Category Archives: Devotionals

The Excuses we make for Sin

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Written by John Rigney from DesiringGod.org

My dear Wormwood,

I’m encouraged to read in your last report that your patient has gotten in the habit of blaming others for his own vices. The way that he lost his temper, and then had the audacity to blame his wife for it, warmed this old devil’s heart. Perhaps something of me is finally penetrating that thick skull of yours.

Continue to work on that wound in their relationship. Whenever he thinks back to those quarrels, keep his attention on what she did to provoke him and not on his own impatience and anger. With any luck, you’ll prevent him from ever engaging in the kind of sincere repentance reflected in those awful words, “Change me first.” I just cringe to think of them.

The question now is what to do should he begin to soften toward his wife; his natural affection and attraction for her could enable this at any time. I see two options. Your man is one of those evangelicals who really believes in the invisible world, including spirits like us. Thus, if you find that his attention moves from his wife as the cause of his outbursts and begins to settle on his own selfishness, you may call to mind his belief in “principalities and powers.”

Devil Made Me Do It

Keep that belief vague. Never let him think that you are in the room suggesting it — more of a general sentiment of “The devil made me do it.” We’ve been running that play on humans ever since their first mother blamed Our Father Below for the glorious incident with the fruit. You might even inflame his curiosity about devils and angels and spiritual warfare and all that, anything to keep him from truly owning his culpability in the quarrel.

Of course, in such matters, there is always the risk of awakening him to the thought that he is not, as he perceives, considering a distant battle (as some old historian might in a dusty library somewhere). Rather, he might realize he is in the thick of the conflict right then, bombs bursting in air all round him, our schemes and plots hatching and entwining him as he sits musing like the silly fool that he is. Should he come to an awareness of this fact, it might awaken some latent courage and nobility in him; he might sit up straight and resolve to “fight the dragon in his own heart” or “take the log out of his own eye.” Worse, he might run to the Enemy for help.

Thankfully, there is another method available to us.

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Jesus did not die for “Comfortable”

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Written by Ryan Lister from DesiringGod.org

The Christian life is all about convenience…. The world and the ruler of this world want you to believe this lie. Convenience — the worldly pursuit of ease — has become the Enemy’s battle cry (or, better yet, whisper) in the war for our modern souls. Satan’s strategy has morphed from direct opposition to subtle enticement.

In most American churches, the battle is being fought with wireless routers, HDMI cables, standing desks, and lumbar supports rather than the lashes, stones, rods, and chains of old (2 Corinthians 11:23–25). Today, most of us in the West calculate our significance by our Facebook friend count, newest technology, iPhone notifications, and 401k. The Enemy has recruited our own hearts to fight against us.

A Dangerous Security Blanket

Perhaps our biggest problem stares back at us every time we look into the dark mirrors of our handheld devices. But our contemporary problem has never been convenience — just as the problem in Eden was never the fruit. From Sinai’s stone tablets to today’s tablet computers, convenience has been vital to human advancement and even the spread of God’s kingdom. Even now, I sit conveniently in front of a computer — the modern convenience of our time — while you are scrolling through these digital words conveniently on a digital screen.

The problem, then, lies not with convenience, but with what our hearts make of it. The dark appeal of temptation is to twist good things into idols. Convenience steps in front of God and steals his worship. The world’s empty promises silently hijack our affections. We let cheap knockoffs of fulfillment obscure the true beauty of our nail-torn Savior.

When our hearts fall for the idol of convenience, the call of Jesus to follow him in shouldering a cross feels foreign. The one who saves us quietly mutates into a threat to our counterfeit sanctuaries of advantage. When our security is the warm comfort of secular convenience, we will keep hitting the snooze button on Jesus’s alarming command to take up our cross.

Christ and the Convenient Kingdom

Jesus, however, shows us how to confront this danger. Worn down over forty days with hunger, thirst, and isolation, Jesus meets the Enemy in the barren wilderness. Twisting the good things of God into opportunities for disobedience, Satan entices the exhausted Messiah with the idol of convenience.

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The World needs you to be different

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By Matt Damico from The Gospel Coalition

Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s not the substance.

And yet, given the way many of us evaluate the worship services at our churches, you’d think novelty was an essential mark of a healthy church.

The pull toward something “fresh” is understandable since your church’s worship service probably looks similar week-to-week. There’s singing, prayer, Scripture reading, a sermon. Throw in the Lord’s Supper, a benediction, a baptism, and maybe a couple other things, and you have the elements of most liturgies. The order may be flexible, but there’s consistency in what happens each week.

So, maybe it’s unavoidable to think on occasion, “Don’t we do this every week? Can we mix it up a little bit? Don’t we want it to stay fresh?”

We would do well in those moments to remember that the weekly routines we repeat in corporate worship by faith are doing far more than we can see or feel. When we know that, as we gather with the church, we may learn to see repetition as something to embrace rather than endure.

Repetition Is the Point

We all recognize the value of repetition in some areas. Consider a few examples.

If you’ve ever learned an instrument, you know that the way to learn it is to practice scales over and over until your fingers know the way. I haven’t played trumpet in almost twelve years, but the fingerings are still engrained in my mind and my hands.

Or, to borrow an illustration from James K.A. Smith, think about learning to drive. When you got your license, you had to think about every little maneuver: the blinker, the pedals, the mirrors, and all the rest. Now you could daydream through your entire commute without once consciously reflecting on your driving (please don’t, though).

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The Hidden Power in every Idol

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Written by Author & Blogger Tim Challies

We were made to mimic. God made us in such a way that we learn many of life’s skills by way of imitation. For good or for ill we also learn character, or lack of character, by imitation. Parents who routinely blow up in anger cannot be surprised when they raise a brood of children who respond to conflict with screaming, yelling, slapping. Teachers who constantly grumble and complain cannot be surprised when they find themselves in front of a classroom of grumblers and complainers. It’s just how it works, how we were made.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to become? Even as you grow older, you remain an imitator—you mimic what you revere so that in some important ways you actually become what you revere. As Greg Beale says, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” This is a call for care, a call to pay close attention to who or what you honor, who or what you worship.

Recently, my morning devotions took me to Psalm 115 which mocks man-made idols. Why? Because “they have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat” (4-7). These idols are pathetic, impotent, utterly unworthy of veneration. But the psalmist isn’t done yet. He has one more claim to make: All idols have a hidden power.

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You don’t have to be married to be happy

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Article by Marshall Segal from DesiringGod.org

You don’t have to get married to be happy. In fact, until we realize that we don’t have to get married to be happy, we’re really not ready to marry.

Freedom of self-forgetfulnessDisclaimer: I am now happily married. If you’re single, you may be ready to click away, and I can understand why. Too many married people have too much to say about singleness. To be sure, not every married person knows your particular pain and circumstances, but some do. And they may have a perspective on singleness, dating, and marriage that none of your single friends have.

I was drunk in love more than once, infatuated in dating, mesmerized by marriage. I started dating in middle school, followed by one long serious relationship after another through high school and college. I thought I would be married by 22, and instead I got married almost a decade later. I said things I wish I could unsay, and crossed boundaries I wish I could go back and rebuild. I’m not some married guy writing to single you. I’m writing to single me. I know him better than I know my wife — his weaknesses, his blind spots, his impatience — and I have so much good news for him. And for you.

When I say that you don’t have to be married to be happy, I say that as someone who devoured romance looking desperately for lasting joy — and who knows what it feels like to end up further from it after each breakup.

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Don’t be surprised if the world hates you

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By Author & Blogger Tim Challies

There is no source of comfort as true or as good as God’s book, the Bible. For millennia, God’s people have turned to its pages to find solace, to find hope and encouragement. Sometimes comfort is found in unexpected places, in unlikely words. I found it this morning in a simple sentence written by Jesus’s dear friend John: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

Every Christian has endured times when we have been hated, when we have faced the scorn, the fists, or the swords of those opposed to God. We who put our faith in Jesus agree to bear the cross of Jesus. That cross comes with inevitable suffering and shame. We who follow a hated Savior cannot be surprised when we experience a measure of his suffering, when we bear a measure of his shame.

But why? Why are we hated? Why is it that we should be not surprised when the world turns against us?

Because Cain hated Abel. Just one verse earlier John has spoken of these two brothers and asked why one murdered the other. Cain murdered Abel “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Abel’s goodness exposed Cain’s badness. Abel’s righteousness convicted Cain of his unrighteousness. Abel’s love for God silently declared Cain’s disregard. Cain responded with the ultimate manifestation of hatred—he murdered his own brother.

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Let’s Be Frank: Thought for the Day

 Frank Retief 2Frank Retief was pastor at St James Church Cape Town for 31 years, having planted the church in 1968 with his wife Beulah.  He became the Presiding Bishop of the Church of England in South Africa until he retired in 2010.  Frank remains active in ministry through preaching, teaching, pastoral work & writing, and has authored a number of books.

Truth – Hidden & Revealed

Luke 1- v 21. “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

Here we are presented with an amazing truth – one we are apt to forget. Understanding of Jesus and his Salvation is not “attained” by us, but rather is given to us by the Father. He reveals his deep secrets to “little children”. This was a title Jesus used to refer to those ordinary people who are not well schooled or sophisticated.

Notice the reference to the Trinity in v 21 – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Father!  Let us never forget that our God is truly Father, Son, Spirit. We may be bewildered by this but it is true.

What’s more, we have an illustration here of the great truth that by nature we know nothing of God and His ways. We are born spiritually ignorant, we live like that and we would die in this same ignorance if God did not intervene. And in grace and mercy he does indeed intervene. But notice to whom He reveals his truths.

The “wise and the learned” mentioned here by Jesus does not refer to the ordinary wisdom and true learning available to people, but to those proud and arrogant people who are so full of their own self-righteousness that they make themselves unteachable. They learn nothing from anyone. They have shut themselves off from God because they consider themselves as already possessing a full knowledge of God and they do not want help.

This is a sad and dangerous condition. To be unteachable is to be caught up in one of the saddest mind-sets in the world.  It means an inability to grow or learn.

On the other hand the  “little children” referred to by Jesus does not refer primarily to small children but to those who are naive and unlearned, but recognize their helplessness and welcome somebody coming to instruct them and lead them.

God works in ways that are contrary to the world. The world honours those who are full of confidence and arrogance, but God honours those who are of humble and contrite spirits.

And why does He do this? Because, says Jesus, it was his good pleasure. His Divine Will works for the downfall of pride and for the good of those who accept His Word by faith in Him.

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Reading Challenge 2017

reading challenge 2017

By Tim Challies

Do you love to read? Do you want to learn to love to read? Do you enjoy reading books that cross the whole spectrum of topics and genres? Then I’ve got something that may be right up your alley—The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge.

Whether you are a light reader or completely obsessed, this 2017 Christian Reading Challenge is designed to help you read more and to broaden the scope of your reading.

How It Works

The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge is composed of 4 lists of books, which you are meant to move through progressively. You will need to determine a reading goal early in the year and set your pace accordingly.

  • The Light Reader. This plan has 13 books which sets a pace of 1 book every 4 weeks.
  • The Avid Reader. The Avid plan adds another 13 books which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.
  • The Committed Reader. This plan adds a further 26 books, bringing the total to 52, or 1 book every week.
  • The Obsessed Reader. The Obsessed plan doubles the total to 104 books which sets a demanding pace of 2 books every week.

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Resolutions are not enough

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By David Mathis from DesiringGod.org

New Year’s resolutions can be an important first step, but they are a far cry from real, lasting change.

The ringing in of a new year brings with it the possibility of a fresh start, or at least a fresh reminder to turn the page on some (or many) ways we’d like to grow and mature in the next season of life. But haven’t we all tried this enough times by now to know how futile mere resolves are if not accompanied by more?

Whether it’s eating and exercise, or Bible-reading and prayer, the God-created mechanism we call “habit” is vital for seeing our earnest resolutions through to enjoyable realities. If we really are resolved to see our hopes for 2017 become life-enriching habits, we will do well to keep several basic truths in mind at the outset of a new year.

Focus on a Few, Not Many.

Better than big emotional, private resolves about the many things you want to “fix” about your life is dialing in just one or two realistic, and really important, resolves with a concrete plan and specific accountability. The excitement of a new year, and ease with which we can desire change, often leads us to bite off way more than we can chew for a new year.

It’s much better to focus on just a couple new habits — even better, just one. And if you’re going to narrow it to just one (or maybe a couple or three), you might as well make it count. Identify something important that will give your new-habit-forming particular focus, even while this one resolve will reap benefits in other areas of your life. Soul-strengthening “habits of grace” are precisely this. Going deeper in God’s word, prayer, or your local church will produce an invaluable harvest.

Consider a specific focus for the new year, or just the first three months of 2017, or even just January. A year is a long period of time in terms of habit-forming; typically we would do much better to just make one resolve at a time, and do so every few months, than to attempt many things and for so long a period as twelve months.

Make It Specific.

Bible intake, prayer, and Christian community likely are too broad in and of themselves. Give it more specific focus like reading the whole Bible this year, or not just reading but daily meditating on a short passage or verse, or even just a word or phrase (in context). Don’t keep it general at “prayer,” but make it more particular: private prayer each morning, or bedtime prayer with your spouse or family, or punctuating your day with “constant prayer,” or some new prayer initiative as a community group or church.

Perhaps as the old year is coming to a close, you’re realizing how spotty your church commitment has been, and how thin your relationships are as a result. You might resolve to deepen your commitment to not neglect your meeting together “as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25), whether that’s making Sunday mornings more nonnegotiable or prioritizing your midweek investment in life together in community group. Resolve in 2017 not to let silly last-minute excuses keep you from faithfully gathering with the body of Christ, which will be a priceless, long-term means of God’s grace both to you and through you, to others.

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The Haunted Hayride of Human Approval

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By Marshall Segal from DesiringGod.Org

If we are always concerned with what people think about us, we will always be reluctant to tell them about Jesus.

Perhaps the single most significant hindrance to Christian witness in the world today is our hunger for human approval. By nature, we think more about what people think of us than about what they think of Jesus. We crave acceptance and dread rejection — which inclines us toward whatever might improve others’ perception of us. And that will very rarely, if ever, lead us to call them to repent from their sin and believe the gospel.

The apostle Paul lived differently. Apparently he had been liberated from the need to be liked, or even respected. He moved from town to town, in and out of crowds, anchored in the safety and satisfaction of knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Many adored him, even to the point of worshiping him, and others hated him, even to the point of trying to murder him. But he lived and served above approval ratings. He worked for someone else’s fame, whatever that fame might cost him personally in popular opinion.

He abandoned the haunted hayride of human approval to walk Calvary’s underground road to freedom from the fear of man.

Zeus, Hermes, and Human Approval

Everywhere Paul went, he met dramatically mixed reviews.  During his and Barnabas’s time in a town called Lystra, for instance, they came to a man crippled from birth. He had literally never used his feet (Acts 14:8). Paul saw through the man’s disability, though, into his heart, and he saw faith — a brilliant and strong belief that Jesus could heal him inside and out (Acts 14:9). So Paul healed the man’s legs (Acts 14:10).

The crowds saw the man walking, after sitting for so many years, and they rushed Paul and Barnabas. They treated them like gods (Acts 14:11) — not like governors, or star athletes, or movie stars, but gods. They called them “Zeus” and “Hermes” after familiar figures in the pantheon (Acts 14:12). They even brought oxen to sacrifice to them (Acts 14:13).

Imagine your neighbors trying to worship you by slaughtering their animals.

The Seduction of Attention

How do Paul and Barnabas respond to these acts of worship? Do they bask in the attention? Do they relish the over-the-top affirmation and support? Do they change their handles to @Zeus and @Hermes, and retweet a few lines of the people’s praise?

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Let’s Be Frank: Thought for the Day

Frank Retief 2Frank Retief was pastor at St James Church Cape Town for 31 years, having planted the church in 1968 with his wife Beulah.  He became the Presiding Bishop of the Church of England in South Africa until he retired in 2010.  Frank remains active in ministry through preaching, teaching, pastoral work & writing, and has authored a number of books.

An uncommon King (Part 3)

Matthew 1 v 18. This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

c220eebf99b15373d1cfb2fbb7267ac6 We are still grappling with the mystery of the Person of Jesus, our King. Continuing from where we left off yesterday we should note that the miraculous conception of Jesus is not the reason why He was sinless.

It is sometimes thought that original sin is transferred through the male line. But this is not true because women share in the sinfulness of the human race. This fallenness would have encompassed Mary too. In fact Mary herself was conscious of being a sinner and in Luke 1:47 she said: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.

This does not suggest that there was any special or carnal sin about Mary. The book titled “The Da Vinci Code” and many liberal scholars have done enough of that. There is nothing to suggest that Mary was anything but a pure and upright Jewish teenager, who was chosen by God to bear the Saviour into the world. However that in itself does not make her sinless or above the rest of the human race. So if we want to trace the sinlessness of Jesus we must look elsewhere.

It is far more likely that God who can do anything, when He caused Mary to conceive also in a divine way preserved the special child who was to be born, from inheriting human sinfulness which Mary otherwise would have transmitted to her firstborn child. We do not use the word “begot” anymore today, but in this divine “begetting”, God preserved the new foetus from any sinful influence in a supernatural manner.

Incredible? Yes! But why should we not believe it? Our whole body of faith is based on God’s sovereign ability to provide us with a Saviour who was without sin Himself. And this seems to be the way He chose to do it. Jesus is truly an uncommon King.

Meditation:  Read Hebrews 4:15 and ask yourself whether Jesus could have been any help to us if He himself was a sinner. Then read Hebrews 4:16 and lift your heart to God.

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When God gives you an over-crowded Christmas

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Written by John Bloom from DesiringGod.org

For many, the last few days before Christmas are rarely peaceful. This is especially true for parents and pastors. These days are packed with final (and often pressured) preparations of presents and programs and celebrations and sermons. “All is calm” is not our experience. This can leave us wondering if we are nothing more than Christmas “Martha’s,” “distracted with much serving . . . anxious and troubled about many things” and missing the “Mary” moment in all the merry (Luke 10:40–42).

While such distractions are, of course, a year-round ever-present danger, let me encourage you with some brief Christmas perspective on busy-ness.

Remember Joseph and Mary

First, we must keep in mind that the original Christmas was not peaceful, not for Joseph and Mary. They were the first parents who had to prepare for Christmas and the pressure they felt dwarfs what most of us are experiencing right now. Bethlehem was overcrowded with census registrants. Things did not go as they likely envisioned. Joseph was desperately searching for lodging for his wife who was in labor. All he could secure was a stable.

If an unforeseen crisis emerges in the midst of your already challenging Christmas labors, remember Joseph and Mary. That place of desperation is often where the grace of God breaks in with the greatest power.

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