Sunday January 19, 2020 – What is being a Christian?

The scripture is at the end of the devotional.

I must confess that I sure enjoy the springtime.  Here in the midst of cold and snow I keep telling myself spring is only a few weeks away.  One of the sights of spring that we typically see is young people at the front of stores in their uniforms raising funds for their season.  There are different uniforms for baseball, track, football, soccer, cheerleading, basketball and the list goes on.  One thing they all have in common is that it’s pretty easy to recognize that they all involve sports – even though we might not recognize which one.

While the uniform indicates sports, it is how they play the game that counts.  Games have rules and require learned skills.  Typically they also have officials, umpires, referees or judges to assure that rules are observed.  Sports involve teamwork, practice and include features that measure how well something is being accomplished: getting the ball in the basket, scoring runs, completing passes, keeping the ball within the lines.

In our culture today it is easy to fall into the trap of treating Christianity somewhat like a sport.  Certain outward behaviors and acknowledgement of certain things indicate we are a Christian; they are our ‘uniform’. The differences between the things we believe, place us in different ‘teams’ of Christians.  Unfortunately, this ‘sport’ of Christianity has lots of players modifying or ignoring the ‘rules’.  In spite of sincerity, we can succumb to the temptation of creating our own definition of who is a player and how the sport is played.

But what constitutes being a Christian? Is it as simple as acknowledging that Jesus is Lord, confessing we are a sinner and adopting certain behaviors (like putting on a uniform)?  Mentally, most of us would say there’s a lot more to it than that.  But what is the actual testimony of our lives, thoughts, attitudes and actions.  What does God say about it?

In the book of Revelation (3:15-17) is the Lord’s admonition to the Church of Laodicea.  They thought they were rich but in reality they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  They were lukewarm – neither cold nor hot.  The Lord also speaks to the Church of Ephesus.  They are commended for doing many things right, but then the Lord says this,

“ 4‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  5‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.”  (Revelation 2:4-5)

These admonitions are serious!  They raise questions that we must consider: What are lives really like that have Jesus as their genuine first love?  Do our lives reflect such love?  What is our basis for knowing?  And how do we respond if our lives don’t reflect such love?

To be continued…

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Saturday January 18, 2020 – Memories of my trip to Afghanistan

Acts 4:12  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

I have referenced my trip to Afghanistan a few years ago as part of a Christian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in a number of devotionals.  It was truly a wonderful, eye-opening trip.  I treasure the memories of the Afghan Christians and Christian workers I encountered on that trip.  Seeing first hand, the deadly cultural reality faced by Afgans  who become Christian there was a stunning reality for me.

The leader of our NGO and I would take prayer walks in the mornings after our arrival.  During those initial walks, he first assured me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Then, speaking of the gospel, he went on to instruct me that I must always be aware of the fact that, “Here in this Muslim culture – the wrong word at the wrong time could get someone killed.”  Wisdom and an awareness of who was hearing what was being said were absolutely required.

Totally new to me was coming to grips with a common reality that men and women who had accepted Christ were then unable to share that with their Muslim spouse or family.  How could an Afghan who had genuinely been changed by Christ be silent?  The answer was the knowledge that in their Muslim culture, the extended family would likely kill the believing spouse when they learned of their Christian faith.  This wasn’t – and isn’t – ‘urban legend’ but a reality that happened to people they knew first hand and had worked with.

This also kept many Afghan Christians from becoming part of an underground church – or any Christian gathering for that fact.  They didn’t know who they could trust and who might be there for the hidden purpose of identifying them.  The exposure could result in their death.  Recognizing this ever present threat shielded me from the temptation to become judgmental and question the reality of their faith.  My western background had never encountered anything like this.

Gordon Conwell Seminary did some research a few years ago and developed the estimate that each year 171,000 Christians are martyred for their faith.  That is a big number and given the increased slaughter going on throughout the world, that number is likely too low today.  Those are all brothers and sisters in Christ who lost their lives simply because they believed in Jesus.  The difficulties we face pale in comparison to the dangers many Christians around the world face – and that isn’t even addressing the poverty of their societies compared to the wealth we have in the west.

Thank God for the many Christian workers who are going to the nations to share the ‘true wealth’ of the Gospel of Christ.  Praise God for the untold number of conversions throughout the world due to God giving dreams and visions of Jesus – sometimes to entire villages.  Millions of Muslims worldwide are becoming Christians each year.  They respond to the love of God and the Good News of the Gospel just like we did!  May our hearts be moved to prayer and compassion for these believers – our brothers and sisters.  May their joy be overflowing as they grow in the wonder of our Lord.

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Friday January 17, 2020 – What happened to the apostles?

Acts 5:40b-41  They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

One of the books I’ve read that really moved me was The Heavenly Man – the story of Brother Yun.  He was not unknown to me as I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago at a conference focused on Afghanistan.  He is a leader in the Back to Jerusalem movement involving Chinese Christians.

His personal story involves a great deal of suffering for the gospel of Christ.  But he counts that suffering as joy because of the privilege of being a Christian and serving Jesus.  His focus was not on himself but upon the Lord and fulfilling the opportunities that the Lord gave him.

In recounting what has transpired in the church in China, he presents an accounting of what happened to the apostles and some key early Christians.  It was good to be reminded that nearly all of them were destined to be martyrs.  They loved and served our Lord Jesus and that righteous road they walked led to an end that not many of us would sign up for.  I wonder if our tendency would be to view such a fate as being due to our failure to really follow the Lord – rather than it being the culmination of following Him.  Needless to say, I was, and am, greatly humbled and moved by the recounting of their destinies.

There are some variances in the historical records we have but here is one accounting of those who have gone before us:

  • John      – exiled to Patmos
  • Stephen      – stoned to death by an angry mob (note: might he have made it out of that            situation alive if God had not given him a vision of heaven in the midst of it?)
  • Matthew      – stabbed to death by an angry mob in Persia
  • Mark      – died as two horses pulled his legs apart
  • Doctor      Luke – was cruelly hanged
  • Peter      – crucified on a cross
  • Philip      – crucified on a cross
  • Simon      – crucified on a cross
  • Bartholomew      – skinned alive by heathen
  • Thomas      – died in India as five horses pulled his body apart
  • James (Apostle) – beheaded by Herod
  • (Little) James –  cut in half by a sharp saw
  • James (brother of Jesus) – stoned to death
  • Judas      – tied to a pillar and shot with arrows
  • Matthias      – beheaded in Jerusalem
  • Andrew      – crucified on a cross (like an X – became known as St Andrew’s cross)
  • Paul      – a martyr under Emperor Nero

May our hearts be so consumed with love from and for our Lord that we too will joyously follow Him wherever He leads.  There is a world out there that needs to know Him.

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Thursday January 16, 2020 – Choosing to be an overcomer not a victim

2 Corinthians 12:10  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I remember a trip to Brazil where we all went to a farm with friends for a few days.  It was about 2 hours west of Recife, up in some mountains.  These friends and their farm were like an oasis for John and Fabi (our oldest son and his family who were missionaries there for 8 1/2 years) and we were greatly blessed to be there with them.  One of the interesting highlights of our time there was a little brown Labrador puppy.  There had been seven puppies born but unfortunately the mother only had six well-formed teats for nursing.  This little guy was odd man out – the runt of the litter.

By the time we got there, three of the puppies had already gone to new homes.  This little puppy was ½ the size of the other three puppies still there.  He also bore the scars of being the target of their rough play.  Fortunately he was receiving extra milk, food and care to help him grow.  He was sweet, playful, and the chosen recipient of our granddaughters’ affection.

If the puppy could think about it, I wonder if he would have thought of himself as a victim – or a survivor/overcomer.  He had been dealt a hand in life that put him at a real disadvantage – circumstances to deal with that were totally beyond his control.  Our granddaughter Becca considered him a ‘survivor’ (that was her term).  He was not going to let his size or ‘misfortune’ hinder him.

While thinking about this puppy’s situation a number of Biblical characters came to mind:

  • Gideon      – “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  (Judges 6:15)
  • Joseph      – “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. (Genesis 37:19)
  • Moses      – Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been      eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” …  Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10, 13)
  • David      – So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”  Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

It is so important to remember that we are not victims – no matter what lot in life we are dealt.  We are survivors / overcomers because of the God we serve.  Where we are weak, we look to the Lord and He makes us strong.  Our focus is Jesus. There is nothing He cannot redeem.

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Wednesday January 15, 2020 – Passion for the Lord

John 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume

I’ve read a number of really good books including Jack Deere’s book entitled, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.  It’s a wonderful book that concludes with focusing on passion for the Lord and then its relationship to power.  It is so important that we recognize that passion for God is absolutely essential to our life with God; it along with obedience.

This passion cannot be just a sense of longing or affection for the Lord.  It must be a life and habit forming condition of our heart that brings those actions that characterize individuals that truly are passionately in love with Him.  We must want to be such men and women!

There are Psalms and numerous songs that we sing in worship that describe attributes and actions that reflect passion for Him.  Do these describe us?  Our prayer should be for the Lord to transform us so that those words reflect our true condition more and more.  We want to be genuine Godly men and women.  The issue is not to be able to rejoice in our Godliness but to rejoice that He enables us to passionately love Him.  Let each of us wholeheartedly desire:

  1. to thirst for the Lord as a deer thirsts for streams of water
  2. a heart that yearns within me for Him;
  3. to earnestly seek Him;
  4. my soul to thirst for Him;
  5. to think of Him through the watches of the night;
  6. for Him to be my joy and my delight;
  7. for my soul to yearn and even faint for His courts;
  8. for my heart and soul to cry out for Him;
  9. to be a doorkeeper in His courts;
  10. to sing for joy on my bed because of Him;
  11. my heart to yearn to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple.

This passionate love for Jesus becomes our heart’s motivation.  I believe that is what motivated Mary to anoint Jesus.  She was consumed with passionate love for Him and her heart responded to the inspiration of His Spirit and she just gave herself to anointing Him.  The focus was Him.  Her actions were genuine and selfless.

Later she probably experienced real joy that she had been able to do this for Jesus, but at the time she was motivated purely by the Holy Spirit and her heart of love for Him.  May we be continually transformed so that more and more of the things we do are motivated by such love for our Lord.

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Tuesday January 14, 2020 – Obligations becoming opportunities to bring blessing to Him

1st Thessalonians 4:1  As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

Suppose you’re driving your spouse’s car and you notice the gas gauge is nearly on empty.  Even though you’re rushed for time you stop and fill up the tank.  You might do it simply because it needs to be done; without really thinking about it.  There is nothing wrong with that.  A helpful deed is done that is good in its own right.

Or while you’re standing there filling the tank, you have a smile come upon your face as you think about blessing the one you love.  It is an act of kindness that has its own fulfillment.  It’s possible that your spouse might not even notice that it was done, but that’s not important.  You did it to bless them.

Have you ever noticed that an obligation doesn’t have to feel like something we have to do, like one more demand upon our time?  It can be perceived as an opportunity, rather than one of simple duty.  Much of the time we might not even notice or think about these activities – we simply do them because they’re the right things to do.  It is part of being responsible.

But these same obligations can also have the rich feel of opportunity.  They are something to be done that brings blessing and pleasure; to the one they are being done for and to the one who does them.

The more we learn to differentiate right things from wrong things, the more aware we become of our opportunities (rather than obligations) to do the right and avoid the wrong.  (Sometimes the wrong thing is simply not doing the right thing we see needs to be done – James 4:17)  While this can take on the feel of duty, doing the right thing is positive in its own right – and such an opportunity if we have the eyes to see it.  In every one of these situations we can recognize that we have the opportunity to do something pleasing to God.  We get to experience the joy of blessing Him.

Making wise choices and living righteously are pleasing to Him and enriching to us.  They communicate our love to Him (and to those around us) in a way that is genuine and biblical.  Words are important, but they don’t compare to actions done with our motivation centered in Him.  The Holy Spirit will transform us as we pursue these opportunities that enable us to live lives that please Him more and more.

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Monday January 13, 2020 – Being blind to doing wrong!

Isaiah 1:16c-17a  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!

Today’s verse was an exclamatory statement from the Lord to the Israelites.  They were religious but their lives were not lived according to what God wanted.  In fact the context of Isaiah 1 presents a picture of a people who were the antithesis of what God wanted.  In describing their religious activities, God uses the following descriptive terms: no pleasure in the blood of bulls and goats and lambs, trampling my courts, meaningless offerings, detestable incense, evil assemblies and hated festivals and feasts.

It is in this context that He issues His command to ‘Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.’  In the following verses where He instructs them how to live we find the well known promise of forgiveness, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Rather He is pleased when they turn from their ways and live. (Ezekiel 18:23)

Later in Isaiah the Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (29:13a)  The problem is a people who think they are living right, when they’re not.  They are living in deception – deception so serious that they do not recognize the truth when they hear it. Or if they do recognize it, they don’t do anything about it.

It’s wonderful to repent like Zacchaeus did when he met Jesus (Luke 19:2-10).  But it is imperative to actively pursue with the Holy Spirit, the application of God’s word and ways to every area of our lives as the years go by.  In our culture there are many temptations that we have to deal with that have cultural approval.  Among them are the following:

  • situation ethics
  •  there are no absolutes (except this absolute that there are no absolutes)
  • if it feels good do it
  • cheating
  • how we dress
  • white lies
  • political correctness
  • sexually impure content of commercials, programs, internet sites, video games and movies
  • gender identity
  • what we communicate and how we communicate

It’s important to recognize that all wrongdoing is sin (1 John 5:17a).  Fortunately, we are not left to ourselves as we pursue living godly lives.  We have the great promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  May the Lord enable us to see and repent of the things in our lives that are not considered right by Him.

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