Guarding Our Devotion

Book heart

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his father David had been. 1 Kings 11:4 CSB

Solomon’s heart was pulled in many different directions in his old age. As a result, he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord. This is a temptation we all face as we age. While the impetus for our drift may be different than Solomon’s, we all know the pull of the world as we get older. Family, financial pressures, worry, career, health, leisure, and so forth all beckon us to make them the priority in our lives. As they do, we are caught up in a tug of war for our time and energy. Sadly, for many of us, our devotion to the Lord is the first thing we lay on the chopping block. Our commitment wanes and our attention is pulled in new and important (or so it seems) directions. Thus, we too find ourselves not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord.

What do we do about such things? It would do us well to regularly examine our hearts for the things that erode our devotion and pull us away from the Lord. These things are idols of our own making. A good place to begin this is to evaluate how we spend our time and resources. These expenditures often reveal the true priorities of our lives.

When we discover the distractions in our lives, we need to pull down those idols. We need to begin to make changes in how we do things. We manage our time and steward our money differently. Often, our idols good things given wrong priority. If that’s the case, let’s shift some things around so these good things are once again slotted in their proper place.

If we find that our family has become an idol or our penchant for recreation pulls us away from the Lord, we need to do make some adjustments. We probably don’t need to eliminate our family time or we quit taking vacations. But perhaps we do re-evaluate how we are engaging these things. Perhaps we find ways to deepen our devotion to the Lord with our family or use some of that down time for ministry or personal growth.

The last thing we want to do is rest on our past devotion while letting our hearts grow cold and our passion for the Lord wane as we move through life. Let’s be on guard that we finish well. May our greatest days and deepest devotion be ahead of us.

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A Hopeful Calling

20180607_164412000_ios.jpgLife has a way of stealing from us. Among other things, it can steal our joy, our energy, and our hope. When it does, we can draw strength and encouragement from the Scripture.

In the opening paragraphs of Jeremiah, God calls the prophet to serve Him. His call is recorded for us in these verses:

The word of the Lord came to me:
I chose you before I formed you in the womb;
I set you apart before you were born.
I appointed you a prophet to the nations

Jeremiah 1:4-5, CSB

Now, I grant to you that it’s not the eighth century B.C and that you and I are not called to be a prophet to the people of Judah. With that said, however, when we reflect on these verses, we see can draw a great deal of encouragement for our lives today. For in God’s calling of Jeremiah, we see some truths worth embracing.

You have worth.

God made us. God tells Jeremiah that he formed him in the womb. The Bible says that each of us is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and that God has knitted us together (Psalm 139:13-14). The fact that we are formed by the hand of God speaks not only to the value and worth of life but also to the fact that God has shaped each of us to be used by Him. Your worth is not dependent upon your bank account or your career. It’s based on the fact that God made you in His image. He formed you. He shaped you. And thus, you matter. You have value.

You are known.

Second, the text says God chose Jeremiah. The English Standard Version says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” We are not strangers to Him. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our fears and failures, our hopes and dreams. The psalmist reminds us that God knows everything about us (Psalm 139:1-4). How wonderful is it to know that the God who made us is intimately aware of who we are? We are not some hit and run job. And, despite the fact that God knows us, He still wants to use us warts and all. He chose us even though He knows us. His knowledge and his choosing go hand in hand. Our next truth is inherent in this idea.

You are usable. 

Knowing includes the idea of being chosen. God not only knew Jeremiah, He also chose Him. He selected him to serve Him in a special way. Jeremiah had been set apart (“consecrated” in the ESV). The apostle Paul understood this to be true in his life as well (Galatians 1:15). If we are in Christ, we too have been set apart by God. God has a purpose for us.

In addition to being set apart, God appointed Him. He gave him a task to do. God has something for us to do too. We may not be a prophet per se, but we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We are commanded to love one another (John 13:34). We are commissioned to be witnesses and tell others about Jesus (Acts 1:8). We are challenged to do all things for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether we are a sales clerk or a homemaker, a student or an executive, we must strive to do our best for the glory of God. We live out our lives intent on bringing honor to God. You don’t have to be special or famous to do this. You just need to be faithful.

Jeremiah spent his life doing exactly what God had shaped him to do. He spent his life doing exactly what God had set him apart to do. He spent his life doing exactly what God had stationed him to do. May we do the same as we remember these wonderful truths.

Greater than the Blanks

My kids used to love to do Mad-Libs. If you’re unfamiliar with them, Mad-Libs are just simple short stories with blanks in place of certain words. The fun came when you solicited words from the kids to fill in the blanks and then read the story aloud. When you did, you’d end up with a car flying to the moon or a whale walking into a grocery store or some such silliness. And, since there were kids involved, you did have a good number of references to boogers and other bodily functions. It was the blanks that made the story personal.

When we read Psalm 6, we find David struggling. He’s in a difficult season where he speaks of being weak, shaken, and filled with terror. He pleads for rescue. He describes sobbing all through the night. But, there is a big blank in the story. We’re not sure of the reason David is so distraught. Some commentators suggest he was battling some type of illness. Others say his struggle came from his enemies. Truth is, none of them are certain.

I like the uncertainty in the context. It allows us to see our circumstances in the psalm. How many of us can identify with the struggle David shares? Most of us I imagine. We all know what it is to cry ourselves to sleep and wake up the next morning with our eyes swollen from grief. We know what it’s like to be so tired from weeping that the only thing keeping us awake is our weeping. The context may vary from person to person. Our circumstances may be different than David’s, and your situation may be different than mine, but we know the heartache that comes with being overwhelmed by something.

Regardless of how you fill in the blanks, whatever circumstances may be buffeting you right now, know this: God hears your cries. You are not alone in your sorrows and troubles. You are not without help and solace. The situation you are in may seem hopeless, but God accepts your prayer. Through Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father to find mercy and grace to help in time of need. David knew God heard his pleas and would work in the circumstances of his life. He was not alone. And, neither are we. God knows our trials. He hears our cries. He works in our circumstances. He’s greater than all of the blanks in our lives however we may fill them in. Look to Him today.

I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my bed and drench my couch every night.  My eyes are swollen from grief…the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea for help; the LORD accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:6, 9 (CSB)

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Clarity

csb_logo-300x143Clarity is important. When we read something that has life-changing implications, we want it to be clear. We want to be able to understand what’s being said, and how those words impact our lives. We want to be able to share them with the people around us, and be certain that those words are clear to them as well.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 8, the people gathered at the city gates to listen to the reading of God’s Word. As Ezra the priest read the Scripture, people moved about the crowd helping the masses understand what was being read. Why? Because clarity is important.

Through the years, I have used a variety of Bible translations. I have read, preached, and taught from most of the more popular translations. And, even though I settled on a teaching translation for me a few years ago, I continue to struggle with how to help people find the best translation for them. I want something for them that is both accurate and clear, and sometimes the translations that I love are more of the former than the latter. I want the text they read to be true to the text, but I also want it to be understandable.

Thankfully, I can now encourage people to look at the Christian Standard Bible. The CSB is both clear and accurate. When the previews debuted a few weeks ago, my teenage son (who’s a fairly accomplished reader) and I began reading through the gospel of Mark together. And, while I was struck by what I read, I was more struck by what he said about what he read. He immediately commented how much more clear and understandable the text was, and how much more he enjoyed it than the Bible he had been reading. That was big for me. And, in the weeks since, I have only continued to grow more impressed by the translation. It is without a doubt where I would point someone seeking to buy a Bible.

I am reading the CSB devotionally this year. I am also preaching and teaching from the CSB for the next month or so. I’m primarily doing this to expose our church family to the translation. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I’ll switch my preaching translation permanently (partly because I changed texts a few years ago), but I am really tempted to make that transition.

So, check out the Christian Standard Bible. You can read more about it at csbible.com. You can read the text there as well. In addition, there are apps for both Android and iOS devices, and more digital options become available all the time. You can also find print copies in Christian bookstores and various online retailers.

 

 

 

 

 

Drop Your Blanket

 

linus-van-peltI love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Fifty years ago, this tale of one follicly-challenged boy’s quest for the true meaning of Christmas debuted on national television. My favorite part is when his pal Linus explains to him what Christmas is all about. What I love about the scene is that Linus drops his faithful security blanket as he quotes the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and explains the true meaning of Christmas. It is a subtle reminder of the hope the season offers.

The passage Linus quotes comes from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. It says:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

Christmas is indeed good news. Many scholars would suggest that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. Before we react too harshly to their assessment, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter when Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born.

It does seem strangely appropriate, however, that the early church chose the darkest time of the year to celebrate the coming of the light of Jesus. In the midst of the cold, dark winter we remember that there’s hope. God has invaded our world. A child is born and this is good news. It’s a message of hope for all people. God has fulfilled His promise and the Messiah has come. The darkness won’t last forever. The cold winds will one day cease. The brokenness and heartache of this life will come to an end. The bleak harsh reality of sin and death has been overcome. This news brings us great joy. How can we not help but join in with the angels and sing “glory to God in the highest?”

Don’t let the darkness of life’s winter overwhelm you. Take heart. There’s good news. A savior is born and His name is Jesus. Light has come into the world. Deliverance is nigh. So, let go of your fears and doubts. Stop being anxious. Instead, drop your blanket and rejoice!

 

God’s Power

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20 (ESV), emphasis added

“This is the power that spoke all that is into existence. This is the power that gave an old couple a promised son. This is the power that delivered a people from captivity. This is the power that gave a promised land. This is the power that preserved a remnant and replanted them in their homes. This is the power gave us a child born to a virgin. This is the power that healed the sick, calmed the waves, and multiplied the fishes. This is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is the power at work in you and me.”

(Taken from “I Bow My Knee,” Sunday March 22, 2015)

You Matter

Work is work. I know that sounds like an odd sentence, but it’s true. It takes a great deal of work for us to be good at what we do. Our jobs, our careers…they demand effort. And sometimes, it’s easy to feel like what we do is unappreciated and unimportant. We often feel like what we do doesn’t matter. Yet, it does. It matters to God.

While recently reading through the book of Exodus, I was reminded yet again of God’s hand in our work. In the midst of giving Moses the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, God says,

See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you…” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

In the midst of the funny names and seemingly insignificant instructions, there’s an incredible lesson. God had given these craftsmen the ability to do what they did. He had enabled them to do the task to which they were called. They were important and so were their tasks. They mattered.

These men were not prophets like Moses nor priests like Aaron. Yet, they played a part in God’s work in the midst of His people. They mattered. And so do you.

Don’t feel insignificant about your work. Who you are and what you do matters. It makes no difference if you work on a production line, in a corner office, a cubicle, a classroom, a hospital or at home. Be faithful to be the very best at what you do. Work hard. Be diligent. When you do, you display the work…and the hand of God in your life.

Forgetting God

Even as a history major, I’m the first to admit that sometimes reading history can be a bit dry.  Names, dates, places, and events presented with a bunch of past-tense verbs isn’t always riveting.  And, if we’re honest, sometimes our struggle with reading history seeps into our reading of the Bible.  We come to certain sections of Scripture and we get overwhelmed with the genealogy and chronology of kings with funny sounding names living in places with even funnier sounding names.  Our eyes glaze over and like a child swallowing medicine, we read as fast as we can to dutifully move on to something more familiar.  But God has a way of grabbing us even in those difficult portions of the Bible.

Take for instance the story of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23).  He ascends to the throne at eight years old and almost two decades later, his priests make a startling discovery.  In the midst of their restoration of the temple, they discover a copy of the Law.  In other words, they find a copy of the Bible (or at least the Bible of their day).  And, when they read it to Josiah, he responds in a rather interesting manner.

“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” 2 Kings 22:11 (ESV)

Why does he respond like this?  Because He sees the gap between what God asks of His people and how they’re really living.  It had been so long since anyone had encountered God in His Word that they simply forgot how to live.

They say that those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.  Sometimes, even when we know history, we make some of the same mistakes.  As I read this story again today, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us have done the same thing as the people of God in Josiah’s day?  We live in an age where we have more access to the Bible and biblical resources than any other point in history, yet we don’t seem to engage God in His Word like we should.  More importantly, we don’t seem to let God engage us with His Word like we should.  Let’s strive to change that today.  Let’s not neglect our time with God forget who He is and how He’s called us to live.  Carve out a few minutes to spend some time with God by reading your Bible.  Take another minute or two to ask Him to help you to live out something you’ve seen in it today.  It will change our lives…and maybe the lives of some people around us too.

Parenting Odds

Parenting is hard work.  And, if you’re a believer in Jesus trying to raise your kids to have a heart for Him, it can seem doubly tough sometimes.  With that in mind, I want to just offer a quick suggestion.

Genuinely live out your faith in front of your children.  Kids have a way of seeing through the nonsense and the charades.  They know when something is really important to us.  We can tell them to love the Lord with all their hearts (Matthew 22:37), but we’re better off showing them what that looks like.  I’ve been reminded anew this week of how easy it is for parents to profess a deep love for Jesus, but never really manage to prioritize their lives around Him.  They never seem to have time for worship or service.  They never really seem to put feet to their faith or practice to their profession.  Everything else is more important. Our kids see that.  Our actions tell them what really matters to us.

Now, before you start throwing the “legalism” stone at me, hear me clearly.  Our actions do not make us right with God.  Only Jesus and His atoning work can accomplish that.  I’m not advocating some works-oriented salvation or even some quota of activity.  I am, however, trying to say what the Bible says:  saving faith works.  Once we’ve been grabbed by the love of God, we cannot help but live for Him.  The love we profess for Jesus is seen in how we live and what we do.  And, that’s what we want to pass on to our kids.

Every now and then I’ll hear some parent say, “Well, none of this matters.  None of this guarantees anything.”  And, they’re right.  There are no guarantees.  Plenty of genuine God-loving, Jesus-serving parents have seen their children go in a different direction.  But, I counter with this.  My doctor cannot guarantee I won’t ever get lung cancer.  But the odds are more in my favor if I don’t smoke than if I do.  When it comes to parenting, genuinely living for Jesus has better odds than simply talking about it all the time.  Parenting is tough enough without the odds being stacked against you.  I like the odds found in living for Jesus much better.

That’s What Christmas Is All About

In the days before videos, DVD’s, Blu-Rays, and even cable television, there was something special about Christmas specials.  It was a big deal when Rudolph, Frosty, or the Grinch showed up on one of the three channels that came into your home.  Santa Claus would come to town on your television one night a year.  If you were out, you missed it.  If you had homework and couldn’t get to the TV, too bad.  No repeats.  No replays.  No marathons.  You planned your schedule around those precious half-hour animated shows.  It’s part of what made them special.  To me, the most special of the specials was (and still is) A Charlie Brown Christmas.  As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate it more and more.  There’s a simplicity…even a serenity to the story.  It’s all summed up in a ninety second speech given by Linus about two-thirds of the way through the program.  I couldn’t elaborate on it any better if I tried.