Category Archives: Devotional
In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world. But as you read the next 7 chapters, you don’t see that happening with great fervency. The disciples seem to be taking their time with developing the Acts 1:8 strategy, while enjoying the big crowd and the miracles in the temple courts. In Acts 8:1, it says that persecution broke out against the church and in Acts 8:4, the believers scattered to Judea, Samaria, and the world, taking the message of the Gospel with them – “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” God always wanted the message and the people dispersed and scattered. Persecution was the scattering agent that led to exponential growth.
Today, church attendance is at an all-time low. I read recently that church attendance declined in every county in the United States in 2018. The fastest growing religious affiliation is the non-affiliated. Among Louisiana Baptist churches, baptisms dipped another 20% in 2019. Worship attendance was down another 6% in 2019. Methods and strategies that worked a few years ago are no longer as effective at reaching people and growing our churches.
Could Covid-19 serve as a 21st century scattering agent? And how do we utilize this opportunity for exponential kingdom growth?
Yes. Let’s prepare Online Services, Online Giving, Streaming opportunities. But, let’s also think about Online Training for having Gospel Conversations, leading home Bible Studies, house worship, and impacting neighbors for Christ during this crisis. How can we assure that “the believers who were scattered during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020, preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” Acts 8:4.
Like these, the church should be the connection point for disciples heading out into the world. The church helps us cross boundaries, refuel, grow and develop. But the pew should not become the final destination.
Do we talk about church as the destination or the connection point? Do we count Sunday attendance and Bible knowledge or 24/7 servanthood and obedience as the height of maturity? Are we connecting missionaries to the world or providing entertainment and services for consumers in our churches? Where we place the destination and the goal for people matters.
In Matthew 6:1-18, about half way through His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instruction on three core practices for disciples: Giving, Praying, Fasting. His instructions include the why – motives are a big deal in Jesus’ teachings as he compares true disciples with the religious hypocrisy of his day – and the how to’s of these core practices. What I find fascinating is why Jesus would focus in on these three Core Practices. What does this say about our walk with God?
Giving, Praying, and Fasting are…
1. About Dependence on God.
Giving regularly, sacrificially, and cheerfully as prescribed in the Old Testament practice of Tithing and commended by Jesus and Paul, is meant to be a statement of faith that we recognize God as our provider and that we trust in God to make the ends meet.
Prayer is verbally confessing our hearts dependence upon God.
Fasting is setting aside food for the sake of growing in dependence upon God for essential need in our lives.
2. About Rejecting Selfishness and Idolatry.
When we commit to Giving, Praying, and Fasting as regular habits; selfishness and idols in our lives come into the light. Truth be told, my own selfishness and idolatry have kept me from true discipleship more than anything else. Obstacles to giving are often things that I want or things that I own (debts). Obstacles to praying often have to do with my own busyness. Are the things I’m doing really more important than time with God? Obstacles to fasting are often just about desire. God doesn’t expect me to try hard, does he?
3. About Gauging Your Desire for God.
Obedience to God , especially in the hard, unselfish task of giving, praying, and fasting, demonstrates that we have a true desire to know and follow God’s desire. Hesitancy and disobedience demonstrates a desire for other things. Period. What do your giving, praying, fasting say about the importance of your life as a disciple?
4. About Organizing Your Life Around Devotion to God.
You don’t have to be rich to give, but you do have to be organized. When you pray, Jesus says to go into a private room, shut the door and pray. This is not on the go praying, but an established time and place. Again, it takes organization. And when fasting, whether you’re giving up sugar, chocolate, a meal a week, or taking an extended break from food or some other pleasure, you will have to put some thought and planning into it. So, it takes some organization. Most people organize their church and religious life so that they can live, but Jesus is commending organizing your living so that you can give, pray, and fast.
So if I ask, “Do I Give, Pray, Fast?” What I’m really asking is, “Do I Depend on God? Am I selfish and Idolatrous? Do I have a desire for the things of God? Do I prioritize my time around core practices of devotion to God?”
What do these core practices mean to you? What do they reveal about your life as a disciple?
The Foundation of the Church – 1 Corinthians 3:11
The Builder of the Church – Matthew 16:18
The Cornerstone of the Church – 1 Peter 2:6
The Head of the Church – Ephesians 1:22
The One Who Grows the Church – 1 Corinthians 3:7
Does your church promotion, worship gatherings, events include and point people to Jesus? or just to your brand?
Are you, Pastor / Planter, communicated as the foundation, builder, head, key component, grower of the church? or have you led people to see Jesus as the essential key?
Do you carry the weight of the church on your shoulders, when Jesus clearly has taken that weight upon himself?
Do you trust Jesus with the growth of your church, listening to Him for guidance and direction for the future of your church?
Challenging words from Nik Ripken in his latest book The Insanity of Sacrifice:
“Safety is not one of God’s core values.”
- Do we share our faith as long as it is safe?
- Do we send mission teams as long as it is safe?
- Do we witness to our neighbors as long as it is safe?
- Do we make financial decisions as individuals and churches based on how safe those decisions are?
As one who leads others and values mobilization of others into missions, safety is too often a top shelf concern of mine. Great reminder that safety is relative to God and not a top shelf concern for the Almighty, nor should it be for His people.
Ripken argues that danger IS and SHOULD BE a part of the life of the faith filled follower. How tied is your faith to safety? Have you said no to an opportunity or a side of town because of the idol and illusion of safety? Is your faith in God lived out only in safe, comfortable environments where you’re never challenged, never have to sacrifice, never have to stress over the needs of others? Maybe it’s time for us to embrace the tension of discomfort and put more faith in God’s power.
More great quotes from Ripken:
- “Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger of our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ… the closer we are to Jesus… the more danger we will face in our lives.”
- “faithfulness to the commands of God holds more value than safety every time! The people of God are called to faithful response whether it is safe or not. If we are faithful, we will go and we will send and we will share and we will speak and we will give and we will pray… even when it is not safe.”
- “It will probably be safer for you to not share your faith with your neighbor. It will be safer for your church to not send out mission teams. It will be safer for you to not get on that plane. It will be safer to not let the world get under your skin. It will be safer to gather for worship each Sunday and simply go through the motions. It will be safer to keep financial resources close to home.”
- “God’s people value faithfulness and obedience. And we consider it a holy privilege to do exactly what God has called us to do… even if it is not safe.“
Lord, set us free from the idol and the illusion of safety.
Check out Nik Ripken’s great new 90 Day devotional called The Insanity of Sacrifice.
What does Jesus want for me this year?
Jesus has actually already decided what He wants for us in the new year. We could answer that question with so many great promises from Christ – Abundant life, Joy, Fruitfulness, Eternal life and so much more. As I think about that question, three words stick out to me: BELIEVE – FOLLOW – DISCIPLE.
Jesus wants us to believe him for big things. When asked what the work he wanted us to do was, Jesus replied – Believe! (John 6:29) That’s it. Jesus wants us to believe. The promises he gives for belief range from joy to supernatural power. It’s believing in, trusting in, and staying connected to Jesus that fuels everything in the Christian life. The older I get the more I understand why Jesus talked so much about believing. It’s hard. To believe, we fight doubt, fear, negative thoughts, doubters, fearmongers, critics, and more. What do you need to believe Jesus for this year? Salvation, Provision, Power, Overcoming Doubt and Fear? Make this year a year of BELIEF.
What did Jesus call people to do? Simply to Follow Him (Matthew 4:19). To follow someone means to make them the leader on the highway of life. You’re following their lead, listening to their instructions, and taking your cues in life from them. For us, that would include starting everyday with a commitment to follow Him, denying ourselves and putting the will of Jesus and the needs of others first, committing to listen to God through regularly reading His Word – the Bible, asking him for direction and wisdom for the journey through prayer. We are all following something or someone. We have the opportunity and invitation to follow Jesus. Make this year a year to FOLLOW.
What did Jesus command? Go and Make Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). What does Jesus want from my life? from my church? He wants Disciples. Disciple, the verb, means to teach and train others. So the command to go and make disciples is to draw others in and teach them to believe and follow Jesus. Most Christians probably see this as the job of the pastors, but it’s a command and desire of Jesus for all his people. And what if every believer and follower of Jesus, discipled one other person this year? The impact of obeying this desire and call of Jesus would be immediately felt in our time. Two questions for the New Year: Who are you discipling? and who is discipling you? We all need to be learning from those ahead of us in the journey and we need to be passing on the faith to someone behind us in the journey. Make this year a year to DISCIPLE.
One of the best tools I’ve discovered for scripture memory sense the Topical Memory System, has been the Bible Memory App. I have loved this App. It has helped me memorize over 1,000 verses in the last year and a half. It also has helped me diminish the amount of time spent on Social Media, giving me something with eternal impact to do in spare moments, besides scrolling news feeds. I’ve wrote about it HERE and HERE.
How to get started with the Bible Memory App:
- Download the App, open and account, find the Verse Library and start with the Group of Verses called “Verses for Children.” About 20 verses that are short, familiar, foundational.
- After that, move to the Group “Top 100 Verses.” Another great group of verses that are short, familiar, foundational.
- After that, pick another verse library category that speaks to where you are in life. Or, you can search for a group that you would like to connect with. I started with the Topical Memory System Group, because those verses were familiar to me. Right now, I have a group that is trying to memorize every YouVersion.com “Verse of the Day.” Find the group HERE. Will be starting a 2020 “Verse of the Day” group next week.
- Put together a group with your Small Group, family, accountability partner, or for your church.
I have loved this app. It has worked well for me. Check it out. Every moment spent memorizing scripture makes an eternal impact – “the word of the Lord endures forever” 1 Peter 1:25.
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
A common refrain in sports and in leadership is “playing not to lose.” This describes a team that is hoping to run out the clock in a cautious, unstrategic manner. You can often recognize the timidity and the lack of belief in the ability to win. I must admit, that I have fallen prey to this so many times in my leadership. Instead of aggressive, wholehearted action; passivity, avoidance, doubt, fear sets in and victory is hard to imagine. Here are some other comparisons.
Running Not to Lose vs. Running to Win
Which list describes your current leadership?
The big question that determines whether I’m running to win, is often, “DO I BELIEVE I CAN WIN?” As believers, this takes us back, not to what we believe about ourselves, but what do we believe about God and His promises? That’s what Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25, was focused on. His focus was not on himself, but on the life-changing gospel (vs. 23), and the eternal reward promised by God to those who run to win (vs. 25).
- What areas do I need to pick up the pace in?
- What am I avoiding?
- Where do I appear fearful?
- What does my distraction say about my current mission focus and drive?
- What have I given up on?
One of the healthy habits I’m enjoying right now is running. I’m working on a half-marathon training place with the Active 13.1 App. Hoping to be in shape for the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans on October 26th! We’ll see… Lol!
I’ve come across some great verses in the Bible on running this year that I’ve tried to memorize and meditate on over the last few months. These verses have great meaning for every aspect of our lives, along with when you’re on the trail. The next few weeks I’ll share some thoughts on these verses for life and running.
1. Run to Win – 1 Corinthians 9:24 – Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.
2. Run with Power – Isaiah 40:31 – those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.
3. Run the Path – Psalm 119:32 – I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.
4. Run with Perseverance – Hebrews 12:1 – let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.