You Gotta Serve Somebody

I don’t usually collect spiritual truth from rock music stars, but Bob Dylan got it right when he sang, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” 

Part of the 1979 album by the same name, the hit song explores that, whether we realize it or not, everyone serves something. Dylan’s song resonated with his listeners, climbing to #24 on the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 singles chart and earning him the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male, but the concept didn’t originate with Dylan. 

Second Kings 17:33 explores a similar theme. Describing the Israelites’ faith, it says, “They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods. . .” 

King Saul was a prime example of this type of double-mindedness. Consider his leadership during the battle with the Amalekites in First Samuel 15. Because the Amalekites were a particularly wicked nation with a long history of troubling God’s people, God called Saul and the Israelite army to annihilate them. And Saul obeyed – sorta. 

He commanded the army to destroy everyone and everything that breathed . . . except . . . the Amalekite king and the best sheep and cattle. I can kinda understand wanting to preserve a few juicy cheeseburgers or rib eye steaks, but I have no idea why he’d want to spare King Agag’s life. In blatant disregard of God’s clear instructions, he kept him alive. When the prophet Samuel questioned him, he lied and blamed it on the soldiers 

Saul served God when it benefited him, but when other, more attractive options came along, he served himself instead. His divided loyalty cost him the kingship. 

Sadly, many of us suffer from the same kind of double-mindedness. We attend church faithfully when we’re experiencing a trial, but skip church when life’s going well. Or we attend nominally because we’re afraid something bad might happen if we don’t. We fear God, but serve ourselves. 
We give to God’s work, but only after all our wants and pleasures are satisfied. We always give something, because we fear God might reverse our fortunes, but sacrificial giving seldom enters our minds. We fear God, but serve our pleasures.

We wear the garb of faith around our Christian brothers and sisters, but put on the cloak of invisibility around everyone else. A little faith is OK, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone, but we never say or do anything to make someone think we’re a fanatic. We fear God, but serve popular opinion. 

Paul David Tripp, in his book, New Morning Mercies, describes it this way: “Whatever commands the love of your heart also shapes the direction of your life . . . Whatever controls the worship of your heart controls your choices, words, emotions, and actions . . . A desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing.” 

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:24. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” 

In God’s kingdom, there should be no half-hearted disciples“Be hot or be cold,” Revelation 3:16 challenges us. Be all in or all out. Joshua 24:15 makes it clear: “If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”

And as Bob Dylan says, you “gotta serve somebody.” Who’s it going to be?

Now it’s your turn. As you’ve read today’s devotion, perhaps the Lord has brought to mind an area where you’ve been double-minded or half-hearted. I encourage you to surrender totally to God’s leading. Do whatever you have to do to be all in. Say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 

May God richly bless you as you step out in faith. 

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The Best Way to Witness

Many of us struggle with sharing our faith. It’s scary, sometimes awkward, and always heavy with the weight of eternal consequences. We know every conversation about spiritual matters leads to a decision of some sort, and we don’t want to mess it up. 

The burden to do it “just right” is sometimes paralyzing. And what does “just right” look like, anyway? Is it filled with Scripture verses and fire and brimstone? Should it follow a formula or a plan? Must it always contain four points and a prayer? 

A story from Acts 3 and 4 gives us a glimpse of what sharing our faith can look like. Let me set the scene: Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. On the way, they met a lame man begging for money. Because the apostles were spiritually sensitive, they recognized the man needed much more than money — he needed to be healed, physically and spiritually. 

“Silver and gold I do not have,” Peter said, “but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 

Needless to say, this miraculous healing created quite a stir. The lame man began enthusiastically praising God, causing people to gather. Peter, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, recognized the perfect opportunity for a spiritual conversation. 

Let’s look at how he handled this God-given chance to share his faith. 

1. He opened the conversation by talking about the man’s miraculous healing. 

Each of us, if we’re believers in Christ, has received a miraculous healing. Greater than the lame man’s physical healing, we’ve been healed spiritually. Our souls are no longer dying. Instead of being crippled by our sinful natures, we are free to walk in the power and strength of the Lord. We should begin here when we share our faith with others. 

2. He gave Jesus the glory for the transformation. 

“Why do you look so intently at us,” Peter said, “as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? . . . (Jesus’) name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong.” Unless they knew us before we came to faith in Christ, most don’t realize what our lives were like before Christ. 

Because we like to spotlight the good parts and minimize the bad, we’re tempted to keep quiet about the less-savory aspects of our past. By doing so, we steal God’s glory. Instead, using appropriate discretion, we should share what our lives were like before Christ, giving God all the glory for the transformation only he could accomplish. This is what Peter did when he said, “Don’t look at us – God did this miracle.” 

3. He didn’t ignore the elephant in the room – sin. 

We tend to shy away from talking about sin. Telling someone they don’t measure up to God’s standards is awkward and scary. We fear they’ll reject us. Maybe call us self-righteous, confrontational, or judgmental. But if we don’t help people realize they’re lost, how will they understand they need a Savior? 

If you encountered a person walking down the road engulfed in flames, would you say, “Oh my, you need new clothes. These look awful. Let me take you shopping and see what we can do”? No. You’d scream, “FIRE!” and do everything you could to save them. So it is with those with whom we interact every day. Their lives (spiritual and physical) are in grave danger, and we must care enough to sound the alarm. 

Peter did this to the crowd at the temple. “You denied the Holy One . . . and killed the Prince of life . . . yet now, brothers, I know you did it in ignorance.” 

4. He pointed them to God. 

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out . . . and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20). 

If we’re true believers, we know that transformation can only come through Jesus. No amount of self-help, force of will, or self-control can make us good enough to go to heaven. Our good deeds, the Bible says, are “filthy rags.” We need Christ’s righteousness for eternal life, and we need Christ living inside us to live a fruitful, productive, peace-filled, guilt-free life here on earth. "If anyone is in Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 

And so we must connect the dots until they lead our dear ones to the cross. 

The next time an opportunity arises, take a deep breath, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words, and tell someone about Jesus. Tell them about the miracle he’s done in your life. Describe how sin prevented you from having a relationship with God, but that Jesus paid the penalty for your sin on the cross. Encourage them to repent and turn to God for the life transformation they desperately need. 

What’s the best way to witness? Tell others what Jesus did for you. When the proof of God’s miraculous power is standing right in front of them, it’ll be mighty hard to argue. 

“And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it” (Acts. 4:13).

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What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do

I thought I was losing my mind. 

I was 18 years old. By all outward appearances, I had the world by the tail. I’d graduated fourth in my class, had a full-tuition scholarship to the college of my choice, and a steady boyfriend. Life was good. 

Except it wasn’t. 

I became increasingly overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was making crucial life decisions with no wisdom to draw from. What college should I attend? What career should I choose? Who should I date and (eventually) marry? The stakes were high, and the wrong choices would affect the rest of my life. 

Unlike many 18 year olds, I knew I didn’t know it all, and the fear of making the wrong decisions overwhelmed and frightened me. 

I reached a breaking point one summer morning. Every day for a week I’d awakened, looked in the mirror, and sobbed. I knew I needed help – counseling at the least, but I couldn’t afford it. And heaven forbid admitting to my parents that I was struggling. 

Since I couldn’t afford a counselor, I opted to call my pastor instead. Pastors are like counselors, I reasoned. Maybe he can help me. I’d been attending a church for several years. I’d walked the aisle early on, prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer,” and been baptized. 

But I was there for all the wrong reasons. On the outside I was a faithful teen in the youth group. On the inside I was still desperately lost. 

I don’t know what I planned to tell my pastor that summer afternoon, but I never expected what came out of my mouth. Instead of questions about decision-making, futures, and careers, the dam broke when my pastor asked, “What’s on your mind today?” 

Before I knew it, I was a slobbery mess, confessing sins I’d swept under the rug, rationalized, and justified. “I’m living my life my way,” I said between sobs, “and I’ve made a mess of it.” 

I’m sure my pastor was confused—after all, he’d seen me walk the aisle, had baptized me, and knew I’d attended every church event for the past two years. But he also knew how to recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit. 

“Lori,” he said kindly, “would you like to ask Christ to be Lord of your life?” He knew my sin was only a symptom of an unsurrendered heart. Though I’d been acting like a Christian on the outside, I’d never truly repented and surrendered my life to Christ. 

“I’d like that very much.” I don’t remember if he prayed first or I did, but I was all in. 

“God, I’ve been living my life my way and doing a terrible job of it. I don’t want to be in charge any more. I want you to be in control. Help me live in a way that pleases you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” 

Such a simple prayer, but the angels sang that day. The crushing weight I’d been carrying lifted, and my heart soared. I was free. Free from guilt. Free from shame. Free from fear. Free from confusion. Nothing had changed in my immediate circumstances, but I knew with all my heart that God was in control of my life, and everything would be OK. 

Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” and it was true. 

I left my pastor’s office a new person. Things began to change almost immediately. I found myself wanting to read the Bible. I attended church not just to be with my friends, but because I wanted to hear from God and be with God’s people. No one told me that some of the music I’d been listening to and the clothes I’d been wearing weren’t pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit revealed it to me. I willingly and eagerly made changes. I wanted to please God in every area of my life. 

And those anxious, agonizing decisions that were overwhelming me? I began to ask God about them. I’d pray, look for his answers in the Bible, and seek the counsel of godly men and women. While I still had anxious moments, I rested securely in the knowledge that God was guiding me, and I had no need to fear. 

Scripture calls King David “a man after God’s own heart.” I believe he earned this distinction because he sought the Lord in everything. The phrase inquired of the Lord occurs 15 times in the Old Testament. Eight of these instances describe David’s willingness to seek God’s counsel. Because of this, God guided, blessed, and secured David’s life. 

If you’re struggling with a decision or a perplexing situation right now, God can help. 

The first step to knowing God’s will is knowing God himself. If you’ve never confessed your sin, repented (been willing change), and accepted what Jesus did to pay for your sin on the cross, now’s the time. You can’t benefit from God’s wisdom until you become his child. (If you’d like more information about how to know for sure you have a relationship with God, CLICK HERE.) 

Once that’s settled, you need to do what David did — inquire of the Lord. We do this by praying and reading our Bibles. The Bible contains the answers to every moral decision we’ll ever face. It also contains practical wisdom for almost every other question we encounter. What the Bible doesn’t specifically address, the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit will reveal to you if you seek God with all your heart. 

Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, said, “David didn’t assume just because it looked good, he should do it. Not every good thing is God’s thing. Ask God about everything. And when you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. Just wait.” 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” James 1:5 promises. James 4:8 tells us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” 

Father, we ask you to lead us, guide us, and provide for us. Protect us from foolish mistakes and our own stubborn, rebellious, independent hearts. As Pastor Cymbala said, we don’t want to go anywhere you don’t want us to go, even if it’s a good place. Help us seek you with all our hearts and please you with our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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What Happened on the Mountain -- And Why You Need to Go There Too

Today I’d like to share a deeply personal experience. It happened spontaneously, sneaking up on me like a sudden summer storm. Filled with power and breathtaking beauty, the experience left me wrung out and exhilarated. Like Elijah’s earthquake/wind/fire experience of 1 Kings 19, God spoke to me through the quiet beauty of a mountainside. 

But before I get ahead of myself, I’d like to ask you a question:

What is most precious to you? 

Your children? Grandchildren? Marriage? Ministry? Business? Job? Home? Relationship? Health? Security? We could list a million things, but we must agree—we all have something or someone that’s precious to us. They’re worth fighting for, investing in, and holding onto. 

Yet sometimes we hold on too tightly, and we love too dearly. We love the gifts more than the Giver. 

Abraham understood this when God called him to offer his son—his only son—on a mountain top altar. With supernatural faith, he laid what was most precious upon the wood and stone, trusting that the God who could raise the dead would also make good on his promises. 

As I walked the wooded trails at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, I noticed a carefully arranged pile of stones sitting on a stump by the path. I recognized it as a modern-day version of the Israelites’ “stones of remembrance.” 

You’ll remember that when God parted the Jordan River to allow the Israelites to cross on dry land into the Promised Land, he commanded men to take up 12 stones from the (now) dry riverbed. 

"Set them up as a remembrance,” God said, and “when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. . . These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7). 

Studying the stones, I wondered what miraculous deliverance they represented and which pilgrim had left them there. 

Farther down the trail, I took a less-traveled path and stumbled upon an intriguing sign: The Altar. I followed the arrow to a shady grove and a circular enclosure. A stone altar stood in the very center. 

In the silence of the woods, I heard the Lord speak to my heart: 

Those burdens you’ve been carrying? Those hopes, fears, dreams, and sorrows? The good things you hope for and the bad things that keep you awake? They’re too heavy for you

I nodded my head in silent agreement. Then the voice spoke again to my heart. 

But they’re not too heavy for me. Why don’t you lay them down? 

Lay what’s most precious upon the altar. 

Trust me. 

I knew the Holy Spirit spoke truth. I also knew, like the children of Israel, that my memory is short and that living sacrifices like to crawl off the altar, so I gathered stones of remembrance to symbolize each precious thing I wanted to surrender to the Lord. 

I chose a two-toned stone to represent my marriage—two very different people united into one flesh. I found a knobby stone with lots of texture to symbolize my ministry. A flat white stone reminded me of paper, so I chose it to represent my writing. 

I hunted for stones for each of my daughters and their husbands. Two little round rocks reminded me of the white stones my granddaughters like to collect. Finally, by faith, I selected several tiny pebbles to represent my unborn grandchildren. 

Because a sign near the stone wall asked visitors not to enter the enclosed altar area, I chose a tree stump as my holy place. One by one I laid the stones upon my “altar,” calling each beloved’s name as I surrendered them to the Lord. 

With each stone I released, I felt my spirit lighten.

I don’t know what burdens you’re carrying today. Maybe you’re bowed under the weight of a prodigal child or a broken marriage. Perhaps an unfulfilled dream or a hope that’s long in coming has discouraged you. Maybe you’re single and longing for a spouse or barren and deeply desiring a child. 

Whatever dream, fear, or desire steals the joy from your days and the sleep from your nights, it’s time to lay it down. Give it to God. Let him carry it. His shoulders are broad, and his arms are strong. You can trust him to do what’s best. 

But you must surrender. God is a gentleman. He won’t pry your fingers off your treasure. 

It is my prayer that you will find peace and joy in trusting God with what is most precious. 

“So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided’” (Gen. 22:14).

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Why You Don't Want to Be a Copy -- More Wisdom from Jim Cymbala

I must confess that I didn't get what I expected when I sat under the teaching of Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the 16,000-member Brooklyn Tabernacle.

My pastor husband and I were attending a Pastor's Leadership Institute at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove recently. Since Cymbala was leading a pastor's seminar, and he's built one of the largest churches in the country, I thought his messages would be filled with "This is how I did it, and you can, too."

In that regard, I was right. He did share how the Lord had led him, and continues to lead him, as he shepherds his flock. What surprised me was the content of his advice. Instead of trendy new ways to reach our culture and innovative, cutting-edge gimmicks, he continually pointed us back to the basics--the foundations of the faith.

His advice for pastors is equally valuable to us as Christians who want to make a difference in the world. Without additional explanation, here are some golden apples from the feast he shared with us. May the Holy Spirit enlighten and apply them to your life.

"When we face a task that's too big for us (and most of life is), we're tempted to ask, 'Who is sufficient for these things?' I answer you, 'God is sufficient.'"

"Lead the people to God and disappear. People don't need you. They need Jesus."

In regard to denominations, "God doesn't have subgroups in his body. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. We should fellowship with everyone who is a born-again believer."

"Pray, God, help me see people the way you see them. Help me feel the way you feel about them. This will dismiss all prejudice."

"Love always finds a way."

"Whenever you add to or take away from the Gospel, you dilute its power."

"When you love someone, they know it. When you don't, they know that, too."

"People aren't being converted because we aren't preaching the Gospel. If we preach the Gospel like Paul preached the Gospel, we will win converts."

"Only Jesus can change a person."

"Just because there are counterfeit gospels doesn't mean there isn't a real one. There are counterfeiters because there IS a real thing."

"The Word without the Holy Spirit--that's some dry stuff. The Word with the Holy Spirit? It can really get good."  

"If you love them, you will confront them."

"Don't copy someone else. God wants to raise up a voice, not an echo."

And if you need further encouragement, (and who doesn't?), let the Brooklyn Tabernacle's "Chain Breaker," remind you of how Jesus is the only source of true freedom. Be blessed.

 If you're reading by email and can't see the the Brooklyn Tabernacle's rendition of "Chain Breaker," Click HERE.