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Behold, the original and only truly holy way to say, “Oh, my God!

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” (John 20:24-29 CEB)

Think about it.

Lord, you are my God! May I ever be yours in the way I speak of you. Amen.

God knows, and that’s good

Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). ... why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. ... So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:4,10,12 CEB)

brushing off the brush-off

Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages … (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 CEB)

I know my experience is not unique, but the norm. I’m a preacher. I’m used to seeing folks of all ages sleep through my sermons or while away the time doing something, anything, but pay attention. I’m a Bible class teacher. My lessons aren’t always top shelf, but still, I know where they come from and how each of us needs what’s being conveyed. I’m a writer, of sorts. I know the hit count on my daily Bible devotionals and so, I know the vast majority of folks spend their time elsewhere.

As a preacher, teacher, or writer, I’m my own worst critic. No one has to tell me my sermons, lessons, or writings are often inadequate because, rest assured, I know it all too well. As soon as I’m finished with the delivery, no, actually while in the process of delivery, I’m beating myself up. “Why did you say it that way?” “Why didn’t you put it this way?” Naturally then, I tend to blame someone else’s tuning out on things within myself. I’m an OC, perfectionist, only-child, human being. God’s word is perfect, I am not, and therefore …

But then a word like this one comes along and not only brings me back to some sense of Christian sanity, reminding me that those who have God’s word coming to them have a responsibility to the Lord that is at least equal to the responsibility of the one through whom that word is coming. And so the logic more nearly, and rightly, runs thus: God’s word is perfect, none of us are perfect, and therefore …

Sleeping through sermons that grapple with Scripture. Brushing off messages tinged with the words of God’s own Spirit. Passing up reading that can feed our spirit for reading that does not much of anything for your our spirit. These have been problems for as long as the paths of God’s word and humans have crossed. It didn’t require an apostle to tell us that, but there’s some twisted sense of comfort this preacher receives through simply knowing that even an apostle of God experienced it, and so wrote:

Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages … (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 CEB)

Remember: if you are encountering the word of God – it matters not how or through whom – it is a moment the Spirit of God is speaking to your spirit. And so then, how dare any of us ever respond in any way other than that which speaks of real attention, complete respect, and serious consideration?

Is it that we’ve become a bit bored with the Lord because he’s so familiar to us? Could it be that we’ve come to take for granted him to whom all our humility and gratitude is due? Perhaps we’ve lost sight of just how priceless is this possession of ours we call “the word of God?”

I don’t know. I only know that as surely as God speaks to us today through a multitude of means, that I, as a Christian, should ever stand at attention – something within me should pay total attention – whenever and wherever I recognize God’s word is coming my way. Who knows who God will send, in what way, and with what words, to deliver to me the precise words I most need to receive from him today? The danger is most grave not when we fail to recognize God’s word, but when recognizing it for what it is, we respond with indifference.

Let me close with a link to a ten-minute video clip of a people receiving for the first time the New Testament in their native language. I suspect God will use it with you as he used it with me, to bring great conviction and consideration. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/hCvBDv

May God bless the reading and hearing of his word. Amen.

cleaning up

Let today’s Fresh Bread devotional be a simple, serious lingering over the opening sentence of today’s reading in the Fresh Eyes reading project. It speaks straight to the application of my sermon tomorrow morning, too (God is Holy).

Take a moment to ponder it:

… since we have these promises, let’s cleanse ourselves from anything that contaminates our body or spirit so that we make our holiness complete in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 CEB)

Read it again, this time starting to memorize it:

… since we have these promises, let’s cleanse ourselves from anything that contaminates our body or spirit so that we make our holiness complete in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 CEB)

Read it yet once more, now letting it form a prayer within you:

… since we have these promises, let’s cleanse ourselves from anything that contaminates our body or spirit so that we make our holiness complete in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 CEB)

Holy Father, for what do I have to be thankful? You say: “Consider and count my promises.” Lord Jesus: what am I here for? You tell me: “Be holy, like your Father in heaven is holy.” And Spirit of God, I hear your answer here to my question: ” How can I thank you and rightly respond to all the Father has promised?”: by being serious about cleaning up your act, inside and out. So be it.

… since we have these promises, let’s cleanse ourselves from anything that contaminates our body or spirit so that we make our holiness complete in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 CEB)

Now, closing your eyes, recite the verse aloud, this time resolving to go live it, and so, respect our great God.

Amen.

fresh bread: in word and deed

About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” (Acts 6:1-4 CEB)

We’ve all heard it and perhaps have said it, likely more than once:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

The genius of this statement is that it works on so many levels at the same time. Is the statement saying: (a) sermons aren’t necessarily the most pleasant of things to sit through, (b) it’s all well and good to talk about faith, but religion that isn’t lived is useless, (c) the integrity of the preacher isn’t found so much in what they say, but what they do, (d) a great deal of what passes for religion is just hot air, (e) or let the preacher do it since he seems to be the one all fired up to talk about it?

Answer? Yes.

But to say “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one anyday” is to only look at one side of the coin. In order to appreciate the full value of it all, I submit we need to flip it over and look at the other side of things. And so:

Unless you hear a sermon someday, you’ll never see one.”

After all, where would you be without the message? If you never encountered the message, how would you know what to live or how to live it? Living may be more pleasant than listening, but without listening, how will anyone know hot to live? Or even if somehow you know of the Christ, where is the integrity of living for him if you will not speak to him or of him?

And so, when it comes to practicing Christian faith, what could possibly be at least as important as feeding starving widows? Prayer and preaching. When it comes to making sure Christian faith continues, which is most crucial: to love in word or deed? Both are essential. How will we give genuine witness of the living God to a world gone mad? By living a life of dependence on God in prayer, a declaration of God in preaching, and a demonstration of God in practice.

It’s a matter of balance and respect and the forces that ever threaten to throw us out of balance or breed disrespect must always be confronted. When we find ourselves neglecting talking with God for all that we’re doing, we’re doing too much and must find our true center once more. When we find ourselves impatient with receiving, or unwittingly hindering the proper preparation to preach God’s word, we must re-examine our priorities. When we find ourselves occupied with many words and few deeds, we do neither those who hear our words or the Author who gives us the words any great honor.

Holy Father, direct our ways with the words you make sure get shared with us. Deliver us from unshouldering our personal responsibilities to you and placing them on the shoulders of others. Grow in us as at least as great a respect for the service of the word as we have in us to minister to others. When we busy ourselves so much that we forget to even speak with you, bring us to our senses and bring us to our knees that we might cry out to you. In the name of the Word who went about doing good, we pray. Amen.