Archive for August, 2011

I was deeply moved this morning by a passage in my daily Bible reading.

In fact, I want to let it do the talking to your heart. I think it speaks for itself.

“A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14)

The presence of unconditionally loyal friends is a powerful tool for keeping someone connected to his or her congregation when all hell breaks loose in his or her life. Job’s trials would have been a bit less burdensome if he would have had loyal friends who comforted him unconditionally.

We’ve all seen people who slipped away from church life and have not returned. Sometimes it was because close friendship bonds were lacking before the hard times came.

Sometimes their failure to return was because church “friends” did not seek after them to comfort and restore them.

This is so sad.

I read an article yesterday based on a scientific survey of 1,915 people across dozens of denominations. The top reason given for satisfaction with church membership was the presence of multiple friendships.

Not surprisingly, those with fewer church friendships were less likely to be satisfied in his or her current congregation.

If you see a church member or co-worker or neighbor or school classmate who is despairing, please make sure that they see you as a devoted friend desiring to help in any way you can.

That church member or co-worker or neighbor or classmate might even have a sour attitude toward God at the time, but love them anyway.

Their seeing your faith-based loyalty and love to them just might be the lifeline that he or she eventually grabs in order to be drawn back into God’s presence and into the congregation.

Never forsake your friends. Always pray for them, encourage them, and help them as they allow.

Isn’t that how Jesus treats us?

As always, I love you

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Just about everybody knows a retiree who is worried about the money running out before he or she dies.

I received a call the other day from a 98-year-old Christian friend who was concerned about her cost of living increasing faster than her Social Security check increases.

She said she doesn’t know what she will do, other than pray and trust God to provide for her.

So when I read the words before from Proverbs 21:20 this morning, I was reminded of how important it is to live frugally since we don’t know how long we’re going to live.

“The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.”

An Internet magazine article the other day reported that far too many retirees spend far too much money in the first five years after they quit their jobs and start collecting pension income. It seems the pent-up demand fuels the desire for a “fun fix” that has been the stuff of dreams for decades.

Problem is that those fun fixes tend to be too expensive.

Then, for millions of retirees, the years of anxiety begin with fears of having to choose between proper health care or a decent diet or perhaps between a tank of gas to go see the grandkids or a trip to see the podiatrist.

We all have choices to make with our finances. Frugality now leads to more good choices later. Splurging now leads to more tough choices later.

Listen, if I were a popcorn farmer, it would be insanity for me to use all my popcorn seed for a month-long moviethon with countless guests who ate popcorn through flick after flick.

It would be much smarter to set aside more than enough popcorn seed to plant all my fields for the next year and perhaps have some to share with another who doesn’t have enough. With future planting needs provided for, then I could rent a couple of movies and feed popcorn to all who responded to my invitations.

Please try your best to store up financial blessings now, even if they’re coming only in small bites.

It’s never good to gulp down the blessings of God with no thought of their purpose for our future preservation or our call to help others in need.

As always, I love you

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We humans are, in so many ways, just like electrons — we look for the path of least resistance.

Driving shortcuts. Diet shortcuts. Courtship shortcuts. Career-training shortcuts. Even church growth shortcuts.

And sometimes, our hunger for shortcuts leads us to make presumptions about people rather than taking the time to actually get to know them and understand what motivates them.

It’s called “stereotyping.”

We see someone who closely resembles somebody else and we believe they’re going to act the same way and have the same values.

If we treat one person less favorably because of how another person has acted unfavorably, we’re dabbling in social laziness and in a measure of disrespect. But you know this already.

So why this topic today?

In today’s reading from the One-Year Bible, there is a brief passage that describes how worshippers at the restored Jerusalem Temple took a spiritual shortcut that I believe was not ordained by God.

The shortcut is found in Nehemiah 13:1-3 and, in effect, negated the command of God that the Temple should be a house of prayer for all nations.

Centuries earlier, God had commanded that the Ammonites and Moabites not be allowed into Hebrew worship because of the pagan nations’ malicious treatment toward the Hebrews during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Yet, Nehemiah 13 reports that the later Hebrews gathered at the restored Temple prohibited ALL foreigners from joining in worship at the Temple.

This was not what God commanded.

And some good-hearted, Jehovah-seeking Gentiles were likely kept from worshipping God at the Temple as a result.

Rather than take the time to assess if a foreigner was from Ammon or Moab, the Jerusalem Jews painted all Gentiles with the broad brush stroke of “Rejected by God.”

So how does this apply to us?

Christians are vulnerable to stereotyping others, particularly when it comes to church attendance.

Somebody walks in the door who looks like a thug or a streetwalker and we immediately presume that he is a thug or that she is a streetwalker. We don’t treat them as guests but instead as pests.

If we’re “lucky,” they won’t come back and disrupt our service. At least that’s how the thinking goes on too many occasions.

Such an attitude is offensive to God, of course.

Listen, everybody coming to worship should be welcomed and evaluated on who they are and on whom they are seeking to worship. To scorn everybody from a certain ethnic group or a certain aesthetic look or because they remind you of troublemakers from the past, that’s just wrong.

God is quite capable of deciding for Himself if their worship is genuine and acceptable to Him. That’s not for us to decide.

Jesus let a repentant prostitute wash His feet with her tears during a home-based time of worship.

The LAST thing we should ever do is to block somebody from worshipping God just because we think they’re like “those other people.”

As always, I love you

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Over the course of 24 years in ministry, I’ve seen people who worked really hard to avoid sinful choices that might prompt others to stumble in faith.

Fathers have resisted the devilish temptation to curse at teenagers who were acting defiantly.

Mothers have resisted the devilish temptation to teach daughters how to fight gossip fires with their own gossip Armageddon.

Church leaders have resisted the devilish temptation to publicly wag fingers at divisive members.

And the list could go on.

In the world’s eyes, attacking problems with literal attacks is quite common.

On many occasions when the initial offenses are hurtful enough, people today are given a “pass” for lashing out in response.

At least in the world’s eyes. “They deserved it because they asked for it,” is the rationale.

Here’s something the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 10:23-24 that speaks to a different context, yet has much value for us in learning how to conduct ourselves when people treat us poorly.

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Our demonstrations of character should provide building blocks for others, not stumbling blocks.

If somebody bad-mouths us at work or church, who do we think confers to us the “right” to fight fire with fire?

God certainly doesn’t sanction such a response.

That means that we’re seeking justification from unjust people for our unjust actions.

Not smart, huh?

Paul’s teaching applies in other ways, of course, such as with alcoholic beverages.

One spouse quits drinking after admitting alcoholic tendencies, yet the other keeps drinking “with the boys” and sometimes even at home in front of the person trying to stop.

This is not a matter of whether or not drinking beer is sinful. There are various opinions on that, of course.

Instead, this is a matter of a spouse needing to remember a core principle of godly love — “Love always protects.”

If giving up beer would help a spouse to help his spouse’s recovery, then shouldn’t that be happening?

Paul says it best — “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — even as I try to please everyone in every way.” (I Cor. 10:32-33).

Please, ask God to show you how to provide building blocks for faith in the lives of others rather than tossing stumbling blocks in their way.

As always, I love you

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If I were hiking through a forest that was home to numerous predatory animals, you can be sure that I’d prefer to sleep at night in a solid-wall cabin or cave rather than in a flimsy tent.

I know that the statistical likelihood of my becoming a midnight snack for a large carnivore would be very low, yet I also know that Murphy’s Law was seemingly crafted with me in mind.

I want a solid barrier between me and any sharp claws and teeth that might be lurking about.

I suppose you would want the same.

This yearning is why I so appreciate the promise of Psalm 34:7 regarding my faith and my Lord.

“The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.”

Unless my memory is flawed, I don’t recall from scripture ANY example of godless armies attacking Israel’s camp during her 40 years in the wilderness. Why? Because the Angel of the Lord was encamped around the children of God as a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

Satan knew better than to directly confront the presence of the Lord. He’d done that before Creation and learned the hard way about the foolishness of such a plan.

The verse above reminds me of how the ancient shepherds protected the sheep during the night. If there weren’t a team of shepherds to share in the duty of protection, a shepherd would make a tall fence with a single gate. That way, no threat could come against the sheep except through that gate — right where the shepherd would position himself with his lethal staff.

A predator might launch an attack to get the sheep — and might even frighten the sheep — but they would be safe as long as they trusted the protection of the shepherd and didn’t run outside of the sheepfold (pen).

Listen, do your best to fear the Lord in terms of respecting, honoring, obeying, serving and loving the Lord. He promises to deliver you from destruction into a life of glory.

Jesus said He will never forsake us. Let’s make sure that we never forsake Him by faltering in our belief in His authority and love and thinking we’d be better off outside of His sheepfold known as the Church.

Even when the growling of enemies is loud and angry attacks lash out at our social or physical or financial lives, we can have the peace in our souls that surpasses all understanding.

As always, I love you

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After the bulk of the Jewish exile community had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas of southern Palestine, a Jewish leader named Nehemiah returned to see for himself about the “shameful” condition of Jerusalem’s walls.

The failure to rebuild the perimeter defenses had not only left the city vulnerable to attack, but also served as an ongoing reminder of failed faith, inadequate spiritual discipline and eroded national pride.

Nehemiah drew a line in the sand of public consciousness and called the people to action with rebuilding the walls.

The book of Nehemiah is a marvelous record of this leadership and widespread rededication to doing what was right.

Tucked into Nehemiah 3, though, is a sad fragment of a sentence that reminds us of an unfortunate truth — even with a great idea, a great mission, a great God, a great supporting cast and a great leader, some people are just bent on stubborn defiance against doing what is right.

The next section (of the wall) was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” (Nehemiah 3:5).

The refusal of the nobles to help with the rebuilding effort must have been a shock initially to all who witnessed it.

Of all the people in Jerusalem, the last ones expected to oppose the effort would have been the nobles, people steeped in national history, the value of national pride and the value of strengthening the people’s well-being.

Nehemiah’s book lists countless Jews who worked hard rebuilding the walls, people from all sorts of work backgrounds. They worked very hard, it is clear.

And yet, the not-so-nobles apparently sat scowl-faced and set a terrible example by refusing to lift a hand, even in the presence of supervisors.

Fortunately, their pessimism about the rebuilding effort was proven false and the faithful optimism of the hardworking majority was proven true.

Listen, whatever position of influence you have at work or at church or at home or at school, don’t refuse to work.

There’s always much to do at strengthening the spiritual, relational and financial walls that protect those who are important to you.

Be among the first to put your shoulder to the work of loving, of forgiving, or encouraging, of donating, of confronting hurtful behavior or any other intercessory work the lays upon your heart. Be a reliable participant at church workdays. Be a ready volunteer to help a neighbor whose house needs repair.

As the walls you build grow stronger, God will provide the strength you need to keep building. Your family will grow stronger. Your congregation will grow stronger. Your friendships will grow stronger. And it will happen in part because of the example you set.

As always, I love you

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It’s quite interesting to realize that we worship in a temple every day.

We might worship different things in different ways, yet we’re all in that temple.

I’m not talking about Catholics who go to mass every day but instead about the temple of our bodies.

No, we’re not to worship our bodies. The vast majority of us are quickly cured of that trap whenever we stand in front of a full-length mirror.

But just like the Jerusalem temple’s original purpose, worship of God is to occur through our body, not the worship of self.

How might we fall into the trap of worshipping what is created rather than the Creator?

By elevating the pleasing of flesh above the place of godly faith, that’s how.

How have we done such? By partaking in any form of sexual sin or the sin of gluttony or the sin of spending for luxurious comfort though our consciences called us to help those struggling financially.

Here’s the passage from today’s devotional reading that triggered this Morning Devotion:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (I Cor. 6:19-20).

Whenever any part of our body — even our eyes — starts acting like the spoiled brat in the back seat of the car, demanding its way with physical pleasure of immoral sex or with overeating or with putting personal luxury ahead of spiritual compassion or with some other visual or fleshly sin, it’s essential to let the body know who’s boss.

Please try to make it through the day without letting Satan lure you into using your body for anything other than God’s purposes and according to God’s values.

Whatever you do with your fleshly temple, my friend — whether in word or in deed — do it for the glory of God. And then the God of peace will be with you.

It’s a promise from the Father whose Son offered His earthly temple as a sacrifice for our sakes though He had done nothing wrong.

As always, I love you

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