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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ephesians 2:10, Exodus 19:5 "Prized Possessions"

A few years back we took a family vacation up to the Washington D.C. area.   While we were there, we visited some of our national museums. In the national art galleries, they had paintings by artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Da Vinci. They truly had some of the best art of all history. Any one can go there and see these wonderful paintings up close. Some of these paintings are priceless. At least, the originals are priceless. In the gift shop, of course, you can buy posters of some of the more famous paintings relatively cheap. You can even buy postcards for about 25 cents. But the cheap reproductions, obviously, are not the same as the real originals painted by the masters themselves.

We are the originals, handcrafted by God Himself. In Ephesians 2:10 we are told, "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Understand what this is telling us. We are originals created by God. We are His workmanship. We are His masterpieces, created with a purpose. We are "created to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do." Because God has a purpose for us, He has created in each of us uniquely the qualities and characteristics necessary to do the works He has prepared for us to do. Nothing that has gone into the shaping of our lives is by accident or random chance.

In Exodus 19:5, God tells the nation of Israel (and this promise holds true for us as well), "If you obey me and keep my covenant, then you will be my treasured possession." 

Some of us have been hurt or rejected or ignored or abused or criticized. We have been told things that were hurtful. And those negative messages play in our minds. They affect the way we feel about ourselves. But remember that it is not our friends that determine our worth. It is not our employers or critics or our spouses or our moms or dads or even our culture that determines our value. It is our Designer who determines our value. And God has declared that we are His workmanship. And God has declared that we are His treasured possessions.

When we think of all the wonderful, beautiful things God has created, we are amazed. The intricate, detailed design of the universe astounds me. The stars, the mountains, the rolling hills, the oceans, the deserts, the incredible diversity of animal and plant life. I marvel that God conceived everything from the Swiss Alps to Niagara Falls, to the Grand Canyon, to the South Sea Islands, to the African deserts. It's incredible. There are so many wonderful things that God created. But out of all He has created we are his prized possession.

All of humankind is created by God in His image and has intrinsic value. But we who have believed and trusted God through Jesus are the masterwork of God. We fully realize our value only when we are brought into right relationship with God through Jesus. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. It is In Christ Jesus that we discover our true worth. We can't fully understand how much we are worth until we accept the love of the One who loves us most.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Deuteronomy 7:17 "Little By Little"

How often we tend to get ahead of God. It’s in our nature. We worry about things that aren’t even realities yet –and maybe never will be. We’re afraid of things that we don’t even have any control over. We get anxious about scenarios that exist only in our imaginations. You know what I mean –we worry that even though we got the bills paid this month, we might not be able to pay them next month. We worry that even though we feel fairly healthy today, we might have someday have cancer. We worry that the car might break down in the middle of the night on some dark deserted stretch of road. It’s our nature to be fearful and anxious. And then when we add to all of our unfounded worries and anxieties, the fears and anxieties that seem justified –we worry about our children and our relationships and our jobs; and then when we add to all those worries our regrets and our hurts and our failings, life can seem a little overwhelming.

I want to look for a few minutes at God’s plan for dealing with all that overwhelming stuff. He doesn’t intend for us to carry all that baggage, but He knows how hard it is for us to set that baggage down, so He has a plan for us. His plan is revealed in the Old Testament in the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.

After the Israelites had left Egypt, God revealed His plan for the Hebrews to Moses, and Moses, in turn told the people. In Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 7, we find Moses telling the people how God has chosen Israel for a special purpose. He is telling them that if they obey God and keep His commandments, God will bless them and God will go before them as they go into the land of Canaan and take it for their own. The problem was that Israel was a puny little country. Well, they didn't actually even have a country; they only had a group of people. And the land that God had promised them was already inhabited. Much of it was inhabited by fierce warriors. Not only were these people fierce and barbaric, but they lived in walled cities that were nearly impenetrable.

Looking ahead, the Israelites were a little overwhelmed. But God told them to go into the land and engage these fierce warriors in battle and drive them out of the land. As you can imagine, the Israelites were a little worried about how this was going to be accomplished –they weren’t all that anxious to engage stronger enemies in walled cities.

But God had a plan for them –a plan for victory.  In Deuteronomy 7, beginning with verse 17, we read, "You may say to yourselves, 'These nations are stronger than us, how can we drive them out?' But stop worrying! Do not be afraid of them. Remember well what the Lord did to the Egyptians…. And He will again work miracles for you when you face these enemies…. So don't be frightened when you meet them in battle. The Lord your God is a great and awesome God. As you attack these nations, the Lord will force them out little by little." 

I want you to read that last sentence again because I think here we find God's basic formula for dealing with stress and worries and addictions and persistent, nagging sin, and all of the things that seem to assault us on our spiritual journey. Here we find God's plan for dealing with those things that seem overwhelming. The Lord will force them out little by little. That was God’s plan for the Israelites when they were overwhelmed, and I think it is God’s basic plan for us as well.

God's plan for dealing with the overwhelming is to deal with it little by little -with Him leading and us following.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Sunday, March 26, 2017

John 10:10, Luke 4:18-19 "Heart Matters"

The heart is central to everything. That’s because of why were created. We were created to love. I think that somewhere down inside we all understand this –love is the whole point. Without love, life is meaningless. We know that if we can truly love, and be loved, and not lose love –we know we would be happy. But you see, this kind of love –love that is true and pure is a heart thing. Loving requires a heart that is fully alive and free. And this is where we have problems.

We forget the importance of the heart. We forget that Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God with all of or hearts. We forget that we are to hide the Word of God in our hearts. We forget that God’s commandments and promises are to be written on our hearts. We forget that although man looks on outward appearances, God looks at our hearts. We forget that it is out of our hearts that authentic praise and worship flows. We forget that our hearts are the very wellspring of life. We forget how central the heart is, but, again, our enemy hasn’t forgotten.

Our enemy knows how important our hearts are –and that’s why he is so intent on destroying them –that’s why he is intent on breaking our hearts –on twisting our hearts –on deadening our hearts. If he can disable and deaden our hearts, he has effectively foiled God’s plan for us –God’s plan that our hearts be fully alive and free to love God with all of our hearts –to worship God with all of our hearts. If the enemy can break our hearts, he has broken us.

Over a period of time, we have all suffered blows. We’ve all had hardship and trials. And to some degree, we have all lost heart. And as a result, instead of the life that Jesus came to give us, we settle for efficiency, busyness and productivity. To some degree we have all suffered some heart damage, and we tend now to drift through life, going through the motions, but not truly understanding how very much God loves us, and incapable –because of our damaged hearts, to truly love God.
The thief, satan, our enemy, has done the job of stealing, killing and destroying when it comes to matters of the heart, hasn’t he. Boy, do we need some help.

That’s why Jesus packaged the two thoughts together in John 10:10. “The thief has come only to rob, kill, and destroy, but I have come so that you can have life, and have it abundantly.”
This is what the relationship with Jesus is all about –getting our hearts back. The thief robs and kills and destroys –but Jesus gives life. The enemy twists our hearts and deadens our hearts and breaks our hearts –but listen to this prophecy from Isaiah chapter 61 that Jesus said was about him:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for prisoners,"

(Luke 4:18-19)

The enemy robs and kills and destroys, but Jesus gives life, binds up the broken hearted, and proclaims freedom and release to those in bondage. Jesus restores our hearts.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"Not Tolerant, But Good" Exodus 35:6-7

The acceptance of toleration as the only valid religion has permeated our society so completely that we have developed an entire new style of language. It's no-fault language.

A factory in Vermont no longer fires people or even lays them off. Unneeded or unsatisfactory employees are given "Career change opportunities."

General Motors called a plant closing a "Volume-related production schedule adjustment."

Chrysler Motor Company called plant closings a "Career alternative enhancement program."

In many schools, children do not fail anymore, they "achieve a deficiency."

At some hospitals, patients never die. They simply experience, "negative patient-care outcome."

The idea behind this no-fault language is that since no opinion is actually wrong, we want to word things in such a way that nobody takes offense or ends up feeling badly about him or herself.

This has created a difficult environment for the church because despite what the culture teaches, tolerance is not very high on God's list of priorities. That sounds like an awful thing to say, but it is true.

Since the beginning of the last century, it has been considered enlightened to believe that there is no such thing as sin. After a hundred years of wrong thinking about the nature of sin and man, we have come to assume that when people do wrong, even when people do outright evil, that 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 intolerant and therefore we are hate-mongers. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that unspiritual people cannot understand the truth of God's Word, and so what we actually believe is misunderstood and misrepresented. We are pictured as cold, uncaring, bigoted, hatemongers, who restrict women's rights and bash gays and cram our version of morality down people's throats. We have even been compared to modern day Nazis.

But, I grew up in the church. The cultural stereotype of Christians does not match my experience. Most of the people I have associated with all of my life have been Christian people. And far and away, most of the Christian people I know are caring, compassionate, forgiving, loving, people. Certainly there are some that are not -but those "Christians" who are uncaring and unloving do not accurately reflect the character of God.

God is not especially tolerant, yet He is "compassionate and gracious..., slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." (Exodus 35:6-7)

We, as followers of Jesus need to be the same as our Father...not especially tolerant...not calling evil good and good evil; yet, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, quick to love and forgive.

Unspiritual people will never understand us, but we need to represent Father accurately regardless of the world's understanding.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes