August 22nd, 2019

The Freedom of Choices

Deuteronomy 28:2, 15 “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God. … But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statues with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”

Observation: This chapter is broadly divided into two parts. The first recounts the blessings God will pour onto those who obey Him and follow His commandments. They are far-reaching, profound, and encompass every aspect of life. The second part, much longer, is a description of the devastation to be loosed upon those who do not obey God and do not follow His commandments.  These, too, are far-reaching and profound, touching every aspect of life. Even more importantly, this devastation and destruction goes beyond this life into all eternity.

Application: As I read of these blessings and curses, the Lord reminded me how redemptive suffering can be. I see it in Luke 15, where the Prodigal Son chose to squander his inheritance and ended up living with pigs. But ultimately, the depth and breadth of his loss drove him back into the arms of his father. 

I think about a man I know, formerly lukewarm in his faith, who found himself in a horrible marriage. Today, the marriage is no better, but his heart is good, having been ignited with love for Jesus. I think of dear loved ones who struggle with unforgiveness in their hearts over past offenses—for one an imagined offense, and for another, an offense against his grandfather. Both men are in deep bondage to their judgment. One struggles, wanting freedom that can only come with a surrendering of pride. The other is consumed by his unforgiveness and appears poised to go into eternity in his lost condition. 

And I think about my wife, Cindy, and me. We struggled over the years to come to grips with the reality that we have a very, very good God who could have healed her of MS but didn’t. He did, however, heal our hearts through lessons learned while waiting on Him. 

God decrees that rebellion, judgment, and pride will necessarily result in the horrible consequences of Deuteronomy 28, but He also gladly offers a way of escape—a way that tears us from the grip of sin in our lives and binds us to the renewing life of Christ.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me the ability to make choices. Thank You that I am free to choose You, even ‘til the moment of my death. Lord, cause me to be conscious of each unsurrendered area of my life so I can repent of that sin and bind that part of my heart to the life of Christ in me.

November 29th, 2021

His Song Over Me

Song of Solomon 1:4, 15; 4:7, 9 “Draw me after You and let us run together! The King has brought me into His chambers.” …“We will extol Your love better than wine.” “How beautiful you are, my darling, how beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves.” “You are altogether beautiful my darling, and there is no blemish in you. … You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of Your eyes.”

Observation: Theologians differ over how to interpret the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of all Songs. But for my own heart it is a settled matter. This writing is the supreme effort that could be made with words to describe the passion between the Lord Jesus Christ and His bride, those believers who have had a vision to become voluntary lovers of Christ.

Application: When Solomon wrote, “Draw me after You and let us run together,” he was reaching the limits of human language to describe this divine love affair. When he wrote, “How beautiful are you, my darling, your eyes are like doves,” I understand how beautiful I am in the eyes of my lovesick bridegroom. Then, further in his statement, “You are altogether beautiful my darling; there is no blemish in you,” I find an echo of perhaps the most profound truth of Scripture. My beauty in His eyes—my attractiveness to Him—is purely His doing. If He sees no blemish in me it is because of the work He has done to perfect me.

How could a blemished one ever hope to sit at the wedding table with Jesus as bridegroom? How could His hopeful bride ever undertake her own cleansing? Obviously, it can’t be done! But He has accomplished that wonderful work Himself, purchasing with His blood a bride worthy of Him. So, when He later says to you and me, “You have made my heart beat faster,” I know that the work is finished. I am His forever.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your unimaginable sacrifice has bought for You a bride without spot or blemish. Let the truth of that statement thunder about and within me all through this day, and every day for the rest of my life. Let me hear You singing this Song of all Songs over me, Lord Jesus. Cause me to enter into the Song, to fully surrender to the passionate love You have for me.

November 28th, 2021

First Smoke

Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”

Observation: In this simple phrase we discover again Scripture’s commitment to utter honesty. As severe as a “fool’s judgment” must surely be, the passage goes on to declare the universality of fools: “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (v. 3)

Application: It is worth noticing that a fool disclaims God “in his heart,” as opposed to shouting his convictions from the city square. Although some have indeed been that demonstrative, most of us are not willing to take so public a stand. It is as though there is an inner, secret yearning for an ultimate judge, for one who could govern the affairs of man and bring order out of decay, and enlightened understanding out of encroaching darkness.

Most of us well know that there is indeed such a powerful, awful presence brooding in the background of our lives, watching and waiting to pounce. Why else would young boys sneak their first smoke in hiding? Hearts racing, hunkered into a tight clutch against the match-defeating breeze (whom do they think sent that breeze anyway?). They hide precisely because they well know rebellion is not safe. There remains a measure of fear that the persistent breeze may carry mother’s voice as she inspects the puffs of smoke coming from the garage.

Proverbs 23:7 states my problem clearly: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Thoughts lead to behavior, and repeated behavior leads to depravity of the kind described in the balance of Psalm 14:1, “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Let’s say I have been convicted of some sinful behavior such as inner lusting for wealth or sex. I have sought counsel because something within yearns for intimacy with Him, and I understand lust to interfere with intimacy, yet I nonetheless take a questionable tax deduction. Or, perhaps I’ve had a problem with pornography. After years of my best efforts I am “mostly” victorious, yet I grow nervous as I approach the magazine aisle, knowing my eyes can so easily lead to sinful behavior. This is a plague of the deadliest kind, manifesting a form of godliness, but without power to prevail in intimacy with Him.

The reality is my actions disclose my heart condition. Paul writes of this in Titus 1:16 where he says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for anything good.” Do I think he is only describing the other guy?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You alone have the power to deliver me fully and permanently from my heart sicknesses. Work there, Lord, for it is there that behaviors change. Let me never again be like the furtive, foolish boy hiding his first smoke.

November 27th, 2021

Welcoming What We Resist

Ecclesiastes 7:1–4 “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter. … The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.”

Observation: The fullness of the truth of these verses can perhaps be known only in our personal experience of profound loss.

Application: As a culture, we tend to celebrate the birth of babies and mourn the death of loved ones. In the physical sense, how could it be otherwise? The hope and promise in the form of a newborn baby fill us with a sense of eager anticipation for the future. And yet, if we reflect honestly, we acknowledge that the life stretching before the child also holds the promise of illness, unfair treatment, and other multiplied griefs.

In the passing of a believer, however, we are filled with a wonderful sense of completion, of a life now free from pain and abuse. In the physical realm we mourn because of temporary separation. Yet for the Christian, the assurance of life’s continuing in His presence is the source of the deepest possible happiness.

All this leads me to conclude that it requires great wisdom and insight for me to see as God sees and to understand as God understands. For while I dread the temporary separation which death brings, and fight against such instruments of that death as cancer, MS, and heart disease, I am wise to fix my heart and mind on what lies beyond. In doing so, I begin to understand this “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17), as His instrument for my graduation; in fact, I may see it as a good friend, serving as my gateway to eternal praise and thanksgiving.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this reminder that this world is not my ultimate home, but that I find my resting place in You. Cause my mind to become fixed upon the eternal rewards You have purchased for me, and even to welcome the fact that Your plan for my eternal joy lies in the ending of life as I know it on earth. Thank You that I need not fear death, O Lord; stir zeal in me this day and every day to worship You even now, while awaiting that final graduation into the fullness of Your presence.

November 26th, 2021

The Father’s Model

Ephesians 3:14–15 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

Observation: Paul had been expanding the concept of the body of Christ, enlarging it to include not only Jews who believe, but believing Gentiles, as well. He had just said that the riches of Christ are unfathomable, and that he had been given grace to bring to light mysteries that had been hidden in God for all the preceding ages.

Paul was stating his understanding of his mission, and then come these wonderful thoughts in verses 14 and 15 where, at least for a moment, Paul was no longer focused on complex theology, but instead, gives us a word picture. He says that every family on earth is to be modeled after the heavenly family. God the father and His dear Son were to be the perfect picture after which our earthly families were modeled.

Application: Who among us grew up in an earthly family like that, where there was a father who loved perfectly, who discipled and disciplined in perfect love? Who among us grew up being able to look at our earthly parents and see there reflected the breadth and length and height and depth of the Father’s love?

Obviously, the answer is that none of us had such parenting, nor have any of us been such parents ourselves. To the extent earthly parenting has fallen short of God’s model, I must deal, at some level, with issues of unforgiveness. God set the standard through His relationship with Jesus Christ. To the extent that His standard has not been experienced in the parenting I received is the extent to which release and forgiveness must be given if I am ever to know the fullness of the Father’s love.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray that I might receive the riches of Your glory, to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in my inner man. Cause me, Lord, to be full of grace and to have compassion for those who disappoint, those who fall short of being a perfect reflection of the Father’s love. I need Your mercy for my own shortcomings. You, O Lord, are able to do all these things and far more. I bless You and thank You for not giving up on me.

November 25th, 2021

Acceptance in Him

Proverbs 22:2 “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.”

Observation: This verse is the great leveler of Scripture. The Lord is indeed the maker of all, and because of that we do indeed have a common bond. Between rich and poor He has no preference; He has made and loves us all.

Application: Elsewhere, Paul said that regardless of his station in life, he had learned to be contented. Romans 14 makes a similar point, not referring to our allotment of the world’s goods, but based instead upon our belief in Christ. Paul said in verses 17 and 18 that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and all who serve Christ in this way are acceptable to God. Even though our convictions about certain matters of opinion may differ, the Lord loves each one who has come to Him in faith; we are accountable to live what we have conviction to live (v. 22). We are not to judge another, and we ought to celebrate the fact that the Lord loves us all.

As an example, look at Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Or Romans 14:13, “Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Or verse 14: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

Whether we eat and give thanks to the Lord for our food or whether we fast in honor of the Lord, each of us is accountable and can be pleasing to Him. So we must not exalt or value one system above another, but rather exalt God and live faithfully what He has called us to live.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this reminder that love covers all things, and that Your love is above everything else. You care that I live my life in You, and You extend a wonderful measure of freedom in how that might look for me. Cause me to love whom You love and to embrace what You embrace.

November 24th, 2021

Living Wholeheartedly for Him

Proverbs 7:1–5 “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call understanding your intimate friend; that they may keep you from an adulteress.”

Observation: The straightforward language of this passage urges pursuit of wisdom that we might be wise enough to avoid the snares of the adulteress. 

Application: I see today that this adulteress is a much broader and more cunning problem than a temptress to sexual sin. The adulteress is anyone or anything that entices me away from purity, away from the wholehearted pursuit of Jesus, away from a love relationship with the Creator God and His Son. 

Paul affirmed this in Romans 9:2–4 when he mourned over many of his countrymen by saying, “I have great sorrow and increasing grief in my heart … for the sake of my brethren and my kinsmen, according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law.” He goes on to say that it isn’t the word of God that has failed. Rather, the problem is with men who have tried to pursue the law according to the flesh. 

The fact is, I become what I pursue. In today’s reading, the writer of Proverbs said to “keep my words and treasure my commandments … Bind them on your fingers, write them on … your heart … call understanding your intimate friend.” I become what I pursue, taking on the attributes of what I spend time with. But Proverbs 9:18 says, “He does not know that the dead are there.”

Prayer: Lord God, keep me from dwelling in the place of the dead. I love Your precepts, Lord; they are life and breath to my very bones. Cause there to spring up in my heart this day a passion for Your Word—Your dear Son. Keep me from pursuing You according to the flesh.”

November 23rd, 2021

Beholding the King

1 Kings 10:6–7 “ ‘It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I had heard.’ ”

Observation: The queen of Sheba had heard reports of the wisdom and prosperity of King Solomon and had traveled 1,200 miles by camel to see for herself.

Application: I, too, marvel at the vast riches of Solomon’s domain as I read these verses. The majestic throne carved from pure ivory, solid gold drinking cups, mountains of spices from around the world, and such profound wisdom that leaders from everywhere came to seek Solomon’s counsel. Never before had there been such a concentration of wealth and wisdom, nor would there be again until the return of the King of kings. 

After fixing the clearest possible mental picture of the riches of Solomon’s kingdom, I then allow my mind to wander over all of God’s creation—the majesty of the mountains, the unmatched beauty of the interplay of sky, meadow, river, and forest, each filled with an abundance of life. Then I focus on this thought: all that I see, all that I can even imagine seeing of the wonders of the world, is the aftermath of destruction. 

Every breathtaking view my clouded eyes behold is the residue of the flood of Noah just a few thousand years ago. All creation was destroyed, and every feature of the earth changed from the glory God originally created. Just as Solomon’s majesty and glory dim in comparison to the glory and beauty of the King of kings, all creation I look at today is but a dim reflection of His incomparable original design. One day I will see all this clearly. I will be stunned, as was the queen of Sheba regarding Solomon’s glory, to grasp His full magnificence.

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for the glimpses You give me of how powerful, how beautiful, You really are. Thank You, too, for planting deep within me the knowledge that I can now only behold the “beginning of the beginning” of Your marvelous character and Your creative power. Cause me to hunger after more of You, Lord. Give me a divine disquiet in my heart as I contemplate how little I truly know of You. Cause me to pant with thirst for the river of refreshing that comes only from Your throne, O God. And thank You that full satisfaction is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. You do intend to be known, and it’s in Him that I can know You!

November 22nd, 2021

Buying Immortality

Psalm 49: 12, 20 “Man in his pomp, yet without understanding, is like the beasts that perish.”

Observation: This verse is presented twice in Psalm 49. In both places it references those who are rich in the things of this world: “Their inner thought is that their houses are forever … they have called their lands after their own name,” (v. 11) Then, “Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich … for when he dies he will carry nothing away (vs. 16–17). About such men and women it says, “Man in his pomp, yet without understanding, is like the beasts that perish.”

Application: As I read this passage today a completely unexpected image dropped into my mind, and it was as chilling today as when I first saw the image many years ago. I was driving through endless miles of cactus and salt grass in south Texas when a series of identical signs caught my eye on a fence next to the highway. The details are lost to the cobwebs of my memory, but the thrust of the message was as heart-piercing then as it is this morning, that so-and-so donated these thousands of acres to some government agency. The intent of the sign was clearly that the wealth of this man might be recognized and is name perpetuated. There was even language in the sign making clear that it was the donor, not a grateful recipient, who had posted the signs. It was stomach-turning, and has caused me to pray for this man to be drawn to Christ that he might truly be eternally remembered in heaven for Christ’s singular accomplishment, not his own.

“Though men shall praise you … (you) shall go to the generation of (your) fathers … and shall never see the light.” (v. 18).

And I wonder: have I tried to buy immortality? Have I made gifts to children or organizations with the hope of self-glorification? Such gifts, whether during life or at death … have they been motivated by the hope that my “ … houses are forever, and (my) dwelling places to all generations? Have I called (my) lands after (my) own name? This is the way of those who are foolish” (vs. 11, 13).

The hardest part of my own estate planning has been to create plans that recognize that everything I have belongs to God. I know that He will take care of the people I love. He will take care of the ministries I am passionate about. And I also know that He would have both the people and the ministries I love learn dependence upon Him, not on an inheritance from me. This is, or ought to be, the core struggle of every Christian as they plan the distribution of their estate: how can I do this so what I leave does not make it possible for those I love the most to not have to develop their own deep reliance upon God?

Prayer: Father, You have worked a lifetime to pry from my fingers’ tight grasp literally everything of this world. Show me how to give it up to You with the same kind of joy and thanksgiving as I experience when the offering plate is passed. These issues are huge. You have said more about these things than about heaven and hell combined. So teach me, Lord. Guide my understanding as I work on my end-of-life plans so I can get in on what You are up to in my family’s life and in the ministries You lead me to help perpetuate. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

November 21st, 2021

A Prenatal Pattern

Luke 1:29 “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”

Observation:  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy with John, the angel Gabriel made another prenatal appearance, this time to her cousin Mary to announce an even more miraculous event: Mary, who had never known sexual intimacy, was going to conceive a child supernaturally. Gabriel’s greeting had been stunning in its simple directness. “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.” It was that greeting that “greatly troubled” Mary and caused her to ponder its meaning.

Application: “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.” It’s little wonder that Mary was troubled. Until now, no human ears had ever heard quite such a pronouncement, and from an angel no less. It would be one thing for Mary’s mother or father to have assured her that she was precious in the sight of God, but aren’t our earthly parents paid to say such things? “Yeah right,” I might think, but the glow quickly fades as my low self-image doesn’t permit such parental affirmation to take root and grow into a stable reality.

But this statement to the child-woman Mary came from a different Source; it carried a different level of authority. God Himself had been watching Mary and it was He who favored her. It was at His initiative, not hers, that the course of her eternity was set. The pre-incarnate Christ Himself declared His favor toward her. It’s no wonder God had to begin by telling her not to fear.

And I wonder … could I ever hear a similar declaration from above calling me favored? Does my heart fill with jealousy over Mary’s unique heavenly affirmation? What I now realize is that I now am like Mary was. The same God whose gaze followed Mary has seen me too. At His initiative He has set the course of my own eternity. He calls me favored, made righteous by the blood He would one day spill before Mary’s horrified eyes as she stood at the foot of Calvary’s cross.

So yes, I am favored as Mary was. His gaze now lovingly follows me as it did Mary. And because of that He now declares for all time and eternity that I, too, have found favor with Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, even as you spoke to Mary You now speak to me, assuring me of your love, covering me with your grace, telling me not to be afraid. Lord Jesus, no matter how high the waves of life’s devastation I need fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. And yes … even in the presence of fearsome enemies, you have spread a marvelous banquet for me to enjoy, now and forever. Thank You Lord. I rest well in You.

November 20th, 2021

Respond now to receive free books in time for Christmas!

Background: Some of you who have been reading for a long time may recall that, in the past, I have sold 365-Day Devotional books on my website. But once the printing was sold out, that was it, no more were available. But recently, a stash of about 60 cartons of books were found in Alabama, and the Baptist Foundation of Alabama has given them to me.

Because these were a gift to me, it wouldn’t be right for me to sell them. Instead, I want to give them away to any who ask.

So here’s the deal: If you send me an email requesting books, any quantity, I will ship them to you. Then I will send you an email showing you the cost I’ve paid to send the books. That’s all there is to it. You tell me how many books you would like, I’ll ship them, and then you can send a check to cover costs. I want to bless you and make all of these books available so you might be blessed and pass them along as gifts to friends and family.

If you want to make a gift to one of my favorite ministries in response, you can send a separate check made out to Choices. Choices is our local crisis pregnancy center that I’ve supported for many years. I will be delighted to pass your gift along to them so you will receive the charitable income tax deduction. Join me in spreading the joy of His love as reflected in the devotionals, to others. Simply hit “reply” to this email to send me your request. And join me in praying that good fruit would come from this effort.