Category: Devotions

Why Did I Yell on the Phone?

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A few years ago, I yelled at someone on the phone and really let them have it because they had totally mishandled a medical bill.

That was not the first time I yelled like that, but it was the last time I yelled.

Why the change? I learned that a couple of key questions lurked behind my yelling.

First:  how do I behave in a confrontation when no one knows I am a Christian?

In other words, I must admit that if it were someone from my church who messed up the bill I would never have yelled at them.

Second is an even deeper question I faced:

Is my Christianity only a performance? Or is it a deep heartfelt conviction that wells from the inside out, and drives how I react to situations—-even when the person I am confronting really is wrong and no one else is watching how I am handling it?

Basically, the kind of crummy attitudes behind my yelling needed correction and change. My natural inclination, though, is to not welcome correction.

Look at this verse in Proverbs :

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.  (19:20)

I need to give a note of caution in quoting this or any Bible verse.  Because if someone overheard me yelling and simply quoted this verse to me, nothing would have changed. This way of firing a verse at someone can backfire.  Oh, someone might use it to shame and guilt me into not yelling for a while, but that does not lead to genuine repentance and heart change.

It’s vitally important to consider the real source of wisdom behind the book of Proverbs. This true wisdom is personified in Jesus Christ.  And thanks be to God we have union with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Only by calling on God’s grace and being in union with Christ can we begin to override our unwillingness to accept correction.  And of course, it is a process. We don’t suddenly and instantly welcome correction in every area of our lives. But with the help of the Spirit and people we can trust, we do start to develop a teachable and correctable heart.

Building Our Dwelling

“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

framing

Pastor Mark Dever gave one overview sermon to his congregation in Washington, DC for each book of the Bible. His New Testament sermons are reprinted in The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. 1 Dever’s sermon on 1 Corinthians inspired me to write this post.

If only our Christian lives could be built up as easily as the house getting framed in the picture!

There must be some obstacle preventing that. Is it the fault of what other people do to us, those who do not appreciate us? That may be partly true, but today let’s look at what we might be responsible for.  What obstacles in us make it hard for us to grow in becoming a dwelling place for God?  Here are two scenarios:

  • We like to feel that we are anointed and talented and can be used by God. We can even legitimately enjoy it when someone recognizes that God is at work in us. But do we think we deserve such recognition? How do we feel when we don’t get it? Rejected, upset?
  • We feel that our pet ministry is especially important to the well-being of our church. And as we talk to others, we always let them know just how vitally important this ministry is. We imply that, if they really loved Jesus, they would be a part of that ministry too!

Neither of these scenarios helps us to build up other people. Yet they both are such easy traps to fall into. How can we avoid those traps?

It helps to learn to be secure in who we simply are in Christ. Each of us can say: I have been redeemed by Christ, I am a new creation, and I am loved by Christ, such that nothing I can do can earn me more love. Out of that security in our identity in Christ, springs true edifying Christian action. How very different from thinking I need to prove that I am worth something to Christ and his Church!

As I simply love Jesus, I become willing to quietly give myself in love for others, without concern that I’m right or get recognition or need to have someone join my team.

Ironically, if I don’t feel I deserve to be complimented, I end up receiving godly affirmation. And instead of shaming people into joining my ministry, my attitude of love is infectious and contagious and draws others to join in as they see that yes, the Lord is at work in this ministry.

I’ll never forget a memorial service for a certain man who did not have a prominent and public role in our church. He was someone who never sought the limelight or pushed himself forward. But – at the service, many testified at the quiet impact for Christ that he had on their lives.  He was a true blessing to others. Those testimonies together were like a chorus of angels singing his praise. Isn’t that what happens when we enjoy seeking the good of others?

 

  1. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=The+Message+of+the+New+Testament%3A+Promises+Kept

 

 

The Great Escape

escape from the fowler

 Praise be to the Lord,
     who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
  We have escaped like a bird
     from the fowler’s snare;
 the snare has been broken,
     and we have escaped.
  Our help is in the name of the Lord,
     the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:6-8)

What kind of help has our Lord given us? He gives us two kinds of help in this passage.

First, God freed us from the fowler’s snare. This snare stands for being trapped by sin and death. We need help!

Jesus is our rescuer. Once and for all, Jesus sets us free from the snare of sin and death when we repent and believe in him for salvation.

Second, the Psalmist also gives praise to the Lord that he “has not let us be torn by their teeth.”  Here, the “they” is enemies who attack.  This can refer to actual human enemies, to demonic forces, and to the junky things that happen to us just because we live in a fallen world.

Does this mean that God protects us from all tearing in this life? No. But no matter how much things do get rotten in our present life, our hope cannot be torn away from us. We keep our hope that our final destiny is with the Lord. We remain in union with Christ.

Here the apostle Paul is in great difficulty but not torn:

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) 

Paul compares our bodies to jars of clay. That sure highlights our weakness, contrasting our tiny power with God’s mighty power. When calamitous stuff seems overwhelming, God is constant. That’s the full meaning of our help being in the name of the Lord.  We’d be in despair if it all depended on what we can do—but what a relief that our powerful God gives us the hope we need to persevere!

What does it really mean to have more of Jesus?

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 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Does having more of Jesus mean getting all pumped up emotionally? That easily happens when we go to a retreat, mission trip, etc. Our balloon is soaring higher and higher.   But then —– we return home.

I remember one time driving to work the day after a 3-day retreat and someone did not think I was driving up the entry ramp to the Interstate fast enough. So, they gave me a long blast on their horn! Yes, after our return, somehow the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed…soon we are swamped by them again and then we become like that picture of the deflated balloon.

How, then, can we have a more robust view of more of Jesus?

I think we need an encounter with our God of fire and holiness.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Our God is a consuming fire. Should we be terrified about this? Am I throwing fire and brimstone at you?

Let’s look at what the Prophet Isaiah said after a frightening encounter with God.

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) 

Does this experience make Isaiah pull back in fear or give up? No, he next learns that God forgives him. And then see what happens next in verse 8:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”   And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

What if we too start at a place of “woe is me” and then become able to say, “forgive and cleanse me Jesus” and then “I want more of what you want?”

Then, we are empowered to be used and sent. As I often have said in my blog posts, this does not mean we must be doing wonderful and spectacular things for the Lord. The sending can be to tasks that appear to be ordinary.

These ordinary tasks begin to change what we want, care for, think we need, get annoyed at, etc.

So, even when the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed, Christ is changing our way of reacting to them.  It’s these little changes that add up over time to a changed, maturing character that really does have more of Jesus.

Three Times

Rooster Crowing cropped

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:38)

You’re probably familiar with the story of Peter denying Jesus three times and then the rooster crows. And probably you have heard that that is because Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit to make him courageous and bold. And that, since we do have the Holy Spirit now, that means we rarely, if ever, betray Jesus or sin against him. Right?

Not really! Even now, when I walk in victory, I overestimate how well I can lay down my life to follow Jesus. I start to think of the ways I will never sin again. Unfortunately, in a sense it is inevitable that I sin today. That does not mean I plan to! But rather, in some way, I will miss all of God’s best for me today.

There are two extremes which are so easy to fall into. One is patting myself on the back for not sinning and walking in such victory. And the other extreme is feeling all beat up when I do sin.

 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

At first glance, these verses look like a contradiction. But not really. “Will not sin” refers to our old lifestyle before we knew Jesus where we sinned continually and never felt the need to repent.  That is over with. We are free from that.

But that does not mean we never sin. So, happily, when I do sin I have an advocate: the Lord Jesus.

Keep in mind that our freedom from sin is a process. The key is to know that we are on the pilgrim’s path. Then we can avoid bouncing between the extremes of either being puffed up with overconfidence or wallowing in the muck of despondency and defeat.

Lord, we thank you that you grow us as we persevere in following you.

Calmed and Quieted

  I do not concern myself with great matters
     or things too wonderful for me.
  But I have calmed and quieted myself,
     I am like a weaned child with its mother;
     like a weaned child I am content. (Psalm 131:1b-2)

I have recently read some heated arguments amongst Christians about Genesis versus Science.

One book I recently read gave me a spiritual headache. It claimed to have found “the” answer to the connection between Adam, Genesis, and science. Why did it give me a headache? Because the authors insisted that they had found the right answer at last… and that perhaps anyone who did not see it their exact way was just a little bit ignorant.

But here’s a thought about the right answer.

If God wanted Genesis to provide a detailed science textbook explaining how exactly he did what he did, couldn’t he have provided it? Does he owe us an explanation of how he did what he did? That brings to mind God’s challenge to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
     Tell me, if you understand.
  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
     Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job 34:4-5)

Here’s what I see as indisputable about the creation account in Genesis:

What God did: He created.

Why God did it: To show his glory and call a people to himself through his Son Jesus.

Isn’t it refreshing to just rest in awe of what God did and not worry about how He did it?

That’s why today I will not attempt to give you a final explanation of how science and Genesis are connected.

I will simply accept that some of this is just beyond me, but still very wonderful. And that leads to the result in the second verse of today’s Psalm: contentment.

I experienced the Psalmist’s path to contentment in recent prayer times as I prayed through different issues. This peace is a gift from the Spirit that we all receive if we ask. When we “let” God keep his secrets, and trust that he does tell us what we need to know, then – what a wonderful result: we truly become more calmed, quieted and content.

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.