Devotional on Isaiah

Lost Maples State Park, TX – 2006

God’s response to my need
Isaiah 6: Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.
Isaiah’s vision of God’s holiness breaks his heart. In light of that vision any claims to righteousness are blown away. His brokenness brings him to the place of honest confession which is just what the Lord’s waiting for. Immediately, the Lord takes action to cleanse him of his sin. Since this is a vision, there’s a lot of symbolism here. We have an altar of sacrifice with fire, which speaks to us of surrender and purification. There’s Isaiah’s direct reference to his “unclean lips” which refer to, not just a tendency to say the wrong thing, but his whole life, which he sees as speaking in ways that reflect a deep level of spiritual need. The thrilling thing is how the Lord responds to Isaiah’s cry of repentance. A heavenly being touches his lips with the burning coal from the altar declaring the wonderful truth that his sin is “wiped out” and his guilt is gone. Listen, I don’t have to pull some surprising insight out of this passage. In fact, it’s surprising enough just as it is. When I realize the purity of God and see my own deep failure…when I confess it, throwing myself on the mercy God…when I do that, I place myself in the only place where the Lord can help me. I can’t forgive my own sin and I can’t purify my own life, but when I “repent and turn” he immediately does for me what I can never do for myself. There’s no better word from the Lord than “gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.”
Take Away: As I confess my need the Lord does for me what I can never do for myself.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Buffalo River, Arkansas

To do list
Isaiah 33: The answer’s simple: live right.
The picture Isaiah paints isn’t a pleasant one. Things are going to get bad as a firestorm of God’s wrath is on the agenda. Who can survive such a purging? How does a person prepare for it? Isaiah has a list for all who will listen: “live right, speak the truth, despise exploitation, refuse bribes, reject violence, and avoid evil amusements.” This, he says, is the way through the storm, the way to stability and satisfaction. I know that some things about God are complicated and it takes a lifetime of serious study and application to master them. However, some things are pretty straight forward and this list is an example of that. The Lord expects us to “live right.” That is, we can drop the excuses and commit ourselves to, as best we can, doing the things we know we should do. That isn’t all there is to it, but it’s a pretty good start. Soon enough we’ll realize that our best isn’t good enough, but it does turn us in the right direction and with that done, we’ll find ourselves aligned with God’s grace which is freely extended to us.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to “live right.”

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Cades Cove – Abrams Falls

The battle of the ages
Isaiah 59: So he did it himself, took on the work of Salvation.
The Lord God looks out to the horizon and sees the ugly advance of sin. Before him is a sea of lies and hate and evil and death. He looks to his right and left and sees no one who can raise the standard of righteousness. He comes to a decision. He, himself, puts on armor for battle: Salvation, Judgment, and Passion. There’s no one else who can take on the rising tide of evil; all others are tainted and overrun by this enemy. He, alone, will go into the battle with Righteousness as his strength. Two millennia ago that battle took place, not in the heart of God’s prophet but at a place called Calvary. There, God, the Son, does what no one else can do. On that old rugged cross the battle for righteousness is fought and won. With the fate of humanity in the balance this hero enters the conflict and defeats the enemy once and for all.
Take Away: Jesus fought and won the battle for humanity on the old rugged cross.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2008 – Campfire

Walking with God against the flow
Jeremiah 1: You’re a one-man defense system against this culture.
Several times in my journeys I’ve had the misfortune of driving along the highway, minding my own business, and coming up on fresh skunk road kill. The stench lingers in the car even after the site of the demise of the skunk is behind me. In commissioning Jeremiah to his life’s work, the Lord says that the culture of his nation stinks. God’s sick of it and is going to bring in enemies of theirs from the north to do a thorough cleaning. Jeremiah’s job is to prepare the way for that event by mounting an offense against that rotten culture. From the beginning it’s made clear to him that he’ll operate counter to the prevailing culture of that day. He’s going to be the focal point of some big explosions and his only hope of surviving them is that God’s going to make him rough and tough, as “solid as a concrete wall.” Jeremiah’s ministry is to be one of confrontation. Frankly, I doubt that the culture of my nation is any better than was that of Jeremiah’s. If God was sick of the stench of that culture then he must be pretty tired of that of our day too. Who knows? Right now God might be rising up a new Jeremiah. Whether or not that’s so, I do understand this: we believers have to do more than just go with the flow and feel pleased that we’re keeping our heads above water. We need to take a stand for righteousness in our homes and in other places where we have influence. Can God count on me to be a “one-man defense system” at least in those areas?
Take Away: Sometimes Christians have to take a stand for righteousness, even if that stand isn’t well accepted.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs, CO

The mark of God’s people
Ezekiel 8: Don’t lay a hand on anyone with the mark.
In one of his visions Ezekiel finds himself back in Jerusalem. The Lord takes him on a tour of the Temple, giving him a spiritual view of what’s actually going on there. The sin is outrageous and disgusting. Anyone who loves the Lord and worships him would be broken hearted to see their precious Temple desecrated in this way. Then, Ezekiel sees a man on a mission. He’s to walk the streets of Jerusalem, putting a mark on the foreheads of those who are distressed at the sin of their nation. All others will be wiped out. I find it interesting that in Revelation we find the “mark of the beast.” In that case, it’s those who refuse the mark who are saved. Here in Ezekiel, we see the reverse. It is those with the mark who are spared from the judgment that comes. Comparing the two “marks” ought to cause some who subscribe to a “Left Behind” brand theology to pause and consider! I think of the mark of Ezekiel as the “mark of caring.” You see, God cares about people and righteousness and holiness. He’s always on the lookout for people who’ll join him in that concern. If that fellow with the writing kit passed by my life today I wonder if I would receive that mark.
Take Away: The sin of our society should break our hearts.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX

Key people
Ezekiel 22: I looked for someone to…stand in the gap to protect this land.
The Lord’s on the lookout for people who’ll take a stand for righteousness. The reason he seeks such people is not so churches can build nicer buildings or even so that more people will attend their services. God knows it’s “repent or perish.” When a nation stubbornly disregards righteousness and persists in following a God-ignoring road that nation is in serious jeopardy. We’re not talking about such a nation getting a slap on the wrist for being “bad.” This is a life and death situation. The Lord says that when he sees a nation on this road he desperately seeks people who’ll stand up for what’s right. He doesn’t want to destroy that nation. Instead, he wants to redeem it and make its people into a people his very own. With that in mind, he looks everywhere for some key person in some key situation who’ll declare their loyalty to him and his ways. In Ezekiel’s day that person is never found. I may not be able to influence nations for righteousness, but maybe I can influence someone. With that in mind I step into the gap to stand for God even as I pray that that “big player” will step up to stand in the gap for my nation.
Take Away: “Here I am, send me.”

Devotional on Nahum

2013 – Smoky Mountains and vicinity – “Dry Falls” – Cullasaja Gorge

At just the right time God will speak
Nahum 1: And God has something to say about all this.
Things don’t look good for God’s purposes in the world. A wicked nation is doing very well. Their capitol city sits at the heart of incredible power and evil. God’s people are small in number and spirit. Is this the end of it all? Will sin and evil win the day? Nahum calls for calm as he declares good news for all those who love that which is good. Nineveh appears to be on top of the world, but “God has something to say about all this.” The “top of the world” position of that wicked city is a mere anthill in the eyes of God and when the Almighty acts, even that anthill will be “mowed down flat.” Through the centuries there have been many times when it seemed this world was out of God’s control and that the cause of righteousness was lost. There have been times when God’s people were speechless in the face of overwhelming sin. That’s okay. You see, even when we’re at a loss as to what to do or say, at just the right time, God will speak. What appears to us to be overwhelming circumstances is a mere anthill to the Lord. My mission in such times is, first, to keep trusting in him even when it seems evil has the upper hand and second, if he can use me, to be a part of God’s remedy for a sin-sick world.
Take Away: At just the right time the Lord will speak.

Devotional on Zephaniah

2013 – Burgess Falls State Park, TN

We need to make up our minds
Zephaniah 2: You’re a nation without a clue about what it wants.
The prophet describes a coming day of God’s Judgment. The Lord’s about to demand an accounting from them and it’s clear that they aren’t ready for such a confrontation. Zephaniah tells people that they need to get their act together. They need to stop letting other nations be their primary influence and they need to start living as people who are going to face God. They’ve lost their bearings and are now at the mercy of whatever fad happens to come along. For a little known, mostly ignored, minor book of the Bible, Zephaniah has pretty much nailed my society. My nation has lost its bearings. It doesn’t want all those “Christian hang ups” but it can’t decide what values are worth pursuing. Instead, we’ve become a shallow people, more concerned about being politically correct than we are with being morally righteous. Zephaniah’s warning of Judgment Day needs to be heard here and now. Otherwise, our story is likely to end like that of clueless Judah.
Take Away: Zephaniah’s warning needs to be heard here and now.

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 Zephaniah

2013 – Along Natchez Trace – Fall Hollow

We don’t clean house to punish dust
Zephaniah 3: I’ll leave a core of people among you.
The prophet first turns his attention to other nations surrounding Judah. They’re not the chosen people, but they’ve refused the light they’ve been given. Because of that, the Day of Judgment that is such a driving force in Zephaniah’s preaching is coming to them too. When I read of Judgment in the Old Testament I sometimes come away thinking of God as punishing those who reject him. However, this passage takes me in a different direction. Zephaniah says that when God’s finished, he’ll leave a core of people who “will not do wrong.” If a person cleans house, wiping everything clean, they aren’t punishing the dust. Instead, they’re just cleaning things up like they ought to be. Through his prophets, the Lord cautions, warns, and pleads with people to repent and align themselves with his purpose for their lives. In the end, the Judgment that falls on those who refuse this patient call of the Lord is the result of their own refusal to connect to their Creator. I know that there’s a place to think about an angry God but I’m reminded today that a God who loves righteousness is bound by his own nature to take action when his creatures reject his righteousness. When the Lord’s finished, things will be drastically different and one of those changes will be that we’ll see core of previously unnoticed people still standing. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Take Away: A God who loves righteous must, ultimately, deal decisively with sin.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

When trouble comes knocking

Acts 24: I do my best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbors.

Paul’s first formal hearing is before the governor, Felix. In spite of the compliments paid him by Tertullus, the lawyer for the Jewish leaders, Felix is a corrupt official who isn’t above receiving bribes. However, as Paul points out, Felix is in some ways best suited to hear the case. He, himself, has a connection to the beliefs of the Jews because he’s married to a Jewish wife named Drusilla. He’ll have a better grasp on some of the finer points of this case than others. Tertullus contends that Paul is a ringleader of a group of Nazarene troublemakers. Paul responds that this simply isn’t true. He hasn’t even been in the country for several years and, at the Temple, he was minding his own business when others started the riot. He adds that he makes it his practice to get along with both God and man. Paul may have been at the center of a riot, but it wasn’t his intention. In fact, if he has it his way, he makes friends with everyone and focuses his energies on doing the right thing in all circumstances. This leads me to a couple of thoughts. First, Paul’s goal should be my goal. I’m to “do my best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbors.” Christians aren’t to be trouble makers. Rather, we’re to be good citizens and good neighbors. Second, sometimes my best isn’t going to be good enough. Like Paul, I don’t have to make trouble to get into trouble. Sometimes trouble finds me. When that happens to Paul, he stands his ground, shows proper respect, and trusts God to see him through the unwanted trouble. His example is a pretty good example for me and for all those who live for the Lord.

Take Away: Paul’s the same guy who says, “If possible live at peace with all men.”

Devotional on Romans

2014 – Mt St Helens, WA

A “me-story” or a God-story?

Romans 4: The story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.

The Old Testament story of Abraham doesn’t start with “Abraham sought God” or “Abraham was a righteous man.” Rather, the focus is on God who approaches Abraham, makes promises to him, and calls him to follow. Obviously, without Abraham’s response there would be no story. However, it’s even truer that without God’s first call, Abraham would have had no opportunity to obey in the first place. In the book of Romans, Paul wants us to understand the route to righteousness. We don’t arrive at a certain place where the Almighty is impressed by us and decides to take us under his wing. Rather, even when we’re hopelessly lost the Lord seeks us out, calls to us, makes promises to us and then awaits our response. The greatest thing Abraham ever does is to respond to what God does. As I apply that to my life I find all the rules being rewritten. If it’s just me doing stuff, even things that impress others, it’s not worth much. However, if I respond to God’s grace in my life, and then live my life in him, things happen that would have never otherwise been accomplished. My life becomes, not a “me-story,” but becomes a God-story.

Take Away: It all starts with the grace of God. I plug into that grace by faith.

Devotional on Galations

2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence

Faith or works?

Galatians 1: I can’t believe your fickleness.

The Apostle wastes no time getting to his purpose in writing. He states his credentials, reminding his readers that he is “God-commissioned” and then challenges their recent move away from grace and to Law. This, he says, is no small thing. Rather it’s a pivot away from Christ; a rejection of his message of mercy and life transformation. During his time in their province, Paul laid a foundation of faith for them. He avoided “rule talk” and concentrated on “freedom talk.” He knows all about rules and regulations. In fact, in earlier days he was the champion of both. The biggest fans of such things cheered him on, making him their hero. After meeting Jesus, though, Paul rejected all that. Then, as a messenger for Christ, he set out to tell the Good News and in the telling he carefully avoided binding people up with the things that had bound him the first part of his life. Now he hears that many are embracing the old, failed approach and he’s writing to put a stop to it. In his mind one must decide between seeking righteousness by faith or righteousness by works. The first is achieved only in Christ. The second, well, the second is never achieved and bound for failure before it starts. As I begin reading Galatians right off I’m plunged into a discussion about one of the primary concerns of human beings across the ages: just what must I do to be righteous in the eyes of God?

Take Away: Righteousness can never be found in keeping rules.

Devotional on Galations

2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence – sea lions sunning

Jesus only

Galatians 3: Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.

It’s astounding to read the writings of this once exemplary Pharisee as he takes on the failure of rule keeping. Paul was, at one time, a Pharisee’s Pharisee. He was cheered for his dedication to a thousand-and-one rules; zealous for that way of life to the point that he hunted down and imprisoned any who threatened it. Now, years later, he’s making a lawyerly case against that approach, urging his friends at Galatia back from the brink of yielding to a “Jesus-and” approach to God. When a past Pharisee says rule keeping dooms a person to spiritual failure I’m wise to listen. Paul says the key to spiritual life isn’t trying harder, rather it’s trusting God more. He says this secret has always been out there, hidden in plain view. After all father Abraham is counted as righteous, not because he’s so good at always doing just what God wants (in fact, he’s notoriously bad at it) but rather because he trusts God. Rather than creating a human powered way to God the rules prove to me once and for all that that approach will never work. I’m left in a hopeless condition unless a superior way is made available to me. And that’s exactly what happens. Jesus, the Son of God, accepts my failure as his own. What rule keeping can’t do, he does. The door to righteousness is opened wide. To surrender to a “Jesus and” approach is to take a step backward to a failed system. My hope is firmly fixed on “Jesus only.”

Take Away: There’s no other way to God than through faith in Jesus.

Devotional on Revelation

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

When God’s had enough

Revelation 18: The Strong God who judges her has had enough.

The actual God has had enough. It takes a lot to arrive at this place. A lot of God’s grace has to be rejected. A lot of his patience has to be wasted. As we’re reminded by the writer of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All heaven cheers this act of Judgment, not because of vengeance, but because of righteousness. For a righteous, pure, holy God to be who he is, ultimately, the end of all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must come. It’s not as though there haven’t been opportunities to turn around. I can say with confidence that there’s been at least 2000 years. At some point the patience of God will be exhausted. I want to be standing on the right side of things when God has “had enough.”

Take Away: For the Lord to be righteous, pure, and holy, sooner or later all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must be defeated.

Devotional on Genesis

2013 – Niagara Falls

One man

Genesis 6: God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.
Human beings have been removed from the Garden but they take their sin with them. Immediately, grace begins to flow, an unending river of good will toward these broken creatures. Sadly, the response is to reject the grace and push the Grace-Giver away. The crowning achievement of all God made has degenerated into a self-absorbed, God-ignoring shadow of what might have been. This “free-will” business isn’t working out and like radical surgery is sometimes needed to battle cancer, the Lord makes the painful decision to prune away all the foulness so that humanity will get another chance. For centuries the number of people who chose to respond to God’s grace has dwindled. Now, one righteousness man is left. If humanity is to be saved, it’ll be through him. The focus of the universe is on righteous Noah. We won’t see everything depending on just one man again until the Lord unleashes the eternal solution to the fallen condition of humanity. That will involve a willingness, not to build an ark, but to go to a cross.
Take away: The story of Noah is more about humanity getting a second chance than it is about judgment.

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

Is it about what I’m getting out of it?
Job 1: So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?
While the audience Satan has with the Almighty is challenging from a theological viewpoint, I think it, and this question in particular, is the absolute key to the whole book. We tend to think that the book of Job focuses in undeserved suffering and how Job responds to it, but even more basic is the issue here. The Lord points out Job’s righteousness to Satan, says that Job is his friend, and is an outstanding servant. Satan, that old accuser, replies that the only reason Job lives right and loves God is for what he gets out of it. Certainly, God has blessed Job, delighting in bringing good things into his life. Is Job a righteous man simply because it’s good business, the smart thing to do, or is he righteous because he loves the Lord and chooses to serve him? What if Job wasn’t getting anything out of his service of God? What if, instead of blessings, curses are brought to his life? Will Job then turn his back on God and curse him? While the issue of undeserved suffering is a basic one I think this issue is even more basic. Why do I serve the Lord? Is it to escape hell and go to heaven? Is it so I won’t be plagued with guilt over my sin? What if all the “perks” are removed? Again, this is about as basic a question as there is.
Take Away: Why do you serve the Lord?

Devotional on Job

2019 – Sightseeing along the Niagara Gorge, NY

Paddling around in the shallow end of the pool
Job 19: Why do you insist on putting me down, using my troubles as a stick to beat me?
I think I can safely pick up speed in my journey through Job because the themes are now pretty well established. Job insists on his integrity and stubbornly holds to his faith even though he feels God is treating him unfairly. His friends have become his accusers. Ever though they can’t point to a single act of unrighteousness in his life, they point to his terrible afflictions as proof that there has to be unrighteousness. Job characterizes this as their using his “troubles as a stick to beat me.” By now we’re supposed to understand that the suffering has come to Job precisely because he is righteous. It’s this righteousness that sets this chain of events in motion in the first place. The question being answered is “does Job serve God out of love and commitment or is it because of the good things he gets out of it?” Is human righteousness a part of some kind of business arraignment between man and God or is there something deeper going on? Of course, all this is beyond Job’s friends and is beyond Job himself. His friends are so overwhelmed by the terrible scene of suffering before them that they can’t see anything else. I think we’re all in danger of living at that level. We like the easy way out, the conventional wisdom, and cling to easily held beliefs. Sooner or later, God will challenge such an approach to life, taking us deeper even, if necessary, over our groans of protest.
Take Away: Easily held beliefs are often the hardest ones to let go.

Devotional on Job

2019 – Niagara Falls, NY

The difference between imperfection and unrighteousness
Job 25: Even the stars aren’t perfect in God’s eyes.
The final statement from one of Job’s three friends (although the fourth speaker, Elihu, is still to come), is a short one and it causes us to wonder if maybe Job has argued them to a standstill. However, Bildad does take us down a bit different track. He argues that only God is truly perfect, and next to him, everything else comes up short. Even the stars of the sky are lacking in God’s eyes. Since that’s true (according to Bildad) God is justified in bringing calamity on anybody, including Job. After all, we’re all less than insects when compared to God. That’s his argument, but it isn’t a very good one. Job replies that he maintains his integrity even in the midst of what he sees as an unjust trial. His argument isn’t that he’s perfect. Rather, it’s that he’s just. Job understands something that many modern Christians fail to grasp. There’s a difference between imperfection and unrighteousness. God looks, not on our performance, but on our intent. My humanity guarantees that I’ll have a sub-par performance. However, by God’s grace, I can live for God and maintain my integrity before him even in the worst of times. Samuel learned this truth before anointing David King of Israel: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Job may be struggling with several theological concepts, but he has this one down pat.
Take Away: By the grace of the Lord it is, indeed, possible to have a pure heart in his sight.

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