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It was 1856 and things could not have been going better for Spurgeon.

spurgeonTwenty-two years old, married for about a year, already with twin boys, Spurgeon was also experiencing great blessing in ministry. He was preaching to thousands. On October 19, 1856 some say almost 14,000 gathered to hear him preach, even though only 10,000 fit in the building. They were eager to hear this young pastor who preached the Bible. But there were many jealous people.

That night during the service at around 6 o’clock some people started shouting “fire!”

A stampede broke out, and in the midst of the panic, people trampled over each other causing the death of seven people.

There was no fire.

Because Spurgeon was so distraught over the events that occurred, he was unwilling to preach the next Sunday, he even thought about quitting the ministry altogether. And it wasn’t until the Sunday after that that he was willing to return to the pulpit. Here were his first words as he got up to preach that morning,

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In the sixth grade I decided I wanted to be a diplomat. I wasn’t sure what a diplomat did, but one of them had a daughter who was in my class; her name was Calin. She spoke with an exotic accent, she got to translocate to a new country every few years, and the best part, according to her, was that her family had diplomatic immunity.

“What’s immunity?” I asked. She went on to patiently explain that immunity is like when you get a shot in your arm so you can’t get the flu. Other people can catch the disease, but you can’t, because you are now immune to it. Similarly, diplomatic immunity meant that Calin’s whole family was immune from getting into trouble of any sort.

Calin jovially boasted how her dad could do anything he wanted, break any law, park where he desired, and wouldn’t get a traffic ticket nor go to jail. You can see how this job would appeal to an eleven year old. I had found my vocation. I would happily take a shot in the arm for that superpower any day!

simpson immunity

It never occurred to me that Calin didn’t quite understand the immunity issue until one day when the teacher left the class with explicit instructions to keep quiet and keep working. Upon her return she found Calin out of her chair and chatting away to a friend. As the teacher tugged her by an ear and led her out of the classroom, the last thing I heard her say was a plaintive squeal, “But I have diplomatic immunity!”

 

Representing your country as an ambassador certainly comes with privileges, but it also brings major responsibilities. Which is a concept with which all Christians should be familiar.

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“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 –

“Therefore” points us back to Paul’s thoughts, where he celebrated the truth that even if his earthly tent was torn down—even the constant opposition, conflict, and persecution that results from his ministry results in losing his life—he was absolutely certain that God would one day raise him from the dead in a glorified body (2 Cor 5:1–5). And he could be that certain because God Himself had given him a pledge—an earnest—the down payment of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his heart, guaranteeing that God will one day deliver all the fullness of Paul’s heavenly inheritance (2 Cor 5:5).

The Pledge of the Spirit

The consequence of that Spirit-guaranteed assurance of a resurrection body is “good courage.” Verse 6: “Therefore, being always of good courage.” And then again in verse 8: “We are of good courage, I say.” The word means to be boldly and confidently courageous. Whether the beatings and stonings and imprisonments that would come as a result of preaching the Gospel to the lost, or the distrust and the false accusations and the heartache of broken relationships that would come as a result of ministering to the church—he could face any circumstance with courage and confidence.

And as we lay our lives down in the service of Christ and His church, so can we. There is so much strength and courage to be drawn from the reality that the Holy Spirit of God Himself is dwelling in us, fighting sin in us, warring against the flesh in us, and will one day raise our mortal body from the dead into conformity with the body of Christ’s glory. As long as that Spirit dwells in you, and guides you and leads you into holiness, and empowers you for ministry, you need never despair in the midst of your labors. You can be always of good courage. One commentator said, “The good courage that animates the [believers] is as permanent and serene as the Spirit dwelling within” (Hughes, 175). The Father’s pledge of the Spirit in our hearts is cause for fearless sacrificial ministry.

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Have you ever been disappointed with how small your ministry is?

Perhaps you’re a mom with little children or a small town pastor with a few dozen people, and every once in a while you get an overwhelming sensation of disappointment with how small your ministry is.

This feeling is only multiplied when you are a missionary overseas.  Recently, a team from my church was able to go on a mission trip to Rome, Italy.  With millions of people living in Rome, only 0.01% are evangelical.  This means that Rome is one of the most unreached cities in the world.

small churchOur team of nine people made up about 40% of the Sunday morning church attendance on the Sunday that we were in Rome.  The church of about 20 was missing a family of four, and any time that happens they lose 20% of their congregation.  Nonetheless, it was an incredible service.  People sang with all their hearts, they enjoyed their fellowship together, and—most of all—they loved hearing God’s word.  Perhaps I’m biased since the preacher was my father, but they got to hear an incredible sermon.  They sat under an expositional feast.  The sermon was about Christ’s humiliation out of Philippians 2.  They were fed and fed well.  The most interesting response came from our team.  We were all a little annoyed that only 14 or 15 Italians heard the message.  Thousands upon thousands were living within a square mile of the location where this was happening, but only 15 got to hear this great exposition.  The preacher had spent hours studying the Greek of this passage, hours working on crafting a message and applying a message for these people, and we couldn’t help but wonder was it a waste?

Have you ever felt that way?

This type of thinking is not only wrong and sinful, but it is dangerous, and we really need to check our hearts and learn to be satisfied with the “talents” that God has given us.  Here are a few reasons why we should find satisfaction in whatever ministry God has given to us.

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Today 52% of Britons are celebrating their week old independence from the EU while their American cousins are celebrating their own independence from Britain. Well, they are celebrating having a day off. Citizenship has varying degrees of meaning to various people. But one thing we all hate is when non-citizens pretend to be citizens. Being caught out can be embarrassing and even dangerous, as was discovered by ten illegal aliens in 2010.passports

The FBI called it Operation Ghost Stories. The mission was to detect and expose the ten Russian deep cover agents who had been living in the USA since the mid 90s.

The spies snuck in unnoticed, and using forged birth certificates they assumed American identities. They bought homes in the suburbs of New Jersey, got jobs, enrolled in universities, and started assimilating into American culture, making friends with people in the government, and even having children together to cultivate the façade of innocuous soccer moms and baseball dads.

Their assignment was to channel classified information to Moscow Center. The problem was that they weren’t very good at it.

Fifteen years into the masquerade and they were still empty-handed. They never transmitted a single shred of classified information. They just seemed to be enjoying middle class suburbia while playing spy vs spy with no real effect. Their tradecraft would later be described in a report as sloppy and amateurish.

They would write messages to each other using invisible ink. You know, like kids do. They delivered information by swapping identical briefcases with other agents on the subway. Oooh sneaky. One spy filled out a form with the following fake home address: 99 Fake Street, USA. I kid you not.

And one of them, Richard Murphy aka Vladimir Guryev, had some really bad luck.

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Over the past few weeks, we have been taking a look at how Jeremiah responded to Judah’s suffering at the time of the Babylonian exile, with the goal of learning lessons on how the believer can respond to suffering righteously. We’ve seen that Jeremiah weeps with those who weep, that he acknowledges the role of sin in suffering, that he trusts in God’s absolute sovereignty, and yet never finds fault with God but recognizes the proper enemy. Today we come to the final, and perhaps the most important, lesson that Jeremiah teaches us on suffering well. In the midst of his intense suffering and deep anguish, Jeremiah does not mourn as one who has no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Rather, he sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, the character of God. He hopes in the restoration of God’s people according to His character and His covenant.

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Do you struggle with lack of assurance of salvation?

child faithPerhaps you’ve wrestled with this issue for some time, and have never come to a place where you were satisfied. So many times we complicate the matter and forget that Jesus said, Matthew 18:3 “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Of course let me say at the outset that I deny the idea that you can simply say a prayer and be saved. Lordship salvation is the only type of salvation and there are no other kinds. If we say that we are Christians but have no love for Him, no love for His people, and no love for his Word, the Bible would call us liars and say that the truth is not in us. In this case, lack of assurance would be warranted. Repentance is a necessary component of the Gospel, because when we truly believe we will repent. But there is a sense in which we overcomplicate the Gospel pretty regularly. And those who are saved are the ones who constantly doubt, and those who should be worried, sleep like babies at night. Continue Reading…

When I was a really little kid a cheesy 80s horror movie hit the big screen. It was called Gremlins. The story is about a boy who finds a small, fury, odd-looking creature called a mogwai that seems as harmless as a hamster. But you discover that if this unassuming little pet stays up past midnight, and has a snack, it morphs into a grotesque, evil, brutally violent monster called a Gremlin! Like I said, it was the 80s.Mogwai

I begged my parents to let me watch it, all the kids at school were talking about it. They wisely refused. The movie was a box office hit and soon spawned merchandise like the fluffy toy version of the mogwai. As compensation for not allowing me to see the movie, they bought me this fluffy toy mogwai to add to the posse of teddy bears on my bed.

One day I was at a friend’s house for a sleep over, and his parents said we could rent a movie. We rented Gremlins. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and when I got home I was too scared to go into my room because I now knew what that harmless looking mogwai was capable of if he was fed after midnight. I had nightmares for months, and donated my toy mogwai to some unsuspecting neighbors so that it could torment other little kids and leave me alone.

The Bible talks about another insipid danger which people consider mostly harmless. But what they don’t realize is that it turns into an evil monster when it is fed after midnight. It’s called the sin of anger.

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Having grown up in the densely populated state of New Jersey, I learned to drive in one of the more hostile traffic environments in America. Between the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, and the occasional foray across the George Washington Bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel into some part of New York City—especially Manhattan—I’ve been in my share of close calls and quick decisions. When you add the fact that I now live in Los Angeles and use some of the busiest freeways in the country on a daily basis, it’s rather a miracle that I’m still alive. In fact, there are often times when I consciously thank the Lord while driving that I was spared from this or that potential accident. I certainly know that my passengers have improved their prayer lives while driving with me from time to time.

Because of this absolutely ridiculous vehicular heritage, I often make it a point to observe the different patterns other drivers follow and decisions they make while I’m driving. Sometimes I even think to myself, imagining what I would have done if a driver lost control or decided to change lanes abruptly, or whatever. “If he made a mistake and needed to jump in front of me, could I get out of his way?” Stuff like that.

Now, some people without the NY/NJ/LA driving heritage might think I’m going a little overboard here. And they might be right. But I realize that in certain situations I might have only a fraction of a second to react. I need to be so prepared with a sound way of avoiding an accident that my reactions are just second nature. Because in the moment, I won’t have time to think clearly and dispassionately evaluate my options. The craziness of the moment simply won’t allow it. At least not where I’m driving.

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Several years ago, Justin Taylor linked to a moving and encouraging account of a pastor coming to grips with the fact that his second child, like his first, would be born with spina bifida. Amazingly, this man has found great comfort in rejecting the common notion that God will merely use this bad situation for good, rather than the biblical truth that He has ordained it for His glory and His people’s good.

Stories like these continue to confirm the reality that we must prepare ourselves to undergo suffering and trials righteously. We need to learn how to suffer well. And, as I’ve said over the past couple weeks, the way we do that is by being equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial.

And to that end we’ve been looking to Jeremiah’s experience with devastating suffering at the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and hoping to glean some lessons on how to respond to suffering righteously. First, we learned that a righteous response to others’ suffering includes suffering along with our brothers and sisters who suffer. Secondly, we learned that we must acknowledge the role of sin in our suffering. Today, we find a third lesson from Jeremiah’s righteous response to suffering: we must acknowledge, and trust in, God’s absolute sovereignty even in the unpleasant and painful circumstances.

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