Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

Soaring like eagles
Isaiah 40: Those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles.
Isaiah says that when everything else gives way that “God lasts.” He doesn’t lose interest and he doesn’t grow weary. Everything else can, and will, fail, either intentionally or unintentionally but God never fails. Beyond that, God’s people draw strength from him. We’re still human and because of that we face the frailties of humanity. Still, as we trust in the Lord and lean on him we find strength where it matters the most. The strength to soar like an eagle isn’t strength to win races or ball games. It isn’t strength to never fail in the events of life. It’s spiritual strength to live in a victorious relationship with our Creator even in the face of our humanity. When Isaiah talks about people who run and don’t get tired he’s talking about the race of life. The body wears out and begins to fall apart. Physically, we spend 25 years or so gaining strength and then 50 years giving back, little by little, what we’ve gained. Spiritually though, as we “wait upon God” we finish the race with all the vigor we had at the beginning of it because he renews us day by day. It’s a bit of a paradox, but very often the people we know who on the outside seem to have the least strength are the very ones who “soar like eagles” in spirit.
Take Away: The people of the Lord draw strength from him.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Hike to Mills Lake RMNP, CO

Being reconnected to God
Isaiah 49: I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me.
The man of God looks to the coming of the Messiah and his words are filled with hope. The Promised One’s coming will impact lives as nothing else could. The broken relationship that exists between the Creator and the Creation will be repaired as God comes to us in the Messiah. The greatest need of humanity is that this broken relationship be repaired. Everything that’s messed up about us is messed up because we’ve become disconnected from the Source of Life. The solution isn’t that we try harder, or figure out how to fix things, or somehow appease the Lord. While being forgiven of our sins and receiving the promise of heaven is a part of God’s intention for us, it’s only a part. We’re created to live in fellowship with God and that fellowship is broken. We broke it and in so doing, broke ourselves. Only he can provide a solution to this problem. When I receive this “Re-connecter” into my heart, cooperate with him day by day, and let him do his work in my life his mission is being completed in me.
Take Away: We’re created to live in fellowship with the Lord.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Big Lagoon State Park, FL

Insulting God
Jeremiah 2: But my people forget me. Day after day after day they never give me a thought.
Jeremiah says people think about the things that are important to them. Women don’t forget that they own beautiful jewelry. Guys don’t forget that the NFL playoffs are on. Political junkies don’t overlook the New Hampshire primaries. Jeremiah says that God’s charge against his people is that they’ve forgotten him. They live their days without giving God much thought, taking him for granted while focusing on things that really do matter to them. It isn’t so much that they’ve made a decision that God doesn’t matter. They’ve just concentrated on other things and neglected the spiritual. Now, they can go for days without giving the Lord any thought at all. I imagine that all that can change in an instant. When trouble comes they can get all “spiritual” in a hurry. God doesn’t like being treated that way. He created us to live in constant fellowship with himself. Apparently, he takes it personally when I can spend a day immersed in other things without giving him a thought. With that in mind, I must discipline my mind to keep God on my mind. Lord, let it never be said of me that I can wander through my day without giving you a thought.
Take Away: I must discipline my mind to keep the Lord on my mind.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Northeastern New Mexico

The cry of God’s people
Ezekiel 11: I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you.
Judah’s problem isn’t poor leadership or powerful enemies. They aren’t ignorant of God’s desires for them and they aren’t the unwitting victims of circumstance. They are where they are because they’ve rebelled against God. Through their history, time and time again, they’ve followed a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration — only to have it all start again. Now many of them have been exiled from the land God gave them. Back in Jerusalem sin reigns and soon the result of that sin will be the total destruction of their beloved city. The Lord says he’s going to break the cycle by changing their hearts. The result will be a people who love God and love his ways. Many Christians can identify with the cycle of failure we see when we journey with these ancient Israelites. We too have been trapped in a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration. As we read the promise of a “new heart” our spirits respond with longing for that kind of relationship with God. These words stir us and challenge us to let God have his way in our lives even if that means we need a spiritual “heart transplant.” The result is a healthy spiritual life: “You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”
Take Away: Only the Lord can do what must be done in us and he’ll only do it as we allow him to and cooperate with him in that work.

Devotional on Luke

2014 – Day trip to Vancouver, BC

Proximity religion

Luke 13: That’s when you’ll find yourselves out in the cold, strangers to grace.

I find this phrase, “strangers to grace” a chilling one. Jesus says that a lot of people think that because they hang out in the right places and associate themselves with the right people that they have it made. When the curtain of history falls they think they’ll be just fine and they’ll have a place at the table. The trouble is that their level of “knowing” falls far short of the requirement. To know Jesus is vastly superior to knowing about Jesus. His disciples live in a personal relationship with him. They don’t just hang out in the vicinity but, instead, enjoy a spiritual intimacy with our Lord. I can’t think of anything worse than depending on “proximity religion” when a personal, cherished, living relationship is available. It’s only at that level, as I live as a friend of the Lord, that I enjoy being a “friend of grace.”

Take Away: I want to be well acquainted with God’s grace in my life.

Devotional on 2 Corinthians

2014 – Cape Meares, OR – in the fog

My close, personal Friend

2Corinthians 3: God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.

Paul’s ancestors placed the weight of their hope in God on the Law given through Moses. And not just his ancestors, Paul, himself, starts off here. Then, out in the wilderness on the road to Damascus he has a personal, transforming encounter with the Lord that forever changes his life. Never again will he base his relationship with God on what was written on stone tablets hundreds of years earlier. Now, his relationship with the Lord is just that: a relationship. He doesn’t have to check a rulebook to know how things are between him and God. Rather, he enjoys a personal, intimate relationship with his Creator. This “face to face” level of faith is what the Apostle wants for his friends at Corinth and it’s what the Lord wants to have with you and me. Listen, don’t ever settle for a book of rules when you can personally know God. That’s the offer he makes to us in Christ, who not only came to die for us, but also came to live with and in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. For Christians, the Bible isn’t a book of rules to be followed. Rather, it’s a map that leads us to God and then helps us live in his personal presence.

Take Away: Don’t settle for rules when the reality of God in your heart is abundantly available in Christ.

Devotional on Hebrews

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

It’s all about Jesus

Hebrews 3: Take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe.

I have but a vague idea of what church was like for the original readers of this letter. Even if I can’t hear what’s being said I can walk into nearly any Christian worship event today and recognize elements I identify as “Christian.” Could I do the same if I found myself back in 50 A.D.? It’s a good question but I don’t have a good answer. How much of what we do is at the core of Christianity? Is preaching or singing or receiving the offering at the core? The writer of Hebrews reminds me today that Christianity is all about Christ. That must be the same whether I’m doing “high” or “low” church. In fact, if I make Christianity about church I’ve already missed the boat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-church, in fact, I’m all for it. However, for Christianity to be Christian it has to be absolutely focused on Jesus Christ. Even beyond that, it’s a living, right-now, kind of focus. I’m not looking at some old, dusty story or some tried and true belief system. I’m looking to a person who’s alive and well and with whom I have an up-to-date relationship. Only in such a relationship can I be a real Christian.

Take Away: If we’re not careful, we make Christianity about behavior or beliefs or church…that’s all mistaken. Christianity is about Christ.

Devotional on Hebrews

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

What God wanted all along

Hebrews 8: God put the old plan on the shelf.

Prior to Christ, the old plan was the only plan. It included laws written on stone, rules and regulations. It was characterized by failure, repentance, and trying harder. It actually never had a chance of setting people right with God and had more to do with letting people who wanted to “do it themselves” find out just how dissatisfying that kind of religion is. All along, the Lord had a superior way in mind. That better way started, not with rules and regulations, but with the Lord taking charge of salvation. His plan all along was to change people’s hearts so that their religion would be less religion and more relationship. There were plenty of hints that this was coming. The revered prophets of old were much more relationship oriented than they were rules oriented. Jeremiah, who’s quoted in this passage, longed for a day when God’s Law would be written inside a person rather than written on stone tablets. Their greatest king, David, was remembered, not as a man of rules but, instead, as a man after God’s heart. The rules had their place, but now they’ve been replaced by grace through Jesus Christ. Now, the old way is a museum exhibit. The new way is life, itself.

Take Away: Through Christ’s death we have abundant life – something rule keeping could never accomplish.

Devotional on 1 John

Near Groveland, CA

Walking in the light

1John 1: If we walk in the light…

John the Apostle is a man who enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus. At the Last Supper he’s the one who leans against the Lord to ask about the betrayer. His unofficial title in history is “John the Beloved.” The short letters he wrote focus on God’s love being active in us. He says that as a person who walked with Jesus, knowing him intimately, he wants to tell us how we too can experience an intimate relationship with the Lord. The key, he says, is our “walking in the light.” Immediately he defines that for us. To walk in the light is to walk with God. Obviously, there’s a way of living that nurtures a close, abiding relationship with the Lord. That way of life has wonderful benefits for me. For one thing as I walk in the light I find myself in the company of God’s people. For another, it’s in that relationship that the blood of Jesus is applied to my life, making me clean of all my sin. As I live in the light, I join the multitudes that have been made clean by the work of Christ. John is remembered as “the beloved” and as I walk with the Lord I join countless others who can be rightly called “beloved.” What a wonderful prospect!

Take Away: It’s such an amazing blessing to be one of the “beloved.”

Devotional on Revelation

2014 – Pinnacles National Park, CA

Not one size fits all

Revelation 3: The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.

The message of the Lord to each of the last three churches is far from uniform. Two of these churches are in trouble. The third is doing quite well. One of the two that is failing on the surface looks quite healthy. It’s a church that’s operating an aggressive program with lots of meetings and activities – a full calendar. The other church that’s failing believes in moderation. They feel they’re successful and have earned a respite. Sorry to say, that attitude has caused them to take a bit of a break from God too. The result is a stern warning from Jesus. The third church, though, has been through some tough times. Many have fallen away leaving a small, but dedicated group that’s been tested in painful ways. Through it all they kept the Word of the Lord with “passionate patience.” In other words, their love for the Lord has done nothing but increase even as they’ve patiently worked through some of the hardest days of their lives. The Lord’s pleased with them and promises to open doors for them and to vindicate them and to keep them safe. As I read about these three churches my takeaway today isn’t that it’s a bad thing for a church to have an aggressive program or for church and people to take a breather once in a while. I don’t come away thinking that to be small and poor is to be more spiritual. Frankly, I’ve been around a few groups that were small and poor and proud of it. What does come to mind is that there are challenges to be found in just about every situation. A busy, successful church needs to be careful not to mistake what it does for Jesus for a vital, living relationship with him. A church that has had some success needs to be careful to keep its priorities straight. To personalize this farther, I need to remember that it’s the same for individuals. The satisfied, fulfilled Christian life isn’t defined by past success or current business for the Lord. It’s all about living in a daily, connected relationship with him.

Take Away: My spiritual life isn’t defined by what I’ve done or am doing for the Lord. Rather, it’s all about my living in a current, abiding relationship with him.

Devotional on Genesis

Rocky Mountain National Park

Come out, come out, wherever you are
Genesis 3: God called to the Man: “Where are you?”
I’m created for fellowship with God. Somehow, in ways beyond my comprehension, God desires a relationship with me. God, you see, is all about relationships. In the Creation he seeks relationships so much that he creates beings with free will. Only such creatures can genuinely connect with him. In the Garden Adam and Eve enjoy the fellowship with God, functioning as they’re created to function. When they sin, they break that fellowship and distance themselves from God. What will he do? Will he press the “reset” button on Creation and give it another try? No, instead, we see the Almighty’s commitment to us. According to the Apostle Paul, that commitment was made before the first act of Creation. Adam and Eve don’t have to sin. They’re created to live forever and to enjoy constant fellowship with their Maker. However, before the very first “Let there be light” words are spoken the Lord has considered the possibly that if he makes beings with free will that that they might just reject him. What will he do if that happens? Out in pre-creation eternity the Lord decided that, no matter what happens, he’ll remain committed to his Creation. Before the first moment of time, he has a plan to “seek and to save that which was lost.” When we hear him calling “Where are you?” we’re witnessing the very first step in that plan to restore the broken relationship that now exists between God and humanity. It’s the first step, and in the distant future, we see a cross.
Take away: God wants more than obedience from me…more, he wants to be in a relationship with me.

Devotional on Leviticus

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

Rules and regs
Leviticus 1: God called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.
I know I’ll hear no contrary opinion when I say that the Book of Leviticus isn’t the most read book of the Bible. It’s about sacrifices and offerings and dedicating children and skin diseases. The most direct application of the rules and regulations of Leviticus pertain to the work of the Levites (those who served at the Tabernacle) and not very much to us. The instructions given touch on almost all aspects of how these Israelites of thousands of years ago were to live. In fact, it’s the “almost all” character of these regulations that opens the fuller meaning of Leviticus to us. God is coming down off the mountain to dwell among them. He’s going to inhabit the Tabernacle but that’s not all there is to it. He’s involving himself in every aspect of their lives. Of course, that includes the sacrificial system but it also includes how they’ll handle the messy part of their humanity. It includes their religious feasts and festivals but it also includes how they conduct their business affairs. I may read the prohibition against priests shaving their heads and see it as a quaint old historical fact, but when I put the whole scope of Leviticus into play I see God’s connection to every part of their lives, including how they cut their hair. I never doubt that God’s interested in how I go about worshipping him, and I’m familiar enough with the Ten Commandments to know that he insists on righteous living. However, Leviticus reminds me that the Lord’s also interested in the “non-religious” and “no-moral-aspect” parts of my life too. That doesn’t mean he intends to dictate how I handle the mundane details of my life, but it does mean he’s interested in such things and that he sees beyond the surface to the deeper meaning of things I may take for granted.
Take Away: The Lord wants to participate in all my life.

Devotional on Leviticus

2014 – La Conner, WA

There’s good news
Leviticus 26: I’ll set up my residence in your neighborhood…I’ll stroll through your streets.
There’s a bit more to Leviticus but this section is really the grand finale. Chapter 26 is the “blessing and the curse” chapter. Here, God says, “If you do this…then I’ll do that. If you do that…then I’ll do this.” To me the finest part of the blessing is God’s promise to move into their neighborhood and stroll through their streets with them. This is the Creator promising to be fully engaged with his Creation. They wouldn’t go to visit God down at the Tent of Meeting, and he wouldn’t just make special appearances at big events like the Passover observance. This is the promise of continued fellowship with their Creator in all the affairs of life. Amazingly, God wants to walk with us even before we’re aware of him and certainly in spite of the truth that we’re not worthy of such a relationship. What we see promised here is fulfilled to a great extent in Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. It’s further fulfilled when I receive the fullness of God, the Holy Spirit into my life. It will be gloriously completed when I experience the last pages of the book of Revelation. Lord, make yourself at home in my life now, and then.
Take Away: The Lord invites me to an intimate, daily relationship with himself – what an honor!

Devotional on Deuteronomy

2014 – Cape Disappointment, WA – North Head Lighthouse

Inherited blessings and personal decisions
Deuteronomy 5: God didn’t just make this covenant with our parents; he made it also with us, with all of us who are alive right now.
Some things are generational. That is, they’re passed along from parents to their children. Some of the promises of God are like that. Such promises are made to a people, a nation. Because of that it could be said that the children inherit the promise from their parents. Some generational issues are not exactly the property of the children in the way those big promises are, but because of human nature, they almost seem to be. Parents have an influence on their children. If that influence is godly the result is very likely a positive one. On the other hand, if that influence is negative, it’s very possible that things will begin to unravel more and more with each passing generation. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. The reason is that God remains active from one age to the next. Moses tells his listeners that the relationship God had with their parents, a relationship that was broken by their disobedience, is now offered to them. They won’t say, “We’re God’s people because our parents were God’s people.” Instead, they’ll be his people because God has called them and they’ve responded to that invitation. It’s a wonderful thing when parents pass their faith along to their children. It is even better when the children actively respond making that relationship to God their very own.
Take Away: A person who had godly parents is blessed, indeed. Still, that person has the responsibility of claiming that blessing – that relationship- as their very own.

Devotional on Deuteronomy

2014 – Pacific City, OR

Living as a people of God
Deuteronomy 6: The next time your child asks you, “What do these requirements and regulations and rules that GOD, our God, has commanded mean?”
The people of God are different than other peoples. However, their difference isn’t just for the sake of difference. Rather, their uniqueness means something. They’re a unique people because they have a unique relationship with God. While there’s no question that God is worthy of worship, there’s more to it than worship. There’s a connection between them and their God and that connection impacts everything about them. Obviously, that includes moral behavior but it also impacts what they eat, how they cut their hair, and how they dress. Even their calendar is built around their relationship with God. It’s because of how their relationship with God saturates their lives that their own children and people from the outside are perplexed and ask questions. Moses tells them how to answer those questions: “We live this way because of God. He has rescued us from our past and he has impacted everything about us. Our lives are all about him. Everything about us is about the Lord God.” This sweeping relationship between God and people was unique in their world and it’s unique in my world too. For others, God (or the gods) has his place and when we enter his territory he is to be acknowledged. Otherwise, we won’t bother him if he doesn’t bother us. For a follower of God-Jehovah though, that approach never works. Our lives are connected to him at every level. We live as we live because of that relationship. This is the message we pass on to our children. In fact, it’s the message we have for all who observe and question our approach to living.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t distant and observing. Instead, he’s present and involved.

Devotional on Joshua

2014 – near Eureka, CA

It makes sense
Joshua 8: There wasn’t a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua didn’t read to the entire congregation.
There’s both good news and bad news. The good news is that the Israelites have just won their second major victory. The bad news is that because of Achan’s sin, that victory was preceded by their first defeat. In spite of the clear statement of the Law Achan’s greed led to the deaths of several. Now, Achan, and those close to him, have paid for his sin with his own lives and the humiliation dealt the army of Israel has been erased by the total destruction of Ai. Joshua wisely calls for a time out. The people gather at the twin Mounts of Ebal and Gerisim and Joshua has half the people turn their backs on one of the mountains and the other half turn their backs on its twin. Then Joshua gives them a refresher course on God’s Law. The blessing of the Law is represented by Gerisim and the curse of the Law is represented by Ebal. Clearly, Joshua wants the people to remember that what they’re doing in Canaan isn’t all about combat and conquest. If they don’t remain firmly connected to the Lord God their future is bleak. Their only hope is to remain on the “blessing” side of things. This isn’t magic. In fact, it’s quite practical. Life works better for those who live in a consistent relationship with God than it does for those who reject him and live by some other standard. I realize that there’s more in play here, but I can’t help but note that the bottom line is based on plain good sense.
Take Away: There’s a way of life that is blessed by the Lord.

Devotional on 1 Samuel

2015 – Beeds Lake State Park – Hampton, IA

Listening, obedience, relationship
1 Samuel 15: Do you think all God wants are sacrifices — empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him!
Saul’s a failure in the eyes of God. His large army and military victories don’t impress the Lord. Now Saul blames the soldiers; something that doesn’t wash with the Almighty. Then, he says he’s going to sacrifice the animals in a worship service. Pitiful! Samuel has a word from the Lord for Saul. God isn’t interested in how many sacrifices Saul might make. Instead, he’s interested in obedience. Saul said “no” to God, now God’s saying “no” to him. Saul will continue in power for some time to come, but, in reality, his leadership has come to a whimpering end. Oswald Chambers says that the greatest hindrance to our relationship to the Lord is the service we do for him. “Look at all I’m doing for God” we declare, “Surely he can’t ask more of me than that.” He can and he does. Listening, obedience, and relationship: these things define God’s intentions for me. The Lord doesn’t put out a call for volunteer martyrs. He simply calls us to hear and obey. If that means sacrifice, fine. Otherwise, I listen to his voice and live my life in a relationship with him.
Take Away: We’re called to a daily, genuine relationship with the Lord – that’s what satisfies both us and him.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Getting out what we put in
2 Samuel 24: I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.
The final story in 2 Samuel is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. It seems that David, fearful that God wouldn’t supply an army strong enough to protect Israel, decides to do a national census. The result is that the Lord moves to punish David and Israel. The king is given three choices of punishment and David picks three days of epidemic sweeping the land because he’d rather be directly in the hands of God than be punished through the actions of his enemies as is proposed in the other two alternatives. This story doesn’t work for me very well. Offhand, it sounds as though an epidemic came and someone connected it to David’s lack of faith in taking the census. However, it’s right here in the Bible, so I’ll take it at face value, while, at the same time, keep in mind that there’s certainly more going on here than I see when simply reading the story. However, what happens next is easy to understand and challenging to me in my relationship with God. The plague is sweeping across the land and thousands are dying. David is told to build an altar in a specific place. If he does so, and offers sacrifices there, the plague will stop. David goes to the owner of the land and asks to purchase it. The man, Araunah, offers to give it to him but David replies that he isn’t going to offer to God that which costs him nothing. The price is set, the purchase made, the altar built, and the sacrifice is made, thus ending the plague. While I struggle with this story, I’m reminded of the tendency to offer God that which costs us nothing. We attend church when it’s convenient, we pray when we think we have the time, and in general, we practice a low impact religion. David’s example is one we need. We get out of our relationship with God what we put into it.
Take Away: I’m going to give the Lord my best because I want to get all I can from living in a quality relationship with him.

Devotional on 1 Kings

2015 – Along Lake Michigan at Manistique, MI

Keeping first things first
1Kings 5: What’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you.
Solomon has an aggressive agenda. He’s already built palaces, cataloged information about plants and animals, and amassed an impressive and well-equipped army. His reputation has spread across the face of the earth and he’s forged alliances with other nations. Now, he turns his attention to the building of the Temple. You might say that everything else he’s done has been practice for this, his most memorable accomplishment. As construction gets underway Solomon hears a word from the Lord. He’s reminded that living in daily obedience to God is even more important than constructing buildings to the glory of God. For Solomon, and for all those who call on the Name of the Lord, this is a vital concept. It’s so easy to confuse the things we do for the Lord with being in a right relationship with the Lord. More than sacrifices, more than building projects, more than well-organized church programs God desires that I concentrate on having a genuine connection to himself. All the rest is to flow out of that relationship. It’s a vital matter of priorities and, as it’s important in this passage for Solomon it’s important for me.
Take Away: We must be careful we don’t confuse the things we do in the Name of the Lord with our living in a genuine relationship with the Lord.

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