Archives For Devotional

“Would you like your receipt?”

I’m asked this question daily: the grocery store, Starbucks, even the automated payment screen at the gas station. I don’t really like clutter so I usually say “no thanks.” However, there are some stores where you don’t have a choice. You NEED to take your receipt.

Consider a trip to the following stores: (in order of my preference of them) Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club. It is the practice of all of these stores to check your receipt at the door before you can leave. In fact, if you don’t have your receipt you cannot leave with all of the stuff in your cart – all of a sudden this piece of paper has more value than you thought. The receipt serves as proof that you bought the items with which you are trying to leave the store.

The picture of a receipt is a helpful illustration of the importance of the resurrection. Consider two texts in Paul’s letter to the Romans, paying particular attention to the underlined words:

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Have you ever stopped to think about how often you are exposed to God’s word?

Every time you open up the Bible for time with the Lord, the God of the universe speaks. Every time you go to small group and discuss a passage of Scripture He is speaking. When you quote verses in your head that you have memorized, He is talking. When exposed to His word He tells you who He is, He tells you how to live, He tells you what other people are like, He even tells you about the future.

It’s a dangerous thing to be exposed to the word of God, because every time one of two things happen. Either you will become more like Jesus Christ, or you will be hardened to the truth and become cold towards Jesus.

Steve Lawson in his biography of John Calvin says,

“We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God because it has proceeded from Him alone, and has nothing of man mixed with it.” This was the unshakable foundation of Calvin’s preaching-the authority of divinely inspired Scripture. He firmly believed that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

Because of how dangerous it is to be exposed to Scripture, James, the brother of Christ, in James 1:19 is concerned for the Church. He’s already warned them to be prepared for trials, and temptation and now he wants them to be prepared to receive the word of God. In this verse he gives three short imperatives, that will remind us about the importance of how to react to God’s word when exposed to it.

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Once upon a time there was a girl named Goldilocks…you know the rest. With her insufferable nonchalance for private property, she samples a hijacked bowl of loot and declares it overheated. The next was unappetisingly tepid. But the third offering was deemed to be just right.

Like our picky little porridge connoisseur, cosmologists who explore our planetary neighborhood have also encountered an unexpected unique state of copacetic conditions. Our pale blue dot of a planet is the only chunk of real estate we know of that boasts an inexplicably perfect balance of temperature, gravity, atmospheric pressure, galactic location, solar proximity, axis tilt, rotation speed, and countless other marvels of serendipity. In short, Earth is the only known habitat for humanity that can be confidently described as just right.

Cosmologists, despite their proclivity for abstruse nomenclature, refer to this unparalleled equilibrium rather quaintly as: “the Goldilocks Effect.”balancing galaxy

For scientists who don’t acknowledge God’s wisdom and power in creation, the Goldilocks Effect is merely a description of what is essentially a lucky break on a cosmic scale. But if I were an insouciant atheist physicist (say that three times!) there would be a more pressing question on my agenda than “How did things get just right?” And that is the question “What keeps it all just right?”

Yes, this primordial stew of life support ended up just right. But for how long?
What sustains this vital balance? The answer doesn’t require the brain of an Einstein or a Hawking. The answer is in black and white (and red?) in the New Testament.

Exhibit A…

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March 17, 2016

A menu of rewards

by Jesse Johnson

When one of my daughters loses a tooth, I reward her with chocolate. A dentist might find this ironic—“Do you want her to lose the rest of them?”—but I feel that the reward is an essential element of this rite-of-passage.

A wiggly tooth is frightening to a child. The idea of the tooth falling out…well, that can be downright terrifying. And my normal go-to parental response of: “suck it up girl, this happens to everyone!” doesn’t quite assuage the fears.

But chocolate does. In fact, my girls so love chocolate that they actually look forward to loosing their teeth. The existence of the reward took something that induced fear, and it transformed the trepidation into expectation.

Yet the existence of a reward does not make the inevitable conditional. It is not as if a child could say, “Since I don’t like chocolate, I guess I’ll just keep all of my teeth.” No, the teeth are coming out regardless of weather or not the girl actually wants the reward.

With this analogy in mind, consider why Jesus ends each of Revelation’s seven letters with the promise of a reward. In this section of scripture (Revelation 2-3) Jesus writes to a few bad churches, a few excellent churches, and a few decent churches. He tells some of them that wrath is coming, some of them that rescue is coming, but to all of them he describes a Christians’ future rewards.

In fact, if you look at the end of all seven letters, Jesus describes fifteen different rewards:   Continue Reading…

Truman ShowDirector Peter Weir’s modern masterpiece, The Truman Show (1998), is about a kid who is adopted by a broadcasting network. Unbeknown to the young Truman—but relished by anyone with a cable subscription—his every waking moment is being broadcast on live TV.

Truman’s whole life is spent in an island town (which is actually an elaborate movie set) and his entire family, friendship circle, and everyone he interacts with are all paid actors. Their lines are fed to them by improvising scriptwriters via earpieces.

This masquerade goes on for decades with flawless execution, except for a few comical glitches like stage lights falling from heaven and fame-seekers who crash the set.

The perpetual ruse effectively dupes the adult Truman, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, into living a life in which he is literally the center of attention all day, every day. The sun rises and sets for him and the weather is altered to create the director’s desired ambience. Truman is the reason for the season…and for everything else that happens in his world.

It’s a poignant and thought-provoking story.

But sadly, there is real-life tragi-comedy being played out in society today. Many people pass their days as if they are a self-aware version of Truman. They function as if they are meant to be the center of the universe. They actually get upset when the backdrop, like the weather, doesn’t meet their expectations. They become disenchanted when personal plans and desires are not quickly championed by everyone else. They have a near existential crisis when the economy, the political scene, or the people in their lives don’t behave the way their self-directed script would prefer. It’s almost as if they are disappointed that they can’t fire the actors who refuse to collaborate with their script.

Some people behave exactly as if they were raised to believe everyone and everything exists for them.

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griping monkUpon Gino’s acceptance into a monastic order which emphasizes silence he is told that he will be allowed to speak only two words to the abbot every ten years. On his first night he finds that a rat has invaded his mattress and most of the stuffing is gone. He can barely sleep on the thin mattress. Being very dedicated, he endures the situation for a decade. When finally in front of the abbot, Gino cautiously offers, “Mattress thin.”

Presently workers arrive with a brand new mattress. However, upon their departure Gino discovers that they’ve accidentally broken his window. Icy winds blow all winter and torrential rains flow all summer.

Ten years later Gino despondently reports: “Window broken.” The window is immediately repaired to Gino’s delight, as he anticipates his first night of cozy sleep in two decades.

However, climbing into bed he realizes that the workmen have accidentally broken the leg of his bed. The bed is tilted at a crazy angle and all night he finds himself sliding down. Ten more years pass slowly. Finally, Gino finds himself before the abbot again and declares: “I quit!” The head monk snaps back, “Good riddance! Since you arrived you’ve done nothing but complain!”

After pondering my previous two posts in this mini-series (here and here) on complaining some of you are probably feeling a bit like Gino—that if you say two wrong words, you’ll be branded a complainer. I hope to offer some relief.

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I love fishing. It’s a huge thrill when the fishing pole catches and instead of a shoe or algae, there’s finally a fish on the other end. It’s fascinating though to put yourself in the shoes of a fish, or I should say his fins. Fish after fish falls for the same lure and none of them learn from each others mistakes. It seems as if humans are the same. Human after human falls for the worlds lies, and despite the obvious fact that harm is on the way, we love the empty temporary pleasure that sin brings. This pattern of luring and enticement reminds me of Paul’s words in Galatians chapter 6 where we, as Christians, continue to sin like a fish bites the line.

fish on hookThe fish can pull as hard as it can, sometimes the fish can get away on its own but what it usually needs is for someone to come and cut the line or even better, to carefully take the hook out of their mouth.

Paul in Galatians 6:1-2 gives us guidelines for biblical confrontation. He tells us exactly what we need to know in order to properly help other believers who are caught in sin. Like a hopeless fish, Paul says, that as believers, we must take the time and care to help each other when we fall in sin. In fact he gives us 4 requirements before we would ever confront our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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quarantine oopsThe US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has on its website an article on what to do to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. I’m not making this up.

In a blog post titled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” the director of the CDC wrote: “Take a zombie apocalypse for example…..You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The rest of the article explains how the American people should prepare for hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and yes, the spread of flesh-eating walking dead monsters.

This creative campaign to raise awareness about the need to prepare for any natural disaster was a huge success; it went viral, as it were. The zombie post caused the site’s traffic to spike from an unremarkable flatline of 3,000 views per week to a seismic 30,000 hits a day. The ingenuity of the campaign was lost on some curmudgeons who carped in the comments section about tax dollars being wasted on zombie preparedness. *Sigh*

Pastors are always on the alert to another viral threat, just as pernicious as any infectious outbreak. It lurks in the pews and lobbies of churches the world over. This disease spreads from person to person, draining churches of joy, unity, and holiness. An outbreak is hard to contain and the disease itself is difficult to cure.

I’m referring of course to the seditious sin of grumbling and complaining.

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Screen-Shot-2013-11-01-at-4.22.50-PMThe big bang. Call me crazy, but it does not appear to me that explosions end in great order and design. As a young teenager (guess the moral direction of this story) we used to place these things called M80s into various apparatuses. Then, we would proceed to light the fuse of the M80s, run, witness extraordinary carnage, laugh, and then repeat (do not try this at home).

And there is something I noticed from those several years of pyro-depravity experimentations: the apparatus into which the M80 was placed never proceeded from a state of less order and design to more. It was quite the opposite. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that impersonal big bangs never caused extraordinary order.

For this reason, the impersonal Big Bang theory has been confusing as an explanation for the existence of the universe. Things like the intense orderliness, organization, and design within the universe seem contrary. Now, I understand that the Big Bang theory is significantly more complex than depraved teenagers and M80s and there are intellectually brilliant individuals who believe in the theory. Even so, the wonder of things like our solar system, galaxy, and universe seem to defy an impersonal theory of explosion. And even more, Scripture presents a far more plausible explanation; that all things came into being through the eternally existing Lord Jesus Christ (Gen. 1:1, John 1:3, Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2).

Consider with me for a moment some of the extraordinary glories of God in our universe:

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I’m preparing to spend the Spring preaching the second half of 2 Samuel (15-22) to my congregation.  This is my letter to the congregation introducing this often overlooked passage of Scripture, and explaining what I hope they learn from our time in it:

spittingThings Fall Apart is a gripping novel about how Nigeria changed when Christianity was introduced in the early 1900’s. It is a book of chaos, and it depicts desperate people trying to appease unknown tribal gods—gods who occasionally require fathers to kill their own children. By the end of the novel, nothing is left standing. African traditions have been obliterated, tribal customs abolished, and the entire culture is changed forever.

The book of 2 Samuel has always reminded me of Things Fall Apart. It begins with David in charge, and as the plot moves forward we see David increasing his grip on the kingdom. He gets Jerusalem to be the capital, and gets the ark moved in from the wilderness—albeit with much difficulty. He fulfills his covenant with Jonathan, he goes to war, and he conquers Israel’s enemies.

But in the middle of his book, things begin to fall apart. David sins sexually, covers it up with murder, and then is cornered by Yahweh’s prophet. Once cornered, he repents and receives God’s forgiveness, but his sin still planted the seeds of destruction.   Continue Reading…