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Archive for July, 2010

I’ve had a number of productivity challenges today. Rather than ignore my early morning pledge to send out a devotion, I am sharing a devotion from last year. It’s ironic that this was the one selected out of all that have been prepared. Why? Because of what our Tuesday men’s Bible study group shared this morning regarding the Assyrian empire around 600 B.C.

Ezekial 31:10-11 records that God ordained the destruction of the Assyrian empire, including these words: “because it was proud of its height, I handed it over to the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness.”

There is never a suitable time for lacking humility. We are ALWAYS far short of God’s glory and in great need for His grace. That’s why circumstances compelling us to run toward God are not our enemies, but actually our servants.———————

It’s important to remember that we are the clay, not the potter.

We are the tool, not the toolmaker.

Applying this principle, of course, tugs hard at the prideful thread woven by sin into our lives to one extent or another.

Even the strongest of believers must be vigilant to resist the trap of puffed-up opinions of self.

Yes, we have all sorts of reminders through the weeks that we’re not perfect.

We might lose our status with some people because we don’t speak flawlessly about this or that.

We might lose our self-confidence for a bit because we can’t remember where we placed that important file folder or even where we put the car keys.

We might even lose our dignity when we act out of covetous anger toward a co-worker or relative who is being praised by others because of a new, exciting job or a new, cutting-edge vehicle.

Even with these shots to one’s pride, so many people still cling to an inflated view of self.

“I’m SO cool, even if nobody else thinks so,” sounds foolish alright, except to the one who feels this way about himself or herself.

Yet, we Christians must never think that we’re immune to “self” inflation.

Even the Apostle Paul realized that pride threatens everybody. That’s why he learned to appreciate the thorn in the flesh allowed by God for the purpose of tormenting him.

God didn’t desire Paul’s suffering, but He also knew that without that “buffeting by Satan,” Paul might become prideful and ineffective for the Gospel.

It’s heady stuff when your preaching leads big shot politicians, business leaders and military types to renounce paganism and proclaim Christ.

And what about all those times when Paul took the worst physical abuse possible and still didn’t cave into demands that he bow to Caesar?

Talk about Christian chest-thumpin’ stuff…..

Paul remembered that he was once a scummy enemy of Christ and that he periodically still sinned against Christ in wretched ways (Romans 7:14-8:2).

That’s why Paul rejoiced in his sufferings — they kept him humble.

They prodded him toward the sustaining grace of God.

The sufferings reminded Paul that his hope for deliverance rested on the power and place of God, not himself.

That’s why Paul consistently gave credit to God for whatever good was done in ministry.

That’s why Paul constantly prayed for strength and wisdom to precisely pursue the work of the Gospel.

And so should we.

The One-Year Bible contains a vivid reminder of why we Christians should never think too highly of ourselves.

“Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it?”

“As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood!” (Isaiah 10:15)

You and I are the clay, not the potter.

The tools, not the toolmaker.

Rejoice when God chooses to use you as a tool for ministry at your workplace or home or church or school.

Rejoice, too, when He places you on the potter’s wheel of trials in order to shape you into a better vessel of love or into the toolmaker’s furnace to remove the dross of strength-weakening selfishness.

It’s about serving Him and serving “them.”

It’s not about us.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click Who doesn’t want more love?

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It is great to read of how God has arranged to pour more love into my life.

I certainly need more of His love filling me and spilling out of me.

You see, I have learned over the years that I am not capable on my own of being a fountain of godliness.

I am never going to be good enough to keep my soul, or the souls of others, refreshed in a meaningful way.

If I am not being filled by Him, I become a small pond that relies on the random rain clouds of good circumstances and my random good deeds in order to have any “Living water” within me.

It is so much better to be spring-fed than to be dependent on such clouds that are too erratic in their appearing.

Spring-fed as in the springs of Living Water that Jesus described to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14.

Which water supply do you think would be of more interest to the people who watch my life? A flowing spring? Or a sometimes-murky pond?

You get the point.

I was stirred to write the above after reading from Romans 5:1-5 yesterday morning in the One-Year Bible. After reminding us that we have access to God’s peace through faith, the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to rejoice in all situations because of the hope for heaven that we have as believers.

Rejoice in sufferings because they produce perseverance.

Rejoice in perseverance because it produces character.

Rejoice in character because it produces hope.

And rejoice in hope because it DOES NOT disappoint.

Why? “Because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (verse 5).

I don’t believe Paul was referring to a one-shot dispensation whereby someone is baptized into Christ, receives a Holy Spirit “download” and then goes through the rest of his or her time on earth rationing out the use of the Holy Spirit’s quota in his or her life.

Instead, I believe the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives — as a personal, empowering gift from God — provides an ONGOING, tangible fountain in our minds, hearts and souls that reassure us the God exists, loves, oversees, empowers, forgives, restores and that He does all these things and more for His faithful.

Notice something significant about verse 5.

Paul wrote “poured,” not dripped or sprinkled.

There is nothing chintzy about this promise of God.

It is the offer of abundance.

Given with generosity so that the Person and love and purposes of God might flow through us into other lives.

The only way that I can receive an increasing measure of refreshing inspiration and empowerment from God is to pour what I’ve already received into the lives of others.

This is an assessment that I need to make daily. Am I passing onto others what the Holy Spirit is pouring into me from the Father above?

If I’m not passing on the “pouring in,” what am I becoming?

A pond.

This is not His plan.

Whatever has dammed up your stream of personal ministry to others, break apart the logjam.

Forgive others if that’s what is blocking the flow. Repent of materialistic selfishness if that is blocking the flow. Move the computer into the family room if that’s what is needed to keep the screen clear of Spirit-quenching filth.

And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all for the glory of God” (Colossians 3:17).

Pull out the logs. And then pray that God pours on the love.

That way, as others see how God’s love helps you convert suffering into hope, they will see in a tangible form of how God can pour the love into their lives.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click   Who will show them?

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On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten lost while driving through unfamiliar cities.

It rarely happens now, thanks to computer printout maps and cell phones, but it used to happen every few years when I’d take the family on vacation.

At such times, I was SO glad to find somebody willing to give me directions to our destination.

You know the emotional relief when you know you’re finally headed in the right direction.

Even before you arrive, you feel a sense of peace because of the progress being made.

And you hopefully have prayed that God would send a blessing into the life of the person who helped you.

Some of you found Christ after wandering around like a lost puppy for years of your adulthood.

Oh, you’d find a chow bowl of satisfaction every now and then for your flesh or for your mind.

But a chow bowl and “home” are totally different things.

Then along came a person who decided to help you get home, to get back to the God who created you and who longs for a “loving Master” relationship with you.

That person was a vessel of God to not only serve as a connection to your spirit but also to give you direction toward God.

You eventually came to Jesus, learning of His life, receiving His love and rejoicing in your salvation through His blood.

Thank God for the person who pointed you in the right direction.

I was reminded of this evangelistic reality while reading from the One-Year Bible this morning.

“They don’t know where to find peace. They have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:17-18 – NLT).

You and I are surrounded by people who don’t know where to find inner peace. A number of those people, rather than humbly admit their cluelessness, will attempt to deny that they even have a spiritual or eternal problem.

When you think about it a bit, you can understand such a twisted rationale.

If I am continually frustrated and angered by my appearance when I look in a mirror, then I guess I should just get rid of the mirror, shouldn’t I?

That will solve my problem, won’t it?

If I can’t see it, then my problem doesn’t exist, right?

That’s what Satan wants the unrepentant sinner to believe regarding his or her soul.

Even though Satan himself knows better and has the non-heaven address to prove it.

Please pray for God to lead someone into your path who is looking for the road to inner peace but who doesn’t know how to find it.

If God already has sent such a person into your life, then start showing them the Way home.

When they get on the right road, the Jesus road, they’ll experience emotional relief in heading the right direction and spiritual joy in knowing of what awaits them.

And that will be a huge blessing for you.

As always, I love you
Martin

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A friend of mine told me recently that he was offended by the meddling of another into his personal life.

What bothered him most was not so much the words that were used, but instead that the non-relative presumed to have the status to lecture him about his actions.

I have sought to encourage the friend by listening closely and offering counsel based on the teachings of scripture, including Matthew 18.

What I haven’t done is to encourage “payback” comments toward or about the one accused of doing the offending.

Such comments never help. And because they almost always are born of incomplete information, the ripple effect of the retribution often results in payback to the payback to the payback to the payback…..

It is so much better to hand the hurt over to the Lord and then remember that we’ve offended Him FAR more than we’ll ever be offended by other people.

Do you want Christ to treat you just how you have treated others with respect to overlooking offenses?

Proverbs 19:11 says it so well, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

The good ol’ boys down at the bar might not agree with this passage, but they’re not the ones sitting on the throne of heaven.

Thank God for that, huh?

Yes, the day is coming when head-bustin’ will occur because of man’s offenses against one another.

But the holy expression of that job will be done by God at the Judgment according to each man’s work.

You and I will face a serious head-bustin’ — as in an eternal whippin’ by flames — unless we remain in relationship with Christ.

The next time that you are offended, show the wisdom of God. Don’t seek revenge. Seek instead the peace and strength from God so that you are able to overlook the wounding.

No, you don’t have to be a whipped puppy who says nothing in response. In fact, it would be good to inform the offender that his or her comments caused you pain yet you have decided to let it go as a matter of imitating Christ.

To not forgive the offense, you might calmly and humbly tell the offender, would be to ignore what God had called you to do.

And that you do NOT want to do.

As always, I love you
Martin

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I’ve had trips out of town for the past couple of days and without the time to write the Moming Devotions. But while reading from Monday’s installment from the One-Year Bible, there was a detail that latched onto my holy imaginator and would not let go.

“David was now afraid of God, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of God back into my care?” So David did not move the Ark into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. The Ark of God remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and everything he owned” (I Chronicles 13:12-14)

OK, so it’s good that God blesses people.

That’s not news, so why would I focus on that fact?

This is why we need to use our brains and not just our eyes.

Just before the Ark of the Covenant was take to Obed-edom’s home, God had struck dead Uzzah, a man walking next to the cart carrying the Ark from Kiriath-jearim. The oxen pulling the cart had stumbled, jostling the cart. Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to keep it from falling off the cart and then God immediately zapped him.

Yes, God had commanded that people carry the ark on poles, not on a cart, so that it wouldn’t be touched by human hands. But Uzzah was just trying to help, wasn’t he?

God was making a point here about reverance for the earthly expression of God’s authority and holiness. A major point.

So Uzzah’s body is still smoldering when David’s procession arrives at Obed-edom’s house. Obed-edom must have had an incredible measure of faith in order to be chosen by David as the host for the Ark.

And that faith was demonstrated when Obed-edom didn’t say, “You aren’t bringing that thing in here! What if I accidently graze against it during my devotional prayer time or my little nephew touches it because it is shiny? I don’t want anybody in my household to die.”

Instead, Obed-edom agreed to host the Ark until God directed David to move it elsewhere.

Remember, David was angry with God after Uzzah was zapped. After all, David had called for a national gathering to form a religious procession for transporting the Ark to Jerusalem and there were many thousands of people who made the trip to Kiriath-jearim. When the fireworks started, their trip turned from celebration into grief and confusion.

It would take time for David’s heart to heal and his mind to absorb the lesson of Uzzah’s death. And that’s why he wanted nothing to do with this “headache” Ark — at least for a while.

While David’s heart healed, Obed-edom’s house was blessed.

Hmmm…….

I don’t want to read too much into this account, but I do see a couple of parallels for our lives.

Sometimes we encounter big problems because we are careless with showing reverence toward God. We treat our congregational involvement too casually or we treat the Bible as if it were a smorgasbord of optional rules.

We might even carelessly, repeatedly use communion time at church as “thinking about my to-do list after church” rather than as a time for appreciating the depth of Christ’s love for my soul and sacrifice for my sins.

When God decides enough is enough and the “wake-up call” arrives, do we grow angry with Him and set aside our faith in scripture for a while? Or do we fall on our faces and plead for forgiveness and restoration to the joy of carefully obedient worship and service?

David did return after his season of reflection and healing. And the eventual carrying of the Ark — on poles as ordained by God — led to unbridled rejoicing and dancing by the king as he led the procession into Jerusalem.

And as the Ark left his house, Obed-edom realized that God had greatly blessed his willingness to take in that which nobody else wanted.

Listen, increasing numbers of congregations are acting like the Bible is too demanding, too restrictive and too judgmental. They act as if the Word is bringing them sorrow to the point of anger rather than bringing them closer to God and to lives of sanctified blessing.

Such congregations are setting aside the Word’s authority because it causes too many headaches.

If only they would see the tragic error they are making.

Don’t fall into the trap. Please.

Receive the Word even when others wearing the label of “Christian” won’t.

You know the Word is holy and will phenomenally bless your life if you honor it.

Just like Obed-edom’s life was phenomenally blessed as he received and honored the Ark.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click An ocean of lemonade

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A key measure of our faith is how we conduct ourselves when others make costly decisions.

I’m talking about those times when you’re given a pitcher of lemon juice and you scurrying to make lemonade.

In the Apostle Paul’s case, as recorded in Acts 27, the lemon juice was ocean-sized.

And yet, Paul was protected and provided for in a way that made lemonade for hundreds of people then and millions of people since.

Here’s the recap: It was late fall and the Mediterranean Sea was rocking and rolling like a washing machine. In the midst of that giant bowl of lemon juice was the ship upon which Paul and his Roman captors were riding enroute to Rome.

The ship was tossed around like a cork on the waves and more than 270 men — excluding Paul — thought they were all going to die.

It turned out, of course, that not one of them died.

Yes, God was good in how He answered Paul’s prayers.

Not only did the men survive, but people got healed and saved on the island where the ship eventually wrecked.

And we believers have found lemonade-style refreshment ever since from the Acts 27-28 accounts.

What is interesting about this whole sequence is that Paul had tried to prevent this whole mess from ever happening.

While temporarily anchored off the coast of Crete, the ship owner, pilot and the Roman centurion in charge of Paul agreed they should set sail across open waters in order to keep a schedule.

Bad idea, Paul said.

So Paul warned them, ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’  But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.” (vv. 9b-11).

Because the three men didn’t understand who Paul was — or WHOSE Paul was — they ignored his words. What did this preacher man know, anyway?

Talk about a bucket of lemon juice in the face!

Paul knew that it was going to get rough.

But he also knew that God had a purpose and a plan for his life and that he WOULD stand before Caesar in Rome.

And so, not knowing the details of what would come, Paul found strength and patience in the fact that God’s plans will be accomplished one way or the other.

Of course, the journey to Rome is a whole lot more interesting for us because of all that Paul faced along the way. And it is far more instructional/inspirational as compared to, “Paul boarded an Alexandrian ship at Tyre and disembarked three weeks later on the coast of Italy.”

Clearly, the three men mentioned above messed up in an earthly sense. They made a costly decision that would have been avoided had they listened to the preacher man.

But they didn’t and Paul needed to faithfully start making lemonade.

I thank God for the refreshing lemonade of Paul’s story in Acts 27-28.

And I thank God — in advance — for the refreshing lemonade that will come to the people in your lives as you respond in the pattern of Christ whenever someone else makes a costly decision against your reasoned advice.

Remember, God has a purpose and a plan for your life and you will be given opportunities to share that plan with people God has already planned for you to meet.

Make sure that you have a glass of lemonade ready for them, OK?

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click From hunter to hunted

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One week, he’s the hunter.

The next week, he’s the hunted.

Hmmmm…..

It’s not an easy thing to lay down the spear, particularly when there’s a good chance that the person picking it up might try to use it against you.

But that’s just what happened when a Christian-persecuting man named Saul “saw the light” and joined the ranks of the redeemed.

Saul, who later became known as Paul, was transformed by God from being a rampaging destroyer of Christians into Jewish Enemy #1.

Thousands of Jews wanted him dead, including many who had once cheered Paul’s efforts to see Christians dead.

In a way, it must have been hard for these Christian-hating Jews to deal with Paul. After all, he was such a good theological thug, arresting many Christians and seeing to it that some of them were executed.

But then he went “Jesus” on them.

The nerve of the guy!

You know the phrase — “Hell hath no fury like a 1st Century, Christian-hating Jew scorned.

OK, so you know the phrase that is similar to that. Just trying to make a point here, ya know.

The book of Acts is filled with stories of attacks on Paul by mobs who typically were stirred up by jealous, Christian-hating Jewish leaders.

These were tough times for Paul. He was doing what was right and yet he was suffering at the hands of people doing wrong.

Oh, by the way, many thousands of people became Christians through the many churches Paul planted during this season of harrassment.

Was Paul ever tempted to walk away from his faith and into a less-stress life? I’m sure he was tempted all the time.

But he always saw the trap.

And that’s why he always chose to stand in front of the spear rather than behind it.

From hunter to hunted.

From hassler to hasslee.

It was true of Paul in his corners of the world.

Is it true in your corner of the world?

Is it true in mine?

Do you face any peer harrassment because of your turning to Jesus? Hassles from the old drinkin’ buddies? From the girlfriends at Gossip a Go-Go? From semi-religious, “Jesus in a box” relatives who think you’re some faith fanatic trying to guilt them into doing more for God?

You used to be one of them.

But now you’re “one of those.”

Wear that hassles proudly, dear friend. They are crests of your commitment and a pleasing aroma to God of your faith.

Make sure, though, that the hassles are related to devoted living, not dumb choices.

As always, I love you
Martin

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