Daily Devotional

Week Five, Day Six

sbaker : October 25, 2014 4:00 am

The list of favorite Christian exercises seldom includes the discipline of fasting. I was a young security policeman stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kansas back in the early 1970’s. I had recently committed myself to being an apprentice of Jesus, and, with that fresh vow in hand, I had decided to cultivate the holy habit of fasting on my own. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16 had caught my attention: “And when you fast…”. My conclusion was simple: Jesus assumed I would fast. That was enough for me. With that assumption squarely planted in my heart, I had been invited by the director of the Navigators’ ministry on the base to join a group of guys in a twenty-four hour fast. I don’t recall receiving much preparation. In defense of the leader, he may have guided us in readiness, but I don’t remember that. What I vividly recollect is starting the fast at 6:00 p.m., skipping supper, doing an 8-hour shift of duty from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., heading off-base to wash and wax my motorcycle that morning, seeing a donut shop, and, well, I broke my fast quicker than someone can dunk a glazed donut in a good cup of coffee. The end result was a pile of guilt, a bad experience, the need to confess it to the ministry leader, and an uncertainty about the value of the Christ discipline of fasting.

The Scriptures do not command Christians to fast. The Bible simply acknowledges that God-believers sometimes enter seasons where they hunger more for God and less for food. Fasting is an exercise of self-denial and dependence on God. It is a Christian discipline, if it is centered on Jesus, sustained by Jesus’ power, and seeks to glorify Jesus alone. Allow me to suggest three concrete ways fasting can assist us in not loving the world. First, some believers have found legitimate motivation for fasting when they look at the poor of the world. They identify with the suffering of millions by fasting from a weekly meal in order to remember that there are those who go without food daily. We genuinely cultivate love for the most marginalized when our fast centers on the enormous suffering of so many. We practice not loving the world by not giving into its whims and temptations to think of our stomachs first. So, some of us fast a meal a week or a day a month in order to identify with the world’s hungry. Second, other believers look at the continued slaughter of millions of aborted babies and find in that colossal heartbreak reason to fast once a week faithfully. Forty-plus years have come and gone since this country has legally condoned the mass killings of innocent infants caught in a culture where convenience reigns supreme. The solution to unwanted pregnancy is adoption, not abortion. Any country that elevates abortion diminishes love. Jesus-followers have a concrete way of not loving the world by regularly entering a day of fasting and prayer, asking God to overturn that unjust law. Third and finally, some disciples of Jesus find a legitimate reason for fasting in making a specific space for glorifying God. We fast, in this case, for our Creator and Savior to be honored. We owe our very life to Him, our salvation to Him, and our purpose in life to Him. If we want not to love the world, one of the exercises that can assist us in making him famous is fasting for the supremacy of God. Why not start this Saturday? (See Bill Bright’s 7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer, Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995).

This reading may be found in its entirety in the Ridiculous book and study guide.

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Week Five, Day Five

sbaker : October 24, 2014 4:00 am

If you were to write a note of instruction or encouragement to the church, what things would you want to emphasize? Would you talk about how often your favorite song is played, the color of the carpet, or the occasional typo in the bulletin? My guess is that you’d use the platform to share things of greater significance. But what tops the list? What does the church need to hear? With these questions in mind, turn to the book of I John with me.

It has been said that the book of I John can be summarized by the “3 L’s” of light, life, and love. The light is expressed five times, live (or walk) is used four times, and love is the dominant theme with seventeen different occurrences in this little letter to the church. It is such a powerful little statement about the priority and potency of love that we have referenced it in seven different daily writings throughout the six week study of Ridiculous.

If you are not familiar with how the book ends, please humor me in trying to anticipate how John concludes this masterpiece: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love?” Nope, that is I Corinthians 13:13: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself?” Good guess, but that is Matthew 22:37-39. I think the answer will surprise you, as it did me.

Look carefully at the final two verses of I John: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20). Without too much work, we can see that we are pointed back to the central figure of our faith, hope, and love. We are reminded that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is to be the one who has given us understanding and life itself. In fact, we are reminded twice in verse 20 that He is “true.” This Greek word alethinos (translated as “true” in English) suggests an essence that is authentic or genuine. Jesus is the real deal!

As you work through the discussion guide for this week, pay particular attention to the areas of your life that are sneaking up to the throne and looking for a way to topple the King. Talk with trusted friends. Examine the motives of your heart in those areas that stir your passion and pride. You may find an idol there. You may find that tomorrow’s reading will equip you to remove that idol and return the King to His rightful throne.

For this reading in its entirety, please refer to the Ridiculous book and study guide.

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Week Five, Day Four

sbaker : October 23, 2014 4:00 am

Jude, the brother of Jesus and younger son of Mary and Joseph, took great pains to remind his original readers and us of the seductive nature of the world. He wrote at a time when tolerance was more valued than truth. Does that sound familiar? Jude battles false teachers who were sexually immoral and arrogant. At the heart of Jude 17-23 is the reminder of what would happen between our Lord’s first coming and His promised second coming. The apostles had spoken of this apostasy repeatedly (Acts 20:29; I Timothy 4:1; II Timothy 3:1-5; II Peter 3:3, etc.). Immoral, corrupt, and ungodly leaders had made their way into some of the churches. These false teachers were big on grace and short on godliness. They apparently were advocating that being saved by grace gave great freedom and license to sin, since grace covered all rebellion with immeasurable forgiveness. Think Romans 6:1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Like Paul, Jude gives this hearty response: “By no means!” Grace is the means to forgiveness and ushers in the necessary power to wage war against sin. It is not a license to live in a “whatever” way in a “whatever” world. Grace encourages obedience.

Note with me the words that Jude used to describe these false teachers. He called them “scoffers,” “worldly people,” and “devoid of the Spirit.” These enemies to the Gospel pretend to know the truth but fail to live the truth. They claim deep spirituality, but the evidence points to their obvious sensuality. These divisive teachers fracture the church. The unity Christ granted us because of His finished work at the cross is harmed when these apostate leaders are allowed to go unchecked. Jude, in a brilliant move, countered this colossal mess with one word. If any of us underline words in our Bibles, this one word should be marked. It is the word “keep” (vs. 21). Jude actually uses it five times in his short letter (note verses 1, 6 – 2 times, 13, and here in this verse). The Greek word is “tereo.” It primarily means to watch, to guard, or to obey carefully. The New Testament offers several examples. Prisoners were to be watched over and kept secured (Acts 24:23). The Sabbath was intended to be honored and kept with faithfulness (John 9:16). The commandments of God were to be guarded and kept with due diligence (Matthew 19:17 and I Timothy 6:14). What Jesus taught was designed to be carefully observed and kept and then accurately passed along to others (Matthew 28:20). This “keeping” business is intended to assist all Jesus followers in knowing God, in enduring with a long obedience, and more than anything, in faithfully loving God and others. This kind of “keeping” is designed to ground ourselves in God’s love, especially as that love relates to refusing to succumb to the world’s ways.

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

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Week Five, Day Three

sbaker : October 22, 2014 4:00 am

There are a handful of classic movies that we’ve introduced to our children. Among the greats is Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was quite an experience to watch this nearly-memorized film from 1981 with our kids, observing their reactions to the unfamiliar flick! You can probably recall the scene where the pilot of a little float plane is calmly fishing off one of the pontoons, nestled in the bend of a jungle river while awaiting Indy’s return. Shortly after hooking a fish that turned his fishing pole into a wet noodle, the pilot heard his passenger scream from a distance, “Jacque! Start the engine! Get it up!” In just a few seconds, the inner turmoil of the pilot is visibly painful. There becomes a hilarious tension between landing the lunker or launching the plane. Jacque has to choose. He could not say “yes” to his prized pursuit and save his life and the life of Indiana Jones (who was running from an entire tribe of people who were trying to kill him). Eventually, the pole was dropped, and the rescue began

In Luke 5:1-11, we read of a call to surrender by setting aside the fish and picking up the cross. After a night of fruitless fishing, Jesus called out to the not-yet disciples to give it one more try. I’m not sure why they even bothered to listen, but in doing so, they had the catch of a lifetime. Bursting nets ushered in bursting hearts as Peter cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (vs. 8). The next words in this incredible exchange come from Jesus to the weary and bewildered fishermen. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men ”(vs. 10).. The scripture then notes that “they left everything and followed him” (vs. 11).

This is where you and I enter the story. We are often found “fishing” when we should be “following.” This world is tantalizing and alluring. Our hearts get ensnared in the trappings of temporal pursuits that distract and dissuade us from the life of a follower. “Prosperity knits a man to the World,” and the clamoring and calling of every commercial compels us to forsake followership. We lay down our nets only to pick them up in a season of uncertainty, just like Peter.

Let’s face it. A ridiculous love for Christ is incompatible with a relentless want for everything else this life has to offer. Saying “yes” to Christ is synonymously saying “no” to the nets in which we’ve found security and familiarity. If we are honest, we’ll examine our lives and find that we are often found adding Jesus to our boat rather than going overboard to abandon ship and follow Him. Today is a new day. If you’ve found a familiar net in your hands and the Savior off in the distance, jump ship! Jettison the past. Swim to the shores of grace. He’s eager to re-commission you.

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

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Week Five, Day Two

sbaker : October 21, 2014 4:00 am

I want to be a Jesus-follower completely in love with him and not the world. Sunday’s sermon and yesterday’s reading was a reminder that ridiculous love has a cautionary side. Scripture clearly warns us not to love the world. Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, Daniel and his three godly friends understood the prohibition of not loving the world. How is that possible? The answer is rather simple. These young men understood the timeless character of God.

Our choices matter. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah grasped that truth. In spite of the fall of Jerusalem, in spite of the victory of Babylon over Israel, in spite of the exile from the Promised Land into a pagan culture, and in spite of all the evidence that seemed to support the conclusion that the gods of Babylon were superior to the God of Israel, there remained an unshakeable confidence on the part of these four young men in the sovereign God of the universe. Daniel and his friends were persuaded that “the Lord gave” Israel into the hands of Babylon (Daniel 1:2). King Nebuchadnezzar did not take Judah from King Jehoiakim. God alone did that. Because four fearless men believed in God, they made choices that supported their convictions. What non-world-loving choices did they make? Let me identify two.

First, they chose not to allow their name change to alter their character. The four brave-hearts of Judah chose to remain faithful to who they were. Notice with me that each of the four inherits a new name. Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah becomes Shadrach, Mishael becomes Meshach, and Azariah becomes Abednego. Each name shift was intended to seduce and to brainwash these young men. Daniel means “God is my judge,” but Belteshazzar means “Bel protects the king.” Bel, obviously, is a reference to a pagan god. Hananiah means “the Lord is gracious,” but Shadrach means “Aku is in command.” That is another reference to a pagan god. Mishael means “Who is like the Lord?” but Meshach means, “Who is like Aku?” Lastly, Azariah means “the Lord is my helper,” but Abednego means “servant of Nego,” a Babylonian god of vegetation. There is not the slightest hint in the narrative that the changing of their names shrank their faithfulness to the God of gods and the Lord of lords.

Second, they chose to honor God with their everyday choices. In this specific case, they chose not to indulge in foods that the Old Testament Law clearly prohibited (Leviticus 11). We don’t know the specific foods the four rejected, but what we do know is that God blessed their faith and obedience by moving favorably in the heart of those pagan leaders who were entrusted to care for all the captives (Daniel 1:9).

Choices matter. Ask William Wilberforce. His father died when young William was only nine years old, and his mother became seriously ill. Wilberforce was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who were Jesus-followers. Seeds of faith were planted in his heart, but soon he returned home and backslid into a life that embraced the world and all of its seductions. Providentially, William met several people who were marked with faith in Christ, including John Newton, the former slave trader and now apprentice to Jesus Christ. Slowly but steadily, Wilberforce became motivated by love for God and love for others, especially love for the oppressed. His long and courageous fight on the floor of the British Parliament ended slavery in the British Empire. He dared to be a Daniel and dared to stand alone. Ridiculous love is like that when it embraces the cross and not the world.

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

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Week Five, Day One

sbaker : October 20, 2014 4:00 am

In the end, they chose the tree. And why not? It was so accessible, and they were hungry. Besides, the tree offered a variety of fruit that they had never tasted before. Further still, this tree was unlike any other, located as it was in the middle of the garden with the biggest branches and most appealing fruit. Then, there was the testimony of the snake. He said that anyone who ate the fruit of this particular tree would be as smart as God and as good as God. So Adam and Eve loved the tree, ate the fruit, and lost it all!

Why does the Bible tell us not to fall in love with the world or the things of the world (I John 2:15a)? It teaches this because Satan hasn’t changed his strategy much since our first created ancestors inhabited this globe. His goal is to get us to fall in love with the world because, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father in not in him.” (I John 2:15b). Jesus would later say, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) In other words, you have to choose who you are going to love: God or the world. It can’t be both.

Enter Satan and let the seduction begin. Let’s get this clear, the devil is doing everything within his power (which is limited, but strong) to make us choose the world. As we said, his strategy hasn’t changed; it just manifests itself in different ways. Primarily, our enemy uses our appetite, our sight, and our pride to lure us into an adulterous relationship of loving the world. Or, as the apostle says, we are lured into “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life…” (I John 2:16).

God is calling us to have a “ridiculous” non-love of the world and things in it. College students who love the Father will likely get ridiculed for not feeding the worldly appetite of drinking, sex, and thrill seeking. Executives who love the Father more than promotions and fancy cars may get ridiculed for how out of touch they are. Church goers who love God by serving behind the scenes, without the need for recognition, may get ridiculed for being plain and boring. But this rejecting of worldly things is ridiculous only if you have not embraced the ridiculous love of Jesus. For those who have, there is nothing in this world that can compete with the love of God in Christ Jesus. As it turns out, Jesus is not only our Savior, but our example in loving God.

In the end, He chose the Father. And why not? He had the power to make stones into bread, but He was truly nourished only through relationship with the Father. He clearly saw the riches of the world for what they were, cheap imitations of the glory of heaven. He knew He could have caused a spectacular scene by jumping from the temple’s corner, but He lived to bring glory to God. Yes, the snake was there, telling his same old snake lies. But, in the end, Jesus loved God more than the world, and He gained it all.

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

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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.

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