X & O Devotionals

X&O Index

Have A Heart for the Hurting
A Guide For Confused Days
Making Ends Meet
Care and Share
Keep An Open Mind
The Flat Days
Stay Cool!
A Dumb Ox
Name Calling is Inexcusable
Choose Good Advisors
Big Head, Small Soul
Be A Friend
Fighting Our Monsters
Holy Warfare
Be Sincere, Not Sly
You Aren't A Clothes Hanger
The Right Shape
At Your Best
A Costly Ministry
Indolence Is Taboo
Running for Life
The Crown Awaits
Be A Barnabas
Fallen Angels
Take Hindrances in Stride
Negatives? Si! Positives? Si, Si!
Enduring the Unknown
What Do You Spell?
Don't Make a Case for Wrong
Don't Put A Pricetag on Friendship
Companions, not Competitors
With the Bad for Good Reasons
Humor, a Dangerous Asset
You Can Help Others
Self-contained Is Self-destructive
Differences, Not Divisions
Stand Tall, Christian!
Christ Makes Us Whole
Break Jail!
Rescue Comes From the Outside
Brace Others
A Long Time
Stand By Your Friends
Loved and Loving
Chosen and Unchosen
A Costly Virtue
Love Is Courageous
Tell the Truth
Centered In God
Do What You Can
Anger Isn't Cute
Service or Sacrifice
Popularity Is Perilous
An Inside View
Adversity Conquered
Be Smart, not Smart-Alecky
Don't Debate with God
Keep In Touch with God
Good Reason for Bad Company
Encourage Someone Today
Someone To Swallow Whole
Christ Has No Secrets
Laughter Can Be Dangerous
Monkey Around a Little
Union for Christ's Sake
Hopping Mad People
A Moment of Sin, A Lifetime of Sorrow
Look Deep or Be Fooled
Pretense Can't Last Forever
Stay Teachable
Not All There - a Common Failing
The Popular, a Dangerous Hook
Neither Kicker or Kickee Be
Like and Unlike
Our Ultimate Honor
Ancestor Worship Is Vain Exercise
Obvious Turnabouts
Be Led, Not Driven
Fight or Flight?
The Noblest Sacrifice
Forbidden Judgment
Radical Change
A Mighty Defender
Multiplied Influence
Living Flexibly
Limitations and Encouragements
Christ Shares the Heat
Your Accent Identifies You
We Need to Be Needed


The Noblest Sacrifice

"Self-preservation," says an old adage, "is the first law of nature." When facing a "you or me" threat, "me" will be saved and "you" will be sacrificed most of the time. Exceptions provide those rare instances of genuine heroism that many applaud but few emulate.

Jesus might have spared himself and doomed us by avoiding the cross. The devil sorely tempted Him to take this self-saving route, but Jesus steadfastly refused. He came to die for our sins, and no measure of shame and agony would compel Him to abort that mission.

Paul wrote, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:7-8). Christ became the target of the death we deserved. With broken body and spilled blood He placed a barricade across the road to hell.

We live because He died. The truth is that simple, that glorious.

Forbidden Judgment

The banter of X and O, which is quite acerb, reminds us that Christians are forbidden to judge one another--or anyone else.

Paul wrote, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else...you are condemning yourself, because you...do the same things" (Romans 2:1).

This does not mean that all individuals have committed identical sins. A poet reminds us that we "Compound for sins we are inclined to / By damning those we have no mind to." Paul affirms that "all have sinned" (3:23), thus all are disqualified as judges. The pot isn't to call the kettle black, for both are smoke-stained.

Against this inexcusable judgment the apostle places the inescapable judgment of God, which is always "based on truth," never on incomplete knowledge or deceptive appearances (2:3). Our place is at the mercy seat, not on the judgment seat.

Radical Change

The worst can be changed into the best. Radical transformation of sinner to saint is gloriously possible by the grace of God. Paul was a conspicuous proof of this possibility. The persecutor of the church became a preacher of the Christ. His heart, to borrow a testimony from John Calvin, "was subdued to God by a sudden conversion."

"Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy...so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:13, 16).

The grace of God combines mercy and power. It takes us as we are and makes us what we ought to be. A group of God-defying communists becoming an American baseball team would be less a miracle that a sinner changed into a Christ-loving, church-embracing, gospel-promoting believer. Such miracles of new life, new behavior, and new destination occur repeatedly--to the glory of God alone.

A Mighty Defender

As a boy I found myself in conflict with a bigger lad--over a girl, of course. Two of my rival's friends, identical twins, told me I would have to go through them to take on him. I was angry enough to challenge all three, but not stupid enough.

Going through O to whip X would not be hard, given O's hollow structure. We can appreciate X's sense of doom in that situation.

As a Christian I have an adequate defender. "The one who is in you," the apostle wrote, "is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). Christ in me, by the Spirit, provides an inner power greater than the outer pressure. I can be shaped by His might, not by the world's threat.

The believer's identity and security lie in God and not in people. Jesus said of His followers, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:29). As I child I once clung to my mother's hand as we sought shelter during a hurricane. In the storms of life I am held by the stronger hand of my heavenly Father. To destroy me, evil has to go through Him. I am safe.

Multiplied Influence

By helping to form a mob, O multiplies strength in a negative and destructive way. History shows that mobs are cruel and unjust. Men who join mobs do violent, murderous deeds they would not do as individuals.

Think of the mobs that arrested Jesus, stoned Stephen, and assaulted Paul. Think of the lynch mobs that have stained the history of our nation. A Christian must never join others who justify behavior as criminal as that they pretend to avenge.

Crowds are notoriously fickle and highly inflammable. A cripple was healed as Paul preached, and the crowd wanted to worship him. Shortly after, his opponents "won the crowd over," and "They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead" (Acts 14:8-19).

If you wish to multiply your influence and strength in positive, helpful ways, don't be the O in mob; be the U in church. Join those who are taught to love their enemies and serve all people. Working with them you can do more for God's kingdom than you can by working alone.

Living Flexibly

X and O look the same upside down or right side up. This is not true of us--fortunately. However, a certain sameness should characterize our activities. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do," Scripture enjoins us, "do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

For God's glory Paul lived flexibly. He tried "to please everybody in every way...that they [might] be saved" (vv. 32, 33). Of course, he drew moral lines in the sand. He would not please men at the cost of displeasing God. But he did not elevate personal opinions and cultural mores to the status of divine truth. He adjusted non-moral behavior in order to reach others for Christ.

The inflexible defend their notions as convictions. Their rigid legalism is a starched tribute to their own pride.

Live in all situations as a gentle, humble, loving disciple of Jesus Christ.
Viewing you from any perspective, people should see a genuine Christian.

Limitations and Encouragements

O is not made for dancing, as I am not for singing. This was not a lesson easily learned. Like all the Lord's people I had joy in my heart and wanted to express it in song. Alas! I had to be nicely booted out of three choirs before coming to terms with my limitations.

If you can't dance, don't resent those who can. Furnish the music, prepare the floor, provide the food-contribute somehow to the church's celebration of Christ's love. Don't sulk, whine, and complain.

"Refresh my heart in Christ," Paul urged Philemon (Philemon 20). He was appealing to Philemon for a costly expression of love--the forgiveness and the freedom of a runaway slave. This was doubly important, for the church met in Philemon's house (v. 1). Philemon's response would send a strong message to the whole church.

What you can't do for Christ, encourage those who can to do it. Be their friend, not their critic. Share their joy, don't resent it. Live and serve unselfishly.

Christ Shares the Heat

Some persons, some situations, make you uncomfortable. Avoid them, unless you must endure them in order to serve the Lord. He himself was frequently among those who made things hot for Him, but His saving mission required Him to endure what He could not enjoy.

Christians do not "go and make disciples of all nations" because they are wanted, but because they are needed and commanded (Matthew 28:19). They carry the message without which persons cannot be saved from sin and united with God. They go, though uninvited, unwanted, and unthanked, because obedience to Christ is their law of life.

When situations created by our obedience heat up, we can count on this--Jesus is always with us. He doesn't point and say, "Go." He leads, and going means following Him. He is a party to all our receptions, whether cordial or resentful. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we may be consigned to the furnace, but the Son of the Most High God shares the trials of the "servants of the Most High God." He is with us when situations get hot.

Your Accent Identifies You

Whatever your origin and environment, they will tell on you. On my first day in New England, I was asked for directions by a motorist. When I replied, she said, "You aren't from here are you?" My accent was not Yankee enough to identify me as a native. "Y'all" and "Yes, ma'am" were not in her vocabulary.

When Peter was accused of being a Galilean follower of Jesus, he tried to deny it. The accuser said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away" (Matthew 26:73).

If we are truly "in Christ," His influence upon our speech and behavior will be noticeable. When religious leaders could not explain the courage and eloquence with which "unschooled, ordinary" apostles spoke, "they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Jesus will "rub off" on you--He is too magnetic and powerful not to be the major influence of a true disciple's life.

The language of Christ is love. When we speak with His accent, people will know we are from Christ, in Christ, and for Christ.

We Need to Be Needed

Sometimes hurt and angry people say, "I don't need anybody." But just watch them--no one lives that independently, even for a day.

A wanted man is not always a needed man, but a needed man is always a wanted man. Better to be needed for chanting a mantra than not needed at all. There is a deep satisfaction in being needed. It means you have some asset that others find desirable. You meet some need that others find important.

I have never enjoyed singing "Jesus is all I need." The Lord is indispensable to my well-being. I am utterly dependent upon His grace for my life. But He channels His many blessings through people, and I need them to make life complete. I need my family, my friends, my church. Without them I would be greatly impoverished.

And as much I need them, I need to be needed by them.

Jesus once said of a donkey, "The Lord needs it" (Luke 19:31). I would like to rate at least as high as that donkey!


God bestowed freedom on us that fills life with options. Some are major, most are minor. What kind of soup you have at lunch is minor. Your spouse, your career, your religion-these are major options.

Some options are forced. You are drafted for military service--go to the army or go to jail. You purchase a home--pay cash or pay forever.

X and O didn't choose to appear in this book or to express my thoughts. I shanghaied them. The Lord never coerces disciples. He invites us to follow Him and we must choose to accept or reject the invitation. But following Him reduces our options. He is Lord and He issues commands, not suggestions. Strange as it sounds, we are never freer than when we are bound to His will.

When Joshua said, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15), his option conditioned his entire life for two worlds. Yours will too. The will of Christ at any cost, or the misery of sin, guilt and failure -- those are your major options.