Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Colorado – Denver in the distance

Friends and family
Ecclesiastes 4: A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
There’s power in relationships. I’ve heard it said that some people are “married to their jobs.” That is, their work is the most important thing in their life and because of that the most important relationship in their life has suffered. The writer reminds those with type “A” personalities that relationships are what make life worth living. A person who gives everything up to climb the cooperate ladder is chasing after smoke, wasting their life. Accomplishments are worthwhile only when there’s someone with whom to share them. Also, family and friends help us get up again after life has knocked us down. There’s more to life than work, position, and financial rewards. In fact, these potential blessings can become a curse if they dominate our lives. Our most valuable possessions are our relationships. The greatest mistake a person can make is to neglect and lose the real “gold” of life for some job or due to an unhealthy devotion to the ladder of success.
Take Away: Our most valuable possessions are our relationships

Devotional on Song of Songs

2003 – Colorado

Don’t just fall in love with being in love
Song of Songs 2: Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you’re ready.
The woman, who co-stars in the opera, is speaking to her “sisters in Jerusalem” and she has some good advice for them. She tells them to wait for the right time and for the right person to be sent into their lives before falling in love. Sometimes young women are more in love with the idea of being in love than they are actually in love. They get emotionally involved with someone who has a very different agenda than they do and the result is, at best, disappointment and a feeling of having been used and cheapened. Song of Songs is a celebration of human love and sexuality — and the two are very much linked. The woman who is loved by the King says, “The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.” Young women across the ages have faced the temptation to do otherwise but to do so is to accept a cheap imitation that won’t last. In Song of Songs, the opera about love, we’re told: “wait, you’ll be glad you did!”
Take Away: The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Hike to Mills Lake – Rocky Mtn National Park, CO

Taking it out of the church and into McDonald’s
Isaiah 48: But do you mean it? Do you live like it?
I don’t know how a pastor ought to look but apparently I don’t fit the part very well. Because of that through the years I’ve surprised people. I’ll be taking to a man about something, maybe a business deal, and his language will have words and phrases that Christians don’t use. Then, when he finds out I’m a pastor it all changes. I’ve even had people who started off using God’s name in some inappropriate way shift clear over to telling me how good God has been to them. Needless to say, I’m not impressed by such a sudden change of language. In this passage, the Lord’s complaint against Israel isn’t that they refuse to speak the language of God or that they’ve forsaken prayer. In fact, they say and do a lot of the right things. The problem is that none of it is backed up in their lives. They give God lip service and then turn back to their chosen life style. There’s a caution in this for all of us. It isn’t just a potty-mouthed used car salesman or a backslidden Israelite who should be concerned here. I talk the language of “Zion” a lot and that’s as it should be. However, when I’m not being “spiritual” what is it that I do and say? The measure of religion isn’t how loudly I sing in church. All that “religious stuff” has to translate into how I relate to people when I am standing in line at McDonald’s or driving in traffic during rush hour.
Take Away: What we say and do at church needs to be translated into what we say and do outside of church.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Old Mill – Pigeon Forge, TN

That we may be one
Isaiah 60: I am God. At the right time I’ll make it happen.
Sin separated them from their Maker and destroyed their nation. God sent their enemies to conquer them and then to scatter them throughout the world. Now, the Lord is making plans to gather his people from the four corners of the earth and make them into a nation of especially blest people once again. Isaiah encourages them that it won’t be long now before it happens. What plays out in the history of Israel reflects the larger journey of humanity. We read in Genesis of the fall of the human race in the Garden and the resulting “driving out” that takes place. Later on, Cain’s sin causes him to, again, be driven out. Then, after the Flood God tells the renewed human race to fan out and populate the face of the earth. Instead, they gather at Babylon to build a tower. The Lord confounds their languages, forcing them to scatter into many different people groups. This, though, isn’t the final intention of God. When the time is right, he’ll gather his people to himself. Jesus tells his followers that God wants to make us one. He encourages us that in his Father’s house there’s room for all and that he’ll take us there. Even as Isaiah describes a reuniting of Israel, the larger picture of the Bible describes God’s plan to reunite humanity in an eternal relationship with him. Since that’s God’s plan we can be sure that he’ll “make it happen.”
Take Away: The Lord’s intention is to unite the human race with one another and, especially, with himself.

Devotional on Lamentations

2010 – Garden of the gods – Colorado Springs Co

Real gold
Lamentations 4: Gold is treated like dirt.
The “gold” Jeremiah’s talking about isn’t the precious metal. He’s talking about the precious people of God. As Jerusalem lay under siege and then fell to the merciless invaders, he saw the most valuable “commodity” of all kicked aside and treated as worthless. When the devastation was finished, he saw people scavenging for a bit of food or even some kind of clothing to protect them from the elements. It was a horrible thing that Jerusalem fell. It was sad that all the valuables from the Temple were broken up and carried off as spoils of war. Worse than those things though was the devaluing of humanity. I sincerely pray that I’ll never see anything like what Jeremiah witnessed. Still, I take seriously the more general truth that’s found here: people are more important than things. I need to give thought to how that truth is demonstrated in my life. It may be as simple a thing as my dropping down on one knee to really listen to a child or it may be quite complicated, for instance, dealing with a boss who frustrates me to death but has deep hurts of his or her own. It’s good to be reminded today that its people who are true “gold.”
Take Away: People are more important than things.

Devotional on Malachi

2014 – Horsethief Campground – Moab, UT
Repentance lessons
Malachi 3: Return to me so I can return to you.
If my relationship with God is strained or even broken today there’s a remedy. When, like the Prodigal Son, I come to my senses, rise, and return to my Father I find that he’s been waiting for me all along. What a relief it is to know that the Lord doesn’t hold a grudge against me. Rather, he patiently reaches out to me, calling me to himself. When Malachi states this spiritual fact of life to his congregation, someone asks for more information on this “returning” business. Exactly how do they do that? The prophet has an answer ready. A sure sign that a person’s returning to God is honest repentance on their part. In Jesus’ parable, the Prodigal is honest with himself and with his father. He’s messed up and he wants to make things right. He knows he doesn’t deserve re-admittance into his father’s household as a son, so he’ll take what he can get. That, my friend, is honesty. In this passage, Malachi points out that they’ve been dishonest with God in the stewardship of their possessions. He tells them that, for them, honesty with God means admitting their failure in this matter. This business of bringing sick and blind animals for sacrifice has to be stopped, confessed, and made right. Their practice of shortchanging God with their tithes has to end and be corrected. That’s what repentance is all about: confession and change. Through his prophet, the Lord says, “If you’ll return to me in repentance, I’ll return to you and bless your life in wonderful ways.” When a nation as a whole makes things right with God, Malachi says, it’ll be voted “Happiest Nation” and be known as a “country of grace.” That’s a good place to live.
Take Away: A sure sign that a person’s returning to God is honest repentance on their part.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

The Perfect Sermon

Matthew 5: Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

In one glorious Sermon Jesus sums up the life to which God calls us. In every word we hear pure gold. It’s in retrospect that I realize that this beautiful, perfectly constructed Sermon challenges me at every level of my life. This chapter of the Sermon touches on everything from how to be blessed, to heavy topics like murder, adultery and divorce. Jesus deals with the promises we make and our relationships with our enemies. Obviously, the religion he teaches isn’t merely about “me and God.” Just about every word in this perfect Sermon is about “me and you.” It concerns my relationship with people I like (and maybe like too much according to the section on adultery) and people I don’t like (I’m to settle things with my old enemy quickly before things get even worse). He sums up this first part of the Sermon by teaching me to live “generously and graciously.” Rather than protecting my turf I’m to think the best of people and be generous in my dealings with them. This pretty Sermon has teeth. It’s supposed to work out here in the real world. And, just so I clearly understand the measure of this gracious, generous life style, Jesus tells me that I’m to treat others in the same gracious, generous way God treats me. I need to spend a whole lot of time here at the Sermon on the Mount.

Take Away: The Christian life is as much about “me and you” as it’s about “God and me.”

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 Philippians

2014 – Along OR 101

What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?

Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.

A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.

Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?

Devotional on 1 Peter

2014 – near Sutter’s Mill – Coloma, CA

Putting Jesus on display

1Peter 2: Treat everyone with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.

Being a Christian in a non-Christian society has its challenges. Sometimes Christians are viewed with suspicion and other times with contempt. Peter says it’s up to us to correct the mistaken views of our faith. We do that, not by standing up for our rights or debating to prove our point or by withdrawing from society. Instead, we take our spiritual lives out to the streets and let our faith be seen by anyone who cares to look. We treat people well, granting them dignity no matter what their station in life. We treat one another well, refusing to sink to petty infighting over minor differences of opinion. We live as people who reverence God, unashamedly putting our high regard for the Lord on display. Finally, we conduct ourselves as good citizens, not using our citizenship of heaven as an excuse for neglecting our duties as citizens of the country in which we live. The result is that people who don’t know much about our religion will come to respect us. That, in turn, will open the door for us to have a real influence for Jesus. We don’t try to win people by beating them over their heads with our Bibles. Rather, we win them by putting the Jesus we serve on display in our lives every day and in every situation.

Take Away: People are drawn to lives that reflect the real Jesus.

Devotional on 1 John

2014 – Yosemite National Park

Good for what ails you

1John 3: For God is greater than our worried hearts.

John moves to his favorite topic: love. Frankly, he sees love as a cure-all, good for what ails us. Are we at odds with our brothers and sisters? Love will fix it. Are we struggling in understanding God’s purpose for us and in grasping what Jesus has done for us? The key is love. When we see countless wrongs in the world and wonder what should be done about them John says the key component in our response is, you guessed it: love. The test of love proves or disproves our relationship to this God who is love. As his love is allowed into my life — as it’s allowed to influence how I feel about, well, everything, its then that I know I’m where God wants me. For many of us our greatest challenge is loving self. I, more than anyone else, know my faults and failures. It may be that I’ve been verbally abused and have come to believe that what was said to me and about me is true. Possibly, deep in my psyche is the belief that if anyone really knew me they’d see so many flaws that they’d never love me. John tells me that that’s simply untrue. The One who knows me best, who “knows more about us than we do ourselves” loves me with a powerful, sacrificial love. He thinks I’m worth loving, worth dying for. As I accept his love for me, and his evaluation of me my relationship with myself changes. Once again, even as I struggle with my own self-esteem, the answer is love.

Take Away: Love is the greatest.

Devotional on 2 John

2014 – Sightseeing in San Francisco, CA

Pastor to people

2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.

Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.

Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.

Devotional on Exodus

2013 – Smoky Mountains and vicinity – Cullasaja Gorge

Identity crisis
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.

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 Exodus

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

Living as one of God’s people
Exodus 22: Don’t be stingy as your wine vats fill up. Dedicate your firstborn sons to me.
If anyone thinks the Law given at Mount Sinai is all about the Ten Commandments or at least is filled with regulations concerning their religion they need to spend some time in the second half of the Book of Exodus. The regulations stated here are a mulligan stew of civil, personal, and religious rules and regulations. The Lord’s just as interested in telling them how to settle a property dispute as he is in telling them how to conduct a worship service. For instance, he tells them that as they prosper in the land he’s giving them that they’re to live generous lives. Then, in the very next sentence he tells them that they’re to dedicate their firstborn sons to him. For these people, there’s to be no difference between their “religious” lives and their “secular” lives. Instead, they’re to live their “whole lives” under the authority of God. Refraining from eating the meat of some dead animal they find in the field and making sacrifices only to the Lord God are both filed under the heading of “be holy.” A lesson for me in all this is that my life as a whole is to be lived under the authority of the Lord. I’m to live a generous, honest, compassionate life. Not only am I to dedicate my children to the Lord, but, as my “wine vats fill up” I’m to be a generous person, sharing the blessing the Lord has given me. The two, secular and religious, are really just one, living as one of God’s people.
Take Away: My entire life is to be lived as a person of God.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Canyonlands National Park, UT

It’s a local call
Exodus 29: I’ll move in and live with the Israelites. I’ll be their God. They’ll realize that I am their God….
Moses, their leader, is on the mountaintop, both physically and spiritually, in conference with God Almighty who’s giving him all kinds of instructions. The Lord intends to make the people of Israel a unique nation on the face of the earth. Right now the Lord is in the process of setting everything in motion. In the midst of the detailed plans for the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings I hear an earth shaking promise from God. He says, “I’ll move in and live…I’ll be their God…they’ll realize that….” This concept is both humbling and thrilling. The Lord isn’t going to sit up on Mount Sinai, distant and unapproachable. Instead, he’s moving in with them. Some years ago a joke was going around about churches having a “golden telephone” providing direct access to the Lord. The punch line depended on where the joke teller lived. Of course, for me, Texas was the featured state. Using the golden telephone in Texas is much cheaper because calling heaven is local call from Texas. In this passage in Exodus we find that the Lord intends that it be a “local call” when his people call his name. He’s moving in and has no desire to be beyond our reach. It’s humbling to think that God Almighty would take such interest in mere human beings. However, it’s also thrilling to consider that he wants to move into my neighborhood and be an active participant in my everyday life. For Moses, this is all about the Tabernacle and worship there. For me it is all about Jesus coming and then sending his Holy Spirit to “move in and live” in my heart. “Oh Lord, come on in, you’re welcome here.”
Take Away: The Lord is as near as my next thought directed to him.

Devotional on Deuteronomy

2014 – Cape Disappointment, WA

The distant reach of failure
Deuteronomy 1: Don’t be terrified of them, God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you.
The “you” in this passage isn’t the members of the present congregation. It’s their parents. However, Moses is speaking to them as a nation of people, seen as one with the previous generation. This doesn’t sit well with my Western mindset. We Westerners are individualists who like to think we make our own decisions apart from others. In this case it was 40 years earlier that Moses had said these words and “they” refused to hear, refused to have faith, and refused to obey. The penalty was 40 years in the wilderness — an experience all those in the congregation hearing this sermon did share, at least to some extent. Soon it will be their turn to hear, believe, and obey. Moses is preparing them for it by reminding them of their already shared failure in their parents. Still, God is the God of Second Chances. Soon they will stand on the banks of the river. To a great extent they will have the opportunity to erase the failure of those who went before them. While I’m no expert on “generational curses” (or “generational blessings” for that matter) I’m reminded that my failure or faithfulness reaches far beyond my individual life.
Take Away: It’s unlikely anyone ever sees the full extent of their influence, be it for good or for evil.

Devotional on Deuteronomy

2014 – Cape Disappointment, WA

Intimacy with God
Deuteronomy 4: What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us?
I’m tempted to focus on “national gods” here. In this distant day each nation has its own gods and it’s unthinkable for anyone to imagine a nation kicking out its gods to worship those of another nation. I’m pretty sure a case could be made that we still have “national gods.” In the instance of my country those gods are named “Materialism” and “Pleasure.” However, instead of pursuing that line of thought (come to think of it, I guess I already did!) I’ll focus on what it’s like to worship the true God. Humans don’t make this God out of some precious metal. Rather, this God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground. This God makes no demand of those who serve him that he doesn’t first make of himself. For instance, before he calls people to love him he first loves them. In fact, this God always acts first, moving in grace-full ways in the lives of people. And, as Moses says, this God seeks intimacy with his Creation. Moses wants his congregation to realize how blessed they are. Of all the nations of the earth, they have the God who willingly involves himself at every level of their lives. Today, this Almighty Being invites me to experience that same level of intimacy, that personal day-to-day relationship with him.
Take Away: What a privilege it is for the creature to have intimate fellowship with the Creator.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Pinnacles National Park, CA

(Don’t) Make yourself at home
Judges 3: But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites.
It’s their first test and they fail it. They’ve failed to remove the pagan people from the land and now their test is to live near them but not become one of them. They miserably fail. Before long their young people are getting married to Canaanites and the perverted worship practices of those people is being accepted by them. Simply put, they feel right at home with these heathen. In his anger, God turns his back on them and soon everything falls apart. How at home am I in my society? Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them and genuinely liked them. But he never became one of them. On one hand there’s the example of the Israelites who feel so at home with the Canaanites that they adopt their ways. On the other hand we have Jesus who loves people and fellowships with them, but in doing so, invites them to be the ones who are changed. God help me to love the lost without making myself “at home” with them in the manner of these Israelites.
Take Away: Is the Church changing the culture or is the culture changing the Church?

Devotional on Nehemiah

2018 – Pinnacle Mountain State Park, AR

Hard to pronounce names
Nehemiah 10: The sealed document bore these signatures.
The Book of God has been read and a song of invitation has been given. Now, the civil, religious, and family leaders line up to put their names on the dotted line. Once they finish, the people join in a binding oath to obey the Laws of God. It’s these signers who draw my attention today. I doubt they ever imagined that almost 2500 years later I’d be sitting here looking at their names: Mica, Bigvai, Hasshub; an entire page of names that mean only one thing to me: these are people who committed themselves to obey God. I don’t know what Adin or Beninu did for a living and I don’t know what became of their family tree. Hariph and Nebai might have built big businesses or designed impressive architecture but 2000+ years later that’s all lost to me. It’s their relationship to God that still resonates across the centuries. If the Lord tarries for 2500 more years I will, no doubt, be forgotten too and that’s okay. I’ll add my name to the only list that really matters and join these remembered people as a committed follower of the Lord.
Take Away: In the long run it’s your relationship to the Lord that matters the most.

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