Tuesday, July 4, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #21: FREEDOM

For those of you that don't know what a "M-80" is, it's like a firecracker that was put on steroids and then fed cocaine (or so I imagine, haha). Bigger, louder, and far more powerful!

When I think back to the 4th of July as a kid... the predominant memory is the M-80 fights my brother and I used to have. Yes, we would light the fuse and then throw them at each other hoping the explosion would happen as close as possible to the other person. It's amazing that I can still hear and see.

I survived those days and, thankfully, I've come to appreciate the 4th of July holiday much more as I've gotten older. Today, we celebrate the birth of our great nation and the incredible sacrifice that so many paid for us to have freedom. What's amazing in this day and age - some 241 years later - is that our freedom as a country and citizens is under attack. But that's another conversation for another day.

Today, so many people are in bondage even though they live in the United States of America. Free people everywhere are living enslaved and imprisoned in their hearts, minds and souls. Some of these people even seem to have all the world at the their beck and call... rich by the world's standards, but bankrupt and poor by God's. With this slavery comes fear, worry, doubt, lust, hatred, stress, loss, death, defeat, and so much more.

Even though there are many being held captive to every sin you can imagine, there is good news!

The good news has a name. JESUS.

The Gospel of Luke records an event when Jesus stood in the synagogue reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

With everyone's "eyes... fixed on him," Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (v.21)

Jesus offers us freedom. He frees slaves. He give sight to the blind, He raises the dead back to life. 

If you want to be free, cry out to Jesus for He is your only hope!

If you've been set free, don't grow complacent and go running back to the old slave master!

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
~ Galatians 5:1

Today, remember the sacrifice of those who have come before us. Remember the freedom you enjoy in the greatest nation on earth. But also remember the Savior and the One who truly makes you free!

Happy Independence Day everyone!

P.S. I started 2017 and had 52 words of devotion to share weekly. The busyness of June and other commitments took priority. Here are the words I missed: PATIENCE, SUFFERING, (HEAVENLY) FATHER, and CREATION. So if any of you care, forgive me. I'll share more this year as I have time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #20: MINISTRY

I grew up on the Southeastern coast of Florida. As a teenager, my favorite thing to do was spend time at the beach. Here was a normal weekend conversation at my house...

Me: "Hey dad, can I go to the beach?"
Dad: "Sure, once you do your chores. You need to mow and trim the grass and don't forget to weed all the front beds!" 
Me: (out loud) "Ok, no problem." (in my head) "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

I spent a lot of time growing up on my knees picking weeds out of our flower beds. I think my parents planting weeds in there just to torment me. To this day, I still hate pulling weeds from the ground!

This week's devotional word is MINISTRY. Ministry, simply put, is serving! 

Often I wonder if Christians today look at ministry the same way as weeding. On the outside we may seem ok with doing it, but on the inside screaming "nooooooooooo!" Every follower of Jesus is a minister, not just the "paid clergy" or pastoral leadership of churches. 

Here's the rub... God has called each of us to love and serve people. Ministry is putting the needs of others before your own. It's loving when you don't feel like it and even giving when it hurts. We struggle when we try and serve others in our own power. This type of serving is empty and unfulfilling.

True ministry is dying to self yet living life as a new creation of God. It's His Spirit and power at work in your life as you help others be reconciled to God. Check out this passage from the Bible... 
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

Ministry is washing feet in a 21st century kind of way. It is the living out of your faith in Jesus in real and practical ways knowing that it brings honor and glory to God. Pray for the Lord to open your eyes and hearts to the needs around you. 

Go and serve others in the name of Jesus. Love the least of these physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Do it with great joy and blessing understanding that God calls you to be His hands and feet used in powerful ways. 

That's true MINISTRY!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #19: TRANSFORMATION

I have to say one of my most favorite commercials of the past few years is the Geico one with two friends lifting weights. During the 30 seconds of commercial, one of the "bros" goes from being scrawny to having huge muscles. It's an incredible TRANSFORMATION right before our very eyes.

Now, I realize that the Geico commercial is just some good Hollywood special effects. But how about the people who experience the health/physical TRANSFORMATION in real life? I love to hear the stories of people who have lost a lot of weight... the testimonies of people changing their diets and lifestyles. I mean don't we all?! Why do you think "The Biggest Loser" was such a popular show? The "wow" factor of seeing the before and after pics!

Even more than that, I love hearing people's stories of how God has changed their lives. There is nothing like an incredible testimony of the power of God at work in someone's life.

This week's word is TRANSFORMATION. As used in the Bible (see verses below), it's the same greek word from which we get "metamorphosis" in English. This makes me think of the caterpillar in its cocoon being changed into a butterfly. This word means change that comes from the inside out. In the context of God's Word, it's the change brought about through the power of the Holy Spirit of God in one's life.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.   ~ Romans 12:1-2

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

All of us long for personal growth. We want to be better friends, parents, spouses, workers, etc. The harsh reality is all of us face struggles, hardships and failures in this life. Many of us spend most of our life trying to move on from mistakes of the past... longing for the "do-over" button to push to bring about a grand "reboot" for life. It doesn't happen like this.

Here's the straight truth: God desires to bring about TRANSFORMATION  in your life. While you can't simply try harder to change yourself, you do have an important role to play. You ARE called to stop conforming (and numbing your hearts/minds) to the popular patterns of this culture. You ARE responsible for daily dying to self in surrender ("present your body as a living sacrifice") and consistently getting into the Word of God ("renewing of your mind").

Don't settle with where you are in life. Give up on doing life your way: Walk faithfully and intimately in your relationship with Jesus and watch Him supernaturally change you from the inside out! In this, I believe, God will get the most glory from your life.  

Looking up. Living (inside) out!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #18: PERSEVERANCE

Did you read about it? Did someone tell you about it? Did you see it on social media?

True inspiration was witnessed at the Boston Marathon a few weeks ago. An Army veteran and a Marine captured the hearts of so many people not simply by running the marathon, but by running the race with prothetic legs.

Earl Granville (Army)

Jose Luis Sanchez (Marines)

You see... both these men lost legs while serving our country in Afghanistan - Granville (roadside bomb in 2008) and Sanchez (IED in 2011). These men are living examples of PERSEVERANCE.

Perseverance is defined by Merriam-Webster as "continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition."

I wonder about each of these men and the journey of the past few years following their injuries while serving in the armed forces. I imagine how difficult it was for each of them to relearn how to walk. I think about the people close to them that stood by them as they healed inside and out. I'm certain there were days of extreme physical, emotional and mental anguish.

Yet here they were running the biggest race in the country. Every step they took in the marathon, every drop of sweat, every life that was touched was PERSEVERANCE lived out for all too see.

I think there are great lessons we can all learn from their example. The Christian life is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.

At the end of his ministry and life, the Apostle Paul looked back at his life and recalled "fighting the good fight... finishing the race... keeping the faith."

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing"
~ 2 Timothy 4:6-8

No matter where you are in the marathon of this life, expect difficulties, failure, and opposition! The Christian life was never promised to be a walk in the park. If and when things get tough, keep running with perseverance. The end of your race will come in its due time. 
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with PERSEVERANCE the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
~ Hebrews 12:1-3

When interviewed after the race, Sanchez told a local news station that he ran the race "for others to be inspired, to be motivated." Mission accomplished!

Don't forget that others have gone before you and set the example. Many are presently running along side of you or cheering from a close distance. The Lord will give you the strength and provision you need to finish the race. Keep your eyes on Him!

I imagine we should all live this life the Lord has given us just like Granville and Sanchez ran the Boston Marathon... 

one step at a time!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 Devotional Words #16 & 17: GOOD GIFTS

It was our last day at Ricks Institute in Liberia. We were finishing up an amazing three days of a Pastors (& wives) Conference. Each of the members of our mission team were called up front of the auditorium. What happened next blessed my heart in a special way... its was icing on the mission cake of an amazing trip to Liberia.

I and the other men were given colorful Liberian shirts while the ladies received beautiful dresses. This was such a great gift that I definitely wasn't expecting. 

Everyone loves a good gift. I especially love the ones that catch you off guard - the gift that's totally unexpected. Can I remind you today that our Heavenly Father is the perfect representation of "goodness" and He certainly loves to give good gifts! James 1:17 declares, "every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of the Heavenly lights."

The two things I want to briefly share about today are: SALVATION and the HOLY SPIRIT. These two gifts go together - you don't have one without the other. Each of these are perhaps the greatest gifts we receive as children of God... for those who have put their hope and trust in the finished "Easter" work of Jesus. 

Mark 10:45 states that "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many." Jesus shed His blood dying on the cross to purchase our salvation - our redemption and forgiveness of our sin. John 3:17 (after the famous "For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son...."), proclaims "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." He died in our place taking on our punishment for sin. Our salvation means new and abundant life here and now and also one day in heaven. 

* When you get discouraged, remember God's precious gift of salvation. His life for yours. What a gift!

God didn't just offer the gift (Romans 6:23) of eternal life to us, He also gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us in this life journey. By placing our faith in Jesus Christ, we are "sealed with the promised  Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13-14) as a guarantee of our inheritance as children of God. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the "counselor" or "helper" who would convict the world of "sin and righteousness and judgment." The Holy Spirit guide us in all truth and bears its fruit in our lives - fruit of Jesus' righteousness at work in us and on display out from us. 

* When it seems as if the pressures of this life are waging war with your heart and soul, remember that you have the Holy Spirit inside of you. What a gift!

Take time today to thank God for His good and perfect gifts of salvation and the Holy Spirit. Praise God for His wonderful provisions and generosity.

Friday, April 21, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #15: PEACE

Not too long ago, my wife and I were singing in the car - one of the many reasons I fell in love with her in college. It just so happened that we were listening to the 80s channel on XM radio. My youngest daughter had the nerve to chime in and call it "oldies" music.  I'm a child of the 80s... yes, I left childhood and ventured into my teen years during this amazing decade. Let's face it... our music was and is much better than most of the junk today. Lol.

I can remember as a kid in the 80s being worried about the very real "Cold War" threat of conflict between the United States and the former Soviet Union - U.S.S.R. Then the first gulf war took place my senior year of high school and I had registered for the selective service (draft). I was genuinely worried I might get drafted if things didn't go well. There was a lot of tension back then and the real threat of Nuclear and other types of war was always in our minds and the news. 

30+ years later (yes that ages me), not much has changed. Access any type of news you can on your phone, tablet, radio or tv and it's always right there. Tensions run high. Political upheaval and regime change. Threat of war and other conflicts at home and overseas. Even today, the big news is that China is on high alert due to the issues in North Korea. There will always be some conflict or crisis confronting each of us every day. Many of us wake up every day saying, "when will it come to an end... give me a break, please!" We all want PEACE. We all need PEACE.

If you are longing for PEACE - internally and externally - you won't find it apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We will all have trouble, but through God we can have a PEACE beyond even what our minds can comprehend.  

Here are the words of Jesus as recorded in John 14 and 16...

In the midst of failure, brokenness, war, chaos, stress, worry, doubt, fear and everything else that is buzzing around you, you can have PEACE from the Lord above. It is perfect in its timing and ministry to your heart and soul.


P.S. For the record, I did NOT like some of the music of the 80s - especially the New Kids on the Block!

Monday, April 10, 2017

2017 Devotional Word #14: PERSECUTION

I woke up Sunday morning to find these news notifications on my phone...

EGYPT BOMBING: At least 21 killed, 25 wounded in explosion at a church north of Cairo.

PALM SUNDAY ATTACKS: Blast at second church in Egypt kills 6.


The persecution of Christians around the world continues to escalate.

I often think that many in the Christian church (Christ followers) in America live with an incomplete understanding of how many believers live around the world. I dare say most of us went to church this past week (at least those that made it) without fear of a bomb going off or some other type of violent opposition.

For many of our brothers and sisters in Christ outside of the USA, persecution, suffering, and hardships are a normal part of everyday life. Many people weigh the hard choice of following Jesus against the harsh reality of their family disowning them, public disgrace, and even death. Great sacrifices are made to be a part of simply going to worship on a weekly basis or even reading the Bible.

In these places, against what we would expect, Christians are bold in their faith and obedience to Jesus. They seem to genuinely grasp the call to daily deny themselves, take up their crosses as they follow Jesus. 

How are we living here in our borders of freedom? If you are like me, I am often overly focused on the insignificant as I ignore the simply call and presence of the Savior. My hardships usually revolve around my disappointment in not getting what I "need" when I "want" it. 

For many who claim the name of Jesus, they fail to simply commit to a community of faith due to the busyness of their self-indulgent lives. The reality of the "consistently inconsistent." If this sounds harsh, I guess I'm really not sorry. The truth hurts sometimes. 

This week in our small group class time, a friend reminded our group of a powerful quote from a recent movie our church showed:

“I cannot forget the words of my friend, Stoyan..."I took great joy that I was suffering in my country so that you could be free to witness in your country." And then he raised his voice to say: "Don't you ever give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution - and that is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!” ~ Nik Ripken in The Insanity of God.

In our freedom: don't give up your witness for Jesus. Don't miss out on the eternal value of sharing life with other believers (in church). Pray for the Lord's peace and empowerment for our brothers and sisters around the world. Give your all to Him each and every day!