Category Archives: Devotional
I have been a Devotional Journaler for about 21 years now. I started this devotional habit after completing the Experiencing God study in 1997! Journaling helps me pour out my ideas and prayers to God, along with processing life and what I’m reading/studying in the Bible. I’ve written about my aimed for daily devotional habits here. Making journaling work for me requires a plan. Recently, I’ve found a helpful rhythm with three categories that help me process and pour out my prayers and ideas to God.
- GIVING THANKS – What do I need to thank God for today? I’ve heard people talk about Gratitude journals for years. As I get older and difficulties and worries add up, I’ve found it helpful and invigorating to write out 10 to 20 things I’m thankful for each morning. This simple practice works! And it’s Biblical! “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” Psalm 107:1. No matter what, we almost always have more to be thankful for than worried about!
- GIVING UP / GIVING TO GOD – What is too big for me to handle today? Life on mission, parenting, getting older, being a leader brings you up against your limitations regularly. I’ve found it helpful to admit and write out the things I will not be able to handle on my own and that I’m struggling with in life on this particular day or week. To practice in writing 1 Peter 5-7 – “casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.” Looking back at these list, I can see God’s hand at work and recognize that I’m never alone in the big battles I’m facing in life.
- GIVING AWAY – What opportunities do I have coming up for mission and generosity? This is a time to think through opportunities for mission and generosity that this day and the near future will bring. Busyness is an enemy of thoughtfulness, kindness, evangelism, and being on mission for others. A few minutes each morning helps me plan ahead, ask for God’s help, and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16).
Along with 15-30 minutes of reading and responding to the Bible, these three categories are helping me be more meaningful in my devotional life and more prepared for my day on mission with God.
Any tips, struggles, ideas from your devotional life?
Criticism is a reality for leaders. “The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” If you want to say or do or be something, you will be criticized. Your response to criticism will determine much about your character and trajectory in leadership. Christ-like leaders respond to criticism with self-control, trust in God, and humility.
A favorite story of mine in relation to this is the saga of David, when being challenged by his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 16:5-12. David vacated the palace because of the threat his own son posed and on his way out he faced a loud critic named Shimei. Here’s a few truths about criticism from this ancient story:
Criticism will often come at the WRONG TIME.
David had been in the midst of family crisis. His son Absalom had conspired against him and turned the popularity polls in his favor. David’s heart was broken due to his son’s rebellion. The last thing he needed was an angry critic hurling abusive words and stones at him.
We should not expect criticism at times when we are ready and waiting for it but instead it will come when we need it the least. Personal and family crisis often provide opportunity for critics to react and people to lose confidence in you as a leader, making criticism more probable, not less.
Criticism will often come in the WRONG WAY.
The public nature of Shimei’s criticism added to David’s current humiliation before his men and family. They were seeing their commander in chief, the warrior king, run away from a fight with an inferior power in Absalom. Now he was facing and shrinking away from the false accusations of a hostile farmer.
Public criticism is most harmful to our reputation as leaders. A critics words will often come in a way that is least beneficial. Most critics will not follow the Biblical pattern of Matthew 18:15-19. The way in which we respond may be the only way that will save our reputation as leaders.
Criticism will often come from the WRONG PEOPLE.
Shimei was a commoner from the tribe of Benjamin. He did not know David personally, nor did he have all the facts concerning David’s current situation. He had no authority to accuse the king. He was only responding emotionally to the opportunity that David’s misfortune provided. He was probably a lifetime critic of David and the truth would not have persuaded him to stop.
There are many people that are divisive at heart and are always looking for an opportunity to criticize and complain. Like the critics that stood shouting, “It will never start! It will never start!” when Robert Fulton was unveiling his new invention the Steamboat. When it started, they regrouped quickly and started yelling, “It will never stop! It will never stop!”
Criticism will often come for the WRONG REASON.
The accusation of Shimei had little basis in fact. He was accusing David of being a murderer of the household of Saul. Most commentators believe that Shimei was referring to the deaths of Abner (2 Samuel 3:31-39) and Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 4:5-12). It is also not impossible that the deaths of Saul and Jonathan were in his mind since at that time David had been a Philistine ally. However, David had no part in any of these deaths. In fact, he greatly mourned each of them and he even punished those who were responsible.
While some criticism we receive will be true, we must be prepared to face those critics who do not have the whole story or know what you know as a leader. Criticism from those who love us and want what’s best for us and the organization will be recognizable and stand out as something to receive with humility. Undeserved criticism will sting, but must not derail us from our mission.
Next Monday, how did David respond to criticism that came at the wrong time, in the wrong way, from the wrong person, for the wrong reason?
“A faithful person will have many blessings” Proverbs 28:20
To maximize impact, spiritual growth, and lasting value; find the a right habit, relationship, discipline and do it FAITHFULLY over time. Adding a dose of faithfulness over time is what makes the difference and brings true, lasting change. No more, I tried that once or for a little while. You’re more likely to find the change you’re looking for in small, simple habits done consistently and FAITHFULLY, than in trying new plans and new ideas and new places every few months. So…
- Read the Bible FAITHFULLY.
- Share the Gospel FAITHFULLY.
- Give to your church and to mission causes FAITHFULLY.
- Love you spouse FAITHFULLY.
- Serve your neighbors FAITHFULLY.
- Teach your kids FAITHFULLY.
- Build relationships FAITHFULLY.
- Serve your church FAITHFULLY.
- Encourage others FAITHFULLY.
- Pray for others FAITHFULLY.
- Serve the poor FAITHFULLY.
Observation: Those that do it (whatever it is) FAITHFULLY, in spite of occasional bumps in the road, have deeper roots and greater impact over time. Whatever good you’re doing right now, add FAITHFULLY to the end and stay there awhile for maximum impact.
We know we’re supposed to be witnesses for Christ. We know that people need Christ. What is it that is stopping us from being obedient and engaging the real needs of people?
Here are a few excuses that I’ve used over the years, that still plague my selfish heart today.
1. “I don’t have time.”
We make time for what’s important to us. Obeying Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:21) and helping others (Philippians 2:3-4) find help and eternal life should be on our list somewhere. If we make time for what we care about, are we really saying “I don’t care about what Jesus wants and others need”? Let’s make time!
2. “That’s not my job.”
This is passing our Christian duty off to the person that does more harm in churches that anyone – SOMEBODY ELSE. “Somebody else will do something” – “Why didn’t somebody help them?” – “The pastor should have done something about that.” Passing off the duty of every Christian to somebody else robs you of an opportunity to see God work and it robs people in your sphere of influence of your unique witness to them. It is your job!
3. “They know where I am if they need me.”
This is the classic rearranging of Jesus’ commission to the church. Jesus said that believers should “Go into all the world…” (Matthew 28:19). It’s a commission that requires intentionality on our part. Jesus didn’t commission the lost world to find the church, but the church to find the lost and bring them to Him. Let’s not wait for them to ask! Take initiative and go and find the lost. Glad someone did that for me!
4. “They’ll never change.”
When we say “They’ll never change” about someone that needs Christ, I believe we’re saying more about what we believe about God, than what we believe about that person. Our faith is not in the ability of people to change, but in God’s power to transform. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), so with God, no one is a lost cause. Change is possible for anyone that hears the gospel. It’s not our job to make final judgments about someones heart condition. It’s our job to share the message that can change their hearts (Romans 10:17). We’ll never know if they could have changed, if we withhold the gospel.
5. “I don’t know what to say.”
This can be another way of saying, “I don’t care,” because we tend to find the information that we care about. We can find and remember the best Disney deals, the stats on our favorite football teams, all the restaurants with kids eat free deals, etc. Have we taken the time to learn and understand some keys to sharing the gospel with different people. We don’t have to be Bible scholars or have seminary degrees to correctly share the gospel with people in our lives. You know enough right now most likely. And you have within you the power of the Holy Spirit who promises to help give you the words to say. Don’t hold back. Say it today!
Bridge Church‘s summer message series is designed to tackle the last excuse in this list. In our series What Do I Say When…? we hope to equip ourselves with what to say to people at different points of need in our lives. Join Bridge Church at 10am on Sunday’s at the Maritime Museum in Madisonville and get equipped to make an impact and engage the real needs of your world for Christ. You can also find the messages HERE or on Itunes.
Summer offers a great change of pace. With that comes the opportunity to start or refresh habits that are helpful to spiritual growth. Changing up routines can also breathe new life into our spiritual lives during different seasons. Here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful in regards to Spiritual Growth during the Summer:
Remember, rest is a spiritual discipline and an act of faith. Busyness often reveals that we trust in ourselves more that we trust in God, who commanded one day in seven to be for rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Summer is often the time we look to unplug and unwind for consecutive days. And this can be a tool for spiritual growth. Unplugging from Social Media, Email, and other forms of technology can be a discipline worth pursuing during the summer as well. Rest helps us reset physically and spiritually. It’s and act of obedience and faith. Rest well and grow.
I like to look for a 8-10 week Bible Study that will challenge me in an area that I need to grow in. It’s possible your church or small group may be doing a study of some kind that you can plug into. Also, if you don’t currently have a habit of regular Bible Reading and devotions, summer can be a good time to kick one off. I like to use Youversion.com or the Bible App for Bible Reading plans. There are many 45 – 90 day plans available that can be a spark plug to your spiritual growth.
I also like to take my devotional life outside during the summer. Mornings are nice in our area during May, June, and July. Morning routines with our kids slow down a bit, so I’m able to be more regular with jogging, walking, and biking before work. Youversion.com or the Bible App allows you to listen to a Bible Reading Plan. Also, I always have a few podcast of sermons or books I’m listening to, that help me grow in my faith. Some other tips on Developing Personal Devotional Habits HERE.
June marks the mid way point for the year. This is a good time to reflect and assess the year so far and make some new commitments or resolutions for the 2nd half. Chuck Lawless has a great list of questions for assessing your spiritual health mid-year HERE. I like to use these five markers for assessing spiritual health as well: Living the Gospel, Devotional Habits, Engaging in Ministry, Building Catalytic Relationships, and Experiencing God’s Providential Care. Assess your spiritual health using these five marks HERE.
4. Reach out
Summer also provides some great opportunities to be On Mission in the neighborhood, community, and around the world. Getting out of our comfort zones helps us grow spiritually as we move beyond our strength to depend upon God’s. Look for opportunities to volunteer with a church, or local ministry, or just get out in the front yard and meet some new neighbors. Here’s a few summer outreach ideas for your family, small group, or church.
5. Remain Faithful
Summer is often a time that it can be easy to drop habits like church attendance and giving. These are not essential for salvation, but they are essential for spiritual health and growth. Schedules may be irregular because of summer travel, family visiting from out of town, etc., but make a commitment that we are going to remain faithful to our church by attending and giving. Most churches today have e-giving options where recurring contributions can be setup ahead of travel. And many churches have online access to their services and sermons so that you can stay connected and not miss out on what God is doing with and saying to your faith family. Faithfulness makes a difference for you, your family, and the others that you are committed in a local body of believers.
If you’re not involved in a church, get connected this summer. There is usually great coffee, great relationships, and events and activities planned with your spiritual growth in mind at churches all over your community.
Rest, Read, Reflect, Reach Out, and Remain Faithful this summer to maximize spiritual growth health.
What helps you grow during the summer months?
The New Testament calls for unity in the church. We are asked to strive for it (Ephesians 4:1-3). We are taught that God grants it (Romans 15:5). We see Jesus prayed for it (John 17:21). Leaders of all stripes see the great necessity for it. My own human nature and our enemy often provides resistance to it. We also know that when unity is strained, on mission believers can disagree and continue the mission in good faith as with Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 15:36-39).
Unity within our current church has been as strong as any church that I have ever been a part of. However as a church planter, I know that at the current point in our history it is common for unity to wain. We’re not the cool, new thing anymore. Relationships get strained with time. It feels a little more like work. Momentum is up and down. So I’m asking, “How do we lead our church to strive for unity?”
When we fight for unity, we serve as an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. If he prayed for it, we probably should to. And we must always remember that it is God who grants unity (Romans 15:5). One of the miracles of the New Testament is the unity that was experienced among people who normally despised and hated one another. Their unity was a great testimony of God’s power. Establishing more prayer rhythms for the church is a must to maintain and build unity.
Jesus tied unity to the mission of the world knowing the Gospel in John 17:21. As Christians, we are most unified when the mission of Jesus is our focus. Agreeing on the mission and purpose of Jesus for our church and aligning all our ministries under that purpose will help us stay unified. Our church’s stated purpose is to “Connect People to Christ and His Mission.” It’s a purpose that’s rooted in the Great Commission. It’s a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. It’s a purpose that is of eternal value. Believers must find a church unto which they can devote their lives, resources, and gifts to fulfilling its established purpose. Pursuing and believing in an eternal purpose makes the temporal challenges to unity stay small and seem beneath our commitment. That leads us to the third necessity for unity.
Unity is a commitment and a promise that believers make to each other within a church. Churches should lead people to commit / make a promise of their lives to prayer and the purpose God has given to the church. What does it look like? Compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love (Colossians 3:12-14). Unity is always at risk in human relationships because we bring different backgrounds, emotions, ideas, and experiences to whatever table we’re around. I’ve learned that change in circumstances or venues usually doesn’t make a huge difference. Relationships and unity eventually experience challenges wherever you are. Best course of action: find a church with a purpose you can devote your all to; commit to be a faithful friend who demonstrates humble patience and forgiveness in relationships; and pray for God to grant the miracle of unity for the sake of the mission of Jesus. We learn and grow in unity and faithfulness through the challenges to strive for it. A beautiful thing emerges when prayer + purpose + a promise is given time to do the work of unifying the body. It’s the thing Jesus prayed and longs for. It’s what the world is looking for. It’s worth our every effort!
Discipline: The Bible’s answer to Three Questions every parent asks in one way or another.
This weekend, our church took on the topic of Discipline, looking at the passive, compromising, no discipline approach of the Old Testament Priest Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-36). The result of Eli’s parenting was the tragic loss of his sons lives and his family’s ministry as Priests of Israel. The Bible is full of promises for the parent who lives godly and does the hard thing to discipline their children. Three questions every parent asked that are answered by discipline:
1. How do I show my love to my children?
- Proverbs 3:12 – for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
- Proverbs 13:24 – Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
2. How do I assure the success of my children?
- Proverbs 19:18 – Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.
- Proverbs 22:15 – Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
3. How do I assure a peaceful relationship with my children?
- Proverbs 29:17 – Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.
Discipline is a parent’s duty. A duty that is best administered by a parent, because no one loves and graces a child like a parent can (when they are healthy). Parents must give up the desire to be liked and overlook behavior in a child for the sake of peace. Behavior comes from the heart. If unaddressed, the behavior could bring about future harm for the one you love. Parenting means committing to do the hard thing: Discipline our children because we love them, because we want them to be successful, because we want them to know peace and bring us delight. It’s not easy, but it does produce what we desire for our kids.
- Hebrews 12:11 – No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We hear a lot about Helicopter Parenting and Free-Range Parenting. How about a new one? REFUGE PARENTING. It means, by the kind of life the parent lives in godliness, devotion to God, intentionality about faith; their children and future generations are promised a refuge, protection, and blessing.
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence and his children have a refuge.
the offspring of the righteous will escape.
A righteous person acts with integrity; his children who come after him will be happy.
Integrity, godliness, intentionality about faith comes with a promise for our future generations. Live it!
In 2003, a devastating earthquake struck Iran that killed over 26,000 people and injured 30,000 others. But in the midst of despair, one story gave people hope. Cradled in her dead mother’s arms, surrounded by the crumbled remnant of a collapsed building, a baby girl was found alive. The mother shielded six-month-old Nassim from the falling debris and saved her life. Rescuers found the girl 37 hours after the earthquake. A Red Crescent worker in Tehran reported it like this: “She is alive because of her mother’s embrace.”
What a beautiful picture of Christ substitution. Christ was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Those who take refuge in Jesus’ embrace are shielded from sin’s devastating impact and saved through His sacrifice.
Beyond this, Christ chose the punishment. It wasn’t a natural disaster like an earthquake that killed Jesus. When I deserved the crushing blows of judgment and condemnation, Jesus took my punishment and died in my place. He substituted Himself for me.
“In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”– 2 Corinthians 5:21 (The Message)
The Christian life is meant to be lived out in relationships. Here are five key relationships for every Christ Follower:
Right Church | My On Mission Family that I pool my gifts, energy, and resources with for the expansion of God’s kingdom.
Small Group | My Circle of 8-12 friends that I grow with and care for on a regular basis.
Prayer Partner(s) | My smaller circle of 2-3 close friends that know my struggles and prayer needs
My Mentor / Spiritual Father(s) or Mother(s) | Someone ahead of me in the journey that I can learn from along the path of spiritual fruitfulness.
Mentee / Person(s) I am Discipling | Someone I’m ahead of in the journey that I can help along the path of spiritual fruitfulness
These relationships have been so key for me as a believer. Looking through this list, I see faces that make me smile. So many on mission friends that have shaped me at church, in small groups, close confidential prayer partners, spiritual fathers, and now people I get the privilege of helping to grow. Not sure where I’d be without these relationships.
If you’re missing out on one of these key relationships, ask God to direct you to or send you to the right church, a circle of friends, a prayer partner, a spiritual father, and/or someone to disciple today.