Devotional on Isaiah

2003 – Colorado

No reboot necessary
Isaiah 1: If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white.
If I have the idea that the prophets are all about denunciation and condemnation I need to spend some time with this passage. Yes, God is fed up with their religious charades; their going-through-the-motions spirituality; their under-the-table shady deals. The Lord says he’s going to put a stop to it. However, it doesn’t have to be with defeat, misery, and destruction. “Let’s be reasonable about this,” the Almighty says, “we can fix this, and when I’m finished things will be better than before.” All it takes is their being sensible and cooperating with God. This isn’t about having a sword hanging over their necks. It’s about grace and mercy, not justice. It’s still true today. If God wants to do away with us it’s his right and it’s just what we deserve. However, rather than hitting the “delete button” on humanity he offers restoration. This passage is filled with sunlight and hope. Plus that, it’s a genuine offer from Heaven’s Throne to each of us. Come on; let’s be reasonable about this…God can fix things, making them right between us and Him. It’s too good an offer to refuse.
Take Away: Rather than a re-start of humanity the Lord wants to restore us. That’s grace.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Dawes Glacier, AK

Three cheers for Ahikam
Jeremiah 26: Ahikam son of Shaphan stepped forward and took his side.
All’s not well at the Temple. God’s man, Jeremiah, already has a reputation for preaching gloom and doom messages and he’s at it again. This time he disrupts events at the Temple by telling the worshipers there that the Lord’s going to destroy both the Temple and them. It’s an understatement to say that they don’t like it. Jeremiah finds himself the center of a riot. Soon officials show up and they conduct court right on the spot. Simply put, Jeremiah’s life isn’t worth a nickel. It’s then that a respected man, Ahikam son of Shaphan, steps up. He reminds the people of another gloom and doom prophet, Micah, who during the reign of Hezekiah preached such messages. He also had many enemies but he wasn’t killed. It’s not that they’re above that sort of thing. Another prophet, Uriah, was hunted down and murdered because people didn’t like his message. On this day, though, Ahikam’s defense wins Jeremiah his freedom. Ahikam is an important man and on this day he brings his considerable weight to bear to save Jeremiah’s life. His stepping in isn’t likely the prudent thing to do, after all this is a mob we’re talking about. However, he has power and he uses it to do the right thing whether or not it’s popular to do so. Sometimes we have to spend some of our leadership simply because it’s the right thing to do. Position and authority are just fine, but only if they’re used for the right purposes. I’m not an important person like Ahikam, but I do have some influence in some limited circumstances. Am I spending it on things that really matter?
Take Away: Position and authority and leadership skills are to be used in positive ways – not just to get our own way about things.

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 Obadiah

2013 – Tompkins Campground – Lawrenceville, PA

Good news for people who don’t find harp playing especially attractive
Obadiah 1: A rule that honors God’s kingdom.
The final words of Obadiah’s prophecy describe a coming golden age in which God’s people will be restored to their homeland. Beyond that, they’ll live righteously, in sync with the Lord’s purposes for them. Because of that they’ll be put in charge, ruling even over their old enemies of Edom. Their rule will not be that of a conquering nation, grinding their enemies into the ground, but a fair and just one, representative of their God who loves all human beings. I find it interesting that the Apostle Paul reflects this concept in his second letter to Timothy. Paul writes: “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” At the very beginning of the Bible I see Adam and Eve who are placed in dominion over the earth. In this passage from Obadiah, I find a promised brighter day in which God’s people rule justly, throwing off the old animosities. Then, I see Paul looking forward to the return of Christ and his righteous people ruling with him. I don’t claim to understand all that might include, but it sounds like God has more in store for his people than merely sitting on a cloud playing a harp.
Take Away: As a people of the Lord we’re to reflect his love for all human beings.

Devotional on Zephaniah

2013 – Along Natchez Trace – Fall Hollow

Standing alone if necessary
Zephaniah 2: Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people.
The nation the prophet addresses is filled with sinful, guilty people. However, there’s another, much smaller group. Zephaniah knows that there’s a minority that has humbled themselves before the Lord. They’ve been meek when chastised by God and have quietly accepted his discipline. They’ve been an oasis of justice in an unjust land. Now, Zephaniah says, the Lord is about to bring an end to all the rebellion. God’s man advises those who have swam against the tide to focus their attention on the Lord and center their lives on doing the right thing even if they’re alone in doing it. In this day, I can’t force everyone to do the right thing but that doesn’t stop me from righteous living. I want to influence everyone I can for Christ, but whether or not I’m successful in that, I can commit myself to walk in the ways of the Lord. Zephaniah is certain that the “Day of God’s anger” is coming but he’s also convinced that there is a way of living that prepares us for that sure day.
Take Away: As Joshua of old says: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Devotional on 1 Corinthians

2014 – Pacific City, OR

I’ll see you in court!

1Corinthians 6: Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate.

One of the bones Paul has to pick with the Corinthians is that some of them have taken fellow Christians to court. He’s shocked, disgusted, and angered that Christians would drag their disagreements to court to be judged by non-believers. For one thing, it undermines the influence of the gospel. For another, it surrenders God’s way in favor of man’s way. Paul labels this action as “stupid.” This, he declares, isn’t the way Christians are to behave. Someone might respond that it’s the only way they can get justice. The Apostle says that being wronged is better than wounding the cause of Christ. It’s on this point that he makes his most powerful argument on this topic: an action might be legal but that doesn’t make it appropriate for God’s people. Out in the world filing a lawsuit might be considered business as usual, but among God’s people doing such a thing is inappropriate. I think it’s sad that Christians ever part ways. We’re supposed to be branded by our love for one another. If it happens though, we aren’t to handle things the world’s way. As Paul points out, surely there’s someone in the body of Christ that both sides respect. Surely they can turn to them for help in straightening things out. If not, sometimes it’s better to take the short end of the stick and trust God with the long term results. I feel compelled to add here that there are times when Christians are dragged into court against their will, or must seek justice in their dealings with non-believers. At such times we have every right to defend ourselves and seek justice in every legal way possible. In fact, Paul does that in the book of Acts. Even then, though, he concludes that his current legal problems are being used of God to advance his Kingdom. Again, though, just because something’s legal that doesn’t mean that, for the believer, its right.

Take Away: God’s people follow a higher way.

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.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Looking out over Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: I am God, your God.
And so it begins. This God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush, this God who brought the plagues to Egypt in securing their freedom, this God who delivered them at the Red Sea now describes how they’re to live. He didn’t bring them up out of Egypt so they could do their own thing, living as they pleased. The Lord God brought them out of slavery to be his own people. Their relationship to their God is going to be very different than the Egyptians relationship with their gods. The very first thing their Redeemer does is state Ten Commandments to them. These Commandments are just as focused on how a man treats his neighbor as how a man relates to his God. In this new relationship with the Almighty they’ll treat the Lord with absolute reverence, but they’ll also treat one another with respect, honesty, and fairness. One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian to recognize the brilliance of the Ten Commandments. In just a few words the foundation is laid for a God-fearing and just society. To this day there’s no finer expression of how society can function at its best. This gift from God to his people is every bit as impressive as was his parting the Red Sea for them.
Take Away: We can find no better set of rules for living than what we find in the Ten Commandments.

Devotional on Leviticus

2014 – La Conner, WA Thousand Trails

Year of Jubilee
Leviticus 25: Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath and the annual feasts the Lord designates that every seventh year the farm land is to lay fallow. This allows the land to rebuild and continue to produce a good yield. Then there’s a once in a lifetime event called the Year of Jubilee that comes each fifty years. Again, there’s to be no dirt farming during that year but there’s a lot more to it. The Israelites will be given land by family. That land is their inheritance for all time. Because of that, they can’t sell the land to another family. Instead, they’re to do a sort of lease agreement that can last no longer than the next Year of Jubilee. In that year, all land reverts to the original families. Still, there’s more. An Israelite can sell himself into slavery to another Israelite, but it really isn’t slavery. Instead, it’s more like indentured servanthood. The term can end at an agreed upon time, but in all cases, it must end on the Year of Jubilee. When the value of the person’s service is being calculated this must be taken into consideration. From what I’ve read the Israelites were unfaithful in observing Jubilee and it was only practiced, I think, once. Still, there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. It gives the land rest, protects against the wealthy buying up all the land (very important in an agricultural society), and guarantees human freedom even in a culture all too familiar with the concept of slavery. The Year of Jubilee is an example of how the Lord gives rules intended, not to bind to unreasonable laws, but to protect the weak from unscrupulous people of means. Of course, there are some neat spiritual parallels. In Luke four Jesus proclaims his ministry to be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” His ministry is a Jubilee sort of ministry in which things are made right and those held captive by sin are set free. The Israelites may have never put the Jubilee concept into practice, but to our benefit Jesus the Messiah does just that.
Take Away: In Christ we are set free and things are made right.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

There, but for the grace of God….
Judges 9: Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull.
Not all the inhumanity of Israel’s “dark ages” of Judges comes from the belligerent peoples surrounding them. A lot of the bleakness comes from within. Gideon apparently makes himself into a sheik and fathers lots of children. When he dies there’s a power struggle that’s won by Abimelech, the son of Gideon and one of his maidservants. Abimelech seals the deal by murdering his seventy brothers. However, he’s better at murder than he is at leading and within three years there’s mounting opposition to his rule. Abimelech acts to quash the rebellion and arrives at Thebez, a town known for its fortified tower. As this wicked leader prepares burn alive those who have taken refuge there a woman drops part of a millstone on his head, thus bringing an end to the short and evil leadership of Abimelech. This is an ugly, if somewhat interesting story of a bad man who does bad things and then dies in a violent, unexpected way. No doubt, the detail of his inglorious death is told to us that we might see the judgment of God on Abimelech. In the larger view, I’m reminded that when God is removed from their lives just how much these descendants of Abraham look like the other heathen of that land. When I look around my community and see people doing stupid, self-destructive things to themselves and one another; when I see them blindly pursuing worthless things; and when I see them stubbornly traveling down the wrong road I’m wise to remember that without the Lord in my life that could easily be me. One response then, is to be thankful for what the Lord’s doing in my life. It’s not about me – it’s all about him. Another response is that, rather than feeling superior, I’m to be compassionate to them. These are people who are like me. They just don’t yet know the Life Changer I know.

Take Away: There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Devotional on 1 Kings

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

The long arm of the law
1Kings 2: Do what God tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you.
The transition of the throne from David to Solomon will not be bloodless, but considering the day and age, it comes close to it. David calls for Solomon to come to him and they have a father-son (or maybe better, a king-king) talk. Some of what David says is lofty, truly uplifting. He encourages Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If he does that, the Lord will lead and bless him. Some of what David says sounds cold and calculating. There are some people who have acted in ways intended to promote their own agendas rather than his but for various reasons they’ve never been brought to justice. From his deathbed David lists them for the new king. He doesn’t tell him what to do in each case but he reminds him that he thinks something should be done. At its worst, this is just plain old revenge. At its best, it’s a cold reminder of reality. This, I think sums up David’s life. On one hand, he’s a hard pragmatist who’ll unflinchingly kill a man he thinks is a threat to the kingdom. On the other hand, he’s a man who loves God with all his heart, who can write soaring poetry and lift the spirits of all those around him. One thing is certain: there’s nothing lukewarm about David and that’s abundantly clear in this, his final appearance in the Bible.
Take Away: Let’s let David’s unhesitant devotion to the Lord inspire and challenge us in our own relationship with God.

Devotional on 1 Kings

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Seeking a righteous response
1Kings 2: The final verdict is God’s peace.
On his death bed David reminds Solomon of some unfinished issues that need attention. Solomon’s response is to execute some people. This isn’t pleasant devotional reading but there’s at least an insight into why David sets this agenda for his son. When Joab’s executed we’re reminded that he’s killed some innocent people. Then we read, “Responsibility for their murders is forever fixed on Joab and his descendants; but for David and his descendants, his family and kingdom, the final verdict is God’s peace.” We see that these executions aren’t for revenge but rather are for justice. David believes that if the crimes committed by these people are left without response that he and his descendants will be responsible in part for what happened. The concept here can only be carried so far and it’s important to remember that Solomon isn’t acting here as a vigilante. He’s acting in the capacity of king, head of the government. But let’s step away from the specific of executions and also lay aside the role of the government here. When I do that I’m still reminded that if I stand by while some wrong is done, declaring, “It’s none of my business” I become a part of that wrong. That’s true not only for government but for individual citizens as well.
Take Away: Sometimes doing nothing makes us as guilty in the eyes of the Lord as if we have done something.

Devotional on Job

2019 – Watkins Glen, NY State Park

Life after death?
Job 13: How many sins have been charged against me?
In response to Zophar’s counsel, Job replies with some choice insults. He doesn’t need Zophar to lecture him. In fact Job already believes all the things his friend has said. Beyond that, Job assures him that everyone believes that stuff. Since Zophar and Job believe the same thing (that bad things only happen to bad people) Job again turns his attention to God. He wants to know exactly what sins have been charged against him. Perhaps there needs to be an audit of God’s bookkeeping system so the error against Job can be found. Still, even as he pleads with God to tell him what he’s done wrong, Job’s reminded of the uncomfortable fact of the unfairness of life in general. It may be that Job has never admitted this to himself before. It’s only as he sits here in absolute misery listening to his friends saying all the same things he’s said many times that he acknowledges that life isn’t as neatly ordered as he has believed. Both good and bad people alike have plenty of trouble come to their lives. It seems to Job that even a lowly ditch digger gets a day off once in a while. Shouldn’t God make life easy for human beings who only have a short life anyway? And, since our lives are so limited, is there something more, beyond this life? Job has no Easter story to draw from, but even in this distant day, he’s considering the possibility of life after death as a way God might “balance the books” of life.
Take Away: We know more about this than Job does; that ultimately the Lord will set all things right.

Devotional on Job

2019 – Tompkins Corps of Engineers Campground – Lawrenceburg, PA

Looking for justice
Job 14: If we humans die, will we live again?
This is one of the most famous statements in the book of Job and it comes as Job laments the unfairness of life. A tree can be cut down and yet be the source of new life, but Job hasn’t seen that with human beings. When a person, good or bad, dies and is buried it appears that it’s the end for them. Is there a possibility of resurrection? Job hopes so. After all, if God is good and yet people who serve him come to tragic ends and that is that, well, something is wrong! This insight doesn’t stop Job from his suffering and questioning, but it’s a brilliant insight concerning human suffering. We may not always see the full picture of God’s justice and goodness now, but the final chapter of his dealings with human beings isn’t written at the grave. If God’s justice isn’t seen this side of the grave, it must be seen beyond it.
Take Away: Without Easter Job has arrived at a theology of a resurrection. Isn’t that neat!

Devotional on Job

2019 – Lake Ontario – Wilson, NY

Getting away with it
Job 21: They’re given fancy funerals with all the trimmings.
Zophar admits that, for a while, evil people get away with it. However, he says, their good times are always short-lived and then everything falls apart for them. Job is having none of it. He replies that he’s watched things too, and it isn’t very often that such people get their just deserts. In fact, he’s attended their funerals and heard the lies said about them even as their bodies were lowered into the ground. The big theme of Job’s story is “will a man serve God for nothing.” Then, as things play out, we’re confronted with the issue of human suffering. Is it possible that people suffer and it isn’t because God is angry with them? Now, we meet yet another theme. It’s the reverse concern. If it’s true, as Job contends, that sometimes people suffer through no fault of their own, is it also true that sometimes evil people get away with it? Is it possible that some enjoy all the pleasures of sin all the way to old age and never hit the brick wall of God’s judgment? I think that before this ordeal Job was fairly comfortable with Zophar’s philosophy. At least he hadn’t given it much thought. Now, he finds himself dealing with the issue of how unjust life can be. All the time God remains silent, allowing Job and his friends to grapple with it all. For most of us, reading through these discussions is more philosophical than anything else. Once in a while though, these issues become quite serious and they did for Job so long ago.
Take Away: Some people live their entire lives believing things to be true that aren’t. Once in a while though, we’re given the opportunity (or maybe “forced” is a better word) to get a fresh grip on “truth.”

Devotional on Job

2019 – Niagara Falls, NY

Believing against the evidence in the justice of God
Job 24: If Judgment Day isn’t hidden from the Almighty, why are we kept in the dark?
One topic that surfaces often in the book of Job is that of “inequity.” Job considers how often it is that the innocent suffer while the wicked get away with their evil. Still, Job’s sure of this: God knows what’s going on. Job doesn’t understand why it is that God doesn’t immediately make things right (he says “God does nothing, acts like nothing’s wrong”) yet he believes God is a God of justice and that sooner or later the Lord will act. This is a huge statement of faith for a man who’s experiencing his own “fate worse than death.” Even though the wicked appear to get away with it all Job says that “God has his eye on them.” Even as Job suffers his own personal torment, he still trusts that, in the end, God will make things right. This is a powerful understanding of the nature of God.
Take Away: We may not understand the here and how but we can understand that, ultimately, the Lord will make all things right.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Chagrin Falls…just south of Cleveland, OH

Balancing the books
Psalm 10: God’s grace and order wins.
As did Job, the Psalmist considers the inequities of life. The wicked say, “God is dead” and continue down their evil paths. The Psalmist seeks God, knowing God is just and tries to understand how a just God can allow injustice to continue. He concludes that he hasn’t seen the end of it all yet. Sooner or later (and he hopes it’s sooner) God’s going to make things right. When he does, he says, the “orphans get parents” and the “homeless get homes.” That doesn’t mean I become a fatalist who makes no effort to right the wrongs in this world, but it does mean that I don’t get overwhelmed by it all and give up in despair. My best efforts will make a difference in the lives of those I minister to in the Name of the Lord, but a day is coming when the Lord will square every account. God will balance the books.
Take Away: The Lord has the last word in human affairs.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Turkey Run State Park, IN

The God of justice
Psalm 35: Punch these bullies in the nose
This Psalm is one of David’s Psalms of complaint. All David wants to do is serve the Lord. However, his enemies are making fun of him and taking advantage of every downturn in his life. David asks the Lord to act on his behalf and foil the plans of his enemies and ruin the fun they’re having at his expense. When all is said and done, David wants to hear his friends say, “see, everything works together for good for David, the servant of God.” Modern Christians are somewhat uncomfortable with David’s attitude toward his enemies. We know that the One we follow taught us to turn the other cheek. It’s probably reasonable that we filter our reading of Psalms of complaint through the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it’s helpful to view David’s desires for his enemies in the broadest possible terms. In other words, we may not join David in hoping God will strike down our enemies but we can join him in longing for the day when God sets all wrongs right. God is love, and he is also just. When we experience injustice not only in our lives, but in the lives of others it’s acceptable for us to look forward to the time when God gives those bullies a punch in the nose!
Take Away: The day is, indeed, coming when the Lord will set every wrong right.

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