Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Advice

No Advice
October 31, 2016
John 21:6  "He said, 'Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.'  When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish."

Peter was a fisherman.  It is true that Peter eventually became one of the most prominent Christian evangelists of all time, but by trade, by training, he was a fisherman.  Back in Peter's time, there were no schools you could attend to learn your craft; you learned by apprenticeship most likely from your father.  Peter learned to fish when he was considered a youth, during his apprenticeship, and then honed his craft as he got older.  While I do not know what level of skill he ever achieved, I'd say you could call him a true professional at fishing.  He knew his stuff, his job.  Conversely, Jesus was trained as a carpenter.  Before Jesus ever healed someone, he honed his personal craft as a carpenter.  As a child, his father taught him about working with wood and I'd venture to guess, as soon as he could hold a hammer, he was driving nails.  Fishing and carpentry have very little in common.  In fact, you could probably say carpentry and fishing are almost completely opposite fields, with no crossover.

Despite the opposing fields of carpentry and fishing, Peter and Jesus started on an unique friendship that was centered around their belief and dedication to God.  A carpenter and a fisherman only talked about the Heavenly Father.  One day, Peter and a few fellow expert fisherman had fished all through the night and caught nothing.  fish at night with nets so the fish aren't spooked away by what is exposed by the daylight.  But daybreak came and it was highly improbable a fish was going to get caught (if a fish hadn't already been caught).  Enter Jesus, the expert carpenter.  From the shoreline, the carpenter called out to the fishermen who were finishing up and about to head in, calling it quits.  The carpenter advised the fisherman to try again, but this time to cast their net on the other side of the boat.  Pause and realize what just happened.  A carpenter was telling a group of expert fishermen to change their tactic and try it his way just one time.  I can imagine all the fishermen on the boat, secretly rolling their eyes regarding the advice from a carpenter.  I know very few experts, when among their colleagues, would heed the advice from someone else not in their field of study.  It goes against everything an expert stands for.

Peter, the expert fisherman, didn't need fishing advice from Jesus, the expert carpenter, but he took it anyway.  Jesus was right and they caught a record number of fish in just one cast.  This speaks to Peter's trust in the word of Jesus, not as a carpenter but as the miracle working God incarnate.  Peter wasn't trusting in the advice from a carpenter; he was trusting in the advice from the Word, God's own Son.  Maybe Jesus doesn't speak audibly to you today, but you've been given somewhere to go for advice, God's Word.  If you are without a fresh word, needing advice or not, you may consult your Bible.  Before you suggest you are an expert on anything, you should consult the Lord and then His Scriptures.  I don't care how advanced you are in your field, if there is a recommendation found in the Bible, and it goes against what you've learned in your modern day education, you should follow the advice of the Bible.

The Bible is full of wisdom that goes against the face of mainstream thought and worldly expert advice.  The world says to save your money, store it up and keep it all to yourself.  But the Word of God says to give and then it will be given to you, that you should store up for yourself treasures in Heaven.  The world says you should demand payment from those who owe you (emotionally, physically, and spiritually), but the Word says you should forgive and even turn the other cheek.  The World says you should try every deceitful tactic in order to win in a court of law and manipulate the jury, but the Word says you should give honest testimony, not covering up the truth.  The world says to divorce the spouse that you have fallen out of love with so you can follow your heart, but the Bible says you should be faithful to your spouse.

As you get to know His Word, you'll learn how to trust His advice even when it goes against your conventional training.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Pr 12:17, Matt 5:32, Matt 5:59, Matt 6:14, Matt 6:19-21, Matt 6:33, Lk 5:4, Lk 6:38, James 5:14-15

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stick Your Neck Out

Stick Your Neck Out
October 24, 2016
1 Corinthians 1:1  "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. . ."

You did not raise yourself in the woods.  There were may significant people who are to be given credit for helping to make you who you are today.  Sure, you are responsible for making mature decisions, but other people have put themselves in the line of fire, taking risks, for making a significant impact on your life.  You are not an island and did not happen by yourself.  There is no shame in giving credit for the help others have given in support of your life, those who propelled you forward.  Even the Apostle Paul, a significant leader, could not have made it without the impact of others, especially someone who risked his life for him.  Paul needed someone to stick his neck out for him, literally.  Sosthenes, a man with a seemingly funny name, was beaten, almost killed, because he took a stand for Paul and Paul's ministry.

Paul, a Jew, was a religious man who first persecuted Christians to the point of death.  Then Paul became a convert to Christianity, himself.  Being a Christian was not popular, especially if you were a Jewish Christian.  To add to being unpopular, you certainly didn't try to make friends by trying to proclaim Christianity to other Jews.  But Paul risked his life, encouraged by the Holy Spirit to do so, and stayed in Corinth, reasoning with the other Jews for over a year, even on the Sabbath day.  It should be noted the Synagogue leader had to the legal authority and the power to make your life difficult if you were teaching anything contrary to their beliefs, which is exactly what Paul was preaching.  The Synagogue's leader was Sosthenes.  Apparently Sosthenes let Paul speak, and evidently even listened to him on more than one occasion.  Then things came to a head.  Paul was challenged in a court proceeding and the Synagogue leader, Sosthenes, refused to press charges.  Paul was allowed to go unharmed, while Sosthenes was beaten by the mob because they disagreed with Sosthenes leadership.

Sosthenes had the authority to have Paul flogged and possibly put to death for heresy, and yet did nothing.  The mob, gave Sosthenes Paul's intended beating.  Sosthenes saved Paul's life, risking his own.  Sosthenes was on his way to becoming a believer when he stuck his neck out for Paul.  Thankfully, Sosthenes didn't die that day and actually did become a believer.  It should have been Sosthenes who thanked Paul for leading him to salvation, but instead Paul credited Sosthenes for his own ministry.  In an open letter to the church in Corinth, the church Paul started while there, Paul thanked God first and then Sosthenes second.  If Sosthenes had prosecuted Paul that day, Paul could have been led off to his death.  Paul could not have made it out alive without Sosthenes.

You, too, have someone like Sosthenes in your life, who has risked much for your benefit.  You could not be who you are today without that significant person in your life.  Someone has stuck his neck out for you.  Sosthenes thought Paul's ministry was worth it, that Paul was worth it.  Someone thought you were worth it, too.  I have a few questions for your you.  Were you worth it; was that person's risk in vain?  What did you do with that person's risk or sacrifice on your behalf?  Are you willing to stick your neck out for someone else in return?  Give some credit to him who stuck his neck out for you.  Be a hero and do the same for someone else when it matters.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Acts 18

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Good Father

Good Father
October 17, 2016
Ruth 1:20  "'Don't call me Naomi,' she told them. 'Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.'"

The Lord your God is a good Father.  What does it mean to be a Good Father, if He truly is a Good Father?  Will your life always be filled with rainbows and roses and butterflies?  Of course not; no one believes this, not even the most positive, glass-half-full Christian.  But can you still say He is a Good Father when things go horribly wrong, the opposite as planned?  It's easy to sing about His goodness on a Sunday morning or in the car on the way to work, but can you say this when the chips are really down?  Naomi couldn't.  You remember Naomi, right?  If not, here is a fast version of her story.

Things were going well for Naomi; she had a respected husband, two boys, and a relatively comfortable lifestyle.  Then famine struck in Bethlehem.  Because they could afford to move their household elsewhere, she traveled with her husband and kids to where the money was to be made and the food was plenty.  But then disaster really struck.  Her husband died.  It was OK, her sons, now men, could take care of her and continue in the family business.  But then bad went to worse.  Her two sons also passed away.  Soon the money ran out and she didn't have a way to support herself or her two daughters-in-law.  She recommended her daughters-in-law go and fend for themselves, finding new husbands any way they could.  One kissed her and wished her well, the other, Ruth, stayed.

Naomi and Ruth traveled back to where Naomi's family and friends survived the famine, which was now over after many years.  Everyone recognized their friend, as Naomi, but Naomi asked them to call her by a different name, to call her Mara, which means bitter or bitterness.  The name Naomi meant happiness, yet she, in her sadness, had become bitter and hard.  Naomi helped Ruth find a husband and Ruth was able to find happiness in the arms of another man, Boaz.  Thankfully, Ruth and Boaz took Naomi in, taking care of her as she aged.  But Naomi, now Mara, was never able to remarry nor was she able to find happiness again.  The story ends with Ruth and Boaz having a baby, and Naomi spent her final years helping to rear their son, Obed.

The story certainly stinks for Naomi, and one can  understand why she became bitter.  But I don't know if Naomi ever praised the Lord after the disaster was over.  I don't know if Naomi was ever able to proclaim that God was still a Good Father.  Scripture never says she changed her name to Happiness again.  My guess, and this is not recorded in Scripture, but I imagine there was a small degree of happiness at least when she held Ruth's little baby, smelling his head after a bath, seeing him smile, or hearing him coo when she tickled his belly.  That baby, though she would have no way to know it, would grow up to become the grandfather of King David, and one of a few to be named in the human lineage of Jesus.  Naomi held the human seed that led to the earthly father of Jesus, yet she called herself bitterness.  It was only after the famine and her great personal loss that the story of Jesus started and yet her name no longer meant happiness.  She was saddened by her tragedy but did she ever proclaim that He was, and is, still a Good Father?  Her friends had to help her with that.  Apparently Naomi was struggling to praise the Lord in the end; her friends encouraged her, helping to do just that, helping her to give the baby his name, Obed, which meant servant worshipper.

We can learn from Naomi's story and realize there is Someone at work in our story, even in the midst of tragedy.  That Someone has the name of Good Father.  He is a Good Father when things go well and He is a Good Father when things make you want to quit and throw in the towel.  God is good, all the time.  He is still sovereign, and is always on His throne.  He knows what He is doing and is crafting your circumstance right now.  I promise you, no one knows your bitterness more than Noami, except she is standing in Heaven right now, next to Jesus, next to Obed, rejoicing in the goodness of the Father.  I know you don't understand why it is you might be experiencing Naomi's story, but choose today not to become Mara.  He is a Good Father.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Gen 41:51-52, Ruth, Ps 136:1, Matt 7:11

Sunday, October 9, 2016


October 10, 2016
Luke 1:13  "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.'"

Zechariah was an extremely common name in the Bible.  It was as common a name as Steven or John, today.  If I asked you about a famous Zechariah in the Bible, maybe a couple of you would recall one of the first few kings of Israel.  But there was one Zechariah who should be on the forefronts of our minds.  In the New Testament, there was a Zechariah who was a priest.  He wasn't THE high priest, but served in the temple and was on rotation to serve as a priest when a priest was needed.  Almost nothing is noteworthy about this guy except of few things we can surmise.  We can assume, from the Scriptures surrounding his story, that he was a devout man of God, a fervent prayer, and a fantastic role model as a father.  Who was this guy?  He was the father of John the Baptist.  What should make him such a role model to you and me was his steadfastness in prayer.

The Bible does not record any of his prayers except that an angel of the Lord appeared before him and said one of his prayers had been answered.  The prayer request was that his wife would conceive a child.  Remember, John the Baptist's mother was Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Elizabeth was noted as being advanced in age for her years, beyond typical child bearing years.  Let's pretend, for all intents and purposes, that Elizabeth in modern terms would be considered in her fifties.  The Angel of the Lord appeared before Zechariah and told him his prayer for Elizabeth to bear a child had been answered.  You need to take a guess how long Zechariah probably prayed that prayer, how many years, over and over again he prayed that prayer.  My guess is he prayed that prayer close to 30 years, continually, before the angel appeared before him to answer his prayer request.  There is a specific term you can use to describe Zechariah's kind of prayer.  The word is petition.

Scripture says we should bring our requests to the Lord, though prayer and petition.  If you look up the word for petition in the original Aramaic, it means to humbly beg constantly, desperately, and on-going.  The Aramaic word defines Zechariah's prayer as that kind of prayer when the angel appeared to him and said his prayer had been answered.  You could say Zechariah's petition had been answered, after all it had been many, many years of the same prayer over and over again.  Zechariah did not give up on the prayer despite the seemingly mute reply even after a decade or two.  Notice I didn't say after a day or two of prayer; I said after a decade or two.  Zechariah is an example of fervent patient prayer of petition, humbly begging.  While begging isn't a polite term to describe the petition, it is carried in the meaning of the original Hebrew.

The term petition contains more meaning than only humbly begging over and over again.  Petition additionally means all sorts of prayers, any type of lifting up the request to the Lord.  It is safe to understand that a petition-type prayer would involve other people.  I doubt Zechariah's prayer was limited to just Zechariah.  I can guarantee He shared such a deep longing to his closest companions, fellow priests, and they also prayed.  I can safely say Mary, the mother of Jesus, was aware of Zechariah's prayer request for Elizabeth, and that she most likely prayed, too.  Mary, being a servant of the Lord, would have lifted up prayer for others.  This can be understood from the angel who appeared to Mary and referenced Mary's acknowledgment of Elizabeth's barrenness.  You couldn't be aware of someone's deep need and be considered a sincere servant without praying for others.  Mary was probably a part of Zechariah's petition.

You, too, have a sincere prayer request and I urge you to patiently and continually bring that prayer to the Lord, sharing it with your trusted friends and allowing them to pray with you in that request.  Don't pray once or twice, then figure the answer isn't coming.  Pray patiently EVERY single day.  So many Christians give up on the prayer request after a week or two.  Christian, it's time to pray with petition, allowing the Lord's grace to carry you until the answer is a yes or a no from the Lord.  If you've given up on a prayer request and feel it isn't worth it, yet you'd like help in petition, reply to this devotional e-mail with your first name and request, and I will gladly join you in the petition.  Be like Zechariah; learn from his example, his patient example of petition. 

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Luke 1, Phil 4:4-7

Sunday, October 2, 2016

When Will It Be Enough

When Will It Be Enough
October 3, 2016
2 Corinthians 12:9  "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

There are quite a few stories in the Bible that don't need retold for you to remember what happened.  Daniel in the lion's den is pretty famous, Noah and the ark is quite memorable, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden needs little reminding.  Another famous story you know much about is Paul's thorn in his flesh.  You instantly should remember the Apostle Paul prayed for the Lord to remove Paul's difficulty, but the Lord did not coalesce.  The Lord simply replied to Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul, without the removal of the difficulty.  The expanded version of the story is not much more detailed then that.  You have the full essence of the story, and the punch line in almost one complete sentence.  But I would submit to you that the meaning is possibly lost on most of you reading this.

There is so much more to the story, however, that was never quite captured in Scripture.  Paul, upon hearing the Lord's response, had to submit to the Lord's decision.  After the Lord told Paul that grace should be enough to carry him through, Scripture record's Paul's response.  Paul said that he would boast in his own weakness, then, so the Lord's power would rest upon him.  It is quite a response, yet still does not paint the full picture.  There is a small story in between the Lord boasting in His grace for Paul and Paul deciding to boast in his own weakness.  The untold part of the story is how Paul had to wrestle and submit to the Lord's response to him, the Lord telling Paul that the Lord would not be removing the thorn in Paul's flesh, the Lord's denial to answer Paul's prayer request.  Essentially, that is what the Lord did; He denied Paul's prayer request and waited until Paul could submit to the denial.  The Scriptures only tell Paul's eventual response of boasting in his own weakness, but never discusses the emotions Paul had to wrestle with in order to submit to the Lord's denial.

Paul had to submit to the Lord's response to the situation, laying down what he wanted, how he thought the situation should be resolved, and stand strong in the Lord's design for his life.  Paul's story was a success and he accepted the Lord's response.  Paul didn't stop serving the Lord.  Paul didn't try to remove the difficulty by himself without the Lord's help.  Paul didn't become bitter or resentful by the difficulty.  Paul submitted to the Lord's grace for the situation and it was enough for Paul.  My question to you is when will the Lord's grace be enough for you?  When will it be enough for you to rest in the Lord's strength and stand firm that the answer you think you desire may not be forthcoming?  The Bible doesn't say how long Paul had to wrestle and submit to the Lord's design; it sums it up neatly in a few sentences.  I doubt Paul was as perfect and succinct in his wrestling with it as Scripture suggests.  The Bible wraps it up in two sentences but Paul had to come to grips that the difficulty, for now, was not going to be removed in the immediate future.  Have you come to the same conclusion in life as Paul?

You, Christian, are facing this same trial; you've asked the Lord to remove the problem and difficulty.  You don't see the Lord's answer forthcoming, and instead of submitting to the Lord's grace, you've decided to move forward in your own human effort to change the situation.  You don't want to rest in His grace, you want your answer they way you want your answer.  You don't want to trust in the Lord's sovereignty, you want to grasp at every straw possible until your fingernails are bleeding.  You don't want the Lord's grace, you want to be right and justified and vindicated over the difficulty.  But by denying the Lord's grace for you, by not submitting to the Lord's design and plan, you are creating more difficulty than the situation already presents.  In an effort to fight the difficulty, you end up hurting yourself even more.  When will the Lord's grace be enough for you?  When will you submit and accept that right here and right now is where God has you and wants you?  The more you fight it, the more it will hurt.  Yet the more you submit, the more successful you will be in navigating your difficulty.  It doesn't make sense to the logical mind, but you must trust in the Lord's sovereignty.  Accept His grace for you r situation today and see that it actually gets easier.

The Lord's response was enough for Paul.  When will it be enough for you?  Incidentally, re-read Paul's response when he accepts the Lord's answer.  He said that Christ's power came upon him.  I bet you could use some of Christ's power right now.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Es 4:14, Pr 3:5-6, Is 55:8-9, Rm 8:28