Grow the Church. It’s Something We Have to Do in Order to Grow the Church

Is the Church supposed to grow? Today’s church seems to be different from the one mentioned here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the church] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NASB)

The first days of the Book of Acts must have been exciting. There was a new Spirit at work on planet earth. The small group of believers had started to grow. A movement had begun that literally changed the world. Social barriers were being broken down, habits were being changed, and transformation was taking place. Believers enjoyed a sense of unity and fellowship that no repression or persecution could break, that no apathy or boredom could diminish.

Tell me, has there been a movement in your life that changed your world? Among the first-century believers, people put their money where their mouth is, practicing what was preached and committing the two most personal items they had: time and resources. The new church had started to grow. Relationships provided a basis for loving evangelism, and spending time together daily provided a platform for organic growth. They went deeper in order to get wider.

grow

As a result, Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Is the Lord adding folks to your church day by day? Are you and your church being transformed by love? In our modern world, there are marketing plans and efforts made to get folks to come on Sunday by promoting celebrities or hooking up to what’s hot in culture—but surprisingly, with all of our marketing sophistication, church attendance is actually down.

It’s a little awkward talking about growing numbers, 1) because most churches today aren’t growing numerically, and 2) because numerical growth is truly not the end game. Maybe we need to grow the church internally before we worry about growing the church externally. The focus of the early church was not on larger numbers but on being together, breaking bread, sharing gladness and sincerity, and praising God together. Growth was a by-product of unity and gladness.

There’s an old joke about a man who was marooned on a desert island. When he was found, rescuers discovered three huts on the island. Curious, they asked the man about them. “Oh, the first one is where I live”, he said. “The middle one is where I go to church. And the one of the right is where I USED to go to church.” Sadly, that joke has legs because believers have forgotten what church is for. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.

What Luke describes is still the blueprint for the church: be of one mind. Enjoy mealtimes and fellowship together. Be glad! Keep God in His proper place, and get along with others. It’s a simple recipe, and when believers come together to share sincerely, praising God in love and gladness, the church will grow. And since we ARE the church, it’s up to us to go deeper in order to get wider. Have dinner with somebody from church this week. Invite somebody who’s not. If you’re too busy to love somebody this week, then you’re too busy.

Acts 2
Breaking bread with one accord,
believers served before the Lord.
Christians gave the church its start
from house to house, and heart to heart.
It wasn’t how much stuff they had,
but how the Lord had made them glad!
Focus on love, and not on growth;
I think you’ll find you have them both!
Have fellowship with those who search;
unite in love, and BE the church.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Pray as if your Whole Relationship With God Depended on it

When you pray, do you sometimes mail it in? Just throw up the quick request and fall asleep? When it comes to praying, do you ever wonder if it matters, or if it is even necessary? Then here’s some food for thought…

“Jesus said, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30; 14:9) You might suppose that, as the Son of God, Jesus had an automatic connection with the Father; you might think that of anyone who ever lived, Jesus could have sustained a pretty good spiritual life without a lot of effort on prayer… But not so. He stayed connected to God in such a way that his friends noticed it and remarked upon it. What’s more, he connected to God in the same way each of us has the opportunity to stay connected: he prayed. He talked to his Father, and it was an integral part of how he did what he did. Our prayer life is a spiritual lifeline, a way for us to keep a direct line open to the Lord. If you want to understand God and stay connected to Him, take a closer look at a few of the passages about Jesus’ prayers. Maybe you’ll find a clue!

pray all night

“So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42 NASB)

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

“After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23 NASB)

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35 NASB)

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12 NASB)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9, NIV)

Consider that the Son of God, the Messiah, the most spiritual man who ever lived, prayed in public; prayed alone; prayed early; prayed into the evening; and prayed all night.
So…How’s your prayer life these days?

 

The Secret of Powerful Prayer

Praying sometimes feels like such a bother,
It sounds pretentious or it sounds so trite–
So different than just talking to our Father
When he would tuck us into bed at night.

You’d think that Jesus wouldn’t have to pray,
Since He was God–the way, the truth, the Light!
But he prayed often: every single day,
Early, late, and deep into the night!

He prayed with passion and he prayed with trust;
Jesus prayed with such an intimate tone…
He prayed for others. (Wow, he prayed for US!)
He prayed in public, and he prayed alone.

Jesus taught his followers how to care,
And even gave us words that changed the game,
Providing his example of a prayer:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

Bring on Thy kingdom; may your will be done!”
It’s called “The Lord’s prayer”. Surely you have seen it,
And maybe you’ve recited it once or twice;
But have you really prayed as if you mean it?
If not, then here’s a little prayer advice:
If God seems far away, or just seems hid,
Try this: go off and pray like Jesus did.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Of All the Commands, This is Perhaps the Hardest One to Follow

Commands from leaders have come and gone throughout history, but this one really stands out: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13 NASB) Think about Leaders and commands.

commands death

The word of a reigning monarch is a life and death matter. Artaxerxes could sentence someone to death just for asking for an audience with him. There were the Caesars who passed themselves off as deities and in their power sentenced hundreds of thousands of prisoners and Christians to death; there was Adolph Hitler, who orchestrated the Holocaust, and Stalin, who commanded that dissidents be “purged” from society. There have been despotic leaders throughout history whose commands led their followers to commit acts of war, atrocities, and mayhem. There have been countless commands from Kings and tyrants which only spread fear and dread among their followers.

If you were given absolute power over the entire nation, and could do whatever you wanted to without fear of penalty or reprisal, what sort of commands would you issue? (And before you answer that, remember that Winston Churchill said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”) You might start out as a benevolent dictator, but be careful: Leaders tend to gravitate towards governance that is self-interested, or that seems to be intended for good but which actually benefits mainly themselves. (Just look at Congressional perks and programs!)

Even in the name of religion, there are those who misuse power for evil purposes. There have been cult leaders like Bob Jones and David Koresh who gave commands which led followers to their doom. There have been religious leaders who asked for money, or other men’s wives, or who commanded their followers to commit suicide; there are religious leaders today who command their followers to strap on a bomb and commit both murder AND suicide. Commands given by such men are corrupt at best, lunacy at worst…

Of course, leaders also pass laws AGAINST all manner of crime. Our legal system penalizes people for doing wrong So, when you read what Jesus commands, it kinda sets you back on your heels for a minute. This commandment from Jesus is remarkable not only in his time and culture, but in all times and in all cultures. As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I guess he could command us to do anything, and we’d ultimately have to submit. But get this: He commands us to love one another. “Love one another, just as I have loved you.” You heard him. Love one another today. And I guess pretty much every day! And by the way — if you are reading this, I love you, and I just prayed for you this morning. Boom!

Watch the ones who govern; just look out at all the lands
Where people rule with might and power, issuing commands;
The King of Kings came down to earth and walked across His land
Without the Secret Service or a military band...
He dressed in humble garb. There was no scepter in His hand.
His sermon was his life. He wasn't digital. He had no Brand,
But we still hear His great commandment, just the way He planned.
It's short and to the point, not very hard to understand:
"As I have loved you, Love each other. This is my command."
The world will fall. Will Fall. But Jesus and His words will stand.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

What’s in Your Mind Really Matters; So does WHO


In the old Star Trek episodes, there was a very unique thing Spock could do called the Vulcan mind meld. He would grip a person’s head between his fingers and then he could actually get into their mind and read their thoughts for a moment. It was certainly a useful tool on the Starship Enterprise, and it gave them vital information from time to time. The Bible speaks of something along those lines, although it has nothing to do with Star Trek:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5 KJV). “…but we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) The Bible actually gives a new twist to the common saying, “mind over matter.” Paul tells us that our minds matter… and he actually advises that we should allow Christ’s very mind to be in us, that we should adopt the same attitudes, thoughts and responses to things that Jesus had.

It is a possibility explored in Charles Sheldon’s well-known book “In His Steps”, where people from various walks of life decided to try to live their lives, make practical decisions, and conduct business as Jesus would. They decided to walk “in his steps” by making his teaching the guiding principle for everything they did. (Wow, that sounds a lot like “being a Christian”!) This was the seminal story and could have been the verse behind the Christian WWJD bracelet fad of a few years ago that advocated asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” before making decisions or taking action.

Stop and think for a moment how you’d be different if you ACTUALLY had the mind of Christ… (There’s probably a bad Frankenstein reference available here about Igor bringing me the wrong brain, but never mind…) If I could do a “Vulcan Mind Meld” with Jesus, I could see His thoughts and understand exactly how He thinks.

mind meld

But what would Christ think about? Would he play video games? Waste time? Worry about his golf game? Look at Pinterest or Houzz? Think about shopping? Be concerned about ESPN? If I had Jesus’ thoughts and attitudes, how would I be different?

Hmm… wow, that’s a list I’d really rather not have to make. If I had the mind of Christ, I’d be loving, all the time. I’d be connected to my Father, who is good and holy. I’d be passionate about the things of God. I’d be compassionate about others. I’d have the wisdom of the ages, and the very character of God to guide me!

I’d be humble. I’d never act based on what the broken world thinks I should do. I wouldn’t find my worth in the approval of others. I would confer value on other people no matter what their social status or political leanings. I would be understanding and non-judgmental.

James Allen said, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” How would I think with the mind of Christ controlling and guiding me? If only I could have the mind of Christ, I would act and think differently than if I operated by the more pedestrian and carnal brain of Bo. But perhaps there are some things we can do: Reflect on the things Jesus taught and did. Think about your favorite Jesus moment, and put that moment into your mind; keep it there… Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to put that into practice today. Perhaps you could have a WWJD moment and walk “In His Steps”.

Don’t let the wrong brain do all your thinking for you. Paul assures us in Corinthians that we already HAVE the mind of Christ; his challenge in Philippians is to “Let this mind be in you”…Do you want the thoughts, attitudes, and responses of Jesus in your life? The Scripture says it’s not a matter of you HAVING them in place, it’s a matter of you LETTING them take precedence. What are you going to do about that? Maybe it’s time to make up your mind…

“As a man thinketh, so is he” is something that’s been said
To indicate how much we’re shaped by what is in our head.
Paul agreed that what we think will dictate what we do,
And so he said, about our head: “Let this mind be in you.”
Not the brain of Bo for words, or Dillinger making a heist,
Not even Einstein’s brain, but this: we have the mind of Christ.
Would His mind change just how you think, or change your point of view?
Would you make different choices, and would you see things anew?
If you had the mind of Christ, do you think you’d run with a different crew?
Well you have the mind of Christ. So tell me, friend, what should you do?

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Perseverance and Hope: Maybe the Best of Things

It’s one of those “chicken or the egg” questions: does perseverance result in hope or does hope result in perseverance? Here’s what Paul said: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25 NASB).

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
“I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope…” (First Andy, and then Red, from “The Shawshank Redemption”. Andy had escaped from prison; Red had been released after years of incarceration.

perseverance

Both men had left behind a life in prison for a new life fueled by hope—not a bad analogy for a picture of the Christian life, eh? Were you ever in bondage? Were you freed from the shackles of self-loathing and discouragement? In a life of freedom, hope is the new horizon, and we Christians should be walking towards it with confidence.) So, where are you walking? What do you hope for?

Hope, Paul says, comes with salvation. It is the logical result of believing the Scriptures and learning from them. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) It is no accident that hope and endurance or perseverance are mentioned together in these verses, because they are irrevocably intertwined. Tell me, in a marriage is it love that sustains the commitment, or is it the commitment that sustains the love?

By the same token, does perseverance sustain hope, or does hope sustain perseverance? Hope is a present commitment based on a future result. It is a powerful thing, perhaps the single most important result of discovering who Jesus is and what he did….

What do you, deep inside, truly hope for? What do you wait for with perseverance? If you long for self-improvement, grab on to that hope. If you worry about the future, then hold on to hope. If you are in a low place, or if you have your doubts, then visualize that hope, and claim Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” No matter your circumstances, you can be assured that someday you will see whatever it is that the God of hope has promised. I hope you will claim it with confidence. And I hope you will wait for it with perseverance. I hope…

Prison does things to a man; his heart and soul are battered,
Until his hopes are dashed, and all his earthly dreams are shattered.
In Shawshank, Andy made it out; then Red secured parole.
They persevered in Hope, and dreamed that it would make them whole.
And we are all in prison; every one of us walks the yard,
Longing for release–a chance to slip beyond the guard,
Free from sin and failure, free from penalty and fear,
Motivated by the Hope that we will persevere.
Approach the prison gates and ask the Warden to set you free;
Remember the perseverance that was shown on Calvary:
Jesus will look at you and smile, and offer you the key…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Love and The Deepest Theology: Four Dimensions of God’s Love

If you really want to define love, you can read the verse that everybody knows, John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse describes all of the dimensions of love– how high it is, how wide, how deep, and how long.

We talk about our perception of three dimensions around as we look at height, width, depth and length, but we all know there is more to it than that… How tall is beauty? How wide are feelings? Have you ever thought about all of the dimensions of God’s love? Way back in the day, Job was confronted with them in one of the earliest written parts of the Bible: “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven— what can you do? Deeper than Sheol— what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” (Job 11:7-9)

four dimensions of love

During Job’s discourse with the Almighty, God reminds him of the nature of the universe. We have boundaries and limits; God doesn’t. We think in terms of dimensions; God transcends them. It is that way in the physical universe we touch, see, and inhabit, and it is that way in the spiritual dimension that inhabits us.

We are made in God’s image, and whatever passions, values, and emotions we experience are reflections of Him–although as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13, we see them incompletely in this world, as though “through a glass, darkly.” In that chapter Paul acknowledges the importance of knowledge and giftedness, and discusses the importance of hope and faith, all of which could be considered as the deep things of God, and reflections of his character. He ends by saying this (v 13): “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” The end of theology is not proofs or precepts, and it is not about knowledge or discourse: it is about the way GOD LOVES YOU.

Have you really considered the depth of God’s love for you? Take a moment and reflect upon that. Do you feel loved today? You should. God loves you for who you are, and who you were meant to be. He loves you consistently, relentlessly, passionately, completely—enough to send his own Son to experience death on your behalf. He did it for everyone, and He did it forever. Bask in God’s love today, and remember that it’s higher, deeper, broader, and longer than you can imagine!

Four Dimensions of Love

How big is love? How strong, how tall?
Do we see love as far too small?
Our broken view of broken love
Can’t take the concept far enough—

Considering all that Christ has bought,
Could love be bigger than we thought?
Imagine love, the way you dreamed,
Romance and passion, all redeemed!

See love reflected in God’s face,
And feel it in His warm embrace.
For God so loved us, every one,
He sent His precious, only Son

To come and revolutionize
The depth and width, the lows and highs
Of love—so broken on the street—
In ways so intimate and sweet,
That in Him, we are made complete.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Courage: Something You Can Have. Something You Can Take

“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Psalms 31:24 NASB) Courage is an interesting thing, and people try to define it in different ways. Most of us probably first thought about courage when we saw The Wizard of Oz, and listened to the Cowardly Lion wish that he had some.

Courage is not merely about being fearless or foolish, but it is a level of poise or resolve that some people have when things get tough, and in some measure it helps all of us to make our way in the world. Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage.” Maya Angelou says, “Without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.”

courage Maya

Dictionary.com defines it as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” What is it in your life that requires courage? It may not always involve grand adventures or epic struggles but courage is something all of us need from time to time…

You’d think people in the Bible didn’t need it so much because they had, well, GOD. Yet there is enough uncertainty where the spiritual intersects our temporal, everyday world that 1) we still need faith; and 2) we still need courage. There’s that interesting story about Peter getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus out on the water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (John 14:29-30) Even with Jesus right there, and doing something no other man had ever done, Peter got distracted and got scared. He needed courage.

The Bible often uses the term as a means of encouragement before undertaking a daunting task. Moses exhorted Joshua and the children of Israel to “be strong and courageous” in Deuteronomy 31:6-7; David found “the courage to pray this prayer” and ask God about building the temple in 2 Samuel 7:27; and Hezekiah exhorted his leaders to “be strong and courageous” in the face of an Assyrian invasion in 2 Chronicles 32:7. The Spirit of the Lord encouraged Paul to “Take courage!” in Acts 23:11 before he was called to testify in Rome. In each case, people had a right to be afraid—they were faced with uncertainty, danger, or impossible odds.

Ambrose Redmoon (a beatnik and flower child back in the 60’s) said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” There are things in your life that you fear; what is more important to you than fear? I suppose that if I lived a life of true faith, and if I had real confidence in God, I would never be afraid. I’d be like Daniel in the lion’s den, or Shadrach in the fiery furnace, or Paul about to face shipwreck on a stormy sea. But like everybody, I am often distracted by the cares of the day, or the uncertainty of the future. Is it wrong to be fearful?

Consider this: when I allow fear or worry to dominate my thoughts, I am actually practicing a little form of idolatry, because I am allowing something in my heart and mind to be bigger than God. I may not intend to, but the reality is I am inadvertently replacing God with my own concerns. What can I do about that?

In Psalm 31, David said we should take courage. It’s interesting to note that in this Psalm, David talked about traps, affliction, deceit, troubles, sorrow, grief, and tribulation… He had firsthand knowledge of being besieged by circumstances and abandoned by friends. He speaks of lying enemies, conspiring schemers, and describes himself as a broken vessel. Because of all he had experienced, his closing statement about taking courage is not rose-colored optimism, it is a hard-fought insight about how faith in God can instill hope and confidence into believers even when many things turn against us.

Blessing and hope are not found in the absence of trouble, but in their midst. Be strong today, and let your heart take courage!

Life is full of moments that can lead you to uncertainty,
And there are times you have to deal with worry and adversity.
Living as a fugitive, King David was no stranger
To enemies, affliction, sorrow, grief, and outright danger.
Life will bring you sorrow. It will take your heart and break it;
David offers this encouraging word for us to make it:
Hope is ever in the Lord, and you don’t have to fake it;
His courage is available to us. Look up, and take it.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Idolatry You Should Forsake: Worship Like You Mean It

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. And yet most of us engage in it. “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.“ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

After returning to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple, Ezra learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan River valley, people worshipped the sun as well as local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain.

Before you smile and say, “How quaint and ignorant”, consider this: Pagan worship was very connected to carnal desires that all men have. (And yes, in the ancient world, temple-goers/worshippers were men. Women stayed at home.) So at the temples or High Places, all kinds of lustful and sensational activities drew the men deeper into “worship”. Besides sacrifices, temple practices included dancing by temple priestesses and repetitious music which was designed to help men achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience. (In Greece and Rome, men consorted with young boys and frolicked in bath houses.) Understand this: When a man said, “Honey, I’m going to worship at the temple”, he had more than prayer on his mind…

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship? (Hmm, a question much like, “What’s in your wallet?”)

idolatry

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church. Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing and weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church, and I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t ready to hear me do that, either; but perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid.
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Real Leaders Have to Be Willing to Let Leaders Lead

The Bible contains some pretty good advice for leaders. “Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.

Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:17-22 NASB)

godly leaders

Moses’ father-in-law is introduced in Exodus 2:18 as Reuel, which means “friend of God”. He was a Midianite priest who was also called Jethro, which was probably a title of respect, meaning “excellency.” He was a devout man who celebrated Moses’ return from Egypt with burnt offerings, and said in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

It must have been a bit of a surprise to him that Moses left as one of his shepherds and came back as the ruler of thousands and thousands of Israelites, but as he observed his son-in-law try to manage things, Jethro could see that Moses needed some help. He greeted Moses with enthusiasm and then offered him this wise counsel in verses 17-22.

The Bible is full of good, practical advice about leadership, and it offers many examples of good management technique. (Paul suggests something like it to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2) In this case, Moses was doing what many bosses assume: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. As a result, Moses was wearing himself out as the sole judge and arbiter for all of the Israelites, conducting daily hearings to help settle disputes among all of the people.
Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled him to:

1) educate the people about God’s statutes and laws;

2) select godly leaders who loved the truth, and

3) lighten his workload by sharing the burden of leadership.

If you have a leadership position, if God has given you a task, then think like Jethro and act like Moses. Surround yourself with honest, godly people who will exercise their own gifts and abilities to share the burden and lighten the load. Just make sure you look for the right qualifications. If there is any doubt about those qualifications, Jethro even spells them out for Moses (and for us).

Jethro said, “…select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.” That’s actually a pretty strong list, and if you applied those qualifications to a business, or a church, or to, say, Congress, how many leaders would ACTUALLY be left to lead? I think Moses’ first problem today would be in finding enough able men who fear God, love truth, and hate dishonest gain.

His second problem in a world governed by relativism would be how to measure those leaders against a standard. He would have to have a means to evaluate men’s behavior and make judgments that did not tolerate arrogance, dishonesty or greed. He needed accuracy about the candidates’ character, and accountability to judge their behavior. In a life-and-death world where leaders’ decisions can result in human loss, Moses had to ask himself if the men he was considering were qualified to lead.

But asking if others have those qualifications as leaders is really the SECOND question. The first question is, would YOU qualify? If you lead anyone, anywhere—if you are a mom, a dad, a boss, a teacher, a friend, whatever—those are the qualities you should pray for, and we should hope we see not just in others but also when we look in the mirror.

Godly Leadership

Jethro watched the way that Moses managed
And felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged.
He said, My son, Don’t try to do it all,
You’ll soon discover you will hit the wall,
And jeopardize your mission and your health:
Instead of doing all the work yourself,
Select some honest, godly men to lead
And they will give you all the help you need.”
Moses followed Jethro’s plan to lead,
And found a better platform to succeed.
If working hard’s not getting us what we need,
Perhaps that’s something all of us should heed.
Choose on godliness, if you can see it;
And best, for godly leadership, just be it.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Bonfire of Vanity: Advice From the Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

Tom Wolfe (who wrote, “The Bonfire of the Vanities”) understood all about vanity; so too, apparently, did an older and somewhat jaded King Solomon. He wrote this: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV)

The book of Ecclesiastes is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. It was written by King Solomon, who had seen it all and done it all. He experienced all that life had to offer and had grown jaded and a bit cynical. In chapter one he began with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (verse two) He says “all things are wearisome” in verse eight, “there is nothing new under the sun” in verse nine, and draws this conclusion in verse fourteen: “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”

vanity Madonna

Solomon reached these conclusions at the end of a long life full of wealth and achievement. When he was a young man about to assume the throne of Israel, 2 Chronicles 1:7 says that “God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked God not for wealth or power, but for wisdom; pleased with his choice, God gave him wisdom and all of those other things as well. (Kind of a preview of Matthew 6:33 in real life.) As a result, Solomon lived a long life populated with fame and fortune.

“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:23-24) The visiting Queen of Sheba told him, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” (1 Kings 10:6-8)

People magazine or TMZ would have covered the goings-on in Solomon’s court, and I imagine there was no vanity he didn’t have the opportunity to see or do. He built the biggest temple, lived in the most opulent palace, and married the hottest women on the planet. So why is all that important, and what does it have to do with us? I would think that the observations of one of the wisest and most experienced men in all of history would be worth consideration.

After everything he had seen and done, Solomon arrived at the conclusions he listed in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, which essentially tells us two important things: 1) Fear and obey God. Solomon tells us that having a healthy respect for your Creator makes sense, no matter how rich and famous you are. He also gives a shout out to obedience, which is always the natural result of respect. It’s not difficult to submit to the authority of someone worthy of respect. Solomon, a wise man, believed it made sense to obey God, which leads to his second point:

2) Remember who you are accountable to. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” It’s not about your reputation or your public persona or the few good deeds you’ve done. We are accountable to God for every deed, every thought, and every hidden thing.

One of the wisest and richest kings in history concluded that God’s judgment matters. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment.” (Matthew 12:36). Paul (Romans 14:12) said that “each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” If Solomon, Jesus and Paul think we should get ready for judgment before God, perhaps it would be a wise thing to do. Are you ready?

Solomon’s Judgment

The wisest and the richest king, who had the best of everything–
The purest gold, the finest wines–a thousand wives and concubines!
He wisely judged the rights and wrongs!
He frolicked in the Song of Songs!
There was no truth he could not teach,
Nor pleasure that he could not reach…
The Queen of Sheba sang his praise,
And stayed with him for many days,
Impressed with Solomon and his ways…
Of all men on the planet he, with all his hospitality
Was foremost of humanity, but out of all he got to see,
The cynical reality was this: that all was vanity.
The king then gave this reprimand:
“Fear God, and keep the Lord’s command,
Since He alone will be the One
To judge the secret things you’ve done!
It’s nothing but insanity
To chase the worldly vanity.
Beware the world’s ingredients;
Fear God, and be obedient.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread