Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 3

I am a little behind posting the week's devotionals to the blog.  You can find the week 3 devotionals below.  Remember, the only way to receive these devotionals as they are written is to subscribe to my email list.

January 12, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 26-27 and Matthew 8:14-9:8


We are now midway through Genesis in this journey through the Bible.  I hope you are enjoying Genesis as much as I am.  It is a wonderful book for tracing God's purposes for His creation since the beginning.  Our sovereign God reigns over the affairs of man.  He cares for His people and is always faithful to His promises.

It is at this point in our reading that the first of the patriarchs, Abraham, has passed off the scene.  We now turn our attention to his son Isaac and all of the shenanigans that take place with Rebekah and their two sons.

Remember the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing."  We saw that this promise briefly seemed to be in jeopardy because of Sarah's barrenness.  Then God intervened miraculously in Sarah's old age and she conceived and bore a son named Isaac.

Though Isaac was not Abraham's only son, he was the son of the promise.  He was the one through whom God would continue His promise to Abraham.  God reaffirmed this promise to Isaac in our reading today.  Genesis 26:4 recounts God's words to Isaac, "I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands."

We saw yesterday that there was only one problem.  Rebekah was barren as well.  The Bible tells us though, that Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife and she conceived.  We are reminded once again through this that the plans and purposes of God do not fail.

Chapter 27 tells us of a fascinating story that takes sibling rivalries to a whole new level.  Esau was the older of the two sons.  Thus he would receive his father's blessing.  Isaac gave Esau a series of things to do, and after he did them, Isaac would pronounce his blessing on Esau.

Well, Rebekah was nearby and heard Isaac's instructions to Esau.  She loved her son Jacob and wanted him to receive his father's blessing.  You will also remember that God told Rebekah before the boys were born, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23).

Rebekah came up with a plan for Jacob to trick his father into blessing him instead.  As crazy as the plan seemed, Jacob went through with it.  And it worked!  Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau.

The thing that is so fascinating to me about this story is the way it fits into the purposes of God.  There is no doubt that it was sinful for Rebekah and Jacob to deceive Isaac.  However, it was God's purpose all along for Jacob's line to be the line of promise.  It was God's plan for Jacob to receive his father's blessing.  While not being responsible for man's sin, God took man's sinful choices and used them for His good purposes.

Isn't this what God does in each of our lives?  Over the course of my life I can look back and see choices that I made that were extremely stupid and even sinful at times.  Yet I can also see the sovereign hand of God directing my steps and bringing me to the place I am today, even using some of those stupid and sinful choices to accomplish His purposes.  I expect if you look back over your life you can see the same thing.

I hope it brings you comfort this rainy Monday morning to know that the sovereign God of the universe is in complete control even when you mess up.  He loves you and cares for you.  You can trust in Him.

Prayer Focus:

After spending some time thinking about God's direction throughout your life, allow your heart to overflow in thanksgiving to God.  Give thanks to God for His guidance.  Thank Him for bringing you where you are today.  Trust Him with whatever the future may hold.

January 13, 2015

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:1-29:30 and Matthew 9:32-10:15


Do you ever get the feeling as you read Genesis that the stories it contains would make good daytime television?

Just think of what we have seen so far.  A sibling rivalry in Genesis 4 ended in murder.  Abram told the Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister to protect his own life in Genesis 12.  The rivalry between Hagar and Sarai in Genesis 16 was no small thing.  Lot's daughters conceived children with their father in Genesis 19.  Abraham once again told someone that Sarah was his sister to protect his own skin in Genesis 20.  The dysfunction continued with Rebekah's successful efforts to trick her husband into blessing Jacob instead of Esau.

Today's reading is just another chapter in the ongoing dysfunctional story.  Despite all of the dysfunction, we continue to see the purposes of God unfold.

After receiving his father's blessing, Jacob was sent to the home of his uncle Laban.  Upon arriving, Laban's daughter Rachel caught Jacob's eye.  This resulted in a deal between Laban and Jacob.  Jacob would work for Laban for seven years.  At the end of that time, Laban would give his daughter Rachel in marriage to Jacob.

So Jacob fulfilled his end of the bargain, only to be tricked by Laban when it came time for the honeymoon.  Jacob got a little taste of his own medicine.  The trickster got duped.  Laban gave his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob.  As you might imagine, Jacob was not too happy when he woke up next to weak eyed Leah.

But because Jacob was smitten with love, he agreed to work for another seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel as well.  At the end of another seven years, Rachel became his wife, and the soap opera was just getting started.

Why does all of this matter?  As you will see in tomorrow's reading, God was using all of this together for His good purposes.

Leah gave birth to a baby boy named Judah.  Rachel gave birth to a baby boy named Joseph.  Do those names sound familiar?  We will get to their respective stories as we progress through Genesis.  It is enough now to say that both played crucial roles in the history of redemption.

But there is likely another issue that has been rolling around in your head.  How can there be so much sin and dysfunction among those who are supposed to be the people of God?  How can God be seen as sovereign in the midst of all that?

It is important for us to recognize that God does not lead His people to sin, nor is He guilty of their sin.  He is perfectly holy, but He is able to take the worst of situations and use them for good.  He is able to use Rebekah's deception and Laban's trickery for his sovereign purposes.

I think also the fact that the biblical characters are not presented as sinless heroes adds validity to the stories of Scripture.  We know the human condition.  We are all sinners in need of God's grace.  It is good for us to look at the "heroes" of the Bible and see that they are just like us.  Through all of the sin and dysfunction of Genesis, creation is groaning for a Savior.  And God is seen throughout the book bringing about His good purposes to rescue His people to Himself through the one who would never sin.

Turn your attention today to this one, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer Focus:

Pray that God would help you to see His sovereign hand throughout redemptive history.  Pray that He would help you to delight in the one to whom all of redemptive history is leading.  Will you find hope in Jesus today?

January 14, 2015

Scripture Reading: Genesis 29:31-30:43 and Matthew 10:16-33


In yesterday's reading we saw the context for today's passage in Matthew.  Jesus sent out his twelve disciples, giving them authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and affliction.  But before sending them out, He gave them some instructions.

The instructions he gave did not resemble the pep talks often given to Christians today when they are sent out to do ministry.  Jesus spoke some very difficult words to His disciples.  He first told them that they were being sent to the lost sheep of Israel.  They were to tell these lost sheep that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

They were to do all kinds of ministry among these people, and were to do so without pay.  Jesus told them not to take anything with them, as all of their needs would be provided for by the people to whom they ministered.  "If anyone will not receive you," Jesus said, "Shake off the dust from your feet."  It would be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for them.

Jesus then gave his disciples a very startling promise.  It was not a promise of fruitful ministry or ease of travel.  It was a promise of persecution.  The one thing Jesus' disciples could count on as they went out was that they would be persecuted.  "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub," Jesus said, "How much more will they malign those of the household?"

Jesus then speaks some words of comfort that do not feel very comforting.  He tells them not to fear those who can kill the body only.  They may lose their physical lives for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and most of them eventually would, but their enemies could not kill their souls.

Jesus is always downplaying the here and now and helping people to think about eternity.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Paul understood that the only way for his life to matter, was for him to live it in light of eternity.

I always find it difficult to think about persecution.  I have never been persecuted in any meaningful way, at least not with regard to physical suffering.  I do fear that a kind of persecution is coming to our country.  It is a kind of persecution that maligns and demonizes those who would dare to articulate a biblical position on any of the pet sins of our culture.

But that is not where my heart is this morning as I write.  I think of my brothers and sisters around the world who suffer daily for their faith in Christ.  I think of Saeed Abedini or Asia Bibi.  I think of countless unnamed others who live every day in fear for their lives because they dare claim the name of Jesus.

Jesus promised it would be this way.  These dear Christians are taking His Word seriously.  They believe Jesus' words in Matthew 10:32-33, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."

They know that there is only one choice, to stand firm in their faith in Jesus Christ.  This devotional is not so much a call to do this or do that as it is a call to not forget.  Do not forget our brothers and sisters around the world.  As you read Matthew 10, know that Jesus' promise of persecution is taking place all over the world today.  Do not allow yourself to detach from the suffering of your fellow believers.

Stand with them in solidarity.

Prayer Focus:

Pray for persecuted Christians around the world.  Spend time in prayer for specific situations of persecution.  I have linked a couple above.  You can also go to persecution.com and find many others.  Jesus has called us to stand with our brothers and sisters.  May we do so through prayer.  May we mourn with those who mourn.

January 15, 2015

Scripture Reading: Genesis 31 and Matthew 10:34-11:19


The first half of Matthew 11 is an interesting passage of Scripture.  We saw back in Matthew 3 that John the Baptist played an important role in preparing the way for Jesus.  John came preaching a message of repentance, informing people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

John told the people, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Matt. 3:11).  John clearly knew that it was his responsibility to prepare the way for the Messiah, the one promised throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.

Then when Jesus came to the Jordan where John was baptizing, John declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).  Jesus asked to be baptized by John, and after some initial resistance, John baptized Jesus.

What happened next is stunning.  When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to Him.  The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus' baptism, but none of them indicate that anyone could see or hear this other than Jesus.

In John's Gospel we see that John the Baptist witnessed at least the descending of the dove on Jesus.  John the Baptist said, "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him" (John 1:32).  Apparently God had already somehow told John that the one on whom the Spirit descended was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This one was the Messiah.

John received visual confirmation himself that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah.

Now fast forward back to Matthew 11.  John was in prison and possibly wondering why and how things had gone so terribly wrong.  If Jesus was in fact the Messiah, what was John doing sitting in prison?  So John sent word to Jesus through his disciples to find out if Jesus truly was the Messiah.  They asked, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Jesus responded by pointing to all of the miraculous things that he was doing.  To us it seems like Jesus was simply saying, "Look at all the wonderful things I am doing.  Of course I am the Messiah."  But Jesus is saying more than that.  He is pointing to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the identity of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6).  John would have known this when his disciples returned reporting all of the things Jesus was doing.

I think this passage is an encouragement to us.  John the Baptist was the one set aside by God to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He had earlier made a very clear confession concerning Jesus' identity.  Yet now he finds himself in a very difficult situation and is beginning to doubt.

I think maybe you can relate to John.  Maybe you too believe that Jesus is the Messiah and have been serving Him for a long time.  But maybe doubt sometimes creeps into your mind.  On the one hand, you can take comfort in the fact that the one of whom Jesus said, "Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist," also struggled with doubt in a very difficult time in his life.

But on the other hand, we should cling to the very same evidence that Jesus gave to John concerning His identity.  He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament.  He has fulfilled all of the prophecies given concerning the Messiah.  He is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  May our doubt give way to faith in this One.

Prayer Focus:

Pray that God would strengthen your faith in the midst of doubt.  John's faith was not blind.  Your faith does not have to be blind either.  Pray that God would demonstrate Himself to you throughout the Scriptures, establishing faith in your heart.

January 16, 2015

Scripture Reading: Genesis 32-34 and Matthew 11:20-12:8


Today's New Testament reading contains some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture.  Jesus spoke to the people and said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

We considered these words some back when we looked at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.  They fit nicely with Jesus' instruction there concerning worry and anxiousness.  I come back to them for today's devotional because I think they are important words for us to continuously consider.

If I am not careful, my inclination is to weigh you down.  I can give you command after command from the Scriptures, hoping that reciting commands to you will produce spiritual fruit.  Unfortunately, this is sometimes how I do sanctification in my own life as well.  If I just try harder and do better I can be more like Jesus.

Even though I have discovered that this never works long-term, I foolishly keep coming back to this strategy.  Oh, it works for a little while.  Or at least on the surface it works.  But it doesn't take long before I begin to feel burdened.  It doesn't take long before I begin to feel weighed down.

This is why I need to be reminded of the words of Jesus here.  I need to cling to the words of Jesus, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Some of you are like me.  You want to be told what it takes to honor the Lord.  You want to hear the commands of God and be challenged by them.  You want to try your best to meet God's standard.  But you are also like me in that you fail.  Oh, you make it for a little while.  But then you burn out.  You get tired of all the hard work that your brand of sanctification requires and you quit trying.

I want to remind you that the yoke of Jesus is easy.  His burden is light.  He has already met God's standard on your behalf.  There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more.  There is nothing you can do to add to the work of Jesus on your behalf.

Now let's be clear, that should not lead us to lawlessness.  No, exactly the opposite.  It should lead us to pursue Christlikeness by taking on the yoke and burden of Jesus.  It should lead us to cling to Him.

As I have been reading Matthew's Gospel, I am struck by how Jesus goes from speaking hard words about persecution and forsaking family for the kingdom of God to talking about his yoke being easy and burden light.  He obviously did not consider these different emphasis of His teaching to be inconsistent.

We are not promised in Scripture that life will be easy.  In fact, we are promised exactly the opposite.  The Christian life is hard.  But Jesus promises to be with us and provide rest for our weary souls.  We must learn to stop depending on ourselves and our own efforts.  We must turn to Jesus and allow Him to produce His righteousness in us.  If we abide in Jesus, He will abide in us.

Prayer Focus:

Ask God to help you abide in Him today.  Ask that He would provide rest for your weary soul.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sermon Audio

If you are interested in sermon audio from my sermons at Drakes Branch Baptist Church, you can find it by clicking here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Book Review: Ordinary by Tony Merida

I found Ordinary by Tony Merida to be a quick read (only 125 small pages) that was very challenging.  You can purchase a copy here.  It is well-written and covers a subject about which Merida is very knowledgeable and passionate.  The book tackles issues of social justice and demonstrates how Christians can involve themselves in advocating for the least of these without moving to faraway places, though the Meridas' social justice efforts have often taken them overseas as well.

Tony Merida and his wife Kimberly have been social justice advocates among evangelicals for quite a while now, involving themselves in orphan care, sex trafficking, and ministering to the poor around them.  The Meridas have four adopted children of their own.

I have to admit that I found the title to be slightly misleading.  While the call to action in Ordinary is not exactly like David Platt's call to action in Radical, it is far from ordinary.  If it were ordinary, Merida likely wouldn't be writing this book.

The thread that runs through the book is the biblical idea that all people are created in the image of God, and therefore are worthy of dignity and respect.  For Merida, the doctrine of the image of God drives his theology of man and motivates his social justice efforts.  I judge this to be right on track.

The practical ideas found in this book are also helpful.  Merida tells stories from his own ministry efforts and the efforts of his church.  He also provides ideas as to how others can get involved in "turning the world upside down" through ministry to others.

One of the things that I most appreciated about the book is its gospel focus.  Merida is not issuing a call to social justice that is devoid of the gospel.  He is issuing a call to social justice that is motivated by the gospel.  It is a reminder that we do not have to choose between meeting either physical needs or spiritual needs.  We can and ought to do both.  We ought to give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, and we must also tell them about Jesus.  Otherwise, we meet a temporal physical need while neglecting the eternal spiritual need.

I found this book to be especially helpful for me as I am currently teaching through the opening chapters of Genesis.  It helped me to process some of the things we see in those beginning pages as they relate to our understanding of man and think about them in practical ways.  I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to be challenged regarding how they can get involved in ministering to others in extremely practical ways that shine the light of Christ in a dark world.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Cross Focused Reviews program in exchange for this review.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 2

Here are the week 2 devotionals.

January 5, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 10-12 and Matthew 5:1-20


Genesis 10 contains what is often referred to as the Table of Nations.  It is a long list of names tracing the lines of Noah's sons.  Reading the names can be tedious, but they serve a very important role in the story of the Bible.

We learned from Genesis 6-9 that God destroyed every living creature on the face of the earth in a worldwide flood.  The only ones excluded were those who were on the ark.  As we come to Genesis 10 and read the list of Noah's descendants, we are reminded that all people come from a common ancestor.  This demonstrates very clearly that we are all related.

It is important that we take time to think about the implications of such a reality.

One of the implications that immediately stands out to me is that it leaves no room for us to think of ourselves as more valuable than other people.  God has created each one of us in His image, and we have all descended from Noah.  Therefore, we all have dignity and worth before God.

This truth was underlined in Genesis 9 when God laid out the penalty for taking the life of one of His image bearers.  The penalty was death (Gen. 9:5).  God values all human life, and we should too.  We considered this some in the last devotional.

It is also interesting to think about this in light of what we read in Matthew 5.  The end of Matthew 5 contains a section on loving our enemies.  This is a difficult section for us and goes against what our flesh tells us we ought to do.  Our flesh wants to retaliate.  Our flesh tells us that our enemies hate us, and we should hate them too.

But the way of Jesus is different.  The way of Jesus is better.  The way of Jesus views our enemies as those who are separated from God because of their sin and can only be reconciled to Him through Christ.  The way of Jesus recognizes that when others wrong us, we have an opportunity to live out the gospel before them, giving them grace and love, something they and we do not deserve.

Matthew 5 is all about Jesus turning the conventional wisdom of the day on its head.  "You have heard it said, but I say to you," is repeated several times throughout the chapter.  Even the statements known as the Beatitudes are contrary to popular thought.  Jesus wants to change the way we think.  He wants to give us a wisdom that is not of this world, but that comes from God.

Take some time today to consider the way of Jesus and how different it is from the desires of your flesh and the wisdom of the culture around you.

Prayer Focus:

Pray that God would reorient your thinking.  Pray that He would help you to see the difference between the ways of the flesh and the way of Jesus.  Pray that God's Spirit would empower you to live in the way of Jesus.

January 6, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 13-15 and Matthew 5:21-37


The story of Genesis is moving quickly.  Yesterday we were introduced to Abram as we saw God call him to leave his homeland and move to the land of Canaan, the land God would give to him and his descendants.  God promised to make a great nation of Abram and multiply his descendants.  It would be through Abram and his descendants that all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Then before we were given a chance to treat Abram as a hero, we saw him neglect his wife and allow Pharaoh to take her as his wife.  Get used to this kind of thing as you read through the Bible this year.  The "heroes" of the Bible aren't very good heroes.  Abram neglects his wife.  Moses was guilty of murder.  David committed adultery.  Peter denied Jesus.  Paul was previously a persecutor of Christians.  The list goes on.

There is only one hero seen on the pages of Scripture that never lets us down.  His name is Jesus.  He is the one to whom all of the other heroes point.  The Bible is intended to direct our attention to Him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

I do want us to think about Abram some more though.  Chapter 12 of Genesis tells us of God calling Abram and includes some promises God made to him.  In chapter 15 we see God reaffirm His covenant with Abram, promising to make a great nation of him and his descendants.  Abram's descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

God is seen doing something special here in the first half of Genesis.  He is beginning to establish a people for Himself.  He is entering into relationship with these people, such that they are His people and He is their God.

While it may seem that God is limiting His work to a certain ethnicity of people at this point, we do catch glimpses of God's missionary purposes.  We see that God is going to use Abram and his descendants to bless all the nations of the earth.  This blessing would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus, a descendant of Abram, who came and died for people from every tribe tongue and nation.

God is establishing not just a line of physical descendants of Abram, but also a line of spiritual descendants.  We haven't gotten there yet, but Galatians 3:29 says, "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."  The promises God made to Abram are for you and me, those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus and now belong to Him.

As you read the promises of God to Abram and his offspring, take joy knowing that you too are his descendant.

Prayer Focus:

Pray that God would help you to find joy today in His promises made to your father, Abram.  Pray that God would remind you of His purposes for the whole earth, not just one group of people.  Seek God's direction as to how you can be a part of spreading the message of Jesus to all nations.

January 7, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 16:1-18:21 and Matthew 5:38-6:15


Matthew 6 begins with three very important spiritual disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting.  Fasting is part of tomorrow's reading, but we will address it here.

Notice a phrase that shows up to introduce each of these, "When you…."  When you give to the needy.  When you pray.  When you fast.  You see, Jesus is not calling His disciples to do these things.  Instead He assumes that they will do them, and gives instructions for them when they do.

I doubt any of us would say that these things are not important or necessary.  At least we wouldn't say that out loud.  There is just too much Scripture concerning each of them for us to make that argument.  But if someone looked at our lives, they may conclude that we do not view them as important.

Maybe you are strong in one of them.  Or maybe two.  But I expect you can find room for growth in at least one of these disciplines, if not all three.  Consider your giving.  Does it represent a heart of generosity or greed?  What about your prayer life?  Do you faithfully devote yourself to prayer?

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is unfortunately often lost in the church.  It is a way to express our dependence on God rather than temporal things.  Fasting helps us to overcome self-reliance and focus our attention on God.  Missing a meal or series of meals reminds us that man does not live by bread alone.  It helps us to feast on the Bread of Life.

You will also notice about each of these that Jesus is not just concerned with the outward action.  He is also concerned with the heart behind the action.  In fact, it is the heart that concerns Him most.  We saw that in chapter 5 when Jesus focused not on murder and adultery, but on anger and lust.

Getting our outward actions right is hard enough, but doing those actions with the right heart makes it feel almost impossible.  Of course, that is part of the point Jesus is making.  It is impossible.  Though the scribes and Pharisees never murdered or committed adultery and could always be seen giving to the poor, praying, and fasting, they were not righteous.

In fact, Jesus calls them hypocrites.  They followed God's laws on the outside, but their hearts were filled with anger, lust, greed, and self-reliance.

Part of what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount is demonstrating very clearly that no one meets God's standard.  As Paul would write, "There is none righteous, no not one."  Jesus intends to direct the attention of the people to Himself, the only one who has ever done everything right with all the right motives.  He wants them to recognize that He is their only hope.  He wants us to recognize that He is our only hope.

Rather than trying to do better to earn God's approval, will you lean upon Jesus and His righteousness?  Recognize that you are right with God because of Jesus.  God has declared you righteous because of the righteousness of Christ.  Now, through His Spirit, He continues to produce righteousness in your life through the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting.

Prayer Focus:

Pray that God would help you to trust in the righteousness of Jesus rather than your own.  Pray that as you trust in the righteousness of Jesus, the Spirit of God would produce good fruit in your life through growth in the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting.

January 8, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 18:22-19:38 and Matthew 6:16-34


Matthew 6:25-34 is a passage of Scripture to which I find myself constantly coming back.  I have found it to be helpful so often in my ministry.  It seems that without fail this passage is applicable to the person to whom I am ministering.  Whether it be the husband who is struggling in his marriage, or the mom who is raising the kids on her own.  It might be the teenager who feels out of place, and struggles with his/her identity.  Maybe it is someone who just received a terminal health diagnosis.

The reality is that most of us have chalked up anxiety and worry to just part of the human experience.  Life is hard, we reason.  So we have just come to accept that we will be anxious and worry.  How else can one respond to the difficulties of life?

This passage presents us with a better way.  God does not intend for us to live life crippled with fear.  Jesus tells us that we can live a life that is free of anxiety and worry.

One of the things that I love about this passage is that Jesus doesn't say, "Do not be anxious," and then stop.  He goes on to provide help to the one who doesn't know what a life without anxiety looks like.

He first reminds us that there is more to life than the here and now.  This is a point he just made in the preceding section.  There is something eternal.  There is a treasure which moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves will never break in and still.  Jesus reorients our thinking to the things that last.  Life is more than food.  It is more than clothing.  A good marriage, obedient children, ample money, and excellent health are all good things.  I do not mean to minimize the importance of these things.  But they are not the MOST important thing.

There will be no marriage in heaven.  Familial relationships won't matter anymore.  Money will be a thing of the past when the streets are paved with gold.  And we will all have glorified bodies.  We need to be reminded to set our minds on the things that last.

Second, Jesus points to the birds of the field and the lilies of the field.  God takes care of them.  The birds have food.  The lilies are arrayed beautifully.  You are God's image bearer.  You are infinitely more valuable to God than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  What makes you think God doesn't care about you?  Why would you think He would forget you?  We can trust that the good God who is sovereign over the universe holds our lives in His hands.  We must combat anxiety by setting our minds on this reality.

The final reason Jesus gives for not being anxious doesn't sound very spiritual, but it is wise instruction from heaven.  Don't worry about tomorrow because each day has its own trouble.  Focus today on tackling the circumstances life throws your way today.  Lean on Jesus.  Seek first His Kingdom.  Find rest in Him.  Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
I don't mean to suggest that anxiety and worry are easy things to overcome.  They certainly are not.  I am not recommending a try harder and do better approach to worry and anxiety.  I am also not saying that your circumstances will suddenly improve when you follow Jesus' instruction in this passage.  Life is hard.  That is part of living in a world broken by sin.

I am suggesting that we cling to Jesus, the one who knows our struggles and cares for us.  He knows us better than anyone else because He made us.  As we place our trust in him in the midst of life's struggles and place our burdens on Him, we will find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  There is rest for our souls in Jesus Christ.

Prayer Focus:

Do you feel overwhelmed by the cares of the world?  You cannot do this alone.  Pray and ask God to help you cling to Jesus.  Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you.

January 9, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 20-22 and Matthew 7:1-20


Matthew 7:1, next to John 3:16, is perhaps the most often quoted verse in the Bible.  Unfortunately, it is usually stripped of its context to justify all kinds of sinful lifestyles.  This is not surprising given the evolving moral climate in our country.  It seems that increasingly the only thing immoral is to suggest that something is immoral.  The tolerance police swarm, seeking whom they may devour.

The problem with the way this verse is often used is that it ignores the context of the passage and the intent of Jesus when he spoke those words.  Jesus was not giving a general prohibition against ever casting judgment about anything.

There are clearly times when casting judgment is appropriate.  You don't allow the convicted felon to keep the nursery.  You don't give the adulterer a position of leadership in the church.  For the sake of their soul, you call the serial sinner to repent of his sin and place his faith in Jesus.

Rather than saying, "Don't judge," Jesus is saying, "Don't be hypocritical."  Examine yourself.  Don't run around pointing out the sin in everyone else's life when your life is full of sin.  Remove the log from your own eye first.

In saying that this passage is often misused, I don't want to strip it of all meaning as if it has no use.  For I think it is a very important word for each of us, the religious people in the church.  As religious people, we have a tendency, if we are not careful, to look down our noses at others as if they are not as righteous as we are.  We have no problem identifying the speck in someone else's eye, but identifying the log in our own eye is a different story.

We need to hear the words of Jesus here.  We need to be much more concerned with the sin in our own lives than we are with the sin in the lives of others.  We need to follow the pattern of David in Psalm 139, "Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

The reality is that we are often blinded to our own sin.  We need someone who is invited into our lives to come and help us identify areas where spiritual growth is needed.  We need someone we can trust.  We need someone who will be honest with us about our faults.

This is where the body of Christ comes in.  We need the church.  We need brothers and sisters around us who are involved in our lives.  We need to be willing to be confronted in our sin.  We also need to be willing to confront others in their sin when necessary.

God has called us to holiness.  Judgment is an essential element of that pursuit.  Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Let's learn to judge in a way that is God-honoring rather than hypocritical.

Prayer Focus:

Spend some time examining your heart.  Is there sin you need to confess to God and seek His forgiveness?  Pray that God would help you in your pursuit of holiness.  Pray that God would help you to be willing to be judged by others.  Pray that God would place those people in your life if they are not there already.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 1

On Fridays this year, I will plan to post the devotionals I wrote that week as a part of our 2015 Bible Reading Challenge at Drakes Branch Baptist Church.  The only way to receive them on time for the day they were written is to sign up to receive them through email.  You can sign up by sending me an email at adam@drakesbranchbc.com.

Here are the Week 1 devotionals.

January 1, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 1-3 and Matthew 1


I am excited and thankful that you have chosen to embark on this journey through the Bible with me.  Psalm 19:10 says in reference to the Scriptures, "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb."

There will be days this next year when you will not feel like reading your Bible.  Remember Psalm 19:10.  There will be days when you may forget to read your Bible.  Get back on the horse, and catch up by doing the reading you missed when you get a few extra minutes.  This is not about checking a box each day.  It is about hearing from the God of the universe who has revealed Himself to you in His Word.

Today you read the very first verse of the Bible.  The Bible begins, "In the beginning, God…" (Gen. 1:1).  What a marvelous way to begin!  This book is all about God and His work in the world.  This is the God who has always been, is right now, and will always be.  He is the God who hung the moon and the stars (Gen. 1:16).  He is the God who created a people for Himself.  He is the God who promised to provide a way to reconcile sinful man to Himself (Gen. 3:15).

He has kept that promise and provided that way through His Son Jesus Christ.  Not only is this book about God the Father, but the focus of every page is what God is doing through Jesus.

As you read the Bible this year, look for God.  Ask yourself, "What does this passage teach me about God?"  Also ask, "How does it fit into God's narrative throughout the Bible?"  You may consider keeping a running lists of His attributes as you read, things like His power, faithfulness, grace, mercy, love, justice, etc.  I think if you do this, along with the Scripture references where they are found, you will be amazed at how many times they come up.

We serve a God who is worthy of our worship.  He is worthy of our time and study.  We will never fully mine the depths of His character.  But He has given you this day to grow in intimacy with Him.  He has given you His Word for that purpose.  That is what this challenge is all about, knowing God better through His Word.

Prayer Focus:

My prayer for you this New Year is that you will know God more intimately as a result of reading through the Bible this year.  Spend some time praying and asking God to grow your love for and knowledge of Him and His Word this year.

January 2, 2015

Today's Reading: Genesis 4-5 and Matthew 2


Today's readings demonstrate very clearly the devastating effects of sin, which first entered God's good creation in Genesis 3.  The injustice of these two events jumps off the page as you read.

Genesis 4 records for us the very first homicide in the history of the world.  While in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him in a spirit of anger and jealousy.  The spreading of Adam and Eve's sin to their offspring is seen very vividly in this passage. 

Then in Matthew 2 we see Herod's efforts to wipe out the newborn King by having every baby boy in Bethlehem age two and under killed.  Herod was an unstable man jealous for his own power and authority.  The idea of a "new" king angered him to the point of murder.  This is a shocking example of example of injustice.

I hope you have not heard these stories so many times that you have grown numb to them.  Take a moment to consider them again.  Can you imagine how Adam and Eve must have wept, knowing that indirectly, Abel's death was a result of their sin?  Can you hear the wailing in Bethlehem as babies are snatched from their mother's arms and killed?  Such evil seen in the hearts of men!

The evil heart behind such acts seems so distant until you consider the news lately.  The effects of Adam and Eve's sin in Genesis 3 are still being felt today.  Things like terrorism, torture, racial tension, and murder dominate the evening news.  We are reminded by these things and more that we live in a broken world.  We are reminded that things are not as they should be, as God created them to be.

In both Genesis and Matthew you have the lives of God's image bearers wiped out with no regard for the value of human life.  As you read in Genesis 1:27, we are all created in the image of God.  There is something special about humanity that cannot be said about the rest of God's creation.  God has created us to reflect Him, and in reflecting Him, worship and glorify Him.

God cares about life, particularly human life.  And we too ought to care about life.  As we look and see examples of injustice all around us, we must seek to protect the vulnerable.  We should seek to see people as God sees them, bearers of His image.  We must learn to value all human life.

There is coming a day when there will be no more injustice, but that day is not here yet.  There is coming a day when Christ will return and right every wrong.  For this reason, as we seek justice, we can trust vengeance in the hands of the God who says, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay."

Prayer Focus:

Will you pray and ask God how you can get involved in caring for the least of these, those who are vulnerable and oppressed?  Think of a specific situation of injustice with which you are familiar.  Pray that the righteous judge of the all the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, would one day right that wrong.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 2015 Reading List

For 2015 I have decided to make a list of twelve books (one each month) that I am committing to reading this year.  These are books that I already had on my shelf, but have never read.  I started making my list yesterday and pulled down around twenty-five books that I would be interested in reading this year.  I easily narrowed it down to fourteen or fifteen, and then with a bit of difficulty whittled the list down to twelve.

When I put out on Facebook that I was making such a list, a couple people asked to see the list.  Please do not take this list as an endorsement of the content of these books.  I have not read them.  Most of them I am comfortable recommending based on recommendations I have received from others, but a few of them are a bit more unknown to me.

So here it is, in no particular order, and with a few explanatory comments.  Enjoy.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

I should have read this book long ago.  I am a little ashamed that it is on this list of books I have not yet read.  I am excited to dig into it this year and set my gaze on the holiness of God.

Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd-Jones

I wanted to make sure that I had a book on preaching on my list.  I had a few smaller books on preaching in my top fourteen or fifteen.  I decided to ditch those and go with this one.  Lloyd-Jones is one of the greatest preachers of recent history.  I am looking forward to learning from him.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

This book is sort of all-encompassing. Because it is difficult to have a book on each spiritual discipline in a list of only twelve books, I chose this one book which covers them all.  I have heard a lot of good things about this book and am anxious to read it.

Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

I need to be a better witness for Christ.  I knew I needed to include a book on evangelism.  This one comes highly recommended, and I look forward to reading it.  Also on the plus side, it is a short book which provides balance for some of the more lengthy works on this list.  At 114 pages, this is the shortest book on my list.

The Plight of Man and the Power of God by Martin Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones is the only author who has two books on this list.  I wanted to include his biography by Ian Murray, but the size of it made doing so a bit unrealistic.  There is a documentary coming out this year on Lloyd-Jones that I am excited to see.  Reading some of his writings this year will serve as an excellent complement to that film.

The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

I believe this book will help me be a better preacher and pastor.  The subtitle is "How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs."  It addresses real life issues with which all people wrestle.  I look forward to thinking about work in a gospel-centered way.

The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler

I wanted to make sure I had a book on leadership on my list.  This happened to be one that I had not yet read.  Al Mohler is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the broader evangelical world.  I look forward to learning from him in this book.

The Masculine Mandate: God's Calling to Men by Richard D. Phillips

I thought it would be good to include a book on manhood, because, well, I am a man.  I know very little about this book.  It was given to me at a conference.

Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church by Gregg R. Allison

I enjoy ecclesiology.  This is a book that I have heard good things about that I was recently able to purchase at a conference I attended.  I do not want it sitting on my shelf very long before I get a chance to read it.  At 471 pages, it is the longest book on this list.  I will have to be very diligent to make it through this thing.

Gospel Assurances and Warnings by Paul Washer

Too many Christians who should be sure of their salvation aren't.  And too many unbelievers are sure their ticket to heaven has been punched.  I want to be able to provide assurance to precious believers who struggle, while also warning the self-assured unregenerate.  This book will help me think biblically about both sides of that coin.

What He Must Be by Voddie Baucham Jr.

We are expecting a little girl in May.  This daddy couldn't be more excited.  I want to be what I must be so she will know what he must be.  This book will help me think about the father/daughter relationship further before my precious little girl makes her grand entrance.

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken

The order in which I will be reading the books on this list is yet to be determined, but I will be reading this book first.  I have heard several glowing recommendations in the last couple of months.  I look forward to having my worldview challenged as I consider my persecuted brothers and sisters and the work God is doing around the world.

I will plan to write a review of each of these books on this blog as I read them.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Book Review: Bitesize Biographies Samuel Rutherford

I recently had the opportunity to read Bitesize Biographies Samuel Rutherford and write a review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.  I had heard of Samuel Rutherford, but knew nothing about him prior to reading the book.  In reading the book, I found myself challenged by this man's life and his commitment to Christ throughout the adversities he faced.

The book is laid out in nine chapters that briefly follow Rutherford's life from birth to legacy.  The book also contains a brief timeline of his life.  Rutherford came from humble means in a small village in Scotland.  He would become one of the greatest preachers and pastors Scotland has ever known.  God's hand of providence is seen quite clearly throughout his life.

The author, Richard Hannula organizes the material in a way that is interesting and engaging.  I found myself captivated by Rutherford's story.  One of my favorite things about the book was the large amount of quotations from Rutherford that Hannula includes.  Many of these quotations come from Rutherford's sermons.

"Hang upon the Word, but with all to look beyond the Word and with the use of the Word, call for the inward grace of the Spirit."

Rutherford even wrote letters to his flock at Anwoth while in exile.

"Hold fast Christ without wavering and contend for the faith because Christ is not easily gotten nor kept."

Reading biographies of old saints from days gone by is an excellent way for the believer to be challenged in his faith in and commitment to Christ.  I found myself challenged and encouraged by this short biography.  I would recommend it to all who are interested in being challenged by the saints of yesteryear.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.