Commitment


2 Timothy 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He gives us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline to keep our lives burning brightly for Him

For most of us the idea of “Passing the Torch” immediately brings to mind the Olympics. The torch is lit in Greece, home of the first Olympics, and then is passed from runner to runner until it reaches the Olympic host city where it remains lit throughout the games.   What an exhilarating experience for the last runner who carries the torch to its final destination, the Olympic Stadium.  2 Timothy is all about torch passing, certainly a somber moment for Paul.

The writing of 2 Timothy was Paul’s last words to Timothy and also to us and was written during his final imprisonment in Rome where he sat in a dungeon awaiting execution at Nero’s hand.  Of all the notorious individuals from my Italian background, Nero would be right there at the top as most despicable.  Needing to blame someone for the burning of Rome, he murdered Christians throughout the empire and Paul was one of his casualties.  But first, Paul wrote his final letter, passing the torch of ministry to his young charge now pastoring in Ephesus.

“I am writing to Timothy, my dear son.  May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace.  Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience…Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (1:2-4)  The God I serve with a clear conscience.  Paul had no regrets in his final days, he was passing on a torch that was lit and shining brightly, and this is the responsibility of the torch bearer – to keep the flame going.

Paul continued his letter with advice for his young son in the faith on how to keep the flame going, burning and moving forward.  “Never be ashamed to tell others about the Lord.  And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Him…I am not ashamed of it, for I know the One in whom I trust…” (1:8,12)  Keep the flame going.

“Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus.” (1:13)  Keep the flame going.

“Be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus…Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2:1,3)  Keep the flame going.

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive His approval. Be a good worker..who correctly explains the word of truth (2:15)  Keep the flame going. 

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts…pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love and peace.” (2:22)  Keep the flame going!

Someday the responsibility to carry the torch will be on those who follow us.  Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” (1:6)  Fanning those flames will keep it going!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (4:7)  Paul’s faithfulness to God to the very end credentialed him to pass the torch, the torch that was aflame.  As we live and work, in whatever we do, will those who come behind us find that we were faithful to God?  Will the torch that we pass on to the next runners be burning brightly? And will we say, “I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience.”

Moving Forward:  Planning to keep my flame burning today!  “May all who come behind me find me faithful.  May the fire of my devotion light your way.” (J. Mohr) 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 9-12

I Timothy 4-6 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He gives us all the tools we need to run the race for Him

Several years ago my husband, Tom, bought me a great treadmill because I wanted to do some training and get in shape.  Knowing me like he does, he set up a little television and DVD player with remote controls as an incentive to get on it and tread.  The treadmill has served me well.  It has served as an excellent place to hang clothes to dry, stack boxes and collect lots and lots of dust. Obviously, I forgot that I was in training.

@ I Timothy 4
Train yourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’” (7-8)  What a concept!  Train yourself to be godly because it isn’t going to happen on its own.  Just as it doesn’t help to buy exercise videos and not use them, it doesn’t help to have Bibles and Christian resources in every room of our home and not open them.  Just as it doesn’t help to watch exercise videos while we sit on the couch eating ice cream, it doesn’t help to read the Bible and not apply it to our lives.  Paul is reminding us to really pump it up and do some cardio for our spiritual hearts – we are in training!

Put on your training gear because here is Paul’s workout program.  Remember:  Know pain, know gain!

  1. Exercise until we break a sweat.  “This is why we work hard and continue to suffer, for our hope is in the living God.”(10)  Train hard, every day, don’t give up!
  2. Exercise with authority and determination.  “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.” (12)  The enemy will come around tempting us to believe we can’t make it, we don’t have the goods. Remember Who gives us the authority and ability to train.
  3. Run every day.  “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” (6:11)  Run from evil and run to righteousness – every day.
  4. Exercise obvious abilities – keep them toned. “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you.”(14)  Just like any athlete, we will lose the tone of our spiritual muscles when we don’t use them.  Using our gifts and abilities will keep them toned and effective.
  5. Exercise through meditation…and Paul doesn’t mean transcendental or yoga. “Give your complete attention to these matters.”(15)  The best exercise comes through focus and singleness of mind, no distractions.
  6. Exercise in public.  “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.” (15)  Nothing encourages us more to press on than someone watching our progress, cheering us on.
  7. Add resistance training to your schedule every day. “Keep a close watch on how you live…stay true to what is right.”(16) “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)  Of course this resistance is most effective when we, last but certainly not least, follow Paul’s final training guideline:
  8. Surrender to the Personal Trainer.  “Submit to God, resist the devil…” (James 4:7)  Our personal trainer, God through His the Holy Spirit, guides and helps us through our weak moments and keeps us on track, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26) Uncertainty in our training program will bring discouragement, defeat and definitely some groaning, but the Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness when we don’t know if we can continue on.

If we follow Paul’s not for wimps training program, we will press on to our goal and become one lean, mean fighting machine for God.  Get on your mark…get set…go!

Moving Forward:  I’m in training today, ready to pump it up, follow the program and become strong and fit for the Kingdom.  I may even get on my treadmill…or not. 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 5-8

John 5-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: The One who lives in us will do His work through us

Copycat has never really been considered a term of endearment.  It denotes someone who lacks imagination or independence to the point of copying what others do instead of being original.  An impersonator, on the other hand, is someone who takes that copying to the point of making it difficult to know what is real and what is Memorex.   As the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  Then, there are those who imitate someone else out of sheer respect and admiration, even to the point of adoration – for me, that someone would be Jesus.

@ John 5
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (19) Jesus was not a copycat, an impersonator nor a flatterer. No, He was in unity with the Father to the point that it was impossible for Him to do anything else but what the Father did.  He only did what He saw the Father do which lets us know that He was watching the Father’s actions.

“What would Jesus do?” was a popular slogan a few years ago.  We saw bracelets, bumper stickers and t-shirts, but it’s so much more than a slogan to be worn.  A true heart that follows Jesus does so out of adoration and love to the point that it seems impossible to do anything but what He does.  Unlike Jesus, we fail on occasion, but our hearts seek to have unity with Him equal to the unity He has with the Father.  In any given situation when the opportunity is there to fail, we can ask with a sincere heart, “What would Jesus do?” By seeing what He did in scripture, we have a pattern to follow.

How incredible it would be to imitate Him to the point that others would see only Jesus in us.  How incredible it would be to do the works that He did while on earth. Well, actually we can.  “The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:10-12)

Greater works!  It doesn’t matter to me if I’m called a copycat, an impersonator or a flatterer.  I’m going to follow hard after the Lord and do what He does.  Maybe one day someone will find me to be someone very much like Him…be still my heart. 

Moving Forward:  My song today, “I want to be more like you, Jesus.  I want to be more like you. I want to be a vessel that you work through…” (C.Brown) 

Tomorrow @ I Timothy 4-6

Daniel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He hears and answers our prayers

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer!  Listen as I plead.  For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair.  See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.” (9:17-18)  Daniel’s fervent prayer for his people and for his city of Jerusalem arrests me as I read it and reminds me of the need for continual prayer for my city, for my nation.  Because of Israel’s gross sins, Daniel didn’t ask for undeserved help for His people – he asked for God’s mercy.  I, too, cry for mercy.  Lord, don’t give us what we deserve. 

@ Daniel 10
Most of us have experienced times when we pray desperately for a need, but the answer doesn’t come.  Sometimes we feel disconnected from God because of unforgiveness or sin in our lives that seems to block the flow of communication with Him.  Other times our answers are delayed because of God’s testing; and in these moments, our faith is stretched as we grow to trust Him more.  We even have been known to pray amiss, and God cannot answer our prayer.  We learn that Daniel experienced a delay in his answered prayer for yet another reason.

The heavenly visitor said to Daniel, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way…Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” (12-14)  Twenty-one days…interesting to note that Daniel had been fasting for twenty-one days.

We know Daniel was a man who completely trusted God and whose prayer life was remarkable.  Once again he proved his faithfulness to God by steadfast prayer and fasting until the answer came.  Little did he know that the answer came immediately but was hindered by the enemy; and likewise, we don’t know when the answers to our prayers have been hindered by the enemy.   I am encouraged by our reading today to dare to be a Daniel and pray through the hindrances until the answer comes!

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10)  The good news is that we are not fighting alone.  Like Daniel, we have the heavenly hosts in our army fighting in the heavenlies on our behalf.

When we experience a delay in answers to our prayers, we’re challenged to examine our hearts to know we are free from unforgiveness.  We are challenged to pray according to God’s will and pray that He will remove our desire for anything that is not His will.  Then, whether the delay is a testing or a hindrance, we can pray with tenacity for the answer.  “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16)  The answer’s on the way!

Moving Forward:  Encouraged by Daniel’s prayer of mercy for his people, I will pray in earnest for my nation and God’s mercy for us.  And for the many challenges I face today, I’ll pray according to His will until the answers come – they’re on the way! 

Tomorrow @ John 5-6

1 Chronicles 5-9 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He carefully planned for the security and care of His Temple

I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most outstanding pastors, missionaries and evangelists of our time.  Life has just afforded me that honor, and I’m grateful to have met them and to have sat under their ministries. If you would ask who I considered to be the most faithful man or woman in the work of the church in my lifetime, it would be difficult to choose.  It could be a missionary hero like Mark Buntain who changed the future of so many in Calcutta, the great evangelist David Wilkerson whose ministry rocked the drug culture of our nation, Reinhard Bonnke and his powerful evangelism of Africa or it could be a church custodian I knew by the name of Bob. 

@ 1 Chronicles 9
“In all, there were 212 gatekeepers in those days…David and Samuel the seer had appointed their ancestors because they were reliable men.” (22)  In the verses that follow we learn the role of the gatekeepers who opened the Temple doors in the morning, protected and cared for the Temple furnishings and utensils, oversaw the entrance and those who entered, took care of the money, made sure supplies were available for the priests, provided the showbread for the offerings and finally closed the doors of the Temple at night.  We may call them gatekeepers, custodians or even janitors, but all those who follow after them in this role serve the house of the Lord with faithfulness.

Bob was the custodian at my church when I was growing up.  He opened the church early Sunday mornings long before Sunday School began and stayed to lock up until the very last souls left the building late that evening, which usually included my mom, my sister and me.  Mom was a prayer warrior. Every time we came to church for any event on any given day we walked into a spotless building, every chair in place, paper goods always provided in the restrooms, communion set ready to go…Bob was reliable, Bob was amazing.  We always knew where he was by the jingle of his keys and the song he was humming.  Bob smiled through the messes his fellow parishioners made and smiled even when we stayed late at night.  Bob served his church for many, many years and is one of the most faithful men in the work of the church that I have ever known.

Our churches are filled with workers just like Bob who receive few accolades for their faithful service – janitors, ushers, nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, offering counters, sound men and pew fillers.  Oh, the list is endless.  Most are volunteers, some receive some small remuneration; but, trust me, it’s not enough.  However, Someone sees everything they do and is keeping record of it.  God was concerned enough about His Temple that He gave detailed instructions about its security, care and maintenance, and we can be sure that He sees every moment spent on something that is so close to His heart.

Some day when God divvies out all the eternal rewards, Bob is going to get a boatload, as well as all of God’s many other faithful gatekeepers.  In the meantime, we would bless the Lord by praying for these faithful servants and by sending notes of thanks and sharing kind words of gratitude to the many Bobs in our churches who serve us so very faithfully.  “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24) 

Moving Forward: My prayer today is special blessings for the gatekeeper and servants at my church, followed up by words of thanks. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 96-98

Daniel 1-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: “He is the living God and He will endure forever, He rescues and saves his people.”

I developed a Chicken Salad recipe several years ago that has become somewhat infamous in my little world.  It has very simple ingredients and is easy to make, but there are some necessary steps involved that give it the taste that everyone seems to enjoy.  I’ve given the recipe out to dozens of women and men alike and even posted it on my website.  Occasionally, someone will say they made the chicken salad, but it just didn’t taste the same as what I had made.  My response is always the same, “Did you follow all the steps and not compromise?”  Well, they just thought it would be easier to skip toasting the pecans or decided not to chop those golden raisins.  They ended up with a chicken salad that wasn’t the real deal.  Compromise will do that to you…fortunately, this is just chicken salad.

The book of Daniel gives the stories of men who would not compromise their faith in God.  Life would have been a great deal easier for them if they had just been willing to politely eat the food put before them, skip the prayer time or bow to the statue for just a split second.  But no, they decided to follow the recipe step by step, and when it was all said and done, they were the real deal.

When facing the fiery furnace because of their refusal to bow to the golden statue, the captive Hebrew young men responded, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (3:16-18)  No compromise!  At the risk of death!  Likewise, to the edict that prayers could be offered only to King Darius, Daniel responded by opening his windows and praying to the true and living God.  No compromise!  God’s response to these faithful children living as captives in a foreign land was to give them great favor and promotion.

We practice compromise almost every day when we negotiate a deal, agree on who is taking the kids to school and even when driving through traffic – after all, yielding our right of way is easier than having an accident.  But when it comes to our faith and the standards by which we live, there’s no room for compromise if we want to be the real deal for Him. When we live without compromise we may face some ridicule, we may lose some friends or we may even lose the job promotion.  After all, Daniel did spend some time in the lion’s den, but fortunately, he didn’t stay for lunch!

Shocked and thrilled by the outcome for Daniel, heathen King Darius’ life was touched by God’s faithfulness to Daniel, and we read in 6:25-27, “Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:  ‘Peace and prosperity to you!  I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he will endure forever.  His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.  He rescues and saves his people; He performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’”  And the best news today is – God hasn’t changed! 

Moving Forward: “I have decided to live like a believer, turn my back on the deceiver, I’m gonna live what I believe…” (M.Card)  No compromise! 

Tomorrow @ John 3-4

Luke 21-22 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He prays that we will remain faithful in the face of temptation

I told my children when they were young that if they were accused of something by someone, they needed to understand one thing: I knew that it was possible for them to be guilty of anything they were accused of.  I would hope in my heart that it wasn’t true, but I would seek out the truth.  I imagine this mindset came from serving for decades in youth ministry and encountering the moms or dads who refused to believe that their son or daughter could be guilty of anything.  Be assured, this attitude did not serve their children well.  In this same way, I believe that it is possible for me to fail in any sin, but I hope in my heart that I will not.  Peter, however, was in denial…on two counts. 

@Luke 22
In the timeline before His death, Jesus was approaching Calvary and had just shared a time of fellowship and instruction at the Last Supper.  From the Gospels we know that Jesus declared to His disciples that they would all desert Him during this time of trial.  This news was met by opposition by Peter, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 14:33-34)  “No!’ Peter declared emphatically. ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!’” (Mark 14:31)

I would have thought that Peter was mature enough by this time to know that never and always are fighting words in any setting.  When we say in a dialogue, “I always…I never…you always…you never,” we should get ready to rumble.  Satan was right there to take Peter on. In fact, Jesus had just predicted it. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (31-32) But when the moment came to accept the Lord’s warning and proceed with caution, Peter felt he was too committed to the Lord, too strong to fail.  He thought he would never deny the Lord.

Of course, we know that he did deny Him; then, after the third denial, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (61-62)

When the enemy throws a temptation my way to deny the Lord or to fail Him, I hope I will remember the failure that followed Peter’s arrogance.  Paul expressed it this way in I Corinthians 10:12-13, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  We will never see the way out that the Lord provides if we think we would never need it. It just won’t be on our radar.  And may I add, the thought of the Lord looking at me in the midst of my failure as He did with Peter is one I can hardly bear.

The good news in this story for Peter as well as for us is that Jesus is praying for us when we face temptation (32), and if we will accept His help with humility, we will be victorious.  Peter repented and went on to be a powerful leader in the emerging church, proving that there is hope for all of us! 

Moving Forward: What an assurance I have that in the face of any temptation Jesus is praying for me to remain faithful.  I move forward today accepting His prayer and His cautions with the knowledge that He’s looking at me. 

Tomorrow @ I Thessalonians 1-3

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