Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Mark 4:18-19 9/26/2023

“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Jesus is referring to the gospel as seed, and people’s hearts as the soil where it  lands.  So, what is the condition of your soil?  When was the last time you examined your heart for thorns?

Even healthy plants suffer from the proximity of weeds and thorns which use up nutrition and block the spread of good roots. Unwanted plants interfere with production.  If you were to examine your heart for weeds and thorns, would you know what they look like? 

Some are obvious… immorality, substance abuse, self-centeredness… We all recognize these as unwanted and destructive.  But Jesus lists a few other things that sometimes pass under our radar unnoticed.

Christ calls “worrying” a thorn that stops you from bearing fruit.  We think of worry as a mental health issue, but Jesus says it impacts us spiritually.  Allowing worry to take root in my heart takes my focus off God and reduces my ability to make disciples.  According to Jesus, it’s also a waste of time … "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” "But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” Anxiety is fruitless… Having confidence in God’s power removes the thorn of worry and replaces it with expectant and productive faith. 

The second thorn Christ mentions is wealth’s unquenchable desire. He calls it deceitful.  Its deceptiveness comes from the fact that money is not the root of all evil… it is the love of money that is the problem…. It will take root in your heart, distract you from chasing what matters, and choke out everything good you have planted.  You can’t pursue God and money; so, choose one.   Many who set out to accomplish worthy goals have seen the pursuit of profit take over and wreck their mission.  Love of money is destructive and will make a garden worthless.

Faith and discipline can remove thorns from your life… Confidence in God can eradicate worry and eliminate your obsession with money. Removing those thorns is easy…  deciding you want to, is what takes some doing.

“We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.” -  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Colossians 4:6 9/19/2023

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

The book of James speaks of the power of words.  It warns that the tongue  “corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That’s a strong statement and most of us can attest to its accuracy. 

Many have experienced the wildfires an unbridled tongue can produce and know the difficulty of extinguishing those fires once they are lit. So, in this verse, when God instructs us on how to use our words, we should listen.

Is my conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt? Do I even know what that means?  I think it means my speech must be kind and gracious… full of compassion. But it also must have some preserving power… there must be substance and truth to it.  

We often swing too much one way or the other…either only sweet, flattering words, or only words of corrective discipline….  This verse says I must have balance in order to know how to answer everyone in every situation.

The assumption this verse makes is that we control our mouth.  That is a big assumption… Do you control yours, or does it control you?  Do you emotionally react with unbridled words, or intelligently respond with beneficial comments?

Scripture says we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Most of us get that exactly backwards. I shouldn’t speak unless I have something valuable to say, and when I do speak, it should be balanced with compassion and truth.  Since that is not always appreciated, my motivation must be to benefit others, not myself. 

How are you doing in this area?  What would people think if today your discussions were “full of grace”, and “seasoned with salt”?  Would it shock them?  Would they think something was wrong with you? Or is it normal for your conversations to be full of wisdom, and sound advice?

Speak with purpose today… Monitor your tongue and aim your words carefully. Have the right balance of sweet and salty so people will benefit from what you have to say. 

“The test of a man's spirituality is not his ability to speak, as we are apt to think, but rather his ability to bridle his tongue.” - R. Kent Hughes

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Psalms 46:10 9/12/2023

“… be still, and know that I am God…”

When was the last time you did that?... Isaiah says we were “formed to show forth His praise”.  What percentage of your time is spent doing what you were formed to do?  

When did you last shut off all your devices, get alone, and consider the love God has for you, and the invincible power He possesses.

Do we know how to be still anymore? From sunrise to bedtime, we are plugged into constant distraction. If the enemy can’t make us bad, he’ll settle for making us busy.  Too busy to focus on what matters.

This verse says that being “still” leads to knowing God … but we’re never still. We never stop and look for purpose in our movements, we are desperate to finish our trivial task, check the box,  and anxiously move on to the next chore.

So how do we break that cycle?

When a computer is performing poorly you reboot it.  Turn everything off and restart … If you never reboot, parts of programs may continue running in the background even after the project is completed… lingering meaningless activity …  In computers, that slows down the processer… In your brain it does the same thing… it’s called stress and anxiety.

Some of you haven’t “rebooted” in years, you are anxious out of habit… You constantly deal with lingering stress because you haven’t been still long enough to remember that God loves you, is in complete control, and has already dealt with whatever you’re worrying about. Nothing is beyond His power. 

STOP… just stop for a minute.  Unplug, and get alone with God.  Don’t allow your mind to drift, intentionally focus on Him.  Pray… listen… meditate… be still and rest in the magnificence and power of the God you serve.  

Today doesn’t have to be another futile, chaotic day…. pause and reflect on God - and like the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” 

Nothing will improve your life more than learning how to be still… so step out of the rat race for a few minutes this morning and  seek to know Him – once you grasp who He is – You can rest in what He will do. 

“We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God…” – Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

2 Kings 17:40-41 9/5/2023

“However, they did not listen, but they kept acting in accordance with their earlier custom. So, while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, just as their fathers did, they do to this day.”

This sounds very familiar … In our culture today we also cling to our customs, wanting God to be part of our plan – While God wants us to be part of His. 

We profess Christianity … but say we must be “realistic” when the Bible demands changes in our behavior. The bottom line is we want a Savior… but have no intention of handing over the reins of our lives … However, God’s offer is to be both our Lord and Savior; it has always been a package deal.

Like the church at Laodicea, we think we don’t need anything. We show up Sunday morning, expect to be entertained, and bask in our self-righteousness… Never looking honestly at our hearts as that would demand confession and repentance…and would require change and obedience.

The idol of comfortable prosperity lures us as it has for generations. We want to serve The Kingdom, but only when it advances our own. Servanthood and self-sacrifice are no longer preached or practiced, and cultural traditions and opinions have replaced scripture as our guide. 

How can we have drifted so far from the truth?  

Have we forgotten that we are not fighting against lost people  - we are fighting for them?  God commands that we obey scripture,  and lead others to Christ.  Yet our hypocrisy not only misleads us, it misleads our children and grandchildren as well… Our culture is faltering, and we must get off this path.

The cost to follow Christ is everything… we must die to ourselves.  So, either make that choice, or stop talking about it and confusing others with your duplicity.

If you fear God but still want to pursue your idols, you have a dilemma… The first commandment could not be clearer…it insists that we have only One God. Parttime Christianity has never been offered. So, choose this day whom you will serve… and then start obediently serving. 

“ The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are opposite sides of the same coin.” - A. W. Tozer

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob?  Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know?  Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. ...”

Why do I complain?... Why am I quick to embrace self-pity, assuming God has abandoned me? Did God say I would never face struggles in this world?  No... He said for me to be strong and courageous because I would never face them alone.

We all want strength… but not weariness.  We want power, without battling through weakness.  We embrace soaring like eagles but don’t want to walk without fainting… In other words, we want the benefit of the struggle without struggling. We want spiritual muscle but lack the courage to work out.

What has caused us to become so soft? … Have we grown too comfortable here?  Have we become fair weather Christians? 

Rhett Walker has a song called “Good to me”… the chorus says, “ I will look this storm in the eye… I won’t fear for you’re on my side. My first hope, my last word now and forever…let it rain, let it pour, I will sing… all you’ve ever been, is good to me”.  Is that my attitude when I face storms?  Do I walk in faith when it’s raining, or just talk about trust when the sun’s shining?

This verse asks an important question that I need to answer… “Do I not know?  Have I not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” How can I lack courage when I serve a God like that? How can I not face storms head on? 

There are hurricanes in this life… but The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all things.  That means I can lean into the storm … I can face it with confidence, knowing all things work together for good when I love Him and am called according to His purpose… 

It’s time I traded in my complaining for courage … I serve the everlasting God, and all He’s ever been, is good to me.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

2 Peter 2:1...3 8/22/2023

“But false prophets also appeared among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, …. Many will follow their indecent behavior, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned…. their judgment from long ago is not idle…”

The lies and false teachings we are experiencing in our society today are nothing new. God warned us about this 2000 years ago. Our anxious hand wringing is not necessary. God, long ago, planned His response.

To see an illustration of God as the Warrior God of armies just read scripture about false prophets. Lying about God’s plan to rescue His children from sin is a guaranteed way to experience the wrath of God. The intelligent response to that is to make sure you are not a false messenger.

We carry a precious commodity within us… the “good news” of Jesus Christ.  We must handle it correctly.  Not so people will love us – but because God has already judged those who handle it frivolously. 

Tommy Nelson used to say that when you hear a sermon, “your eyes should narrow”.  Every detail of the Gospel is precise and must be handled carefully. We must validate that what comes out of any preacher’s mouth lines up exactly with what God wrote in His Word. 

Scripture is not written for our approval but for our obedience.  Don’t waste time trying to bend the Bible to fit your lifestyle. - Bend your life to fit the Bible. 

Don’t be shocked at all the destructive heresies out there today. Remember that in the garden the serpent’s initial strategy wasn’t to get Adam and Eve to necessarily sin, his first goal was to simply get them to question God’s word. 

The enemy’s plan has not changed. The inerrant Word of God must be your true north, or you will wander aimlessly. When you hear someone questioning the veracity of a passage of scripture be careful, you are in the company of a false teacher whose judgement is eminent. 

God has clearly written our marching order so tenaciously follow every directive in the inerrant Word of God… Walk softly and carry a big bible. 

“Biblical inerrancy was not only affirmed unambiguously by Jesus Christ, but is foundational to our firm reliance on God’s promises and revelations contained in the Bible.” - David Limbaugh

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

John 15:22 8/15/2023

 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

Jesus says the words He has spoken will be the evidence that will convict unbelievers. They have been told the truth and now their sin is without excuse.  But if that is true of unbelievers how much more should it apply to me?

I run to the cross for deliverance, I am saved by faith alone.  But saving faith is seldom alone, and its power should change me.  The Cross provides salvation, but this verse implies that knowledge of the Cross increases my responsibility to live righteously. 

The devil was a believer, but not a Christian… and I must know the difference.  God has defined sin in His word, and He has freed me from its control. I am no longer a slave to sin, so my sinfulness is now a choice.  

Each day I decide who I will follow…  If I put myself on the throne, I will focus on my freedom and deliverance. If God is on the throne I will focus on righteousness. 

Make no mistake, God’s focus is on righteousness and that is where He expects mine to be as well. Salvation is not a minor adjustment… it is a 180 degree turn that produces dramatic changes in my life.

I am saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone… but Jesus has now become not just my Savior but my Lord as well. 

My goal is to reflect the love of Christ and to live free from the entanglement of the sin that used to control me. I still live in a broken world and will need God’s grace to cover me. But that is not a license to ignore the price paid for my freedom from the heinous power that used to govern my life. 

I am free… It makes no sense to sit in an open cell and put the chains back on... I am a child of the King and Today I must choose to run from sin and pursue righteousness. That is why Jesus came… to make me a new creation who longs for righteousness and a relationship with Him.

“It is not enough to be delivered from sin; it is enough to be delivered to righteousness.” - Edwin Louis Cole

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Isaiah 36:21 8/8/2023

“But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

The commander of the mighty Assyrian army is “talking trash” to the Jews who are on the wall guarding their city. And he’s speaking in their language to frighten them. Yet the people just sit there and look at him. 

I imagine this concerned the commander.  It is informative when people heatedly argue with you… it is also informative when they don’t honor your comments with a response… Like the little dog that barks and barks as compared to the pit bull that just looks at you and confidently waits for you to come into his yard. Which one are you? ...How do you respond when faced with taunts from the enemy?  Do you exude confidence, or uncertainty and agitation? 

The one thing you never see in scripture is God panicking... In fact, you never see Him being surprised.  Can we live in that confidence?  Can we sit on the wall surrounded by the enemy, secure and silent in the power of the King we serve? 

How differently would the world view the church today if we refused to join in their panic?  It wouldn’t be sermons, music, or programs that attracted people… it would be our peaceful confidence that would draw them like moths to a flame. 

So, before you go out today and angrily argue with your “opponents” consider your motivation for quarreling… Is it because of your own anxiety that you need to win the debate?… or are you lovingly trying to give them truth and relieve their fears? 

I suggest that as they tell you their theories of devastation that you look past the surface and see the anxiety that drives their lives.  Your theory is not going to replace theirs… So, either answer in love, or don’t answer at all. 

Fear doesn’t come from God (2 Timothy 1:7) so just let your peace and confidence in the Lord get their attention… Because in every circumstance only faith in the Father can grant sustainable peace. Sometimes it is best to just sit on the wall in silence and let God respond in His own time.

“You do not know the gospel, dear friends, if you have not obtained peace through it; peace is the juice, the essence, the soul of the gospel.” - Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Matthew 23:11 8/1/2023

“The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Jesus makes this statement after condemning the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day. The rest of the chapter discusses how dangerous it is to be a pretender in the house of God.

Does that concern you?... It does me. 

When Christ speaks to sinners, He tells them to repent, change their lives, and follow Him. But in this chapter Jesus delivers a searing reprimand to people who look a lot like me. People who go to the temple often and speak as though they know God. 

I don’t want to be a man who needs reprimanding, and verse 11 is the litmus test of my authenticity… It comes down to whether or not I am a servant. 

This dovetails with 1st Corinthians which declares that the value of what I do is determined by my motives. When I speak, do I speak because I love spreading the gospel… or do I desire the spotlight? Do I write this blog to help others, or to get comments and clicks? 

Self-centeredness is a slippery slope, and Jesus says it is critical not to slide down it. Take a hard look in the mirror this morning: What motivates what you will do today?… 

Motivation can be the difference between an offering and an abomination. The difference in giving a drink to a thirsty child because you love them… or doing it because people are watching, cannot be overstated. One is an act of worship, the other self-promotion. 

Being a servant is not a complicated theological concept… you can’t say you don’t understand what Jesus means … He is telling you to love others – and do something about it – or quit calling yourself His follower. If you think that sounds harsh, read what Jesus says in the rest of this chapter. He is not recruiting disciples. He is outlining the cost to be one. 

The first commandment is to have no other god… and that includes yourself. You will either seek to be served or seek to serve others.

What’s inside your heart will come out when jostled. What will splash on those around you today? A self-centeredness that demands to be served and recognized… or a love for others that will make you a servant?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” – MLK, Jr.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

2 Corinthians 11:29-30

Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.“

After stating his compassion for those he leads; and admitting he is as flawed as anyone else is… Paul declares that his boasting will only be about his weakness… Don’t skip over that concept… It’s a radical statement, and a revolutionary way to live your life. 

How do you establish your self-worth? Do you set your value on your level of performance?... Are you treasured because of what you do and how well you do it? … or does your value emanate from whom you belong to?

If my confidence is in Christ –  am I so grounded in Him that I don’t need to defend my own public image? Am I so confident in the power of my Savior that I embrace the things that show my need of Him? This is a radical departure from most people’s PR plan, and Paul is not subtle about it. 

He doesn’t have a trophy room; he boasts in mementos of his weakness… He embraces it. Do you absorb the benefits from your trials? ...or do you miss some growth opportunities because of blame deflection, denial, or self-pity? 

Paul leans into his flaws and sufferings and squeezes every ounce of growth and wisdom from each trial. No dodging, no excuses… he simply leans on the power of his Savior and allows God’s redeeming grace to transform him. 

Our adversary prowls around looking for someone to destroy.  So, we are not only exposed to suffering… we are hunted. If they’re not here already, trials are coming.  When heartache arrives, what are you going to do about it?  … Hide? Run?

Paul meets his head on… because he knows it will be the Mighty Warrior God that responds.  Paul will lean into the suffering, embrace his own weakness,  and marvel at the apocalypse God unleashes on those who hurt His children. 

So, decide today to boast about your strength, or about God’s ….  Rely on one or the other, and then let the chips fall where they may. 

“We are too much haunted by ourselves, projecting the central shadow of self on everything around us. … Redemption is this, to forget self in God.”

- Frederick W. Robertson