Monday, August 03, 2015

How to Pray Through Adversity and Inconvenience


Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”—Daniel 6:10 (NKJV)

I struggle with something I’m a little ashamed to admit. Sometimes, I have a really hard time praying through adversity. That’s painful to say, especially because I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a few decades. I hope it is not the same for you.

Not so with Daniel. Daniel was a believer, a wise leader, and a target. His mission in life was to serve his God and his king, in that order. He served both well. He had no skeletons in his closet. He was humble, and this kept him moving up the ladder, no matter who was king. His humility, his upward mobility, and his holy habits made him the target of his political and professional rivals.

Daniel’s rivals worked hard to find fault. The one “sin” they sniffed out was Daniel’s habitual conversation with Jehovah God. He made time several times a day to get on his knees while facing Jerusalem, the City of Peace his heart longed for, and stay connected to his God. His opponents, through political maneuvering and manipulation, successfully criminalized prayer to anyone but the king of the Medo-Persian Empire, who had conquered Babylon during Daniel’s time there. Violation of this law carried the death penalty. The violator was thrown to hungry lions.

Even in times of adversity and inconvenience, Daniel courageously lived up to the Hebrew definition of his name, God is my judge, by aligning all of his priorities around it. Daniel learned early in life that you become what you worship. You could watch Daniel live his life and easily list all of the attributes of God that had saturated his character. If the king said, “I need a man that is wise, discerning, intelligent, compassionate, unwavering in his character, and courageous,” the obvious answer was, “Daniel’s your guy.”

If prayer were taken away from you, would you miss it? Or is prayer and worship such a habit in your life that you would do it no matter what? As privileged as Daniel was, from a young age he learned to opt out of all of the material things culture told him were necessities. He knew they were distractions and noise. What Daniel needed was God. What do you need?

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo

Friday, July 31, 2015

What it means to collaborate



Collaboration is a buzzword. This is a good thing, but difficult when we're so conditioned to doing what ever it takes to climb social and corporate ladders in our careers. In order to do this, we have to compete and distinguish ourselves, often at the expense of our coworkers. Our personal interests are in direct conflict with collaborating well with others. What if somebody's idea is picked over mine? What if somebody else gets the promotion? What if the team I'm collaborating with has lazy, unproductive members? What if people expect me to carry them and I end up doing all their work? How will I get proper credit? How will I distinguish myself?

Those are the mental gymnastics I go through.

I looked up a couple of a couple definitions:
  • col·lab·o·rate: work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. 
synonyms: co-operate, join forces, team up, band together, work together, participate, combine, ally;

I noticed that the word "co-labor" is embedded in the word "collaborate".

Here's another definition:
  • dis·tin·guish: recognize or treat (someone or something) as different.
synonyms: differentiate, tell apart, discriminate between, tell the difference between

This describes me better the "collaborate" does. Distinguish has always been my instinct. I want to distinguish me from you. I want everyone to know that I'm better than you. I want them, especially the bosses, to know that I'm smarter, more creative, and more innovative. I've noticed that when people see this in me—and they do because no matter how hard I try, I can't hide these attitudes—they are not very motivated to collaborate with me and the only reason they do is because someone higher up the food chain makes them. But there's a short shelf-life on these attitudes if collaboration is becoming your culture. You'll only be able to fake it for so long before you're the one left standing without a chair when the music stops.

If you want to distinguish yourself, distinguish yourself by being known as the guy or gal most willing to collaborate with others. Empower people, give decision making authority away, celebrate the accomplishments and ideas of others. Be the problem solver in the group. Be the one who gets those random, impossible ideas executed. Celebrate the accomplishments of others rather than yourself. How refreshing would that be? How great would it be to work with you?

Go be awesome.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to Make it Hard to Get to Heaven


But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’”—Luke 13:14 (NKJV)

Cheater! Cheater! Jesus upstaged the ruler of the synagogue when He healed a crippled lady. Why else would he be mad that someone got healed? That’s what the synagogue leader was really saying. UNFAIR! The only way the synagogue ruler could think of to fix this was to call Jesus a rule breaker.

How much work do you think it took for a disabled woman to get back and forth to synagogue for eighteen years? It doesn’t sound like a “day of rest” for her. If people helped her by carrying her, was that considered work? Was everybody breaking the rules of the Sabbath making sure the woman got to the meeting? If so, not only did Jesus’ act of healing relieve her from the work it took to travel to synagogue, He also relieved her family and community members from the work it took to help.
Luke says this woman was suffering from a “disabling spirit.” When did this poor woman ever get to fully take the day of rest God provided for her? The Jews took the Sabbath so seriously they created all kinds of rules about what it means to rest. Their day of rest turned out to be another day of rule keeping, which is work! They loved rules more than people.

There are two metaphors Jesus uses. The first is a picture of the Pharisees strapping heavy burdens to those they lead. But the thing is, the leaders would never put their shoulders into the kind of work they laid on others.

The other metaphor Jesus uses is of the narrow road versus the wide road. The narrow leads to eternal life while the wide to destruction. This narrow road metaphor is the one the modern church uses to identify us. But, in an attempt to keep people on the straight and narrow, sometimes, in the spirit of the Pharisee strapping heavy loads on people, we make the path narrower than Jesus intended.

When representing Jesus, we need to remember that He wants there to be as much access to Him as possible. We can’t make rules to block or limit access to the One that heals.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Body Parts



For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink intoone Spirit.”—1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV)

My favorite commercial these days is for eye drops. The ad is memorable, amusing, and absurd. It features two large eyeballs driving around town. One eyeball is the “straight-laced guy” and the other is the “funny guy” who cracks all the jokes. The “straight” eyeball is driving, while the “funny” eyeball is in the passenger seat being obnoxious; not wearing his seatbelt, messing with the dash and radio, and yelling out of the windows. He’s being irritating. He’s an irritated eyeball that needs eye drops.

Ridiculous! Eyeballs don’t drive. It takes a whole body to drive a car. The body can’t drive without eyeballs and eyeballs can’t drive without the rest of the body.

When Paul talks about the unifying work of the Holy Spirit, he uses the human body as a word picture because each part of the body needs every other part. It’s absurd to think that Jewish Christians can get the job done without Greek Christians and that free Christians can get their part done without working class Christians. It’s absurd to think God would want to reach the world any other way, from Paul’s point of view.

When Jesus finished His earthly ministry, the next phase of the program was put in motion. “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7 NKJV), Jesus said, telling His disciples about the Holy Spirit. There was a phase of the gospel spreading movement that would be handled by redeemed, transformed, Spirit-filled people. Each Spirit-filled, Spirit-gifted person has a special function and needs every other Spirit-filled person.

There are people in your life that you’re meant to do spiritual and practical ministry with, but you’ve written them off for some reason. Or you’ve been written off and are limping along comfortably in your discomfort because it’s familiar.

Be reconciled to the person you think you can do without. There is not one part of your own body that you would want to fall out or drop off. You’re fooling yourself if you think you could function without that body part. Don’t be one that writes people off. Be one who reconciles. Pray now for wisdom, grace, and an extra measure of God’s Spirit to do it well.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo  

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Bigger Picture



“’For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts.”—Malachi 1:11 (NKJV)

The sun is always rising somewhere . . . and on the other side of the planet, the sun is always setting. That used to be proof to theologians and scientists that the earth was the center of the universe. Then radical upstarts came along with new theories. “No,” they said. “The sun doesn’t go around the earth. The earth goes around the sun.”

“Heretic!” religious leaders shouted. As the sun rose over the horizon, the religious leader said, “Believe your own eyes. The sun begins its journey around the earth.” We know today that their thinking was limited. The “upstarts” had a much bigger picture in view.

The phrase “from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,” was used several times in prophetical writings to point to God’s future. Prophetical language like this is difficult to process. For the faithful Jew, the idea that God would include ethnically non-Jewish people in His future was unthinkable. Some ancient rabbinical writings reveal the widespread belief that the reason Gentiles were created was to stoke the fires of hell.

The Jews believed God revolved around their nation and temple. It was difficult to think that the future would be any different. The concept Malachi introduces in this passage involving the “burning of incense” (a symbol of prayer) in “every place”—and it being a “pure offering”—was radical thinking. Incense could only be burned in the temple.

In Jesus, God had a much bigger picture in view. God didn’t have only Israel in view. God was after the whole world. He, through Jesus Christ, was going to make salvation and inclusion in the people of God open to ALL NATIONS. Israel saw itself as the center of the action.

We, as Christians, talk so much about our own “personal relationships” with Jesus that we think that Jesus exists to orbit around us. We’re the center of the universe. We start to believe that, and our lives show it.

If you’re a non-Jew, then you’re part of the fulfillment of this prophesy from Malachi. And God isn’t done. It is still His will that ALL NATIONS come into His inheritance.
So look around. Jesus isn’t in orbit around you. You’re in orbit around Him.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo 

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Gravity of Judgment




“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” —2 Corinthians 5:10 (NKJV)

What comes to mind when you think of Washington, D.C.? Do you think of the great monuments like the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, or the Washington Monument? For many of us, images of these places have been embedded in our memories since elementary school.

The first thing Paul saw as he entered the city of Corinth were monuments of Roman government. In the city center, the Roman governor would sit and decide cases and dispense judgment. (Think about the scene in John 19:13 where Pontius Pilate pronounced judgment at the “The Stone Pavement.”) This judgment seat was referred to in Greek as the bema.

In ancient Corinth, judgment was at the very center of public life. Everyone could see what was going on, and Paul makes it clear: Every human will appear before Christ to give an account for himself or herself. The Corinthians clearly understood the gravity of the bema of Christ.

That is sobering to think about. At least it should be. It is easy to become overly casual in our attitude toward God. While it is true that we are justified by faith alone, there are still expectations of how believers in Christ should live. We are expected to grow in our faith, become mature followers of Jesus, and have an impact for Him in the world. And, as believers, we will one day stand before Jesus and give an account for how we’ve met—or not met—these expectations.

While this truth should give you pause, it should also energize you. This is good news! You’ll be rewarded for the things you did for Jesus. And everyone will see it. This should give you hope and motivate you to tackle more projects and impact more lives for the sake of the gospel.

If you are in a place in your journey where you need to get back on track with your walk with Jesus, do it now. Acknowledge it to Him in prayer, as well as to someone else in your Christian community. Be restored to Him, and start doing the kinds of things you’ll be rewarded for.

One day everyone will see how wise and just our God is. On that day you’ll be validated for those things you’ve done through faith in Jesus, whether they were big sacrifices or small deeds of kindness. That’s a promise.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Longing for Summer Slow News



I miss the dog days of summer when there was very little news beyond the weather. This summer has been crazy. We’ve had church shootings, threats of terror attacks, a high-visibility pastoral moral failing, and a landmark Supreme Court ruling that some call equality while others say it is the redefinition and devaluation of the holy sacrament of marriage.

This weekend we celebrate 4th of July and our nation is on high alert for terror attacks. Three recent attacks across Europe and the Middle East make this warning more credible than ever.

On top of real news, Obama haters are resurrecting Clinton era conspiracy theories of a liberal president in his lame duck term making a last ditch effort to hang on to power by finding an excuse to launch a massive military campaign to establish martial law. In Clinton’s day, the Y2K bug was the excuse. Today Walmart closings and a cryptic plan called Jade Helm will transfer our sovereign power to the United Nations.

Alarmist bloggers paint a picture of dooms day, especially for people of faith. Fear mongers have the church in the middle of a bad Nicolas Cage plotline, but their narrative is self-indulgent and claims continue to go unsubstantiated. I would love to see documentation or, at least, some verifiable, anecdotal substation rather than soap box story telling.

As far as freedoms being eroded, I think we are already there with the Patriot Act, the unlimited reach of the NSA, and the Snowden affair. Not to mention high-tech espionage sponsored by foreign governments and criminal gangs. The infrastructure for limiting our freedoms has been in place for at least four decades, and as technology improves, so does the ability and reach of the surveillance state I’ve grown up in.

If you’re a follower of Jesus and you’re reading this, we’re not as bad off as believers have been in the past. Nor are we suffering the way brothers and sisters in faith are this minute in numerous places around the globe where being a public Christian earns consequences ranging from detention to death. We need to make ourselves much more aware of church history and ancient heritage. When we look at what the first century church had to endure under Roman rule and temple politics, we are still much better off.

As people of faith, we are to always expect, in every generation and under any world-political system, to find ourselves out of sync with the systems and culture of the world. It has always been so with the historic church of Jesus Christ. The church is most impotent when in step with culture or in collusion with government.