A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mark 12:29-30 "Dependence, Delight, Devotion"

One day, the Bible tells us, someone came up to Jesus and asked which religious practice was the most important of all.  In the book of Mark, chapter 12, verses 29 & 30, Jesus answered:
          “The greatest one is, ‘Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord.
 Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love him with all your soul. Love him with all your mind. And love him with all your strength.’”
         Then Jesus went on to say what the second greatest law was.  He said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ No law is greater than these laws.”
         Real Christianity isn’t about practicing religion –it’s about living in right relationship –right relationship with God and right relationship with each other.  That’s the main thing.  And you know what?  That’s a radically different agenda than the rest of the world lives by.  I was trying to come up with a way to sum up in a simple way what this relationship thing is all about.  And I came up with three words. 

         The words are dependence, delight, and devotion.  I think these three words sum up what’s at the root of a right relationship with God.

         Dependence: God wants me to live as if my very existence depends on Him because, well –it does.  Apart from God I am weak and unable to be the person I want to be –I’ve tried –and failed.  I can’t love my wife like she deserves.  I can’t love my children like they deserve.  I can’t love you like you deserve.  Apart from God, my life stinks.  That’s the truth.

         So, a right relationship with God begins with my understanding and acknowledging my dependence on God.  And, if my relationship with God is out of whack, my relationships with other people are too –Apart from God I am self-centered and prideful and all kinds of other bad things that I really don’t want to go into, but suffice it so say that apart from God, my relationships with other people suffer.  Right relationships depend on God.

         Delight:  God doesn’t just want me to depend on Him –He also wants me to enjoy Him.  A right relationship with God leads to enjoyment.  And right relationships with others –particularly with other Believers –leads to the most meaningful, wonderful, sweet times we can have this side of heaven.  There are no better friendships that those based on a mutual delight in God.  So, right relationships are all about delight.  Take delight in God –and in each other.

        Devotion:  Dependence and delight naturally lead to devotion.  It’s not a burden to submit to Jesus and devote myself to Him –it’s a blessing.  And although I know that the idea of submitting to and being devoted to God is a hard one for unbelievers, devotion is not a bad thing it’s a good thing.

         And, in fact, as I was thinking about this, it struck me that everyone of us  –everyone in the world is devoted to something.  Some people are devoted to themselves or their families or their jobs –but we’re all devoted to something.  And everyone takes delight in something.  Some take delight in hobbies, or the pursuit of pleasure –some even take delight in evil.  And everyone is dependent upon something.  Some are depending on their money or their talents or their looks –all of us –every one of us is depending on something, delighting in something, and devoted to something.  There is no way around it.  And there is no way around that most of what people are depending upon and delighting in and devoted to are temporary and unfulfilling.  Not only don’t they satisfy very well, but they are passing away.

         It makes sense to me to consciously devote myself to, depend upon and delight in the eternal instead of the temporary.  I choose to walk in right relationship with God.  Not simply a religion –but a real relationship with a real God.  As for me, I’m following Jesus.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

1 Corinthians 13 "Intolerant Lovers"

          Since the beginning of the last century, it has been considered enlightened to believe that there is no such thing as sin. By the end of the last century and into this century, we have come to assume that when people do wrong -even when people do outright evil -they have been victims of some circumstance outside of themselves. It is assumed that they have been the victims of poverty or too much sugar or bad education or even bad toilet training. It's assumed that people are basically good, so if they do wrong, it must be attributed to some outside factor.

           With this social history, it really is not surprising that our non-Christian neighbors are stunned when we talk about sin. They are outraged when we say that abortion is wrong, that adultery and pornography and sexual relationships outside of marriage are immoral, that lying and cheating are unethical, that homosexuality violates God's law. 


           They immediately assume that if we believe in moral absolutes, if we believe in absolute truth, if we believe in sin, that we hate all the people we consider to be sinners. To the average person, the absence of tolerance simply means hatred. And since by definition to be a Christian means to accept God's law as absolute truth, we are by cultural definition intolerant and therefore we must be hate-mongers. But nothing could be further from the truth. 


           True Christians don't hate sinners. In fact, in order to be a Christian, in order to receive God's gift of salvation, in order to be forgiven and cleansed and made right in the sight of God, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners, and that it was our own personal choices and sins that nailed our Savior, Jesus, to the cross. We don't hate sinners -we love sinners and we hate sin. Although this idea is often mocked by those who don't understand, it is the reality that true followers of Jesus live in. 

           When we say that certain conduct is immoral, we aren't setting ourselves up as moral superiors. We believe that every one of us is guilty of immoral conduct and in need of God's forgiveness. We believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to redeem us and provide forgiveness. We believe that since God has forgiven us and because God loves us so much, we must share this spiritual blessing with others; we must forgive others and we must love others.


           In fact, it is because we love others that we want them to realize that the sinful behaviors they are participating in are harmful and destructive and lead to death. It is because we love others that we want them to experience the forgiveness and the peace of heart and soul and mind and the joy and the wholeness that comes from being in right relationship with God through Jesus.


           When we say that certain behaviors are sinful, we may be intolerant, but we are not hateful or small-minded, or bigoted, or mean. It is God who set the standards for right and wrong. We are simply communicating what God has said to be true. 


           Real love is not demonstrated by tolerance. Real love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 where we are reminded:


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.


           Real love does not indulge or tolerate or ignore immorality and sin. But real love has compassion and hope and forgiveness for sinners -even when they are intolerant of us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Matthew 6:9 "Abba's Lap"

Matthew 6:9
"This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven...""

As children of the Living God, we have some exclusive privileges. We can invade the throne room of God and climb up on His lap and call Him Abba (Father/Daddy).

Several years ago at a small men's retreat I went to, Brennan Manning told us that he got a call one day from a young lady he knew. Although she was not particularly religious herself, she knew Mr. Manning was a Christian and wondered if she could ask a favor. She told him that her father was in the hospital dying of cancer. Her father was a member of a local mega-church, and the pastor was evidently a very busy man and had not yet stopped by to visit or encourage or pray with him, and so this young lady wondered if Mr. Manning might go to the hospital and pray with her father.

When Mr. Manning arrived at the hospital room, he found the father in bed with a chair sitting right next to the bed, very close to the bed.  Mr. Manning said something like,  "I see you're expecting company."   The old man said he wasn't and wondered why Manning thought that.

Manning said, "I just noticed the chair pulled up close to the bed there and thought maybe it was for someone to sit and talk." Then the old man admitted than in a way it was for someone to sit there and talk.  He said, "I've gone to church all of my life. I believe in God. I believe that God loves me and sent His Son Jesus to provide forgiveness for my sins. But I never quite understood about prayer. Whenever I tried to pray it just seemed like I was talking to myself. I never felt like I was getting through. I never felt like I was actually communicating. So, after a while, quit trying to pray. Then, a few days ago, one of the chaplains was here and he told me that prayer doesn't have to be fancy language or any certain words. He said prayer was just talking to God like you would talk to a friend. So, I had the nurse pull this chair over here close to me, and these last few days, whenever nobody is around, I pretend God is sitting in the chair, and I just talk to Him, just like He is a friend sitting there."

 Then the old man asked Mr. Manning, "Do you think what I'm doing is really praying? I mean, when I'm just laying here talking to the chair, it seems like God really is sitting there. I feel like God really is listening to me." Mr. Manning assured him that God was listening, and that the chaplain was right, that prayer is talking to God just like He's a friend. Mr. Manning told him that in a sense, God was sitting in the chair because Jesus had promised to be here with us wherever we are, whenever we need Him.

The old man was grateful, but then expressed concern that his daughter might not understand, that she might think he was losing his mind, laying there talking to a chair and pretending God was in the chair. So, Mr. Manning promised not to say anything.

 About a week later, Mr. Manning got a call from the young lady again. She wanted to thank him for visiting her father. She said her father had died during the previous night when nobody was around. She said, "He looked really peaceful, like he wasn't in pain or afraid or anything, but it was really odd. When the nurse came in and found him dead, he was half out of bed, kind of hugging that chair that sat next to him."

As I was remembering this story, I was reminded again of incredible privilege of having an exclusive relationship with a Loving God who says, “Call me Abba. ”  And I realized again that prayer is not something we’ve got to force ourselves to do because its what Christians are supposed to do, prayer is sometimes just a matter of sitting on Abba’s lap.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Colossians 3:12-13 "Clothing Ourselves"

Colossians 3:12-13.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

This is Paul’s instruction for Believer’s who are truly living in Christian community –Believers who love and care for each other –Believers who sometimes irritate each other.   In a grace filled community, this is how we ought to handle those times when things aren’t working smoothly. We are to bear with one another.

Maybe you’re wondering what it means to bear with one another –how do we do that?  Fortunately, Scripture doesn’t say, "bear with one another-you figure out how."   It gives us the plan. It tells us the steps, the ingredients that go into bearing with one another. Bearing with one another involves compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Those are all good things, aren’t they?  But let's be honest, not very many of us can say we are filled right up to over-flowing with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  

The reality is that on the whole, we don’t have much of those things. I’m not saying we never do –I’m just saying in general, we’re lacking. Sometimes I’m compassionate –other times I see a need and look the other way. Sometimes I’m kind –other times I’m not. Sometimes I’m humble enough –other times I’m down right arrogant. Sometimes I’m gentle –but then there are those moments when I’m very insensitive. Sometimes I’m patient –but then sometimes I want what I want when I want it.

These same basic qualities that Paul tells the Colossians to put on are what Galatians 5:22-23 refer to as fruits of the Spirit. That means these are by-products of living a spirit-filled life. If we are walking with Jesus, listening for Him and responding to Him –if we are as 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us, being transformed into the likeness of Christ –if we are sincere followers of Jesus, these things will begin showing up in our lives as we become more and more like Jesus.  For now, however, they are not all there all the time. I’m hoping for a day when my natural response to life is to respond with these fruits of the spirit –but for now, I’m a little inconsistent. And so are you –I’ve noticed. In fact, because these things aren’t fully internalized in any of us –and yet they are what is called for in order for us to get along and function as a Christian community –Paul recommends that we clothe ourselves with them.

What this means is that even though these fruits of the Spirit are not fully internalized –none of us is yet completely like Jesus –we still have access to these qualities. Even though they are not fully internalized, we can understand them and see the need for them and grab hold of them and use them appropriately. God has given us that ability. Clothing ourselves means that we can apply them externally. They are still fully functional. The only difference is that when these fruits of the Spirit are fully internalized, these become our natural responses –for now, it requires an act of will –a decision.
Lord Jesus, please help me to make better decisions.  Help me to clothe myself with Your character so that I can function better as Your servant for Your Kingdom's sake.  Amen.