Wednesday, August 31, 2016

God's Inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God was under no obligation to leave a written message for us. He could have created us, and then just let us figure things out on our own. But He loves us too much for that. He wanted to leave a means to communicate with us.

The Bible is a seamless document covering centuries, written by the pens of disparate men, with a single message: God is gracious and loving, and it is His desire that everyone be in relationship with Him.

As we read His word, as we study it, we learn about the history of the people of Israel and other nations. We are inspired by songs and poems and letters. We are convicted to be loving and kind and joyful, and we’re reproved when we’re angry or envious or jealous.

And why did God give us this amazing book? So that we who follow Him will be “equipped for every good work.” Just as a soldier needs to be equipped with his weapon, we need the Bible—the sword of the Spirit—to be equipped to face each day’s battles and to do the work God has called us to do.

Don’t take this gift for granted. Don’t let it gather dust on a shelf. In humble gratitude, take it out every day. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it.

And thank God for loving you so much that He provided it for you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Learning ... Every Day (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14-15

Maybe you’ve “from childhood known the sacred writings.” Or maybe you’ve recently become a Christian and are learning God’s word.

In either case, if you want to receive God’s wisdom, you must “continue in the things you have learned.” Just as you gain knowledge of any subject by study and repetition, so you also gain knowledge of God and His will through study of His word.

I can’t stress how important daily study is to growing in faith. And I don’t mean just reading a chapter here and there (although any Bible reading is better than nothing). I mean real study.

I learned the importance of real study myself. When I rededicated my life to the Lord almost 23 years ago, I started sporadically reading the Bible. A verse or two every few days. And I found myself reverting to old habits. I realized, if I wanted to know God more, I needed to do more.

And so I started what’s called “inductive Bible study.” It’s a process by which you spend a lot of time in a specific book of the Bible. Chapter by chapter. Verse by verse. You immerse yourself in the truth of God’s word. And as you do, it becomes more real to you, as does God Himself. I’ve spent weeks—even months—in a particular book. Investigating. Praying. Meditating. Reading trusted commentaries. Memorizing verses.

I’ll tell you something: If it wasn’t for this time of daily study, while I would still be a Christian because I believe in the God of the Bible and that salvation comes through Christ’s blood, I wouldn’t be so in love with Him. I wouldn’t want to serve Him as I do. I wouldn’t want His will above all things.

That’s how important real study of God’s word. If you want a vibrant, strong, growing faith, study God’s word. Spend time in it. Learn from it. Gain knowledge from it.

It’s that important.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Deceiving Impostors (2 Timothy 3:13)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:13

Lately, I’ve been writing of how Paul’s prophetic words are coming to fulfillment in our generation. And today’s verse continues the theme. I think about the hundreds of religions and sects throughout our world, and the “imposters” who are deceiving others, but are also deceiving themselves.

A while ago, I read about a book written by a church leader from a mainstream denomination. In it, he apparently asserts that God really won’t sent unbelievers to hell. He also slams all evangelical Christians for being judgmental and obnoxious. Now, I won’t deny that there are many Christians who are unfortunately both—very much so. However, many of us truly love all people and realize we can’t point out splinters when we’re looking passed our planks.

But it is true that many church leaders want to soft-soap biblical truth. How often do you hear about how sin separates us from God? Not nearly as often as we should. Instead, we hear about a loving God who is just going to let us do what we want. And as long as we’re relatively good, He’ll welcome us into heaven.

That’s not what the Bible says. The only way to join our Lord God in heaven is through the acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial payment for our sin. We’re then to surrender our lives daily to God’s will. We’re to lay down our own desires and seek only His.

That’s truth. But that’s not what the imposters are saying. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Truth About Suffering (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:10-12

One of the greatest tragedies is when a person of faith experiences suffering or pain, and then turns his back on that faith. Somehow, he expected a joyful and peaceful life, and when things don’t happen according to his plan, he rejects God.

People like this clearly didn’t read the Bible. While we’re certainly promised a “peace that surpasses comprehension” (Phil 4:7) and joy, we’re also promised suffering. In fact, a great verse that talks about joy connects it directly with trials and tribulations (James 1:2).

Paul certainly experienced pain and suffering and persecution much worse than most of us will. Beaten. Shipwrecked. Imprisoned. Hunger. Thirst. (See 2 Cor.11:23-27.) Yet, he rejoiced in his sufferings. In 2 Corinthians 12, he wrote of a “thorn,” something that weakened him. It may have been a chronic illness, according to some scholars, but it was something that caused weakness. Even through whatever pain he experienced, he “took pleasure” (NKJV) or was “well content” (NASB) because he knew God was using that “thorn” to show His strength (vv. 7-10).

And if he hadn’t made it clear enough, he wrote to Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

But we’re not alone in our suffering. The Lord will rescue us. He will walk alongside us and carry us when we can’t even walk. Christ’s power dwells in us, just it did in Paul.

What are you experiencing today that’s shaken your faith? Chronic health issues? Loss of a loved one? Financial difficulties?

Don’t let your sufferings turn you away from the One stronger than any trial or persecution. No. Turn to Him. His “grace is sufficient.” In fact, it’s more than sufficient to get you through.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Faith vs. Spirituality (2 Timothy 3:6-9)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:6-9

Yesterday we talked about how dark this world is, yet we know throughout history, darkness has often prevailed. Paul reminded Timothy of two men who had opposed Moses centuries before Paul himself wrote these very words. And now centuries after Paul, we still have countless who “oppose the truth.”

We live in a “spiritual” society, but what does that really mean? Several years ago, I freelanced for an on-line news publication in the “Religion & Spirituality” category. And guess what some of the sub-sections were?

Astrology & Paranormal. Eastern Religions. Secular. Oh, and yes, Western Religion.

Under the same category, readers could find articles about atheism, Buddhism, and evangelical Christianity all at the same time.

People are learning and seeking … something. And this world has answers that are far from a “knowledge of the truth.” And, as I’ve written before, even so-called Christians are skewing the truth. We don’t have to take the Bible as God’s inspired word, they say. Jesus isn’t the only way to heaven. God won’t really punish people by sending them to hell … in fact, hell probably doesn’t even exist.

Yet again, this isn’t new to our generation. In the early church, factions broke from true Christianity almost immediately.

So what can we do? We who know truth need to share the truth. We who follow the one true God must be Christ’s light to this very dark world. We need to offer the only solution to an eternity separated from God.

And we must do it as Christ did: gently and lovingly and non-judgmentally. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shine in a Dark World (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-5

I don’t know if Paul thought of himself as a prophet. Rather, I’m sure he would have described himself as an evangelist. But when I read verses like this, it’s clear God gave him insight to the future. Because these verses perfectly describe this world today.

Think about it. When we watch the news, what do we hear? It’s all about me. My rights. My needs. And because it’s all about me, I can do whatever I want. I can be arrogant and ungrateful. I can disobey my parents and run amok, taking as many risks as I like.

I can talk about others, being as malicious and brutal as I want. Because it’s not about you; it’s about me.

We live in a world in which money is king and God, if He does exist, is far out there somewhere, not concerned with what I do. I can seek all kinds of pleasure, whenever, wherever.

Doesn’t this all sound so familiar? Being Christ-like and striving to be holy is so contrary to our world. Yet, we Christ-followers are called to shine Christ’s light into the surrounding darkness.

But even in the darkness, we can have great hope. As this world gets darker and darker, we can be confident of this: We are in the end times. We are getting closer to Christ’s return.

And one day, sooner than later, darkness will be no more. Love will win out. God will reign.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Feeling Inadequate ... (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Sometimes I read the Bible about how I as a follower of Christ am supposed to behave, and I think, “There’s no way …”

Today’s verses are no exception.

I’m to not be quarrelsome. I’m to be kind to all. I’m to be able to teach (oh … that’s not so bad!). I’m to be patient when wrong. I’m to gently correct those who are in opposition.

Really? Nothing like feeling totally inadequate.

And I am inadequate—on my own, that is. Praise God, I’m not alone in this journey. The Holy Spirit is in me to help me be all God the Father has created me to be. When I feel quarrelsome, I can ask for a heart of peace. When I feel unkind, I can ask for compassion. When I want revenge, I can ask for the ability to forgive.

Why do I want to be kind and patient with others anyway? So that, by Christ’s example shining through me, others might want the same peace and compassion I feel. They may want to know about my Savior. They may seek repentance.

And by my Christ-like behavior, they may “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil.”

And if that’s the end result? Striving to be kind and patient and compassionate—even when it totally goes against my fleshly nature—is totally worth it!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fully Satisfied (2 Timothy 2:22)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:22

First, I have to apologize ... Things got a bit hectic, and I missed an entire week of devotionals. I'm back to "normal," and we're back in 2 Timothy. 

When we’re young, we think we’re invincible. We can do anything, try anything, and experience no consequences. And the more we do or the more we have, the more we want.

As we grow older and (we hope) more mature, we realize how wrong we were. We’re not invincible. And every decision—good or bad—has its consequence. Those lusts—sex or alcohol or drugs—we pursued as teens or young adults don’t fulfill us as they did.

There’s a reason for that. They never did fulfill. Only a relationship with the Lord can meet all our needs. And when we pursue godly things—such as righteousness, faith, love, and peace—only then will we be content. We’ll be fully satisfied with what God has given us, never needing or wanting more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Vessels of Honor ... and Dishonor (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:20-21

Vessels of honor … and vessels of dishonor.

We are all vessels created by God. He created each of us to serve and glorify Him. Some of us choose to do as He created and do “every good work.” We are vessels of honor, delighting our Master.

Others choose to do their own thing, live their own lives. And these are vessels of dishonor in the Master’s eyes.

I’ve been both. If you’ve followed this devotional for a while, you may have read that I spent twenty years on a quite meandering journey away from God. I made poor choices. I followed the world and allowed myself to be sucked in by its temporary pleasures. I was a dirty, useless vessel.

Then almost 23 years ago, I recommitted my life to God, and He cleansed that old vessel and began to use it. Over the years, I’ve sometimes allowed a little dirt to land, but I go immediately to the Lord, and He cleanses me again (1 John 1:9).

Our Lord God wants to use us. He invites us to participate in His kingdom-building plan and serve Him gladly. But He wants clean vessels. Ones He can honor and use with joy.

Are you a cleansed, honored vessel? If not, you can be. Just accept Jesus’ gift of cleansing salvation. Delight your Father, and be a part of His plan.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Encouragement AND Conviction (2 Timothy 2:18)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:18

Encouragement and conviction in one short verse.

I’m encouraged by the reminder that God “knows those who are His.” He knew before I was born. He intricately designed me. He knows even the numbers of hairs on my head. There is no where I can go where He is not with me and watching over me. (See Psalm 139; Matt. 10:29-31.)

I am blessed beyond measure to know such a loving, gracious God!

But then I’m convicted when I ask myself if I always “abstain from wickedness.” I want so badly to be Christ-like. I want to please my Father in all ways and at all times. I want to avoid those “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21). I don’t want to be prideful, and I want to say and think only good things (Phil. 4:8).

Oh, how often do I fail … and yet, I am blessed beyond measure to know such a loving, gracious God!!

Not only does He intimately know me, but He also loves me enough to want me to change, to refine me. The Holy Spirit works in me to keep my heart and mind on things that please God. I am showered with God’s grace and mercy.

Even when I fail—and I so often do—I know I can go to my Father and confess my sin. And His love and grace forgets that sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12).

Hmmm … How wonderful! Even the conviction encourages!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Spreading Like Gangrene (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:16-18

A few years ago, I read a great book on the history of the Christian church (The Story of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church to the Reformation, by Justo L. Gonzalez), and I was astounded to see how quickly false teachers and doctrines appeared in the early church. As early as the fifth century AD, there were hundreds of accounts of sects and factions.

Clearly this was already happening in Paul’s time, not long after Jesus’ resurrection. So why should we be surprised that the church (and I mean the church as a whole) is full of “worldly and empty chatter”? Pastors are preaching skewed messages of prosperity for all or works getting us to heaven. They say from pulpits that Jesus isn’t the only way.

And these messages too are “spread[ing] like gangrene.
 What a vivid illustration that is! When infection sets into a wound, and it goes untreated, gangrene insidiously takes over. And if it continues to go untreated, often the tissue of the infected arm or the leg dies, and the limb has to be removed.

I’ve written many, many times, the only way to know God’s truth is to read His word. Bankers know counterfeit bills not by studying them; rather, they know counterfeit by studying the real thing. That too is how we know counterfeit doctrine: by studying the real thing.

Let’s speak truth, and never allow false doctrine to enter our message.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Study the Word ... God's Word (2 Timothy 2:14-15)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:14-15

One of our responsibilities as children of God is to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are to remind each other about God’s faithfulness, speaking truth from His word. We’re not to “wrangle about words,” or as one paraphrase says, “argue about words” (CEV).

We can be very opinionated, and many of us are fiercely loyal to our particular translation of the Bible. And that’s okay. I grew up with the New American Standard Version of the Bible, and it still tends to be my favorite. In my studies, I also review the New King James Version, The Message, The Amplified version, The New Living Translation, and the Contemporary English Version.

However, we have to be careful not to be so attached to our translation that we “wrangle” with others about how our version is the only one. When we get into arguments about wording, we’re not being examples of Christian unity.

Instead, we should remember that God is bigger than any of our Bible translations. If He inspired the original authors, why wouldn’t He work through the pens of translators and paraphrasers? (As an aside, I do believe that some versions have been watered down or aren’t as accurate translations of the original language, but not being a scholar, I can’t intelligently enter that debate.)

And our real responsibility is to know and study God’s word ourselves—even researching and reading several other translations—and then to be prepared to share that truth with others. We need to both unashamedly and accurately handle the Bible.

Only then will we be the workers God has designed us to be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Your Choice? (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Take a moment to read these verses again. And again. We’re promised so much.

“For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him.” When we accept the gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial payment for our sin and commit our lives to Him, we die to ourselves, to our flesh. Our desires become His desires. And we truly live—for the first time. Living in Christ means we’re never alone (Heb. 13:5). We have peace (Phil. 4:7). We have a burden-carrier (Matt. 11:28-30).

“If we endure, we will also reign with Him.” We know we’ll face tribulations and trials on this earth. We know we’ll be persecuted for following Christ (Mark 13:13; 1 Cor. 4:11-13). But if we persevere, we’re fulfilling God’s will for our lives. We’ll spend eternity with our Lord. We’ll “receive the crown of life” (James 1:12).

But in the midst of these promises is a serious caution: “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” We all have a choice to follow Christ. God has made salvation available to anyone and everyone who accepts it. But we know some will deny the truth. And when they do, God honors their choice.

Yet, even if “we are faithless, He remains faithful.” This may seem contrary to the above phrase, but it’s not. If someone faithlessly chooses to deny Christ, He faithfully honors their decision. This extends to those of us who have chosen to follow Him, yet rebel or turn our backs. He will always be faithful and loving and gracious. But make no mistake: He is also righteous and just. And because He is, He will faithfully allow us to make our own decisions. And He will justly discipline us if those decisions are poor.

Jesus promises that you will live with Him and reign with Him if you choose to follow Him. If you don’t, He’ll be faithful and honor your decision to deny Him. And you’ll spend eternity separated from Him.

What choice have you made?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Word of God Is NOT Imprisoned! (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:8-10

“ … the word of God is not imprisoned.” I love these words!

No matter what happens to us, no matter how we’re ridiculed or persecuted or rejected, God’s word can still be proclaimed. The gospel can still be shared.

This reminds me so much of the story of Corrie Ten Boom, one of my greatest mentors. If you don’t know her story, visit The condensed version is that she and her sister were incarcerated in a concentration camp during WWII, and while in that—excuse my expression—hellhole, they held Bible studies. And many women came to faith. Even after her sister died, Corrie continued to help others “obtain the salvation which is in Jesus Christ.”

Many of us are in our own “prisons.” We may be suffering from health issues that keep us down. We may be trapped in relationships that are hurtful. We may be heartbroken by rejection or rebellion.

And some of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are in literal prisons or are threatened daily as they fulfill God’s mission.

Yet even if we’re behind bars—either literal or figurative—we can still share God’s truth. We can still get the word out.

Because “ … the word of God is not imprisoned.”

Monday, August 08, 2016

Understanding God (2 Timothy 2:7)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:7

If we seek God, if we focus on Him, if we meditate on His word, if we spend time in prayer and solitude, He will reveal Himself and His will to us.

We will understand His word more and more. We will see His plan more and more clearly. We will know how to serve Him so He’ll be glorified.

That’s what being in a relationship is all about. Learning more and more about the other. Being increasingly in tune to his desires. Wanting to bring him joy. The most healthy relationships I know are like this. And that’s how our relationship with God should be.

Do you truly desire a growing relationship with your Lord God? Do you want to know Him more, have “understanding in everything”? Then focus on what you can do. Do your part.

God has already done His. 

Friday, August 05, 2016

Reaping Fruit (2 Timothy 2:6)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:6

I get the idea of being a soldier and serving my “superior Officer.” I even understand being an athlete and having to play by the rules. But I have to say, I was a bit stumped by the “hard-working farmer … [being] the first to receive his share of the crops.”

I mean, we’re not supposed to be thinking of rewards or what we can get when we serve the Lord, right?

So I took a look at one of my favorite commentaries, Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. And it began to make sense: “
If we would partake the fruits, we must labour … We must do the will of God, before we receive the promises, for which reason we have need of patience.”

When we serve God with willing hearts, we will see fruit for our labor. When we use the gifts He’s given us, we’ll see results.

When I speak or sing or write, I’m sometimes privileged to be told that God has encouraged someone through me. I see fruit for my labor. But it's not just when God speaks through me. A couple of months ago, I was in the audience listening to another gifted speaker. Afterward, she came to me to thank me for listening with love. She was encouraged because I listened intently and supported her with my smile and body language. I saw fruit from my “labor” using my gift of encouragement.

God will use our gifts when we labor for Him. And we’ll be blessed to see fruit—firsthand.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Run the Race. Win the Prize. (2 Timothy 2:5)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:5

Yesterday, we looked at Paul’s comparing our Christian walk to that of a soldier. Today’s verse likens us to athletes.

Let me start by saying I’m not an athlete. Not at all. Didn’t do sports in high school. I only exercise now because I’m not getting any younger, and I need to do what I can to keep this aging body in working order.

However, I do understand one thing about athletics: In order to win, one must play by the rules. Players and sometimes entire teams are disqualified because they cheated. They used steroids to enhance performance. They stole the playbook.

Most sports have certain “fouls” that can cost points or give the other team an edge.

Yes. In order to win, we must play by the rules.

So if we’re athletes for Christ, if we’re seeking to “win the prize,” what rules are we to follow? And what is the prize anyway?

The rules are found in God’s word. And the two most important rules were given by our Lord Jesus Himself. We’re to love the Lord—heart, soul, mind, and strength—and we’re to love others as we do ourselves (Mark 12:29-31).

If we follow these rules, the rest fall into place. If we love God, we’re going to want to serve Him. We’re going to want to do His will. We’re going to want to please Him with our actions, our words, and our thoughts.

And if we love others, we’re going to treat them with kindness and gentleness. We’re going to show mercy. We’re not going to gossip or lie or steal. We’re not going to cheat or put down.

If we follow the rules, we’ll one day receive the prize: eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that prize awaits us makes following the rules, while not easy, certainly worth it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Ready for Combat? (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:3-4

We are in a battle, folks. Ephesians 6:12 says it well: "
We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world" (CEV). Every day we need to put on the full armor of God as Paul described in verses 10-17 of that same chapter.

Then in today’s verses, Paul reminded Timothy of two things a soldier—someone in battle—must be aware of: He suffers, and his focus must be on the battle.

We’re God’s soldiers, and we too must be aware of the same things.

We will suffer. We are not promised smooth and easy lives. Not at all. Think of a soldier in combat. You may not be in the military, nor may you personally know someone who is, but you’ve seen footage of men and women on the frontlines. Their daily lives can be difficult. Tough environments. The constant threat of attack. Being away from loved ones. Even watching fellow soldiers wounded—or die.

So how do those in active combat survive their hardships? They remain “untangled” of the “affairs of everyday life.” They recognize their commitment to their superiors and to the reason for the battle. They put aside other concerns and remain focused on the battle itself.

As we face our own battles, we must also focus on combating the enemy. We can’t let the daily concerns of life steal our focus from gearing up for battle, which we do by spending time in God’s word and in quiet communion with our “superior officer.”

Today—and every day—you’re heading out into battle. Are you prepared? Are you ready for suffering? And are you focused on winning the battle alongside your Sovereign God?

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Never-changing Word (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-2

We learn so that we can teach and encourage others. God inspired the pens of men to leave us a rich and wonderful book of lessons and stories and examples of godly men and women. As we read the Bible, we learn more of who God is and what He expects of us.

We learn of His grace and mercy and love. We learn of His righteousness and justice. We learn of His plan of salvation.

And as we learn, we internalize and become more like Christ.

Then we can share God’s truths with others. We can help them know God and His plan for their lives. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to tell people that God loves with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). That He is their Shepherd and Protector (Ps. 23). That He will never leave them or forsake them (Heb. 13:5). That He never changes (Heb. 13:8). That He is greater than any enemy or threat (1 John 4:4).

The Bible and its truths will change lives. If it’s changed yours, then teach it to others. It’ll change their lives as well.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Turning Away ... (2 Timothy 1:15-18)

Today’s scripture: 2 Timothy 1:15-18

These verses contain a contrast that I believe still exists today. In verse 15, Paul wrote of those who “turned away from” him. Then verses 16-18 commend someone who stood beside him.

I know of people in ministry who experience the same. On one hand, they’re surrounded by brothers and sisters who pray for them and sometimes even support them financially. Then on the other hand, naysayers and even antagonists belittle or malign them. Even worse, some who supported them in the past “turn away from” them.

Even Jesus experienced the same thing. During His ministry, some who initially followed Him didn’t stay. And when He was arrested, all of His inner circle—His disciples—ran away (Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50), which, by the way breaks my heart every time I read these verses. Yet it seems that at least two of His disciples did at least attempt to be near Him (John 18:15), and some of the women who had followed Jesus remained as close to His side as possible as He walked His final steps and then hung on the cross.

So why should we be surprised when people turn from us? It’ll happen. The best thing to do is focus on those who remain. Be grateful for those who minister with us and support us. And make certain we support others in return.