Devotional on the Psalms

2001 – Japanese Tea Garden – San Antonio, Texas

Oh, God is so good!
Psalm 103: As far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins.
I’m not sure concepts like this one impact me as they should. David says that God separates me from my sins and the psalmist picks the widest distance he can think of to describe just how far those sins are removed from me. The testimony of a young woman comes to mind. Although she was raised by a godly mother she messed up in several ways. After some years as a prodigal daughter she came back to the Lord but was living a very different life than she might have lived without that disastrous detour. In a church service I began to deal with the concept I find in this passage: how God casts our sins away as far as east is from west. For everyone else in that service it was just another Sunday sermon, but the Holy Spirit spoke to her heart that day making that truth her personal truth that day. Since her return to Christ she had carried the burden of her past, often aware of her failures. However, on that day she realized that she had not only been forgiven by the Lord, but that he had also set her free from the guilt she was carrying. From that day forward she had a new freedom and joy in the Lord. Maybe this is the message you need today.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for forgiveness and, beyond that, for separating our sins from us, casting them out of our lives.

Devotional on Hebrews

Transformational earthquakes

Hebrews 12: One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.

The old way stood for hundreds of years, sometimes with seeming success and at other times in total failure. Jesus came to usher in a new way. Those portions of the old way that were intended to survive did so, but the rest came crashing down as the superior new way was put into place on the first Easter Sunday morning. There was an earthquake at the tomb that morning but there was a much greater spiritual earthquake that day and the result was all good. All the “historical and religious junk” was replaced with the “unshakable essentials.” All that to say that the coming of Jesus was and is a very big deal: the centerpiece of human history. In a much more minor way, but still important to me personally, is the spiritual earthquake that happens when I give my heart to Jesus. The result is some big changes in my life. As it was with the Old Testament Law, some things are worth keeping. They survive the earthquake, made clean and new by Christ. A lot of stuff has to go. In the case of such things, it may be a slow motion earthquake as the Holy Spirit goes to work in my life, dealing with different things as time passes. A lot of stuff, though, simply falls right then and there. Well, one thing in particular: my own self-righteousness. It can’t survive the Christ-earthquake. From my point of view its good-riddance; self-will and some other things must yield to Jesus if he’s to be Lord of my life. Most earthquakes are unwelcome, but this one: this transformational encounter with Jesus is the best thing that could ever happen to me.

Take Away: When Jesus comes into a life it’s a very big deal.

Devotional on 1 Thessalonians

I’ve been changed

1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.

The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.

Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.

Devotional on Isaiah

God doing something new
Isaiah 65: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
This is an interesting passage. Later on, the Revelator will remember these words when the Lord describes to him what’s coming at the end of time. In fact, some think that Isaiah is having a vision of the same thing John sees in Revelation. However, left in context Isaiah’s describing the end of the exile of his people; the return to their beloved Jerusalem. The language is that of poetry: God’s doing something new and is, therefore changing everything. Life’s going to be much better than it has been. Wonderful blessings are in store. I think this is another dual prophecy. Isaiah’s speaking to current events, describing things in a big way but unaware that his words will literally come true in his (and our) distant future. If I leave things there, I still find the transformational language of Isaiah quite interesting. The Lord is bringing salvation to his people and as a result, everything’s going to change for the better. However, at an entirely different level than Isaiah speaking to his contemporaries or John writing about the New Jerusalem I find myself thinking of the change Christ makes when he bring salvation to an individual’s life. When I’m forgiven of my sins and become a child of God “all things become new.” If Isaiah’s view of the restoration of Israel brings to mind visions of “new heavens and a new earth” I don’t think that it’s off base to find a parallel to the radical transformation being “born again” brings to each life.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t just forgive us our sins – he also goes to work in us, transforming our lives, remaking us in wonderful ways.