: Father, thank you for telling us what the signs will be when the Lord Jesus returns. Help us to be discerning and not over-reactive. Help us to be about the business of living to your glory while we watch for the signs and not to spend all our efforts and energies only on sign-watching.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sinister Syncretism

READ Zephaniah 1-3

One of Zephaniah’s accusations against Judah is very fitting for today. It is perhaps one of the chief sins of those who call themselves Christians today. Wherever we turn, we see this manifested in so many lives of those call themselves by the name of the Lord. We find it in chapter one verse five: “those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom.” Notice the sinister syncretism found in this verse.

These people still thought of themselves as God’s people. They were, after all, Judah, God’s faithful portion, not like the sinful Northern Kingdom of Israel that had been long ago overthrown by Assyria and scattered to the four winds. No, they were still the chosen ones. But notice what commandment they were violating: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). The very first of the Ten Commandments. In that command the word “before” is best translated “besides.” God was not just saying you cannot have any gods that take precedence over me. He was also saying you cannot have any gods along with me. This was the sin of Judah that Zephaniah denounces.

What about us today? We claim to be faithful people of God yet so often we still bow down to the other gods around us — Gods like materialism, pleasure, greed, success, power, leisure. We say we worship the one true God but we let other things push him out of his rightful place of worship in our lives. Let us each examine our own hearts to see if this be true, in any way, of us.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for letting our hearts be diluted from the pure worship of you. Help us to resist the lure of other things that take your place in our affection. Forgive us from trusting in anyone or anything but you. Help us in our unbelief.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Every Real Pastor's Dream

READ Jonah 3-4

Every real pastor’s dream! That’s what Jonah experienced when he first went to Nineveh. God gave him a message to preach and he preached it. Then the people heard the message and believed God and responded obediently to what they had heard. Hear the words yourself again, “And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” (3:5)

That’s it. That’s what we pray for and long to see happen in our churches today. We have been commanded by the Lord to “Preach the Word…with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2) so that “we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) I think I can speak for all true preachers of the Word that our greatest joy is found in knowing that our hearers are hearing the Word and doing the Word. God didn’t call us to develop the Word; he only called us to deliver it. We pray that he will bring about the right response in those who hear.

What about you? Are you a hearer and a doer? Do you, like the Ninevites, “believe God” and then do you live based on that belief?

Prayer: Father, I pray for all who preach the Word that you will help us to be faithful and deliver it in your power. Also, Father, please help all of us who hear the Word to “have ears to ear” so that we believe it and live it to your glory.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Good Guys" on Jonah's Ship

READ Jonah 1-2

Sometimes those who do not know and worship God still do noble things. Just one verse in today’s reading prompted my thinking on this. The sailors on Jonah’s ship to Tarshish were religiously syncretistic as a whole, with a sort of a “Heinz 57” amalgamation of different gods that were worshipped (1:5). Obviously, none of them was a believer in the One True God, Jonah’s God. But notice what they did when Jonah told them the answer to their fear of the storm was to throw him overboard. “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.” (1:13) These pagan sailors were unwilling, at first, to kill Jonah to save their own lives.

We see this many times in our lives today: unbelieving doctors and medical researchers who tirelessly give themselves to saving lives, lost military personnel who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of others, public safety workers who put themselves in harm’s on our behalf, teachers who dedicate themselves to the good of their students in selfless fashion, and many, many others of similar quality. There is even an illustration of this in one of the parables Jesus’ told. The Samaritan was certainly not thought of nor depicted even as a follower of God, but he acted in a manner that was “good.”

What’s my point? Simply, gratitude. You and I can still be thankful for the contributions to the good of society and the world from those who do not share our knowledge of God. They may not worship as we do, but they can still do good things. And we should thank them and honor them for this. But we should also remember that those things are temporal. We are an eternal people who have the message of eternal life. So, along with our gratitude we should also seek to love them into the kingdom of God. Their “good works” will not save them.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the better aspects of those who are still lost apart from you. Thank you for their contributions to the world in general and to our lives specifically. God, please use us to show them your love and the glory of the gospel.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Worship-minded People

READ Amos 5-6

Once again we see God rejecting the worship of the people (5:21-23). This time the focus is on their dealings in the marketplace and in the gates (5:10-12). God is wanting them to see that their dealings with people need to be just and righteous (5:24). These are just as much acts of worship as gathering together in feasts and solemn assemblies.

You and I also need to realize this about our lives today. We so often fall into the trap of thinking that worship is only what we do on Sunday morning. We think we can live any way we wish the rest of the week then come and worship God as if all was right. But no, the Scripture makes plain that every act of our lives is potentially an act of worship —how we think, how we speak, how we relate to others — are all to be done “as unto the Lord.”

Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Presenting ourselves to the Lord as a continual, on-going sacrifice of worship is what God desires from us. We can’t, like the unfaithful Israelites, think we are worshipping God on Sundays while being unjust and unrighteous the rest of the week.

Prayer: Father, you alone are worthy of worship. You are One who creates the heavens, who makes the morning out of the night, who controls the waters of the sea. You alone are worthy of our worship. And you are worthy of our complete worship every moment of every day. Help us to be worship-minded people.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sanctifying Christ as Lord in the example of Daniel

READ Daniel 5-6

In 1 Peter 3:14-17 we have instructions from the Lord about how we are to live in a culture that is in opposition to our faith in Christ. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God' s will, than for doing evil.”

As you know, the NT tells us that the OT was written for our instruction and for an example to us in our Christian lives (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). Well, in Daniel 6 we have a great example from the life of Daniel of being willing to suffer for our faith and also seeing those who oppose us “put to shame.” Daniel remains faithful to God despite the efforts of his opponents and for this he is thrown into the lions’ den, even though the king very much does not want him to be killed. Even this pagan king, Darius, knows that Daniel worships God and he hopes that God will save him from the lions. You know the end of the story. Daniel is saved and those who have schemed to have him killed are killed themselves in the den of lions.

For you and me this story stands as a challenge to live for Christ completely. We must “honor the Lord as holy” in our hearts and live in such a way that others will see the a true hope in us, just as Darius saw hope in Daniel and his God. People around us are watching, wanting to see if what we say with our mouths is shown in what we do with our lives.

Prayer: Father, we need your grace always to live in such a way that others will know we worship you. Help us to humbly recognize that we are always on display as trophies of your grace and how we live casts a reflection on you. Give us the strength and the courage to be faithful, just like Daniel.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What's For Dinner? Blood & Quail Meat

READ Ezekiel 35-36

Sometimes it is a sign of judgment (or possibly discipline) when God gives us what we want. In his prophecy against Mount Seir God says, “Because you cherished perpetual enmity and gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of their final punishment, therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you.” (35:5-6) They wanted bloodshed so bloodshed would be there fate.

Remember the Israelites in the wilderness. They were not satisfied with God’s provision of manna and craved meat. So God gave them quail meat till it was coming out of their nostrils (Numbers 11:20). Listen to the Psalmist’s commentary on this experience: “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them.” (Psalm 106:13-15)

The lesson is to be satisfied with what God has for us and not to crave other things instead. Romans 1 has a similar idea when three times Paul says, “God gave them up” (24, 26, 28). In essence, God was giving them up to what they were craving instead of worshipping him as the giver of every good and perfect gift.

So be careful what you set your heart on and desire. Let it be God and what he has for you. Stay away from anything that gets in the way. Quail meat was not a bad thing in and of itself. But it was not God’s best for the Israelites.

Prayer: Father, let me be satisfied in you. Empty me of the hunger for other things that will shield me from you. Let my joy and delight and fulfillment come from you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Good Reminder for 9-11

After writing this devotional this morning I looked at the date and was reminded what day it is. Hence the title.

READ Ezekiel 25-26

As we read Ezekiel’s prophecies against the nations surrounding Israel (Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, Philistia, Tyre), we can’t help realizing the awfulness of the judgment of God. And that is as it should be. We should recoil at the idea of being judged by a holy God and found wanting. That is one of the reasons that we are a gospel people. We don’t want to see people fall under God’s eternal judgment.

But there is a more positive side to what we see in these two chapters also. This particular aspect is one of the greatest most reassuring truths of all of Scripture. We see it from the very first verses of the Bible to the very last verses. Over and over again it resounds aloud like a whistle from an oncoming train alerting us to its presence. What is that truth? God is sovereign over all things. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. In him all things hold together. Without him nothing would exist.

And within his sovereignty is his divine purpose that is carried out by him at all times in perfect measure. Here we see it in the fact that God is not only Lord over Israel but also of all the nations around Israel. He controls their fates. He raises them up or tears them down according to his will and purpose.

So today as you see the nations in turmoil do not be dismayed and hopeless. God is still in charge. Oh, we may not be able to see what he is doing from our infinitely limited perspective. But we have the testimony of Scripture that lets us know his work throughout all of history. We can be sure that he is carrying out his plan. And ultimately in the outworking of his plan, as he says over and over in these two chapters, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Prayer: Father, today I am so thankful for your sovereignty. I don’t see the end from the beginning as you do. My view is so limited. So I thank you for your Word that gives me the long view both backward and forward. I can rest in your holy sovereignty and trust that you will bring about your purpose and will in all things — even my one little life.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

God, make me stop...really?

READ Ezekiel 15-16

Be careful what you pray for. Have you, like me, ever prayed about a particular struggle with sin in your life and asked God to do whatever it takes to make you stop? Seems like a transparent and vulnerable prayer of deep honesty, doesn’t it. But I wonder if we really want to pray that way.

In our passage today Chapter 16 is one of the longest and most explicit chapters of the prophecy as it details God’s dealing with Judah like a faithless bride who has committed spiritual adultery through her sins. His kind husband like love turns to horrendous judgment. And in the midst of it God says, “And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more.” (16:41) God’s way of making them stop their sin was a devastating consequence in their life.

Now I’m not necessarily suggesting that’s the way God deals with us all the time. But I wonder, if we thought it was, would we still pray that same prayer? Wouldn’t it be better for us to simply be obedient to the Lord and by his grace and power stop the sin ourselves. We can do it, you know. We can do all things through the One who strengthens us.

Prayer: Father, help us to walk in obedience before you. Help us to hear your Word and do what it says. Help us not to need your rod of correction. Thank you that your Spirit is present in us to enable us to live obediently before you. Help us to do it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Before It's Too Late

READ Ezekiel 7-8

I am reminded of the potentially sad implications of one of the most uplifting passages in all of Scripture. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) In these verses we know that every knee will bow and every tongue confess in the last day. Even those who have not believed in Christ as Lord and Savior. For those who have believed it will be a confession of eternal salvation. For those who have not believed it will be a confession leading to eternal damnation.

In Ezekiel 7-8 God pronounces the utter evils of the disobedient Jews and the horrors of their desecration of the Temple with idols and sun worship and other cults. God emphatically states that he will send his wrath: “Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” (8:18) But notice, he will do this even if the people suddenly “cry…with a loud voice” to him. He “will not hear them.” In other words, it will be too late.

That’s what reminds me of Philippians 2:9-11. For those, in the last day, who have refused to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, even though they cry out with confession of the lordship of Christ, it will be too late. God will not hear them. Their doom will be sealed.

This is another of many reasons that should spur us into action to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. We should have pity on them and long to see them come to know the same love and forgiveness that we have experienced. The great missionary C. T. Studd said: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” Will we join him?

Prayer: Father, there are so many, many people who do not know you. Forgive us for our complacency and lack of action. Help us to be witnesses of your grace and glory. Give us the courage and the will to go and tell.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Prostitution: You and me??

READ Ezekiel 5-6

God hates idolatry. He so constantly punishes his people in the OT for their idolatry. But notice the word he uses in 6:9 as he describes what the idolatry truly is — “whoring”. For us that is a most despicable word. We get it. We understand what it means. Spiritual harlotry is a horrible evil. God sees Israel as his bride. And yet they have gone off into “whoring” by making and worshipping idols. But in their minds they were still worshipping God also. They were just covering all the bases.

They had broken the very first of the ten commandments. “You shall have no other gods before me,” declares the Lord. That means none above him or even in his presence. It doesn’t mean “give God first place” and then have things you worship almost as much in second, third, and so on place. It means you will worship no one and nothing at all besides God himself.

So how are you and I doing? Is there anything in our lives that we idolize. Again that doesn’t mean we think we have abandoned God completely. No, it may be that we have allowed other things or people to gain a place of worshipful focus in our lives along with God. No, “before Me” means above me or in my presence. One doesn’t have to abandon any thought of God to be an idolator. It can be a very easy thing to slide into with no concious thought. Watch out! God hates idolatry.

Prayer: Father, please keep my heart pure before you. Help me to worship you and you alone for you alone are God. You will not give your glory to another. Help me to know that my greatest good is found in worshipping you alone. Help me to be satisfied in you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

God Knows That He Is God

READ Jeremiah 51-52

Never miss this one stunning irrefutable fact: God knows that he alone is God. You might think that is obvious but it’s not for everyone. Some even think that God exists for our pleasure rather than the other way around. No, he alone is God and he will not give his glory to another.

Where do we see this in Chapters 51-52? In the prophecy of the utter destruction of Babylon Jeremiah says in 51:14, “The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself: Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts, and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” Notice, he swore by himself. Why did he do that? Well, Hebrews 6:13 tells us, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” God knows that he is God and there is no one greater than himself.

John Piper has been very helpful to me in reminding me that God’s highest aim is his own glory. If not, even he would be an idolator. If God chose anyone or anything else to give honor and glory to above himself he would be guilty of what he forbids in us. No, God guards his own glory. He knows that he alone is God and calls us to that same knowledge. We must worship him and him alone for there is no one greater.

Prayer: Father, what a great reminder this is at the end of Jeremiah for us. Your glory is displayed throughout this powerful book in the OT. Forgive us when we elevate other things and people to the highest position in our affections. Call us back to your glory and your glory alone.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

He Watching Over Israel....

READ Jeremiah 43-44

What is God doing in 44:27? “Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them.” He says he is watching over the remnant who have disobediently gone into Egypt. But his “watching over” is not a positive one as normally comes to mind when we hear that term. No, he is watching over them to bring them to destruction because of their disobedience.

But what is God doing on a deeper level? He tells us all the way back in 1:11-12: “And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” God is carefully and meticulously fulfilling His Word. He always does this. We can take it to the eternal bank of heaven. God will do what he has promised.

Did he promise to save those who trust in Jesus Christ? Yes. And he will for all eternity? Did he promise never to leave you, Christian, nor forsake you? Yes. And he won’t ever. Did he promise that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose? Yes. And he will sovereignly see that this happens. You can depend on it. Because he is always watching over his Word to perform it.

Prayer: Father, how faithful and just you are. For we your children are always sheltered under the promises of your Word and we can always trust in you to fulfill what you have promised. Humbly we trust in you. Thank you. Glory be to your name.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Heart-hearing a Sermon

READ Jeremiah 41-42

In 42:1-3 the remnant of people who were left in Judah come to Jeremiah and ask him to pray to the Lord on their behalf to tell them what they should do: “…that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” (3) So Jeremiah does as they request and ten days later gave them the word of God. However, he knows that they have no intention of doing what God has said and makes it very clear what will happen to them when they disobey (42:19-22).

As I read these words I thought had sadly and tragically true they are of some who come to worship with the body of Christ today and listen to the teaching from God’s Word. They seem to want to hear what God is saying to them. But the reality is they only want to hear a word that puts a stamp of approval on their plans. They have no intention of obeying God if they don’t like what the Word says to them. They should be warned. The Bible gives them no assurance of salvation. They are guilty of presumptuous sins. “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13)

And you and I should pray the prayer of Psalm 19:13 and come to the hearing of God's Word with a heart intent to obey.

Prayer: Father, please keep us from presumptuous sins that are an offense to your holiness. Help us, Lord, to hunger for your life-giving Word to lead us in the ways we should go. Help us to come to your Word with a heart of obedience.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

No Place to Hide...Glory!

READ Jeremiah 23-24

There’s no place to hide…from God. Notice what he says to Jeremiah: “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” (23:23-24) The theological word is omnipresent. God is everywhere at all times and he sees and knows everything that we do. In the context of Jeremiah 23 he is seeing the sins of the people, especially the false prophets. You and I need to be reminded that this is just as true for us today as it was then. God knows every thought, every word, every action of ours.  Nothing is hidden from him. There is nowhere that we can flee from his presence (Psalm 139:7-12). Sobering thought, isn’t it?

But there is also good news. What is the good news? There’s no place to hide…from God. He is always where you are. He will never leave you nor forsake you, if you are a child of his (Hebrews 13:5). What comfort and joy that brings to a child of God. Like our own precious little children who don’t want their fathers around when they do wrong, yet when they are afraid or hurting they want them to there very close. For us, as God’s children the wonderful assurance is that he is “a God at hand…not far away.”

Prayer: Thank you, Father, that you are with us at all times. Thank you that in your love for us you are there to lift us up and to convict us of our sins. Thank you that your presence is filled with grace, mercy, compassion and correction. Strengthen us for the need at hand.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Let the Fire Burn

READ Jeremiah 19-20

The life of a prophet is often extremely difficult. Jeremiah experienced this on numerous occasions. One, in Chapter 20, involved being beaten and put in stocks by the priest Pashhur. Jeremiah knew that his proclaiming the Word of the Lord was the cause of his punishment. He declared, “For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (8b)

But even in the midst of his persecution for pronouncing God’s Word he still would not, actually could not, stop. “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” God’s Word had become a burning fire within him that he simply could not hold in.

Two lessons for preachers/teachers today. First, we simply must proclaim God’s Word to God’s people and to those who do not yet know him. God’s Word is the instrument of God’s grace coming to those who hear (Romans 10:17). We have no other message to put forth than what God has given to us.

And the second is obvious. If we are going to be ridiculed and persecuted for teaching anything, the only thing it should be for is a faithful adherence to the Word of God. We should say what the Bible says, all that the Bible says, and nothing but what the Bible says.

Prayer: Father, help me and all pastors and all our teachers to be faithful to you and to your Word. Help us to know that the ideas of men will never heal the hurts of people nor bring them to salvation. Help us to hold fast to your Word even if it becomes unpopular or even illegal. Give us strength and give us fire in our bones.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

So...You're not Moses...

READ Jeremiah 15-16

As I began our reading this morning the very first words struck a cord of humility for me. God is speaking to Jeremiah, one of his greatest prophets in the OT. He is speaking of his coming judgment on Judah because of the sins of the people and especially King Manasshe (15:4). And he says to Jeremiah, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!” (15:1) Jeremiah was a great prophet but Moses and Samuel were recognized as greats among the great. The people had their writings to read as God’s Word for them. And God, in effect, says to Jeremiah that they are much greater prophets and leaders than he is. If nothing else this verse stands as a dose of humility for Jeremiah.

If that is so, then who do I think I am? How can I possibly think that I could lead a church? I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I’m just a guy from Tupelo, MS, a small town in the South, who never did anything worthy of note. There were and are so many more qualified than I to be a pastor of a church.

And then I remembered, God still needs his Jeremiah’s. He may not be on the level of a Moses or a Samuel, but he is still God’s man for that place and that time and those people. And God still uses his pastors, literally hundreds of thousands of us through church history, in out-of-the-way places, leading these people for a season. So for me this was a reminder for the need of humility in all I do as a pastor but also a great encouragement that I don’t have to be Moses or Samuel. God can still use me as he did Jeremiah.

What about you? You may not be recognized as the greatest at what you do for the Lord either. But God needs the great and the small. He simply needs us to be faithful as his servants and stewards.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the reminder today that I am part of your plan. Help me neither to be puffed up nor to be discouraged. Help me to be faithful.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A People, a Name, a Praise, a Glory

READ Jeremiah 13-14

Israel and Judah both were both stubborn in their sin. Both had become idolatrous and served other false gods (13:10). Israel had been dispersed in 722 b.c.  Judah was now being told through Jeremiah that they too were coming under the judgment of God some 100 years later.

But that was not God’s original intent for these people when he brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus. No his desire for them was “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.” (13:11) Perhaps we might learn from this and see how God would have us to live today.

A people: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) God has called us to be a unique and special people for himself since he called us also out of darkness.

A name: “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) The name “Christian” was probably given to them by unbelievers in a mocking tone or at least in a sense that identified them as followers of Jesus Christ. Perhaps by this designation they were saying, “you remind me of Jesus.” Do we?

A praise: God chose us and predestined us to be his children “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 3-6) He wants us to praise him with our lives our hearts and our lips.

A glory: The glory of God is the revelation and manifestation of the sum total of his attributes. We are called to glorify God, i.e., to reveal his presence in our lives by the way we live: “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Prayer: Father, help us to be your people and live for you so that others might see the glory of your grace in us. Help us not to live in such a way as to cause disrepute to come upon you. Forgive us when we fail. Strengthen us to be the demonstration of your grace to the world.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Asking for God's Correction

READ Jeremiah 9-10

Jeremiah prays one of the humblest prayers of all the Bible in 10:23-24, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Listen to each element of this prayer and consider using it in your life.

“The way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” He begins with the humble admission that he doesn’t know how to direct his own life in a way that honors the Lord. Coupled with what follows he is also admits that he has made wrong choices and has walked a wrong path before the Lord. He openly confesses his own sinful human limitations to the Lord.

Next he asks God to correct him. If we pause there for a moment we have to admit this is a scary thought. Imagine all the ways that he potentially has displeased the Lord and he invites God to correct him. The God of who Scripture reveals is a consuming fire is entreated to bring his correction in the life of his prophet. How terrifyingly traumatic that can be.

But he tempers that request by asking God to correct him in his justice, not his anger, because he knows that God’s anger would literally wipe him out (see v. 25). Jeremiah knows that God is also a God of mercy and grace and he longs for God to deal with him in that way. As the writer of Hebrews shows, God disciplines his children with love (Hebrews 12:5-11). So Jeremiah prays for God’s tough love to be displayed in his own life. How about you? Are you ready and willing?

Prayer: Father, make us willing and eager to receive your divine correction. Open our hearts to confession of our sins and a desire for your discipline of love. Thank you that we know that you have received us in Christ and we will never be cast away. But also direct us in the steps we should go for we are not wise in and of ourselves.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Primary Way to Pray for Your Pastor

READ Jeremiah 1-2

The beginning of Jeremiah is always a personal encouragement for me. Not because I’m a prophet. I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. But I am a preacher and this passage has parallel truths that are meaningful to God’s preachers today.

First, we see Jeremiah giving an account of his calling from God in 1:4-19. He was not an eager prophet. He tried to beg out of the calling with what many would consider a valid excuse: “Then I said, “ Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (6)

But God replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” (7) “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” (9) God assured Jeremiah that his youthfulness was not a problem because he would tell him what to say and put the right words in his mouth. Finally, God exhorted him, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” (17) In other words, God said, “Now get busy doing what I’ve commanded you to do.”

I’m sure you can see the encouragement to preachers today. There is no promise from God that he will miraculously “put his words in our mouths.” But he doesn’t have to do that because he has written his Word down for us. And, just like Jeremiah, he wants us to say what he says in his Word to his people: only what he says but all of what he says. That is the task of the preacher today. I hope you are praying for me, our other pastors and others that you know to fulfill this task.

Prayer: Help me and help my brother preachers to be faithful to your Word. Help us to say only what you have said but also all of what you have said. Help us not to rely on our own cleverness or wisdom but on your power through the Holy Spirit as we prepare and as we preach. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Don't Stop.........Reading!

READ Isaiah 63-64

So often we have a tendency to take breaks in our reading of Scripture where we shouldn’t pause. Many times this is a natural occurrence because of the chapter and verse divisions that, although they are extremely helpful, at times suggest a change in thought. But today the division between Chapter 63 and Chapter 64 is one of those times where there should be a huge sign reading, “Don’t Stop!:”

In 63 Isaiah is pouring out his confession of the sins of his people. In v. 16 he offers this remarkable admission, “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” He says, in essence, we really are your people though we haven’t been acting like it. Then in v. 19 he sums it all up with the depth of their sin, “We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name.”

Now don’t stop!

Go on into Chapter 64 and see what Isaiah begs God to do because of how sinful the people have become. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (1-2) Isaiah asks God to literally split the sky open and show up in all his might and glory as he has done in the past. The chapter (and prayer) ends with this pitiful, plaintiff cry to God, “Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord?
Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?” (12)

Oh, how easy it is to jump forward to our day. No, our nation is not God’s chosen people. But it is a nation that has plunged to the depths in its sinfulness before God. Where are God’s people who, like Isaiah, are so burdened about the sin around them that they literally cry out to God and ask him to “rend the heavens and come down.”

Prayer: Oh, God, do it again. As you have done so many times in such marvelous ways, send revival to your people and spiritual awakening to our land. Bring us to the end of ourselves. Manifest your glory in our midst that your people and so many who will come to you may rejoice in you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let Your Idols Deliver You

READ Isaiah 57-58

A friend of mine has defined an idol as anything that we would be unwilling to give up for the Lord. In more classic terms and idol is something that we worship or trust in rather than God. So the question for you and me is do we have any idols in our lives today? Idols can be people or material things or positions or reputations or anything that takes first place in our lives away from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Hear God’s Word to the people of Israel who were, amazingly, trusting in idols: “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them all off,
a breath will take them away.” (57:13a) How much more of a direct challenge could God give than to say ok, you want to trust in idols instead of me, then let them take care of you in a time of trouble. We all know how that will turn out don’t we? But yet we are still prone to let other things or people become the objects of our real worship besides God. We are still prone to being breakers of the very first commandment: ““You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Seek the Lord with all your heart. Love him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. Give glory to him above everything or everyone else in your life. Don’t let others take his place in your heart.

Prayer: Father, help us to learn from the instruction of your Word to the people of Israel. Help us not to follow their example and turn our hearts away from you to idols of our own making. Help us to love you and you alone as the source of all we need. Let our worship be pure before you.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why Do You Pray for Revival?

READ Isaiah 37-38

Why do you pray for revival? Of course, that assumes that you do. But if you do, then why? Is it because you see how bad things are in the world and times are becoming increasingly difficult for you individually? So that you want things to be easier in your life and you want to avoid any suffering or hard times that might come your way because of your faith in Christ. Is that why you pray for revival?

When it’s stated like that I think it becomes rather obvious that this kind of motivation is insufficient and not where our hearts ought to be. But if that is true then what is the proper reason to ask God to send a spiritual awakening and fires of revival in the land? I think Hezekiah captured the essence of a right heart in relation to seeking the Lord for salvation and renewal in 37:20, “So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

The glory of God — that’s it — that alone is the primary reason we should want to see God move in great spiritual awakening. As the Psalmist also cried out: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6) The focus of our desire for revival and spiritual awakening should be on God himself, not on any ease and comfort it might bring to us.

Prayer: Father, help us to get our hearts and our desires in line with your thoughts and your ways. Help us to know with all our beings that you alone are God and you alone deserve the praises of your creation. Help us to see that when you are most glorified in us then we are most blessed in our lives. Please, Lord, revive us again that we may rejoice in you and in you alone.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Love That Wants to Fight...

READ Isaiah 27-28

In the beginning of Chapter 27 Isaiah is prophetically giving us a picture of the future city of God when God’s people will be to him as a “pleasant vineyard” that he tends and cares for in the most intimate of ways. What a precious picture we see of God’s love for us as his eternal family.

“In that day,
 “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
 I, the Lord, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
 I have no wrath.
 Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
I would march against them,
I would burn them up together.
 Or let them lay hold of my protection,
let them make peace with me,
let them make peace with me.” (27:2-5)

God loves us so much that he even expresses the wish that he had “thorns and briers to battle” on our behalf. Of course, that is the future new heaven and new earth that he is describing. Because we know that now there are plenty of briers and thorns. And God allows and enables us to stand strong against them on our behalf. Imagine! A God who loves you so much that he wants to do battle for you. Wow! How can we neglect so great a love?

Prayer: Father, help us to know and rest in your love. Thank you for loving us with an everlasting love that never departs and never diminishes. Help us to love because you first loved us.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Peace Through Trust

READ Isaiah 25-26

“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.” (26:3)

Peace is often an elusive state of mind. Our world does everything it can to destroy peace. From the seemingly innocuous tv commercials that try to create a lack of satisfaction in you so that you simply must purchase their products to the daily events that scream at us from the media, peace is often obscure. But Isaiah says there is perfect peace for a mind that is “stayed” (fixed) on the Lord. Why? Because that person trusts in the Lord.

So Isaiah then gives this admonition to us: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (26:4) God is trustworthy for all eternity, therefore we should trust in him. And trusting in him leads to peace. First, we have peace with God through trusting in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Romans 5:1). Then we have the peace of God when in faithful trust we take all things to him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus said in the upper room, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Prayer: Father, the promise of eternal peace with you in the new Zion is a hope that we look forward to with great anticipation. Your promise is secure. And we thank you, Father, that we can know that peace in large measure even now in the midst of this fallen world through the presence of your Spirit with us. Help us, Lord, to trust you.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Primary Task of a Pastor

READ Isaiah 21-22

What caught my attention today is very personal and applicable for me, but also I think for all Christians in a way. Isaiah states again what is his first and foremost calling, to announce to the people what God has said to him: “… what I have heard from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, I announce to you.” (21:10) That is a great reminder for us pastors/preachers. Our primary role is to share with the people what God has said to us — in his Word. That is our first duty. As Paul said to the young pastor, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We can never be reminded of that too much.

But it is also a Word for Christians as they pray for their pastor and as they come to the gatherings of the church. They should expect their pastor to feed them the Word of God and they should protect his time in preparing to do so. Nothing encourages a pastor more than standing before his congregation and sensing from them an expectant spirit of hearing from the Lord through him today. I am so blessed to have served in a place like that for over 31 years.

Prayer: Father, keep us all faithful to your Word. Help me and other pastors to faithfully proclaim what you have said. Help all of our flocks to hunger for this food. And, Lord, help us all to live it out in lives guided by your truth.

Monday, June 29, 2015

My Thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling on SSM

(with thanks to many others and their writings and comments)

1. Some Christians are claiming that this is a political issue. It is but it is so much more. This is a gospel issue. Marriage is not an institution that was created by man or by governments. It was instituted by God, ultimately, as a way to picture the loving relationship he has with the church. As the church, we must speak to this issue clearly in a biblical, gospel-centered way. While at the same time we must be very clear. Our ultimate goal is not in convincing people about the issue of same sex marriage. Our hope and prayer is to see them come to a knowledge of the Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I heard Rosaria Butterfield (a former radical feminist lesbian) say at our recent convention, “I couldn’t know who I was until I knew whose I was.”

2. We should not panic or get angry, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) Rather we should remember, as my friend Hershael York said on Friday, “The Holy Trinity did not call an emergency session and they will not be holding a press conference.” God is still sovereign and our hope and trust is in him.

3. Our nation has now, once again, officially placed itself on the opposite side of an issue from God. That is a dangerous place to be. So we should pray. Isaiah 16:7 says, “Therefore let Moab wail for Moab, let everyone wail.” It is time for Americans to wail for America. It is time for us individually and as a church to confess our sins and the sins of our nation and cry out to God for mercy. And we should continue to obey 1 Timothy 2 and pray for our government leaders.

4. What I haven’t heard anyone else say so far, but what I personally believe is that this action of the SCOTUS is one more giant step in the judgment of God being brought on our land. We are not in danger of the judgment of God, we are under the judgment of God. Where are the Christians who will cry out to him? Jonah pronounced judgment on Nineveh and the people repented. Oh, that it could happen here.

5. Some have said that Christians are counter-cultural or on the wrong side of history on this issue. In other breaking news, the Pope is a Catholic and Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Christianity has always been counter-cultural. We started in the Roman Empire in the nation of Israel on the wrong side of the political and the religious culture. Welcome to our world. Perhaps it’s time we stopped being so comfortable in our religion and learned what it’s like to stand for our faith. As another friend of mine said this weekend, we may very well get to witness the death of nominal Christianity among evangelicals in our lifetime.

6. We may well see the end of religious liberty in our nation. But be assured, the gospel does not depend on religious liberty. In fact, throughout history it has flourished most in places where there was no liberty. God’s light shines brightest in the deepest darkness. Whatever happens to religious liberty, our mission has not changed. We are called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of his.

7. It is time to be a church that makes the gospel look good. We will not do that if we abdicate the truth of God’s Word on the issue of marriage. Nor will we do that if we respond with anger and hatred to those who celebrate this ruling. Now is the time for what has been the motto around here for a long time: truth in love. We should be prepared in the years to come for a refugee crisis — refugees from the sexual revolution that promises what it can never deliver and destroys what it claims to build. We must seek to show the love of God in the gospel of God to a world that has always been most in need of this message.