Devotional on Isaiah

2006 – Near Hunt, Texas

Dual level preaching
Isaiah 9: For a child has been born — for us! The gift of a son — for us!
Sometimes the prophet does exactly what we generally think of a prophet doing: he speaks of the future. Isaiah says that even when oppressors come and seem to destroy everything that God will have the last word. That Word, Isaiah says, will be in the person of a Child who can rightly be called names like “Strong God” and “Eternal Father.” Have you ever wondered about the state of mind of men like Isaiah when they speak words like this? Does Isaiah see it all: manger, shepherds, and wise men? Or does he scratch his head and wonder why he just said that? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. I can give a very minor personal example of what I mean. A few weeks ago I was delivering my Sunday morning sermon and found myself emphasizing something that had originally been only a minor part of my sermon. Such an event is hard to describe to people who haven’t preached, but I think most everyone who has carried on spiritual conversations have, at times, experienced something similar. Honestly, as I thought about that sermon and remembered who was in the congregation I had the idea that maybe the Lord wanted to encourage a good person who was going through some challenges in their life. Still it never crossed my mind to “aim” that portion of the sermon at anyone. I was surprised that I had pursued that point as far as I did. A few days later, with no thought of that sermon, I was praying and dealing with what I thought was a totally unrelated issue. Suddenly, the words that I had said on Sunday morning came back to me and I realized that on an entirely different level they were meant for me! At that moment, the “deeper meaning” of what I had said became real to me. I think that prophets like Isaiah operate at that level when they speak of things like those in Isaiah 9. Had you had a frank conversation with Isaiah about his promise of the “gift of a son” I think he would have plugged it into some current situation in his nation. That isn’t to say he was ignorant of there being more than he could grasp, but that, for him, these words applied right then and there. Only as God’s plan is played out does the greater meaning of the old prophet’s words come to light.
Take Away: Even when we think we know what’s going on we’re often surprised to later realize that the Lord was working at levels beyond our grasp.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2008 – Pedernales Falls State Park, TX

Speaking God’s Word
Jeremiah 1: I’ve just put my words in your mouth.
Jeremiah isn’t being falsely humble when he hesitates to accept the role of prophet. Frankly, he doesn’t think he’s up to it. After all, what will he say? He feels inadequate for the task. The Lord understands. In fact, the Lord probably agrees that Jeremiah’s an unlikely prophet. However, the Lord isn’t necessarily looking for the most capable person anyway. For reasons known only to him, the Lord chose an unlikely person for a very important job. To encourage Jeremiah, the Lord puts words in his mouth, a demonstration of how it will work. Today, I very much identify with Jeremiah. As a young person I felt God’s call on my life. Growing up in a small, wonderfully supportive church I marched forward with the confidence of youth. It was during my first year in college that I realized I’m, at best, a very average person. One day, as I faced my inadequacies the Lord took mercy on me as he did for Jeremiah in this passage. As I read Matthew 10 these words became a personal promise to me: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” It seemed to me that the Lord said to me, “If I could give words to the disciples even when they were being abused, I can help you as a preacher to say things I want you to say.” That day was a “Jeremiah 1” day for me. It wasn’t that I now understood all there was to know, but I grasped this promise of God to me. If he called me to the ministry, he would help me do ministry. Over 40 years later, I can report that the Lord has been faithful to keep that promise.
Take Away: If the Lord calls you to it he will help you do it.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, AK
Preaching to please people
Jeremiah 15: Let your words change them. Don’t change your words to suit them.
The Lord called Jeremiah to be his spokesman but Jeremiah’s words aren’t well received. In fact, they get him into a lot of trouble. As a Sunday sermon preacher I like it when people are energized by my words. It hurts when folks can hang out in the foyer chatting while I pour out my heart in a sermon. I have to admit though, that Jeremiah’s situation gives me a whole new perspective on things. Not only did his listeners reject his sermons, they actively tried to silence him. Having folks who are angry with me and out to get me over a sermon would be much worse than their simply wanting to chat about other things while I preach on Sunday! Facing such opposition, Jeremiah’s tempted to adjust his preaching a bit, to downplay the “gloom and doom” and focus on things like God’s love instead. The Lord, though, is having none of that. He looks Jeremiah square in the face and tells him to stand up and take it like a man. If he has to decide between his congregation not liking his sermons or the Lord not liking them, he’d better land on the side of the Lord. The Almighty says to Jeremiah, “Don’t let the congregation craft your sermon. Be faithful to my directions and your words will change lives.” We preachers need passages like this to remind us of the spiritual facts of life. We aren’t preaching to please people. Instead, we’re preaching to change their lives. It isn’t so much what they want as it is what they need. There’s only one in the audience who must be pleased no matter what. I need to spend time with him as I prepare a sermon, lean on him as I deliver it, and then leave the results of it all in his hands.
Take Away: It’s a good thing when the congregation is pleased with the sermon. It’s even better when the Lord is.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Sea Plane at Ketchikan, AK

Poorly received sermons
Jeremiah 20: The words are a fire in my belly, a burning in my bones.
From the beginning the Lord tells Jeremiah that his ministry won’t be well received. The Lord also tells Jeremiah that he’ll make him like a rock, hard and unyielding in proclaiming his unwelcome message. The prophet reports that following one of his gloom and doom sermons in which he tells it like it is concerning the religious leaders of his nation that things get rather personal. One of the men he preaches about is the senior priest at the Temple. Pashur isn’t happy with Jeremiah’s sermon so he has him arrested and put in stocks, made subject to public humiliation. The next day when Pashur comes to have him released, Jeremiah looks him in the eye and declares God’s displeasure with him and promises that God’s going to pass judgment on him. That, though, doesn’t mean that Jeremiah’s untouched by all the opposition. He reports that he actually tries to stop proclaiming God’s message. Apparently, the strain is so great and the level of success is so small that he wants to give it all up. It doesn’t work. He says that God keeps pouring his words into his heart and that they have to be said or they feel like a fire burning inside him. Whether or not anyone listens Jeremiah’s compelled to keep saying those powerful messages. Beyond the burning words, Jeremiah finds that the Lord’s his constant source of strength. The Lord, he reports, is like a warrior standing by his side. Meanwhile, his opposition is so confused by it all that he reports that they’re only good for comic relief. Jeremiah keeps preaching those unwelcome messages because God keeps pouring them into him. Abandoning his task isn’t an option.
Take Away: If the Lord calls us to it he will bring us through it.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, AK

Playing the “God card”
Jeremiah 23: Quit the “God told me this, God told me that” kind of talk.
Jeremiah’s not the only preacher in the nation. As he proclaims God’s message there are others with a very different message, contradicting Jeremiah all the way. Jeremiah preaches saying, “This is God’s message,” and these other preachers come along right behind him saying, “No, THIS is God’s message.” These preachers with their alternate sermons have gotten the attention of the people. They’ve also gotten the attention of God. The Lord tells them, “Only the person I authorize speaks for me.” He says he doesn’t want to hear any more “God told me” preaching from the others. The Lord isn’t against them discussing Jeremiah’s sermons. He says, “Ask questions of one another, such as ‘how do we understand God in this?'” I’ve been in some discussions with people who played what I’ve heard called the “God card.” That is, they declared that “God told them” what was right. Once that’s said it’s pretty much the end of the discussion. After all, who wants to argue with God? This can be a big problem when someone with a differing view plays their “God card” too. Now what are we going to do? God is giving conflicting messages to different people! In this passage I’m reminded that the Lord’s paying attention to my words. I’d better tread lightly when I presume to speak for him. I’m not saying the Lord never directs, after all, this is all about Jeremiah’s message, and he HAD heard directly from God. Most of the time I’d better do more listening than “declaring.” The Lord isn’t opposed to them discussing Jeremiah’s messages, but he’s very much against them presuming to speak in his name.
Take Away: Most of the time it’s better to “listen” than it is to “declare.”

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, Alaska

Business, but not quite “as usual”
Jeremiah 32: I will restore everything that was lost.
When I think of parts of the Bible that were written in jail it’s the Apostle Paul and several letters of his from the New Testament that come to mind. However, many years earlier Jeremiah was locked up and continued to declare his messages from God. In this case Jeremiah is in jail for insisting that the invading Babylonian army is going to be successful. He urges everyone to surrender and take their punishment. Even as he’s proclaiming this message, the Lord tells him that he needs to conduct some family business. It must have seemed odd to his fellow prisoners to see this man who’s been saying their nation is about to fall stop to buy some land from a relative of his. If everyone’s going to be taken away as Jeremiah claims, why in the world would he take time to buy property? Jeremiah does his business and then asks that the deed and other paperwork be sealed in a jar and buried. That deed won’t be of any use for a long time but someday it’ll be dug up and still be good when God’s people return to their homeland many years hence. Even as Jeremiah proclaims coming disaster he does so with hope for a brighter future. Today, my message may, at times, be more negative than positive. My nation can’t expect to continue down the God-ignoring road it’s on and think that God won’t notice. Still, though, my message should, in general, be a positive one. What happened at Calvary brings the hope of salvation to the whole human race. Even when there’s plenty to be concerned about, that’s the really big news.
Take Away: What happened at Calvary brings the hope of salvation to the whole human race.

Devotional on Lamentations

2010 – On the Emerald Lake Trail, RMNP, CO

Preach responsibility
Lamentations 2: They didn’t face you with your sin so that you could repent.
As Jeremiah deconstructs the fall of Judah for us he describes the failure of the preachers of his day. Even as Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s word of condemnation on the nation, his competition described coming divine rescue. Jeremiah’s message called for a radical change of attitude and lifestyle. Their message was that everything was going to be just fine, that they were children of Abraham, and therefore, God had to keep his promises to him no matter what they did. Because of their success in convincing people of their mistaken theology, Jeremiah’s message was rejected and those who needed to repent never did so. I’m not writing today to put down some radio or TV preacher. To tell the truth I don’t listen to any of them enough to even know their core message. I do believe this, though: we preachers have a responsibility before God to call sinners to repentance. If all we do is share principles for a happy marriage, or tell parents how to raise well-adjusted kids, or outline how to get along with the boss we’re failing people. I’m not saying that there’s never a time and place for such sermons, but Jeremiah says the preachers of his day didn’t confront people with their sin and therefore, they never realized their need for repentance. Does this translate over to today?
Take Away: We have a responsibility before God to call sinners to repentance.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs, CO

Trust and obey for there’s no other way
Ezekiel 3: …but you won’t die. You’ll have saved your life.
As the prophet is commissioned he’s told that his job is to warn people. If they refuse his warning, then they’re responsible to God for that refusal. Ezekiel’s job is to issue God’s message. His salvation is contingent on his faithfulness in doing so. My first reaction to this passage is one of caution. I read this from a New Testament point of view and immediately respond that my hope of salvation isn’t in my performance but in my faith in the Savior, Jesus. Does that, in some way nullify this passage for me today? Upon reflection, I think not. Old or New Testament, preacher or listener, the requirement of God is the same: obedience. The Lord calls Ezekiel to preach his message and that’s what’s required of him. He’s called to obedience even as he calls his listeners to obedience. It’s the same for me. As I understand that Jesus is the Savior of the world I must obey his call to yield my life to him and follow him. Anything else is disobedience. So, Ezekiel obeyed by preaching God’s message. His listeners were to obey by forsaking their sin and worshiping the Lord. I obey by trusting in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and living in a relationship with him. People may refuse Ezekiel’s message, but he’ll be saved in his obedience in preaching it anyway.
Take Away: No matter where a person is on their spiritual journey, the Lord’s requirement is this: obey.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX

A good word from the Lord
Ezekiel 29: I’ll give you, Ezekiel, bold and confident words to speak.
A turnaround is coming. For some time now Israel had heard nothing but condemnation from God’s prophet, Ezekiel. According to him things are going to get worse before they get better. Now, we see that things will, indeed, get better. The same man who’s condemned their sin and the sins of the nations associated with them is going to be given a different word from the Lord. His words will bring hope and deliverance. His messages will reconnect them with God, himself. What powerful words they’re going to be! These aren’t the empty promises of a politician. This is God’s man speaking God’s word to them. When the Lord gets involved words take on an additional element of power. As a preacher I’m both encouraged and challenged here. I’m encouraged that, as old fashioned as it might seem, that God can communicate to people through a weak vessel like me and that as I preach God can “stir up fresh hope” and usher in “deliverance” in people’s lives. I’m challenged to live close enough to the Lord that he can direct me in that endeavor; to trust him and cooperate with him in what he wants to say to those who are listening.
Take Away: Words directed by the Lord are powerful and can be life changing.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2011 – Brazos Bend State Park, TX – Elm Lake

Preachers and listeners
Ezekiel 33: They love to hear you talk, but nothing comes out of it.
They’ve gotten used to Ezekiel. For years he’s preached his sermons and acted out various illustrations for them. His words are seldom encouraging, in fact, they’re down right condemning. Beyond that all his approaches to basically the same sermon have become to them like well-worn clothes: nothing to get excited about, but comfortable. These days, it isn’t unusual for folks to show up at Ezekiel’s house on a summer evening just to see what Ezekiel has up his sleeve today. They aren’t interested in responding to his message but they do find his rants somewhat entertaining. As a Sunday preacher I have to say that this passage is chilling to me. The folks at my church have also heard my sermons for a long time now. Sometimes I fear that they’re so used to me that, as it was in Ezekiel’s day, “they love to hear you talk, but nothing comes out of it.” It’s interesting how small things become big things as I think about stuff like this. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I suggested folks take a particular course of action. Yesterday I was handed something someone had done as a direct result of that sermon. I can’t tell you how encouraging that is to me. It’s also humbling. I’m flattered that anyone would come to my church and listen to me preach my sermons week after week. I’m encouraged that some folks actually take what I say to heart and literally respond by doing something they wouldn’t have done otherwise. I’m humbled that I have the opportunity to touch lives each week in this way, realizing that in myself I have nothing to offer. If anything “comes out of it” it will take cooperation with God by both preacher and listeners.
Take Away: Preaching must be much more than entertaining.

Devotional on Joel

2013 – Covered Bridges in west central Indiana

Preaching on current events
Joel 1: Have you ever heard of anything like this?
There have been a few times when my Sunday sermon was 100% driven by current events. Some were huge, world shaking events like 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and Desert Storm. Others were powerful events on the more local level: the church gym being destroyed by fire or the death of a beloved member of the church. There are times when the preacher has to lay aside the sermon schedule and deal with what’s already on the minds of everyone. The prophet Joel ministers in such a time. A horrible plague of locusts has swept through the country devouring everything in its path. This is a disaster. Their crops are gone and there’s nothing to eat or with which to feed their livestock. Hunger and even starvation is a real danger. Realizing God has the attention of everyone Joel takes the situation at hand as his text and begins preaching his sermon. That sermon is the three chapter book of Joel.
Take Away: A sermon schedule can’t be driven by current happenings, but sometimes that’s exactly as it should be.

Devotional on Amos

2013 – Niagara Falls – Cave of the Winds

God’s call
Amos 7: I never set up to be a preacher, never had plans to be a preacher.
Amos starts out as an unknown, coming out of the fields near a small town to proclaim God’s message. His sermons are rough and tumble, filled with condemnation. They’re also specific: Amos names names. Now, he’s gotten the attention of some people who they don’t like what they’re hearing. In fact, they see his warning that a pagan army will “make hash of you” to be a threat to national security. One of the important priests, Amaziah, sends word to king Jeroboam that there’s a traitor in their midst who’s sowing seeds of fear. Amaziah then confronts Amos. He wants this farmer to go back to where he came from and do his preaching in that backwater place. The context of this confrontation is that Amaziah thinks Amos is just in it for the money and notoriety he’s getting and that he’s come to Bethel with his preaching show for more of the same. Amos stands up to the powerful priest and declares that he had no desire to preach in the first place. Unlike Amaziah, Amos has no family tree of ancestors who are clergy. He’s a mere farmer who’s heard from God and has been told to proclaim God’s message. To this day the Lord is still sending people into the ministry. Some of us heard that call while we were still young children. Others battled with it as teens, and still others, like Amos, were established in their lives and, in response to the call embarked on a whole new career. Amos is a poster child for all who are called by God, but he’s especially an example of how God sometimes calls adults who must walk away from one life and obey God in another.
Take Away: To this day the Lord is still sending people into the ministry.

Devotional on Jonah

2013 – Shenandoah National Park, VA – Skyline Drive

The perfect man for the job
Jonah 3: In forty days Nineveh will be smashed!
Jonah’s message focuses on judgment. After all, he’s preaching to the enemies of Israel. I imagine old Jonah preached some “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermons that would rival that of American preacher Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon. Jonah, in fact, preaches this sermon of condemnation and destruction in a spirit of victory and joy. Jonah tells them God’s going to get them and his attitude is that he can hardly wait for that to happen. I think it’s that attitude rather than what he says that creates a “scared straight” result to his ministry. Here’s one of their sworn enemies boldly working his way through their city joyfully proclaiming that God’s about to destroy them all. Jonah does such a good job of preaching his sermon that it has an undesired (for him) result: people listen! I can’t help but find it interesting that Jonah’s the perfect man for this job, not because he shares God’s compassion on this wicked city, but because he doesn’t.
Take Away: The Lord has a way of picking the perfect (if unlikely) people for doing his work.

Devotional on Micah

2013 – Pilot Mountain, North Carolina

Getting stuff from God
Micah 2: I’ll preach sermons that will tell you how to get anything you want from God.
God’s man says that when the people of his nation send out a pastoral search committee that they’re looking for a specific kind of preacher. They aren’t interested in hearing sermons about repentance and judgment, but they’d love to hear sermons that tell them how to get God to do stuff for them. Such a preacher is sure to be hired on the spot. Obviously, this desire isn’t limited to Micah’s day. For many people manipulating God is what religion’s all about. Many years earlier the suffering Job says, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Earlier, Job had gotten an enormous amount of stuff from God. Now, it’s all gone and all he has left is a broken life and a stubborn faith. So which approach to God describes me? Am I in it for what I can get? What if everything I hold dear is taken from me and it seems God’s no longer playing Santa Claus? On one hand, we have people who don’t want to hear what God has to say but are very interested in what they can get God to do. On the other hand, we have a man who’s so committed to God that even when most of his theology has crashed he insists on continuing to hope in the Lord. I pray I never have to travel Job’s road but I’m certain I don’t want to follow that of the people of Micah’s day.
Take Away: Do we serve the Lord for what we think we might get from him?

Devotional on Malachi

2014 – Along the road to Moab, UT

How to get a better preacher for your church
Malachi 1: You say “I’m bored – this doesn’t do anything for me.”
The people of Malachi’s day have lost the edge off of their religion. Worship services are a burden rather than a blessing. For them, righteous living is more about “have to” than “want to.” What should be the most satisfying part of life has become just another burden for them to bear. Malachi tells them why it’s like this: they’ve settled for a cheap religion. When they bring an animal to the Lord they don’t pick the finest they have. Instead, they pick one that’s probably going to die anyway. Even when they brag that they’re going to make some significant offering, at the last minute they just can’t bring themselves to do it and settle for a mere token offering instead. The result, according to Malachi, is a dull, boring religion. The less they put into their relationship with God the less they get out of it. Here’s the real kicker: God isn’t satisfied with their religion either. He says, “If this is how it’s going to be just lock the Temple doors.” Apparently, the Lord isn’t into playing church. I don’t think this concept gives us preachers a license to preach dull, sloppy, poorly prepared sermons or for singers and others to sleep walk through church. However, from years of experience I can affirm that the people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them. Why not give it a try? Get up early enough to pray for the services and for yourself, arrive ahead of time, focus on the Lord, and give 100% to worship. Who knows? You might have a better preacher at your church than you think you do!
Take Away: The people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Teaching on teaching

Matthew 13: Are you starting to get a handle on all this?

In this chapter Matthew gives us several examples of Jesus teaching. We hear about the sower and the seed, a series of stories about how, in the Judgment, the division of the human race will take place and stories that illustrate the growth of the Kingdom of God. Of course, each story is true and helps us better understand spiritual reality. However, the overall purpose of the stories is to teach the disciples how to teach kingdom truths. Jesus explains that the reason he tells stories is to “create readiness.” If he begins his teachings at the high school level, all those who are at the elementary level are left out. Therefore, he starts with stories that pry open some new small comprehension that wasn’t there before. As he concludes this “teaching on teaching” Jesus asks his disciples if they get it. I think “getting it” doesn’t necessarily mean that we Sunday preachers are supposed to always build our sermons around stories (although it’s not a bad idea). Instead, “getting it” means that we remember to start our preaching at the level of our listeners. Seasoned students of the Word tend to forget that things we take for granted are new territory for others. We also like “church words” and freely sprinkle them into our sermons. On one hand, we don’t want to show disrespect for people by talking down to them. On the other hand, we don’t want to be so “above and beyond” that the average person is untouched by truths that could transform their lives.

Take Away: We need to minister to people at their level of understanding.

Devotional on Romans

2014 – Cape Disappointment – Dead Man’s Cove

The Holy Spirit working through me

Romans 15: The wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me.

Adventures, Paul’s had some! He’s pioneered the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region. He’s been at the forefront of a tidal wave of the work of the Holy Spirit and, because of that, he’s not only taken plenty of hits, he’s also seen first-hand just what God can do. Paul, though, is quite humble about all that. He doesn’t glorify himself. Rather, he gives glory to the Lord for it all. At times, even though he’s in the middle of it all he’s found himself more bystander than participant as something “wondrously powerful” happens. Paul understands that it isn’t his cleverness or winning personality that’s “triggered a believing response.” The message about Christ is actually delivered by Christ, through Paul. I wish I had a better handle on this. So often I find myself behaving as though it’s all about my performance. I let myself become so focused on how I’m doing that I forget that, actually, I’m not required to do much at all. The Lord wants me to place my full weight of trust on him and allow him to minister through me. My cooperation is required and the Lord will use my personality, education, etc. along the way, but it’s all powered by his Holy Spirit and not by me. There are times when Paul is amazed at the response to his ministry. As I cooperate with the Lord, I, too, will be surprised as lives are touched as the Lord ministers to people through me. Let’s not be guilty of underestimating the ability of the Lord to minister through us.

Take Away: As we cooperate with the Lord he does amazing things through us that surprise us as much as anyone else.

Devotional on 2 Corinthians

2014 – Cape Meares, OR

I’m just an old lump of clay

2Corinthians 4: All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.

I wonder what Paul actually looked like. He describes himself as unimpressive, the kind of person you meet at a party but don’t remember the next day. Maybe he’s just being honestly humble here. However, he wants his readers to know that it’s his message that matters and not the power (or lack thereof) of his personal presence. He imagines himself to be a plain clay jar that holds a treasure of unimaginable value. To look at the outside no one would ever guess what’s on the inside. Here he is: a plain sort of fellow sharing an extraordinary gift with all who will receive it. This is such an important concept and one that resonates with me. It’s the message that matters. Other servants have other gifts, some quite impressive and often well used of the Lord. The bottom line, though, is that we’re all mere messengers, “errand runners.” On the surface, we’re ordinary or less. What we have to give is a gift beyond imagination. For my part it’s good to be reminded of my place in this grand scheme. I’m honored to be a “plain clay jar” used in the service of the Master. As I realize that the message is bigger than this messenger I’m reminded of my responsibility to never let my life get in the way of my message.

Take Away: The Message of God is more important than the messenger.

Devotional on 2 Corinthians

2014 – Pacific City, OR

Tearstained letters

2Corinthians 7: I know I distressed you greatly with my letter.

The book of 1 Corinthians is almost painful to read. It’s clear the there are some sick situations there and that this church is far from being a healthy congregation. The Corinthian church isn’t a prototype of what a Christian church is supposed to look like, although how Paul deals with them is a primer on how a spiritual leader is to deal with a difficult church situation. An insight in this passage is that as Paul writes to Corinth he knows the impact his words will have on the church. Beyond that, his words impact him as well. Administrating this strong medicine is painful for Paul too. The old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” line is literally true in this situation. Paul gets no pleasure in writing to his friends at Corinth as he does. He’s frustrated with them and somewhat fearful for them. Still, he expects his strong medicine to bring about, in the long run, good results. Sometimes parents have to be disciplinarians. It would be nice to always feel warm and fuzzy about things but to do so isn’t what real love is like. In his first letter Paul steps up to the plate, telling them the facts of spiritual life even though, in his words, “I felt awful at the time.” Sometimes preachers have to be disciplinarians. As it is for Paul and as it is for parents, proper discipline should never carry with it a sense of pleasure in causing pain. I imagine tearstains on the parchment that contains what we think of as 1 Corinthians. In the same way, there should be tearstains on the sermon notes of a pastor who preaches a sermon that will cause some pain. Otherwise, that sermon should never be preached.

Take Away: Sometimes discipline must be done but it should never be done with pleasure.

Devotional on 2 Corinthians

2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence – Heceta Head Lighthouse

The voice of authority

2Corinthians 10: I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ.

Paul’s first letter was rather stern and was, in general, well received. Most of the church at Corinth took it to heart and responded positively to it. However, we see here that not everyone received it in the spirit in which it was written. Some complain that Paul should mind his own business and that “them and God” will work things out. Others point out that there are leaders aside from Paul in their number who hold different opinions from him. Yet others say that Paul writes tough, but in person he’s not very impressive and his letters shouldn’t be treated as though they’re the final word on anything. The Apostle takes all this on in this passage. He wants them to understand that he’s being as patient with those who oppose him as possible, but that his words aren’t his own, but carry with them the very authority of Christ. He hasn’t tried to manipulate them and he hasn’t avoided the more sticky points. He knows that there’s opposition both outside and inside the church. After all, his teachings are radical and run counter to the world’s way of doing things. He’s not just putting band aids on severe wounds. Rather, he’s in a battle to the death with an ungodly culture that still has a foothold in the Church. All this he does under the direct authority of Christ. If they want to hear from someone with authority, he’s it! Paul’s self-assurance here is breathtaking. In spite of his obvious weaknesses he pulls no punches in claiming authority in this situation. I’m sure there’s a case to be made for humility and for letting people work things out between them and God. Here, though, I’m reminded that sometimes God chooses to use unlikely people to state his message. This, I think, is different than a preacher taking a text and, using its authority, delivering a sermon. This kind of prophetic voice is seldom heard, but when it happens people tend to recognize it. Beyond recognizing it, we’d better pay attention to it.

Take Away: It’s the Lord who gives authority to his message.

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