Seven Days of Devotion
A while back I spoke at a men's retreat in our great state of Washington. We had about 40 brothers up on that mountain when I began to speak to them about church leadership. At the beginning of my first message I asked how many of them aspired to be used by God as a deacon in their church. Paul tells us in 1st Timothy that if we aspire to be used as a servant leader in the church, we aspire a NOBLE task. Of course Paul is not talking about a carnal, worldly aspiration for church domination. No, he's addressing the high calling of serving, feeding, and tending the precious bride of Christ, Christ's own body. Deacons are task oriented, filled with the Spirit to wait on tables and deliver food (among other things). Mind you, I wasn't asking how many aspired to be a pastor or bishop or elder. Believe it or not, my question to the men yielded one response. One single man out of 40 aspired to be a servant leader in the house of God! I was shocked.
It goes without saying that when I was asking the men about being a deacon I was referring to the true function of a deacon and not merely the title associated with the role. Being a true deacon isn't about the title, it's about teaching Sunday school to five year olds, sweeping the church, and attending prayer meetings. I like what Pastor Chuck Smith says about deacons: "It is my belief that everyone should be a deacon. The ministry of helps was the essence of the deacon’s function. They were to look after the facilities. They were to look after the needs of the congregation and help the sick." Right on!!!
Most guys don't want to look like a big shot in a large group and declare publicly their future deaconship. These were all good men who were up on a mountain to grow in their relationship with Jesus. I truly believed that all of them were deacon material and I would have to find a way to get through to them. It was at that point in my message that I realized I had to switch gears and either communicate like their pastor buddy and hug it out (check out that photo), or I had to say a few things to wake them up to the reality of what they were dealing with. These men needed to be graciously challenged. I figured they were trapped on the mountain with me, so I was going to exhort as many of them as would listen. I determined to teach like I would never get another invitation back as a retreat speaker ... and it turned out to be a phenomenal weekend.
I will share with you what I shared with them in my next post
A Gift Beyond Comprehension
God loves you with a love that defies human understanding. The apostle Paul prayed that the Christian believers of ancient Ephesus might know the love of Christ, which, he said, far exceeds human understanding:
That you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).
Frankly, this request fascinates me. How can you “know” something that far surpasses your ability to comprehend it? Paul gives us a clue through the word translated “know” (ginosko), which in the original language means, “to know by experience.” You can “know” this love only by experiencing it for yourself. You cannot “know” it by having someone tell you about it. You have to experience it for yourself to fully appreciate the depth of God’s love for you.
So Paul prayed something like this: “Because God loves you so much, I pray that you might know the depth of God’s love for you—the length of God’s love—the height of God’s love. If you could only fathom the depth to which Jesus was willing to come in order to redeem you! If you could only explore the height to which God intends to bring you, that He might seat you together with Christ in heavenly places and make you a joint heir with Him in His eternal kingdom! If only you could see the length to which God is willing to go to save you.”
The broadness of God’s love encompasses all of humankind, every race, tribe, and nation. It reaches to all men and women, boys and girls. No one lies outside of the boundaries of God’s love. Best of all, His love for you—its breadth, its length, its height, its depth—will last forever.
That is why some fifty times in the Bible we read, “His mercy [or love] endures forever.”
God most clearly manifested the depth of His love for you on the cross. Jesus, who eternally existed in the form of God, emptied Himself and came to earth in the likeness of man. As a servant, He remained obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. That’s how deep the love of God is for you. Jesus willingly died in your place.
When God sent Jesus to earth, He gave us His very best. That’s the crowning characteristic of love—it wants to give its best. Suppose I found a bouquet of wilted flowers in a dumpster, pulled them out of the trash, arranged them haphazardly, and finally took them home to my wife. Would you be impressed? Probably not—and neither would Kay. Nor would it help my cause much to say, “I love you, dear. See? Here are some wilted flowers.”
While I’ve never given Kay flowers extracted from a dumpster, many times after a funeral I have had the opportunity to take her some gorgeous bouquets. People leave them at the church and say, “Do with them what you want.” A few times I have brought home some hundred-dollar bouquets, filled with orchids and other gorgeous and even exotic flowers. And do you know what she says to me?
“Did you have a funeral today?”
Because I got them for free—though they cost someone a bundle—the gesture didn’t mean much to her. It certainly didn’t mean as much to her as if I had stopped to pick up a small bunch of carnations at a little corner stand run by some enterprising kids.
True love wants to show itself through extravagant giving—and God sought to show you the magnitude of His love by giving you His best. It cost God tremendously to show you the depth of His love. In fact, we will never be able to comprehend how much He gave when He sent us His only begotten Son, Jesus. Such an extravagant gift proves how much He cares for you.
Insidious Practice of Hype
Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor.
Solomon tells us that a small thing can negatively affect a great thing.
I wish to address what may be a small thing. There is a tendency among some church to hype things.
The word “hype” is defines as follows.
verb (used with object)
1. to stimulate, excite, or agitate (usually followed by up ): She was hyped up at the thought of owning her own car.
2. to create interest in by flamboyant or dramatic methods; promote or publicize showily: a promoter who knows how to hype a prizefight.
3. to intensify (advertising, promotion, or publicity) by ingenious or questionable claims, methods, etc. (usually followed by up ).
1. exaggerated publicity; hoopla.
2. an ingenious or questionable claim, method, etc., used in advertising, promotion, or publicity to intensify the effect.
Some church leadership leans in this direction. In an effort to engage congregants and attract the unbelieving world, efforts are made to convince people that they need to be at the next conference, outreach, teaching series, church service, or other event.
Words and phrases like “life changing”, “revolutionary”, “once in a lifetime” or “epic” are used repeatedly. I wonder if these words actually have lost their meaning to many people.
Every pastor or lay minister believes in the power of God and the power of the Gospel to change lives. I do not mean to downplay godly efforts that are blessed by our loving God.
What I am concerned with is the overstatement which some church leaders think is needed in order to convince people that they ought to attend the next event.
Are some churches inadvertently creating an “artificial excitement” and hyping people and events up, believing that necessary way to convince people to attend? Are we creating a Pavlovian response in the people, in that they feel they need to be excited because the church leaders are excited, and that the next event will be epic? It is almost as if “excitement breeds excitement”, as opposed to “Jesus breeds excitement”.
Please understand that I am all for being excited about the work we do. I think it is great to read a facebook post from a pastor who is excited to teach a passage, and who is inviting his church to be there. A shared excitement is not what concerns me.
What does concern me is the “little fly in the ointment”, which takes the next step ever so slightly. Pastoral excitement seamlessly turns into a gentle and/or extreme hyping up of the congregant. The importance of the next series, or the newest book by the pastor, is treated as a “must see, must have, must do” opportunity that the congregant dare not miss.
We who preach are all about cause and effect. We want people to be affected for their personal blessing, and for the glory of God. We want them to be affected for the purposes of the kingdom of God. We want to see people changed. Are we trusting that Jesus and the Gospel are enough of a “cause” to bring to right affect/effect?
The question we must ask ourselves is this: Am I ever so slightly using carnal means to accomplish this? Are the godly intentions and biblical methods that I use, being slightly affected by the “little flies in the ointment”? Am I planting a mixed crop of godly living which is stirred up by mixed methods and reasoning that nudge the flesh in barely discernable ways?
Are my thoughts subjective and possibly wrong? Absolutely. Am I in the place of rightly judging how another pastor reaches people? That is not my place. I have my opinions, but I have been wrong many times.
Or, there may be truth is this.
May we who serve Jesus and serve people be ruthless in our self examination of such things.
May we be careful to strain out “the little flies in the ointment”.
Resisting the Enemy
My wife and I spent this past weekend sharing at a couples retreat and seeing the Lord powerfully at work in people's lives. One of the things we addressed in our teaching is the need to be enlightened regarding the spiritual war that Satan is waging against marriage in general and our marriages specifically. No sooner had we walked away feeling blessed and confident that God had used us to speak into people's lives when we were broadsided by the enemy. Through one little situation the enemy came in like a flood and challenged us on everything we had been speaking to the couples about. I was reminded once again that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
I find this really interesting because all week-long Cheryl and I had been bracing ourselves for the onslaught, knowing that we would be stepping out to encourage a few hundred couples in their marriages. I even said to Cheryl on Friday, "Wow! We made it through the week unscathed!" It was amazing. No bickering, no harsh words, no loss of patience with each other; it was smooth sailing throughout the whole week. Then at the retreat the teaching flowed, the Spirit moved, the people were blessed, and we were just having a great time … Until … Until the phone rang and some information came through (not particularly bad information) that caused fear to come in and rob us of all the joy and blessing we were experiencing. That's what the devil is always looking to do. As Jesus said, "The thief has come to rob, steal, and destroy" (see John 10:10), and there we were getting robbed by the evil one. Even as I write, I know Jesus is going to come through for us and everything is going to be fine. But I know too that we'll look back and wonder how we fell prey once again to those same old tricks.
Here's the point: even as I said to the couples this weekend, we are in a war and our enemy is ruthless and relentless. Therefore, we must keep our guard up. We must take the admonition of the Scripture to heart: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And here's the word: "Resist him, steadfast in the faith … " (1 Peter 5:9). Don't give in to those lies, don't give in to those fears. God loves you and He's not going to let you sink. Extend the shield of faith, trust the Lord, stand on His promises, and know He will crush Satan under your feet shortly!
A Gift We Didn’t Deserve
When I bring home flowers to Kay, I do so because she’s worth it. She deserves far more than flowers, of course, but pretty bouquets represent my love for this woman who deserves my very best. God’s gift of His Son far surpasses anything like that. In fact, He gave us His best when we deserved His worst:’
But God demonstrated [or manifested] His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Jesus died for the ungodly, not for the worthy. He died for us when we were yet sinners, not when we were saints. He willingly went to the cross while we were still in open rebellion against Him, still coming short of His glory, still missing the mark—and yet God manifested His love for us by having Christ die for us even then.
We weren’t righteous. We weren’t good. We weren’t lovely. But God showed the vastness of His love for us by sending His only begotten Son to die on our behalf, while we were still sinners.
When did God start loving you? Was it when you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? When you raised your hand and went forward at some church service or evangelistic event? When you said the sinner’s prayer? Did God say at that moment, “Oh, isn’t that sweet? I am going to love him now”? No! God displayed His love toward you in that while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you—ungodly you.
Because Jesus died for sinners, we have nothing to boast about in and of ourselves. “Well, the Lord died for me because He saw I was doing my best. He knew I was trying hard. He knew I had potential.” No. Christ died for you and me when we were still sinners, even as we wallowed in our ungodly filth. God loved us even then.
So often we imagine that God must feel disgusted with us, disappointed, discouraged, or even through with us. We feel sure He must have a terribly negative attitude toward us. But it’s not like that.
Years ago, my daughter Jan started going through that “nobody-loves-me” routine after receiving a reprimand. She declared that none of her friends loved her, that her mother and daddy didn’t love her, that nobody loved her.
“Oh, yes, we love you,” we told our little girl.
“No, you don’t,” she insisted.
When she displayed no signs of giving in, I finally said, “Well, Jesus loves you.”
“Oh, no, He doesn’t,” she immediately replied.
“What?” I asked, a little stunned.
“He doesn’t,” she repeated. “He just popped His head out of the clouds and stuck His tongue out at me!”
Sometimes we imagine Jesus doing that to us, don’t we? We tell ourselves that He’s had it with us—that He’s “out of here.” Now, while I could understand Him doing such a thing, He never will. He knew what He got when He died for us.
Remember the truth: “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Do you have a love problem?
Let me ask you a question.
How many of us would say that our love for God is our #1 consuming passion in life? More than our love for our family, job, sports, or anything else on earth?
OK. Let me flip the question around. How many of you would say that your #1 consuming passion in life is to know and experience how much Christ loves you? Not how much you love Him but how much He loves you? It goes against the way many of us think about the Christian life, doesn't it? And yet Christ's love comes first and receiving from Him has to come first. That is why the apostle Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus.
The apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know and experience the love of God for them. This is his prayer from Ephesians 3:17-19, "(I Pray) That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in (His) love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
Notice, Paul doesn't pray that the church will love Christ more but he prays that the church would know that Christ loves them more. He prays to God that they would understand more of Christ's inexhaustible love for them (multiply the height by the depth by the length by the width). The apostle Paul actually calculates God's love for us and it is infinite and endless. Paul then prays for them to be filled with ALL the fullness of God, which is the fullness of His love! GOD IS LOVE! How deep is that love? How full is all the fullness of God? Can you measure that love? How high can "exceedingly abundantly above" love be? The apostle is passionate in his prayer because he knows that it is the key to all of the Christian life. God's very nature is love; as all of His love is poured out upon us, we simply respond in kind.
I like what one author says about Paul's use of the word love: "In the Greek language a unique word is used to express the love of God. It is the word 'Agape. It denotes a love that is far above that which we experience in our natural relationships with one another. It is a completely free, unconditional, unmerited, sacrificial, giving love."
God's biblical definition of His love for us is nothing like our love for Him or other people for that matter. Our human love is fractured, limited, and very conditional. The beautiful thing about the Bible is that it defines in a concrete way what God's love is toward the bride of Christ. Without Scripture we would bring God's love down to our limited human level and since we are prone to do that anyway, we have to tenaciously guard against that through abiding in His Word. His definition of love has to trump our constant, sinful, emotional desire to redefine love. We already know that we are unlovable and we know that we don't deserve any love or mercy from God, He has a lot to overcome. We have to let God convince us daily of His love for us! God will only change you and I through love. When we abide in His Word, we abide in His love.
Chuck Smith: The love of God goes beyond anything we know on the human plane. You've never experienced such a love. It's a constant love, a strong love, and a pure love. A love that overcomes your weaknesses and failures and seeks only your good and your best. Many times you'll discover God's love the most when you have been at your worst, it is then that you realize how much He loves you.
Do you have a love problem today? Not in how much you try to love Jesus but in knowing His love for you? The Lord wants you to experience His unfailing, unearthly, merciful love right now and I hope that you will. You and I don't deserve His love and we cannot earn His love. Just ask Him now to overcome your doubt and receive all the fullness of God.
Quitting In Faith
The life of faith has been made to be a bit confusing at times. The Church, Christians, and the general public sometime assign strange parameters and guidelines about what having "faith" looks like.
I think that the idea of "never quitting" is one of those strange guidelines and benchmarks. We begin something in faith, and believe that in order to stay faithful to God, we must never quit that endeavor.
Another unbiblical sentiment is that of us wanting to know that we were right about whatever venture of faith we took. We set out to do something in faith, and if we quit, we feel like we have failed, and that others will believe that we failed, and that we "didn't hear God" to begin with.
Certainly there are times when quitting is not the best option. We can indeed initiate steps of faith towards a project, and then meet with difficulties, and want to quit. There is opposition, loneliness, or things don't turn out the way we had hoped. Sometimes we ought not quit, but push forward in faith regarding what we believe God wants us to do.
However, I do believe that at other times, we ought to quit in faith. We attempt something in faith, that effort brings mixed results, but after a time, through prayer and the inner witness of the Spirit, we feel released from that effort.
We start in faith, and we quit in faith. I don't believe that to be a sign of weakness or immaturity. To the contrary, I believe that "quitting in faith" is sometimes a great sign of maturity.
Consider the story of Abraham, who was called upon by God to offer his son, found in Genesis 22:1-13.
In faith, Abraham took his son to Mt. Moriah to offer him there. He went through the emotional agony of being prepared to do what God asked him to do. He put forth physical efforts to make preparations, gather some of his servants, and then travel three days to the chosen destination. He was following through on what God had commanded him to do.
And then, at the last minute God changed Abraham's direction. Fortunately, Abraham obeyed. I could understand the relief that he must have felt, but what if Abraham thought it was only his emotions speaking to him? What if he thought that he would look foolish for having done so much to obey God, only to "quit" at the last moment? There must have been other emotions that clashed with his relief of not having to offer his son.
What if Abraham thought "I must continue in faith"? At that point, his continuance would have been disobedience, and not faith. It was right for him to "quit in faith".
We often continue when we should quit. Church leaders let certain ministries continue too long, because of the past efforts that have been put into those ministries, and the feelings that would be hurt if those ministries were discontinued.
A step of faith is blessed for a while, but then its effectiveness wanes. We prop it up, and eventually put it on life support, not realizing that God wants to do a new thing.
We become comfortable in our current condition. God blessed it in the past, and there is nothing inherently wrong with what we are doing, except that it is time to take new steps of faith.
We worry about what we will look like to others. We started something in faith, rallied others, and pronounced that we believed that "God was leading us" (indeed He may have been). Friends and family cheer us on, and invest in what we are doing. But after a season, we realize that it is time to quit. God used the season, we WERE faithful, and now it's time for something new. It's time to quit in faith.
We are not called to be successful. We are called to be obedient. We are called to live lives of faithfulness.
I have begun many ministry efforts, and walked away from many as well. I have grown increasingly comfortable with the idea of "quitting in faith", and that doing so doesn't make me a failure, but it prepares me for my next step of faith.
Can be found here