Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Rocky Mtn Natl Park, Colorado

Return on investment
Ecclesiastes 11: Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns.
The Lord is wonderfully generous to us. He’s given us the world and all its beauty and life itself. His greatest gift to us is salvation. This gift cost him everything as is seen at the cross. This is God’s investment in us and his charity toward us. Solomon says “charity yields high returns.” God gave everything and he has every right to expect big returns on his investment. What is the return he expects? He expects human beings to respond to his great act of charity by giving their hearts to him in loving devotion. From the very beginning God has desired willing fellowship from us. That relationship is so valuable to the Lord that he gave everything (invested everything) that that relationship might be restored. It’s my positive response to that sacrifice; my responding in love and thanksgiving, and my walking in continued fellowship with the Lord that he considers to be a “high return.”
Take Away: Am I giving the Lord a “high return” on his investment in me?

Devotional on Isaiah

Lost Maples State Park, TX – 2006
Living Water
Isaiah 12: Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.
As I read this statement from Isaiah about drawing “buckets of water from the wells of salvation” I can’t help but think of Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman “living water” that she might “never thirst again.” As I see Isaiah promising a day when abundant “salvation water” will be available and remember Jesus offering just such water, well, I can’t help but focus in on this wonderful offer. I’m glad today that Jesus didn’t just offer a philosophy of life or a new approach to religion. Instead, his “well of salvation” contains that which is “living” and fully satisfying. Whether Isaiah’s prophecy really applies here or not, it does remind me of all Jesus has made available. In the words of the woman at the well, “Give me that living water that I might never thirst again.”
Take Away: The “living water” is nothing other than an abiding relationship with the Lord, himself.

Devotional on Isaiah

Garner State Park, TX – 2006

I’d rather do it myself
Isaiah 30: Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves.
The salvation being spoken of in this passage isn’t “getting religion.” Instead, it’s salvation from an enemy that’s threatening to destroy them. Their effort to save themselves includes preparing for war and forming an alliance with a powerful nation that they might defend themselves. Still, there’s a spiritual element here. Their nation’s existence has always been improbable, a seeming fluke of history. Their ancestors were slaves who never had a chance of calling any land their own. Had it not been for God Almighty acting on their behalf they would have, by now, been one of thousands of forgotten people groups, a mere footnote in history. To forget just who they are how they came to be is a recipe for disaster. However, that’s exactly what they’ve done. They’ve removed from their lives the One who gave them existence in the first place. Now, when everything starts coming apart they’re looking for a “reasonable” solution; a solution that excludes God. Through Isaiah the God they’ve ignored tells them that they have only one chance and that chance is in him. What’s true of nations is also true of individuals. I owe my very life to him. The next breath I take is a gift of the God who has loved me and patiently worked in my life. To turn my back on him and fool myself into thinking I can handle life on my own will result in disaster. In Isaiah’s words: my “strength will come from settling down in complete dependence” on the Lord. There’s plenty of hope here, but also there’s plenty of warning.
Take Away: The Lord is our hope – our only hope.

Devotional on Proverbs

2002 – Maine

Rescue the perishing
Proverbs 24: Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help.
Fanny Crosby wrote the missionary song that’s based on this proverb. Many a missionary service of years gone by has featured her song “Rescue the Perishing.” Would that the lives of God’s people feature it’s message in this day! The immediate assumption of the proverb is that there are those who are, indeed, perishing. In some cases it’s quite clear that people are in trouble. Their lives are unraveling and it’s plain that things can’t continue as they are. In other cases it takes insight to see what’s happening. People are living ordinary lives and pretty much keeping things together. However, spiritually speaking, they too are perishing. When Jesus stated his mission he gave it in terms of “rescue” saying he came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” As I consider this proverb, I’m challenged to join Jesus in that mission. “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
Take Away: As followers of Jesus we need to join him in his mission to rescue the perishing.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Elk in Rocky Mtn National Park, CO

Such Good News!
Isaiah 42: I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
As Isaiah celebrates the ministry of the Messiah it seems that God, Himself, steps onto center stage. He, too, comes to rejoice in the promise of a “new salvation work.” This Salvation-Bringer is coming, not because people have earned it but because the Lord has “taken responsibility” for them and is going to act in their behalf. The result of that ministry will be that God’s people will “live right and well.” Today, I’m reminded that Jesus didn’t come to the world to condemn us for living poorly; instead, he came to enable us to live well in the sight of God. Jesus put it this way: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Take Away: Jesus came to enable us to live well in the sight of the Lord.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Lake Irene, Colorado

Only One Savior
Isaiah 43: I’m the only Savior there is.
I know that pluralism and tolerance are in, and, truthfully, I agree that these are a positive step away from bigotry and narrowness. I also know that we Americans have a lot to learn from other nations and cultures. Just my limited relationships with friends of Mexican heritage has both broadened my perspective and deepened my life. This passage, however, underscores the other side this issue. If there’s a place for open-mindedness, there’s also a time and place for narrowness and exclusivity. In this passage I hear the Lord speaking words of hope and comfort through his man Isaiah. I see that God offers us the gift of salvation. I also am told he’s the only one qualified to make that offer. I can walk down the aisle of Wal-Mart and decide which brand of peanut butter I prefer. I can listen to presidential candidates and pick which one I want to support. I can realize that the Oriental culture has something to offer that’s just as good as or maybe even better than what my own culture offers. However, when it comes to salvation, there’s only one place to go, and that’s to the God Isaiah’s talking about. The salvation he offers is abundant and sufficient for me and for every other person. Still, I need to know that it’s also the only salvation that actually saves. He’s the only Savior there is.
Take Away: When it comes to salvation, there’s only one place to go.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Dream Lake, RMNP, CO

God keeps his word
Isaiah 44: From the beginning, who else has always announced what’s coming?
These pages of Isaiah are some of the most encouraging in the whole Bible. God has such good news for his people. Salvation is coming to their spiritually dry lives like streams flowing into a parched desert. This promise is so great that people can hardly get their minds and hearts around it. To help them do that, the Lord puts his credentials on display. He says he’s the first and the last and “everything in between.” He’s always trustworthy and he’s the one who can speak about his future actions with absolute certainty. I know some see this passage as ammunition for “God’s knowledge of the future” discussions but it’s more correctly seen as “God keeps his word” material. The Lord isn’t passively watching events unfold and he’s not letting history proceed in whatever direction it happens to find. This God is on purpose in his dealings with Creation. As he speaks to a fallen Israel he has promises to make. Salvation will come because he’ll keep his word. How does God know salvation will come? He knows it because he’s going to do it. Generations later, God’s promise is kept in a stable in Bethlehem.
Take Away: The Lord is the only one who can speak of the future with absolute certainty.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Hike to Mills Lake – RMNP, CO

Global Salvation
Isaiah 49: Even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you — never.
The prophet describes the glorious reign of the Messiah, looking not only to his distant future, but to ours as well. The work of the Messiah isn’t only to provide salvation to the people of Israel, but to bring, in his words, “global salvation.” Of course, that’s good news for me, since I’m on the “global” side of the equation. Isaiah envisions some of his fellow Israelites looking at their current situation and thinking that God has forgotten them. Their lives are anything but glorious and, while they want to hear this good news, they can’t get their hearts around it. To them, Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget her own child? God has been Father and Mother to us and he hasn’t forgotten us.” Israel has messed up in every way and her sin has had real, and painful, consequences. In the darkness of those consequences she feels forsaken and forgotten. But it isn’t so. God reaches out to them with the compassion of a mother nursing her infant. Israel isn’t the only one who’s messed up. The world is filled with people who’ve had far more failures than successes in their moral lives. Does this describe you? If so, the message of this passage isn’t just for ancient Israelites; it’s God’s word to you, today.
Take Away: The Lord reaches out to us with the compassion of a mother reaching out for her infant child.

Devotional on Isaiah

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

God reigns!
Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news.
They live in darkness, separated from God and without hope. Then, off in the distance a light is shining. At first, it’s barely visible, but in time bright enough to create excitement in all who’ve longed for this darkness to end. Then, coming out of that light is a runner, silhouetted by the glow behind him. He advances toward them and the crowd gathers, wondering what’s going on. They then hear him shouting something and the broken people strain to hear his words. He’s shouting, “Good news, good news.” With the light brightening behind him the runner races into their still-darkened camp. The people are quiet as everyone gathers around the runner who shouts out “Good news” one last time. He then catches his breath and cries out at the top of his lungs: “God reigns!” At first the people are stunned, and quietly speak these words among themselves, “God reigns. God reigns.” Then, without really thinking about it, they begin saying those words in unison: “God reigns. God reigns.” The chat becomes a shout as hands and voices are raised, “GOD REIGNS, GOD REIGNS.” Their sins have separated them from God. It seems that all that’s left is darkness and hopeless death. Now, a new day is dawning, a day of salvation. God is once again stepping into their lives. “God reigns.” Thank God for messengers of Good News. Praise God, who is God, reigning in our lives.
Take Away: God reigns!

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Alberta Falls – RMNP, CO

A strange way to save the world
Isaiah 53: Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
If the pages leading up to this portion of Isaiah contain “dual prophecy” — that is, messages that apply to Isaiah’s current situation but will also speak to some future event as well — this portion of his writings abandon all but the future. It’s the Messiah who’s clearly before the prophet now. What he sees amazes him. He knows God is showing him the promised Savior but in this vision the Savior looks nothing like anyone thinks he should look. The Man he sees writhes in agony and suffers a horrible death. Knowing the hearts of sinful man, the Lord shows Isaiah how a perfectly holy Man will be rejected and mistreated. Even with that knowledge, the Messiah will be sent to save us, not by crushing our enemies, but by allowing himself to be crushed. The words of Mark Lowry’s Christmas classic echo the words of Isaiah, “this is such a strange way to save the world.”
Take Away: Christ conquers sin, not by crushing enemies, but by being crushed.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Alberta Falls, RMNP, CO

Preview of the crucifixion
Isaiah 53: It was our sins that did that to him.
The prophet’s description of future events is as powerful a passage as there is in the Bible. His words are so clear that we tend to just “blend” them in with the contemporary accounts from the Gospels of the crucifixion of Jesus as though Isaiah is another Gospel writer. This, though, is an amazing description of an event hundreds of years before it happens. What a picture it is: God’s chosen one, the Savior, being brutalized; ripped and torn and crushed. Isaiah’s description causes us to wince and maybe to turn the page to something else. However, if the picture of horror he paints for us is greatly disturbing, the reason for it is even more disturbing. The Messiah, our Hope, is suffering in this horrible way for our sins: for my sins. As hymn writer John S. B. Monsell put it, “My sins, my sins…oh how sad on Thee they fall.” Isaiah saw it in all its terribleness. He also recognized it for what it was. Our sins, my sins, are the reason for it all.
Take Away: Why did Jesus suffer as he did? For an answer, look in a mirror.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Along Trail Ridge Road – RMNP, CO

Being honest as I read God’s Word
Isaiah 53: Through his bruises we get healed.
Right off, let me say that I believe in divine healing. In fact, I think the Lord has provided physical healing for me. I also believe it is okay to read the Scriptures devotionally. That is, while I think I need to be careful about the context and intent of Scripture when studying, preaching, and teaching that it’s okay for me to read something and draw a more personal meaning out of it. I need to be careful when I do that because I can end up a long distance from where a passage is supposed to take me, but it can also be to my benefit to more freely explore the Word from a devotional point of view. That brings me to this passage. Isaiah is describing the Suffering Servant who will be Jesus. Specifically, he’s talking about how he’ll be abused for our sins. In poetic form he describes that abuse and how it will benefit us. The entire passage is about our salvation: Jesus is beaten to the point of disfigurement, ripped and torn and crushed and bruised for our salvation. When I get to the line about his being bruised for my healing I know that Isaiah hasn’t suddenly changed the subject from Christ suffering to save our souls to his suffering that I might be healed of my health problems. The “healing” he’s talking about is a healing of my broken relationship with God, not healing from cancer or heart problems or diabetes. With all that in mind, I need to remember to read this passage in light of what Isaiah is actually talking about and not want I want him to be talking about. Devotionally, I can connect this to passages like that in the Book of James in which we’re given instructions about praying for the healing of the sick. Realistically, though, I need to be honest in acknowledging that this passage doesn’t teach that Christ’s suffering was so I could be healed of physical infirmities.
Take Away: Christ suffered that our relationship with the Lord, broken by our sin, might be healed.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Along Old Fall River Road – RMNP, CO

I’ll take door number two
Isaiah 54: I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best.
The Lord is stepping into their ruined lives and because of that things are going to change for the better. Through him, salvation is coming, restoration is on the way. Their current situation doesn’t reflect that. If their lives were on the stock exchange their value would be plummeting. However, God has, in his mercy, taken on their case and he’s going to personally see to it that things work out. I can’t ask for a finer promise. I look at the uncertainty of my life and wonder how things will come out. Not only are there the things I know about, there are likely things headed my way that, if I knew about them I’d be scared to death. That is, if that’s where I want to focus my attention. Instead, though, I have the promise of God before me. I can choose to worry myself to an early grave or I can choose to take God at his word that he’ll “see to it that everything works out for the best.” As might be heard in the old TV game show, I think I’ll take door number two.
Take Away: We have the promises of the Lord and it’s there that we take our stand.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – taken off of the Port Bolivar Ferry – Galveston

All are welcome here
Isaiah 56: My house of worship will be known as a house of prayer for all people.
Previously, when I’ve read this passage, I focused on the “prayer side” of this message: that God’s house is to be a house of prayer and God’s people are to be a people of prayer. That theme is very much present in this passage, but it really isn’t the heart of its message. The core of this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy is the “all people” statement. God’s salvation, we’re told, isn’t just for the Jewish “insiders” but for the Gentile “outsiders” as well. Those with physical limitations whose worship experience is limited by the laws of Deuteronomy are not to be treated as second class worshipers. In fact, God promises that those who fall in the “outside” category yet are faithful to the Lord will be given an honored place, even more honored than that of the insiders. Everyone is invited to come to the “house of prayer for all people.” My response to this passage today is on two levels. First, I thank God for it because I’m one of the outsiders who have been granted access to the Lord. I wasn’t born to the right family but I’ve been adopted in. Second, I want to conduct my life with a strong realization that God welcomes people who aren’t like me. As one who’s been graciously granted access, I gladly join the “welcoming committee” that invites other outsiders in. Also, while I won’t take time to develop it here, the literal meaning of this passage reminds me that there are those who need special accommodation to fully participate in the activities at the house of worship. I want the church I attend to be as assessable as possible for those who have special needs and as welcoming as possible to people from all walks of life.
Take Away: The Lord welcomes me but he also welcomes people who aren’t like me.

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 Isaiah

2008 – Smoky Mountains National Park

Looking back and looking forward
Isaiah 64: Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.
Isaiah longs for God to move and bring salvation to his people. He envisions the sky splitting apart as the Lord comes in dramatic, powerful fashion bringing hope to their hopelessness and healing to their brokenness. Hundreds of years later when that coming takes place its earthshaking indeed. The Gospels tell us of that powerful event, especially at the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord. However, this passage causes me to look forward as much as it causes me to look back to the first Easter. Even as Isaiah anticipates the coming salvation of the Lord, I anticipate his Second Coming. What an event it will be as Jesus splits the eastern sky and causes the mountains to tremble. “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see.”
Take Away: Never doubt it – Jesus is coming back.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – London – Riding the city bus

First steps of a long journey
Daniel 2: Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings.
So, with Nebuchadnezzar now convinced that the Lord is God and Master of all, things are going to smooth out for the Hebrews, right? Wrong! Truth be told, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t a clue. He takes Daniel’s dream interpretation and goes right out to build a statue of himself, based on that dream. He then demands that everyone, including those who worship the Master of all kings, bow down to him instead. I’m telling you he’s clueless! The dream episode impacts Nebuchadnezzar and in that his attitude concerning God Almighty changes. However, his application of this new knowledge is skewed and greatly lacking. In fact, he’s years away from anything close to a humble relationship with his Creator. I’ve seen it in people’s lives. A person prays the sinner’s prayer and receives Christ and then, within two weeks does something so ill advised that I can hardly believe it. At one time I would have concluded that they had “back slid.” However, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s true that some have “looked back” others are still in the process of becoming believers. They aren’t sure what it means to follow Jesus, so they do silly stuff and stumble along, putting their spiritual lives in great jeopardy. Nebuchadnezzar has made a big move in declaring Daniel’s God the God of all gods. However, he’s a long way from what that God of all gods wants to accomplish in his life. In fact, his journey has only begun.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the crisis moments, but at the same time, recognize that they are but stepping stones in a longer journey.

Devotional on Jonah

2013 – Chesapeake Bay Thousand Trails – Gloucester, VA

Attitude adjustment
Jonah 4: Why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh?
Let’s see: one shade tree killed by a worm verses 120,000 poor ignorant people repenting and being saved from destruction. Which should receive the greatest response? It’s a no-brainer, right? Not for Jonah. He retreats a safe distance from Nineveh to watch the fireworks of its destruction. When the Lord provides a miraculous shade plant for him it calms him down and he feels good about things for the first time in days. Then, overnight, the plant’s dead and Jonah’s mood dies with it. At this point the Lord decides it’s time for this pitiful man to change his attitude. If the short life cycle of a shade plant can cause Jonah to go through such a mood swing doesn’t it make sense that the Almighty change his thinking about a city full of repentant people? Of course it does. Like Jonah, I tend to get all wound up about stuff that isn’t worth a hill of beans: getting my own way in some unimportant thing, or the World Series, or buying some new gadget. If my team wins, I’m in a good mood and if they don’t…well, I’m not a happy camper. Meanwhile, God is focused on people. He’s already judged sin, and he very much wants people to let him change their lives so he can change their eternity. I really need to get on the same page as God.
Take Away: The Lord is focused on people.

Devotional on Micah

2013 – Pilot Mountain, North Carolina

My favorite salvation story
Micah 6: Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.
God has been good to them, delivering them from oppression and out of the hand of their enemies. Through the years, though, they’ve let those deliverance stories get dusty and worn. Micah wants them to keep those stories of salvation in the forefront of their thinking; to remember that God has never done them wrong, and, instead, has blessed them again and again. He wants them to clean the dust off and take a fresh look at those stories of deliverance. I need this. I’ve been a Christian a long time and, honestly, my story isn’t an especially thrilling one. Still, I need to be thrilled with it. What the Lord did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of God’s grace. Micah says I need to revisit it often and keep it fresh in my mind and heart. If I forget where I came from I might never make it to where I’m going.
Take Away: What God did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of his grace.

Devotional on Micah

2013 – Smoky Mountains

Sitting on the front row
Micah 7: I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
Micah says things are going downhill fast. He’s learned that he can’t trust his neighbor and that “neighborhoods and families are falling to pieces.” Clearly his day is a treacherous, difficult one. In the face of such perilous times Micah might be tempted to run for the hills or at least withdraw from society. As anyone knows, Micah isn’t the only one who has faced difficult days. Through the centuries godly men and women have gone through unbelievable hardship. Often that hardship has been on a national or even worldwide scale. At other times the hardship is close to home: a family or even personal struggle that fills our days with exhausting darkness. In this passage, Micah is no “Pollyanna” who insists everything’s always “just fine.” However, he is a man of faith. As tempting as it might be to run and get away from all the wrong and uncertainty he sees, Micah declares he’s staying put. Why? It’s because he wants a front row seat to God’s redemption! Today, we believers aren’t blind to the problems of life. When things take a downturn we become anxious like everyone else. However, in it all there’s a thread of optimism. We believe God is still God and that he’s working in and through it all. The end result is salvation. We want a front row seat when that happens!
Take Away: The people of the Lord are an optimistic people – and, for good reason!

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