A Word We’ve Forgotten in our Christian Lexicon: Devotional for March 29, 2022

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When you undertake any vocation, hobby or anything else with particular skills, each has a specific lexicon. With those in occupying those particular areas, you speak using those terms with full comprehension–whereas if you were to talk to someone outside of your areas, you’d adjust your vocabulary to they would have some understanding of what you’re talking about. (For instance, as a musician, I could speak of major, minor, Dorian, and Lydian scales; apogiaturias; diminished and augmented chords, etc., with my fellow musicians–but would need to do some significant explaning to those outside that musician camp.

A word that, even among Christian churches, has left the lexicon is the word, “Repent.” It means to turn–in the context of the Scriptures, and specifically Luke 13:1-5, it means to turn from your sin and self and turn to Christ. This belongs in our vocabulary. Why, oh why, has this disappeared from many churches?

When the goal for churches is affirmation of where you are currently, repentance seems to mean that you need to turn from an unaffirming view of yourself. “God loves you just the way you are!” Repentance in the way Jesus speaks of it is, “God loves you where you are, but He also loves you enough not to leave you there but to take you where you need to be.” The implication is that we have not arrived there naturally.

Thus, when Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” we as followers of Jesus (and those who aren’t followers) had better define this word in a crystal clear fashion. We are dead in sin but God makes us alive in Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-10).

So if you hear of preachers avoiding this word or redefining it in way that is contrary to Christ’s call to “repent and believe the gospel,” run! Turn off that TV, leave that service, avoid their YouTube channels and podcasts. Jesus was clear about what He meant. We need clarity from our pulpits, not confusion.

May We Not Be Cowards in Temptation: Devotional for March 16, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Number 34-36; Luke 4

Temptations are incentives to sin. As advertisements entice you to purchase products (whether you need the product or not), temptations entice you to engage in thinking, actions, or words that are not according to God’s law or design.

Spurgeon once said, “The children of God are all subject to temptation; some of them are tempted more than others, but I am persuaded that there is not one, except those who are too young to be conscious of evil, who will enter heaven without having endured some temptation.”

We know from Scripture that Jesus never since sinned (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, one does not sin when tempted. Nor can we say that God tempts anyone. James 1:13-14: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Satan is that “tempter,” still doing what he had always done even from the start. This is a reminder that these temptations are still in play and that, praise God, he always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:12-13).

Mark Twain noted, “There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.” Do not fear temptation–fight it! Fearing it means you’ll take the cowardly path and give in. Read through Luke 4:1-13 and see what Jesus did to resist temptation–and let’s learn from our Master, shall we?

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!

Yes, Leviticus is Relevant–If Approached Rightly: Devotional for February 17, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Leviticus 1-3; Psalm 27; Hebrews 2

Leviticus is the book where many who try to read through the Bible in a year spin out. The perceived irrelevance of this book to our modern day makes many lose interest quickly. Yet, I would say there is much to be gained from an understanding of this book.

This shows God’s holiness. The amount of offerings and laws shows that God is holy and seeks the holiness of His people. We must not allow the concept of grace to deter us from an understanding of His holiness–or the pursuit of our own holiness before God. These offerings sought to cover outward sins–but they could never give anyone a new heart. Thus, the holy One of God, Jesus Christ, came to do what those sacrifices could not–give us a heart of flesh that is sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

This book shows how God’s people are in the world but distinct from the world. Many of the practices God commands His people to do are because the surrounding nations engage in worship that is detestable to Him. So, distinguishing ourselves as God’s people from the world around us–even as we occupy the world God made as a witness to those around us–is an important understanding for followers of Jesus. As Christ lives in us, He makes us less like the world and more like Himself. Thankfully!

So, recognizing Leviticus’ role in Scripture and in our lives will, hopefully, allow you to approach this with less trepidation and more jubilation.

Did Jesus Shed His Godhead When He Came to Earth? Devotional for February 11, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Exodus 28-31; Philippians 2

Christ was in the form of God. Now, those of you who may know the Scriptures may have raised your eyebrows. Given this passage, it won’t be the first time. As Jesus traveled through Samaria, he engaged a woman in conversation. During the conversation, he said to her:

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 truth (John 4:23-24).

So if God is spirit, how can Christ have been in the form of God. The term ‘form’ comes from the Greek word morphe, which can deal with physical form or shape, but also deals with the essential nature of something. When Christ came, He came as the visible display of God in all his essence. He did not need to work toward being God. He did not need to grasp or use his status as being God for his own selfish interests. Isn’t that amazing? We, being mere humans, concoct whatever status we hold or wish and use it as leverage to get our way. Yet Christ, who didn’t need to concoct or grasp at anything, did not leverage this for his own advantage.

Rather than wishing to be ‘full of himself’—something we see inside and outside of the Christian camp—Christ emptied himself. As one preacher put it, he removed the robes of glory and took on the robes of flesh.

Now, if you needed another reason to raise those eyebrows, you have the question of this: “What does it mean that he emptied himself?” Of what? Now, what some will say is that Jesus emptied himself of some of His deity. Yet nothing here mentions any of His divine attributes, much less any of them being lost. Remember, what’s the theme here? His humility. Matthew Harmon rightly says that what Jesus emptied Himself of was prestige (in being with His Father in full glory) and position (He left heaven to come here).

I wouldn’t be a very good preacher or pastor if I didn’t bring up something that Jesus said that makes it seem as if He gave up some of His deity. In Mark 13:32, Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Eyebrow raiser #3: if Jesus did not give up His Godhood, how could there be something that He could not know. Matt Slick rightly says,

“Jesus cooperated with the limitations of humanity and voluntarily did not exercise His attribute of omniscience. He still was divine but was moving and living completely as a man.”

Matt Slick, “Kenosis.”

It’s one of those mysteries, but the implications of this understanding is that Christ was not fully God, and we would then be in our sins if he weren’t. Thankfully, Christ never lost His deity. He maintained His full humanity. Praise God that this is how it must be for us to be free.

God is Working–Even When We Don’t Know How: Devotional for January 28, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five-Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 49-50; Galatians 4

A truth that permeates all of Scripture is this: God works in His people to show the truth from Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” We see it elsewhere, say, in Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In other words, God is working. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir released a song a number of years ago called, “God is working.”

God is working, He’s still working,
God is working even now.
Though we often don’t know just how.
God’s still working, He’s still working
God’s still working even now.

SME, TuneCore (on behalf of Brooklyn Tabernacle Music); Sony ATV Publishing, and 2 Music Rights Societies

There are wide swaths of Joseph’s life that would indicate at first sight that God was absent, yet He was working in Joseph to prepare him for the tasks at hand to help not just God’s people but the entire civilized world. How grateful we are to know that the Creator is still working in and through us!

Here’s the performance of the song mentioned above:

Will You Take the Path God Makes? Devotional for January 27, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five-Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 47-48; Psalm 25; Galatians 3.

God gave us a mind and He intended for us to use our minds to mine out the truths of Scripture. God intends for us to not only be and live as believers but to think Christianly. In all that we do, we do so with our hearts as well as our minds. We are called to love God with our heart, soul, minds, and strength. All too often, Christians, especially in America, have relegated Christianity to a set of feelings–a high regard and respect for church and God.

In verse 5, we see that David recognizes from where his salvation comes: “You are the God of my salvation.” This God is the Pathmaker. He gives us the paths by which we are to walk. He leads us and teaches us. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord. Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me.”

David is a man after God’s own heart. God changes our hearts from wanting to take our own paths or from a fear to take an unknown path (even if that path is good) in order to help us know not just about the paths (that’s coming up) but about ourselves taking these paths. So God is the Pathmaker, yet we have to be the pathtakers of the paths He makes.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, noted “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me.” This encapsulates Psalm 25 and a desire for God to have us be teachable and humble.

A False Gospel is No Gospel at All: Devotional for January 25, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading plan from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 43-44; Psalm 24; Galatians 1

So the recovery of the blessed doctrine of Scripture and Scripture alone is our rule of faith.  And what did Scripture teach?  Scripture teaches that salvation is by ‘grace alone.’  In Galatians 1:6, Paul in sheer exasperation tells the Galatian church,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

Notice Paul says that they are deserting the God who called you “in the grace of Christ” and are turning to a “different gospel.”  Paul is saying, “The grace of Christ is the Gospel.”  The Gospel is the Good News.  The reason we see that the Gospel is such good news is only truly possible when we see that our soul is in such bad shape!  In Galatians 3:10, the Apostle Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 in saying, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”

You say, “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not as bad as so many others are.  I may not be a Christian, but I am a good person!”  You say, “The Book of the Law is not my authority.  I don’t see it like that.”  Well, in a situation like that, your opinion is not only missing the mark but misses the point.  What matters is what God says!  And whether we see it as our authority or not, it will be the standard by which we will be deemed fit for heaven or not. 

During the time of the Reformation, the church taught that salvation could be bought by indulgences.  The Pope at that time (Leo X) wanted to build St. Peter’s Basilica and used this horrid doctrine of indulgences on the people so they could buy salvation for their family members who were in purgatory.  “When a coin clings in the chest, a soul flies up to heavenly rest,” indulgence-advocate John Tetzel would say.  Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church questioning this practice.

Without grace, we have the law looming over us and we live in fear of its dictates.  But we also must not add to grace.  The Reformation was a fight over the Scripture’s teachings of grace alone.  Not grace partly, then us coming along partly so that we may decide for it and ultimately earn it.  Grace stands alone — otherwise, it’s not grace.

From my sermon from October 30, 2005, preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.

Be Thankful the Cross Wasn’t the End: Devotional for January 24, 2022

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Today Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 41-42, Mark 16

In the majority of our Bible translations, Mark 16 contains a rather startling insertion between vv. 8 and 9.

SOME OF THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 16:9-20.

… which means that some of the earliest manuscripts do include this last section. I commend to you this article to delve more into this and to help you keep your confidence that this last section is canonical and belongs in the Gospel of Mark.

What I pray you will consider is this: what if the message of Christianity really ended where Mark 16:8 ends:

“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

That, my friends, is not “good news.” This would be like every other hero who died–followers going to the graveside. The problem with Jesus’ death is that they claimed He was the Messiah and would reign as their King over all other kings and Lord over all other lords. To believe such in Roman times was the death penalty.

Yet, the story does not end with them being “afraid.” In fact, Jesus’ death galvanized the apostles and followers to such a degree that none of them feared death, and nearly all of them (save John) were martyred.

Be thankful for the cross–but be thankful that the cross was not the end. The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Now, let’s go forth in boldness in His name!

Do You Delight in the World More Than the Word? Devotional for January 11, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Genesis 19-20; Psalm 1; Mark 7

The only way to being one who prospers is by pursuing the One who prospered and
prosper. Are you comfortable with sin?

This “blessed man” is one who is happy and content in the covenant relationship of Christ. You see, Satan is crafty and subtle (Genesis 3:1). His aim is to go however methodically is needed in order to have us planted in his preferred spot. John Calvin said, “It is the policy of Satan to insinuate his deceits, in a very crafty way, the prophet, in order that none may be insensibly deceived, shows how by little and little mean
ordinarily induced to turn aside from the right path.”

We must beware of the slippery slope. “Walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” The wicked person is still
moving along in his life but takes counsel with those living outside of God’s prescribed design.

“Stands in the way of sinners.” Here we see the person stopping in the path and lifestyle of those living outside of God’s design purpose.

“Sits in the seat of scoffers”–here we are looking at once pulling up a chair and planting themselves in the habit of a lifestyle. Gradual erosion.

Have you even entertained something that God is not pleased with or is outside of his design, and the slide has been so gradual that you wonder, “How did I get here? What in the world happened to where this is going on?

Yet, where should we plant ourselves? “His delight is in the law of the Lord… on
His law, he meditates day and night.”

Are you comfortable in the company of sin? Or are you comfortable in the delight of His Word?