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Archive for February, 2010

To hear this Morning Devotion, click  The accounting of love

In the midst of countless “Do not …” admonitions I read this morning in Leviticus 19, there were two profoundly affirmative statements that reveal the core of God’s heart.

To those who think God is an autocratic and mean-spirited control freak, these two statements don’t add up.

But to those who understand that God is the Abba Father of the Good Shepherd, albeit a holy and righteous Father, these phrases come as no surprise.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:14).

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (vv. 33-34).

It’s good to know that the Golden Rule was taught before Jesus started His preaching.

And wherever it was practiced, God was exalted and people were blessed.

God knew that it would be very difficult to do these things unless one had a close relationship with Him.

The fact is that we humans — even the believers among us — are drawn to the idea of “payback time” like kids are drawn to a bowl of candy.

It’s bad for us but we still want to taste it, convinced that it will satisfy our cravings.

The fact is that seeking revenge or bearing grudges does nothing emotionally or physically healthy for us.

You’ve known people who have been eaten alive by stress and anger because of cherished grudges and cravings for revenge

In contrast, loving our neighbor — i.e., anybody in our lives — is to characterize our conduct.

It’s SO much healthier physically and emotionally to cut the anchor ropes.

Even when that neighbor is an outsider culturally or ethnically or spiritually, we are to treat him as we would one our hometown best buddies or, as my daughters used to say, as pinky pals.

We are to love the outsider as we love ourselves.

Just as God did for us.

Wow.

This kind of love doesn’t happen very much, does it?

It’s because so few people obey God in these teachings.

Are you?

Thoughts of revenge and bearing of grudges are not part of God’s agenda toward you, but showing grace and love are.

Shouldn’t you do the same toward others?

I am certain that some people in my life have, because of God’s Word, chosen to love me despite my imperfections and lack of common heritage with them.

I have been blessed because they loved me as they love themselves, not because of my merit but instead because of their obedience to God.

Because they have done so for me, I am more inclined to do so for others.

It’s interesting to note that our Almighty God is watching to see if we are loving others as we do ourselves.

We need that accountability, it’s true.

For if we think that nobody is taking notes, we just might skip out on our call to love.

Please remember that Jesus died for you and me, despite the fact that we are sinful aliens deserving payback.

Let’s love somebody today as we love ourselves, cutting loose Satan’s suggested grudges and bigotries.

It’s what God desires. And it’s what God deserves.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, click here

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Satan whispers to us that humility is for wimps.

“Why be a weakling pushover?” he says to our minds. “It’s much better to be the one pushing.

Jesus declares that humility is for winners.

Your strength is not your own,” His Holy Spirit tells us. “Submit to Me and I’ll do the pushing for you in the struggle of life.”

I wish that I had always shown humility in life. Perhaps you have the same regret.

It’s not easy sometimes to choose humility when we’re facing insults from others or when circumstances prod our pride to grab the microphone and shout, “Hey! What about me? I’m special, too, you know!”

It might not be easy, but it IS essential.

Especially when the well-being of others is at stake.

If an episode at your job is shoving you toward the choice between pride and humility, you know which choice will far more likely have negative consequences for your family’s financial picture.

If an embarrassing episode at your church leaves you emotionally twisting between getting even or getting on your knees in prayer, you know which choice will build the congregation’s unity rather than erode it.

Humility is contrary to our human nature.

As we become more like Christ, though, humility becomes more of our daily behavior.

I was reminded of these truths about humility while reading about the Syro-Phoenician mother described in Mark 7:24-30. You know the story. The Gentile mother has a demon-possessed daughter and has found no remedy among the religious leaders in her region.

She hears that a miracle worker named Jesus is in town and believes it is her only shot to get the help her daughter needs in order to have a normal life.

The mother finds Jesus at a house in the city of Tyre and throws herself at His feet, begging Jesus to drive the demon from her daughter.

That by itself was an overtly humbling act, particularly in view of the fact that most Jewish males looked upon Gentile women as third-class citizens.

But her humility was shown even more clearly when Jesus tested her commitment to her daughter.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” He said regarding to taking His attention from speaking to Jews in order to help a Gentile.

That’s when her humility — flying in the face of all the whispered lies of Satan — showed the depth of her character and the depth of her love for her daughter.

Yes, Lord,” she replied, “But even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The mother’s humility — her choice of meekness for the sake of the greater good — allowed her to tap into a power that was infinitely greater than she could have had through pride.

Jesus, impressed by her faith in Him and her love for her daughter, told her to go home and find that her daughter had been healed.

The power of humility is undeniable, my friend.

For through that humility we access the power of God.

Through pride, however, we have only our own blindly inflated power.

I’ve learned through life which power supply serves my best interests and those of my loved ones.

Please learn from the humble mom of Mark 7:24-30.

Your life will be filled with more of God’s power as you do.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, click here and follow the links.

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There is a lot of darkness described in Mark 7:22-23.

It’s actually quite scary to think that humans are highly capable and practiced in the 12 dark arts that Jesus describes in the text.

  • Sexual immorality
  • Theft
  • Murder
  • Adultery
  • Greed
  • Malice
  • Deceit
  • Lewdness
  • Envy
  • Slander
  • Arrogance
  • Folly

I don’t perceive that Jesus gave this list as the all-inclusive description of man’s sinfulness, though most of our spiritual failures likely could be tied in one sense or another to this list.

What matters is the larger point that Jesus was making in Mark 7 regarding the religious leaders’ complant that Jesus’ disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before eating.

Jesus had told the leaders that nothing entering the mouth can make a man unclean but instead that which exits the mouth.

Why? Because the words of the mouth are the reflection of one’s heart.

And an unclean heart is far more prone to engage in the above behaviors.

You and I need to be aware of this threat upon our souls and testimonies so that we will focus intently on having clean hearts.

That’s why I am SO glad that the Holy Spirit inspired me this morning to apply my One-Year Bible reading in a creative way.

He directed me to create a 12-item list that shows the contrasting bright side of each dark art listed above.

In doing so, I not only was reminded of what God desires to see in each of our lives, but I was also reminded of behaviors through which I can shine as a lighthouse of faith pointing to heaven rather than as a black hole of failure pointing to hell.

  • Sexually moral
  • Generous
  • Life-giving encourager
  • Marital faithfulness
  • Selflessness
  • Forgiving
  • Truthful
  • Sexually pure thoughts
  • Content with blessings
  • Defender of others
  • Humble
  • Wise user of time

It’s true that we need to know of the dark side that Jesus described in Mark 7. The warning is very important to alert us of the danger that faces those who don’t surrender their hearts to Christ.

But our ability to lead people toward the cross will be enhanced, I believe, if we move beyond describing the bad behaviors that point people toward hell.

Better, I believe, is the desire to point people toward heaven by describing the good behaviors of those whose hearts are surrendered to the Lord.

As you role-model the good behaviors above, your influence upon tainted hearts around you will grow.

People will see that it actually IS possible to live as the Bible requires.

They will have hope that they can escape the grip of darkness and walk in the grace of God’s wonderful Light.

Please, dear friend, look more diligently for the bright side of the darkness in this world. That contrast just might help you to more effectively help a lost soul into salvation as he or she increasingly senses God’s call on his or her heart to run from the darkness and into the Light.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear me share this Morning Devotion in audible form, please click this link 

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Most every adult over 45 recalls the line from the opening to the original Star Trek programs on TV — “Space… the final frontier.”

Even though Captain James Kirk’s voiceover was quite intriguing as the U.S.S. Enterprise zoomed by on the TV screen, I actually think something else much smaller than space should be described as the final frontier for Christians.

I’m talking about the domain of our mouths.

More specifically, the overflow of our lips.

Bringing our tongues and lips under subjection to the principles and practices of Christianity is perhaps the most challenging part of sanctification for most believers.

When we converted to Christ, we likely started closing down all sorts of sin operations in our lives. You have your list of “used to do that” behaviors just as I have mine.

But I’ve observed over the years that many Christians don’t get a real handle on surrendering their tongue and lips until they’ve been in the family of faith for a good chunk of time.

Yes, they can speak with clean words and calm words when things are going well. But when times get tough or tempers get hot, the tongue dripping with patience can all too easily revert to the tongue dripping with poison.

Sometime the lips that want to laugh with the joy of faith become ensnared in laughing at tasteless humor that pains God’s heart.

God has called us to a higher standard. And as we surrender more of our minds and hearts to Him, striving to imitate His Son Jesus Christ, our words more frequently and more fully reflect the nature of God.

Simply put, we become better examples of the teaching found in Psalm 40:3.

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

You and I know that Jesus not only died to save our souls but also so that we might become His tools for making disciples.

We are to be walking, talking testimonies to how God can transform corrupted lives into surrendered lives that celebrate faith and motivate others to seek the same.

If many are to see and fear and put their trust in the Lord, they need to have vibrant, surrendered examples of people who DO have a new song in their mouths and hymns of praise to their God.

That new song of joy and inspiration and confidence for the future cannot come by human effort.

If that were the case, the multitude of cults or permutations of established world religions would have satisfied centuries ago all the spiritual seekers of the world.

Simply put, nothing the world offers genuinely scratches the itch that only faith in Jehovah can take away.

When a person gains the peace from the Lord that surpasses all understanding, a joy begins to flow that can’t be concocted by human origin.

It is actually an overflow of the heart that brings praise to God as it is shared with others.

While God loves to hear us sing to Him individually and collectively in worship, the “new song” in Psalm 40:3 is referring to more than church singing.

I believe the psalmist is referring to that song in our hearts that sometimes overflows from our mouths as we appreciate the blessings we have rather than bemoan the “wants” we don’t have.

Dear friend, we’re surrounded by people who are discouraged. Not just by the poor economy and the resulting joblessness or reduced income among those working, but also by the emptiness found in so many taste tests of various religions.

Those people need to see someone whose life portrays joy and love and purpose. They need to see ones willing to verbally and joyfully credit God with the blessings in the believers’ lives.

Invite God’s Holy Spirit to stir and steer your tongue and lips into being more like Jesus.

Pray that your words reflect more of a calm pasture overseen by the Good Shepherd rather than the wild, wild west where anything goes.

As always, I love you
Martin

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If you would like to hear this devotion, please click HERE and then click on the “Hear the Morning Devotion” button in the right column.

If you were given a new sports car, I seriously doubt that you’d neglect the formation of a tiny rust spot on the hood.

If you were given a new sports car, I seriously doubt that you’d neglect the formation of a tiny rust spot on the hood.

You’d get some polishing compound and remove that spot right away and not just because it marred the car’s appearance a bit.

Your greater concern would be that the ignored rust spot became larger if you continued with your indifference, eventually leading to a junkyard grave for the car.

The latter consequence is way more costly than that tiny bit of effort and expense needed to remove the rust spot at the outset.

You’ve taken care of many rust spots on vehicles over the years, I’m sure.

Good for you.

And so it is that you understand the importance of removing “grudge spots” from the vehicle called faith.

When somebody upsets us and we choose to not to forgive them right away, we’re allowing the rust spot of hard feelings to grow toward becoming a grudge.

Continued indifference to the grudge’s threat against our soul will only lead to bigger problems.

For those we blame.

For us.

For those who love us and count on us for spiritual strength.

And for the Kingdom of God.

Ultimately, an unconstrained grudge can cost somebody his or her life, spiritually or physically, or both. It could cost multiple people their lives.

Why this topic today?

The One-Year Bible for today includes the story of John the Baptist and King Herod. You know the story in Mark 6.

Herod had chosen to marry his brother’s wife. Her name was Herodias.

John the Baptist told him the choice was immoral and should not have happened.

Neither Herod nor Herodias like John’s preaching about their immorality, but Herod didn’t want to kill John. Herod respected John as a righteous man and he liked hearing him preach and teach.

Herodias was cut from a different cloth, however. She hated John the Baptist and allowed the rust spot of hard feelings to grow into full-scale spiritual decay.

And when the nurtured grudge was given opportunity by the perfect storm of sin arranged by Satan at Herod’s birthday party, Herodias pounced like a lioness.

You can read the details in Mark 6:17-29.

Herodias’ hard feelings toward John sprouted into a grudge that grew into bitterness and a desire for revenge. That hunger for revenge then grew into a ticking time bomb needing only a trigger before blowing up and causing all sorts of carnage.

Dear friend, if you’re harboring ANY hard feelings toward somebody, please let them go.

Sacrifice your pride, not your spiritual integrity.

Remember that grudges always carry a high price not just for your enemy but also for your compromised faith.

It is a ticking time bomb.

That’s how Satan works. Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.

In all directions.

Even if your grudge doesn’t cost you your soul, it certainly costs you the blessings of fellowship that you might have had with the relative, friend, co-worker, classmate or neighbor offended you, perhaps even unintentionally.

It also weakens the fellowship that you have with the Lord since such an attitude is in direct rebellion to His Word.

It is SO much better to forgive and get on with your life of loving people despite their imperfections.

Aren’t you glad that Jesus didn’t hold a grudge against you, despite the fact of terrible sins against Him?

He loves us and forgives us despite our imperfections.

Grudges have no place in His heart.

Let the same be said of us.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear me share this Morning Devotion in audible form, please click this link  — “Grab the Bucket”

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Jesus knew that most people hearing His words weren’t geniuses.

That’s why He so often used simple explanations and illustrations.

I am profoundly glad that He did so.

Because He so often spoke so simply, people like me can quickly comprehend most of what He taught.

Today’s reading in the One-Year Bible offers a very tangible teaching that requires little IQ to discern.

It does, however, require a high humility quotient to implement.

If we apply Jesus’ words in Mark 4:24-25, we’ll be both a vital vessel of blessing to others for God and we’ll be a vibrant recipient of blessings from God.

Now that’s something I want. Hopefully you want it, too.

Here is what Jesus said:

Consider carefully what you hear,” He continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (NIV).

This is a classic, biblical illustration of the secular axiom: “What goes around comes around.”

Jesus’ words are SO simple.

Yet they are so true to life.

I am better for others and for myself whenever I apply them.

As I reflected on the passage this morning, my mind was filled with life examples that verify Christ’s words.

We’ve all observed a friend who readily forgave the offenses of family members and others in his or her life and, when our friend messed up, the forgiveness was reciprocal.

Sadly, we’ve seen the opposite occur as well.

The Mark 4:24-25 principle was also visible in the lives of friends who showed humble generosity to others at gift-giving times such as birthdays and weddings or when showing generosity toward total strangers in desperate need.

Even if the direct recipient did not — or could not — reciprocate, the Lord sent our friend a proportional blessing of greater value, though not necessarily in a monetary sense.

At the core of this principle is this message from God — “Trust me.”

If I trust God’s promise made by Christ in this passage, I’ll look for a bucket to fill up from my life so that I might share it with others.

If I lack trust in God’s promise, I’ll look for a thimble and I’ll get defensive, saying, “Hey, I’m giving you something so hush up!”

Crazy, huh? My getting chintzy with what was given to me and doesn’t really belong to me anyway?

You’re quite familiar with the teaching of Malachi 3:10 that promises a more-than-reciprocal response of blessing from God for those who obediently give 10 percent of all their income to God, i.e., they tithe.

It’s all about the vessel you grab for sharing with others.

Grab a bucket to fill and pour blessings (gifts, time, forgiveness, encouragement, etc.) into other lives and you’ll sometimes get more than a bucket sent back your way.

Grab a thimble, instead, and your receipt of gifts, time, forgiveness, encouragement, etc. will be negligible.

Just like the negligible amount of love and concern you show toward others.

Like I said, it doesn’t take an intellectual genius to figure this stuff out.

It does take a humble, Christlike believer to live this stuff out, though.

Let’s try to be more like Jesus.

Reach for the bucket.

Life will be filled with more blessings for others and for ourselves if we do.

As always, I love you
Martin

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New feature! If you’d like to hear me share this Morning Devotion in audible form, please click on the link below

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After you click the music link on a parallel site and the start button on the screen that follows, you can minimize that screen and work on other computer tasks if you’d like.

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Here’s the promise: Wait patiently for the Lord to do what only He can do about your hopes and, if they are His will, He’ll act at the most appropriate time.

Here’s the problem: Waiting patiently can get old real fast if we don’t continue refreshing our faith in God.

Today’s reading in the One-Year Bible includes Psalm 37:1-11. The verses drive home the value of waiting for God to “take care of business” with people who torment believers and deliver blessings to people with long-term loyalty to Him.

King David, the likely writer of this psalm, said that the evil and wicked people would face a day of reckoning and would be swept away.

The patient and faithful, however, will shine like the noonday sun, will inherit the land and will enjoy great peace.

To Christians, that sounds great.

The problem is the “wait.”

It’s good that the psalmist wrote in verse 8, “Do not fret. It only leads to evil.”

Wow. That’s a strong statement.

It needs to be, though, because we humans — including the believers among us — are prone to impatience with God’s timetable.

We’re prone to fretting about an unfulfilled career ambition or a desire for children or a desire for a cushier life. Next thing we know, that fretting is prodding us toward decisions that aren’t based on faith.

And any decision that isn’t evaluated according to the purposes of God leads us toward making other decisions that don’t consider God’s plan or His Word or His people or His values.

With every unsatisfied desire, the believer moves closer to doubt and then denial regarding the authority and ability of God.

We might not be patient, but Satan certainly is.

He slowly and subtly places the bait of gratification tidbits on a path that leads us from trusting God over to trusting ourselves and the world’s lies. After all, look at all the cool stuff that many God-deniers have?

Eventually, when our impatience with God’s timing has grown into the delusional pride of thinking we are completely self-made, that’s when Satan reveals to us that we’ve actually been rolling downhill into his trap.

His hope is that our pride will then keep us from repenting and crying out to God for help.

Too many times for too many believers, Satan gets his way.

They don’t repent and cry for help.

They keep waiting for God’s Word to prove wrong.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course.

It just takes patience.

God-inspired patience.

It just takes the confidence that God will do what is right at the right time for people who have the right attitude toward Him and His Son Jesus Christ.

Just as He has done for countless believers from Adam’s day until our own.

I’m in a season now requiring a great deal of patience in a number of ways.

Fretting and doubting and denying will do me no good.

Trusting that God sees my life, knows my needs and hopes and will act in the way best for me will do me a world of good.

Whatever the “land” of blessing is that God is preparing for me, I know it’s out there. I just have to wait patiently while He shapes me and shapes my future circumstances so that, together, the most can be accomplished for His Kingdom.

Verse 3 said it this way: “Trust in the Lord and do good.”

Simple advice.

Solid advice.

Let’s get at it.

Patiently.

As always, I love you
Martin

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