Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

Taking it to the Lord
Isaiah 37: Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God.
The threat Sennacherib makes to Judah through his general Rabshekah can’t be ignored. King Hezekiah sends representatives to God’s man, Isaiah, to seek a response from the Lord. God doesn’t let Hezekiah down. The Lord has heard the threats and the blasphemy and is going to personally deal with the situation. Not long after that, Sennacherib is called away to deal with a crisis elsewhere in his kingdom. However, before he leaves he sends a letter to Hezekiah, promising that he’ll be back to finish the destruction of Jerusalem just as he promised. Upon receiving that letter Hezekiah takes it to the Temple. There, in the presence of God he opens that scroll and spreads it out before the Lord. He prays, reminding himself and God of the promise the Lord made to take care of Sennacherib and to protect his people. I love what Hezekiah does with that letter. He knows that the Lord has promised to deliver him but that letter and the threat it contains is real. Rather than letting it consume him with fear he takes it to the Lord. This is a lesson I need to learn. What difference might it make if I take that lab report from the doctor that’s causing me concern and lay it out before the Lord when I pray? Or maybe a good course of action is to write out the situation from work that’s worrying me and then lay it out before the Lord? I’m not saying that this is some magical formula for getting the Lord to do what I want him to do. However, I do think that it might serve as a practical reminder to me that God does know about these difficult situations and that he has promised to walk with me through even in them.
Take Away: In the words of the old hymn: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Along Colorado Hwy 34

The great Deliverer
Isaiah 42: He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work — to set things right on earth.
Even as Isaiah writes words of comfort to those banished from Jerusalem by the crushing might of Babylon, he looks forward to a great day of deliverance. “One day,” he promises, “God will send the ultimate Deliverer, his prized Servant, to the world. He’ll do an even greater thing than bringing a scattered people back to their homeland.” Isaiah looks to the coming of the Messiah, a man filled with the Spirit who’ll “set everything right.” One day, in Isaiah’s distant future, a man will be baptized and God’s voice will be heard proclaiming, “This is my Son.” Here we see that proclamation being foretold as the Lord declares through Isaiah, “He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.” The prophet doesn’t have all the details. In fact, it’s unlikely that he has a vision of Calvary or of the empty tomb of Easter. Isaiah doesn’t see a cross, but he does see a Messiah. This Promised One will overcome every hindrance to accomplish his work. That’s just what happens when even a cross can’t stop this Servant of God. Know what? Neither can he be stopped by the seeming insurmountable obstacles of the world today. We Christians need to remember this and join the Messiah’s mission. Followers of his don’t sit around wringing their hands while lamenting the state of things. This Messiah won’t quit until things are set “right on earth.” That’s our mission as well as our hope.
Take Away: It’s not that there aren’t any challenges because there are. Still, the fact remains that the Son of God will, without question accomplish his mission of redemption.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Ketchikan, AK

A heaping helping of humble pie
Jeremiah 21: I’ve giving you a choice: life or death.
It’s doubly hard for the priest, Pashur, to come to Jeremiah with the request. He’s Jeremiah’s sworn enemy. Just recently he put the prophet in stocks for the night to teach him to mind his tongue. Still, things aren’t going well for the nation. They’re at war with the juggernaut Babylon and barring a miracle they face certain defeat. Even that, though, isn’t why Pashur finds himself in this humiliating conversation with Jeremiah. He’s here because King Zedekiah ordered him to go to Jeremiah and ask this troublesome man to pray for God’s intervention. Pashur protested, sputtering out that Jeremiah has already stated God’s judgment on him and his household. Maybe the king should send someone else. Zedekiah, though, ordered and didn’t ask, so the priest finds himself, hat in hand, asking Jeremiah to pray to God for the deliverance of the country from their powerful enemy. Jeremiah’s response is exactly what Pashur expects: more gloom and doom, more defeatist talk. The prophet says he won’t pray for them, in fact, he’s throwing his support to Nebuchadnezzar and his army. The stubborn prophet declares that not only does God refuse to help them but that he’s actively working against them. God’s offer of mercy is not that he’ll deliver them in battle, but that, if they surrender, they’ll live, carried off as captives. As I read this, I can’t help but think that bargaining with God is never a smart thing to do, but doing so while still rebelling against him, well, that’s just plain crazy.
Take Away: Bargaining with the Lord is never a smart thing to do.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2010 – Emerald Lake – RMNP, CO

The end – sort of
Jeremiah 52: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
The final pages of Jeremiah are a sort of historical wrap up. We hear about Zedekiah’s failure, the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the striping of the city of anything of value. People are marched off into exile and it seems the story of the people of Israel has ended. The epitaph is: “Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.” It all happened as Jeremiah said it would. The nation has refused to take every off ramp it came to, steadily advancing to this point. Thus, we come to “the end.” Well, not quite. God not only promised this destruction, he also promises restoration. The final words of the book describe the kindness shown to the surviving king, Jehoiachin, by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil-Merodach. After many years of imprisonment, Jehoiachin becomes an honored guest at the Babylonian king’s table. By concluding with this account we see that even as the curtain has fallen on a horrible period of Israel’s history, the story continues with a new, hopeful episode about to begin. I find that story both by moving forward and backward in my Bible. I can go back to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Or, I can turn forward a few pages and spend time in Daniel or Haggai or Zechariah and continue this story. If I want I can hit the fast forward button and advance to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to find the account of God’s ultimate deliverance of his people.
Take Away: With the Lord “the end” might just also be “the beginning” – that’s true because God is the God of Second Chances.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX

A good word from the Lord
Ezekiel 29: I’ll give you, Ezekiel, bold and confident words to speak.
A turnaround is coming. For some time now Israel had heard nothing but condemnation from God’s prophet, Ezekiel. According to him things are going to get worse before they get better. Now, we see that things will, indeed, get better. The same man who’s condemned their sin and the sins of the nations associated with them is going to be given a different word from the Lord. His words will bring hope and deliverance. His messages will reconnect them with God, himself. What powerful words they’re going to be! These aren’t the empty promises of a politician. This is God’s man speaking God’s word to them. When the Lord gets involved words take on an additional element of power. As a preacher I’m both encouraged and challenged here. I’m encouraged that, as old fashioned as it might seem, that God can communicate to people through a weak vessel like me and that as I preach God can “stir up fresh hope” and usher in “deliverance” in people’s lives. I’m challenged to live close enough to the Lord that he can direct me in that endeavor; to trust him and cooperate with him in what he wants to say to those who are listening.
Take Away: Words directed by the Lord are powerful and can be life changing.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Upper and Lower Slaughter, UK

He’s still in the fire
Daniel 3: I see four men, walking around freely in the fire.
A “theophany” is the appearance of God in human forum, specifically in the Old Testament. Abraham and Jacob and Moses have such encounters and then there’s this incident: three men are tossed into the fire, but the king sees four. I understand that there are theological reasons to hesitate here, but I’m glad to hide behind the “devotional” aspect of my writing and leap wholeheartedly into this fire! The Hebrews are being executed because of their faithfulness to the Lord. Then, in the fire there’s a fourth man who, even the pagan king, can tell is “God-like.” On this day Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experience a “theophany.” They meet the Lord in that furnace and he protects them from the fire! The furnaces of life might scare me to death, but it’s in those places that I find one who’s not only unafraid, but is in complete authority. Since he’s God he can appear in whatever form he wants, and because he’s God there’s nothing that’s going to happen to me there that he does not allow and can’t see me through.
Take Away: There’s nothing that can happen to us that the Lord doesn’t allow and that he can’t see me through.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Paris – Seine

Earning respect
Daniel 6: God…closed the mouths of the lions.
Daniel’s political enemies might have conspired to have him thrown into the den of lions but they couldn’t control the lions, themselves. God sends an angel to do that and his man survives unscathed his night with the big cats. The king is relieved. After all, it was his gullible foolishness that caused all of this in the first place. He’s ready to acknowledge the power and authority of Daniel’s God. Darius then turns his attention to the conspirators and their families. He has them all thrown into the lion’s den. God’s angel has already departed and they come to a horrible end. As I read this I’m reminded that Daniel represents God in a wicked and heartless regime. Nebuchadnezzar, it seems, had a genuine change of heart. Darius, on the other hand, has been impressed and humbled by Daniel’s God and from now on he will treat Daniel’s God with respect. In other words, Darius’ experience was not nearly as personal as was Nebuchadnezzar’s. Daniel prospers under Darius and then under Cyrus. Apparently, neither of these two become worshipers of the Lord but they respect Daniel and his God. We Christians have something to learn here. If possible, we want people to become believers; to join us in worship of the only one worthy of worship. However, we may not always see that happen. In some cases the best we will see is that others will decide we and our faith have earned their respect. Hopefully, that will be a first step to something more for them, but that decision is out of our hands.
Take Away: Live in such a way as to influence people for the Lord – if nothing else, to earn their respect and to cause them to respect the one we worship.

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 Hebrews

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

The “rest” for the people of God

Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.

In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”

Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.

Devotional on Exodus

2013 – Saylorville Lake – near Des Moines, IA

It’s God’s story
Exodus 2: God listened…God remembered…God saw…God understood.
The story of the Bible is God’s story. He’s the central player. In the book of Exodus we have the major, dominating figure of Moses, but he isn’t the star. The Exodus story is about God. It’s he who listens to their cries, remembers his promise to Abraham, sees their need, and understands their plight. And it’s he who acts. Decades earlier, when Moses tried to take on the role of deliverer, things didn’t work out. Now, God takes on that role. When the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt begins, it starts with God in a burning bush and not Moses killing an Egyptian. Today, I want my story to be God’s story. I’d rather play a small part in his big story than have the leading role in a one man play.
Take Away: It’s about my cooperating with God, not about him cooperating with me.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Big events with small beginnings
Exodus 5: Does this look like rescue to you?
The journey from slavery to freedom will not come without a struggle. Pharaoh’s known as the leader of a country with a world class economy and he intends to keep his free labor force. He also likes getting his own way. Mix all that with his having a hard, dispassionate disposition and we have a recipe for a long struggle. Moses eases into the negotiations by asking that the people be given three days off for worship and Pharaoh responds by increasing the workload on the people. The result is that Moses is disappointed and the Hebrew people are upset with him for making life harder on them than it was before. Of course, this is the first step in what will be an epic deliverance. For now though, the whole thing feels like a pitiful failure. The thing is that most great events have less than stellar beginnings. For instance, there’s the story of the founding of my own nation which is filled with several “one step forward and two steps back” situations. Or consider the story of the Wright brothers and human flight. A person watching their early efforts might have concluded that they were crazy rather than visionary. In the passage before us today, Moses appears to have totally failed in his mission. However, he has one thing going for him that assures a positive outcome: the Lord is with him. What has happened thus far may not look like much of a rescue mission, but the Lord is just getting started.
Take Away: Great miracles often begin with what seems to be pitiful failure.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Shiprock in New Mexico

God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Cooperating with God
Exodus 12: The Israelites then went and did what God had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did it all.
Emancipation day is coming. After generations of slavery God is about to keep his promise to “rescue and redeem” them from the bondage of Egypt. The deciding event will be one of fearsome judgment. Death is coming. However, death will not visit every home in the land. The Israelites must to follow explicit instructions if they’re to escape the terrible events of that night. A lamb is to be slaughtered, cooked, and eaten. Some of the blood, mixed with hyssop is to be smeared on the door posts of their homes. As a result, the death angel will “pass over” their dwellings. They listen and obey – “they did it all.” In so doing they become a part on their own deliverance. Most of what needs to be done is accomplished by the Lord but they must cooperate by taking this action. Well, you know where this is going by now. God has acted to deliver me from slavery to freedom. He has done the vast majority of what must be done. Still, he has instructions for me to follow. I must respond by cooperating with the Almighty if his perfect will is to be accomplished in my life.
Take Away: How can I best cooperate with God today?

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Head ‘em up – move ‘em out.
Exodus 14: Moses spoke to the people…“Stand firm and watch God do his work…God said to Moses: Order them to get moving.”
Behind them is the army of Egypt, moving in to destroy them. Before them is the Red Sea, impassable. What are they to do? Moses has great faith, “Stand still and see…” what God will do. That sounds good. They have pretty much stood still through the plagues and God took care of everything. Surely Moses is right and God will do it again. But God has other ideas. Even as the people of Israel had a part in the Passover by following God’s directions, now they have a part in this final victory over Egypt. The Almighty says, “Don’t stand still…move forward.” As they obey the command to move, God acts and deliverance comes. There are, indeed, times to “stand still.” To do otherwise is to attempt to be our own deliverers – something that’s bound to fail. At times like that we simply wait on the Lord. However, there are more often times to “get moving.” To do so is to act in faith that God is with us and that he has given us a role to play in our own salvation.
Take Away: Don’t be guilty of standing still when God is saying, “Move out.”

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Praise and worship service
Exodus 15: Who compares with you in power?
When Moses tells the people to “stand still” he’s more right than wrong. While it’s true that they need to “move forward” in response to what God is doing, it’s still God who provides their deliverance. They don’t exactly “stand still” but they never raise a hand in their own defense. It’s God who provides the victory. Now they’re celebrating. Moses leads the way with his song of victory: “Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God?” Moses turns their hearts in the right direction. Even more than being about victory over the army of Egypt, this celebration is about God at work in their world. Obviously that victory is no small thing. Still, God’s incomparable, powerful, majestic, wondrous work is the real reason to celebrate, whether it has to do with Pharaoh’s army or not. After all, this is God’s story even more than theirs. In my life there are many good things to celebrate, but beyond all that is the Reason behind the good things. I’m glad to join Moses in this praise and worship service.
Take Away: Celebrate the good things but don’t forget to celebrate the Giver of those good things.

Devotional on Deuteronomy

2014 – Sweet Creek Hike – Mapleton, OR

Heart surgery
Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.

Devotional on Joshua

2014 – Redwoods National Park, CA

Make a pile of stones
Joshua 4: In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, “What are these stones doing here?” tell your children this: “Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.”
Out in the middle of the Jordan River, way down at the bottom, there are stones. That’s what the people of Israel discover as God opens the way through the river. As the thousands cross over, twelve men are given the assignment of each taking one of those stones and piling them on the bank of the river as a memorial of this momentous event. Then, in future generations, when children ask about the pile of stones, the story will be told. It is the story of God’s deliverance; of how God makes a way when there is no way. It’s a story of God’s grace, patience, and mercy. It’s the story of his unfailing love. Here’s a tip right from God’s Word: build some memorials in your life. Take the kids to the old church, point to the place at the altar and tell them what happened there. Read to them the scripture that got your attention and tell them why. Show them your pile of stones from the Jordan riverbed and in so doing pass your story along to the next generation. Someday, your great-grandchildren, who never met you, will hear their grandpa talk about how his dad came to Christ. Thus, God’s grace will minister through your life from beyond your years on earth.
Take Away: Tell your story to those who are the most precious to you.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

God smiling
Judges 7: You have too large an army with you.
The Lord has such a sense of humor. Gideon’s been rounding up the troops to take on the mighty Midian army and he’s done a pretty good job of it. Now they’re on their way into battle, but first, God has some trimming to do. First, those who are afraid are invited to leave. Two thirds of the army decides this is a good time to go home. Then, as they get a drink of water, the few who show “battle sense” are kept while everyone else goes home. Gideon was reluctant enough to take on this fight. He must be beside himself as the Lord keeps whittling down his army. He’s now left with just 300 fighters. Of course, God has a purpose in all this. Even as we see the Lord’s disqualification of almost all of Gideon’s army, we see that the Lord is quite intentional here. If Gideon’s large force wins a victory they’ll take all the credit for it. The Lord wants not only to bring deliverance to Israel, but to restore them to himself as well. I believe proper preparation for things I attempt is wise and reasonable, but I also know that the ultimate Source in my life is, not my plans and resources, but my Lord. Sometimes, he has to whittle down my approach so, when it all works out, I’ll know who it is that gets the credit. And, as he does it, I think he’s smiling to himself.
Take Away: The Lord loves turning the tables and doing the impossible.

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