Category Archives: Devotional

Faith AND Works?

When I grew up, many people tried to claim that all I had to do was believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer and I was good to go… forever. While that’s a great starting point, I was challenged by James’ words: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” -James 2:17 (NLT)

And today, I ran across this Christian writer from antiquity who summed up the knowledge part of faith and the role of the “works” of faith really well:

“Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.” – St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, p 126, #12.

Maybe “faith put into practice” is a better way of thinking about faith and works! If our faith is based on on our head knowledge, it’s dead! But if we can put the faith we believe into practice, then we’re REALLY living out our faith!

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Ask In My Name

Chambers COMPLETE WORKSYesterday I came across The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, a book I picked up back in 2002. One section is the book of prayers published after Chambers’ death under the title Knocking at God’s Door. Chambers’ wife created this book by pulling some of her husband’s personal, spiritual prayers he had written out at the beginning of each day into his diaries.

The prayer she assigned to today picks up its theme from John 14:14 (Revised Version 1885):

“If ye shall ask Me anything in My Name, that will I do” (RV). It is all so mysterious, O Lord, and all so simple — I pray, and believe that Thou dost create something in answer to and by the very means of my prayer, that was not in existence before.”

I’ve known this verse for years… but never thought about it quite like this. My prayer is the impetus for God to create an answer for whatever it is I prayed about! My prayer is the spark that gets the answer started! NO WONDER the book of James (4:2) says that the reason we don’t get what we most desire or need is because we don’t ask for it! The engine doesn’t do much until it is started!

I also am aware that there is that disclaimer in there that says we don’t get just anything we ask for… but rather, when we ask in Jesus’ name, the Father will do whatever we ask. I take it that means that if I know something is clearly NOT in God’s will, then I can expect no result from praying for that thing. Asking in His name implies I come alongside Jesus and ask for the very things he’s offered… the very things that carry out his will on earth… and I get to be a part of what He’s doing!

–Chambers, Oswald. The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Discovery House Publishers, associated with RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan. copyright 2000. (Complete Works

–Chambers, Oswald. Knocking at God’s Door: A Little Book of Prayers. 1957. in Complete Works pages 635-652. August 19th entry found on page 646.

 

 

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Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”           — Proverbs 1:7

I heard a radio preacher talk about the fear of the Lord yesterday. i expected him to go to start talking about the fearful, terrified, condemnation-style fear and how God was, well, almost like a bully that we’d be afraid of running into. But he didn’t! Instead, he talked about the kind of fear that I would call reverence.

And then this morning, I opened up a devotional called Augustine Day By Day and today’s entry, “Chaste Fear,” was bringing out this same approach.

Just from the fact that you try to avoid evil, you improve yourself, and you begin to desire what is good. When you begin to desire what is good, there will be a chaste fear in you.

That fear by which you fear being cast into hell with the devil is not yet chaste, since it does not come from the love of God but from fear of punishment. But when you fear God in the sense that you do not wish to lose Him, you embrace Him, and you desire to enjoy Him.

YES!

When I was growing up, so many of the gospel presentations were not GOOD News, but rather FEARFUL WARNINGS!

  • ‘You better make the right decision or you’ll go to Hell!’
  • ‘If you accept Jesus, you’ll be saved from Hell!’
  • ‘Turn or Burn!’
  • ‘Make sure you’ve got you’ve signed up for your eternal  fire insurance!’

I have one fellow pastor and friend who is always dwelling on the negatives. And yes, I know that seems like a generalization, but in this case it’s pretty accurate! He tries to draw people’s attention to how horrible, bad, awful, and sinful the world is around us. And that’s his attempt to share the “good” news! I love him and he has the sweetest wife, but I can only be around him for short periods of time and generally avoid reading anything he writes. It’s all pessimism and fear based. I don’t need more of that in my life!

It seems to me that that radio preacher (I don’t even know who he was) and St. Augustine have the healthier, more Godly approach. Yes there is a gratitude for what Jesus saves us from eternally in regards to punishment, that’s NOT the motivation for my walk with Christ or my understanding of God. Instead, there is a JOY in getting to know God better as I walk with Christ… as I learn to be His disciple and become more like Him. My relationship becomes more and more about love and respect and gratitude and reverence… not fear of punishment.

After all, the definition of “gospel” is supposed to be “GOOD news.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

entry for July 29 “Chaste Fear” in Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Catholic Book Publishing:New York, 1986, page 113. Quote drawn from Augustine’s sermon on 1 John 9, 5.

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Knowledge and Humilty 1

When I haven’t been working on funerals or preparing for Holy Week over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Christian ideal of humilty. Today follows that pattern, but I’m in Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ this time.

In chapter 2 of book 1, he starts with the idea that “knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God.”

He then compares an unlearned, humble peasant who fears God with a learned person who is proud of their learning but neglects their own soul. The peasant wins hands down, a Kempis writes.

For centuries theologians have quipped that pride was the first sin, and I never understood why. But as I have reread this section, it finally hit me. Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve weren’t content with God knowing best and them only knowing good. They wanted to be like God and know both good and evil. There was a developing pride that said ‘We want to know it all!’

a Kempis writes that the knowledge we really ought to be seeking is self-knowledge.

True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight?

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13, verses 1-3:

 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

In God’s view, based on God’s standard, my great learning is no advantage… unless I have love. My pride in my vast knowledge is a hindrance, not an asset.

 

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Augustine: Without Humility

Augustine Day By DayIn 1998 I picked up a little daily devotional book called: Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.: 1986). I’ve used it as an everyday companion a couple different years, but I just happened to run across it again a couple of weeks ago and started reading some of the entries on which I had made notes. One of the first ones that caught me was titled “Without Humility Pride Will Win.”

This Augustine quote was the entry for January 8th and was drawn from Letter 118,22:

“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility.

“Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”

This has been a good reminder during this last week for me. On Saturday, my wife and I met with the Pastor-parish committee of the new church I’ll be moving to in June (First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA). The District Superintendent was there to introduce us and at one point he’s reading off a list of qualities, about me, that had made the bishop and his cabinet believe I might just be the right next pastor for this church. I can’t list what they were, I wasn’t taking notes. But I remember thinking as he finished, “Man, I’d like to meet THAT guy!”

Did he exaggerate? No. But I always see my flaws, my overweight body, and my list of things I want to do better. Augustine’s warning to do self-examination with “first, … humility, second, … humility, and third, … humility” is good counsel!

Now if we could just infuse our presidential candidates with a little bit of humility… !

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First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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Do Not Quarrel Along The Way

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:

“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”

My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).

Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)

There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)

Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.

The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!

In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (First Corinthians 10:13)

After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!

And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!

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