Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Make a Plan

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
Luke 10:1-2

I often think of Jesus as following the Spirit in the moment, like He just kind of floated around from place to place, town to town following God's promptings and living in the moment. But in this passage we see Jesus clearly making plans for the future. It is clear that He has thought strategically about the future and even encourages His followers to pray strategically about the future. Jesus sends 36 teams out ahead of Him into the towns He plans to visit and minister to shortly. The natural reading of this passage suggests that Jesus has planned out the next 36 towns He is going to pass through! Obviously Jesus wasn't just floating along in the moment. Though I am sure Jesus was sensitive to the Spirit's leading, Jesus understood that God's Spirit can give us guidance far in advance (consider the Old Testament prophets as an example). It is clear then that Jesus planned far in advance and had a large vision for how He would go about accomplishing God's call on His life.

What about you? Have you made any plans to accomplish anything for God? Don't be fooled into thinking that you are doing Him some big favor simply by showing up at church and occasionally tithing. Make a plan! Save $5,000 over the next several years and give it to a Christian ministry to fund the building of an orphanage in a third world country. Dream big dreams for your church's youth or children's ministry and serve faithfully in them. Find a reputable ministry and go on a mission trip; share the gospel. Make plans to talk to your neighbor or your unbelieving friend about Jesus! Do something. Have a plan to glorify God and exalt Christ.

Lord, I pray that you would send those reading this devotional out into the harvest fields to advance Your kingdom. Show them Your will for their lives. Help them to catch a big vision of what You want to do through them. Lead them to make plans and to carry them out according to Your will and the promptings of Your Spirit. In Jesus' name I pray...amen. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Pastor Can Beat Up Your Pastor

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I Corinthians 1:10-13

“My dad can beat up your dad!” 
“Nuh-uh! My dad could totally beat up your dad!!!”

It wasn’t uncommon to hear exchanges like this on the playground when I was a kid. In fact, I remember taking part in arguments just like this myself. It’s funny how we can take something as wonderful as respect and admiration for our dads and turn it into competition that leads us to division and conflict. But the Bible tells us that this can happen in our churches just as easily. Christians can associate so closely with different pastors or Christian personalities that they begin to identify themselves more by that icon of the faith than by Christ Himself. Many of you have heard people say, “I go to pastor So-and-So’s church.” We love to namedrop don’t we? Like it somehow makes us more important because our preacher published a book! Have you ever noticed how many people leave a church when the pastor changes? 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul warns the church about this danger and reminds us that our worth as believers is founded on who Christ is, not on who our pastor is. In this way all believers are on equal footing. We are all in Christ and therefore all one in Him. There is no need for division or conflict over these other admirable men in the church. They are nothing more than Christ’s servants. Christ is what counts, and nothing else. 

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. (I Cor. 3:5-8)

Paul drives his point home in verses 21-23: "So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God." Quit boasting about men! I might add to quit boasting about numbers and buildings and programs and budgets. These things are not the end all of the kingdom! When we boast in these things we are like a farmer boasting that he has the most beautiful tiller in the county. The beauty of your tiller isn’t the point. The goal is a fruitful harvest. The implication is clear: we should be boasting in God and in Him alone. Not in our pastor and not in our accomplishments as a church. Boast in the Lord and what He is accomplishing in the lives of the people in your church and in your own heart! Christ is our joy. He is our all in all, and He is our greatest boast. 

So be careful not to get caught up in conflict over Christian personalities. Be careful not to take pride in things that matter a lot in your church but none at all in the kingdom. Instead, stay close to Christ. Remind yourself daily that nothing compares to this precious truth: Christ loved you and died for you so that you might be adopted as God’s own child. May we be so dumbfounded by this truth that no other boast ever crosses our lips again.

For further reading...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Envy Much?

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Proverbs 23:17-18 (NASB)

Who do you envy? Is it a famous person? Someone who makes a living off of sexual innuendo and getting other people to lust after them? Is it a rich person? Someone who shuts their ears to the cries of the poor while they increase their own luxury? The Bible says we should be careful who we envy. Envy in itself is akin to covetousness which breaks one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17). To covet is to be driven by envy to want what someone else has. But do you know what's worse than coveting? Coveting after the yield of sin, because it has the potential to cause even more destruction in your life.

It is tempting to envy the wicked. Often we can relate to the psalmist who says, "For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked... Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth" (Psalm 73:3, 12). Often as we look around us it seems the innocent suffer without end while the wicked prosper. It's easy to conclude with the psalmist, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence." It's easy to think that we are missing the boat... that we would be much better off if we began patterning our lives after the prosperous wicked. But God's antidote for this type of wrong-headed thinking is to urge us to live in the fear of the Lord. Why? What does the fear of the Lord have to do with envying sinners? The next verse gives us the clue we need. For those who live in the fear of the Lord, there is a future and their hope will not be cut off. 

This leads us to the same conclusion the psalmist finds: "Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment!" (Psalm 73:17-19a). There is no future hope for the sinner. Their future is God's righteous judgment on their sin. That is why fear of the Lord is the fitting antidote. Fear of the Lord reminds one that God will one day judge the living and the dead, and it urges us to obey His commands to avoid judgment. When we live in the fear of the Lord we preserve our hope and future by choosing to follow God's commands. 

So as you find yourself tempted to envy sinners, read Psalm 73 and remind yourself how it ends. "For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works" (Psalm 73:27-28). And if you have not yet submitted your life to the fear of the Lord by giving your life to Jesus, then choose to repent of your life of sin and ask forgiveness today, surrendering yourself to His way of living life for good. (For more information on becoming a Christian, click here.)

For further reading...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Love Faith

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands [i.e. Jesus]. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Revelation 2:1-5

A letter from home while a child is away at camp is a life saver. A well-written love letter can completely change a relationship. Yep. There is no doubt about it. Letters can be truly powerful things. So if Jesus were going to sit down and write a letter to you or your church today, what do you think He would say? Would He commend you or challenge you? Chances are He would do both because that's exactly what He did with the church at Ephesus.

First Jesus encourages the believers at Ephesus with all they are doing right. A pretty long list! They are living out their faith in good deeds. They are persevering in the faith through persecution. They're effectively refuting bad doctrine and all without growing weary! What an encouragement that Jesus knows. Jesus sees. He has not forgotten about us or our struggles. He is intimately aware and involved in His church, constantly tending to His lampstand (in this passage a metaphor for the church) to ensure it continues to shine brightly in a dark world. Jesus knows you, your successes, and your struggles.

Second, Jesus confronts His followers with the charge that they have forsaken their first love. The terms used here are the same used of a husband putting his wife away or divorcing her. Jesus is saying the believer's in Ephesus over time has grown cold towards Him and in their hearts have forsaken Him. Have you grown cold in your love for Jesus over time? Does your passion burn as brightly as it ever did? I know that in many ways I have lost that first love type of faith and worship.

Jesus, forgive me for growing cold. Reignite that flame in my heart. Help me to give you "first love" faith and worship. Be glorified in me in every way.

For further reading...
  • Revelation 1-3:22- Read the intro to Revelation and the letters to the seven churches.