A Big Change

 

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  — 1 Corinthians 3:16

 

So another school year is upon us.  This begins my 23rdyear of being a teacher.  I have now worked as a teacher for exactly half of my life.  I didn’t like teaching at first.  I didn’t feel like I was good at it at all. Fortunately, after I started really taking my walk with God seriously, He changed me and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. Reading Colossians 3:23 was my big light bulb moment:  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.Simply reading those words made me realize just how poorly I treated my job.  When I applied them, it was like entering a whole new world.  Students began to change, I began to change, and the overall experience was just better.

 

Years later, here I am thinking about how I’m going to work another school year.  My first thought was to just pray the same prayer that has been working, “Lord, help me work like I’m working for you.”  But, I felt like He put the brakes on that prayer. As I wondered why, I thought of the verse I’m using today.  This year (calendar year) has been amazing so far.  I’ve seen students flood the altar to be filled with the Spirit.  I’ve seen adults flood the altar to be filled with the Spirit.  However, for me, as I have preached and preached my heart out, it has left me spiritually drained.  I haven’t felt like I’ve had much left to give.  I haven’t loved His Word like I once did.  I hate feeling this way.  I never stop talking to Him, it just seems I’m always asking Him to get me back to where I was.  In true God fashion, He is letting me know that He doesn’t want me where I used to be, He wants to take me someplace new.

 

As I prayed, “Lord, help me work like I’m working for you,” I felt like He said, “How about working like I live in you?”  I haven’t even had time to process this, but my mind is reeling just like it did years ago when I got the revelation to work like I was working for Him.  Right off the bat, can you imagine how pleasurable work would be, any work, with an acute awareness of the presence of God right there with you?  1 Corinthians 3:16 is just screaming at me, “Don’t you know this is possible?”

 

Lord, I want so badly to be granted a new awareness of Your Presence. I can see all the benefits of working this way.  The ideas are passing through my mind so fast that I can’t possibly process them all. I pray that you will unfold them one by one as they become necessary.  How wonderful would it be for students to have a Holy Spirit filled teacher that didn’t just work for you, but worked with an awareness of your Presence in them?  Help me, Lord!  Help all teachers who will read this.  Fill us with your Spirit and allow us to keep a marvelous sense of Your Presence at all times.

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When God Does It

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9

So I had bus training yesterday and today (Monday and Tuesday).  It isn’t the funnest of ways to start my school year, but it is necessary if I’m going to keep driving a school bus.  Anyway, I met a lady at the training today.  We happened to have attended the same church, just at different times and under different preachers.  Somehow, we got onto the subject of how people change for God, or rather, how God goes about changing people.

I remember after I got saved that several well-meaning (I think) Christians told me all the things I needed to change since I was now a Christian.  I don’t know why, but it always just made me angry.  In many cases, I even knew they were right, I just either didn’t like being told by them what I needed to do, or I didn’t think they had the right to tell me what to do in the first place.  Whatever it was, I would always leave thinking, “I hope I never come across like that.”

Here is the interesting thing:  Many of those things, I would go on to change . . . just like “those Christians” told me in the first place.  The closer I got to God and the more I studied His Word, it was like He was telling me personally . . . not necessarily in words, just in a way that I understood.  When it came from Him, I wantedto change.  When it came from other (what I felt like were) pharisaical Christians, there was just no way.  I guess I just wasn’t in a place to hear it from them.

The point is, I think, that we need to be super-careful the way we come across as Christians.  My fellow bus driver trainee and I talked about this for a while.  For example, just because you’re convicted to wear certain clothes or dress a particular way gives you no right to project your personal convictions onto others. You can ask them why they wear what they wear, but it can’t come off as condemning or condescending whatsoever. It is just very likely to leave them thinking, “If that is a Christian . . . I don’t ever want to be one.”  This simply should never ever be the case.

This world provides an infinite amount of opportunities to offend people.  I could log onto Facebook and find 10 people who just love to start feces (this is a Christian blog) in the first hundred posts.  Here is the thing: some of them call themselves Christians.  In John 17:21, Jesus actually prayed that we would be unified as Christians.  He went on to say that the world would actually believe as a result of our unification.  How awesome would it be if we all just realized our personal need for Christ, went after Him, fell in love with Him, let Him do all the convicting in our hearts and minds, let Him do all the changing in our lives, and stopped trying to make other people these mini versions of ourselves.  Everybody doesn’t have to have the same convictions. Everybody doesn’t struggle with the same sins.  Each person has plenty of his or her own junk to deal with.  Just point them toward Christ and His Holy Word and let the Holy Spirit do what He does best.

Clean us up through regeneration and sanctification.

I am crucified with Christ:  nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:  and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  – Galatians 2:20

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Separating the Crowd

 

The disciples came to Him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”   He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” – Matthew 13:10-11

 

Every time big crowds surrounded Jesus, He said something to severely thin them out.  Every time I read about it, I think about how almost all preachers in America do the opposite.  We tend to focus on obtaining huge, shallow crowds, while Jesus focused on a small number who would go deep with Him.  At this particular moment, the disciples are basically asking Him,  “Why in the world do you talk like this and run people off?”  Moments before, Jesus let an entire crowd know that He is completely uninterested in watering seeds that will never produce.

 

At one point in my life, I would have taken verse 11 and been discouraged.  It sounds kind of arbitrary for the kingdom of heaven to be given to one, but not the other.  It sounds like God is random when He picks disciples.  Many times, especially when I feel like I am failing as a Christian, I wonder if maybe the kingdom of heaven hasn’t been given to me.  I have come to realize that this is the thief coming to do what he does:  steal, kill, and destroy my Christian life.

 

Jesus ran off a lot of people that day simply by telling a story that nobody understood in the moment . . . His disciples included.  He simply told of a farmer who scattered seed and categorized where the seed fell:

 

Hard ground that never produced

Stony ground where it sprouted a little before dying

Weedy ground where it grew, but never actually produced

Good ground where it actually produced

 

Upon completion of His story, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  In other words, “If you get it, you get it.”  Obviously, many walked away saying, “I traveled all this way for this?  This is the amazing teacher everyone is talking about?”  When they all went back home, I imagine people inquired, “What did Jesus say?”  They probably responded with something like; “He told some weird story about a farmer planting some seeds.  It was a total waste of time.”

 

Now, if you made it this far in the devotional, here is where this gets really good.  In the two verses I’m using today there is a great secret. It is a secret that can absolutely let you know that you know that you are a disciple of God.  Are you ready for this?

 

What makes a disciple a disciple?  Look back at the verses.  Look at the first seven words:  The disciples came to Him and asked. Keep in mind; they didn’t understand the parable either.  Yet, they stuck around and asked Jesus about it.  He proceeded to explain everything in great detail.  Check out this one major word in the response of Jesus . . . it has been given to you.  They didn’t have to labor at all for understanding.   All they had to do was stick around, ask, and listen.

 

I realize that the Bible is a long and difficult book to understand.  If you’re just starting out, just like all of the people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the sower, it can seem overwhelming.  For five years after becoming a Christian, this was my excuse for not reading it.  When my life was not producing any of the fruits of the Spirit, I decided to ask Jesus about it.  I went to a church service where the preacher talked about reading God’s Word for myself. He said that if I read 3 chapters a day, I’d finish it in around a year.  I had never thought to do the math, break it down into chunks, and read it. All of a sudden, it became doable.

 

Here is the other thing he said:  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it.  I began to do these things and I began to understand the things of God. The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven had been given to a nobody 22-year old from Salem, SC.  It was not because I was anything special. It was because I stuck around and asked Him to help me understand these things He talks about in His Word.

 

What about you?  Will you keep your Bible closed this week? Or, will you breathe a prayer, “God, speak to me through your Holy Word,” then open it up, and go for it? If you do, then the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you.

 

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The Worst of the Curse

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  – Genesis 3:5

 

I have always thought that the worst part of the curse we all received when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the fact that we had to die.  Death is coming for all of us.  We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but it is coming. The more I read Facebook posts, watch the news, talk politics with people, and just observe human behavior, I think I believe differently.  Death is not the worst part of the curse.  The worst part of the curse is the fact that every single human born on this planet has his or her own idea of what is good and what is evil.

 

I remember watching “Roots” with a group of students for Black History Month.  We had just watched men, women and children be captured and transported in the worst possible conditions.  Almost all the students were saying, “I just can’t believe that is how it was!  I can’t believe anyone could do that to another human being.”  Then, one kid piped up in all sincerity.  He wasn’t trying to be mean or start junk at all. He said, “C’mon y’all . . . they are just trying to make a living for their families.”  Before everyone erupted, there was just a gasp, a pause, and a look at this kid that said, “What in the world is wrong with you?”

 

From the 16thto the 19thcentury, many people thought it was perfectly fine to basically kidnap people and have them work as slaves, while others thought it was absolutely appalling.  Today, we certainly do not lack for opinions.  Somebody thinks selling humans for sexual activity is “just trying to make a living for their families,” while others want to hunt the people who do this down.  Somebody thinks abortion is a perfectly fine medical procedure while another thinks it is the worst thing we do as a civilized society.  Somebody thinks that their religion is the only one that is right, while another believes that all religions should be banned.  Humans all over the world are all over the place when it comes to what we really believe in our hearts as right and wrong.

 

I think about how far I’ve come in my own life.  When I was younger, some people in my life influenced me to believe that black people were inferior to white people.  I believed that there was nothing wrong with having sex outside of marriage.  I believed that the music I listened to had absolutely no effect on my heart and mind.  I believed that cuss words were “just words.”  I believed that cheating was no big deal.  I believed that as long as you didn’t get caught, stealing wasn’t that big of a deal.  I had no problem telling lies.  All the while, plenty of people who believed differently tried to teach me otherwise.

 

Every person has his or her own idea of what is good and what is evil.  I would venture to say that just as each person is uniquely different in so many ways, our ideas of what is right and what is wrong would be included.  No two people believe exactly the same on every single issue.

 

So what are we to do?

 

The greatest thing I’ve ever done is give my life over to Jesus Christ.  I thought as a 16 year-old kid that I was only giving my soul to Him and that I’d get to go to heaven when I died.  Turns out that was only part of the deal.  I eventually gave him my mind.  The living Word of God is the ultimate judge of what we think in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  When it comes down to what I think and what God says, it doesn’t matter what I believe, His Word is the end of the matter.  But, just like I believe this, there are others who believe the Bible has done more damage to society than good.  Like I said, this is the worst part of the curse. People honestly believe that they know better than God.  I did too at one point in my life.  However, I am so thankful that God has proven to me over and over and over again that He really does know best.

 

I write this morning I believe with a John the Baptist anointing and simply say to all who are willing to read, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Satan tricked Adam and Eve.  Don’t let him trick you.  What you believe and why you believe it matters!

 

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.  – Acts 16:31

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By His Spirit

 

The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  – Judges 3:10

 

So I got up this morning without a Wednesday Morning Devotional ready to go.  I thought about posting an old one, but didn’t really feel like God was in that.  I asked Him to help me crank one out . . . nothing.

 

In this verse, Othniel, the younger brother of Caleb became Israel’s Judge.  Israel had forsaken God to serve other gods, and the nation was in turmoil.  When they finally cried out to the Lord for deliverance, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel.  Through him, the nation was saved.

 

This morning, when I couldn’t write a WMD, I just decided to go to Total Fitness to work out.  I got on the treadmill, hit “Worship Playlist” or something like that, and started running my mile before I started lifting. This is the first thing I heard:

 

By Your Spirit I will rise

From the ashes of defeat

The resurrected King is resurrecting me

In Your Name I come alive

To declare Your victory

The resurrected King is resurrecting me

 

I had heard this song before, but for some reason, right there on the treadmill, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me.  Fortunately, the crowd was small and they were focused on doing their own thing, because I was streaming tears and weeping like crazy.  Normally this happens when I am alone, but this is the second time in a row it has happened in public.  I asked God, “Not that I’m complaining, because this is awesome! But, why do this right here?”

 

I felt like He said, “Look around, Adam.”  So, I started looking around.  I saw very fit people staying in their own little world doing their own thing.  I saw obvious beginners struggling like crazy. Then, I saw a very fit person helping an unfit person.  God said, “Here is a picture of the church in America.”  I think I know what He was saying.  We have churches full of spiritually “fit” people continuing to keep to themselves.  There are very few laborers in the field helping with the great harvest of souls. It is time for the spiritually fit to rise up and help disciple the ones who aren’t prepared for the battle that is to come.  This is how we will win the next generation.  Remember, it was Caleb’s younger brother that ended up receiving God’s Spirit and fighting victoriously.  It very well could be our younger brothers and sisters in Christ that lead our country back to victory in Jesus.  What are you doing to prepare them?

 

Lord, may every person reading this find a spiritually unfit person and begin talking about the things of God.  May you use us to equip others and may your Spirit fall upon us that we might deliver our fellow Americans from this sin-cursed world.  We love you, Lord.  By your Spirit we will rise to declare the victory.

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For the Sake of Your Prayers

The end of all things is near, therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. – 1 Peter 4:7

When Peter wrote this, I believe he was thinking back all those years to when he denied his Lord three times.  In Matthew 26:40, Jesus had specifically asked Peter, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?”  Even though Jesus tried to tell him, Peter didn’t realize it was the last night on Earth he would physically be with Jesus.  Had he really known . . . he certainly would have done things differently.

The end of all things is near

No matter what age you are as you read this, you will be out of here before you realize it.  It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  This is happening much, much sooner than we think.  Our lives are vapors that appear just for a moment, and then vanish (James 4:14).  John says in 1 John 1:14 that the world and all its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  Isn’t it amazing how little we think of the will of God?  Just yesterday, I spent so much time doing the things of this world. I’m not even talking of what most people would call sinful stuff.  I’m just talking of television, social media, sports, games, music, and countless other worldly activities that fill our minds constantly on a day-to-day basis.  The Neilson Company reported three years ago that adults in the United States spend an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day staring at a screen of some sort.  I’m not saying screens are bad any more than Peter going to sleep was bad. But, sleepiness cost Peter his last night with Jesus.  Even in his old age, Peter remembered this and issued a warning to us.

Therefore be alert and of sober mind

I know it sounds like, “Big deal if I engage in a little of the world’s entertainment!”  Well, it is a big deal.  Peter is telling us that we must be alert and of sober mind at all times. I used to think this verse only applied to alcohol, drugs, or other substances that messed with our minds, but it can be so much simpler than that.  All Peter and the other disciples did on that last night with Jesus was be really sleepy. They missed their last prayer session with Him present.  I’ve found that after I have sat through some movie or television show, God does not come back to my mind very quickly.  I don’t think that I could immediately go and pray in His presence for any substantial amount of time.  Why? My mind has been going nuts processing all those pictures that have been rapidly firing through my brain.  It is just in no condition to hear Him and His still, small voice.

So that you may pray

I watched television last night and went straight to bed without saying anything to God.  What if that had been my last chance on Earth to talk to Him?  People every day fall asleep for the last time and do not wake up.  The sin that lives in you and me assumes at all times that we will have another day to live.  How would I have lived yesterday if I had known it was my last day on this planet?

Let’s just say yesterday would have been a lot different.

Lord, one day my faith will become sight.  Right now, I have the opportunity to pray.  In heaven, prayer is unnecessary.  Right now, I have the opportunity to witness to others about the great salvation that you offer.  In heaven, there will be nobody to tell.  Help me take advantages of these opportunities while I am on Earth.  I don’t want to fill my mind with hours and hours of entertainment that has zero eternal value.  Help me, Lord to disconnect so much more than I do from this world and connect with you.  The time is so short.  Keep me sober minded so that I want to pray.

 

Amen

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Heart, Soul, and Mind

Heart, Soul, and Mind

 

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” – Matthew 22:37

 

So I’ve always wondered if there was a distinction between the heart, soul, and mind.  I have asked God to show me the difference over the years. In the past year or so, I guess I have forgotten that I asked Him this question.  In true God fashion, I believe that He has resurrected the question, and decided to answer it for me this week in true, God fashion.

 

Before I continue, for years I think I believed that I had to love God to get to heaven.  Because I was aware that I didn’t love Him for many years, I thought I was always choosing worldly things over Him (which I was), and I deservedly was headed straight for hell.  This is just the way I thought of God.  I realize now that in the formative years of Christianity, the main objective is to hold onto that core belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. This belief becomes more and more solidified as you hear the Word of God.  This belief turns into faith.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).  The by-product of this combination of holding on to this belief in Jesus and hearing the Word of God is love.  In a similar way, I met Tonya, got to know her, and then fell in love with her.  The result has been this wonderful marriage of 17 and half years.  I met Jesus when I was 16.  I really learned about Him over the next decade or so by hearing solid preaching and reading His Word for myself.  At some point, I fell in love.  He went from being my Savior, to being my Lord.  He even went from being my Lord, to being my first love.

 

I say that to say this: I’m going through a really weird phase right now.  My religious routines are being wrecked.  God is not allowing me comfort or rest in my former methods of reading His Word, praying to Him, and even preparing sermons for Him.  He is placing me in these situations where I have to rely on what I’ve already learned.  I just thought of this, but it really is like taking a test in school.  You were supposed to learn the material, now it is time to prove that you learned it by taking the test.

 

Having said that, I really desire to find comfort in the reading of His Word and just that wonder of His quiet, still, small voice.  I long for it.  I find myself asking God, “Is there something wrong with me?”  I believe He has taken this time to show me the distinction between heart, soul, and mind.  I see heart, soul, and mind as a Venn diagram.  Heart is the left circle and encompasses my emotion and feelings. Mind is the right circle that encompasses my thinking and actually using my brain.  The middle part caused by the overlap is my soul . . . my entire inner being.   I feel like I’m “firing on all cylinders” when this middle overlapping part is lit up. When it is lit up, I’m getting the best of both worlds.

 

I have gone through so many seasons of life doing the Christian duty of reading and studying the Word, yet void of heart, void of emotion.  I wanted to experience God.  I wanted to weep in His overwhelming presence.  I wanted to feel Him.  Eventually, I got to the point where I’d pray to God and say something like this, “God, I don’t just want to dutifully read Your Word, I want to experience You!”  I would stop reading for a while and maybe just listen to my favorite preachers, or listen to powerful worship music.  Inevitably, I’d experience Him . . . love Him with my heart, if you will.  That would propel me to want to read His Word again and I’d feel for a while like I was back to loving Him with my soul . . . my entire being.  This sequence of events has happened so many times in my life.

 

This is the first time in my life that God has made it work in reverse.  I’m not studying like I should, or at least like I normally do. Yet, I’m experiencing Him on unprecedented levels.  The heart side of the Venn diagram is lit up, yet, I feel like something is missing.  I feel like my mind is starving.  I want that steady stream of His Word flowing through my mind.  I long for it.  That kind of longing only comes from Him.  I’m asking Him to give me a perfect love for Him and His Word.

 

My wife has repeatedly told me that I have an addictive personality resulting in an “all or nothing” mentality.  It has affected me in enough areas of my life now that I am seeing that she is right. This mentality serves me well in many areas.  This mentality is also detrimental in other areas.  What God is teaching me this morning is to enjoy Him in all seasons. There will be times of experiencing Him . . . my heart will burst with love for Him.  There will be times of study and prayer . . . I will set my mind upon Him.  These are not mutually exclusive.  They work harmoniously to feed my soul, my entire inner being, and sets it ablaze for my one, true love who will never leave me nor forsake me.

 

Lord, thank you for showing me the distinction between heart, soul, and mind.  Sometimes I think I get caught up in running with you and running for you.  I don’t think you are asking me to run sprints for you, but you are simply asking me to walk.  Help me get back to just taking it one day at a time.  I get so far ahead of myself sometimes that I forget to just enjoy the moment I’m in right now.  Help me forget what is behind and look straight ahead.  Right now, I have such peace in my heart.  Let me keep it today as long as possible.  I love you, Lord. 

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