Devotionals

Jesus – Creator and Carpenter

He is Creator.

He is a carpenter.

He spoke the world into existence. “Let there be light.” And there was light. He is the Word. (John 1:1-5.) His words are so powerful that when the Word speaks the word, things change. Nature obeys. Hell trembles. Man chooses.

He speaks and things happen. The seas divide. Land appears. Mountains. Valleys. Canyons. Rivers. Lakes. Streams. Deer. Eagles. Salmon. Humpbacks. Lions . . . Man. Woman.

All because He, the Word, spoke.

“We never heard anyone speak like Him.” That’s what the people said. That’s what Caiphus’s emissaries said.

His words confounded earth’s wise ones. They comforted the downtrodden. Pierced the hearts of the proud. Broke the sin-weary. Life or death, your choice.

The Word. The Way. The Truth. The Life.

He’s God. He’s Creator. He’s the Word. Not a word, THE Word.

And He’s a carpenter.

You can’t speak a bookshelf into existence. You have to build it.

You imagine it first. You can see it. Envision it. It’s already in the room with the books on it, a few decorative items, and a plant. Stained to the perfect hue, it’s completed … and you haven’t cut the first piece of wood yet.

Composers understand this. I do. I have yet to hear my first orchestral composition performed from start to finish. But oh, I’ve heard it! I’ve heard every accelerando and every diminuendo. I’ve heard the quietest moments and the full orchestra’s crash. I’ve heard every musical color and have felt every ensuing emotion. I haven’t heard it at all, but oh, I’ve heard it!

The great composer Maurice Ravel was cornered at a party and asked about a composition by the man who commissioned it. “Oh, it’s finished!” “So, when can I see it?” Ravel replied, “As soon as I put it down on paper.” The first note had not been penned on the manuscript, but the composition was complete. The musicians had not yet played, but the music had already filled the senses of the musical creator.

So, the carpenter envisions the bookshelf standing in the corner of the room, stately, functional, and complete. Then he measures the corner and draws the bookcase according to its appropriate dimensions.

He cuts down a tree. He cuts up the tree. He cuts the boards from the wood. He firms every piece. He sands them with course sandpaper to remove the crud and splinters. He measures each piece again. Then, with hammer, nails, drill, screws, level, and more, he puts it together. He anchors it securely to the wall. He adds all of the finishing touches, not halting his labor until he looks back and says to himself, “Perfect.”

With a proud sense of completion, he puts the first book on the middle shelf and he stands back and admires the work of his hands. And guess what? It looks just like it did in his mind’s eyes before the tree was cut down. It is his vision, but now, after the skilled labor of his hands, he can touch what he saw before it ever existed.

Jesus – Creator and Carpenter. Some things He speaks into existence. But others, He envisions the final product and He works diligently with His skilled hands until it stands complete, perfect, and fully functional for the purpose that He created it.

He will cut. He will saw. He will trim. He will even sand with the coarsest of sandpaper. He will hammer. He will drill. And He will securely anchor us to His wall.

Yes, I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

He’s a good carpenter. And a Potter, too!

“Can I not do with you as the potter does? As clay is in the potter’s hands, so are you in My hands” (Jeremiah 18:6).

Authored by Dr. Tom Grassano in 2003

Abraham Lincoln’s Call to National Prayer

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no nation has ever grown.

“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own …

“We have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness …

“All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins …”

Abraham Lincoln’s call to national prayer in 1863 is very relevant today!

There is still hope, America!

The United States of America has enjoyed the favor of God and His protection and blessings for over 200 years. Founded on Biblical principles and in the fear of the Lord, bowing their knees and praying to God were common acts of our Forefathers in forming this nation.

At his first inauguration, George Washington prayed the following:

“Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large.

“And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

For the past several decades, however, this nation has in concerted and purposeful effort sought to remove our Creator and His Son Jesus Christ from our culture. What has resulted is a nation rejecting its very foundations. Can we truly expect to have God’s protection in conflict and war when we have rejected who He is, His Word and how He has taught us to live?

Think of it this way:  You own a house. It has been passed on to you from previous generations. You like the house, but you don’t like the foundation. So, you set off to build a new foundation under your house by first digging into the soil to break apart and chip away at the foundation the house was built upon. You are blinded to believe that, though you may love this house and want to continue to live safely in it, you can do so without the foundation it has stood upon for the generations your family has owned that house.

What will be the obvious result? Your house will fall.

This is where we have arrived as a nation. The pace of our moral decay has increased so rapidly that it makes our heads spin. Those who believe in His Word are sickened and grieved as we see more and more turn from His ways to the indulgence of sin that is an affront to God. As the immorality increases, so does the hatred of the name of Christ. We should expect nothing less, for indulgence of sin and hatred of His name are inseparable partners. As these things happen, the strength and influence of the nation internationally is decreasing.

A nation cannot stand when its moral foundation is broken apart.

This is not a time to focus on the debate of issues. No, this is a time to fall to our knees and, in the fear of the Lord, cry out in repentance for rejecting God as a nation.

We cannot expect His protection and favor if we renounce His ways and reject who He is.

There is still hope, America! It is found in these words and in the God who spoke them:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land. My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to every prayer made in this place.”  – 2 Chronicles 7:14-15

12 Important Questions about Leadership (Part 3)

It is important to ask ourselves questions that evaluate our approach to serving in leadership and make us ponder principles that are imperative for effectiveness and personal spiritual growth while leading. Here are the last of these 12 questions that prompt us to reflect about our lives and ministry:

9.  Do I claim ownership over “my” ministry or does it completely belong to God?

We speak about “my” ministry with too much ease. If it really is “my” ministry, we have done something terribly wrong. It may even mean that we hold ownership and lordship over it while God sits in the co-pilot seat.

If it truly is “His” ministry, He is able to do with it whatever He desires. That includes making it fruitful in some seasons and not in others to take us deeper and teach us more of Him. He even has the right to have us lay it on an Abraham altar even when we see no ram in the bush. It is His ministry. We are just stewards of it, a task to which we should devote passion and excellence, knowing that it is all for Him and under His Lordship and grace and that He can do whatever He wants with it.

10.  How am I making sure my strategies are Spirit-led and not just reinventions or new packaging of the same ideas in the changing world around me?

Do you constantly lay your agenda before His feet? Are you persistently evaluating your actions, vision and mission to insure that you are walking in His plan for today?

While working for a large ministry, all of the staff gathered for a week of meetings to review various discipleship plans. We were seeking a “theme” for the new season. One stood out for its approach to the discipleship of the heart. There was a sense among some in the room that this was the most urgently needed, though a different approach than we had taken before. As myself and others tried to make our case, the leader stated, “You are right, but I’m afraid it won’t sell to the people.” The decision was made to stick with something similar to what we had done before, missing an opportunity for significant impact on the discipleship of people.

It is much easier to repackage ideas. Our tendency is to come up with an agenda, assign a logical budget, and then bring it to God on a platter and ask Him to bless it. That seems more like casting lots to find the new disciple. Peter did that before the Day of Pentecost. We have the Spirit of God to guide us, and often times He will guide us into ideas that sometimes seem wild and impractical, like trimming down an army to 300 men with torches, clay pots and trumpets as weapons. But it worked.

11.  Do I live and interact with people in ways that invite them into a life-changing relationship with Christ?   

Two of the greatest compliments in ministry I have ever received did not come after a so-called “stirring sermon” or “powerful teaching.” The first came from my Jewish friend who compared me to other ministers he knew and said, “You’re different.” He went on to explain the example he had seen doing business with them. (Evidently, their approach to a Jewish businessman was different from their approach with their parishioners.) Another reason of his comparison was the love and respect he received from us. Interestingly, drug dealers and gang leaders have said the same thing to me because of the love and respect.

The second compliment came from leaders from a ministry in the South Bronx who accused me of not being a minister because of the people I fellowshipped with. They said, “We see you going into the apartments of drug dealers and drug addicts. You can’t be a minister and be with this kind of people!” My response in humility and from the sincerity of my heart was, “Thank you!” because they had just accused me of being like Jesus.

There is a way that we can live that spreads the fragrance of Christ everywhere we go. We bathe our conversations with love and grace. We speak with joy of the Savior we serve. We are always ready for open doors to share our faith with words, but we share it first with love, interest and concern for their lives, and with joy and grace. These things make Jesus attractive to the world around us.

A career missionary to England ministered with us in the South Bronx one summer. On the last day, he came to me and said, “I have spent over 30 years doing evangelism in England. I have sought to convince people to serve Jesus. In the time I have been with you, I see that you don’t do that. You live and interact with them in a way that invites them into a glorious relationship with Jesus.”

How is your life inviting people to know Jesus?

And the last question,

12.  Is what I am doing making a positive difference in the lives of the people I touch?     

No need for comments here. The question is enough.

12 Important Questions about Leadership (Part 2)

It is important to ask ourselves questions that evaluate our approach to serving in leadership and make us ponder principles that are imperative for effectiveness and personal spiritual growth while leading. Here are some more questions that prompt us to reflect about our lives and ministry:

5.  What unchurched business leaders, merchants, neighbors, etc. are in my immediate circle of influence?

If it is our desire that those around us and “under us” in ministry reach the unchurched, how are we modeling it before them? How does the light of Christ stretch beyond those we relate to in our ministry responsibilities to those we relate to in our daily routines?

While participating in a global mission conference, I requested that the leaders scroll through the contacts on their cell phones, stopping when they came to a person they would consider completely unchurched or unreached. Some took a while. As I did the same, I realized that five of my first six contacts include people from other religions, a hockey player, and a gang leader. They are not just “contacts” in my address book; they are people I spend time with and consider friends. With what unchurched people are you intentionally building relationships that will hopefully lead to their salvation and discipleship? Or are you waiting for your staff members and sheep to do it?

6.  What steps do I consciously take to keep family as my first object of ministry?

I sent a staff member to observe a ministry in another city. The evening after his arrival, he called me and said he had seen enough and was ready to return. I knew he only had time to have dinner with the leader, so I was puzzled. When I inquired, he shared a disheartening story: The leader picked him up from the airport and went by his home to drop off some things. His young son, dressed for his baseball game, said, “Dad, you’re going to my game today, right? You haven’t been to one this season. You’re going today, right, Dad?” The leader answered, “Son, I have told you before that we will have all the time we want to play baseball in heaven. I have work to do for God right now.”  My staff member said, “I don’t care what he has accomplished in ministry. I have no interest in seeing it.” I completely agreed.

My first responsibility in ministry is to love my family and disciple my children. I make sure that is only superseded by my personal relationship with God. Family is priority over my job description. If I have to miss a class or meeting to see my son play hockey, I will. Many opportunities to spread the fragrance of Christ among the unchurched are given to me by doing this. Most importantly, my children will never say Daddy didn’t have time for them because of the work he did for God.

7.  What steps do I consciously take to care for my physical health?

This question convicts me the most because I have not been the best caretaker of the temple God gave me to do His work. Too much time behind the desk, sitting in meetings, counseling, studying, writing. I became very convicted when I not only saw myself but many around me in ministry who were doing the same.

God gave us only one temple to house the work of His Spirit in us and to touch others through us. I don’t want my lack of health, energy, vitality and rest to keep me from being effective for God or to keep me from being here a long time for my children. So, I made lifestyle changes to insure I am caring for the temple. I’m not completely there yet, but I am already seeing the benefits of a healthier temple. 

8.  Do the unseen things in my life and my thought life glorify God? 

Today, we don’t have to look far to be inundated with sensuality and the lust of the flesh. Psalm 101:2-3 (NLT) challenges us: “I will be careful to live a blameless life – I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.” Taking care of the physical health of this temple is important, but the temple must also be pure and holy.

Far too often compromise comes in the form of sentiments like, “Well, that’s just the culture we live in!” and “That was a good movie except for that scene.” That scene was defiled in the sight of God and should not have been given a window to our souls. The sacrifices that we make by turning off the TV, not watching that movie, having protection on our computers, or any such things are nothing compared to winning and preserving the favor of God.

12 Important Questions about Leadership (Part 1)

It is important to ask ourselves questions that evaluate our approach to serving in leadership and make us ponder principles that are imperative for effectiveness and personal spiritual growth while leading. Here are some questions that prompt us to reflect about our lives and ministry. Allow the Spirit of God to speak to you about these areas of your life:

1. As I am serving in leadership, who do I look to for accountability?

There is a problem with the modern definition of accountability. Either it leans to nothing more than intimate disclosure (affording someone the opportunity to air his/her issues without submitting to real accountability) or it comes through denominational or organizational appointment without one of the key factors of success in accountability – relationship.  Accountability must be sought after. It is developed and secured in a godly relationship with a spiritual elder where gratitude, loyalty and respect are present, and where we are willing to listen to – and follow – godly counsel and even warnings about our lives and ministry. If we want to lead like David, we need a Nathan in our lives!  

2. What is my understanding of “Sabbath” and do I faithfully practice it?

Sabbath is important for rest, but it is also important for our relationship with God. Without Sabbath in our lives, we lose one of the most vital elements of our spiritual leadership: the ability to hear God’s voice! When we do not take the time to listen, He is not obligated to speak. Song of Songs 8:13 (NLT) says, “O my darling, lingering in the gardens, your companions are fortunate to hear your voice. Let me hear it, too!”

3. Who I am personally discipling?

This is not a question of who sits in our classes or who is the object of our ministry mission, but who are we personally discipling? Who are you pouring into? Who are you mentoring? Paul, who is your Timothy?

4. Who is personally discipling me? Who do I allow to pour into my life?

Leadership can become stagnant and freshness fleeting because of the lack of personal growth that serves as the foundation for all that we do. While reading and personal study is vital, the New Testament also gives us the example of pouring into others and others pouring into us. I will never forget when a leader of international influence (who was mentoring me) sat with me asking question after question about something and then stated, “You have taught me something today.” Here I was eager to be taught by him, and he was eager to learn! The greatest teachers are also the greatest students who, in spite of position and years of experience, are eager to expand their knowledge and understanding through the experiences of others. True servant leaders are always hungry for God to pour into their lives through His servants. The greatest leaders know they can’t lead if they can’t follow and that, no matter what leadership they have, they are always disciples.  

Observations on the first Christmas

The Wise Men

The wise men saw the light.

The scripture records that the wise men saw the star and they followed it. As long as they kept their focus on the star, they would reach their destination.

The same is true with us: As long as we keep our focus on the Light, we will reach our destination!

John 8:12 says, “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Speaking of Jesus, John 1:4-5 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

  • His light dispels all darkness.
  • His light provides direction toward salvation, toward our destinies, and toward eternal life.
  • His light evokes worship! The wise men said, “We have seen His light, and we have come to worship.”

Just like the wise men, as long as we follow the Light, we will reach our destination!

Matthew 2:11 says, “They entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They they opened their treasure chests …” 

  • Wise men worship Him. They reverence and adore Him.
  • Wise men bow to Him. They come in humble submission to His Lordship.
  • Wise men bring Him their offerings. They lay their treasures at His feet.

“Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

They gave Him the gift of gold because He is the King of all kings.

They gave Him the gift of frankincense because He is the High Priest above all priests, making intercession for us.

They gave Him the gift of myrrh, because He is the Healer of all mankind.

Do you know Him as King, Priest and Healer?

Have you opened your treasure chest and laid it all down at the feet of Jesus?

I was hungry . . .

Another way of looking at Matthew 25:35 –

“I was spiritually hungry, and you gave me the Word.

“I was thirty, and you led me to the wellsprings of salvation.

“I was a stranger living outside of His mercy, and you brought me into the family of God.

“I was spiritually naked, and you discipled me. You clothed me with the righteousness of Christ and helped me put on spiritual armor.

“I was sick in sin and misled in deception, and you nurtured me and shepherded me.

“I was in a prison of bondage and oppression, and you came to me.”

Verse 40 –

“When you did it to one of these who are now My brothers and sisters, you did it unto Me and you fulfilled the purposes for which I have sent you.”

Verse 46 –

“And you who did not fulfill My purposes, I will cast you away into eternal punishment. But the righteous will have eternal life.”

Memorable Quotes

Here are some quotes I have recorded in my personal journal:

“Don’t park when God is calling you forward … People who are married to the past cannot embrace the future. Sacred cows do not belong in the pulpit; they must be sacrificed on the altar.”   Lee Grady

“The secret of our success is determined in our daily agendas. The only hope for changing our lives is to change something we do daily.”  John Maxwell

“Copying spiritual trends is just a form of carnality.”  Lee Grady

“The things we tolerate in moderation our children will indulge in excess.”  Tom Wieland

“Isn’t it funny that I can be more worried about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me?”  Anonymous

“You must never give up. You must and will always recover from defeat and disappointment. Never give up.”  Richard M. Nixon

“Forgiveness liberates the soul and removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”  Nelson Mandela

“Wrap your mind and heart around this realization: You are a slave to Christ, an ambassador of God, a servant of the King, a soldier in the invisible battle of purity and evil. You will find inner peace only when you know who you truly are. Only at that point can you be authentic.”  George Barna

“Our reaching out to the world will never be pure until we move past a love for people and touch them because of a consuming passion to know Jesus.”  Julie Kessler

 

Asleep in the Light

Though written in the 70’s, this song by Keith Green speaks boldly and truthfully to the church today. My prayer today is that the Spirit of God awakens His church from its slumber, that we begin to seek Him diligently and urgently and walk in the power He has provided through His Holy Spirit to turn this world upside down for Jesus Christ, for His glory alone!

Asleep in the Light

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down?
Don’t you care, don’t you care
Are you gonna let them drown?

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done.

“Oh bless me lord, bless me Lord”
You know it’s all I ever hear.
No one aches, no one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear.

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for you needs,
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in.
Oh can’t you see it’s such a sin.

‘Cause He brings people to your door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
“God bless you, be at peace”
And all heaven just weeps
‘Cause Jesus came to you door
You’ve left him out on the streets.

Open up, open up
And give yourself away.
You see the need, you hear the cries
So how can you delay?

God’s calling and you’re the one
But like Jonah you run.
He’s told you to speak
But you keep holding it in.
Oh can’t you see it’s such a sin?

The world is sleeping in the dark
And the church just can’t fight
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light.
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed?
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed!

Oh, Jesus rose from the dead!
Come on, get out of your bed!

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done.
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done.

Don’t close your eyes
Don’t pretend the job’s done!

“Come away, come away, come away with Me my love
“Come away, come away, come away with Me my love”