Monday, June 30, 2014



[Photo of a boy at a piano]

 “ Perseverance must finish its work so that you may
be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ”
 —James 1:4

In my many years of teaching, particularly when I dealt with private music students, I found that some children—and parents!—balked at the idea of the necessary time devoted to practice. Some actually thought that they should be able to come to lessons and that would suffice for them to learn to play the piano, or whatever instrument they tried to learn.

This kind of approach for learning how to play an instrument never works. The students make no progress. Every lesson ends up nearly like the first. These students clearly don’t take their music lessons seriously. They do not understand that practice makes all the difference in growth.

Very much like a dedicated music teacher, God wants His children to make progress in the faith. Just as coming to a weekly lesson without practice fails to equip a young person to become a musician, coming to church once a week—or less—never produces mature believers either. As recorded in 2 Peter 3:18 God expects His children to:

“…grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Proverbs 2:1-5 records Solomon, in teaching his son, encouraged him saying:

“…store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

Paul, in teaching young Timothy, spoke these words, as recorded in 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV:

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Paul wasn’t even with Timothy to teach him when this was written in a letter. Timothy obviously had “homework” to do.

Our homework, or “practice,” helps make us mature followers of Christ. Such growth takes place over a very long time—a lifetime, in fact.

There is no short cut. Private Bible study, reading books by wise Christians, and prayer, journaling, fasting, and other Christian disciplines will develop faith over time. We should clearly understand that we must diligently apply our hearts and minds to becoming all God has made us to be!



Monday, June 23, 2014

False Advertising


[Photo of a Potato Chip Ad]

 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,
to mind your own business and to work with
your hands, just as we told you, so that your
daily life may win the respect of outsiders and
so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
 —1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

I remember the unpleasant experience of driving behind a small car which spewed a pungent odor into the air. The car sported on its rear bumper a slogan which read, “Protect the Environment!” Years later, while waiting at a stop light, I saw a very dirty white van drive by with the business name on the side, “Compulsive Cleaners.”

Both of these experiences reminded me that, as Christians who shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, we ought always to live according to the brand we carry. When we slip-up or sin, we bring shame on the Lord to whom we belong. Though we often do sin, we should set an example of humility and Christ”s love to others by confessing our sins and seeking to make things right.

Recognizing the tightness of the bond that binds us to our Savior, Paul admonished the Ephesians—and us as well—in Ephesians 4:1-2:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

People watch Christians to see whether their lives stack up to their confession. Those on the outside of the church like to complain that the Body of Christ is full of hypocrites. We should be careful to not stoke that fire!

We can accomplish the goal of truth in our “advertising” by coming to the Lord in humility every morning, confessing that we can never live the Christ-life without Him.

We desperately need God’s Holy Spirit to indwell and control us throughout every day, so that our lives, like a book that others read, will be lived to the praise of His glory!



Monday, June 16, 2014

Slaying the Dragon


[Photo of a dragon breathing down fire]

 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
 —James 4:7

David and Karen Mains, in their marvelous children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom, 1 tell a story of Amanda, a princess, who, despite warnings, takes home a dragon egg, hatches it, and makes a pet of the baby dragon. At first she enjoys playing with the little guy and does everything she can to domesticate it. But, before she realizes it, the dragon has become much too formidable for her to control and she has to kill it to save her own life.

Private sins are like that. We try to housebreak them and keep them under our control. Our secret fantasies, the so-called minor offenses we hide and whitewash, never stay the same. Like the dragon, they grow too large for us. The gossip we share with just one friend becomes too easy to share with many more. The anger we allow to spill out in occasional verbal outbursts at others soon becomes a way of life.

Recently I read this quote from J. C. Ryle in the book, Diamonds in the Dust 2 by Joni Eareckson Tada:

“We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself in its true colors. Never when we are tempted will we hear sin say to us, ‘I am your deadly enemy…I want to ruin your life.’ That’s not how it works. Sin, instead, comes to us like Judas with a kiss. It comes to us like Joab with outstretched hands and flattering words. Sin, in its beginnings, seems harmless enough—like David walking idly on his palace roof which happened to overlook the bedroom of a woman. You and I may give wickedness smooth-sounding names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God.”

We need to remember that the dragon has a burning breath and a dangerous tail. When we first entertain the idea of letting him near us, or even domesticating him for our pleasure, we need to slam the door on him and flee.

We can never hope to serve God effectively with known sins in our lives. The longer we let them grow, the more attached we become to them, and the harder it gets to slay them.

Please pray with me:

Oh, Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit power to recognize the first sign of a deadly sin and flee from it. Help us stay close to You, hour by hour, so that we can be protected by Your loving arms and have the power You give to resist the devil. Amen.


1 Mains, David and Karen. Tales of the Kingdom (Kingdom Tales, Book 1). Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing Company, ©1983, Chapter 10.
2 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Diamonds in the Dust. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, ©1993, Devotional for June 8th.



Monday, June 9, 2014

Loaded Wagons


[Photo of a horse-drawn wagon]

 “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits.”
 —Psalm 68:19

This time of year reminds me of the June days of my childhood when one farm wagon after another would come back to the barn loaded with fresh hay. Even if the winter had been especially long or cold and the spring wet and windy, these days made up for it with the green grass and the beautiful blue skies.

This mental picture calls to my mind the words of Charles Spurgeon’s when he writes of the dreaded clouds and rain, the dark skies and dull days. These same days of rain and clouds yield for us rich stores of God’s grace. Spurgeon reminds us:

“Our Lord’s love letters often come to us in black-edged envelopes. His wagons rumble, but they are loaded with benefits.” 1

Our God loves to make glorious results from our heavy trials, to teach us His grace in our struggles and pain, and to fill us up with joy in His ability to load us up with blessings.

Many years ago, when faced with a trial, I remember how a particular hymn 2 moved me to trust God in faith. That hymn says:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Bind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.

Be encouraged, my friend. The Lord sees the bright days ahead and wants you to trust that He will bring them to pass!


1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Faith’s Checkbook. Seaside, OR: Watchmaker Publishing. © 2013. Devotional for May 21st.
2 Cowper, William. God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Public Domain.



Monday, June 2, 2014

It’s Who You Know


[Photo of a donkey cart]

 “You may ask me for anything
in my name, and I will do it.”
 —John 14:13

Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, in one of her charming tales, tells of walking to school as a child in Botswana, Africa. 1 The trip took all of an hour, except when she could get a ride on a mule-drawn water cart that occasionally passed that way.

The other children would enviously watch her clamber up on the driver’s seat beside the man who had worked with her father as a young man. The children would ask why Precious could ride and they couldn’t. Precious, all of eight years old, overwhelmed with embarrassment would ask the driver why he treated her specially.

“You are the daughter of Obed Ramotswe,” said the driver. “He is a great man. That is why you are riding up here.” At that age Precious knew her father was a wonderful man, and she adored him, but she had no idea of how highly people thought of him.

Reading that story reminded me of the special place we hold in God’s heart—those of us who have been called and have received redemption through Jesus. We hold so many privileges because of our relation to Him. When we use His name in prayer, in the way He intended, things begin to happen.

However, like Precious Ramotswe and her father Obed, even as we display appropriate adoration for our Heavenly Father, we know that the high honor of using His name holds with it the responsibility to ask wisely.

Some Bible teachers have said when we read about His “name,” we should really understand that to mean His “nature,” as well. We ask “according to His nature.”

Those who ask in Jesus’ name are those who want to represent Him in this world and, according to John 14, want to do even greater things than He did while on earth. I don’t think Jesus had in mind that if we ask for diamond bracelets or popularity that He would count those as legitimate requests!

Not only should we pray according to God’s will, as much as we know it, we can claim the promises He gives us in His word. Therefore, we need to spend time knowing Him in order to know His nature and His name.

How earnestly do we pray? God also requires earnest, devoted, heartfelt prayer of us. The dictionary defines “earnest” as “resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.” This definition tracks very well with God’s instruction through the Prophet, recorded in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You shall seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”
Earnest prayer has an important role to play in ministering to people’s needs. Acts 12:5 reports that:

“ Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

God also hears the prayers of those who obey Him. 1 John 3:21-22 tells us:

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”

So, we have a great responsibility in prayer. We should not pray casually, nor without understanding God’s will. Neither should we pray rote repetitions, as Jesus mentioned in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus instructs his disciples:

“ And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
There it is! Jesus refers to such repetitious prayer as “babbling!”

Yes, because we are sons and daughters of God through Jesus, we have great privileges. We should be grateful and we should pray, understanding the responsibility that privilege carries with it.

Praise be to God!


1 Story from Smith, Alexander McCall. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. New York: Pantheon Books/Random House. © 2009.