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Archive for June, 2009

Dangerous doubt

boy prayer - header with text

    

    It’s easy to think that we would “never” have done what the praying believers did in Acts 12.
    Of course, we wouldn’t have doubted God’s ability to answer our prayers while we were still saying them.
    How are you so sure?
    Have you never prayed for something more from obligation than from expectation?
    You know the answer to this question.
    It’s an interesting, somewhat amusing account in Acts 12 about Peter being locked up by King Herod who wanted to destroy him.  You’ll recall that some of the believers in Jerusalem had gathered to pray all night for Peter’s release.
    They knew that Herod had already ordered the killing of the Apostle James and that Peter was in line to be the next martyr.
    So they got to praying.
    Intensively.
    But something about their prayers was less than perfect.
    Simply stated, at least some of the group really weren’t expecting God to answer their prayers.
    In fact, when Peter was miraculously freed from jail in the middle of the night, he went straight to the house where the believers were praying.
    He knocked on the door and a servant girl named Rhoda was so shocked at his presence that she forgot to open the door before running to tell the others that Peter was there.
    Her oversight is somewhat understandable because of her intense excitement and her youthfulness.
    The prayer group’s oversight is more difficult to reconcile.
    The believers told Rhoda that she was out of her mind.  There was no way that Peter could be standing at the door, they presumed.
    Hmmmm….. sure raises a question about the faith and the focus of their prayers, doesn’t it?
    I resist the temptation to criticize these believers, though.  For I’m sure that I have done the same on occasion.
    I don’t like the fact that my prayers have not always demonstrated perfect trust and focus.
    But I’d be foolish to claim that they had.
    “Oh Lord, God of heaven and earth, the God who did miracles and still intervenes in supernatural ways, please do _________________,” we pray.
    But do we REALLY expect God to act?
    Or are we praying because we know that God expects it in such circumstances?
    Let’s learn from Acts 12 and the lessons on prayer.
    Let’s believe that God DOES hear and answer prayers.
    Let’s believe that He sometimes does so very quickly and very dramatically.  It’s not often but it does happen.
    Let’s resist the trap of praying simply because things are bad and praying is what we’re expected to do.
    Instead, let’s pray with expectation that God will intervene in ways that help the gospel to keep spreading.
    When someone excitedly tells us that God has answered his/her/our prayers, ignore Satan’s whispering that God wouldn’t/couldn’t answer prayers so quickly and/or directly.
    You and I both have experienced times when another believer has come to us with great excitement about an answered prayer, yet we shot down their excitement because we doubted their report.
    Perhaps the report involved an internal physical healing, a job-related development, a relationship breakthrough or a new resolve to reject a sin crutch.
    Perhaps the report was even something that we had prayed for on the person’s behalf.
    When we doubted them, we doubted God.
    This should not be.
    Let’s learn from Acts 12, my friend.
    If it is worth praying about before God acts, it is worth shouting about after God acts.
    Believe when you pray.
    You’ll receive so much more joy when God acts.
 
As always, I love you
Martin   
   
   
(keywords:  morning devotion, morningdevotion, morningdevotion.com, devotion, God, Christ, love, Christian, prayer, Bible, Word, good, worship, unity, life, congregation, wisdom, minister, ministry, caring, friends, home)  
   

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 my-serve-header

 
 
 
    Group hugs are good.
    Especially those with people you’ve seen far too infrequently in recent years.
    It was a sweet moment last night after I ended the prayer for the little circle of Lori, Connie, Ralph and myself.
    Very sweet.
    I prayed words of thanks to the Lord for allowing Lori and me to bless Ralph and Connie with dinner and to share hours of conversation with the couple married for 62 years.
    I prayed that they would have a safe drive back to Port St. Lucie.  Most importantly, though, I prayed for their daughter, Marie, who continues to recover from a serious illness that has hindered her cognitive abilities.
    As Lori and I listened to Ralph’s and Connie’s stories of how God is working in their lives — and in Marie’s — we recognized that we were greatly blessed to have the loving couple in our home.
    For Lori, it was the first occasion of spending any meaningful amount of time with Ralph and Connie.
    For me, it was a flavorful addition to the countless hours spent with them in years past.
    I’ve known Ralph and Connie for 17 years.  For the last 12 years, the contact has been too infrequent, largely due to circumstances and due to where God has led me.
    I should have made more of an effort to see them, though.
    I was reminded of this fact last night.
    Time with them is like slipping on a soft sweater on a chilly day.
    It is warm and comfortable.
    Very relaxing.
    Despite the gap in contact, Ralph and Connie treat me nearly as a son whenever we’re together.
    It’s beautiful.
    Hey, she even brought me a home-baked pecan pie.
    Good job, “Mom.”
    In the days before the visit, I had been anticipating the blessing that Lori would experience when she spent time with Ralph and Connie. 
    And I had been anticipating the blessing that Ralph and Connie would experience as they enjoyed time with Lori.
    It was no surprise to me that they hit it off wonderfully.
    I loved it.
    It was a great “meet the family” moment for Lori.
    Hmmmm……
    We talked about all sorts of topics, of course, during the five-hour visit.
    Lori offered some useful nutritional/medical advice based on her dietetics training.
    Ralph and Connie brought us up to date with happenings in their family and friendships.
    Lori and I did the same regarding our family and friendships.
    They ate a large meal that I had prepared and kindly acted as if they enjoyed it.
    We looked at our wedding photo album, a DVD of our trip to Hawaii, a DVD of my skydiving jump and perused a few others pictures here and there.
    It’s the same type of visit that I’m sure you’ve experienced too infrequently with older loved ones.
    No, Ralph and Connie don’t look the same as they did 17 years ago.
    But I don’t either.
    Time marches on.
    Less hair.
    More wrinkles.
    Such is life.
    What time won’t erode, however, is the love that Lori and I have for Ralph and Connie.
    How great it will be when Lori, Ralph, Connie and I can enjoy a group hug when time is no more.
    Ralph and Connie won’t need to get into their Buick and drive home.
    They’ll already BE home.
    With us by their side.
    At the feet of the Father and the Son.
    Talk about sweet……
 
As always, I love you
Martin
   
   
   
(keywords:  morning devotion, morningdevotion, morningdevotion.com, devotion, God, Christ, love, Christian, Bible, Word, good, worship, unity, life, congregation, wisdom, minister, ministry, caring, friends, home)  

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MyServeHeaderdraft

  

    I realized this morning that I had overlooked for decades a powerful, biblical tool for recruiting and encouraging ministry volunteers.

    I’m not quite sure why the truth that was so obvious today had not gripped me previously.
    Perhaps I was too rushed in my reading.
    Perhaps I was guilty of presuming the verse in Psalm 134 was biblical “boilerplate” language, so to speak.
    The fact is that I didn’t pick up on a great leadership tool that I should have been using for years.
    Now I get it.
    And I will be diligent to make sure that those who serve with me in the years ahead will get it as well.
    I am continually reminded of how amazing and sensitive and inspiring and purpose-minded our holy Jehovah really is.
    Here’s the passage that shook me today unlike it has ever shaken me before.
 
    “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.  Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.  May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.”
   
    Here are the words that really jumped out at me  — “who minister by night”
    Hmmmm…….
    It is amazing to me how the Holy Spirit can throw a light switch in our minds and hearts and we see an array of insights that we had totally missed.
    That’s what happened this morning.
    I didn’t just ponder the mental image of a late-shift Levite serving faithfully in the tabernacle while the worship crowds were home in bed. 
    I didn’t see only the lone Levite replenishing the lamp oil and unleavened bread inside the Holy Place, the room outside the Holy of Holies.
    And I didn’t see only another late-shift Levite lifting his hands in prayer or in the singing of Mosaic hymns, whether in the Holy Place or in a tiny circle of fellow, midnight ministers.
    What I also saw were all sorts of modern-day ministers serving without public acclaim, whether paid or volunteer.
    I saw children’s workers putting in many hours a month with planting seeds of love and truth into toddlers who won’t remember their teachers but who will know years later that somebody laid the foundation of Bible stories and simple, Bible songs.
    I saw office volunteers who never expounded on a platform but who did much to help ministry expand into a community.
    I saw selfless believers who constantly looked for ways to gently speak encouragement and truth into the lives of unsaved co-workers or neighbors, knowing that is the Spirit that will provide the increase.
    I saw wounded spouses patiently remaining Christlike in worship and service while remaining prayerful for deliverance and renewal in the hearts and souls of their life partners.
    I saw vocational ministers serving faithfully though out of the spotlight, whether in a support staff role or in a small congregation that never gets the attention of the convention-planning team.
    Here is what is so compelling about verse 1 — those serving at night correctly realized that their service to God was just as important as the service provided by the day shift.
    The only difference between the two was that a crowd was around during the day.
    Jehovah was there ALL the time and He deserved and desired worship whether morning or night.
    I’m sure that the night-shift Levites wondered occasionally if their service was as important since hardly anybody was around.
    God used the psalmist to tell them of how important their service was to Him.
    And God used this psalmist to tell you of how important your service is to God, even if few people know you are doing it.
    Remember, your Christian service is first and foremost to be dedicated to God as your manifested worship.
    Lift up your worship and service in the “sanctuary” of the preschool room, the church copier room, the work lunchroom, the contention-free family room, the half-filled small church building or wherever else it’s you and God and maybe a few others.
    Let your love and worship for God be obvious, even if just to one other human.
    If you don’t see a crowd or don’t hear applause, that’s OK.
    God will be smiling.
    And you can know for certain that the Maker of heaven and earth will bless you from Zion.
 
As always, I love you
Martin
       
   
(keywords:  morning devotion, morningdevotion, morningdevotion.com, devotion, God, Christ, love, Christian, Bible, Word, good, worship, unity, life, congregation, wisdom, minister)  
   

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The garden of unity

JoinUsIII 

    Want to read a vivid, deeply encouraging passage in the Bible?

    Check out Psalm 133.
    And here’s something you will really like.
    It’s short.
    Only three verses.
    Why don’t you read it now by clicking here?  
    It’s clear that God wants to see biological and/or spiritual family members enjoying close relationships.
    He doesn’t want this simply because it reduces His stress.
    There is SO much more.
    God knows that people will live longer and live friendlier if they’re not fussing with those closest to them.
    He knows that compassion and generosity decline among those who are angry with others.
    He knows that the evangelistic magnetism of a congregation is depleted when members are at odds with each other.
    And God knows that the likelihood of cooperative efforts in ministry — essential to fulfillment of a congregation’s purpose — plummet when people see foes in the pew when they should only see friends.
    When a believer finds a unified relationship, though, the two don’t simply benefit from walking together in the same direction for the same purposes.  Far from it.
    It turns out that God establishes a fountain of mental and emotional blessing that overflows from the mind and bathes every part of their being.
    There is comfort.
    There is refreshment.
    There is an aroma of divine blessing.
    There is renewal of emotional and relational suppleness.
    It’s all good.
    Like you, I’ve never met a person who said they had too many “brother” or “sister” friendships they could really trust and enjoy.
    I have met, however, scores of people who complain that they don’t have enough — or any — of such people in their lives.
    Will you assess your life today to identify which of your relationships is hindered by a gap in unity?
    Perhaps you and a one-time close friend from church had a tiff several months or years ago and haven’t resolved the matter.  Ask God to provide His wisdom to accompany your humility so that a reconciliation effort might begin.
    Adult siblings are often prone to lingering “payback” squabbles.  To the extent that it is up to you, will you sacrifice any sense of entitlement you might feel toward a concesssion or apology from that sibling of yours?
    Is winning the tug-of-war really that important to you?
    What good is accomplished when biological or spiritual siblings isolate themselves from each other because of an earthly squabble? 
    Certainly nothing compared to the blessing that awaits those who lay aside pride for the sake of unity.
    Want to be in the place where God bestows blessing, even life forevermore?
    Be in the place of unity, my friend.
    Be at the side of your biological or spiritual siblings.
    And notice one more thing about Psalm 133.
    Verse 1 says blessing comes to those who live together in unity.
    This means their unity becomes an intentional pattern of interaction, not just a quick grunt because Dad made them apologize.
    Want genuine unity in your congregation?  Pray that people start spending time together beyond the “check the box” time of the worship service. 
    People can’t really talk with each other during the service.  If they spend time together outside of the service, however, they will have to talk.  And unity will grow.
    Please ask God to show you who would appreciate your efforts to build unity with them.
    Your congregation or your immediate family will grow stronger as a result.
    And your life will experience more blessing.
    God promises such in Psalm 133:3.
    Who knows?  If that person who sees your commitment to unity is not a Christian, perhaps this unmistakable fruit of faith might stir them to consider the words of the Savior who can give them life forevermore.
    Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
 
As always, I love you
Martin
   
   
(keywords:  morning devotion, morningdevotion, morningdevotion.com, devotion, God, Christ, love, Christian, Bible, Word, good, worship, unity, life, congregation, wisdom)  

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Praying for tools, not trophies

Christ stained glass header

 
    What God intended as a tool was turned into a trophy.
    God provided for the temple so that the Israelites would have an enduring, dedicated gathering point to seek His mercy and to declare His praises. 
    God’s core purposes for the temple was to show His mercy and receive worship toward Himself. 
    The Israelites fell into the trap of pride, though, and presumed the world’s most glorious temple was theirs because of personal merit, i.e., because they were better than anybody else.
    Generations of straying Hebrew hearts wouldn’t come right out and say the above, but it was clear from their actions.
    Even to the days of Jesus when His own disciples remarked on how beautiful their temple was.
    It didn’t start this way.
    In fact, I Kings 8 is explicitly clear as to the purposes for the temple:
  •     A place for sincere worship of the almighty and holy Jehovah
  •     A place for repentent hearts to seek forgiveness
  •     A place for presenting the Father’s intercession into crisis situations
  •     A place for non-Israelites to enter and plead for divine help with their problems
  •     A place toward which captive Israelites in foreign lands might point their prayers for deliverance
    I was intrigued by all the references to “forgive” in the chapter.  It’s clear that the temple and forgiveness were intricately linked.
    No, the existence of the temple didn’t provide an automatic “Get out of hell” pass for the Hebrews.
    It did, however, give them a tangible reminder of God’s love, provision and purpose.
    It was all about unholy people pursuing a right relationship with the holy God who lives in heaven.
    I encourage you to read the chapter.  (Click here)  You’ll be inspired, I’m sure.
    How do I know that ancient Hebrews lost the proper view of their temple?
    Because they stopped seeing it as God intended and started treating its purposes with contempt.
    They tainted it by using it to make money for themselves.
    They tainted it by allowing morally corrupted religious leaders to carry on as if personal holiness didn’t matter.
    They tainted it by allowing unqualified people to conduct spiritual rituals.
    They tainted it by abandoning certain commands for religious observance.
    They tainted it by falling into a religion of haughty rituals based on routine, forsaking a faith based on a humble relationship with God.
    Worst of all, they tainted it by sacrificing faith on the altar of religion, caring not if the Spirit of God was in their hearts and in the temple.
    Hmmmmm……….
    A close reading of the chapter contains no evidence that the temple — by itself — held magical, mystical powers.
    It was a building.
    A fancy building, yes, but still a building.
    Whenever it became clear that God was not on the throne of Israelite hearts and was not the focus of religion at the temple, God’s Spirit withdrew, I’m sure.
    God wasn’t about to condone a twisted religion that saw the temple as a divine endorsement of personal merit.
    That’s why God’s Spirit abandoned the temple on several occasions in scripture, each time ultimately leading to its destruction by pagan armies.
    So what does all this have to do with faith today?
    Simply this.
    Be on guard against the trap of religious possession.
    I can’t recall one time during Jesus’ ministry when He said, “Hey, come and see our temple!  It’s really nice.  By the way, do you want to get saved?”
    In Jesus’ mind, the religious structure had nothing to do with salvation.
    We should think the same.
    Jesus had no bias against the temple, however.  Far from it.
    He went there often and used it as a place for prayer, for teaching, for shared worship, for ministry to the sick and heartbroken and for confronting sin.
    We should pursue the same.
    Here’s the wrap-up.
    Understand that a beautiful church building is NEVER a substitute for a repentent, self-sacrificing faith.
    Resist any temptation to see church involvement as a way to boost business.
    Don’t condone religious leaders who carry on as if personal holiness doesn’t matter.
    Insist that biblically qualified people are in spiritual leadership roles.
    Don’t abandon commanded religious observances such as weekly communion or tithing in support of ministry because they “get in the way” of a smooth, inoffensive service.
    Blend spiritual talk with humble action to show God and others that you don’t have a “blah, blah, blah” faith.
    Remember, trophies are for the next life.
    That’s why God only gives us tools in this life.
 
As always, I love you
Martin

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 sunrise worship - wide

 

 

      “Thank you, Lord, for waking me at 7:20 a.m. today.
    “Your stirring me awake at that moment allowed me to hurriedly get ready and make it to a breakfast gathering a couple of miles away at 7:30 a.m.

   “You’re amazing.”

    What makes the above prayer of praise so interesting to me is that I didn’t go to bed until nearly 2 a.m.
    I’m used to getting too little sleep.
    I’m not used to spontaneously awakening — without fatigue — at the last possible moment and still getting to an important gathering with other godly guys on time.
    I don’t have a spiritual excuse for staying up so late.
    The fact is that I got caught up at 11:15 p.m. or so in a Bruce Willis movie.
    This movie was more interesting than most of his flicks.  That’s why I didn’t put the remote control down, despite the insane number of commercials that stretched a 90-minute movie out to more than 2.5 hours.
    I wanted to know how the movie ended and wasn’t willing to go to sleep with uncertainty as to how Bruce would do the “hero” thing.
    I usually say “Phooey with you!” when I sense the broadcaster is manipulating my attention in order to air more nauseating, sometimes-foolish, late-night commercials.
    Everybody loves seeing the hero overcome ridiculous odds, though, in order to save the innocent victims and bring about justice for the bad guys.
    Last night, I was “everybody.”
    Why was I so drawn this time to doing what I almost never do?
    Willis’ character wasn’t just going against the bad guys.  More important to him was the rescuing his loved ones who had been taken hostage by evil men.
    He also wanted to rescue others taken hostage even though they weren’t part of his family.
    Willis’ character was ridiculed by peers during his efforts despite the wisdom of his plans.
    He was threatened and wounded by those who hated him and saw him as an obstacle to their agendas.
    His primarly objective wasn’t to punish but instead to save.
    And when deliverance from evil came for those he rescued, I sensed a measure of inner peace that moral order had been re-affirmed.
    Hmmm……..
    Let’s see……..
  •     He came to set the captives free.
  •     He suffered ridicule despite the perfection of His plan.
  •     He was wounded by those who hated Him and saw Him as a threat.
  •     He came to save, not to punish.
  •     His saving work produced a profound sense of peace that spiritual order had been re-affirmed.
    The above five statements aren’t describing Willis’ character, but instead Jesus Christ.
    Perhaps this was why I was so drawn to this movie and could not turn it off.
    Perhaps I was seeing a parallel to Christ’s life and didn’t realize it at the time.
    Clearly, Bruce Willis’ characters are not Christian in behavior.  But to the extent that the script conveyed unspoken elements of Christ’s life, a powerfully magnetic goodness was evident and attractive to my core identity.
    For this fact, I am grateful that I was drawn to stick with the movie despite the late hour.
    For I understand that it’s not just the “guy movie” thing that compelled me, but more importantly the importance of appreciating one who suffered and bled to rescue others with no regard for himself.
    Listen, whenever you see the nature and mission of Christ represented directly or indirectly in a movie, book, TV show, music recording or wherever, please savor that affirmation of who Christ is and/or what He has done. 
    You’ll not only have one more occasion for worshipping the Father and Son, but you’ll also sharpen your ability to acquaint others with the undeniable, hard-wired attractiveness that Christ’s rescuing nature possesses, even to non-spiritual people.
    You know, God is amazing in how He can even use a Bruce Willis movie to help you and me to glorify Christ.
 
As always, I love you
Martin

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The premium of patience

sunrise dock b-w

 
    Moses was the poster child for patience.
    Moses was the poster child for impatience.
    Which of the above is correct?   
    Both statements are true.
    Huh?
    I found it ironic that the New Testament portion of today’s One-Year Bible reading included Stephen’s abbreviated recounting of Moses’ life AND Solomon’s abbreviated, potent rationale for patience.
    Here is what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:32.
 
    “Better a patient man than a warrior; a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”
   
    Even the most cursory study of Moses’ life shows that impatience was his thorn in the flesh.  When Moses found himself in self-inflicted trouble, impatience was the culprit.
    He didn’t wait on the Lord’s leading when appointing himself as the Hebrew deliverer 40 years before God’s schedule.  As a result, he committed murder and then forfeited his moral high ground in the eyes of those Hebrews he had hoped would see him as their hero.
    When Moses kept manufacturing excuses as to why he didn’t want to lead Israel from Egyptian bondage, he wasn’t willing to patiently trust the Lord to mold him into the leader his people needed.  In fact, it was only by the patient grace of God that Moses wasn’t zapped because of an unsurrendered heart.
    On a couple of other occasions during the exodus, Moses lost his temper.  The worst, of course, was when God told him to speak to a rock in order to have a fountain come forth to water the people.
    Moses was so ticked off at the people that he ignored the clear command of God and struck the rock with his sanctified, God-empowered staff.
    The people got their water, all right.  But Moses also forfeited the privilege of entering the Promised Land since his impatience had set such a terrible example for the people.
    Yes, Moses struggled with impatience.
    Yet, Moses also excelled at patience.
    Forty years of tending sheep while awaiting the revelation of God’s plan for his life.  That took a lot of patience.
    Forty years of leading stubborn, childish Israel must have turned Moses’ lower lip into leather from his biting it so much rather than letting harsh words fly daily.
    Moses’ patience reached a zenith when God told him to get away from the Israelites so that He could wipe them all out and rebuild a new nation with Moses and his family.   Moses pleaded for Israel’s forgiveness and even offered his own life as a sacrifice in place of the Hebrew rebels.
    God relented even though Israel had not repented.
    Yes, patience is an incredibly powerful strategy for securing God’s blessing.
    If Solomon’s teaching in Proverbs 16:32 had been around during Moses’ time, would it have made any difference in how Moses managed his patience?
    I suspect not.  Moses’ impatience was not the fruit of ignorance but instead the fruit of prideful desire for control.
    When do you struggle with impatience?  When do you speak words of impatience that hinder rather than help?
    It’s when things aren’t going your way as quickly as you want and you want to make sure others know that YOU want it to change now.
    Imagine if you stood up in a storm-delayed airliner and yelled to the pilot to fly faster.  You’re late for a meeting, you want to get to the airport faster and if you don’t get your way, somebody is going to pay.
    Who really ends up paying the most, though?  You.
    You don’t accomplish your stated goal and you make a fool of yourself.  That’s in addition to your being placed on a “watch” list of the National Transportation and Safety Board.
    You won’t yell at the cockpit door, I’m sure.  But have you not spoken harshly to a family member, friend or co-worker when you were impatient? 
    Remember this.  Satan wants your impatience to boil over to the point of losing your temper.  He knows nothing good will come of it.
    God wants your patience to bubble over from the fountain of Living Water flowing through your heart.  For the good plans He has for your life require godly patience that CAN help others trade the land of bondage for the land of blessing.
    Hmmmm….. when it comes to leading people from bondage to blessing, which is the better approach with your words and actions?  Patience?  Or war?
    You know the answer.
 
As always, I love you
Martin

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