Archive for the ‘Daily Devotional’ Category

The Paperwork Problem

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Acts 25:25-27 “’I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write.’”

Observation: Paul was preparing to make his defense to Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, and King Agrippa, great-grandson of Herod the Great. Before he began, Festus was having a hard time coming up with valid charges against Paul, yet he knew he must find some offense objectionable enough to justify taking Caesar’s time to hear Paul’s appeal in Rome. Paul was caught in a bureaucratic morass from which no escape seemed possible. Each lower-level official booted Paul’s case up the chain of command not due to crimes on Paul’s part, but simply to keep peace among a populace that demanded Paul’s head. Paperwork had become more important than righteousness.

Application:     Just one small phrase in these verses caught my attention, as it summarizes a truth for us all. Festus says, “I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord.” By “my lord,” Festus referred to Caesar, to whom he knew he was about to send a frivolous case, the prospect of which must have caused Festus some discomfort. In this one phrase there is demonstrated the truth that everyone bows before someone or something. Festus’s allegiance was to Caesar, arguably one of history’s most evil despots.

God has built me to worship. He has hard-wired into me a deep need for the covering and protection that come from being lorded over by someone or some thing. The lord of Festus was a Roman ruler who had all power and authority over Festus’ career, even life itself. What or whom I give lordship to says everything about my eternal destiny. Paul too was a Roman citizen, yet he gave lordship to Jesus Christ. 

Nothing matters more than for me to examine my life to be absolutely certain that I value nothing above Him: not money, not houses, not political leaders, not success. I must shake off and turn away from absolutely every thing I have exalted above Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I ask You to examine my heart today to uncover anything I have lifted up above You. Sometimes these patterns have gone on so long that they have become familiar to the point of being invisible to me, yet You see them perfectly and Your heart breaks because of the high place they occupy in my life. Cause me today to have eyes to truly see my condition, and to respond to Your leading.

Prancing Giftedness

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Psalm 101:2 “I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (NIV).

Observation: In this brief psalm David beautifully expressed a heart set on pursuit of God alone. He promised to sing of God’s love and justice (v. 1) and to lead a blameless life (v. 2). He declared devotion to relationship with those who were faithful and who themselves walked blamelessly. And then this: to set before his eyes no vile thing.

Application: David committed himself to a tall order. Line upon line, his words of commitment and devotion tumbled forth, leaving not the smallest opportunity for compromise. There is in David’s writing a sense of one who has tasted the sweet presence of the Lord and can now settle for nothing less. The parched throat once slaked by pure, cool rains will never again find full satisfaction in a stale jug of even the finest libation. In the same way, David’s pursuit of great gulps of God led him to covenants of blamelessness and purity regarding whom he spent time with and what he allowed his eyes to gaze upon. He longed to be so filled with the presence of God that there would be room for none else.

There is abundant evidence that David had already tasted the counterfeit. He had known faithless men with perverse hearts and slanderers with haughty eyes and proud hearts; these he determined to foreswear.

I, too, have known such men and women—people who have kept God at arms’ length while trying to succeed in the strength of their gifting and the fleshly attractiveness of well-honed skills. Indeed at times, I have myself pranced in the giftedness of that miserable troupe.

But David here revealed an important principle: it is never enough to merely recognize vileness and then covenant to walk away. I lack sufficient strength of character to ever fully abandon those self-aggrandizing, dark traits designed to make me attractive in others’ eyes. It is not in choosing to leave the bad that I can ever hope to succeed, but only in embracing the good. I can never permanently abandon destruction until I have committed myself irrevocably to wholehearted love of Him alone. Only in cleaving to what is supremely good can I finally leave that which would destroy me.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the example of David’s solution to mediocrity and evil. Stir me to wholehearted devotion to Your dear Son

Thin Ice

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Romans 14:4a: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s question is intended to build harmony within the body by pointing out that all believers are fellow servants of the same Lord, Jesus Christ. The examples upon which Paul builds his argument include dietary laws wherein a strong, self-confident Christian understands that what is eaten or drunk carries no spiritual significance, while a weaker believer may find greater comfort and safety by moving within familiar structures, not transgressing predetermined boundaries.

Application: Using such terminology as “weaker” or “stronger” may seem itself to be inflammatory or judgmental; these are value-laden terms to us. But Paul goes on to say that our judge is God, not man, that each of us will stand or fall by the decision of our master, “and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4b).

In other words, who am I to judge? This business of assuming I am among the stronger (surely that would be right, wouldn’t it Lord?) puts me on thin ice indeed. I run the risk of an arrogant skater who believes his great skill and speed will allow him to swiftly skirt dangers that would ensnare lesser skaters, only to find myself dunked in an icy wake-up call. I have no position from which to judge another, no standing from which to assess another’s heart condition. Most of the time I cannot accurately assess my own!

God’s path to righteousness is refreshingly unique for each of His children. Because of that, Paul’s command in verse 13 is essential to obey: “stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block . . . in your brother’s way.” That’s more than good advice; it’s a good command.

Upon honest reflection, I realize that the stumbling block in another’s way has too often been me. This is my own icy wake-up call to remember that my journey into Christ will never end this side of eternity. I have not arrived. I have stumbled and will stumble again. In this reality, the Lord calls me to don a spirit of compassion and encouragement for my fellow sojourners; after all, am I not desperately in need of the same from those who observe my own unsteady gait?

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder to not judge my brothers and sisters. I am in need of Your mercy and grace each day of my life. Forgive me, Lord, for any thought of being in Your eyes better than another.

Snagged By God’s Judgments

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Romans 13:1–2: “The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment upon themselves” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s treatise on our relationship to authority establishes how we who are under authority are to conduct ourselves. Paul assured us that such positions as kings, princes, governors, and magistrates are established by God’s decision. Those who occupy those positions are intended to be “God’s servant to do [us] good” (Rom. 13:4).

Application: Does Paul sound naïve here, perhaps out of touch with reality? Upon reading these verses my mind seeks to somehow set them aside as I remember unrighteous authorities just in my lifetime. Paul had never met Pol Pot or Stalin, Hitler or Mao, darkened luminaries all, so perhaps he should be excused for such inflexibilities. 

As I read Paul’s words I want to run to my reservoir of excuses justifying rebellion. But think a minute. In Paul’s day, wasn’t all authority vested in pagans?  History since then has indeed given us a string of demonic rulers, but the Caesars of Paul’s day were no slouches in that regard. Yet it was to Caesar that Paul appealed to gain a fair hearing of the charges against him.

God created all authority structures, from the drooling idiot king to the alcoholic father and the cunningly evil shift foreman. While I certainly am free to seek employment elsewhere or to move to another land, there is nowhere to apply for new parentage. If rebellion and judgment rule my heart in response to unrighteous authority, I must see that as sin against God Himself.

Flesh screams for justice, but only until flesh has died. My heart cries out for righteous administration of authority from human vessels who are themselves broken. I long for justice from those who are themselves not just. But the Gospel is always about my heart, not someone else’s. It always comes down to a question of how fully I have laid down my rights. I am called to have a heart of compassion toward those who have brought great wrong that I mightn’t be snagged by God’s judgments. God always calls me first to be concerned with my heart motivation.

Prayer: Lord, as You call me to work for the good, cause me to take care to maintain a clean heart.  Wash out of me every motive that would separate me from You.

Deliverance from Ice Cream

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Romans 10:3: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (NIV).

Observation: Paul continued to express ardent hope that all might be saved, including his beloved fellow Jews. In this regard he affirmed their zealousness, but said they zealously pursued the wrong thing. Their zealotry was wrongly based in placing high value upon attempts to live so as to fulfill the law’s requirements rather than upon God’s righteousness.

Application: I am arrested by the phrase, “sought to establish their own.” How does that happen? How is it that a people zealous for God would seek to establish their own righteousness in a vain attempt to gain His fulness?

They gave assent to being God’s children simply because they were offspring of Abraham’s flesh. As such, they dug deep into man’s wisdom to develop complex rules intended to assure that observance of the law’s letter would be complete.  Yet consistent failure was the result.

The Jews found themselves in a familiar pickle. They are like the overweight person who shamefully assesses his condition and, filled with self-loathing, pledges to never again eat ice cream. Then, remembering there is a quart of the damnable stuff in the freezer, he decides to begin the commitment once this is gone. Because of zeal to lose weight quickly, it would be best to be rid of the stuff as soon as possible; it should be eaten this very minute, thus hastening fulfillment of the commitment to weight loss.

Paul was saying that no pledge to the law can ever be fulfilled absent Christ’s righteousness. I must fill my heart and mind with a greater pursuit than law in order to fulfill the law. I can never by dint of hard work and good intention achieve a satisfying result. Ridding the house of ice cream by eating it is no more satisfying to the flesh than is the attempt to follow man-made rules to please God satisfying to the spirit.

Only by substitution comes victory. Substitution for the flesh may lead to the treadmill or to more wholesome foods. Substitution for the spirit is the man Christ Jesus who by experiencing death on my behalf has made it possible at last for me to be His forever.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the unfathomable substitution of Your Son on a Roman cross for my well-deserved death. Cause me today to so pursue Him that temptations to lesser pleasures simply fade away.

Reading Of The Will

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Romans 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (NIV).

Observation: Life lived by the Spirit is our only gateway to assured resurrection with Christ. We choose, according to Paul, whether we will live a Spirit-controlled or a flesh-controlled life. If we have chosen Christ, His life is ours as evidenced by the fact that we share in His inheritance.

Application: Paul used a lawyer’s language to describe my inheritance in Christ. To be God’s heir is a legal position, not something I daydream about being, but something I am. No matter the intensity of wishing, I am not a child of the Rockefellers or Gettys. Dorothy might successfully wish herself back to Kansas, but I will never have an inheritance from these storied fortunes. But by the Spirit of God my inheritance is no longer limited by the earthly lineage into which I was born.

In accepting Christ, God Himself has become my father, and I am His. The time has come for the Probate Judge to read the Father’s will. In the hushed courtroom, palpable anticipation blankets the scene; “the whole creation . . .  groans inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons”(Rom. 8:22–23).

As the probate process gets under way, words I have longed to hear ring through the courtroom: I am indeed His heir! Yes! All He has is mine. I am made a joint tenant, a coheir with Christ of all the Father has. I am to share in Christ’s glory; waiting tabloid reporters sprawling across courthouse steps now have their story, splashing in three-inch headlines that I share in all the glory, the majesty, the bounty, of Christ, if . . .

That damnable word, if. If indeed I now share in His sufferings. Every contract has fine print, and this is mine. I am coheir with Christ if I now share in His sufferings. I must willingly lay down my life as He laid down His, voluntarily surrender everything I have to gain joint tenancy in all He has. What I give up cannot be compared with what I will gain; yet the point is that I must give it up. Such daily decisions do not come easily. “Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (v. 19). Creation eagerly waits for my decisions.

Prayer: Father, I yield. I cannot cling to my poor estate while inheriting yours. Show me each day what I must lay down in order to lay claim to all You have for me.

Leaners Don’t Count

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

2 Chronicles 9:12: “Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country” (NIV).

Observation: This verse concludes the chronicle of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon. Extensive trade was consummated and a warm personal relationship established before she and her large retinue returned home.

Application: Personal and corporate diplomacy between Solomon and Sheba seem to have been a smashing success. She had come to test Solomon with hard questions (see 2 Chron. 9:1), each of which he answered brilliantly. She admired his court, his table, his servants, and his worship. In fact, verse 4 says “she was overwhelmed” by all she learned.

She gave gifts of spices and rare woods such as had never been seen; in turn, Solomon gave her even more. It was an all ‘round great ending to an important state visit. Surely the cable news outlets were abuzz with diplomacy’s triumph.

Still, a tinge of sadness must pierce the heart as we watch her ride happily into the sunset. The fact is, the queen had the most favorable brush with God imaginable, yet she left His presence unchanged. “Praise be to the LORD your God,” she said, “who has . . . placed you on his throne as king to rule for the LORD your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel, He has made you king” (v. 8).

The Lord your God. See how close she careened to the kingdom of God, yet without the kind of collision that would have changed her? She had asked Solomon all she had on her mind, yet there is not a shred of evidence that she considered his faith anything more than a spectator sport.

It is easy to come close to God yet miss Him. It is painfully possible to enter into His presence, yet never permit His presence to enter in.  This otherwise smart woman will to all appearances spend eternity in hell, her own words echoing her condemnation:  “Praise be to your God—your God—your God.” For all the lasting good her trip produced she may as well have played horseshoes with Solomon, where coming close is a “leaner.” In salvation as in horseshoes, leaners don’t count for much.

I must confess that her problem has too often been mine. Easily focused on tasks at hand I, too, have concentrated on externals when God’s desire was to capture my heart. She surely returned home to a triumphal ticker tape parade unaware that for her, all was lost.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, open my eyes to Your kingdom. Unstop my ears. Attune my heart to the language of heaven, that I might be yours forever.

Higher Form of Ooze

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Romans 5:12: “Therefore just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin . . . ” (NIV).

Observation: Romans 5 is a robust passage uniquely used in the development and defense of the Christian faith. It opens with Paul’s declaration of justification by faith (Rom. 5:1), the truth of which so moved Martin Luther that the Protestant Reformation resulted. It contains another important theme as well:  the reality that sin entered the world through the original, created man named Adam.  Through Adam’s sin, death became part of creation’s DNA.

Application: From the beginning of Christendom this chapter has been foundational to an understanding of our problem. Like Uncle Remus’s tar baby, I find death clinging tenaciously to me. No amount of self-scrubbing can rid me of it. It began with the man Adam and now afflicts us all.  “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins” (Heb. 9:27-28, NIV).

Since Adam, men have known that there was salvation in none but God. Christ’s blood was the acceptable atonement for sin, leading to life everlasting if appropriated through personal faith in His sacrifice. This has been unshakable doctrine since God first instituted death in the garden to cover Adam’s sin.

This same cherished truth has gained fresh importance in combating the lie of evolution which, over man’s few-thousand-year history upon earth has had less than a two-hundred-year run. But it has been a destructive run indeed, persuading many, in direct and flagrant contradiction of Scripture, that Adam’s advent was the result of evolutionary improvements as uncountable billions of ancestors died for his benefit. Such perversion of Scripture, when embraced, profoundly undermines our need for a Savior. The lie says not that death resulted from Adam’s sin, but that Adam resulted from death.

For many years, I believed that lie. I was educated in it and taught to look at things from the lie’s worldview. But if the plain truth of Scripture were to mean anything, I ultimately had to confess to having no wiggle-room; there could have been no death before Adam. God’s love for me is great enough that He sacrificed His Son for my rescue from Adam-induced death. He did not make such sacrifice for an improved, higher form of ooze, but for one who was made in His image.

Prayer:  Father, thank You for the unchangeable truth of Your Word, which is a He, written in the blood of Calvary. Forgive me for ever agreeing with the lie about who I am and why You could love me so.

Attic Trunks

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Romans 3:3: “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s letter to the Romans is a clear-eyed assessment of the depraved spiritual condition of all men, both Jews and Christians. Spiritual darkness is universal without faith in God, for “there is no one righteous” (Rom. 3:10) under law, and all would be hopelessly lost without His tender mercies. His faithfulness, then, is required by any who long for relationship with Him, leading Paul to ask the obvious, “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”

Application: With the forethought of a courtroom lawyer, Paul drew truth to its logical destination, causing me to first agree with the idea that His chosen ones do indeed lack faith. Then like a sharpened rapier came the next reasonable part of the question: does their lack of faith have any possible capacity to diminish God’s own attributes?

I am now thoroughly trapped by the powerful jaws of Paul’s reasoning, irrevocably forced to acknowledge that there are indeed key differences between God and me. He is the big and powerful one; I am small and weak. There is within me nothing that merits heaven—no goodness, no meritorious works.  Death is my well-earned destiny. In one short question Paul causes me to recognize the poverty of my supposed goodness and to admit that it is only His faithfulness, manifest at His initiative, that gives me hope of salvation.

God made this clear to clouded Jewish understanding when He caused Isaiah to write, “apart from Me there is no Savior” (43:11), and “there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior” (45:21).

God’s revelation of Himself requires that I abandon any thought of my own merit.  My problem is that the idea of permanently abandoning such thoughts is frightful. In the hot flash of today’s resolve, I pack such thoughts lovingly into sturdy trunks destined for my mental attic, easily accessible at the next wave of self-sufficiency. “I have built this thing or that; surely God must have favored me.”  “See how fine my children have turned out; how pleased God must be with me.”

Well, perhaps. But the realization dawns that if He is pleased, it is due to His faithfulness, not my effectiveness. It takes God’s revelation of Himself for me to love and to know Him. Keeping those attic trunks is the ultimate exercise in desperate futility.

Prayer:  Lord, Your faithfulness has come to each generation as it comes to me today. You are the eternally meritorious one; You alone have initiated and sustained a bridegroom’s pursuit of my heart. I gladly yield to You today.

Prancing Giftedness

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Psalm 101:2: “I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (NIV).

Observation: In this brief psalm David beautifully expressed a heart set on pursuit of God alone. He promised to sing of God’s love and justice (v. 1) and to lead a blameless life (v. 2). He declared devotion to relationship with those who were faithful and who themselves walked blamelessly. And then this: to set before his eyes no vile thing.

Application: David committed himself to a tall order. Line upon line, his words of commitment and devotion tumbled forth, leaving not the smallest opportunity for compromise. There is in David’s writing a sense of one who has tasted the sweet presence of the Lord and can now settle for nothing less.The parched throat once slaked by pure, cool rains will never again find full satisfaction in a stale jug of even the finest libation. In the same way, David’s pursuit of great gulps of God led him to covenants of blamelessness and purity regarding whom he spent time with and what he allowed his eyes to gaze upon. He longed to be so filled with the presence of God that there would be room for none else.

There is abundant evidence that David had already tasted the counterfeit. He had known faithless men with perverse hearts and slanderers with haughty eyes and proud hearts; these he determined to foreswear.

I, too, have known such men and women—people who have kept God at arms’ length while trying to succeed in the strength of their gifting and the fleshly attractiveness of well-honed skills. Indeed at times, I have myself pranced in the giftedness of that miserable troupe.

But David here revealed an important principle: it is never enough to merely recognize vileness and then covenant to walk away. I lack sufficient strength of character to ever fully abandon those self-aggrandizing, dark traits designed to make me attractive in others’ eyes. It is not in choosing to leave the bad that I can ever hope to succeed, but only in embracing the good. I can never permanently abandon destruction until I have committed myself irrevocably to wholehearted love of Him alone. Only in cleaving to what is supremely good can I finally leave that which would destroy me.

Prayer:  Father, thank You for the example of David’s solution to mediocrity and evil. Stir me to wholehearted devotion to Your dear Son.