Tuesday, May 16, 2017


1 John 4:1
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

                There are many voices clamoring for our attention. With the expansion of the internet and social media, we are overwhelmed with messages, often contradicting one another. We are faced with the question, to which voice will we listen?

                I have been struggling with this question this past week. Not all of the voices that are speaking forcefully to me are evil. Not everything that they are saying is wrong. The problem is one of discernment. It is the age old challenge of determining the best from the good. Paul raises this dilemma in 1 Corinthians 10:23. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.

                One of the issues that complicates the task of discernment is our desire to please others. All of us like to be liked, at least most of us do. Alright, I do! But in our effort to please the people around us, we find ourselves saying yes to things that we should say no to. After we have said yes, we follow through out of duty and guilt, not because it is what God would have us do. Yet the pressure is great to give in to the loudest and most forceful voices.

                Peter and John faced this dilemmas big time when they were brought up before the Sanhedrin for preaching about Jesus. These were the respected religious leaders of their day. They had power and influence. They commanded Peter and John to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were under enormous pressure to give in. Instead they responded with boldness.  But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. Acts 4:19

                Now I want to be true to the text. What the Sanhedrin was demanding of Peter and John was clearly against the will of God. You could say that, for Peter and John, it was a clear choice, although not an easy one. The problem I face regularly is that the choices don’t seem to be quite so crystal clear. More often, the things I’m asked to do are positive, and possibly God honoring, yet they add weight and responsibility to my already packed life. So I struggle with the question, who am I listening to?

                So let me try to discern some steps to take to decide if this is something God wants me to do. The very first question to be answered is, is this really something that honors God? There are many false teachers who are very persuasive, but are leading people astray. Their message seems spiritual on the surface, but after close examination, we discover that it is not from God.  Peter warned us about such people who will use the church as a disguise for their own purposes.  But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1

                The second question to be answered is, is this something that will advance the Kingdom of God? There are many good programs and ideas that honestly desire to serve the Lord, yet are ineffective or marginally effective. They are often driven by mixed motives to meet some social need or to “do something significant for God.” These tend to be cause focused, time consuming, and narrow in effect.

                The third question to ask is, is this the best use of my time and resources. There are unlimited opportunities to serve the Lord effectively. The problem is that each of us has limited resources to put toward them. The answer to this question is found, not in our circumstances or surroundings, but within ourselves. The better we know our gifts, talents and passions, the better equipped we are to answer this important question. This takes genuine discernment from God about who He has created us to be.

                The final question to ask is, can I say yes to this with joy & enthusiasm? The best way I can illustrate this is with an example from my own experience. When I came to my current church, my predecessor had been a part of a group of pastors who ministered regularly in the local jail. I was approached to take his place. I agreed out of a sense of obligation. On the first Saturday that I was scheduled to lead a Bible study in the jail, I arrived with a sense of fear and apprehension. I made my way to the appropriate room and waited anxiously for the inmates to arrive. No one came. The jailer was shocked and surprised by this. I was relieved. I exited as quickly as I could, before someone changed their mind. As I sat in my car, preparing to leave, I could hear God saying to me, do you know why no one came today? It was because I could not use you. Your heart was not right. I repented right there and then. I continued to minister in the jail for a time, with a different attitude,  until I was able to turn that task over to someone who really had a heart for it.

                We can say yes to a wide variety of positive things out of a sense of guilt or a desire to please the person who has asked. But if we go into it for those reasons, we will be ineffective and we will resent the effort that it takes. God has gifted each of us in different ways. He expects us to use our gifts for His glory. There will be many times that He will move us out of our comfort zone to stretch and refine us. But He wants us to serve Him willingly and with joy. Paul wrote about this in the context of giving financially. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7) Although he was talking about money, the principle applies to every gift we give to the Lord. When God calls us to act, something within us resonates with the call, even if it accompanied by some fear and trembling.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,




Friday, May 12, 2017


                There are many ways in which we live in two worlds. We live in the our internal world; the world of our mind and thoughts. And we live in our external world; the world we share with everyone around us. We live in our public world of work, school activities, community involvement and church. We also live in our private world of home and family. Sometimes our two worlds intersect. Most of the time we keep them very separate.

                There is another set of worlds that many of us live in. We can define these as the world of the mundane and the world of the religious, or the secular world and the spiritual world. Whether we are committed followers of Jesus Christ, occasional attendees at church, or spiritual seekers, we all have to come to grips with these two worlds.

                Like many of the other worlds that we live in, we tend to keep these two worlds separate. We unconsciously divide our lives into sacred and secular. Although the two may intersect from time to time, they tend to run on parallel tracks. When we are in one world, we do not think about the other. We rarely see the two worlds as significantly overlapping.

                We have come up with the idea of these two worlds from different sources. In America, the idea of the “separation of Church and State” has profoundly affected the way we live out our lives. We have been told that faith is a “private matter” that should be kept private and not introduced into normal, daily discourse. It is OK for a person to explore the spiritual world, as long as they do it on their own and don’t “impose it” on others.

                In addition to culture, there are passages in the Bible that seem to draw a line between the sacred and the secular. The “world” is often used as a symbol of that which is sinful. We can get the impression that we should insulate ourselves from the “World.” Passages like John 17:15-16 can be interpreted as creating a strict divide between the sacred and the secular. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. This has led to a fortress mentality among many Christians, who seek to isolate themselves from “the World” as much as possible. But if we take an honest, hard look at the Bible, we will discover is that God does not want us to live in two worlds.

                All of life is sacred to God and it should be to us as well. God wants us to live integrated lives where the mundane and the religious regularly overlap, where the divide between sacred and secular is affectively blurred. In fact, God wants us to use every aspect of our lives to glorify Him and to shine the light of His gospel into our dark world.

                Jesus made this clear in Matthew 5:14-16. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Jesus does not want us to hide our faith or divorce it from our daily lives. Instead He commands us to let our faith shine into every corner of our daily lives.

                One of my many favorite passages in Scripture is found in Colossians 3:17. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. I was profoundly struck by this verse several years ago, in of all places, my workshop. Paul said “whatever you do.” I was struck that that really leaves nothing out. I began by asking, how can I honor God by what I do in my workshop? This led me to think more broadly. What does it mean for me to live my life under the authority of Christ; in His name?

                One of the struggles that we all face is that we too easily separate our physical being from our spiritual being. We see the physical as mundane and secular and the non-physical as sacred and spiritual. The Bible makes it clear that there is no distinction between these two in God’s economy. Jesus is the Lord over my mind and my body. What I do with my physical body matters as much to God as what I think with my mind. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

                It is a part of our human nature to compartmentalize our lives. We have become accustomed to separating our lives into neat categories. As we move from one to the other, we, so to speak, shut one door and open another. God wants us to live integrated lives. He wants us to take the hinges off of the doors so that there is a free flow between what we think of as sacred and secular. Our everyday lives are to be an active, vibrant testimony of God’s love and grace.

1 Peter 2:12
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Hebrews 3:12-15
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
    "Today, if you hear his voice,
        do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion."

                According to the Heart Foundation, heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States. In 2011, approximately 787,000 people died of heart disease. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds and every 60 seconds someone dies from a heart related event. Heart disease is a significant issue. One of the main causes of heart problems is the hardening of arteries; known as atherosclerosis. Plaque builds up in the inside of arteries, causing them to narrow. This leads to restricted blood flow, and can cause a blockage, which can be fatal.

                As significant as heart disease is, spiritual heart disease is worse. The Bible warns us against allowing our hearts to become hard and unreceptive to God’s voice. Just like physical heart disease, there are reasons why our hearts can become hard.

                Our hearts can become hard because of disappointment. This may take the form of disappointment with people, with the church, or with God. We all have certain expectations that we hold onto. When these expectations are not met, we experience disappointment. Disappointment is like plaque in the heart. When it is not properly dealt with, it builds up and causes spiritual heart failure.

                Our hearts can become hard because of complacency. A lack of physical exercise will ultimately damage our hearts. A lack of spiritual exercise will harden our hearts. We become comfortable with the status quo. We choose not to inconvenience ourselves or expend too much effort. The longer we remain spiritually complacent, the harder our hearts will become.

                Our hearts can become hard because of anger and other negative emotions. One of the things medical science has discovered is the corollary between our emotions and our physical heart. A person who is always angry and stressed has a much higher possibility of heart disease than someone who has a calmer demeanor. The same is true spiritually. As Paul tells us, "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

                The Bible gives us some practical instructions for dealing with spiritual heart disease. Over all, we need to listen to what God has to say to us about the matter. Many people fail to listen to their doctor, and then face negative consequences. As the writer of Hebrews quotes, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion."

                We need the right diet. The source of our spiritual health is God’s Word. It alerts us to danger, realigns our lives, and instructs us in godly living. We need a regular diet of God’s Word, if we are going to have strong hearts. How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11)

                We need to right perspective on life. There are many fad diets that promise amazing results, yet often cause more damage. The same is true spiritually. We can become sidetracked by spiritual fad diets. Instead we need to stay focused on the solid truths of God’s Word. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

                We need to exercise our spiritual muscles. Muscles that are unused atrophy. The same is true spiritually. Every doctor will tell you that one of the best things you can do for your heart is exercise. One of the best things you can do spiritually is exercise your spiritual muscles. This includes things like prayer, study, and worship. But it goes beyond those basics. Every believer has been given certain spiritual gifts that God wants us to use for the good of the church and for His glory. We can keep our heart strong by exercising those gifts on a regular basis.

                We need to deal positively with our emotions. Our emotions influence our actions. The two are linked. Therefore, we need to develop healthy emotional lives. The resources to accomplish this have already been given to us by the Holy Spirit. It is up to us to develop these healthy emotional habits so that we can maintain a strong heart. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

                We need each other to stay on track. Accountability is essential to good health, both physically and spiritually. Having others who encourage us to keep growing spiritually is a major safeguard against developing a hard heart. Isolation is one of Satan’s primary weapons against believers. Having others walking with us through the challenges of life can keep us on track. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

                Every time I go to the doctor for a checkup, the nurse takes my blood pressure to measure how my heart is doing. We need to be regularly checking our spiritual blood pressure. How is your heart doing? What do you need to do to guard against developing a hard heart?


Tuesday, May 2, 2017


                Back in 1971, the Carpenters came out with “Rainy Days and Mondays.” The tag line at the end of each verse was, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” Sadly the message of that song was all too true for Karen Carpenter. She died at the age of 32 from complications caused by anorexia nervosa.

                We have endured a series of rainy days over the past week. Yesterday, with overcast skies and constant drizzle, I sank into a profound lethargy. I was tired, irritable, and sullen. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my day off. It is sad how gray days can steal our joy and drain our energy.

                As a part of my daily devotions, I have been reading Tim & Kathy Keller’s devotional book on the Psalms, The Song of Jesus. If a person spends any length of time in the Psalms, they quickly realize that the Psalmist faced his share of gray days. Although we love to camp out in the Psalms of praise, there are far more Psalms of lamentation; i.e. complaining.

                One of the recurring cries in the Psalms is the phrase “How long, O Lord!” It is a cry of desperation. It is a cry for help and rescue. Psalm 13 is a short Psalm of David that speaks to us in our rainy days and Mondays.

Psalm 13:1-6
For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
 How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
 for he has been good to me.

                Not all gray days are literally rainy. We all face gray days that come from a variety of sources; disappointment, frustration, conflict, discouragement. In a nutshell, David gives us a path to follow when we find ourselves mired in our gray days.

                David was a master at expressing his true emotions to God. Ironically, we often try to hide our emotions from God. We put on a spiritual happy face, when inside we are dying. David openly called out God and God rewarded him for it. David was not being belligerent or disrespectful. He was drawing on the close relationship that he had with God. So when the gray days came, he was able to call out to God and ask, where are you?

                The first step for us to get through our gray days is to be honest with ourselves and with God about our emotions. If we try to deny how we are feeling, we will only sink deeper into the darkness. It is essential that we name our discontent. God is not offended when we cry out to Him. In fact, He invites us to do exactly that. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) We don’t have to clean up our feelings and make them “acceptable.” Like David, we can be honest before God.

                David didn’t just wallow in self-pity and discouragement. David called upon God to come to his rescue. He openly asked God for what he needed at that moment to get through the gloom. He knew that he was powerless in himself to prevail. He also knew that God is more than adequate to help him prevail. So David pleaded with God to act, and to act quickly.

                Like David, we need to have the courage to ask God for what we need in the moment. If all we do is complain, we will remain stuck. Instead, we need to ask for two things from God, whenever we are trapped in the gray days of life. First, we must ask for God’s perspective on the situation. David asked that God would give light to his eyes. He wanted to see beyond his circumstances. If we are going to weather the gray days, we need God’s perspective. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

                The second thing we must ask for is God’s strength. Gray days sap us of our energy. We can try to generate new energy on our own, but we are limited. But the energy of God is unlimited. When we tap into His energy, the darkness dissolves. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

                David rarely ended a Psalm is despair, no matter how dark it began. After David expressed his emotions and his need to God, he turned to his hope in God. David new that, no matter how gray the day may be, God is faithful to His children. At the end of Psalm 13, David is saying, although I am hurting right now and I don’t really understand what is going on, I will trust in the unfailing love of God.

                During the gray days of life, our hope is in Christ, who has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Jesus never promised that we would not face gray days. In fact, He warned us that we would have our share. What He did promise is that He would walk with us through the gray days. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

                This morning the sun has come out. Today the world looks fresh and clean, instead of gray and dreary. I can hear the birds singing outside of my window. They announce the promise of a better day.

Hebrews 10:23
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.