August 19: We Need Each Other!

Read Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

God never designed for us to go through life alone.  Already on Day #6 of creation, He observed the solitude of the man He created and declared that it was “not good” (Gen. 2:18).  Consequently, He sought to remedy that.

But the ultimate good life is not necessarily experienced in marriage.  Now, that statement may require some explanation…especially to Celeste, my wife!  What I mean is that God wants us to be connected to others in meaningful, encouraging, God-glorifying, accountable relationships.  Marriage is certainly a unique and important expression of that.  It is only in marriage between a man and woman that two people become one.  It is only in a husband/wife relationship that God’s gift of sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed.  Marriage is a unique blessing from God.

Meanwhile, the unmarried person is of no less value.  In fact, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that there are specific advantages to the single life.

Whether a person is married or not, Solomon points out the vanity, the meaninglessness of the life of one who has no meaningful connection with others.  This is the person with “neither son nor brother” (v. 8).  It is the man without friends.  It is the woman cut off from family.  One can argue, “At least this person can give himself/herself more completely to another biblical value…work.”  But the purposelessness of such a life is real.  His money doesn’t bring contentment.  Her life lacks joy.

But, oh the blessing of the life connected to another!  Those providential relationships offer accountability and more.  Together with others, our productivity increases (v. 9).  Friends are there to help us when we stumble in life (v. 10).  In close relatives, we find those who are there with us when we face the cold realities of life (v. 11).  With God’s help, we can stand with others against the temptations, challenges, and even satanic opposition (v. 12) we may face.

I am grateful to have people like my family, my Grace Group, and others in our pastoral staff who are there for me.  So, who are those people in your life?

The contemporary band “Sanctus Real” gives us an upbeat reminder of our need for others in their song “We Need Each Other.”  Check it out if you care to.

sbk

June 22: Accountability in Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

By its very definition, “accountability” indicates that we are “responsible to someone or for some action.”  We are “answerable.”  Our nation’s Founding Fathers chose to build accountability into our governmental system through the checks and balances of three branches:  legislative, executive, and judicial.  All of us are wise to build accountability into our lives in the form of right relationships.  We do well when we daily yield in recognition of the fact that our ultimate accountability is to God.

Is it possible, however, for us to carry accountability too far?  In the name of fairness or in hypersensitivity could we slowly become people who are just looking for any and every opportunity to blow the whistle on someone?  Could we become ones who are unable to let go of the past failures of others?

Those may sound like heretical statements; I know.  Paul reminds us, however of love’s supreme value.  One of its characteristics is a personal decision that each of us is faced with as we find ourselves placing the proverbial whistle to our mouths, ready to call a foul on someone.  Can I choose, instead, to “keep no record of wrong” (v. 5)?  Or, as the New American Standard Bible puts it, can I resolve to “not take into account a wrong suffered”?  Rather than taking offense, could I choose to let it slide?

That kind of decision is only possible as we unleash God’s kind of unconditional love that is empowered by grace and forgiveness.  These are the very things that God doles out to every child of God in overwhelming quantities.  As a result, He has chosen to overlook my past sin.  As a result, every time I confess sin to Him, He faithfully and righteously forgives me and cleanses me.  It is no longer an issue.  It is no longer something that He has recorded.

If you have received that kind of “keeps no record of wrongs” love from your heavenly Father, you are now to be a conduit that generously passes it on to others.

As I was writing this, I was listening to music, and this Brandon Heath song from 1 Corinthians played.  Perhaps you will benefit from it the way I did.  Click here to listen.

sbk

June 21: Accountable with Eternal Ramifications

Read Matthew 25:1-46

With which story did you most resonate?

  1. The story of a groom and ten bridesmaids?  Some of the bridesmaids were prepared for the arrival of the groom; others were caught flat footed.
  2. The story of an investor and those to whom he gave money?  Some of the recipients were responsible with the entrusted resources; others were not.
  3. The story of the Son and sheep and goats?  The sheep had served Christ by serving others; the goats had ignored Christ while ignoring others.

In these stories we find some common ingredients.  Each included the return…of a groom, an investor, and the Son.  Of course all of those returns are illustrative of the ultimate and imminent return of Jesus Christ to the earth.  In all three, there are also clear expectations for those left behind.  The bridesmaids were to be ready.  The servants were to use the resources at their disposal.  The animals were to serve faithfully.  And, finally, each of the stories points to some kind of accountability for the actions of those who had been left.  Some of the bridesmaids joined the celebration while others were excluded from the wedding feast.  Two of the servants experienced the master’s joy and received more while one lost everything and was thrown out.  The sheep received a kingdom, while the goats experienced punishment.

We are accountable for our actions in this life.  They have eternal ramifications.  Let me quickly clarify that.  We are not saved by the things we do.  Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 2:8, 9.  We are saved by faith in Christ and the grace extended to us because of His death, burial, and resurrection.  Nevertheless, even as Christ followers…even for those who will spend eternity with Him, we will one day stand before Christ.  He will determine rewards on the basis of our conduct and service (2 Cor. 5:10).  We should live in anticipation of that day!

In light of that ultimate accountability, all of us do well to build appropriate and loving accountability into our families and relationships.  This can be a healthy experience that promotes growth.  To whom are you accountable?

sbk

June 20: Authority and Accountability

Read Genesis 9:1-17

While serving as part of a church planting ministry in Germany, we were thrilled to have family members and friends from the States come to visit.  During one such visit, we traveled with loved ones a few hours across the border to the Austrian Alps.  Shortly after our arrival, Celeste looked to the mountain peaks to discover a double rainbow in the sky.  This served as a unique and meaningful reminder of God’s faithful care for us.

Now, years later, that is my only memory of the evening.  Although I am sure that there were many other meaningful encounters and conversations with our loved ones, they are all now blurred by the rainbows.

As you read through Genesis 9, that same thing can happen.  You could possibly so focus on the God’s promise extended through the rainbow that you miss out on:

  1. God’s renewed commission to man to multiply and fill the earth (v. 1).
  2. God’s permission given to man to move from an exclusively vegetarian diet (v. 3).
  3. God’s establishment of the earliest form of government (vv. 5, 6).

God, through this earliest form of government, allowed people to punish those who had committed murder.  Man was accountable to his fellow mankind.  Since that time, God has given and government authorities have assumed responsibility for caring for the welfare of others.

Still today, we are accountable to government authorities, representatives, and laws.  Do you gladly yield to that accountability?  For some, reluctant rebellion seems to be the rule of the day rather than glad submission.  Opinions are strong and emotions run high about national, state, and local leadership.  Meanwhile, the word of God instructs us to submit to those authorities, recognizing that they have been established by God (Rom. 13:1).  Instead of sowing seeds of unrest, we are to experience peace by praying for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-7).

I wonder; do we need to pause today to do a quick heart check?  Do we need to examine our willingness to gladly yield in accountability to those who have authority over us?

sbk

June 19: Accountability, Vulnerability, and Responsibility

Read James 5:13-19

I counted five divine expectations in these last verses from James’ pen.  They are five specific action steps we are to take if (and when) we find ourselves or others in five specific life situations.  Which of these life situations have you found yourself in or been aware of with others?  Has it been your pattern to take the corresponding action?

  1. Have you ever been in trouble?  Who hasn’t!  When you are, do you routinely pray about your circumstances?  (13a)
  2. Have you ever been happy?  I hope that this is a regular emotion for you!  Do you let that overflow into songs that praise God?  (13b)
  3. Here is one that I hope you haven’t experienced!  Have you ever been very seriously sick?  If so, did you call for church leaders to come, pray over, and anoint you?  (14)
  4. Have you ever sinned?  We all have!  Do you admit that to others so that they can pray and that you might find healing?  (16)
  5. Have you ever been aware of someone wandering from Christ?  People like that are in our churches, families, and neighborhoods!  When you encounter such people, do you take the initiative to point him/her back to Christ?

Most of us have experienced all of those situations…with the possible exception of #3.  Meanwhile, most of us probably only take the actions described in #1 and #2…and that occasionally.  We (often) pray to God when things are going bad and we (sometimes) thank Him when life is good.  Meanwhile, we find it difficult to confess our own sin or to correct it in others.  We struggle to let down our masks that portray all is well in our lives, and we hesitate to speak into the lives of others where their struggle is obvious.

Reaching such levels of vulnerability, accountability, and assuming such degrees of responsibility of others…all of that requires that we have relationships that are more than superficial.  It requires that we know others…at least a few…at a deeper level.  With these people, we are candid about ourselves and genuinely caring about them.

Do you have that kind of accountability with your family?  With anyone?  It is worth pursuing because the wins are real.  I receive healing!  And I save someone else from death.

sbk

June 18: Accountability that is Preventative and Corrective

Read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:14

If you know even a bit about King David of the Old Testament, you may know two things:

  1. His model monarchy.  He is described as a man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14), and he is assured that the Messiah would come through his lineage and reign on his throne (2 Sam. 7:16 cf. Lk. 1:32,33).
  2. His “Bathsheba blemish.”  What was likely intended to be a one night stand turned into one long nightmare that displeased God (11:27).

Thankfully, David had a caring friend named Nathan who was willing to potentially risk the relationship in order to call the king to accountability.  God used Nathan in bringing David to the point of repentance for his sin.  Thankfully, God forgave and continued to use this man!

But, while that kind of “call to repentance,” “confess your sins to one another” type of accountability is an important thing to have built into life, so is “preventative” accountability.  This kind of accountability sees a danger sign and addresses it before it gives rise to sin.  It may be part of a relationship that is agreed upon in advance, or it may also be the kind of concern that a person expresses for a fellow brother or sister in Christ just because he/she cares.

For example, what if…

  • Joab had asked David why he wasn’t also going to war?  After all, kings normally did that in the spring (11:1).
  • The messengers David wanted to send to get Bathsheba said, “This doesn’t look like a good idea!”?  I suppose they could have lost their jobs, but they likely knew what his intentions were.
  • Joab had sought clarification on why David was singling Uriah out to be killed in the line of duty?  I suppose I am underestimating the kind of unquestioned submission that should be offered to a king at that time, but Joab must have known that something was up.

David’s fall leads us to three important questions:

  1. Have I built preventative accountability into my life?
  2. Am I willing to speak up when I see danger signs in the lives of others?
  3. Can I humbly receive the expressions of concern that others might bring to me?

sbk

June 16: Man Card Accountability

Read Psalm 15:1-5

Ladies, hang with me for the next few lines.  Guys, pay attention.

Man Card.  I got mine last fall.  Do you know what I had to do to get it?

  • I shot (and made) a three-pointer in basketball.
  • I threw an axe and made it stick into a tree.
  • I ate a jalapeno pepper whole.
  • I threw a football through a tire swing.
  • I ran a mile without a shirt at temperatures below 40 degrees.  (OK, don’t try to picture that one!)

In the end, I received a man card.

Of course, just as there were things I did that allowed me to earn my man card, so too there are things I do that can threaten my man card…things like eating at the Pine Tree Barn or being seen in Bath and Body Works.

The man card experience I described above was all part of a ministry from our church called “Fight Club.”  But while we had fun doing some things that were “manly,” Fight Club, more importantly, drives home some more important biblical traits of the godly man.  Men, on this day when we are celebrated, do you understand that true manhood is more than your ability to perform a few activities that our culture has defined as the true test of testosterone?

Both the word of God and Fight Club point us clearly to things like a deep and sensitive commitment to our families, a life of godly integrity, and a passionate devotion to Jesus Christ and His purposes.  You may feel decent about one or more of those areas.  I hope so!

But, let’s face it, no matter where we are, there is room for growth in all of those areas.  And if we are to grow, most of us need another important biblical fixture in our lives…accountability.  Most of us don’t stretch beyond our current position unless we go on record that we want to.  We often don’t move unless someone else knows about our complacent past and our godly goals.  We benefit from someone asking the hard questions…from someone admonishing us when we blow it…and cheering for us when we get it right.

We need accountability!

By the way, the next chapter of Fight Club will start in the fall.  I hope you don’t wait for it to get started, but I also hope you join us!

sbk

June 14: God is Available to You

Read Luke 18:1-8

I love it when the Bible tells me specifically what the application point is. It is not always that easy to identify.  And, in the case of a parable, I can get so involved in untangling the imagery that I either never recognize or lose sight of that point.

But, in this case, the take home is clear:

“…Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1 NIV)

Always pray.  Never give up.  Always pray.  Never give up.  Do you have that clear in your mind?

Jesus illustrated that point by way of contrast.  Rather than selecting a character for this story who represents God, He chooses one who is unlike our Heavenly Father.  The judge in this parable is described as “unrighteous.”  We are told that he did not fear God, and, unlike the God of heaven, he did not care for people.  But, even this judge, out of frustration rather than compassion, responded to the plea of the persistent widow.

Meanwhile, we as followers of Christ have a righteous, compassionate Father who cares for the needs of His children.  Even though His response is not always obvious and immediate, He does “give justice to His elect who cry to Him day and night” (v. 7).  Unlike those around us, who, at times, are unavailable, fail us, ignore us, or just don’t pick up on our clear signals, He is, thankfully, available and attentive to our needs.  It doesn’t matter the time of day; He is always there.

That realization draws us back to the point.  Because He is always there and always cares, we need to:  Always pray.  Never give up.  Always pray.  Never give up.

Is there a situation that is burdening you now?  Have you tried to take it to all the right people, but have discovered them to be unavailable or disinterested?  Take it now to the One who is always there and always cares…and keep bringing it to Him.

sbk

June 13: Selective Availability?

Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-30

There is a very practical side to “availability” that can drive you crazy and run you ragged.  If you haven’t already noticed, there can be, at any point in time, more “need” than there is enough of you.  If you make yourself available to every person, every request, and every opportunity that comes your way, it just won’t work.  “Yes” and “No” are the required answers for any and every one of those.  But how do you sort through them?  For which ones should you be available?

I am making no claim of having all the answers to this.  Nor am I claiming to always do this right.  But here are two quick principles I am learning:

  1. My role influences my response.  If I begin to sort through the roles I play, I discover that I am a husband, a father, a pastor, an employee, a supervisor, and a citizen.  I cannot ignore any of those.  The other day, Celeste and I were at a public event, where we saw a child venturing into a potentially harmful area while the mother watched from the side.  As Celeste and I observed, I heard Celeste saying under her breath, “Be a ‘mommy!’  Be a ‘mommy!’”  You see, there are people we need to be available to, responsibilities we need to assume, simply because of the role we play.
  2. My gifting affects my decision.  There are certain people/needs to which we make ourselves available simply because God has gifted us meet that need.  If someone needs a “hand” and God has gifted you as a “hand,” perhaps you should say “yes!”  Months ago, a man who had probably observed way too many linguistic mistakes in these written devotionals offered to be another set of “eyes.”  If you are noticing fewer errors, it’s because Dave has made himself available to proofreed!  But, if the need is outside of your gifting and ability, don’t be afraid to point others in the direction of someone who can help.

Of course, there are many other principles that should help you in determining your availability, but the question of role and gifting provide you with a good place to start.

sbk

June 12: Available to Those Closest to You

Read Mark 3:1-19

Jesus was not available at the same level to every person.  That statement is, on the one hand, logical; but, on the other, it is worthy of deeper consideration.

Crowds gathered often around Jesus.  His teaching was unlike that of others in His day.  He taught with authority and offered words of life.  It is no wonder crowds of thousands gathered.  But they were also attracted by His miracles.  As Jesus healed many and fed multitudes, His fame spread, and even more people gathered.  Jesus was available to the crowds.

But there were times when Jesus withdrew from the crowds.  There were times that He devoted to those who had given themselves to be His followers.  If we are to read Mark 3 as chronological in nature, we discover that He spent time with His disciples (v. 7) and that they were distinct from the later reference to the Twelve.

Meanwhile, there was the handpicked group of twelve men, referred to here as apostles (v. 14).  To these twelve, He was even more available.  In fact, part of His purpose in selecting them was “that they might be with Him…” (v. 14)  They were the ones that would have virtually unlimited access to His time and His input.

Perhaps you can picture what I have just described as concentric circles with decreasing numbers and increasing availability.

Now, of course, I realize that none of us is Jesus.  Not one of us has all at our disposal that He has.  No one is able to reproduce the things that He does.  Relationally, however, He models something that we do well to mimic…in fact, you probably already have your concentric circles of decreased numbers and increased availability.

Here comes the key question though.  Are the ones who have the most access to you the right ones?  Hopefully, that inner circle includes your family…and, perhaps, a few close friends.  And just as critical is the question:  Is your availability to them and their priority in your life obvious to them?  When talking to them and your cell phone buzzes, blings, or rings, do you give immediate attention to your cell phone and leave them hanging?  Do you give full attention to their activities and their concerns?  Or is it distracted attention because you are double tasking?

Make sure that your availability to those closest to you.

sbk