Beware of Sanitizing the Cross: Devotional for March 7, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Numbers 8-11; Colossians 1

We must beware of sanitizing the cross. At times, you may have used the word “excruciating.” Oh, that concert was excruciating. Oh that pain was excruciating. If you put that word beside the word “crucifixion,” you see the connection. This touches on the pain, the agony of a crucifixion.

We also see something in the realm of architecture. A number of years ago, when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting was in Orlando, our family went to St. Andrew’s Chapel where one of my favorite theologians, R.C. Sproul, pastored. I loved the layout of the sanctuary. Once you walked in from the vestibule, you see a long room with two smaller portions on the side, then it would come back in as it reached the pulpit area. This was not a mere architectural license taken by the builder. If you were to look at that room from above, you would see that the sanctuary itself was in the shape of a cross—known as cruciform. The point was clear: just as the building had a cruciform layout, so should our lives.

I was thinking about this today. The words “excruciating” which means pain and agony have the same form as a form of architecture intentionally used for a church. To the ones on the outside looking in, how in the world could anyone—anyone—celebrate or build their church or their lives around such an object?

Why would Paul tell the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). And later, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Why would Paul, knowing that the Corinthians were impressed with the orators of the day, choose to come among them “with lofty speech or wisdom” deciding “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Nothing?

That’s right–nothing! Everything he did in life and ministry was tethered to the cross. May that be the same for us!

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Pretenders on Sunday? Devotional for January 26, 2022

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Today’s Bible Reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 45-46, Psalm 108, Galatians 2

In his commentary on Galatians, Philip Ryken noted, “When the fear of people overcomes the fear of God, we are likely to deny the gospel. Unless we are willing to stand up for God at work on Monday, we are just pretending at church on Sunday.” Does that describe us? Even strong Christians will struggle with the fear of man—so recognize it and fight against it (Galatians 2:11-14). 

The pillars of the church in Jerusalem received Paul and his gospel ministry to the Gentiles, even giving “the right hand of fellowship to Barnabus and me” (2:9).  All that was needed by Paul was not to give them the Law of Moses or to circumcise, but to simply “remember the poor.”

Yet, in Antioch, where only 10% of the population was Jewish, leaving the Christian church with a multicultural flavor—of which Peter fully embraced (see Acts 10-11) when the “men … from James” came, Peter “separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (2:12).  His influence caused others to do the same—even the “son of encouragement,” Barnabas, Paul’s partner!

Beware of how you influence and who you influenceLeaders (whether paid or influential) can influence by fleshy attributes:  looks, personality, intellect, age, etc.  Yet, people are people, and all people are fallen.  We need the concrete truth of the gospel to anchor us and provide our footing. 

The apostle Paul let the fear of God and the gospel of God drive his actions—even as the new guy standing up to Peter.  Paul reminded Peter that this was not merely an ethnic or religious ritual issue.  “Their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (2:14).   Peter was being inconsistent and a coward.  It was OK for him to eat with Gentiles, but not OK for Gentiles to eat with Jews. 

Pretenders on Sunday? We must let the gospel drive all of our actions! Do we?

Be Kind, But Not Just For Kindness’ Sake: Good Morning Devotional for 12.17.2021

December 17 (JPG)

Good morning! Christ calls us to be kind to others based on the gospel work He worked in you. By God’s grace and power, we must better our bitter attitude. We must forgive as God forgave you. In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus puts the groceries on the bottom shelf:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

It’s not easy to forgive someone who has hurt you, gossiped about you, abandoned you, betrayed you, or disavowed you. But remember, these and more did the disciples do to Jesus–but He forgave them and restored them (all except one, who did not repent). 

Chuck Colson told the story (at the 1994 Ligonier Conference in Dallas, Texas) of a prison camp where 20 men came in from digging and lined their shovels up on the wall as they always did for the counting. When they were counted, the officer found only 19. He demanded that the one who didn’t bring his shovel step forward. None did. Then he threatened that if no one stepped forward, he would choose ten men at random and shoot them. A young man of about 19 stepped forward and was immediately taken a few paces away and shot as an example to the others. But then as they were dismissing, the shovels were counted again and there were 20 after all. The officer had miscounted. John Piper sums up the point:

The difference between what that boy did for his friends and what Jesus did for you is that Jesus knew which ten men he was dying for and he knew that we were all unworthy. But he did it anyway, because he had a very special covenant love for you that is far above human love.

Our kindness to others is not based on our worthiness or theirs. Our kindness is based on the goodness and faithfulness that Christ extended and presently extends to us.

Good Morning Devo for 9.28.2021: Working Out What God Worked In

Good morning! We are able to work out in obedience what God has work in us in diligence. We could not work out something of this nature that God could work in.  Again, only God can work in our salvation.   The pit was too deep and too dark for us to escape.  The waves were about to wash us under.  Our sin was as an avalanche ready to bury us, with no way for us to tunnel our way out.

But God has worked in us.  We can only obey him well because of His work in us.  We can only love each other, as Paul called the Philippian church his ‘beloved,’ because of the love God first worked in us (1 John 4:19).  And look at that little prepositional phrase.  Paul did not simply God would work in the world, or that God would work in the church (although in other places he has indicated this work in other places), but the Word says, “it is God who works in you.”  

What has God worked in you? Praise Him for what He’s done and tell others! That’s another incredible way to work out what God has worked in!

Good Morning Devo for 9.20.2021: Christ-Like Humility is Never a Weakness

September 20 (JPG)

Good morning!   In our culture, as in most cultures, humility is a sign of weakness.  Being humble is the equivalent of milquetoast, ho-hum.  If you were to pick a cartoon character, we would likely think of Eeyore.  But that’s not the case in God’s economy.  Humility and meekness are strengths.  The opposite of humility is pride—pride is destructive because of its reliance on self to find answers and solve problems.  Pride is the source of all idolatry—for pride sets up one’s own self as god.  You are the center of the universe—the world admires this, until you get in the way of someone else’s universe. 

Yet, our life is fragile.  We do all we can to avoid this simple principle of life, but it’s true.  No matter how well we eat, no matter how much we exercise, no matter how many vitamins or pills we take, we find out in a hurry that life is fragile.

We are fragile physically.  Everytime we watch a football game, we see that these specimens flying at each other on the field can do some damage.  No one is immune!  Not a quarter goes by where someone isn’t limping, isn’t having their ‘bell rung,’ or any other physical issue.  The mildest car accident can cause an injury to the neck or back that can linger for years.  Some are struggling with physical illnesses.  We don’t need any reminders of the fragility of our physical bodies.

We can be fragile emotionally.  We hear men and women who return from combat with post traumatic stress disorder who struggle to adapt to civilian life.  We hear of teenagers who take their lives because their parents divorced or their boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them.  We hear of those who fall into addictions to escape either their situations or themselves (either sexual or substance addictions). 

We can be fragile spiritually.  Every one of us is looking for meaning and purpose in life.  This is a spiritual issue.  Everyone of us at one point has asked themselves, “Why am I here?  Where do I belong?  Where is life taking me?”  This brings an understanding of how finite our lives are, but also can be beneficial!   We realize that this is not all there is, but we also begin to see where the true treasure lies—and that treasure does not come from us.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, we read:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Recognizing our humility due to Christ’s strength is of great strength to us!

Good Morning Devo for 9.10.2021: The Folly of Approaching God in “Your Truth”

September 10 (JPG)

Good morning! How astonishing it is that the transcendent God of heaven is near to all who call on him in truth. What a reason for praise and thanksgiving! As we pursue Him in His Word and in prayer, we recognize more and more of His righteous ways (Psalm 145:17) and thus our prayers are tailored to His revealed ways.

When Jesus approached the Samaritan woman, He told her the nature of worship:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

Jesus in John 4:23-24

Too many in our culture invoke God’s name based upon, as Oprah Winfrey coined, “their truth.” “Well, I believe God is like….” Beware! You are not only violating the Third Commandment, you are replacing God’s truth with yours. And as Paul noted in Romans:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The Apostle Paul in Romans 9:20

Approach God in the truth of His Word and you will find Him near!

Matthew Perry, Ph.D., is Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO.