Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Don't let your wondering turn to wandering.

READ Job 1-2                      

Oh, how different Job was from so many of us today. One can hardly imagine the absolute horror of all the things that happened to him. Any one of them would have been a great tragedy, but piled up together they are almost beyond belief. Yet in the midst of all these calamities, Job did not lose his faith in God nor did he accuse God of any wrong.

As I said, how different that seems to be from so many today. When deep difficulties come upon many today the first thing they do is question, “Why would God do this to me, since I try to be a good person?” Or some, sadly, say something like this, “If that’s what God is going to let happen, then I don’t want anything to do with him.” I have know those folks and it breaks my heart when I hear them.

But Job, in all this, “did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22) nor did he “sing with his lips” (2:10). Job was willing to trust God and not to accuse him even when things did not go the way he wanted. That is great faith. I think it is normal for anyone to wonder why such bad things could happen. But we must be careful not to let our wondering turn into wandering away from God. Hold fast to God and who he is. He will be with you through life’s darkest times.

Prayer: Father, you are God, holy and perfect in every way. You are gracious and merciful and loving and steadfast to your people. Though you do not promise us that we will not experience pain and heartache, you do promise that you will never leave us nor forsake us. Help us to seek you above all else, even our own lives.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Can you see the cross in Purim?

READ Esther 9-10

Here we have the record of the beginning of the Feast of Purim that is celebrated by the Jews. After they were allowed to defend themselves against their enemies they set aside the 14th and 15th of Adar as days of feasting and gladness because these were “the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday” (9:22). This feast was commanded by Mordecai and Queen Esther (9:29-32).

As Christians we don’t celebrate Purim. But is there a time when we celebrate getting relief from our “enemy” and having our sorrow turned into gladness? I would suggest that is what we do at the Lord’s Supper. It is at the Lord’s Supper that we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. We celebrate and memorialize Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross where our enemy, Satan, was crushed and his head was bruised (Gen 3:15). At the cross our sorrow for sin and the lasting results of sin was turned into joy and gladness at the realization of eternal forgiveness and mercy from God. Because of his death on the cross there will be no more death for his people just as the Jews were rescued from death in the days of Esther.

Glory to his name! “ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Prayer: Father, help us to remember that our Savior Jesus defeated our adversary and took away the sting of death for us. Thank you, Father, that you turned our mourning into dancing with joy at the victory over death when you raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Lord, never let us forget that our life and our joy and our union with You was purchased through his blood at the cross.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Can there be more than one "such a time"?

READ Esther 3-4

This is a fairly well-known story among Bible readers. The decree to kill the Jews is made and Uncle Mordecai asks Esther to go before the king on behalf of her people to seek help. She is afraid that she will be killed and is reluctant, at first, to go. But Mordecai challenges her with those immortal words, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such  time as this?” (4:14)

Perhaps that’s a question we ought to ask ourselves more often. Does it have to be only a one-time thing? When we are faced with helping that person who is needy and we are in a position to do something, is it possible that God has put us there “for such a time as this?” When there is an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost friend or family member, maybe just maybe, God has put us there “for such a time as this.” When we are faced with resisting temptation not only for our own good but also for the good of those around us, could it also be that we have come to that moment “for such a time as this?”

It’s a good question to ask. And I believe the answer will usually be “yes.”

Prayer: Father, help me to be aware of those divine appointments in my life where you have orchestrated the events and timing. Help me to be strong and courageous in doing what will honor you the most. Help me to constantly be discerning of the opportunities you give me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Preparing Like Esther

READ Esther 1-2

As the ESV Study Bible says: “The book of Esther never mentions God’s name, yet God clearly orchestrated all of its events.” In these first two chapters we see the beginning of the story which takes place between the first return of the exiles from captivity and the time when Ezra and Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem. Esther’s uncle Mordecai was obviously a very old man for he had been among those taken into exile from Judah. Esther was born during the exile.

As I read these chapters, one thought occurred to me while thinking of what to say in this devotional. The scene is being set, the intrigue is building, God is clearly about to do something, but one thing stands out — we are not to the end of the story yet. And that’s exactly where we find ourselves today, isn’t it. We know that Jesus came, lived a perfectly sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again on the third day and ascended to be with the Father. But not, the intrigue is building…the scene is being set…Jesus is going to return…but we are not to the end of the story yet.

So what do we do in the meantime? Just like Esther, we are to make ourselves ready for his return. Esther was over a year in preparation to make herself as beautiful as possible before meeting King Ahasuerus. We do not know how much time we have before we meet our Savior, whether through death or rapture. But we are to beautify ourselves through holy and righteous living for that day. Think of your opportunity in this life to adorn yourself with Christ-likeness because, “Beloved, we are God 's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

Prayer: Father, help us to live in such a way that in the moment we see you we will not be ashamed but filled with ecstatic joy and meeting you face to face.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Model for QT's

READ Nehemiah 9-10

In these two chapters we have a long, national Quiet Time (or Time Alone With God or whatever you like to call your daily devotional time). I see here a wonderful model and outline for us as we spend time with the Lord on a regular basis. Notice: Word; confession; praise; petition; commitment.

1. They read from the Word of God. (9:3) Notice it was for “a quarter of the day.” We should hunger for God’s Word and not be content with small patches. It is good for us to bath ourselves in the Word of God daily.

2. They confessed their sin…again, for “a quarter of the day.” (9:3) This was no light confession. They had come before the Lord in deep humility (9:1) as we should also. The Word had brought conviction upon them of the depth of their sin and they confessed it to God.

3. They praised God (9:5b-31). The primary praise device they used was to recount all the marvelous ways that God had blessed them from creation to the present day. A recurring theme is the mercy of God which brought forgiveness and blessing over and over to his people.

4. They asked God for specific things (9:32-37). Only after the reading of the Word and the confession and the praise did they get to their petition. They asked God to remember the hardship of their present circumstances. They were slaves. But even in their slavery they saw the faithful hand of God because of their own sin (9:33).

5. They made a covenant (9:38-10:39). This was their commitment to God of how they would live in obedience to his Word. This is a wonderful example for us. After we have studied the Word, confessed our sin, praised and thanked God for his blessings and asked God to help us in our need — then we should determine in our hearts what we are going to do based on his Word (James 1:22).

A great national devotional that serves as a model for our private devotionals. Let’s do it.

Prayer: Father, your Word is so righteous and live-giving. Thank you that it convicts us of our sin and shows us your faithfulness. Help us to live according to what you teach us through your holy Word.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Best Definition of Preaching

READ Nehemiah 7-8

Many years ago, while I was studying in school to prepare to be a pastor, I came to this part of Nehemiah and was profoundly impacted by it. For me, we have here the best definition of what preaching is to be. It’s found in 8:8: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” How simple, yet profound, is that idea. Ever since that time I have sought to follow that model in preaching to God’s people week after week.

I do note that, though Ezra was doing the primary reading, there were others there who also “helped the people to understand the Law” (8:7). Preaching, in its fullest sense is not a one-man job. I am so grateful for our other pastors and teachers in our church who also help folks to understand the Word of God. Their role is vital in the teaching of God’s Word to the church.

So pray for me and for our other pastors and teachers. Pray that we will be faithful to the Word of God to read it and explain it so that people can understand it. That really is all we are called to do. I think when Paul gave his admonition to young pastor Timothy to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2), he was calling him to do exactly what Ezra had done that day in the courtyard of the Water Gate. There is no higher calling.

Prayer: Father, thank you that you have strengthened me to teach your Word all these many years. Thank you that you have given me a place to do that. That you that you have given faithful people who want to hear the Word proclaimed. Help us all to be faithful to your Word and may your Word bear fruit in us and among us. Help us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

God put it on my heart. Really?

READ Nehemiah 1-2

Nehemiah wasn’t even born when the first exiles returned from Babylon in 538 b.c. and rebuilt the temple (Ezra 1-6). Several years before he came to Jerusalem Ezra had led a group to return to Israel around 458 b.c. (Ezra 7-10). Now the year is 445 b.c. and Nehemiah learns of the condition of the wall of Jerusalem and its gates (1:3). He is overcome with grief and begins to pray and ask God to “grant him mercy in the sight of” King Artaxerxes so that he may return and accomplish “what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem” (2:12). God does grant him mercy and the king agrees to his idea.

Notice, he did “what God had put into his heart.” Can you and I say the same? Have we lived our lives doing what God has put into our hearts as his disciples? Are we always faithful to the leading of the Lord as he guides us in our lives? Some might even question whether God acts in this way today.

But someone might question, “How do I know when God has put something on my heart?” I even know some prominent pastors who suggest that we can’t know this sort of thing subjectively until we see it in retrospect. And there may be a sense in which that is true. But look closely at Nehemiah’s prayer in Ch. 1. He referred to the teaching of the Scripture from Moses. He knew that what had happened to the people was what God had prophesied. But there obviously was no chapter and verse in the Scripture he had that said, “Thou shalt go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.” No, God simply put it on his heart.

So does God put things on our hearts today? I would say yes. Can we know with certainty that he has done so? Probably not absolutely. But I believe that, as we study the word, live a godly life before him and seek him and his guidance in prayer, we will have those times that God “leads us in our thinking” to do certain things for him. If we sense this strongly and if it is consistent with the Word of God, we should move forward. And I believe that we can trust that God has put it on our hearts.

Prayer: Father, I know that I am a frail human with a heart and mind that are probably rarely fully and completely devoted to you. But, Father, I do want that to be the desire of my heart. Help me to realize that every single idea I have cannot be attributed to your putting it on my heart. But, Lord, sometimes you do lead specifically and sometimes you do want me to move in certain directions, so help me to know that when it comes. Keep me so grounded in your Word that I won’t miss your truth that always guides my path.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Little Revival

READ Ezra 9-10

I’d like to mention two things from our text this morning. The first is found in 9:8-9 where Ezra, in his mourning over the sins of the people, points out that God had given them a “little reviving” from their slavery in Babylon to allow them to return and rebuild the temple and restore their life in the land. I thought of my prayers and hope that God would send revival and spiritual awakening to our nation. And my heart responded to this idea of how grateful I would be for a “little reviving” today. A “little reviving” in our church and in our land. Oh, how marvelous that would be.

But in the midst of this “little revival” there was still great sin among the people. This was the occasion of Ezra’s fasting, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God (10:1). The people had disobeyed God’s clear command and the heart of the leader was broken, which leads to my second thought today. Notice that the book ends (10:18-44) with a written list of the ones who had sinned against the Lord, naming their sin.

Can you imagine the public humiliation that would come with having one’s name on such a list? What would it be like today if the Lord were to go through our churches and publish a list of the people and their sins? Would there be as much repentance as anger? How would we respond to this public rebuke of our sins before the Lord? Shouldn’t we seek to live holy lives that we would not be ashamed to see made public at any time?

Prayer: Father, I am a sinner and I dwell among sinners. Would you be pleased to send us a “little revival?” God, convict us of our sin and humble us before you. Search us, O God, and know our hearts. Try us and know our thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Passing It On

READ Ezra 7-8

Ezra was a priest descended from Aaron. He returned from Babylon along with many other priests with the blessing and resources provided by King Artaxerxes. He was obviously a strong leader who was also a very godly man, trusting God and seeking his blessing and help continuously in their return.

And for us today there is something in Ezra to follow in our own lives. He set his heart “to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” We noted yesterday that, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we should hear and do the Word of God. Ezra did that with all his heart. But he also had the added component of teaching God’s Word.

Now you might claim a pass here because you are not a pastor or teacher of a class. But the question is, are you teaching anyone? What about your family? Are you taking the time to teach them the Word and ways of the Lord. Or do you leave that up to others completely? I think every Christian could potentially find someone to “teach.” Maybe it would be a new Christian who just wants to learn more about the Lord. Or maybe you should consider teaching a class whether it be young people or adults. The key is to find some avenue of passing on to others what God has shown to you.

Prayer:  Father, I pray that you would help each of us to faithfully study your Word and do it with all our hearts. And, Lord, help us to want to share it with others. Thank you for your faithfulness in teaching us through your written revelation. Help us to demonstrate our love for you by our obedience and faithfulness to your Word.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hear & Do

READ Ezra 5-6

Ezra 5:1-2 point out the way things out to be with God’s people. They had been bullied into stopping the reconstruction of the temple by the local people. This lasted about 15 years. Then God sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah who prophesied that they were wrong by not building and encouraged them to start the work again (cf. Hag 1:4-8). So the people respond under Zerubbabel and Jeshua and start the work on the house of God once again.

Yes, that’s the way it should be. When God’s people are not living according to his will and they hear a word from the Lord calling them to righteousness and obedience, they should hear the Word and then do it. (James 1:22) You and I individually and together as the Body of Christ should respond in obedience to the Word of God. We don’t have prophets today. Our word from God comes from his Word the Bible. So let’s be people of the Word and do what it tell us to do.

Prayer: Father, a simple request is all I have today. Help me to hear your Word and do it. If it points out my sin, help me to stop it. If it points out something that I am to do that I haven’t been doing, help me to do it. Through your power, help me to obey.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Worship First

READ Ezra 3-4

The first thing the returned exiles do is set up the altar of sacrifice. Before they begin to lay the foundation for the new temple, they are diligent to work quickly and set up the altar. This was the place, commanded by Moses in Exodus 29, for the offering of burnt offerings to the Lord. It was the place of worship, which preceded all that they would do. The people came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths and worshipped God daily around the new altar. A few months afterward they began the work of reconstruction on the temple.

For us, there is a strong reminder of the priority of worship. Before we work for the Lord, before we give to the Lord, we should worship the Lord. But in our worship let us remember that it is our awesome Heavenly Father that we are worshipping and focus on him. Bob Kauflin tweeted a day or so ago: “In 2015, let's be less passionate about worship and more passionate about the triune God we're worshiping.”

I think what Bob means is not to be more enthralled with our “act of worship” than the God whom we worship. Worship is not just making music, in fact, that has very little to do with what true worship is. True worship is presenting myself to the Lord as a living sacrifice 24/7/365. True worship is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

So let’s examine ourselves. Are we determined to worship God first, above all else? Have we built our altar of sacrifice, metaphorically speaking, and placed ourselves upon it for his glory and honor? Are we worshipping the Lord in spirit and in truth?

Prayer: Father, help me to worship you in all that I do. Help me to know that every thought of my mind, every word of my mouth and every act of my body can be worship. Show me, by your grace, how to truly worship you with all that I am.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Soul-keeping grace & sin-forgiving mercy

READ 2 Chronicles 35-36

The very last king of Judah (other than the Eternal King, that is) didn’t learn any lessons from the failures of those who had gone before him. In fact the Scripture says of him, “He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (36:13).

But the Scripture also reminds us shortly after this that God was very patient with his people, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place” (36:15). How did they respond? “But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy” (36:16).

This is cause for humility for me today. Why? Because I know how patient God is with me. I know my heart and how like the old hymn says I am: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” But God is patient and loves me with an everlasting love. Oh, Lord, I need your soul-keeping grace and your sin-forgiving mercy every moment of every day.

Prayer: Father, you alone can keep me through faith for the salvation that will be revealed to me in the last time. As you are keeping me for then, Lord, I pray that you would keep me now…close to you…seeking your heart…constantly surrendering my will and my way to your will and your way. Help me, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


READ 2 Chronicles 33-34

We have a great contrast in the life of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, with his grandfather Ahaz. Ahaz was an evil king whom God gave over to the hand of the Syrians in battle. And the Scripture says that “in the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord —this same King Ahaz” (28:22). How utterly sad.

But his grandson Manasseh began his reign just like Ahaz had, doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He returned the people to the worship of idols, even burning his own sons on the fires of idolatry. This time God gave Judah into the hands of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh and took him to Babylon. But, unlike his granddad, “when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (33:12-13).

Two lessons: one, when in distress, humble yourself before the Lord and cry out to him. Seek the Lord with all your heart and he will hear your prayer. And the second, if you are a grandfather or when you become a grandfather, be the kind of grandfather that others will want your grandkids to imitate. Be an example of humility and obedience to the Lord, not of rebellion and disobedience.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to be a grandfather to my offspring who will show them your greatness, love, mercy and grace. Help me to live humbly before them and point them to you in every way. Help me to love them and help them to know you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Working for God

READ 2 Chronicles 31-32

There is much that can be said about Hezekiah. Let’s talk about one of the best things. The Chronicler tells us, “And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” (31:21) Let’s draw a lesson for each of us today in relation to our service for the Lord in his church.

1. He undertook work in the service of the house of God. The house of God today is the church; the church where we have committed our lives to be a part of the fellowship of faith. We should each find our place of service in the church.

2. He did his work in accordance with God’s Word. We should also be guided by the Word as we serve the Lord through his church. Our work should honor the Lord and be an example to others of obedient faithful service.

3. We should seek the Lord in our service. Don’t serve God in order to be puffed up in your own mind. This eventually happened, sadly, to Hezekiah. But use your service of the Lord as an opportunity to know God more.

4. He worked with all his heart. Do your work heartily, as unto the Lord. In the power and grace of God, give it all you’ve got. Don’t be weary in well-doing. Hang in there faithfully, joyfully, continuously serving the Lord.

Be steadfast, y’all.

Prayer: Father, I pray for myself first that my work would be pleasing to you and my heart would be wholly toward you in my service for you. Hinder me, Lord, from pride and thoughts of indispensability. Let my service be acceptable to you. And for my brothers I pray that each of them will find their place of service for you and do it mightily, through your enabling power, for you.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mentors = Channels Not Reservoirs

READ 2 Chronicles 23-24

After evil king Ahaziah died and his evil mother Athaliah took over the rule of Judah, Ahaziah’s sister Jehoshabeath, the wife of Jehoiada the priest, rescued Ahaziah’s son Joash and hid him form Athaliah who was putting all the king’s sons to death. He was one year old at the time. Then six years later, Jehoshabeath’s husband stepped forward to lead the people in making Joash king over Judah. He gathered all the people and explained how they would live according to the directions the Lord had given through David. And he crowned Joash as the new king of Judah. He began his reign at 7 and reigned for 40 years with Jehoiada beside him as his mentor and counselor.

Now note what the text says about King Joash’s reign: “And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” That’s right. He was a good king…as long as Jehoiada was alive. But after that he listened to the evil counsel of the princes of Judah and abandoned the house of the Lord and served idols. Jehoiada lived a long time (130 years; longer than Moses and Aaron) and as long as he was alive his influence on Joash was great and pleasing to the Lord.

I’m wondering about you and me. Is there anyone in our lives to whom we are their Jehoiada? Is there anyone whom you and I are mentoring and helping to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord? Is there anyone whom we are helping with wise, godly counsel? Perhaps we ought to look around us and see the “Joash” God has put there. Then let us “take courage” as Jehoiada did and invest our lives in them.

Prayer: Father, I pray that you would help us as godly men before you to help those around us to walk in a way that pleases you. Help us not only to live to your glory ourselves but also to mentor others to do the same. Let us not become reservoirs of your blessings but channels through which they flow to others.