Thursday, December 23, 2010

Did He Mean It?

Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:26)

Did Jesus really mean what He just said above? Let’s think our way through it.

The statement above came in the context of the cursing of the fig tree the day after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus led His disciples into Jerusalem that morning. He saw the fig tree with leaves on it, so He went to get some figs because He was hungry. But there were no figs, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So He cursed the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Jesus went into the city and then cleansed the temple. Then He and His disciples departed. The next morning on the way to the city, they saw the fig tree, withered from the roots up. Peter remarked about the tree, and Jesus then replied, “Have faith in God.” And from there He went on to make the statement above.

Some will call the words of Jesus “hyperbole,” which is simply an exaggeration in order to make a point. Some will call them metaphorical, suggesting that what He said was mainly symbolic, so that the real meaning is just “have faith.” Some will say His words were directed only to the apostles. Some will say that what He says He means IF what we ask for is according to the will of God. It seems that most of us like to find a little “wiggle room” when it comes to this difficult verse. Did He really mean it?

It is first important to understand that there are some conditions that must be in place. This does not apply to just anyone. The first condition is that there must be a personal, faith relationship with God. Second, there must be a depth of relationship with God in which there is a commitment to the will of God and an understanding of the will of God. Third, the thing that is prayed and asked for must be of importance and not frivolous. Fourth, the thing that is prayed and asked for must relate to the purposes of God and serve God.

When the conditions are met, Jesus means exactly what He says.

Father, Help us to walk by faith, not by sight. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Question of Authority

“’By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You the authority to do these things?’” (Mark 11:28)

Authority was THE supreme question. At least, for the religious leaders it was. From their perspective, the only way Jesus would have the right to drive the money changers and animal vendors out of the Court of the Gentiles was for Him to have the authority to do so. Authority requires an authorizer. They were the authorizers for what went on in the Temple, and they knew they had not authorized Jesus to take these actions. In fact, it was just the opposite. They had authorized the money changers and animal vendors to set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles. So, this was a direct challenge to Jesus to produce His authorization. They were certain He could not.

Jesus responded with a question of His own about the basis of John’s baptism. It was the same question about authority – was it from God or from men? These were smart men, and they recognized that neither response would end well for them, so they said, “We don’t know.” So, Jesus refused to give them a response to their challenge. The truth is: Jesus owned the Temple, as the Son of God.

This story may seem to be specifically 1st century only, but the reality is that the challenge to the authority of Jesus is as current today as it was then. We live in a culture and society that, more than ever, challenges the authority of Jesus and His teachings through the word. Many give lip-service to the word of God, while in reality they may often dismiss its teaches as outdated and archaic when it comes to applying its teachings in the real world. For example, children and youth are raised on a steady diet that free sexual expression is a personal decision and ok when you are ready for it or mature enough for it. (What teen doesn’t think he or she is mature enough to handle it?) It is modeled for them through a steady stream of television shows and movies. It seems that this is the essential message that is taught in the public sector in government-mandated sex education classes. What is taught is not “no sex outside of marriage” but “safe sex.” The Christian community seems to sometimes have little to say in response, while the word of God is very clear. The charge that it is outdated and archaic is nothing short of a challenge to its authority and thus to the authority of Jesus. The bottom line belief of many is that there is no real consequence in challenging the authority of Jesus, just as it was in the 1st century. An unspoken belief is that WE are the real authority. Really?

Father, as Your children, help us not to just give lip-service to Your authority but instead to give heart-service to it. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


“’Rabbouni,’ the blind man told Him, ‘I want to see.’ ‘Go your way,’ Jesus told him. ‘Your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road.” (Mark 10:51b-52)

Bartimaeus was the blind man’s name. He was a Jericho beggar, of no regard to anyone much. People ignored him routinely and would have this day too, except that he just wouldn’t shut up. He kept crying out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” as Jesus was departing Jericho on His up to Jerusalem. So Jesus stopped, called him, and healed him.

Now imagine – you’ve been a blind beggar for some 30-40 years, and the first thing you see is the face of Jesus, the man who healed your blindness. Is it any wonder Bartimaeus then followed Him on the Jerusalem road?

We are not told whether Bartimaeus continued on with Jesus to Jerusalem, but if it were you, would you? Assume for a moment that a very grateful Bartimaeus did just that. He would have witnessed the triumphal entry. He would have seen the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and people and animals and a whole world of wonder he had never seen before.

Assuming he stayed awhile, Bartimaeus would also have seen a battered and bleeding Jesus carrying a cross on the road to Golgotha. He would have seen Him nailed to that cross and hoisted into the air on it. Now, we might wonder if Bartimaeus was still grateful for his sight, if he wished that he had just kept his mouth shut in Jericho, that he had remained blind. He very likely saw things he wished he’d never seen.

But then, the third day arrived, and Bartimaeus would see something that would change everything.

Lord, We thank You that You redeem our lives and help us to see truth we need to see, even though at times that truth can be disturbing. Amen

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Service versus Position

“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43b)

Service is the measure of greatness.

The world in general finds that statement laughable. Most people believe that greatness is measured by the position you hold in life. That is what we are taught from childhood, and it is the basic model we see all the time. We see models where wealth provides position and influence, so we assume that wealth brings greatness. We see models where political power provides position and influence, so we assume that political positions bring greatness. In most business companies, position is everything. It determines salary, authority and power, so we are taught then to climb the corporate ladder, since that results in greatness. This seems to be the pervasive view in our world.

Thus, the teaching of Jesus about this is completely foreign to our experience in this culture and society and probably in every human culture. But do experience and culture determine what is true or not true? Experience can be a teacher, but it is not necessarily a determiner of truth. Culture may be the expression of values, but it is not a determiner of truth. For believers, Jesus is the Determiner of truth, because He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Jesus tells us that greatness is measured by service – regardless of position. Position is not irrelevant, but it cannot be the determiner of greatness. Position is a tool. Service is the energy required to make the tool work properly. Thus, the only reason for seeking any position is so that we may find opportunity to serve others, not be served.

Lord, Help us today, whatever our position is or may become, to use that as an opportunity to serve You and others. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Staying Alive

“Then Saul’s son Jonathan came out to David at Horesh and encouraged him in his faith in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)

David was just trying to survive. Saul and his troops continued their relentless pursuit of David and his 600 men, and David moved from place to place in the wilderness, staying sometimes just one step ahead of Saul. Some days David arrived at a place called “discouragement.” He knew God had anointed him to become king in place of Saul. But that wasn’t happening. He had to have wondered why all this was happening to him, and in fact some of the psalms he wrote bear that out. What was the purpose of all of this? If God wanted him to be king, why didn’t He just make it happen? Such days David had.

On one of those days, when faith and hope were at low tide, Jonathan came to David in the desert. He secretly came to see him at Horesh, and there he encouraged David in his faith. He told David not to be afraid, that Saul would never lay a hand on him, that he would one day be king of Israel. Jonathan and David renewed their friendship covenant before the Lord on the spot.

What a friend Jonathan was! Friends encourage each other in their faith.

Lord, We thank You for friends You use to encourage us in our walk with You. Help us to be a friend like that to others today as well. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Building on the Final Sacrifice

“Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18)

One of the arguments of the writer of Hebrews is that Christ made the final sacrifice and is, therefore, the High Priest of a better sacrificial system. In the Old Testament system, the high priest had to make frequent sacrifices and an annual sacrifice for the whole nation. The writer’s argument is that if that system had been perfect, there would have been no further sacrifice needed. Thus, that system was imperfect. What Christ did with the sacrifice of His own blood as High Priest, however, instituted a perfect system whereby there is no longer any need for a sin offering. He completed the former system with His sacrifice, so that now we have complete forgiveness. We no longer have to give a sin offering because Christ has done it once for all eternity.

We are thus called to build on that foundation. Now that the forgiveness of our sins is a reality, we are free so that we can build a life that freely honors God and lives in the personal walk of faith in Him. This means we can draw near to Him and know that we are now accepted. It means also that we can count on Him because He is faithful to His promises. Further, we can now turn our attentions to the needs of others and can promote love and good works. It means that we can enjoy the fellowship of worship in the Spirit with fellow believers and encourage one another as we await the Lord’s coming.

Lord, How grateful we are that You have provided the foundation we needed for building a life that honors You, blesses others, and fulfills who we are. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Living Instruction

“I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction lives within me.” (Psalm 40:8)

What a great thought – God’s instruction lives within us! We see this idea expanded in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.”

God’s instruction is His word. Through the Bible, He teaches us how He wants us to live, or, how we can live the most effective life that a human being can possibly live. Because His Spirit dwells within us, His word is thus “living” in us, meaning that it is always there and always at work in our minds and our hearts, shaping our lives. We do not follow His instructions in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Our personal relationship with Him leads us to seek a life that brings honor and glory to Him

God’s living instruction within us thus leads us to a place of delight, a place where the will of God is paramount to us. It delights us to do His will, to live in the ways that most honor Him.

Lord, Help us today to delight in doing Your will because of Your instruction that lives within us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life Perspective

“Lord, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how short-lived I am. You, indeed, have made my days short in length, and my life span as nothing in Your sight. Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor.” (Psalm 39:4-5)

David wasn’t being morbid when he prayed this prayer. He was just asking God to help him with his life perspective. His purpose was to gain a heightened perspective that would help him live out his days more effectively, more in a deeper spiritual fellowship with God.

In the verses that followed, for example, David noted how people seem to live out their lives like shadows, frantically working to gain the possessions of this life, not knowing who will ultimately get them when they depart this world. To David that seemed so “off target.” Thus he expressed a truth from his heart: “My hope is in You.”

Maybe we need to take David’s words to heart ourselves and recognize first that this live truly is brief, almost nothing in the eternal scheme. Even a long life by our standards is still no more than a vapor in comparison to eternity. Second, while we recognize the importance and value of work, we need also to understand that our relationship with the Lord genuinely deserves a higher priority. Third, in this context, we need then to commit our hope all to the Lord, to trust our lives fully into His hands. Such a life perspective yields the fruit of peace.

Lord, We rejoice that whatever the span of our days, we are Yours. Help us to keep this perspective daily. Amen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A King to Be – A Devotion for Children

“Samuel asked him, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ he answered, ‘but right now he’s tending the sheep.’ Samuel told Jesse, ‘Send for him. We won’t sit down to eat until he gets here.’” (1 Samuel 16:11)

Long ago there lived a young shepherd. He was about 17 or 18 years old, and he was very strong. He was the youngest of eight brothers, and he stayed mostly out in the fields, watching over his father’s sheep, protecting them from lions and bears and thieves.

One day when he was in the field, a messenger came from his father. The messenger told him that his father wanted him to come home. His father was having a special banquet in his tent for a guest named Samuel. And Samuel had told his father that they would not eat until he got there. So David hurried on home.

When David entered the tent he saw his father, his eight brothers, and another man in the middle, all staring at him, and he went over and joined them at the table. The Lord told Samuel that this was the one.

So, right in front of everyone, Samuel got up, went to where David was sitting, and poured some olive oil on David’s head. In those days, pouring olive oil on someone’s head meant that that person was chosen for something special. David was to become king of all Israel.

Well, David did not know how he could become king. For one thing, Saul was already king of Israel, and for another, David’s family was not wealthy or influential. But still, Samuel was a prophet of God, which meant that he announced the word of God. So if Samuel said this, David knew it was from God, that it was true, and that God would make it happen. He believed the words that came from God.

Now David was only 17 or 18 when this happened. We know he became king of Israel. But did you know it took 20 years? That’s almost like going all the way through high school twice. David was 37 when he became king of all Israel. There were all sorts of problems along the way, but eventually God made David king of Israel, just like He promised.

David could have given up. But he never stopped believing. He kept on believing God’s word and trusting God. That is what we call faith. Faith means you trust God forever.

God kept His promise to send His Son, Jesus. Jesus came so that we could all be saved from our sins. He said that when we turn away from sin and believe in Him, that He will forgive us for our sins and take us to heaven with Him one day. We trust God to keep His promises.

Do you trust God to keep His promises?

Lord, We trust You to keep Your word. Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


“The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

What does it mean to be “brokenhearted.”

It probably means whatever someone who has one says it means. Just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so being brokenhearted is defined by the one who has one. A breakup between a husband and wife can leave one or both brokenhearted. Any perceived loss can leave someone brokenhearted to the perceived depth of that loss. So, people tend to define this on the basis of their personal experience of loss.

Maybe there is a slightly deeper meaning. In the Bible, the word “heart” very often translates the word that actually means “will.’ It refers to the place where a person makes his decisions and determines actions. Someone today may say, “I just didn’t have the heart to do that.” By that they actually mean they did not have the will and its underlying emotional content to take a particular action.

Thus, to be “broken hearted” actually means that the will is broken. It isn’t working. It isn’t operational. Someone loses the will to go on. That usually occurs when someone reaches a point where things appear hopeless.

A parallel to this is in the latter half of the verse above: “crushed in spirit.” The word “spirit” in Hebrew is “ruach” and in Greek “pneuma.” They both mean the same thing: wind. The spirit was thought of and described by the word “wind.” Sailors who sail purely by the wind understand this. When you’re out on the water using only the wind, and the wind dies down to nothing, the water is smooth as glass, and the sails just hang there. There is nothing that can be done. The boat just drifts. “Crushed in spirit” means to have the wind taken out of the sails. Dead in the water, so to speak.

In this light, have you ever felt brokenhearted or crushed in spirit in this manner? You may want to remember the next verse, “Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19) The Lord can mend hearts that are broken, and provide “wind” for those crushed in spirit. He can do that because He is near. In fact, He resides within us now through His Spirit.

Lord, Help us to rest in You today and trust You to lead us forward. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Faith versus Fear

“And Samuel asked, ‘What have you done?’ Saul answered, ‘When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, I thought: the Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought the Lord’s favor. So I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12)

So what’s wrong with this picture? Samuel told Saul he would be with him on a certain day to offer a burnt offering to seek the Lord’s favor for a coming battle. Samuel didn’t show up. The troops were drifting away, deserting Saul. The Philistines were rumbling. So, Saul determined that as leader he had to do something. He took matters into hand and offered the burnt offering himself. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that God was looking for someone to be king of Israel who saw himself as more than just a military or governing ruler. He was looking for someone to be the spiritual leader of Israel, someone to shepherd Israel.

Wasn’t Saul acting in a spiritual capacity when he offered the burnt offering?

A burnt offering was to be a spiritual event, but Saul was not offering it in a spiritual manner. How so? He acted out of fear rather than faith. With the troops deserting and the Philistines rumbling, he feared that he and his remaining troops would be overrun and possibly killed. He also feared losing his leadership position. So he “acted” like he thought a leader should act. Fear was his motivation, not faith. Self was at the center of his actions rather than the Lord. And Samuel called his hand on it when he arrived. He told Saul that the Lord was then looking for another to serve as king.

The call of God on the lives of His people is to follow Him in faith, not giving in to fear. Both those who lead and those who follow have the same responsibility: to move away from fear and toward faith. Trusting the Lord is what glorifies Him.

Lord, Help us today to glorify You through trust. Amen.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cry Out to the Lord

“Love the Lord, all His faithful ones. The Lord protects the loyal, but fully repays the arrogant. Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:23-24)

Sometimes life events do not go so well. Consider the following list and see if you can relate: disappointments, debt, betrayals, losses, sorrows, abandonments, troubles, rejections, illnesses, sins. Chances are that at least one of these may ring a bell in your life memories.

Those who desire to walk with God faithfully may well wonder why such events come into their lives. David clearly did. In verse 22 he wrote, “In my alarm I had said, ‘I am cut off from Your sight. But You heard the sound of my pleading when I cried to You for help.’” When hurtful events come our way, they may indeed “sound the alarm” and wreak havoc on our confidence or faith.

Still, as David did, we cry out to God, and then we wait. We trust. And then, we will come to the same conclusion he did: “Love the Lord, all His faithful ones. The Lord protects the loyal, but fully repays the arrogant. Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” Our cry for help brings an affirmation of faith.

Lord, How we thank You for the strength You provide through Your Spirit within us. We express our confidence in Your redemptive love and power, and we trust You for all that we need. Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hardening of the Heart

“Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51-52)

Jesus fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Immediately after, he sent the disciples to the other side of the lake. He dismissed the crowd and went up to mountain to pray. He finished praying and set out to rejoin His disciples on the other side, but they had made little progress against a stiff wind. He took a “short-cut” across the water and intended to pass by them unnoticed, but they spotted Him and thought He was a ghost. He heard their shrieks of terror, so He identified Himself, walked to the boat, and then got into the boat with them. The wind ceased immediately.

It’s interesting that in Mark’s account, which is essentially Peter’s recounting of the story of Jesus, there is no mention that Peter walked out on the water toward Jesus. Maybe that is less significant to him than his statement that none of them got it: “They had not understood about the loaves. Instead their hearts were hardened.”

What did they not understand about the loaves? Clearly, they understood that they had witnessed a miracle. They knew Jesus did the miracle. What they did not understand was that the miracle was not the point. What they did not understand was Who this One was who performed the miracle. If they had understood, they would have bowed down in worship. But they didn’t. Neither did anyone else. Their hearts were hardened in the sense that they had been raised in an environment and system that focused on the miracle rather than the miracle Maker. This “hardening” is nowhere more apparent than when Jesus chided folks for saying that if they swear by the temple they are not bound, but if they swear by the gold of the temple they are bound to keep their word. His statement then followed, “Which is greater: the gold? Or the temple that makes the gold holy?” The miracles were never an end in themselves. They were merely “signs” pointing to and screaming out “this is the One.” Their hearts were hardened by the understandings they had been raised with. Ironically, they did not understand because of their understandings.

I wonder: Are there understandings about Jesus we are brought up with which may hinder us from understanding what He wants us to understand about Him? The only way we can be sure that we “get it” is to get as deep into His word as we can, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, Help us today and each day to get full and honest attention to Your word. Plunge through any “understandings” we have that are not on track with Your word, and recalibrate our understandings to what You want us to understand. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Standing By

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

Paul lamented to his “son in the faith,” Timothy, that everyone had deserted him at his trial. This was probably part of a trial procedure during a second imprisonment in Rome, the one which ultimately resulted in Paul’s death by beheading. At the time of his first trial in Rome, there was not so much anti-Christian sentiment, but at the time of this second imprisonment, anti-Christian hostility was running high. Whether that was an influence or something else unstated, everyone deserted Paul; no one came to his assistance. All but One, that is.

Paul says that the Lord stood with him and strengthened him, so that he was able to sufficiently proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles during his trial.

We may not have to face a public trial for being a Christian, but believers often face life issues or relational issues that can “try the soul.” Some matters of life can lead to exasperation, frustration, and maybe even a feeling of being abandoned by everyone. In some workplaces, for example, there can be a very strong anti-Christian sentiment. In some family settings, if a believer determines to follow the Lord in a direction that causes other family members to wonder if he or she has had a mental meltdown, after they initially protest they may then reject the believer. There can at times be a big price to pay for one’s faith.

But there is some good news. Just as He did with Paul, Jesus will stand with us and strengthen us in all the life issues we must face. Just the fact that He is standing with us is itself strengthening, but beyond that through His Spirit within us He will strengthen our hearts, our minds, and our resolve, so that we may faithfully walk with Him. Trust Him to do just that for you.

Lord, We thank You that we never have to walk through any aspect of this life alone. We thank You that You stand with us, and that by Your strength we can endure. Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trust Rejoice Sing

“But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because He has treated me generously.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

These last two verses of Psalm 13 are strongly positive, but the psalm did not begin that way. Listen: “Lord, how long will You forget me? Forever?” (verse 1) This is David asking the question. He asked it out of great duress, when he felt his life was being dominated by his enemy. Which enemy, we do not know. This shows us that even someone whose heart is described by God Himself as “a man after My own heart” can have moments when he feels as low as the dust.

But, as we see in the last two verses, David came to his spiritual senses, and he did so (in the middle part of the psalm) by looking back over his life to see the hand of God at work. He recognized that he has trusted in the Lord in the past, and God has delivered him. Thus, he decided to rejoice in the Lord’s deliverance that was to come. Then, he decided to sing to the Lord because of how God has been at work in his life.

This sounds like a pretty good formula for dealing with those days that feel rather low: trust, rejoice, and sing. To trust, it helps to remember. To rejoice, we just decide that we are going to. To sing, we think of a song or hymn that has special meaning to us, and we then just regale as we launch into it.

When you have one of those days, give this a try. Trust. Rejoice. Sing.

Lord, We trust You with our very souls. We rejoice before You in faith. We sing praise to Your Name. “Aleleuia, alleluia…” Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Test of Authenticity

“And looking around at those who were sitting in a circle around Him, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:34-35)

What is the test of an authentic Christian? He or she has a personal relationship with the Lord through faith in Jesus. In short, they are family. And what is the test of family and thus the test of a genuine relationship? He or she does the will of God.

Many say they are committed to the will of God. Many Jewish folks, for example, will say they are committed to the will of God. There are many Muslims who would say the same.

Jesus said that the will of God is for people to believe in Him, God’s Son. The will of God is made clear in the bible. It reveals what God wants. Thus, to know and understand the will of God, we go to the word of God. Committing to and living according to what it teaches about the will of God is then what distinguishes the true family of the Lord.

Jesus illustrated this at a different time. He told a parable of two sons. One said he would do what his father asked, but didn’t. The other said he would not do what his father asked, but later felt bad about it and changed his mind. He then went and did what his father asked.

Real Christians do God’s will.

Lord, We pray that not only will Your will be done, but also that we may do Your will today and each day. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Looking for the Grace

“No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” (Ruth 1:13b)

Naomi spoke these words to Ruth and Orpah on the road to Bethlehem from Moab as she was trying to get them to return to Moab. They had decided to go with her to Bethlehem. She persuaded Orpah to return to her father’s house, but Ruth could not be persuaded.

Years earlier, Elimelech, Naomi, and their two boys, Chilion and Mahlon, went to Moab because of a famine in Israel. Elimelech died there. The boys both married, and then they died in Moab as well. From Naomi’s view, God’s had had turned against her. Later, when the town of Bethlehem greeted her at her arrival, she told them not to call her “Naomi” anymore, but to call her “Mara.” “Naomi” means “pleasant.” “Mara” means “bitter.”

The only reality Naomi could see was stark: almost everything of importance to her was gone. The loves of her life were no more. All she knew at that time was pain, sorrow, and suffering, and she attributed it all to the hand of God against her. What she was unable to see then was the grace of God in allowing these things to occur as they did.

We, however, do see the grace of God in this, because the events that occurred brought Naomi and Ruth back to Bethlehem, where Ruth later married Boaz. They had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David.

There are times when we may be incapable of seeing God’s grace in our pain and sorrow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Maybe we just don’t see it yet. God eventually always brings His plans and purposes to fruition. Thus, whatever circumstances we may encounter, let’s trust that God’s grace is still at work.

Lord, We confess that we do not always see Your grace in some of the circumstances we face, but we believe that You are still very much at work achieving Your purposes. Thus we walk with You in trust, in faith. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simple Prayer

“The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)

People sometimes remark, “I’m not sure my prayer got past the ceiling.” Those who say this seem to be trying to objectify prayer, to turn it into some kind of entity that has a life of its own. We might wonder about the thinking that wants to concretize a spiritual event like prayer. This thinking tends to see prayer as a means of getting God to do what we want Him to do. Seeing prayer as a tool like this thus sets up a system of success and failure: successful are those who get God to do what they want, and failures are those who do not.

Is a different view of prayer in order?

Prayer is not me getting God to do what I want. Prayer is simply fellowship and communion with the God who cares and who can take action when it is His will to do so. Thus, prayer is me communing with the God who loves me, like a Father does. And in this communion, I then lay my plea before Him. I this way, I can thus know that God has both heard and accepted my prayer.

God’s subsequent response to our prayers is something we must simply trust to Him. Our requests notwithstanding, God knows best what we need. Prayer is thus a trust relationship with God.

Lord, Help us to keep our prayers before You today simple. Amen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


“At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)

Daybreak. A precious time of the day that not many see. A time of peaceful calm. Those who do see the daybreak do so either because they want to or because they have to. Some find it to be a wonderful time of fellowship with the Lord. Some have to greet the dawn because they go to work early. Others live with such stress they cannot sleep, so they just rise at or before the daybreak to seek God for some degree of solace.

The latter is what we see in Psalm 5. To stress the importance of the heart burdens he carried, David rose to speak with the Lord about it, to lay out his cause before the Lord and then watch expectantly for the Lord’s response. His expectation was in no way a demand; just an expectation, because he knew the Lord. In the depths of his walk with God, he had come to trust and expect God to act.

The daybreak is a great time to unburden yourself to the Lord, but you don’t have to wait until then. You can bring your heart burdens to God anytime. He never sleeps.

We thank You, Lord, that You are always with us, and that we can come to You with our burdens anytime. We thank You for Your loving-kindness, and we look now to You for Your help and guidance through our day. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hair Strength

“Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way she made him helpless, and his strength left him… He said, ‘I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (Judges 16:19-20)

So, Samson’s strength was in his hair? Really?

Samson had to have known that this Delilah thing was going to end badly. Her previous three attempts at making him weak had to have been patently clear to him. Why he then told her the “secret” of his strength is perplexing. Nevertheless, he did.

Delilah had Samson’s hair cut off as he slept, and his strength left him. At her call, the same as before, the Philistines attacked and bound Samson. When he then tried to escape he did not know that the Lord had left him. But was it because of a haircut?

Samson was to be a “nazirite” from birth. The nazirite vow meant no alcohol, no touching of anything dead, and no cutting of the hair. Never having had a haircut, that meant some serious “dreadlocks” for Samson. He apparently braided his hair into seven braids and piled them on his head. Visualize that one.

Samson – and no doubt many others – assumed that the great strength he possessed came from never having had a haircut, that he strength came from his hair. But the Scripture says that Samson was weak because the Lord left him, and the Lord left him because Samson allowed his hair to be cut. Oh yes, but he did allow it! He knew this had to be coming. There is no other way to explain it.

Samson’s strength did not come from his hair. His hair was only a symbol of the spiritual reality he was supposed to be living. Samson’s strength came purely from the Lord. It was only when the Lord left him that he lost his strength.

Lord, Help us never to be misled into believing that any strength we have as believers comes from any source other than You. You alone are the Source of our strength. Amen.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Opportunity and Decisions

“…and told them, ‘Say this, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.”’” (Matthew 28:13)

The priests and elders gave this instruction above to the soldiers after they reported what happened at the tomb where Jesus was buried. So, what would the soldiers have reported to them? How about this: 1) there was an earthquake, 2) someone in bright shining clothing as white and bright as lightning came down from the sky and walked over to the tomb, 3) he rolled back the stone by himself and then sat on it, 4) he spoke to the women who had come and told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and 5) we were absolutely terrified.

Unwittingly, these soldiers were among the early announcers of the resurrection. This was yet another opportunity for these religious leaders to believe, but instead they concocted a story about the body of Jesus being stolen by His disciples during the night as the soldiers slept. The soldiers would all have slept through the bright light and the rolling of that heavy stone? Not likely.

The religious leaders heard the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, but they purposely rejected it. Why? Well, pride for one thing, and self-centeredness for another. They liked things as they were, with them in charge. The resurrection represented the un-doing of everything they valued most. They hardened their hearts so much that regardless of the number of opportunities, their decision was intentionally irreversible.

If you or someone you love is best by pride and self-centeredness, then please know that it is to your and their advantage to turn and run away from those places as quickly as possible. Pride and self-centeredness never lead to anything good. They certainly do not lead to faith; rather, they lead away from it.

Lord, Empower us by Your Spirit to run away and stay away from the pride and self-centeredness that can leave holes in hearts. Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Impresses God?

“He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love.” (Psalm 147:10-11) “Then they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27:66)

We human beings are easily impressed it seems. We’re impressed by anything that happens to be stronger than we are. The strength and speed of a race horse awes us. Large firecrackers impress us. The “shock and awe” of our American military’s firepower impresses us.

But what if you had all power? Not much would impress you, would it?

When Jesus breathed His last and was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and got him to post a guard at the tomb. They remember the prediction of Jesus that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. They intended to ensure that that could not be claimed by the disciples. So the soldiers with their spears and swords were posted. Impressive. Shallow.

If God ever snickers, He would have had to snicker at that. The angels of heaven and everyone with Him would have had to join Him in a heavenly laugh. Their impressive guard would have been like an ant trying to guard its hole in the ground from an approaching elephant. Not going to happen.

God is impressed by those who have the perception to stand in awe of Him, and who then put their hope in His faithful love.

Lord, Help us not to be so easily impressed with the world’s power. Help us to come before You in awe and worship and experience what real power is all about. And Help us to impress You with our response. Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Faith and Patience

“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:56)

Sometimes when we read the story of the crucifixion, we do so with a kind of distant detachment. We may feel some degree of sorrow when we read it, but we are nearly 2,000 years beyond it now. That fact cannot help but produce at least some level of distance and detachment from the event of the cross.

That being true, it is important that when we read the story again, we take some time to reflect, to think about it, to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to bring it to life in our minds again, as if it is the first time we’ve heard it. An illustration may help us understand this.

In verse 56, for example, we read, “Mary the mother of James and Joseph.” Let’s journey back to that scene for a moment. Who was this Mary? James and Joseph were two of the half-brothers of Jesus, so it seems this is Mary the mother of Jesus. She is gazing on her Son as this point, from a distance, but there is no detachment here. This is her Son, now hanging limp, bloody, broken, and lifeless on a Roman cross. How could this happen? The angel Gabriel had appeared to her and told her this would be the Son of the Most High God who would save His people from their sins. He was the Messiah. Gabriel had confirmed this also to Joseph, her betrothed. All experiences through the years indicated that what Gabriel said to them would indeed happen, until it seemed like her Son went off the deep end with His 12 disciples. And now – this? Nothing made sense anymore. Hope died, replaced by grief. At least, for three days it did.

Faith may have as much to do with patience as it does with believing.

Lord, Help us to understand that our understanding is limited at best. Help us to place our full trust in You and continue under the Lord as we follow Your lead. Amen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Information and Speculation

“When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship.” (Judges 7:15)

A scarcity of information invites speculation, and speculation often leads to fear. Fear then has the potential for paralysis, or hesitation at least. In our vernacular we might describe this as “a deer in the headlights.”

Thus it was for Gideon. Review his story. When Gideon gathered an army, he had 32,000 men to go against a Midianite army of 120,000 (some say as many as 200,000). God told Gideon that his 32,000 was too many, that Israel might brag that it was their strength that brought them victory. So God instructed Gideon to tell the army that anyone fearful should go home. Only 10,000 remained, but God said that was still too many. He told Gideon to take the men to the Spring of Harod. Those who lapped water like a dog were to be dismissed, while those who used their hands to scoop water were to be retained. Only 300 remained.

Would going up against an army that covered an entire valley with just 300 soldiers make any sense to you? It didn’t to Gideon either. Thus, the scarcity of information invited speculation that led to fear and the potential for paralysis. So, God told Gideon to go to the edge of the Midianite camp and listen. He did. He heard one man tell of a dream of a barley loaf that came rolling down a hill and destroyed the Midianite tents. Another interpreted the dream: “This is none other than the sword of Gideon, and God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him.”

That quick glimpse into what God was doing, unknown to Gideon before, brought release from the fear and replaced it with trust and worship. That was when Gideon knew that God would give the victory.

It would be nice to have those “glimpses” into what God is doing. In some ways, it could be helpful. But if you have not noticed, God does not often do that. Maybe the reason He does not is that He wants us to just proceed in faith to the fullest extent possible. Maybe He would prefer that we approach “the scarcity of information that invites speculation” with faith eyes, trusting Him with the outcomes He desires. That may be the higher road He invites us to travel.

Lord, May this day be a day of trusting You on the journey. Amen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Love Goal

“Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul wrote to his “true child in the faith” (Timothy) after receiving word of his struggles in Ephesus. He left Timothy in Ephesus to provide guidance, instruction, and correction to those who were teaching divergent doctrines and speculate myths and endless genealogies, all of which, apparently, was part of a power struggle in the church intended to provide a basis for authority for these divergent teachers.

Looking at what Timothy was up against, Paul reminded him that the goal of his instruction to the Ephesians was to produce God’s kind of love in them. In a power struggle, love often gets sent to the corner for a “time out.” It is interesting that Paul would focus on the goal of love, in light of the message against the church at Ephesus from Jesus in Revelation some 30 years later. Jesus said to them, “You have lost the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4) The goal is God’s kind of love.

Reaching this goal requires three personal qualities in the one who instructs others about it: 1) a pure heart, 2) a good conscience, and 3) a sincere faith. A pure heart springs from a deeply intimate relationship and communion with our Lord. A good conscience results from a personal decision of the mind to seek and do what is good and right. It is borne of integrity. A sincere faith grows from a genuine desire to know and walk with God in a relationship of trust. That is the fertile soil that lets love put down deep roots so it can grow into genuine strength.

Today, let God’s kind of love be the goal of your influence in the lives of others.

Lord, You have loved us with a limitless love, and we ask that You enable us to communicate that same kind of love to others throughout this day. Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Truth Costs

“’What is your decision?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death!’ Then they spit in His face and beat Him; others slapped Him.” (Matthew 26:66)

The vote was not unanimous. We know of at least two who dissented – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Perhaps there were others, but the overwhelming majority of the Sanhedrin cast their votes against Jesus: Guilty. Guilty of what? From their view, He was guilty of blasphemy. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a poor carpenter in their eyes, had stated under oath before God Almighty that He was the Messiah of Israel, making Himself equal with God. For this, they killed Him.

They saw this as blasphemy because they did not believe it was true. From the believer’s viewpoint, however, they condemned Jesus to death for telling the truth.

The truth can cost. It can cost you your life, at the extreme, as it did Stephen before that same Sanhedrin just a few years later. Or, it can cost you respect. Some when they hear the truth we preach and teach, find the message ridiculous and stupid. So they scoff and ridicule us for it. Worse, some just ignore us and our message.

We have to come to grips with this. We have to decide if we are going to speak the truth of God as the Bible teaches it, understanding the cost inherent in doing so.

Understanding, we then speak on. We cannot do otherwise.

Lord, Speaking the truth proved to be costly for You. Help us to understand it can be costly for us as well as we follow You, but strengthen us to continue speaking the truth so we may honor You. Amen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mutual Encouragement

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

Mutual encouragement moves us forward in our journey with the Lord, but the unique quality of the effort Paul suggests is that it moves us forward together. In the church there have been far too many times when we have “shot our wounded,” because they somehow seemed a liability to us. That should never be.

One of the truths of humanity is that we all make individual progress in our spiritual and emotional growth. This growth may be rapid for some and slow for others. It may even seem non-existent in some folks, but in very general terms most people progress in their spiritual and emotional growth if there are no hindrances, in much the same way we progress physically in our growth. But just as with a physical illness, there may be times when some of us have to deal with an emotional or spiritual “hiccup.” As we need someone to come alongside and encourage us or help us when we are sick, we need others to come alongside and courage us when we go through spiritual or emotional distress. And we need to do the same when we see them go through such distresses. That’s mutual encouragement.

Paul says we are to encourage one another “with these words.” The words he refers to are his statements pointing to the Lord’s return. The Lord’s return was a message of hope, so the drift is that we are to encourage one another with words that generate and strengthen hope. This is because hope itself is an encourager. Hope helps us to see beyond circumstances. It reminds us that this life is not all there is.

If you find yourself distressed and hurting in the spiritual or emotional realm, then seek out those who will provide you with words of encouragement. If your path crosses the path of someone who is distressed in the spiritual or emotional realm, then you be the one to provide words of encouragement. Mutual encouragement builds hope.

Lord, Help us today to be hope-givers through our words. Amen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


“For the Lord has not called us to impurity but to sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7)

Far too often the gospel has been presented as just a “just as I am” proposition. We tell unbelievers, “God loves you and wants to give you eternal life. He accepts you just as you are.” That is the truth, and it’s an absolute truth. But it is not the whole of the story. This truth is sometimes interpreted, “This is great! I can stay just as I am and have eternal life.” Even if such a thought does not come to mind, the concept can still become a lifestyle reality.

Here is the greater truth: You can come to know the Lord just as you are, but the Lord will not leave you where you are. That is what Paul said to the Thessalonians: “For the Lord has not called us to impurity but to sanctification.” He has not called us to stay where we are in our lifestyle but to move forward, to make progress in our lifestyle. The Holy Spirit works over a period of time to transform us continually into what God wants us to become. “Sanctification” sounds intimidating, but it is simply the process of transformation from what we are to what God is developing us to be, much like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

The Holy Spirit’s intent and plan for us is that we allow Him to transform us into people whose lives honor God and bring glory to Him. He desires to ignite the light in us, so that His light can help still more people find their way to God through us.

Lord, We lay our hearts, minds, and lives before You, that Your will may be accomplished in and through us. Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Out of the Depths

“Out of the depths I call to You, Lord!” (Psalm 130:1)

Out of what depths? In this case, it was out of the depths of sin and the guilt and despair that goes with it.

Psalm 130 is a genuinely great expression of one of the greatest truths of our faith: Our God is a forgiving God. If God refused to forgive, if He retained our sins and constantly rubbed our faces in it, who could endure that? There would be no hope, no joy, and no real life, and this life would be nothing but sorrow upon sorrow, hurt upon hurt. But with our Lord there is faithful love, redemption overflowing, and absolute forgiveness. This is the reason we put our hope in Him.

We know that when we cry out to God from the depths of sin and guilt, His ears are attentive to our cries. He cares, and He loves us enough to forgive us and cleanse us. That love was displayed openly at a place called Golgotha. There the Lord revealed His love for us with a statement unequaled anywhere.

One of the enduringly warm joys of our lives is that with our God there is faithful love and forgiveness. And that is something we want our whole world to know.

Lord, As we have experienced Your forgiveness and redemption, help us to share that truth with others who need to experience it as well. Amen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Elemental Power

“We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

Paul laid out three elemental principles of a powerful life for the Thessalonians, and these apply to us as well.

First he says that faith works. That doesn’t mean that faith works in the sense of getting us what we want. We sometimes treat prayer in the same way when we say, “Prayer works,” and by that suggest that we should pray because it gets us where we want to go. But prayer works in that it leads us into communion with the God who is all-powerful. Faith works in the sense that when we have it we will express it through the works we do. A real faith always expresses itself through action.

Second Paul says that love labors. Real love has feet and hands. It isn’t just a warm, fuzzy, positive feeling toward someone. Real love labors – long term – to build relationships. It finds a way to express itself.

Third, hope endures. That is the nature of hope, in fact. It is enduring. It never gives up, and it never dies – not if it is real hope.

So, faith works, love labors, and hope endures.

Implementing a working faith, a laboring love, and an enduring hope all at the same time produces a synergistically powerful life. No one element by itself can do this, but all three working in tandem can produce a life that is far more effective than just one element working on its own can produce. So, if you want to experience an elementally powerful life, then act out your faith, express the love of God that is in you, and endure in the hope, the certainty that God will guide the outcomes.

Lord, Help us today employ the elements of faith, love, and hope for Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

David’s Son

“While the Pharisees were together, Jesus questioned them, ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?’ ‘David’s,’ they told Him.” (Matthew 22:41)

Among the religious leaders and in the general populace, the basic belief of the Messiah was that He was to be the son of David. There was not an expectation that He would be the incarnation of God the Son. They understood the promise to be only that a future descendant of David would come, send from God and endowed with the blessings and power of God to defeat their enemies and restore the throne of Israel to the line of David.

Jesus knew this, but still He asked the question because it was time to expand their horizons. “Whose Son is He?” The response was obvious. The next question was not. “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Him ‘Lord?’” Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1, and then asked, “If David calls Him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his son?” They were unable to answer.

Of course, the answer is that David calls Him “Lord” because He is the Son of God incarnate. This makes Peter’s earlier confession all the more astonishing, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The Pharisees didn’t get it. Peter did. And he got it through revelation.

This is actually THE supreme question in life: What do you believe about Jesus? The answer we give is direction-setting.

Lord, We thank You that You have revealed Yourself to us and in us through Your Spirit who dwells within. We acknowledge You as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and in You we put our trust. Amen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Set Your Mind

“Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

“Too other worldly for any earthly good!” That’s the phrase some have used to describe Christians who have a heavenly focus. Another derisional and descriptive phrase sometimes used is “pie in the sky, by and by.” In fact, some Christians do present that persona, and in part they base their perspective on this verse in Colossians and others like it.

Let’s just ask the question: Is there something wrong with this perspective? It is somehow evil? The answer is a flat: No. Being heavenly minded is a good thing. Christians should be looking forward to heaven and thinking about it. In fact, probably most of us are not heavenly minded enough.

Second question: What is the emphasis Paul is making in this verse? Is he suggesting that we check out of the world and enter into a kind of “heavenly stupor?” The context of the verses around this one suggests that this is not his emphasis, because he is talking overall about how Christians should live in this world.

“Set your minds on what is above” does not mean that we are to walk around with our heads in the clouds, oblivious to what is going on around us in the world. Paul certainly did not do that. It means rather that we are to derive our values, our understanding of what is truly important, not from the values of this earth but from the values of heaven. In other words, we are to live on this earth motivated and driven by heavenly rather than earthly values, because that is part of our witness to this world. Thus “set your minds” is, in reality, a call to a heavenly and an earthly integrity.

As you move through the world today and bear witness to Jesus, keep your mind set on the values that are derived from heaven. That will help others around you know that your life is about more than this present earthly reality.

Help us, Lord, to be faithful to the values of Your heart. Amen.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Treasure Chest

“In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” (Colossians 2:3)

A social phenomenon exists in almost every human society: secret societies. These are organizations or clubs which restrict membership and participation to those who commit to them by agreeing to their rules, principles, and beliefs, and who, in many cases, undergo instruction, training, and ritual. These social groups are often shrouded in secrecy, and members are sworn to secrecy. Some of these organizations are harmless, and some even practice benevolence. Some, on the other hand, take on a religious aura and become a religion for all practical purposes.

In the first century, secret societies were far more serious in nature and were, in fact, of a religious nature. They were shrouded in secrecy and emitted an aura of mystery. They built on philosophy and on what some of them called “wisdom.” They presented their views as superior and absolute.

Folks from some of these secret societies infiltrated Christian churches, and they began to challenge Christian beliefs. In Colossae in particular, the faith of some of the believers was being challenged. Believers were becoming unsettled by these influences.

Paul thus encouraged the believers in their faith when he wrote that in Jesus “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” The idea is that if you are searching for wisdom and knowledge, truth that leads to eternal life, you will find it only in Jesus Christ.

Whether secret societies or other pursuits, there are many people who search for significance and meaning in life. May we present the truth to them, that it is only found in Jesus Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him, and we find them when we find Him.

Lord, All our treasure is in You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


“I believed, even when I said, ‘I am afflicted.’” (Psalm 116:10)

People sometimes go through life trauma. It may be an event. It may be a relationship. It may be health. These trauma can shake us to our foundations, depending on the severity, and they can impact our spiritual well-being. At times, some may even shake their fist at God and depart from Him like a prodigal.

It is important to ask ourselves: Is my faith such that, when I am going through extreme affliction, I continue to trust God? Or, is my faith in God more of the “fair weather” type, such that I believe in Him and trust Him as long as things are going well in my life?

Maybe we should ask ourselves: Upon what is my faith based? Upon what should it be based? Faith should be based on the truth of God as presented in His word. It should be based on love, on God’s love for us and our love for Him. Faith should be based on the promises of God, promises like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Today, examine your own heart and determine where you stand with regard to the foundations of your faith. If you determine something is wrong with your foundation, then move to The Foundation, Jesus Christ, our Rock. That is where you will find your release to live a solidly founded faith.

Lord, Help us always to see beyond affliction and difficulty. May our faith always be strong in You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Obedient Trust

“You who fear the Lord trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield.” (Psalm 115:11) “March around the city…” (Joshua 6:3)

To fear the Lord means to revere Him, to stand before Him with a sense of overwhelming awe and admiration, to worship Him as the sovereign Lord, the Creator of the universe.

Someone who thus fears the Lord also by necessity believes in Him. Why would anyone fear Him if they do not believe in Him? If we fear and believe in Him, we are then to trust Him to be our help and our shield. To trust God is to obey His commands, His truths.

That is the reality Joshua was faced with. He led the people up to Jericho from their camp in Gilgal. The city was shut up tight. Nobody in or out. No way to take the city. Seemingly.

God instructed Joshua to have seven priests blow seven of the “shofar” (ram’s horn) trumpets, walking in front of the ark, led by soldiers in front and behind, with no one saying a word, once a day for six days. On the seventh day they were to march seven times around the city and then shout. God said the walls would then fall down, and they were to then take the city.

If you were in Joshua’s sandals, would you do it? Joshua had to trust the Lord, and he demonstrated his trust through obedience. He did exactly as the Lord instructed, and the rest is history. God fulfilled His word, but only after full obedience.

Trust always requires obedience.

Lord, Help us today to demonstrate our trust in You and Your word. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Right Loyalty

“’Neither,’ He replied. ‘I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.’” (Joshua 5:14)

An entire army of Israelite fighting men died in the desert of Sinai, none of them in battle. This was God’s judgment against Israel for their refusal to obey His command to enter and subdue Canaan, for allowing their fear to displace their faith.

Moses died on Mount Nebo. Joshua took the reins of leadership the Lord placed in his hands and led Israel across the Jordan, the Lord having parted the river. They camped at Gilgal near Jericho – their first target. All the men were circumcised since that had not been done in the wilderness. The manna stopped when people began to eat locally grown produce. And the people celebrated the first Passover in Canaan. These were days of high excitement and expectation.

In this atmosphere, one day near Jericho Joshua looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword. Rather ominous. Joshua asked Him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It was a question of loyalty. The man’s answer stunned Joshua: “Neither.” His answer further revealed that His loyalty was not to any human endeavor but to the Lord, to His concerns and His plans and His will. That led Joshua to then bow down and worship Him.

Loyalty is not to an “us or our enemies” scenario. It isn’t about us or them. It is all about the Lord and loyalty to Him.

For Moses it was the burning bush that was not consumed where he learned this truth. For Joshua, it was the commander of the Lord’s army. Both were told, “Take of your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.” The ground was made holy by the presence of the Lord.

Lord, May our loyalty be always toward You and never toward our own agenda. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear and Strength

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous.”… “The Lord commissioned Joshua, son of Nun, “Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-7, 23)

Interesting. The phrase and command “Be strong and courageous” is repeated three times almost in succession. Moses spoke the first command to all of Israel, and then to Joshua who was to replace him as the leader of Israel. Then the Lord spoke it directly to Joshua when He commissioned him as leader. In Joshua chapter 1, the Lord repeated the phrase two more times to Joshua.

The repetitions suggest that feelings of fear and weakness were in abundance in the Israeli camp. For about 40 years these folks had been nomadic shepherds in the desert. They had had their first taste of fighting against two Amorite armies. They were victorious, but now they were facing the armies of Canaan, and they had heard from the parents all their lives that “there were giants in the land.”

Why would this feel like such a challenge to them? Maybe a snapshot will help us see. For one thing, look at a picture of the Israelite army. It speaks volumes. They had some significant numbers, but none of them had had military training. They had only the weapons they had confiscated in the two previous battles. There were no uniforms and no uniformity. This was pretty much a “rag-tag” army.

For another thing, the task ahead was intimidating. They were going up against established nations, trained armies, and fortified cities. Undoubtedly, there entered the minds of some the thought, “We don’t have a chance against these.” They all recognized that they did not have the strength for what was ahead, and it no doubt left them feeling fearful, maybe even powerless.

So, what was God trying to achieve in saying repeatedly, “Be strong and courageous”? He was trying to get them to rely on His strength rather than their own. He was trying to get them to intentionally reverse their emotions and attitudes rather than just going with the flow. He was trying to get them to see beyond appearances rather than just accept at face value what they were seeing.

The call to be strong and courageous is a challenge to trust God’s strength, to move beyond feelings, and to look beyond appearances.

Lord, Help us today to rely on Your strength, to not trust our feelings as reality, and to look beyond appearances to the potential You have for us. Amen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Incomes and Outcomes

“The foreign resident among you will rise higher and higher above you, while you sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you won’t lend to him. He will be the head, and you will be the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:43-44)

Shortly before his Mount Nebo ascent, Moses addressed Israel and reminded them of their covenant with the Lord and of their obligation to obedience. He reminded them that obedience would result in great prosperity and establishment in the land. God would bless them for their obedience. He reminded them also that disobedience to God would result the loss of prosperity and being displaced in the land by “foreign residents.” God would curse them for disobedience. He would allow foreign entities to dominate them.

If the people of God are walking with Him, they will know His blessing. If the people of God turn away from Him to go their own way, they will know His cursing, which is expressed as a domination by foreigners.

Many in America believe that this country was founded on Christian truth. Certainly, not everyone in those early years of our nation felt that way when they crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but the majority did. References to God in those documents are proof positive. That being true, there has historically been something of a “covenant” between the Lord and this country. God has greatly blessed this nation through the years, because many in and out of government have lived in at least some form of covenantal relationship with God.

In these days, there seems to be an increasing domination from foreigners. There is a growing economic domination through currency exchanges and through the oil industry outside of our nation. There is talk of reducing dependence on “foreign oil,” but mostly it is just talk. There are political challenges from outside our nation from those who challenge our nation’s leadership in that arena, and there are political and religious challenges within our nation from citizens of those nations who have now become citizens of our country, all through legal means. The growth of non-Christian faiths has and will have an impact. There is also the challenge of hedonism and materialism in our nation which has enamored our nation’s youth with “the glitter of gold and glitz.”

Is it possible then that our nation is turning increasingly away from God and away from a covenantal relationship? And if that is the case, can we honestly expect the blessings of God? Should we not expect God to allow an increased foreign domination over our nation if our nation does not return to a covenantal relationship with Him.

Lord, Help our nation to open its eyes. Amen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Good Things

“You, the Levite, and the foreign resident among you will rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:11)

The Lord instructed the Israelites to take some of the soil’s first produce to place where the tabernacle would be when they first entered the land. This would not be from the crops they grew, but from crops produced by others. They were to do this to express their acknowledgement that God had kept His promise to bring them into this land and give it to them. After a confessional statement, they were to then place the container before the Lord and bow down to Him. Then all were to rejoice before the Lord for all the good things He had given them and their household.

On days when there seems to be one discouragement after another, on days when it feels like difficulties outweigh normalcy, on days when it seems that the task ahead is just overwhelming, it would be helpful to take a few moments and reflect back over all “the good things” the Lord has provided, come before Him in prayer, and then rejoice in the goodness of God. Remember that it takes intentionality to do something like this, and rejoicing intentionally makes a statement of faith.

Lord, You indeed provide us with many good things, and for this we are grateful. We acknowledge Your sovereign provision and Your commitment to Your promises. Amen.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Red Glass

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

When I was a child, I can remember once holding up a piece of red glass to my eyes and looking through it with childhood wonder at how everything was then red.....

Looking at the verses above, on the surface we have to wonder if this is even possible, or if we understand it, or if our understanding of it is somehow “colored.” We also have to wonder if the first to hear these words understood them either.

Jesus spoke these words at Caesarea Philippi. Before speaking them,
Jesus asked His disciples who people said He was. They told Him. Then He asked them who they say He is. With no hesitation, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Way to go Peter! God revealed that truth him. Jesus thus commended him.

What happened next was like rain on a parade. When Peter objected to Jesus’ explanation of what would soon happen to Him, Jesus had to rebuke Peter because his understanding of Messiah was extremely limited and incorrect. His understanding of Messiah was like seeing everything through red glass – it was colored by his culture. The culture he grew up in saw the Messiah as a strong, powerful, kingly, military ruler who would destroy the enemies of Israel and re-establish the Davidic kingdom. That view colored Peter’s understanding. Jesus said that he was concerned about the things of man, not about the things of God.

We would like to think we have progressed beyond where Peter was. Do you think we have? We may have more of a post-resurrection understanding that is more informed, but the real litmus test is: Are we more concerned about the things of God than we are about the things of man? Are we more concerned about the lostness of humanity than we are about houses, lands, cars, money, church buildings, and so on? None of these are bad things at all in and of themselves. How we approach them or relate to them or value them in comparison with what was important to Jesus provides a standard by which we can determine if we have made real progress in our understanding of the things of God.

Lord, Through Your Spirit within us, please remove anything that discolors the reality You want us to see. Help us to see the truths You want drive us. Amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Heaven Maker

“For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (Psalm 96:5)

What a great statement to underscore the sovereignty to God: “but the Lord made the heavens.” This is a “bottom-line” statement. The “gods” some people worship are idols, made of: wood, stone, silver, gold. But God made the heavens. Idol worshipers may protest, “But our idols are so beautiful. They represent the beauty of the spirit within them. And they’re powerful.” But God made the heavens. God created the universe. Totally foundational.

Before we rush to judgment, though, let’s understand that we can apply this truth to anything people place their trust in other than God, which is the general definition of idolatry. For example: “We have a free country.” How many of us see our freedoms and our Constitution as permanent and iron-clad? But God made the heavens. “We have a powerful military.” Oh yes, we certainly do; shock and awe stuff. But God made the heavens. “We are a wealthy nation.” Yes, and we should probably remember what Jesus had to say in the parable of the rich farmer who said, “I’ve got it made now.” But God made the heavens.

Almighty God, Creator of the universe, we bow before You and glorify Your name because of Your sovereignty. Help us to turn away from anything that might serve to supplant who You are in our hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


“He sent His word and healed them.” (Psalm 107:20) “For they are not meaningless words but they are your life.” (Deuteronomy 32:47) “So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:35) “Speak the message fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:14)

What’s in a word? Maybe more than we think.

The psalmist spoke of how the Lord sent His word and healed His people. He didn’t have to show up. He didn’t have to send a sign. He didn’t need to do anything to accomplish this. He just spoke it, and healing happened. It happened just as in the same way He spoke and creation took place. This suggests that just a word from the Lord is powerful to heal. The Roman centurion told Jesus there was no need for Him to come to his home, but that if He would just speak the word, his servant would be healed. Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith. He hadn’t seen that kind of faith anywhere in Israel.

Moses addressed the people of Israel just before his final ascent up Mount Nebo, and he both encouraged and warned the people to pay attention to the words of the Lord. He said, “For they are not meaningless words but they are your life.” He also taught that “the life is in the blood,” suggesting then that we should see the words of the Lord as our very lifeblood, in that we cannot live without them.

Jesus answered the question of His disciples in Matthew 18 about forgiveness with a parable of the steward who was forgiven his debt but then refused to forgive the debts others had to him. The steward ended up being thrown into jail after all. Jesus then said, “So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” Forgiveness thus begins in the heart, but then it has to be transformed into three words, “I forgive you.” Then, we have to act on it. We have to live the forgiveness relationally.

In Philippians, Paul rejoiced that the word of the Lord was being preached even while he was in prison. He encouraged them to preach the gospel fearlessly. It is the word of God, and the word of God has no fear in it. Rather, we are to stand in awe of it and preach it fearlessly. The message is the point.

Lord, Help us to remember today that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Testing the Word

“Until the time his prediction came true, the word of the Lord tested him.” (Psalm 105:19)

“Tested him.” Him who? This was Joseph who was being tested.

The psalmist referenced the story of Joseph. He says that they hurt his feet with irons and put an iron collar around his neck as they led him away from his brothers. They were the ones responsible for this, on the surface at least. No doubt they each remembered the dream Joseph had told them about sometime earlier, how his sheaf stood upright, while all of theirs bowed before his. That one filled them with indignation. Now, watching the Midianite slave traders drag him away screaming and in irons and begging them to help him certainly did not look anything like what young Joseph had dreamed about, and undoubtedly it did not look that way to Joseph either. All the promise and potential now seemed out of reach, inaccessible. The only resources accessible to Joseph were: time, faith, and the word of the Lord. There was no way to make a connection in his mind with his current predicament and what was to come. He could only wait, trust God, and let the word of the Lord achieve its purposes according to the will of the Lord.

Sometimes God gives us a promise. Yet, we have days that seem not so promising. These are days when we wonder, “What in the world am I doing?” and “What in the world is God doing?” On those days, we need to realize that the word of the Lord is testing our resolve and our faithfulness, and we just need to keep on trusting as we continue moving forward under the load.

Lord, May we put our trust fully in You for the fulfillment of Your word. Amen.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


“Then Jesus told them, ‘Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ And they discussed among themselves, ‘We didn’t bring any bread.’” (Matthew 16:6-7)

As a test, the Pharisees asked Jesus to give them a “sign from heaven.” He had fed the 5,000 and then the 4,000 by that time. And they wanted a sign? Amazing. They missed the signs altogether. They saw but didn’t see.

Jesus responded. He pointed out that they can see the sky and understand what the weather is going to do, but they could not read the signs of the times. He told them they would only receive the sign of Jonah. We know now that He was referring to His resurrection.

Then, a curious thing happened. Jesus and His disciples departed and went back to the other side of the lake. In His contemplations over what just happened He said, “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” By this time, given all they had witnessed, Jesus apparently figured they would get it. Their response was, “We didn’t bring any bread,” and that told Jesus they still were not where He wanted them to be in their understanding. So with a mild rebuke He explained to them further that He was talking about the influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees, not bread. It was after this that He took them to Caesarea Philippi to teach them and to test them by asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

While we may be tempted to look down on the disciples for their slowness at “getting it,” we should probably first recognize that we ourselves may not have the level of comprehension that the Lord has of us at this point in our own lives. We may feel somewhat satisfied at our progress, but the possibility exists that the Lord has a higher expectation we may not be perceiving. So, maybe the question we need to ask of the Lord is, “Where am I in my walk with You at this point in my life, and where do You expect me to be? If I am not where You want me to be, please help me move toward Your expectations as soon as possible.”

Indeed, so may it be, Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


“Lord, Your testimonies are completely reliable.” (Psalm 93:5) “Lord, Your statutes stand firm.” (Psalm 93:5 NIV)

The NIV version of the Bible uses the word “statutes” rather than “testimonies” as in the HCSB. So what is a statute? It is a word about God, about His standards, and His expectations. Thus, it testifies to some truth about God. These testimonies are “reliable.” That means they are firm, trustworthy, and believable.

So, what testimonies is the psalmist talking about?

Consider Matthew 15:31, “So the crowd was amazed when they saw those unable to speak talking, the deformed restored, the lame seeing. And they gave glory to the God of Israel.” Many might read this verse and just focus on the miracles and say, “Isn’t that great?” But this crowd went beyond to Jesus’ intent for His miracles: they glorified God. The purpose of miracles is to glorify God. They testify to His glory.

Consider Ephesians 3:21, “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul prayed for the Ephesians. He prayed that: 1) they would be strengthened, 2) that Christ would dwell in their hearts, 3) that they would be able to comprehend the full extent of God’s love, 4) that they would know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, and 5) so that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul wanted this for us, the church, so that we would glorify God. We sing, “For the glory of the Lord shall come.”

So, what is the purpose of miracles? Their purpose is to glorify God, to reveal His glory. What is the purpose of our walk with God? To glorify God. Miracles and this life of redemption, which is miraculous in itself, are testimonies to the glory of God. They are invitations to faith, which also serves to glorify Him.

Lord, May our lives be testimonies to Your glory throughout the day. Amen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Persistent Faith

“Then, Jesus replied to her, ‘Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.’ And from that moment her daughter was cured.” (Matthew 15:28)

The interaction between Jesus and this Canaanite woman is fascinating.

Following a confrontation with the Pharisees over the tradition of the elders, Jesus led His disciples away from Galilee on a teaching and training tour. He led them to the seacoast commercial city of Tyre, and there a Canaanite woman (some translate this as “Syro-Phoenecian” woman) heard Jesus was there. How she heard this, and how she knew of His capabilities, we do not know. The Bible tells us that her daughter was demon-possessed. Somehow this woman learned where Jesus and His disciples were staying and made her way there. She came and continually cried out to Jesus, addressing Him as, “Lord, Son of David.”

Initially, Jesus made no response. He kept silent. His disciples urged Him to send her away, but the fact that He did not tells us that He saw a teachable moment, almost as if to say to His disciples, “Watch this!”

The response Jesus finally gave seems cruel. He said He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What we must note, however, is that He did not say “no” or “go away.” He was baiting her. She saw the open invitation and knelt before Him and asked Him to help her. Jesus put some more bait out. “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” She took the bait, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” Jesus then knew He had His teachable moment for His disciples. “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.” And it was.

Jesus took this approach not to be hurtful to this lady, but to show His disciples what real faith looks like. Faith that is real is persistent.

Lord, May our faith in You be as persistent and “bulldoggish” as this woman’s was. Thank You for letting us also learn from her today. Amen.