Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Secret of Her Success" March 23 Readings: Deuteronomy 23-24, Luke 1:26–38, Psalm 37:29–35, Proverbs 9:1-3

Today's Readings Deuteronomy 23-24, Luke 1:26–38, Psalm 37:29–35, Proverbs 9:1-3  

Devotional - Secret of Her Success

Imagine this young girl in Nazareth going about her day, as she had every other day, with no expectation that her life would be anything but normal and dull. Her greatest hope was that she might raise a family and experience a little joy along the way. Then, one day, it all changed dramatically. The archangel Gabriel appeared to her and gave her some important news. She was going to give birth to the Son of God, the Messiah, long-anticipated by Israel. 

Gabriel described this baby in glowing terms, in Luke 1:32-33. 
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary was boggled by all of this. That is not hard to imagine, is it? She asked a simple but important question. How was this going to happen to a girl who was a virgin, who had never been with a man? The angel explained how it was going to happen (verse 35). 

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God." 
God was going to take care of it all, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

That is when Mary learned two principles that are the secret to success in God's kingdom. You do not have to be good looking or thin (hallelujah) to be significant in the Lord's work. You do not have to be able to sing or have any other talent. You do not have to be able to preach, you need not be famous. But there are two principles Mary learned here that make all the difference. 

1) She learned that there are no limits with God. 

It's impossible, she said. I'm a virgin. This cannot happen. But then Gabriel shared the first lesson with her (verse 37). 
"For nothing will be impossible with God." 
God is not limited by what limits us. We often think and plan based on the possible, but God works in the realm of the impossible. In our church are several "impossible" health situations, "impossible" financial situations, "impossible" family situations - a lot of hurting people. There's nothing we can do and so we assume that nothing can be done. But the God of heaven has no limits. He fulfills his purposes and accomplishes his will, regardless of the obstacles that stand in the way. 

We need to learn to live on the basis of what God can do not simply think about what we cannot do Whatever he purposes he does. We must remember daily the awesome power of the God we serve. 

I have been in far too many church meetings (thankfully, not at SHBC) in which the tacit assumption was that God was going to do absolutely nothing about whatever we discussed. Too many believers live their lives with the stunning assumption that God is distant, disconnected and disabled - that he will do nothing. 

The successful believer realizes that the God of heaven has no limits, nothing is impossible for him - not the Virgin Birth, not the problems and obstacles you face. 

2) She learned who was boss.

Gabriel dropped this bomb on her, totally changing the course of her life. What was Mary's request to this?
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
She realized who the rightful Lord, the boss of her life, was. She was a servant of the Living God and his will for her life was her desire for her life.

The will of God is often difficult. He calls us to the front lines of spiritual warfare, to sacrifice, even to suffer. The idea that God's will is easy and fun is not something one can discern from reading the Bible. But regardless of the hardships involved, serving God is the secret to spiritual success.

Whatever you will, Lord. Wherever you send me. Whenever you call. "I am the servant of the Lord."

Combining these two concepts, what is the secret to spiritual success?
Obedient service to an all-powerful God. 
That is what Mary learned. That is what we must learn.
Nothing is impossible for you, Lord. I give my life to you, to serve your will, not mine, to serve your purposes, not my own ambitions, to live for your glory and not my own. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you believe in a God who can do anything? Really?
Or do you assume that God will do nothing, or at least very little, to act in this world?
Are you willing to submit all to God to walk in his ways and serve his purposes?

Friday, March 22, 2019

"Never Forsaken" March 22 Readings: Deuteronomy 21-22, Luke 1:1–25, Psalm 37:22–28, Proverbs 8:35-36

Today's ReadingsDeuteronomy 21-22, Luke 1:1–25, Psalm 37:22–28, Proverbs 8:35-36

Devotional - Never Forsaken

I first heard the phrase in a song by Dallas Holm and Praise so many years ago. "I've never seen the righteous forsaken, or their seed begging for bread." I did not realize at the time that it was a Scripture verse, Psalm 37:25.
I have been young, and now am old,
  yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
  or his children begging for bread. 
Two thousand years ago, God sent his Son to the cross to pay the debt for my sins, so that I could be forgiven, redeemed, justified, and given eternal life. That ought to be enough, don't you think? After doing that for me, God ought never to have to do another thing for me as long as I live to demonstrate his love or to earn my gratitude.

And yet, throughout the years, he has been amazingly faithful. Though I have been so shaky, so unfaithful, so half-hearted in my devotion and service to him, he has never wavered in his amazing faithfulness to me.

In our young days, Jenni and I saw his faithfulness almost every month. During our seminary years, we had monthly bills of about $900 and a combined income of around $700, yet never once did we have to beg bread. One time we cooked up our last pot of chili and ate chili for 3 days until it was gone. We ate Cream of Wheat for breakfast. Tuesday night, we had a meal at our church (which, in God's humor, turned out to be a Chili cook-off!). Wednesday morning I ate the last of the Cream of Wheat and went to school. I checked my mailbox and there was a card with a $10 bill and a note that said: "My God shall supply all your need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

When we were young, he did not forsake his children.

We drove a Plymouth Gold Duster throughout those years - held together by baling wire and duct tape - the stories I could tell about the Duster! But it got us through all four years in Texas until I was hired for my first job in Florida. A friend from college helped me move from Ft. Worth to Jupiter and I drove him to the airport. On the way home, the engine of that ol' Duster blew up.

God kept that Duster going until the day I could afford something else!

He has been faithful to my kids. Josh called us one day in St. Louis on the way back to Liberty in Lynchburg, VA. The transmission on the old truck was acting up badly. We started praying and he kept driving - across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and through the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. He drove the truck into the parking lot of the dorm where he was an RA and parked it. That was the last time he ever drove that truck.

But our kids have never had to beg bread or hitchhike on the highway!

I was young, and now I'm growing old, but God has continued to be faithful - in spite of mistake after mistake after mistake I have made. Last year Jenni and I had four surgeries between us (I hogged three of them) and yet God provided so that every penny of those medical bills were paid. He has been faithful beyond our imaginings.

This family has never been forsaken by our Heavenly Father.

NO, God hasn't promised us a life of ease and comfort, or a life free of hardship. Absolutely not. Sometimes, bad things happen int he lives of God's people. But this I know. I was young, and now I'm growing old. But in all that time my God has never abandoned me or been anything but a faithful God. Good God. Gracious and kind.

I've never been forsaken and my children have never begged for bread!

Thank you Father, for your faithful provision. First, you provided through Christ for my righteousness, the greatest gift a sinner like me could receive. Then, having given me that gift, you've given me every good and perfect gift along with it. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Think back through your life at the times you have faced which you thought were unsolvable, impossible. Remember how God provided for you and sustained you. Recall his faithfulness.
Give thanks to God.
Recommit yourself to a life of faith as you face the future.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"He Is Risen!" March 21 Readings: Deuteronomy 19-20, Mark 16, Psalm 37:15–21, Proverbs 8:34

Today's ReadingsDeuteronomy 19-20, Mark 16, Psalm 37:15–21, Proverbs 8:34

Devotional - He Is Risen!

Consider the sadness the three ladies felt as they made their way to the tomb. Jesus had more than just the Twelve following him; there were several women who had joined his cause and were devoted to him. These were some of that group. The two Marys and Salome headed to the tomb early on Sunday morning, likely to do what they had not been able to do after Jesus' death - clean and prepare Jesus' body for his burial. They had a pure and holy love for him and were determined to perform this one last act of service to the One for whom they grieved.

But they got to the tomb and something was not right. The stone was gone and no one was there guarding it. They walked into the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe sitting on a stone slab to the right.
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here! (Mark 16:6)
Everything was changed. Jesus had done many wondrous things in his life, and these women had witnessed many of them. But this was the greatest act of all. To conquer sickness and disease is impressive, but to defeat death itself, to break those iron bonds and rise again - that is beyond words!  What glory! What power!

And the fact of the resurrection changed everything. They went to the tomb with broken hearts, but they left rejoicing. They went in defeat and left in victory. Jesus altered everything from history itself to the course of these three women's hearts. 

Everything changed because Jesus rose from the dead. You and I were sinners, condemned before God and awaiting an eternal hell, without hope. But Jesus rose again. Because Jesus rose, you have hope today; an eternal, unending and glorious hope! This world is scary and sinful. But Jesus rose again. One day, Jesus will rule this world in an awesome peace and all will be well. You struggle with sin today and sometimes you feel that it will never change. But Jesus rose from the dead. He will raise you up and utterly redeem you from your sin. If death could not conquer him nothing can stop him. Perhaps your days are hard and sad and joyless, but Jesus rose from the dead. He can sustain you with his joy and power whatever this world throws at you. 

We sometimes forget the second half of the crucifixion equation. Jesus died for our sins. Amen. Glory, hallelujah!  And we were crucified with Christ. We die to self daily. We were buried with Christ by baptism into death. But that is only half of the story. 

Jesus rose from the dead. "He is not here. He is risen!" He was raised to a new life, a glorified body. But do not forget the second half of the baptismal verse. Yes, we were buried with Christ by baptism into death. But we were also "raised to walk a new life in him." We have been crucified with Christ, yes. "Nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." 

When we died with Christ we were born again to a new life. We became new creations. We have not experienced fully the glory that will be ours in heaven one day, but we are the dwelling of God. We display his glory. 

Oh, my friend, things may look bad, but Jesus is alive and you have been raised with him to a life of glory and power. Do not despair. Do not give up. Do not be downcast Do not be stressed out. Jesus is alive!
Father, you raised Jesus from the dead and you raised me with him. I thank you for the life you gave me in Christ, a new life of joy, power, peace and eternal significance. I rejoice in him, in your Son, my Savior. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you live in the victory won for you in Christ?
Do you walk in the new life that Jesus rose again to give you?
Consider the resurrection of Christ, the victory of Christ over evil, and what it means for you as a follower of Christ.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Learning Wisdom" March 20 Readings: Deuteronomy 17-18, Mark 15:21–47, Psalm 37:8–14, Proverbs 8:32-33

Today's ReadingsDeuteronomy 17-18, Mark 15:21–47, Psalm 37:8–14, Proverbs 8:32-33

Devotional - Learning Wisdom

Proverbs is a unique book within the Scriptures. It's not primarily about theology or eternity, but about practical issues of living life here on earth. It is a book of wisdom from Solomon to his sons to teach them how to honor God, how to make wise choices and how to lead Israel well (they were, of course, the princes of the land). There are instructions about the tongue, about handling money, and a plethora of warnings about the dangers of sexual immorality. 

Chapter 8 is a summary and recapitulation of the well-organized and systematic teachings of wisdom in chapters 1 through 7. In our reading, verses 22-23, he shares a few of the keys to the life of wisdom, dropping some hints that we need to heed. 
And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
First, Solomon calls on his sons to listen and obey. How arcane that sounds. "No one tells me what to do. I do what I want." That's the way of this world, but it is also the way of folly. A wise man or woman is willing to submit to those authorities that God has placed in his or her life. God. The Word of God. Parents. Bosses. Teachers. Church leaders. The wise are not brazen and full of themselves, but willing to listen, learn and obey.

Second, Solomon encouraged his sons to learn wisdom by hearing instruction. They needed to realize that they did not have all wisdom or knowledge and that they needed to learn more. They needed to seek that knowledge. That is a general principle - a wise man or woman reads and listens and learns about many things. But it is primarily focused on the Word of God. The wise must be diligent as students of God's word because it is there that God's wisdom is revealed.

As I read verses like this, I realize how successful the enemy has been in winning the hearts and minds of our world. How odd it sounds to talk about submitting to authority and learning wisdom from others, instead of simply choosing for yourself what is right and wrong. The enemy has convinced this world that dark is light and light is dark, that good is bad and bad is good, that up is down and down is up.

We must read and study God's Word and submit our minds to its truths, to be renewed by it rather than to be shaped by the lies of this world. Solomon begged his sons, even 3000 years ago, not to neglect the wisdom of God's Word. The principle is even truer today.

Father, teach us your truth that we may walk in your wisdom. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you walk in the wisdom of God or do you live in folly, disobeying God?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"I Am Barabbas" March 19 Readings: Deuteronomy 15-16, Mark 15:1–20, Psalm 37:1–7, Proverbs 8:30-31

Today's ReadingsDeuteronomy 15-16, Mark 15:1–20, Psalm 37:1–7, Proverbs 8:30-31

Devotional - I Am Barabbas

The story of the crucifixion of Christ is disgusting, sorrowful, enrapturing and transformational, all at once. But it is sometimes hard to find my place in the story. I've had my moments where I cowered as Peter did, afraid of the consequences of standing for my Lord. I'm not sure I've had a Judas moment, but there are times when my silence may have been a betrayal of sorts. The soldiers and the crowds disgust me, but I also must admit regarding the sin of my own heart that nothing is beyond the reach of my wickedness. One day, I will be like Christ because of the work God has done in my life, but today is not that die. 

So, who am I in the story of the Cross? There is one character most like me, one with whom I identify more than any other. 
I am Barabbas. 
No, I'm not a criminal or a political revolutionary or whatever it is that he was. But there are so many similarities - significant markers that identify me with this wicked man. 

1. I deserved to die. 

No one claimed Barabbas was innocent. He was not falsely accused or wrongly tried as Jesus was. He was not convicted on the basis of lies and false stories. Barabbas deserved the death that faced him. He did nothing to merit the favor he received. 

I am a sinner and I deserve death. As sinners go, perhaps I am not the most vicious or vile (unless you peel a few layers and look into my heart - please don't!). Raised in a Christian home where love abounded, I've not plumbed the depths of sin as some have. But I have no doubt. I am guilty before God. If I were to stand before God, my verdict would be guilty. And the wages of sin is death. 

Like Barabbas, I deserved death. 

2. Jesus took my place. 

The crowd, at the urging of the religious leaders, chose Barabbas over Jesus, so our Savior went to the cross. Barabbas went free. Jesus took his place.

When he hung on the cross, he was there in my place, dying for my sins. "I'm the one to blame, I caused all the pain." It was in place of me (and you) that Jesus bled and died.

3. I am now free. 

We have no idea what happened to Barabbas after Jesus took his place and he went free. Fictional portrayals have his life changing as a result of the grace he experienced. My hope is that this is true and one day I will him on the streets of gold. Perhaps, though, he went back to his life of crime and rebellion. But Barabbas was a free man because Jesus took his place.

I am a free man today because Jesus took my place and died for my sins. I am righteous because Jesus bore my sins.

When I read the story of Jesus's death, I know who I am. I am Barabbas, and by HIS stripes, I am healed.
Father, thank you for your grace. I did not deserve it, but you sent your Son to take my place and free me from my sins. My desire is to live the rest of my life in obedient thanks because of what you did for me!

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Give thanks for the freedom that is yours because you are Barabbas, the one in whose place Jesus died.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Prone to Wander" March 18 Readings: Deuteronomy 13-14, Mark 14:51–72, Psalm 36:7–12, Proverbs 8:28-29

Today's Readings Deuteronomy 13-14, Mark 14:51–72, Psalm 36:7–12, Proverbs 8:28-29

Devotional - Prone to Wander

As of February, I have been a believer for 55 years. God has done a lot in my life over those five decades and I hope he has used me in his work. But the thing that sticks out as I think back on half a century as a Christian is how often, how shamefully, how consistently I have failed the Lord. I've had other priorities, let myself get focused on other things, turned my heart away from him, loved the things of this world - the list could go on and on.

Fortunately, God is so much more faithful to me than I am to him!

Like hymn-writer Robert Robinson (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing), I rely on the grace and mercy of God daily.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
The next words express the heart of my problem, the problem of my heart.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. 
Like Israel of old I find my heart deceptive, drawing me away from devotion to God to a love of the things of this world. And when I think of how much time I've wasted, how many opportunities I've squandered, how many sinful choices I have made, I feel some of the despair that Mr. Robinson felt as he wrote that hymn.

But there is good news for guys like me. God is faithful. I must never use God's faithfulness as an excuse for sin or a way to rationalize away its gravity. My sin is serious. But God's grace is always greater than my sin. God's faithfulness is stronger than my infidelity. Look at the Psalmist's words in Psalm 36:7-9.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.
It is God's faithful, steadfast love that gives refuge to sinful people like me. He fills me from his abundance. I drink from the refreshing stream of his love - a fountain of the water of life. He lights my path so that I can see the way to go. I love that last phrase in verse 9. "In your light do we see light. Enlightenment comes only through him.

Yes, I have failed him so often, but his grace renews me daily. My eternal hope is built on Jesus' blood and righteousness, not my own goodness. I am secure in Christ and in the knowledge that sin will not have the last word in my life. He forgives and cleanses. He lifts up and restores. He renews and strengthens. He empowers and uses. And he does all of that with ordinary, unworthy sinners like me.

Praise God! Father your faithfulness is baffling, mind-boggling. I've been ready to give up on myself a hundred times, but you never give up on me. You are good, faithful, loving, merciful, holy, and relentless in your pursuit of my holiness. Thank you Lord, that is more about who you are than who I am. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you tend to drift from a close, passionate walk with God?
Remember that your walk with God is rooted in God's work, not your feelings, but it is still important that we continue in passion and devotion, resisting our tendency to wander and to drift.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"He Earned My Love" March 17 Readings: Deuteronomy 11-12, Mark 14:26–50, Psalm 36:1–6, Proverbs 8:26-27

Today's ReadingsDeuteronomy 11-12, Mark 14:26–50, Psalm 36:1–6, Proverbs 8:26-27

Devotional - He Earned My Love

Why should I obey God? Why should I love him? Why should I turn my back on my own desires, my own ambitions, my own will, and give myself wholly and completely to God? The Israelites asked themselves this question repeatedly. Why should we love and serve the Lord? Why can't we be like all the nations around us?

God answered this question clearly in Deuteronomy 11. The chapter begins with a call to love God and to demonstrate that love through obedience. True love for God is evidenced by a submissive, obedient heart.
“Therefore, love the Lord your God and always keep His mandate and His statutes, ordinances, and commands." Deuteronomy 11:1
Moses then explains clearly why Israel was obligated to love God. 
His greatness, strong hand, and outstretched arm; His signs and the works He did in Egypt to Pharaoh king of Egypt and all his land; what He did to Egypt’s army, its horses and chariots, when He made the waters of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued you, and He destroyed them completely; what He did to you in the wilderness until you reached this place; and what He did to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when in the middle of the whole Israelite camp the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their households, their tents, and every living thing with them. Your own eyes have seen every great work the Lord has done. Deuteronomy 11:2-7 
Israel had witnessed the glory, goodness, and power of God on their behalf and that obligated them to loving obedience. God had earned their love. He had stretched out his hand to deliver them from Egypt, had preserved and protected them in the wilderness and now was going to give them the Promised Land. God had also disciplined those who sinned against God in their midst.

God's mighty hand of power on behalf of Israel was so awesome that Israel was obligated to love him back. 

It is amazing that God wants our love. He is self-existent, not dependent on anyone or anything. He needs nothing because he is everything! But yet, in spite of all that, he desires his people to love him with all their hearts and souls and might. 

And he has earned that love. Not only did he create us by the word of his mouth but he gave his own Son as the payment for our sins. By the Blood of the Cross, he redeemed us. He sealed us with the Holy Spirit who not only guarantees our inheritance eternally but also empowers us daily to live for Christ. 

How could I not love a God who has done all of that for me? How could I even consider serving myself or anyone or anything else after God's mighty display of power and grace in my life? He has earned by love and devotion. Too often I fail to give it, but it is his right because of all he has done for me. 

Father, you loved me eternally and sent your son to purchase my redemption. No one loves me like that. That you for your grace and mercy, for all your love and goodness. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Consider all the things that God has done for you to prove his goodness and love and to earn his love. Give thanks and renew your commitment to him in response to his great goodness and grace.