Work I: The Dirt Always Wins 

The other day Martha and I had a day scheduled for rest, relaxation, and restoration. Our weekends are usually busy, so if we don’t intentionally take some time now and again, we get worn out. So we were anticipating a day as relaxing as one can be with a 2 month old. And … suddenly we needed to get our septic tanks pumped the next day, and spent the day digging the covers clean and excavating the insanely tenacious clay off our shoes, our shovels, and ourselves. It was a cruel irony, because we had just been talking through this devotional about… you guessed it, work. 

So the questions — Why is work so hard? Why do we look forward so much to the weekend or to a vacation or to the end of the day? Why is work wearisome? — are all very fresh in our minds, as is the clay sticking to the underside of our fingernails. Some of you may have answered these questions by saying “people”…like your boss or coworker, but is that really the reason? Working alone is hard as well. 

So we have to ask… is work itself a curse? Is it all just a product of the fall? Clay, septic systems, and all? We find our answer in the second chapter of Genesis. 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” 

- Genesis 2:15 

Is this chapter before or after the man and the woman disobeyed? Yep, it’s before. So, no. Work is not a curse. God made us to work and it was part of the “very good” before the curse. It can be fun, fulfilling, gratifying, communal, good experiences for family and friends to have together, and like I tell Lillie, “it builds character.” 

I love the fact that God is characterized as a worker throughout Scripture. The Lord of the universe is not one to sit back on His throne as the deist would say and simply watch things happen, either gasping or applauding, but rather He is working all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) 

Don’t you know that He has the ability to snap His fingers and dispel all evil, suffering, and sin? As the scripture put to song says, “He could have called ten thousand angels.” If He does not have that ability then He is not all-powerful and therefore not God, but rather a subject Himself: subject to circumstances and the whims of fallen men. But no. He is no bystander. This God of creation is working a redeemed people for His own possession. (Titus 2:11-14) This work has not only cost Him blood, sweat, and tears, but He paid for it with His own life. 

This quote from Ken Hughes really struck me: 

“We meet God the Creator as a worker in Genesis 1:1 – 2:2… The image of God in man means man is to be a worker. The way we work will reveal how much we have allowed the image of God to develop in us.” 

Think about the fact that God made us to co-labor with Him. To take something and make it better, to take something in “the garden,” something He made and called “good” and make it better. This is the undeniable trait of God’s nature that nothings stays just good, but rather even good things are to be built upon and improved. 

So Adam is given a command to continue what God started and then what happens? Well, you know. If you don’t know, read Genesis 3:1-15. 

After those 15 verses, things start to change. 

Genesis 3:16-19 

To the woman he said, 

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; 

in pain you shall bring forth children. 

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, 

but he shall rule over you.” 

And to Adam he said, 

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife 

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 

‘You shall not eat of it,’ 

cursed is the ground because of you; 

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; 

and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, 

till you return to the ground, 

for out of it you were taken; 

for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

What happened? We went from “very good” to a curse, pain, sweat, and dust. 

I heard Tim Keller give this example: 

Imagine a machine with a bunch of gears, all interlocking and churning together with ease to accomplish the purpose for which the machine was created. Now imagine one of the gears deciding on its own to move somewhere else; it wants to be higher or in a better position. Since that’s not the plan, when it moves not only is there no place for it, but it falls into the rest of the workings and the other gears grind it, crush it, and smoke belches from the machine. While the whole machine is sick, it’s particularly that gear that becomes mangled and deformed. 

In case you didn’t catch it, we are that gear. We are the reason that the machine of creation is running amuck. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed, part of the mangled machinery. That’s why it’s hard. That’s why it seems futile sometimes. That’s why sometimes it’s not rewarding. Look at what Paul says about the results of the Fall. 

Romans 8:19-22 

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 

We are laboring with labor pains, and work is part of that pain. 

George Whitfield said speaking of nature’s curse: 

“Haven't you ever noticed that when you come near the animals they growl at us, they bark at us, the birds screech at us and fly away? Do you know why? They know that we have a quarrel with their master.”

 Think of that next time you are chased by the neighbor’s dog or a bird poops on your car. Remember that next time a squirrel barks at you when you get too close to its nest or a deer bolts at the sight of you, or an elusive armadillo digs up your entire yard despite the whole family being on watch around the clock with guns, security lights, and traps. Ok, this is hitting a little too close to home. 

The whole creation is suffering through birth pains. Think of it the next time a hurricane or tornado rips through a city or a mudslide carries away a whole family. Recall this passage when fire or flood destroys livelihoods and lives themselves. This is not the way it should be. Cosmic rebellion and disobedience against our Maker have made the machine to run violently. 

Do you hear the gears grinding? Can you feel it? And here’s a perfect example: you ladies work from this side of the house to that side of the house and when you go back…guess what…to dust you return. Martha and I are gone for weeks and months at a time and we leave the house clean as can be when we walk out the door, but guess what. It needs cleaning when we get back even if we ain’t there to mess it up! And think of this — Adam and Eve only got clothes after they sinned. That means laundry is a result of the fall. This is something I always knew in my heart, but only now have Scripture to back up. 

In this fallen condition, the dirt wins. “To dust you shall return”…you work your whole life cleaning and tidying up and washing and mopping and sweeping and polishing and taking care of messes, preparing things and guess what…when you are eternally done with this life you know what you get? 

6 feet of dirt piled on top of you. 

And then your remains turn into a pile of it. 

The dirt always wins. 

Sin leads to decomposition, to corruption of all things, and it permeates everything man touches. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed. Solomon had it right - “And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing–like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud–frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17 

Frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Ever met someone like that? Ever been that person? 

“What a way to end a devotional,” you say. “I thought devotionals were supposed to be encouraging?” Well, as we worked through the clay to our septic tank, it encouraged us to know that in some way, the work we were doing had been tainted by the Fall. It was encouraging to remember that while it was God’s original intent to have us work, it was not part of his design to have that work be frustrating, futile, and painful. We’ll bring more to the table about work next time. 

In the meantime, take note of the grinding of the gears, the snapping of the dogs, the hissing of the cats, the endless tearing up of the yard by the armadillos, the sweat of your brow. Know this is not the endgame. There is another in the background working on your behalf, Christian. Your work is being redeemed from the curse, and in the end, it will be completely redeemed from the curse. No more frustration. In the meantime, it's my turn on armadillo watch.

Thoughts on Ruth for a wedding 

At the wedding of my brother-in-law recently, it was requested that I speak from the Book of Ruth. Having not read it in a while and not heard many in-depth sermons from it, I went into it thinking that I was going to be hard pressed to find more than just the iconic verse that said something about “where you lodge I will lodge.” Instead I found a wealth of applicable material and had to pare it down substantially. 

For those who may be not be familiar with the story or for those who may have not heard it in a long time, let me give you a quick breakdown. 

The estimated time of this writing is approximately 1300-1000 B.C. There was a famine in the land of Israel and Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem, took his wife Naomi and their two sons to Moab while they waited for the drought to pass. While they were there their sons took Moabite wives. 

One of those Moabite wives was Orpah, not to be confused with Oprah…the other one was called Ruth. 

So far this may not mean much to us, but take note of who the Moabites were. This people was produced when Lot, the nephew of Abraham back in the book of Genesis, fathered Moab through an incestuous union with his oldest daughter. They were idolatrous, brutal, scheming enemies of Israel for generations. Not a good start and not an honorable history. This marriage of their sons to Moabite women would have left this family shamed in their homeland because they mixed bloodlines with this unclean, Gentile people. 

Then the story takes a tragic turn. Naomi’s husband dies, followed shortly by her two sons leaving her not only widowed, but childless. In that day an older woman who had no husband and no sons to provide for her had basically been given a death sentence or at least had to resort to begging and dependance on the pity of strangers. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, having heard that the famine is past, and her two daughter in laws accompany her some distance. Knowing that she can offer the young women nothing, Naomi urges them to return to their own people. 

Orpah ultimately decided to return to her own family, but even with Naomi urging Ruth to also return to what would seem to be a more hopeful existence in her own homeland, Ruth clings to her and says these iconic words, 

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 

This is another dramatic turn. Rather than returning to her own family, country, culture, and comfort, Ruth now makes a profession of faith in God Jehovah, stays with Naomi, and becomes a proselyte to Judaism. 

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in poverty. Ruth began to pick up the scraps of barley from the edges of the field of a wealthy man named Boaz, an unmarried relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. The Bible calls him a worthy man and he showed kindness to Ruth. Beyond the basic charity that God’s law required of him, he offered provision, protection, and partiality to this woman who was an outsider. 

I would encourage you to read this story for yourself because of the depth of detail and beauty that I had to leave out, but Boaz, as God would orchestrate it, became Ruth’s "kinsman redeemer." In essence, this meant in their situation that when she came to him for help as her relative, he married her, and in doing so, he rescued her from a life of poverty as a widow and stranger in the land. 

I would pass up a great opportunity if I didn’t point out that after their marriage, Boaz was no longer a ruthless man. Ok. Opportunity taken. Moving on... 

There were five things that really stood out to me as I studied this passage for Dan's wedding. 

1. God has a plan for Gentiles 

Chances are, if you are reading this, you like me, are not Jewish by birth. Let us stop to be amazed and evermore thankful for the inclusion of Gentiles into the divine plans of God. We are here today as Christians because God’s plan of salvation is open to us! God was able to use and work through people who were from the lineage of the idolatrous Moabites and maybe He can find a place for me too. 

2. God has a plan for women 

Let us also be amazed at the historical context of the Scriptures as they make much of women. In a culture where women were little more than chattel and so demeaned that their testimony was not even admissible in court, the Bible makes Ruth and even Rahab (Boaz's mother, a redeemed prostitute - check out her story in Joshua 2 and 6) not only fellow heirs of grace, but intricate parts of His plans for the saving of His church. 

This progresses even farther in the NT where woman are brought to the forefront and Jesus cares for and features them, and Paul points out that they are equal heirs in Christ. He proclaims in Galatians the unthinkable at that time, ”There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What an amazing contradiction to the wisdom of the world, both in Paul's time, and in our own. 

3. God has a plan for men 

Boaz is pictured as a type of Christ…a kinsman redeemer. Christ came to rescue us when we could not rescue ourselves. He came to make us pure, to protect us, to guarantee ultimate safety in eternity. 

As men, we are called to give the world an image of this. One of the scariest verses in the entire Bible to me as a husband is in Ephesians chapter 5 “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” That order could not be taller. I fall so short of that goal, but the command stands. This love can be beautifully pictured in marriage, but it's also the kind of love that is to characterize the relationships of all Christians. John tells us in 1 John "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." 

4. God has a plan for marriage 

Ruth is a name that means “friendship.” 

Wives, you will find your marriage to be easier and more joyful if you find the one you wake up next to every morning to be your best friend. When given the choice, you should desire no other above them to enjoy and lavish the very best you have to offer on. 

Boaz’s name means “in him is strength.” 

Husbands, you are to be strong for your family, "nourishing and cherishing" your spouse. Ephesians 5:28-30 tells us what God's intention for the husband's role in marriage is to be - "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." 

5. God has a plan of salvation 

The only other place Ruth is mentioned outside of the book of Ruth, is in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew. Matthew chapter 1 verse 5 says this: “Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David the king.” 

In the NT we see the completion of the line of David in a stable, and we find the culmination of the centuries as a baby is wrapped in swaddling clothes and worshipped by a broad menagerie of the oddest kind. One group of the lowest station of that day, shepherds. Later he was worshipped by a searching group of pagan Gentiles from the east — the wise men. And He was also heralded by a faithful old woman named Anna who was waiting eagerly for the coming Messiah when his parents presented him at the temple. 

The bloodline to the manger makes a line to a cross, to a tomb, to a resurrection, and now to a throne in Heaven as we wait ourselves, as Anna did, for this Messiah to come again and fulfill the Scriptures that foretold him thousands of years ago. Those who ask Him to rescue them and become their kinsman redeemer may now have a ‘foretaste of glory divine” as He rules in hearts, in homes, and in His church. 

Regardless of your race, age, gender, or station in life, this offer of salvation and safety is made open today because of God’s meticulous, providential planning as He worked through the bereavement, immigration, and marriage of an insignificant Gentile woman named Ruth. 

My desire is that each one of us, like Ruth, will come to Him, surrendering our hope of providing for ourselves spiritually in our own strength, and fall wholly at the feet of the one who, like Boaz, offers us strength for our weakness, riches for our poverty, and love for our loneliness. 

Now go read the whole book and see what you find for yourself.

James: Heartcheck 

Over the last several weeks we’ve been adding a new verse to our roster to memorize: James 4:4-10. It’s a fairly well known passage and I’ve heard it quoted many times, but usually just bits and pieces at a time. In the process of committing it to memory, as with many other verses, we’ve found a different take on it than at our first reading. Let’s have a gander at it… 

James 4:4-10 

 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

So, looking at an overview of the book of James before we attempted to understand this passage further, we found that James’ book is meant to be a test for true love for Christ. James wrote it for the Jewish converts who were scattered after the stoning of Stephen. If you want to know what a Christian should look like and must be like in order to bear the name, read James's letter. 

He gives the tests of impartial love, dependence, loyalty, works, patience in trials, prayerfulness, and more. By the time James gets toward the end of his letter in chapter 4, he’s concerned that some of the readers, (including us) may have failed these tests and so the natural thing was to have “an altar call” or an opportunity to rectify the situation. Let’s take it bit by bit and see where we end up. 

He starts off gently, in the way that every pastor or evangelist is taught to do altar calls in seminary: 

“You adulterous people!” 

Wait…you mean your pastor doesn’t do altar calls in this way? 

Well, this is obviously not talking to people who have broken the seventh commandment. In the Old Testament God speaking through the prophets often referred to Israel as adulterous in their spiritual lives. They were Jews in name and lineage, but in action their hearts were far from God. 

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” 

Again, let me play Captain Obvious and point out that “friendship with the world” has nothing to do with your unreligious coworkers with whom you hang out occasionally. Jesus was assuredly “a friend of sinners,” but He was not a friend of the world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son, but don’t doubt, God will ultimately destroy the worldly structures that defy Him. The world system is what John is referring to in 1 John 2:15-16, 

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” 

So John’s question, and James’s question is, “Where is your heart?” Jesus pulls it down to my level even more when He says in Matthew 6 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and…” 

Money, right? We all know Jesus says you cannot serve God and money, which is an example that tends to get me uncomfortable every time. But it doesn’t end with money. The point is we can’t divide our affection, our service, or our hearts, between God and anything. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whether I do something for Martha or for myself or for my family or for the people at my concerts, my ultimate goal must be to please God. 

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

James’ Scripture quotation here is pulling together several OT passages. Basically, God is the creator and He has the right to the creation — you and me. Romans 9 talks about the clay complaining to the potter, meaning that every person belongs to God and is subject to God, whether that is acknowledged or not. I am obliged to obey with willingness and thankfulness the One who is responsible for my very existence and Who extends mercy to creatures such as I. Humility is not so much a virtue in this light, as it is simply facing facts. 

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

Submit to God. Resist the devil. Draw near to God. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Be wretched. Mourn. Weep. Humble yourselves. These are the answers to the question “What do I do now? How do I work out my salvation given what you’ve just told me, James?” 

First step? Submit to God. In submitting to God, I turn from sin. In submitting to God, I denounce the enemy of God. I change sides, I defect to another master, I begin to fight under a different flag. This is no partial commitment. I am either for Him or against Him. There is no neutral ground. Submitting to God and resisting the devil are really two sides of the same coin. 

As I submit to God, I draw near to God with the grace He gives, and He draws near to me with open arms as my loving Father. As He draws near to me and I see the light of His purity on my life, I cleanse my hands from sin by the power of the Spirit, and choose a new way of life. 

The last part of verse 8 was really interesting as we studied it. Purify your hearts, you double minded. This isn't the remedy that I would prescribe for double mindedness. Off the top of my head, a visit with a psychologist would be more in order. But as we looked into it, we found James was going back to his initial point, both in his entire letter and in this chapter, about being adulterous in heart. In our study, we found that double mindedness is what we might call being half hearted. When I’m half hearted, instead of saying ‘whether therefore I eat or drink or whatever I do, I want everything I do to please God,’ I’m saying ‘this part of my life is intended to please God. But this part over here belongs to me.’ I'm not submitting myself entirely to God. So as I cleanse my hands from sin, I purify my heart from motivations other than “I belong to God. I love God. I want to please God.” 

And now we get to the “be wretched, mourn, and weep” bit. We often hear in churches the phrase, “There’s nothing wrong with having a good time in church.” Less often heard is “There’s nothing wrong with being afflicted, mourning, weeping, and gloomy in church.” It is true that there’s nothing wrong with laughter and joy. The problem is when I’m laughing and being joyful at the wrong time — like in the middle of a funeral. Or… during a mugging. When Martha fell into a well last week. At the proctologist’s office. I could go on. Obviously, there’s a time for laughter and a time for mourning. Often for me the time for mourning closely follows the time of laughing at the wrong time. 

So James is saying that if these things are true of us, if we find ourselves half hearted toward God, then we shouldn’t be having a good time now. To be brutally honest, my gut reaction when I look at this final verse is to say “ooooookay… but isn’t mourning and gloom overkill? It was just a little bit of half heartedness after all…”. Then I sit back and think about what James just said. That friendship, any amount, with the world’s lusts, desires, and pride, is hostility toward God. Wow. My gut reaction that makes little of hostility toward God indicts me at this point. All I have left is to go to my Father humbly and say “Father, I have sinned. My heart has been divided between You and other things. Purify my heart, and help me to seek to please You in all things.” 

How do you measure up to James’ altar call? I’ve already asked myself that question while working through this devotional and my answer is to repent afresh, realign my priorities...again, and once more focus my sights on my Lord. 

Until next time, 

Miles & Mar

Spiritual Diagnostics 

miles & mar’s devotional - volume xxiv 

Ever had to call in to tech support for a computer problem? 

Yeah, I thought so. 

Probably after a lengthy wait, (I wonder how long I would be on hold if my call wasn’t important to them…) they begin to run a series of test to see where the issue is in order to diagnose the problem and you just pray that it’s something that doesn’t require a complete overhaul. 

As I read through 2 Corinthians, I realize that's exactly what Paul is having to do with the 'First Church of Corinth.' Paul loved this church, even called them saints in the first letter, but it was a church that was situated in an extremely dark part of the ancient world full of unrestrained sin and idol worship. All the trade and commerce north, south, east, and west, came through this city. It was a cesspool of immorality, lewdness, and debauchery. Their old habits of pleasing the flesh brought about questions as to which of them were genuinely in the faith and which of them were just putting on a show. 

2 Corinthians 12:19 - 13:2 

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. 

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. 

So, here is this church that has been giving Paul great joy and great sorrow. Now he demands that they produce evidence of what they claim. 

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. 

I dare say most modern day church analysts would say that questioning the salvation of people, openly judging what they are doing as sin, promising to remove them from the church if they persist in their sins, and threatening to use severe authority from God to deal with them is NOT the fastest way to build church attendance. 

But notice what Paul says it’s for… “for building up and not for tearing down.” Paul is strong in his stance and firm with his approach because he is concerned about this church possessing an authentic faith that is demonstrated by fruit bearing. 

You ask your average person on the street if they are a Christian, and many people will answer ‘yes.’ 

Why? Because they… 

Have Christian principles. 

Attend a church. 

Are members of a religious group. 

Have walked an aisle at some point. 

Repeated a prayer after some preacher. 

Were baptized. 

Think it’s good for community. 

Wanna set a good example for the kids. 

All these, and a myriad of other flimsy reasons. 

But listen to what James says: 

James 2:19 

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 

If belief alone is the measure of salvation then all the demons and Satan himself are saved. This is obviously not true and therefore is not the measure of legitimate, saving faith. 

Just before that verse in James 2 he says… 

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 

So what are you to ‘examine’ to see if you are in the faith? 


We must be very careful here because it is a cardinal doctrine of all orthodox Christian belief. You are not saved by works. It’s impossible. But after salvation, works are and must be a byproduct. 

Titus 2:14 

Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 

For further explanation, consult John 15:1-11 

Being able and willing to honestly reevaluate your life periodically as a Christian is a sign of authentic spiritual life. You cannot simply look at an event in the past to evaluate your spiritual condition. What about today? How has it affected you over the years? How do you live differently this month as opposed to last month because of your change of heart? What do you love? What are your priorities? 

I’m going to give you five fruits of authentic faith or rather, five works that you can look at. These are not the specific fruits listed in scripture, but are broad categories, meant to help you quickly examine where you are. 

1. Contrition 

1 John is a litmus test for those who profess Christianity. Right off the bat he gives these tests. 

1 John 1:5-10 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

John identifies three people here: 

1. The one who claims to walk in the light and then bears it out by forsaking the practice of walking in the darkness and thus emulates Christ. Notice that the one who is practicing the things of light is also at home with the Body of Christ -- "fellowship with one another." 

2. The one who claims to be perfect after salvation. Hard to believe that those people exist, but we’ve met them. 

3. The one who claims to have never sinned. Yep, these folks exist too. 

It strikes me that neither John or any other writer of the scripture ever assumes a point in the Christian life where we stop repenting, being contrite, being penitent, being remorseful, being aware of our shortcomings, and THEN…doing something about it. It’s easy to get outraged at other people’s sin, but your reaction to your own personal sins are a better barometer of your spiritual condition. 

2. Imitation 

You will be like what you love. Pretty simple. 

When you become a Christian it’s not enough to turn from something, you must turn to someone. What does it mean to be a Christian if it does not mean to be like Christ? 

1 John 2:29 

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 

If you are born of Christ and are His child, then you will of necessity exhibit traits of your father. You will not just hate sin, but you will love righteousness. You will love what God loves and hate what God hates. A lot of people dislike certain sins because of the pain it causes or its consequences. Not as many people rejoice when righteousness is done. 

3 John 1:11 

Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 

As we have seen in this current cultural climate, people can with words claim to be a plethora of things that just may not be based in fact. If you claim Christianity, then prove it by imitation. 

3. Submission 

Are you willing to lay your will, desires, passions, plans, and pleasures down at the feet of Christ and submit to His desires? Are you willing to chase after His passions? Are you content with whatever His plan is for you? Do you long to do what will please Him? 

Luke 14:25-27 

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

We are obviously commanded to love our neighbor, honor our father and mother, to take care of our children, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, but in comparison with Christ…with our love for Him...all other loves fall to the bottom. 

It is in our submission to Christ and submission to His authority that he’s placed in his Church, the authority in government, and the authority in the Biblical structure of the home that we prove our willingness to humble ourselves before God. 

4. Obedience 

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

James 1:22 Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 

God desires obedience more than sacrifice. Just because you give your Sundays to church, donate to the local charity, and tithe doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about your spirituality. Works based religions all over the world have millions and billions of adherents that do the same kind of things. 

The real tests of faith come when you must decide whether or not you will obey Christ when it’s hard? When it’s not convenient? When it’s uncomfortable? When it’s not what you feel like doing? When it doesn’t seem to make sense to you? Do you obey or make excuses? 

1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 

5. Affection 

What has your affection? What do you love? 

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 

What world are we talking about? Even God ‘so loved the world.’ The ‘world’ in this case doesn’t mean the cosmos, the physical natural universe, but rather the world system. Paul was brokenhearted in 2 Timothy because a close friend proved to love the world more than Christ… 

2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. 

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 

This is a manifestation of the world’s goods owning you instead of you owning them. You love the things of the world more than your fellow man. If the love of Christ does not compel us to part with temporal things when someone else has need of them, then we are trying to serve two masters. 

I don’t know where it could be stated more clearly than here… 

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

Where do we stand in light of these tests? 

Have we really repented and mourned over sin? 

Or do we just regret the consequences of sin? 

Do we love God’s law and desire to live by it and grieve when we transgress it? 

Or do we view it as mere legalism — a weight around our neck and a killjoy? 

Do we submit to the authority of Christ and consider what His desires are before we do our own? 

Or do we make sure that our wants are fulfilled before we give God any of our time? 

Do we obey His word and study it to discover His will for us? 

Or does His word not really interest us and given the choice between studying and memorizing the Scriptures or watching TV, we choose the TV? 

And do we love those who are in His church? Do we give of ourselves freely to serve others? Have we begun to love our enemies and seek their good? 

Or do we love those who love us and give to those who give to us and scratch their back if they scratch ours? 

The true convert falls into sin. 

The false convert dives into sin. 

The true convert sins against his will. 

The false convert makes provision for the flesh. 

The true convert stumbles. 

The false convert is dead. 

Whoever you are, we encourage you to take a moment and run this diagnostic test. We pray with Paul that you will meet the test -- that you will be found to be standing firm in Christ. 

In Christ, 


The Acts of the Apostates - Part II 

Ok, so last time we started to tackle the Book of Jude. In this overview we attempted to dissect some basic things about apostasy and apostates. We answered these questions: 

1. What is an apostate? An apostate is someone who appears to sincerely repent and walk with the Lord. In the end, you see a denial of what they once professed, and a turning away from the truth. That’s apostasy.  

2. Should we be surprised to see them? Just from a few selections of Scripture — Matthew 7:15-23, Matthew 24:9-28, Acts 20:29-30, 1 Timothy 4:1 — we can clearly see that a sovereign God has foreknown and predicted exactly what would happen. 

3. What’s the big deal? The most dangerous attacks on the church today come not from the outside, but, as in Galatians 1:6-10, from the inside, from those who once claimed Christ, but now have defected from the faith. They may even affirm the authority of Scripture with their lips, but yet in practice and in teaching, they deny it.  

Let’s begin this time with… 

4. What do they look like? 

Jude 8 — 
“These people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme.” 

Wow. That’s a very brief and yet complete synopsis of what we will see in all of Scripture about these people. 

a. “Relying on their dreams” - These people have no qualms about adding to or even contradicting the Scriptures with what they consider to be new revelation as revealed in dreams, visions, prophecies, and other sorts of spiritual experiences.  

b. “Defiling the flesh” - This is most evident in reference to so-called Christian leaders and speakers who bring shame to the Church and Christ by soiling His Name with scandal and revelations of their lustful exploits.  

c. “Reject authority” - By rejecting the Word of God they reject the authority given to the Church to judge, correct, rebuke, exhort, reproof, etc. Through this denunciation, they ultimately reject God Himself. Rejection of God’s Word takes many shapes. Some reject it outright. Some reject it by not referencing it. Some reject it by not taking the time to see what the entirety of Scripture has to say, but rather cherry picking. 

d. “Blaspheme” - Isn’t it incredible that Paul had to tell the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that anyone who says Christ is accursed is not of God? You would think that would be ... obvious? Yet in today’s church I’ve heard many not only question Christ’s deity in their heresy, but claim that on the cross Christ became, not just the sin-bearer, but sinful in his own person.  

Now Jude proceeds to give us very rich word pictures starting in verse 12. 

"These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear…" 

Just as we have times of fellowship or potluck where everyone brings something and we share a table, the early church did as well. Jude is saying that these false teachers were being allowed to set at the love feasts and take part in the conversation without being confronted about their heresy. 

(Also see 1 Timothy 1:18-20) 

He likens this to hidden reefs which everyone would have understood as something deadly. Even the most sturdy ship can be taken down by these underlying obstructions. 

"Shepherds feeding themselves..." 

Their view of ministry is that of becoming fat off of the fold they are shepherding. They not only fleece the sheep, but bring destruction rather than protection, care, and nourishment. 

(Also see 1 Timothy 6:5) 

"Waterless clouds, swept along by winds..." 

Being used to dry Texas summers, we are well acquainted with the hopefulness that comes with the sight of dark clouds. These people living in an agricultural society, they would have felt it much more acutely. The sight of rainclouds were literally what their life depended on. 

(Also see Ephesians 4:11-14) 

Apostates however, look good, look promising, look like they will provide sustaining rain, and may even rumble with a little thunder, but they only block the light and their ‘gospel’ does nothing to alleviate drought. 

"Fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted..." 

Notice that they are ‘twice dead.’ They are dead in root and dead in fruit. They may look like a healthy tree with bright leaves, may bud out, may lend to a certain expectation of good things happening, but true fruit is the proof of a ministry. And true fruit is eternal, not temporal. 

(Also see Matthew 7:15-20) 

"Wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame..." 

If you have ever been to the ocean after a storm, then you immediately understand this. These people in spirit are not calm, placid souls. No, they are in a tumult, not satisfied with the things of God, dredging up sludge from the bottom of their own hearts and cast up the stinking refuse on the shore for all to see. 

(Also see 2 Peter 2:21-22) 

"Wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever..." 

Stars are to be fixed and steady. They were used for navigation, so if it is a ‘wandering star’ that would indicate a shooting star. They are noticeable, and everyone points and says ‘ahhhhhh’, but they are a fleeting thing. A bright flash that only is showing forth the light of its own destruction. 

(Also see Matthew 7:21-23) 

So what do false teachers look like? They rely on their own dreams and visions even against the authority of Scripture. They live lives that are not morally pure. They reject the authority of the Word of God over their lives. They speak things about God that are not true. They are hidden among the church, like a reef waiting for an inexperienced boat to come by. They make themselves rich off the people they are supposed to be shepherding. They don't preach things that are actually useful for the purpose of living lives that please God. They look good but never bear good fruit. They are as peaceless as the waves of the sea, always moving on to the next thing. They promise to give good direction for those who desire to live lives that please God, but are unable to deliver on their promises. 

Knowing the answer to the question “what do they look like” is vital to survival in this day of so many differing beliefs and contradicting viewpoints that all claim to be Christianity. Truth by definition is exclusive and we must be able to recognize and smell out error in all its forms. 

Until next time keep your guard up and remember that lies are plural, but truth is singular.

The Acts of the Apostates - Part I 

Of all the many important topics that we could choose to address this time, we felt that we could get some big help from a little book of the Bible. If you go by an English word count, the Book of Jude is the fifth smallest member of the canon of Scripture. Despite its diminutive size it has some far reaching and timely words for us today. That being the case, we will be doing a series on the epistle over the next few newsletters.  

Here’s the opening of Jude’s letter… 

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, 
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 

The church age began with the book we know as Acts, or “the Acts of the Apostles.” A few decades later, near the end of the Bible, we find the book which we might call the ‘acts of the apostates’ — Jude.  

First off, what is an apostate?  

It’s a strange word; a word not commonly used. Truthfully, I didn’t really know its meaning until later in life. Then again, I used to think that the epistles were the apostles wives. 

The dictionary defines an apostate as: 

"a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle." 

synonyms: dissenter, defector, deserter, traitor, backslider, turncoat 

So in Biblical terms Demas and Judas would both be apostates. We all know Judas, but Dumas is perhaps less well known, so here’s Paul’s summary of Demas’ defection. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). 

Do a word search on Demas in your Bible and you will see the sketch of an apostate life. In the cases of both Judas and Demas, you see a pattern. In the beginning, you see what appears to be a sincere conversion and walk with the Lord. In the end, you see a denial of what they once professed, and a turning away from the truth. That’s apostasy.  

There are those that come into the church and profess a love for Christ and then leave as apostates, but the people that Jude is particularly concerned with are those who stop believing the truth, but remain in the church. As teachers or leaders they may profess to be Christians, but through their skewed and twisted presentation of scripture they exert influence over others and draw them away into error. 

So I guess the second question would rightly be, should we be surprised to see them?  

Has God lost control somewhere along the line? Was this an oversight or loss of foresight on His part? 

Here’s just a few things that our Lord Himself said. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus tells us to beware of the false prophets, that they will come to us as wolves in sheep’s clothing, that we would know them by their fruits, and that they have the appearance of Christianity but practice lawlessness. Later in the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24:9-28 he stresses that many false prophets will arise and deceive many by great signs and wonders. 

God warns us through Paul in Acts 20:29-30 “after my departure savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock.” Where does he say they will come from? “From among your own selves men will arise speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.” 

He goes on to warn this young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1, “now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” 

So, just from those few selections we can clearly see that a sovereign God has foreknown and predicted exactly what would happen. We have no need to feel that He is not in ultimate control, and we surely have no reason to be surprised to see these prophecies come true. 

The third question is, what’s the big deal? Why should we be concerned? 

Apostates are dangerous because they have enough knowledge of the truth to twist it convincingly and so deceive someone who is not grounded in the Scriptures.  

Paul’s whole purpose in writing the epistle of Galatians is to defend against apostate teachers who claimed to be Christians. These teachers came after him and contorted the truth Paul had taught the young church that he began in Galatia. If you read Galatians you’ll see that Paul calls out the Galatian false teachers for their legalism. The false teachers in Galatia were going around teaching the Gentiles that in order to be saved, they had to be circumcised. They were twisting Scripture to make it say that salvation was partly Christ’s work, and partly the act of circumcision. So Paul says this: 

Galatians 1:6-10 
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 

These are strong words, especially in this namby-pamby society. When’s the last time you heard a sermon in which the preacher said of a false teacher “Let him be accursed”? And let’s just be honest here — there are a lot of teachers out there teaching a gospel contrary to what Christ and His apostles delivered. So why is Paul so uptight? Can’t he just live and let live?  

Paul’s uptight because he knows that believing the wrong thing about the gospel will send you to hell. If you believe that Christ’s work on the cross is not enough, that you have to add something to it, that’s not salvation. Paul realizes that this is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. The whole church in Galatia is at stake here. Listen to him in Galatians 5:2-7 “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” 

The most dangerous attacks on the church today come not from the outside, but from the inside, from those who once claimed Christ, but now have defected from the faith. They may even affirm the authority of Scripture with their lips, but yet in practice and in teaching, they deny it. 

Next time we will take a more in-depth look at what the Bible says they look like. Until then, keep your mind sharp, your conscience clear, your faith grounded, and your eyes looking up. 

The Hopelessness of Sin 

Recently, Martha and I were discussing a sermon I was preparing for a revival. Sermon topic: sin. It was a rousing conversation, taking the better part of an afternoon. The way these things go, if I were preaching on love, I’d be tempted to be unloving at some point during study time. If I were preaching on patience, we would inevitably have to go to Dallas during rush hour traffic. So this time we were studying sin. Now, we’re in that part of spring/summer where we’re putting off turning the air conditioning on for as long as possible. It doesn’t seem like summer if you can still have the windows open and hear the birds singing. So we were sitting there studying, trying to pretend that it wasn’t just a *bit* warm, and that we weren’t just a *bit* sticky, and that the birds singing were making up for the discomfort we were pretending not to have. Having experienced just a bit of that makes it so much easier to understand how the Civil War started. You raise the temperature just a little bit, and everybody becomes on edge. So having been reading the Bible passages on sin and studying about sin, and thinking about sin all afternoon, we finished up the afternoon with a light skirmish, and both sides retreated, vowing to install the air conditioner pronto. 

If you can’t relate to this woeful tale, I both admire you and am a little disgusted by you. The point is driven home to us every day. We want to do right, to be patient, kind, loving, wise, merciful… and just when it seems we’re making serious headway, the temperature rises a degree or two, and we find ourselves humbled and exasperated by sin. Solomon said “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Before salvation it’s like sin is the water we swim in — after salvation, the humid air we try to air condition. We’re surrounded by it, outside and inside. 

In post-Christian America it’s hard — even for Christians — to adequately and accurately articulate the nature and definition of sin. If you look up “sin” in the dictionary you will find the definition something like this: “An act that is perceived to be a transgression against a divine law.” 

To me that definition lacks a lot, but just three main things immediately jump out at me. 

1. Sin is not just an act. It’s a desire. Jesus said that sin is “from within, out of the heart of a man…”, that if you look at a woman to lust after her in your heart, or if you hate in your heart, you have become a sinner. 

2. The phrase “Perceived to be.” Sin does not have to be perceived. We sin everyday and it may not even cross our minds as having been sin. 

3. Also, this is so open ended because it doesn’t look to a specific religion for what constitutes a sin. Buddhists and Muslims have what they consider sin and they can differ greatly and have nothing necessarily to do with truth. 

Now here’s a Biblical definition of sin: 

1 John 3:4 

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 

James 4:17 

Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. 

Romans 14:23 

…whatever is not of faith is sin. 

There’s not much comfort from the Bible when I look for justification for my sin. It was “just” an unkind word… but they weren’t being kind either! “Just” a sigh… that I knew would hurt someone’s feelings. “Just” impatience… because I was tired. But all I see in the Bible is that it was unkind. It was hurtful. It was impatient. It was sin. I knew the right thing to do, and not only failed to do it, but did a wrong thing instead. 

Amid all my attempts to justify and downplay my sin, the cross looms up, forever keeping me from taking my sin, any sin, lightly. That selfishly unkind word was the sin for which the perfect, sinless, spotless, second person of the Trinity, the only begotten of the Father, the one who sustains all things by the word of His power, the one who was in the beginning with God… in short, it was the sin the Lord Jesus Christ himself had to die for so that I could be forgiven. My sin offends God, in the same way that a child molester’s sin offends me, or a murderer’s sin offends me, or a terrorist’s sin offends me. I just have a far lower standard for what I see as truly offensive, as compared to God's standard. And just as that child molester could never do anything to make that offense right, I can’t do anything to make my offenses right. 

Micah 6:6-7 

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? 

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? 

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 

So, everyone is a sinner, sin is lawlessness, not doing the right thing, not believing God, and no one can atone for himself. If that is not the darkest picture imaginable then we don’t know what a hopeless situation looks like. 

And I think that’s where we’ll leave it for now. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, because likely you know what comes next, but Paul spends 7 chapters in Romans going over exactly how bad off we are before he reaches the glories of Romans 8. And Romans 8 would not be nearly as glorious if we couldn’t look into the bleakness of the previous 7 chapters first. 

Thankful to be in Christ, 


Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread 


Let’s be real y’all. Sometimes writing this devotional is not that easy. There are times we’ve already been thinking on a subject or really diving into a text or passage and the ideas flow pretty freely. All that’s left is editing. 

Then there are times like this where we are strung out with 384 things on the to-do list and it’s just another reason to be depressed about how much there is on the to-do list. So I was scrounging around for a subject to write about and three days later had bupkis. Got to stressing about it a little and so Martha suggested that I pray about it. 

So…guess what we’re going to talk about. We’re gonna talk about prayer. 

This is quite possibly the last subject in the world I’m qualified to talk about. I myself do not feel like any type of “prayer warrior.” I do not wear holes in my jeans and have two knee sized divots in the floor by my side of the bed. I do not make it a point to never miss the prayer meetings and sometimes The National Day of Prayer passes by without me knowing it until someone mentions it the following week. 

Matter of fact the times in my life where I fell by the side of my bed in prayer have either been because I was in mental anguish at the end of my rope or I just decided I wanted to earn some spiritual brownie points that week. Then there are those times when I’ve been getting in bed and decide that I sincerely want to bring a petition before the Lord for someone in need whom I love. I begin to pray and I am so happy to be talking with the Lord… then all of a sudden He gets a dial tone on His end and the next thing I know, it’s morning. These are not the brighter moments in my Christian experience. 

And while we’re being honest, I have a tendency to think better of myself when I hear other people pray ritualistic or even nonsensical prayers out loud in churches. Ok, so I might have just lost some of you there because I know that none of you do that. “What kind of person is this guy anyway? Judging other people’s prayers!” 

Now that I have officially convinced the majority of you that you never need come to this old sinner’s concerts any more, let me just assure you that I do pray. Obviously, I need the Lord’s help badly! However, I have a LONG way to go in developing my prayer life. This study is as much for Martha and myself as it is for anybody. 

My prayer life mostly centers around those times when I am in the moment and I don’t have time or ability to take the iconic “kneeling, hands together pointed skywards, and eyes respectfully closed” pose. Maybe I’m in the middle of some stressful predicament and just have no other recourse, no words, no ideas, and little hope of it ending well — in Dallas rush hour traffic with Martha driving and…(she’s a perfectly wonderful driver, but the other people are psychotic) I don’t need to break out loudly into a prayer in that moment about how God controls all things and something pertaining to how this is working for our good and tribulation worketh patience. Martha would have every right to wreck at that point. 

That’s when Paul comes to my rescue: 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 
Pray without ceasing. 

Now that might mean that God wants me to hole up in a monastery somewhere and forsake life as I know it, or maybe that every Christian should be a babbling robot wandering around in society, or just maybe… that we are to maintain a constancy with God where He is our first recourse and not our last when we are in a pinch, or tired, or happy, or sad, or just blah. 

There must be more to this than what meets the eye. 

I love what happened when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. If I had been there and asked Him that, I would have had a lot of expectations. I mean, seriously, this is the guy who tells me that if I ask God to remove mountains, He will do it for me. So that being the case, I’m expecting Jesus to whip out His brand new book “7 Keys To Living The Miraculous Life” or “Your Best Prayer Life Now” or something. That just proves that I’m human and Jesus is divine. 

He begins… 

Our Father in heaven - This is the hinge on which prayer turns. If God is not my Father, then I have no confident expectation that God hears my prayer, much less will answer it. If I am not God’s child, I am an enemy of God, not a member of the family. If I am God’s child, I know He hears me, no matter what. 

Hallowed be Your name - The underlying desire of prayer is to see God’s name proclaimed holy and vindicated. The proof is in the puddin’, so to speak, so I may call God “Father,” but if I don’t care about His honor and His glory — if I don’t love Him — I’m no child of His, no matter how much I say “Lord, Lord.” 

Your kingdom come - Honestly, this is a scary thing to pray. Before I was married, it was “Lord, Your kingdom come, but not before I get married.” When we have children it’ll be “Lord, Your kingdom come, but not before my children are right with You.” Then it’ll be “not before my grandchildren are right with you.” But no, there’s no exceptions. Your kingdom come, and come quickly Lord Jesus. And until that day, rule and reign in all that I have any influence over. It’s not mine. It’s Yours, and I trust You. 

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven - Christ is chipping away at my preconceptions about prayer one by one. It’s not about who I am, it’s about who God is. It’s not about my honor, it’s about God’s honor. It’s not about my kingdom, it’s about God’s kingdom. It’s not about my will, it’s about God’s will. I’m coming to God, filled with my issues and my wants and my hurts, and Christ says “Come, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” But that rest is found in seeing my life through the lens of my relationship with God, His character, and His kingdom. Before Christ ever gets to any sort of personal petition, He’s telling me to lay my will on the line and ask for God’s will to be done, even if God’s will is at cross purposes with my own. 

(Now we get to the good stuff — the part where we ask God to work on our behalf and see great and mighty things done. Oh boy! And Christ has told us we can ask anything we want, so this is going to be really juicy. I’ve been waiting for this!) 

Here we go: 

Give us this day our daily bread - So really, I’m thinking at this point that God doesn’t have much of a vision for the future. I mean, how about give us this day my yearly IRA contribution or give us this day our daily taxes (love this time of the year) or ….  fill in the blank. But no. Give me, just for today, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Give me, for today, what I need. I don’t need tomorrow’s need met today. Although… the deadline for taxes will be “today” before we know it, Lord. Just throwing that out there… 

And forgive us our debts - I love the line from that old hymn “Come Thou Fount” that says “Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.” Because the thing is, I’m asking for not only daily bread, but daily forgiveness and cleansing from sin. And I need the daily cleansing from sin just as much if not more than I need my daily bread. 

As we also have forgiven our debtors - This makes the previous part conditional. If I am not willing to forgive when I have been forgiven so much, then I am to expect that my Father will discipline me. Why? Because I am not the sole recipient of my Father’s love. He loves ‘my debtors’ too. And if He loves them, I am to love them. 

And lead us not into temptation - Another line from “Come Thou Fount” is “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” How true that is. And we will learn it, either by God leading us into experiences where we learn our weakness, or by us knowing and acknowledging our weakness every day — Lead me not into temptation, Lord, because I am so prone to wander. Keep me from failing You. 

The Holy Spirit not only cleanses me from sin, but also helps me identify it and keeps me from it. The closer I get to the Scriptures and the more I hide it in my heart, the more readily I will be kept from it - “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” 

But deliver us from evil - I as a Christian am not to fear the work or power of the enemy, but I am to be the first to recognize that I am a new creation in Christ, but still living in a fleshy carcass. I need God’s power and help to overcome evil both inside myself, and outside. 

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever - Everything that is, was, or ever will be is God’s domain, all the power to transport us from sin to righteousness is His work, and in the end there will be no glory attributed to me. It all is His. 

Ok, so that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this. Is there more to prayer? A lot more. Do I have a long way to go? All the way until I die. Will I mess up along the way? Probably before this day is over. Does God hear when I pray according to what I know to be true about Him and with the purposes of His Kingdom in mind? 

You bet. 

Keep praying, 

Miles & Mar

The Christian's Reaction to a Broken World 

Miles & Mar’s Devotional - Volume XVIII

With the explosion of violence over the last few weeks with Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino generating massive amounts of headlines, I felt maybe we should look at what the Bible says is the Christian’s reaction in this broken world. 

First of all, surprise should not be our reaction. To say that things are just now starting to get worse is to be ignorant of or to ignore history. During the bulk of humanities 6,000 years of history, the majority of the world’s population has lived in oppressive times. To list the number of manmade atrocities like wars, tyrannical governments, and genocides would be nothing less than depressing and far too time consuming. WWI was supposed to be the war to end all wars and yet WW2 claimed 70 million lives. Abortion statistics alone show that since 1980, 1,357,168,881 babies have been murdered in the womb worldwide. Man’s sin has left death, destruction, pillaging and chaos in its wake. So surprise should not be our reaction. Shock? Horror? Grief? Indignation? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But surprise that the enemy of our souls is making good on his goal to “steal, kill, and destroy”? No. 

How, then, should Christians react to mass killings and senseless murder? What is the right response to acts of terror? What is our stance in regard to refugees from countries who are beheading people of other faiths?

I believe there is a duality to our response. We should be compassionate to the victims and feel heaviness for the souls of the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Martha and I have been memorizing Luke 6, in which Jesus tells us “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” While it may be hard sometimes to out of a heartfelt sincerity to truly wish for the welfare of someone who is deserving of all the weight that the penal system can deliver, the fact is that none of those who are in Christ will ever pay for the sinful acts that we have done. Justice has been done, but not upon us. Christ has paid our debt in full. In that light, we should respond with prayer and forgiveness in our hearts toward the perpetrators, and with compassion and shared sorrow with the victims — (Romans 12:15) “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

The other side of the Christian heart should be a longing and a crying out for God to come and judge justly. I believe the imprecatory Psalms are there to help balance this out. David, seeing the wickedness around him, is infuriated because men are bowing before dead idols, children are being sacrificed to false gods, and the wicked seem to be prospering as they swallow up the weak. He’s praying and longing for the justice of God’s wrath to bring it to an end: (Psalms 7:6) “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.” In Revelation 6:10, the martyrs in heaven cry out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

God has a dual reality in His feelings toward this unrighteous world and it’s system. Read Ezekiel 33:1-20 where God declares that He “has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Here God is declaring that He does not enjoy meting out judgment, but yet they refuse to turn.

Verses calling for God’s justice and speaking of God’s wrath are often hard to swallow — not because we have trouble understanding them, but because we are living in a world that is losing its moral compass and the concept of sin today has become vague and subjective, even nonexistent. But if God is righteous, He must judge evil in every form and every degree. Holiness requires its day in court. 

Men have need to beware lest in pity for the sinner they condone the sin,
or relax the struggle against evil.

A. F. Kirkpatrick 

We must show unconditional love, exhibit mercy, extend compassion, and demonstrate the gospel of grace with every fiber of our being. However, we must equally desire the demise of sin and evil, the vindication of God's righteousness and justice, and the culmination of all that we are promised at the return of Christ. 

May we find the balance and clarity of thought that we need in these times so that we can make a difference for the kingdom of our Lord. May He come in fire and judgment to make all things right (Isaiah 66:15-16), but while we wait, may we do as Jude says and “save others by snatching them from the fire.”

In Christ,

Miles & Martha

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil... 


Having finished going through the Beatitudes, Mar and I were debating what to write about next. Then the Planned Parenthood undercover videos came out. We both felt that we had to do whatever we could to actively stand against this organization and the practice of abortion.

Some may consider this a political subject, but this is a moral subject and morality does not get its power from legislation, but from the Lawgiver. In this case, it is even more connected because the Lawgiver is also the Lifegiver. God has called human life precious, sacred, and gave commandments that reveal His mind on these issues all through Scripture. Just one for instance, if you hit a woman who was pregnant and the baby died, then you were guilty of murder (Exodus 21:22-25). 

My generation came after the abortion question was ‘answered,' so I’ve never known a society without it and was somewhat used to the concept. It's wrong, but people are going to do it, so what do you do? I say this to my shame. Now to hear people say it’s "kinda cool” as they poke at the beating heart of a defenseless human baby -- it sickens me and makes me see the horror of abortion that I had not seen or felt before.

Indignation is cheap. Anyone can get bent out of shape. There is no great moral capital in human anger. It comes easy. But the absence of anger (and sorrow) in some cases is a sign of a disordered heart.
~ John Piper

We are called in Proverbs 24:11–12 to:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

Here is a video that really stirred me about this issue. If you watch one linked video in this email, this would be the one.

Our government is funding Planned Parenthood to the tune of 500 million dollars a year. The media has done a really bad job of covering this story, but there have thus far been six undercover videos about Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts for profit, not fully informing the mothers, and changing procedures to harvest parts intact for sale. Here’s a quick breakdown...

1. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s director of medical services, discussing the potential of selling aborted babies’ body parts for profit, while enjoying a salad, “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not going to crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m going to crush above, and I’m going to see if I can get it all intact.”

2. An abortionist discussing prices for the organ harvesting while joking about wanting a Lamborghini. (Planned Parenthood is not supposed to get any compensation beyond reimbursement for cost from research companies.)

3. An interview with an ex-procurement technician Holly O’Donnell from the company StemExpress detailing retrieving specimens and harvesting organ parts for a percentage.

4. Inside a Planned Parenthood Clinic, this video shows Colorado medical director Dr. Savita Ginde identifying fetal parts in a dish - heart, stomach, arms. At one point, she says, “Another boy!” 

5. Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast discusses altering abortion procedures to meet specific needs and the cost of “intact” fetuses. 

6. An interview with former StemExpress technician from video 3, Holly O’Donnell, discussing harvesting the brain from an aborted fetus with its heart still beating. 

More videos have been released just this morning and probably more coming.

Now, if you are still reading by this point, then please don’t stop now because I want this in context. 

In four decades we in America have made legal the deaths of 55 million babies. To help put that into perspective, most of us have been to an event that boasted 1,000 people…now multiply that number of people by another 55,000. Now imagine a nuclear bomb destroying the population of New York City, Dallas, and Houston…you would not even reach half. Think of it as over nine Holocausts or 18,333 9/11s. How is a sacrifice of an unborn baby to the god of "It's my right", or the god of "It's my body" any different from baby sacrifices to pagan gods of old? How can the fact that the baby is still in the womb make it ethical? 

If you were standing on the side of the street and could save someone from being hit by a drunk driver, but you didn’t because you just don’t want to get involved, were on the way to an appointment, or knew it would mean you’d have to make a statement to the cops, then that would mean you are not a very good person. There ya go. May as well say it.

Here we are at this crossroads in our history where the skeletons are out of the closet and to do nothing would be to indirectly take part in it. Romans says, “though they know the judgment of God that those who do such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but give approval to those who do them.” If you desire every human life, and yes, even your life to have value, then do not give approval to this by your lack of action at this time when it is possible to change the laws and reclaim this loss of national conscience.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in a Nazi German camp until he was martyred by them and he said,

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil:
God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Here is a link that will lead you to your representatives so you can contact them. Maybe by the time you finish reading this ten minutes have passed…maybe you’ll watch one of the videos I linked and that will take a few minutes. Maybe by the time you contact your representatives you may have spent a total of an hour of your day. In this microwave society, anything that takes more than five minutes tends to lose our attention, myself included, and that is a shame.

I could go into a long tirade about where this logic will ultimately lead us in regard to post-birth abortions, euthanasia, and how in America those who were considered mentally inadequate in the early 1900s were quarantined and castrated, but I won’t. This is about what IS happening and Martha and I were both strongly convicted about believing what we believe, but yet having said nothing about it publicly until now. May this spur you on as well to stand for truth and make a difference and be salt and light. (Matthew 5)

In conclusion, as someone who knows people who have had abortions, I am familiar with the pain, shame, and trauma that comes with it which can last for years afterwards. But as a Christian, I also know that God is faithful to forgive us of any sin when we ask with a repentant heart. I have been forgiven more than my share of things that I still regret. There is no hate in me for those who go to abortion clinics or those who callously perform them day by day. There is only pity and an urgency to call them to Christ to meet the giver of life.

Let’s be the church and pull the helpless ones out from in front of oncoming destruction and call those who are drunk at the wheel to repentance.

Miles & Mar