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Archive for September, 2010

Those of us who have harvested tasty vegetables from our own gardens are quite familiar with the principle of cause and effect.

If I want tasty, organic carrots or green beans or tomatoes or bell peppers or potatoes or whatever, then I have to do a number of things first over an extended period of time.

I have to imagine the outcome, plan the outcome, purchase seed, prepare the soil, plant the seed, water the soil, protect the plant from weeds and critters and, ultimately, pick the vegetable.

There is no success unless there is progress with the process.

I was reminded of this principle today in a way that not only refreshed my understanding of the process, but also gave me an even greater appreciation for God’s merciful nature.

The One-Year Bible reading from today included portions from Isaiah 57-59. In Isaiah 57:18-19, the prophet wrote these words given by the Lord:

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him. I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.

‘Peace, peace, to those far and near.’ says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

The prophet Isaiah followed this promise with a description of how the Israelites had fallen into the trap of religion without a relationship with God.

He described how they saw themselves as believers but lived in ways that contradicted that claim.

A gripping indictment is found in Isaiah 58:3-4. The people were doing as they pleased during their spiritually hollow fasts, exploiting employees, arguing with one another and even getting into fistfights.

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high,” God said through Isaiah in 58:4.

Rather than zapping all the stiff-necked, phony-faith people among the Israelites, God AGAIN showed incredible patience and mercy as He calmly listed again the fruits of faith that should be found in the faith garden of every believer.

  • Loose the cords of injustice.
  • Untie the cords of the yoke (let go of emotional, financial strangleholds you have on others).
  • Set the oppressed free.
  • Break every yoke (intercede to help others get free of strangleholds upon them).
  • Share food with the hungry.
  • Provide the poor wanderer with shelter.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Do NOT turn away from your own flesh and blood.

Though the above list of actions should be no-brainers to every believer, getting them actually done is not easy. In fact, a lot of advance effort is required for the faith garden to be fruitful in the above ways.

That’s why church attendance and close, mentoring relationships with mature believers are so important. We usually can’t know what to do unless somebody shows us what to do.

Isaiah 58:8-9 describes a very good harvest from servant-hearted actions. As you imagine the outcome, and then start planning the purchase of seed, preparing of soil, planting of seed, watering of soil, protecting of the plant from weeds and critters, visions of the delicious harvest below will serve to keep us in the garden even in the droughts, in the storms and in the infestations.

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: ‘Here am I.'”

What a great garden harvest! Let’s both get to work in the garden, OK?

As always, I love you
Martin

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I was once again reminded this morning of how amazingly wonderful our Abba Father is toward mankind.

It was a concise refresher of the magnificent mercy of our Creator-Provider, yet I and countless other believers will celebrate the implications for eternity.

Here’s the wrap-up — God not only loves, but also provides for widows, spiritual outsiders and social outcasts in ways that humans never can.

And He does so because He cares for them with every bit of His infinite being.

Consider these passages:

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

“For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities….”

“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.” (Isaiah 54:1-3, 13)

“Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let no eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’

“For this is what the LORD says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.

“And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:3-7)

Though the metaphor of a barren woman is to represent the status of Old Testament Israel during the rebellious, unfruitful days before her destruction and slavery, God reveals the heart He has toward the future “mother” Israel would become after the years of suffering and rejection.

In that statement of future compassion, God showed me that He doesn’t want any woman to suffer heartache and humiliation because of barrenness.

As I read this passage, I thought of women I’ve known over the years who — through faith — were given amazing amounts of influence and blessing upon children even though they didn’t personally experience childbirth. Some adopted. Some served as godparents. Some served as guardians. All functioned as mothers directly or indirectly.

Their barrenness might have been a physical fact, but in every other sense, they were mothers who learned to enlarge their tents, widen the curtains and strengthen the stakes. They saw, or are seeing, their children grow in influence in their communities and succeeding where others have failed.

Most important and satisfying has been or is the joy of seeing those children learning to live for the Lord. Great is the peace that abides within such children and within the “moms.”

I love to see such relationships for they are powerful testimonies of God’s favor and providence.

Regarding the references to foreigners and eunuchs, the point is similarly clear: those ridiculed or otherwise diminished by the world as being flawed in some way are just as much on God’s radar as are the perfect-attendance Sunday School student or the 40-year tither who never cusses and actually stops completely at four-way intersections.

Because of faith, the legacy of the childless man will continue not because of his biology but instead because of his theology.

Faith in this life for the childless man will provide certainty of a name in heaven that will be seen by all — forever.

Wow. What a glorious reward for faithfulness!

And spiritual “foreigners” who aren’t part of the insider crowd? Regardless of how humans react to them, even those within the church, God says the faithful converts are just as valuable to Him as is any insider with the direct bloodline to Abraham.

The point is clear — God loves everybody. God wants all to be saved. His criteria for salvation and acceptable service are based on faith, not flesh; on trust in Christ’s blood, not on biological bloodline.

Encourage every social outcast that you know, even if that person is you.

God loves them all and you SO much.

As you view and love people the way that God views and loves people, then more of them will seek Him, I’m sure.

As always, I love you
Martin

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For many, it’s a fine line between being alone and feeling lonely.

There is no clinical criteria that stipulates the transition from “alone” to “lonely.”

The reason is that the human heart, psyche and mood are so unique from person to person.

One person is surrounded by people, sometimes even good people, yet he or she feels profoundly lonely.

Another person is stuck in a traveling sales job racking up huge numbers of frequent flyer miles and hotel bonus points, yet hasn’t felt lonely for years.

It’s all about who resides in the special places of the heart reserved for “the loved.”

God wired us this way for a reason, of course.

He doesn’t want us to be contented in the absence of emotionally intimate relationships.

Instead, He designed the craving for connection with people to serve as the forerunner for even deeper, more durable, more intimate relationships with Him, His Son and His Holy Spirit.

If we believers don’t crave these horizontal and vertical connections, then we cannot be imitators of the Savior who poured out His love — and ultimately His blood — so that humans would want intimate, loving relationships with Him.

When people establish a connection with Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit, an everpresent fountain of love and intimacy is given them that can bubble over into as many lives as the person will pour himself or herself. Even in places where the believer knows no other person.

That’s why believers can be alone, yet never feel lonely.

You and I know all sorts of people who are tormented by loneliness because they don’t have the vertical and horizontal connections that could fill the heart as nothing else can.

My call to you today is to pray for wisdom as to which of those people you might start connecting with in a more servant-minded way. You probably won’t become “best buddies” right away, but the lonely person will at least begin to see that you aren’t lonely and that you want to share a bit of your life with him or her.

As the connection grows, the person will begin to feel less lonely, first as they make room in his or her heart for you and as they begin to make room in their hearts for the influence and love sent their way by God.

Why this topic today? Today’s reading in the One-Year Bible reminded me of a powerful promise that reveals the heart of God and a core mission of the Church.

God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6)

Your congregation, your personal family, your group of guy friends or girl friends…. God can use each of them as the “family” into which He places lonely people.

Look for the lonely, my friend.

For they are looking for someone to give them a special place in their hearts so that they, too, can be alone yet not feel lonely.

Remember, you were probably lonely once yourself.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Every child wants a daddy who is gentle and kind to him or her, but strong and bold to those threatening harm.

In fact, God wired us all to run to our earthly daddies when the growling dog approaches or mean kids at the park are scaring us or the teacher accuses us of stealing when we have not.

It’s SO much better when we’re in his arms first and then the threats or hurts are addressed second.

I experienced this as a child and I’ve experienced this as a daddy with my children.

I am grateful that I continue to experience this as God’s child.

I pray that you, too, have this peace with the Abba Father.

He certainly wants to have it with you.

There were two beautiful passages in today’s reading in the One-Year Bible. In them I was reminded that I have a Gentle Shepherd who is also my Mighty Savior.

Hallelujah.

He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” Isaiah 39:11

So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” Isaiah 40:10

When I stumble or when circumstances arise that leave me fearful, it is greatly reassuring to know that God loves me and surrounds my soul with His arms.

Schemes of the Enemy might slam my flesh or drain my finances. But my eternal soul is secure where no deed of darkness can go — the heart of God.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the Good Shepherd that leads me to the everlasting green pastures of God’s perfect presence.

And thank you, Jesus, for being the sword-carrying Savior who cuts away the full force of Satan’s attacks that he would SO like to launch against my soul (I Cor. 10:13).

The day is coming when the Savior’s sword will not only cut away the overpowering portion of temptations, but will actually destroy the Enemy and his evil forces. (Revelation 19:14-16)

I am SO glad that I have an Abba Father/Shepherd and a perfect Savior/Shepherd who love me, feed me, gather me, carry me, lead me and strengthen me.

And I’m glad that they protect me.

Hmmmm…… love, feed, gather, carry, lead, strengthen, protect.

Seven benefits of a relationship with the Shepherd/Savior.

They’re mine.

I pray that they are yours, too.

As always, I love you
Martin

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There was no mistaking Paul’s message that I read this morning in the One-Year Bible.

I am not the center of the universe.

The world doesn’t revolve around me.

I am not the alpha male of all mankind.

I am not more important than other people.

In view of the above, the last thing that I should do is to expect others to serve me because I’m better than they.

Christians should intuitively know this and not have to be reminded of such.

What should happen and what actually happens are not always the same, though.

Even in your life and mine.

Sometimes, we think #1 is the one looking at us in a mirror rather than the One looking at us from His throne in glory.

God has a way of arranging circumstances, however, that allow us to learn that we’re not as powerful or persuasive or perfect or polished or perceptive as we think we are.

He certainly has made such arrangements on several occasions in my life.

I’ve tried to learn from those seasons of error so that I didn’t repeat them. I’m not perfect yet, but at least I’m becoming less imperfect, it seems.

Here’s the passage that triggered this line of thinking:

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:2-3).

Paul was not telling the Galatian believers that they lacked value. After all, Jesus died on the cross for their souls and that shows that God believed that their lives were of incredible value.

One believer’s life was not more important than another believer’s life, though. That’s what Paul was emphasizing.

The Holy Spirit-inspired message still applies.

The specific context of the passage above involves the showing of kind, restorative grace toward stumbling believers who had slipped back into worldly behaviors. Paul was telling his readers that an attitude of patience and forgiveness must be present in a church family if it is to stick together and rescue people from Satan’s slippery slopes.

But when one’s pride inflates the view of self and that puffed-up believer withholds forgiveness/acceptance until the offender bows down before him or her, then who truly is the one with the bigger problem?

Listen, friends. When somebody offends us, or even we simply think they’ve offended us, we must resist the temptation to treat them as spiritual, “low life” lepers who don’t deserve our mercy.

Satan wants us to act like this, to think that we’re more valuable and thus more important since we didn’t do that certain sin to the other person.

It’s a trap, though.

When pride seeks to make your forgiveness contingent upon your feeling more important than the person who messed up, tell Satan to take a hike and then make it clear to the offender that you’ve forgiven them and are ready to walk side by side with them in the service of the Lord.

Unity among God’s children is that important.

As always, I love you

Martin

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I pray that you’ll never use your holy hammer to pry away the nails holding your old, sinful ways to the cross.

Oh, Satan will tempt you to do that, all right.

He hated the day that you grabbed the holy hammer of God’s power and Holy Spirit’s persuasion in order to nail your fallen passions and sinful desires to the cross.

And he’s been looking for opportunities ever since to get you to pick up the hammer, not for using the pounding side but instead the pulling side.

I share this because of the New Testament reading today in the One-Year Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Galatian church with a warning against the traps of the devil.

Some were backsliding in big-time ways. Unchecked, the random backsliding of some could become a cancer on the entire body of believers. After all, most of them had been living in the Carnal Corral when they were saved and they could very easily pick up those eternally destructive patterns again if loyalty to the Lord evaporated.

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul used present-tense language, meaning that some in the church were actually — to use a term coined by Solomon — like dogs returning to their own vomit.

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Whoever was falling back into old patterns for living was, in effect, prying from the cross their promises of surrender to Christ.

Wow.

Satan wanted them to think “Once saved, alway saved.”

Paul wanted them to realize that salvation is based on a relationship.

And a relationship is based on trust.

If there is trust is lost, then what does that say about the relationship?

Paul loved the Galatian Christians and wanted to turn around those who were wandering and that’s why he pleaded with all the believers to give more freedom in their minds and hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit. The result would be lives that honor God, help others and demonstrate wonderful, personal character and goodness.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Gal. 5:22-25)

If only we could all say that we’ve never engaged any of those 15+ sins listed in vv. 19-21. Unfortunately, we can’t. Most of us have likely checked only some of those boxes, but even one was too many.

Listen, every time Satan sends a temptation our way selected from the list of sins above, we need to grab our holy hammer and nail it and our stumbling block passion to the cross as already crucified.

Not only will Satan be reminded that Jesus won, but that we also won when we picked up our holy hammer at our conversion.

For what it’s worth, we’ll not only be hitting the head of the nail, but we’ll also be — in effect — pounding the truth of Christ’s victory and God’s power into the head of Satan.

Now I like that idea.

As always, I love you
Martin

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To hear this Morning Devotion, please click Big lessons from small blessings

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It’s not always the large and expensive Christmas gift that says the most about a relationship.

Sometimes it is the little, surprise blessing of fixing a wife’s cherished broken necklace or sewing a button back onto a husband’s favorite shirt or the touch-up painting of scratch on our teen child’s new used car.

These unrequested, yet greatly appreciated favors send a clear message about the heart of the one serving.

God is the master of providing surprise blessings, of course.

Last week, I was with Lori in Atlanta. She has started a new job with the Veterans Administration as a clinical dietitian and was in training sessions during the day. I stayed at the hotel and worked on the computer, attending to a number of ministry tasks.

On Tuesday morning, I drove her to the VA Medical Center east of Atlanta and dropped her off. When I returned to the hotel and exited the car, I noticed that one of the wheel covers was missing.

This was doubly discouraging since I had just bought a new set of wheel covers for her car. One of the previous wheel covers had either fallen off or been taken off and, because it was of a somewhat unique design, the cost of replacing that one was more than buying a new set at the auto parts store.

Now I was back to square one.

Geez…. I can’t believe this!” I said as I got back into the car.

I realized that the chances were almost nil for finding a non-smashed, single wheel cover along the side of six-lane, city streets and then along I-85 roads.

But I had to try. If I found the cover, I’d save myself $40.

So I drove down the streets, hugging the curb to get a close look, yet I saw no wheel cover.

Then it occurred to me where the most likely place would have been to lose the wheel cover. It was where the hard-left turn would occur from an eight-lane road onto the entrance ramp for I-85.

That’s where the wheel’s shape would be most likely distorted ever so slightly because of the left turn while heading uphill at the same time.

My physics- and metallurgical hunch were right.

Just a 100 yards or so up the ramp, in the midst of all sorts of garbage and grass on the outside edge of the shoulder, I saw a wheel cover.

“Wow! I wonder…..” I said as I pulled off the ramp and onto the shoulder.

Turns out that it was the lost wheel cover with no damage whatsoever. That’s amazing because of the hundreds of cars that had used the ramp between my trips there.

More amazingly, the wheel cover on the right shoulder had fallen off the left side of the car. Hmmmm….

The story gets better, though.

Though I had the wheel cover in my hand and was glad of it, it still couldn’t be put back on the car because the spring tensioner that holds the cover onto the rim was missing.

Halfway back to the car and wondering how I could jury rig some way to re-attach the cover, I saw the shiny, circular spring lying amidst empty water bottles, snack food wrappers and tire retread parts.

I quickly saw why I had lost the wheel cover — the spring had snapped where the ends had been welded together, making it useless.

Just as quickly as I thought I was heading to the parts store to spend another $40, I saw something I couldn’t believe.

Three feet from the broken wheel cover spring was lying another circular wheel spring of the exact same design. And this one wasn’t broken.

I’m telling you the absolute truth.

There was no other wheel cover in the vicinity that I could see. Yet there was the clone of the broken wheelcover spring just one step away.

I was nearly overwhelmed as I walked back to the car, snapped everything back into place and headed down the highway back to the hotel.

There is no way to calculate the statistical unlikelihood of what had happened and I didn’t need to. It was an undeniable blessing from God.

Dear friend, when God steps into your life with undeniable blessings that border on statistically impossible, make sure that you tell others about how our Father in heaven cares for His children even when they least expect it.

It’s just the kind of loving Daddy that He is.

As always, I love you
Martin

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