Thursday, November 1, 2018

Romans 12.18 Kind of Peace

I think it’s safe to say most people want peace. Oh, there may be a few knot-heads out there, but for the most part, we want PEACE! In a television interview, Barbara Walters asked the successful actor Richard Dreyfus, “What one thing do you want that you don't already have?" His answer was instant, and one word, “Peace.” 

For many, peace is an elusive thing because they search for it like love … in all the wrong places. You’ll never find peace in alcohol or drugs or relationships. Not ultimately, anyway. Real, lasting peace comes from the Child who was born, the “Prince of Peace,” Isaiah said [9.6]. He also had it right when later he said, “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked” [48.22].

The Apostle Paul would also wrote about that peace. It affects our lives in many ways, but I’ll only touch on three of them.

1. There is peace with God. "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” [Romans 5.1]. When our sins are forgiven, there is no condemnation that is rightfully deserved of those who are guilty before heaven’s King. 

2. There is internal peace. This peace is the by-product of simply abiding in Christ. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” [Philippians 4.9]

3. Where possible, there is peace with others. This one is made more difficult because it doesn’t solely depend on you. That being said, we must do everything we can to achieve it [Romans 12.18], which means you work hard to make peace with your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your employer or employee, your classmate or teacher, even your ex (yikes!).

Achieving a Romans 12.18 kind of peace usually requires humbly sought after forgiveness. My Dad used to say, “If you mess up, fess up!” Those aren’t exactly Bible words, but they certainly express its intent. When we seek forgiveness, God is pleased and, typically, the offended party will respond in kindness — not always, but I have found that true in most cases. 

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12.18

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


One of my favorite TV shows is “Chopped.” It’s a cooking competition show where four chefs have to turn “mystery ingredients” into  extraordinary meals. The ingredients they are given don’t always seem to go together. (For example, in last night’s episode, the ingredients for the dessert round included: jalapeƱo cornbread, sirachha suckers, fresh pineapples, and white chocolate.)

When the allotted time has run out, judges taste the dishes that have been prepared. The one who makes the least tasty meal gets “Chopped.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? God takes the experiences that befall us in life and, no matter how strange they may be, makes something for our good and His glory from them. 

Joseph is a great example of this. His “mystery ingredients” included hatred and betrayal from his siblings, accusations and lies from his employer’s wife, and darkness and gloom from years of imprisonment.

God was able to take those ingredients and make a masterpiece! When Joseph caught up with his brothers years later, he told them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” [Genesis 50.20]. 

It’s amazing what God can do with everything that happens to you. Trust Him no matter what. When God works in the kitchen of your life, He will never be “Chopped!”

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8.28

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Choose Your Attitude

Do you know a Christian who is, what I affectionately call, a Jekyll and Hyde believer? You know what I mean, don’t you? That person that you’re never quite sure who you’ll be encountering. One day he’s bright and cheery. The next day he bites your head off just because you said, “Good morning,” to him. Maybe there’s another question here: Are you like that? If you are growing in Christ likeness, and being controlled by the Holy Spirit, your ever-increasing consistency will be a testimony of your faith.
Have you ever thought about choosing your attitude? I believe you can, and so did the Psalmist. When you get cranky or moody, do what the Psalmist did, and have a good heart to heart talk with yourself …

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42.11

I haven’t run across a better quote on attitude than this one by Chuck Swindoll:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company ... a church ... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past ... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our attitudes.” (

Amen, Brother Swindoll, Amen!

Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let those who love Your salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!” Psalm 40.16

Monday, October 29, 2018

Our BIG Problem

If you’re considering encounters between God and man, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dramatic one than Moses’ encounter with God in the Midian desert. He was eighty years old at the time, tending his father-in-law’s sheep. That’s when he met God who told him to bring His children out of Egypt.

Moses was stunned, like we would have been, right! He asked two questions: “Who am I?” and, “Who are You?” 

In my mind, the first question was more of a statement than a question. Here’s my expanded version of it: “Are you kidding me? There’s no way on earth that I can pull that off!”

God didn’t waste time answering that question. Why? It’s irrelevant. It didn’t matter who Moses was. Nor does it matter who we are when we say the same thing to God. All that really matters is who is on your side. If it’s the “burning bush God”, you’re going to be OK.

The second question is really the important one. “Who are You?” That’s the heart of the issue. Who He is, is the only thing that matters with any assignment. “I am, “ God said. When I say, “I am,” I have to finish the sentence: “I am Rick.” Or “I am writing this eDevotion,” etc. But with God, “I am” is enough. It’s a shortened version of, “I am always present in the fullness of my power,” and “I am everything you need.”

Our big problem is that we spend entirely too much time on “Who am I.” Thinking about ourselves and how inadequate we are only exacerbates the problem. We constantly ask, “I am I really able to do this?”

Well, ask no more. The answer is “No!” But wait, there’s more. The answer is also “Yes!” The truth here is that we are not able, but God is able. Stop wasting time thinking about yourself and spend more time thinking about who God is and what He can do. Add to that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3.11

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Source of Greatest Joy

It’s hard to imagine the ominous assignment that Jesus gave to seventy of His followers. Even His verbiage would cause a measure of foreboding. “I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves,” He told them. I don’t know about you, but that is not a particularly encouraging picture to me!

But they returned “with great joy saying,Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name’” [Luke 10.17]. Their rejoicing was a result of their successful mission and because they exercised power over the demonic realm.

Rather than joining in their celebration, Jesus used the occasion to teach His disciple a great truth. He told them there was a source of joy greater than having power over demons. What was it? That the ultimate source of joy shouldn’t be derived from our successes, rather, that our names are recorded in heaven [10.20]. The foundation of Christian joy is the assurance of our salvation, knowing that our names are recorded in the Book of Life.

Knowing that we are forgiven, that our sins have been remitted and taken away, creates a joy like nothing else. It’s like the stanza from an old hymn:

I have found the pleasure I once craved,
It is joy and peace within;
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved 
From the awful gulf of sin.

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory
And the half has never yet been told!

The guilt of sin deprives us of peace with God. Salvation restores our brokenness. The guilt of sin leads to sorrow. Salvation leads to unspeakable joy — joy that lasts forever. 

Successes in ministry come and go. Moments of delight fade away as quickly as they arrive. The joy that comes from knowing you have been cleansed “from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1.9] is the only joy that will survive all the ups and downs of life!

But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are recorded in heaven. Luke 10.20

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Matter of Perspective

In Romans 12.3, Paul says Christ followers must keep things in a proper perspective. That’s part of the transformed mind he urged each of us to have. There are really two major issues to bear in mind if we want to keep things in the right perspective: Remember who God is, and remember who we are.

That mindset can only lead to humility. The realization of who God is should keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Paul often used a word to describe this; sober-minded. A sober-minded Christ follower will neither think too highly of himself nor too lowly of himself. That is a problem for many. One day we are harsh and critical of ourselves, and the next day, lax and overly forgiving. Paul urges accurate judgment.

In his next breath, Paul explains one of the means to keep the right perspective, that is, God gives “spirituals” [gifts] to the body of Christ [12.4-8]. We need these gifts because we are not complete in ourselves. This is, again, where sober-mindedness comes to play. As we evaluate how God has gifted us to serve His body, we understand that we are vessels; it’s not us, it’s God working through us. There’s that humility thing again!

Realizing who we are and how God has gifted us to serve is the way we make the best contribution to the church, the body of Christ. So, be sober-minded in evaluating your gift. Likewise, be prayerful in evaluating the gifts of other Christ followers so they can best serve Christ also. 

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  Romans 12.3

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Decisions in Times of Trouble

Saul was desperate, why wouldn’t he be? His son had attacked a garrison of the Philistines, enraging them. And now, a Philistine army was marching on Israel. Saul and his men were at Gilgal. They had been instructed by Samuel to wait for a period of time, about seven days. He would join them to offer sacrifices and give them advice as to what to do. During that time, the fearful soldiers in Saul’s army were deserting in droves.

They waited the specified time, but Samuel had not yet arrived. Rather than waiting for Samuel, Saul took matters into his own hand. He gathered the required elements to make the appropriate offerings, knowing full well that he was going against the clear instructions of Israel’s prophet. Even more significant, and worse, more tragic, Saul took action without the divine guidance Samuel promised to bring. 

Was he merely impetuous? Or worse, prideful? Regardless, instead of eagerness for divine counsel as the threat grew, he trusted in his own ability to ascertain what he should do in that time of crisis. 

To say it was a bad decision is an understatement. As a result of his decision, his dynasty came to an end. No son from his body will succeed him on the throne. Moving forward, God will have a King, “a man after [God’s] own heart” [1 Samuel 13.14].

Samuel left, leaving Saul without divine counsel. At one point Saul couldn’t wait for God’s word to come, and now, he would have to go on without it. All that remained for him was to number his troops and hope for the best. 

There is no excuse for disobedience, even in times of trouble. Our actions must always be compelled by God’s word — especially in times of trouble! 

Do you know someone facing a fiery trial right now? Are you facing troubling times? If so, let’s pray for each other, asking God to help us to prove ourselves faithful.

You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13.13-14

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Source of Love

Love is the first fruit mentioned in the “Fruit of the Spirit,” and rightfully so. Paul’s great treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13 elevates love far above spiritual gifts. He says that unless our gifts are accompanied by love, the love of God and love for God, they are of no useful purpose, worthless. 

The love that Paul refers to is uniquely Christian and a gift accompanied by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is part and parcel of being born again. In Romans 5, he says that agape love has been “poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” The unregenerate heart does not have the Holy Spirit and, therefore, cannot know of this great love. 

If we went by the world’s definition of love, it would be an emotional thing. The love that Paul refers to, agape love, is a God-thing. We accept by faith that He has poured it out into our hearts, and causes us to love His way. Sure, we can quench that love and grieve the Holy Spirit (many do!), and fail to demonstrate the fullness of that love. When that happens, the first thing to do is repent and reclaim the gift of love.

Do you think the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son? If you do, then an indication you have this love is an ever-growing adoration of God. 

Do you think the Holy Spirit loves the Words of God? If you do, a reasonable expectation is that you love the Word of God, trust its truth, and rely on it as your roadmap of life. 

Do you think the Holy Spirit loves people? If you do, another sign that He is living in you is a growing love and servant heart for others.  

R.C. Sproul once said, “Sin, ultimately is a failure to love ordinately. Either we fail to love enough, as when we mistreat others, or we love too much, as when we elevate love of God’s gifts above love of God.” 

“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang. Although they weren’t singing about the love given by the Holy Spirit, I want to use their idea and take it a step further.  All you need is to give love to that which love is due — in the right way, and in the right proportion. 

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5.5

Monday, October 22, 2018

Unceasing Prayer Worked for Peter

Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. 

The church in Judea was in need of financial assistance. When the church in Antioch heard about it, they collected an offering and sent it by the hands of Saul and Barnabas. While they were on their way to Jerusalem, Herod Agrippa, wanting to please certain Jews, attacked the church. First, James, a son of Zebedee and brother of John, was killed. After that, Peter was arrested and put in a prison. His death was scheduled after the Passover celebration. 

Then we read that the church offered “unceasing prayer” for Peter. In answer to their prayers, an angel visited Peter and released Him. He then went to the house where the prayer meeting was taking place. 

Interestingly, their prayers had a two-pronged effect. Peter was released and Herod was removed from the picture. Right after Peter was delivered, we read the account of Herod’s death.

Herod left Jerusalem after the Passover and returned to his hometown of Caesarea. Soon after his arrival, there was a celebration honoring the current Caesar, Claudius (Josephus, Antiquities 19:8:2). He was angry with the province of Tyre and Sidon. They sent emissaries to get an audience with Herod during the time of celebration. 

One particular day, Herod, adorned in a royal robe, addressed the people. They people cried out that they had heard the voice of a god, not a man. Herod didn’t refuse their worship. He seemed to take satisfaction in their praise of him. Not good!

According to Scripture, God struck him down, he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12.19-23]. Josephus records that Herod got horrible stomach pains, and died a just few days later.

The next verse is a powerful one: “But the word of God grew and multiplied” [12.24]. I’d say the unceasing prayer of the church really worked. How about you?

You never know how God is going to answer your prayers when it comes to the enemies of the church and deliverance of oppressed Christians. He may choose to kill them, as He did Herod. Or He may choose to save them as He did Saul of Tarsus. 

Either way, the Gospel multiplies!

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but unceasing prayer was offered to God for him by the church. Acts 12.5

Friday, October 19, 2018

Trustworthiness is Vital

I was going through some of my Bible College notes and ran across something one of my professors said. I highlighted and underlined the statement: “God is trustworthy. Because He is trustworthy, and because we are to be like Him, it is vital that we be trustworthy also.” How true!

You’ve felt it, haven’t you? That sting of being let down by someone. “I’ll be there to help,” and they never show up. “Dad, I promise I’ll be home by 11:00.” At 12:30, “Dad, I’m sorry. I just lost track of time.” “Don’t worry. I’ll give you credit for the work you’ve done on the project.” Then you find out your boss took sole credit when talking with his boss. The list is unending. We can all point to failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment.  

But, not so with God! His trustworthiness has never be impugned. The Psalmist declares, "The Lord has sworn and will not relent” [110.4]. God is utterly trustworthy. Our testimony should be the same. Sure, we are not perfect in this area, but we should be known for our dependability in ever-increasing measure. 

How do others see you? Trustworthy? Dependable? Not so much? Do you say, “I forgot” a lot, or offer many other excuses for your lack of dependability? If so, pray about it. Ask God to help you be a trustworthy person; someone whom others can rely on. 

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23.19

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Deceit of Riches

I don’t know how he did it, but the young man fought his way through the crowd and came face to face with Jesus. “Good Teacher, how may I inherit eternal life,” he inquired? I have little doubt that he asked the question sincerely. After all, he knelt down in respect and humility before the Lord. 

Knowing that there were some heart issues with the “rich young ruler,” Jesus begin with an interrogation of His own before giving His answer. “Why do you call Me good,” He inquired, “no one is good but One, that is God.” Jesus referenced the Psalmist who said, “There is none who does good, no, not one!” [Psalm 14.3]. I call this a thinly veiled slap in the face, a wake up call, because Jesus knew the man was relying on personal righteousness for salvation, Jesus knocked the props out from under him. You just can’t be saved that way.

Then, Jesus pointed to the Law. Perhaps there was a sigh of relief because the man asserted that he had faithfully kept the Commandments from his youth. Jesus needed to teach him something about the first Commandment. It had to do with idolatry. He told the man he had to put away the god of wealth, “Sell all of your possessions, give the money to the poor, then come follow Me,” He said [Mark 10.21]. 

The young man didn’t want to hear that either so, he went sorrowfully away. Why? The Scripture says he had “great possessions” [Mark 10.22].

Well, he said he wanted eternal life, but now I wonder how much he wanted it. Which god or gods would he be willing to give up in order to serve the only true God? It certainly wasn’t the god of wealth. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth. Enjoy its blessing. Use it for good. But, guard you heart lest materialism and wealth pull you away from God and becomes a god. The treasures in heaven far outweigh anything you possess down here!

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Mark 10.21

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I Want to be Like Paul

When Paul stood before King Herod Agrippa, he commented on his life from the time of his conversion. He said, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” [Acts 16.19]. I don’t think he said it boastfully, just matter of factly. As I am preparing for my retirement in January, I want to be like Paul, not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” 

Paul was an affective apologist for the early church. After his conversion, he was threatened by Jews, which , it seems, were enraged by his defection from “the faith.” In light of them, he went to Tarsus where he disappeared for about ten years. In his letter to the Galatians, it appears that he spent some of that time in Syria and Cilicia [2.12-22].

When he returned, he submitted to an examination of his doctrine from the leading apostles [Galatians 2.1-2, 7-10]. After passing his “exam,” he was welcomed into the apostolate by other apostles, including Peter [Galatians 2.9].

That was the beginning of Paul’s apostolic work, which included at least three missionary journeys, the founding of a number of churches throughout Asia and Europe, and writing his letters that are now thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. 

Paul expressed shame and regret over his past [1 Corinthians 15.9], but he was able to put it aside so that he could continue to move forward in faith [Philippians 3.13]. So, at the end of his life, he could confidently say to his protege Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4.7].

We often think of Paul’s life as extraordinary. I have no problem with that, but as a Christ follower, aren’t all of our lives like that? Ours is an extraordinary life if, after our conversion, we radically obey the Lord and never look back!

I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back!

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12.10

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Lord will be Merciful

One of the great promises of the Lord is that He will be merciful to those who turn from their sin, especially during times of trial. What comfort that is as we face the difficult days in which we live.  

The prophet Isaiah spoke about such times. He lived in a day when people were blind to the truth, when they honored perverse men instead of holy, righteous men. They found greater comfort in the deceitful promises of their corrupt leaders than the truth proclaimed in the Word of God. They neither thought about God nor submitted to His ways. 

Sounds pretty much like our nation and times to me. In the past, God brought judgment against such prideful, godless nations. One can’t help but wonder what kind of judgment He will bring to our rebellious generation. 

That knowledge could lead to a paralyzing fear if it weren’t for one thing: God promises to protect His people. As Jeremiah proclaimed, “O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction …” [16.19]. He is merciful!

Isaiah said it so beautifully, “O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left” [30.19-21].

How should we then live, Francis Schaeffer asked in the title of his 1976 book? Certainly, without fear. Add to that, trust in Him. And, if you trust in Him, live as though you really do!

Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. Isaiah 30.18

Monday, October 15, 2018

Heaven’s A Wonderful Place

Nowhere in Scripture are we given a complete and comprehensive description of heaven. At best, we get little glimpses or vignettes of its grandeur. As we read these brief accounts, we recognize they are visionary, symbolic, figurative, and filled with human imagery. We couldn’t understand it otherwise. Heaven is utterly new, transcendent.

Revelation 21-22 offers a series of these visionary glimpses: A new heaven and earth (21.1), no sea (21.1), a new Jerusalem (21.2), no tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain (21.4), no sun or moon (21.23), a river of life (22.1), a tree of life (22.2) - just to mention a few. 

I can hardly wait to be there! And you?

However, as I was reading Ephesians in my daily devotions, it struck me I don’t have to wait for the New Jerusalem or streets of gold because God has “seated us with [Christ] in the heavenly realms” [2.6].

By the way, the greatest aspect of heaven is not the “stuff” heaven is made of. Rather, it is the presence of God. Every time we worship, it is a brief taste of being in His presence. “Oh what a foretaste of glory divine” the old hymn says!

The next time you gather for public worship, keep that in mind. You are “entering His gates” — the glorious presence of the Sovereign of the universe, God almighty. 

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. Revelation 21.23

Friday, October 12, 2018

You Won’t Find What You’re Looking for in Treasures

A young man was being interviewed about the massive college tuition debt he had accumulated. He told the reporter that he took on the debt of college to get a high paying job so that he could become rich and enjoy life.

That’s today’s world. It’s a “get-rich-so-I-can-spend-a-lot-of-money-on-making-my-life-more-enjoyable” world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wealth, but it seems to me that those who seek riches to buy pleasure are bound for disappointment.  

For one thing, people who live for pleasure often exploit others to get what they want, leaving a trail of broken relationships in their wake. If that weren’t enough, it often leaves them with empty hearts. 

Pleasure, alone, will decrease unless the intensity of the pleasure increases. I heard Josh McDowell in a lecture about this one time, and he called it “the law of diminishing return.” He talked about people reaching a point of diminishing return when there is little or no enjoyment left at all; only bondage. 

For example, the more people drink, the less enjoyment they get from it. You can substitute just about anything you want to in that equation: drugs, gambling, money, power, promiscuity, you name it. 

The wise Solomon found it out the hard way: If you buy pleasure for pleasure’s sake, you will ultimately be disappointed and empty.

All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor    behold all was vanity and striving after wind  Ecclesiastes 2.10-11

Thursday, October 11, 2018

It’s Still Amazing Grace, Isn’t It?

I once got an eMail from a friend titled: Hymns for the Lukewarm Church. Some of the songs were by title only. Instead of, Oh, How I Love Jesus, it was, Oh, How I Like Jesus. Instead of, Standing on the Promises, it was, Sitting on the Premises. 

Some of the songs had “nearly inspired words.” For example, there was Amazing Grace … 

Amazing grace, how OK the sound
that saved a pretty good guy like me.
I once was directionally challenged, but now I’m found.
I needed corrective lenses, but now I see.

I say, “Baloney,” (from the Greek - balongna)! Grace has always been amazing in every sense of the word. The knowledge of God’s amazing grace should leave us shaking our heads in absolute wonder, and raising our hands in unadulterated praise. 

But, why? Because I was lost, not directionally challenged. I wasn’t just a little off track, I was completely and utterly in ignorance. My eye site wasn’t just a little fuzzy, I was totally blind. That is, until I was touched by His amazing grace. Now I can see. 

2 Timothy 2.1 reads, “You therefore, my son, be continually strengthened by means of the grace, which comes through your relationship with Christ Jesus” [my expanded translation].

By the way, “be strengthened” is a Greek imperative so, own it. Live in it. Bask in the strength, which comes by means of the amazing grace. Think about it. Ponder it. Meditate on it. If you do, I think you’ll never cease to be amazed that a holy God loves you because it is His nature, and joy, to do so.  

Amazing Grace (written in 1772, published in 1779, John Newton)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.

Monday, October 8, 2018

God’s Will in Two Words

Usually, we think that God’s will revolves around life’s big questions: What will I be when I grow up? What school should I attend? Whom should I marry? Etc.

Hold on to your hats now … in Scripture, God’s will doesn’t focus on those kinds of issues! Believe it or not, God is not holding His breath, hoping that you move from Fresno to Frankfurt. His will isn’t written in a secret code and, it isn’t a secret blueprint for making minute, specific decisions — a master plan for your life. He isn’t hiding His will from you. He isn’t teasing you with His will by dangling a carrot in front of you to keep you motivated in its discovery. 

Here’s the central truth: If you are walking in the part of God’s will that He does make clear, you are already in His will — you are right where God wants you to be. Paul was able to put God’s will in a nutshell, so to speak. Here it is in two words, YOUR SANCTIFICATION.

If you will pardon the theological jargon right now, sanctification covers the space of time between your justification and your glorification. It’s the process of a Christ follower becoming more like his Master. In other words, to quote a children’s song from years ago, we are becoming more holy “little by little every day … little by little in every way … Jesus is changing me!”

That is God’s will for us, our sanctification. If you are growing in sanctification, you are in God’s will. If you are increasingly the person God wants you to be, you are in God’s will. If you are walking in the footsteps of the Savior [imitating Jesus, 1 John 2.8], you are in His will today, which means that tomorrow, you’ll wake up in His will. 

You are in God’s will if you are growing in sanctification.

This is the will of God, your sanctification … 1 Thessalonians 4.3 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Lord’s Joy is Our Strength

Is it possible to be joyful when your life is turned upside down? A notable story about this was penned after a traumatic event in the life of Horatio Spafford. First, there was the death of his son at the age of two. Shortly after that, the Great Chicago Fire (1871) ruined him financially as he had significant investments in properties that were damaged in the fire. That fire led to the economic downturn of 1873, when he had planned to travel with his family to Europe. In a late change of plans, he sent his family ahead because he was delayed by problems following the fire (Spafford had been a successful lawyer in Chicago). While crossing the Atlantic, the ship his family was on sank rapidly after a collision with another vessel. All four of the Spafford’s daughters died. His wife, Anna, survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …” Spafford hurried to meet his grieving wife and, when passing near where his daughters had died, he penned the words of the now great hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.

Spafford drew strength from the joy of knowing God was present with him and for him.

Many centuries before Spafford’s account, Jewish exiles in Babylon returned to Jerusalem in times of great struggle. Let me summarize the time for you. They managed to rebuild the walls of the city but hadn’t yet built houses to live in. As they discussed their plans for the future, they asked Ezra to read from a scroll of the Law of Moses. He did, and the people listened attentively to the “Book of the Law.”

When the priests explained what the words meant, the people began to weep, perhaps convicted by how far they had strayed from God’s word. That event prompted Nehemiah to cry out, “Don’t be dejected, disappointed, and sad. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” When they heard that, the people celebrated with joy because they heard the word of the Lord and understood it. [That’s my loose translation of Nehemiah 8.9-12]

The walls were finished, but Jerusalem still lay in ruins. Still, God’s word brought them great joy. Strengthened by it, they kept on working and building. My desire is that you do the same. Regardless of the difficulty you find yourself in, get your strength from the joy of knowing and abiding in Christ.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8.10

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Introverts Welcomed

My Mother was one of those people who didn’t want anyone to notice something amiss. In fact, she didn’t want anyone to notice anything at all. In a word, she was an introvert. If you knew my Mom, she wouldn’t have appeared a worshipful person, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was a whole-hearted worshipper.

I remember countless times seeing her read the Bible. I recall the countless prayers I heard her pray for our family and others. And I couldn’t begin to tell you about her times of selfless service to others. I suppose they would add up in the thousands. My Mom has passed on to glory, but if she were here, she wouldn’t want me to call attention to her or solicit any praise on her behalf. But I must say this, she lived out her faith with the personality that God gave to her, without question.

God doesn’t always choose the dynamic personality of the likes of Elijah or Paul. Sometimes, He chooses the unexpected, unassuming, quiet introvert. I think that Ruth may fall into that category. She never did anything flashy that would draw attention to herself. All we see in her is a fierce faithfulness and unrelenting loyalty. 

How interesting it is, then, that her faithfulness and loyalty provide a plot-twist only a Master Storyteller could fabricate: Ruth became the Grandmother of David [Matthew 1.5-6] and, ultimately, an ancestor of Jesus [1.6-16]. 

Whether you are Ruth-like or Elijah-like, quiet or exuberant, our confidence must always be rooted in Christ.

And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2.11-12 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Another Word on Peace

I’ve written dozens of eDevotions on the subject of peace, and here I am again with peace on my mind. In the messed up world we live in, peace is a wonderful thing. Here’s what I want to remind you about peace today: Jesus, yes, Jesus Himself, is our peace. When you need peace, God doesn’t dispense peace like a pharmacist fills your prescription. You’ll never hear Him say, “Take two of these and call me in the morning.” Instead, He gives us Himself. He doesn’t give us something, He gives us Someone. So, I repeat, Jesus is our peace. Listen now, Jesus is God’s fulfillment for peace. 

It’s Christ’s presence that takes away fear.

It’s Christ’s sovereignty that assures and calms us in the face of doubts.

It’s Christ’s goodness that renews us when we are weighed down by despair.

It’s Christ’s watchfulness and intervention that keep us from faltering.

And it’s Christ’s inevitable victory that assures us we will not fail.

Perhaps you’re living with some level of uncertainty. You aren’t alone. In fact, I’m living with a couple of question marks too. What form is yours taking? A health crisis? A financial issue? A self-destructive family member or friend? A career change? 

Things like that may keep you awake at night; certainly they keep you on the edge of your seat. If we could only see into the future for the final outcome. Maybe then you could bear the waiting. Rather than you bearing it, why not let Jesus carry the load for you? The invitation has been given: “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you” [1 Peter 5.7], or, “… take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of spirit and you will find rest for your souls” [Matthew 11.29].

Jesus wins in the end. Because of that, I cannot fail. Along the way I may experiences some wins and losses, but in the end, Jesus wins. And so do I!

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation …” Ephesians 2.14

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rocks and Hard Places

Oh, that preverbal rock and hard place! You’ve been there, haven’t you? I don’t know of anyone who likes being there, and yet, it seems that God likes it when we get there. Could it be that He leads us there so that He can do His greatest work in our lives? What do you think?

God led the Children of Israel to that place. In their case, it was the shore of the Red Sea. After leaving Egypt, they started their journey to the Promised Land. Pharaoh had a different idea. He would either capture them and bring them back, or destroy them in the desert. So, he pursued them. 

Can you imagine his glee when he first got sight of their plight. The Red Sea before them. He was hot on their tail. The desert on one side of them and mountains on the other. They had no place to go — no place to run, and no place to hide. I call that, between a rock and a hard place.  

What Pharaoh didn’t know (and what we sometimes forget) is that Moses’ God was a Sea-Parting God! When Moses stretched out his rod over the Sea and the people moved forward in faith, the Sea opened up to give them safe passage to the other side. Not so for Pharaoh and his army. The rock and hard place of the Israelites became their death-knell.

If you are struggling between a rock and hard place, keep moving forward. God is still a Sea-Parting God!. Trust Him no matter what your circumstances say or how hopeless you feel. With God, all things are possible. 

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Exodus 14.13-14

Monday, September 24, 2018

Be Quiet & Get Close

“How does God speak to us, Pastor Rick,” I was asked recently, “Does He say, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ like Old Testament times?” That’s a great question but a little difficult to answer. God didn’t always “thunder” from heaven as He did at Sinai. Neither does He speak from heaven and send a dove as He did at His Son’s baptism. I have found, most often, that He speaks rather quietly through His Word. 

For an example of the “soft-spoken” God, I offer you Elijah who, waiting on God, heard a mild whisper [read 1 Kings 19 to get the story]. But why a whisper? I can think of a couple of reasons. To hear a whisper, you must first …

Be Quiet. By that I mean, rid yourself of the distracting noise around you and give your undivided attention to the whisperer. Do as young Samuel did. Quiet yourself before the Lord and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” [1 Samuel 3.10].

Next …

Get Close. The closer you are to the whisperer, the more likely you will hear what is being said. So, get as close as you can to the Lord. That way, you’ll hear every whisper that comes from His lips. Do as James said, “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you” [4.8].

Be quiet. Get close. Easy to say, but not as easy to do. But, when we do, the rewards are out of this world! 

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19.11-12

Friday, September 21, 2018

The “Whack-A-Mole” Syndrome

I’m not a fan of arcade games, but I did enjoy a game or two of “Whack-A-Mole” — many years ago. Have you played it? You have a padded mallet and stand behind a board with a dozen holes or more, and when a mole puppet raises its head, you “whack” it. They pop up randomly, and faster, as you get better at the game. I have to admit it, I was not known as the “Fastest Whack in the West.”

It struck me this morning (no pun intended) that a lot of people play “Whack-A-Mole” with their family. We notice every wrong in them when it pops up and we grab our mallet, often unpadded, and start whacking away. Some of us have gotten really good at it — if you consider that a good thing!

The trouble is, after a while of whacking, the “moles” give up and stop popping up. You may hear it like this:” What’s the use of trying? I can never please them, no matter what I do.”

Let’s try something new. Put away the mallet! Be observant of the good they do and “whack” them with praise. Encouragement is a great blessing. How do we know this? Because Jesus doesn’t play “Whack-A-Mole” with us! If he whacked us for every wrong we commit, we’d be beaten to despair. The Psalmist said it well, “If You, LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You so that we can, with reverence, serve You” [130.3-4].

There is forgiveness with You…” Aren’t you glad for that!

But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. Hebrews 3.13-15