Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

A certain man shared a garden with his neighbor. For many years they planted, watered, weeded and harvested together. One year a terrible storm came and damaged their homes and some of the crop. When it came time to weed, the man and his neighbor were so busy making repairs that they just let it go. The harvest came and the crops weren’t as plentiful and they weren’t as good, but the garden still produced.

The next season the man and his neighbor were still dealing with repairs so they each planted less, watered less, weeded less, and harvested less. The following season, the man decided that his home was in too much disarray and that his neighbor wasn’t as interested in the garden and the harvest wasn’t worth the effort, so he stopped planting, he stopped watering, and he stopped weeding. The harvest was even smaller. His neighbor grew frustrated because he saw the man give up on the garden and so the neighbor too, stopped planting, watering, and weeding. In just a years time the garden was swallowed up and the man had a broken house, a broken friendship, and no garden.

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If you are in the Christian church you may have heard a lot of voices in the past few years lamenting the inability of the church to connect with young adults who are passionate about justice and mercy and who are tired of legalism and a culture that stifles searching and questions. These things are all probably true for a lot of people.

But there’s a terrible and frightening irony here. The voices are coming from the middle-aged. No, not the people who think they’re middle-aged. Those people are my parents generation. That’s the generation in the church who taught us to fight with each other for what we wanted. That’s the generation that taught us that leaving to find (or make) something after our own image is the right way to handle disagreement. Because, really, don’t we all agree that divorce isn’t so bad as their parents made us think? And isn’t starting a new church across town that makes me comfortable how the church should grow? That’s the generation that taught us how to shop around for lovers, friends, churches. That’s the generation that shaped our values, both good and bad. It is their behavior that helped shape how we live because we adopt what has been modeled for us and we react against the ways in which they were overbearing.

No, these voices of the middle-aged are my generation (and older as I still consider myself pretty young at the age of 32). I’m about the age of Jesus when he was leading men and women into the Kingdom of God, teaching and training them how to live the way He lived. But we like to think we are younger than we are. We aren’t. For many reasons, we haven’t matured in ways we should have, but neither has our parent’s generation. I think we inherited that from them as well. Most of us are of the age to have great and/or terrible influence over what is accomplished in our congregations, communities and families. We are the ones shaping the world around us. We’ve labeled our parents generation as irrelevant in the church but we still cry out, “Woe are we who are young and oppressed by the leaders of the church.”

We certainly desire and seek out values that are good and in opposition to this behavior… stability, community, trust. But we do it through learned behavior. We leave. And we do it quickly because we saw the bickering and fighting and we don’t want it and we can’t handle it. We are sick of it. So we leave at the first sign of trouble. Many of our generation left the church because of fighting in the church at large, or fighting in their congregation, or fighting in their family, or fighting with what they were taught vs. what they observe. I’m not blaming the previous generation. In fact, my point is that we need to understand where we have come from and where we are so that we can take responsibility for ourselves.

Here’s the terrible and frightening irony: We are now the leaders in the church. Regardless of title or position, for better or worse, our generation is doing the leading. What we are crying out against is a phantom–a memory of our formative years and we are crying out against our own creation and influence. In the words of Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1

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Over on his brilliant blog, Stuff Christians Like, Jon Acuff occasionally posts a re-run. From what I’ve observed, this happens more often on “Serious Wednesdays” (the one day a week when Jon puts down his humor and satire pens and reflects more seriously on what God’s showing him). And, seeing as how he isn’t Carlos Whitaker (who sees spiritual lessons in everything), re-runs are understandable.

Plus there’s the whole thing of the fact that we don’t always seem to get truth the first time that we hear it. Heck, apparently Paul felt like he even had to repeat himself in the same verse!

Well, this was one of the weeks where Serious Wednesday was a re-run of something that Jon had written a couple years ago. There were scores of comments thanking Jon for the article, many of which even acknowledged it’s re-run nature and stating that now is when they needed it.

But then some goof came along and started griping about the re-runs and related issues (e.g. Jon often gives his big platform to a lesser-known writer once a week), positing the theory that Jon was losing interest in his blog and stating that he (the goof) saw less and less reason to read it. Oh, and said goof posted all this anonymously.

Now, to be honest, no one’s going to even come close to the brilliance of Jon’s reply:

Did you just anonymously criticize me for not giving you enough of my personal time?

But even acknowledging that fact, it was all I could do not to fisk the anonymous comment, as it was dumb six ways from Sunday. Fortunately, others had already responded, so my desire to feed the troll was lessened and I was able to resist.

But the whole thing got me thinking about something. The anonymous goof was complaining about something that he got for free.

I’ve noticed a rise in this tendency of late. As the ‘net and digital delivery of information and entertainment grow, more stuff is free (or at least really cheap) that would have been expensive 5 years ago or — more likely — didn’t even exist. Yet kvetching has become such a common occurrence, it’s a wonder that we all don’t speak Yiddish.

And then I realized that excessive complaining about free stuff is older than dirt.

I woke up ridiculously early this morning* and couldn’t get back to sleep. Actually, I take that back. For a Saturday morning for a normal person, the hour was ridiculous — for me, it was obscene. I was off my game a large part of the day and would probably be in bed now if it wasn’t for a nap that didn’t really accomplish much this afternoon.

Then Jesus said, “You woke up.”

* (I wrote this Saturday evening)

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…the way Christ loves the church.

Don’t you just hate those controversial titles that sound absolutely shocking and horrible and then you go to see what it’s all about and it’s nothing? I sure do, but I usually pay attention anyway. Why? The same reason writers write them. It’s a good hook, an easy way to draw in a reader. We want to know what’s behind the statement and in the end we are often disappointed because there was nothing to it (which is probably why the shock value is added in the first place). But the thing about my statement above is that it should be shocking even with the rest of the statement. We like to show ourselves grace by saying that we aren’t perfect and God doesn’t really expect us to actually be able to do these things He commands in Scripture. We’re wrong when we do that. God gives us grace and helps us to show grace to others, but He also expects us to grow, to mature, and to transform into the likeness of His son.

And for husbands, that means sacrificing of ourselves so that we can provide for, take care of, and even better our wives. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:25-28

Our leadership at home can have a tremendous impact on the well being of our spouses. Unfortunately, far too often I expect my wife to be available for my needs and wishes. I expect her to give up of her own desires and to sacrifice of herself so that I can have more time for fun, better food, freedom for work and for projects, and rest. This dynamic has a negative impact on her spiritual development. Although every person is responsible for their own faith, husbands are responsible to provide for the spiritual development of their wives. This means that you consider her needs, her growth, her holiness, her transformation into the likeness of Christ and you make adjustments to your schedule and your priorities. Not because Valentine’s Day is coming, but because Christ set the example and we are called to follow.

I need to also say this: Despite my shortcomings, when my wife loves, supports, encourages, and even follows my leading during these times, I am a better father, husband, and friend because of her.

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In Christianity Today, Eric O. Jacobsen writes about how we understand the new creation

A key to this significant paradigm shift has been a reconsideration of the provocative text in the second half of 2 Peter 3:10. As the King James Version has it, “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” One common way to understand this text is that the earth and sky (heaven) will be completely annihilated, then later replaced with a brand new heaven and earth.

However, another possibility—and the one that some of the more contemporary translations use—is that the earth and everything on it will be disclosed or laid bare. That is to say, the fire will not annihilate the entire earth, but will refine it by burning away everything that is unworthy (Malachi 3:2-3). This newer translation seems to fit the context better, as the author had just made a parallel reference to the destruction of the Flood, which wreaked havoc on creation but didn’t annihilate everything.

We’ve talked about and argued about this with each other and our readers in the past. We’ve all been up in arms over various doctrines that we are passionate about. And while I believe that our doctrine shapes and defines how we live our lives, I have a hard time believing that we’ve got it all together. Or that those of us who have argued for a refiners fire have let that belief shape us enough. We look at the evil around us with sadness but do nothing to participate in God’s redeeming work. Well, I don’t really think that. I’m sure you do something to that end, but when I see stories like this -

I wonder about the work that the church is participating in. I live an hour away from Indianapolis. Sex trafficking has been on my radar as a problem the church in the U.S. needs to be aware of and working on. We’ve done nothing. 11 Catholic churches worked on this effort. A lot of our churches are invested in a lot of good and Godly work around this world and in their communities. I get that. I encourage that. But this isn’t another tax seminar, or specialized conference, or study series, or the latest book that can be ignored because there is something better to do with our time. This is mercy for the hurting, justice for the abused, humility for the proud.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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First in a long series of Monday posts designed to incite the masses. Unless of course the mob wins. In which case, we’ll just have anarchy.

No, things were not better then and they are no worse now. I was reading an article about St. John Chrysostom who lived in the latter half of the 4th century and is known for his practical and relevant sermons. He’s got some good stuff that (with a little linguistic adaptation) could be preached this Sunday and you wouldn’t even know the guy has been dead for 1600 years. Spending too much time on sports or entertainment anyone? Need to spend more time around the dinner table talking about your faith with your family? Makes you wonder if there is anything new under the sun.

I’m amazed at how much time we waste. Sure, with entertainment and what not, but more so with trying to get other people to see how we are right and they are wrong. About everything. Politics, sports, ministry, theology. Man, this is kind of flying in the face of inciting people to rant and rave in the comments. I guess I’m okay with that because we really wasted a lot of time arguing about stuff. Most of which didn’t actually have any bearing on our lives.

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First, a confession. This little devotional is basically ripped-off from part of a sermon I heard this morning. I found it so helpful, though, I had to steal it. I think the pastor who preached it would be OK with that, though. Also, being that tomorrow is the eighth day after Easter, I find it to be timely.
Of all the disciples, I think Thomas (alias, Didymus, or “the Twin”) gets a bad rap. Of course, we all know him as “Doubting Thomas”, and that term is still used in the vernacular to describe any skeptical person. But if we take a close look at the text surrounding the events where he is having trouble believing, I think it becomes clear that he wasn’t a guy who was known for waffling.

First a little back-story. Thomas is mentioned four times in the Gospel of John. The first is in John 11 when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is very sick. Jesus actually knows that at the time He gets this message Lazarus is actually dead. He loved Lazarus greatly, though, and because of this, He plans to go back to Judea so He can raise Him. Going back to Judea, though, means He would be going back to the place where the people recently tried to stone him. The other disciples, realizing this fact, basically tell Jesus, “are you serious?!” This is where Thomas speaks up. Thomas says, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” This does not sound like a doubt-filled man. He was willing to lay his life on the line for Jesus when others were second-guessing Him.

So fast-forward to John 20:24-29. We read about this interchange between Jesus and Thomas:

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

So, let’s not forget, Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. We aren’t told where he was. Perhaps he was simply too devastated to join up with his companions. Perhaps he was just at the end of his rope. Wherever he was, though, he needed to see Christ for Himself to be brought back to a place of belief. And the thing is, Jesus understood this. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for doubting. I believe there was a smile, not a scowl, on Jesus’ face as he welcomed Thomas. His beloved disciple has seen Him, and that has restored His faith. Jesus says to Thomas, “Peace be with you.” In other words – “Thomas, come back into the Shalom of my presence”.

So perhaps we too find ourselves in a dark place. We find ourselves in a post-Easter world, but we simply can’t see Jesus. Perhaps our faith is beaten down and we are to the point of despair. We are far from Shalom. I believe that in these circumstances, hopeless as they seem, Jesus will still speak Shalom into them if we let Him. Letting Him means facing our doubts head-on. It means being honest with Him. And it means being honest with ourselves. I believe we’ll find that when we do things Christ will turn and breathe on us.

Peace by with you.

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In community we are challenged. In community we are encouraged. In community we are served. In community we learn. In community we are corrected. In community we mature. In community we love. In community we are loved. In community we thrive.

There’s a story about a minister who went to see a church member who had missed a few weeks at church. After the customary greetings, the minister comes in and sits down by the fire. The two sit in silence for a few minutes watching the active fire when the minister goes over to the fireplace and, with the fireplace tongs, moves a burning coal away from the rest of the fire onto the hearth. The bright glowing ember soon fades and eventually loses it’s fire. The minister then takes the dead ember and places it back in the fire where it immediately begins to glow again from the heat of the rest of the fire.

In Christ, we find community. But only if we participate in the service of Christ, cooperate with the work of Christ, share in the suffering of Christ, dwell among the body of Christ.

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I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from you
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do

What’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a savior

I wanna be in the light
As you are in the light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, lord be my light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the light
All I want is to be in the light

The disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a savior

Honesty becomes me
[there's nothing left to lose]
The secrets that did run me
[in your presence are defused]
Pride has no position
[and riches have no worth]
The fame that once did cover me
[has been sentenced to this earth]
Has been sentenced to this earth

Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a savior

–DC Talk

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I am free
For the first time
Left my fears behind
In front of me is open sky

I’m taller than trees
I can see further than before
Everything’s different now
Now that You’ve ruined my life

You took my dreams
And stole my schemes
And turned my life upside-down
You took my heart
Stole every part
And made it a miracle

Now I can sing, sing a new song
My burden’s gone
You gave me all the words and melodies

And now I can be at Your feet
Your place for me
Everything’s beautiful
Now that You’ve ruined my life

And I’m wide awake
And tonight I’m saved
In Your arms I’m singin’ of
How You made me a miracle

I’m taller than trees
I can see further than before
Everything’s different now

–Audio Adrenaline

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