Influencers Weekly Devotional
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
A Sacrifice of Praise
By Bryan Craig
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise- the fruit of lips that confess His name.” Hebrews 13:15
Well, it’s Thanksgiving. It’s that special time of year when we all collectively pause to take a day and gather with friends and family for a bountiful meal with thankful hearts. In my childlikeness, Thanksgiving still conjures up images of Pilgrims with tall, black hats and shiny buckles on their shoes. I see them sitting outside on long wooden tables with their Indian friends amidst the fall foliage and beautiful Northeast countryside. It’s an image of peace, unity and praise to the Father of us all. This is my happy place, far away from the fast-paced, electronic world where Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving evening.
So, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? That seems to be the question we all ask ourselves and our children. The usual answers come easily…health, family, friends, safety, and prosperity. How many of us quickly thank God for our pain, our suffering, our diseases, our trials and temptations? No, like the perfect Thanksgiving image, we like our lives to be carefree and smooth and easy. That is when we feel like “all is well with the world.” I’m no different, but then I read James 1:2-4:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
It’s hard for me to conceive that on my list of things for which I’m thankful there should be trials and tests. However, James is saying that if I’m being tested, it is good news. It means the Lord is working out His plan in my life. He is making me mature and complete, not lacking anything.
A wise friend of mine, who is 85 years old, and who has lived an entire life of faithfulness, once talked to me about “a sacrifice of praise.” This phrase is mentioned in the Hebrews verse at the top of the page. He said, “It’s not a sacrifice of praise unless it is hard.” He believes one of the highest forms of worship is praising God for the hard things in our lives. This was radical thinking to my comfort-seeking flesh, until he led me through a time of prayer where we thanked God for the pain and the heartache and the disappointment and the struggle in our lives. I found myself thanking God for the deep financial struggle I’d been enduring for 2 years. It was very strange at first, but I can tell you that in the end, it was very freeing. It is difficult to praise God for things which we’ve been praying He would fix or remove. It truly is a sacrifice, but I believe it’s a sacrifice which is pleasing to the Lord.
It helps us determine if we really trust Him with our entire lives- the good, the bad and the ugly. Do we really believe that the Lord created us, He loves us, and that He has a plan for our lives which will maximize God’s potential through us on this earth? If so, we must accept the hard things. Job understood, as he discussed his faith, amidst trials, with his wife who wanted him to give up. He said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”Job 2:10
Brothers, I’m not trying to be “Danny Downer”. I just know of so many men struggling with life right now. Whether it be their marriage, their kids, financial burdens, job situations, addictions, or secret sins…the list goes on. Some hardships may have been inventions of their own doing and some may seem random. Whatever the case, we should praise God for Who He is and give our lives to Him. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is with us. He Knows about our situation, He Cares about it, He is Willing to help us, and He is Able. However, we must trust Him with all the details.
Oh, and there’s an added bonus. You will find that when you give God praise for the “thorns” in your life, they lose their power over your life. Instead of asking God to remove them, you will understand that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in your weakness.
So, as you gather around your Thanksgiving table, would you give your God praise, no matter how hard it is right now? By thanking Him and praising Him for EVERYTHING, you will truly experience Thanksgiving.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Lord, we come to you this Thanksgiving with humble hearts. We are broken before You. We are Your servants. We are Your children. Lord, we Praise You for everything in our lives, even the things that hurt or don’t make sense. We trust You with everything, for You alone are trustworthy. We thank you for our lives, for our families, for Your provision. We love You, Lord. We feast upon Your bountiful goodness this Thanksgiving. In Jesus’ beautiful and mighty name, we pray. Amen.”
Category: Influencer's Weekly Devotionals
Influencers Weekly Devotional
Friday, November 18, 2011
“For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18
In every contest that involves the will to win, there will be required of us sacrifice and dedication to accomplish our challenge. Whether it be football or golf, education or labor, war or peace, the challenge will require that we suffer in some way to win the contest. It is the same with overcoming temptation. Though we may not be cut, and bleed physically, we will likely carry hidden scars from the ordeal. But the “victory scars” we carry are likened to a great warrior who has fought a war and returned home as victor. His scars declare that he overcame his enemy and that he is the real deal. God's men will have some scars from our battle with evil. But, so did Jesus when He fought and won His battles. His “victory scars” will likely be seen on Him when we meet Him in heaven, for they are a sign of His great victory over temptation, and they are now part of His identity.
Suffering with temptation is an interesting perspective. In fact, if it is true that we suffer when tempted, and I believe it is true, then we can understand better how to meet the challenge. For instance, it stands to reason that if we are in a temptation process that causes us to suffer during it, we are also susceptible to something that will give us quick relief. That's where the Tempter offers a quick fix. The message we hear from the Tempter with his temptation is, “Go ahead and give in, and find your relief.” Problem is, when we enter a door that the Tempter opens for us to find this temporary relief, what will follow are many more doors of temptation. Like an addict addicted to the next high, we go through one door after another until we either enter a place called desperation, or we stand firm until we find our relief from Christ.
What is it about the voice of the Tempter that is so alluring? What is in his message that tempts us so greatly that to resist causes us to suffer? Let's use our imagination and try to answer those questions. Imagine if you will, that you stand before an open door and behind that door a voice is speaking to you that tempts you to come in and get a “quick fix” to your problems. This voice will appeal to you in some basic root areas of perceived needs that all men have, which is our need for approval and acceptance, our need to gratify our flesh, and our need to maintain some semblance of control in our life. To resist these allures requires a battle of our will and faith against something we want badly enough to violate our principles. To resist requires that we suffer in battle until we overcome the temptation.
Why do I categorize these needs above as basic? I do so for they are a consequence of our fallen state, and all of us have this nature within us. This basic nature of mankind is also called the “Nature of Adam” or the “Flesh Nature.” It is a nature that is opposed to God and His ways. This nature has been formed by years of following the Tempter's voice, beginning with Adam and Eve, and perpetuated with every generation of mankind that has followed. At the heart of it is the nature of Satan, and his nature is to hate and oppose everything about God, and attempt to separate mankind from Him. High on his hit list are Christian men, and his effort to hurt God is placed in his allurement of God's men to a place of heartache and desperation, for that is where his open door leads.
Why do we listen to him in the first place? Are we not given a new nature in Christ when we receive Him? No, not really. Our flesh nature, although redeemed, still remains within us. We will always struggle until death with our flesh nature until we leave it behind at our death and resurrection. At best, we deal with the Flesh Nature by taking up “the yoke” of Christ and learning from Him how to resist the appeal of temptations. But, it is still a battle, and in a true battle we will suffer in some way. You see, it is impossible to consistently resist temptation without Christ's help, for the allurement to our flesh is almost irresistible. The battle we fight is to either follow Christ's directives or the Tempter's, and to go against our nature requires resolve and courage. But, we have help.We must understand that Christ did that which we cannot do, which is to completely resist the allurement of the evil man's voice. In doing this, He satisfied the requirement of a perfect life God requires of His child to have a relationship with Him. In believing this work of Christ, and trusting that Christ has done for us that which we cannot do, we are “atoned” for. This is the best news we will ever have. But, there is more. Because Christ fought and won the same temptation battle we are in, He understands how to help us win our battle, and He will help us do so. Still, we will have to wage a battle against the powerful temptations that come at us with our own resolve, and there will be wounds from our battles that we will carry after the battle. But, they are good wounds. They are victory wounds.
One might try to minimize Christ's resistance of Satan by saying that He is God and because of it He could do the impossible in resisting Satan's temptations. If this is your thought, consider what the writer of Hebrews declares: “He Himself has suffered when tempted”. I know it's hard to think of our precious Holy Savior as a man who was tempted as we are to want power, acceptance, to greed and to lust. He was also tempted to walk through Satan's door and quickly satisfy His needs by taking the Tempter's invitation. However, the verse above says He suffered when He was tempted. He suffered with resisting His temptations just like you and I must, and He won His battles.
Man of God, if you have some sort of temptation coming at you today, stand firm and wait for Jesus to show you the way out. Do not take the quick remedy Satan offers to satisfy your perceived need. To resist will require of you courage and total dedication to Christ, for the force will be great against you. But remember: Greater is He Who is in you than he who is in this world. You have been given the power of God to fight and overcome what is coming at you now. Stand firm Influencer. The battle is yours to win.
Category: Influencer's Weekly Devotionals
Influencers Weekly Devotional
Friday, November 11, 2011
In To ME See
“From the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but Himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that He has purchased by His death ten thousand blessings for His bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospel’s greatest gift was not the Lord Himself.” John Piper - God is the Gospel
If you’ve been around Influencers and our message, you have heard us say that our primary pursuit is to have an intimate, abiding relationship with Christ. Not all men readily embrace this thought, for it makes them uncomfortable. I have often asked a man why it makes him uncomfortable, and the consistent answer is that he thinks intimacy is having sexual relations with his wife. To make a point, I asked him to tell me how his wife would define intimacy, and better yet, hear it directly from her in her own words. She will likely say that intimacy with her husband is connecting with him on a deep emotional level where they look into their inner persons. It is when they share their joy, their pain and they really listen to each other. It is an act of processing into oneness, and this oneness leads to a beautiful expression. It is this definition that best describes what we mean when we use the term intimacy with Christ.
As a side note concerning a husband and wife, if this conflict of understanding intimacy between them is not resolved, neither he nor she will come to understand and experience what true intimacy is. Guys do you and your wife a favor and understand that intimacy is not just sex. Trust me when I tell you that the best sex you will ever have comes from true intimacy, in most healthy situations. But, true intimacy is different from sex, for there are some couples unable to have sex but still enjoy intimacy. Intimacy is something that God has created for a man and woman to enjoy with each other, for we need it. But, our need for true intimacy with God is also a created need, and until we enter into it, we will miss what Piper says is God’s greatest gift to us, which is Himself.
What does intimacy with Christ look like? The title tells it all. Intimacy means: “In To ME See.” The Bible tells us that God is All Knowing. He knows everything about us from the get-go, even though we have a hard time understanding how. What is missing is that we do not really know Him … intimately. We know of Him. We know what others have told us about Him. But, most believers do not really know Him. To do so we need to take the time to look into Him, and understand how He sees us. We might know His attributes, and have knowledge of the God Who revealed Himself in history. But, can we truly know Him on a personal, intimate level with only understanding Him this way? For example do we know Him as our best Friend? Do we know Him as our greatest Comforter? Do we know Him as our best Encourager? Do we know what He likes and dislikes, His joys and grief? Do we approach Him and know that we are welcome, or do we stand far away, fearing His disappointment in us? Do we ever ask Him what will give Him joy, rather than being consumed with getting happiness for ourselves from Him?
What will it be like for us when we come into His heaven? Will we meet face-to-face the Christ we have only read about, or the Christ Who is a familiar Friend, Who we will then be able to physically see? I tell you, this kind of friendship with Christ will happen only as we get to know Him intimately, for it is in this place that we look into Him and see His heart, and His great love and acceptance of us. So, do not run from intimacy with Christ. Rather, run as fast as you can into it.
I have found that God is willing to meet me in every place when I take a step toward Him. It was in His original creation of man that showed He wanted intimate fellowship with mankind. But, sin and separation from God destroyed this fellowship until Christ restored it. Christ restored it all. What Christ did for us has given us the privilege and birthright to not only have eternal life with Him, but to also come back to intimate fellowship with Him. The problem is many times we see ourselves only as adopted children who have been permitted to come into the family, but feel that full fellowship with the father is not permitted. Wrong!! This is wrong theology. Look what God says in His word about this:
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of bloodnor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13
Men, I challenge you to look closely at the words “he gave the right to become children of God,” and,“nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, God has given us the rights of son-ship, and it is His will and His will alone that has granted it. We are given the invitation and access to come as a son to his Daddy. In essence He says to us, “Come, and come all the way to ME.” So, are you willing to let a little thing such as having a misunderstanding of what intimacy with Christ means to stand in your way? God is telling you, “Look In To ME See.” If you will respond to His invitation, you will never look at yourself, others, and life the as you did before. Believe me. I have looked into Him, and I will never be the same.
Category: Influencer's Weekly Devotionals
Influencers Weekly Devotional
Friday, November 04, 2011
Wisdom Found From Obscurity
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Mark 6:1-3
If you haven’t experienced some sort of prejudice against you, it might be hard to understand what I am presenting, for it is a painful process to go through and it is hard to explain the many implications that come from it. Prejudice in its simplest application means to pre-judge. So, it is not just about racial issues, even though this is what we take it to mean most of the time. To pre-judge someone is to determine ahead of time that you know enough facts about a person that you can judge his thoughts, motives, next moves, and whether he or she is worthy of your approval. I have seen firsthand what it means to be prejudiced against because of economic status, not running with the “in-crowd,” being a kid from the South, and yes, even being an athlete. Peers, teachers, and the highly educated did a lot of the pre-judging because of where I came from. The worst prejudice I experienced was in my own hometown, for I was a son of a laborer who did his best to take care of his family, and did a good job of it. I was born on what some would say was the wrong side of town. It didn’t matter that we moved, for the stigma still followed. When I began to break out because of athletics, the pre-judging continued, in that “jocks have no intelligence,” some would say. Out of college and with a degree in Physical Education, I was pre-judged that I could not work in the business sector because I was not prepared for it. Glad I didn’t take their limited insight. There are many other examples, and maybe you’ve had your own experiences with prejudice? If so, you will understand better what Jesus was dealing with in His hometown. They had Him figured out, in their own minds, that He knew nothing because He was a son of a carpenter and a carpenter Himself at one time. Sounds a lot like many of our own stories. They watched the kid grow up. They knew His family. They knew His circumstances, and they thought they knew the man. But, it is obvious that they did not. Why is this?
Not much is known about Jesus before His public ministry, except His birth, and a brief episode when He let some people take a look at what was inside a 12 year old boy. Read it for yourself:
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. ……. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Luke 2:41-47
Now when I read the two passages I’ve referenced, I come away with an answer about why the people of Jesus’ hometown didn’t understand who they were talking to. It wasn’t because He wasn’t bright and worth hearing, even as a child. It wasn’t because He was not willing to reveal His uniqueness, for He did so in Jerusalem when He was 12 years old. I think it was because the people in His hometown had stereotyped Him, and dismissed Him as insignificant. They had “pre-judged” Him to be crazy at best, and a deceiver at worst, because they thought one of their own kind could not have real wisdom, and certainly not be the long awaited Messiah, for He grew up around them and was nothing special. Man, did they miss out! But, will you and I miss out also if wisdom comes walking by us?
There is nothing I can do about my history being a pre-judger or being pre-judged except learn from it. I also cannot change a person who is dead set in his ways in being prejudiced, except hopefully help him understand that most prejudice comes from the culture we were raised in. As a Christian, and a new man in Christ, I am not obligated to think or act as a child or be a victim of a past perspective, by continuing a line of thinking just because I was raised that way. I do not have to continue in my prejudice, and if I do, I could miss some of the greatest wisdom to ever cross my path. I want to instead look deeply into every man and find a wisdom that could be obscured by the body or circumstances the man lives in. If I am to be a learner in my walk with Christ, I must understand that the teachers He uses will likely be those people seasoned by life struggles, forged by persevering trials, and given experience because God was with them through them all. These people will not be easy to find. They will be humble and not self-centered. They will not promote themselves, and will likely discourage anyone else from doing so. Therefore, to find these people I must change the way I look at people in general. I cannot allow prejudice against anyone of any kind to enter my life, for more than hurting someone else it will hurt me. Men of God, let’s take our stand and show the world a better perspective; one that would not pre-judge a man, but instead would allow him to in some way teach us about Christ, and life itself.
Remember Solomon’s wise words about seeking wisdom, if you need motivation:
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Proverbs 2: 1-8
Category: Influencer's Weekly Devotionals
Links & Resources
Influencers- Bakersfield, CA
Influencers-Bayside Church, Northern California
Oswald Chambers, "My Utmost for His Highest"
Tulsa Men of Christ
Archive By Month