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RENOVATE: Week 52

In the twelfth chapter of the Book of 2 Corinthians, Paul is continuing a dialogue from the previous chapter in defense of his apostleship. This had obviously come into question within the church at Corinth led by those who opposed Paul and his teaching. The tone of the argument would quite possibly be best described as facetious; using overemphasis and bantering to make his points. Stated differently, he overstresses his physical and spiritual experiences as validation of his position feigning arrogance in order to illustrate humility and reliance on God. One could surmise, rather appropriately I might add, pride was a problem Paul had to deal with in his own life. To say the least, he certainly did not suffer from a lack of confidence. From a positive perspective, confidence was an attribute necessary for the magnanimous calling God had placed upon him; yet, in his flesh, this would have also presented a challenging obstacle.

In a very authentic and open moment of the discussion, taken from the September 23rd reading of the devotional Bible, he discloses, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me– to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).”

As to what the “thorn” consisted of is only arrived at by speculation. Some have believed it was a physical ailment, while others insist it was a spiritual temptation distinct to Paul. With all due respect, that is not the point. In the lives of His children, God is most greatly concerned about His preeminence. When He resides in the mind and heart of His followers as before all things, true living comes into focus. While a “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was unmistakably painful based on his description, he understood the aforementioned reality; therefore concluding to live with and boast about the impediment in an effort to elevate Jesus and diminish himself in the sight of others. In a Christ focused, counter-worldly existence; Paul derived strength from personal weakness.

To summarize, whether in self-pity or self-aggrandizement, it is impossible to make much of Jesus and also promote ourselves at the same time. God brings the “good” and allows the “bad” into our lives for one purpose; to exemplify glory, in and through His creatures, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As His followers, this understanding brings clarity to Jesus’ words, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33, NASB77).”

Do you find yourself in an uncomfortable and “sticky” situation today? “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4, NASB).”

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 51

Much of what we have been reflecting upon throughout this past year in the Renovate movement has centered on the reality that God “owns” everything within our worlds… our lives, things, witness, and strength. It all belongs to Him. Thus, the scripture passage for consideration today, taken from the September 16th reading in the devotional Bible, makes perfect sense to those “who have ears to hear.” Solomon reassures his readers in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days (Ecclesiastes 11:1, NASB).” The image is taken from the practice of the Egyptian who cast his seed upon the waters of the Nile. The action might seem a sheer waste; but in due time the flood subsided, the rice or other grain sank into the fertile mud, and rapidly a harvest was produced.

Our ways are not God’s ways nor our thoughts His. More often than not, based on our rational assessment, what seems a futile action, is exactly what we are supposed to engage in regarding God’s kingdom. We are to share when we think no one is listening, go when we assume we will not be received, give when we think our precious resources will be wasted, and do even when we think we have neither the strength nor the skill. Our “bread” is actually His “bread”; likewise, the end result is also His; nowhere shall our labor be in vain in the Lord!

It is ours to cast bread upon the waters; it remains with God to fulfill the promise, “…you will find it after many days.” He will not let His promise fail, one day it will be found by us. Perhaps not just yet, but some day we shall reap what we have sown. Even seeds we were unaware that had been cast from our lives, will especially be a surprise to us when the harvest is revealed.

Be generous to God and for Him in His kingdom, beloved. For you are not your own, you’ve been bought with a price; the precious blood of Jesus!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 50

Sometimes we do things without knowledge. Sometimes we do things with full knowledge. For good and for bad, each position comes with its own set of consequences. The topic I have chosen to address today falls into the aforementioned category. Still more, the outcome of either standpoint in relation to said emphasis finds its end in eternity, for ultimate good or bad.

Over the past several weeks, we have been working our way through the Old Testament Book of Job. It is truly an incredible read with profound implications. Human propensity regarding religious reflection tends to simplify a god’s or gods’ interaction with avowed followers to the following formula: good behavior is rewarded outwardly with blessing; bad behavior is punished outwardly with affliction.

In Job’s chronicle, we are faced with a much different paradigm. The very beginning reveals an event occurring in heaven; one veiled to Job and all who surround him. In short, Job suffers because God is challenged by the evil one regarding Job’s devotion to God being solely based on material blessing; remove the hedge of protection surrounding Job, his family, and his things and dedication will be replaced with cursing. This is agreed to and God gives Satan permission to attack, with the stipulation of not affecting Job’s physical body. Satan’s plan backfires as Job remains faithful, prompting another challenge; touch his body and he will surely blaspheme. Job still remains faithful and the vast majority of the book is a dialogue between Job and his friends. They are convinced with stronger and more pointed arguments as the discourse moves along that Job is suffering because of some heinous deed he has committed. Job defends himself and demands an explanation from God in the process. God’s reply comes in a barrage of rhetorical questions. This is hardly the response anyone expected! God works in ways his creatures cannot understand! Job is left speechless. He is left to trust God even more deeply by faith and not rely on his own understanding coupled with the superficial assessment that good behavior equals blessing and bad behavior results in direct punishment.

With this summary in place, I want us to consider a very hard question put to Job by God in chapter 40 and verse 8. This is taken from the September 11th reading in our devotional Bible. I specifically appreciate the translators’ (HCSB) clarity of the original Hebrew. Make no mistake, the question applies to each and every one of us as much as it did to Job. God asks, “Would you really challenge My justice? Would you declare Me guilty to justify yourself? (HCSB)”

Like Job, especially when faced with pain, humanity tends to blame God. We proclaim that if He exists, His decisions of governance over reality are not fair. If an individual assesses their actions to be good, one expects a reward. If no recompense is identified, they want answers. This is a slippery slope which leads to unfathomable torment. For those who have eyes to see, the premise is wrong. It assumes, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that human beings can define good and evil. This is a knowledge contained exclusively within God; He, in His Person, distinguishes good and evil. Our perspective should be summed up in a question the Apostle Paul asks, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20, NASB)”

Job reacted to his plight without knowledge. When confronted by God, he repented and his entire worldview was reordered. Through the school of God’s providence, Job gained invaluable knowledge of God and His creation. By exposure to his story, you and I have also been given knowledge. With that in mind, when reflecting on the events in your life and how you appraise God and His universe, I repeat the later part of God’s question to Job…

Would you declare God guilty to justify yourself?

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 49

Do you ever reminisce about the past? There is absolutely nothing wrong with thoughtful reflection. As a matter of fact, such an exercise can be very beneficial in making decisions in the present. Whether one considers a difficult and tumultuous period from days gone by or times of great joy and success, pondering the underlying causes can help an individual in either avoiding or repeating similar outcomes. However, it is quite possible to fixate upon the past; reveling in the “glory days” or wallowing in mistakes and trials. To do so produces a mindset cemented in a bygone era and stagnant in the here and now.

Do you often think about the future? Are you one who likes to set goals of attainment? This too can be an extremely fruitful endeavor. Without a perceived visual target of where one is going, “nowhere” will always be the destination. Some people are much more oriented toward this way of thinking than others; and those who are usually reflect achievement more readily than those who aren’t. Nevertheless, a danger exists in being too focused on the future. One can fall into the trap of becoming a “dreamer” leaving practical action in the present to the side. One can also be so engrossed in a possible objective that they establish it as reality; thus, if the arrived at outcome does not look like their vision, they see it as failure. There is only one Creator and He has established the steps of His creatures. Sensible planning takes this fact into account and allows for flexibility when events do not turn out as one may have hoped or envisioned.

To reflect upon the past and prudently plan for the future are unquestionably constructive exertions; but the follower of Christ must remember a most important truth. A verity that is represented in the scripture verse taken from the August 30th reading in our devotional Bible. The Apostle Paul records, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NASB) Purchased with the precious blood of Jesus, our “bodies” are located in the present. In that sense, as far as we can discern, all we have is this moment. You and I were created for one real purpose; to glorify our Creator. If I am pinned to my past or consumed with where I might be someday, I am not engaged in my present. As a Jesus follower, I am compelled to make the most of the moment I inhabit; for it may be my last. What am I doing in the now that is bringing my Lord and Savior the utmost praise and admiration? It is here that life and purpose meet. It is here that destiny is defined. It is here that peace is understood.

What are you going to be doing after you read this?

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 48

Life is full of mysteries. One of the most perplexing is an understanding of God’s complete rule and authority over everything that exists; especially when considering the elements of evil and suffering. On August 25th, the Old Testament reading from the devotional Bible reveals a strange connection of these two elements (God’s sovereignty and the existence of evil) from the mouth of the evil one himself.

“But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:11-12, NASB)

These verses are incredibly instructive. They record a dialogue between God and one of his creatures (Make no mistake, Lucifer was created by God and is by no means even closely on par with His status, power, and position). The creature in the spotlight is Satan, the accuser. This begs the question, “Did God create evil?” To point of fact, God created Lucifer; Lucifer “created” Satan as pride entered his heart and he attempted to elevate himself above the throne of God (Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:13-17). The intention of his heart was displayed through the action of his life. Some may think I’m “splitting hairs” in this distinction; yet to make it is very important. Satan is responsible for his behavior, as are a third of the angels that joined in his hellish rebellion. He and his minions will ultimately be held accountable in the judgment; actually, they have already been held accountable by the cross of Christ and the power of His resurrection! This truth will be revealed at the judgment. Nevertheless, it must be surmised that somehow, within the wisdom of God, He allowed evil for a greater purpose. In this is mystery but not contradiction. While we may not have the ability to discern God’s purpose in the immediate, the verses in question today give us a foundation of hope that He controls evil for a greater good (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).

Notice that Satan acknowledges God’s control over Job (and himself) with the reference to the “putting forth of Your hand” in order to bring calamity upon Job’s life. He wrongly assumes Job will curse God when God “puts forth His hand”. This is a bad gamble on Satan’s part as the end of the book reveals a Job who is much closer in relationship to his Creator and has a much deeper understanding and confidence in the ways of God forged in the fires of trial; a Job who has reflected the glories of God to suffering saints throughout the generations.

How does God “put forth His hand”? By allowing the evil intention of Satan’s heart to manifest itself through the action of “Satan’s hand” upon Job; with restrictions, of course! Satan is responsible, God is vindicated, and Job is drawn closer to his Redeemer through the ordeal; amazing correlation uncovering a greater mystery. This far exceeds the “fleshly” religious concept of a simple explanation for suffering; do good and one is blessed, do bad and one will suffer. In their condemnation of Job, his friends stand condemned being a tool of Satan to use religion to prod Job to reveal his hidden sinful actions. In this, Job did not conform to a false man-made interpretation of God’s dealings with His creatures. Job’s understanding of his sin was exponentially illuminated by the much brighter light of God’s character rather than a dimly lit interpretation of God’s code.

Could the universe in which we live, with evil and suffering, be the means whereby we arrive at the best possible ultimate existence in eternity? One thing I do know. When faced with pain, we can either run away from God in anger and disillusionment or run to Him as there is nowhere else to go. You must decide.

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 47

Because of our sinful nature, we continuously can fall into the trap of believing that we can live in deception. In other words, we believe that the perception of others reflecting upon us; or even a deluded view of ourselves is within our power to control.

When scripture admonishes the believer to walk in the light, it means for us to walk in the Truth; the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are. We are broken beyond human repair completely dependent on the holy grace and righteousness of Him who is the Truth… the Way, and the Life.

To exist with any other view is a “fool’s errand.” The scripture I have chosen to highlight today from our August 16th Bible reading will bear out this legitimacy. Solomon states, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made both of them.” (Proverbs 20:12, NASB)

The very instruments we see and hear the world with do not come from us. In fact, they are an unearned gift from someone else. The LORD has made them. Perhaps the psalmist renders the point even more clearly by asking the questions, “He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see?” (Psalm 94:9, NASB)

May this be a reminder to all of us when we seek to live in deception and attempt to twist the truth to our own making. The God who provided the very tools to perceive His universe “sees and hears” the same things we do.

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Weeks 44, 45, and 46

These past couple of weeks have been amazing as First Baptist has accomplished a very fruitful mission endeavor in the country of Cuba. I am extremely blessed to have taken part.

That being said, as a devotional focus, I want to encourage each of our Renovate participants to take on a very important challenge. During our recent readings from the Everyday With Jesus Bible, the New Testament reflections have come from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have often contemplated that if the Bible were taken away from me, a book that I would most certainly want to be most familiar with and “hide in my heart” would be the Book of Romans. Paul, through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, brilliantly and succinctly summarizes and applies the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the context of the whole of scripture to our everyday life. He describes its necessity, how it is received, and the tangible difference it makes in all who are given it.

Take extra time to reread Romans this week. Familiarize yourself with its concepts and digest its truths into every fiber of your being. The ability to grasp the contents of this most important letter is a foundation for comprehending scripture in its entirety!

Next week we will be back on track for a strong finish to the Renovate Movement. Just a few weeks left before we completely read all of God’s word in a year!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 43

On July 21st we read of a perplexing event in the life of King David from 1 Chronicles (which actually corresponds to 2 Samuel 24 that we read over a month ago). The first verse of chapter 21 reads, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:1, NASB)

Following this, against the objection of Joab his chief commander (which should have been recognized as a warning from God by David), David moves ahead with taking a census of the Israelites; he has Joab and the commanders of the troops count the people. God is in no way pleased by this action and His punishment is harsh. Through Gad, God’s spokesman to the king, David is given the choice of three devastating options of judgment upon his disobedience. The end result was the death through plague of 70,000 men from Israel and the near destruction of Jerusalem itself by an angel of the LORD.

If you are like me, your first reaction to this passage might have been one of confusion. What is the harm in counting the number of people? Why would God exercise what seems to be such an extreme edict on an action which, on the surface, appears to be so harmless? To understand, requires us to reflect on the foundational promise given to the father of faith, the core patriarch of the people, Abraham. Note as well that the deed undertaken by David is motivated by the evil one. This is one of those places in scripture where we are given a glimpse into the spiritual realm as we see God sovereignly allow satan (meaning the adversary) to incite David toward the census. Obviously if the devil was desirous of engaging in a count, it must have been rooted in evil. Nonetheless, the “why” question remains.

The initial thought in undertaking a census of any people would be considered very useful, not evil. However, in numbering Israel; that people who were to become as numerous as the stars in the heavens, the sand on the seashore, implied a distrust of the divine promise given to Abraham many years prior; faith that was tested through the act of offering Isaac on the alter, halted by the Angel of the LORD (a pre-incarnate Jesus), Who supplied a substitute of the ram caught in a thicket, a symbol of what He would ultimately be for His people. This was a sin; and though it had been done with permission in the time of Moses, the people had contributed half a shekel towards the building of the tabernacle, so “that there may be no plague among them when you number them” (Ex 30:12). Therefore, the numbering of that people was in itself regarded as an undertaking by which the anger of God could be easily aroused; but when the arrangements were made by Moses for the taking of a census, God was not angry because the people were numbered for the express purpose of the tax for the sanctuary, and the money which was collected (“the atonement (kippur in Hebrew- meaning ‘covering’ or ‘ransom’) money,” Ex 30:16) satisfied Him. In essence, a sacrifice was made to cover their sin; which exemplifies sin must be atoned for and ultimately God, exclusively, must be that refuge.

The sin of David numbering the people consisted in its being either to gratify his pride to ascertain the number of warriors he could assemble for some pondered plan of conquest; or, perhaps, to institute a regular and permanent system of taxation, which he deemed necessary to provide an adequate establishment for the monarchy, but which was regarded as a breach of the freedom of the people, inappropriate for a king of Israel. Whatever the reason, self was at the root of the action; David taking the seat reserved for God and God alone over His people.

The lesson for us today is comprised of two very important aspects. First, those who know and follow the Creator of all things must live by faith alone in His words and promises given to them regardless of circumstances and appearances. Trust is the expression of belief in the origin of Truth, which itself is embodied in Jesus; and truth is vehemently opposed by the devil, the ‘father of lies,’ who trusts no one and nothing. Secondly, our temptation to be the lord of our lives, the masters of our destiny, must be relentlessly crushed by the realization that there is only one LORD and He must occupy the throne of our lives in every way. We must think twice before marinating in our self-assurance.

To Him be glory and honor and praise!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 42

The Bible is so real and relevant. It does not seek to “hide” the ugliness of human relationships and coat with a glossy veneer its main characters. Such is the case in today’s reflection taken from the July 16th reading of our devotional Bible.

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, NASB77)

These men were actually human and had disagreements to the point of separation! Paul and Barnabas were close friends and a powerful team. God used their companionship in astounding ways. Yet in our text for today, it would seem all would be thrown away; lost on the proverbial trash heap of broken relationships. Paul, the strong and outspoken leader, and Barnabas, the supportive and uplifting encourager, giants of the faith, appear as if they have an irreconcilable conflict. John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, was their point of contention. Paul was focused on the mission at hand and he needed “all hands on deck” so to speak. Time was short and the mission great. Therefore, based on John Mark’s previous behavior of what Paul considered a desertion because of the difficulty of a previous undertaking; Mark had become a liability to the task at hand. In Paul’s mind, John Mark was not fit for what lay ahead.

Barnabas, seeming to place a greater concern on the development of John Mark as a person over the potential success of the mission, desired to bring him along. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and it is probable that Barnabas’ affection for him was a major incentive for wanting to include him on the journey. To study scripture’s reflection of Barnabas reveals a man who was a gifted mentor with a drive for people development.

Hence, we are left to wrestle with the question: Who is right? As a good leader, Paul seemed to be correct. The stakes were high and the souls of lost individuals were on the line. In Paul’s mind, there could be no room for the loss of time, energy, and production should John Mark desert them again. Barnabas is focused more on the character progression and maturation of his cousin. As such, Barnabas was not only dedicated to the initial conversion of the lost, but also on the discipleship of a brother in Christ; thus, Barnabas would appear to be justified.

I submit that God is right. Regardless of the side we might be inclined to line up with between the two men, God’s kingdom wins and the gospel is actually furthered in a more significant way. This is because Barnabas takes Mark toward Cyprus and Paul acquires Silas to go through Syria and Cilicia. More individuals were exposed to the gospel as a result!

The message for us centers on the difficulties we may have faced or are facing in our affiliations with others. As difficult as interpersonal relationships might become, a life given toward the goal of God’s Kingdom purposes will always win; God using the bad toward the ultimate good.

By the way, the difference was obviously reconciled, as Paul and Barnabas again became traveling companions (1 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 2:9). There is also evidence that Paul became reconciled to John Mark (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11). How long this separation continued is unknown; but perhaps in his journey with Barnabas, Mark exemplified his courage and zeal, which caused Paul once again to place his confidence in him as a fellow traveler; even more, for Mark to become a profitable co-laborer in the spread of the gospel. In Paul’s own words, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” (2 Timothy 4:11, NASB77)

What an amazing testimony and lesson for us today!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 40

The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33, NASB)

Solomon’s words, taken from the July 2nd reading in our devotional Bible, are unbelievably insightful and are part of an overall thread making up an important truth about reality contained within scripture. We are finite creatures; unable to completely know the future outcome of events based on our choices and that of others. This is a continuous source of anxiety for human kind. Even the most educated decision contains an element of risk. Thus, we go on; stumbling in the dark doing the best we can with the knowledge we’re afforded.

However, for one who belongs to Christ Jesus, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; the verse under examination carries with it much hope! When the child of God makes a resolution, he or she can move forward in confidence knowing whatever the outcome, it is ultimately rooted in the decree of God.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this fact. Usually the concept of casting lots, “rolling the dice” if you will, is equated with chance. As Sinatra might say, “Luck be a lady, tonight.” In reality, lady luck is an illusion. Life is driven by an exponentially greater purpose and every roll of the dice is connected to another roll of the dice comprising an ultimate grand cosmic plan. The plan does not depend on a blind, merciless fate; but a loving, Heavenly Father. I can reflect on my own life and see some pretty bad rolls of life’s dice. Some rolls have been rather good ones. Regardless, God is over all of them and while I cannot put trust in my own ability to roll effectively, I can trust the intention of the Perfect Creator regarding the definitive end of all that He has made.

I don’t need luck when I have the LORD!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob