Wednesday, April 29, 2015

To My Daughter


I am writing this letter while experiencing a whirlwind of emotions.  Your mommy and I have been waiting eagerly (and somewhat patiently) for your arrival.  It has been nine months since God first entrusted you to our care.  We are thankful.  We have shared the news of your coming birth with great excitement.  Our friends and family have rejoiced with us and showered us with gifts.  We can't wait to see you wearing all of the cute little dresses that have been hung in your closet with care.

We went to the doctor again yesterday.  Mommy is 39 weeks pregnant now.  We know that it won't be long before we hold you in our arms.  Perhaps it will be today.  I hope so.

But as I think about your entering this world, my heart is also heavy.  You see, you will be entering a world that is very broken.  A recent earthquake has devastated the country of Nepal.  The death toll there continues to climb.  Many are mourning the loss of those they love and trying to figure out how their most basic needs will be met.

Also recently, a young man unexplainably lost his life in police custody in Baltimore.  On Monday his body was laid to rest.  The tragic nature of this man's death has led many to peacefully protest in the streets of Baltimore.  Sadly, many have chosen to compound tragedy with more tragedy.  Buildings have been looted and set on fire.  Gunshots have been fired.  Police cars have been destroyed.  Businesses have been forced to close, and baseball games have been postponed and moved to different locations.

Even as all of this is going on, yesterday in our nation's capital, oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in a case that could affect the state of marriage in the country we love for generations to come.  In light of this, I want you to know that there is a God in heaven.  He established marriage in the beginning when He created Adam and Eve.  He designed marriage as the lifelong union between one man and one woman.  No human being or government official has the authority to alter that definition.

My heart aches for you, sweet girl, because I know you will be born into a world that is very broken.  Pain and suffering abound.  Our world is plagued by fear and uncertainty.  This is not a new development of course.  Sin started all the way back in Genesis 3 when our parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God the Creator.  As a result, sin has spread to the whole human race.  This is why people lose their lives in Nepal.  This is why those in authority sometimes abuse that authority.  This is why people think that the best response to injustice is to compound it with more injustice.  This is why confusion abounds in our culture about love, sex, gender, and religious liberty.

In spite of all this, I promise you that your mommy and I will do everything we can to protect you.  We love you.  We promise to wake up at 3am, feed you, and rock you back to sleep.  I promise to sing "Jesus Loves Me" to you, though it may ruin your ear for music.  We promise to do everything we can to provide for your needs.  We will teach you the Bible.  We will show you what it means to love and follow Jesus.

Despite our best efforts though, we cannot promise you an easy life.  We cannot be certain that tragedy will not come to our neighborhood.  We cannot be certain that the devaluing of human life will not increase.  We are not sure how receptive our culture will continue to be as it relates to our faith in Jesus Christ.  We do not know what the future holds for your life or ours.

But we know the ONE who holds the future.  We know that Jesus, the one who died to pay for sin and rose again three days later, is seated right now at the right hand of God.  We know that He is in control.  We know that He has gone to prepare a place for all those who repent of their sin and believe on Him.  We know that there is coming a day when He will return to right all wrongs.  We know that there is a promise of life eternal, free from pain, suffering, and sin, in the new heaven and new earth for all those who are in Christ.

Though we mourn the pain and suffering all around, we do so as those who have hope.  We are not afraid.  Fear not, little girl.  Jesus loves you, this I know.  For the Bible tells me so.

See you soon,

Daddy

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Book Review: EP Study Commentary on Acts



I recently received a copy of Guy Waters' new commentary on the Acts of the Apostles.  The commentary is a part of the EP Study Commentary series.  The EP Study Commentary is a reformed commentary series that covers both the Old and New Testaments with 22 volumes thus far.  Guy Waters is a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary.

I was not familiar with this series prior to receiving the volume on Acts.  I found it to be very well-written.  It is written in a manner that is adequately thorough, but is not overly technical.  Lay people and ministers alike will find it to be a valuable aid in Bible study and teaching preparation.

As a committed Baptist, and because Waters is writing from a Reformed perspective, I was interested to see how he handled baptism throughout Acts.  I was pleased to discover that Waters handled the passages that address baptism in a way that is very faithful to what the text of Scripture actually says.  He doesn't argue for infant baptism in Acts 10 where Cornelius and his household come to faith in Christ.  He doesn't shy away from believer's baptism as pictured in Acts.

I also just finished preaching 1 Corinthians 14 in the church I pastor.  For that reason, I was interested to see how Waters dealt with the passages that mention tongues.  He doesn't try to explain away the occurrences of tongues in Acts.  He also recognizes that the events of Acts are not necessarily normative for Christians today.

One of the things I appreciate most about the commentary is the sections covering application.  The commentary follows its discussion of each portion of Scripture with a section on application.  Application is one of the more difficult things for me in preaching and teaching.  It is also an essential element of a good sermon or lesson.  I know that this commentary will prove helpful in the future when I am preaching and teaching from Acts.

I would recommend this volume to anyone seeking to learn more about the Acts of the Apostles.  It would make a great addition to any pastor's library.  Those planning to preach through Acts should definitely pick up a copy of this commentary.  I look forward to using it more in my own study.

You can purchase a copy of this commentary here.

I received a free copy as a part of the Cross Focused Reviews program.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Power of Social Media


Nine years ago when I started college you had to have a college email address to open a Facebook account.  I knew about Facebook, and was excited to get my Liberty email address so that I could open my Facebook account.  Today, Facebook is not limited to college students, and it seems that the age demographics continue to expand at both ends of the spectrum.

With an increasing percentage of the population logging onto Facebook, the power of social media continues to grow.  Gone are the days when you needed a prayer chain to hear and spread gossip.  Now you only need to log onto Facebook.  All the juicy gossip you desire is then available right there on your computer screen.  If you are a Facebook user, you have likely seen the negative impact that one controversial discussion gone wrong can cause.

While I lament the negative impact of Facebook on relationships within families, churches, and communities, I rejoice in the positive aspects.  I am able to keep up with friends from college that I would have otherwise lost contact with as soon as we each moved the tassel on our graduation caps.  I am also able to share content with others very quickly and easily.  I also try to use Facebook to spread the word about church activities and events.

That brings me to the point of this article.  I want to invite you to use your Facebook account for the glory of God and the good of Drakes Branch Baptist Church.  That certainly begins with not posting things that dishonor Christ or His church, but it doesn't have to end there.  I want to suggest six simple things you can do with your Facebook account that would be more beneficial to our church than 100 expensive newspaper ads.

1. "Like" Drakes Branch Baptist Church's Facebook page.  By "liking" our page, you will receive updates in your newsfeed that you can then share with your Facebook friends.

2. Use cover photos from the Drakes Branch Baptist Church page as your own cover photo.  I made a cover photo to promote our Easter Sunday service.  By using that photo as the cover photo on your Facebook page, you can promote our Easter service.

3. Take pictures of church events and activities, and post them on Facebook along with a brief description.  Photos help people see what goes on when we gather together.  Show people what a good time we have together.

4. Post a brief invitation on your Facebook status for people to come to something going on at DBBC.  Let your Facebook friends know that you would love to have them join you for an upcoming worship service or special activity.

5. Share the link to the church website where people can find Sunday's sermon audio.  Sermon audio from the previous day is typically posted every Monday on the church website at www.drakesbranchbc.com.  You can share the link to that Sunday's sermon on your Facebook page, especially when you found that week's sermon to be particularly helpful for you.

6. Share something on Facebook on Sunday afternoons that stood out to you from Sunday School or the Worship Service that morning.  Let people know what a good time you had studying God's Word and worshiping together with other believers.  When others see your excitement, it becomes contagious.

This article is not intended to suggest that you need a Facebook account to spread the word about the things God is doing at Drakes Branch Baptist Church.  Pick up the telephone and give someone a call to invite them to church.  Speak to that person that you run into at the grocery store about how much you would love to have them join you at church.  Let's all commit to looking for ways to be intentional in reaching out to others in our community.

Christ is building His church.  His kingdom will not fail.  Let's pray that God would use Drakes Branch Baptist Church as a part of His kingdom building work.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Reviews: Why Christmas? and Why Easter?


When given the chance to review Why Christmas? and Why Easter?, I jumped at the opportunity.  As the dad of a two year old son with a little girl on the way as well, I desire to be a good steward of the responsibility God has given me to train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  I want to teach that that Christmas is about much more than Santa Claus and presents.  I want to teach them that Easter is about Jesus and His resurrection, not bunnies that lay eggs.

Barbara Reaoch has provided me with an excellent resource to do just that with Why Christmas? and Why Easter?  As I flipped through my copy of each book, I found myself impressed with the layout and design.  The illustrations are also well-done.  They very much add to each day's reading rather than distracting from it.

Each book is designed to be used in the four weeks leading up to their respective holidays.  Each day has a reading from the Bible, some additional thoughts related to that reading, questions for discussion, a memory verse for the week, and a song for the week.  Each of these different components will keep children engaged in family worship.

I appreciate that the "How to use this Devotional" page underlines the importance of actually reading the Bible rather than just the devotional material.  The devotional material is intended to supplement and support the Scripture reading rather than replace it.  In fact, understanding the devotional material requires that you read the Scripture passage for that day.

While my son is only two and does not completely understand everything I am saying when I read to him, I expect these two books will be a resource that I will use for many years to come.  The theology is solid.  The devotionals are written in a way that is easy for children to understand.  And they are intended to point our attention to Christ.  It is my judgment that both books do an excellent job of doing exactly that.

You can purchase Why Christmas? here and Why Easter? here.

I was given a copy of each book in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Book Review: Heaven, How I Got Here



Heaven, How I Got Here is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a while.  Colin Smith does an excellent job of helping the reader think through the events of Jesus' last day on earth from the perspective of the thief on the cross.  The book is a great idea, and is very well done.  I recommend it to anyone desiring to think through the events of the cross in a fresh way.

You might ask how it is possible to write an entire book from the perspective of someone that we know so little about.  That was my question when I first heard about the book.  The book begins with a short chapter imagining what the thief's life must have been like as a child growing up in a Jewish family under Roman occupation.  This helps set the stage for the rest of the book.

Each chapter is then identified by a time of day, beginning with breakfast and ending up in heaven with Jesus.  I found this approach to be really helpful in thinking through the events of Jesus' last day.  The thief's perspective is an interesting one that ought to be given adequate consideration.

One thing that I expected when I picked up this book is that it would be filled with a lot of conjecture.  Since we don't know a lot about the thief, I figured the author would have to make up a lot of stuff to write a book on his experiences that falls just short of 100 pages.  That is not the case at all.  Smith masterfully weaves what we do know together with some things that we can be almost certain about.  The book should not really be characterized as historical fiction.  It tells a real story in a very accurate way.

Finally, the thing I loved most about the book was the way it proclaims the gospel.  It is as if the thief on the cross were sharing the gospel with you from heaven as you read the book.  While he would not have understood all of the things he shares when still on the cross, the setting is not the cross but heaven.  He is writing from a fuller knowledge of the gospel.  The writer masterfully uses the entire New Testament to share the message of the gospel from the thief's perspective.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.  I hope to make use of some of it in our Maundy Thursday service at church.  You can purchase the book here.

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 8


You can find the devotionals I wrote for week 8 of our 2015 Bible Reading Challenge below.  Email me to take the challenge.

February 16, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 9-10 and Matthew 27:24-44

Devotional:

One of the unfortunate things about reading through the Bible in a year is that the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading for each day are not directly linked together.  But every now and then you come across a day when the two are very closely related.  Such is the case today.

We have been reading in Leviticus over the last few days.  Over that time we have seen the instructions that God gave concerning sacrifices and offerings.  If you are like me, you have been overwhelmed by it all.  The instructions God gave to His people were very thorough.  He didn't leave out any details.  It is intended to remind us that our God is a holy God.  He does not play around with sin.  He is holy, and He requires holiness from His people.

Then today we read a story about Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu.  The Bible tells us that they offered unauthorized or strange fire before the Lord.  This was done against God's commands.  Immediately, fire came out and consumed them.  They died as a result of their disobedience to God.

They thought sacrifices were something that could be taken lightly.  They certainly didn't think they would lose their lives over it.  God once again demonstrated His holiness.  He requires obedience from His people.  That is not partial obedience, but complete obedience to Him.

Now fast forward to Matthew 27.  We are reading about the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We are reminded of all the suffering He endured on our behalf.  We are reminded that He is in fact the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.

The Leviticus laws and story of Nadab and Abihu certainly demonstrate that God is serious about sin and holiness.  But the fact that God would have His own son murdered to pay for sin demonstrates even more clearly how serious God is about sin and holiness.  God requires holiness from us.  He does not settle for partial obedience; He requires complete obedience.

The comforting thing in all of this is not that we have been obedient to the level that God requires.  We most certainly have not.  Our hope is in Christ.  Our hope is in His righteous life.  Our hope is in His death in our place.  God can look at us and see righteousness because of Jesus.  God knows that we are not perfect.  That does not mean He accepts anything less than perfection.  He means that He has made a way for us to be perfect, through the shed blood of His own Son.

Prayer Focus: Give thanks to God today that you are not bound by the sacrificial laws of Leviticus.  Give thanks to God that He sent His only begotten Son to die as a sacrifice for your sin.


February 17, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 11-12 and Matthew 27:45-66

Devotional:

When reading Leviticus, it is easy to focus on the endless list of laws God gives.  It is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed.  But as I was reading Leviticus 11 today, I was overwhelmed by the grace of God.  I saw three examples of God's grace in Leviticus 11.

First, I think it is important to note that God gave His people food to eat.  We can sometimes focus so much on what the Israelites COULD NOT eat that we forget about all of the things they COULD eat.  We do the same thing in talking about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil found in Genesis 3.  God gave His people all of trees in the garden from which to eat (Genesis 2:16-17).  There was only one tree from which they were not to eat.

The same is true in Leviticus 11.  God created a wide variety of animals.  Certainly He told His people that they could not eat certain ones.  However, this left a wide variety of animals that they could eat.  God's gracious provision is seen in this way in Leviticus 11.

Second, we see that God told the Israelites what was unclean.  He could have kept this information to Himself.  He could have allowed them to unknowingly defile themselves.  Yet He graciously told them what not to eat.  God desires relationship with His people.  He sought to prevent them from defiling themselves by giving them the information they needed.

Finally, we see that God made a way for them to be made clean.  This is perhaps the most gracious act of God seen in Leviticus 11.  God told them what not to eat and/or touch.  But He also made provision for them to be made clean if they defiled themselves.  He told them exactly what they needed to do to be made clean.

This of course reminds us of the cross.  It reminds us that we are all unclean.  God has told us what to do to walk in righteousness.  We often fail and defile ourselves.  Yet God has made a way for us to be made clean through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  We can be reconciled to God.  He has poured out His grace on us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Focus: Give thanks to God for his sovereign provision.  Give thanks to God for His grace in providing a way for you to be made clean.


February 18, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 13 and Matthew 28

Devotional:

Today's reading brings us to the end of Matthew's Gospel and one of the most well-known passages in the Bible.  I am talking about the passage of Scripture that we typically refer to as The Great Commission.  This commission from the lips of Jesus to His disciples has received many names through the years.  One of my favorites is "The Marching Orders of the Church."  I think this name embodies what Jesus was intending to do when He spoke these words to His disciples.

Jesus was getting ready to ascend into heaven.  These men who had been following Him for three years would no longer have Him by their side.  They would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve as leaders of the newly formed church, the body of Christ still present on earth.  So Jesus gave them these instructions to guide them as they carried forth the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

While first given to the eleven (post-Judas), these words were not intended to be limited to Jesus' original disciples.  These are our instructions.  They are our marching orders as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Much has been said about these instructions, but I want to focus your attention on the primary command in the passage.  That primary command is to make disciples.  We do this as we go, and we do it by baptizing and teaching.

You will notice that the primary command in the passage is not to make converts.  Now certainly making disciples begins with seeing people converted, but it must not stop there.  We should measure the church's fruitfulness not merely by asking whether people are being converted, but by asking if they are being discipled.

God is certainly in the business of saving men and women, boys and girls.  But He does not save them to leave them where they are.  He desires to grow up each of us to be mature followers of Jesus.

So the application for each of us is to ask whether we are growing as disciples of Jesus.  This is the will of God for you—that you would mature as a follower of Christ.  Then we should ask whether we are participating in seeing others grow as disciples of Jesus.  The Great Commission was not given to pastors only.  It was given to all believers.  We all share the responsibility of helping others grow in Christlikeness.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to grow as a disciple of Jesus.  Pray that God would use you to help others grow as disciples of Jesus.


February 19, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 14-15 and Mark 1:1-20

Devotional:

Today we turn our attention to the second of four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark.  Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four, but the accounts of specific events are often longer than in Matthew and Luke.

Who was Mark and why did He write an account of the life of Jesus?  The Mark who wrote this Gospel is the John Mark of Acts 12.  Mark was not an apostle, but we see in the book of Acts that he was a close companion of the apostles.  While some disagreement between Mark and the Apostle Paul shows up in Acts 15, reconciliation between the two appears to have taken place by the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy.  Paul asked for Mark to come to him in his final days because he was "useful [to Paul] for ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11).

But what about the first twenty verses of Mark?  We notice immediately that Mark does not begin his Gospel in the same way that Matthew and Luke began theirs.  Matthew started with a genealogy of Jesus and a brief birth narrative.  Luke begins with a rather extensive birth narrative.  Mark begins with the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus' baptism is recorded for us in the first verses of Mark.  We see the identity of this one that Mark is going to be telling us about.  He is the one who is mightier than John the Baptist.  He is the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  He is the Father's beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.

This is the one whose life Mark is going to trace through this Gospel.  He is 100% man.  He is 100% God.  We will observe Him perform many miracles.  We will see him show love and compassion to the down and out.  We will see Him rebuke the self-righteous.  He is the one who came to give His life as a ransom for many.  He came to take away the sin of the world.

This is the Jesus we love.  This is the Jesus we worship.  Allow yourself over the next month as we explore Mark's Gospel to set your mind and heart on Jesus.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God through His Spirit would help you to see Jesus clearly through the Gospel of Mark.


February 20, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 16-18 and Mark 1:21-45

Devotional:

This is probably a good time in our journey through the Bible for us to pause and think about the Mosaic Law for a moment.  We have seen all kinds of laws as we have moved through Exodus and Leviticus.  What you may have noticed is that Christians typically believe that some of these laws are still in effect today and others are not.  How do we distinguish between the two?

One answer that is sometimes given is that any law that is repeated in the New Testament is still applicable for Christians today.  This approach is unsatisfactory.  There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the Old Testament has been abolished.  In fact, Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

But still, we do not observe laws concerning how to trim our facial hair (Lev. 19:27) or what kind of fabric we can wear (Lev. 19:19).  But why?  Is it simply because we don't like those laws and they seem terribly inconvenient?  If that's not the reason, how do we distinguish between the laws that are still for today and those that are not?

Theologians have typically understood there to be three types of laws contained in the Law given by Moses to the people of Israel: moral, ceremonial, and judicial.  The moral law is a reflection of God's holy character.  It includes the 10 Commandments along with other laws that are moral in nature such as Leviticus 18 which talks about unlawful sexual relations.  Because these laws are a reflection of the holy character of God, and God is unchanging, these laws do not change.  They transcend time and culture.  This is the law that Paul tells us in Romans 2 is written on our hearts.

Then there is the ceremonial law.  These are laws that had to do with temple practice.  Leviticus 16 gives instruction concerning the Day of Atonement.  God gave His people very clear instruction regarding how they were to deal with their sin before a holy God.  He also gave instructions concerning cleanliness to protect His people from disease and sickness.  The ceremonial law is not completely detached from the moral law.  Instead it is the application of the moral law.  But we believe that the moral law has different application for us today.  We no longer worship in the temple, and we have more knowledge concerning cleanliness and disease than the people of Israel in that day.  Also, Jesus was he fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

Finally we have the judicial law.  The judicial law was also application of the moral law.  It gave instructions to the Israelites concerning how they were to deal with sin in their midst.  What should happen to someone who kills one of God's image bearers?  What should happen to someone who commits adultery?  These questions and more are answered in the judicial law.  Israel was a theocracy ruled by God.  Therefore, God gave them clear penalties for certain sins.  We do not observe the judicial law today because we do not live in theocratic Israel.  We live in a different country with different penalties for things like murder.  We are therefore subject to the governing authorities over us.

So why is all of this important?  What application is there for us today?  It is important that we not dismiss God's Law.  We do not get to pick and choose which laws we like and which ones we don't.  We must submit ourselves to God's standards for life revealed in the moral law because these standards are a reflection of the holy character of God.  God says several times throughout Leviticus, "Be holy as I am holy."  This is the call of God on our lives.

Of course, ultimately, this is only possible in the person of Jesus Christ.  We are not holy.  We have disobeyed God's moral law.  We need grace and forgiveness.  Our only hope is if we can have a righteousness that is not our own.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus.  Jesus took on our sin on the cross that we might become the righteousness of God.  May we repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would give you understanding of His Law as you read and study.  Thank God for the righteousness of God in Jesus.  Thank God that you are no longer bound by the extensive ceremonial and judicial laws.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7


Check out these devotionals, and join the challenge by visiting our church website.

February 9, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 34:1-35:29 and Matthew 25:1-13

Daily Devotional:

Today's New Testament contains a parable that Jesus told concerning his return.  Matthew 24 focused on Jesus' return and the events surrounding it, and His return will continue to be the focus throughout the rest of Matthew 25.  Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross.  He will be leaving His disciples soon.  Therefore, He does what any good leader would do—prepare His followers for the time when He would not be with them anymore.

As we know, Jesus often taught with parables.  This occasion was no different.  He tells a parable about ten virgins.  It is important to remember at the outset that we cannot derive meaning from parables that was not intended by Jesus.  Jesus is not condoning or recommending polygamy.  He is merely illustrating His relationship to His church when He returns.

So as we read the parable, we should note that Jesus is the bridegroom.  We should also recognize that the virgins represent those who claim to follow Christ.  Jesus uses the imagery of a wedding feast because this is the picture He presents us throughout the New Testament of His relationship to His church.  He is the bridegroom.  The church is His bride.  Revelation 19 tells us of a marriage supper one day where the Lamb of God (Jesus) and all the redeemed (the church) will be present.

So Jesus tells this parable about ten virgins who each took a lamp with them to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were wise, and five of them were foolish.  The five wise virgins took oil with them to keep their lamps burning.  The five foolish virgins did not bring any oil.

Jesus tells us that the bridegroom was delayed.  He doesn't mean to communicate that his coming is any later than planned, only that it is later than the virgins might have expected.  You see the connection between our waiting for Jesus' return and these virgins waiting for the bridegroom.  Jesus has not come as soon as we might expect Him, but He will come.

The virgins slept and waited for the bridegroom to come.  When He did, they were awakened by a loud cry.  They quickly jumped up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish five didn't have any oil to put in their lamps.  And the wise five had only enough for their lamps.  Thus, when it came time to meet the bridegroom, only the wise five were able to go into Him.  The foolish five did not get to join the feast because they were not prepared.

Jesus is calling His disciples to prepare themselves for His return.  They would not be present on earth when He returned—though they didn't know that—but they needed to prepare themselves and know how to prepare others.  Much of the New Testament is about preparing for the return of Jesus.

How do we prepare for Christ's return?  We must be about the things that He has told us to be about.  We should be growing in Christ-likeness.  As time passes, we should become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus.  We should also be living our lives in faithfulness to Jesus' command to make disciples.  Through doing these things, we can make sure that we are prepared when Christ returns.

The message of this parable is not to tell you when Christ will return.  The truth found here is that He will return.  You are left to answer whether or not you will be ready.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would remind you of the pending return of Christ.  Pray that His return would motivate you to be about the work He has called you to do.  Pray that He would help you in this work through His Holy Spirit.


February 10, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 35:30-37:29

Devotional:

If you are like me, the last week of your Bible reading plan has been difficult.  You have been going strong for over a month now, but you feel yourself starting to slip away.  You have managed to trudge through all of the laws and tabernacle dimensions and specifications thus far, but you know that Leviticus is coming.  Leviticus will bring more laws.  It's not exactly what you consider to be riveting stuff.

I hear you.  I feel your pain.  If you have slipped away a bit already, it's not too late to catch back up.  You can't be too far behind at this point.  Find some time in the next week to sit down and do several readings at one time.  You can do it!

Now, because I know it is easy to read over this section of Exodus and struggle to see the point, I want to focus today's writing on our Old Testament reading.

We have seen over the last week that God gave Moses some very specific instructions concerning the construction of the tabernacle.  He told him who to put in charge.  He told him what the dimensions were to be.  He told him what kind of wood should be used.  God gave instructions concerning the priestly garments and various items that would be housed in the tabernacle.

Wow!  God has been very specific regarding what He expects.  But what would be the purpose of the tabernacle?  It would be a place for God's people to meet with Him.  It would be a house of worship for the people of God.

God was not concerned about the specifics of the tabernacle because He is some kind of control freak who wants to tell us exactly how to do everything we do.  God was concerned about the specifics of the tabernacle because He cares about His people.  He cares about His relationship with them.  He created them to worship Him.  He brought them out of Egypt to worship Him.  And as God, He has a specific way that He is to be worshiped.

This has very clear application for us.  God has created us to worship Him.  He has brought us out of the bondage of our sin to worship Him.  God has also given us some fairly specific instructions about how we are to worship Him.  We worship through song.  We worship when we read the Bible and devote ourselves to studying it.

We also ought to worship in the way we live our lives.  Romans 12:1 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  We worship God with our lives when we humbly recognize that we belong to Him.  We are to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice, allowing Him to take our lives and use them for His honor and glory.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to offer your life to Him as a living sacrifice.  This is your spiritual worship.


February 11, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 38-39 and Matthew 25:31-26:13

Devotional:

The final section of Matthew 25 is one of the most troubling passages for me in the whole Bible.  I am frightened by the very thought that Jesus could possibly say to me, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."  Whew!  That is scary stuff right there!

This passage is intended to serve as a warning.  Some try to explain away the warnings of the Bible.  They say things like, "Jesus isn't writing to true Christians here," or "No one can lose their salvation."  I understand those statements, and I agree with them to a certain extent.  No true Christian will experience the eternal fire that Jesus is talking about here.  And I certainly believe that those whom God has saved will endure to the end.

But is that the point of the passage?  Does Jesus really issue a warning here just to assure professing Christians of their eternal salvation, and damn those who are apart from Christ?  I don't think so.  Passages like this should cause each of us to take a long hard look at our lives.

I grew up in a family where I never wanted for anything.  My parents worked hard and provided for my sister and me.  There was always food on the table and clothes on my back.  I never once wondered whether there would be something for me to eat when meal time came around.  Such is still the case in my adult life.  I work and provide for my family.  All of our needs are taken care of.

If I am not very careful though, I will allow my "success" in life to cause me to think less of those who are not as well off.  I may think things like "That person doesn't have money to buy food because they used it to purchase cigarettes" or "That person is homeless because they are too lazy to work."  While those things may often be true—though they certainly are not always true—it is important that I not allow my heart to grow heard to "the least of these."
Caring for "the least of these" will probably mean that I become an enabler at times and have to reevaluate whether I am really helping.  It will likely mean that I will be taken advantage of from time to time.  But I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying on the Day of Judgment, "Why did you help that person who was suffering?  They did that to themselves.  You should have left them alone."  I can imagine though that I will one day be held accountable for times I looked the other way when I could have given someone a cup of cold water in Jesus' name.

I am not suggesting you can meet every need.  I am not necessarily suggesting that you should meet every need even if you can.  I am saying that my heart is often cold and hard toward the needs of those around me.  I am saying that I need to hear the warning Jesus issues in this passage.  I am saying that I need to cling tightly to the cross of Jesus when I selfishly turn the other way rather than allowing myself to be an instrument in the hands of Jesus.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would soften your heart to the needs around you.  Pray that He would give you wisdom to know how to help those who need it most.


February 12, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 40 and Matthew 26:14-35

Devotional:

Obedience is a word that stirs up all kinds of thoughts and emotions, but it is an important word throughout the Bible.

From the beginning of Exodus 39 to the end of Exodus 40, we are told 18 times that Moses and the people of Israel did as the Lord commanded them.  Remember all those regulations?  God told Moses who to put in charge, what the dimensions of the tabernacle were to be, what kind of wood should be used, and how to make the priestly garments and various items that would be housed in the tabernacle.  God gave very clear instructions, and they obeyed.  They did all that He commanded them.

We need to be reminded sometimes that God requires obedience from us.  I think of 1 Samuel 15:22 which says, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams."

There are some who want to get away from talking about obedience.  They want to talk about grace and mercy.  They want to think about the obedience Jesus accomplished on our behalf rather than the obedience God requires of us.  We are not under the Law but under grace, they declare.

While it is true that we are no longer under the Law, that truth is not a license to pursue lawlessness.  The Apostle Paul asked rhetorically, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?"  He then answered his own question, "By no means!"  We are dead to sin.  Therefore, we ought not continue in it.

The fact that we are not under the Law but under grace does not mean that God no longer requires anything from us.  Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commands.  John said something similar in 1 John 2:3 writing, "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments."
Then, once we have spoken of the obedience God requires of us, we can talk about His grace and mercy.  We can talk about how Jesus was the only perfectly obedient one to ever walk this earth.  We can talk about how He took on our sin and died in our place.  We can talk about how we have been credited with His righteousness, and God is able to look on us just as if we had never sinned.

None of that makes any sense though if we don't first talk about obedience.  None of that makes any sense if we don't first remind ourselves of what God requires of us.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God, through His Spirit, would help you to walk in obedience to Him today.


February 13, 2015

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 1-3 and Matthew 26:36-56

Daily Devotional:

Today we come to the events that unfolded in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray.  He also went there to be arrested.

Upon arriving in Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to wait for Him while He went off to pray.  He took Peter, James, and John with Him a little further, but eventually told them to wait as well while He prayed by Himself.  There in the Garden of Gethsemane that night, Jesus prayed the most submissive prayer that has ever been prayed.  He prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

Then He came to His disciples and found them sleeping.  After rebuking them, He went back to pray some more.  This time He prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."  Jesus was perfectly in tune with the will of the Father.  He knew the plan for His life.  He knew why He had taken on flesh to dwell among men.

Once again, He came to His disciples and found them sleeping.  This time He would not retire to pray again.  Instead He said, "See, the hour is at hand, and the son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."  The Bible tells us that while Jesus was still speaking, Judas appeared.

He betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and Jesus was arrested.  But not without Peter first attempting to rise to His defense.  Though Jesus had spoken to His disciples often about His pending death, they still did not understand.  They did not understand that Jesus had an appointment with destiny.  He would give His life as a ransom for many.  He would give His life for them.

Then Jesus was arrested.  His disciples deserted Him.  And He was on His way to the cross.  We will read more of these events over the weekend.

But there is something I want you to see in all of this.  Jesus' enemies had been out to get Him for a while now.  He was creating quite the stir, and they wanted to stop it.  But they had been unable to do anything until now.  His time had not yet come.  Until now.

You can imagine how the disciples felt that things were spiraling out of control as Jesus was arrested and taken away.  What would happen to Jesus?  What was going to become of their lives?  Would they be arrested and killed as well?  They couldn't see the whole picture.

But as you observe the way Jesus responded to all of this, you never get the sense that He felt like things were unraveling.  He knew that things were taking place exactly as planned.  He knew that the Father was bringing all things about according to His good plans to save a people for Himself.  He knew that.  He understood it.  And He submitted Himself to it.

What a picture of calmness!  He was in the Father's hands.  He knew that God was in control.  He trusted Him, even to the point of death.

Oh that we would experience this kind of deep seated trust in the plans of the Father in our lives!  He is sovereign.  He is in control.  He is orchestrating all things according to His good purposes.  May we pray with Jesus, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

Prayer Focus: Pray that God's will and not your own would be done in and through you today.  Pray that His will would become your will.