Archive for the ‘Thoughts on God’ Category

Have you ever thought, “My spiritual gifts are too small to make a difference…”?

Or maybe that work behind the scenes is less valuable to God?

…and even if you haven’t thought this, you likely know someone who has.

If so, today’s devotion is for you, and will show you:

  1. How the Church grows through “off stage” spiritual gifts.
  2. How key the people who faithfully serve by meeting the needs of others are.
  3. The fruit that comes when all of the Body’s parts work in concert.

Our devotional Bible verses are from Acts 6:5–7. Take the time to read them right now:

And what they said please the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6:5–7 ESV

How the Church Grows Through “Off Stage” Spiritual Gifts

When you read the list of names in verse five, I bet you know the first two. Stephen, who became the first martyr, and Philip, who famously led the Ethiopian Eunuch to Jesus in Acts 8.

(And then teleported, btw. Yes, I want that spiritual gift.)

But do you recognize the names that follow?

Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus…

Honestly, I’ve studied the Bible for a long time—and I totally forgot about them. In a way, they were some some of the Church’s first deacons.

In my experience, these are often the people who meet the Church’s needs through selfless acts of quiet service.

And this is what I mean by “off stage” spiritual gifts. They’re the folks with gifts like helps and mercy. They may not have a microphone, but they certainly have an impact.

Look What Happened…

After these servant-leaders were prayed for and commissioned, look what happened in verse seven.

  1. “The word of God continued to increase…”
  2. “The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…”
  3. “And a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

The Holy Spirit moves in incredible ways when the Body of Jesus works in harmony with the spiritual gifts he’s given us. That’s how it was for the New Testament church.

…and that’s how it still is today.

Do you have “off stage” spiritual gifts? Are you embracing them and joyfully serving people?

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:42-43 ESV)

Ministry success is easily attributable to Jesus.

He captivated thousands because he taught “as one with authority” (Mark 1:22). He was like no one they had ever heard.

He would preach to thousands, heal the sick, and spend time with the untouchables. At one point, his renown was so great that people tried to make him king by force (John 6:15).

Jesus could have stayed where he was and regularly had large crowds gather in his presence. But what did Jesus do with this “ministry success?”

Did he set up headquarters, hang up signs, pass out flyers, and increase seating capacity? Did he stay with the people begging him to remain and bask in their adoration?

Absolutely not. That’s not how Jesus defined ministry success.

Real Ministry Success

Jesus focused only on his God ordained purpose: to teach the truth. Jesus says this in passages like John 18:37 and Mark 1:35–39, as well.

Jesus didn’t look to the crowds as proof of his success in ministry. He didn’t pull his identity from people flocking to hear, see, and touch him.

He did and said only what the Father led him to do (John 5:19).

It can be tempting to look at success in ministry as a numbers game. The more people that come to our church or ministry, the more successful we are in the kingdom.

Jesus is a great example for what success looks like as his followers. Jesus teaches us that success is not merely defined by popularity or crowds, but by obedience to God and his purpose for our lives. Simply put, by faithfully following Jesus himself.

Faithfulness is the key to ministry success.
Click To Tweet

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t define faithfulness as merely plodding along, barely making a ripple for the Kingdom of God…

…not even close!

What’s the root word in faithfulness? Faith!

Jesus didn’t simply bumble along. He had absolute faith in what the Father had called him to do. So much faith that he bet his entire life on it.

To faithfully pursue God’s purpose means two things:

  1. To desire his will more than your own glory.
  2. To believe he will accomplish his mission in you and through you.

Are You Pursuing God’s Mission?

So, are you pursuing God’s mission for you? Your mission field might be:

  • Your family,
  • Your workplace,
  • Your school,
  • Your neighborhood,
  • Your vocational ministry,
  • Your volunteer work,
  • Or anywhere else.

Define your mission field. Refine your measurement of ministry success. And above all, have faith God always accomplishes his will—and he will do so through you, too.

Unlikely leaders

Posted: August 16, 2017 in Thoughts on God

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:10-12 ESV)

Moses is one of history’s most noted leaders.

He led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Then he served as a priestly leader.

He shared God’s will, prayed for them, and even plead their case before God (Exodus 32:11).

We need more leaders like him in the Church. But, is it possible they are already here, but have never gotten a chance to step up?

Moses was not a gifted speaker. He was reluctant to trust God when he told him he would lead the Israelites (Exodus 4).

If Moses were alive today, who would he look like in the church? Would he be the person sitting next to you who doesn’t appear to have a “leadership bone” in his body?

In fact, could it be you?

The key to Moses’ great leadership was his anointing and ordination; not the “perfect packaging” of his personality.

Notice how the Lord assured him, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:12). He wasn’t naturally someone who possessed the leadership goods, but the Lord worked through him mightily on numerous occasions.

Chances are, Moses would be someone considered weak by the world’s standards. Fortunately we serve a God who chooses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Remember, it is not in ourselves we find our competency for God’s call, but through his word that we may be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103 ESV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter found in Scripture and is mainly known for its teaching on God’s law.

Psalm 119 is not simply about what to do and not do, but about how God’s law deepens our relationship with him.

In today’s verse, the words of God are said to be “sweeter than honey.” Honey is of course a natural sweetener. God’s words or laws bring a sweetness to the life we live. Just as our tongues crave sweet desserts, our lives should crave the sweetness of God’s words if we are followers of Jesus (1 Peter 2:1-3).

This desire does not come from good works or going to church, but from the one and only giver of sweet things, God (Psalm 119:18).

While we can learn much from God’s word as we listen to a pastor preach or musician sing, we shouldn’t rely on just these as our honey. We need to learn to enjoy God’s Word by ourselves also.

Things like Bible reading plans or devotionals like this can certainly help. But without the desire to read God’s Word, even the most self-disciplined of efforts will fail.

As C.S. Lewis said:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

To fall in love with God’s Word requires that we fall in love with the Author himself. So if you’re struggling with a lack of desire to spend time in the Bible, don’t start by trying to manufacture that desire.

Instead, begin by asking yourself these two questions:

  1. Do I love God?
  2. Do I desire to spend time in his presence?

If the answer to question two isn’t a true, “Yes,” then reconsider your answer to question one. Don’t receive this as a harsh chastisement. Instead, consider it a fresh chance to understand where you’re at.

Remember, loving God’s Word means more than loving Scripture—it means loving the Word, Jesus Christ himself.

No matter where you’re at today, join me in praying this prayer today:

God, I want to love your Word. I want to love you more than I do right now… More than I ever have before. Move on my heart and my affections. Give me a deep, burning desire to be near you. To hear your voice. To love your presence. Overshadow all things by your majesty, and become the single longing of my soul.

The vigilant refiner

Posted: August 11, 2017 in Thoughts on God

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the LORD tests hearts.

(Proverbs 17:3 ESV)

My friend Jacob dons goggles and fireproof gloves. Then, with a smile, he sparks his blowtorch to life.

He touches the stream of fire to a bar of silver in a crucible, and explains what’s happening over the hiss of the torch.

“Different metals purify at different temperatures,” he says. “And you need to be careful to get the temperature just right, so that you don’t lose any of the precious metal you’re refining. Otherwise, you’ll burn it too much and it all turns to dust.”

I can see the dross curling to the surface, forming an ugly crust.

Dross is the concentration of the impurities that were once within the metal—but now they are being separated by the perfect application of heat.

The vigilance required is impressive, watching the refiner dance with molten metal and flame, carefully applying the fire and then pulling it away. Applying the fire, pulling it away. All the while, the dross is separated from the silver that holds the real value.

This is the same refinement process the LORD uses on our hearts.

With just the right amount of heat and trial, the Vigilant Refiner burns away the dross that is not just buried within us, but has been a part of us for as long as we can remember.

God purifies our hearts of corruption and sin, melting us to make us new.

With loving concern, he skillfully applies streams of flame that increase our value and integrity rather than burning us to dust.

He applies the fire, then pulls it away.

What is the state of your life, are you in the refiner’s fire right now? Where is heat being applied? Where are you being melted by trials and your impurities are curling to the surface? Do you know that God will continue to refine you until the dross is removed? So, reflect.

Don’t waste the tender flames, the loving fire, the purifying heat.

Don’t cling to your dross, but let it surface and be swept away

Name the character impurities God is removing. Don’t waste the pain, but press into it, and say with Peter, “Lord not just my feet, but my whole body also!”

In my own life, through near-losses and extravagant failures, the LORD has purified me of unbelief, pride, and idolatry. (And has more to go, I’m afraid.)

Unbelief in his nearness, his grace, and at times even his existence. Pride in my own strength, talent, and perceived economic value. Idolatry in finding my security in health, wealth, and prestige.

I’ve had nothing left but to look upward and see the Father, torch in hand, surfacing my dross right in front of my face. I know others have suffered more difficult times, but still, it hasn’t felt good. But what a glorious realization to see God’s hand, applying just the right heat, preparing my family for what is to come.

It is good to pause in pain, look to the torch, and celebrate that the dross you’ve lived with for so long is now being swept away. Worship in this and don’t cling to what the Lord is mercifully dividing from your heart.

What are three things the LORD is purifying your heart from right now?

Who has your heart?

Posted: August 10, 2017 in Thoughts on God

For you are great and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.

Teach me your ways, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.

(Psalm 86:10–12 ESV)

A few years ago a man named Norm Wakefield said something I’ll never forget.

He was asking where I placed my hope—my real hope. He wasn’t going to let me off the hook with a cookie-cutter answer.

We dug deeper. And as I was honest, I realized how much hope I placed in things other than God.

I desperately wanted financial security. I was obsessed with people’s opinions of me. Put bluntly, I had an idol problem.

Then he told me: “Whoever has your hope, has your heart.”

Whoever has your hope, has your heart. – Norm Wakefield

What he meant was that wherever I trusted for ultimate happiness and satisfaction is where I placed my hope. And whatever I placed my hopein, had true control of my heart.

Today’s verses are a prayer from David—and he’s expressing this same sentiment when he asks God to “unite” his heart to fear God’s name.

David, like so many of us, was a man who struggled with a divided heart. Even though he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14Acts 13:22) his affections wandered.

That’s the crux, isn’t it?

Every Sunday we sing songs that agree with verse 10: “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” Then on Monday our hope wanders from the one who is “God alone” and trusts in so many other things. So many idols.

Remember what God said about idols in Isaiah 44:20b? The people “have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.”

And what are David’s words? “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth…”

Idols lie—they simply can’t deliver on their promises.

So, for anything that has your deepest hope, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this satisfy my heart, or is it lying to me?
  • Can this save my soul, or will it leave me empty?
  • Can this heal my marriage, or will it destroy?
  • Would I be happy if my children and grandchildren embraced this?

So, who has your hope and your heart today? Pray with David for a united heart.

What’s in your heart?

Posted: August 9, 2017 in Thoughts on God

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!
(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Relationships take time. And as time passes, we can decide whether we want to go to the next level with a person and eventually open up to them.

This doesn’t have to be a husband or wife thing. It applies to every relationship.

Hopefully, we all have someone we can tell our deepest, most sensitive secrets to. Someone we know can keep our confidence.

Friends like these know when there is something wrong with us, even when others don’t. They have been our friends for so long they can sense our mood without even talking to us.

With an acquaintance, it’s different. We might tell them a little about our life, but we usually let them know all of the good stuff. We wear a mask for them.

Ironically, we sometimes try to wear this mask for Jesus.

When we pray, we might ask him to forgive us of our little sins and ask for good things to happen to us, but we never ask him to search us. We don’t tell him to look deep down in our heart and see if there is anything within us that to change.

We hesitate to open up in this way because it’s uncomfortable. When the Holy Spirit searches us and convicts us of sin, we rationalize it away. Or, we have been living our life with a particular sin for so long, that it just becomes a part of us and we are calloused.

We forget that Jesus already knows what is in our hearts (John 2:23).

Jesus is waiting for us to invite him into our hearts and cleanse us of our grievous ways. We can’t hide our sins from Jesus; only keep them from the healing power of His presence. And by holding our sin so tightly, we do nothing but embrace our own death, while pushing away the author of life.

We should daily pray as the Psalmist does, and ask God to search our hearts. We should open ourselves up to the real healing that only God can give.

Have you let Jesus look into your heart lately? If not, why are you scared to do so?