Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekly Devotional - May 31, 2013

"He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished."
Proverbs 17:5 NIV
Why is it that people compare themselves to others who don't have as much in possessions or who have experienced a hard time? Those with something look for someone with less, then ridicule them. Those whose lives are going relatively smoothly spot the ones dealing with hardships, then gloat over them.
Let it be known that God does not take this lightly. Shouldn't that make us think and act differently about those who are less fortunate?
Here's some perspective. "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" These are Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 25.
Jesus is talking about judgment at the end of time. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The sheep are identified by their good deeds. Jesus needs no help identifying the sheep because he knows who has called upon his name and who has not. The sheep are not sheep because of their good works but because they have called upon the name of Jesus.
The separation of the sheep and goats is not based upon their works. But those who follow Christ will have good works of righteousness. Those who do not follow Christ will not. They may do some good things but their motive is not to help others in Jesus' name. In other words, our love for Jesus motivates us to love others in word and deed.
Let your life be marked with true words and deeds of righteousness. How? By going the way the Holy Spirit leads you. Try to see others through his eyes and touch them with his hands. Pray that God will help you seek him and follow him as you engage the people around you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Weekly Devotional - May 24, 2013

"May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you."
Psalm 25:21 NIV
Hope is an interesting word. Most of us use the word to express a wish or deep desire. Sometimes that is even in the context of pessimism. We might hold out hope for something to happen but never really believe it will happen. Hope is viewed as a component of helplessness by some folks.
That's not the biblical view of hope. The word is rich with optimism. The sun is always shining or about to shine. The storms that come may be severe but they will pass. Death may overtake the life of a loved on but eternal life is promised.
The difference between a typical view of hope and biblical view of hope is the focal point. If you focus on your circumstances then your hope will be draped with intermittent happiness and despair. If you focus on the circumstances then your hope will be overridden by doubt and confusion.
The focal point of hope - true hope - is the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember when Jesus came to the disciples in the Sea of Galilee walking on water? And Peter wanted to walk on water, too! As long as he focused on Jesus he walked on the sea as if it were a cement slab. But when he focused on the waves he sank and was afraid he would drown.
You choose each day, each moment, where you place your focus. Distractions are plenty and more are coming. As you survey the landscape do you see Jesus? Fix your eyes on him! He is the author and finisher of your faith - faith does not exist without him. And faith is the cement slab upon which hope stands.
I'm not promising it will be easy but I do know that it is best. That's from my own experience of water-walking and nearly drowning a few times. Maybe you feel hopeless because you aren't firmly placing your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray that God will give you hope as you place your faith in him no matter what the details of the circumstances may be.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Making a Garden Grow

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

I'm not sure if I'd like to have a green thumb or not, but I don't. My best claim to gardening is that my Dad planted a garden a few years when I was a kid and my grandfather made a living as a farmer. Based on that, I ought to know more than I know. I ought to be able to grow something. Maybe I can but I just haven't tried.

I do understand a biblical principle about the fruit of the Spirit. These are qualities - Christlike qualities - that grow in a Christian's life when he allows the Holy Spirit to tend to him. The Spirit plants, waters, weeds, prunes. And the Spirit harvests the fruit. That's how a Christian becomes more like Christ.

None of us are a Garden of Eden when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, we're not perfect. But if you've been a Christian for very long at all, you ought to have more of these qualities than you've had before.

So how are you doing? Are you maturing? Is the fruit of the Spirit growing in you?

If it's hard to love somebody, then focus on Jesus and yield to the Spirit and you'll soon find that you can love them.

If you don't have joy and instead allow circumstances to drive your emotions, then focus on Jesus and yield to the Spirit and you'll soon find that you are joyful in spite of what's happening.

If your life is full of strife, then focus on Jesus and yield to the Spirit and you'll find the peace that now alludes you.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I believe that if we focus on Jesus and yield to the Spirit we'll become more like Jesus and our character will reflect his.

I'm so glad I don't have a charge to become more like Christ (which I do) but then have the sole responsibility to get there. What a wonderful act of grace and compassion for God to help me. Actually, he does it all when I yield to him. All I have to do is yield.

Yielding means that I give up my desires for that of another. When I drive up to an intersection and my traffic lane has a yield sign, I have to wait for other cars to go through the intersection before I proceed. This is the safest and best way for traffic to flow. I want to go first; I have some place I need to be. I want to take charge and do it my way. But I yield to oncoming traffic. I submit my will to a higher authority.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit is much the same. I may have my own ideas or plans but I put them aside because his are best. I may have my own desires but his are better so I yield to him. Phrases like "live by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16) and "led by the Spirit" (Gal 5:18) and "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal 5:25) convey the idea of yielding to God's Spirit. When I do this I become more like Christ and I receive his blessings and I am useful in reaching others for Christ.

Disaster Relief

One of the great things about being Southern Baptist is the disaster relief ministry. Forty-five thousand churches cooperate through CP giving to fund the ministry. Thousands of Southern Baptists are trained and ready for deployment.

Many were deployed yesterday from all over the country. They headed to Oklahoma to minister in the wake of the deadly storms.

Disaster Relief is a resource intensive ministry. We always need people to volunteer to serve. Check out the training opportunities for Arkansas Baptists here.

And it costs money to mobilize and serve. You can give directly to Southern Baptists' Disaster Relief here.

The greatest resource we have is prayer. Please pray for those directly impacted by the storms, for the local responders and officials, and for the disaster relief crews as they are the hands and feet of Jesus in this difficult situation.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Gathering My Thoughts

I was watching the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast with a few dozen other ministers from Arkansas last week at the state convention office chapel. I need to tell you that things are different under the new leadership of Sonny Tucker. We were allowed to have drinks (with lids, of course) in the chapel. I'm assuming that's a new practice since we were not allowed to do that the last time I had a meeting in that room. Change is good.

One of the speakers said that thoughts that only stayed in your mind would consume so much of your thinking process that you would get overwhelmed. Actually, the brain can only do one thing at a time. What we call "multi-tasking" is actually impossible for the brain to do. What really takes place is that the brain is focusing on one thing at a time and it's really good at switching back and forth from one thing to another really fast. I know it's true for me and maybe it is for you, too; thoughts that are not tied down to something - like a piece of paper or a computer note file - easily get swept away with all that switching back and forth. I imagine my brain switches away from one thought then can't find it when it tries to come back to it a nano-second later.

I'm forgetful. So I write it down. If I want to remember it later. Many great sermon or song ideas have been lost forever because I didn't write them down.

The struggle to keep a thought alive in our mind consumes mental resources. While I'm struggling to remember the grocery list I can't think about anything else. And when I try to remember a phone number I forget the grocery list. I've heard of tips and tricks to help improve your memory and these aren't intended to help you keep a thought in the forefront of your mind but to enable you to recall the thought later. Like writing it down in your mind. I'm not much good at that so I put it in my iPhone.

Think about this: by making notes, putting appointments on your calendar, keeping lists of things to do, etc., you are freeing up your mental resources to do other things. If you have a keen memory then you may not have to write down as much as the rest of us. If you don't have a keen memory then start writing it down. You'll become more productive and creative. You'll even be more relaxed and sleep better. If I have systems in place to help me remember what to do and when to do it, I don't have to worry about what I'm supposed to do or when I'm supposed to do it.

We have tons of resources to help us do this. Computers, smart phones, paper and pen. You have no excuse not to become more productive, creative, relaxed, and rested.

Weekly Devotional - May 17, 2013

"The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave you country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'"
Genesis 12:1 NIV

It's an exciting time when we start new beginnings. The first day on the job can bring lots of emotions but in the end we look forward to what we may be able to accomplish in this new place. The first day of school brings opportunities to learn and do new things. The first day of marriage, parenthood, or retirement are portals to a new way of life.

Sometimes our new beginnings are mulligans or do-overs. Wouldn't you just like to reach out and hit the reset button every once in a while? Do you remember playing with an Etch A Sketch®? I was awful at it but would spend hours trying to make curved lines. The best I could do was just make squares around the edge moving slightly inward each time around. The I'd turn the Etch A Sketch® upside down and shake it.

There's nothing like a clean slate! Tee up the ball again and take another shot! Abram and his family had followed God's call years earlier and had settled in Haran. Then God called them to move on from the comfortable, known, bountiful land to a place of unknowns. Canaan would be a better place but Abram had no way to know that.

Except he trusted God. That's what it takes to move when God calls. You can trust God to guide you the right way. Even if you've been going the wrong way or not going at all. Just trust him and get going.

God has incredible plans for your life. Since his way of thinking is not like our way of thinking, it would be hard to even try to describe what he has in store. Just go to the edge of your imagination, look into the unknown, and realize that God's desires for you are out there.

Then follow him. Maybe you need a jumpstart or a reset. He offers that. Pray that God will help you follow him now from no matter where you are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Changes Christ Can Make

Maybe one of the reasons I'm struggling to complete my doctoral work is that I'm a product of a period in Southern Baptist life when missionaries were those people who sold everything, moved to a foreign land, and lived for years with little contact with the rest of us except for an occasional visit to our churches with slides and traditional garb. My DMin project is designed to help the rest of us live like that right where we are. Before I can write the project I have to accept the paradigm. The more I study the more change I realize is me, in my family, in my church.

Yes, we are all missionaries called to serve the Lord and sent into our communities to do it. But I still get a chill thinking about those who sell everything and move to a foreign land. Those that I've met like Rusty & Lori Hart and Jesse Hoyer have impressed me with their selflessness. They live so far away from and removed from me. And I admire that. Deana and I strongly considered joining their ranks; I just have too much history. I'm glad I can be a missionary without a denominational board's approval!

But I still have this mental distinction between that kind of missionary and the type I will write about in my project.

Tonight I will attend an appointment service for the denominational mission board. More than fifty men and women will remember this night as the mark of a new beginning. One of them is a member of my family and I'm so proud I could bust. She and her husband are making a great sacrifice. They're selling everything and moving to a foreign land. They'll come back from time to time to show pictures and demonstrate the cultural differences. And they'll tell the stories of how God has changed them and in doing so changed a Christ-less culture.

I hope I can tell stories of Christ changing me and in doing so changing the Christ-less culture where I live.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Jonah Sermon Series

I completed a series of sermons this week from the Book of Jonah. Here are the links to each sermon. Keep in mind as you read Jonah or listen to these messages that the book is not about Jonah or a big fish or a sinful city. It is about God, his mission, and his grace.

Thanks for taking the time to listen. My prayer is that you will be challenged and changed. Let's join God on his mission to redeem all people. The sermon titles are not original to me. I first heard them from my Dad about 30 years ago.

Jonah Chapter 1 Running from God
Jonah Chapter 2 Running Back to God
Jonah Chapter 3 Running with God
Jonah Chapter 4 Running Ahead of God

A full list of sermons is available here.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Weekly Devotional - May 10, 2013

"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!'"
Isaiah 6:8 NIV
The scene must have been even more dramatic than what today's special effects can produce. Isaiah saw the Lord on his throne. Angels were flying through the air saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty." The sound was so great that Isaiah felt the earth quake. Smoke filled the room.
Before Isaiah left the scene he volunteered to go in the service of the Lord. God was looking for someone to go to the people and proclaim a message. Isaiah seems almost enthusiastic. "I'll go! Send me! Pick me!"
But think about what brought Isaiah to this point of surrender. The Lord is sitting on his throne. The angels are swirling through the air. The temple shakes and is filled with smoke.
Isaiah's first response was not to volunteer to join God's mission. His first response was confession. Can you imagine the arrogance of anyone being in God's presence and not confessing sin? To see the holiness of God exposes our sin. When we see his holiness we realize our sinfulness.
Christians sometimes seem reluctant to confess sin. Are you afraid others will find out you are a sinner? Are you ashamed of what you've done? Listen, you are a sinner and everyone knows it because they are too. And you ought to be ashamed of unconfessed sin. Confessing is the best response.
Like Isaiah, when you confess your sin God will forgive you. Nothing's better than forgiveness. It releases you from guilt. It frees you to draw near to God. And then God will call you to serve him.
I've confessed and been forgiven. Often. But I remember a few times when it seemed like more of a burden was lifted. Probably because the sin actually was a greater burden. I wanted nothing more than to obey God's commands - to volunteer for service. Pray that God will help you feel the freedom to serve him.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Captured by the Word

I've been blessed by this verse all morning. Can't turn away from it.

"Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him" (2 Samuel 14:14 NIV).

I see my sin that separates me from God. I see Jesus and the cross - God's plan for redemption. I remember the day I turned to Jesus for my salvation and life. I am captured by his love and grace.

Keeping Score

Yesterday I remembered why I like to play golf. For me, the best round of golf is played by myself. I know, I is supposed to be played in twos or threes or fours. And that's fun, too, but I like to get out there with nothing to do but hit the ball, brag on my shot, and try to do better.

I keep score but it's not real accurate. My golf prowess will put fear in no one so I don't mind dropping a ball when I don't like the one I just hit. Sometimes I have to do that because I can't find the ball I just hit. And I don't add a penalty shot for that. I know and respect the rules of the game but I'm not playing the same game most people play. If I ever get close to that game I'll gladly adopt and preach those rules, trust me!

I just don't see the need to add twenty or thirty penalty strokes to a score that's already three digits the way I keep it.

So I'm awful at golf. You've already figured that out. Even taking unlimited mulligans and helping the ball sit up nicely on the grass doesn't help much. I'm just awful at golf.

But I like it and hope to play once or twice a month during nice weather. Maybe I'll even invite someone to come along. They better not expect me to keep score the right way.

Christians are good at keeping score even though the apostle Paul said that "love keeps no records of wrongs." We are to love each other as Christ loves us. We are to love our enemies, too. I guess there's just nobody we aren't supposed to love.

But we'd rather keep score. We'd rather assess penalty strokes at even the hint of wrong-doing. We want to crush our opponents rather than love them.

I don't think that pleases Jesus.

Peter thought he was being pretty generous one day when he asked Jesus if forgiving someone seven times was sufficient. That seemed very generous to Peter but Jesus said to forgive seventy-seven (or seventy times seven, depending on how you read the Greek) times. Jesus was not giving a hard and fast number but was illustrating unlimited forgiveness. Nobody could imagine being wronged in the same way that many times and being asked for forgiveness that many times. But Jesus' point was that we should be willing to forgive every time somebody asks us.

That's what Jesus does for me. The golf purists probably won't forgive me for my scorekeeping no matter how I throw myself at their mercy. But Jesus promises to forgive me each time I ask.

And he expects that of us, too. We are to forgive rather than keep score.

I keep a scorecard while I play golf. Then I throw it away as I leave the course.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Weekly Devotional - May 3, 2013

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."
1 John 4:16 NIV
Reliability is one factor employers considering when hiring someone for the job. Will they show up as scheduled? Will they be able to perform as required? Will they represent the company is a positive manner? After all, the boss relies on the employees to help make his business succeed.
Likewise, the employee relies on the boss. Will he provide a safe work environment? Will he pay me fairly? Will he be in business next year? Will he give me opportunities to advance? The relationship between employer and employee is one of mutual dependence and reliance.
In this verse, the word "rely" means to believe. It's kin to faith. In other words, we depend upon God's love for salvation and daily Christian living. So the big question is, "Do you rely on God's love?"
In regard to salvation, his love is the basis for salvation. "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16). "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this..." (Romans 5:8). "Because of his great love for us, God...made us alive with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4). Without the love of God we would be and would remain hopelessly lost. You can lean into God's love or turn away from it. You have that choice but eternity depends upon it.
In regard to Christian living, God's love compels us to live for his glory. We are told to bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). Paul tells us that the church is built up through love (Ephesians 4:16). The family relationships are built upon love (Ephesians 5 & 6). And our treatment of others is based upon God's love for us, for them, and our love for them. Again, you can choose to live a life of love that leads to God's blessings or turn away from it.
What will you choose? If you rely on God's love with a confident belief that he will save you and help you live the Christian life you will find full and eternal life. Pray that God will help you as you lean into his love today.