July 21st, 2022

Salvation through the Law

Romans 2:12–15 “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law, for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”

Observation: In the remarkable passage above, Paul was affirming those who kept the law, declaring that even those who had never heard of the law yet lived according to its precepts, would be blessed by God; their very being had “become” the law just as Christ Himself embodied, or fulfilled the law. Of course, the opposite is also true: the law condemned those who had known the law but failed to practice it. Paul said that those who had kept the law had been justified, set free from the consequences of sin, whether they had ever heard of the law or not.

Application: Apparently we who have trusted in Christ for our salvation will be greeted, and probably surprised, in heaven by countless souls who found their way to glory by keeping the law, by having it written on their hearts, and as a result, by then living according to its precepts. So just what is this law we are commanded to keep? Romans 13:8 gives us a clue when it says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

I am reminded of Christ’s words to Thomas who, after seeing the wounds in the hands and feet of the risen Christ, finally overcame his doubts and was able to believe. Even while affirming Thomas for believing after seeing, Christ affirmed even more those who would believe without seeing. In much the same way, Paul exhorts me to bless the lawgiver by my obedience to His precepts, all of which point to love. In loving well, He says that my sins will be forgiven.

Prayer: Father God, I pray that You would find the law of Christ written on my heart; make me a wholehearted lover of your dear Son. I ask that Holy Spirit would nudge me each time I violate any of the precepts You have laid down, not just by my actions, but by my thoughts and heart attitudes, as well. I bless You, Lord, and thank You that You have provided a way of salvation for all who love well.

July 20th, 2022

Overwhelmed by His Presence

Psalm 97:1–6 “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad…Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord …The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people have seen His glory.”

Observation: Psalm 97 ascribes emotions to inanimate things: the earth rejoices, islands are glad, mountains melt at seeing His presence, and the earth trembles. Character attributes are described as having physical substance: righteousness and justice are a “foundation” for His throne. The language is so soaring that it could be easy to conclude the psalmist was simply carried away trying to allegorically describe the impact of the Lord’s appearing.

Application: Something more than allegory is depicted here; these verses are more than mere metaphor. They are a precursor to Christ’s declaration generations later that if we—we who, after all, were made in His own image—fail to give proper praise to God then even rocks themselves would cry out His glory. Then still later, Paul would write in Romans 1:20 that “since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse.”

The imagery here is overpowering precisely because it is more than imagery. Does anyone who has truly encountered the creator God who delights in flinging universes off His fingertips, doubt that His presence would cause mountains to melt like wax? Earth trembling, islands rejoicing, rocks crying out—aren’t these perfectly reasonable responses to seeing the God of heaven and earth? Beloved, these expressions are far more than just a quiet, inner “knowing”; these are the wild, abandoned, exuberant outward responses to His presence, responses that must please the Father, else He wouldn’t describe them throughout His Word.

I long to participate in that! I want to be at least as much in awe of Him as are some remote islands. I want never to be outdone in praise by a pile of rocks! I desire that every part of my being shout in His presence and give glory to His name. I love that He dances in delight over me, and I want everything within me to respond with irrepressible joy.

Prayer: Father, Creator God, how I praise You. You are glorious and majestic and beautiful beyond words. I celebrate Your power and Your awesomeness, and I delight in being the object of Your love. Help me to see You even more clearly; to have eyes opened even more fully to Your mighty attributes. I want to be a man whose heart is filled with Your glory until the moment I die, and I want everything about me to reflect Your reality until that moment comes.

July 19th, 2022

Bill Johnson’s Message

I’ve just had the most remarkable experience of listening to Sunday’s message from Bill Johnson, Founding Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. A few days earlier his wife Beni had passed, so this message is his response to this unique moment in his life.

I have never before used this devotional email list to distribute someone’s message, but I’m doing it now because I can’t urge you strongly enough to watch and listen. If you have been reading my devotionals for any time at all you know something of my journey through the loss of my first wife some 19 years ago. God was good then and He is good now. You will treasure hearing this message for the rest of your lives.

Father, I ask that you would bless my friends as they listen to Bill’s message just a few days after his wife’s passing. We all need to hear and understand and believe in your unfailing goodness, Father, especially in the midst of life’s toughest moments. So I ask that your spirit would descend upon and surround every heart as they listen. Visit each of us with the powerful truths being shared. Meet each of us at the point of lowest darkness any of us may be experiencing right now, and shed your light into each situation.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

July 19th, 2022

Weed Patches

Psalm 78:42 “They did not remember His power, the day when He redeemed them from the adversary.”

Observation: Psalm 78 is a comprehensive recounting of the Israelites’ journey, the miraculous provisions of God, and of their continual rebellion and unfaithfulness. In the midst of this long psalm, we see a summary statement in verse 42: “They did not remember His power; the day when He redeemed them from the adversary.”

Application: It is so easy, so natural, for me to adopt the unspoken attitude, “What have You done for me lately, Lord?” Job’s friend Eliphaz taunted Job by saying, “Nor does trouble sprout from the ground” (Job 5:6), suggesting that if Job was suffering it was surely deserved. Job’s life must have seemed like one of those children’s pound toys, where you hit a post with a hammer and as it goes down, another pops up somewhere else.

But doesn’t my life seem like that too? Many times it seems like I live in the most fertile weed patch of trouble on earth! But the key to having faith today is to remember past deliverance. And have I not already experienced the greatest deliverance of all? The psalmist said that God had redeemed them from their adversary. Has He not similarly redeemed me from my adversary, Satan, who roams the earth seeking to destroy me? The Lord has redeemed me from the eternal death I lived in since birth.

All my subsequent troubles are mere child’s play easily handled by Him, yet intimidating as I survey their breadth. They loom large in my vision because they are today’s crop of weeds, but they are nothing to Him. My role in today’s battle is to do the one thing that is most unnatural: remember. Remember His past redemption. Remember His faithfulness and His unchanging commitment to me. Then, in remembering, simply stand in faith to see how He defeats the current adversary.

God is not caught napping as new troubles sprout; He is constantly vigilant on my behalf. My part is to remember, to savor, His incomparable redemption. And when I do, my heart wants to shout: “Go God!”

Prayer: Father God, when I fix my gaze upon Your dear Son, all my troubles fade into insignificance. Thank You for changing my future, Lord, for redeeming me from the pit of destruction. Remembering that You have already done the hardest thing of all reminds me that today’s battle belongs to You. How I praise You for Your commitment to war in my behalf. I choose to rest contented in You.

July 18th, 2022

God’s Permanent Promises

1 Kings 2:37 “For on the day you go out and cross over the brook Kidron, you will know for certain that you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own head.”

1 Chronicles 29:18 “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You.”

Observation: First we have Shimei, who deserved to die. He had cursed King David as David fled Absalom. David and now Solomon had extended grace to Shimei, saying in effect, “If you’ll live where I can keep an eye on you, you may live, but if you cross a certain line, I’ll have you killed and it will be your fault, not mine.” After three years, with the immediacy of the king’s warning having faded from his ears and with what seemed good reason (to chase runaway servants), Shimei crossed the line. When Solomon heard of it, he simply kept his word, and Shimei was killed.

Then we have a magnificent contrast in 1 Chronicles 29, where David asked God to “preserve forever the intentions of Your people, and direct their heart toward You.” Here David, at the end of his life, has absolute confidence in the ability of the Lord to keep what is His. David isn’t asking God to keep trials from His people; indeed, David has learned that we often have our best growth through trials. But he is unshakeable in knowing that if people will truly set their heart on following God, He will keep them, preserve them, through even the most horrible trials.

Application: How often am I like Shimei, thinking that I have such a good reason to sin, to bend what God has said, that surely this time it’ll be OK? Surely He will understand, and besides, He seems so far away He probably won’t even notice.

A heart set on following God will never think like that. God keeps His promises. As long as I have breath, I can change forever my destiny after death by repenting, by turning from such thinking and behavior. I always have the option of turning fully to God, as David demonstrated in Chronicles, but unless I do, I receive the deserved punishment of Shimei. But a heart set on God will be preserved through all loss, all devastation, and will be delivered into the eternal, loving embrace of the Father.

Prayer: Lord God, Your unchanging ways are so permanent. Jesus said He is the rock upon which we will be broken if we do not follow Him. I ask You to break me now, Lord, so I will not be broken by my sin. Thank You for giving me passion to pursue You with my whole heart, no matter what comes.

July 17th, 2022

Yielded to God

1 Chronicles 28:3–6 “But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for my name because you are a man of war and have shed blood.’ Yet, the Lord … chose me … to be a king over Israel forever. For He has chosen Judah to be a leader; and in the house of Judah, my father’s house, and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. Of all my sons … He has chosen … Solomon to sit on the throne … [and] build My house.”

Observation: In Chapter 28 David was near the end of his life and giving last instructions to the people and to Solomon. After having first been anointed king while still a boy, David had now lived most of his life not just as king, which was itself an awesome privilege, but as a king who knew God had promised to establish his throne forever.

Application: If ever a man had reason for pride in his accomplishments, it was this man, yet what do we see of David’s heart? Total humility. Before the leaders of all the people he first recounted why God would not let him be the one to build the temple: because he had been a man of war. I find no hint of disappointment in David’s words, no suggestion of regret. Then he went on to say that God had chosen him, his father’s house, the tribe of Judah, and David’s son Solomon. Again, there is no indication of pride, but a simple recognition that it is God who does the choosing.

David seems to have long ago figured out this sovereignty-of-God thing, with a beautiful result. To witness an attitude of humility in David, as well as to see it in the lives of humble people around me today, stirs my own heart by their example.

The wonderful thing about a life completely yielded to God is that I can relax and rest completely in Him. I recognize that there is no good in me apart from Him. All those times in the past when I’ve felt like a hot shot for some accomplishment, at the end of the day only what He has done will stand. So at best, I can say, with David, that it is a deep joy to see the hand of God move; to get in on what He is doing is the most awesome privilege in all of life.

Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge Your Lordship over my life. Have Your way with me, and with those I love.

July 16th, 2022

Any Old Bush Will Do

1 Chronicles 25:1, 8 “David and the commanders of the army set apart for service some…who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals. … They cast lots for their duties, all alike, the small as well as the great, the teacher as well as the pupil.”

Observation: Since chapter 23, David had been organizing the Levites for their service to the nation and God; these verses today are a continuation of that administrative job.

Application: I am awed by how lovely the kingdom of God is, in two ways. First is the assignment of duties. David and his army generals met to assign the playing of musical instruments to lead the armies of God’s people. Somehow it’s hard to imagine our president and secretary of defense concerning themselves with who would prophesy to the troops with musical instruments. But I know from numerous passages how essential it was that God’s armies be led into battle with a spirit of praise. The primary change in the New Testament seems to be that every child of God is to be a worshiper; worship is no longer a spectator sport assigned to just some select few.

Secondly, in verse 8, I see that there were no favorites. All who played these instruments were considered equally qualified regardless of their experience or skill level. Isn’t this, too, a lovely picture of how God sees us today? Apparently both in David’s time and in ours, it is never our own skill that qualifies us to be used of the Lord; rather, if we will make ourselves available for service, He will breathe on us, and it will be His effectiveness manifest through us that pleases Him. Chapter 26, verse 13 illustrates the same thing regarding the assignment of guards for the temple: it wasn’t the biggest or meanest or those best with a bow and arrow; God was apparently going to work through all those in given tribes who made themselves available.

God used a burning bush to press Moses into service, and any old bush was just fine with God; there was nothing special about the one He chose; it was simply available. These verses are humbling, indeed, as I realize afresh my utter inability to bring anything of value to the table insofar as serving the Lord is concerned.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart to be available to You. I am so thankful that You fill me with Holy Spirit abilities, for as You call on Him to act through me, He will never disappoint.

July 15th, 2022

Make His Temple Glorious

1 Chronicles 22:5, 19 “The house that is to be built for the Lord shall be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all lands. … Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the Lord God.”

Observation: David is nearing the end of his life, and has undertaken a massive project of gathering supplies and making tools that will be needed in building the house of God. Here he is charging his son Solomon with the vision and purpose of the project, passing the mantle to him. More soaring words for David’s vision could hardly be found: magnificent, famous, and glorious.

Application: Whenever I read about the magnificence, the glory, of Solomon’s temple, I am reminded of the parallel: that today I am the temple of God. He comes to me with an offer to make all things new that are old, to make all things clean that are dirty, so the glory of His presence might shine from me to be seen by all.

What an awesome exchange—from darkness to light. I love these verses in 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13: “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, … so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God.” Catch the connection here: increasing and abounding in love results in unblamable holiness! That’s what God is after. That’s what He desires—that this temple, the “me” that I present to Him at the end of this deal, would be famous for holiness.

It can only happen as a result of love … love manifested by obedience. David told his son to set his heart to seek God and build His sanctuary. David knew he was going to create a building from which the glory of God would emanate. So it is for me. As I allow God to do repeated heart surgery on me, then His love and glory are able to shine forth, and I take on, little by little, more of His attribute of holiness.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are building this temple, this place inside me from which You are to shine. My prayer is that You would do all that needs to be done in me to shine forth holiness to those around. I ask You, Lord, to work on every smudge, every stain, that might dim Your light. I pray that Your magnificence and glory might shine through me, a bright and shining flame for all to see.

July 14th, 2022

Ornan’s Generosity

1 Chronicles 21:23 “Ornan said to David, ‘Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I will give it all.’ ”

Observation: This single verse is all we hear of Ornan in the Scriptures, but the lessons it can teach us of lavish generosity are stunning. David had been ordered by God to build a place of worship on the site of Ornan’s threshing floor, which was Ornan’s place of business, his livelihood. Ornan offered to donate literally everything—the oxen that powered the equipment, the equipment itself, (sledges), and the grain, even the site itself. 

Application: Here was a man not reluctant, but eager, quick, to make an incredible sacrifice. This was like a carpenter offering not only his tools, but also his workshop. I wish I knew more of Ornan, but perhaps what I learn of him from this single verse is enough: he was a man who knew the king had a need, and was quick to offer all he had in response.

What powerful work must God have done in Ornan’s life for him to be so quick to be willing to give not just from his surplus, but also from the very substance of his life! Somehow he had learned to hold these things loosely. I must conclude that Ornan was ultimately willing to trust God to take care of him. Oh, to learn that lesson myself, to get to a place where nothing I own would possess me, where literally everything would be available to use in the advance of His kingdom!

Prayer: Father, I know You have given me a desire to be a generous giver, but You ask for more than that. You call for sacrifice, which by definition should not be easy. Thank You for the joy I have known in the past and that I know now, when I give in response to what You have given. Lord, I do put my trust in You. I ask You to press in on me more, Lord, to test me and to search my heart insofar as attachment to “things” is concerned. I trust You, Lord, with my future and with my life.

July 13th, 2022

Salvation from the Beginning

2 Samuel 22:22–25 “I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not acted wickedly against my God. For all His ordinances were before me, and as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness before His eyes.”

Observation: David celebrated God’s deliverance and protection. This passage is a fascinating statement of David’s position before the Lord. He declares his cleanness and innocence, his devotion to God’s Word, his purity in God’s eyes, his blamelessness.

Application: Yet this is also the same David who was a confessed murderer! How does that work in the Old Testament when Christ had not yet come and the new covenant of freedom had not yet been established? How is it that in the Old Testament salvation and cleansing and deliverance could be secured?

The key seems to be David’s repentant heart. He had been quick to confess his sin when confronted by the reality of it, and he turned with renewed commitment to God’s Word, the very Word that John would years later say became flesh in the person of Christ. God has always made a way for His lovers to find salvation. It did not begin with Christ’s ministry on the earth. It did not begin with baptism. Rather, it began in God Himself, long before Christ’s advent. This was confirmed by Paul, who wrote in Romans 1:19–20 that God has made Himself known—visible—to all men since the beginning of time; thus we are all without excuse.

How thankful I am that God is unchanging. His ways, His character, have been established since before the foundation of the world. His love for me has been from the beginning and was made visible and is now being made visible to those in the remotest parts of the globe. Whether they have heard the gospel of Christ or not, all will be accountable for their response to this “visible God.” My mind cannot comprehend how God can write His law of love on men’s hearts, but He does; David’s embracing of that reality is wonderful evidence of the freedom that results.

Prayer: Father, I am so grateful that You have had a plan of redemption for me since before You created mankind. Thank You for Jesus, who came to manifest Your eternal plan in the flesh, showing by His example how You want me to live. One aspect of heaven I eagerly anticipate is to meet the Old Testament believers in You, for their faith enabled them to come to You without the help of the covenant established through Christ Jesus. Give me their measure of love and devotion, Father. I bless Your holy name.