August 10 – Street Cred

2 Corinthians 11; 2 Kings 25; Habakkuk 2

Street Cred. In the hip hop community that usually means that the rapper has lived on the streets and probably spent time in jail. Street Cred is important to people in the hip hop community. Perhaps it has become important because it means that the artist knows where people are coming from and has experienced a lot of troubles in this world. In this perspective, going to jail is a positive thing, under certain circumstances. Rick Ross apparently spent a lot of time in jail. The problem for his is that he was in jail as a correctional officer. As soon as people found out that he was a correctional officer, they questioned how authentic he really was.

It’s easy to look at people who honor those who’ve gone to jail for breaking the law and wonder what’s wrong with them. “How could anyone honor a criminal?” we might ask with our noses slightly out of joint. Perhaps in the back of our mind, we wish these people could honor real heroes – like the people in the Bible. Hey, didn’t Paul urge people to follow him as he followed Christ. What if we could get people to honor Paul instead of … (I’m looking both ways to make sure no one else is reading this) … criminals? Paul, there’s a fine example for a young person to follow. Of course, some in the Corinthian Church looked down on Paul. They had listened to some wonderful public speakers talking about following Christ and they were not only eloquent, they were able to collect a lot of money to support themselves while Paul didn’t collect anything. Paul, well, he wasn’t so eloquent either. Paul, after defending himself by, in essence, boasting about his work in the Lord said this: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30)

This was Paul’s summary of what he had gone through, or, in modern terms, his street creds. In fact, if you read the verses in 2 Corinthians 11 that go before this you get a long list of the things this great guy went through. And, it’s somewhat disturbing. Imagine having a pastoral candidate talk about the number of times they’ve been flogged, or beaten with a cane. And, gulp, dare I mention Paul bragging about the number of times he’s been arrested? Maybe this shining example of Paul was tarnished. The Corinthians understood. They knew that some Roman officials were likely to imprison followers of Christ in order to shut down this blossoming religion. Little did they know that sending Paul to prison gave him an opportunity to preach the gospel. Those other preachers, proclaiming a gospel that was not of Jesus, may have been able to speak and argue eloquently, so as to sway people intellectually, but, as Paul was reminding them, he had been in the trenches suffering for preaching the gospel of Jesus.

There is a lot of preaching in the world today and many of those preachers claim to be ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they don’t have the street creds, and their gospel is tainted because it doesn’t seem like they’ve lived the life. Jesus called us to take up our cross daily, not live a life of luxury. Jesus called us to turn the other cheek when attacked, not to retaliate. Jesus sought out the down trodden and showed them the mercy of God; He didn’t cater to the religious elite. Jesus died an ignoble death of a criminal; He didn’t live in the lap of luxury. To be honest, I don’t know what street creds look like. They’re different for Christians depending on what they’ve gone through. The ultimate question is why did you do what you did? Going to jail isn’t automatic street cred. Did you do something wrong or were you sent to jail for following Christ? Beatings aren’t automatic street cred – unless they happened because you were obedient to God. Street Creds in God’s eyes stem from obedience to His call.

Lord, let me not be swayed by the things of this world. Let me be worthy of suffering for the Kingdom.

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

August 9 – War

2 Corinthians 10; 2 Kings 23:36-24:20; Habakkuk 1

As I write this, sabers are rattling around the world – most especially in Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. North Korea has developed a nuclear weapon that could be fitted onto a missile, and they have had many missile tests to show that they are fully capable of delivering a nuclear payload to a large portion of the United States. The leader of North Korea has threatened to attack Guam, an American territory. The reaction from the United States Government has been swift. The President has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The Secretary of Defense warned North Korea that it should “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people.” The harsh tone of those diplomatic words, while not unprecedented, are used so rarely that fear abounds that we’re heading for World War III.

When Paul described his relationship with the Corinthians and the battle against accepting sinful behavior in the church, he likened it to war. They accused him of being timid in person but bold in his letters, intimating that he wasn’t a strong person. As churches do, they were ready to go to war over the criticism. As they got ready to battle, Paul reminded them to make sure that they approached the situation in a Christian way. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

Obviously, war in the church doesn’t have the same devastating effects that wars between nations do, but Paul reminded the Corinthians that we don’t do things the way nations do when we disagree in the church. When going to war, nations gather their allies and make plans. They want to make sure that they have the firepower to win the war to come. They make sure that they have the weapons they need, that everyone is equipped for the fight ahead and then they go at it. It’s deadly. When churches go to war, it’s deadly to the spirit. Many people have left the church because it was at war and the spiritual battle scars were too great. Paul made it a point, perhaps because he was coming and expecting to have to battle for the purity of the faith, to talk about how Christians wage war. We demolish strongholds through prayer. We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ, not our own desires. In short, we work to ally ourselves more closely to God’s point of view. When we do that, there is no war, there is only the common goal to reach people for Christ.

We don’t wage war as the world does. That’s important for Christians today, especially. Another problem of war is that nations will demonize those on the other side – make them seem less than human so that killing them isn’t hard. As followers of Christ, we need to remember that the people in North Korea, including the leader, are people for whom Jesus died. He loves them. He cares for them. We should not be involved in the hateful rhetoric that would dehumanize him and all North Koreans.  We must be praying to tear down strongholds. There are strongholds of hatred and foolishness in North Korea and in the United States. We are called to pray to bring down those strongholds; to pray and witness to the love of Jesus Christ to change the hearts and minds of those who would rush us headlong into war. I read a story about a child who asked his mother if the US had won every war it was involved in. She replied, wisely, “Honey, there are no winners in war.” In the troubles that lie ahead, there are no winners if we go to war. We must wage peace on a warring world and show the love of Jesus to others.

Oh Lord, our world is at odds with You, first, and then with each other. Let us experience Your peace.

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

August 8 – God’s Gonna Bless You Real Good

2 Corinthians 9; 2 Kings 22:1-23:35; Nahum 3

It’s a cliché, of course, but you hear about this happening all the time: some televangelist wants to raise money so he/she reminds you that if you give money to God, through that televangelist, He’s gonna bless you real good. The more you give, the more you’re gonna be blessed. They dangle before their faithful listeners/watchers the promise of great financial blessings and while they don’t use the exact words, it’s like telling the people that you can give so much to ensure that God will give you a car, so much more to get a house, and so on. While Paul took pride in being able to preach the gospel at no cost to the Corinthians, these preachers glory in their ability to establish a financially spiritual quid pro quo with God where He is obligated to give you more stuff based on how much you give to support his/her lavish lifestyle.

I guess the way to tell which televangelist God favors is by how He responds to your giving. If you give to televangelist A and nothing changes, but then you give to televangelist B and the blessings pour down like rain in a monsoon, God must like televangelist B. God may let it rain on the just and the unjust, but have no doubt about the “fact” that it was televangelist B that caused God to make it rain. Ok, a little silly, perhaps even a little judgmental. Paul, after all, was taking up that offering for the Jerusalem Church and he continued to remind the church to give. He also promised some financial blessing. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9: 7-8)

Ok, there are a few differences in Paul’s appeals and the modern televangelist. Paul appealed to the Corinthian Church’s original pledge to help the Jerusalem Church, he didn’t create a situation that needed to happen immediately. The pledge was over a year before this letter and Paul wanted to make sure that they weren’t embarrassed when he, and the people inspired by the zeal of the Corinthians, showed up to collect. He promised God’s abundant blessings to those who gave cheerfully, but these blessings had a different focus: that the follower of Christ would have all that they needed to abound in every good work. The promise from Paul wasn’t the latest chariot; it was that God would continue to give them opportunities to sacrifice financially to show people the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Good works don’t save us, of course, but once we’ve experienced the love of Jesus, we should want to share that with others. I’ve had the blessing of being helped and later I’ve had the blessing of helping others. I had to remind one friend that I was able to help, “We’re blessed so that we can bless others.” We live very comfortably. There is no doubt that we’ve been blessed. But to be honest, God isn’t worried about the house I live in, the cars I drive, or the vacations I’m able to take because of those blessings: He’s concerned about my relationship to Him. He’s also concerned about the people that come across my path. Do I use the blessings He’s entrusted me with to bless others or do I seek to hoard them? Do I give grudgingly, or do I give cheerfully? What would happen if at a worship service, when the plate was passed, people started laughing as they put their offering in the plate? The more you gave, the more you laughed. The Greek word translated as “cheerfully” is “hilarion” which is the Greek root for hilarious. Such an offering would be hilarious, and therefore biblical. It would upset some people, though, I’m sure. So, chuckle when you write the check to your church. Then, find other ways to help people and laugh uproariously as you do. It will change your life and God will bless you real good.

O Lord, I’ve been blessed in so many ways. Remind me that to whom much is given, much is expected.

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

August 7 – Git ‘Er Done

2 Corinthians 8; 2 Kings 20-21; Nahum 2

One of the activities I participate in almost every year is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The idea behind NaNoWriMo is that every person has that one story, that one novel inside of them. So many people have started to tell that story and get about halfway through chapter three when they hit a roadblock. They aren’t sure how to get through a certain part of their story. They get frustrated at their lack of progress and when they can’t move past that road block, they give up on the story. NaNoWriMo’s approach is that the best thing to do in that circumstance is to get past the roadblock in any way possible. The most common approach is to write badly and fix that part in editing. Some people will write something like “Something happens here” and then continue the story knowing that they may write something later on that will inspire the way to fix the story.

Every year, many novels of over 50,000 words are written. There is a sense of accomplishment in writing that much in a month, in finishing the work. It’s easy to get discouraged when the work doesn’t progress like we think it should. Paul dealt with many in the Corinthian Church who had made promises about an offering to support the Jerusalem church, but apparently were unable to fulfill them in the amount they had pledged. He encouraged them to complete their work based on their current circumstances. “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12)

The Corinthians had a lot of issues throughout the church. Eagerness to give wasn’t one of them. Paul had mentioned an offering to help the saints out in Jerusalem and, based on what we read here, they eagerly jumped in with pledges of how much they would give. They wanted to help. They made pledges that must have been sacrificial. Perhaps they made pledges based upon a hoped-for upturn in economic fortunes. Whatever happened, the Corinthians were having trouble meeting their goals. Some, perhaps, quit giving when they realized that they weren’t going to be able to give all that they had pledged. Paul had a simple message for them. To quote the philosophers of this age, he told them to “Git ‘er done.” The important part about giving was not the amount, it was the willingness to give. Paul reminded them that they were accountable for what they had, now what they didn’t have and that a gift given that was less than promised was acceptable in God’s eyes based on their willingness to give.

Church giving should be a private matter. When I was on our church’s finance committee, I saw the checks that people gave when I was counting money, but I couldn’t tell you a week later who gave what. Giving should always be based on your relationship with God and with how He has blessed you. The key is not how much a person gives, it’s the willingness and the attitude as we give. We give a percentage of our income. As my wife and I talk about how much our check is when she writes it, larger checks are greeted with, “Wow! We’ve been blessed this month!” Our attitude is that it’s a privilege to give back to God even that small portion of what He’s blessed us with. I think that’s what Paul was trying to remind the Corinthians and would say to us today about giving. I think it’s a biblical principle about giving throughout the Old and New Testament: give joyfully based on what God has given you. When you realize that giving is a privilege and not an obligation, it makes giving a more joyful experience.

Lord, continue to remind me of the joy in giving to support Your work. Let all Your people celebrate as they give, knowing how much You have given them.

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

August 6 – Producing Godly Sorrow

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:16; 2 Kings 19; Nahum 1

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Those are the words of Rick Warren, but they show a lot of wisdom. Loving Jesus Christ leads us to positions where we will not agree with everything other people do. I know this isn’t a politically correct thing to say, but sometimes my friends are wrong in what they believe or do. My reaction is to love them anyway, while helping to show them the right way. I guess this concept reciprocates, because my close friends see me do bad things, and show me God’s love while helping me recognize my sin.

I know. I used the “s” word that’s taboo among some Christians today, let alone a world that’s accepting of everyone except for those who would label any behavior as sinful. There is a problem with accepting or tolerating anything that people say or do. When people feel justified in their sin, they don’t seek God. When people are not confronted with God’s truth, they are unlikely to repent in godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)

Paul had written some harsh things to the Corinthian Church previously. When he wrote them, he caused anguish and sorrow among the Church. He knew that two things could happen when he wrote that letter: 1) people would recognize the error of their ways and repent; or 2) people would dig their feet in stubbornly and persist in their sin claiming that Paul hated them. As he wrote this passage, he was rejoicing that those in Corinth had followed the first option. Paul rebuked their sin and that led to godly sorrow and repentance. Paul mentioned that it led to salvation as well. I think he means this in two ways: 1) salvation in the sense that they are no longer caught up in their sin and have thus been saved from that sin; 2) salvation in the sense that non-believers saw their response and came to follow Jesus as they admired their sincerity. That godly sorrow produced a new outpouring of faith and a desire to live the right way. The other side of the coin, worldly sorrow, leads to destruction. There is not hope in worldly sorrow. There is no promise of grace. There is only recrimination and guilt.

In today’s world, we don’t understand godly sorrow. We have become so secular minded that all we know is worldly sorrow. When someone points out sin in our lives, or when we point it out in others, we get our hackles up and attack the “judgmental” person who would seek to burden us with guilt over our behavioral choices. As followers of Christ we need to recognize that when our sins are pointed out, rather than getting defensive, we need to examine ourselves and God’s word. We need to feel that godly sorrow because we’re wrong. We need to confess it before God, repent, and then experience His glorious grace. At the same time, when we point out sins of individuals or society, we need to do so in such a way that those involved recognize our love for them and can sense God’s love and grace even in the midst of their sins. We don’t want to promote worldly sorrow full of guilt; we want to produce godly sorrow that leads to repentance and an experience with God’s grace.

Lord, correct me when I’m wrong and let me experience godly sorrow. Let me always show Your love and grace to others when I correct them and let them experience godly sorrow and repentance.

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

August 5 – Ambassadors of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:13; 2 Kings 18; Micah 7

An interesting article begins with these words: “They are the scourge of the world’s capitals. They flout the law and cost the authorities millions. Yet, like mice, noise and traffic jams, there seems to be little any city can do to protect itself from diplomats.” Diplomats, or Ambassadors have a special kind of immunity and so all around the world, they tend to flout things like traffic laws and rack up huge fines that are left unpaid. Sometimes TV shows, books, or movies deal with the problem when someone who is under diplomatic immunity commits a major crime and nothing can be done. There are tense relations as the police try to convince the Ambassador to lift the diplomatic immunity so that they can arrest and prosecute the criminal.

So many people live in fear of being caught breaking the laws that they often don’t accomplish a whole lot. And let’s face it, the way the laws are written, if you work hard to obey one law, you may be breaking another one. Ambassadors don’t have to worry about that. An Ambassador’s only job is to represent the government that appointed him or her. This makes Paul’s reminder that we are ambassadors for Christ even stronger. What is our charge as ambassadors? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Paul’s next words were to remind the Corinthians that they were ambassadors for Christ. How did they, and we, achieve this exalted position? It begins with recognizing that we are new creations in Christ Jesus. In some places Paul lists a bunch of sins that God’s people used to commit and reminds us that’s how we were. Once we commit our lives to Christ, though, we’re no longer bound by the laws of sin and death. We are a new creation. The charge that God gives to each and every believer is to act as an ambassador proclaiming the ministry of reconciliation. Our God and King has decided that this is the message He wants us to proclaim. It would be easy to get entangled in the problems of this world and focus on this sin o that sin. God doesn’t call us to do that. God calls us to proclaim the message of reconciliation to those who are trapped in sin.

We like to picture some sins as worse than other, but in the end, all sin separates people from God. Our job is to proclaim that no matter what the sin may be, there is hope for forgiveness because of Jesus Christ. God wants us to be reconciled to Him, and He wants us to let others know about this reconciliation that is available because Jesus paid the price for our sins. All of them. Our responsibility as Ambassadors for Christ is to share that message of reconciliation, not get embroiled in the message of the world of sin and death. If you’re worried about that sin thing that people who have been reconciled to God have to deal with: don’t. It’s not your job. God’s job is to make them a new creation. God’s job is to take away the old and bring in the new. We may see some Christians engaging in the old ways of life because reconciliation is a long-term, ongoing process. Even Ambassadors for Christ may fall into the old ways and break the laws of this world. Fear not: if it happens to you, bring it back to God. If it happens to someone else, bring it back to God. In either case, keep proclaiming the message of reconciliation.

Lord, there are so many who need to be reconciled to You. Help me to show them Your love and mercy. Use me to draw them into a state of reconciliation with You.

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

August 4 – Truth

2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10; 2 Kings 17; Micah 6

People like to brand a lot of stuff as “Fake News” these days. Usually, these are news items that we don’t believe or agree with, so, rather than investigate the veracity of the reports, we deny them outright as false. On the other hand, if we see the heading of a news report is something that we agree with, we jump to click it and read it with glee, again without verifying the truthfulness of the report. We broadcast the report on our social media fields and, when confronted with the truth that refutes the report we posted, we respond by noting that this could be true rather than apologizing and retracting the article. The subjective “truth” of the article is more important than the objective facts.

Subjective truth runs rampant in society as people talk about how what’s true for them may not be true for you. Science is true, unless it clashes with feelings. Feelings and perception become the guide to life and all feelings and perceptions are valid, unless they clash with mine. Corinth was a hotbed of religions with that understanding. They had a lot of “mystery” religions that only the “in-crowd” had understanding of, and if you weren’t one of them, you didn’t get to play. Paul spoke to the need to proclaim the truth. “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Mystery religions were a big thing in ancient Rome. Most of them made accommodations to allow for eventual emperor worship. When you were initiated into that religion, you were something special, at least in the eyes of the rest of that religious gang. Some of the beliefs of mystery religions paralleled Christianity and many associated Christianity with mystery religions. Paul set the record straight. Christians don’t have secret ways. Christians don’t engage in shameful activities. Christians proclaim the word of God as the objective truth by which they live. The truths of Christianity are not hidden from non-believers, but are proclaimed openly. Christian Scriptures, back then the Old Testament mainly, were available for anyone to look at. They proclaimed, “this is who God is” and “this is how we are to live.”

When I claim to follow Christ, I am telling the world that while I’m a sinner, my sins have been forgiven by the grace of God. I proclaim that I am going to live to honor God. God’s word is the objective truth upon which I live. That objective truth teaches me to love all people. That objective truth tells me to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people. Many of the disagreements and conflicts we deal with relate to people living according to their subjectivity. Sometimes the feelings and emotions of one subjective group clash with the feelings and emotion with another subjective group. Sometimes they clash with people who live by an objective truth. Our belief hinges on the truth of the resurrection of Christ and that because of the resurrection, we have experienced God’s grace. Our job, as followers of Christ, is to let people experience God’s mercy and grace. That means, for most of us, we’ll have to be living examples who show God’s grace to people who don’t accept the Truth of Jesus Christ. When they see us living out the truth, they’ll begin to be open to hearing the gospel.

Lord, all truth is found in You. I believe in the truth of the resurrection. I believe in Your mercy and grace. Help me to show this truth to others by living every day as an example of Your grace and truth.

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

August 3 – Your Reputation Precedes You

2 Corinthians 2:5-3:18; 2 Kings 15-16; Micah 5:2-15

Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “Things just aren’t right?” They have all the credentials for the job, but things don’t seem to click. Something is out of place. A number of years ago my wife was asked to interpret for a young man in a church setting. Everywhere she tried to set up, the music minister made some negative comment about how it wouldn’t work. Instead of trying to find a way to work with her, he kept trying to get her to give up. He didn’t know my wife. She finally found a place to set up where it wouldn’t interfere with his production and he didn’t have any more excuses, but the whole situation left a bad taste in our mouths. We discovered a couple of months later that he and the church parted ways because he had apparently enhanced his resumé with some information that wasn’t quite true. As shocked as we were, it explained his reaction to the needs of a young deaf man.

Resumé enhancement has become a problem for many businesses, so perhaps it was inevitable that it would work its way into the church. People want to look a little better than they really are to those who don’t know them, so they exaggerate their accomplishments. I was joking with a man at church when he was describing a fish he caught and asked if by the third time he told the story, he was going to dislocate his arms. He laughed and told me that there were too many witnesses to get away with that. They knew him. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they knew him. Among the Corinthians were some who put Paul down, and he reminded them of their relationship. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2)

He had dealt with the problem of his status as an apostle to some degree in his first letter, but some of the Corinthians were still grumbling about Paul. Paul asked them point blank: “Do I need to show you my resumé? Do I need to give you copies of my letters of recommendation? What could they tell you that you don’t already know from my work among you?” It should have been clear to the people in Corinth that Paul was God’s minister. Maybe the people in the clique that the grumblers belonged to came to Christ after Paul had left, but they could have checked with other groups in the church. Other groups in the church, who had come to Christ because of Paul’s work, should have spoken up with people started bad mouthing him. Instead, Paul had to remind the Corinthians that any evidence they needed about his relationship with God and his commitment to Christ and to the Corinthians was easy to find by looking around the church.

Do people know you at church? Is so, what’s your reputation there? Are you the kind of person that everyone knows in the church because of your works of service? Because of your sense of self-importance (that wouldn’t be good, would it)? Are you recognized because you teach the Bible with love and sincerity? Are you one that many people might not recognize as a member because you slip in the back after the service starts and slip out before the final prayer? The example of Paul reminds us that we should be known for our service in the church.  Our only resumé that has any importance in this world is how we are seen by others in our relationship with Christ. That begins with God’s people in the church and it extends to a world that should testify that whether or not they believe, they know that you believe and show them the love and grace of Jesus in your words and deeds.

Oh Lord, there are so many people that need to know Your love and grace. Let my faith be genuine and let others come to know You because they see my commitment to You and Your love and grace in me.

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

August 2 – Troubles Come

2 Corinthians 1:1-2:4; 2 Kings 14; Micah 4:1-5:1

My dad had a friend named Bill the last years of his life. Bill W made a great change in his life and the funny thing is that Bill had died years before my dad got involved with him. Bill W, of course, was the alcoholic who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the theories behind AA is that someone who has been through the troubles of alcoholism is going to be more likely to help another alcoholic than a treatment center run by people who have never struggled. I don’t know much about the overall program, I was fortunate enough to quit drinking before I crossed over the line into alcoholism, but I do know that Bill W was a great friend that helped my father and, that my father then helped many others in their fight to kick their problems with alcohol.

AA and other groups like it do an amazing job of helping other people deal with addiction problems because the people involved have dealt with those same problems. They can empathize with the addict without getting all mushy and soft. They know what can be done. Because they’ve been through the process, they know what to do, how to do it and, ultimately, that if you really want to kick the habit, you can. Paul mentioned a similar situation in the second letter to the Corinthians. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

As Paul began this letter he mentioned troubles he had dealt with recently. There are indications that he had been imprisoned in the area of Asia for his faith. He despaired for his earthly life. All of that happened, though, so that he could use the stories of God’s provision during those times to help others. In this case, Paul wanted the Corinthians to receive comfort as they dealt with the same afflictions that he had dealt with. As persecution, still mostly local at this point in time, rose, it would have been easy to get discouraged and to give up on this new-found faith. I’m sure that many of the Corinthians must have thought, if not said out loud, “These things never happened before I started following Christ. Why do I keep following Him?” Paul’s experiences shouted out to those people: “I know. I understand. I’ve gone through those issues. There is light at the end of the tunnel and God is faithful no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in.”

The trials we go through, whether because of our faith or in the midst of our faith are always useful because our story can help others. My wife and I are now the “go-to” people for many on the issue of cancer. She’s been through it twice. I’ve been a care provider both times. When someone we know has cancer, they call Lucy. I often have the opportunity to minister to the caregiver. I would not wish cancer on anyone – especially not chemo – but praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble. I don’t know what difficulties you’ve had in life. I don’t know what difficulties you’re going to have in life. My belief, though, is that you will have troubles. You can either complain about them or you can hand them over to God and watch how He cares for you during those troubles. When you recognize His mercy and grace during those times, you’ll be able to share about that with others who will have the same trouble later. Praise God in the midst of the storms and use what you learn to help others.

Oh Lord, troubles come. It would be so nice if we could turn to you and live happily ever after, but we face the same difficulties that others do. Carry us through because of our faith, and let us help others.

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

August 1 – Giving in Grace

1 Corinthians 16; 2 Kings 12-13; Micah 3

We’ve been keeping score the wrong way. Seriously. If you want to see who the best player in a particular sport may be, what do you do? You go to your favorite search engine and you search for the highest salaries at that sport. It might be interesting to create a fictional team based on the highest paid player for each position, because, after all, the highest paid players are the best ones, right? The same thing applies to business salaries, entertainment, and almost any professional field where salary negotiation exists or earning power fluctuates depending on the ability of the one earning. That’s how we keep score, and we’re keeping score wrong.

None of those measures of keeping score deal with the quality of the person involved. He or she might be great at playing their sport or running their company, but what kind of person are they? What do they accumulate for themselves, and what do they give away? “Uh oh, he’s started meddling again. He’s talking about giving.” Isn’t it amazing that giving is such a sensitive subject for some Christians? Giving, for the follower of Christ, should be as natural as breathing. Jesus commended the widow who gave her all – not for how much she gave, but for her faith in giving. Paul talked about giving to help others also. “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

We should probably note that Paul is asking for more – for the over and above the regular giving the Corinthians engaged in. Not only did they give to support the church in Corinth, he was asking them to give to support the church in Jerusalem. Prophets had predicted a famine in the land. Christians were being disowned for following Christ. Christians were losing their jobs because they followed Christ. The Jerusalem Church was going through difficult times and Christian from Galatia to Corinth were taking up offerings to support their brothers and sisters in Christ. At least they had made some kind of commitment to do that. Paul was reminding them of that commitment so that they could take care of the collections so they wouldn’t run into a situation where Paul showed up and people did a last-minute collection where people gave out of guilt rather than planned giving out of love for Christ and for His people. It is in the DNA of a Christian to give to support the church and to help others.

Many of us have overcome that “genetic” predisposition. We’ve become experts at accumulating stuff without learning to give to support the church and people in need. We have leaders who make a point of noting that tithing (which means giving 10%) is part of Old Testament Law and isn’t a New Testament principle as a way of getting out of anything close to sacrificial giving. Perhaps we ought to look at that area of discussion with some of the principles Jesus taught about going over and above what’s expected. In my understanding, if you tithe, you are following the law; if you give more than 10%, you are giving under grace. Sadly, the average giving rate in a church is somewhere between 3% to 5%. We excuse that by pointing out that the government takes money from us in taxes so that they can do some of the things the church should be doing. Whatever the excuse may be, I really don’t care, because, giving is ultimately between you and God. Let me just leave you with this question, though. If the Church is doing as much as it is with giving at its current level, how much more could we do if people gave at a minimum of 10%. If you want the church to have a positive impact on society – you know what to do.

O Lord, You have given me so much. Let my heart and my attitude be so joyous in giving that others join in caring for others.

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