Author Archives: Kenny Hovis

Reach • Devotion #5: How Can We Reach the World?

So many times in our Christian walk, we feel inept to do that which we believe God has called us to do. Our past, lack of ability, knowledge, courage, or even faith often cripples us rendering us ineffective (in our opinion) for the cause of Christ. That is not a good place to be. How can we (me, a lawn jockey from nowhere) be an effective tool for God when thoughts like this are so common? It is good to look at a few people in the Bible. 

Moses did not believe he had the speaking capabilities to convey God’s message to Pharaoh to let the nation of Israel leave. God provided an answer. It says in Exodus 4:12-13, “‘Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.’ But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.’” That was not good enough for Moses, and God gets frustrated with his lack of faith. So He gives Moses a helper in Exodus 4:15 in the form of his brother, Aaron. God speaks confidence into Moses by saying, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.In other words, God will equip us if He is calling us.

We can make a list of some others who were not qualified:

  • Gideon doubted God’s decision-making process and the ability to make an adequate army to defeat the Midianites.
  • Samson thought he could withstand the temptations of Delilah and still carry out God’s will.
  • David was an adulterous murderer.
  • The prophet Hosea was married to a prostitute.
  • The Samaritan woman at the well had such a past that she was ostracized from her community.
  • Peter and Andrew were uneducated fishermen.
  • Matthew was a tax collector and hated by his own people.
  • Thomas doubted that Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Paul murdered the believers in the early church.
  • Timothy was young.
  • John was old.

We need to face it; the Bible is filled with broken, inept, incapable people who, on their own, could not change a spiritual light bulb! (Definitely, put me in that category.) God does not need us to carry out His plan for humanity. However, when we submit to the super infusion of God’s will into our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He makes us capable. If we were capable on our own, we would not need God. Then who would receive the glory?

It is time to attempt to answer the question, “How do we reach the world?” In the words of a friend, “We open our mouths and trust God.” The things we identify that hold us back are the exact things that God wants to use to glorify Him. He rescued us from our past. We should be shouting it from the rooftops. Our insufficiencies in faith, knowledge, and courage are all changed as a result of Him being all-sufficient. It is only by taking the focus off of ourselves being incapable, and place unwavering faith in the fact that God is completely capable, that we become enabled to do what we are called to do!
In Matthew 28:19-20, we find what we call “The Great Commission.” It is a short synopsis of how we are to reach the world. In my mind, I can condense it down to the first word of verse 19, “go,and the last sentence of verse 20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He does not tell us to go do it on our own abilities, but that He will be with us to do what He has commanded us to do: Reach the world!

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #3: Fruits of our Labors

I grew up in a small town. In many ways, we were sheltered from the activities of people that live in more populous areas. Our summers were spent taking care of our farm animals, weeding in our sizeable vegetable garden, mowing grass, and helping out in our orchard and grape vineyard. Working in the orchard and vineyard was always my favorite as I always enjoyed the “fruits” of our labors.

One of the most important aspects of owning an orchard or vineyard is the discipline of pruning. Plants that bear fruit, in most cases, have to be pruned. The trees or vines start growing new branches every year and some of these branches must be pruned. We would always make a pile of these pruned branches, and when we had them all in one pile, we would burn them as they were useless. My dad always called the branches he cut away “sucker limbs.” When I asked him for an explanation, he told me that the branch, due to its location, would more than likely not produce fruit and would just suck the life out of the other branches that were actually producing fruit. 

To illustrate this to me, he took me to the grape vineyard next to our orchard. We had spent countless hours over the years in the orchard, pruning, and getting the trees producing beautiful apples, pears, and plums. The grape vineyard had not been touched for many years. The grapes it did produce were at best sub-par, and many times so unappealing to the eye that no one would even pick them, let alone eat them.

Jesus uses this whole process as an illustration in the New Testament. John 15:1-2 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Jesus describes Himself as the “Vine,” and that we as the “branch” need to be bearing fruit. If we are not bearing fruit, then we are to be pruned, so that branches that are bearing fruit can produce more. 

Jesus goes a little deeper into the illustration. Verses 4-5 say, “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.” By definition, the word “abide” means to accept or act in accordance with. Abiding with Jesus, or to accept and act in accordance with Him, allows Him to accept and act in accordance with us!

That should be enough to motivate us, but Jesus gives us a final warning. In verses 6-8, Jesus says, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” By abiding in Jesus, we are connected to the Vine. By being connected to the Vine, we will by default produce fruit. If we are producing fruit, we will glorify God, and people will know that we belong to Him! If we are connected to the Vine, our fruit will be the same fruits of the Spirit that He displayed. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul describes what our fruit should look like, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” By being connected to the Vine, the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can produce heavenly fruit. That is the fruit that will make us appealing to humanity, and will give us the opportunity to share the only way to be connected to the Vine! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what grafts humanity into the Vine. 

Our vineyard through the skilled hands of my dad, though overgrown, over time started producing beautiful Concord grapes. The pruning process removed that which was taking away from the fruit growing in a fashion the way God designed it. Your life may look like an overgrown mess right now, but allow God to remove the things in your life that distract you from abiding with Him, and before long you will be producing beautiful fruit!

1 John 4 • Devotion #2: People are so Interesting

People are so interesting. We look for affirmation from other people for who we are as individuals and what we are doing. We are so concerned with whether someone “tolerates” us for our actions or lifestyles that if someone does not agree with us, we become militant and confrontational to the point of hatred for one another. It is sad and causes division amongst those created in God’s image. We have lost the ability and desire to “love one another.”

Recently on vacation, I was just sitting watching people. There is a prevailing disregard or lack of concern for other’s created in God’s image. We seem to be oblivious to other’s needs at the expense of our desire to read a text, talk on the phone, read an email, laugh at the joke of the day, or find the nearest Starbucks! We struggle with being genuinely selfless (unless it benefits us), but display every attribute of selfishness. We are so distracted by and concerned with the things of the world (that were meant to be a blessing to us) that we allow Satan to use them as the primary tool to cause separation between ourselves and God. He, Satan, is a deceiving spirit. 

In 1 John 4:4-6, the Apostle John explains it this way, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They [the deceiving spirits] are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” We are not to be like others who do not have the Spirit of truth dwelling in them. We are to be sensitive to the Spirit of God that dwells inside of us to show love and concern to those that are deceived by the spirit of deception. We, as a creation, have become deceived. What we want or perceive as a need is more important than what others want or need. Had Jesus displayed this same characteristic, none of us would be able to be possessed by the Spirit of God. We would have no hope of a relationship with God.

Later in 1 John 4, the apostle gives us the solution. Verses 20 and 21 state it plainly, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” God loved us so much that He sent His son to die for us to have a restored relationship with Him (John 3:16). Jesus loved us so much that He came to Earth not to give us a death sentence that we deserved, but to give us hope of eternal life (John 3:17).

In my mind, this is the logical conclusion. God, the Father, displayed His love by sending God the Son. He displayed love by His sacrifice and gift of God the Holy Spirit to live inside of us as the great Influencer of the divine attribute, love. We as Christians should conclude that our responsibility is to selflessly love our brothers (and sisters) as a demonstration that the Spirit of truth lives within us. This gives us the right to share the truth with them that will set them free from the spirits that deceive them.

Jesus committed the ultimate selfless love act in laying down His life for those that He considered His friends, humanity. In John 15:12-13, Jesus made this statement, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Are we willing to lay down the things of the world that distract us from showing love? It may not require us to lay down our lives, maybe just our smartphones. Maybe if we do, we will realize that people are really interesting!

1 John 2 • Devotion #5: What is the Truth?

I have been blessed with the opportunity to take teams into prisons to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with inmates and staff alike for the sole reason that it is the only thing that changes people’s lives. I have encountered many people that can be placed in one of three categories: belief, disbelief, or unbelief. I have seen God move miraculously in all three, but one in the “unbelief” category stands out in my mind.

We were in Warren Correctional, London, Ohio, for one of our trips. We went in early in the morning with motorcycles, a band, and a comedian who is also a magician as a means of getting inmates around us so we could have as many as possible with whom to share the Gospel. The team did a great job setting everything up and getting ready to be in front of the inmates. We normally set up a receiving line of sorts to welcome the guys as they enter. We start shaking hands, smiling, sharing a few words of encouragement, then we attempt to find a few guys to connect on a deeper level. I will never forget the first three guys through the gate on this day.

When they came through the gate, there was no one else around the three of them. Tattooed on all exposed skin, including their shaved heads, they declared their unbelief and denial of who Jesus and God are, and many of the symbols proclaimed something darker. They were giving off a “strong stay away from me” vibe with their demeanor and lack of eye contact. One or more of our team attempted to greet and make them welcome, only to be ignored. One of our team actually had his hand slapped away and was told, “Get out of here with that Jesus #*&$! We don’t need it here!”

As I stood by the chaplain, he explained to me that they were Aryan Brotherhood Satanists. That is quite a combination. It is hate upon hate. The Apostle John states in 1 John 2:22, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” They have been deceived by lies and have been convinced that they have no need for Jesus. As self-proclaimed Satanists, they are declaring that they have bought into the sales pitch of the Father of Lies (John 8:44)! 

Many people walk around in that same state. They may not proclaim that they are Satanists, but they also do not profess Jesus as their Savior. They have been fed lies that if they are good enough, moral enough, kind enough, giving enough, or forgiving enough, that will be enough to get them to Heaven. By not acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord, they, by default, deny who He is, and are at enmity with God! In 1 John 2:23, it states: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” It is the confession of who Jesus is, redeemer, forgiver, and Savior that gives us the restored relationship with God the Father.

As I watched the three of them actually listen to the Gospel as it was presented, I was nudged by the Holy Spirit to go give them one of the books we hand out to all those who want one. I was very hesitant, seeing that not one other inmate would even talk to them, but I grabbed three books, told some team members to tell my wife I love her and headed towards them. I walked up to them and asked the apparent leader if he wanted a book. He paused for what seemed to be hours, but was actually only seconds, and then replied, “Sure.” After I picked my jaw up from the ground, I asked the other two as well, and they both took a book. Some small talk commenced with them; then, they asked what the tattoo was on my arm. I told them it was “Solus Christus,” which in Latin means “Christ Alone.” You could have heard a pin drop until the leader replied: “That’s cool.” Over the next few minutes, I was able to share the Gospel with them, and then the horn sounded for them to go to count. I quickly asked if I could pray with them, to which they replied, “No, thanks.” Not giving up yet, I asked if I could pray for them every time I told the story of how I met them because I would never forget it, and they said, “Sure.”

In 1 John 2:20-21, it says, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” As Christians, because of our restored relationship with God, through the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, we have been anointed by the Holy One, and we have knowledge of the truth that the world needs to hear. We just need to have the boldness to proclaim the truth.

I would love to tell you that the three guys rejected the Father of Lies, and came to a relationship through our sharing of the truth, but I do not know that to be true. What I do know are these two things. One, they have now heard the truth, and it is up to them what they do with it, and that I continue to do what I promised to pray for them (even now as I write this devotion).  Secondly, on the way out, the guy whose hand they slapped away, they actually shook his hand and thanked him for coming in that day. I believe the truth, Jesus, was already at work. “Soli Deo Gloria” (Glory to God alone)!

Reach • Devotion #6: The Least of These

Five years ago, I had an opportunity to go on a prison trip to Ohio. I did not know what to expect. I had some anxiety, fear, and a little trepidation in anticipation of encountering the inmates. So many things run through your head. You could very easily talk yourself right out of going if you just let your mind run wild. Little did I know, but that trip would change my life forever in many ways.

While on this trip, I encountered men that were waiting only a few months before being released, to men that were going to be in prison for the rest of their lives. I did not have any idea how much I prejudged people and their worthiness of receiving the gift that I had so freely been given until then. 

In Matthew chapter 25, we find the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus is telling His audience what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. In the parable, the king is talking to the righteous and lists off a number of charitable actions that they had performed. In verse 36, He says, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The second half of that verse is on the back of the shirts we wear into prison. I had read the verse many times, but now the reality was right in front of me. Was I willing to look past what horrible sins these men may have committed to sharing with them the only thing that could give them hope?

I met a man, and he started telling me his story. He had been raised in a family that attended church regularly, but in his late teens and early twenties strayed away. He was arrested, sentenced, and sent to prison. He wanted to get plugged back into his religion. I told him my story on how religion let me down. Religion could not save me. God sent His Son to die for all of our sins so that when we accept His redemptive work on the cross, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. What God really wants is a relationship, not religion. I prayed with him and encouraged him to develop his relationship with God, not to focus on his religion. I do not know what happened to him or the decisions he made or did not make.

As he walked away, I realized I had just shared the truth of the Gospel with someone that the Bible categorized as “the least of these.” I just stood and stared. The truth that I had just shared was the truth of which I needed to be reminded. We all are the least of these. Without the relationship I told this man about, all of us would be in prison, without clothes, hungry, sick, and thirsty, without hope of being rescued.

This is why in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives us the Great Commission. He is commissioning us to reach the world by giving the hopeless hope; the homeless, a home; the sick, a cure; the hungry, the Bread of Life; the thirsty, living water; the prisoners, freedom. We are to reach them so we can teach them about that freedom from our sin, and create in them an insatiable hunger to grow in their newfound hope and faith, so their desire is to repeat the process with others.

Like I said, the prison trip I went on changed me. My prayer is that God gives me the opportunity to share how I have a relationship with Him, and that when He does, that I am bold enough to speak the truth of the Gospel. It changed me and is the only thing that changes people to what God meant them to be.

John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

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