Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Georgetown, Colorado

Good people and good things
Ecclesiastes 8: I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God…and that the evil person will not experience the “good” life.
The conventional wisdom of Solomon’s day (and it is often still conventional wisdom today) is that bad people have bad things happen to them and good people have good things happen to them. In his wisdom Solomon sees considerable evidence that this approach isn’t true. He sees wicked people live pretty nice lives and he even attends some funerals in which it appears that the person “got away with it” — living an evil life yet having everything a person could ask for right to the very end. He has plenty of evidence that the common belief of “bad gets bad and good gets good” doesn’t really work. Still, though, he can’t quite give up on it. While he can’t prove that it’s true, he can’t shake the belief that there’s some truth in this philosophy. He reports, “I’m still convinced….” Today, I think Solomon is right to hang on to this belief. It doesn’t play out as he thought it would but I agree with him that serving God has great advantages. It isn’t that those who trust God have more money and better health but in the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people. There’s wealth in going to sleep at night knowing that no matter what tomorrow brings things will be okay. There’s wealth in being at peace with God and there’s wealth in knowing one is a child of the King. I believe the conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. It’s right in its belief that good things happen to good people. It’s wrong in having such a narrow and material view of just what those good things are.
Take Away: In the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people.

Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Georgetown, Colorado

God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.

Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Rocky Mtn Natl Park, Colorado

Delight in the light
Ecclesiastes 11: Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
A light reading of Ecclesiastes (if such a thing is really possible) leaves me with the feeling that the writer is a hardened pessimist who’s concluded that everything is “vanity.” While there are plenty of statements about how worthless things are, there’s also a positive, yet realistic theme here. He advises me to cherish every day. Some days, he says, are going to be dark, but there’s also plenty of light and I’m to “delight in the light.” I don’t want to be one of those people who only focuses on all that is going (or can go) wrong. God has blessed me with so much! I don’t want to take any of it for granted. True to form, the wise man adds, “most of what comes your way is smoke.” That is, most things in life are temporary, and a high percentage of those things aren’t all that important anyway. On one hand then, I don’t want to get so focused on the problems of life that I lose sight of the blessings. Those problems are pretty much “smoke” anyway and are temporary. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the little blessings while I have them. They too are smoke and will be gone before I know it and I don’t want to take them for granted.
Take Away: Cherish every day.

Devotional on Proverbs

2004 – Big Island, Hawaii

Grabbing the gusto, looking to eternity
Proverbs 1: When you grab all you can get, that’s when it happens: the more you get, the less you have.
As I read this passage I can’t help but think of the beer commercial that tells us we only go ’round once in life so we’d better grab all the gusto we can. I actually think there’s some truth to that. Life is a gift of God filled with many wonderful opportunities and blessings. I can’t sit around talking about “pie in the sky” and get the most out of my life. There’s a lot of living to do right now. The wise man of the Proverbs, though, gives me the other side of that coin. If I make my life completely about living in the here and now, ignoring all that is yet to come, well, I’m setting myself up for a great fall. Life is more than “right now.” This life might be considered to be a warm up for eternity. So, grabbing the gusto can make sense, but that approach must be kept on a leash and not allowed to just run wild because there’s much more to our existence than just going ’round once. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:20, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Take Away: One way to live the best life possible in the here and now is to live with an eye on eternity.

Devotional on Proverbs

2006 – Surfside Beach, TX

I did it God’s way
Proverbs 10: God’s blessing makes life rich; nothing we can do can improve on God.
The greater part of the book of Proverbs is made up of wise “one-liners.” Well, they’re actually “two-liners” that follow the format “This does this, but that does that.” One of the many wonderful strengths of “The Message” is how beautifully Peterson handles the parables, giving them new life for his readers. Today, I’m reminded that all the good things in life come from the Lord. He’s the “Blesser” giving us so much to enjoy. One of the lies of the Garden of Eden is that people can pull themselves up to God’s level and thus “bless themselves” in doing things their own way. The truth is that nothing I do on my own to create a satisfied, happy life equals what God can do for me. Getting my own way won’t give me a rich life. Instead, I’ll have spent my assets on a bag of worthless rocks. It’s only when I realize that God is the only One who can make my life worth living and that he desires to do just that that I have a hope of living the “rich life.” Sometimes, I have to simply accept God’s blessings in a sincere spirit of thanksgiving and not try to do it my own way.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses me the proper response is to say “thank you” and then go about enjoying the blessing.

Devotional on Isaiah

Lost Maples State Park, TX – 2006

Reason to expect an answer to prayer
Isaiah 26: God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us.
What an interesting prayer this is. I love the request for a “peaceful and whole life.” When all is said and done, this is about as insightful a request as a person can make for their own life. Isaiah lives in turbulent times and, in the face of so much uncertainty, this prayer makes a lot of sense. However, he isn’t the only one who has lived in such days. We do too. Again, I like this simple prayer. The second half of this sentence though, is the reason the person praying thinks the first half will be granted. Isaiah says, “We’re following your directions Lord, only doing what you’d have us do, operating under your power and authority.” You see, it makes no sense to plead with the Lord for peace and life if I’m ignoring his intentions for my life. The only way this prayer makes sense is when I pray it in the context of absolute obedience and trust. It’s only when I can say, “Everything I have done and am doing is what God is doing in me” that I can pray with an expectation of God’s blessing on my life.
Take Away: The Lord’s blessings often depend on my obedience.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Alluvial Fan area – Rocky Mtn Natl Park, CO

The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – Gatlinburg, TN

The people with the blessing
Isaiah 61: I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
As Jesus begins his public ministry he picks this portion of Isaiah’s writings as his text. Our Lord’s ministry will heal heartbroken people and pardon those held captive by sin. Jesus doesn’t read the entire “year of the Lord’s favor” sermon from Isaiah, but in that sermon Isaiah continues proclaiming all the good things God is about to do for his people. God is turning toward them in favor and there will be blessing upon blessing. They’ll be the recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham and with David and the whole world will know them as the people with the blessing. At this point in the message Isaiah becomes so excited about what God’s about to do that he declares that he’s exploding in praise from deep in his soul. Since Jesus picks these words to describe his ministry to the world we who follow him read this sermon of promises, not from only a historical point of view, but as though it’s directed to us, personally. In our lives we’re set free from the dominion of sin and enjoy “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of life, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from being a people God has blessed. Even as Isaiah is moved to explosive praise by this promise of the Lord, we too are filled to overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, and is doing, in us.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be a people God has blessed.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Cataloochee Valley – Great Smoky Mtns Ntl Park

Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Sam Houston Jones State Park – Lake Charles, LA

God takes being ignored personally
Jeremiah 5: Why don’t you honor me?
God’s question to Judah resonates: “Why don’t you honor me?” He’s blessed them, forgiven them, and protected them yet they refuse to look his way. Jeremiah says that the Lord wonders why they don’t look at all of it and ask, “How can we honor our God with our lives?” However, that doesn’t happen. Instead, we see God-insulting sin and rebellion. It’s no wonder the Lord’s sick of them! After all he’s done for them they’ve turned their backs on him and walked away. God’s response is to do the same. He’ll be the one walking away and they’ll pay a terrible price for their insulting attitude toward him. Frankly, this passage troubles me. It would be easier to skip ahead to more sunshine and bypass this gloom and doom. That, though, is the problem. I’d better listen to Jeremiah. God takes being ignored personally. He blesses us in many wonderful ways but he expects us to respond to that blessing by honoring him in our lives. I may not be able to influence the larger culture but I’d better take this stuff to heart. Beyond that, I need to use what influence I do have to remind people that God expects us to respond to his blessings and never take him, or them, for granted.
Take Away: The Lord takes being ignored personally.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Salmon at Ketchikan, AK

Hearing God on the good days
Jeremiah 22: I spoke to you when everything was going your way. You said, “I’m not interested.”
Here’s a spiritual principle that ought to resonate in our hearts. How hard is it for the Lord to get a hearing in my life when everything’s going well? Troubles and trials drive me to prayer and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. How, though, about blessings? At one level, I need to remember to thank God for all he does for me. A beautiful sunrise ought to cause me to praise God for his handiwork. Big blessings and little ones should bring forth genuine gratitude from my heart. At another level, though, is my ability to hear and respond to the in-flight corrections the Lord has for me. Can I learn to listen for them and respond to them even when all is well? Does the Lord have to allow some unexpected trial into my life to get my attention? Generally speaking, I think the Lord wants us to live wonderfully blessed lives. Could it be possible that some trials would never come if I’d simply pay more attention to the Lord’s voice during the days of sunshine? I’m not sure how this fits into my broader theology of how God works in my life, but its food for thought today.
Take Away: Our problems drive us to prayer and so should our blessings.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Dawes Glacier, AK

God’s good plans for us
Jeremiah 29: I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you…to give you the future you hope for.
This may be the most quoted portion of Jeremiah’s prophecy. We like thinking about God’s plans to prosper us and bless us. We pull this verse out and rejoice in it because it’s such a wonderful promise. Of course, we’re using it out of context. At issue is the fall of Judah, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of God’s people. The promise being made here won’t even kick in for seventy years. The people hearing this sermon from Jeremiah will be dead and gone when its promise is fulfilled. The “you” in the passage isn’t individuals, but the entire body of exiles, especially their descendants. The actual message here is that they aren’t supposed to sit around thinking about “pie in the sky by and by.” The Lord says that they’re to settle down in the new land they’ve been moved to. They’re to build houses, have families, and make themselves at home. They’re to be good citizens of their new land and pray for its leaders because they’re going to be there the rest of their lives. However, (and here’s the big part) they must never forget that they are, before all else, God’s people. The day of their exile is going to end and they (meaning their descendants) will return home where God will pour his blessing out upon them. Really, if I’m going to apply this passage to my life, I need to avoid using it to tell me how the Lord’s going to prosper me. The “prospering” part for Christians is heaven. Meanwhile, we need to live our lives here and now as a people of God, giving our best to today without forgetting the promise of a better day coming for all God’s people.
Take Away: We need to live our lives here and now as the people of the Lord.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX

The Lord is much more than a Friend
Ezekiel 22: They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular.
It’s a horrible time for the people of Jerusalem. There’s threatening war, a devastating drought, and a collapse of civil authority. Down at the Temple the priests continue in a God-ignoring pattern, treating sacred things as common. The Almighty complains that they profane him by trying to “pull me down to their level.” I like to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and feel humbled and honored at the thought that the Lord is willing to be my Friend. However, I can’t help but think that the “friendship” model only works at one level. This Friend is the King of Kings. He’s holy and eternal. My relationship with him starts with my bowing before him. It’s he who takes my hand and gives me permission to stand in his presence. If I call him “Friend” it’s only because he allows me to. The priests of Ezekiel’s day treat the holy as common. Today, in my blessings and comfort, I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Take Away: I call the Lord my friend only because he has graciously allowed me to.

Devotional on Joel

2013 – Around Northeastern Ohio – Lake Erie – Lake Shore Park Ashtabula

Living in the day of the Spirit
Joel 2: I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people.
The Hebrew prophets were, in general, positive people. Sometimes they had negative messages to give and sometimes they spoke harshly but they always found a place to promise a better day. In the face of the natural disaster that has befallen his people, Joel calls for them to take stock of their lives and repent of their sin. Then he describes a coming better day. He sees a day when God will “make up for the years of the locust,” restoring what has been destroyed. He pictures tables full of food and people filled with words of praise and thanksgiving. Then Joel says, “If you think that stuff sounds good wait till you hear what else is coming!” He then describes a day of wonderful blessing in which God pours his Spirit out upon, not just one nation, but upon all the nations of the world. He says that in that day their sons and daughters will prophecy and people from all nations and stations of life will be blessed. This event, Joel says, will happen before the “Judgment Day of God.” Years later Peter will quote these words on the Day of Pentecost. Peter will tell people that they’re literally seeing this “Spirit pouring” promise being fulfilled before their very eyes. Even today, we live in that “in between” period of history. We’re between the outpouring of the Spirit and the Judgment Day of God. What a wonderful time in which to live! We’re in the “day of the Spirit.” This is the time when, according to Joel, “Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
Take Away: What a wonderful thing it is to live in the “day of the Spirit.”

Devotional on Habakkuk

2013 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Do it again, Lord
Habakkuk 3: Do among us what you did among them.
The prophet of God has the heart of a psalmist. As I started reading Habakkuk and saw his reverent complaint to God I was reminded of the Psalms of complaint in which the writer pours his heart out before the Lord. Now, as Habakkuk experiences God in a fresh way, his words remind me of the Psalms again. He pens a psalm of his own in which he recounts God’s past deliverance and looks to a day of restoration. His opening lines: “Do among us what you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them” is the prayer of many of God’s people through the ages. In this case, Habakkuk is specifically thinking of the deliverance of his ancestors from Egyptian bondage. However, through the centuries, many have looked back to great movements of God: revivals, healings, and other times of special blessing and prayed this prayer. In my life there have been times of extraordinary blessing, some so private and precious that I seldom speak of them. However, I mention them to the Lord, thanking him for what he did and marveling at his grace to me and, in the spirit of Habakkuk, ask the Lord to “do it again.” It’s unhealthy to spend our lives talking about the “good old days” but we should allow those times of special blessing to remind us of what God can do and to encourage us to seek his best for in our lives in this day and in these circumstances.
Take Away: There are times when we do well to revisit past blessings and allow those blessings to encourage us to expect renewed blessings of God in our lives.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Living in the present

Matthew 6: Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anticipation. Part of the joy of Christmas is the “longing with hope” aspect of it that we highlight on the first Sunday of Advent each year. Still, there’s a danger of so looking forward to something in the future that we forget to live in the present. Life isn’t all about tomorrow, for good or bad. Life is lived in the present. It has no rewind or fast forward buttons. In this passage Jesus reminds us that God is with us “right now.” We remember wonderful blessings in the past and appreciate what the Lord did for us then. We also look to the future with confidence in faith that the same good, gracious God will be with us in that day. Still, it’s right now that’s most under my control. Not that I control the circumstances of right now, but I have some say about how I will live in those circumstances. So, one thing I gain from this passage is the reminder to live in this present moment; to appreciate the good things and to trust God with the not-so-good things. The other thing that comes to mind is the calm, certain assurance that God is, indeed, doing something “right now.” I may be praying for a great revival to come to my church, longing for that day to come. I may be looking forward to some major life event like the birth of a grandchild or some special anniversary. However, Jesus tells me that God is also doing things right here and right now. He’s working in my life, walking with me in these ordinary days of life. After all, the great mystery of Christmas is the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us.

Take Away: I need to be more aware of the blessings of life right now and not always focusing on some future blessing.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park – feed me – feed me – sitting on my pickup mirror

The Unknown God

Acts 17: He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him.

Paul is speaking at the Areopagus in Athens. He’s disturbed by all the shrines to all the deities worshiped there. He’s even seen one shrine dedicated to the “unknown god.” The folks there don’t want to overlook some god and unintentionally get on the bad side of him! When Paul gets a chance to be heard, he uses that shrine as his launching point. He’s there to tell them about the God they’ve missed. His argument is right out of the Old Testament. The prophets of old often called their people to worship the God not made with human hands. Paul tells them that the God he serves is good and gracious, blessing their lives even though they haven’t acknowledged him. This God reaches out to them, inviting them to live in a relationship with him. However, there comes a time when the “unknown” becomes the “known.” It’s one thing to enjoy the blessings of God in ignorance. It’s something altogether different to know of this good God and to intentionally ignore him. In fact, God intends to divide people along that very line. He’s so serious about it that he’s already appointed a Judge over the people of the earth. To make it perfectly clear to the whole world that this is his chosen Judge, God has raised him from the dead. Many of Paul’s listeners, worshipers of a variety of gods, can’t swallow this “resurrection business.” They can’t imagine their gods having that kind of power. They walk away believing that they’ve just heard an impossible myth. Others, though, are drawn to this good God and his resurrected, appointed Judge. They want to know more. I know where I stand on this issue. Where do you stand?

Take Away: This “Unknown God” can, and wants to be known by all.

Devotional on 2 Corinthians

2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence

Paul’s thorn in the flesh

2Corinthians 12: The weaker I get the stronger I become.

As Paul defends his ministry he describes a vision he experienced many years earlier. At least I think he’s describing a vision he had. His wording moves to third person, but the setting of the passage concerns visions and revelations given him by the Lord. Paul was lifted up into heaven and there heard things he was forbidden to share with others. The Apostle says that if he wanted to he could focus on such experiences and trump about anyone. Instead, though, he chooses to focus on his humiliations and, in fact has found his most troubling, humbling handicap (although he doesn’t tell us what it is) to be yet another great blessing. This handicap serves two good purposes in his life. On one hand it balances out the ecstasies he experienced in Christ, keeping him firmly grounded in the here and now. On the other hand, his weaknesses drive him to even greater dependency on the Lord. As he relies on the Lord rather than on his own experiences, as deeply spiritual as they might be, he finds strength. Blessings are, well, a blessing! However, they can also be a curse. If I think the Lord has made me a favorite because of some deep spiritual experience that experience can actually serve as a stumbling block in my life. Of course, the Lord knows this. I think he sometimes withholds some special intimacy from us for our own good. At other times, as it is in Paul’s case, the Lord works in our lives in wonderful ways but refuses to do something that would be precious to us to keep us from becoming so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh is, but we can see it as he does: as part of God’s working in a life for the good of one he dearly loves.

Take Away: Sometimes the Lord does things for us because he loves us. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t do things for us because he loves us.

Devotional on 1 Thessalonians

2014 – dunes south of Florence, OR

Looking back and being blessed all over again

1Thessalonians 2: We wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.

Before Paul turns his attention to the primary topic of the letter he has some reminiscing to do. He well remembers arriving in Thessalonica. At that time he was a rather beaten up apostle, having just gone through the Philippian jail experience we read about in Acts 16. Some of his enemies, in fact, followed him to Thessalonica as well, resulting in a riot. Still, many believed his message and, in spite of his obvious weaknesses, they became dear friends of Paul. This relationship, he tells them, is cherished and warms his heart even as he writes them this short letter. Looking back on those events, even though there was some pain and rejection in them, fills him with thanksgiving. He remembers how he gave them his heart and to this day he has no regrets about it whatsoever. There’s something powerful about relationships like this. For one thing, they hold. Paul has moved on in his ministry but something of him has stayed with his dear friends in Thessalonica. Now, when they have questions about the Second Coming of Christ they turn to him for answers. When he hears from them, he experiences some old blessings made new. I don’t think I should live in the past, dwelling on the “good old days.” Still, there’s a time for looking back and remembering people, events, friendships, and blessings from days gone by. I can’t live in the past but it doesn’t hurt to visit there once in a while.

Take Away: Precious memories sweeten our lives today.

Devotional on 1 Peter

2014 – Lotus, CA

Happy in Jesus

1Peter 1: You trust him, with laughter and singing.

Peter’s words are addressed to believers who are “scattered to the four winds.” These followers of Jesus don’t have it easy. They’re treated as outsiders and sometimes they suffer because of their faith. However, Peter’s writing to them isn’t heavy and grim. He doesn’t advise them to grit their teeth and hold on. Rather, he describes the victory that’s already theirs. He envisions their gatherings as joyful, celebrative events in which they sing and laugh, buoyed by the living presence of Jesus in their lives. The idea here isn’t that they pretend everything’s okay when it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s that they see a bigger picture and weighing their current situation against “total salvation” they find that they’re the big winners. Beyond that, it’s more than just “pie in the sky” for them. Something has happened and is happening in their lives right now. These are people who just can’t get over how blessed they are. While it’s true that my life is quite easy, especially in comparison to that of these scattered Christians, I do share in their blessings. As I get together with my Christian friends, whether it’s in formal worship or relaxed fellowship, I hear lots of good singing and good natured laughter. That, my friend, is exactly as it should be.

Take Away: It’s good to remember that it’s a joy living in Jesus and that it’s fun being with his people.

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