Archives For Devotional

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…

In a now famous hall of fame speech Deion Sanders told us exactly what motivated him to become one of the greatest football players of all time. What kept him sprinting when he was exhausted? What got him up at four am every morning when he was tired? What gave him the extra strength to do ten more push-ups when the average person would just give up? The answer? His Mama. He said,

I was ashamed of my Mama. My Mama worked in a hospital. She pushed a cart in a hospital. I was ashamed of my Mama, who sacrificed everything for me to make sure I was best-dressed in school. One of my friends in high school saw her pushing a cart and clowned me because of my Mama. So I made a pledge to myself that I don’t care what it takes, I’m not gonna do anything illegal, but my Mama would never have to work another day of her life.

As motivated as Deion Sanders was, his motivation paled in comparison to the disciples. Peter, John and the rest were arguably the most motivated people in history. They were bold, courageous and literally turning the world upside down.

Peter CrucifixionThen you add John 20:18 and it changes everything. Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.

Jesus tells Peter that he will die on a cross. That is the only way to explain that verse. Well, reading his five sermons in Acts (Acts 2:14-39; Acts 3:11-4:4; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32; Acts 10:34-43) takes a whole new meaning when you include the fact that he knew he could die at any moment. This could be his last sermon.

So what motivated these guys? How can we be as bold as they were?

Well in order to see what motivated them we don’t need to look further than the first eleven verses of the book of Acts. Here are four powerful truths that made the disciples the boldest individuals in history.

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“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Over the past few Fridays, we’ve looked at the first three of those designations and the implications they have for the relationship between fellow believers (see here: brethren, beloved, longed for). Today we come to the final two, which are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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david harp

The book of Psalms begins with the pillars of God’s authority and the reality of his glory. Psalm 1 tells us that blessing comes from wisdom and worship, while Psalm 2 describes God’s authority while it gives a warning for those who would revolt against him.

Then comes Psalms 3–9. Here the book shifts focus, and begins to tell a story of glory lost and glory realized through the life experiences of David.

Psalm 3 introduces the first title in the book of Psalms: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Abshalom his son” (3:1; cf. 2 Sam 15–19). The psalm highlights many people who surround David (3:2, 3, 7, and 8). At the same time, David calls to Yahweh to awake, save him, strike the chin of his enemies and smash their teeth (3:8). As subsequent psalms detail, David particularly feels the burden shame, lamenting the loss of his glory while many enemies surround him.

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February 1, 2016

Prepare to Die

by Clint Archer

inigo montoy name tagWe all need to take to heart the well-rehearsed injunction of the iconic swordsman, Iñigo Montoya, to the six-fingered man: “Prepare to die!” One way to apply this sage advice is to craft a nifty epitaph for your tombstone. This prevents eccentric relatives with a penchant for rhyming from composing one of these actual examples:

  • Shakespeare: ‘Blessed be he who leaves these stones and cursed be he who moves my bones.’ It is a travesty that the late Bard lies under any prose other than iambic pentameter.
  • In Silver City cemetery, Nevada: ‘Here lies Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger but slow on the draw.’
  • 1880 Nantucket Massachusetts. ‘Under the sod and under the trees lies the body of Jonathan Pease. He is not here, there’s only the pod, Pease shelled out and went to God.’
  • Boothill Cemetery Tombstone Arizona, ‘Here lies Les Moore, 4 slugs from a 44. No less, no more.’

Another way to prepare to die is to ponder the wisdom of Psalm 49.


According to the CIA World Factbook 28 of the 29 countries with life expectancies of 60 or less are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I live. Yikes. There are 40 countries boasting octogenarians as their average (Monaco tops the list at 90!). Life expectancy in the USA is 80 (or by reason of pills and procedures 85). But, sadly, there is no nation on earth known for its immortality. The death rate worldwide still holds steady at 100% (Elijah and Enoch notwithstanding).

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Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
– Philippians 4:1 –

Phil 1;8Over the last few weeks, I’ve been examining each term of endearment that Paul lists in Philippians 4:1, by which he describes his relationship to the believers in the church of Philippi. By looking at this example, we are enriching our understanding of the true nature of the fellowship which fellow believers enjoy with one another. We’ve seen that we are brothers and sisters—marked by a unique, objective, familial bond as a result of our union with Christ. And we’ve seen that we are not merely to tolerate our brothers and sisters, but to love them.

A third term of endearment that teaches us much about the nature of Christian fellowship is best translated as a longer phrase: those whom I long for.

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January 21, 2016

Beloved Brethren

by Mike Riccardi

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
– Philippians 4:1 –

BelovedAs glorious as it is to be brothers and sisters in Christ, that metaphor alone does not exhaust the description of believers’ relationship to one another. It goes even deeper than that. It’s true that the familial bond wrapped up in the term “brethren” is objective; you don’t have a choice who your brothers and sisters are. And sometimes you don’t always like them, do you? And almost as if the Apostle Paul is thinking that very thing, he adds a second term of endearment to describe his relationship with his fellow-believers in Philippi. They are beloved.

Look again at verse 1. Literally, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for….” And then after he gives them the exhortation to “stand firm in the Lord,” again, at the end of the verse, Paul repeats this designation and calls them “my beloved” again. The relationship he has with the Philippians is not one of feuding brothers and sisters; there’s no thought of, “Well, you’re my brother and so I guess I’m stuck with you.” No. He brackets the verse by expressing his deep and heartfelt love for them.

This word that the NAS translates “beloved” is the adjective form of the Greek word agape, which scholars describe as “the richest, deepest, and strongest Greek word for love.” William Hendriksen writes that this love is “deep-seated, self-sacrificing, thorough, intelligent, and purposeful—a love in which the entire personality takes part.”

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“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”
– Philippians 4:1 –

FamilyBefore Paul arrives at the crescendo of his exhortation to stand firm in our battle against sin, he couches that exhortation in a flood of the most warmly affectionate and tenderly endearing language found in any of his letters. And the first term of endearment that Paul uses to designate his relationship with the Philippians is brethren. Most fundamentally, Christians relate to one another as brothers and sisters. At the most basic level of our relationships with one another, we are marked by a unique, familial bond.

This designation dominates Paul’s thinking throughout his letters, especially in this letter to the Philippians. He addresses them as brethren six other times (1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:8, 21). Although it’s well-used, it’s anything but just some sort of filler-word for the Apostle Paul. Sometimes I get the impression that we’ve begun to treat the term “brother” or “sister” as a sort of throw-away word, evacuated of all of its meaning. “Hey brother.” “What’s going on, brother?” But it wasn’t like that for Paul. He used the term purposefully, knowing that it would engender tenderness and affection from his readers by reminding them of their spiritual union in belonging to the family of God. On the basis of the atoning work of Christ on behalf of His people, all those who are united to the Son by faith have been adopted into the family of our Heavenly Father (cf. Gal 3:26; 4:5).

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You’re probably already familiar with CrossFit, because one of the cardinal rules of the subculture is to talk incessantly about CrossFit. If you have been in earshot of a CrossFitter you are au fait with the jargon (“My Fran needs work, but I killed Cindy yesterday”), the discrimination against wheat and sugar (“Is that fajita Paleo?”), and the disdain for regular gyms (“Fitness isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about functionality, so why do they have mirrors everywhere?”)Rich Froning Tattoo

And then there’s the tattoos. Rich Froning, officially the fittest man on earth, popularized the Bible verse tattoo among Christian CrossFitters with his Galatians 6:14 reference in bold Celtic script down his side. Just once I’d like to see someone with 1 Timothy 4:8 inked on their squishy torso: “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

But if we concede that there are parallels between bodily and spiritual training, there are a couple of helpful principles we can learn from the CrossFit phenomenon.

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New Year 2016As we enter the beginning of the New Year, many people are reflecting on the previous year and how they’ve lived their lives, and are making resolutions and determinations to live better in the coming year, whatever that may mean. The process seems to involve a kind of refocusing on things that are important to us so that when we will have come to the end of this next year we will look even more favorably on it than t20he previous one.

As we anticipate the challenges and opportunities of 2016, I want to write an open letter of sorts that focuses on the most important realities in the world. And the addressee of my open letter is you. No matter who you are—whether young in the faith, a seasoned saint, or not a believer in Jesus at all; whether we’re good friends, have only spoken a few times, or if I don’t know you from Adam—I can think of nothing more profitable that I’d like to say directly to you. And perhaps the most interesting distinctive about this open letter for 2016 is that it’s nothing new. It’s the same old message for a brand new year, because it’s the only message that is sufficient to transcend all times and cultures. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll read carefully.

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