Category Archives: Devotional

What Do You Leave Behind?

Johnny Appleseed    John Chapman planted so many apple seeds that he became known as  Johnny Appleseed. For 50 years he traveled the Midwest planting seeds; Johnny Appleseed festivals are in several states each year. A statue in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati shows him lifting a seedling in the air. He took with him apple seeds wherever he traveled. He was one of the country’s first nurserymen.

Wherever he went, he left behind apple trees. His legacy is the apple. When people think of apples, they think of him. As Christians, what do we take with us wherever we go and what do we leave behind?

In college basketball, you can often tell who trained the coach because of the kind of offense or defense the team uses. The apostle Paul left behind churches he helped establish. In Troas, he left behind Eutychus, alive, who had been assumed dead after falling out of a window while listening to Paul preach (Acts 20:10). Dorcas left behind the clothing she had made for others (Acts 9:36-38). Jesus left behind a small band of followers who changed the world by sharing the good news which he had taught them to deliver.

Batsell B Baxter  My style of preaching goes back to Batsell Barrett Baxter, a main speaker for “Herald of Truth” radio program and my Bible professor at Lipscomb University. All of us have been recipients of skills, techniques, and information left behind by our mentors, parents, and teachers.

You can tell where a tornado has touched ground by the damage to homes, cars, and trees. Recently we visited the Smokies and everywhere we went in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area you could observe the burned out fields, forests, and homes left behind by the forest fires that destroyed hundreds of acres of land. So you can leave behind bad, such as a fire, as well as the good, such as the seeds Johnny Appleseed left.

The impact of what we leave behind wherever we go may not be as obvious as apple trees, but in the words of John Allston, “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind.”


I have preached for the same church for over 40 years. I have watched families go through many passages of life. For example, I married one couple when I first worked with this church and have watched her deal with the death of her father and the aging of her mother. We rejoiced with this couple when their sons were born and now those boys are godly men and husbands and fathers themselves.

I was once a young preacher responding to comments such as “Some day you will be a good preacher,” to currently, “How much longer are you going to preach,  Steve?”  My toddler son is now in his early forties and he and his wife have two children of their own.

Passages of life remind us of how quickly life moves and how little time we actually have on this earth, even if we live to be 90 or 100.

Not many Bible characters give us a full accounting of the passages of their lives, but one whose life is told in stages is Joseph. He was seventeen when he was sold into Egypt. He was 30 when he was made overseer of the famine years in Egypt. He was 39 when his brothers first came to Egypt, and he was probably 41 when the brothers came a second time and then brought  Jacob  to Egypt. Joseph was 110 when he died. At each of these stages he had different roles to play and each period brought with it different responsibilities and circumstances.

We should be grateful to live through each passage. Often you may hear young people say, “I can’t wait until I can drive a car,” or “I want to get out of school and get a job; I’m tired of school.”  As an adult, you hear people say, “Retirement can’t come too soon for me.”  And then as we age you may hear, “I wish I could still….” So often we yearn for the future or live in the past instead of appreciating the present.

Each year of life is special and gives us unique opportunities. Let’s be grateful for whatever age we are and make the most of whatever passage in life we may be in. As the Psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24.)


Are You Ready?

Because the Lord has great work in store for us, we must be ready! Waiting for someone who is late is frustrating; on the other hand, “I’m ready” are pleasing and uplifting words. Jesus said we must be ready to answer questions people ask us about our faith (I Peter 3:15).

In our culture, situations demand in various ways that we be ready. In baseball, the umpire will say, “Play ball.”  In an auto race, the words are, “Start your engines.” The Lord simply wants us to be in a state of readiness to serve Him when the opportunity presents itself. How can we be in constant readiness?

First, we must use repetition. Paul writes that we are to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17). The early Christians took the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Each week has a first day, so for the Christian the repetition of weekly communion encourages us to be ready. Jesus had the habit of worship (Luke 4:16). Daniel had the habit of daily prayer (Daniel 6:10). These kinds of repetitive acts keep us ready for service.

Second, there are occasions when we need to be revived. Persecutions seemed to do that for the early church. In Acts 8:4, when the Christians scattered because of their faith, their dedication was renewed as they went everywhere preaching about Jesus. Worship services can revive us. Rest can revive us. People contact can revive us. Some people are uplifting simply by having a conversation with them. Helping with a mission effort, in person or financially, can revive us.

Third, we need to review our Christian service. Paul recounted his weaknesses and what he needed to do to keep them under control (I Corinthians 9:27). In II Timothy 4:6-8, Paul reviewed his life and knew he was ready to die. The rich young ruler had his life reviewed for him by the Lord and he was not ready. The review showed there was one thing missing, and that was his attitude toward the poor and his willingness to sacrifice material possessions. Review helps see what is keeping us from being ready.

A word for the servant of the Lord is ready!

God Wants Our Best

When God created the world, he gave us the very best world possible. After he finished the creation, he saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). When God chose to redeem sinful man, God gave the best. He did not give an animal but rather He gave His only Son (John 3:16). When God gave us the church, He gave us the best institution. The church was purchased with the precious blood of His only Son (Acts 20:28). God always gives us the best and He expects the best we have to offer.

God expects the best life we can give (Matthew 5:48 and Matthew 5:13-16). If we are to provide the light of Jesus Christ in our lives, we must give the best we can in the way we live our lives. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 makes it clear that what abilities we have been given must be used in the very best ways possible.

God expects us to treat others the best way we can. We are to be kind to each other and forgiving of each other (Ephesians 4:32). We are to speak positive words and encouraging words (Colossians 4:6). We are to teach and train our children to be servants of the Lord and respect their parents (Ephesians 6:1-4). We are to love our enemies and not to return evil with evil (Romans 12:18-21).

God expects us to do everything to glorify His name (Colossians 3:17). Even giving someone a cup of cold water in his name is a blessing (Matthew 10:42). Nothing is insignificant when we do it to glorify His name.

One of the most important ways to give our best is to be continually looking for ways to teach others about Jesus Christ. We know this because the Bible teaches us that one soul is worth more than the whole world (Matthew 16:26). One of the reasons we remember Andrew (John 1:40-41) is because the first thing he did when he learned of Jesus was to bring his brother Peter to Him.

The Lord gave His best for us. The least we can do is give our best to Him who created us and made it possible to live in heaven when this life is over.

Silent Shadows

Few things have more impact with less noise than a shadow. The shadow of a tree or a building can give relief from the heat and respite from a crowd. The same is true of the shadow of the life of someone important to us. For example, in Acts 5:15 many of the people of Jerusalem carried the sick out into the street “…that at least Peter’s shadow might fall upon some of them as he passed by.”  And the same is true of our shadows on the lives of others. They fall noiselessly and like many other great marvels are cast silently.

Nature is silent. The sun rises in the morning with all of its radiance and beauty in the East—silently. The sun descends in the West—silently. The seasons come and the seasons go quietly. We are blessed with the wonders of the springtime when we observe the crocuses, the daffodils, and the dogwoods.  With Wordsworth, we can say, “Then my heart with rapture fills and dances with the daffodils.” Yet the springtime comes silently, and in the fall of the year the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground—silently. As David wrote in Psalm 19:3, “They have no speech, they use no words;
 no sound is heard from them.”

When Peter walked down the street doing good, he may not have known that his shadow was falling silently behind . Our greatest work and most effective ministries are often done silently. Our shadows are forever with us, as are the shadows of others on us.

Our shadows are dependent upon our relationship with Jesus Christ who is the light of the world. We know that if we walk toward the sun, our shadows fall behind us. If we walk toward Jesus who is the light of the world, then inevitably his shadow falls behind us.

Don’t forget that your shadow is falling on the lives of people you come in contact with; even though we don’t hear them, our shadows of influence have great impact.

Let’s Make a Deal

From the old television program to a simple exchange between salesperson and customer, there is something exciting about making a deal. Bargaining for an item at an auction or sale may be as much fun as the actual purchase—except when it comes to seeking a “deal” with God.

The Old Testament has several examples of people wanting a deal with God. Hezekiah sought an extra 15 years of life from God. Gideon sought the fleece deal (fleece dry and ground covered with dew and vice versa) with God to prove that God would really save Israel against the enemy. But the problem with deal-making with God is that it shows a basic lack of faith in God, and the consequences can be tragic.

For example, in Judges 12:30-40, Jephthah made a deal for God to give the Ammonites into his hands.  Jephthah said that when he came home from battle he would sacrifice whatever came out of the door of his house to meet him. We read then in verse 34, “When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child.” How devastating! He should have just trusted in God from the beginning.

We are tempted at times to make deals with God. “God, if you will just help me recover from this illness…” or “God, if you will just help through this problem…”  then I’ll be faithful and really dedicate my life to you. We should simply realize that God is already there to help us and sustain us—God has given us his assurances that he will be with us if we will follow him.

One of the reasons the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s willingness to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice is so inspiring is that he did not try to make a deal with God to spare his son’s life. He simply arose early in the morning to carry out God’s command.

Deal-making should be left to the tangible insignificant material things of life, not those circumstances that have eternal implications for the soul.

Coincidence or Spirit-Led?

As I grow older I believe this adage: “There is no such thing as coincidence.”  I believe that when we are seeking to live close to God, we become more aware of the Spirit guiding us and giving us opportunities to minister for Him.

One of my favorite singers is Johnny Cash; thus I could not resist reading one his  biographies.  In the book there is a story that demonstrates this idea.

Johnny Cash and his family were walking down 57th Street in New York one Sunday when he happened upon the First Baptist Church of New York.  He saw from a sign that services were about to start, so he and his family went in.

The congregation was seated as they entered, but about halfway down the aisle a young boy was turned around, watching the door.  He saw them, immediately jumped up, and yelled, “Johnny Cash!  Johnny Cash has come to church with me.”

The only three seats available were the ones next to him and his parents. He was so excited, “I told you!” he kept saying to his parents.  “I told you he was coming.”

The preacher came over and explained to them that, yes, the boy told his parents, and the whole congregation, repeatedly that Johnny Cash was going to walk into that church, sit down by him and worship with him.  And that’s what he did.

After services, his parents came over and filled the story in for Johnny.  They were Jewish, they said, but their son had decided to become a Christian after listening to some of Johnny’s gospel recordings.

That’s why they were in a Christian church on Sunday morning.  They were in that particular church because that’s where he knew Johnny was going to walk in the door.

When a thought comes in your mind to say something to a stranger or help a neighbor or friend, put that thought into action.  Maybe it’s not coincidence, but the Spirit leading you to be Jesus to someone that day.

Numbers Matter

Most of us remember Count von Count from “Sesame Street.” He counted anything and everything. We chuckled at his obsession, but our God is also concerned with numbers.

In fact, the fourth book of the Old Testament is named Numbers. An important aspect of the book is Moses’ taking a census of the people in the beginning and also near the end (chapter 26). In Psalm 90:10, the psalmist writes that our life span will be between 70 and 80 years. God took seven days for creation. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus chose twelve apostles. John addressed the seven churches of Asia and 3,000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost. The list goes on and on. God even counted the stars (Psalm 147:4).

One of the most significant uses of numbers in the Bible is a part of the conversation between Peter and Jesus about forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, and, being generous, he thought, he suggested seven times. Jesus responded with seventy times seven (Mathew 18:20-22). He meant there is no limit to the number of times we forgive someone. There is no limit to the number of times God will forgive us (I John 1:7-9). Our God gives us second chances and third chances. His grace is limitless when we seek forgiveness.

We can’t become despondent about our sins, because we all falter and give in to temptation (Romans 3:23). We just move on in our Christian walk. We stumble and God picks us up again. A decent major league ball player will get a hit about 25 times out of a hundred. When he goes 0 for 4 a couple of games in a row, he doesn’t give up. He just moves on to the next opportunity to get a hit. Paul makes a similar point when he talks about his own sins. “I forget what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me… (Philippians 4:12).

Each time we fall short of what God wants us to be, we just keep adding numbers. As one salesman told me in handling rejection, you just simply say “next” and move on to your next call. When we fail in our Christian walk, each new day gives us another chance. Numbers count to God, but for us, in the end, praise God that he doesn’t keep score of our sins. Praise God for his mercy and grace!