obedience (14)

Ketogenic Spirituality

I recently gained an important spiritual insight from an unlikely source. I was listening to a radio program touting the benefits of a new weight-loss craze called the Ketogenic Diet.

The basic concept of the Ketogenic Diet is that you should only consume calories during 8 hours of the day, such as from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The remaining 16 hours should be spent burning off the calories you’ve already consumed and the fat that’s already stored in your cells.

“Most of us Americans could live a long time just by burning our fat deposits,” the program host confidently pointed out. “Yet because we keep taking in more and more calories, the energy in those fat cells is never utilized.”

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not meant to be an endorsement of the Ketogenic Diet or any other approach to weight loss. I’m just exploring a similar spiritual principle.

Listening to this program, I was fascinated by the parallels between physical and spiritual obesity. Both conditions are the result of taking in more nourishment than we utilize. When we consume more food calories than we burn, the excess is stored as fat – and the same principle holds true when we consume an excess of spiritual calories.

Let me explain…

Me and Ezra

I’ve been a Christian a long time, ever since I was 18. I’ve heard countless sermons, listened to thousands of hours of Christian broadcasting, and read a myriad of books, magazines, and blogs. Not content to with secondhand spiritual nourishment, I’ve also spent a lot of time in personal Bible study.

I guess you could say I’ve been well nourished spiritually. For the most part, that’s a good thing, because I’ve met many Christians who seem malnourished and stunted in their spiritual development. Maybe they’ve been born again, but they’ve never learned the importance of receiving and digesting the truths of God’s Word.

So I’ve been blessed by the spiritual nutrition I’ve received.  

Nevertheless, I’m troubled by the fact that much of the spiritual input I’ve received has never been implemented. I can quote a lot of Bible verses I’m still not walking in, and that’s a problem: It’s a prescription for becoming spiritually fat without becoming spiritually strong.

In contrast, Ezra is a great example of a Biblical leader who practiced “ketogenic” spirituality. Look at this beautiful description of his life:

Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel (Ezra 7:10 ESV).

Notice the 3 key verbs in this passage: STUDY…DO…TEACH. All 3 are necessary for well-rounded discipleship, yet very few of us are following Ezra’s model.  

If we study (or listen to sermons) without doing and teaching, we will inevitably become spiritually flabby. But if we study with a commitment to put the lessons into practice and then pass them on to others, we’ll become spiritually strong, and our life will have great impact.

One of the reasons Jesus taught with such authority was that He not only had studied the Scriptures, but He also had put them into practice. In the same way, people will only respond to our teaching to the degree in which we’ve first implemented the teachings in our own life.

Fallow Ground

In addition to Ezra 7:10, I’ve found myself convicted by another Bible passage lately:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you
(Hosea 10:12 NKJV).  

What does it mean that we must break up our “fallow ground”? NIV translates this “unplowed ground,” while NLT says “hard ground.”

I picture this as fertile ground God has given us, but which we’ve never taken time to plow and develop. Like the unutilized calories described in the Ketogenic Diet, we’re sitting on untapped potential.

So let’s get personal: What are some things God has given you, but which are currently lying dormant and unproductive?

Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Spiritual gifts or natural aptitudes you’re not doing anything with. Peter warned that God has gifted you, and you’re called to USE your spiritual gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10).
  • Excess money in your savings account or retirement fund that could be invested for Kingdom purposes. It would be tragic to follow the example of the fearful servant who chose to bury the resources his master had entrusted to him (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • A God-given dream for an invention or business you’ve never set in motion. A vision that isn’t written down or communicated to others is simply hot air, worthless in making an impact (Habakkuk 2:1-3).

It’s time to start burning your spiritual fat reserves!

My 3-Year Plan

Here’s the backstory on why I’m so grieved about this issue of unplowed ground and unutilized vision…

God recently brought to my attention that I have written more than 8 books that no one has ever read. And that’s not counting several smaller booklets that are already completed, nor the books I’ve started but never finished.

Do you see how horrible this is? Much of the “ground” God has entrusted to me still hasn’t been plowed and put into production.

This is unacceptable…even sinful! In the next 3 years, I must do everything I can to break up my fallow ground and utilize these resources the Lord has put in my hands.

Perhaps you noticed that Hosea 10:12 not only issues a challenge for us to seek the Lord, break up our unutilized ground, and sow seeds. It also contains a wonderful promise, that if we do those things, He will send us rain and grant us an abundant harvest.

So what are we waiting for?

In my case, time is already ticking on my 3-year plan. Like any good plan, it will never come to pass without focus on my part and favor on God’s part.  

What is God calling YOU to do in the next few years? If you hear His voice, today’s a great day to get started toward your legacy (Hebrews 3:14-15).

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Lay Down Your Gifts

Let’s start today by revisiting Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two from a few weeks ago. The seventy-two certainly had something to rejoice in when they used the gifts they had received: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). And because of that, we tend to read Jesus’ response, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v.18), as something that happened at that very moment. I’m not so sure any more.

What if what Jesus really meant was this?: “I was there when Satan fell. I was there when he became so full of pride over what God had given him that he exalted himself above God. Be careful the same doesn’t happen to you.”

It certainly would explain Jesus’ next words, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you”—because after all, you’re not the first, and you’re not always in good company—“but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven” (v.19).

There may well come a time where we will have to lay down our very giftedness and callings before Jesus—when we will need to say, “This is yours, Lord, and I will walk away from all of it if that’s what you want.” Should that occur, it will likely be because we’ve allowed our identities to become so wrapped up in what we’ve been called to do by Jesus that our identities are really no longer in Jesus.

It’s very easy to fall in love with the idea of “I’m called to do this.” It’s much easier to get excited about something new and unique than it is to get excited about doing what everyone else is doing—or at least, should be doing. Every day God calls us to many seemingly mundane acts of obedience that are no less important than our seemingly “special” acts—and might well, in fact, be more important.

Doing God’s will and living in God’s will, while certainly related, are not the same thing. One involves obeying a very specific directive from God; the other is God giving us the freedom to live creativity within his broader will. Both please him—if they’re done in a spirit of obedience. As important as it is to use the gifts God’s given us and to follow his calling, it’s more important to develop the fruit of the Spirit—those qualities that grow from our new life within.

Jesus’ ministry was literally crucified. Why should we dare to think that our ministries and good works would be exempt from such testing?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:4–5, 7).

Lay down your gifts, and concern yourself with abiding in Jesus. He knows how your gifts should be used—and whether they should be used—better than you. Apart from him you can do nothing. As your desires become his desires, his gifts and calling upon you will be used in ever-greater ways—because they’ll truly be his gifts and his calling.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s take another cue from the Sermon on the Mount for today’s prayer time:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–25).

I want to expand the parameters a bit past this text’s original meaning, but with an intent that I think you’ll agree is thoroughly biblical. We may not bring physical gifts to the altar, but we do have gifts we need to offer up to God. There are ways we need to love those around us more, whether it’s a matter of anger and forgiveness (as stated here) or in other ways.

Therefore, spend some time in prayer today identifying the gifts God has given you and leaving them “there before the altar.” Ask God to help you be obedient, whether it’s something you’re gifted in or comfortable with or not—or no matter how “trivial” your act of obedience may be. Have the faith that God will use your obedience to produce what he wants in others’ lives—and in your own.

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What to Do When the Brook Dries Up

One of the most baffling experiences in life is when you’ve sincerely endeavored to follow God’s will, only to find that His provision seems to be drying up. Yet this is something experienced by just about everyone at one point or another.

Even the prophet Elijah faced this. The Lord had given him explicit instructions to go to the Brook Cherith, “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:2-7).

There’s an old maxim that says, “Where God guides, He provides,” and this was Elijah’s experience for many days as he sat by the brook. Plenty of clean, cool water to drink, and the ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day. It was a pretty nice life, carefree in every way.

But when God wants to bring us to an important transition point, He often allows our “brook” to dry up. This is bewildering, because we’re certain the Lord has used the brook to provide for us in the past. We’ve been following His will, and it’s hard to imagine our carefree life ever coming to an end.

However, through no fault of Elijah, his circumstances began to change: “It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (v. 7).

Ironically, the brook dried up as the direct result of Elijah’s obedience in telling King Ahab there would be no rain “except at my word” (v. 1). Without rain, it was only a matter of time before the brook would run out of water—but all of this was part of God’s plan.

Perhaps you can relate to Elijah’s experience. Maybe the job that provided income for you and your family for many years is drying up. Or the thriving church that once nurtured your faith is now a lifeless pile of dry bones. Or perhaps you find yourself in a marriage that has grown cold and dry, with no solution in sight.

So, what can you do when your brook dries up? How should you react when some life-giving stream of God’s blessing is no longer bringing you the provision and nourishment you need?

Here are some thoughts…

  1. 1.     Thank God for how He used the brook in past seasons of your life. Instead of cursing the dry creek bed, be grateful for the sustenance it once brought you.
  2. 2.     Be grateful that a new season—with fresh provision—is right around the corner. When your brook starts to dry up, you should get excited instead of depressed! Since the Lord has promised to be your provider in every season, you can look at the future with great anticipation.
  3. 3.     Let go of any false nostalgia about the “good old days” when the brook was full of water. Yes, God used the brook to bless you in the past, but now you can trust Him for even BETTER things in your future. Don’t let past blessings become an idol that hinders you from embracing the next season of your life.
  4. Listen for a new set of instructions. Elijah knew God had told him to go to the Brook Cherith—and Elijah had obeyed. But now it was time for some new instructions, which God was faithful to provide: “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you’” (vs. 8-9). If you want a fresh start, you will need to listen for fresh directions from the Lord. The new instructions may cause you even greater bewilderment, and I’m sure Elijah wondered how some widow he’d never met was going to provide for him. Are you willing to trust God anyway?

Here’s a brief prophetic thought on this important message: The world is entering a season when many of the “brooks” we’ve been relying upon are going to dry up. It has never been more important to trust God and obey His instructions. If we do, the new season can be far better than the previous one. If we don’t, we could find ourselves sitting next to a dry creek bed, wondering what happened to the water and the ravens.

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Lay Down Your Blessings

Our new lives in Christ are just beginning. We are changed; but we are eternally far from finished. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). We will not be finished until even our new lives are fully laid down before Christ; and that cycle of blessing, crucifixion, and resurrection will continue until the day we meet Christ face to face.

More often than not, I value my comfort more than I value obedience to God. I want to hang on to the good things God’s given me, and pester him for more. As I do this, I reject the One who blesses me in favor of his blessings. Romans 1 speaks to the end of this condition, if not halted: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22a).

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount the past few months. (You will too—but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.) At the time I’m writing this, I’m dwelling on the first half of Matthew 6—and it’s been dwelling on me, too. Specifically, there’s this rhythm Jesus repeats over and over, to the effect of: And when do this good thing, do not call attention to yourself like the hypocrites do, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward. But when you do this good thing, do it not so that it may be seen by others but so it is seen by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (see Matthew 6:1–4, 5–9, and 16–18).

“They have already received their reward.” Sometimes it’s OK to need reassurance or confirmation, but we need to move away from our dependence on it. God has given us many good things—and yes, sometimes as the result of the good things we’ve done in obedience to him—but sometime in the next handful of decades, I’m going to stand before God. How horrific it would be to hear, “You’ve already received your reward. I’ve provided for you, allowed your work to be recognized, even given you the joy of accomplishment. What more were you expecting? After all, you did it all for you.”

Now mind you, I am putting hypothetical words in God’s mouth here. But the fact remains, many of the things we do for God are done with an eye toward how God will bless us, and how others will recognize it. (Virtual street corners count too, by the way.) Even if I’m doing it solely for the sake of eternal reward, my self-satisfaction about that, too, can become my reward.

God does promise us rewards and blessings as a result of our obedience to him. But we need to take a step further up—to learn to do things purely for God’s glory. That, truly, is its own reward. As we learn to do this, God can trust us to do the right things with the blessings he bestows upon us. Our Father is in secret. We must learn to become God’s spies in this world—as much as, if not more than, become “God’s spokespeople” or “God’s personal ambassadors.”

In case we still don’t understand, Jesus punctuates, and clarifies, all of his previous warnings to us with this:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Teresa of Avila put it this way: “Spiritual maturity and its reward do not consist in spiritual delights, but rather in the increase of love.” This is where we need to head; and God help us, we will.

Lay It Down Today

Before getting to your assignment, I want to reemphasize that in the course of this larger “Eternal Life Starts Now” section, I’m introducing practices you can do well beyond this study—because, after all, laying down your life doesn’t end once you stop reading this book. We don’t get days off from the lives God has given us.

This week, we’re focusing on prayer, and providing the context Jesus wants us to have for our prayers. Thus, it’s your turn to spend time in the Sermon on the Mount.

Every day this week, read Matthew 5–7. One hundred eleven verses won’t kill you, but they will convict you.

As you read through these chapters each day, be sure to linger on The Lord’s Prayer, located dead-center of this sermon (Matthew 6:9–13). Where is Jesus’ sermon hitting you right now? Which parts of this prayer do you most need to experience or respond to? Don’t move on to the second half of the sermon until you’ve wrestled with this each day. As the Spirit brings up specific matters—in every part of this sermon—stop and lift each of them up to God. Then act on them, as needed. Forgive your enemies—in person, if possible. Set your eyes aside to deal with your lusts. Repent of your need to have your good works noticed and praised.

You could spend a lifetime dealing with what Jesus brings up here. And you will. Eternal life starts now.

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Your Title Deed to a Better Future

What are you hopes and dreams for the coming year? I was journaling about that question today. My conclusion was that I have many small hopes for next year and one big one.

What about you?

When I was discussing this with a friend recently, he made an interesting prediction. “Jim, I feel as if we’re about to ‘turn a corner.’ Many of the things God wants to do for us aren’t even visible right now. We’ll have to turn the corner in order to see them.”

My friend’s statement got me thinking about one of the most intriguing verses in the entire Bible: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  

On the one hand, faith is a “NOW” experience—something tangible we can hold in our hands today. However, faith has no real meaning unless it’s connected to “things hoped for”—God’s promises for our future.

As you head into a new year, what are the things you’re hoping for? Even though they may be “things not seen” yet by your natural eyes, by faith they can nevertheless be REAL.

The writer of Hebrews continues this thought throughout chapter 11. All of those in the Bible’s “Hall of Fame of Faith” had to trust God for things they couldn’t yet see…

  • Abraham and Sarah were promised a son.
  • Moses and the Israelites were told about a Promised Land the Lord had prepared for them.
  • The disciples were promised the Holy Spirit, who would soon come and empower them.

The Amplified translation of Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the “title deed” to things not yet experienced by our physical senses. These things may be right around the corner or many years off. We simply can’t see them yet.

However, when God made a promise to someone in the Bible, it was as good as done. Perhaps the person wasn’t actually living in their Promised Land yet, but they had the title deed.

Many of God’s promises are generic and timeless. For example, we’re promised His faithfulness (Lamentations 3: 22-24), His presence (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5), and His continual goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Not only does He promise to meet all of our needs (Philippians 4:19), but He also promises to give us the desires of our heart if our main delight is in Him (Psalm 37:4).

Of course, the Bible has many other general promises applicable to all of us who are believers in Christ. But what about situations where we need something more personal, addressing a very specific need in our lives? What if we’re asking God to do something for us that isn’t specifically covered by any of the generic promises in His Word?

In such cases, we need to hear His voice! We must draw near to Him in prayer and listen for the promptings of His Spirit. Like Peter, who wouldn’t dare step out of the boat until summoned by Jesus, we need to await His instructions.


Do you have your title deed—your promises from God—for the coming year? If so, you can wait patiently for their fulfillment. Or if action is required on your part, He will enable you to take bold steps of faith and overcome all obstacles.

At times your title deed will be a direct promise in the Bible, energized by the Holy Spirit as you pray. At other times, He will customize a promise just for you. Either way, the assurance that comes with the title deed will give you deeper rest and peace than you’ve ever experienced before. No more striving…worrying…fretting. The moment He declares something, you can consider it finished.

So take a deep breath and thank God for everything He’s promised you. If you have the title deed, all you need to do is trust and obey. He will take care of everything else.

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So, You Think You're Enough Like Jesus Already?

I recently had an experience that forced me to die to myself. It was a “Who Moved My Cheese?” type of moment, when I made my wishes known on a matter but was overruled.

In the overall scope of things, this incident was clearly no big deal. But I hadn’t gotten my way, and it hurt. I felt disrespected…disregarded…undervalued.

Yet what hurt the most was realizing I had overreacted, blowing up the whole thing much bigger than it actually was.

Thankfully, God graciously showed me what had happened during this unusual emotional meltdown. The incident that triggered my flood of ugly emotions was relatively minor. But like the tip of an iceberg, it was meant to alert me to the fact that a much BIGGER hunk of the iceberg was still lurking beneath the surface.

You see, the small incident in question had a very strange effect, causing me to experience flashbacks of numerous other times in my life when I had felt rejected or unappreciated. I thought I had long since forgiven and been healed of these past experiences…but some of the wounds apparently remained.

Ouch. It was painful to see the ugly sense of pride and entitlement hiding deep within my heart. But I also was grateful to the Lord for exposing it. I saw that the real issue wasn’t the tip of the iceberg that was in view, but rather the hidden iceberg in my heart.

I surely don’t like dying to myself. None of us do. And in my case, I felt like I had already died to myself enough to last a lifetime! Why did I have to do so again?

At that point, I remembered a time in the 1990s when I was a senior pastor facing a horrific wave of rejection due to a massive church split. It was excruciating to be rejected and lied about by people I loved and had endeavored to pour my life into.

Finally, I reached my limit. I’d had enough.

So one day I told my pastor friend Duane Flemming of my decision to resign. “I don’t need this, Duane. It’s just not fair, and I don’t have to take it anymore.”

Duane is a man of great wisdom, and he listened intently as I went on and on about how I had been mistreated. Finally, he asked me a simple question that still haunts me today:

“So Jim, are you saying you’re enough like Jesus already?”

How could I answer a question like that? Of course I wasn’t enough like Jesus yet. Jesus bore the cross all the way to His death on Calvary, yet I was ready to jettison my cross at the first sign of pain or injustice.

Forgive me, Lord. You’ve helped me see that I’m not entitled to bypass the cross today, just because I died to myself on some occasions in the past.

What about you, my friend? Are you able to relate to my story today? Is there some issue in your life where you are being forced to embrace the cross…die to yourself…and extend forgiveness to those who may not deserve it? Do you find yourself squealing like a pig, just because you aren’t getting your own way?

Amid the trials and disappointments of life, let me encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Yes, I know, you probably have already died to yourself a million times before. But the life a disciple requires dying daily (Luke 9:23, 1 Corinthians 15:31), not just in the distant past. That’s the only way to experience more of Jesus’ resurrection power, after all, and it’s a process that’s not going to change until He returns.


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Living Life on Standby

Recently I faced a number of situations where I was put on standby, and none of them were much fun.

At work everything was put on hold two days in a row because of the “possibility” of a very important meeting that never ended up happening. During that same week, a pastor asked me to be on standby to preach for him in case bad weather prevented him from getting back from a ministry trip on time—but he returned successfully.

Meanwhile, I was looking forward to a new initiative in my personal life, only to find out about a six-month waiting period before I could even begin. More waiting. More standby.

I don’t like being on standby. There’s all the stress of preparation and all the frustration of waiting, but the payoff seems so uncertain. I hate to waste time, and that’s usually what it feels like when I’m on hold.

And I bet you’ve faced some “standby” situations too. Perhaps you’re waiting for some kind of medical diagnosis or procedure…a new job or promotion on your present job…the launch of a new ministry…or resolution of some relationship issue.

Lots of people in the Bible were put on standby, with mixed results. Noah’s life couldn’t progress until he completed construction of a gigantic ark—and that project took over 100 years.

Abraham and Sarah were on standby for decades to receive their promised son from the Lord. While waiting, they cooked up a scheme to have a child by other means. The result was the birth of Ishmael—and thousands of years of conflict in the Middle East.

King Saul was told to be on standby until Samuel could return in seven days and present a burnt offering to God. But Saul grew impatient when Samuel didn’t return in the designated time, so he offered the burnt offering himself. As minor as this infraction may seem to you and me, it marked the first step in the unraveling of Saul’s reign.

The disciples were put on standby as Jesus prayed and sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. He found them fast asleep, unable to pray and stay awake during even one hour of standby mode.  

As these stories illustrate, it’s a hazardous thing to be on standby. We tend to get impatient...take matters into our own hands…and often do something crazy.

However, I’ve found that God often has a reward in store when we learn how to handle the standby mode correctly. Perhaps an illustration from the world of pets may help…

If you throw some object into the backyard, your dog is likely to retrieve it and bring it back to you. Most dogs do this instinctively, without any training. You can give him a treat to reward him for his efforts, if you would like. But the dog hasn’t really accomplished much, has he? Rather than displaying any feat of obedience, he was simply doing what came naturally.

However, what if you want your dog to get the object and then sit quietly in place until you ask him to come to you? That’s a skill likely to take some training from you and some self-control by the dog. You must teach him what the command “Stay” means, and he must fight all of his natural instincts in order to comply.

It’s pretty impressive when a dog has learned to obey his master in doing something contrary to animal instincts. You really should treat him with a reward when he can do that.

Well, I would like to say I’m a voice-trained dog, but too often I’m not. Too often, I still do what comes naturally instead of what the Master is commanding.

The key to dog training is repetition, I guess. And that seems to be the same pattern God uses in training us to be voice-trained believers. Hopefully, we will learn the lessons in time.

I encourage you to take a hard look at the standby situations in your life today. Are you patiently waiting, listening for your Master’s instructions rather than doing whatever is right in your own eyes?

And perhaps you need to be challenged about the opposite side of the coin: Do you think you are waiting on a green light from God on some issue, when He’s actually waiting on YOU to take action and get started?

Let’s listen to our Master’s voice today, my friend. If we do, I’m convinced our standby periods will be rewarded.

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Faith's Silhouette

We demonstrate our faith by the way we live. Conduct communicates more clearly than creed.

“Faith is kept alive in us, and gathers strength, more from practice than from speculations.”

- Joseph Addison


Light from heaven beams down, profiling your life as a vital witness to eternal realities.

The outline of transforming faith boldly stands out against passive conformity.

Etched against a circumstantial backdrop, people watch as you worship.

Devotional contour preaches a clearer message than your words.


Totally reliant on your Creator, you are never disappointed.

Lean on the Everlasting Arms, and sing His praises.  


Radically disciplined, you are educated in timeless wisdom.

Listen to echoes from eternity, and find lasting truth.


Humbly appreciative, you’re never too busy to give thanks.

Learn to be content whatever happens, and be rich.


Unquestioningly obedient, you carry out Christ’s orders.

Live by His Word, and He will be real to you.


Hopefully devoted, you walk in Jesus’ steps every day.

Love Him sincerely, and be blessed eternally.


“Jacob bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.”

(Genesis 47:31 NLT)

                                                                                               Johnny R. Almond

                Pastor, Colonial Beach Baptist Church, Virginia

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity—Scripture Personalized

[This devotion based on/adapted from Day 33 of Gentle Whispers from Eternity]

GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized  (copy & paste to browser for blog & book info)

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A Higher Law

“It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”

- Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849)


Since God is the Absolute Sovereign of the universe, He alone deserves reverential fear.

We should submit to no lesser governor who dares countermand His rules for living.

No matter what society says is permissible, we should walk heaven’s high road.

In every situation, we should honor God above all earthly legal authority.


A higher law of integrity outshines the common practice of compromise.

A higher law of life conquers and cancels the dreadful reign of death.

A higher law of hope transcends the suffocating rule of despair.

A higher law of freedom breaks the merciless tyranny of sin.


Civil disobedience is imperative when human ideas clash with heavenly directives.

Whatever the god of the world advocates, God’s Word is the final answer.

Whatever earthly kings say, the King of kings is the highest authority.

Whatever opinion polls say, we should fear God, nothing else.


“Because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king.”

(Exodus 1:17 NLT)


Johnny R. Almond

Christian preacher and writer

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

This devotion based on Day 37 of Gentle Whispers from Eternity]

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Myths About Full-Time Ministry

I’ll never forget the day I knelt in prayer beside the bed in my college dorm room and popped the important question: “Lord, do you want me to serve You full-time?”

Almost immediately, the clear answer came, “Why, of course, Jim!”

I was thrilled. The following Sunday I went to church and proudly told my friend Bob Hahn about my call to ministry.

“Bob, while I was praying yesterday, I asked God if He wanted me to serve Him in full-time ministry. He said He did!”

My older and wiser friend paused, then looked me right in the eyes when he responded. “That’s good, Jim, but I’ve been seeing lately that full-time ministry doesn’t necessarily mean what I once thought.”

Quickly concluding that Bob was just jealous that he wasn’t called to full-time ministry, I didn’t hear much of the rest of his explanation. Looking back, though, I wish I had listened closer that day.

Now having the advantage of more than 35 years of hindsight, I think I have a better understanding of what Bob Hahn was trying to tell me about full-time ministry. At times I’ve indeed been a “full-time minister” as a senior pastor or staff pastor. But at other times I’ve been an attorney or done other “secular” jobs. Often this is described as “tent-making” or being a bi-vocational minister.

It often surprises people when I tell them my ministry while I was an attorney was just as fruitful as when I was a full-time pastor. Perhaps even more fruitful.

When I supported my ministry by means of a secular job, I was much freer from people’s expectations about what my “ministry” should be. In contrast, when my paycheck came from the church, I sometimes ended up serving church activities more than I was serving God!

When I was supported by my work as an attorney, it was far easier to tell people “No” when they wanted me to do something outside the sphere of ministry God had given me (see 2 Corinthians 10:13-16). When I was a full-time pastor, however, there was a great temptation to do whatever people expected, regardless of my calling or the Lord’s will.

I found that another pitfall in full-time pastoral ministry was that it tended to separate me from the “real world” where most people were living. It was especially difficult to have meaningful contact with those who didn’t yet follow Christ.

Too often, pastors who go directly from college, to seminary, to full-time ministry end up secluded in an ivory-tower world, with experiences quite different from those faced by the people we are endeavoring to disciple and lead. While we try to encourage those in our flock to reach out to their unsaved friends and co-workers, our friends and co-workers are all church folks!

By glamorizing the importance of full-time ministry, we perpetuate a myth that has seriously weakened the church for many centuries now. Bob Hahn was trying to tell me that, in a sense, every Christian is supposed to be serving the Lord “full-time.” Even if we gain our livelihood through work at a secular job, we are to see it as a ministry—for we are working as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24).

Paul told the Corinthians that everything he did was “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23). But sometimes that included working with his hands to make tents in order to support himself. Think of it: The mighty apostle was willing to be a manual laborer and small businessman at times, rather than beg for offerings!

I also love how Paul said the fragrance of Christ was supposed to be manifested through us “in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He didn’t say believers should emit Christ’s fragrance just “in every church meeting,” or “every time we preach,” or “every time we lead worship.” No, his vision of “ministry” was much bigger than any of that.

Because of their detachment from everyday living, many “full-time” Christian leaders struggle to give their flock clear, practical instruction on how the gospel can be lived out in the marketplace. As a result, we give the faulty impression that ministry is something done mainly in church buildings.

It’s time to regain the perspective that every Christian is called to be a minister. Our ministry began the day were saved, because that’s when Jesus ordained us to serve Him and bear fruit for His kingdom (John 15:16). 

If you are being obedient the Lord full-time, you ARE in full-time ministry—no matter whether a church gives you a paycheck or not. You have the great privilege and opportunity to minister to people every day and in every place—whether in office buildings, banks, construction sites, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, neighborhoods, athletic fields, schools, and in every other place where people are found.

So what are you waiting for? If you are committed to full-time availability to God, your full-time ministry has already begun!


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Love, Obedience, and Purity of Heart

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the “upper room discourse” lately, in John 13-14 in particular so far. It’s an interesting section, since it’s one of the few where you really see Jesus interacting with His disciples collectively, instead of just one or two at a time. Heck, we even get a line out of Jude/Thaddeus (aka Judas Not Iscariot) here.

It’s also a hard section to wrap your head around, and simultaneously kind of annoying because it sounds like Jesus is constantly repeating Himself—like He’s constantly rephrasing the same comments over and over because His listeners just don’t get it. Then again, He’s talking to His disciples, and we know they’re kinda thick.

Or at least we should—because after all, we’re His disciples, too.

Anyway, what seems inescapable here is the connection Jesus draws between love and obedience. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). ”Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21)

In fact, He connects our obedience with our ability to see Him work in our lives. “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:21, 23).

This isn’t the first time Jesus makes this connection, though.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). This word also helps contrain our obedience, so that it’s not blind—at best misguided, at worst satanic—obedience. Purity of heart is to want what God wants, in the way God wants it. It necessitates the right kind of obedience, and promises that God will manifest Himself as we do it.

Jesus illustrated this principle Himself later in John 14: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:30-31, emphasis mine).

Especially to the world, our obedience can look wrong, misguided, and overly submissive—and sometimes it is. There is a time to stand up. But as He prepares to enter the garden of Gethsemane and take up His cross, Jesus shows us what standing up should look like. It’s not “in your face,” but in His name. It is doing what God demands, and letting the chips—and our desires—fall where they may.

So, along with Jesus, “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31).

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Run to the Mountains

While I love to read, once I’ve finished a book, I usually don’t want to read it again. Except for one book–God’s Holy and Living Word. This morning in Genesis 19, I discovered something new about Abraham’s brother Lot. When commanded to flee Sodom (an openly wicked city), he was told to take his family and run to the mountains.

“After they brought them out of the city, one of the men said, ‘Run for your lives! Don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Run to the mountains, or you will be destroyed’” (Genesis 19:17, New Century Version).

Amazingly Lot negotiated with the two men who were sent to save him. His excuse? “I can’t make it.” Rather he wanted to run to the little town Zoar because it seemed “reachable”. The men agreed and paused Sodom’s destruction until Lot’s family arrived safely. Soon Lot feared staying there.

“Lot was afraid to continue living in Zoar, so he and his two daughters went to live in the mountains in a cave” (19:30, NCV).

Spiritually we often settle for “little,” especially when we’re depending upon our own logic and strength. God’s plan always involves rock solid faith found in his mountains of truth. When obedience is at stake, little doesn’t work.

 Cultivate Your Writing

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This Word Cloud represents the over 700 commands of Jesus simplified to one word statements.  The size of each word is determined by its frequency in the Gospels alone.  It was generated because I raised a simple question:

Have you personally ever taught all of Christ's commands to another person?

Follow up questions:

If not, have you ever truly made a disciple?

How long would it take to teach someone else to obey all that Jesus Commanded?

Can a person be a disciple BEFORE they have learned to obey ALL that Christ commanded?
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Greater Works than Jesus?

Last week I celebrated by 37th birthday and it was nothing monumental. But out of curiosity, I researched some of the great accomplishments people have achieved before their 37th birthday. Michelangelo finished painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Robert Jarvik invented a pneumatically powered heart .Frederic William Herschel invented the contact lens. Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner.” Amelia Earhart flew in an airplane across the Atlantic by herself. Last year, I successfully replaced a broken taillight on my car all by myself (applause please).

The greatest accomplishment in the world came nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus paid the penalty for sin as He died on a cross around the age of thirty-three. Just a few days before this event, the Lord would tell His disciples something truly amazing and intriguing. “You will do greater things than I have done.”
We need to rewind for a moment. The Son of God came to this earth through a miraculous birth and lived a perfect life. He performed countless miracles and emerged as the greatest teacher to ever live. He shouldered the weight of our sin and, in perfect humility and obedience, made the greatest sacrifice of love by offering Himself for us. What could someone do that is greater than the sum of these?
As Jesus sits with His disciples in the upper room for the last time, He proclaims this incredible promise. Judas has been dismissed and the disciples are trembling with fear. Their hearts are trouble at the prophetic instructions from the Lord about the events of the next few days. He speaks to them words of hope. He tells them, “You will do greater things than I have done.”
The current world record for running the mile is three minutes and forty three second, which is held by Hicham El Guerrouj. What if I told you that I possess a single pill that would enable you to break this record no matter your age or medical condition? Would say I was insane or question my truthfulness? The promise of Jesus was even more preposterous. That is until we clearly understand what these “greater works” are.
Jesus is talking about the results of the message that occur after His death and resurrection. This was all part of God’s plan. Jesus was preparing the disciples for a worldwide movement. What the body of Christ can do together in unity is incomprehensible.
When we see a verse like this, it is our unfortunate tendency to soften it. Jesus must have meant that the first disciples would do greater things, right? For example, after Peter’s first sermon, 3,000 people got saved. That result was a greater work. The Apostle Paul would take the Gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. That progress was a greater work. We can think of many people throughout church history who have achieved great things for the cause of Christ. There is only one problem with thinking that Jesus is only talking about people with some kind of elite spiritual status: verse 12. “Whoever believes in Me…” Jesus simply states that every believer has this potential.
How are we to do greater works? Jesus gives us the two ingredients in the next few verses. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Pastor Ray Stedman once stated, “It is significant to note that, though Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, he did teach them how to pray.” We cannot do anything great for the Kingdom of God unless we are connected to our Lord and His Will. We are not working for ourselves, but in His Power. Prayer is the essential first step of any great endeavor for the believer and for the Body.
The second ingredient for “greater things” is the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not have the strength to walk with Christ by ourselves. Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play major league baseball, but this pioneering came at a price. Jackie was criticized heavily for every single mistake. Once when he was playing on the team’s home field, he committed an error and the fans ridiculed him ruthlessly. That is until Pee Wee Reece, the shortstop, came over, put his arm around Robinson, and turned to the crowd. The crowd became instantly silent and Robinson believed that this moment saved his career.
Jesus stated that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. The root of the greek word comes from fortis, meaning to fortify or strengthen. The Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is like the steel beams that hold up a skyscraper. He is like the spine in a person’s back that keeps the Body standing. The Holy Spirit is not an accessory to the Christian life. He is absolutely essential. We could do nothing spiritually without His leading and teaching.
What “greater thing” does God have for you? What is the potential for your life and mine if we would simply yield to the work of the Holy Spirit? Only God knows the answer, but we do have the promise. ”I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these...”

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