Seven Days of Devotion
The Weekly Word is a Collection of Devotionals to be read on the Day Listed and presented freely as a service to and for the Body of Christ and Believers throughout the World that We may Hear God Speak to us as the Spirit of God gives us ears to hear and eyes to see what God would have for us daily in relationship to Him.
Recently I started reading again Charles Spurgeon’s classic book, Lectures to My Students, and I noticed something in the introduction that I had not seen before. Lectures to My Students is a collection of messages given to the men of Spurgeon’s famous Pastors College, which produced hundreds of Jesus-loving and Bible-preaching men for God’s work.
In those opening words, Spurgeon described his idea of what kind of students to accept to the Pastors College:
"The institution receives no man in order to make him a preacher, but it is established to help in the further education of brethren who have been preaching with some measure of success for two years at the least."
In other words, the Pastors College didn’t accept a man unless he had already been preaching (with some measure of success) for at least two years. They knew they could not “make him a preacher,” but they could help those who were called and inclined to the work – and who were already doing it.
I’m not suggesting that as a new policy for Bible Colleges and Schools of Ministry, but I think that I understand what Spurgeon was getting at. Many people pursue some kind of schooling for God’s work with only a vague idea of what it really means to serve God. The education they receive will hopefully be good and helpful. Yet it could be so much better for them if their Bible or ministry education sharpened what they already had a start in, more than hoping to create something in them.
Here is a lesson that I believe abides: if you want God to use you, get busy doing something. If you want to be a pastor or a teacher, then get busy teaching regularly. Teach children or young people. Find a small group of people who will lovingly endure your youth, your fits and starts, and all your inexperience – and start teaching them. If you can’t find such a group, then create one. If you can’t create one, then prepare the Bible studies on your own and teach your house pets or plants.
In doing so, you will help to build an important concept in your heart and mind: that before anything else, your teaching or preaching is for God as your audience, and you want to honor Him in your service. It’s easy for pastors and teachers of all types to think that a message is important based on the audience who receives it; a bigger or more influential audience somehow deserves a better or more prepared message. Instead we must remember that God is always an audience to what we do. Remember what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” That applies to everything in life (“whatever you do”), but especially to whatever teaching or preaching God gives us the opportunity to do.
I know a pastor in Europe who, for nearly six months, preached to an empty room every Sunday. He prepared and taught faithfully, believing that God called him to do such an unusual thing. The experience made him a better pastor, leader, and teacher for those people he now serves every week.
God uses educational opportunities and institutions in wonderful ways, but it seems to do the most good in the lives of those who are already doing something.
This is part 2 in a series on love by Ken Sutton.
Jesus was asked a question about God's commandments one day and His answer had an interesting twist: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
What was the twist? According to Jesus, the hardest thing to sin against is love. Jesus doesn't tell us to try harder or give more. No, He simply tells us to love Him passionately and supremely (with all of our heart, soul, and mind). It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The more you love someone, the less you want to sin against them. It seems evident that Jesus is saying that if we concentrate on a relationship of love with our Creator, our sin problem takes care of itself. Love fulfills the law ... revolutionary!
This is what Jesus meant in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." According to Jesus, love does all the heavy lifting and keeping commandments is a natural byproduct of a relationship of love.
Let me ask you, have you read those words of Jesus and thought they meant something else? Have you understood them to mean that we show God that we love Him by keeping His commandments? "Keep my commandments if you really love me?" Is Jesus talking about keeping commandments or is He talking about loving Him in John 14? Most of us would say that He is talking of both! Some of us might even say that you can't have one without the other.
But you can have one without the other. We can actually put all of our energy into obeying God and serving Him but completely miss the love. Yet, we can never put all of our passion into loving Him and refuse to serve Him. True love will never allow that. The apostle Paul had some real insight on this all-important issue in 1st Corinthians 13:3 when he wrote, "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." Nothing actually means nothing. Why is this so crucial? Because what Paul is describing is worthless religion, which exists to glorify self and not Jesus. This attitude leads people to believe that they are the initiators and God is the responder, that God owes them. Don't get me wrong, being obedient and doing good works are vitally important, but they need to be a response of gratitude to the Lord's sacrificial love for us.
Our Christian life delicately depends on where we keep our focus. If we focus on duty, works, and obedience at the expense of Christ's love, our walk with Christ seriously suffers. The second casualty is that joy completely dissipates. The third casualty? We lose our peace in God. The result of losing focus is often somewhere between self-righteousness or total despair, depending on how well we think we are performing. It's a real dilemma and it seems as if the enemy (and our own flesh) try at every opportunity to redirect our focus away from Jesus and onto our own works (or lack of them). So much is at stake because when we focus on works at the expense of Christ, we leave our first love.
My experience with Jesus though shows me that He has wonderful, gracious ways to get our eyes back on Him on a regular basis. He knows how to get our eyes refocused and fixed upon the author and finisher of our faith. His plan? He does this by lavishing more and more of His love upon us, not withholding it from us! By pouring His love out on us, He intends to overwhelm us with His abundant grace and unending mercy! It is not too good to be true, my friend.How is this love for us demonstrated? Well, to be honest, it is often in ways that we miss or don't consider to be very loving. I want to explore the ways that God demonstrates His love toward us in my next post. God initiates, we respond. He pursues in ways we we might not expect, and they are personally tailored for us! Most importantly, they bring us back to "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." Be blessed!
I want to take a fresh look at a few scriptures that speak of how God causes us to experience His love on a daily basis. These verses may have been one's that you have overlooked or understood in a different way...The first one may actually surprise you.
"For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives" Hebrews 12:6. Let me ask you, what if discipline by God existed primarily to cause us to experience and know more of His love? That's a head scratcher isn't it? Let me take it a step further and ask you to possibly reconsider your view of what discipline by God is. Many people view discipline as harsh punishment and retribution by God. Yet, Biblical discipline means to train a child of God into a mature disciple. It speaks of God's absolute and unwavering commitment to us as His precious children. Today in our culture, discipline seems to be a lost cause. Have you ever been in a restaurant and watched a child get wildly out of control while the parent's ignore them and let everyone else suffer? When that happens I piously look at my children and say, "I love you too much to allow you to do that!". I like how Pastor Chuck Smith states it, "A failure to discipline reveals a lack of love". According to Hebrews, God isn't lacking in love for His children.
Discipline by God doesn't look back at the transgression as much as it looks forward to how God can redeem it. Hebrews 12: 10-11 says, "For they (our fathers) indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it". God disciplines us to mature us, but according to Hebrews, as He does this He is always looking forward for our benefit (profit). Interestingly enough, Romans 2:4 says that His kindness and patience brings us to repentance. Galatians 6:1 tells us that God uses other believers to "gently" restore other people. In Ephesians 6:4 we are given instruction on how to discipline our own children "Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger, but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord (Amplified). Are kindness, patience, tenderness and gentleness words that you associate with God's discipline? His discipline may not always seem to be gentle at the time but one thing is for sure; God is a master "trainer" and His discipline is always perfectly tailored to bring us into a deeper love relationship with Him.
Oftentimes, we confuse God's chastening with reaping what we have sown. We sin against God's Word, we reject His loving discipline and then we find ourselves in a world of self-inflicted pain. It is then that we ask God why He ever allowed this to happen! Of course, we reap what we sow and the responsibility for it falls completely on us. Yet, the irony of all of this is how God is the first one to help us pick up the pieces in the aftermath. Think of the prodigal son and how His Father rejoiced upon his arrival home and there you have a perfect picture of our Lord. The prodigal son experienced redemptive (and shocking) love at the deepest level as he changed his mind and came home to His waiting Father. Let me ask you, do you need to "come home" today? Please listen, God's love does not desire to harm you, He wants to restore you...Trust Him.
As I type this, my wife, Lynn is putting our 3 year old Emily to bed and her giggling is filling up the house! I love Emily, she is a precious baby to us. Ten years ago we lost a daughter to cancer and so having Emily in our lives (in our 40's) is a special gift from God! And yet a day doesn't go by when Emily doesn't get disciplined, trained and corrected. Every time we have to correct our little girl though, a greater bond occurs and her arms reach out to us for needed comfort. Isn't it the same for us in relation to our heavenly Father? I love Emily with all my heart but my love for her pales in comparison to the Father's perfect love for all of His children. His discipline is a daily reminder of His total devotion to me.For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12. Enjoy His delight in you today, my friend.
In my last post, I wrote about a men's retreat where only one man out of 40 raised His hand when I asked "who here aspires to be used by God as a deacon?" Needless to say, I was taken aback! What a way to start a retreat. It was at that point that I knew I had to switch gears and encourage some men to engage the kingdom of God. Men need to be inspired by the revolutionary truth of the Word of God and God's love for them. So, that is what I set out to do for the rest of the retreat.
It is my belief that many of my brothers walk around convinced that God has given up on them. They simply don't believe that God still has a plan for them. Theologically they know that God loves them but practically they believe something else. The prevailing attitude among many guys is that they have let God down too many times to be of any value to the kingdom of God. Therefore in their minds God is distant and disapproving. That view of ourselves and of God needs to be seriously challenged by an aggressive encounter with the Holy Scriptures. Here are a few things that I shared and a few thoughts I wish I had shared:
- A lot of men actually hide behind their guilt and use it as a deceptive excuse for not seeking God's will for their lives. They know they have failed and use the failure as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the fact that they have left their calling behind. Some men like the idea of being "disqualified" so they can sit at home every night and watch the UFC with a bowl of chips. Don't get me wrong, I like to watch a good fight too ... it's much easier than being in one (1 Timothy 6:12). How many times has this happened in our churches with our brothers?
- We need to deal with our guilt head on. Preach the Good News to yourself every day and receive it! God knows we are guilty and so does the devil. The enemy of our souls does everything He can to keep a good man down with condemnation. Only Jesus can deal with our guilt and men need to roll all of their sin and pain onto our Savior, HE ALONE IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (1 Corinthians 1:30)! Receive Christ's mercy and be washed anew in His precious blood. Men, you are forgiven and loved. if the enemy can get between you and Jesus with condemnation, he has won.
- God has only ever used sinful and repentant men and He knew what He was getting when He got you. God is not shocked by the junk that men struggle against, but the Holy Spirit is seriously grieved when we refuse to let Christ deal with it. The only way Jesus grows us is through strong relationships with Him and with other men (read Galatians 6:1!). Brothers, you have no chance of sanctification apart from being immersed in a merciful, Christ-centered church. Start cultivating some male Christian friendships and invite them into your personal life.
- Loving, servant leadership obviously starts at home. Too many men have blown it in the past with their wives and have therefore capitulated leadership in the home. Therefore they have turned their wives into unwilling "security guards." But God did not create wives to police their husbands (or vice versa)! If that describes your marriage then make a change, now! Take full responsibility for the problem as the leader of the home. As you repent, your wife will respond to your brokenness. Start cherishing your wife like Christ does, pray with her, do the hard work, and eventually trust will be restored.
- Lastly, the calling and gifting of God is irrevocable according to Romans 11:29. That means that we have to stop wallowing in our guilt and start taking responsibility for what God is calling us to do. Many men haven't even asked God what their spiritual gift or calling is because they are so busy thinking about their weaknesses. Stop using your past failures as an excuse for inaction! Peter didn't have that option given to him after he tried to kill Malchus and after he denied Christ. Pentecost was coming and Peter was called to stand up and declare the gospel to thousands. Somewhere between Passover and Pentecost, Peter was restored and therefore he would become the poster child of how God uses humbled, repentant men. So often we are asking whether we are deacon material without knowing what deacon material actually is. According to Peters life, though, brokenness and humility are God's very own "deacon materials." Be blessed!'
The Bible says It’s a Sin
I watched a Christian being interviewed by a talk show host who is notorious for his antagonism toward those who believe in a biblical morality, especially in regard to homosexuality. At one point in the interview, the host very bluntly asked the Christian if homosexuality was a sin. Although the Christian did an excellent job in responding to the hostile host throughout the interview, at this particular point, I think he dropped the ball. Not that he doesn’t believe homosexuality is sin, but for some reason he was hesitant to come right out and say it. Instead, he said things like it was unnatural, harmful, and destructive to civilization, all of which may be true, but the wrong way to approach the matter, in my opinion. Why do I say that? This is why: because all of those answers are, to a certain degree, subjective. Since they are subjective, they can be dismissed as “just your opinion.” One person says homosexuality is unnatural; another says they find it perfectly natural. Some say it’s harmful; others say it’s beautiful and fulfilling. Some argue that it’s destructive to society; others argue that homosexuals have made many wonderful and beneficial contributions to society. And the arguments go on and on.
When addressing the issue of homosexuality, we need to be clear that according to the Bible, it is sin. It doesn’t matter if it feels natural or not. Most sin does feel natural to us because we are sinners. But even things that we initially feel guilty about or troubled over can lose that effect on us through the process of hardening our hearts. The Bible describes this as “being past feeling” (Eph 4:19). Personally, when I was young, venturing into sin began with a struggle in my conscience. But after awhile, that struggle diminished and I settled down comfortably into a life of sin. Things that at the start had caused me to feel guilt and shame lost that effect over time. Why? Because those things weren’t really wrong? No. It was because my heart had become hard and I could no longer feel the sting of my conscience or the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Everyone has that same experience to some degree or another, so that it why we cannot appeal to anything in us to determine what is right or wrong. We need an outside source, and that is provided by the Scriptures. The simple and primary reason that homosexuality is wrong is because God, who made us and gave us our sexual capacities, said so in the Bible!
When we present the case in that light, we remove our personal opinions and experiences from the argument, thus bringing the person face to face with God Himself. Those who reject the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality are rejecting God’s Word on the matter, not ours. Of course, this might require us to give a defense for the existence of God or arguments for the authority of Scripture. But again, that takes a person back to the bigger issue: God is the One who determines what is right and wrong, a truth that has been largely forgotten in our culture today.
So, the next time someone asks you if something is a sin or not, don’t say, I think so, or I don’t think so. Simply tell them what the Bible says and leave them to wrestle with God.“For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account ” (Heb 4:12-13).
Answers for a Post-Christian
As a result of my last post, “The Bible Says It's a Sin,” this question came up: How are we as Christians to respond to the growing influence of homosexuality in our culture? A good question and one we need to thoughtfully consider. In the past 20 years, we have seen a massive shift in attitudes toward the subject throughout most of the Western world, to the point that most Western governments support and even promote the gay agenda. This puts the Bible-believing Christian between the proverbial rock and a hard place: the "rock" being the Word of God and the "hard place" being the cultural insistence that any disapproval of homosexuality is the equivalent of racism, bigotry, and hatred, as well as a clear violation of human rights.
What's a believer to do? First, we need to make sure that we are not overemphasizing the sinfulness of homosexuality. The New Testament writers did not single out homosexual behavior as more sinful than adultery, fornication, idolatry, blaspheme, greed, hatred, or any other specific sins. Paul consistently placed homosexual behavior right alongside a variety of other sins (see Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10). One reason they didn't single it out was because homosexual sex was as common in the Roman world as it is becoming in ours. That has not been the case with us until recently, so we have tended to overreact to homosexuality more than to other sins. Some have thought that Paul identified homosexual sin as more sinful in the first chapter of Romans, but that is not the case. In verses 26-32, Paul is using homosexual behavior to illustrate the inevitable moral insanity and sexual perversity that follows when people, nations, cultures, and civilizations reject the true God.
Second, we must avoid making homosexuality the primary issue because it's not. The primary issue is sin, and we are all sinners and consequently condemned to damnation apart from Christ. A friend of mine was once approached by a gay man who said to him, "So, I guess you think I'm going to hell because I'm gay." My friend rightly responded, "You are going to hell not because you are gay, but because you are a sinner who refuses to come to Christ for forgiveness." It's true: the one and only sin that sends people to hell is the rejection of the Savior. People don't end up in hell because they are thieves or covetous or adulterers or haters or homosexuals but because they are sinners; those sins are simply the fruit of the root of sin. God's way of dealing with sin is to attack it from the root, and that's the way we are to deal with it as well. Therefore, just as we approach any other sinner who needs Jesus with love, grace, mercy, kindness, and courtesy, we do the same for those living the homosexual lifestyle.
Many who have come to Christ out of the gay lifestyle have shared with me that those who influenced them in their decision for Christ did so primarily through love and patience; they did not focus on the specific sin, but on sin in general. I'm a firm believer, as was Dr. Lloyd-Jones, that conviction over specific sins is better left to the Holy Spirit. When it comes to homosexuality, I think that we are oftentimes guilty of moralizing rather than true evangelizing. It's perverse, it's unnatural, it's wrong, you shouldn't be that way, we say. But the real issue, regardless of our specific sins, is, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18). Thus, the need for the gospel: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).So, back to where I started in the previous post. If you are ever interviewed publicly or questioned privately about homosexuality, remember to communicate these points: The Bible says it is sin, but it’s a secondary issue. It is a symptom of man’s universal problem: that of being dead in our trespasses and sins. The only remedy is the salvation that comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Dying Your Way Into Grace
For the follower of Jesus, it is a great paradox that we need to die in order to gain. There is nothing in our human nature that would desire this.
Years ago I heard a story that illustrates man’s delusion of being able to effectively rule his own life.
A man was putting a new roof on his house, but he lost his footing and began to slide toward the edge. As he was sliding down, he began to cry out to God, “Oh Lord, please save me, please help me.' As he got closer to the edge, he cried out even more, “Lord, please rescue me and spare my life!” Just as he started going over the edge of the roof, his belt loop got caught on a protruding nail. The man responded, “Never mind, Lord, I’ve got it."
The human will is incredibly strong. We have a strong sense to self-correct. We love being self-reliant. Self-determination is our default setting. Self-help books line our shelves. We judge ourselves, evaluate ourselves, modify ourselves, and encourage ourselves. We debate within ourselves about how to accomplish the next task or how we will do damage control over our last failure.
In short, we follow in the footsteps of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They were the first victims of the delusion of self-rule. Every human being since then has fallen into that same practice and has suffered negative consequences. We try to deal with negative consequences by practicing more self-rule, the cycle is perpetuated, and more undesirable results follow.
God invites the Christian to walk in grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favor. It is divine friendship and assistance. It is a gift to be received, not a coping skill to develop. It is undeserved and not earned. Grace originates with God, not with man. Grace calls for surrender. Grace invites us to die to self that God’s life may more freely and fully flow through us. Grace is apprehended through surrendering our wills to God and not ruling over our own lives.
The self-determining Christian will never experience the grace of God as he ought.
Grace and self-rule are mutually exclusive.
Consider these verses on grace:
2 Timothy 2:2 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
Paul exhorted Timothy to be strong in God’s grace. That means that Timothy was to not rely upon his own strength, but on God’s strength. Timothy needed to “die his way into the grace” of God’s strength.
2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The apostle Paul cried out to the Lord for deliverance for his “thorn in the flesh,” which weakened him. Instead of removing the trial from Paul’s life, God reminded Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul to live well and serve God well. Paul needed to die to his idea of a remedy for his problem. He needed to die his way into the grace of God which would be enough for him.
Romans 5:1, 2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand."
The follower of Jesus is aware that we are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we often forget that we need God’s grace for daily living. We are not saved by grace in order to live a life of self-determination and self-rule. We are saved by grace and in grace we are to stand.
The divine kindness of God cannot be experienced by the Christ follower who rules himself. The benevolent help of God will not be known by the believer who believes he is self-sufficient. The perfect wisdom of God cannot be experienced by one who regularly “leans on his own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). The gracious provision of God is never known by the workaholic. The approval and acceptance of God is a foreign concept to the self-condemning saint.
Dear brother/sister: We do not die to self ONLY that we may be saved. We die daily to self that we might know God’s grace, His help, His favor, His provision, His comfort, etc.
Choose death to self and you will increasingly experience the unmatched grace of God. Don’t be surprised that it is a difficult task, but it is worth it.
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