Staying Faithful (Part 1)

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! (Psalm 31:21-24 ESV). If I were to fully title this devotional it would need to speak to staying faithful even when things seem to get worse. It has been very interesting to see so many people pointing fingers at what should have been done prior to Hurricane. Others have singled out what they believe to be gross negligence during the crisis. Still others have been quick to offer their opinions why it happened in the first place. These people have been of the most interest to me. Some have even suggested that if people would have prayed more God would have protected them from the storm; others suggested that the storm was a punishment from God because of political leanings. Of course, those opinions are extreme, but they are being voiced. I began to think of today’s reading and God’s simple call to remain faithful even when circumstances seem to worsen. This is the life of Joseph. His story is our best teacher. Genesis chapters 37-41 only tell the low and high points of Joseph’s Egyptian slavery and imprisonment. But he spent at least 12 years there before he suddenly became Prime Minister. And as he sought to trust and obey God during that terribly lonely, desolate time, things went from bad to worse. In the next few days we’re going to spend some time looking at Joseph’s example of faithfulness. We’ll get more specific, however, here are some thoughts: Never forget the end of the journey. Everything in this life, good or bad, is prelude for the incredible home that God is preparing for us. Believe me when I say I do get it. Just thinking about one more step is often more than one can bear. However, taking it is a key to overcoming. Don’t give up your trust in the promises of God. If history has proven anything, it is that God is trustworthy. He will deliver us safely to our eternal home. Don’t give up praying. Even when you think God is somehow absent, remember that he has promised to hear all our prayers and delights when we come to him (cf. Matthew 6). Stay connected to the community of faith. Satan wants you discouraged, disconnected, and isolated. Stay close to those who can pray, lift you up and help you in the hard times. I hope these next days will be as much an encouragement to you as they have been to...

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One More Day

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10 ESV). I have often used the illustration of the time of day to describe where I might be in my life. I have said that I am much nearer midnight than morning. And, with being morbid, average life-span of an American male makes that a reality. Today, being New Year’s Eve, makes us all think a bit more about time. Certainly we will see an ending of sorts and a beginning of another. This year will soon become “past” while the “future” dawns. That truth really doesn’t impact our life. We all live in a very specific span of days. God has already determined the length of those days. Our choice is then not how many days we have left, but how we shall use them. So, if you received an official notice today that this is your last day to live, what difference would it make in the things you do? Would you try to make more money; or stay late at the office working on that special project not yet completed? Would you spend the time with your family, or express thanks to those who’ve helped you along the way? Would you seek to get right with God? What would you do? We tend to focus on the material and the temporal and neglect the eternal and relational. None of us knows the number of days God has planned for us. It is essential that we not procrastinate until tomorrow the really important things you can do today. God became a man in the person of Jesus to show us how. Start there, and show your family how much you love them. Surprise them by occasionally coming home early. Tell them you love them. Plan fun things to do with them. Help someone you care about, someone who needs you at the office, in the neighborhood, or maybe someone who needs a friend. Certainly this is the Apostle Paul’s instruction in our reading today. This is where we should spend our time. It may not be the last day you live here on earth, but it may become a great day for you and those you care...

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All Your Strength

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength [emphasis added].’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV). Jesus now says we are “…to love the Lord your God …with all your strength” (v. 30d). Disney’s portrayal of strength is epitomized in the characterization of Hercules. He proves his strength by flexing his muscles as the devil measures him. If only it were that easy in real life! As we approach the New Year we should see this last phrase as a whole-hearted, life-encompassing allegiance to God. The context of our reading today stresses that treasuring God’s oneness and uniqueness needs to be personally applied to our lives. It needs to impact relationships, and what goes on at home and in the work place. Jesus is calling us to wholehearted, life-encompassing, community-impacting, exclusive commitment to God. This truth means that every closet of our lives needs to be opened for cleaning, and every relationship in our lives must be influenced. This call to love God this way destroys any option of being one person at church and another person elsewhere. What you do on the internet needs to be just as pure as what you do in Bible-reading. The way we talk to our parents needs to be as wholesome as the way we talk to our pastors. There needs to be an authentic love for God that starts with God-oriented affections, desires, and thoughts, that permeates our speaking and behavior, and then influences the way we spend our money and how we dress, and drive, and our forms of entertainment. Whether we’re eating or singing, jogging or blogging, texting or drawing, love for God is to be in action. And, that means all of our energy. It’s interesting that the word Mark uses for “strength” also means “ability.” It means that God has given all of us talents and abilities. You see, to love God with all of our energy, with all of our abilities, with all of our spiritual gifts, is the means for our serving the Lord. It’s a way of expressing our love to Him. It means holding nothing back when it comes to our energy level in showing our love for God. It means that when we’re using all that energy in our vocation, or in school, we’re doing it because it is pleasing to God to make the most of our abilities for Him. We are loving God with all of our abilities, with all of our being, with all of our strength. There’s a focus for your New Year!...

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All Your Mind

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [emphasis added] and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV). The third thing Jesus says about loving God is that we should “… love the Lord you God… with all your mind” (v. 30c). This one is significantly easier to understand that yesterday when we explored loving God with all our “soul.” It can be said that Jesus is drawing our attention to an intellectual love of God. There are several components to intellectual love for God. First, it is a sincere, practiced dedication to know God. This is more than just knowing about God. I can describe in great detail every part of some of my most pleasurable experiences; however, you would never know those things until you also experienced them. You would merely know about them. Second, Jesus is encouraging us to think clearly and truly about God so that we don’t have false ideas in our minds. This can only be accomplished by a thorough and consistent study of the Scripture. Last, intellectual love of God means not being satisfied with merely an intellectual awareness of his attributes, character, and acts but intentionally devoting that mental effort to serve the affections for God. If a person doesn’t move from intellectual awareness of God and right thinking about God to an emotional embrace of God, he hasn’t loved God with his mind. The mind has not yet loved until it hands off its thoughts to the emotions where they’re embraced. And then the mind and the heart are working in what feels like such harmony, and you experience it as both intellectual and affectional love for God. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Isaiah 55:8 and 9. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” That’s a beautiful passage in the Word of God to describe why the word of God is so unique. Because everything we read here in this life tends to be contrary to what God’s Word is saying. We need to immerse ourselves in the word of God as a way of getting to know God, so that we can love God with our minds. This New Year, dedicate yourself to loving God with your...

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All Your Soul

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul [emphasis added] and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV). Next Jesus says, “… you shall love the Lord your God … with all your soul” (v. 30b). The soul is a little more difficult to understand than the heart. We don’t often use this kind of language in describing a part of our being. However, we can define the soul as our personality and the seat of our will. Think about it this way. When a man and woman fall in love, they often marry. While passion may have drawn them together, it is a decision of the will that keeps them together in a committed relationship. The fact is that sinful human nature often causes us to be tempted to be unfaithful to our spouse. It’s during those times that we have to completely ignore temporary feelings and by an act of the will, decide to stay faithful. We express our love through this long-term faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. It’s the same with God. When we give our heart to God, we begin that relationship with Him. Then along the way, we’re tempted to fall into sin. And if we simply followed our feelings, we would give into the temptation. But if we’re really going to love God, we choose to be faithful to Him, no matter what we’re feeling at the moment. We love God when we choose to root our entire lives in the hands of God. Then we will begin to discover the contentment and peace that we have been searching for all our lives. We will find meaning and purpose and value and worth in the unconditional love of God. And the best part is that we will find that all these thing s will belong to us in increasing measure no matter what circumstances life may throw our way. Life does have a way of keeping on coming at us. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out something comes along to mess the whole thing up. Car breaks down. Recession hits. Job gets cut. One you thought you trusted betrays you. Lab report comes back positive. Rejection notice shows up in the mail. Death of a loved one stops everything in its tracks. We try our best to pretend that we have things all under control. But we know that all it takes is one single moment in time to shatter that illusion. Knowing this is true, we worry. We get angry. We lose our patience. We grow desperate. Some of us even we give up. Loving God with all your soul means that no matter what circumstances come your way you will continue to trust that your soul, your very life, is firmly rooted in a foundation that will never be...

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All Your Heart

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart [emphasis added] and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV). Yesterday we looked at the majestic beauty of creation as a motivation for continuing to develop our relationship with our heavenly Father. Today I want us to look into what has become known as “the Great Commandment.” Jesus was asked the question as to the greatest commandment. He answered, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v. 30). We are going to look at each of these separately for the next few days. The first is to love God with “all your heart.”  It means to love God with all of your feelings, with all of your emotions and with all your passion. Now, passion is a very hot term in our contemporary culture. People ask, “What’s your passion?” What they’re asking you is what is it that really gets you excited? It could be a certain ideology, social cause, activity, or interest. Perhaps it’s a passion about the theatre, movies, or music; or it could be something as basic as making money, physical fitness, or watching college football. You can be passionate about a lot of things, but the number one passion of your life needs to be your relationship with God. Think about your relationship with God this way. When you first came to Christ there was no problem in feeling passionate about God. You had a hunger for the word, to be in worship, and to tell others about Christ. You were excited about it and there was a very real passion rooted in your mind. As time went by and life presented its many challenges and opportunities, it became easy for other things to become a higher priority. That’s our natural response to everything. New things, new relationships, new seasons of our life are always more exciting in the beginning. As we settle into the routine of those things, we simply don’t feel as passionate about them any longer. If we were talking about your marriage, we might be tempted to think we were no longer “in love.” The truth is that we simply let our passion shift to the next newest thing. The solution is not someone or something new. The solution is to change our focus. We accomplish that by revisiting what we already know through our experience. Remember the great gift God has given to you; recall the incredible wonder of His grace; and, recount the many blessings of His presence. How’s your...

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