Category Archives: Devotional
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.
The Gospel is the news about God sending Jesus, who lived a perfect life, and took the sins of the world on himself and died in place of humanity, so that we could have a relationship with God, eternal life, and the power of God over sin and for mission. Believers are responsible for spreading this news. How should we think about the Gospel? The Apostle Paul gives us a good challenge in this regard in Romans 1:14-16:
I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…
Four Attitudes Believers Should Have About the Gospel:
1. I am Obligated (v. 14) – The NLT says, “I have a great sense of obligation to people.” This is just an attitude that says, I own my responsibility to share the Gospel with others. Do you feel a sense of ownership and obligation about witnessing?
2. I am Eager (v. 15) – I am looking for opportunities to share the Gospel and eager for those around me to know about Jesus Christ. Do you live with a sense of urgency and excitement about those around you knowing about the person and work of Jesus Christ?
3. I am Not Ashamed (v. 16) – This means, I am not shrinking back or feeling overly burdened about this responsibility. It speaks to the everyday, habitual sense about sharing the gospel. I’m confident about this mission to share with others.
4. The Gospel is the Power of God (v. 16) – The Power of the Gospel is not in my ability to share or in my persuasiveness. God’s power is promised in the telling of this old, old story. I’m not responsible for results, but for faithfulness in sharing.
The Gospel is POWERFUL, and should never be kept PRIVATE.
Every leader deals with criticism. It often comes at the wrong time, in the wrong way, from the wrong person, for the wrong reason (see Part 1). David gives us a Biblical pattern for handling criticism in the ancient story of his feud with his son Absalom. A man named Shimei took the opportunity of David’s misfortune to heap abuse upon him in a public way. What David did, I pray that I can do as well, WHEN, not if, criticism comes my way.
When Criticism comes, exercise SELF CONTROL (2 Samuel 16:9-10).
When Shimei criticized David, his friend Abishai was ready with a solution, “Let me go over and remove his head!” 2 Samuel 16:9. Don’t we all want a friend like Abishai! David dismissed this rash reaction and demonstrated self-control instead. Abishai’s solution may have been within his power and maybe even his right, but it would have been sinful before God and would have added more guilt and emotional baggage to his already heavy burden. That’s always what rash reactions that lack self-control will produce. Self-control always trumps retaliation and hostility. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.”
When Criticism comes, think deeply about the SOURCE and SUBSTANCE (2 Samuel 16:10).
David did not automatically demonize Shimei, but considered that God might be using him in some way. He ask in a sense, “Was God trying to tell me something through this hostile Benjamite?” In listening to critics, we must take time and in wisdom consider any truth in the message so that we can learn and grow and adjust in our leadership. Doing this toward a harsh critic will demonstrate our patience and desire for growth to everyone around us. Proverbs 15:31 says, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”
When Criticism comes, do not get DISTRACTED from your purpose (2 Samuel 16:11).
David’s primary concern was not Shimei, but Absalom. In verse 11, he reminds his men of the real danger, “My son… is trying to take my life…!” David’s main objective was to get himself and his company to safety. He did not allow this criticism to distract him in this moment.
Criticism has the power to knock us off course. The best defense system against criticisms distracting power is a sure sense of God’s calling and confidence of your place in His mission.
When Criticism comes, TRUST GOD to bring good out of the situation (2 Samuel 16:12).
David demonstrated that his trust was in God to hear and respond by bringing good out of the hostility of Shimei and Absalom. He did not assume it to be so, but he put his hope in God’s goodness. This hope gave him the strength and desire to absorb the criticism and carry on with his mission.
Whether it be a hostile critic, the darkness of a sick loved one, the death of a family member, or an unfulfilled dream; we can know that God is always there and that he will at some point, in this life or the next, bring good out of the cursing (Romans 8:28).
Jesus himself exemplified this kind of self-control and trust in God as he faced a hostile crowd that hurled more than just words at him. 1 Peter 2:23 – “when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.”
Criticism is part of leadership. Our response can make it a foe that creates greater conflict, distracts us, keeps us discouraged; or a friend that makes us stronger, more dependent on God, and an example of Christ-likeness to the world.