A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Romans 12:10,13 "Be Devoted To One Another"

Romans 12:10,13  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love....Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”

      Over a hundred years ago, the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody made an observation about church that I think is still true today.  He noticed that the vast majority of church people think that church is a place to come and rest –to be refreshed and renewed and empowered to go face another week.  

      While there is a sense, I suppose, in which church is a place of refreshment and rest, it is supposed to be more than that.  If all of us come on Sunday morning with a mind set of demanding that my own needs get met in a manner and style that I personally find comfortable, there are going to be a lot of other people that end up falling through the cracks and getting hurt.
      Let me give you a mental image to hang on to.  Picture in your mind a tightrope walker at the circus, 100 feet in the air, high above the center ring. Picture this tightrope walker walking slowly and carefully across the wide-open space high above, and then his foot slips –he falls.  Although it all happens in a moment, it’s a very intense moment –everyone in the audience gasps –and then a collective sigh of relief as the tightrope walker lands safely in the net below. 

       Now picture the exact same scenario –the tightrope walker walking slowly and carefully when his foot slips and he falls to the net below -but this time the net breaks.  What happens if the tightrope walker falls and the net breaks?  Bad things.  The net is only useful if it is functioning properly.  If the net isn’t functioning properly, it may have actually caused the situation to be worse.  Maybe if the walker had realized that there was no net, he would have been more careful.  A false sense of security is a dangerous thing.

      That a safety net is something like what God has in mind for His Church to be –a safety net to catch people when they fall.  If we are going to be the church God desires us to be, we have to be a functional net.  This is a very practical matter; it’s not about how nice we look; it’s not about style; it doesn’t matter a whole lot exactly what programs we have and don’t have; it doesn’t matter too much which publishing company’s curriculum we use with the kids in children’s church; it doesn’t really matter how the chairs are set up in the sanctuary.  We all have preferences –and that’s ok, but much of what consumes the time and energy of the average church goer, doesn’t actually make a whole lot of difference in the bigger scheme of things.  What does make a difference, however, is making sure that when someone is falling –when somebody needs the safety net –our net holds.  

      Any given Sunday as we gather in all sorts of churches, some of us are truly hurting, needing to land in the safety net. I'm sure that no follower of Jesus wants the safety net to break –do we?  I believe that we all want to do our part to make sure that the church functions as it ought.  So, let’s talk about how we become the safety net that holds –let’s talk about how we become the church that is there when people are hurting and afraid and confused and struggling.

      When the church is functioning properly –when we are devoted to each other and love one another, and care about each other, we develop ministry sensitivity.  We learn to detect and recognize needs in others –we notice when others are struggling –we notice when others are hurting, and we mobilize to meet the needs. 

       Ministering to the needs of people around us, especially the needs of other Believers, especially the needs of those in our own fellowship, is an activity that all of us have a privilege and a responsibility to do.  We are all called to serve and minister to one another.

       The bottom line is this:  Get involved in the ministry of your church.  For the sake of Christ and the better good of His Body, don’t withhold what you have to offer.  Don’t be content to come and be ministered to, look for ways in which you can minister to others.  Take the initiative in ministry.  Look out for the needs and the feelings and struggles and the hurts of others, and use what God has given you  -do what you can to help.  And whatever you do, do it cheerfully and enthusiastically, just as if you were doing it for Jesus himself.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Worship With One Another" Acts 2:42-47

        “They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer.
        A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity-- all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

        Now, remember, this happened within the context of a particular culture.  These early Christians sold their property and gave it to the church to care for the widows and orphans because with the persecution they were experiencing in Jerusalem following the birth of the church, there were lots of widows and orphans.  Persecution has a way of making like-minded people dig in and band together.  We have a whole different circumstance here in America, so, I’m thinking that you can probably relax just a little –I’m not going to ask you to sell your home and give the money to my ministry or even your local church. 

         Instead, I want to point out something that began there in Jerusalem –maybe was fostered by the persecution, but was then taught to all churches everywhere as the church grew and spread out –it’s the sense of community.  Community is God’s plan for the church.  While on the one hand, our faith –our relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus is very personal and intimate, it is intended to play out –or perhaps I should say that it’s intended to be lived out in community.
         I know quite a few people who have told me in different ways at different times that they don’t feel the need to be involved in a local church –they don’t need to be a part of a faith community in order to be sincere, effective Christians.  I think those people haven’t read and understood God’s Word.  Together we grow –separated we shrivel and die.  We were never intended to be lone-ranger Christians.  We were intended to be a community.  This is God’s plan.  How do I know that this is God’s plan?  Let me put this into a perspective. 

        How many of you believe that the Bible teaches we shouldn’t lie?  Of course it does.  In fact, according to a quick search of the New International Version at biblegateway.com we are specifically commanded not to lie or practice deceit in 15 different places throughout the Bible.  If the Bible says something in 15 different places, we ought to take that seriously, shouldn’t we?

       How many of you know that the Bible teaches us not to steal?  It teaches us specifically not to steal in 10 different places.

      What about murder?  Again, we are told not to commit murder in around 15 different places.

      What about Adultery?  The Bible actually has a lot to say about adultery.  In fact, if we include other sexual sins, the Bible specifically commands against it in at least 40 places.

         These are some of the foundational commandments of the Bible.  We all know the truth about these things.  The Bible speaks clearly and often about lying, stealing, killing and adultery.  And yet if we roll together all of the times the Bible speaks specifically about these things, it still isn’t as many times as the Bible gives us commandments about how we should treat one another in the church. 

        There are more “one another” commandments showing us how to treat others in the Body of Christ –the community of Believers than all the other commandments combined.  Don’t you agree that is amazing?  Don’t you agree that’s significant?  Can you see that this shows us a little bit about the heart of God?  God wants us to take our personal, intimate relationship with Him and live it out within the context of Christian community.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Enourage One Another" Hebrews 3:12-14

Hebrews 3:12-14
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

         This word translated here as encourage is translated in some versions of the Bible as exhort. Encourage each other daily –or exhort each other daily. In our language there is a slight difference between exhorting and encouraging. Encouraging is when we say something like, “Your doing a good job –keep up the good work.” Exhorting is more like giving warnings and instructions –like, “Be careful here –your getting a little too close to the edge –why don’t you back up just a little and try it again –I’m sure you’ll get it right this time.” The Greek word that was actually used here, parakaleo, means a little of both. It describes someone who comes along side and encourages and strengthens and warns and helps out. It denotes a truly concerned friend who wants you to be successful. And because he is a concerned friend, he is willing to confront issues that might trip you up or cause you problems. This is what we are told we are supposed to be for one another.

         There is something else that the writer of Hebrews wants us to understand.  It has to do with the purpose of life.  The purpose of life is to hold firmly to the faith and not become distracted by and/or hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  And, the writer here is saying that this is one of the clear goals of Christian community -to exhort and encourage one another to stay the course, to remain faithful, to hold firmly till the end.

         About 80 years ago a group of serious Christians in Germany formed what came to be known as the Confessing Church.  You might remember that at this time, Germany was controlled by the Nazis –and the church in Germany was also controlled by the Nazis –and this Confessing Church stood opposed to the national church that was was no longer teaching truth but was instead teaching Nazi political propaganda.  The Confessing Church, of course, out of necessity became an underground church.   

         This underground church started an underground seminary whose goal it was to train pastors who would be disciplined and faithful in the face of heresy and persecution.  The main teacher at this underground seminary was a young man –only 29 years old, named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  All of the pastors who met to be taught at this seminary knew that they lived on the edge of eternity.  They knew that at any time they could be arrested and executed.  They knew that it was dangerous to fellowship together with other true Believers.  It was dangerous to pray together and eat together and discuss the Word of God.  Those were frightening times.  Yet, they met together.  They had a different view of the church than we do.  They viewed church through the eyes of warfare.  World War II was literal, of course, –but the church was involved in a spiritual war as well.

         Accordingly, young men and women gathered in darkened basements at night time to plot strategies to sabotage the rule of Satan in their country.  They plotted to liberate spiritual captives.  They saw that by meeting together they were planting explosives of righteousness and truth along the bridges and walls of the devil's fortress.  When they left each other they would say, “You and I will die for this cause and hold hands in the resurrection.”  And when they met safely again on another day they tearfully embraced and sang songs of thanksgiving because the squad of witnesses had returned safely, sometimes even bringing some liberated captives along with them.

         We don’t see church quite like that do we?  Eventually, Bonhoeffer was arrested and, ultimately, hung.  Before he died, though, while in prison he wrote a book entitled Life Together about the lessons learned at the underground seminary.  In this little book, he wrote: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer  God has put His Word into the mouths of men in order that it may be communicated to other men.  When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others.  God has willed that we should seek Him and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man.  Therefore, a Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

         We are not living in Nazi Germany.  We don’t have to meet underground.  We are not in danger of being arrested and executed.  But we are in danger of being distracted and as the writer of Hebrews put it, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  Any one of us is in danger of falling away from God through an unbelieving heart.    And in this, our obligation to one another in this church is the same today as it was for those brave men and women of whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote when he said, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…”  and, “A Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

         What would happen, I wonder, if true Christians worldwide made the commitment to true fellowship and truly became an encouraging, exhorting church?  What would happen if all of us who believe were committed to making sure that none of our brothers and sisters got confused or discouraged enough to give up?  What if each of us decided it is my job to be an encouraging believer as I learn to love the Body of Christ in tangible and meaningful ways and seek the good of the Kingdom before my own? 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Bless One Another" Colossians 3:16, James 3:15-16, Luke 6:28

Colossians 3:16
Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.
This sets up a basis for how we should speak to each other in a Christian community. This isn’t saying that we should only speak to each other by quoting Scripture and singing songs. Try and picture that in your mind. That’s some kind of very bizarre Broadway musical –everything you say here has to either be sung or quoted. But this isn’t a stage production, this is real life and if God’s Word has any meaning at all, it’s got to mean something in real life, not just in theory, so what does this mean?

This is teaching us that allowing the Word to dwell in us –to be a part of us –to be internalized so that it becomes the basis for our world-view will make us wise. So, speak to one another and relate to one another from a specifically Christian world-view. Encourage one another and bless one another with the wisdom that comes from knowing God, and the joy that comes from praising God. Our words to each other, then, should be encouraging and uplifting –they should be a welcome blessing. There is good, godly wisdom in speaking blessing into each other’s lives.

Contrast this with the worldy wisdom James speaks of in James 3:15-16:
For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.

This worldy wisdom that drives us to curse others is all about selfish ambition and watching out for number one. It’s not even wisdom as we like to think of it –it’s more of a self-preservationist street-smarts. And because we live in the world where this street-smart kind of wisdom rules, it sometimes rubs off on us. We might find ourselves –even in church –watching out for our own interests. We might find ourselves angrily or selfishly speaking curses into the lives of brothers and sisters –although probably not out loud because we still like to keep up appearances. But, it’s not unusual, even in churches to hear people talking about each other behind one another’s back, spreading gossip, speaking ill. It’s kind of human nature and it’s so prevalent in the world, that this bad stuff sometimes creeps into the church.

That is how the culture of the world operates. But in the church, it is supposed to be different. The church by definition is counter-culture. At least it is by Jesus’ definition. Look at Jesus’ instruction to us.

Luke 6:28
Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you.

That’s not how it works out there, is it? But that is how it is supposed to work among Believers.
The world’s way is a way of self-seeking, self-serving, selfish ambition -looking out for number one. That is destructive. It harms us. But, God has given us the right and the responsibility to care for each other and pray for each other and speak healing and blessing into each other’s lives.

Our words are important –they matter –they make a difference. We can curse people and speak lies into their lives –or we can bless them and speak truth into their lives. We can build them up or we can tear them down. Knowing the importance of words and the affects they have, Paul encourages us to let the Word of Christ dwell in us –to be imbedded in us -to become part of us –and to speak to each other out of this specifically Christian world-view that develops as a result of knowing God and worshiping Him sincerely.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Bear With One Another" Colossians 3:12-13

Colossians 3:12-13  “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

This is Paul’s instruction for Believer’s –The Church –Followers of Jesus.  Although we are being transformed and changed into the likeness of Jesus, none of us are the finished product.  Some days we seem more like Jesus than others.  In those moments when it is obvious to all that we have a ways to go, we are to bear with one another.

Maybe you’re wondering what it means to bear with one another –how do we do that?  Fortunately, it doesn’t say “bear with one another; you figure out how.”  It gives us the plan.  It tells us the steps, the ingredients that go into bearing with one another.  Bearing with one another involves compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Interestingly, these are mostly the same ingredients that we find in Galatians 5:22-23.  There these ingredients are called “fruit of the Spirit.”  That means these are by-products of walking with Jesus –the Spirit filled life.  These by-products of living in the Spirit are a result of intimacy with God.  I’m sincerely hoping for a day when my natural responses to the circumstances of life consistently involve compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  But for now, I’m a little inconsistent.  So are you.  I’ve noticed.  For most of us, these things are not fully internalized, so Paul has a recommendation.  He tells us to clothe ourselves with them.

By definition, clothing ourselves with these fruit of the Spirit means that they are not yet fully internalized, but that we are able to recognize them, take hold of them, and apply them to the situations of our lives.  Clothing ourselves means applying externally something that is not fully internalized.

Think about that for a moment.  If w are told to clothe ourselves with these things –if we are told to take these things and put them on –apply them to our lives so that we can respond appropriately and redemptively to others –then I would say it’s possible for us to do that –wouldn’t you agree?  God is not asking us to do the impossible. 

What He tells us to do, He gives us the ability to do.  So, if He tell us to do this and He gives us the ability to do this, then we have a very real responsibility to do this.  When things aren’t going smoothly –when there is friction in the church –when somebody says something or does something hurtful.  This is what the Bible says to do: clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience so that we can bear with each other.

Sooner or later I’m bound to say something or do something that will really tick you off.  I’d apologize in advance if I could –but I don’t know exactly when or where this is going to happen –but I know that it is bound to happen.  And if I don’t say something or do something that irritates you, some other brother or sister will.  It will happen because we live in real life.   I’m not sure there is even anything we can do about that part of it.  We can’t stop real life from taking place.

When something annoying or hurtful is said or done, however, we have a choice about how we are going to respond.  We can choose to clothe ourselves with compassion.  We can choose to put on kindness.  We can choose to wrap ourselves up in humility.  And we can choose to cover ourselves with gentleness.  We can choose to robe ourselves in patience. We have the ability to bear with each other through stressful times. 

And why do we want to bear with each other?  Because we love each other –because we are a community of grace -because this is the church God wants us to be.