July 22 – Whose Kingdom?

1 Corinthians 9; 2 Kings 1-2; Amos 7

Paul had an interesting problem. It seems that the Corinthians were discounting him and the words he spoke. It appears that rather than taking up an offering when he preached, like other traveling evangelists, he preached for free. If others proclaiming their beliefs, whether Christian or not, were collecting offerings from their followers and Paul wasn’t – was he really that good of a preacher? Paul defended himself thusly: “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:11-12) Even in Paul’s day the validity of the message was measured to some degree by the financial success of the messenger. Paul explained that if he wanted to, he could have raised money for himself. The money he did raise was to help others while he provided for his own personal expenses through his tent making skills. The measure of Paul’s “success” was not to be found in his own enrichment, it was to be found in the message itself. Was the gospel advancing because he preached it whether or not he made any money at it? Paul’s contention was that if they looked inside themselves, the gospel was advancing because many of them were now followers of Christ because of Paul’s preaching. The measure of success really hasn’t changed much over the years. People look at the size of the church, the book and DVD sales, or how much money the preacher brings in. The measure of a preacher in God’s eyes remains the same: is the preacher faithful; is the gospel advancing because of that preacher? In other words, perhaps we should ask ourselves this question if we seek to determine the character of a preacher: Whose kingdom is being built?

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten Cows and Two Days

I’ve begged for money and prayers for my upcoming trip to Rwanda. Good news! I’m not going to ask for money right now, but I will continue to ask you to pray for me. My daughter works for the company that is organizing this trip. She sponsors a child in Rwanda and she had the opportunity to meet him. Her Facebook picture is a picture of the two of them together and she smiles and asks people, “Doesn’t my son look just like me?” (Yes Liz, he does. He has your beautiful smile, the same light in his eyes and the same kind of great faith that you have!) He begged her to come back this year. She tried to help him understand the costs so she told him that it would cost a lot: Ten cows and 2 days of travel. He promised to pray for her to get the ten cows. He must have done good because she ended up helping us make this trip! Anyway, she wrote an amazing article called Summertime for Saddleback (and Love 41). Please read this story and use it for a guide as you pray.

After fund-raising and begging people to pray for us, I went. And it changed my life. I know that sounds so cliche, but it really did. You just can’t stay your same American self when you confront the realities of a third world country like Rwanda. No one here in America is used to seeing motorcycle taxis zipping through traffic with up to two people (often a mother and child!) clinging on to the driver. Or seeing about 40 people trying to cram into a 15 passenger van/taxi. Okay, I know a crazy amount of people can fit inside a Beetle, but usually that’s for a short amount of time, and not to be driven on an actual road. I mean, any American in a bigger city is used to some crazy traffic going on, but this was insane!

That was a paragraph taken from the middle of the article. My daughter makes me proud for many reasons. Her writing skill is one. Her faith and her love for Jesus Christ is perhaps the most important. Pray for us!

Posted in Action Steps, Personal, reblogged - thought provoking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 21 – Nowhere to Hide

1 Corinthians 8; 1 Kings 21; Amos 6

People can do crazy things. Somehow, Jehoshaphat, who was described as doing right by God, became friends with Ahab, who was described as evil. Jehoshaphat went to visit Ahab and they decided that they hadn’t gone to war with Syria for a while and Ahab wanted to get a city back. Ahab called all the prophets in who prophesied that God would give them victory. Jehoshaphat was impressed, but not enough. He asked for a prophet of Jehovah God. Ahab brought him out reluctantly and sure enough, Micaiah predicted that the battle would fail and Ahab would die. So, here’s where it gets weird. Ahab gave orders to lock up Micaiah until his return and STILL convinced Jehoshaphat to go to war. If that isn’t strange enough, “And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘I will disguise myself and go into battle; but you put on your robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.” (I Kings 22:30) In short, Ahab told Jehoshaphat that even though the prophecy from Jehovah God was bad, they should still go to war AND that he, Ahab, would disguise himself but that Jehoshapat should make himself a target. Jehoshaphat agreed! To make a long story short, the Syrians tried to single out the king of Israel. They didn’t attack Jehoshaphat when they realized that the decoy wasn’t the king of Israel. Ahab, meanwhile, was killed by a stray arrow. His disguise didn’t prevent the judgment of God. We may shake our heads at Ahab and yet how often do we disguise our actions hoping that God won’t see our disobedience. We make excuses, we blame public opinion, we take research polls, or we blame our inner feelings, but we go against God’s plans and we approve of those who do and expect no consequences for our action. God has certain standards and expectations regarding our actions and attitudes. When we seek God’s plan we should always follow His guidance – not seek it to consider it.

Oh Lord, I stray from Your plan because of my own desires. For some reason, I think my way is better than Yours or that You don’t know what You’re doing. I hide my rebellion by claiming that everyone is doing it, or that times have changed or any of a myriad of excuses; but in truth, I know that I am rebelling. Forgive me. Set me on a path of righteousness. Even as You show me grace and forgiveness, let me show grace and forgiveness to others.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 20 – The Cure

1 Corinthians 7:25-40; 1 Kings 21; Amos 5

Israel had become a sick society. Although still officially a part of God’s chosen people, they had chosen to follow other gods. They strayed from a proper relationship with the One, True God and it showed in their beliefs, their moral systems, and their actions. They opposed God’s prophets and people who were truly righteous. They oppressed the poor. Bribery was a quick way to get things done in that society. Amos came to Israel and, as is generally true with God’s prophets, thundered not only about the problems of society – he offered God’s cure. “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) Our land today sees some of the same problems that Israel had: the poor are oppressed and maintained in their poverty, justice seems like it depends on who gets the better lawyer and our corporate world thrives on corruption. The cure for Israel, and for any society that has gone astray is justice and righteousness. Such a cure can only begin with the people of God who have their hearts set on Him. The words of Amos speak of justice and righteousness being refreshment to those in a desert land. Justice, running down like water, in order to be maintained needs to come not from someone imposing it from the outside; it must come from the heart so that it continues. The mighty stream of righteousness must flow like living water from our relationship with God. Justice and righteousness must flow from who we are in our relationship with God, not from doing a few things right. Justice and righteousness are not just actions performed at the right time – it comes from a lifestyle of devotion and commitment to God. The cure for society is God’s people living in a right relationship with Him.

Oh Lord, I see the problems of society and want to blame others. Yet I participate in unjust and unrighteous actions myself. Draw me so close to You that I will abhor injustice and unrighteousness. Let my life reflect Your true justice and righteousness to my world and let me influence others to follow You.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 19 – Trash Talk

1 Corinthians 7:1-24; 1 Kings 20; Amos 4:4-13

He was well known for bragging about what he would do to his opponents and taunting them before his fights, but Muhammed Ali, then Cassius Clay, did not invent trash talk. Our contemporary sports “heroes” are mere pikers compared to some of the trash talkers throughout history. Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, was trash talking the king of Israel, Ahab. He proclaimed the ancient equivalent of “All your base are belong to us” and told Ahab that his servants would waltz through Samaria taking whatever and whoever they wanted. That was too much for Ahab and he refused to let Ben-Hadad send those servants. Well, Ben, got a bit upset and told Ahab that Samaria would be destroyed. Ahab had the best response to a trash talker ever: “So the king of Israel answered and said, ‘Tell him, “Let not not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off.”‘” (1 Kings 20:11) In other words, “Talk is cheap before the battle. Let’s see if you’re talking the same trash after the battle.” We all know people who boast proudly about what they are going to do – in truth, that description has probably applied to most of us at one time or another. When dealing with people like that, especially if their boasts relate to what they’re going to do to us, we need to remember this principle. Don’t get mad at the boasting, trust in God. If Ahab could show that kind of trust, and God recognized it as such, surely those of us who claim to walk with Him daily can show that trust. At the same time, when we are confident in the outcome of an event – perhaps we should learn to show more humility. Our job is not to crush those opposed to us; our job is to draw those opposed to us back to a relationship with God through Jesus.

Lord, so often I boast about my ability to do things. Remind me that all that I do and say should focus on serving You instead of glorifying myself. At the same time, when others boast about how they will best me, remind me to have a quiet faith and confidence in You and Your love and protection for me.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 18 – Not My Rules

1 Corinthians 6; 1 Kings 19; Amos 3:3-4:3

As Paul writes to the church at Corinth he has to deal with an interesting situation. Christian views on the body diverged with some thinking that because the body is flesh and not the spirit that we needed to ignore our bodies’ needs and wants and live like ascetics; others believed that whatever we did with the body didn’t matter because it wasn’t the spirit. Those in the second group were living lifestyles that set them apart from society in a bad way and yet the Corinthians were proud of their “freedom.” They might have gotten along well with people today who use the mantra “my body, my rules,” or “my body, my choice.” As Paul deals with all of the choices this faction has been making, he warns them about sexual immorality of all kinds. He then reminds them that they don’t get to live by their own rules. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) As followers of Jesus we have been filled by the Holy Spirit. We chose that filling the day we turned to Christ. There are consequences to all choices and the consequences of turning to Christ are all good. One of those consequences, though, is that we are to live by God’s rules and not the expectations of society. Our world casually accepts all kinds of behavior that is not acceptable to God. The reason those behaviors are wrong is not that God wants to take away our fun – it’s that He wants the best for our lives. We must realize that we don’t live by our own rules, but by the will of God who bought us at a great price. Don’t envy the world it’s “freedom;” pity the world in its self-destructive behavior and love them in Jesus.

Lord, how often I see others who don’t follow You and wonder why I can’t live that way. Remind me that I no longer live by my rules but that Ihave the freedom to live in obedience to You. I am no longer bound by sin, but free to live for You and walk with You daily. Let my life show the joy in that lifestyle every day. 

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 17 – Troublemakers

1 Corinthians 5; 1 Kings 18; Amos 2:1-3:2

Ahab did not like Elijah. Elijah was a man of God and his very presence caused Ahab to recognize his own failings. Then, when Elijah disappeared, the drought came and Ahab hated Elijah even more. Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought. When Elijah re-appeared, Ahab let him have it. “Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel?’” (1 Kings 18:17) Ahab was on a path to personal and national destruction because he had forsaken God. He didn’t see that and blamed the one man who followed God for all the troubles. When God’s people are present in an unjust society they are accused of being troublemakers. They don’t fit in with the crowd. They don’t go along to get along. The Romans called the early Christians “atheists” because they wouldn’t worship the gods like everyone else – not even one little pinch of incense once a year. We see that today when Christians stand up for God’s standards. We are “kill-joys,” narrow-minded, judgmental. We are the “trouble” in society today. They want us to go ahead and have our faith – just not share it or let it affect our lives or theirs. Our mission in the face of such rejection is to keep on living in obedience to God and showing His love and grace for all people. The trouble we have in society today is not that Christians seek to influence it; it’s that too often we seek to get along with a corrupt society without showing the grace of God to that society.

O Lord, how easily I fit into society. I slide in quietly, avoid being noticed and slip away triumphant because I haven’t let society change me. I have failed to change this corrupt world. I have not been salt and light. I have not shown others Your grace. Forgive me of this failing and empower me to be Your change agent in this world.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

July 16 – Spiritual Sarcasm

1 Corinthians 4; 1 Kings 17; Amos 1

Sometimes reading Paul’s letters to the Corinthians is a lot like listening to one side of a phone conversation. You would love to read what those in the church at Corinth had written to Paul. Sometimes, though, it’s obvious what was written and the Corinthian Church doesn’t look too good. Apparently some in Corinth were being taught that they had outgrown the teachings of Paul and other earlier teachers. No longer did they need such simplistic teaching because they were now wise and sophisticated. Paul’s response is dripping with sarcasm at first: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” (1 Corinthians 4:10) If there was any doubt that this was sarcasm at it’s spiritual finest, Paul cleared it up when he said, “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.” (1 Corinthians 4:14) Paul’s sarcasm allowed the Corinthian Church to understand how what they said came across to others. Sometimes we get so puffed up withourselves that we need to be taken down a notch. We do think more highly of ourselves than we ought – a danger for all people even Christians. Perhaps if we saw how our self-importance looked through the eyes of others who have made great sacrifices to share the faith it would help us to recognize who we arein our relationship with God. We must always remember that we are who we are by the grace of God.

Oh my God, how often I get puffed up and think such great things about myself. Remind me how much I need You still. Remind me that I need You every hour, that I need Your grace each and every minute. As I live in a restored relationship with You – help me always to put You first.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 15 – The Temple of God

1 Corinthians 3; I Kings 15:33-16:34; Joel 3

We have a special respect for places of worship even for those from people of other religions. They represent attempts to find and worship God. Many would say that those places are where God resides, or at least where you would go to meet God. It is perhaps a bit jarring then to read these words of Paul and realized how that respect should be shown: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Where does God reside? He resides in the hearts of men. Some temples are beautiful examples of God’s homes. Others, well, let’s just say that many are in need of restoration – a lot of it! The question must be asked, though, if in our dealings with others do we see the temple of God or do we ignore and overlook people, perhaps even mistreat them because they are not like us. If we recognize that God doesn’t dwell in temples made of stone but in the hearts of men then it should make a great difference in how we treat others. Today, seek out and give honor to the temple of God wherever it may be.

Oh Lord, how easily I look down on others or treat them with disrespect because they aren’t as good as me or aren’t like me. Remind me that each person I see is one in whom You dwell or one in whom You would like to dwell. Help me to have the same respect for them that You have.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

July 14 – Restoring Hope

1 Corinthians 2; 1 Kings 15:1-32; Joel 2:12-32

The land of Israel was an important part of the ature of being Jewish. It was, and still is, the Promised Land – the land promised to them by God. As the Jews dealt with the nations around them and the possibility of exile at the hands of foreign governments, Joel spoke a message of hope to the people of Israel: “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, For the Lord has done marvelous things!” (Joel 2:21) In the midst of fear, God sent a message of hope to the people of Israel. He speaks a message of hope to our fears even today. That message, the one Paul described as the foolishness of the cross, is a message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. So many people today seem to be hopeless. They are separated from God, often by their own admission, and don’t believe that there is any hope for them. No matter how dark things may seem to some people, Joel’s message, the Word of God, that brought hope came at an even darker time for the whole nation of Israel.  We are to be like Joel and spread God’s hope and reconciliation to a people without hope.

Dear God, so many around have given up. They no longer dream of better things. They have no relationship with You. They think there is no hope. Show them Your hope and love. Use me to do it. Help me to live in Your hope and show that hope to our world. 

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment