Category Archives: devotional

“God Is Real”

   For children who grow up in church, it is very easy for them to view it as nothing more than a religion if they never see the evidence of God at work. This fact was brought home to our church in a very real, but positive, way this past week.

   Bro. Jackie and his wife were a dear couple in their seventies. After he had a stroke about a year and a half ago, they moved down from Illinois to live with their daughter. The stroke affected his speech and his mobility, causing him to be mostly confined to a motorized wheelchair and leaving his speech somewhat halting. Additionally, he was dealing with Parkinson’s disease and a number of other ailments.

   Over the last few months, Bro. Jackie had two or three close calls with death, going in and out of the hospital and nursing home.

   Sunday before last, he was able to be in church. It was always a pleasure to see him there. He had a million-watt smile and an obvious hunger for the Word of God. He was one of those people who could make a preacher hurt himself preaching.

   At the end of the service, he motored his way down to the altar and requested that I and the elders of the church pray for his healing according to James 5:14. I called the deacons to the front and we gathered around Bro. Jackie and prayed for God’s hand to raise our brother up.

   That night, Bro. Jackie slipped into a non-responsive state. Over the next three days his vital signs began to slip and it was obvious that the end was nearing. On Wednesday, about an hour before prayer meeting, he went home to be with the Lord. His family, as well as the church, felt a real sense that God had answered the prayer of faith and given him ultimate healing.

   This past Sunday, one of our young boys at church, age 11, approached his Sunday School teacher and told him he needed to be saved. This young man had been raised in church and had actually been baptized at an earlier age. When I talked to him about his decision, he shared with me that his earlier baptism had not been based upon a genuine profession of faith. He further testified that seeing Bro. Jackie come forward for prayer, and then seeing God take him home had convinced him without a doubt that God is real.

   Most of us have seen the staggering statistics about 85% of those church members who reach the age of 18 leave church, never to come back. Could it be that in their entire lifetime in church they have never seen God working in a manner that proved His reality? This is certainly not the fault of God as we know that He responds to faith.

   The answer to reaching our young people is not another program, trip, rally, camp, car wash or (dare I say it?) class. They need to see real faith in the lives of those who are older, real faith that produces real results from a real God.

   This song says it best, listen and be blessed.


Carried By Adversity

   Every so often in the world of sports, there comes an act of sportsmanship that causes even the most cynical and jaded fans to sit up and take note. Such was the case in the recent college women’s softball game between Western Oregon University and Central Washington University.

   Western Oregon senior, Sara Tucholsky, was at the plate with two runners on and her team trailing 2-1 when she hit the first home run of her life. Missing first base, she collapsed as she attempted to return and touch it. She apparently suffered a torn ligament in her right knee.

   With Tucholsky unable to continue around the bases, Western Oregon coach, Pam Knox was faced with her only option of substituting for the injured player and causing the home run to be reduced to a single. Although rules would not allow Tucholsky to be assisted by her teammates, it had no such prohibition against her opponents offering her aid.

   Central Washington first baseman and Great Northwestern Athletic Conference career homerun champion, Mallory Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace carried Tucholsky between them, allowing her to touch each base as they made their way around the infield.

   This selfless act of sportsmanship essentially handed the Western Oregon the game and caused Central Washington’s elimination from the league playoff.

   Before the game, these two teams would have undoubtedly viewed each other as rivals, and yet, in a moment of crisis, a demonstration of character caused victory to emerge from adversity. It could be argued that this act went beyond what would be considered sportsmanship and entered into the realm of grace. Holtman and Wallace were certainly not obligated to help Tucholsky in such a generous manner, but they did so anyway without regard to what it would ultimately cost them.

   Often, we find ourselves in the batter’s box of life with the game on the line. Circumstances that would seem to be against us stand between us and victory. We can give it our best shot and still not have the strength to make it all the way home.

   It is in these times that we may be surprised to find that things that would at first blush appear to be against us, actually are working for us. God’s grace takes elements of adversity and actually uses them to move us to where we need to be.

   We would do well to remember the words of Joseph when confronting his treacherous brethren, “You thought evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

   There are no circumstances that are greater than the grace of God. Don’t be daunted by the enormity of the task to which God has called you. Don’t be intimidated by the strength of the opponent. By faith, swing for the fence, and when you have done all you can in the strength of the Lord, you may be surprised to find yourself being carried to victory by adversity.

Pitfalls of Cynicism

Cynicism: An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.

A recurring theme in the New Testament is that of hope. We are to have hope in the provisions and promises of God, the return of Christ, a glorious future and especially the great salvation that is given to us. The fifth chapter of Romans reminds us that our hope will not be put to shame because the love of God is working through us to accomplish our hope.

Sadly, too many of God’s children live a life devoid of hope. While they give mental assent to the contents of my previous paragraph, their general outlook on life is characterized by cynicism. As I have contemplated this, I have identified what I believe to be a few pitfalls that cynicism presents, that Christians should avoid.

1.  It abandons hope.

As Christians we should live daily in the hope that I have already described. A person who has given up hope allows their faith to become an easy target. Romans 8 describes the strength of faith that a person who has hope can develop.

2.  It pulls our focus from God to man.

Peter began to sink after he took his eyes off Jesus. While he was looking at the storm around him, it occurred to him that this was bigger than him. Those whose hope rests in politicians, doctors, lawyers, parents, family, friends or self will certainly see their hope eventually turn to cynicism.

3.  It accentuates the negative.

While the concept of “positive thinking” may be a bit overblown at times, it is something that is vital to a Christian perspective on life. Paul reminds the Philippian believers to think on things that are lovely, pure, of good report, etc. It is hard to be cynical when one is contemplating the goodness of God.

4.  It leads one to be judgmental.

By its very definition, cynicism assumes the worst about people and circumstances. It causes us to overlook our own flaws and concentrate upon the mistakes (either actual or imagined) of others. It will drive us to pass judgment upon the motives of others, even though we cannot see our own hearts, let alone theirs.

This is something that should never take place in the life of a Christian. James raises the question, “Who art thou, that judges another?”

5.  Cynicism spreads.

Paul uses the analogy in Hebrews 12 that we should not allow a root of bitterness to spring up as it will cause many to become defiled. It is impossible for us to hold this negative perspective inside. A cynic will see himself as simply being “realistic”, better informed than others or simply caught up in the refrain of “same song, second verse.” Unfortunately, everyone around them will be exposed to the hopelessness that pours out of them.

Are we abandoning hope? Is our focus on man instead of God? Are we focusing on the negative and becoming judgmental of others motives? Is our cynicism spreading to those around us?

There is still hope. God’s grace is strong to deliver, not only from the power of sin, but also from the negativism of this world.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.  I John 4:4

Give It Again

Dr. Adrian Rogers once told the story of a young Indian prince who became the leader of his province while he was still a child. As this was during the time when India was a part of the British Empire, it was customary for such rulers to visit Queen Victoria and pay homage to her.

In an effort to impress her, he ignored the the counsel of his advisors and presented, as a gift to the Queen, a very large and precious diamond. This diamond was without question the most valuable item that was in his province.

Years went by and the prince became a man. Twenty years or so passed before he visited London again. The Queen’s counsellors told her that it was possible that this prince would request the return of the diamond. If he did so, protocol demanded that she oblige him.

Sure enough, as he received his audience with the Queen, he asked her if he could have the diamond. She commanded that the gem be returned to the prince. Upon receiving it, he turned to Her Majesty with the stone in hand and said, “Your Highness, when I gave this diamond to you, I was only a child. I did not understand the value of this gem and what it represented for the people I rule. Now that I am a man, I do realize the value of it and what it means. As a man, I now give you this stone again.”

Many of us have made commitments to God at earlier times in our lives. Perhaps at a revival, concert, youth camp or some other event, we made a “decision” for Christ that we might not have fully understood. Since that time we have come to a fuller awareness of exactly what was at stake. Maybe it is time that we renewed that commitment to God with the full knowledge of what we are doing, motivated by love for Him.

“He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

They Worshipped Him as King

You can’t tell the Christmas story without including the visit of the wise men. They have always been favorites of mine for some reason. Every year, I would try to land the part of playing one of them in the church Christmas program and one of the first carols I learned was, “We Three Kings”.

Jesus came as the Savior of the world. We know that He will come again as King of Kings. To those of us who are believers in Him, this time of year is a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior. Between now and Easter we will think about His life, ministry, death and, of course, His resurrection. Our Savior and our salvation are real and that is a cause of great joy for us, is it not?

I am afraid, though, that many Christians do not celebrate Him as our king. We often think of His sovereignty in an abstract sense, some foggy concept of a future kingdom here on earth where He will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

And yet according to Philippians 2, God has already rewarded His obedience with a name that is above every name. Romans 8:9-10 states that we must believe in the “Lord Jesus Christ” in order to be saved. He is Lord and King right now. We cannot divorce His identity as Savior from His identity as King.

There are some who want Him to be the Lord over certain parts of their lives. They want His lordship to reign over their illnesses, their needs, their weaknesses and their negative circumstances, but they are not willing to submit their strengths, their abundances and their good times to Him.

The wise men came to Jesus on His terms as God had called them. They worshipped Him as He was, for Who He was. Whether or not they understood the full reason for His coming is unclear, but one thing is for sure, these men knew royalty when they saw it, and in the Christ child, they saw their King.

I hope that each of us will celebrate Him as Savior during this season but may that celebration continue throughout the whole year as we live our lives in submission to the commands of our King.

Humility and the Will of God

   It has been a couple of weeks, but I would like to share some more thoughts on determining the will of God. I think there are times when the will of God is clear, but our own perception may be clouded by a lack of humility.

 Consider the words of Paul in Romans 12:3:

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

While this verse is introducing a discourse upon the role of believers as members of the body of Christ, the use of the word “for” would imply a continuation of the thoughts immediately preceding it concerning the will of God.

I am convinced that a lack of humility before God will always prevent us from discerning the will of God. I have written before about the satanic nature of pride and how it is at the heart of every sin.

If we are trying to decide if God is leading us to do something or not, one thing we should consider is the reaction of our flesh to the decision. If the step we are about to take causes our opinion of ourself to go up, then perhaps God is not in it. If the thought of following through on a decision fuels feelings of self-satisfaction or self-righteousness, then we should consider the fact that God’s will always brings glory to God, not man.

The will of God can be discerned only when we lay our life, along with our will, pride and ambition, on the altar of surrender. When we forget about self-preservation, our own advancement and the fulfillment of our own dreams we can enter into the perfect will of God.

I know that every time I have found myself outside the will of God, it is because I allowed pride to override humility, and I elevated myself above the authority of God in my life. Without exception, I was following my own desires, avoiding my own dislikes, or pursuing selfish ambition.

It was John the Baptist who said, “He must increase but I must decrease.” Is it any wonder that Jesus described him as being the greatest among men? John realized that the more of self that was laid on the altar of surrender, the more glory he would bring to Christ.

May God help us to lay aside the pursuit of our own fulfillment and to follow after His glory alone. When we do that, the will of God will become much clearer.

The Will of God

   Growing up in church as I did, I often heard the phrase, “the will of God”. It seemed that everywhere I turned, that phrase was being thrown around by pastors, youth ministers and anyone else who had input in the direction of my life. I was encouraged to pray for God’s will in who I married, my “full time Christian service” (isn’t that supposed to be a given, anyway?), my ministry and generally every aspect of life.

The “will of God” was at times presented in a way that made it seem to be a vague concept. It was as if we were to wander through a dense fog in our life until suddenly the Holy Spirit would give us an opening where we would suddenly discover the details of God’s plan for our life and everything would be great.

Now I am not mocking the idea that God has a perfect will for our lives. In fact, I believe very strongly that He does. I believe that every believer has the responsibility before God to discover God’s will and to do it. I believe there are blessings to be found in the center of God’s will.

The problem I have seen is that there are myriads of formulas people use for determining whether or not something is God’s will. I have seen people use a multitude of factors in deciding what they believe God wants them to do in a given situation. Here are some them:

1.  Burden–Some feel that as long as they have a burden for a particular ministry, area of service or geographical location, then that is God’s way of telling them they should do something. Yet, when we look at Scripture, we see that isn’t always true. Jonah felt anything but a burden for the citizens of Nineveh, yet it is obvious that God wanted him to go there. By the same token, the Apostle Paul felt the most intensive of burdens for the nation of Israel, yet God had called him to minister to the Gentiles.

2.  Desire–it is so easy to confuse our desires with “peace from God”. There have been a number of occasions in my life that I wanted something so desperately to be the will of God that I convinced myself that I had peace that it was God’s will. The fact is, our heart is compromised by our sinful nature and can fool us. Even if our intentions are sincerely to do the will of God, we are playing with fire if we use desire as the determining factor of direction.

3.  Circumstances–Circumstances do not always determine the will of God. There are times when I believe God does use circumstances to move His people in certain directions. I believe that the life of Naomi is a good example of this. At other times, though, it may seem as if circumstances would force us one way, and God miraculously works through the circumstances to open the way for us.

4.  Opportunity–some people feel that if a door is opened, they are obligated to walk through it. We should give great care to make sure that it is God who has opened the door. In my ministry, I have been presented with many opportunities to do good things. Opportunities for ministry, missions, fellowship, education and several other things have offered themselves from time to time. There is nothing wrong with any of these (in fact there is a lot that is right with them), but I cannot honestly say that all of these opportunities were from God. Some of them came through association. Some of them came through well-meaning, godly people. Some of them I discovered on my own.

Is it possible that opportunity coupled with either desire or burden, yet lacking wisdom and discernment has probably caused as many people to miss the will of God as has outright rebellion?

Here are some things I do know concerning the will of God:

God’s will can be known

God’s will always brings glory to God

God’s will does not contradict His Word

In my next post, I hope to examine what I believe is the primary scriptural criterion for knowing the will of God. In the meantime, I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.

High Notes

It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog-spotting tour. I’ve come across a few gems this week that I wanted to pass along to you.

Dan Burrell gives an outstanding post on the Lost Discipline of Reverence. This post really reinforced some things I have been learning lately.

Frequent commentor here at Heavenly Heartburn, T.A. Blankenship, has a good set of reasons for expositional preaching.

The discussions at K.C.’s blog never lack for depth. He has a good one going now on the topic of judgment.

I always get a blessing out of Dionna Sanchez’ devotionals. She has one on keeping God in our focus that will encourage you.

 There’s a new blog on the block, SBC Impact is a group blog to which frequent visitor Tony Sisk contributes. It has a good collection of writers and seems to be focused on accentuating the positive aspects of SBC thought instead of dwelling on controversy.

Alan Knox is presenting an outstanding series on the topic of church elders at his blog. You really need to check this out. 

Finally, my brother is asking a good question concerning the future challenges of Christianity.

Enjoy and come back tomorrow for another exciting edition of Weekend Survey.

Christ the Sensitive Leader

   I occasionally often find myself in a bit of a leadership dilemna. There are times when I have a tendency to get too far ahead of those whom I am trying to lead. It’s not because I’m that much better or faster than them, it’s that I fail to be sensitive to where they are.

   Jesus was a master communicator who was sensitive to the individualities of those who were around Him. In one place you will find Him gently correcting Martha for getting her feathers ruffled at Mary. In another, you will see Him sternly rebuking the impulsive Peter who should have known better than to try to correct the teacher. In yet another instance, see Him use what might even be considered to be heavy-handed tactics (calling the Pharisees “generation of vipers”, driving the money-changers out of the temple) to get His point across.

   A great challenge to Christian leaders is to find the balanced sensitivity that Christ showed. Notice what Isaiah 42:3 has to say about Him:

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement unto truth.

   This text indicates that Jesus would be sensitive to both those who were broken and those who were on top of things. A “bruised reed” is quite literally a “cracked rod”. A rod was a very useful tool, especially for shepherds. However, if it ever became cracked due to use, age or stress, it was no longer strong enough to fulfill its purpose. Usually, so that it would not be used by mistake, the owner of a cracked rod would simply break the rod in two over his knee and throw the pieces in the fire.

   How often do we discard the cracked rods? Those who are discouraged, disillusioned or defeated, those who have failed and fallen, those who strayed, do not need to be discarded as being unprofitable. We don’t need to finish breaking them. Why? Because Jesus didn’t do it. The Master had the ability to repair the cracked rod and still use it for His glory. As ministers of His grace, can God not accomplish that same healing through us?

   By the same token, we should never discourage those whose passion for God is growing. Those who are a flax (a candle-wick) that are beginning to catch fire and burst into a light-giving flame for God should receive all of the encouragement that we can give. We should never quench those smoking flaxes with the cold waters of cynicism, pride or judgment.

   This is an area of my life and ministry that God has been reconstructing. My prayer is that God will make me to be a better listener,  a more perceptive, more compassionate, more patient, and generally more sensitive leader to those to whom I minister. I’m just glad that when I fail in these areas, He doesn’t break me over His knee and throw me away.

Play It Again

   I posted this hymn last year about this time. Since then it has been one of my most popular posts, particularly in search engines. To me, it is one of the most magnificent hymns that we sing in the church today. I hope that it will add a small measure of joy to your celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

Hallelujah, What a Savior

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name

For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude

In my place condemned He stood

Sealed my pardon with His blood

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we

Spotless Lamb of God was He

Full atonement, can it be?

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die

“It is finished,” was His cry

Now in Heav’n exalted high

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When He comes, our Glorious King

All His ransomed home to bring

Then anew this song we’ll sing