Thursday, June 30, 2016

Don't Neglect the Gift (1 Timothy 4:13-16)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:13-16

When we accept the gift of salvation and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, God bestows spiritual gifts upon us. Some of us are gifted preachers or teachers. Others have the gift of hospitality or administration. Still others are encouragers or are merciful.

And each gift is critical to complete the body of Christ. In God’s economy, the volunteer who faithfully folds the bulletin each week is as important as the most renowned preacher. Therefore, we cannot “neglect the spiritual gift” God has given. Each of us is just important to God as our fellow brothers and sisters.

If you’ve been given the gift of hospitality, open your home for a neighborhood Bible study. If you’re an encourager, write notes of affirmation to your child’s teacher or to your pastor. If you teach, be certain you diligently study God’s word so you speak only words of truth.

You can be certain of this: God will use you and your spiritual gift. But you need to be prepared to do as He asks. You need to be willing to use your gift to glorify God, not yourself.

Don’t “neglect” your spiritual gift. Instead, joyfully use it to serve God and others, knowing He will, one day, say, “Well done, my faithful servant.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hope for the Future (1 Timothy 4:12)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:12

I am so very blessed to have some amazing young people in my life. My nieces and nephews make me so proud. And I have several of “children of my heart” I “adopted” when I volunteered at a faith-based theater in California.

Some of these “kids” have such a strong and bold faith. I listen to them pray or read their Facebook postings, and I’m in awe. They love the Lord and aren’t ashamed to tell the world.

Then I look back at my own youth, and I’m a bit saddened. Oh, I know God forgave me for my twenty-year rebellion. I know He loves me and uses me today in ways I never expected. But I sometimes wonder where I’d be had I had the abiding and unwavering faith of so many of these wonderful young people.

Even with the world’s enticements, they remain faithful to the Lord. I admire them so much, and I learn from them. They give me hope for the future.

If you’re one of those “children of my heart”—and you know who you are—know that I love you, and I’m so proud of you.

And I pray for you regularly. That you’ll remain focused on God and His plan for you. That you’ll resist the wiles of the enemy. That you’ll grow in faith. And that you’ll continue to be all that God created you to be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fixing Your Hope (1 Timothy 4:9-11)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:9-11

Where have you “fixed [your] hope”? On your job? On your relationships? On your portfolio?

How’s that going for you?

Eleven years ago, I wrote these words in my book, The Best Laid Plans. They seem very appropriate for today’s devotional:
God does promise us a future filled with hope. A synonym for hope is “expectation.” God promised us a future full of expectation for His provision, for His comfort, for His protection, and, yes, for His peace.
I often wonder how those who don’t know Jesus have hope. What is it they hope for? Is it wealth? Is it possessions? Is it a relationship? And when money or things or people let them down, then what do they hope for?

The only place we can put our hope is in our Lord God. It is only He who is completely faithful and worthy of our trust. It is only He who walks alongside us through good times and bad. It is only He who carries us when we can’t walk.
When we fix our hope on Him, we can be confident He’ll never let us down. Never. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

An Appointment with God (1 Timothy 4:6-8)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:6-8

When I recommitted my life to the Lord over 22 years ago, I was quite sporadic in my Bible study. And I’d go days without really spending time in prayer. After a few years of this, I found myself neglecting my relationship with my Lord more and more … and falling back into old habits.

I recognized—very clearly—that I needed to spend daily time with God. That I needed to be disciplined. And for me, that meant I needed to set an appointment with God. Every day.

Now, 17 or so years later, I still make a daily appointment with the Lord. Every day. I literally have it on my calendar. It’s the most important part of my day. It’s my daily nourishment, and I miss it if, for some reason, I’m not able to meet with Him.

I know it’s hard sometimes to carve out quality time with God. We’re all so very busy. But I also know, for me at least, if I don’t, I’m much more easily distracted by the world’s enticements. And I desire, more than anything, to grow in faith and draw closer to my Abba Father.

I can’t emphasize it enough: If you want to grow in godliness, if you want that “promise [that is] for the present life and also for the life to come,” you need to spend time every day with God.

Every day.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Everything Created by God ... (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:4-5

I love everything about our new Tennessee home … well, except the humidity. I’m still trying to get used to it.

Then I read verses like these, and I’m reminded—yet again—that “everything created by God is good …” Even those things that may not be my favorites—like humidity—I can accept with gratitude.

This also ties in well with one of the best-known and oft-quoted verses in the New Testament: Romans 8:28. God really does work all things for good. All things.

But sometimes, this is hard to accept. So much is just not good in this world. Violence. Death. Illness. Abuse. We live in an ongoing and an escalating battle with the enemy, and our world becomes darker each day.

Yet even so, we can be confident that God is in control, and He will work through all circumstances. If we trust Him, if we know the promises in His word, if we pray to Him at all times, then we can live with the knowledge that all things created by Him will work out for our good.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fallen Away ... (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:1-3

I know how easy it is to believe things contrary to God’s word.

I made some really unwise decisions when I was young, decisions that allowed me to “fall away from the faith.” I listened to the lies of the enemy, and spent twenty years on a journey that led me, as I titled a book I wrote, on a crooked path, away from and back to the arms of the Father.

I see this same “falling away” in many people today. Young people raised to know God are making choices to follow the world. Older people, disillusioned because of loss or difficulty, claim God is unfair or, because of their pain, doesn’t exist at all.

A large part of the problem is that many Christians don’t really know why they believe what they believe. They go to church on Sunday, and then never touch their Bibles or talk to God the other six days and 22 hours of the week. And since they really don’t know truth, it’s very, very easy for them to believe the lies whispered in their ears.

That’s why I pray regularly for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray they’ll ground themselves in God’s word. Study it. Meditate on it. Investigate its truths. I pray they’ll spend time talking with and listening to God. I pray they’ll be protected by the Spirit.

And I pray that those who have “fallen away” will repent and recommit their lives to God. Just as I did.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Always Something to Learn (1 Timothy 2:8-3:16)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 2:8-3:16

I’m going to take some literary license with these verses. Forgive me, those of you who are Bible scholars, but I’m not going back to the original language and interpret “men” and “women.” Rather, I’m going to look at these verses as being instructions to all children of God. And yes, there is a method to my madness.

Taking out the gender-specific nouns, I see five things that all followers of Christ can obey.

Lift up holy hands. We are made to worship our Lord God. And whether or not we literally lift our hands, our hearts and minds should have a worship mindset at all times.

Avoid wrath and dissension. Anger is a poison that can destroy one’s soul, and the Bible calls it a deed of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20). The light of love and the darkness of hate cannot abide together. We are called to love each other, so we must put all anger out of our hearts.

Adorn properly. These verses speak of women’s dressing modestly, but I see this pertaining to proper dress for everyone. And I don’t just mean the clothes we wear. Does our behavior mirror Christ? Or do both our external and our internal selves distract people from seeing God’s truth in us?

Do good works. Each of us as a child of God should strive to serve Him and others at all times. You’ve probably heard the saying, “People don’t care what you say until they see that you care” (or something like that). If we sincerely and faithfully serve others—our neighbors, our community—people will see godliness in action. And they will be attracted to the One who works through us.

Be people of integrity. In chapter three, Paul is writing about deacons and overseers, but can’t all of us be “above reproach” and “respectable” and “temperate”? Shouldn’t we all aspire to be “gentle” and “prudent”?

Sometimes it’s good to read God’s word and ask, “What can I learn?” No matter my age, my gender, my background. Pray for the Spirit to speak to you through all of the Bible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Choice (1 Timothy 2:5-7)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 2:5-7

Believe in the God of the Bible or don’t. You have a choice. But if you say you believe in the God of the Bible, Yahweh of the Old Testament’s people of Israel, the Christ of Christianity, then you must, by definition, believe He is the only God.

Paul, inspired by the very Spirit of God, wrote there is one God, and one alone. You cannot believe in the God of the Bible and say that other gods may be valid. It isn’t possible.

And not only is there one God, but there is also only one way to Him.
Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is our mediator, and our acceptance of His payment of our penalty allows us to be in relationship with our Father.

Make your choice.

Monday, June 20, 2016

God's Desire (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 2:3-4

Friday, we talked about how we, as children of God, should pray for everyone, including our leaders. Today, Paul reminds us of why: because doing so is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” Doing so pleases our Lord God.

But I want to focus on the second of today’s verses. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

A similar verse is 2 Peter 3:9. God’s heart is for all men to come into relationship with Him. So why are there comparatively so few who choose to follow Him? If it’s God’s desire for all to be saved, why do we have so many friends and family members who aren’t?

Because our loving Father gave us the choice to follow Him. Some don’t want to give up control of their lives. Some are too enamored with the world’s temptations. And some have never really heard the truth.

What can we do? Well, we can certainly pray as we’re commanded. But we can also be Christ’s light to those around us. We can share God’s truth to everyone in our circle of influence. And some of us can even answer God’s call to go out into the world to minister to others.

Just as it is our Father’s heart that all should come to salvation, so should our hearts desire the same.

Friday, June 17, 2016

If My People ... (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-2

We complain—a lot—about our world. The immorality. The lack of caring and compassion. The selfishness.

And even more so, we in the U.S. tend to whine—a lot—about our leadership. The corruption. The poor decisions. The seemingly all-about-me mentality.

I have to wonder. How much is this our fault?

Do we do what we’re called to do? Pray for “all men, for kings and all who are in authority”? I wonder.

In the Old Testament, God made an if-then promise to His people. He said, “If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-15).

If we experience difficult situations and still humble ourselves, if we pray and seek His face, and if we turn from our wicked ways, then He’ll hear us and forgive us … and He’ll heal our land.

He promises the same thing through the words of Paul. If we pray for “all men, for kings and all who are in authority,” then we’ll “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

But do we? Do we, as a nation, do any of these? No.

Do we, as Christians? Certainly not like we should. And if we’re not keeping our end of the promise, why should we expect God to keep His?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Don't Shipwreck Your Faith (1 Timothy 1:18-19)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:18-19

Paul gave good counsel to Timothy—counsel we should heed ourselves.

We need to fight the good fight. And whom are we fighting? In another letter, Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We’re fighting against the devil and his forces, and in order to combat them, we need to daily put on our “armor.” (See Eph. 6:10-17.)

We need to keep the faith. As we deepen our relationships with God, our faith grows stronger and less vulnerable to the lies of the enemy. We need to spend time with God every day. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible. Praying. Spending time in quiet solitude, just listening to His voice. Learning about Him through corporate worship.

We need to keep a good conscience. If we seek God’s will and do what He’s called us to do, we will grow more and more like Christ. Sin will be abhorrent to us, and we will strive to live righteously.

If we live for God, if we keep Him the priority of our lives, we won’t reject our faith and “suffer shipwreck.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

One (and Only One) God (1 Timothy 1:17)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:17

In one short verse, Paul exalts his God with highly descriptive adjectives. His words offer praise and worship. And a clear love and devotion.

God is eternal
. He has always been and will always be. It’s difficult for our human minds to comprehend this. We are bound by time, and the idea of timelessness is beyond our comprehension.

God is immortal
. He is infinite, unchanging. He doesn’t sleep or hunger. He doesn’t need shelter or clothing. He is always on alert, hearing our prayers, meeting our needs.

God is invisible. He is not bound by a tangible form, and such, He is omnipresent—everywhere at once. He is with me when I’m in pain, and He’s with you when you’re grieving. We can’t go anywhere in heaven or on earth where our God is not.

God is the only God
. False gods are everywhere. Whether personified like those of ancient Rome or modern Hinduism, or self-made like fame or money, they are rampant. Some even say we can be our own gods. But there is only one God. One Creator. One Redeemer. One Savior.

And to this God, to the one true God, we should give all honor, all glory, all praise.

Forever and ever.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Only One Way (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Yesterday, we talked about how we can find forgiveness and mercy and grace in a relationship with our heavenly Father.

Today, Paul tells us how: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

He came to this world for one reason only: to offer redemption to mankind and a way back into fellowship with God.

He came to grant mercy and grace. He came so that we might joyfully anticipate eternity with Him

Jesus can redeem the heart of the lowest of the low. There is nothing you have done that cannot be wiped away by our Savior’s blood. You can be cleansed of every sin you ever committed.

It just takes admitting you’re a sinner and that you need a Savior. It just takes belief in Jesus as that Savior and acceptance of His sacrifice. And then it takes surrender to God the Father’s will.

You cannot save yourself. You cannot hope that the good you do somehow outweighs the bad. You can’t give more money or more time or more effort to good causes.

Only one way to salvation and eternal life with God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is available to you. Believe in Jesus. Accept the gift of His payment for your sin. Give your life completely over to Him

And accept His amazing grace and abundant mercy.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Grace and Mercy (1 Timothy 1:12-14)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Have you thought that your past was too sinful, too rebellious, too awful to ever be in a relationship with God? Do you think you’ve done too many bad things that God would ever forgive you?

In tomorrow’s verses, Paul will describe himself as the “foremost” of sinners. And in today’s, he spelled out some of his worst sins, including his persecution of Christ-followers.

Yet he experienced God’s grace and forgiveness of sins. He was shown mercy even when he had deliberately chased down and arrested Christians. He was used by God after having approved the execution of Stephen.

When he met Jesus on the Damascus road, all of his past was wiped away. He was forgiven. He was showered with God’s grace and mercy.

And that’s how God forgives us. That’s how He gives grace and mercy. That’s how He uses us.

In spite of our pasts. Our rebellion. Our ignorance. Our sin.

If we come to Him and surrender our lives to Him, the past no longer matters. We can be pure and righteous in our Father’s eyes. And we can gladly, joyfully, and gratefully follow Him. And serve Him with all our hearts. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

What Guides You? (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:8-11

The law was written to guide us, to let us know how God wants us to live. When we study and meditate on God’s word, we learn to live rightly. Loving others. Serving God. Being kind and good. Gentle and patient.

And we learn how He does not want us to live. Don’t be wrathful or immoral. Or jealous. Or cause disputes. Or be drunk or carouse.

So why is there so much immorality? And jealousy? And fighting? And anger? And war? Because the majority of the world doesn’t even know God’s word. They’ve never heard God’s commands. They have no idea of how God desires they live.

The only way we can instruct others is to live out God’s commands. If we serve our community with joy, if we are kind and gentle, if we refuse to respond in anger, the world will be attracted to us. And then we can share God’s truth.

On the other hand, if we judge and point fingers and yell at our children and cheat on our tax, the world will, at best, think we’re just like them so why should they change. And at worst, their suspicions—that Christians are just hypocrites—will be confirmed.

Yes, the law was written to let the sinner know he sins. But it was also written so that, when we follow it, the sinner will see a difference in us. And will want that difference for himself.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Fruitless Discussion (1 Timothy 1:6-7)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:6-7

Oh my goodness … I read these verses, and I thought, “Yes! This is so true!” So much “fruitless discussion” takes place in religious circles because so many “do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”

They’ve heard someone say sometime that, for example, there’s a verse in the Bible that says “God helps those who help themselves.” Well, we are definitely called to do the work God has called us to do, but there is no such verse.

Or they argue about traditions that aren’t spelled out clearly in the Bible, but they’re sure they’re right. Sprinkling versus immersion. Bread and wine versus crackers and juice. My way is right, and yours is not … although I’m not quite sure why.

Again, it comes down to one key thing: Do you know God’s word through diligent study and meditation, or are you just repeating what you’ve heard—or what you’d like to be true? When someone asks you about what you believe, are you able to answer with biblical support? And if you don’t know the answer to a question, do you stop to find it? Or confidently assert something about which you know little?

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t teach French if you didn’t speak it. You wouldn’t teach biology if you didn’t have a firm foundation in the science. You wouldn’t teach math if you hadn’t learned math from the very basics to calculus.

So why would you instruct others in biblical faith if you weren’t fully grounded in God’s word? Only then can you truly be confident in your assertions and have fruitful discussions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Instruct In Love (1 Timothy 1:5)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:5

It’s not just preachers and teachers who instruct. Anyone who has committed his life to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—often has opportunities to instruct others in the gospel. And we need to instruct in love.

We cannot force our beliefs on others. We cannot guilt them into believing. We cannot save them ourselves.

Rather, we must have a pure heart, one that desires more than anything that others find the peace and joy that comes with a relationship with Jesus. No other motive exists except wanting their salvation.

We must have a good conscience. I interpret this as we need to be cleansed of our own sins. In order to be an instructor of the gospel, we must confess any sins we commit, and we must strive to live as sinless as we possibly can. If we don’t, how can we expect others to be attracted to Christ?

We must have a sincere faith. We can’t put on a show; others will see right through. We can’t say one thing and do another; others will rightly claim our hypocrisy. We must be so in love with Jesus that our faith shines brightly.

Whom can you instruct? Your children? Your neighbor? Your fellow committee member? Your colleagues?

Have a pure heart with right motives. Keep your conscience clean. And grow in your own faith through prayer and study of God’s word.

And instruct in love.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

This "Spiritual" World (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:3-4

“… strange doctrines … myths and endless genealogies … speculation …”

Any of these words sound familiar when you think of our “spiritual” world? The pure truth of the Bible has been distorted and watered down and misinterpreted for so long, people seem to believe just about anything.

And since so many so-called Christians don’t read and study God’s word themselves, they’re easily convinced by false teaching. They’ve become so much a part of the world that they have created a sort of Christianity that allows them to live pretty much however they choose.

I’ve written in other devotionals how some who call themselves Christians don’t believe that Jesus lived a sinless life. They don’t believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. They don’t believe in absolute truth.

They’ve bought into the “pick and choose your religion” hype. Why? Because it allows them to think their eternity is set, but while here on earth, anything goes.

They look at those of us who believe in the inerrancy of God’s word as na├»ve. When we assert that Jesus—God the Son—came to earth, lived a sinless life, died to pay the penalty for our sin, and then rose again …well, we’re childish. And worst of all, when we call out sin, we’re intolerant or judgmental.

All because so many have been instructed in “strange doctrines” and have “speculated” about truth.

And how God’s heart must break.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Jesus ... Our Hope (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1-2

“Jesus Christ, who is our hope …”

Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as a “
desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” When we think of Jesus as being our “hope,” what expectation do we have? What do we believe in? What fulfillment do we desire?

I can only answer for myself, but my hope in Jesus is what makes me get out of bed each morning. If I didn’t have hope in Him, I’d simply give up.

My hope in Jesus reminds me that God has a purpose for my life. When I accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation and invited Him into my life, I became a child of the Father. And my Father loves me and has a plan for my life, one that gives me a “future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

I believe in God’s purpose for my life here on earth, and I live in expectation of eternity in His presence. I desire being exactly who He’s created me now, and I desire even more praising Him and serving Him forever.

Without this hope, my life would be meaningless. There would be no purpose for my pain. No value for my ministry. No significance for my relationships.

Ah, but I do have hope. I know beyond doubt that God does have a plan for my life. I believe with all my heart that His plan is good (Rom. 8:28).

And that hope gives me a reason to push back my covers and, with Jesus' holding my hand, face another day.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Ahhh ... Peace ... (2 Thessalonians 3:16-18)

Today’s scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18

As we finish our journey through Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica, I leave you with the same words he wrote to them:  “… may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.”

No matter what happens, we can experience God’s peace. It’s a supernatural peace that doesn’t make sense to our human minds. How can we have peace through the pain? Through sorrow? Through times of hopelessness? By trusting God in all things and at all times. By taking our needs to Him. In another letter, this one to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:6-7, NKJV). Then the final words of Paul to the Thessalonian Christians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

God’s grace … unmerited favor. Getting what we don’t deserve. It’s available to everyone who seeks it. And it covers us at all times.

God bless you!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

A Fine Balance (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

Today’s scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

Paul makes a great distinction in these verses. If a brother—a fellow Christ-follower—doesn’t follow the Bible’s commandments, then we need to not associate with him. There’s a risk we take when we are intimate friends with a backslidden or disobedient Christian, and Paul exhorts us to avoid that intimacy.

However, we’re not to shun him or “regard him as an enemy.” We certainly shouldn’t gossip or point fingers. Again, we’re not to judge him (Matthew 7:1-3). Instead, we should “admonish him as a brother.”

Jesus Himself gave instructions with how to deal with a brother (or sister) who has strayed:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17, NKJV)
We need to do everything we can to bring a prodigal brother (or sister) back to the fold while making certain we ourselves aren’t pulled away.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Working for a Living (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Today’s scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “… whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (3:23). He also wrote in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, “
to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands …”

If we’re able to do so, we should be working for our own bread. And in fact, we should be so busy doing our work, we won’t have time to be “undisciplined” or act as “busybodies.”

It’s true. If we’re focused on doing what God has called us to do, whether occupational or vocational, we truly won’t have time to get caught up in other people’s business. We won’t have time to gossip about what everyone else is doing.

Instead, we’ll be serving God and others. We’ll being doing kingdom-building work.

And that’s something we shouldn’t grow weary of doing.