Does Unity have a Prayer?

John 17_20_22_A Prayer for Unity

It was once voted the funniest “God joke” of all time, and it goes like this:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too!”  “Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too!”  “What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too!”  “Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too!”  “Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too!”  “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

Like most humor, the story above is funny only because there is a basis in reality.  Estimates vary widely, but there are somewhere between 1,100 and 41,000 “Protestant Denominations.”  Undoubtedly most started with what was believed to be an important theological/doctrinal distinction.

It’s strange to me that the church has used our doctrines to divide us more than to unite.  Strange because it causes the world to scratch their heads and write us off, and strange because Christ’s prayer for the church was that we’d be “one” – just as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-22).  Christ’s purpose for this prayer was so the world would see our unity and believe in Him!  No wonder Satan loves to divide us.

Yes doctrine is important – very important.  But unity is as well.  While we may gather in doctrinal clusters on Sunday morning, let us unite outside our walls so the world may actually see Jesus and believe in Him! –Dave

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

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What Endures?

Sunday_1 Peter 1_24_The Word Endures

Upon what are you basing your life? Doesn’t it only make sense to base it on something that lasts forever?

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Attitude or Location?

Eph 2_5_Location or Attitude

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.” (Charles Revson)

Apparently Revson, the man behind Revlon cosmetics, knew about more than just skin care!

While my attitude is generally (generally!) not an issue, I recognized that in one specific environment it had become pretty negative.  Objectively, the surroundings were rather toxic and things were so bad I knew something had to give.  To reverse Ravson’s words, I knew if I couldn’t change my attitude, I needed to change my fate (i.e., stop going there).

Sounds simple enough, yet I didn’t find the resolution that straight-forward.  So I did a radical thing and got “all Scriptural” with it!

In Ephesians, Paul wrote:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…(2:5)

In other words, as we “do life” with others, we’re to think and behave as the Lord did.  As I considered the toxic environment (and my attitude within it), I asked myself two important questions:  1). Does Jesus approve of this setting for me; does He even want me here?  (After all, what good is a great attitude in a setting if Christ doesn’t want us there in the first place?)  2)  If I stay, how would Christ respond within this difficult environment?

Are you struggling with your attitude in a specific setting?  First, ask yourself if Jesus wants you there.  If He does, begin to treat others the way He would. –Dave

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Hear and Obey, or Ignore and Pay

Exodus 9_Fearing Leads to Hearing

Yesterday, we looked at God’s purpose behind the plagues against Egypt – that He would become known among all mankind.  Today, I’d like to look at an interesting element associated with the seventh plague, the hail.

The plague of hail was unique because it’s the first one where the Egyptians were warned and given a choice which could spare them.  The story is found in Exodus, Chapter 9:

Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.  Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die. (vv. 18-19)

Speaking through Moses, God told Pharaoh to give an order to the Egyptians – “Bring your people and your animals inside – OR ELSE!”  The instructions were clear; the outcomes equally clear.  Hear and heed – all is well.  Disregard and disobey – pay the price.

Listen to how the people responded:

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field. (vv. 20-21).

Here we see the distinguishing factor behind the peoples’ choices – either they feared the Lord and obeyed.  Or they ignored the word of the Lord, a phrase that literally means “placed not into its place.”  They gave God’s word no place in their lives.  And aren’t those the two options available to everyone today as well?  We either hear God’s word and obey, or we give His word no place in our lives and suffer.

What are you doing with God’s Word?  Do you hear and obey?  Or ignore and pay? –Dave

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Plagues, Pain, and Purpose

Exodus 7_5_Plagues Pain and Purpose

I’ve recently been teaching a class on the plagues in Exodus.  Ultimately the plagues led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, yet there was an even bigger purpose behind them.  Over and over, Moses recorded for us the Lord’s purpose.  And as the plagues “crescendoed” in severity, God expanded His purpose.  What was that purpose?  That the Lord would be known.

First, God showed His power to just Pharaoh and his magicians so that they might know that the Egyptian gods were no gods at all.  Next, God wanted all of Egypt to know Him through the plagues He brought.  But that, too, was not enough, therefore God performed further plagues so that His name might become known throughout the whole earth.  But God was not content for only one generation to know Him, so He brought the final plagues so that Israel would tell their children and grandchildren about Him.  God’s glorious plan was for all people in all generations to come to know Him.

To “know” God in the book of Exodus was to experience Him.  To perceive with all of one’s senses that “He is,” and to acknowledge Him for who He is.  As a result, God’s hope was that all would submit to Him and be saved through faith in Him.

Yes, people suffered during the plagues.  Each day God delayed their release the Israelites remained in cruel slavery.  The Egyptians felt the brunt of the hail, locusts, and boils, etc.  But God had a purpose in His plagues and in their pain – that He might be known.

Friends, perhaps you’re suffering today.  If so, remember that God never wastes a hurt – He has a purpose in the pain He allows.  Look for ways Christ may become known through you as you endure your trials. –Dave

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them. (Exodus 7:5)

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Hungry

Jeremiah 15_16_Hungry

“I’d rather feed a hungry man any day.” (Greg Vitt)

If I had a dime for every time Dad said that during my childhood, I’d be a wealthy man today!  Generally, those words were spoken when someone around the table complained about the meal that had been prepared.  Dad’s message?  “If you don’t appreciate what’s on your plate, you’re obviously not very hungry!  A hungry man doesn’t complain about the food!”

On so many occasions I’ve walked into a Sunday School classroom hoping and praying that the members in attendance that day were “hungry.”  Because “I’d rather teach a spiritually hungry man any day.”  Yes, I’m absolutely responsible for showing up as prepared as possible.  I need to put in the hours of study, prayer, and lesson preparation.  But if the people on the receiving end aren’t hungry to learn, little will be gained.

Are you finding the offerings from the pulpit, Sunday School teacher, or even these devotions less than filling?  Consider asking yourself, “Do I show up hungry to learn?  Am I difficult to feed spiritually? In what ways can I increase my spiritual appetite?”

If we come willing and expecting to hear from God, we will generally learn! –Dave

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty. (Jeremiah 15:16)

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Propped Up or Thrown Down?

Proverb 3_5_Propped Up or Thrown Down

We’re “leaners.”  Each and every one of us leans upon something, or someone, during our times of trouble.  Typically, our first inclination is to lean upon ourselves – our ability, our understanding, and our resources.  Yet God’s Word clearly tells us not to (Proverb 3:5).

Once we come to an end of ourselves, many of us then turn to trusted friends or family.  Certainly, we are to have them around during the hard times (Proverb 27:10).  However, Scripture is clear that eventually even our dearest friends and family can fail us (Job 19:14).

Ultimately, God wants us to fall upon Him.  The same verse that tells us not to lean on our own understanding, first instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart.”  Trust in this verse comes from a word that means “to throw one down upon his face.”  You see, we either try to prop ourselves up with shaky supports, or we throw ourselves down onto a rock-solid foundation which is God.

About these options, CS Lewis once wrote:

I see more clearly, I think, the necessity (if one may so put it) which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted – so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.

What do you do during your afflictions?  Do you try to prop yourself up?  Or do you throw yourself down upon the Lord?  He wants us to rest fully in Him at all times – let’s learn to throw ourselves on Him instead of leaning on shaky supports. –Dave

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…(Proverb 3:5)

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