Devotional on Isaiah

Garner State Park, TX – 2006

Genuine Worship
Isaiah 29: They act like they’re worshipping me but don’t mean it.
Generally speaking, we know how to have church. While it’s true that there are various “flavors” of worship ranging from high church with rich liturgy to “low church” filled with individual expression, there’s beauty and impressive worship services across Christianity. The issue isn’t that some need to abandon their worship tradition and adopt that of someone else. Isaiah complains about how his contemporaries worship, but his complaint isn’t that they don’t know how to organize a worship event. They’re doing fine in that department. The problem is on the inside, not the outside. An impressive, well done worship service is meaningless unless the worshippers pour themselves into their worship. This is no excuse for shoddy planning, but it does force us to concentrate on what really matters. Isaiah says the solution is God doing a “shock and awe” operation on the worshippers. Is that what it takes for us to move beyond “worship wars” and get about the business of worshipping from the heart?
Take Away: The Lord still looks for people who worship in spirit and in truth.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

God of Creation
Isaiah 40: God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants.
In this passage Isaiah pictures for us the God of Creation. This is the God who “scooped up the ocean in his two hands” and measured out the mountains. This God calls the stars by name and sits high above the earth, so distant that the inhabitants of this world look like “mere ants.” The purpose of this passage isn’t to teach what I’ve heard called “worm theology” in which the human race is viewed as insignificant and worthless. After all, once those oceans are created and the mountains put in place, God turns his attention to making us, and when he finishes he’s pleased with the results. This portion of this passage isn’t about putting humanity in its place. Instead, it’s about lifting our Creator to his place! We aren’t talking about a tin god here; this is the God of the Universe, Maker of all. This King isn’t the ruler of some little country off in some forgotten part of the world. No king or idol holds a candle to this Creator-God. I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him. This passage is a reminder of the greatness of God and a call to humbly bow before him.
Take Away: I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Old Fall Creek Road – RMNP, CO

We’ve experienced an extreme make-over
Isaiah 43: …a people custom-made to praise me.
God has good news for his people. The destruction of the past is ending and a wonderful plan of salvation is being put in place. Things are going to change for the better as the dry times end and times of refreshing come. God will bless his people who, in the words of this passage are, “a people custom-made to praise me.” Those who first heard these words never considered the possibility that those “custom-made” people could include anyone but their own nation. We, though, have the whole story; how God’s Son came to us to remake us into new people, a people who are his very own. If it can be said that Israel was a “custom-made” people it might be added that, through Christ, we’ve undergone an “extreme make-over” in which everything about us has been transformed by the work of Jesus. The result of this “customizing” encounter with the Lord is that we become enthusiastic worshipers of God. Our new native language is the language of praise. For us, life isn’t a daily struggle in which we whimper words of complaint and need. Our first thoughts and the words we most easily say are those of praise to God. Israel was custom-made for that purpose and we’ve been made-over for the same thing. We’re redesigned to praise the Lord.
Take Away: My purpose is to bring praise, glory, and honor to the Lord

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Enchanted Rock – near Llano, TX

Old Testament worship wars
Isaiah 66: You choose self-serving worship, you delight in self-centered worship — disgusting!
And all this time I thought that the “worship wars” started in my generation with battles between “traditionalists” and “contemporaries.” In Isaiah’s case the Lord is weary of all the “I like it this way” approaches to worship. He says that when I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.” The Lord tells them that they can do worship in technically correct ways but because of their attitude, it’ll be seen as an act of sin rather than an act of worship. What does the Lord think of my approach to worship? As a pastor am I so wrapped up in keeping the program on track that I fail to give myself over to the act of worship? It’s likely that only a pastor or worship leader will understand this, but I find myself in services wondering why the sound person doesn’t adjust the volume down a bit or if the head usher is aware that one of the regular ushers is out of town or if anyone has greeted the guests who’ve just slipped into the back row. While I’m worrying about such things, the “worship” service is proceeding without me. If I’m giving more energy to organizing and running the service according to my standards, whatever standard that might be, than I am in surrendering myself to worship, then my worship experience is self-centered rather than God-centered. Isaiah reminds me today that that isn’t a good thing!
Take Away: When I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.”

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Mt Ranier, WA

Our incense from Sheba
Jeremiah 6: Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.
They have church services and follow the time honored traditions handed down from generation to generation. It’s pretty impressive: robed priests, burning incense, sacrifices and prayers and songs. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. The problem isn’t in how they worship, it’s in how they live the rest of the time. God says they’ve just been “playing games” and “ignoring everything” he says. They respond by trying to jazz up their worship by bringing in some exotic incense from Sheba. Can’t you hear it: “the worship service seems a bit down lately, let’s get some of that really good incense from Sheba, that’ll give us just the spark we need.” However, it doesn’t work. God isn’t impressed and their worship services remain as empty as before. Listen, I’m all for fixing things up and I’m a firm believer in presenting a well ordered, prepared worship service. Adding our version of “incense from Sheba” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, that stuff only makes a difference if the worshipers are backing up their wonderfully choreographed and innovative church services with faithful day to day living. Otherwise, the new “incense” won’t please us or the God we worship.
Take Away: Being a worshipper of the Lord includes a lot more than just going to church.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – at Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, AK

The harsh reality
Jeremiah 14: Preachers and priest going about their business as if nothing’s happened!
Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet” because he speaks of his tears for his people so often. In this passage he says he cries “day and night” over their sin and the resulting destruction it will bring to them. He’s shocked and dismayed by all he sees: so much pain and suffering, so much sin and evil. Now, another thing shocks him. It’s the reaction of the church people to all this. He expects at least for them to share in his tears over it all. However, it isn’t that way. Church services go on as usual. “Wasn’t that an interesting illustration the pastor used in the sermon?” “Yes, but he preached a bit long for my taste, however, that special in song was lovely, wasn’t it?” Off we all go to our favorite restaurant for lunch, hopefully, we’ll get there before the Baptists. Oh, I’m not really against good church services or Christians enjoying fellowship after the service. However, Jeremiah’s heartbreak over lost people does speak to my heart today. We’ve got to stop doing business as usual and find ways to impact our society for Christ. Our church growth model is often more about getting people to switch to our church than it is about seeing people saved. We simply can’t think we’re doing what the Lord commanded us to do by just having good worship services while so many are headed out to eternity without Jesus.
Take Away: We’ve got to stop doing business as usual and find ways to impact our society for Christ.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Endicott Arm, AK

Which church would you attend?
Jeremiah 23: They preach…their “Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You” sermon.
Jeremiah isn’t the only preacher of his generation. In fact, he has plenty of competition from preachers who enjoy large followings and enthusiastic support. Folks love their positive, uplifting, and encouraging sermons. No doubt, these preachers find some really good texts that proclaim God’s love for and protection of his people. The problem is that their sermons are, in Jeremiah’s words, just so much “hot air.” The people in their congregations need to repent and return to God. The truth is that everything’s not going to turn out fine and bad things are coming, whether or not these preachers will admit it. Can’t you imagine a family getting ready to go to worship services? “Where are we going to church today, dear?” the wife asks. “I don’t know. Jeremiah’s preaching nearby, but you know he specializes in telling it like it is. I hear that the ‘Things are Great and Getting Better’ church has big things planned for today and they have a terrific praise band. Shall we go there?” So, where would I go to church? How entertainment oriented am I when it comes to worship? I’m not suggesting that “gloom and doom” is always God’s message while “happiness and security” is always just hot air. Still, I see here a reminder that there’s more to worship than a main course of an entertaining sermon with large helping of great music on the side.
Take Away: Sometimes God-directed preaching isn’t all that fun to hear.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX

The Lord is much more than a Friend
Ezekiel 22: They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular.
It’s a horrible time for the people of Jerusalem. There’s threatening war, a devastating drought, and a collapse of civil authority. Down at the Temple the priests continue in a God-ignoring pattern, treating sacred things as common. The Almighty complains that they profane him by trying to “pull me down to their level.” I like to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and feel humbled and honored at the thought that the Lord is willing to be my Friend. However, I can’t help but think that the “friendship” model only works at one level. This Friend is the King of Kings. He’s holy and eternal. My relationship with him starts with my bowing before him. It’s he who takes my hand and gives me permission to stand in his presence. If I call him “Friend” it’s only because he allows me to. The priests of Ezekiel’s day treat the holy as common. Today, in my blessings and comfort, I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Take Away: I call the Lord my friend only because he has graciously allowed me to.

Devotional on Hosea

2013 – Saylorville Lake – near Des Moines, IA

Shopping for religion
Hosea 7: They turn…here, then there, like a weather vane.
“Welcome to WorshipMart, your one stop shop for religion. Please keep an eye out for our blue light specials, you may find a very nice accessory to your faith for a low price.” You head over to the New Age aisle. Maybe a new crystal will help you pray better. The Politically Correct section has some interesting items, some of that “what works for you may not work for me” might come in handy when dealing with some of the more narrow people you know. The Hedonism section makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable but you can’t resist some of the “it can’t be all that bad if it feels right.” And then you head over to the staples section. After all, when all else fails you might just want some help from God Almighty. At the checkout counter the salesperson asks if you found everything you wanted. You answer “yes” but you think, “I’ll probably be back in here before long, somehow this stuff doesn’t seem to last like it should.” As you check out, you can’t find the last item. That’s happened before. Everything else is there though; you’ll just have to make it without God. Anyway, your religion is no one’s business but your own. Right?
Take Away: He’ll either be Lord of all or he won’t be Lord at all.

Devotional on Amos

2013 – Niagara Falls – Rainbow Bridge

Intentional worship
Amos 4: But you never got hungry for me. You continued to ignore me.
The people Amos preaches to are religious people. They’re faithful to attend worship services, to make the correct sacrifices, and to pay their tithes. The casual observer might conclude that they’re just the sort of people God wants. However, that isn’t the case. Amos complains that all they’re doing is putting on a religious show. At the core of all their religious activities is, not God, but themselves. Even as Amos delivers his sermons the Lord is acting to bring a stop to it all. The fact is that God won’t be ignored! He, who created me, demands that I focus my life on him. That’s true in all of my life, and it’s especially true in my religious life. The issue of what I “like” or “don’t like” is, ultimately, unimportant. God isn’t looking at the show I put on. Instead, he’s looking at my heart. The issue in play in my worship activities is whether or not I hunger for him. I want to do church “right.” I want the worship services I attend to be well thought out and intentional. However, beyond all of that, I want the Lord to see that more than anything else, my worship activities are a reflection of my hunger for him and of my rejoicing in his presence. God won’t be ignored and a God-ignoring worship experience is a waste of time.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t looking so much at how we do church as he is looking at our hearts.

Devotional on Amos

2013 – Niagara Falls

Worshiping to please the right Person
Amos 5: When was the last time you sang to me?
Toward the end of Amos 5 the Lord challenges almost everything about their church services. He says he can’t stand their meetings, conferences, and conventions. He washes his hands of their projects and goals and he says he can’t stand their singing which is more focused on what they like than on him. This message may be buried deep in the Minor Prophets but it should be right at the top of our concerns as Christians who go to church each Sunday. It isn’t that their services and conferences should be discontinued and it isn’t that their projects aren’t worthwhile. Also, this is no call to change the music style of the church (whatever it may be). It is, though, a powerful reminder of what (better stated, “Who”) it’s all about. The Lord says that what they’re doing is worthless, not because it’s worthless activity, but because they’re ignoring him and his purposes for their lives. God states, “Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s all I want.” If I refuse God’s priority of caring for the poor, of helping the one who’s down and out then God will refuse my acts of worship. Maybe this passage needs to be read before we have our church planning meetings!
Take Away: If we’re missing the Lord’s priorities for the church the other things we do aren’t worth much.

Devotional on Habakkuk

2013 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Questions answered
Habakkuk 2: God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone – a holy silence. Listen!
Chapter two is mostly a listing of the sins of Babylon. The Lord may intend to use this godless nation in his dealings with Judah but that doesn’t mean its despicable evil will be overlooked. As a series of “Who do you think you are?” judgments is being listed, the prophet suddenly has a vision of God. Immediately, the prophet calls for “holy silence.” This isn’t the time to preach sermons of condemnation. The only thing a human being can do at this point is to bow in silence before the Lord. This, I think is God’s second answer to Habakkuk. The prophet has asked how a holy God can use a sinful nation to punish Judah. One answer is that God is well aware of the sin of Babylon and that he will decisively deal with it. The other answer is heard as the Almighty reveals himself to Habakkuk. This is similar to what happens in the Book of Job. Job has asked for an audience with God that he might plead his case. However, when God appears, Job is speechless and all he can do is bow in worship and adoration. When I see God my questions are answered. My need is not for the Lord to explain to me everything I think I want to know. The need in my life is a fresh vision of God.
Take Away: All our questions are answered when we genuinely experience the Lord.

Devotional on Haggai

2013 – Along Natchez Trace – David Crockett State Park

The secret to satisfaction
Haggai 1: Take a good, hard look at your life.
The work of the Temple was put on hold years earlier because people felt they needed to concentrate on the necessities of life. They built homes and cleared land for planting crops. They built walls to protect them in what had become a dangerous land. Meanwhile, the Temple was left in ruins. Now, as they face a devastating drought, God’s man tells them it’s time to take a hard look at their lives. All their building and planting is meaningless without God. Even with plates full of food and warm clothing to wear they’ve faced an inner dissatisfaction with life. Their neglect of the Temple is a symptom of something even more important. Beyond the building, they’ve left the God of the building out on the periphery of their lives. Without him life is empty and meaningless. Their mistake is both colossal and common. The worship of God is not a luxury to be put on hold till “important” things are cared for. In fact, worship is a core necessity and without God, nothing ever satisfies. We can’t be too hard on the people of Haggai’s day because we too tend to view worship as something that can be pushed aside as we pursue things we deem to be more important. The issue isn’t that God’s unhappy with us and will find a way to get back at us for ignoring him. Instead, it’s that when we leave God out, we’re ignoring the central need of our lives. In the case before us, that’s evidenced by their failure to rebuild the Temple. In our case, it might be that we don’t show a proper interest in the worship of God. When we fail here, we find that all other successes in life taste like failures. When we succeed here, we find that everything else in life finds its proper place.
Take Away: Without the Lord life is empty and meaningless.

Devotional on Haggai

2015 – Natchez Trace, TN

The correct focus in worship
Haggai 1: The little you have brought…I’ve blown away.
The people being addressed in Haggai’s short story aren’t pagans who have turned their backs on God to worship another. They aren’t godless people at all. Despite their having ruins instead of a Temple they have worship services. As faithful Jews they bring sacrifices and observe the feasts and regulations of their religion. Yet, somehow, their worship experience is dissatisfying to them. As they leave these events they feel they’ve been faithful in keeping all that which is required of them but they remain empty inside. Haggai puts his finger on the problem. In reframing their religion to suit themselves they’ve blundered into a religion that the God they worship rejects. Failure to rebuild the Temple is the symptom of this larger problem. This situation speaks to me today and its tone isn’t soothing! How much of my religious life is founded on obligation and tradition and how much of it is about a living, vital relationship with God? While I’m busy being sure all the details of worship are taken care of have I forgotten that it isn’t me who’s in charge? What makes me think God will accept a self-centered worship effort from me in the first place? The thing is that as I picture the people of Haggai’s day walking out of a worship service feeling that somehow something is missing, I can identify with them. That, my friends, makes me very uncomfortable.
Take Away: Our religious lives are to be founded on a living, vital relationship with God.

Devotional on Malachi

2014 – Along the road to Moab, UT

How to get a better preacher for your church
Malachi 1: You say “I’m bored – this doesn’t do anything for me.”
The people of Malachi’s day have lost the edge off of their religion. Worship services are a burden rather than a blessing. For them, righteous living is more about “have to” than “want to.” What should be the most satisfying part of life has become just another burden for them to bear. Malachi tells them why it’s like this: they’ve settled for a cheap religion. When they bring an animal to the Lord they don’t pick the finest they have. Instead, they pick one that’s probably going to die anyway. Even when they brag that they’re going to make some significant offering, at the last minute they just can’t bring themselves to do it and settle for a mere token offering instead. The result, according to Malachi, is a dull, boring religion. The less they put into their relationship with God the less they get out of it. Here’s the real kicker: God isn’t satisfied with their religion either. He says, “If this is how it’s going to be just lock the Temple doors.” Apparently, the Lord isn’t into playing church. I don’t think this concept gives us preachers a license to preach dull, sloppy, poorly prepared sermons or for singers and others to sleep walk through church. However, from years of experience I can affirm that the people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them. Why not give it a try? Get up early enough to pray for the services and for yourself, arrive ahead of time, focus on the Lord, and give 100% to worship. Who knows? You might have a better preacher at your church than you think you do!
Take Away: The people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them.

Devotional on Matthew

2014 – Arches National Park, Utah

Intentionally or not, the disciples did the right thing

Matthew 17: His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face.

To some extent I don’t think the Church has ever fully grasped the Person of Jesus. It took hundreds of years for the doctrine of the Trinity to be established and it’s been “official” now for over 1600 years. Still, if you talk to some people they’re still back in the early years of Christian theology and not convinced at all that the Trinity doctrine has it right. When we think about the Person of Jesus there’s always a tug a war between “he’s God” and “he’s man.” In the pages of the Gospels we watch Jesus, the man. He grows weary and sleeps, he gets thirsty, and he bleeds. We also watch Jesus, the Lord. He forgives sins and tells his disciples that he and the Father are one. In this passage, as Jesus takes three disciples up on the mountain, the humanity of Jesus is overwhelmed by this divinity. The disciples see it as light that pours out of him. This isn’t the Jesus they ate supper with last light. This isn’t the Jesus who slept through the storm. This is God. Peter, James, and John don’t know what to say or do as they experience this Jesus. Still, maybe by instinct, they do the right thing: they fall flat on their faces in reverence and awe. Know what? This radiant-light-pouring-out-of-his-face Jesus is just as much Jesus as the hungry, sleepy, dying-on-the-cross Jesus. Falling down in worship before him is an excellent response.

Take Away: We may struggle with the person of Jesus, but worshiping him is always the right response.

Devotional on Matthew

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

This angel got the job all the angels wanted

Matthew 28: He rolled back the stone and then sat on it.

This angel is pretty cool. He’s supernatural, coming down out of heaven. He’s majestic with shafts of light blazing out of him. He’s powerful, rolling away the stone. Then, what does he do? He has a seat on the stone he speaks calmly and reassuringly and matter-of-factly to the women. It’s almost as though they don’t know whether to bow down to him or invite him out for breakfast. Then the resurrected Jesus makes his appearance. It’s the same way. Here’s the victor over death, freshly raised from the grave; yet he greats them with a cheery “good morning” as though they are just old friends who happen to meet at the mall. The women, though, know just what to do in this case. They bow before him. Jesus, still in an apparent light hearted mood tells them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the disciples that “plan A” is still in order and they’re to meet him at the designated spot in Galilee. This first Easter morning is awesome — holy. It’s also happy, joyous, and just a little light hearted. It’s an interesting balance and the Church should do all it can to capture this wonderful mixture as it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus.

Take Away: It’s the resurrection that makes Christianity the happy, hope-filled religion that it is.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park – feed me – feed me – sitting on my pickup mirror

The Unknown God

Acts 17: He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him.

Paul is speaking at the Areopagus in Athens. He’s disturbed by all the shrines to all the deities worshiped there. He’s even seen one shrine dedicated to the “unknown god.” The folks there don’t want to overlook some god and unintentionally get on the bad side of him! When Paul gets a chance to be heard, he uses that shrine as his launching point. He’s there to tell them about the God they’ve missed. His argument is right out of the Old Testament. The prophets of old often called their people to worship the God not made with human hands. Paul tells them that the God he serves is good and gracious, blessing their lives even though they haven’t acknowledged him. This God reaches out to them, inviting them to live in a relationship with him. However, there comes a time when the “unknown” becomes the “known.” It’s one thing to enjoy the blessings of God in ignorance. It’s something altogether different to know of this good God and to intentionally ignore him. In fact, God intends to divide people along that very line. He’s so serious about it that he’s already appointed a Judge over the people of the earth. To make it perfectly clear to the whole world that this is his chosen Judge, God has raised him from the dead. Many of Paul’s listeners, worshipers of a variety of gods, can’t swallow this “resurrection business.” They can’t imagine their gods having that kind of power. They walk away believing that they’ve just heard an impossible myth. Others, though, are drawn to this good God and his resurrected, appointed Judge. They want to know more. I know where I stand on this issue. Where do you stand?

Take Away: This “Unknown God” can, and wants to be known by all.

Devotional on 1 Corinthians

2014 – Cape Meares, OR – in the fog

Worship service or a wrestling match?

1Corinthians 14: When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared….

Attending a church service at Corinth must be quite an experience. Some people are involved in a civil lawsuit against each other. There’s blatant immorality and the church has divided between the “it’s no big deal” crowd and the “it’s sin” crowd. Communion has been turned into a potluck and there’s competition, not over who makes the best apple pie, but who gets to eat the most. Now, we see that people are fighting over gets to be “featured” in the worship services. One person starts praying, maybe in a prayer language, only to be shouted down by someone else who tries to pray better. One person has a “message from God” but is shouldered out of the way by someone being more spiritual about their “message from God.” The whole thing, in Paul’s eyes, is infantile. The Apostle tries to walk a tightrope about it all. On one hand, he likes the idea that they’re excited about having the Holy Spirit work in and through them. On the other hand, this disorganized, competition-filled approach to worship has to go. Paul lays down some rules intended to calm things down. When he’s finished, their Spirit-language praying is, for practical purposes, removed from their worship services. He also rules out this business of talking over the top of one another with their competing “words from the Lord.” He tells them to get organized and to come prepared rather than making up their worship service as it goes along. Singers, teachers, and preachers are supposed to come ready to do their part. Basically, he calls them to intentional, prepared, humble, courteous, organized worship. If a person can’t handle that, they probably shouldn’t be up front in the first place.

Take Away: We want Spirit-filled worship but an indication of that isn’t people competing to be the most spiritual.

Devotional on Hebrews

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

Church attendance

Hebrews 10: Not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on.

All the heavy lifting to provide my salvation has already been done by Jesus. It’s his obedience to the cross that’s opened a new, living way to God. It’s his blood that’s been shed, providing the final, ultimate sacrifice. Now, the way to God is opened and I have sure, absolute promises upon which to take my stand. So, that’s what I do. I respond in belief and then do all I can to nurture that hope I’ve been so graciously given. One of the ways I do that, according to the writer of Hebrews, is to worship with fellow believers. In spite of the fact that some folks don’t think it is necessary or worth the time, I’m to see it as a valuable component of the life of faith. As part of a worshiping community my connection to Jesus is strengthened, my understanding of the things of God is deepened, and opportunities for serving the Lord are provided. Some may think they know better or that they have bigger fish to fry. I see it as one of several ways in which I more firmly grasp my hold on the things of God. After all, Jesus has already done the heavy lifting here. My being faithful to his Church and all the other disciplines of the Christian life is nothing in comparison to his bleeding and dying on the cross.

Take Away: Thank the Lord for the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ.

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