Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Hike to Mills Lake – RMNP, CO

Two prophecies for the price of one
Isaiah 52: He didn’t even look human.
I think this is another of those “dual prophecies” in which the prophet speaks of something close at hand, but, maybe without realizing it, speaks words that resonate into the future. On one hand, he’s talking about the restoration of his people. They’re broken, almost to the point of extinction. If their condition is described as though they are one person, we would say that individual has been beaten to the point that he or she is unrecognizable. God’s salvation is coming but at this point things don’t look very good. It makes perfect sense to us that the writers of the New Testament are reminded of this passage as they see what happens to Jesus. The Jews are God’s people and Jesus is God’s Man. Its sin that nearly destroys the Jews and it’s the burden of our sins that takes Jesus to Calvary. Physically, God’s people are practically destroyed and the same can be said of Jesus. Yes, it’s easy enough for us to see the connection. However, we don’t have to walk away from this passage with a vision of “a ruined face, disfigured past recognition” on our minds. We do need to spend time gazing at that face, absorbing the full impact of what happens at the cross. Then, we can move on. Isaiah describes an amazing transformation saying, “Just watch my servant blossom!” That’s exactly what we see at the garden tomb that first Easter morning. Israel is to be restored by the grace of God. Jesus rises from the grave, victor over sin and death. Praise His Name!
Take Away: The story of salvation doesn’t end at the cross.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Cataloochee Valley – Great Smoky Mtns Ntl Park

God doing something new
Isaiah 65: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
This is an interesting passage. Later on, the Revelator will remember these words when the Lord describes to him what’s coming at the end of time. In fact, some think that Isaiah is having a vision of the same thing John sees in Revelation. However, left in context Isaiah’s describing the end of the exile of his people; the return to their beloved Jerusalem. The language is that of poetry: God’s doing something new and is, therefore changing everything. Life’s going to be much better than it has been. Wonderful blessings are in store. I think this is another dual prophecy. Isaiah’s speaking to current events, describing things in a big way but unaware that his words will literally come true in his (and our) distant future. If I leave things there, I still find the transformational language of Isaiah quite interesting. The Lord is bringing salvation to his people and as a result, everything’s going to change for the better. However, at an entirely different level than Isaiah speaking to his contemporaries or John writing about the New Jerusalem I find myself thinking of the change Christ makes when he bring salvation to an individual’s life. When I’m forgiven of my sins and become a child of God “all things become new.” If Isaiah’s view of the restoration of Israel brings to mind visions of “new heavens and a new earth” I don’t think that it’s off base to find a parallel to the radical transformation being “born again” brings to each life.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t just forgive us our sins – he also goes to work in us, transforming our lives, remaking us in wonderful ways.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, AK

Quality leadership
Jeremiah 23: This is the name they’ll give him: “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right.”
The religious leaders are a disappointment to God. They could have done a better job; treated people the way good and dedicated shepherds treat the sheep under their care. They haven’t done that and the Lord’s not only angry with them but he has another approach in mind. This plan will provide quality leadership to his people. David is considered the prototype king for Israel and the coming Leader will be cut from the same cloth as was David. He’ll be a descendant of David. He’ll also be strong, wise, and dedicated to God. That kind of man will take care of God’s people. In Jeremiah’s future and in my past that Leader makes his appearance. He does everything Jeremiah says he will. He’s a righteous man of justice and he goes to work fixing all that sin has broken. He’s worthy of the name Jeremiah gives him: “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right.” The process started by this Leader isn’t yet complete, but we already see that everything he touches is changed for the better. Well, better put, “everyone he touches.” In fact, I can say that I not only believe in this Leader’s ability to transform lives — my own life is an example of his work. I’m not all I’m going to be, but by his grace, I’m not what I would have been.
Take Away: In Christ we find restoration and transformation.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, AK

Heart transplant
Jeremiah 24: I’ll give them a heart to know me, God.
In a vision Jeremiah sees two baskets of figs. One basket has good fruit and the other has bad fruit. The Lord tells Jeremiah that the good figs represent people who’ll obey God’s call to surrender to the Babylonians and be relocated to other lands by them. The bad figs represent the leaders and others who are ignoring God’s demand that they surrender and accept the Lord’s judgment on the nation. Even the “good fig” population, though, is in need of a divine heart transplant. God says he’s going to do just that. Those who trust and obey him, placing their lives in his hands, aren’t considered complete until the Lord makes some basic changes in their hearts. I think this illustrates the work of the Lord in our individual lives. On one hand, I surrender my life to the Lord, committing myself to live for him, no matter what might come. On the other hand, God does in me what I can’t do for myself. He changes my very heart, enabling me to love him with all my being. It is then, Jeremiah tells me, that I’m one of God’s people, and he is Lord of my life.
Take Away: The Lord does in me what I can’t do for myself.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, AK

God’s Law in my heart
Jeremiah 31: I will put my law within them — write it on their hearts!
I love this statement. Jeremiah sees the sin and rebellion of his people, not as a cultural or educational or behavioral problem, but as a heart problem. Their failure isn’t the result of misunderstanding and it isn’t a mistake. They sin because they’re sinners at heart. The great need of their lives isn’t that they straighten up and act right. They need heart surgery; a change at the very foundation of their being. In this passage the Lord describes this change. On the first level, it’s a change that will take place following the Babylonian exile but on a larger scale it’s a change Jesus, the Son of God, will bring. In fact, the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews returns to this passage to describe the new spiritual reality Christ has brought into the world. God’s Law is no longer written on stone tablets. Rather, it’s written on the hearts of those who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jeremiah sees the need and he has the promise from God that the need will be met, but he can’t imagine how it will all be brought about.
Take Away: We need more than to change our behavior – we need for our hearts to be transformed by the grace of the Lord.

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 Ezekiel

2011 – Brazos Bend State Park, TX

God’s in the heart transforming business
Ezekiel 36: I’ll…replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed.
I’ve always felt that this is the mountain top of the book of Ezekiel. Things are going to change in a glorious day to come. Through the centuries the Lord has sent gifted leaders to Israel. He’s given them the Law upon which to build their civilization and a beautiful Temple in which to worship. He’s given them a land of their own and has been with them through their many ups and downs. Still, failure has dominated them. They’ve tossed all their advantages aside and have paid a terrible price for doing so. Ezekiel says that things are going to change. The change won’t come because some new national leader leads them back to God. It won’t come by God’s restating his laws to them, and it won’t come simply because they try harder to please the Lord. The change will be at the core of their lives. The Lord says he’s going to give them a new heart. Under this new arraignment self-centered living will give way to God-centered living. Their very affections will be transformed. The result will be a people fully connected to God. I love this portion of scripture because I believe the message is not only for these ancient Israelites, but for God’s people today. For every Christian who battles inner battles, who struggles with living wholly for God, this is a wonderful word of hope. The Lord’s not only in the sin forgiving business — he’s in the heart transforming business as well. We find hope for a deeper, heart changing work of God in this passage. Throughout the years Christians have read this message and come away with a prayer on their lips: “Lord, do that for me – do it in me – today.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives sins: he transforms lives as well.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2011 – Looking out toward Canary Wharf from Greenwich, UK

The kind of stuff God does
Ezekiel 36: I, God, rebuild ruins and replant empty waste places.
In this “new heart” passage Ezekiel envisions God’s people repenting of their rebellion and mourning over the results of it. He sees them walking through a devastated Jerusalem and confessing it was their sins that brought it all to pass. In the face of such repentance, Ezekiel has an encouraging word: God specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition. Once the Lord’s given a chance, he’ll turn these weed patches into a “Garden of Eden.” No doubt, these are encouraging words to the people of Ezekiel’s day. They’re uplifting words for us too. In a more literal sense, we look forward to a “new heaven and a new earth” that has been promised by God. What sin has destroyed the Lord will redeem — and that redeemed world will be vastly superior to what we see now. In a spiritual sense, this passage describes what the Lord accomplishes in the human heart. Sin destroys lives, making a wreck out of what was once wonderfully promising. When I cooperate with God, opening my life up to him he goes to work. In my life he “rebuilds ruins and replants empty waste places.” He’s God, and he does stuff like that. As Ezekiel puts it, “I, God, said so, and I’ll do it.”
Take Away: The Lord specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition.

Devotional on Hosea

2013 – Saylorville Lake – near Des Moines, IA

Unreservedly in love with God
Hosea 6: I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.
The prophet has fallen head over heals in love with his deeply flawed wife. She’s left him but he isn’t over her and wants her to come back. However, he knows that just getting her back won’t be enough. For her to return yet remain unchanged will only start this whole destructive sequence over again. Something in her has to change if there’s any hope for their future together. That, Hosea says, is how it is between God and his people. The Lord loves them and wants them to turn from their idol worshiping ways and return to him. However, what he wants from them isn’t just a polished approach to doing worship. Instead, he wants them to love him with the abandon and passion that he has for them. He says to them, “I’m after love that lasts, not more religion.” As old as this concept is, and as reasonable as it is, people to this very day fail to grasp this. God doesn’t want me to go to church; to “practice religion,” or to attend Bible studies. He wants me to passionately love him. He wants me to throw myself into that relationship without reservation. When that happens, no one has to tell me I ought to worship and pray and study my Bible. The only reason for me to go to church and study my Bible is that in doing these things I better experience the Object of my strongest attraction: God, Himself. That’s the kind of relationship God wants to have with me and with you.
Take Away: The Lord wants us to passionately love him.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

The sweetest invitation

Matthew 11: Come to me.

There’s no sweeter invitation than what we hear from the Lord: “Come to me.” This invitation is directed to people who are weary and beaten down by life. It’s for people who’ve tried to find satisfaction in sometimes self-destructive ways and, in the end, realize that all they have is a handful of sand. Specifically, this invitation is for people who’ve tried religion and been hurt, maybe even abused, there. To all who are hurting, disappointed, tired, and empty Jesus says, “Come to me.” It’s not about church rituals and rules; although such things have been found by many to be helpful. It’s not about turning over a new leaf, making a New Year’s resolution, or simply trying harder; although there’s room here for self-improvement. Beyond all that, though, is Jesus. I respond to his sweet invitation by giving up my own claims to righteousness and reordering all other relationships to something less than number one. In response to this invitation to “come” I turn my attention to Jesus and lay all else, including myself, at his feet. From that point on, I walk with him and learn from him, how to really live.

Take Away: Jesus is the only one who can truly make this offer, and he does make it to all who will come.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

The undressed guest

Matthew 22: How dare you come in here looking like that!

I pretty much get the story of the wedding feast. Those who are invited but make excuses are the “insiders” to the Kingdom, in the case of the parable, it’s the religious leaders and the Jewish people in general who are the intended guests. They turn away, each more interested in doing their own thing than coming to the banquet prepared by the Lord. Upon their refusal to come the invitation list is broadened to what might be thought of as a “second tier.” Then, when even these don’t come, the king opens the doors for all who will come. That’s good news for the “outsiders” like me. The one part I’ve never grasped is the part about the “undressed guest.” That part of the story feels like an afterthought and I’ve generally breezed on past it to the next event. Now, though, I’ve done a bit of reading and I think I have a better handle on the “clothes problem.” A king, like the one in the story, would be well aware that people off the street wouldn’t have the customary white robes to wear to a formal feast like this one. Common people of that day likely had only one set of clothing and even if they did have something more fancy whatever it was would come up far short of the dress code for big formal wedding feast at the palace. However, the king had a large supply of white robes for just such an occasion. As each guest arrived the servants would dress them for the feast. When the king looks at the crowd and spots one man who sticks out like a sore thumb it means that he refused to wear the robe that was supplied to him. With this in mind, I realize that the “undressed guest” part of the story is crucial to the parable. Not only has the Lord, in Jesus, invited outsiders to come, he also makes us worthy to come. Here I see that the Lord’s invitation to me really is “Just as I am” but that when I do respond, he doesn’t leave me as he finds me. Instantly, he goes to work remaking me into the person he calls me to be. If I refuse his work in my life, I’m like the “undressed guest” who gets “uninvited” to the wedding feast.

Take Away: The Lord not only forgives sins; he also transforms sinners.

Devotional on Mark

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

The Water Baptizer and the Spirit Baptizer

Mark 1: His baptism – a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit – will change you from the inside out.

Mark’s gospel is a high speed, breath taking race through the life of Jesus. No “Song of Mary” here and no manger scene. In this story Jesus explodes onto the world scene out in the wilderness at one of John the Baptist’s riverside revival meetings. The “water Baptizer” instantly recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, and willingly steps aside for this “Spirit baptizer.” Jesus changes people, John says, “from the inside out.” The Gospel writer believes that the promise of real, heart-based change will draw spiritually hungry people like me into his story. No more playing at religion and hungering for transformation that’s forever beyond my reach. The one I read about here is the real deal. Every person who wants something more than what’s found by following the rules and trying to find God is drawn to the promise of change — real change — from the inside out. This Jesus is worthy of my allegiance.

Take Away: Jesus is the answer to the great hunger in people’s lives.

Devotional on Mark

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

At the tomb

Mark 16: He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.

The resurrection account in Mark is brief, to the point. The women go to the tomb to finish the burial tradition, find the tomb open and encounter a messenger of God who tells them “He’s been raised up.” It is thought provoking to realize that a message with such a huge impact can be stated so succinctly. This message reshapes the world and eternity. The horrible death of Jesus on the cross wasn’t a meaningless act of inhumanity. The resurrection transforms that awful event into the greatest good ever done. Rather than it being just another example of the inhumanity of humans it becomes the watershed event of history. The angel nails it all with “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.” Today, this event is both old and new. It’s old because it’s the old story I know so well. It’s new because, right now, even as I type these words, it’s real to me. My life – my forever – is changed because of it. The resurrection transforms the crucifixion and the crucifixion is the instrument used to transform me. And it’s all summed up with: “He’s been raised up.”

Take Away: My hope is founded in the resurrection of Jesus.

Devotional on Luke

2014 – Park at Blaine, WA

One tough man

Luke 3: The main character in this drama…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you.

John the Baptist storms onto the world stage as “Thunder in the desert.” This is one tough man. He preaches a radical repentance. He calls some of his congregation “snakes” and tells everyone to straighten out their lives. When people begin to speculate that he might be the Messiah of God he points to the precious Lamb of God who’s soon to be revealed. John says that water baptism is the best he can offer. The coming Messiah, he declares, will baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit, changing people from the inside out. John’s approach to life change is to take a hard line against sin. Those who claim a righteousness of their own he calls “snakes.” It’s a hard message, one intended to draw attention, and of course it’s true. However, John’s message is of only limited value. The tax collector who repents and commits himself to do the right thing is still the same person he was before. The real need of his life will never be met in this manner. The need is for him to be changed, transformed into a new person. John’s method creates skin deep believers. Jesus’ method creates saints of God. Any time I’m tempted to come down hard on people, challenging them to straighten up and fly right I need to remember that the finest, most anointed practitioner of that kind of preaching ever says that he’s a mere stage hand compared to the real Star, Jesus. His method isn’t to “tell it like it is.” Rather, it’s to be a loving, humble servant of God and man. Lord, make me more like your Son, Jesus.

Take Away: More than reformation people need transformation.

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 1 Thessalonians

2014 – dunes south of Florence, OR

I’ve been changed

1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.

The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.

Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.

Devotional on Hebrews

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

Transformational earthquakes

Hebrews 12: One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.

The old way stood for hundreds of years, sometimes with seeming success and at other times in total failure. Jesus came to usher in a new way. Those portions of the old way that were intended to survive did so, but the rest came crashing down as the superior new way was put into place on the first Easter Sunday morning. There was an earthquake at the tomb that morning but there was a much greater spiritual earthquake that day and the result was all good. All the “historical and religious junk” was replaced with the “unshakable essentials.” All that to say that the coming of Jesus was and is a very big deal: the centerpiece of human history. In a much more minor way, but still important to me personally, is the spiritual earthquake that happens when I give my heart to Jesus. The result is some big changes in my life. As it was with the Old Testament Law, some things are worth keeping. They survive the earthquake, made clean and new by Christ. A lot of stuff has to go. In the case of such things, it may be a slow motion earthquake as the Holy Spirit goes to work in my life, dealing with different things as time passes. A lot of stuff, though, simply falls right then and there. Well, one thing in particular: my own self-righteousness. It can’t survive the Christ-earthquake. From my point of view its good-riddance; self-will and some other things must yield to Jesus if he’s to be Lord of my life. Most earthquakes are unwelcome, but this one: this transformational encounter with Jesus is the best thing that could ever happen to me.

Take Away: When Jesus comes into a life it’s a very big deal.

Devotional on Genesis

2013 – Shenandoah National Park, VA – Skyline Drive

That’s just the way I am
Genesis 25: The children tumbled and kicked inside her.
If there has ever been a set of fraternal twins it’s Jacob and Esau. These boys don’t look anything alike and their personalities are clearly different one from one another. It’s no surprise that their mother Rebekah knows something’s wrong. And no wonder: her body is a sort of war zone! Her babies don’t get along and they’re yet to see the light of day! Their story is, to say the least, a thought provoking one. Here are two babies being born to the same parents, sharing a womb, and sibling rivalry is already full blown. We’ve all said, at one time or another, “That’s just the way I am.” Most often that’s an excuse for failing to practice self-discipline in some area. However, I’m reminded in this passage that there’s truth to that statement. We aren’t born as blank slates ready to be shaped by the events of our lives. Some stuff about us is hard wired from the start. In this case, Jacob and his brother are hard wired for conflict. Their parents, who will play favorites with their sons, won’t help matters any. So what, if anything, can be done about the undesirable tendencies with which we’re born? To some extent, parents can teach their children self-discipline and thus help them learn to deal with their natural dispositions. I’m glad, though, to report that there’s a greater remedy. As we read this story we see God at work, especially in Jacob’s life. As God’s grace unfolds, we see a man who’s changed as only God can change him.
Take away: God can do for us that which we could never do for ourselves.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Shiprock in New Mexico

God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.

Devotional on Exodus

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Divine Guidance
Exodus 13: The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people.
The journey begins. Freed from bondage they’re now on the way to the Promised Land. This is the land God promised to their ancestor, Abraham. Moses is their leader yet God provides even more direct guidance. He guides them with a daytime cloud and a nighttime fire in the sky. When the pillar moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. What could be easier? Honestly, I kind of envy them, don’t you? Who could ask for a more clear way to know God’s plan. Still, as I think about it, I realize that many years later Jesus promises a “pillar” of his own. One of his last words of instruction to his disciples contains the promise of the Holy Spirit who will be their Guide. Instead of scanning the horizon to follow a pillar of cloud (have you ever wondered how that worked on a rainy day or during a nighttime thunderstorm?) the disciples will have an Inner Guide directing their lives. And it won’t be a case of God dragging them along in directions they don’t want to go either (remember, even with the pillars, there are an abundance of spiritual failures coming). This Guide, promised by Jesus, transforms hearts — changing his followers at the heart level. He not only guides; he also enables us to follow. It isn’t a pillar of fire but it is a wonderful way to be led by the Lord.
Take Away: The Holy Spirit is our “pillar of fire.”

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