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Archive for May, 2010

To hear this Morning Devotion, please click Learning from others’ mistakes

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King Saul had a number of bad days, the Bible shows.

But two days stands out as the worst.

Those days, recorded in I Samuel 15, were an absolute disaster.

By the time the second day was over, Saul had lost his place as the patriarch of a royal lineage.

Had he been an obedient servant of God, he would have had the place in biblical history that instead was given to King David, the forefather of the Messiah.

But Saul was obsessed with self-affirmation rather than surrendered loyalty to God.

You know the story of David’s selection, so I’ll forgo recounting that story.

Perhaps you’ve forgotten, however, all the bad choices made by Saul on the worst two days of his life so let me give you a quick recap.

Samuel was sent by God to Saul with the order that Israel’s army should wipe out the Amalekites in return for how, more than three centuries earlier, the Amalekites tried to destroy the Israelites. Saul took the army to Amalek, all right, and all the Amalekites were killed except for their king, Agag.

Apparently, Saul liked the idea of keeping a conquered king around as a trophy for how good of a king/warrior he, Saul, was.

The choice was clearly rooted in an “I want this for me” mentality.

That was big mistake #1 on Day 1.

Then Saul allowed his troops to keep a bunch of the choice plunder and livestock pillaged from the Amalekites. We’re talking the really good stuff.

Yes, the garage sale, used stuff was likely burned in a mock sacrificial pyre. But the unsanctified troops thought it would be a waste of good stuff to destroy ALL of it like God commanded.

That’s why a bunch of it made into the soldier’s tents and possession bags with only a portion of the very finest being set aside for sacrifice. Yes, God had said sacrifice it all but Saul and the troops edited God’s command for the sake of personal financial gain.

That was big mistake #2 for Day 1.

After the big victory over an arch rival, Saul was feeling very good about himself and wanted everybody to know just how special he was. So he went to Carmel and built a monument in his own honor so that people would always remember how lucky they were to have him as king.

Talk about rampant pride!

That was big mistake #3 for Day 1.

These choices burned the last bit of patience God had with Saul.

Samuel tracked Saul down and, despite hearing multiple rationalizations from the carnal commander, Samuel told him that “to obey is better than sacrifice” and that his rejection of the Lord’s authority had resulted in God’s rejection of Saul as the anointed king.

It was more than Saul could take. As Samuel turned to leave, the pleading, kneeling Saul grabbed the prophet’s robe so harshly in order to restrain Samuel that it tore the hem.

That was big mistake #4.

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors — to one better than you,” Samuel told Saul.

Wow. That which Saul so desperately wanted to keep for his own affirmation had been forfeited to another because of his own pride and disobedience.

Here’s the wrap-up, my friend. Reject the place of pride in your life. It is an addictive drug that will demand more and more compromise and rejection of God’s authority over your life. Learn from the worst two days of Saul’s life. Avoid his mistakes. God will be pleased and your place in His service will established forever.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click here

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We’ve all had those occasions when we should have checked our facts about someone before jumping to conclusions about him or her.

It’s called doing your homework.

I spent many years as a journalist and it was crucial to do my homework before publishing articles about a person or group.

For if I had printed only hearsay without checking out the verbal stories and document reliability, I would have been shown the exit early on in my career.

Credibility is the fruit of accuracy in most settings.

If only such had been the standard among the religious leaders in Israel during the time of Christ.

An interesting fact was included in today’s One-Year Bible reading from John 7:52. I won’t describe the entire sequence leading up to the verse, but I will observe that the religious leaders clearly had allowed their hatred toward Jesus to cloud their judgment and concern for accuracy.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who secretly was an admirer of Christ, had disagreed with a plan to have Jesus arrested and dragged before the Sanhedrin ruling council. Nicodemus said the Jewish law prohibited somebody being convicted of an offense unless there were a trial.

The rest of the Pharisees didn’t take well to Nicodemus’ comments.

“They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (verse 52).

Hmmmm…….

So that’s their so-called “smoking gun” of evidence that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? That Jesus was from Galilee and therefore could not be from the kingly line of David?

Wow. It’s hard to fathom that these big shots wouldn’t do a better job with their homework on this guy who was so thoroughly disrupting their apple carts of religious/political control.

Even if they didn’t want to send out private investigators to check His qualifications, the Pharisees could have simply asked Jesus to explain His genealogical and geographical connection to King David.

That would have quickly and resoundingly checked the box regarding their question above.

But they didn’t.

How sad.

I’m reminded of what I sometimes encountered as a journalist and what you encounter from time to time — that there are a number of people in this world who don’t let facts get in the way of a personal agenda.

Nearly all of the Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat and they hated Him. They wanted Him to lose influence and if it meant “skipping the homework,” then so be it.

I pray that you don’t fall into this same sort of trap regarding people who you perceive as threats to your career agenda or marital status or church influence.

You and I both know how easy Satan can make it to undercut people by means of self-serving mental laziness.

Pledge to treat people at home, at work, at church or at school according to facts that check out rather than suppositions that are cooked up by you or others.

You’ll save a lot of grief from coming into the lives of the people that Satan wanted you to trash.

You’ll also save yourself a bunch of headaches — in this life and the next — that come with later having to admit you were wrong about your information and your motives.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click A harvest of refreshment

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Gossip destroys.

Kind words restore.

It’s that simple.

As I read, re-read and read again this morning the words of Proverbs 15:4, I could not get the above contrasts out of my mind.

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit”

Countless times in my life I have seen examples of both.

You have, too.

It breaks my heart to see decent people wounded by others’ lies or gossip, whether at the workplace, at school, at church or even among extended family.

It’s true that those engaging in lies or gossip will rarely acknowledge their moments of darkheartedness, yet the fruit of their lips is unmistakable.

You’ve seen such on occasion, and have been the target of such behavior at some points in your life such as when a certain group at church started avoiding you before or after worship services.

I’m glad that you recognize the poison of words that tear down others rather than build them up.

I’m glad that you aspire toward having a kind heart that overflows with words of healing as if it were a tree of life.

There are already plenty of people who savor the ego-massaging strategy of cutting others down. The last thing this world needs is one more schemer or gossiper.

You remember how good you felt when someone close to you made a concerted effort to bring healing to your spirit by means of kind, affirming words. Particularly those shared in your home or at your church.

It was a wonderful boost to your sense of well-being.

You actually felt more alive because someone wanted to affirm your value in the lives of others.

You found yourself enjoying again your role as a spouse or as a parent or as a child or as an employee or as a church member or as a sibling or whatever.

When people encourage us, we draw life from the relationship and we can pour our lives back into the relationship.

Deceitful words and gossiping words drain the life from us, however, as if an axe swung by an enemy had ruptured our hearts.

Please make intentional efforts today to bring healing to a wounded heart.

If you examine the people in your life closely enough, you’ll find somebody who is really hurting and who needs the kind words that will produce in them a harvest of refreshment.

And if you encounter someone today who is crushing the spirits of others via lies and gossip, please offer healing words to him or to her. It might not be easy to do, but it will be one of the most important things you’ll do for God all week.

That gift of unmerited kindness just might plant a seed of truth that grows over time into a transformed-by-God tree of life.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click King of the baggage
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I saw a pathetic picture in today’s One-Year Bible reading that included I Samuel 10.

Briefly stated, Saul the son of Kish had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be Israel’s first king. You’ll recall that God and Samuel had repeatedly told the Israelites that craving a king was an indictment of their weak faith in God.

Israel didn’t pay attention to what she was told and demanded a king like the other nations had. You see, an earthly king was something they could see. And for a people thinking little about God, having something tangible was very important.

Samuel said they would live to regret the choice since it showed their lack of trust in God.

Israel suffered much with numerous lousy kings until the arrival of Jesus Christ, in fact.

Saul’s life would have been much better long-term if he also hadn’t fallen into the trap of wanting a king for the nation. Yet Satan is so good at painting lies as the better path than God’s truth.

But then, as they eventually always do, the wheels of those lies fell off before Saul’s kingship even left the showroom floor.

In one of the most ridiculous pictures in the Bible, Saul — the Benjamite who was a head taller than any other Israelite — ran and hid when it came time for him to be proclaimed king in front of the national assembly.

“When they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, ‘Has the man come here yet?’

“And the Lord said, ‘Yes, he has hidden himself in the baggage.'” (verse 22).

Some men ran to the baggage pile and pulled the chicken-hearted Saul out.

Moments later, the assembly was shouting, “Long live the king!”

Crazy, huh?

It’s easy to criticize Saul and the Israelites. Both were foolish.

This story, however, triggers a question that we should ask ourselves — how do we act when we realize that we’re called by God to serve in an important role yet we’re afraid of failure?

Rather than run to God in prayer in search of wisdom and strength, Saul chose to run and hide.

It would have been so much better for Saul to stand before the people to concede his fears and inexperience, yet declare his faith in God and trust that God would pour power and wisdom into him.

But Saul’s twisted pride pointed him toward the baggage pile.

Even when he was brought out of the baggage pile, Saul still had the opportunity to rescue some sense of godliness.

He could have admitted his fears and the role of pride and his renewed trust in God’s grace.

He could have sought forgiveness for not demonstrating the example of faithfulness needed in a king.

He would have built bridges with so many people who had failed in their own lives.

But he didn’t.

His life didn’t turn out well, the Bible shows.

Why? Because he never learned from his mistake of trusting the baggage pile to protect him.

Dear friend, we’re all going to have those moments when we doubt God’s choice and power to use us in a church role or evangelistic effort toward a relative/co-worker and we hide behind our baggage.

When the leading of the Lord pulls you from the baggage of past regrets and scars and mistakes, concede your fears that pointed you toward the baggage rather than toward the place God called you.

Remember that God can do great things with people pulled from the baggage of their lives, people like Adam, people like Rahab, people like Moses, people like Peter, like Paul and like John Newton, the slave trader-turned-preacher who wrote “Amazing Grace.”

Life is so much better serving in the strength of God rather than hiding in the baggage of our past.

Stand tall in faith, my friend. The God who knew your weaknesses when He called you to serve Him will not leave you to rely on your own strength. His call ALWAYS comes with His strengthening for the sake of His glory.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click A dangerous trap

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It is one of the most dangerous traps that we Christians face.

Its lethalness is veiled by our innate desire to experience the supernatural.

What am I talking about? So many people fall prey to the religious quicksand of a “Wow! Got any other tricks?” mentality.

Truth be told, we’ve all wandered at times into the mindset of attaching our measure of faith in God to the measure of His supernatural demonstrations of material provision, of physical healing, of restoring emotionally scarred relationships, of ex-jock strong guys ripping phone books in half while preaching, etc..

Such moments are magnificent and often thrilling.

Such moments also carry the risk of becoming pre-conditions of our loyalty to Christ.

Of course, few believers would acknowledge having a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude toward Christ.

For such an attitude is the epitome of selfishness and borders on self-worship.

Yet, if our loyalty to faith ebbs and flows based on what’s in our spiritual cupboards or of what’s happening up on the platform, then aren’t we as immature children with worship based not on who God is but instead on what we possess?

Of course, we know better.

And as we worship and serve God because of His holiness and majesty rather than because of the latest show of power, then our faith is where it needs to be.

You’ll recall that one of the most faithful givers in the Bible was a poor widow who gave two pennies at the temple.

Jesus affirmed her because she worshipped passionately without respect to supernaturally supplied earthly blessings.

It’s such a powerful picture for us that should become a permeating presence in our faith.

I share this topic today because of what I read in the One-Year Bible from John 6. Jesus had one day earlier miraculously fed thousands of people from a kid’s lunch basket. It was amazing. The next day, the crowds tracked Him down on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee and asked Jesus to tell them what works of life that God requires (verse 28).

Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

How did these people respond to Jesus? Remember they had just seen Him feed thousands and thousands of people from a single basket lunch.

They said they needed another miraculous sign in order to believe Jesus was divine. After all, they said, their ancestors were given manna in the desert.

“What will you do?” they asked Jesus.

Tragically, this episode ended with a number of people rejecting Jesus as the Messiah as they grumbled about His being a local kid from parents they knew.

Why did they grumble and reject Jesus? Because He wouldn’t put on another show for them.

I trust that your faith is not of the “What have you done for me lately?” variety.

The fact is that the gift of salvation that became ours when we confessed Him as Savior with our words and baptism is MORE than enough of a reason to worship and serve God for the rest of our lives, regardless of a single, supernatural blessing coming our way after we chose Christ.

If you’re struggling with faith now because supernatural blessings have been few and far between, please read John 6:22-42. It will help you to put things in the proper perspective, I’m sure.

And remember the poor widow. When she put in her two cents, she also gave us an example that is priceless for preserving our faith.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click Faith in the face of evil
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I’m both amazed and not surprised at how easily some people do evil things to others.

Of course, I understand that everybody has a bad day here and there and we say or do something unkind.

It’s entirely different thing, though, when one maliciously seeks to crush the spirit and plans of somebody else.

That’s evil.

When I see a believer who has faced such torment, or is facing such now, I am stirred to pray for that person and to ask if there is any way that I might help.

It breaks my heart for the one being wounded and it boils my blood toward the one doing the wounding.

Perhaps you have the same reactions when you see evil in action.

Thankfully, a number of believers are able to transcend that evil by means of their deep faith.

They keep their eyes on the Lord and their trust in His will and their hopes for His blessing, no matter what trash the evildoer is talkin’.

I was given this morning a great role model for faith in the face of evil. Her name is Hannah and she’s described in the first chapter of I Samuel. She would later become the mother of the godly prophet whose ministry was foundational to the restoration of Israel from a dysfunctional glob of sinful, confused tribes over to at least a semblance of a unified people.

Hannah provides a wonderful example of keeping one’s eye on the Lord even though Satan is pulling out all the stops via the wicked words of another.

What Hannah faced before she was blessed with the birth of Samuel was horribly hurtful.

Yet, she didn’t allow that hurt to crush her faith.

Long story short? Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and one unnamed by the Bible. The other wife gave birth to several children. Hannah didn’t because she was barren.

It’s bad enough that it was a social scar to be barren in those days, far more so than now.

The other wife made the matter worse by frequent provoking of Hannah in order to irritate her (I Samuel 1:5-6).

The other wife REALLY crossed the line into evil, I believe, when she carried on with the antagonism and intentional wounding whenever Elkanah took the family to church in Shiloh.

The mean-spirited words were constant during the trip to the tabernacle and Hannah would eventually start crying and stop eating.

It’s hard to believe that someone could be so mean, so wicked.

But it happened. And it still does.

To Hannah’s credit, she didn’t quit on her faith just because of the faithlessness of another.

Instead, she pressed into the Lord even more, according to the verses that followed.

I encourage you to read I Samuel 1 in order to gain inspiration from Hannah’s faithfulness and God’s eventual blessing in the face of wickedness.

There are a variety of applications from this account, even if you aren’t facing physical barrenness.

You might be facing some mean-spirited hassles that seem geared toward eroding your faith in God and your desire to attend church.

Don’t give up, my friend. Do all that you can to deny Satan the satisfaction of seeing you do what he wants — to quit on your faith.

Instead, commit yourself — no matter what — to giving God the satisfaction of seeing you do what He wants — to grow even stronger in your faith.

If Hannah could do what she did, then you and I can do what God is calling us to do. We can trust Him and wait patiently on His blessing, no matter how many sticks and stones the enemy throws our way

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click here

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You recall what the scriptures say, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverb 16:18 KJV).

We’ve all had occasions when we elevated ourselves on the flimsy ladder of pride and then fell SPLAT! on the ground because of our false confidence.

Life is much better when we realize that God and His purposes are SO much bigger than us, that we’re as a blade of grass here for a moment and then we’re gone.

Combining that sense of humility with the knowledge that God loves us so deeply is the key, I’m convinced, to having a balanced, humble, productive life for the Kingdom.

This view was reinforced in my mind and heart this morning when I read John 4:43-54.  Jesus was visiting Cana in Galilee, the site of His first miracle, when a royal official from King Herod’s administration came to Him with a desperate plea.

The official’s son was dying and he was convinced that the only hope for healing rested with Jesus.

Rather than snapping His fingers in order to instantly get the child out playing kickball, however, Jesus said something surprising to the heartbroken father.

Actually, one could argue that it was cold-hearted.

Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe,” Jesus told the father.

Some dads might have gotten ticked off at this street preacher’s “in your face” display of bluntness.

The official, however, suppressed any sense of offense that might have inflated his pride and clogged his ears.

Why?  Because the needs of his child were far more important that the pseudo-need of his ego.

Sir, come down before my child dies,” the official said.

“You may go. Your son will live,” Jesus said.

The man believed Jesus and left. He wasn’t even home yet when his servants ran to him with the news that the boy was healed. Further inquiry showed the healing occurred at the exact time Jesus spoke it into being.

Wow.

It’s amazing to see what humility can accrue to the benefit of those who possess it.

Pride in the father’s heart would have blocked the child’s healing.

His humility, though, was the bridge between God’s power and the child’s need.

Now that’s a lesson we can take to the bank.

Satan doesn’t want us to believe this, of course.

And he CERTAINLY doesn’t want us to apply it.

But he’s not your boss.

Please don’t treat him like one.

Listen, pride is not your friend.

Humility is.

And it’s the friend of your loved ones and friends who need your intercession with Jesus.

When you have some special person in need, you need to go to the Lord and beg for help.

It’s true that you might not like it when the Holy Spirit convicts your heart about the sin in your life.

But taking those shots to your pride is a small price to pay in return for the outpouring of sustaining or even healing power that might flow into the life of your loved one.

Please don’t let your wounded pride get in the way of your fervent prayers to God for a loved one’s healing or your weekly attendance at church for your kids’ spiritual strengthening.

In eternity, it won’t matter who wounded your ego.

It WILL matter, though, if you allowed that wounded ego to keep you from going to the Lord for the help that your loved one needed.

As always, I love you
Martin

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