Devotions

For Everything!

Give Thanks

Give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20

“All” and “everything.” That’s what we’re supposed to give thanks for!

You’ve perhaps heard this story, but Corrie Ten Boom had a powerful lesson in this at a Nazi Concentration Camp. Danish clockmakers Corrie, her sister, and their father had been hiding Jews in their home. Though their protectees were thankfully never found, the Ten Booms were nevertheless arrested for collaborating with the Resistance. Through miraculous circumstances, Corrie and Betsie managed to smuggle a Bible into their barracks.

One day, Betsie came across a passage similar to today’s verse, and Corrie’s sister said, “God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances, so Corrie, we need to give thanks for the lice.” Corrie argued, “I will never give thanks for the lice.” But Betsie’s faith was so genuine, trusting, and sincere – even from the midst of a Nazi hellhole – that Corrie eventually bit out, “Thank you, God, for the lice.”

Betsie died in that concentration camp. Corrie lived to celebrate her sister’s faith, saying essentially: Betsie was right. I hated those lice. But so did the German guards. The infestation of lice in our barrack kept out the guards which was a blessing for two reasons. First, our women didn’t have to endure their harassment. Second, it allowed us to hold a Bible study with the contraband Bible. In the midst of our horrible circumstances, all the other prisons in camp started referring to us as the barrack of light. God was moving, helping, guiding, saving. He was setting our hearts free, in spite of our horrific external circumstances.

If I said to you, “Give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” what would you say that you have the hardest time giving thanks for? Well, with Betsie’s prompting, can you bite out a thanksgiving for your equivalent to lice?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who prompts …

“try it now”!

 

God Answers?

Seek

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. – Psalm 34:4

I sought the Lord and he answered me. I love that line. But do you always feel like God answers you?

First, God is not a genie. Like rubbing a lamp, you can’t kneel in a certain way or pray with a certain fervor or name it and claim it and expect God to answer in exactly the way you want.

God is a Father. And while an infinitely superior Father to me, I nevertheless have some insight into being a father and hearing requests from my children. Sometimes I answered, yes. Sometimes I answered, no. A “no” or a “maybe” or a “wait,” qualifies as much as an “he answered me,” as a “yes,” doesn’t it?

I like Pastor Conda’s explanation of this. He likes to quote his wife. Ann says, “Sometimes God says “yes”; sometimes God says “no”; sometimes God say, “I have something better in mind.”  Think about it: Like children, don’t we often want what we want when we want it? What if God has something better in mind? He sometimes has to say no to the good to say yes to the best.

Notice one other thing about this verse: We live in a materialistic culture. The church is filled with too much of the prosperity Gospel – pray and ask correctly and God will give you materialistic blessings. God definitely does care about our physical wellbeing, but generally his answers address us in heart and soul. This passage says that “the Lord … delivered me.” How? From a heart issue. He calmed “all my fears.”

And when we speak of issues of the heart, that’s a way that God so regularly and powerfully answers us. He wants us to find love, joy, and peace, in spite of our circumstances. He wants to give us hope. He works to inspire faith. He may occasionally disquiet our spirit to change a wrong direction or help us grow. But the heart level issues is where to direct your prayers if you want a quicker, surer answer!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s keeps trusting

in the something better!

God Continues …

Deliver

On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. – 2 Corinthians 1:10

Do you know what I think the most important word in this passage is?

Wait … what do you think it is?

HOPE is a good word! Hope is expectation. It is desire. It also includes a bit of trust, doesn’t it? I desire a blessing with some measure of confidence that it can, should, might, will appear. Indeed, when I truly trust in the Lord, I have hope – no matter the circumstances. Thus, hope is a good word … but it’s not the word I’m thinking of.

DELIVER must be the word, then. Right? Throughout Scripture, our Lord is shown as our deliverer! God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. God delivered Daniel from the jaws of a lion. God delivered the disciples from the storm on the sea. God (and His Son) delivered Lazarus from the tomb. God deliverers his people from fear, from sickness, from doubt and discouragement and unforgiveness, from selfishness and pride. Deliverance is a huge biblical word! But again it’s not the word I’m thinking of.

So do you know the word? It’s CONTINUE! “Continue” has a sense of perspective … and even thanksgiving. “Continue” prompts me to remember all of the blessings in my life. “Continue” reminds me to give thanks for all the trials he’s delivered me from in the past (even, perhaps, the ones I’m not aware of). If you’re a person of faith, have you ever stopped to thank God for choosing you? For delivering you from sin and death and allowing you access into his Kingdom of Light? If you have measures of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, have you thanked him for delivering you from anger, sadness, anxiety, impatience, bitterness, and wantonness? If he’s delivered you before, “HOPE” is the confidence that “he will CONTINUE to DELIVER” you.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who continues

to see be thankful

for God’s blessings

How to Discover the Power of Christ

Weakness

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

What does the world celebrate?

  • Power?
  • Fame?
  • Beauty?
  • Wealth?
  • Success?

Yes … but what does God celebrate? Today’s verse obviously gives us one example – weakness (though you can listen in some of the others) …

  • Weakness (instead of power)
  • Humbleness (instead of fame)
  • Inner Beauty (instead of externals)
  • Generosity (instead of wealth)
  • Faith (instead of worldly success)

And how does weakness help us spiritually? When I think I’m strong and capable – and I’m guilty of this all the time – I do things based on my strength, my power, my resources, my ability, and my priority. The common theme of the sources of all my doing is “my” – me, myself, and I.

Now, I am called to use my gifts. I am called to be wise. We live in a sowing and reaping world. I need to do my part. But … when I rely on my strength, I’m trusting in me instead of God. When I rely on my resources, I ignore (and even reject) God’s provision. When I trust in my abilities, I’m generally not giving thanks to the God who generously gave me every one of those abilities. And when I depend on my power, I’m limited to my power alone … and I miss “the power of Christ [that] may dwell in me.”

Sometimes life’s circumstances make us weak – cancer, job loss, grief, etc. Sometimes all we can do is cry, “God, I can’t, but I trust that you can.” But why wait until we get to the end of our rope, to reach out for God’s lifeline and provision. Why not surrender, proactively, before the inevitable crises in this broken world? Why not willingly submit in weakness and vulnerability? You might just start then to experience God’s power.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who just saw this quote:

“Prayer is weaponized weakness.”

our weakness is indeed our

most powerful weapon

 

 

The Indestructible Kingdom

Kingdom of Heaven 

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. – Daniel 2:44

Daniel was in Exile. His people were now foreign slaves. King Nebuchadnezzer had come. The Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem. An overwhelming percentage of God’s people, including Daniel himself, had been hauled into this Babylonian Exile.

King and kingdom were now bad words. On a daily basis, king meant Nebuchadnezzer – violent, oppressive, persecutor – and kingdom meant slavery under a foreign people’s hand. It seemed hopeless. And from a human perspective, it utterly was.

This Exile would last seventy years. Therefore, those who’d been born into Judean freedom would almost certainly die under Babylonian oppression. (Hopeless?) Others were born into slavery and for much (if not all) of their lives, they would live continuously in oppression. (Hopeless?)

And now comes Daniel’s words here in Daniel 2. Who was Daniel speaking to?

  • First, Daniel was speaking literally to King Nebuchadnezzer. The earthly king had a dream of great statue. The Heavenly King revealed to Daniel the meaning of the dream. And what was the message to a proud king who seemingly conquered the world? God, through Daniel, was saying essentially, “O Nebuchadnezzer, whole empires will rise and fall, but ‘the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.’” Essentially the Lord of heaven and earth was saying, “I’m King; you’re temporary. Why not humble yourself?”
  • But we don’t quote Daniel just because the prophet’s words were meant for just Nebuchadnezzer! Daniel’s words were, second, a message of great hope to his fellow Jews. Essentially God’s promise was, “Yes, you may feel oppressed now, and yes, there may be times of future trials, but don’t worry, in the end, ‘the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.’” This is a powerful, helpful, life-giving word of prophecy to people in times of discouragement. The prophet points his people forward and upward (instead of toward their downward, temporary present). Daniel is essentially saying, “If the true and conquering King is in charge eternally, you do not need to fear the present because he’s absolutely in charge now too (regardless of how dire your current circumstances look).”
  • Finally, Daniel (and all the prophets) speaks to every one of God’s children whenever we face trials. In his prophetic role, Jesus, for example, spoke a similar word to his disciples. He said, “In the world you will face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “Take courage,” Daniel (and Jesus) are saying, “Because if the true and conquering King is in charge eternally, you do not need to fear the present because he’s in charge now too, regardless of how dire your current circumstances look.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who doesn’t fear

lower-case kings because

he trusts in the true,

Upper-Case KING

 

 

Just Stand There … and Listen

Stand

When Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, they sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. – Job 2:11,13

The standard advice in moments of crisis is: “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

If a building is on fire, maybe that’s good advice. But it’s lousy advice in a moment of grief and loss. In fact, to comfort a hurting friend, it actually works better to do the exact opposite: “Don’t do something, just stand there!”

Logic is of very little use in a moment when a friend is weeping in your arms. And a wise perspective only seems to help a little. Besides, you as a caregiver are probably just as much at a loss for words as your hurting friend. But don’t worry! You don’t have to come up with clever words or banal clichés (which often hurt as much as they help). No. All you have to do is stand there. It’s called the ministry of presence.

Job’s friends model this … at least in chapter 2. Job lost everything. What can you say? “You lost your possessions? Well, easy come, easy go.” “You built it before; you’ll build it again.” “Your children died? God must have needed a few more angels.” No! Don’t do something, just sit there. And in chapter 2, Job’s friends were brilliant. They didn’t know what to say. So “no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

But they were there! And for one chapter they were brilliant.

As a pastor, I try to be brilliant … and usually only marginally succeed. But experience has taught me to tell one truth: “I don’t know what to say … except I love you and God loves you and He’s grieving too.” And then I just stand there some more.

So … if Job ended with this passage in chapter 2, Job’s friends would be hailed as caregiving heroes. The problem is that for the next nearly 40 chapters, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz kept opening their mouths. They absolutely couldn’t shut up! In fact, they mostly blamed Job for his own problems, saying essentially (and repeatedly), “You must have done something to deserve this.”

As a pastor, my role is often to give perspective. But, oh is it hard to sometimes calibrate precisely when. (Actually, do you know when the “perfect when” is? It’s before there’s a crisis. It’s being shaped by preaching and teaching that gradually cuts a deep canyon of faith, hope, and perspective before the inevitable crises in life occur. Sadly, however, fewer and fewer people in our culture avail themselves proactively to preaching and teaching. Even many Christians get too distracted by busyness and life to find themselves armed in advance with life-giving, hope-securing truths.)

Yes, it’s sometimes my pastoral role to give perspective. But you can relax. Giving perspective is not always your role – especially immediately. Don’t do something, just stand there. Hug. Listen. Love. Reflect God’s love. Resist the urge to say too much verbally. Let your simple presence instead speak volumes.

In Christ’s Love,

A guy who knows

that if you read these

or other devotions

with regularity,

you’re cutting a deeper

and deeper canyon

and are preparing

yourselves in advance

of life’s trials

What Can a Mere Mortal Do to Me?

Fear or Trust

In God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me? – Psalm 56:11

I saw a news article (last week) about the old TV classic, The Brady Bunch. Melissa Blake at CNN writes, “This week the classic sitcom celebrates the 50th anniversary of its very first episode.” (Oh my. How time flies! Many of those fresh-faced kids are almost ready to draw Social Security!)

But, writes Blake, “The fact that these characters have managed to have such cross-generational appeal speaks to the power of the show. … [W]hile the nostalgia factor is clearly still alive, times have certainly changed. Life in the early 1970s is vastly different from life in 2019.

Eve Plumb, who played middle sister Jan, talked recently about the tone of the show. “It [was] very safe and friendly and nice … Everything was wrapped up in a cute little bow by the time each episode ended and, of course, a lesson was always learned.” As Plumb put it, “When you go to watch ‘The Brady Bunch’, you know that a problem will be solved and people love each other.”

“We saw the Brady kids deal with things like peer pressure to smoke and breaking their mom’s favorite vase,” says Blake, “[But] ask kids today about the challenges they face and the exhaustive and scary list includes things like school shootings, cyberbullying, mental health struggles and drugs.”

The stakes keep raising for our teens. One in three has diagnosable anxiety. They’re stressed. They’re hurting. They’re afraid.

I’m working more closely with teens lately. We started examining anxiety. I told them, “Tonight is just a start. We can’t solve all the issues with one youth group lesson … but we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Our verse today is one potential starting point. In Psalm 56:11, David sang, “In God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?”

Do you hear the upward confidence of faith? Instead of gazing downward to the worries of earth, David’s faith was boldly cheering what Paul’s faith would celebrate a thousand years later: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31).

The scriptural notations above Psalm 56 tell us that these were David’s words when “the Philistines seized him in Gath.” “1 Be gracious to me, O God, for … 2 my enemies trample on me all day long … 3 [Nevertheless,] when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

One quick youth group lesson can’t free us from all anxiety. Neither can one short Psalm. Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere, and trusting in God starts us in the right place. It points us upward. A downward focus worries about the damage people can do – from gun violence, to gossip, to (cyber)bullying, to seizings by Philistines in Gath, to the lies us people believe about ourselves – but trust helps us say, “What can mere mortals do to me?”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes the

Veggie Tales version

of this principle, “God is

bigger than the boogie man.”