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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Resting in God

Resting in God

There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.  Let us labor therefore to enter into this rest.  – Hebrews 4:9-11

I have always been fascinated with the idea of resting in God.  When I normally think of rest, it requires lots of sleeping and lots of doing as little as possible.  The thing is, when I do these things, I don’t necessarily feel rested, at least in the sense of being recharged and ready to take on the world.  I believe there is something in these verses that the vast majority of Christians do not understand.  I believe I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what they mean.

Monday, I will be 44 years old.  As little as 10 years ago, I thought of the 40’s as old.  Well, now that I am here, I have these strange feelings for it.  On one hand, I don’t think I’m that old.  On the other, I feel like if these 44 years have flown by like they have, my life really is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  I will be out of here before I know it.  All I want is to be prepared for the day I stand before Him.  There is a strange transition taking place in my life right now that I’m not sure if it is temporary or long lasting.  “Let us labor to enter into rest” is a paradox that is puzzling me, and yet, I’m experiencing it at the same time.

These last few months have been labor intensive for me.  I don’t just mean job related, I mean kingdom related.  I have poured myself out like never before.  It involved me using the knowledge of God and the Bible that I have developed over the years.  I didn’t spend a lot of time acquiring new knowledge, which I missed greatly.  It all came to a grand finale the last time I preached at Lifeline.  I didn’t labor for the sermon at all.  I just stepped up and poured myself out.  At the end of that sermon, I literally collapsed to the floor and wept like I don’t think I’ve ever wept before.  Never, not even one other time, has that ever happened to me.  It was so strange and so wonderful.  Two men of God came up, put their hands on me, prayed for me, and I was immediately restored.  It was the coolest, craziest thing I have ever experienced.

Having said that, I am still so out of my Bible reading/studying routines right now. Somehow, I think I put too much trust in my routines.  In fact, I know I do.  I feel like when I’m not studying and praying that I’m just a goner that deserves something bad to happen to me.  It’s like I wait for it.  That is not the God presented in the Bible.  There is a time for labor.  Yes, God’s Word must be read.  God’s Word must be understood.  God’s Word must be applied.  A prayer life must be developed.   One must know what God feels like and sounds like.  One must learn His ways.  Not that we can learn these completely, but we can labor for these things and get closer and closer.  Being saved is not the end of spiritual matters.  Being saved is analogous to simply signing up and paying your dues at the gym.  You’ve got to learn to use all that equipment if you want to benefit from it.  Within three to six months, it is so obvious if you use it or not.  In Christianity, people have been signed up at the gym for years, yet most are still spiritually weak.

As usual, I have no idea why I’m writing this.  I am in such an unusual place right now.  I’m doing as little spiritual “working out” as I’ve ever done.  I do miss it like crazy and, after asking God to make me hunger and thirst for His Word and His righteousness, He is certainly responding. I just don’t want to ever forget these last few months where I studied very little, but reaped unbelievably great rewards by pouring myself out.  I don’t even know if that makes any sense.

It’s like a story I heard a long time ago.  God asked this new Christian to push a big rock every day with all of his strength. So, every morning the guy did.  He got totally ripped doing this over the years. His muscles were spectacular.  In time, Satan came along and discouraged the man, “Why keep doing this to yourself?  The rock isn’t moving and you are just wasting your energy.”  The guy listened and got weak.  When the day of battle came, he wasn’t ready.

It seems like American churches are like that.  We are really convinced that spiritual disciplines are useless.  Yet, those disciplines make us spiritually ripped to go out and fight and be victorious.  We have strength that He developed in us as well as His strength. We fight from victory, not for victory.

I remember telling a college friend about Jesus.  He straight up told me that I didn’t get to tell him about Jesus.  He basically called me spiritually weak.  He was right.  I hadn’t been pushing the rock at all.  I wasn’t prepared for that battle.  I always think about that when I don’t feel like pushing the rock.  I got to fight these last few months using the spiritual muscles that I have developed.  I went further in my own strength than I ever thought that I could. When I was spent, God stepped in and backed me up with His strength.  There was obviously no comparison, but I was sure thankful that He let me play as big of a part as He did.

Lord, teach me how to labor so that I may enter into your rest.

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Making Disciples

Go and make disciples. – Matthew 28:19

 

Disciples of Jesus Christ are made.  Somehow, especially in the American version of Christianity, we have come to believe that if a sinner prays a prayer to receive forgiveness, they will magically become disciples.  The parable of the sower plainly refutes this notion.  There was nothing wrong with the seed, it was perfect, but the ground that it fell on determined what happened to it.  The majority of Americans are so used to having everything handed to them that the notion of any effort being made on their part is foreign.  “Go and make disciples” requires effort.

 

Everyone reading this needs to think about this question: 

What is my process for making disciples?  Really think about it before you move on.  I would venture to say that inviting people to church is most people’s plan.  Back in 2001, the Sunday after the 9/11 attacks, the churches were filled.  I can’t prove it, but I think that Sunday had the highest American church attendance on record. More people came looking for hope and looking for answers than at any point in my lifetime.  It did not produce disciples.  After a couple of weeks, things just went right back to normal.

 

Normal in America is just not good.

 

I’m going to offer up a plan for you to try out.  It is certainly not the plan, but I believe it is a plan that works.  Before you even attempt this plan, you have to answer a very serious question of yourself:  Am I a disciple?  I did not ask if you go to church, call yourself a Christian, play on a church sports team, or anything else nominal American Christians do.  I am asking you if you follow Christ regardless of the cost to yourself?  When you fail to follow Him, does it absolutely eat you alive inside until you make it as right as possible?  If you answer yes to these questions, you are a good candidate to make other disciples, if you answer no, then you are pretty much useless in this endeavor.  You need to humble yourself, find a real deal follower of Christ, and ask them to disciple you.  Only disciples can make disciples.

 

Here is the plan:  find at least one other person willing to meet with you on a regular basis for a fixed number of days.  I like the number 60 for some reason.  I imagine that a seed planted in the ground where the ground is regularly being checked on, watered, fertilized, and weeded will have a good chance of making it after 60 days of growth.  The meetings don’t have to be long at all, 10-20 minutes works just fine.  Longer periods of time work well, too.  The main thing is that you make the meetings doable.

 

After the time has been set, be it before work, after work, during lunch break, morning, evening, whenever y’all decide, here is the grand plan . . . are you ready for this?  It is only three simple steps.

 

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Talk about it
  3. Pray

Might I suggest a starting point?  Romans 3:23.  Talk to the person about how “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Put yourself in the same boat as the person or people you are trying to disciple.  Let them know that unless your name is Jesus Christ, you need Jesus Christ. Tell them that you are not even close to where you need to be yourself, but God has changed you, is changing you, and you want them to really know the same God you know.  Make it clear that you don’t want anything from them, but simply want something for them.  Pray for God to make your time together fruitful.

 

After that, it is up to you and God.  Pray for the person or group of people daily.  Ask God what verses you should read.  Ask the Holy Spirit to take over your words as you talk about the scriptures.  Bind the powers of evil.  Believe it or not, you are capable of doing this stuff if you are in Christ.  How do I know?  Because of the last verse of the Great Commission:

 

Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

 

He’s with us.  He’s with you.  There is no excuse.  Go make a disciple.

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