Impact Church

Passionately serving God and His people

Category: July Devotional

“How” Shall We Sing

Psalms 137:4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Contextually, we see the Israelites perplexed and in a place unfit for their spiritual pedigree. After nearly two years of Babylonian besiegement, the worst has come to the most envied nation of the world. Continued sin and cold hearted rebellion has Jerusalem’s inhabitants exiled 500 miles away, confined to a heathen city steeped in paganism and idolatry.

And, as if the shame of captivity was insufficient judgment, the heathen required them to harmonize on the delightful songs of Zion and their King! (For worship, melodies and instrumentation from the Jewish Temple were known universally and universally unmatched.)

Thus the lament, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Not, “how can we sing with a broken heart?”, but rather a question crafted and framed with incomprehensible grace came (unauthorized version of course!),”How shall we then sing from this strange and painful place? Not “can”, mind you, but “how” shall we sing. So, in some new way, we must, and will, sing! Yes, even in tears we will sing! For even in our backslidings, You never left us! Even in our abject worst, You walked with us! You gave promises and made covenant with us. And even in our well-deserved judgments, You cannot deny Yourself, nor excuse Yourself from bringing us to a glorious destiny! So even though this is uncharted territory, and this is painfully awkward in every way, we’ll return to our roots …and sing!”

Say what you will about Israel’s foolishness concerning sin and disobedience. They experienced what was prophesied, and divinely received what they deserved. But more importantly, we have to believe God’s loving covenant anchored them, even in unspeakable tragedy.

So what do we say to the circumstances of our own condition? Are we immune to tribulations? Read the rest of this entry »

Purity

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9

This will not be your favorite devotional. It will be challenging to read at points. However, I believe it will be helpful and in the end encouraging, if received. Faith, like anything precious, will be tested. Simply because we are on pilgrimage in a fallen world, there will be instances, people, and occasions that are in opposition to our forward movement in Christ. Some arise quickly and immediately pass, while others linger longer and seem to nag constantly. The strain of this resistance is frequently difficult to navigate through and even to understand at times. It can cause even the strongest of believers to look to Heaven for answers and explanation.

In the middle of this experience, the scriptures include instruction that seems beyond capability. The Bible does not give us permission to be destroyed, deterred, or defeated by these tests. In fact, Paul declares that even in great contradiction we are “more than conquerors.” Furthermore, we are not even allowed to simply survive or manage these happenings. The writers of the New Testament on several occasions link two seemingly distant ideas; trials and rejoicing.  With the correct perspective and the proper placement of our trust, joy is the result of a child of God walking through tests.

This perspective begins with the understanding that trials are common for all people. No one is exempt or avoids this process. Rain, storms, and adversity are not punitive; they are a supposed and ordinary reality of our human existence. Jesus declares unequivocally that “in this world you will have tribulation.” The house built on the rock is not subject to differing weather or an atypical environment. It will be exposed to the same peril as the house built on sand. The result will just be different!

Additionally, our perspective must be fashioned by what we know concerning the goodness of our Father. He oversees what He purchased and He does not waste anything in our journey. He uses everything to bring about glory from our lives. Yes, even our trials.

Trials expose; not the pretty, decent parts of our life that we put out front for everyone to see but the deep parts that we purposefully endeavor to keep hidden. Trials provide heat and pressure. When those unwanted weights are applied, impurities are uncovered. Again, this is where trust is required. Our Father is not exposing contaminations for the sake of condemnation or denunciation. He unveils these carefully protected blemishes so He can heal and remove them. The removal of corruption makes us more like Jesus, more suitable for His service, and more prepared for the day we will stand before Him.

So, rejoice when you are tried. You are being purified! Your motivations, behaviors, and purposes are being refined. You are maturing and being perfected. Impurities are being removed and glory is being manifested! Your faith is being revealed as genuine and true!

Glory to God!

The Forgotten Doctrine of the Ascension

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalm 110:1

Every Christ-follower can attest to the significance of Jesus’ incarnation celebrated at Christmas. If enough songs of praise were not penned about His miraculous birth, hundreds more rightfully followed hailing His death, burial and resurrection and their unmistakable importance in the redemption of man.

But how many hymns or worship choruses have you sung recently (or how many sermons have you listened to, for that matter) celebrating the day Jesus returned to His rightful place at the right hand of the throne of God?

The ascension of Christ — when our Risen Lord majestically rose off the ground He created and disappeared into the clouds 40 days after walking out of a borrowed tomb — is one of the key pieces in the giant puzzle of God’s eternal plan of redemption!

The triumphant day when the Son of God, the Redeemer of fallen man, would take His seat of authority and power at His Father’s right hand had been anticipated and even prophesied throughout the pages of the Old Testament. And David’s short 110th Psalm was quoted by Jesus Himself some 1,000 years after it was penned and was also referenced by Luke, Paul and John later in the New Testament.

Interestingly, the oft-missed magnificence and magnitude of Christ’s ascension can be summed up in four common directional words: up, down, right and under. Most Christians get fired up about the first two and almost totally disregard the latter couple.

When the Savior slipped the grip of gravity and went up into the heavens, angels appeared and assured onlookers that the same Jesus who was taken up would also come back down one day. For two millennia, the Church has clutched that promise of the Second Coming of our Lord! To this day, we still await that “divine descension”!

But the real power of the ascension lies in what happened between the “up” and “down” and the absolute assurance of what will come ultimately. Jesus assumed the seated position of honor, power and authority at the right hand of God, essentially putting the exclamation point on His “It is finished!” declaration from the cross of Calvary! The ascension to the throne room of Heaven solidified the Deity of the Bethlehem-born son of a carpenter: Jesus proved Himself to be the Messiah, the victorious Seed of the woman promised where it all began in Genesis 3:15. “Tetelestai!” indeed!

One may wonder what could possibly be left after the Master has declared His work “finished.” For those of us who have staked our lives on the reliability of the Bible, the only part of redemption’s plan that needs to be unfolded is a foregone conclusion: Read the rest of this entry »

Holy Invitation

“When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14: 13-14

On an exceptionally cold day in February 1988 a couple, and their three teenage sons, experienced the interruption of a lifetime. They were enjoying a typical Friday evening until there was a knock at the door and God disrupted the rhythm of their daily life in a dramatic way. A four-month-old baby was dropped off at their home with only a trash bag full of personal belongings. This ordinary family was suddenly presented with an extraordinary opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus and love a baby in need. I’m thankful they said yes to God’s wild plan for their lives; the baby was me, and this family became my very own.

Jesus was constantly interrupted. He was interrupted when speaking to crowds, conversing with His disciples, performing miracles, sleeping, traveling, and even while praying. In Matthew 14, His cousin and dear friend, John the Baptist had just been beheaded. Jesus tried to get away to mourn but the crowds followed Him there. When He saw the people the word says, “He had compassion on them, and healed their sick.” He then goes on to feed the multitude with the five loaves and two fish. Jesus was always attentive and available to the needs of those around Him.

I love making lists and am especially fond of my planner. I meticulously manage my time and prefer for my days to be both tidy and predictable. I cherish routine and am not a fan of spontaneity. I sport an invisible do not disturb sign while hustling to accomplish the many things on my to-do list. I am a goal setter and go getter. The reality, however, is that life doesn’t always cooperate with my to-do list.

As believers we should be good stewards of all that God has blessed us with- including our time. Yet God alone knows who we need to see, where we need to go, what we need to do, and who we are meant to speak with. So when things don’t go our way we have a choice. We can get annoyed or we can respond graciously knowing that our Heavenly Father is in control and we can trust Him.

When my husband tells our daughter to put her shoes on so we can go I’ve never once heard her say, “Well, dad, I’m kind of in the middle of something right now.” She’s never listed all that she hoped to accomplish that day like building a block tower, having a tea party, or coloring a picture of Sofia the First. She’s simply excited that her daddy asked her to go somewhere with him. She drops whatever she’s doing without a moment’s hesitation. Sweet friends, God extends holy invitations to us daily. You see interruptions are not obstacles; they are actually opportunities for us to release our plans and submit to His.

Welcoming interruptions may cause us to say yes when we receive an invitation to lunch last minute. It could urge us to answer that phone call when we’re in the middle of doing something else. We may stop to speak to a stranger even if we’re running late to an appointment. It means looking for God in every moment of our day and choosing to honor Him and not our schedule.

May we become increasingly more like Jesus, and more like my parents, welcoming interruptions and recognizing them as the precious opportunities they are to walk out the Lord’s glorious purpose for our lives. Life with Jesus as our pilot is an exciting adventure! We get to be willing participants of what God is actively doing in the earth. So if something doesn’t go as planned this week let’s remember His planning skills are second to none.

Stay With The Bunch

Two are better than one,…and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Ever seen an episode of “Wild Kingdom” or a National Geographic special? Think about the moments leading up to the lion pouncing on his prey. There is usually a herd of animals clambering near a waterhole, but the hungry lion doesn’t have his eyes on the potential smorgasbord. Instead, he is locked in on the antelope who has wandered off from the pack.

To avoid the unsavory scene about to unfold on your mental screen, let’s consider another one of nature’s lessons. Picture stepping into your kitchen and spotting a bunch of ripe, yellow bananas,…and a separate one that has already been pulled from the rest. Which one is about to get peeled?

What is true in the Serengeti and in your kitchen is often true in the church world as well. It’s the one who splits off from the rest that is an easier target for the predator. Now, after you get over the shock of having been just compared to a ravenous lion, consider who the Apostle Peter says is stalking isolated Christians who start to sever their ties to a local body of believers.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9, ESV)

Which believer do you think is an easier target for Satan: the one who is entwined with like-minded brothers and sisters in the weekly life of the congregation, or the one who shows up only for worship services on a somewhat regular basis? There is no wonder that Peter warned us that a big part of our resisting and standing steadfastly in our faith is to remember that we are not isolated members of Christ’s body but part of a worldwide brotherhood!

Jesus knew we needed to belong to something bigger than ourselves. If anyone ever could have accomplished His purposes as a Lone Ranger, certainly the Master could have done it. But He hand-picked what Millennials today would call a “posse,” a group of followers with whom He shared His life and ministry. He enjoyed intimate fellowship with His friends, investing in them and sending them out in pairs to proclaim His life-transforming Gospel!

Sounds like Jesus knew well the principle that the wise King Solomon laid out in Ecclesiastes 4. Two are better than one – not the worst philosophy when you’re considering that banana sandwich, by the way – …and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Earlier, Solomon praised the countenance-lifting virtues of simple friendship and brotherhood, even when adversity arises. (Proverbs 17:17, 27:6,17)

What the two wisest men who have ever walked this earth knew is this: life is better lived in fellowship and loving relationship – Paul calls it “koinonia” in the Greek – with others who share the common bond of faith, love and devotion to the Godhead.

Sadly, many believers run from the church when they should be running to it. They hit the rough patches of life: Read the rest of this entry »

Not Yet

7:1 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. 2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near.

3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.

6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. 8 Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:1-8)

Making Jesus and the Church attractive to the world and popular with everyone is a worldly temptation.

Jesus healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. After 38 years of futile waiting, the man had no man to place him in the healing waters. Jesus sees him. Asks if he wants to be healed. It’s the Sabbath. The man believes and Jesus commands him to get up, take up his mat, and walk. 3 verbs. After that many years waiting, Jesus could have waited for another day to heal the man. He chose to heal him on the Sabbath, the 3rd miracle in the Gospel, to solicit a challenge with the Jewish leaders.

The next feast is Passover referenced in John 6. Jesus never made it to Jerusalem for that important feast. Instead, He spent His time around the Sea of Galilee, feeding 5,000 and walking on the water for His disciples. He told the Jews following Him, looking for another free meal, “I am the Bread of Life.” By the end of the chapter, Jesus offended the multitudes with His command to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. At the sound of the hard sayings, all but the 12 disciples abandoned Him. Peter offered the reason why they stayed – even Judas; “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Right on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Holy One of God”, John takes us to the Feast of Booths, and Jesus’ unbelieving brothers. They offered 3 points of counsel:

#1 – 7:3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing.
MAKE A SHOW OF YOUR WORKS!
#2 – 7:4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”
PUBLICIZE YOURSELF TO THE WORLD
#3 – 7:5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.
UNBELIEF LEADS TO WORLDLY COUNSEL

Long before radio, TV, social media, web sites, page views, followers, likes, etc. the temptation of impressing the world with spiritual truth has been present. Jesus’ brothers are an example of following the worldly counsel of unbelief.

Jesus had three responses to their sinful counsel: Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion By Grace

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8) And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9) And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. Rev. 21:7

Regardless the event attended, eventually the greater focus becomes, “What should I wear”? Few attend functions oblivious or unconcerned of attire; for the subtle pressures of peers, conformity and tradition demand attention to one’s dress. And if coolness or uncoolness is determined by the clothes one wears, then knowing what’s “in” must be a major concern.

And since the hipsters of fashion convince us that “clothes make the man”, we max the plastic to keep up with the commerce driven nuances of Madison Avenue. Interestingly, the marketing scheme of such constant change is genius. For if “clothes make the man”,… and they decide what’s cool,… and they make the clothes- then the garment industry is out like a bandit!

Oh ok.  But what’s your point?

Thanks for the segue!

Did you know we’ve been invited to the greatest marriage ever?

It’s true! It’s actually true! The King of kings has called us, not as attendants to His wedding, but as His Bride! You’re talking upgrade? We just got one!

I know, it’s preposterous! It’s beyond the human mind, I know, but yes, He’s chosen us to live and reign with Him forever! Married to our Redeemer! A love story beyond words! Cinderella’s slipper story is relegated now to the compost pile!

Flabbergasted? Absolutely yes! Flattered? What do you think! Gonna take Him up on the invite? You bet your last dollar we are!

But a wedding of this type requires some specially tailored clothes! Read the rest of this entry »

The DEFs of PMA

“What are five things our human body must have to thrive?” the chiropractor asked a handful of patients. The top 3 – nourishment, exercise and rest — were no surprise. And No. 5 should have been expected considering who was asking the question. “Adjustments.” You know, those manual manipulations of the spine to correct the horrors of subluxations (slight misalignments of the vertebrae, for the uninitiated).

Odd how back-cracking made the list,…but oxygen did not. But we digress.

It was Necessity No. 4 that stirred us to pondering for days to come. When Dr. Matt wrote “PMA” on his whiteboard, everyone in the room gave a nodding sigh. Positive mental attitude. Solomon, the wisest human who ever had a BC birthday, said it this way: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Consider Paul’s instruction to the church at Ephesus. Smack in the middle of his encouragement to “put off” the old self and “put on” the new self is this fascinating fulcrum: “And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind (having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude),…” (Ephesians 4:22-24, Amplified Bible).

The human mind is capable of extraordinary things. When surrendered to the mind and attitude of Christ, the miraculous is possible. How we look at our circumstances – not the circumstances themselves – will determine the path of our lives. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl summed up his experience like this: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Let’s look at seven mental filters that we can exercise to not only survive but thrive in this journey called life. The ABCs certainly have been overused,…so let’s call these “The DEFs of PMA”: Read the rest of this entry »

What’s In A Name

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 1 Peter 4:12-19

Over the last few years, there has been a move from certain national church leaders to distance themselves and their congregations from the word “Christian”. Most of the desire to drop the use of the term was to distance the church from the bad behavior of “Christians” in the media and politics. The alternative most preferred is to be called a “disciple of Jesus”, which means “follower of Jesus”. The move is also bolstered by noting that in Acts 11:26, it was those outside the church that supposedly coined the term: “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” And in Acts 26:28, the unbelieving Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

In the simplest of definitions, “Christian” (from the Greek word, Χριστιανός – Christianos) actually means “Christ ones” or “followers of Christ”, which is the same as “Christ’s disciple”. The church leaders attempting to avoid the name of “Christian” are actually more interested in marketing to the world than teaching what the Bible actually teaches. One well-known preacher is actually attempting to rebrand the church away from the use of the word. The concern about avoiding calling oneself “Christian” is a market place concern rather than a biblical use of the word and its meaning in the Christian life, worship, and testimony to the world.

The third and last use of the word “Christian” is used not by an outsider or a Roman leader, but by the Apostle Peter. What he thinks about the name is important for people who value their Bible over the market place. Peter wrote to the Church in perilous times, calling them “the fiery ordeal, which comes upon you for your testing”. The testing is defined as: 1) a sharing in the sufferings of Christ (note Peter didn’t use the name “Jesus”); 2) a cause for rejoicing; 3) and an eventual revelation that will cause greater rejoicing.

Sharpening his focus on “the name of Christ” – once again not using the name “Jesus” – Peter in verse 14, is clear to say if you are reviled in that name, “Christ”, you are blessed. Why? Because “the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”.

After ensuring that the sufferings the Christians were experiencing are NOT for any wrong they might have done (4:15), he says, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” Note: “glorify God in THIS NAME”! Peter teaches that suffering of Christians, those who go by that name and who claim that name, are actually glorifying God by that name. It was a lesson he learned from Jesus after He asked them who people thought He was. Peter is the one who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And it was that statement of faith upon which Jesus said He would build His church and that He would suffer and die for (Matthew 16:13-23). The name Christ meant everything to the Lord Jesus, to Peter, and to the Church.

In 1 Peter, Peter used the name “Jesus” 8 times. He used the name 8 times in 2 Peter. The name “Christ” he used 20 times in 1 Peter and 7 times in 2 Peter and each time it was joined as “Jesus Christ”. And once he used “Christian” as noted in 1 Peter 4:16. Why does Peter focus on the name “Christ” more than the name “Jesus” and why would he tie the name “Christian” to the glorification of God? A reading of Peter’s epistles reveals that the church was going through hard times and more difficulty was coming. The promised Jewish Messiah was going to come and put an end to the evil in the world one day. The church’s name for Messiah is “Christ” and those who are living through hard times and being called “Christian” were glorying God when they endured the sufferings. They were rejoicing in sharing in the sufferings of Christ. And they looked forward to the day when their “Christ” would reveal Himself and put an end to sin, evil, and death.

The church does not need a marketing campaign to make a better appeal to the world. The Church would do well to rejoice in being called “Christians” as the Bible teaches and in so doing the Church will glorify God.

His Mercy Endures Forever

An Introduction to the seemingly trivial phrase:

“For his mercy endures forever” Psalm 136

Some things in life are overlooked and undervalued, not for their unworthiness, but for their consistent presence and immeasurable abundance. And though life be sustained through an obvious dependence on them, there’s a tendency to waltz through life assuming their presence commonplace and neglect to appreciate their presence. A strange premise to begin perhaps, but elementary truth is often stranger than elevated fiction.

For a moment, consider the parts and essential elements factored into our daily lives. And give special attention to those things that are deeply integrated, yet separate from conscious awareness. For so it may be with spouses, friends, health, family, peace, job, home, happiness… or maybe, and certainly, that overarching, catch-all word, Grace. They’re undoubtedly the threads and colors woven intimately, intricately, seamlessly and indispensably in the pattern of life; so that without them there’d likely be no fabric or canvas at all.

But the wise would never allow such an earthy, derelict label be attached to such a righteously acute conscience! For to recognize and grasp anything complex is to first acknowledge the parts and pieces comprising it. Then through intentional dismantling and breakdown of sophistication, an appreciation of the Creator’s genius and purpose is measured. Essentially, it’s in elevating the unnoticed and oft assumed elements of life that life is better valued, appropriated and maintained.

That small word “mercy” and the phrase “for His mercy endures forever” is so copiously embedded in the Bible that it’s easily overlooked as filler material, and especially in the 26 verses of Psalm 136! But let’s slow down for a moment and digest the part we rush through to get to the meaty substance. Read the rest of this entry »