Daily Devotional

Week Four, Day Six

sbaker : October 18, 2014 4:00 am

It is spiritual-exercise-Saturday. Today’s Christian discipline is confession. The primary word in the New Testament for this practice is “homologia.” It literally means to “say the same thing.” It involves taking what is hidden in us and declaring it publicly. In other words, there is something good and right about the practice of confessing our sins. Confession means to agree with what God has already said about us—that we are broken, sinful, and in need of the kind of repair that only He can give. Confession involves saying it aloud to someone. For example, when those large crowds came out to John the Baptist in the wilderness to hear him proclaim the Kingdom of God, they confessed their sins to him as they were being baptized (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5).

Admittedly, there are two other kinds of confessions in the Scriptures. First, there is the kind of confession that declares faith in Christ. (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:38; I John 4:15) There is, also a third kind of confession that we don’t often consider. There is something we would call a confession of praise. (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21)

The kind of confession we are talking about on this Saturday sets us free from the overwhelming burden of hiding anger, resentment, hate, and other self-destructive, sinful behavior. Our video teaching this week on Elisha’s response to the Syrians (II Kings 6) who wished him harm is at the heart of our exercise today. So, let’s work up a holy sweat.

1. Who are your Syrians? Who has hurt you? Who has pestered and provoked you? Who, in return, have you harmed and been Syrian-like toward? Don’t hurry this. Name them. Who have you thought of as an enemy? Speak that name or names aloud to God.

2. If you have a trusted friend in whom you can speak confidentially, confess to them these feelings of anger and hurt. Anger and hurt are not sinful, but can lead to sin. The real enemy, Satan, can twist them and use them to his advantage. Confession is the way out.

3. Most of us do not forgive easily or quickly. To put it in Jesus-like terms, “It is hard to bless those who curse you.” It is hard to love our enemies. Spend some time reflecting on what has made this particular person or persons hard for you to forgive. Why do you continue to carry this in your heart?

4. Give careful reflection to I John 1:8-10. What part have we played in harboring ill-will toward another? Again, there is a way out of that spiritual quicksand. It is called confession.

5. Remember that the main plot line of the center Gospel narrative from Genesis to Revelation is God’s defeat of evil and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth. Our enemy is Satan, mortally wounded at the cross and ultimately defeated at Christ’s final consummation. Our enemy is not the dad who may have abused us or the mother who was incapable of showing affection, or the uncle who did unspeakable things, etc. Our enemy is the devil and his forces (Ephesians 6:12ff).

6. Perhaps a prayerful reading of Proverbs 25:21-22 would help us on this Saturday’s workout routine. Paul quotes this in Romans 12:20 while the insane and demonic Nero was on the throne. Don’t miss this. The wise person finds in himself what he condemns in others and confesses it openly. That’s how ridiculous love is shared with an enemy.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Four, Day Five

sbaker : October 17, 2014 4:00 am

Many years ago, I was on a flight home from a great mission trip. I was in that sweet spot of exhaustion and exhilaration, reminiscing about God’s work in and through me. In a quick glance across the aisle, I locked eyes with a man in his late fifties who had a similar countenance about him. After a cordial “hello” and a few pleasantries, he began to tell me about his family and the son he “once had.” My inquisitive look propelled him into a story of loss that he us both in tears.

This man was a pastor in a small town. On a regular study day in his office, his two boys were heading home from school on their bus route. When let off at their stop, the brothers bounded out of the bus toward home. The older crossed in front of the bus while the younger stopped in front of the bus to tie his shoe. Then…the unthinkable happened. The bus driver closed the door and lurched forward to the next drop-off, unaware of the boy hunkered down next to the front bumper. In a flash, the bus crushed the little boy to death.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I could see the father was eager to continue his story with an incredible mixture of grief and joy. He explained that he was only blocks from the accident and was the first to embrace the bloody little body of his baby boy. Kneeling down in the street, he was overcome with emotion and cried out to God. In a moment of sweet surrender, he began to worship God! Oblivious to what was happening around him, he sang praises to God and spoke of His character and love. As he did, the crowds gathered around in astonishment.

That very day before the bus driver could be ridiculed, shamed, and plagued with guilt, the father sent her a bouquet of flowers with a kind note of forgiveness and grace. Instead of a lawsuit, she was offered mercy. Instead of receiving hate, she was overcome with a wave of unexpected love. The father privately and publicly expressed grace to the very woman who took the life of his son. And the people responded by the hundreds to the grace of God as He used a hope-filled funeral to draw people to Himself.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14)

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17)

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…” (Romans 12:19-20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Let’s bring this home to where you and I live. This section of Scripture is an astonishing assault to the “get mad and get even” mentality of our society. The very contrast highlights a kingdom value that is demonstrated best by the King Himself! God the Father leads by example both then and now. He continues to beckon us to resemble Him and represent Him as we ridiculously love even those who don’t love us. As you continue to wrestle with the concepts of this chapter, look for opportunities to love those that threaten, oppose, and harm you. Your reaction to their aggression might be their first glance at our Glorious God.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Four, Day Four

sbaker : October 16, 2014 4:00 am

“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting, you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out” (Ephesians 6:10-18 from The Message).

Our life as followers of Christ is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Do we really believe this is for eternity? Gary Witherall came face to face with that question in 2002 as a missionary in Lebanon with his wife Bonnie. Gary received a frantic call from a friend to come quickly to the local medical clinic. Bonnie had just been shot. When Gary arrived, he tried to get into the room where Bonnie was being attended. Dozens of soldiers pushed him back and eventually wrestled him down to the ground in order to keep him from seeing his beloved wife. He was then told that a Muslim extremist had shot and killed her.

Gary was placed in another room in order to give him some time to absorb Bonnie’s death. Anger and frustration stirred inside of him. As Gary was crying his heart out in the room, he heard a still, small voice very clearly saying, “Gary, there’s a seed planted in your heart today. That seed can grow into hatred or bitterness, or it can grow into love and forgiveness. Choose!” At the memorial for his wife, he told the world press, “I forgive this man because Jesus has forgiven me.” Gary, because of the ridiculous love shown to him by Jesus, chose to forgive and to show that same ridiculous love to his wife’s murderer. The Gospel was preached powerfully in Lebanon and throughout the world that day because of the ridiculous love Gary shared.

Spend a couple of minutes going back through the Ephesians 6 passage. Let’s allow the Word of truth to remind us who our real enemy is. Those in strategic opposition to us are not made of flesh and blood. Make some space for interceding on behalf of those who live in opposition to Jesus. Find creative ways to BLESS them this week. The acrostic will help us. Begin by praying for them. Listen to their stories and their needs. Eat with them. Jesus often ate with those were in opposition to Him. Serve them. This is where the ridiculous love of Christ can make all the difference. Share your story and the Story of Good News with them. Spiritual warfare doesn’t have to lead to hate and resentment. It can be the way into authentically sharing the ridiculous love of Jesus.

This devotion in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Four, Day Three

sbaker : October 15, 2014 4:00 am

On a road trip this past spring, I read an obscure and remarkable story from the seventh chapter of II Kings to my family. Imagine the scene as I pleaded with our teens to unplug from the familiarity of their i-Pods in order to read an entire chapter of the Old Testament!

Imagine the intensity of famine that would lead a couple of mothers to discuss which of their kids would be boiled and eaten first (see II Kings 6:24-33)! To be inside the gates of a city ravaged by this level of scarcity would be the second scariest place I can think of…the first is to be banished to the wrong side of that city’s gate. This is where the lepers of the city found themselves. In good times, those suffering souls would survive on the scraps from those inside the city. But how few scraps would have been offered to those outcasts when those inside the gates were talking of eating children? In II Kings 7:3-4, we read of their plight and their plan: “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city, the famine is in the city, and we shall die there.’ And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us, we shall but die.’” Gathering their courage and strength, the four lepers set out for the enemy territory of the Syrians with a glimmer of hope for survival.

What the lepers didn’t know was that Elisha had already prophesied that the famine would turn to feasting within a day (II Kings 7:1-3). They were completely unaware that they would be used to bring good news to those who had ostracized and discarded them. Desperation drove them to pursue the improbable rather than awaiting the inevitable.

When they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, they were shocked to find that camp abandoned, “For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’ So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives.’” (II Kings 7:6-7) This left an abundance of food, drink, and valuables for the lepers to devour and stockpile. Everything the people of Samaria needed was just outside the walls they had built up around them, but they were completely unaware. The walls that were built for self-preservation became a self-imposed prison as they slowly starved. While it was still night, the lepers returned to the gate with the good news of provision beyond measure. Ultimately, the prophecy was fulfilled, and the famine turned to feasting in a single day!

We have an inexhaustible supply of everything we need in Jesus Christ. And if we are subject to our selfish nature, we’ll seek to hoard it while people go hungry. But we have been changed by the love of Christ. By God’s grace, we’ll even take the good news to those who have rejected us, in hopes that they will not reject Christ. The famine has turned into a feast. Get the word out!

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Four, Day Two

sbaker : October 14, 2014 4:00 am

I’ve heard people say, “Love is a verb.” I couldn’t agree more. It is, according to the apostle Paul: patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insistent, irritable, or resentful. “It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends” (I Corinthians 13:4-8). This week’s video teaching from II Kings 6:8-23 is a reminder of love’s tenacity. I know I’m not capable, apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, to live out the kind of love that Paul describes and that the narrator of the II Kings 6 story unfolds through the prophet Elisha. I assume you would tell me the same thing. Even beyond that, I know, and I’m assuming you do too, that none of us are capable of loving others the way Jesus did, especially when we consider that His love was exactly the kind of love Paul described in I Corinthians 13. Jesus’ love was always patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insistent, irritable, or resentful. Our Savior’s love bears, believes, hopes, and endures anything and everything. Elisha had some of that kind of love in his heart when he chose to love his enemies, the Syrians. (Read II Kings 6:8-23)

Love’s capacity for making wrong things right is God’s great surprise. Eugene Peterson’s story of a school bully by the name of Garrison Johns reminds me of II Kings 6 (The Pastor, 46-49). Garrison picked on Eugene for sport. He ridiculed Peterson’s faith and called him a “Jesus sissy.” One fateful spring day, the bully caught up with the Christian. Garrison began to torment Eugene, and something snapped. Peterson discovered he was stronger than Johns. He was on top of his old nemesis, pounding away at him. Eugene asked Garrison to say “Uncle,” but the bully refused. Peterson then considered his Christian training and inserted, “Say, I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” (48). When Johns wouldn’t do it, Peterson bloodied Garrison’s nose. Finally, Garrison Johns said it. Who knows save God alone, whether that forced confession was valid or not. What I do know is that there is another way, a way that I have seen change lives over and over again. It is the Elisha way. It is the Jesus way. It is the way of the ridiculous love of the cross.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Four, Day One

sbaker : October 13, 2014 4:00 am

In Matthew chapter five, we come across a teaching of Jesus we call the Sermon on the Mount. It is his revolutionary teaching about the kingdom of God in which he “ups the grace ante” with his teaching on every part of life. Each word of this sermon was provocative and counter-cultural but none more so than his command to “Love your enemies!”

It was revolutionary then, and it’s revolutionary now! In a world where nations hate because of borders on a map and divorced couples hate because of borders of emotion, Jesus says to love beyond the borders. In a world of friend betrayals, co-worker rumors, school gossip, and cut-throat competition, Jesus says to love those who hate us. But how?

It is important to note that, if we understand being Christ-followers from a biblical perspective, we don’t hate anyone. Jesus hated no one…ever. He would have been justified had he hated the people who scourged him, the people who lied about him, the ones who mocked him while he hung on the cross, and the ones who nailed him there. But he didn’t. He loved them and actually prayed for their forgiveness in the midst of his most intense human pain. If there is someone you hate right now (even if he deserves it), your prayer should focus on learning to forgive and love him as Christ did those he could’ve hated.

Not only did Jesus not hate, but he didn’t encourage hate that already existed. He didn’t adhere to the borders of separation that many in his time and culture did. He lovingly crossed borders of race, sex, social place, and religious standing. In Jesus’ day, Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, but Jesus did. In his day, men didn’t acknowledge women and children, but Jesus did. In his day, no one touched lepers and poor people, but Jesus did. In his day, no religious leader spent time with prostitutes and crooks, but Jesus did. As his followers, we too should live in a way that tears down the borders of enmity.

Still we live in a world of borders and haters. Jesus says to his followers in John 15:18,19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you […] the world hates you.” In spite of Jesus’ love for all and his breaking down of barriers of hatred, he was still hated. And as this verse states, we should expect no less.

None of us wants to have enemies or those who hate us, and we certainly don’t want to be around them if we do. But Jesus says to love them. To do so is ridiculous. And so we are learning.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »

Week Three, Day Six

sbaker : October 11, 2014 4:00 am

Prayer is the Jesus-follower’s essential ingredient. What blood is to the body, and what oxygen is to the lungs, prayer is to the interior world. We cannot survive very long without it. There is something called the rule of three. It goes like this. Most of us can last 3 weeks without food; 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without oxygen. However, it is my conviction that Jesus-followers cannot last three seconds without prayer. No doubt we try. So often, our routine lives are consumed with our calendars, our agendas, and our strength. These Saturday readings are intended to encourage us to practice a particular Christian discipline in light of the theme of the week. This week, we have been studying how God’s love empowers us to love an imperfect church. Prayer is the just-right spiritual exercise.

Prayer is simply creating a holy conversation with God. It includes both talking and listening. The Bible is saturated with examples of prayer practice. There are 650 specific prayers in the Bible, and at least 50 of those are significant in content and size. It is hard to narrow down a list, but perhaps these can help: Genesis 4:26; Deuteronomy 9:25-29; I Kings 3:4-15; Matthew 6:9-13; John 17:1-26; Ephesians 1:15-21 and 3:14-21. In light of all of this, how does prayer assist us in learning to love an imperfect church? That, after all, gets to the heart of this week’s study.

Prayer is like the antibiotic that fights against the viruses of envy, hate, bitterness, and other assorted spiritual ailments. No person can harbor bitterness in his heart for another and, at the time, pray for him and not against him. Sure, there are prayers in the Psalms that speak of revenge, but that is not the way of Jesus. Prayer is like an antiseptic; it cleans up the germs that would harm us or cause harm toward another. Prayer is like a strong household product that cleans, disinfects, and deodorizes. It removes the spiritual grease and dirt that would harm our soul. Prayer can kill all spiritual bacteria.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

Leave a response »
« Page 1, 2, 3 ... 147, »