Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heart Strength

“I call to You from the ends of the earth when my heart is without strength. Lead me to a rock that is high above me, for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy.” (Psalm 61:2-3)

When your heart is without strength, you need to call out to God.

So, what is this “heart” as the psalmist understands it? The heart is the core of human personality, the center of creativity, the characteristics that define who we are. Even more so, the heart is the will. When someone says, “I don’t have the heart to do this,” they capture the essence of what heart means. To have a heart that is without strength is to thus have a weakened will, a feeling in the center of your being that continuing forward is either difficult or maybe not possible.

When does the heart get in such condition? The psalmist mentioned “the ends of the earth.” That suggests distance. If someone moves away from the familiar territory of his or her spiritual relationship with the Lord, eventually he or she will experience a heart without much strength. Then, the discouragement that ensues is often thus the residue of relying on yourself for strength. Ultimately, our heart strength runs out, because it has nothing to sustain it. Calling to the Lord and moving back toward a reliance on His strength overcomes the distance and moves us back toward the warmth of the fire.

The psalmist also mentions “the face of the enemy.” This suggests fighting, or struggle. When someone is involved in a prolonged struggle with no relief in sight, a sense of weariness can sweep over them like a flash flood. That weariness can weaken the will and make us feel like we are unable to keep going. Again, when we find ourselves at this point, that is when we need to call to the Lord and move in to His strong tower, where we can find rest and safety.

When your heart is without strength, you need to call out to the Lord.

Lord, We call to You knowing that You hear, and knowing that You are our eternal Source of heart strength. Thank You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take Up His Cross

“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34b)

We pretty much get “deny himself.” It means that we choose not to follow the pursuits of our own lives, hearts, and minds and choose instead to commit our lives to the will of God as our first priority. And, we get “follow Me.” That means to act in faith to carry out the teachings of Jesus, living for Him. But what does “take up his cross” mean?

On occasion we may see a news report about a guy who picks up and drags a physical wooden cross from place to place, preaching the gospel as he goes. Is this what “take up your cross” means? This is clearly a graphic and dramatic way to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, but it’s very doubtful that this is what He meant.

In the Philippines, each year on Good Friday, a group of men voluntarily and literally let themselves go through a physical crucifixion. Some don’t make it past the first hammer’s blow to the nail. Some are able to endure it for a few hours. They say they do this so they can feel closer to Jesus and understand more of what He went through. That may be sentimentally sort of commendable, but sometimes we just have to wonder what is going through people’s minds to produce something like this. Again, it is highly doubtful this is what Jesus had in mind with “take up your cross.”

“Take up your cross” was actually an idiom of the day that simply meant “bear your burden.” The idea is simply to do whatever is necessary to continue forward faithfully. It means to endure hardship, forego other pursuits or distractions, and live fully committed with no turning back or veering away from a task. Jesus wanted His disciples, both them and us, to know that following Him may well have a price, and we need to be prepared to pay the price. Discipleship can cost.

Lord, Help us to always be prepared to pay the price, to bear the burden, and to endure whatever is called for in order to serve You faithfully. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Say

“’But you,’ He asked them again, ‘who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:29)

Jesus led His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, far to the north of Galilee, on one of their excursions. A Roman temple, among others, was there, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, complete with a statue of him and reportedly an inscription that read, “Caesar is lord.” That setting provided an appropriate framework for Jesus’ first question to the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some of the disciples reported: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then came the second question, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered: “You are the Messiah.”

After all is said and done, what others have to say about Jesus has no real bearing on us. Many in our world do have something to say about who they think or believe He is or is not. All that really matters, though, is who you believe and say He is. While we may influence others and others influence us, no one is accountable for what another person believes or says about Jesus. We are accountable only for what we ourselves believe or say about who He is. And, in truth, who we say and believe He is is everything. Our answer to His question has eternal significance; it will determine the entire direction of our lives, both here on earth and for all eternity.

So, who do YOU say Jesus is?

Lord Jesus, You are sovereign Lord over all the universe, Son of the living God, crucified for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven with a promise to return, that we might have eternal life with you through the forgiveness of sins on the basis of our personal faith in You. Thank You. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


“Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you and unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

The people of Israel saw God’s works in Egypt, but they rebelled and “tested” God when the water ran out. The Bible describes this as hardening their hearts against God, and it equates that idea with an unbelieving heart. So, how do people who say they belong to God develop a hardened or unbelieving heart? Simple. It comes from the deception of sin. Think through this.

“Action X” was once thought to be a sin, because the Bible identified it as such. Over a period of time, however, a little at a time people who belong to God begin to engage in “Action X.” They begin to think, “Well, that doesn’t seem so bad. What’s so wrong about that?” They begin to challenge the idea, until eventually more and more people who belong to God engage in “Action X,” so that maybe even a majority of them conclude that it really is OK. They conclude that it is not really sin. When someone then comes along and says, “’Action X’ is a sin,” these folks then rise up and rebuke such talk. What has happened is that their hearts have been hardened by sin’s deception, and they now have an unbelieving heart with regard to that truth.

The call of God is that we watch out for the growth of an unbelieving heart, both in ourselves and in those we call brother or sister in Christ. We are to encourage one another daily while we have the opportunity so that people do not become hardened by sin’s deception.

Lord, If we have been deceived by sin or hardened in any way toward Your truth, please make us aware of that, and lead us to humility and repentance, so we may be true to You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Reports

“They were extremely astonished and said, ‘He has done all things well! He even makes deaf people hear, and people unable to speak, talk.” (Mark 7:37)

The popular report on Jesus was that “He has done all things well.” People saw no fault in Him, and no guile, and they saw all the good He did in healing the unhealable. They viewed Him as a champion for the poor and the suffering, and people identified with Him. What these folks in the Decapolis region (“Ten Cities Region, east of the Jordan and south of Galilee) expressed represents the view of so many others who witnessed the works of Jesus.

The official report, however, the one held by many Pharisees and Sadducees, was that Jesus had to die. He was upsetting the status quo – their status, in particular. Jealousy was another motivation, because the people identified readily with Jesus rather than with them. They saw Jesus as a threat to everything that was important to them.

Hebrews 2:7-8 reads, “Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.”

In our world today, there are many who see Jesus as a threat to what is important to them, but for those who know Him through faith, “He has done all things well.” He has been where we are and has overcome, in order to show us the way. So follow Him we will.

Lord, We thank You for coming to where we are, so that we may go where You are. Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


“When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.” (Mark 7:30)

A woman went about her daily work, worried about her little girl. Something was wrong with the girl. How it happened, this Greek mother did not know, but her daughter was being influenced or controlled by an evil spirit, a demon.

This woman had never heard of Jesus, but she somehow heard that He had come to Tyre. She heard people speaking of his healing abilities, and she heard where He was staying. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so like any good mother she went and found Him and continually asked Him to heal her daughter.

Apparently, Jesus ignored her pleas for awhile and then said, “Allow the children to be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” This woman rose to the test and replied, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus recognized the spiritual understanding this woman had and healed her daughter. He commended her reply and told her to go home, and that the demon was gone. When the mother arrived back home, it was just as He had said.

Whatever issues we may face in life, whether it be something as extreme as what this mother was facing with her child, or whether it be something less extreme, we need to know that we have Someone we can go to. We have a Resource, someone who can help. Sometimes the only thing we can do is go to Him and ask.

Lord, We come to You today, asking, seeking, and knocking. Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009


“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work.” (Titus 1:15-16)

So, do these words sound a little on the harsh side? Well, let’s think through it and see.

Who are “the pure?” Are they people who are attempting to live a puritanical life in a rotten world? It might seem so, but not really. The pure are those whose sins are covered over by the blood of Christ, those who are forgiven, those who walk with God in a personal faith relationship. Because of their relationship with the Lord, they work toward a blameless life marked by goodness. They are not pure because they attempt to be so and live so but because they are made so by the blood of Jesus.

So, who are “the defiled?” These are people who profess to know God, but by the way they live their lives they actually deny knowing Him. They live their lives consistently in ways that reveal their duplicity. They show that they do not have a genuine relationship with the Lord, although they say they do. The just live as the world does.

Paul’s goal in identifying these folks to Titus, who was serving in churches on the island of Crete at the time, was to challenge him to bring them to a sound faith, one that has integrity, that has no holes in it. Paul’s instruction to Titus to help him accomplish this was for him to teach and practice the truth himself. He was to talk the walk, and then walk the talk, so to speak.

All who are Christians need to follow this same instruction. We need to speak the truth, and then we need to live it. There is nothing harsh in this at all. In fact, one of the greatest joys a Christian can have is to speak and live the truths of God.

Lord, Help us to take these words to heart, so that we may both speak and live Your truths. Amen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


“When Herod heard him he would be very disturbed, yet would hear him gladly.” (Mark 6:20b)

Every Sunday there are people who sit Herod-like through worship services. What they hear in the truth of God’s word disturbs them, but they hear the message gladly because they find it challenging and even helpful and hopeful. It may even encourage them in some ways. But nothing really changes in their lives.

If the message produces no positive change, then the probable reason is that this person has not actually dealt effectively with the sins of pride and arrogance. That was Herod’s problem. He liked John the Baptist and heard him gladly, even though John’s messages disturbed him. But when the opportunity for good and for a change of heart came, Herod’s pride and arrogance, which he had never brought to the Lord in repentance, kicked in and rose to the surface and dictated his actions. Because of his “oaths and his guests” he called for the executioner, and John the Baptist died because of Herod’s pride and arrogance.

Human pride and arrogance is resolved only when we bring it to the Lord in repentance and humility and faith. When we recognize our inability to deal with it in our own strength, and when we bring it face to face with the grace and power of the cross of Jesus, that is the time we experience the change of heart that is fundamental for freeing us from its tentacles. Human pride and arrogance must die on the cross with Jesus. That is the only way to be free from it. Otherwise, people just go through the motions and never experience the real change Christ can bring.

Lord, The joy of freedom that comes from live given to You is priceless, and we thank You for Your indescribable gift. Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


“And He was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:6b)

Only two things amazed Jesus, and both of them were related to the same thing – faith. The faith of a Roman centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his servant, amazed Jesus. Jesus said He had not seen such faith in all Israel. Then, the “unfaith” of the folks in His hometown of Nazareth equally amazed Him. One who no one thought would have faith actually had an incredible faith that amazed even our Lord, and those who should have had an incredible faith amazed our Lord by having none. That would seem to be a double irony.

But I have to wonder: Is He amazed at my faith, and if He is, from which perspective? How about you?

Lord, May our faith in You, our trust in You, be something that amazes You. Amen.

Monday, September 14, 2009


“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the proclamation might be fully made through me, and all the Gentiles might hear. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 2:17)

Paul said that at his first defense no one came to his assistance. Everyone deserted him. He said that the Lord stood with him, though, and strengthened him and rescued him. Paul wrote this to Timothy, so undoubtedly Timothy knew exactly what Paul meant by all this. It is less clear to us, however, because we cannot know all of the particulars.

It seems that Paul was writing from prison in Rome, and that this was a second imprisonment following a fourth missionary journey. Some believe that “first defense” refers to the first imprisonment, and that Paul was released from “the lion’s mouth.” In other words, he was acquitted and released after two years under house arrest in Rome.

Paul said that at his first defense everyone left him, but the Lord stood with him and strengthened him. We may not go to prison for our faith, but we may face all sorts of “trials” in this life. We can be certain, though, that whatever trial we may face, the Lord will stand with us throughout it, and He will strengthen us. When we are weak, then we are strong. That has nothing much to do with us. It has only to do with the strength that the Lord provides. His grace is always sufficient.

Lord, We recognize that we do not have within us the strength that is needed to survive the trials of this life, but we also recognize that You stand with us throughout them. We place our trust and hope in You for victory. Amen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


“Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver bowls, but also those of wood and earthenware, some for special use, some for ordinary. So if anyone purifies himself from these things, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The idea of being used communicates abuse in the minds of some. They see it as a kind of de-personalization of who they are. They dislike the idea that someone might see them as an object rather than a person. They take offense and revolt at the notion. In that context and from that perspective, they would be correct in doing so. There is, however, an aspect of being used that is altogether positive.

Being used of God, or being useful to God, is not at all impersonal. Just the opposite, the deeper the relationship we have with God, the more useful and used we become. And that is not abusive in the least. Those who are used of God know this to be true.

Think, for example, about Moses. Moses was probably used of God and useful to God in His work than any other human being in history. He never felt “used” in any abusive way, though. Many of the people around him abused him, but God did not. In fact, we’re told that Moses talked with God face to face. The depth of relationship between God and Moses went beyond measure, and God knew He could trust Moses with anything.

Paul clearly knew about being used of God. In the New Testament no one was used of God more than Paul was. So, when he encouraged Timothy to make himself useful to God he knew exactly what he was saying. So he advised Timothy to stay away from every kind of evil and keep himself set apart to God so that God, in fact, might use him even more in the work of His kingdom.

Maybe we should see usefulness to God as a positive, and not at all as a negative.

Lord, We turn to You and commit ourselves to You, to be useful to You in the work of Your kingdom. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Strong in Grace

“You, therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Paul related to Timothy much as a father would relate to a son. Paul wrote two important letters to Timothy to encourage him and to challenge him to fulfill his life’s potential in spiritual leadership. Timothy was leading the church at Ephesus at the time, and he needed this encouragement.

One of the essential challenges Paul gave Timothy was the admonition to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Timothy probably had the same question that comes to our minds: How? Fortunately, Paul went on to spell out clearly what he meant. Being strong in grace begins with who we are in Christ, of course, but it is measured more in terms of what we do. Our actions can help us gauge our “grace strength.” Three actions are apparent in what Paul said.

One action is to develop others. What we learn we pass on. But passing it on is qualified for us. We pass on what we have learned to men who are faithful to Jesus Christ, who have demonstrated that they are, so that they will in turn teach others. In other words, we train others to train others. To commit these teachings to them means also we must trust them.

A second action is to share in any suffering that might result from being a Christian. This calls for us to endure whatever comes and to focus on the task before us.

A third action is to keep Jesus in mind in everything we do. Especially, as we seek to witness to our world about the powerful grace of God, we need to keep Jesus in mind, and we need to faithfully proclaim His truth and love.

Lord, Help us each day we live to be strong in Your grace. Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Portion

“[Because of] the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: the Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” (Lamentations 3:2-24)

Jerusalem was a terrible place to be during the Babylonian siege. Untold suffering was their daily menu for about 2-years. The Lamentations of Jeremiah were written apparently during that time, and some of the descriptions of life then are absolutely repugnant. Many of the laments recorded then are full of sorrow and a sense of abandonment. The reality, of course, is that Judah and Jerusalem abandoned God, and after centuries of layered evil, including such atrocities as child sacrifice to Baal, God’s hand of judgment came against them through Nebuchadnezzar.

Not everyone was without faith, however. In the midst of those who rejected the Lord, we find folks like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Jeremiah and Baruch and a number of unnamed others. And yet, these folks went through the same suffering and sorrow everyone else did. Their faith remained intact because it was genuine, and they expressed it through their faithfulness.

We see someone’s faithfulness in this verse: “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: the Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” In the arena of suffering they experienced, to make such a statement can only come from a genuine faith commitment. To say that the Lord is your chosen portion, and that you are committing your hope into His hands regardless of what comes is a clear expression of what genuine faith is all about.

God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. May we faithfully follow Him.

Lord, You are our portion. You are the Lord our God. We follow You regardless. Amen.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


“Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

To “pursue” is to go after, to run toward, to seek, and to desire. The objective is to obtain, but pursuit in and of itself is simply the process of attempting to do so. It does not assume that the pursuer will achieve the objective. It only states that the pursuit is taking place.

Pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness is a noble and admirable pursuit, but we know that achieving these is impossible in our human strength. Obviously, people can achieve some portions of these qualities on their own efforts, but we cannot obtain and live by these qualities consistently because of that one little thing we can “sin.” We need help to achieve a consistency of pursuit. That help comes from the Holy Spirit. In fact, when you compare the list above with the one in Galatians, it looks a lot like the “fruit of the Spirit” described there. In reality, that is what Paul has in mind here, too. Pursuit, or seeking, the fruit of the Spirit is our part, but producing the fruit is the Spirit’s role. We pursue, but we trust God to fill our lives with these qualities.

Lord, We pursue You, and we ask that Your Spirit fill us with the qualities of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Amen.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A City under Siege

“May the Lord be praised, for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me in a city under siege.” (Psalm 31:21)

The “city under siege” the psalmist refers to is himself. Psalm 31 is a beautiful and eloquent expression of one seeking the Lord and giving thanks to God for His grace and in particular for His forgiveness and redemption. The “siege” was brought on by his own sin. He says in verse 10, “Indeed, my life is consumed with grief, and my years with groaning; my strength has failed because of my sinfulness, and my bones waste away.” The siege came also from his enemies who seek his harm, who hold overt ill will against him. But this man knows the redemption of the Lord, and he expresses a profound trust in the love and redemptive power of God to deliver him not only from his own sin but from those who use every opportunity to hold it against him.

It is true that sometimes we shoot our wounded. It shouldn’t be, though. We all sin. But the reality is that we also have an Advocate, one whose blood has covered over our sins, so that we now have forgiveness. We have a God who is redemptive and forgiving and loving. We can thank Him that today our sins are forgiven, and we have been given a second chance. Maybe what He has done for us, we should also do for one another.

Lord, As You have forgiven us, help us to pass it on and forgive one another. Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


“All who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect, so that God’s name and His teaching will not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters should not be disrespectful to them because they are brothers, but should serve them better, since those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2)

Slavery in the first century was as common as water. Probably one of out every three in the Roman Empire was a slave, which means that it was a primary institution of their society. Teachers of children were normally slaves. Money managers were often slaves. Of course, there were clearly the brutal aspects of slavery as well. These people were not free, and they did not have rights, particularly with regard to self-determination. They could be subjected to harsh treatment at a master’s whim.

When Paul addressed slaves in his letter to Timothy, he was not at all legitimizing the institution of slavery. Instead, he was attempting to help slaves who had become Christians understand how a Christian slave should behave toward their masters.

What we see in Paul’s statements provides us with some basic principles that can help all of us who work “under” someone else to know how to live in that atmosphere from a Christian perspective. Christians who work for someone else in the work world need to consider their bosses as worthy of all respect. To disrespect a boss or supervisor could potentially lead that person to conclude that God is not real and the gospel is irrelevant if it does not impact the way the employee lives out his or her life. Serving the Lord calls for us to respect everyone, and especially those we may work for.

If a boss or supervisor is in fact a Christian, then those who work for them should avoid taking advantage of that spiritual relationship for personal gain. The temptation might, in fact, be to disrespect a boss or supervisor who is a Christian. How so? It goes back to the old military adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The temptation is to think that because the boss is a Christian, he or she has some relaxed expectations, and that could lead to some slack on the part of the Christian worker. The higher road is for the Christian work to consider that the boss or supervisor who is a Christian should be held in an even higher respect and should be served with excellence because he or she is a believer and a dearly loved brother or sister.

The point seems to be that whatever our station may be with regard to authorities and relationships in the work world, we all have a responsibility as Christians to live in ways that demonstrate the highest ideals of our Christian faith, so that God’s name may be praised and unbelievers brought to faith.

Lord, Help us to live this way today. Amen.