Devotions

The Blessings of Being Bold, Intentional, Loving, Compassionate, and Prepared

Luke 24.1.

on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. – Luke 24:1

Question: Who were the first people to see evidence of the resurrection?

Answer: a) Those who were bold. b) Those who took time to “prepare[].” c) Those who offered a gift of love and compassion.

  • Primarily, it’s a dozen men who get official credit for being Disciples … but … there were also a number of women who were equally devoted to Jesus and to his teachings. (They were disciples too.) And when their teacher, Lord, and master was crucified, they spent a day preparing the burial spices to go and minister in compassion to the one they loved as he lay dead in a tomb. And Jesus met them there! The spiritual principle: When we minister to Jesus in love and compassion, our Lord meets us there!
  • Their going to the tomb was an act of incredible boldness! An extreme hatred and persecution killed Jesus. These women knew that this extreme evil could be pour out on them if they stood up for the one who was just treated so vilely. They knew the risks. But the love and compassion created a boldness that trumped their fear. And Jesus met them there! The spiritual principle: When we venture boldly, in spite of our earthly fears, our Lord meets us there!
  • And here’s the part that I love most about this story … Going to the tomb wasn’t random. It wasn’t haphazard. It wasn’t accidental. It was intentional. They “prepared” the spices to care for the body lying in the tomb. They “prepared” their hearts to confront their grief. They went intentionally, bold, with love and compassion. And Jesus met them there! The spiritual principle: When we are intentional in ministering to, for, and with Jesus, our Lord meets us there!

Do you want to be blessed in life? Well, God can and does occasionally surprise us. But don’t count on randomness as an adequate formula for blessing! God normally meets us when we are … bold … intentional … and ministry to, for, and with Jesus in love and compassion.

Thus, if you want more of God, which of those steps is your next needed action.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who generally

buys “prepared mustard” –

so I guess I want to be

tangy and yellow and

prepared like mustard

 

Depressed, Distressed, Despairing … or Hopeful?

Psalm 31.9.

Be gracious to me, O Lordfor I am in distress; For my life is spent with sorrow – Psalm 31:9-10

Distress.

Depressed.

Lonely, dark, and despairing. Sad, anxious, and helpless. Broken, meaningless, and in bondage.

From time-to-time those words can define any of us. Betrayal, violence, and discouragement occasionally toss every one of us into pits of despair. Sometimes we talk about having a bad day. Sometimes the pain lingers for decades.

Why?

Because our fallen world is constantly clouded by sin and death, there is obviously too much “sorrow” and “distress.” And it inevitably hits each of us. If we dwell on what’s down here defining life on a broken planet, we ourselves will grow increasingly (if not hopelessly) broken and discouraged.

But the Psalms offer and alternative. The Psalmists are honest! They admit to their moments of “sorrow” and “distress.” But rather than wallow in the mud of this earth, they intentionally lift their vision above earth’s horizon.

They intentionally say, “however,” “but,” and “nevertheless.” Though they may start plenty of sentences with “9 I am in distress” and “10 my life is spent with sorrow,” they consistently end their thoughts by saying, “14 but I [nevertheless] trust in you, O Lord.”

That’s the spiritual antidote to wallowing in despair for weeks, months, years, and lifetimes. When we’re having a bad day – and we all will – scripture invites us to first be honest. (It does no good to pretend pain isn’t real.) And then second, to let the buts, howevers, and trusts lift our vision to heaven and transform our life and perspective. For example, the Psalmist reflects, saying, “weeping may linger for the night (a bad day), but (with God) joy comes with the morning.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy with a big “but”

 

Sprinkled Clean

Hebrews 10.19.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22

Do you trust God … or are you afraid of God?

Historically, humanity has feared God. But Luther helped the West rediscover God’s amazing grace. The book of Hebrews, for example, encourages us to approach God’s throne of grace with boldness! (Heb 4:16)

So on what basis can we have this confidence to trust God? We “enter … by the blood of Jesus.”

When Christ was crucified, we are told that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top (God’s end) to the bottom. The curtain divided humanity from the holy of holies where God dwelled on earth. No one – except the high priest and only once a year – could step behind the curtain. Hebrews tells us of a figurative curtain that has similarly been opened – “we have confidence to enter the sanctuary … by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh).” Jesus’ flesh, his blood, created an opening and an access to God.

Jesus is the new (and eternal) high “priest.” Once, only the high priest could breach the curtain. Now, Jesus, the high priest, personally invites all of us into the presence of God.

But we should do two things first in order to enter. First, we need our hearts to be “sprinkled clean” and “washed.” How? Through sincere confession. God will absolutely forgive sincere confession, but we must continually get ourselves right if we are to rightly approach him. Second, we can only and fully approach when we have faith. Hebrews says, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Do you remember Jesus’ first sermon? Those are the two things he proclaimed as he was inaugurating the kingdom – “repent” (confession, washing clean) “and believe the Good News” (true hearts and true faith).

With His sacrifice upon the cross, Jesus has opened the curtain, the way to God. And when we “repent and believe the Good News,” we have amazing access to God.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who doesn’t

have to peak behind

the curtain – he

can walk right in

 

Seeing Blind

Daily Devotions

Isaiah 43.8.

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! – Isaiah 43:8

What is sight?

Dictionaries define it as “the ability to see,” “the power or faculty of seeing,” “the perception of objects by use of the eyes.”

I like that last definition. Physical sight is the visual perception of something real.

Spiritual sight, then, is the spiritual perception of something real. And that’s a frequent Biblical concept.

Jesus spoke about this in John 9. He’d physically healed a blind man, but the spiritually blind Pharisees ran around trying to discredit this miracle. Jesus offers this spiritual definition of sight: “39 I came into this world … so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Yes, spiritual sight is the spiritual perception of something real.

Our verse for today comes from a famous chapter in Isaiah. God starts with “1 [I am] he who created you.” He is promising to bring his scattered people back from Exile. “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will [shout] to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold.’” And in the midst of their trials he keeps saying, “1,5 Do not fear.”

Indeed, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

And then he says, “Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes.” God’s people have been captive for 70 years. Few remember Jerusalem and the old home land. They’ve been born and raised in a foreign culture. They’ve acculturated. Most are much more like their new land than their homeland. They may remember mom and grandma’s old stories, but most are spiritually blind. Most have no spiritual perception of the biggest thing that is really real.

And so God, through the prophet, is proclaiming a new word: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is promising to satisfy their need for hope … and peace, saying, “[When the journey begins and] when you pass through the waters, [trust that] I will be with you; and [that] the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Furthermore, “when you walk through fire [and trials, trust that] you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” And then he reintroduces himself, “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

They were delivered. They were brought home. It was miraculous. (See the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) But what percent do you think really had spiritual sight and fully comprehended the goodness of God?

If we look around, God’s presence is all around us too. How fully do you comprehend the goodness of God?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wears

physical glasses;

God’s Word is my

spiritual glasses

Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace

Daily Readings

Psalm 126.5.

May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy. – Psalm 126:5

“Tears … into joy.” That’s what God promises.

“Mourning into dancing,” is another offer from God in Psalm 30:11.

God is a God of hope … of peace … of restoration … of healing.

For nearly twenty-five years, I have tacked a sheet of paper above my computer. (I glance up at it frequently when I prepare sermons and devotions.) It’s excerpts from an article by Roy Nash. In it he proposes a model for dealing with “Life’s Major Spiritual Issues.” With God’s help, he posits (and scripture promises) that we can turn …

Hatred into Love

Bitterness into Forgiveness

Doubt into Faith

Despair into Hope

Darkness into Light

Sadness into Joy

Fear into Courage

Aloneness into Unity

Helplessness into Power

Bondage into Freedom

Greed into Charity

Brokenness into Wholeness

Curses into Blessings

Foolishness into Wisdom

Guilt into Grace

Injustice into Justice

Denial into Awareness

Apathy into Concern

Revenge into Mercy

War into Peace

Arrogance into Humility

Ingratitude into Gratitude

Meaninglessness into Purpose

Sickness into Health

If you want to experience more of these blessings in life, prayer is a very good place to start, and the famous prayer of St. Francis is an extraordinary model …

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who frequently

sings this prayer

when he walks into

the most challenging

pastoral situations;

“Lord, make me an

instrument of your

peace.”

 

 

 

 

Nothing … except …

Daily Readings

2 Kings 4.2.

She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” – 2 Kings 4:2

It was a plaintive cry.

In the days of Elisha, a poor widow lamented that she had nothing — “Nothing … except a jar of oil.”

She was desperate, worried, afraid. She felt utterly without help or hope. “[Yes, I have] nothing except a jar of oil.”

And the question is: Was she right or wrong?

From a practical human perspective, she was right. But the point of this story is to lift our eyes beyond our human, physical limitations. She had more than nothing. She had children. She had love. Seeing herself as a “servant” of God, she had faith. And most of all, she had God.

And her God turned her perceived lack into practical plenty. “[Elisha] said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. Then … start pouring into all these vessels…” They kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. When the vessels were full … then the oil stopped flowing. … The man of God … said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”

She had more than nothing. She had everything … because she had God.

What do you keep telling yourself that you lack?

How might you operate from hope and trust rather than the myth of scarcity?

In Christ’s Love,

A guy who loves the phrase,

“I’m drinking from my saucer,

because my cup has overflowed.”

I need more saucers and more jars

and eyes the see my blessings

Abominable Corruption

Daily Readings

Psalm 53.1.

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good. – Psalm 53:1

19 For what can be known about God is plain to [all people],” says the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. It’s a mirror of Psalm 53:1, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’”

Why is God’s existence plain? “19 Because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” Yes, “fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’”

Is the “no good,” that unbelievers do? It’s easy to condemn the “abominable” for “corrupt” acts. But what about the unbelievers who are really, really nice? Many clearly outdo too many Christians in terms of niceness. So can we really say that “there is no one who does good”?

Well, it depends on what “good” means. Our Western Culture is absolutely built on Christian principles which include freedom, justice, equality, fairness, kindness, and humility. Most Westerners have inherited the blessings of this culture and these values … without necessarily knowing or acknowledging where they have come from. Culturally, we’re nice because we’re generally supposed to be fair. We could surely call that good … until we try to sustain our culture without its foundation?

The more corruption fades in the West? … Is corruption fading or growing? Are courts more and more influenced by money? Is our speech as free, or is politically incorrect speech increasingly curtailed? Is there more kindness than there used to be … or more mass shootings and fear? Individually, one-person-at-a-time, most people – even unbelievers – aren’t bad people. But individually, one-person-at-a-time, WE are undermining society. And that’s what’s bad. That’s what’s abominable and corrupt.

You and me are sinners. We’re part of the problem. Even believers can be guilty and corruption – big and small. But ideally, God’s love, grace, laws, character, and truth draw our corrupt souls back to God’s ways. But what about those who deny God? There’s nothing that draws them back, except a human effort to try and be nice. That’s what Psalm 53 calls foolish.

In Christ’s Love,

a fool … for Christ!