Archive for the ‘Devotional’ Category

From Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy:

Contemptuous actions and attitudes are a knife in the heart that permanently harms and mutilates peoples souls.  That they are common does not ease their destructiveness, (pgs. 152-153).

Why is it that contemptuous actions and attitudes are so prevalent in the church?  Why don’t we challenge this more aggressively?  Jesus calls this attitude of the heart as the moral equivalent to murder.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire, (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV).

Anger, for many of us, is not a righteous thing, but rather prideful or vengeful and it seeks to do harm.  God throughout the Bible pointed His anger at sin.  Righteous anger is anger at injustice and sin.  Not at sinners, and not just when we are sinned against which is usually the only time we are angry at sin.

Righteous anger on our parts should lead to a response that is graceful and is bathed in truth.  We should demonstrate mercy to the victims, and seek reconciliation with those who offend.

Worldly anger leads to contempt which destroys spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically when taken to the fullest degree.  It never pleases God, and should not be present in the life of a follower of Christ.

But it often is.

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Chris Schellenberg wrote “Hold Her Now” for Maria Sue Chapman.  Listen below.

HT: Christian Striver

Many wonder where is the hope in this tragic loss?  When experiencing loss… unexpected loss we need to realize that death is not the end.  The truth of the song above is that those who know Jesus will experience eternal life.  Steven Curtis Chapman, his wife and their children will see Maria Sue again.

My wife, Cheryl, lost her uncle unexpectedly in a car accident recently.  Tragic.  We mourn his loss and grieve his loss and are also saddened by the loss that his wife feels.  He knew Jesus.  We will one day see him again.

Several years ago when I was a youth pastor at a church in Indiana, our church experienced the loss of our secretary.  This was a sweet lady whom I worked with daily… gone due to an infection in her blood which spread throughout her body.

John 11 brought comfort in that time for me.

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world,” (John 11:17-27, ESV).

Many are living under the slavery of the fear of death, (Hebrews 2:15).  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Should we mourn?  Absolutely!  But those who know Christ have a different perspective on death.  The Apostle Paul put it this way:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, ESV).

I can’t imagine the pain the Chapman family must be facing right now, but I do know that the God of all comfort can meet them in their time of need.  I do know that since Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life they will one day see Maria Sue again, as Cheryl will see her uncle, and I’ll see my former co-worker, grandmother and any other loved one who loves Jesus who precedes me in death.

Thank you Jesus for conquering death!

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I am delighted to host Pastor Zamora at Caffeinated Thoughts.  Pastor Zamora is a missionary with 25 years of experience planting churches in Peru, Ecuador, and Chile.  He is currently establishing an institute in Peru to train Latin Americans to be missionaries as well.  He’s also the author of Walking Man: A Modern Missions Experience in Latin America.

By Narciso Zamora

I would like to share with you a little about a subject that I am often sensitive about, though I’m not sure there is any reason I should be. In my debut book, Walking Man: A Modern Missions Experience in Latin America, I dedicate about two chapters to my life before accepting Christ. I don’t go into a whole lot of detail, but there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that I was a delinquent. For a short but sad era, I made my living from my dull wits and nothing better occurred to me than to steal and cheat my way into a meal and a place to stay.

I sometimes feel ashamed of this past, but I have seen over and over again how God has used my past to help me relate to young people today who need to be saved from a life of delinquency. I wonder often if people I meet could know what I used to be and if it would hurt my ministry. And for those who have or will read Walking Man, will a shadow of doubt be left in their minds about the kind of person I am? After all, can a leopard change his spots?

Well, no, but Christ can change us. The Apostle Paul said, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2. And he knew as well as any other that a total and permanent life transformation is possible, but I would assert that it rarely happens overnight. When I came to know God at that tiny church in the Amazon jungle, I know that I was immediately different although God had been working on me for some months to change my desires – even though I hadn’t accepted Christ yet. However, there was much work to be done for my life to bring glory to God.

Praise God I am a different man. I try to live without regret. Every once in a while Satan will sit on my shoulder and try to make me feel inadequate because of who I was, but then God whispers to me that He has given me beauty for the ashes of my life. In my imperfection, He has created perfection.

I am glad to be able to offer advice to young people from the perspective of real-life experience. That’s not to say that someone who never went deep into moral sin can’t offer good advice. There are really two opposite scenarios: the person who has made all the right moves by accepting Christ early and staying out of trouble and the person who has come to the end of his rope, messed up royally and had to be dug out of the ditch by grace. Both have something to offer others. Both perspectives are needed. I can offer the latter, but I praise God that both my boys, who are young men now, have walked the first path I described.

I would wish the first path for all my Christian brothers and sisters.

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. I invite your comments and suggestions on what you think about whether a person’s jaded past is a help or hindrance to their witness and their own spiritual walk. Could you attend church where the pastor was a former convict or drug addict? What about a pastor who had a violent crime on his record as a young person? Can human trust reach as far as God’s grace? Let me know what you think!

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I’m at a retreat for youth pastors at Hidden Acres Christian Camp and we’ve been discussing spiritual growth for leaders with Larry Austin, who is currently the pastor of missional discipleship at First Evangelical Free Church in Ames, IA.  In particular we talked about silence and listening prayer tonight.  How often do we just quiet ourselves before the Lord so we can hear His voice?  I’m afraid I don’t do that very often.  I have noise all around me… and if it isn’t external, then it is internal.  Ticking off my to do list, thinking about a recent conversation I’ve had, a problem I have to solve, or even a disagreement I’ve had with my wife.

But we do need to slow down, we do need to listen.  We had a chance to put it into practice tonight, and I admit it was very hard to do even for an hour.  But I do intend on practicing this discipline on a regular basis.  I need to.

Consider the following Psalm.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress, (Psalm 46:1-11, ESV).

Even when our world seems to be collapsing around us.  Even when we are going through trials.  God is our refuge!  He is our strength!  He wants us to rest in Him and just… shut up (my kids are now horrified as they get in trouble when they say this).  He wants us to know Him, but sometimes we are just too busy to do just that.

Is it hard for you to slow down and be silent?  Is this a discipline that you regularly practice?  Am I the only one who struggles with this?

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I have learned in my walk with Christ that the Christian life is not pain-free.  There will be obstacles, pain, loss, and suffering.  Sometimes it is suffering for righteousness’ sake, (Matthew 5:10).  Other times it could be part of just living in a broken, decaying world.  Other times for followers of Christ it could be an attack of our ancient enemy, Satan who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).  My main point is this… God never promises us, on this earth, to be healthy & wealthy.  He does promise suffering, hardship and trials however.

The Vander Hart clan had a doozy of a day (I had better be careful since it isn’t over yet as I write this).  I don’t know how to qualify this.  I can say we are not suffering persecution, but I don’t know if what we face today is natural or supernatural.  It doesn’t really matter though because our response will be the same.

It started last night when Cheryl suddenly fell ill.  She felt dizzy and nauseous.  It was so bad that she couldn’t walk, so her supervisor drove her home.  When she got home she threw up which is something she never does.  We prayed and sent out a prayer update to some friends on Facebook, and she later that night started to feel better.  Enough so that I felt comfortable leaving to go to my Bible study at the Polk County Juvenile Detention Center.  Later than night after I got back she still didn’t feel quite herself.

In the morning we had an answer to prayer, she was able to get an appointment today with her ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor.  He goes to our church and he did sinus surgery on Cheryl a couple of years ago.  Great guy… Dr. Marshall Grieman – if you ever need an ENT and you live in the Des Moines area.  Anyway they had a cancellation so they were able to squeeze her in.  We were thankful that she didn’t have to wait.

Cheryl felt well enough today that she ran some errands with the kids.  She calls me around lunch time to say – “the door fell off the van.”  After repeating that since I didn’t think I heard her correctly.  I left to go meet them at Burger King where they had stopped to get some lunch.

Just some background, the van is a 2000 Ford Windstar.  Do you know what FORD stands for?





But I digress.  Anyway, I have images of getting there and finding the side door lying in the parking lot.  Fortunately one cable was keeping it from falling.  After determining that the van was likely not safe to drive even the 3-4 miles to our mechanic we called a tow truck.  You know I’m beginning to realize after this year that our decision to spend a little extra on towing insurance was well worth it.

I got a call from my mechanic later, they got the door back on, but we can’t use it anymore.  The track is too worn, and it can’t be fixed.  Nice.  At least we have two side doors – oh wait!  The other door won’t open… so now we have to get that fixed.

Back to my wife, she was feeling dizzy again and car rides were making her nauseous so I drove her to her doctor’s appointment.  We thought perhaps she had an ear infection or possibly some fluid behind her ear drum.  It turns out that she has Meniere’s Disease.

Meniere’s Disease (MD or endolymphatic hydrops) is a disorder of the inner ear associated with a change in the volume of fluid inside a portion of the inner ear called the labyrinth, which includes the membranous labyrinth and the bony labryinth.

When the head moves, endolymph fluid in the membranous labyrinth shifts, telling nerve receptors to signal the brain about the body’s motion. If the amount of endolymph increases, doctors believe, the membranous labyrinth can balloon or dilate. If it then ruptures, endolymph fluid can mix with perilymph fluid in the bony labyrinth, causing Meniere’s symptoms. The underlying cause of Meniere’s is still unknown, though many hypotheses have been advanced.

Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, unsteadiness, a sense of fullness in the ear, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), headache, abdominal discomfort and hearing loss, which can increase if the disease progresses. These symptoms occur in three stages of severity, as the disease advances, and can happen with varying frequency, duration and intensity. Usually, attacks are sudden and may last several hours. The very first episode may last longer than 24 hours, but subsequent episodes do not. While children can get MD, it most commonly affects men and women between 20 and 50.

Basically there is no cure.  There is treatment for it though:

Treatment focuses on managing vertigo, reducing the frequency of Meniere’s attacks and, primarily, preserving hearing. Eliminating alcohol, coffee and salt may help make attacks less frequent and eliminating tobacco and stress may make them less severe. Medication can reduce symptoms, and several surgical options are also available.

But really they don’t know why it happens.  Dr. Grieman ended up giving her a prescription that will basically knock her out if it gets really bad.  He said it usually takes a week to feel 100%, and it comes on without warning – which makes us concerned about driving, etc.

This may not seem like it is bad to you, but this is on top of Cheryl having palindromic rheumatism, hypothyroidism, and other illnesses.  We like to kid and say, “Doctors love her because she is like seven patients in one.”

So in life we get curveballs thrown at us.  How are we handling this?  Prayer.  What else can we do?  Nothing.  We can rely upon Jesus who is in control of this situation.  We’ll lean on Him and remember that this earth, and its trials, are nothing but a blip in light of eternity.  Also we will remember that Jesus can use these curveballs in our life to develop us to be more and more like Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (1 Peter 1:3-8, ESV).

We would certainly appreciate any prayer on our behalf.  Thanks!

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We’ve already filed and have received our refund so April 15th is just an ordinary day for me.  The passage below, however, is relevant for us on any day of the year.

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.  And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”  But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”  And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.”  Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him, (Mark 12:13-17, ESV).

This was a sticky situation.  The Pharisees stood for strict obedience to the law in its written and oral forms.  They also did not like Roman rule, though they were not revolutionaries.  Then on the other hand you have the Herodians who benefited from Roman rule, so they were supportive of Roman authority.

Then there were likely Zealots in the crowd who felt the tax shouldn’t be paid at all.  That view likely had the support of many people in the crowd surrounding Jesus.  This was a recipe for disaster.  It would seem whatever He was going to say it would alienate one of these groups.

Jesus asserts His authority when He demands a coin, and then asks His questioners a question of His own, “whose likeness and inscription is this?”

By showing Jesus the coin they answered their question.  They were being hypocrites.  They were carrying around Roman money.  By using Roman money they were acknowledging Roman authority and their obligation to pay the tax.

Jesus uses the word “render” or “payment”.  His questioners approached the issue of the tax as though it is a voluntary choice, but Jesus pointed out that it is an obligation to pay for services received.

Jesus’ answer avoids the trap the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to lay.  Caesar has a rightful claim as does God.  Give to each his rightful claim.  Obedience to God does not abolish obedience to the state.  Jesus does not say here that the claims of God and of the state are the same, however.

So while we pay taxes (and yes we need to as much as it pains us) to give our governmental authorities their due for the services provided.  We should not forget that God is in ultimate control and we should give Him his due in our time, talents and treasure.

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A great reminder that love could not be communicated to us in a better way than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life, (Romans 5:6-10, ESV).

“A Better Way” by Downhere

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