Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Rocky Mtn Natl Park, CO

Good theology from Johnny Cash
Ecclesiastes 10: Dead flies in perfume make it stink, and a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom.
The “dead flies” line always struck me as funny, especially when I first read it as a teen. At that time I didn’t take time to try to understand the meaning of it so I just smiled and moved on. A person can say and do a lot of wise things in their life, but one blunder can pretty much ruin it all. I’ve seen that happen with presidents and pastors; with CEO’s and secretaries. When my son got his first driver’s license I commented to him that many drivers only make one mistake in their lives, and it’s their last. Car wrecks can be unforgiving. It’s true of other life situations too. A man can be a good husband and father for 30 years and then get involved with someone for a brief fling that ruins all those years of faithfulness. While I’m a big believer in second chances and grace I also know that a few “dead flies” can ruin a lot of godly living. Johnny Cash wasn’t singing a hymn when he sang, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine…because you’re mine I walk the line” but his words do apply in that sense. I don’t want a few “dead flies” to ruin a lifetime of faithfulness.
Take Away: Watch out for “dead flies” in your life.

Devotional on Isaiah

Texas Hill Country – 2006

No guarantee of success
Isaiah 6: …they won’t have a clue about what is going on…so they won’t turn around and be made whole….
Isaiah’s commission is powerful and associated with a vision of God’s holiness. The prophet is personally transformed by the grace of God and he’s ready to “go” for the Lord. However, the next thing the Lord tells Isaiah must be very difficult to swallow. In spite of his being a man with “lips touched with a coal from off the altar” his ministry won’t bear fruit. I know it takes commitment to step forward and say “send me” but how much more to go on this mission with the promise of failure. The Lord says that the people Isaiah goes to minister to will not respond. Why the Lord tells Isaiah this is a mystery to me. Why not just send him on without telling him of the failure to come? I have no answer. However, I do see one important thing here: I belong to the Lord and I have to leave the results of my ministry in his hands. For Isaiah the important thing is “going” — being faithful. That’s how it is for all of us who serve him.
Take Away: We’re called to obedient faithfulness. The results we leave in the hands of the Lord.

Devotional on Proverbs

2004 – Big Island, Hawaii

Friends and family
Proverbs 17: Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
I’ve lived long enough to know that “all kinds of trouble” comes to every life. Sooner or later its each person’s turn to face disappointment and be let down by people and circumstances or be betrayed by their own humanity. At such times it becomes easier to see what and who matters the most to us. I’m thankful today for family of both the “blood line” and the “relationship” variety. There’s power in positive relationships. Even when we’re at the end of ourselves, we can draw strength from those dear ones who stand with us. I’m reminded today that, first, I need to appreciate precious friends and family and not take them for granted even though they love me enough that I could probably get away with it. Also, I remember that I’m privileged to be such a friend to some. It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility that I must take seriously no matter what the “weather.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for friends and family and, thank the Lord for the privilege of being friend and family to others.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Mt Ranier, WA

Our incense from Sheba
Jeremiah 6: Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.
They have church services and follow the time honored traditions handed down from generation to generation. It’s pretty impressive: robed priests, burning incense, sacrifices and prayers and songs. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. The problem isn’t in how they worship, it’s in how they live the rest of the time. God says they’ve just been “playing games” and “ignoring everything” he says. They respond by trying to jazz up their worship by bringing in some exotic incense from Sheba. Can’t you hear it: “the worship service seems a bit down lately, let’s get some of that really good incense from Sheba, that’ll give us just the spark we need.” However, it doesn’t work. God isn’t impressed and their worship services remain as empty as before. Listen, I’m all for fixing things up and I’m a firm believer in presenting a well ordered, prepared worship service. Adding our version of “incense from Sheba” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, that stuff only makes a difference if the worshipers are backing up their wonderfully choreographed and innovative church services with faithful day to day living. Otherwise, the new “incense” won’t please us or the God we worship.
Take Away: Being a worshipper of the Lord includes a lot more than just going to church.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs, CO

Trust and obey for there’s no other way
Ezekiel 3: …but you won’t die. You’ll have saved your life.
As the prophet is commissioned he’s told that his job is to warn people. If they refuse his warning, then they’re responsible to God for that refusal. Ezekiel’s job is to issue God’s message. His salvation is contingent on his faithfulness in doing so. My first reaction to this passage is one of caution. I read this from a New Testament point of view and immediately respond that my hope of salvation isn’t in my performance but in my faith in the Savior, Jesus. Does that, in some way nullify this passage for me today? Upon reflection, I think not. Old or New Testament, preacher or listener, the requirement of God is the same: obedience. The Lord calls Ezekiel to preach his message and that’s what’s required of him. He’s called to obedience even as he calls his listeners to obedience. It’s the same for me. As I understand that Jesus is the Savior of the world I must obey his call to yield my life to him and follow him. Anything else is disobedience. So, Ezekiel obeyed by preaching God’s message. His listeners were to obey by forsaking their sin and worshiping the Lord. I obey by trusting in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and living in a relationship with him. People may refuse Ezekiel’s message, but he’ll be saved in his obedience in preaching it anyway.
Take Away: No matter where a person is on their spiritual journey, the Lord’s requirement is this: obey.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2011 – Blanco State Park

Faithful watchman
Ezekiel 33: You, son of man, are the watchman.
Ezekiel’s job, the Lord says, is that of a watchman. He’s to cry out, warning people of impending danger. If he does that, he’s done his job. If he fails, then part of the blame for the loss is his own. Ezekiel has done his job. The book bearing his name contains page after page of his warnings which are given, sometimes, at considerable personal cost. Had he failed in doing his part the story would be considerably different, in fact, I doubt we would have a book of Ezekiel at all. God would have sought out another spokesman and it would be his name that would appear as the title of a book of the Bible. It could be that Ezekiel wasn’t God’s first choice, that he started by calling someone who’s unknown to us today. Also, there’s the record of massive failure here that we do know about. The failure is that of those who heard the warning and rejected it. Ezekiel is God’s watchman for Israel and his faithfulness to that task is impressive. I pray not only that the Lord will send a faithful watchman for my nation but that his or her message will be heard and heeded.
Take Away: All a person can do is be faithful to do what the Lord directs.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Hyde Park – the Serpentine – London, UK

Winning in little ways first
Daniel 1: Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food.
The hardest time for me to stay on a diet is when I’m on vacation. There are so many nice places to eat, we’re out of our routine, and there’s the strange notion that “what happens on vacation stays on vacation.” One “off diet” meal leads to another and I end up bringing home, not just pleasant memories and photos of all the places we saw, but a few extra pounds too. Of course, Daniel and his companions aren’t on vacation. They’ve been taken against their will to a distant land with little hope of returning home. Even if they could go back, things are very different than when they left. Still, they’re in very pleasant surroundings. They’re part of the household of the most powerful king on earth and they’re being groomed to serve in the royal court. Their rations aren’t bread and water but, instead, are the richest of foods and the finest of wines. The thing is that their religion has strict dietary rules. That pork chop might look quite tasty, but it’s forbidden to them by their God. If we struggle with our diets just because we’re a few hundred miles from home, think of their struggle. The Temple, Jerusalem, and their family ties are all in their past. Do the rules even apply anymore? If they do just go along with what is being asked of them where will it take them next? Does saying “yes” here mean they’ll be expected to say “yes” somewhere else, like, for instance, the worship of an idol? Daniel decides to draw the line right where he is. He’s a follower of God and God has given him some dietary rules. He’ll be respectful, but he’ll hold steady at this minor point. If he never starts down the path away from God he’ll never end up where that path leads. I don’t know if this passage will help me stay on my diet or not, but it certainly can help me remember that spiritual failure doesn’t start with my rejecting God in some big way. Rather, it starts with little things. If I win there, I’m much more likely to conquer the “biggie” when it shows up.
Take Away: If we never start down the path away from God we’ll never end up where that path leads.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

At least they know what Daniel stands for
Daniel 6: We’re never going to find anything against this Daniel unless we can cook up something religious.
At the end of chapter five we find a simple statement that Darius the Mede is made king. Apparently, there’s a lot of history loaded into that statement. The handwriting on the wall informed the now dead Belshazzar that his kingdom was going to be handed over to the “Medes and Persians,” a confederacy that rose to challenge the power of Babylonia. Apparently, there’s a lot of historical push and shove concerning all that happened in that takeover. Daniel spares us all that, barely mentioning his own rise to authority in the reorganized kingdom, now under the rule of Darius. This king recognizes leadership capability when he sees it and makes Daniel, first, one of his three vice-regents, and then moves to make Daniel the man in charge. Of course, there are those who oppose this elevation of Daniel and they scramble to find some way to discredit him. When they can’t come up with anything bad about him they focus in on his religion. They conclude that his devotion to his God is his weakest point and decide to attack there. I know it isn’t intended, but what a compliment to Daniel! After living among the Babylonians for many years he’s still known for his devotion to the Lord. It all started many years earlier when he decided to keep the dietary laws of his religion. Now, we see him untouched by the pagan culture. Things are about to get dicey for Daniel, but for now, he can say “thanks” to his enemies for the compliment.
Take Away: Live in such a way even our enemies recognize our devotion and commitment to the Lord.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – L’église de la Madeleine Catholic church – Paris

Keep up the good work
Daniel 6: He continued to pray just as he had always done.
The king has been duped by Daniel’s political enemies into banning prayer. They’re sure Daniel will “break the law” and pray anyway…and they’re right. I like the phrase “he continued to pray just as he had always done.” One can’t “continue” to pray unless he’s in the habit of praying in the first place. Daniel has lived in a pagan culture for a long time but he’s found an anchor in prayer. Three times each day he retreats to a place of prayer, keeping his connection with his God intact. Through the years he’s risen to a powerful position in multiple administrations. He’s been an explainer of dreams and a solver of mysteries. Now we see the key to it all. Daniel prays. I don’t think I can overestimate the importance of my “continuing to pray.”
Take Away: Nothing takes the place of prayer in the lives of the people of the Lord.

Devotional on Amos

2013 – Niagara Falls

Car shopping
Amos 5: You talk about God…being your best friend.
I was talking to a car salesperson about a car. He was a friendly guy, a bit rough around the edges, using a few words I don’t have in my vocabulary. Then, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was the pastor of a church. Guess what happened? Suddenly, he was a very faithful Christian man. He told me about his church and his pastor and some words disappeared from the conversation. Amos complains about people who claim God as their best friend but live very different lives than what the Lord demands. The big issue to Amos is how the poor are treated. He says that in his society “justice is a lost cause” and people are “kicking the poor when they’re down.” God’s man says that won’t cut it. I can’t expect to get away with giving the Almighty lip service while ignoring his directions on how I’m to live. Amos says, “You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend. Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen.” By, the way, I bought my car elsewhere.
Take Away: Live like it.

Devotional on Micah

2013 – Pilot Mountain, North Carolina

Getting stuff from God
Micah 2: I’ll preach sermons that will tell you how to get anything you want from God.
God’s man says that when the people of his nation send out a pastoral search committee that they’re looking for a specific kind of preacher. They aren’t interested in hearing sermons about repentance and judgment, but they’d love to hear sermons that tell them how to get God to do stuff for them. Such a preacher is sure to be hired on the spot. Obviously, this desire isn’t limited to Micah’s day. For many people manipulating God is what religion’s all about. Many years earlier the suffering Job says, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Earlier, Job had gotten an enormous amount of stuff from God. Now, it’s all gone and all he has left is a broken life and a stubborn faith. So which approach to God describes me? Am I in it for what I can get? What if everything I hold dear is taken from me and it seems God’s no longer playing Santa Claus? On one hand, we have people who don’t want to hear what God has to say but are very interested in what they can get God to do. On the other hand, we have a man who’s so committed to God that even when most of his theology has crashed he insists on continuing to hope in the Lord. I pray I never have to travel Job’s road but I’m certain I don’t want to follow that of the people of Micah’s day.
Take Away: Do we serve the Lord for what we think we might get from him?

Devotional on Zechariah

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Legacy of faithfulness
Zechariah 1: But the Message…isn’t dead and buried.
Zechariah remembers the stories of the old time prophets of his history. They were spiritual giants like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These mighty men proclaimed God’s message with, admittedly, limited contemporary success. The people of their day ignored their message and faced the consequences. Now, all that is in the distant past and the people God claimed as his own are back in their home country, reestablishing their lives there. Zechariah has a new word from the Lord. Well, the word is new, but the message is old. The Lord still calls people to an obedient walk with himself. He still invites those who will to live in his fellowship and to participate in his holiness. The messengers might have changed, but the purpose of God remains. It’s humbling to realize that, as a pastor, I have a role in this process today. I know that someday my voice will be silenced (hopefully, not for a few decades yet) and hope that when the kids (these days, that’s anyone less than thirty) look back on my ministry that they’ll remember me as one who was faithful in proclaiming the timeless truths of God.
Take Away: As people look back on our lives let them remember us as those who were faithful to God’s call on our lives.

Devotional on Malachi

2014 – Along the road to Moab, UT

The challenge of living in the level ground days
Malachi 1: Worship of God is no longer a priority.
Anyone who’s gone through significant weight loss will tell you that the hard part of a diet isn’t the “cut-back-on-the-calories” weight loss phase. Instead, it’s the maintenance phase. At that time, the individual moves from trying to lose weight to living a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t result in regaining the weight that was lost. The problem is that there are constant temptations to give in a little here and a little there. Once one starts down that road the end result is a return to the former state of things. The people Malachi speaks to are at a cross roads. They’re secure and comfortable. The work of rebuilding the Temple was finished by their parents and grandparents. Now, it falls on them to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle as an every day people of God. Frankly, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. When they bring an animal to offer to the Lord, they’ve fallen into the habit of bringing one that they don’t want anyway. Worship, in general, is drifting to a lower and lower priority in their lives. They aren’t back at the stage of their idol-worshiping, baby-sacrificing ancestors, but, without even recognizing it, they’re gradually drifting away from God. It doesn’t take a big effort to connect the dots from this to my own life. I don’t hope a crisis will come to my life to remind me of my priorities, but, here on the level ground of life, I want to live a healthy, day-to-day spiritual lifestyle.
Take Away: Living for the Lord on the common days of life has challenges of its own.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

One hundred percent

Matthew 7: The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention.

A hitter in baseball might love the cheers of the fans and all the perks of being a star but when he’s in the batter’s box he’d better pay attention to business. Hitting a 95 mph fastball requires one’s full attention. Jesus calls people to radical commitment. Fishermen abandon the tools of their trade to follow him. Tax collectors pay back, with interest, padded tax collections. Rich people are told to give it all away and follow. How can we read this kind of stuff in the Bible and come away thinking that all God wants from us is a lukewarm, half-hearted relationship? If I’m going to be a disciple of Jesus I have to focus and commit. Living the Sermon on the Mount takes a lot more than an hour of church attendance each week. How in the world could anyone ever think otherwise? The payoff is wonderful, but the payout is huge: all of me for all of God. I’m the winner in that deal, but it’s still a deal I have to be willing to make.

Take Away: When it comes to living the Christian life it’s all or nothing.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Is your testimony brighter than your life?

Matthew 21: He answered, “Sure, glad to.” But he never went.

Jesus tells us the story of two sons. Both are given the same directions from their father. The first son turns his father down. Then, thinking better of it, does what his father asked. The second son immediately says he’ll obey but then never gets around to it. The key question is “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” Everyone knows the answer. I fear that people raised in church are in danger of being “easy yes” folks. The very fact that they know what it’s all about, that they know the answers to all the Sunday School questions, and can slip into “church mode” without a thought places them, above others, in danger of playing the role of the second son. For others, there has to be a conscious admission that their first response to God was the wrong one. They have to make a radical change in their lives. However, for “insiders” the seeming “yes” on the surface of their lives blurs spiritual reality for them. I, for one, don’t want to live my life merely giving lip service to God. I want to be committed to him and living in obedience to him at every level. I’d rather that my life shine brighter than my testimony than have things the other way around.

Take Away: Living the Christian life requires more than mere lip service.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Horse Thief Campground, Moab, UT

A little dirty, but no worse for wear

Matthew 25: It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!

A wealthy man is going on a long trip and in preparation for leaving he assigns three trusted servants to handle his investments for him while he’s gone. He doesn’t take his assets and divide them by three. Instead, he entrusts his servants with differing amounts based on their capabilities of handling such responsibilities. The most gifted (and trusted) servant comes through with flying colors. The next servant does just as well with the smaller amount placed under his control. The third servant, though, is a miserable failure. He wasn’t considered to be especially capable in the first place, but the wealthy man took that into consideration by giving him less responsibility. The third servant, though, doesn’t even try. He hides the money and waits for the day of accounting. This approach angers the wealthy man and it’s the undoing of the third servant who’s thrown out. He isn’t fired because he didn’t do as well with his money as did the first servant. Rather, he’s thrown out for doing nothing with the resources placed in his hands. In the Kingdom of God, we’re valued based on our faithfulness rather than our capability. Had the most gifted servant hidden the larger amount placed in his care he would have been the one thrown out. Had this third servant returned with even meager interest he would have been commended for a job well done. The thing that concerns me today isn’t that I see some who have greater ability and more high profile positions in the Kingdom of God. My concern is that I be faithful with what the Lord has given me. I don’t want to face God with empty hands.

Take Away: What must I do to be a good steward of what God has placed in my hands?

Devotional on Mark

2014 – Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve – near Birch Bay, WA

Our secret weapon

Mark 13: When the time comes, say what’s on your heart – the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you.

Big, devastating changes are coming. Their beloved Temple, for instance, will be a pile of ruins. Godly people will be abused, dragged into court. When the pressure’s on and their enemies have the upper hand the followers of Jesus are to remember these words and turn to the Lord for strength and wisdom to triumph even in the darkest of days. Specifically, when they stand accused in court they shall do so in confidence. They’ll have an inner Resource. They’ll find themselves saying things they haven’t thought of and with a power they never imagined. That Resource, Jesus says, is the Holy Spirit. In the decades to come generations of martyrs rise up, each proving the words of Jesus. When things are the darkest, God’s people stand firmly victorious empowered by the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today. Beyond that, I believe he’s at work in me. I think I tend to worry too much about what I’m supposed to say and do in difficult situations. I forget this promise and think it’s all up to me and I fear I’ll blow it. Surely, those Christians proved this promise to be about a literal enabling of the Holy Spirit for God’s people, especially when they’re under the gun. I need to be more aware of this promise and of the practical Resource of the Holy Spirit, especially when I need immediate, crisis-level help.

Take Away: The help of the Holy Spirit is more real and immediate than most of us realize.

Devotional on Ephesians

2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence – Heceta Head Lighthouse

A secret to the victorious Christian life

Ephesians 4: I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that leads to nowhere.

God never calls people to be half-hearted, costing along, distracted followers. He’s given us everything we need, in fact, abundantly more than we need to live victorious Christian lives. With this in mind we’re to take it all and run with it. There’s no need for fits and starts, stumbling and struggling back to our feet. Rather we’re to confidently move forward on our spiritual journey. Some folks don’t get it. Rather than moving forward they wander along, taking detours in which they’re in real danger of totally losing their way. So, how can I best get on and stay on track? The Apostle frames it in terms of relationships. He describes the victorious Christian life as one filled with “acts of love” and in which things that strain our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ are quickly recognized and resolved. After all, he reminds us, we’re traveling this road together and we’re connected in our mutual love for our Master, Jesus. If I fail to love and allow little things to fester in my relationships with God’s people, I become one of those half-hearted, distracted Christians who are in danger of wandering so far from the path that I become lost in the darkness.

Take Away: We really do need each other.

Devotional on Revelation

2014 – Pinnacles National Park, CA

He sees

Revelation 2: I see what you’ve done…I see where you live…I see everything you’re doing for me.

In his Revelation John has a message for seven churches. Each message follows a similar format: a description of Jesus as conqueror followed by a declaration that he sees what’s happening in the churches. Then there’s a word of encouragement followed by a word of correction followed by a call to response. Finally, there’s a command to hear these words and respond by taking action. These churches are operating in some extreme circumstances with lots of opposition both inside and outside their number. There are enemies of Christ dressed up as apostles and there are those who are trying to blend Christianity with the local religion. As the church stands firm in the faith and stands up to these deceivers the Lord is pleased. If the church fails here it places itself in danger of being something other than Christian. The thing that stands out to me today is that the Lord sees all this. He wants the believers to know that they aren’t operating out in the darkness apart from him. He also wants those who are dabbling in some of these beliefs and practices to know that he knows what they’re doing. It’s good to remember that our labor for the Lord doesn’t go unnoticed. As I faithfully serve him he takes note and wants to encourage me. It’s nice when people tell me I’m doing a good job. It makes me feel good, even appreciated. However, whether that happens or not there’s One who sees what I’ve done, where I live, and appreciates what I do in his name. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that really matters.

Take Away: Even if no one else sees the Lord sees. In the long run, that what matters.

Devotional on Revelation

2014 – Monterey Peninsula, CA

The blood of the martyrs

Revelation 6: I saw the souls of those killed because they had held firm in their witness to the Word of God.

The seals unveil future events, although readers though the centuries have been all over the place in their understanding of just what it is John is seeing. Perhaps the broad view is the best one. History is marching to a climax and as that climax draws near the world’s going to experience powerful and disturbing events. As the fifth seal is removed we see those martyred for their faithfulness to the Lord. In John’s day people are already suffering for their faith. John, himself, in fact, is exiled from the church. However, things are going to get worse. Many will die on the floor of the Coliseum in Rome. History, in fact, will see many faithful Christians die as martyrs. Sad to say, it continues to this day. John hears their voices as they cry out for justice. They’re told that the day of justice is coming. As I think about these who’ve followed Jesus even into death I feel small and insignificant. I confess that I’m hardly worthy to share the name “Christian” with them. I don’t want to forget that my heritage of faith has been a costly one. I don’t want to forget those who, even as I write these words, are paying a dear price for standing firm in their faith. At the same time, the promise of this passage speaks to my heart today. These have already been given “white robes” – honored in heaven. The day will come when the books will be balanced and justice will prevail. It doesn’t take my feeling any sense of vengeance at all for me to say, if God is just, then he’ll “avenge their murders.”

Take Away: The justice of the Lord demands that things be set right, and that day is, indeed, coming.

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