Archive for September, 2011

In the 33rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, there is a passage that offers a concise checklist for people who want to please God and receive blessings from Him.

This six-item checklist is a great tool for keeping us on the “straight and narrow” so that we can be the people God desires us to be.

“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”

“He who walks righteously

“and speaks what is right,

“who rejects gain from extortion

“and keeps his hand from accepting bribes,

“who stops his ears against plots of murder

“and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil”

“This is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.” (Isaiah 33:14-16)

Here is a simple recap of the list above:

__ My actions show I’m trying to live sinlessly like Jesus

__ My words only honor God and help others

__ I refuse to coerce or threaten others for the sake of money

__ I refuse to twist the truth or my authority just for the sake of money

__ I will not — in any way — condone harmful scheming against others

__ I will not be silent when my speaking up might prevent attacks on another

It’s very likely that sometime today, or at least sometime this week, Satan will attempt to trip you up with one or more of these pledges. It’s just what he does and since he has a lot of experience — successful experience — we have to be on our guard against his schemes.

You and I both want to dwell forever with the “Consuming Fire,” a name God gave to Himself in Deuteronomy 4:24. We want to know that God will not only provide eternal bliss for us in the next life, but also provide bread for us in this life.

If we’ll live by these six principles, our future will be secure, both in the flesh and in the spirit.

And we’ll have a lot more friends in both places — on earth as will be in heaven.

As always, I love you

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You’re quite familiar with the fact that an alcoholic is an alcoholic until he or she dies.

Even if he or she stops drinking and abstains for 40 years before his or her death, the person will always be one drink away from relapse because of how the sinful habit altered their body’s pattern of reaction to booze.

The battle to keep saying “No” is lifelong. For those who don’t remain diligent, the battle is lost. At least until, they dry out again.

The battle against lifestyle sin is the same. It’s not a one-shot deal with a showdown at the OK Corral baptistery.

Instead, it’s a grind-it-out, never-stop-resisting mission to reject the lure of the lie that promises an easier, more enjoyable life if we’ll trust worldly ways more than we trust God’s Word.

We all hear the lies. Cheat a little bit here in school. Steal a little bit there from work. Lie a little bit to our families. Resent a little bit the person at church who gets more peer approval than do we. Oh yeah, then there’s the lie that a little bit of filth flowing from your TV or computer screen won’t hurt anything.

Listen, Satan never tempts us with objective of just having us take one bite. He’s out to get us eating the whole forbidden fruit. And then getting us to eat the orchard. And persuading us all along that it won’t hurt anything since there are alot of worse people in the world than ourselves.

Friends, we’re all ________-aholics. Some of us are cheat-aholics. Some of us are steal-aholics. Some are lie-aholics. Some are grudge-aholics. Some are porn-aholics. And the list goes on.

We all have stumbling block sins that we need to avoid like the plague since that’s what they become to our souls when we relapse.

I was stirred to write this Morning Devotion because of a passage in today’s One-Year Bible reading that dealt with a different context — the lie that one had to be a Jew and a Christian in order to be saved.

Yet, the principle of Paul’s writing speaks to all forms of moral/spiritual slavery.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Christ died on the cross to set us free from the chains of Satan’s lies. Let’s not choose to wrap ourselves up in those chains again by relapsing into our stumbling block sins of the past.

You know your list of weak spots, just as I know mine.

View them as bombs about to explode and destroy us.

Flee! Because that’s just what they are going to do if we allow them back into our lives.

As always, I love you

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My driving time yesterday morning to a meeting of area ministers and church leaders took longer than it should have because I took two wrong turns.

Oh, I was in the correct general vicinity, all right. It’s just that the unfamiliar streets I was using had directional rules that I was not expecting and, once I made this turn or that turn, I was stuck going the wrong direction because of “No U-turn” rules and “No Right Turn” rules and the abundance of medians with no turn lanes and…. well, you get the idea.

I eventually arrived at my destination after going far afield to backtrack and start over.

It wasn’t a total loss. You see, I was blessed with a needed reminder of the need to do my homework rather than rely on my usually reliable intuition.

The principle lesson from this experience has a spiritual application, of course.

We always save ourselves headaches if we’ll do our homework before taking a path that is not thoroughly familiar to us.

That means studying the Word when we are being stirred toward a new effort in ministry, whether counseling a faith seeker or planning a ministry initiative.

That also means praying for Holy Spirit leading and seeking advice from those who have already taken the same road or who are at least familiar with the “neighborhood” of spiritual and cultural issues.

The Apostle Paul had a very high success rate in ministry initiatives, the Bible shows. He knew better than to lean on his own understanding, choosing instead to trust in the Lord with all of his heart. The result would be that God would direct his paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

He knew that in the abundance of advisors would victory be made sure (Proverbs 24:6).

He knew that multiple spiritual enemies were opposed to him and it would be foolish to not seek multiple allies to advise him and pray for him. That’s why a verse in yesterday’s One-Year Bible is so important to understanding Paul’s success rate and to helping us become more successful for the Lord.

“I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” (Galatians 2:2)

Paul had received direct instruction from God regarding that he should teach Gentiles and regarding what he should teach to Gentiles. Because he was still a struggling sinner like other Christians, though, he knew that he needed the perspective of wise Christian leaders concerning his call and message. He wanted to make sure that it was from the Lord and not only from his zeal.

That’s why he went earlier to Jerusalem to share the testimony of his call and his message. He didn’t want to take a bunch of wrong turns and create a big mess because there would be many others following him.

The last thing anybody needs is for you and me to be leading a caravan of cars and then get them all lost and having to make crazy turns on scary streets in neighborhoods that we don’t know.

Don’t trust your own mind and experience. Seek advice from the Word and the Holy Spirit. Seek advice from mature believers. It’s so much better this way.

As always, I love you

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You’ve heard the nostalgic phrase, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”

This phrase, of course, is not talking about international travel, but instead the deep-rooted mindset and cultural habits that permeate the heart and soul of folk born and raised in the country.

The same principle applies to all sorts of settings, actually.

Some people spent countless hours of childhood and adolescence appreciating the recreational activities of their hometown area, such as skiing in the mountains, and even if circumstances have them in a hot, flat climate, they never stop seeking a job and home address that will allow them to “go home.”

I was reminded of this yearning when I read from Galatians 1 this morning as part of my daily Bible reading. In Galatians 1:6, the Apostle Paul writes these words:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

Paul had earlier preached and taught to thousands of people in Galatia, of which some chose to leave their pagan lives of sin and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That gospel defines the Way of salvation — recognition of personal sin, understanding the need for a personal Savior since good works cannot erase the fact of sin, repenting of that sinful lifestyle, surrendering to Christ with a verbal and baptismal confession and continuing to show trust in God’s gracious forgiveness as the believer grows in a godlier lifestyle.

For a time, the Galatian believers practiced these beliefs. They lived as if they had not only taken themselves out of the worldly influences, but that they had removed the worldly ways from their inner nature.

But they found out that the spiritual transformation requires an ongoing effort. And when they didn’t keep pressing on in their learning and discerning, a spiritual vacuum was created in their hearts and souls, a vacuum that Satan was quite happy to fill by re-packaging their prior religious beliefs in ways that sounded Christian but that were still permeated with “I can save myself” poison.

The believers started listening to and accepting the old lies that God’s grace was not enough, that they had to perform certain religious rituals invented by humans in order to gain the reward promised by God.

Paul was blunt in his writings because the people were at risk of forfeiting their salvation. For if the believers stopped trusting Jesus as their only Way to salvation, they would be headed toward eternal destruction.

It’s essential that we learn this lesson, that we must keep pursuing the Savior and His saving grace in order to push back the ever-present creeping of our worldly nature that calls us to trust good deeds, not God’s grace, as the means of salvation.

God’s grace took us off the bus to hell, but if we don’t keep checking the Bible map, we just might end up taking the wrong turns and walking there.

As always, I love you

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If you’re like me, you sometimes find it hard to sing or whistle when you’re discouraged.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons that Blues music is so popular — it gives a vicarious voice to people who want to express their sadness but just don’t have the emotional or mental readiness to do so.

You and I see this musical constriction demonstrated at our church services on a regular basis. Somebody comes in who looks visibly sad or troubled and they just don’t sing out as they have in happier times.

When the sadness is replaced by gladness, though, the voice of worship returns for the believer.

It’s true in my life and probably in yours, too.

This linkage of emotional status and devotional worship was something that King David was able to transcend.

Thank God for David’s depth of faith that allowed him to sing in the storms.

I want to be more like him.

Check out this passage from Psalm 57:4-8.

“I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among man-eating beasts, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

“They spread a net for my feet— I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path— but they have fallen into it themselves.

“My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.”

My goodness. When I’ve been surrounded at work by people who were attacking me, I haven’t spontaneously begun praising God as I should have. I’ve prayed to Him, all right, but I don’t know that I’ve praised Him to the extent that I should have.

I should have done better.

Listen, the next time that hassles from others are attempting to drag down your faith, lift up your voice. Praise the God who blesses you in far more ways than the world stresses you.

Don’t allow worries to steal your sleep, Instead, declare your trust in God with morning praise that awakens the dawn!

Singing praises to God while you’re in the shower will put the spirit world on notice that “No Vacancy” exists in your mind for bummed-out thinking.

As always, I love you

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You’ve heard that it takes an average of seven exposures to advertising of a certain product or service before the eventual purchaser of the product or service makes a decision to buy.

Yet, existing customers typically only need to hear once or twice about a new product, service or price before they consider a purchase.

Why this info on business marketing?

It’s because we Christians need to make sure we continue investing in our relationships with fellow church members so that our congregation’s viability isn’t contingent on finding new bodies to replace those who leave the church.

Many of you attend congregations where “family” is lovingly practiced among members and the proverbial “back door” is rarely opened by people who don’t want to be there anymore.

That’s wonderful.

I’m praying that all of my Morning Devotion readers will find the same to be true for their congregations, even if some of those congregations have room for improvement in this respect.

The Apostle Paul sought to help the church at Corinth to remove the factors that were shoving people toward the back door.

Some members there had seemingly lost sight of the fact that it is more challenging in a resource sense to win people to the Lord than it is to retain them in the church.

That’s why Paul wrote what he did in 2 Corinthians 12. It’s not a happy passage to read, but it is important because of what was at stake in the church then. The message still applies to us today.

Here’s how serious Paul was about this call:

“For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20).

Whatever it takes, we are to protect and nurture our relationships within the church just as we are to do for those within our immediate families.

God called us to build our families at home and at church, not tear them down.

Listen, I understand that we can’t control how others behave in the church. Sometimes people in large groups, whether spiritual or secular, engage in the above behaviors and people get offended and leave the group.

Our responsibility, though, is to make sure that we aren’t contributing to the chaos by acting in the ways listed above. As we demonstrate the opposite of each behavior above, the Lord will use us to draw people back into the fold rather than helping to push them out the back door.

Such ugliness above has no proper place in the Bride of Christ. Please do all you can to avoid these behaviors and encourage others to do the same.

As always, I love you

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Since my elementary school playground days, I’ve had a problem with people who picked on others.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found trouble because I confronted a bully’s abusive behavior toward somebody weaker.

Perhaps you also feel your blood beginning to boil when you see an abuser.

This emotional response is a faint reflection of the intercessory passion that God has for those who suffer because they are seen as worthless.

God knows better.

In fact, He asked His only Son Jesus to die for those “worthless” people on the cross, so anyone who thinks another human being has little or no value is actually calling God a liar.

And that, my friends, is not a smart thing to do.

In Isaiah 1, God is very clear in His disgust for people who treat others as meaningless garbage. His most pointed words are for the leaders of Jerusalem who were gripped by greed and blinded by bribes. Corruption was rampant in the judicial system, meaning that honest and humble people needing help were receiving none.

“Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

The content of chapter makes it quite clear that these corrupted rulers were going to receive the justice from God that they deserved.

This serves as a reminder to us to be ever-vigilant in looking for people who need our help. Particularly those with nobody to speak up for them in the schools or in the workplace or in the neighborhood or in the extended family.

Perhaps you don’t know any orphans. But you could send some monthly financial support to an overseas orphanage associated with your congregation.

Perhaps you don’t have any widows in your extended family. But you could help a widow in your congregation who is frustrated by an ongoing billing problem or you could buy some grocery gift cards to share with a low-income widow in your neighborhood.

Perhaps you could even take her out for a nice breakfast or dinner now and then.

She’d love it.

God would, too.

As always, I love you

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