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Archive for February, 2010

Square pegs and round holes aren’t a good match.

I learned this when I was a pre-schooler playing with those wooden, multi-colored toy sets that you played with, too, I’m sure.

Only one of the wooden cut-out pieces would fit through the complementary hole in the rectangular board.

When you are 2 years old, it takes a while to figure out which piece fits where.

But by the time your age has doubled to 4, you’re an old salt at such elementary things and you can put the right pegs in the right hole just as fast as you can pick them up.

It’s because you’ve learned what works where.

If only our knack for handling square pegs and round holes were as successful in all the realms of our faith.

It’s true that we generally know how to sit in church without embarrassing ourselves. And we know how to bow our heads in prayer along with everybody else in a home Bible study.

But what about those times when the Holy Spirit or our church leaders are calling us to do more than simply exist in faith but instead to exclaim our faith?

Do our brains slow down or even lock up?

When we’re called to explain the gospel to people or even to invite them to accept the gospel, have we ever appeared as the toddler who had never seen the wooden pegs/shaped holes toy?

If your Christian life is anything like mine, there have been times when you felt like a child with a beloved, cherished square peg in one hand and an unfamiliar board with a round hole in the other hand.

You and I felt as though we were trying to mix oil and water and we knew going in that it wasn’t going to succeed.

It turned out that we were right.

It wasn’t God’s fault.

And it wasn’t the fault of the person to whom we were speaking.

It was our fault.

We didn’t do enough praying to God or enough listening to the prospect or enough studying of the Word or enough conferring with Christians more experienced than we.

At such times, I was trying to put my square peg of faith — my history, my culture, my values, my understandings of the Bible — into the round hole of another person’s life.

When I learned that Christ’s love and sovereignty and power and grace transcends my experience, my culture, my values and my knowledge, then the light bulb came on evangelistically.

I realized that Christ wants to fill the hole in every soul’s heart crafted into it at conception.

That hole, however, is shaped according to that person’s life situation, purpose for God and past experience with God, whether distant or near.

Jesus offered one path of Truth to salvation but He did so in all sorts of settings with all sorts of people and all sorts of conversations.

What mattered was that they embraced and worshiped the Christ of the gospel, not the presentation technique for how they were introduced to Him.

Why this topic today?

The One-Year Bible reading for today included the following text:

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22)

It is absolutely true that the unsaved or backslidden person in your life needs to see the love of God in your actions and hear the Truths of God in your words.

Your choice of “wine” in sharing the things above, however, will have a bearing on how your actions and words are received.

Pray for discernment of the “new wineskin” parts of the unsaved or backslidden person’s life. That way, your love and words can be expressed and expanded by the Holy Spirit in new ways that fill their hearts and minds with refreshment.

Don’t presume the square peg of gospel presentations that worked for you 30 years ago will automatically fit into the round hole punctured into somebody else’s life by the redemptive call of God.

Instead, pray that God will inspire and instruct your heart to learn that person’s life situation, past experiences with God, their culture and their fears.

Your new wine of adapted, ancient truths will likely find a receptive heart open to growth rather than a closed heart fearful of change that calls them to stretch.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It’s much easier to claim the Christian faith than it is to display the Christian faith.

That’s why my heart is moved to a much deeper extent when I see the fruits of faith demonstrated by people whose hearts, minds and souls have been transformed by the presence of Christ in their lives.

I’m reminded of the movie Jerry Maguire (1996) within which the fictional pro football star shouted “Show me the money!” during contract negotiations. The football player was tired of hearing hypothetical talk about possible salary amounts and decided it was time for the team owners to show proof of their faith in his abilities.

Yes, we observe that talk is cheap sometimes.

Including in the domain of faith.

You and I have both been guilty of cheap talk on occasion.

I thank God that I have never seen cheap talk in the life of Jesus.

In fact, Jesus very clearly in the pages of scripture demonstrates the opposite.

When He speaks, His words are rich with meaning and power delivered through Him by His Father in heaven.

And when He speaks then acts, His mission is multiplied in amazing ways that provide tangible, memorable affirmations of His faith and His sovereignty.

My time in the One-Year Bible this morning reminded me of the above in a rich fashion.

Jesus knew that some people — particularly His critics — saw His talk as cheap when He forgave the sins of a crippled man brought to Him by four of the man’s friends.

Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” some of cynic-minded teachers of the law were thinking.

Ironic, huh? Men skilled in cheap talk with fancy words flooding their minds with skepticism and scorn toward the One who used simple words to convey rich truths.

Please follow closely the words of Mark 2:8-11:

Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and He said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”

He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take you mat and go home.’

He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (NIV)

It’s a great story, of course.

Jesus is the perfect example of how words of faith are backed up by deeds of faith.

There was no cheap talk in Jesus’ life.

And there is to be no cheap talk in our lives.

It’s easy to say that we have forgiven others, particulary when around other believers.

It’s not so easy to actually do so and then continue to live in ways that show our forgiveness is more than just talk.

Dear friend, God wants to funnel His power through your life in ways that bring glory to Him and His grace into the lives of others.

Be a vessel of Truth. Speak the words of scripture. Proclaim the promises of the Bible into the lives of others.

Realize, though, that some people will see your Christian words as cheap talk unless you invite God to confirm your faith through rich deeds that unmistakably demonstrate real faith.

Forgiving people who have deeply wounded you just might be the most telling way to show a supernatural trust in God’s empowering help.

God was greatly praised when the lame man received forgiveness and the restoration to a life of normalcy.

And God will be praised when you forgive people and they — and you — can get on with life no longer crippled by sin and separation from one another.

As always, I love you
Martin

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When I read Isaiah’s words this morning about the one preparing the way for the Messiah, recorded in Mark 1:2-3, I saw you and I saw me.

Yes, it’s true that the Old Testament prophet was thinking about the servant of God who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the desert. ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.'”

We know that John the Baptist was absolutely faithful to his calling to break up the soil of hearts that had become complacent because of unconfronted sin and neglected relationships with God.

Because John did what he was called to do, his Messiah/cousin was better able to plant the seeds of divine Truth and love into hearts introduced to the fact that everybody sins and needs a Savior.

Here’s where you and I come in to this Morning Devotion.

Because John was faithful to his “prepare the way” calling, many unsaved hearts were more ready to hear and receive Jesus’ message of salvation.

That same synergy between faithful believers, the unsaved and Jesus Christ is still relevant today.

There are people in your life who need salvation, just as there are in mine.

They need someone to prepare the way for Jesus to have greater influence in their lives.

Without someone to ask the questions that get them thinking about their dead-end paths, these people might continue through life with the blinded view that life without Jesus is just fine and that faithfulness is OK for others but not necessary.

You know people who never considered accepting Christ until someone asked them questions about life they had never heard.

Questions such as these:

  • If heaven is perfect, then how can imperfect people ever get in?”
  • “It’s not a clear conscience that saves, but instead a clear record for an entire life. For the person who sinned even once, is there no hope of salvation?

Questions like these don’t knock people to their knees and leave them crying out, “Jesus save me!”

The questions can, however, get them to see the holes in their world view and the empty corners of their hearts that no human or object can fill.

I’m glad that God doesn’t ask me to put on a camel hair robe and eat locusts in order to be the guy preparing the way for Jesus’ Truth and love to get into others’ hearts.

What He DOES ask, though, is that I understand my role in the salvation of others.

I am to prepare the way for Christ.

I am to go into what sometimes seems as a desert of faith.

Sometimes it is a desert of where it seems there is not even a puddle of concern in lost person’s life for the things of God.

Or sometimes it is a desert of my faith where I feel spiritually parched and gasping.

In those deserts, God will supply for my thirst.

And my life example of godly love might prompt a puddle or two in the lost person’s heart.

If I remain faithful as a messenger of love calling people to a better way, some will come to the oasis to taste the Living Water.

Dear friend, Jesus loves those unsaved friends and relatives in your life.

And He needs you to prepare the way.

He needs you to call out to them, particularly when they are having their “desert” seasons.

He needs you to walk the straight and narrow path so that others will get a glimpse of the path they will walk after they walk into the loving arms of Christ.

Prepare the way for Jesus, my friend.

Lives can be changed forever if you will.

As always, I love you
Martin

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When life is filled with drama and disappointment, it’s not easy to be at your best.

When others reject you or what is important to you, it’s tempting to do the same to them.

“Crass” sometimes pushes to replace the class you’re called to display.

For most of us, this doesn’t happen much. Thank God.

It only takes one lapse into the trap of getting even, though, before we realize the folly of being ruled by flesh rather than by faith.

I thank God that we serve a heavenly Father who has never slipped into the slop of ego-terrorism.

I was reminded of this holy fact today when reading Exodus 34 from the One-Year Bible.

Moses had been called back onto the top of Mt. Sinai in order to receive a new copy of the 10 Commandments and a new dose of inspiration from Jehovah.

You’ll recall that the earlier copy was smashed to pieces by Moses when he came off the mountain and saw the Israelites acting like drunken college students at a wild toga party staged to worship the team’s golden mascot.

Moses was disgusted, lost his temper and threw the God-inscribed stone tablets down with such force that they shattered into fragments.

But then the season of rage and punishment by death for 3,000 of the worst sinners was replaced by a time for starting over by God, by Moses and eventually by all of Israel.

Against this backdrop, what I read today was amazing yet not surprising.

Get this.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him (Moses) and proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (vv. 5-7a).

Wow.

God had just watched the ridiculous rebellion of the people He miraculously delivered.

Though He cleaned house with respect to some of the sinners, the vast majority was spared the destruction they deserved.

God’s heart had to have been deeply wounded by how His children treated Him.

Yet, at the very beginning of His next meeting on the mountain with Moses, God revealed the core of His heart.

Yes, He is mighty. And, yes, He is holy and won’t be mocked as the words following the above passage clearly show.

However, the text above shows God’s essence to be good and kind and nurturing and personal.

Remember, He is a perfect Daddy.

He is my perfect role model and I hope He fills that same role for you, whether you’re a dad or mom or aunt or uncle or grandparent or caring adult mentor.

People mess up. You mess up. I mess up.

We need a God who is compassionate.

A gracious God.

A God who is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

A God who maintains love to thousands.

A God who forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.

A God who wants to be with us.

So do the people in our lives.

Please help them see God’s heart reflected in how you treat them.

Especially your family.

Even when others disappoint you, make sure they see that you are compassionate.

That you are gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Be the poster child for faithfulness.

A believer who maintains love to thousands.

A believer who forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.

A believer who wants to be with people despite their imperfections.

Just like the God who wants to be with you and with me.

As always, I love you
Martin

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I’m fully aware of the fact that Moses wasn’t a perfect servant of God.

He had a temper problem that nearly cost him his life in Egypt and later cost him the privilege of entering the Promised Land.

He was a procrastinator who initially kept putting off God’s call to lead Israel with one excuse after another. That same character flaw nearly led to his death when he ignored God’s command to circumcise his son.

He had workaholic tendencies that were prompting him to approach burn-out because — for a time — he wouldn’t delegate leadership responsibilities to capable men under his authority.

God patiently led Moses through these seasons of imperfection, however. The result was the successful mission of leading the people of Israel from Egypt through the wilderness and to the brink of the Promised Land.

Moses knew he wasn’t perfect, I’m sure.

He knew that if the purposes of God were to be accomplished in his life, then he needed the Presence of God within his life.

The people today who accomplish much for God are those who tightly embrace this truth.

I want to accomplish more for God than I have.

That means that I need the Presence of God more in my life than I’ve had.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t loved God or served God or pleased God.

Instead, it means that I recognize Satan’s continual adding to the challenges I face in my personal life and in my ministry life.

That being the case, I need to keep adding room in my heart for God’s Presence so that I can know that He that is within me is greater than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).

A passage from today’s One-Year Bible reading prompted this Morning Devotion. In Exodus 33, Moses tells God that the job of leading the stiff-necked Israelites was too much of a hassle for him to do it alone through his own mass-management strategies.

Then Moses cuts to the chase.

If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).

Moses was at his strongest as a leader when he remembered that success came from God’s strength, not his own.

Moses knew that the challenge before him would only be accomplished if God were providing not only the purpose, but also the power IN PERSON.

Simply put, Moses knew that he needed divine help if his mission were to be accomplished.

He needed God’s leading for going the right direction.

He needed God’s protection for times when the enemy was strong.

He needed God’s forgiveness for times when he dropped the ball.

He needed God’s provision when he ran out of bright ideas on how to feed hunger and satisfy thirsts.

Without God’s help, Moses would be like so many other leaders of nations around him who were famous for a time and then disappeared without a lasting, world-changing legacy.

Without God’s help, the Old Testament’s greatest appointment with blessing would become the Old Testament’s greatest disappointment of missed blessing.

Like I said, Moses wasn’t perfect. That’s why I’m SO grateful that Moses thirsted so deeply with the Sovereign Lord who was, and is, and always will be perfect.

That’s why it is essential that I learn from Moses’ words in Exodus 33:15-16. My ability to move forward in ministry leadership will hinge on my embracing of Moses’ plea.

Join with me in humbly offering this prayer to God when you face challenges in life such as a looming career change, an upcoming marriage, the birth of a child, a geographical relocation, a new volunteer role in a congregation or a Christ-glorifying effort to lead a friend to salvation:

If your Presence does not go with me, do not send me up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me unless you go with me? What else will distinguish me from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

Believers can’t do what God wants on their own strength. For how would that bring glory to God?

Let’s learn what Moses learned. More good will be accomplished for God as we do.

And the world will realize that there is something different about how and why we live.

As always, I love you
Martin

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God saw it all.

And He was heartbroken, I’m sure.

He saw the men in religious garb spit in Jesus’ face as if He were some filthy ditch.

He saw them punch Jesus with their fists as if He were a midnight assailant breaking into their homes.

God saw them slap Jesus.

And He saw them mock the Preacher/Shepherd sent to save those now bent on destroying the Messiah they rejected.

Matthew 26:67-68 is a tragic passage.

For it describes the power of corrupted rage that was physically directed at Jesus, but which ultimately, I believe, was directed toward God the Father.

God knew that this abuse of His Son was really a message to the throne room of heaven.

Keep Your hands off of our property!” the Sanhedrin was saying in a very tactile way.

We’re in charge and no street preacher is going to take our place, even if He can do miracles that are impossible without divine help,” they seemed to be saying.

Amazingly, God still loved those who hated His Son.

Even more amazing, Jesus still loved those who were aggressively venting their hatred toward Him.

Later, while anguishing in crucifixion pain beyond that we can imagine, pain triggered by these enraged clerics, Jesus asked God to forgive them.

Wow.

Why did God allow this unrighteous treatment of His righteous Son to carry on so long and even lead to the cruelest of deaths?

Because God loves, that’s why.

He loves sinners and wants them to find salvation in a relationship with the One who died on the cross for them.

God knew that the loving mercy that could provide salvation HAD to be stronger than the sinful selfishness that destroys souls.

To be the Savior, Jesus had to take the worst that Satan could dish out, yet still show the love of God to be stronger than the hatred of man.

I’m very glad that the early converts to Christianity in the 1st Century church included some priests and even some Sanhedrin members.

Thank God that Jesus chose to love them even when they were hating Him.

Father, forgive them….”

Dear friend, if you are a Christian now, please thank God that He didn’t reject you when you had rejected Him earlier in your life.

Please rejoice that God saw all your foolishness and “It’s MY life” denial of Christ’s authority yet He still continued loving you, desiring your soul and offering the sacrificial blood of His Son to cleanse you of sin.

God has seen every one of your sins, just as He has seen mine. And He still does.

They break His heart.

But they don’t break His promises.

But God demonstrates His love for us in this: for while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

We serve an incredible God who has incredible patience rooted in an incredible love.

We’re offered an incredible promise.

Please live in a way that brings joy to God’s heart, not the opposite.

It will make His task of loving you SO much more pleasing to Him during this life and SO much more rewarding for you in the next life.

Oh, and one other thing…. just as God forgave us after we’ve broken His heart, so are we to forgive others after they have broken our hearts.

It’s the right thing to do.

As always, I love you
Martin

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My heart was deeply moved by what I read today in the One-Year Bible.

When Peter said to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35), he had no intention of allowing his self-will to trump God’s will.

His intentions changed very rapidly, though, when it became clear that choosing Jesus meant choosing the harder road.

When push came to shove, Peter ran from his Savior.

His promise changed from holy to hollow.

Fear replaced faith.

And denial replaced determination.

It is one of the most tragic sequences in scripture, this episode recounting Peter’s denials of Christ.

What Peter did was terrible.

So why are we so drawn to reading about it and reflecting on it?

It’s because we all, in one way or another, have done the very same thing.

Not with the same scope of consequences for the Kingdom of God, but with the same sort of consequences for ourselves.

We claimed boldness for Christ and that we’d stand with Him at all times and in all circumstances.

But along came the threat of rejection or retaliation from those we valued but who didn’t value Jesus.

Or it was the threat of harm from people at work who could make our jobs miserable or even cause the paycheck to disappear.

It might have been the threat from a spouse who issued an ultimatum that we choose between his or her worldly values and the sanctified values of God.

It might have even been the threat of losing that opportunity for romance or for riches that we’d dreamed about for SO long and now, if we stayed faithful to Jesus, there would be no Carpe diem (“Seize the day”) for us.

We didn’t want to be at that intersection and yet there we were.

Blindly, we chose the path away from Jesus because we valued the world’s promises more than Christ’s.

Simply put, we sinned because we exchanged the Truth of God for a lie.

Our fears replaced our faith.

And it was tragic.

Amazingly, the same Jesus who continued loving Peter throughout this sequence of sin and shame — even to the point of dying for him on the cross — is the Jesus who loves us during our sequences of sin and shame.

In those moments when we fear the consequences of standing with Jesus, He still loves us.

In those moments when we said things that contradicted our prior confession of faith, He recalled the pain on the cross suffered in advance for our sin, yet He STILL loved us and interceded with the Father to send the Spirit to convict our hearts toward change.

When we were broken by guilt and shame and doubting as to how could Jesus still love us, the Holy Spirit brought us word that Jesus would not only forgive us if we returned to Him, but that He would restore us to the ministry of serving Him.

The story of Peter’s failure and restoration is our story of failure and restoration.

Over and over again.

Dear friend, Jesus is the only hope you have for turning tragedy into triumph, for turning a hollow life into a holy life.

Please make sure that you’ve confessed Jesus as your personal Savior, both before AND after your failure.

As always, I love you
Martin

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