A Nook and a Book

But his delight is in the law of the LORD and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:2 NKJV).

Thomas à Kempis said, “I have no rest but in a nook with the Book.” Communion with the Lord through meditation on the Scriptures provided profound rest and refreshment in the midst of the demands of life. The same theme song is sung by the psalmist. Meditation on God’s law made him like a tree firmly planted by the streams of water; there was an unlimited source of sustenance.

Psalm 1 is an autobiographical witness of what the Lord had done for the psalmist and a prophetic statement to the wicked who scoff and take their place among those who oppose God’s ways. But not the positive affirmation of what is available to us: The psalmist meditated on God’s law. We have the flowing streams of the whole Bible as the water of life to feed the tree of our life.

Each day’s reading of a portion of Scripture gives us water for the roots. The residual resource moves through the trunk up into the branches, out into the leafage of a beautiful life, and into the fruit of character. A quiet time in our “nook with the Book” enables quietness of soul in the din of life’s demands. Jesus said, “Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me” (John 15:4 TLB).

The metaphor shifts, but the psalmist’s meaning is the same. Each day we put our roots down in the streams of the Living Water, Christ Himself. Then, all through the day, we are refreshed by what we took from the artesian brook in our nook. We all need a quiet place for our 15 minutes to freedom each day. Out of His Word, Christ will give us a thought which will reorient our day and flower in inspiration all through the day. Expect nothing less today!

My tree of life is planted in Christ. He will give me all I need to live abundantly today.

Don’t Fail Watching

[Be] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. PHILIPPIANS 1:6

Before Bill Gates was one of the richest men in the world, he was a Harvard dropout with a failed business. He co-founded a business called Traf-O-Data. Have you heard of it? Of course not. Me neither. It was started in the 1970s, and this company generated reports about roadway traffic to help cities know where to put traffic lights or which roads needed improving. It was far from a head turner.

Here’s why it’s interesting. The company and its ideas crashed and burned.

Bill Gates was born with a gift, though, and he didn’t bury the gift just because his first attempt was a failure. He and his business partner learned from their mistakes, started Microsoft, and changed the world.

Failure tops the list of greatest fears for most of us. It’s vulnerable to put our passions into action because we can’t play it cool if it crumbles. If others see us go all in, they’ll certainly see us if we fail. We’ll be embarrassed, broke, and our friends might be awkward in the way they handle it all. What if they see that our best wasn’t enough? What if we hear that dark voice inside us again that says, You’re not enough?

We can’t win the game from the bleachers. We’ll never succeed unless we get out on the field and go for it. Whether it’s starting a business, putting music to your poems, or braving rejection from the girl who makes you lose your words, you won’t get the gold if you’re too scared to work the mine. God created you with unique gifts and ignited the passions He put in your heart for a reason—don’t let fear steal your opportunities and leave you on the sidelines wishing you’d tried. Do what you believe you were created to do. Is it possible it won’t work? You bet. Fail trying, don’t fail watching.

B. Goff

The Promise Maker

All the way through Scripture, from the earliest beginnings of humanity to the beautiful future that the book of Revelation offers, God is revealed as the One who makes promises.

In the New Testament, there are around forty references to promises, and with one exception, they are all about God making promises to us. Perhaps our familiarity with the Bible means that their impact is lost on us, but we need to know that this revelation of God is in stark contrast with ancient Greek literature—which contains plenty of examples of humans making promises to each other, but only one instance where a god makes a promise to humans.

This is worth noting because Christianity is demanding (it costs us everything) and we can start to think that God is good at insisting and commanding, and not so great at giving. And some of us live as if that was the way it is, endlessly harassed by the tyranny of the “oughts” and “shoulds” of the Christian life. But look again: God is revealed in Scripture as the initiating, generous, dependable promise-giver, eager to hear our requests.

Scripture points to God’s faithfulness as a reason for each of us to sustain a faithful walk and witness. We want to stay true to Him to the end, not just because it’s the best way to live or because we’re scared of the consequences if we don’t, but because we have placed our lives in the hands of the faithful One who gives infinitely more than He demands, and He always will, forever.

Pray: Thank You, Lord, that You are the God of promise, generosity, and blessing. Amen.

Don’t Cheapen the Supernatural

“It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

“On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (Matthew 4:7).

“Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

Following His baptism, the next major event of Jesus’s life is His refusal to give in to temptation by the Devil. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all deal with His noble act, whereas John does not. We shall not, however, discuss Mark’s version because it contains no words of the Savior. Today, we shall deal with only two of these three temptations and save the other for tomorrow when we consider John’s perspective.

According to Matthew, the Holy Spirit of God leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the bent one (as C. S. Lewis called hell-bent Satan), who is aware that Jesus has had nothing to eat for forty days. Thus, the Devil begins his spiel by targeting what he perceives as Jesus’s weak spot and suggests that He turn stones into bread for His consumption. Because Jesus knows that His Father will care for Him, He declines. In addition, He needs to witness for the Father and set a good example, and He is not about to cheapen His supernatural abilities.

Jesus’s refusal consists almost exactly of Deuteronomy 8:3—“man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord”—and He jumps on this opportunity to point out that spiritual nourishment is more important than food for the stomach.

Next, Satan takes Jesus up on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and suggests that He jump off to demonstrate His ability to have angels bear Him up under such circumstances. But Jesus says that one must not tempt God, and He quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 to back up the proper choice that He makes on this occasion. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” (In other words, do not put the Lord on the spot.)

Satan is essentially asking Jesus to demonstrate that He is able to force the Father to do His bidding, and such obedience by the Father would have upset the proper order of things in a way and to such a degree as to court disaster. In that instance, all righteousness would definitely not have been fulfilled.

Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for making sure that we understand Your nature. Lord, give us understanding and good spiritual health. In Your name, we pray. Amen.

J. Ivey

God Tells Jokes

God tells jokes—well, puns. In Jeremiah 1:11–19, God got the nervous prophet-to-be’s attention with a lesson that included a subtle little witticism we don’t notice in the English translation.

The words for “almond” and “watch” are very similar. When Jeremiah saw an almond tree, a pot, and a pillar, he discovered three vital truths.

The almond tree was very familiar to Jeremiah—he lived in an area where almonds were the main harvest, even today. The almond was the first tree to blossom, a sign that spring was finally here. Jeremiah learned that God is always watching over His promised word and world, that He never sleeps, and that, even during the winter seasons when it seems God is not doing much, the blossom time will come.

God was going to bring judgment on His people, symbolized by the pot.

To proclaim this news of judgment would not make Jeremiah popular—he would be hated—but God would strengthen him. Jeremiah would be like a bronze wall or pillar. If that seems like an exaggeration, we’ll see that Jeremiah stood when even the walls of Jerusalem collapsed. Whatever we know or don’t know about the season we’re in, God is with us, and He is awake.

The Master

“You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13, NEB).

The title, “Master,” is one of the most widely used of Christ’s titles. In the four Gospels alone, He is addressed as “master” ten times, while He refers to Himself by the same title eight times.

There are eight Greek words translated as master–each with a different shade of meaning. But the common theme of all these words is authority and control. The master may be a teacher, a commander, an owner, an overseer, a householder, or one who is in charge. As a rebuke to the proud scribes and Pharisees, He told His disciples, “One is your Master, even Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

The Christian has no other master but Christ. Jesus is master of the cosmic universe, master over the church, and master of the destiny of men and nations. He is master of all things because God has “given all things into his hands” (John 13:3). We belong to Him because He has purchased us with His own precious blood (see Revelation 5:9). We, who have been redeemed by His death, are His love-slaves.

Under the ancient mosaic law, all slaves were offered full freedom during the jubilee year (see Ezekiel 46:17). However, if a slave truly loved and respected his master, he could refuse to go free. In such a case, the master would pierce the slave’s ear with an awl and inflict a mark of willing and perpetual servitude (see Deuteronomy 15:16, 17). Such a wonderful master as Jesus deserves our perpetual servitude. Christians are to “acknowledge no earthly master. One higher than men, even He who is the way, the truth, and the life, is their Master.”–Review and Herald, November 5, 1903.

My Prayer Today: Lord, because You purchased my freedom by Your blood, I will serve You forever. Amen.

Seek the Shade

I still remember the feeling of confusion as we zig-zagged across the golf course near our home in Florida. To me, the pattern made no sense at all. We’d go to what seemed like a random place on each hole, irrespective to the location of our golf balls, and my father and I would sit and wait for his friends to hit.

We’d just…wait. In what seemed to be a random spot, often far away from where our next shot was. Sometimes in these moments, he would comment on the sky, or the landscaping, or something else in life. Then, after a while, he’d take us over to where I thought we should have been the whole time – our next shot.

I had to ask why we were doing this. Even as a kid, I had a very process-driven mind – hit ball, find ball, hit ball again, repeat until finished. Boom. Golf. This random pattern of pausing and indiscriminate waiting made little sense to me. I had to know.

He looked at me and said these words that I’ve never forgotten – “Rudy, I’m always trying to keep us in the shade.”

As a kid, it didn’t make sense. Who cared about the shade? Let’s get to the next shot! I actually think I saw many things that way – in fact, until a few years ago, I think it’s how I saw ministry. Process-driven – just “get to the next shot.” The next event. The next meeting, The next _______. I’d forgotten the lesson my father taught me on that course – to always seek out the shade. To find moments to break, to rest, to slow, to stop, to pause, to recover, to wait. The shade as a place to just be with Jesus, in the middle of responsibilities that are as constant as the Florida sun.

Perhaps I didn’t forget my father’s lesson – maybe I just never learned it. Much to my own detriment, I didn’t practice seeking out the shade until several years ago when I’d worn myself out to the point of despair. As has been said before, the pain of staying the same had outweighed the pain of change – which turned out to exist only in my mind. It was one of the most necessary and life-giving changes, to have structured and spontaneous moments of just being in the shade. This last year, in the midst of everything that 2020 carried, I along with countless others again felt a deep need to be disciplined to continue to have moments to fight to keep myself and others in the shade, with the Lord.

I wonder if you have practices of staying in the shade? I think of these words in Psalms surrounding this:

Psalm 91:1-2 – “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 121:5-6 – “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”

Three practical points regarding the shade:

  1. Structured and Spontaneous We absolutely need structured rhythms of time with Jesus. Planned points on the calendar where we step away from the work of the Gospel to make room for the Gospel to do the work in us. There are also spontaneous moments when we just need to seek the shade – often when the sun is hottest, and the responsibilities are heaviest. It is here, in giving ourselves and others room to spontaneously seek shade during a busy season, that we are actually making a claim of trust in His ability above our own.
  2. Explain along the way – My father brought me into the shade, and then explained what was going on. I was benefiting from his practice without even knowing I was. You, Your family, and the people you lead with can benefit from what – in your mind – may seem like you are stepping away from the work at hand. Not so. In fact, it is here that you can be a blessing by explaining along the way what it means to seek the shade. It may be confusing to those around you – they may be like I was on the course, just wanting to move on to the next shot. Explain along the way, as you teach them how to seek out the shade.
  3. Relax into the Shade – I still struggle to seek out the shade in moments when my list of tasks seem unending. You’re likely like me – you actually don’t dislike that. In fact, you love it. It’s a joy, an honor, a privilege to get to do what we do. How could we pause? However, it is often in structured and spontaneous pausing in the shade that we who minister are ministered to. This is a practice – one which still feels difficult. Learning to relax into the shade, and not sit there with your mind fixated on the next shot, the next thing you have to do, is a practice of relaxing into the shade and shelter of God. It’s not easy, but for you, your family, those you lead with, and those you shepherd – it’s worth it.

Perhaps you’re reading this and you feel outright exhausted. I won’t pretend to fully understand your situation, but I’ll certainly sympathize with you and give a brief word of exhortation – I hope you give yourself permission this summer to find the shade, even and especially on your busiest days. To bring the people you lead into the shade with you. You’re not abandoning the mission.

You’re not compromising the call. You’re being like Jesus, who retreated often to desolate places to pray and be with His Father.

Let’s seek out the shade.

R. Hartmann

The Fierce Struggle

In 1896, an explorer named Carl Akeley found himself in a remote section of Ethiopia, chased by an eighty-pound leopard. He remembered the leopard pouncing, trying “to sink her teeth into my throat.” She missed, snagging his right arm with her vicious jaws. The two rolled in the sand—a long, fierce struggle. Akeley weakened, and “it became a question of who would give up first.” Summoning his last bit of strength, Akeley was able to suffocate the big cat with his bare hands.

The apostle Paul explained how each of us who believe in Jesus will inevitably encounter our own fierce struggles, those places where we feel overwhelmed and are tempted to surrender. Instead, we must take our “stand against the devil’s schemes” and “stand firm” (Ephesians 6:11, 14). Rather than cower in fear or crumble as we recognize our weakness and vulnerability, Paul challenged us to step forward in faith, remembering that we don’t rely on our own courage and strength but on God. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” he wrote (v. 10). In the challenges we face, He’s only a prayer away (v. 18).

Yes, we have many struggles, and we’ll never escape them by our own power or ingenuity. But God is more powerful than any enemy or evil we’ll ever face.

W. Collier

Hard Places

Charles Spurgeon, the known Baptist preacher in Victorian England once said, “One night alone in prayer might make us new men, changed from poverty of soul to spiritual wealth, from trembling to triumphing.” There is a powerful truth conveyed in this statement, that even in our hardest times and in the hardest places, we can trust that God is always at work. 

Few of us would claim to be comfortable in the hard moments of life, let alone the hard places. And yet, this is the day-to-day reality of many pastors and Christians. Much of our world lives in the midst of real suffering, conflict, or a mixture of the two. One billion people live on less than $1USD a day. Over three billion people live in isolated and remote places that are often cut off from resources. Today there are over 50 countries where the risk of persecution for Christians is either “extreme” or “very high.”

There are places where life is hard in every nation and in every city. In the United States; for example, over 32 million people live under the poverty line, and cities like Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia have high crime rates. The hardship in these contexts is real—and yet God’s work through his pastors and churches is undeniable. 

In all these areas, God is making a way. This has been his promise for generations: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:19 ESV). He is a God who pursues those who wander and has compassion on those who suffer. He is the one who takes the old clay and fashions it into something new. Right now God is at work to rescue and redeem the lost and hurting in the most hard to reach places.

Let me share a story of a friend of mine named Gabe. Gabe grew up in Liberia, and in 1989 civil war broke out and ravaged his country. In the midst of violence, poverty, and famine caused by the war, Gabe fled to a refugee camp. There, he learned of Jesus and felt a burning passion to preach the gospel to all he met.

Gabe was in a hard place preaching God’s Word. That should seem like enough of a challenge.

But soon, as some in contexts of poverty do, Gabe fell prey to the prosperity gospel, and the teaching infiltrated the church where he was pastoring. In the midst of teaching heresy, Gabe reached out to me. He was looking to become a better pastor but needed help. Many ministries would not risk investing time and resources in someone preaching a false gospel as Gabe was. But, we took the risk and enrolled him into the two-year Acts 29 Church in Hard Places Apprenticeship program. There, Gabe learned about the true gospel and gained valuable training even as he continued to be in community with other pastors and Christians in Liberia. Gabe saw how he was deceived and turned course, leading his church away from the prosperity gospel. Today, he preaches and plants churches that are offering lasting hope for those wounded by the 14-year war in his nation. 

We want to be like Jesus, who runs toward those who wander and has compassion on those who suffer. We want to be where he is at in the hard places of our world because we believe that by doing so, we will see him work in remarkable ways. And we can’t be content to sit back and wait for those working in the hard places to come to us for support. We want to be like Jesus—we want to go where they are, see how God is working, and partner with pastors and planters in those communities so they can extend the hope of Christ in the midst of great darkness.

Through Acts 29’s Church in Hard Places initiative, we see God working in incredible ways in some of the most difficult contexts—in urban centers blighted by violence, racial strife, and poverty; in rural communities facing drug epidemics and generational poverty; in restricted-access nations where persecution is real; and in remote populations seemingly left behind by a world in fast-forward motion, we are seeing disciples being made as churches are being planted.

Christian pastors and church planters who are working to make disciples in the hard places need our partnership. They need to know they are not alone—and they need the support of others to help them continue when there seems no end to the suffering they see. I believe that God is the master potter who is creating something great for his glory in the darkest of places, and that he is asking us to walk with his people who see that, even in the forgotten and forlorn places of our world, he is there drawing people to himself and as he does He is making all things new.


Listening Prayers?

The Bible speaks often of prayer, but it does not mention “listening prayer” as a type of prayer to practice. The idea of “listening prayer” is to spend some time talking to the Lord and the rest of the time listening to His response. Or, sometimes, the listening comes first and the prayer second. Listening prayer is based on the concept of prayer as two-way communication—we talk, and God talks.

Proponents of listening prayer point to verses such as Psalm 46:10 (“Be still, and know that I am God”) and John 10:27 (“My sheep listen to my voice”) to assert that the Bible teaches listening prayer. Some even use Jesus’ words in John 7:16 (“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me”) to claim that Jesus Himself engaged in listening prayer, and that’s the reason He knew what to teach.

We should point out that in none of the passages mentioned above is “listening prayer” mentioned. In fact, no kind of prayer is mentioned at all. Trying to use these verses to teach the modern concept of listening prayer goes beyond what the text of Scripture says.

But going beyond what Scripture says is what listening prayer is really all about. The practitioner of listening prayer seeks “new revelation” from God on a daily basis and about the most mundane things: don’t eat the sushi today, follow the man with the red scarf, withdraw your money from the bank, etc. Listening prayer involves receiving “inspiration” from the Holy Spirit and new, specific messages from God.

It’s hard to overemphasize the dangers inherent in believing that one is receiving “inspired” messages from the Spirit. Scripture is inspired and therefore authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16). But the “nudges,” “feelings,” intuitions, and random thoughts a person has while meditating cannot be put on the same level as Scripture. To assume that the voice a person hears in his mind is the voice of God is to leave the door wide open for self-delusion and even demonic deception.

To practice listening prayer, people are told to “clear their minds” (something the Bible never tells us to do) and spend concentrated time listening for “God’s voice.” The divine message may come through images in their minds, through words, through ideas, through physical sensations, or through “gut feelings.” The goal of listening prayer is to “think God’s thoughts with Him,” “discover God’s specific truth,” and “receive new revelation.” This type of subjectivity bypasses the objective, written Word of God as our sole rule for faith and practice. The passive receptivity of listening prayer has more to do with New Age and occult practice than with biblical prayer.

Biblical prayer, as opposed to listening prayer, follows the biblical instructions concerning prayer. We are to pray in faith (James 1:6), in direct address to God (Matthew 6:9), in Jesus’ name (John 14:13), offered with reverence and humility (Luke 18:13), with perseverance (Luke 18:1), and in submission to God’s will (Matthew 6:10). The Bible refers to prayer as beseeching the Lord (Psalm 118:25); pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15); crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20); and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14). The Bible never instructs us to empty our minds and listen for special words of revelation from God. God expects us to open our Bibles and study what He has said there. The Bible is the Word of God and is sufficient for our needs (see Revelation 22:18).

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