Category Archives: Devotional

Covid-19 as an Acts 8 Moment for the Church

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.

 

A Bridge – An Airport – A Greenhouse

Three of my favorite metaphors for church. They each represent a connection point and not a destination. If you are on a Bridge, you are on your way to somewhere else. If you’re in an airport, you are on your way to somewhere else. If a plant is in a Greenhouse, it has not reached its final destination. No matter how much we decorate and dress these up, they will never be final destinations for people or plants. They serve major purposes. Bridges help us cross boundaries. Airports are places to refuel and launch to other places. Greenhouses are places of growth and development. But they are not the final destination.

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.

Give, Pray, Fast

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?

Who Builds, Leads, Grows the Church?

JESUS CHRIST
  • 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
Logo, Branding, Strategy, Website, Events are all a distant second to dependence on Jesus.
  • 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?
I am not the founder, the builder, the cornerstone, the head, the grower of the church. This is not MY church. These are not MY people. Jesus, build, lead, grow your church this week. Use me if necessary.

Persecution and Suffering – A Blessing?

Christian-persecution

Throughout the New Testament, persecution and suffering are presented as a foundational element of the Christian faith. Jesus said in Matthew 5:11 – You are Blessed when you are insulted, persecuted, falsely accused. He says that we should, “Be glad and rejoice” Matthew 5:12, and to “leap for joy” (Luke 6:23) when this happens. Really? A few other verses: 

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 – “all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
  • Acts 14:22 – “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”
  • Philippians 1:29 – “it has been granted to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him”

What are we to make of these and other words of Jesus and the Apostles on the issue of suffering? 

Defining Christian Suffering

First of all, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about suffering and being persecuted because of your relationship with Christ and his work in and through your life. We can make ourselves martyrs in a prideful way, pointing out how hard we work compared to others and in attempts to get the recognition of others. This usually is not about the righteousness of God but the self-righteousness of man. Jesus gets little glory from prideful martyrdom.

Also, some are persecuted because of rudeness, annoying behavior, or for being jerks, not necessarily for representing Christ. When we set out to offend for the sake of offense, we are not following the way of Christ.

Jesus warns us over and over about the reality of suffering for his followers. He is preparing us for the collisions that are inevitable for those living out his values in a hostile, foreign land.

Christian Suffering Around the World

Did you know? In just the last year, there have been…

  • Over 260 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution
  • 4,305 Christians killed for their faith
  • 1,847 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
  • 3,150 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned

There are many Christians that are suffering persecution around the world. They lead the way for us in standing up for Christ and representing Christ, even in the face of threats. Find our more about modern day persecution and ways to help at OpenDoorsUSA.org and Persecution.com.  

7 Types of Christian Suffering

Life in Christ may bring you face to face with at least 7 types of suffering and persecution. You can also see levels of maturity in these 7 types as well. Or degrees to which you are willing to say “Yes” to following Jesus, and no to self and the world.  

1. Discipline and the Natural Consequences of Sin – Revelations 3:19; Romans 6:23; Proverbs 12:21; Isaiah 57:21; 

There is a fair amount of suffering in the world, just because of sin and the reality of life in a fallen world. We suffer often times because of our sinful and foolish choices and/or the sinful and foolish choices of others. God also promises discipline for followers that step out of his will. This may mean he allows consequences in our lives that lead to suffering and pain that we may learn a lesson. There are cost, painful cost to disobedience and choosing the way of the flesh and the world. Many people are stuck in the painful cycle of sin – consequence – start over —- sin – consequence – start over. The suffering we feel at this level is meant to help us want to break out by God’s power.  

2. Self-Denial and Humility – Mark 8:34; Philippians 2:3-4 

One of the first level, basic calls of life in Christ is to deny self. This includes saying no to entitled living and making life about God’s glory and the needs of others. When we’re immature in the faith, this can be painful and a type of suffering. We must say no to our fleshly nature, to the ways of the world, to relationships that may lead us astray. Denying self leads us to spiritual maturity and life on mission. We discover that joy is found in life that is about God and others. But there may be painful breaks with the sin nature and its ties before this discovery. Necessary pain for those who desire to grow in Christ. 

3. Risk-taking and Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone – 1 John 3:16-18; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7

Beyond self-denial, the Christian begins to take opportunities to live unselfishly with  intentional choices that make life easy for others but harder for ourselves. As it says of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8, he chose the good of others every chance he had, even to the point of death. This may include simple things like hospitality and opening your home for others, taking a mission trip to a third world country, living with radical generosity in financial decisions, mentoring or taking in a child that is without a family, teaching a small at church, sharing the Gospel with a friend or neighbor. These things are sometimes risky, intentional steps of generosity and servanthood that are inconvenient and uncomfortable. For the growing Christian, serving God and meeting the needs of others is becoming more important than his/her own discomfort. So it may only seem like suffering in the eyes of others.   

4. Being Misunderstood and Misrepresented. 

The relational aspect of following Christ can be hard. All relationships are hard. But when you put yourself out there in love toward others, you will likely get hurt. Jesus’ closest disciples caused him some of his greatest grief through their betrayal and abandonment in time of need. Sheep bite. Hurting people, hurt people. Leaders and people that are serving have a target on their backs. In stepping out to shepherd and serve others, you can expect to be misunderstood, misrepresented, gossiped about, betrayed, and treated unfairly. It is painful every time, no matter how well prepared you believe you are for it.  

5. Experiencing Spiritual Warfare – Ephesians 6:11-12; Revelation 2:10 

Spiritual Warfare could be related to each of these seven types in some way. When you get out of the sin – consequence – start over cycle, and began denying yourself, taking risk for the sake of the gospel, you will get the attention of the spiritual forces arrayed against God and his glory. They can’t touch Him, but they can influence you. We must be aware that spiritual warfare is a reality, but it’s one that we can overcome in the power of Christ and his work in our lives (see Revelation 12:11). 

6. Being targeted for What You Say and Who You Are – 2 Peter 2:2-3; John 3:13

Around the world, believers experience a social persecution and isolation. Imagine if just because you’re a Christian, you can’t get a job, go into a store, or access certain services. We may experience some of this in our country or in isolated places, like being targeted for gossip or not included because of our faith. And some may lose social standing for choosing to follow Christ. Are you ready to follow Jesus, even if you lose social standing?

7. Being Tortured or Killed for What You Say or Who You Are – Acts 5:40; Revelation 12:11 

Many believers throughout history and still today experience the threat of physical pressure and persecution because of Christ. Many have been arrested, punished, killed for being a Christian. Are you ready to follow Jesus, even if you lose your life? 

 

Responding to Suffering and Persecution:

  • Embrace it as a lifestyle. 1 Peter 4:1. From breaking out of the clutches of sin, saying no to self, taking risk for the good of others and the growth of the gospel, suffering is a way of life for those who follow Christ. 
  • Recognize it’s benefits. Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17. Suffering produces! It produces endurance, character, hope and longing to see and experience more of Jesus’ power. When you’re suffering, your in good company as well. Spiritual giants through the ages have faced suffering with great faith and are promised a reward in eternity.   
  • Trust God to bring justice. 1 Peter 2:23; Romans 8:18. When we suffer, our natural tendency is to consider the unfairness or maybe respond in revenge. The example of Jesus reminds us that it’s not our place. God will bring justice and a reward awaits those who suffer for righteousness and because of Christ. 

Next Steps: 

  • Is your Christian life all about avoiding suffering instead of embracing it? 
  • Is fear of losing worldly pleasure or relationships keeping you from fully following Jesus? 
  • What entitlement do you need to deny or what risk do you need to take in order to grow in your Christian life this year?

If it’s Safe

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?

IMG_6302.PNGAs 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.

Believe – Follow – Disciple

BoardwalkWhat 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. 

Believe

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. 

Follow

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.

Disciple

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.  

Getting Started with the Bible Memory App

biblememoryapp2

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. After that, move to the Group “Top 100 Verses.” Another great group of verses that are short, familiar, foundational.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Devo: Run to Win

“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

  • Maintains the Status Quo 
  • Avoids Hard Things 
  • Avoids Decisions 
  • Fear based leadership 
  • “What might happen if”
  • Cautious leadership 
  • Half-hearted leadership 
  • Timid leadership 
  • Passive leadership 
  • Fear of failure 
  • Fear of others opinions 
  • Easily distracted 
  • Purposeless, lack of drive 
  • Gives up easily
  • Changes the Status Quo 
  • Does whatever it takes 
  • Makes decisions with certainty
  • Risk taking leadership
  • “What might happen if we don’t”
  • Aggressive leadership 
  • Wholehearted leadership 
  • Bold leadership
  • Active leadership 
  • Values and Learns from failure
  • Changes others opinions 
  • Focused leadership 
  • Mission Driven 
  • Presses on to the finish

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? 

Devo: Running

Running1One 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. 

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