Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Sea Plane at Ketchikan, AK

Poorly received sermons
Jeremiah 20: The words are a fire in my belly, a burning in my bones.
From the beginning the Lord tells Jeremiah that his ministry won’t be well received. The Lord also tells Jeremiah that he’ll make him like a rock, hard and unyielding in proclaiming his unwelcome message. The prophet reports that following one of his gloom and doom sermons in which he tells it like it is concerning the religious leaders of his nation that things get rather personal. One of the men he preaches about is the senior priest at the Temple. Pashur isn’t happy with Jeremiah’s sermon so he has him arrested and put in stocks, made subject to public humiliation. The next day when Pashur comes to have him released, Jeremiah looks him in the eye and declares God’s displeasure with him and promises that God’s going to pass judgment on him. That, though, doesn’t mean that Jeremiah’s untouched by all the opposition. He reports that he actually tries to stop proclaiming God’s message. Apparently, the strain is so great and the level of success is so small that he wants to give it all up. It doesn’t work. He says that God keeps pouring his words into his heart and that they have to be said or they feel like a fire burning inside him. Whether or not anyone listens Jeremiah’s compelled to keep saying those powerful messages. Beyond the burning words, Jeremiah finds that the Lord’s his constant source of strength. The Lord, he reports, is like a warrior standing by his side. Meanwhile, his opposition is so confused by it all that he reports that they’re only good for comic relief. Jeremiah keeps preaching those unwelcome messages because God keeps pouring them into him. Abandoning his task isn’t an option.
Take Away: If the Lord calls us to it he will bring us through it.

Devotional on Zechariah

2014 – Sumner Lake State Park, NM

Nothing more needs be said
Zechariah 4: So, big mountain, who do you think you are?
Zachariah’s well known vision and message continues with a wonderfully encouraging word to governor Zerubbabel. The task before him is a daunting one and there’s real opposition. Zerubbabel is tasked with following in the footsteps of one of the most famous kings of Israel, King Solomon, who built the first Temple. During Solomon’s reign, Israel was a powerful and respected nation. Now, Zerubbabel leads a relatively small number of returned exiles in a land that has hostile elements. In the language of this passage he faces a “mountain” of obstacles to his completion of this, the greatest project of his life. However, even though there’s much to stop him, there is even more to assure his success. The “even more” is God. The Lord’s pleased with his commitment to this task and the Lord’s going to see to it that he succeeds. My friend, once those words are said there’s nothing more to say and the only thing left to do is to do it. Through the centuries God’s people have discovered this passage, and many others like it, and have been both challenged and encouraged to do mighty deeds in the name of the Lord. Not only that, ordinary people like me have applied this “big mountain, who do you think you are?” approach to dealing with the ordinary, everyday circumstances of life. As Paul writes to the Church at Rome, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Take Away: God’s Spirit, in me, makes the impossible possible.

Devotional on Ezra

2018 – Sightseeing Acadia National Park and area

Professional discouragers
Ezra 4: They even hired propagandists to sap their resolve.
Beyond the actual challenge of rebuilding the Temple in the ruins of Jerusalem is the presence of those who oppose the project. People from distant lands were exiled to this area in the same way that the people of Israel were moved elsewhere. Now, the new residents (and I say “new” guardedly because they’ve been there over 60 years) view the presence and work of the Jews with suspicion and hostility. At first these people offer to participate in the project, but it’s almost certainly an offer made with ulterior motives. When that fails, they go to work trying to stop the work. At one point they even hire people to give their time to discouraging the builders and those “discouragers” pretty much succeed. For 15 years the big project limps along and then, thanks to a carefully worded letter to the new king, the work is stopped altogether. This incident is a good reminder that we should never deceive ourselves into thinking that because we’re doing the right thing and giving sacrificially to the work of God that things are going to go smoothly. For one thing there are some “professional propagandists” (some of them on the “inside” of things) who’ll do all they can to divert our attention away from that to which we’re called.
Take Away: Beware of listening to, or even worse, being, a professional discourager.

Devotional on Nehemiah

2018 – Cades Cove – Smoky Mountains National Park
When the enemy throws everything at you
Nehemiah 6: I prayed, “Give me strength.”
As the rebuilding project nears completion the enemies of Nehemiah desperately try to stop it. Since Nehemiah doesn’t fall for their “let’s meet” ploy they try slandering him. Their rumor is that Nehemiah’s about to set up a private kingdom behind the walls of Jerusalem and they threaten to send this word to Artaxerxes, himself. Nehemiah can’t stop them from their lies, but he can pray. Their next effort is to hire Shemaish son of Delaiah to pose as a prophet of God. Shemaish comes to Nehemiah pretending to be his friend. He’s heard from God that this very night people are coming to take his life. According to Shemaish, Nehemiah’s only hope is to hide in the part of the Temple reserved only for priests of God. It’s there that he’ll be safe. In spite of the credibility of this warning, Nehemiah decides that this “prophecy” doesn’t add up. For one thing, he’s not a priest and his going into that part of the Temple would be an act of desecration. Nehemiah refuses to cooperate and continues rebuilding the wall. The effort of Tobiah and Sanballat to stop Nehemiah from doing what God called him to do serves as a sort of spiritual warfare field manual for us. The enemy of our souls uses all these ploys to distract us from serving the Lord. First, they mock Nehemiah and his crew, telling them that they’ll never be able to finish what they’ve started. When that fails, they threaten them with personal violence. Next, they pretend compromise. After that there are lies and insinuation. Finally, they pretend to be the Voice of God. Nehemiah’s defenses are: a firm belief that he’s doing God’s will, absolute commitment to the task, an abundance of common sense, and lots of prayer. Fifty-two days later, Jerusalem is once again a walled city.
Take Away: The more committed you are to doing the will of the Lord the more committed his enemies will be to stop you from doing just that.

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