Do You Measure Up?

When I post my devotionals every morning to this blog, I have to go into the admin page. This page contains a bar graph showing how many people have visited each day.  I try not to look because I used to get really excited when the bar went high and really discouraged by low numbers, thinking I should just quit since no one wants to read what I’m writing. The ego is a very fickle thing, even for people in ministry. Yesterday I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the bar graph was all the way to the top of the chart. Wow! That’s gotta be some pretty high numbers. So I looked. And sure enough, I had hit at or near the highest line on the chart. The number thirty. The graph adjusts itself based on the past ten days. Well, that’s kind of deflating.

But it made me think about a verse in one of Paul’s letters: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corin. 10:12). In the church, we tend to compare ourselves with others – discouraged (or jealous) when we don’t measure up to the most “devout saints” and a bit smug when we think we are more righteous than someone who struggles with things we don’t. Paul said such comparisons are not serving the Body. Because there is only one standard to measure up to – that of Jesus.

I may think I am holier-than-thou, but am I as holy as Jesus? You may consider a woman’s outfit inappropriate for church, but are you wearing robes of righteousness? I may not string together a chain of profanities, but are my words always light and life? Your faith may be a little stronger than mine, but can you go willingly to the cross like Jesus? For my sins?

We are all struggling in this life. None of us will reach the top of the bar like Jesus – at least not this side of heaven. Instead of measuring ourselves against other fallible human beings, we need to make Jesus our only goal. Beloved, I am not better than you and you are not better than me, but we can help each other be more like Jesus. I’m willing – are you?

The Momentum of Sin

See the source image

I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Don’t Decorate Your Life With Jesus

See the source image

I love roosters. I love their colors. I love how they strut. I love to hear their “cock-a-doodle-do! I love the life they represent – rural, peaceful, simple. Oh, I’ve never had a rooster. But I love them. For decoration. My kitchen and dining room are an artistic barnyard with figurines and pictures of roosters all over. I love how they look and the peaceful feeling they inspire, but that’s the extent of my connection to roosters.

Paul lamented people who go through life “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). People who love the idea of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus. But they don’t know Jesus. He talked about “weak-willed women who are  . . . always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 6, 7). As a Bible teacher, I’ve seen this too many times. Women – and men – who, like the Greeks in Athens, love to listen and talk about the latest ideas, but nothing takes hold in the soil of their hearts. They can sound Christiany and they post great Jesus memes, but there’s nothing of substance and no fruit growing in their lives.  They like the peace and love that Jesus talked about, but they don’t want the righteousness, holiness, and suffering Jesus also talked about. My heart breaks for them because they are only deceiving themselves.

Friend, I don’t want you to follow me – I want you to follow Jesus. I don’t want you to take my words to heart – I want you to take The Word to heart. I want you to put your own roots down deep into the rich truths of Scripture and grow and flourish with sweet fruit. I want you to love Jesus and the Word because you have a real relationship with Him. Beloved, if all you ever do is decorate your life with Jesus stuff, my ministry will have been in vain. I want you to know and love Him with all your heart and mind and soul. I want you to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). The life of Jesus.

Are you sorry for your sin?

See the source image

The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

The New You

See the source image

This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

The Call

See the source image

I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

Deep People

See the source image

God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

Serving God in Hard Seasons

See the source image

I originally wrote this three years ago today, when I was in a job I disliked. God has worked in such amazing ways since. Within six months of this post, we were back home and I was in my dream job at The Baptist College of Florida. I am blessed every day to work among men and women who love the Lord, to be immersed in my two passions, Jesus and learning, and to be pursuing a Master’s degree for whatever God has ahead for me.  

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1)

Paul and Timothy were in prison, yet they continued to see themselves as “servants” of the Lord. Wouldn’t you think that being in prison would give them a “pass”? I mean, they are not able to do all the things they did as free men. They can’t go to the market and share Christ with people. They can’t stand in the public square and proclaim the Gospel. They can’t gather with and teach fellow believers about the resurrection and the return of Jesus. They are isolated, cut off from every avenue of fulfilling their calling. Yet they are still servants.

This spoke to me so deeply. I am not where I thought I should be. I am not “in ministry” like I envisioned. I am not in a position serving God as I expected or hoped. But God says I am still a servant – His servant. I am not on a shelf nor am I excused from doing the good work God created me to do. Servants go where the master assigns and do what the master commands. Servants serve wherever they are.

My friend, it may be true that your place in life is not what you expected, hoped, envisioned, or wanted. But you are God’s servant nonetheless. You are called to a good work by a good Master. Let’s be good servants right where find ourselves today, whether in a palace, a prison, or a pre-school. It’s who we are.

It occurs to me that God could have inspired this post today in this pandemic, lockdown, snowed-in, life-changing time in the world. The circumstances may be different, but the feelings of frustration are the same. Beloved, you and I are servants of the Most High God. How we serve may change, but the call to serve does not.

The Struggle with Sin

May be a closeup of 1 person

Why, if I am saved, do I still struggle with sin? It’s not an uncommon question. I’ll bet you’ve asked it yourself. Even though we are new creatures in Christ we all still have the old fleshly sin nature demanding to be satisfied. Paul tried to explain it when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 18-19). He’s essentially saying, “There’s still a part of me that wants sin and even though I have Christ, I sometimes give in to that sin. I hate it when I do, but I still do it.” Why is this the case for us?

Look a little further in Paul’s words, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind . . .” (vs. 21-22). When we come to Christ, we have a new nature that wants to do what is good. But we still have that old nature that wants sin and we live in a world that offers it at every turn. James said we fall into sin “by [our] own evil desire [that] drags us into sin” (James 1:14). How do we overcome this?

If you and I are honest the sin we most struggle with is what the Psalmist called, “cherished sin” (66:18). It’s sin that we always keep our eye on, the sin we don’t want to let go of. Paul tells us: “Put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) – meaning the sinful desires within us. Hebrews 12:4 says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Beloved, let me ask you (and me) bluntly – Are you willing to fight this sinful desire to the death? Are you willing to kill it? Or are you going to keep it in your line of vision? We can’t overcome a sin we still love. Put it to death. There’s no other way.

Real Love

See the source image

This is the week building up to Valentine’s Day, and I plan to write about love all week. Not sappy, “Hallmark movie” love, but the love that is true and perfect and eternal.

I’m intrigued by a verse in 1 John: “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and caring out His commands” (5:1-2).  I expected that John would have said “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by caring for one another, meeting needs, sharing the blessings of God, etc.” But he says that love for one another is revealed in our love for God and our obedience to His commands. That seems strange until we realize that love for God will always manifest itself in love for people. A heart that loves God will love what God loves.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape love­—is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive? If my granddaughter desires to run into the middle of the street (and she does), does love demand that I allow her to do so? No! Because grandmother love has a greater demand: that I do what is in Joy’s best interest. So even though it made her very angry, I stopped her before she reached the end of our driveway.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction? Real love cares enough to say “This will destroy you.” Paul said that love “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Is it protective to say, “Because I love you, I approve of your sinful choices.”? Real love doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin.

God is the source of real love. 1 John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Beloved, it is time for us to speak the truth in love while we also speak the truth about love.