Category: Devotions

Dare to Be a Daniel?

lion-yawn

I recently spent 2 weeks reading the book of Daniel in my personal devotions.

Daniel seems to be an unblemished Bible hero, meaning that none of his specific sins or character weaknesses are ever mentioned. At first, I thought this made the character of Daniel seem rather unreal to me. I mean, I like how the Old Testament has so many guys who are portrayed as real, warts and all. Think of David with his adultery, Jacob with his trickery, Abraham with his lying, etc.

And since Daniel is regarded as the opposite of those flawed heroes, this leads to a heroic hymn like “Dare to Be A Daniel”:

Hold the Gospel banner high!
On to vict’ry grand!
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel’s band. 

Reflecting on this lionhearted song, I want to first give a warning and then an encouragement. My warning is of this danger: thinking that Daniel is just a good moral example for us; we should be brave like Daniel; we should copy him. We can triumphantly be just like him; indeed, something is very wrong with us if we are not this kind of shining example.

That’s sure hard to live up to, isn’t it!

But let’s move on to the encouragement: Daniel did have sin. And he confessed it.

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— (Daniel 9:20)

Now, the rare and special strength of Daniel is that he confessed his sins quickly, before they got a chance to mess him up badly. In other words, what if David had quickly confessed the sin of lusting after Bathsheba, long before drifting into adultery with her and then murder to get rid of her husband?

So, Daniel shows us that if we do get entangled in a sin, there is repentance and forgiveness for it. And as Christians we understand the source of our forgiveness and power to live well is Jesus Christ. His forgiveness is there for us even if, like David, we have messed up big time.

Daring to be a Daniel includes knowing the ways we are weak and blow it, and having a repentant heart. With a humble, Spirit-filled perspective as a starting point, we avoid simply telling ourselves and others that we need to try harder to behave better.

Amazingly, by seeing how weak we are, we can begin to draw on the power and example, not just of Daniel, but of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tear up that Contract!

tear_up_contract_shutterstock

 “But he [the landowner] answered one of them [the hired workers], ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  (Matt 20:13-15)

Every so often you will hear about an athlete under contract who wants his contract ripped up due to jealousy over a new player getting more money. “If you don’t tear up that contract and give me a better one”, he tells the team owner, “I refuse to play. After all, I am a star who deserves to be the highest-paid player on the team.”

Does the team owner have the right to pay the new player what he wishes and to say, “I can do what I want with my own money”?

 Does Jesus have the right to bless any other believer more than I?

In today’s parable, “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard”, the later-hired workers get told by the owner “I will pay you whatever is right.”  So they went to work. They were glad to get any work, they didn’t even ask what they would be paid. The guys who worked all day got paid the same amount as the guys who worked fewer hours. But the first-hired don’t regard the owner as being generous to the new hires, but rather as being stingy to themselves!

Do I rejoice in others’ blessing, or does it tick me off a little bit?

How much of a feeling of entitlement do I have?

Notice how the Parable concludes:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt 20:16
What a contrast between the thankful-for-grace person and the entitled person!

I can grow to be more and more thankful for any grace that is given to me, and less and less concerned about what someone else gets —- except to be rejoicing when they do receive more grace. 

May our thankfulness for Jesus’ grace working in our own lives life and others’ lives increase!

 

 

 

Is it good to be a crackpot?

crackpot 1

 

I recently read Joni Eareckson’s book on the mysteries of suffering. 1

Comparing ourselves to clay pots, she stated that if we are meant to display the treasure that God put in each of us, then

“that display often works best when there are faults and cracks and chips in the pot! It is through these that the radiant, resplendent glory of Jesus shines through to the wondering eyes of the world.”

Joni has been a cracked pot for over 50 years, ever since the diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. Reading her quote, I reflected on how she’s an extreme example.  But how would the cracked pot comparison apply to all of us? Would it even apply to someone who is strong, vigorous, and healthy?

To check that out, I hunted for Scripture about crackpots.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Here the apostle Paul implies that we would take the credit if we were overpowering and strong. But we are weak. Even the strongest of us gets exhausted if pushed hard enough. And, if we get old enough, it’s guaranteed that even the most strong, vigorous, and healthy of us will begin to show cracks in our own jar of clay!

Many of us have a special love for autonomy and independence. But look at what it says in Isaiah and Jeremiah:

And yet, Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand. (Isaiah 64:8).

But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to Him. (Jeremiah 18: 4)

Hey, wait a minute. These verses say that I was formed by his hand. And as seemed best to him. So, what does that imply about any complaint I have about how I was made?

Personal example: God gave me a slight frame instead of a mighty frame. As a young man this shaping was not according to the design that I would prefer. So how did I react?

Well, I discovered that my frame allowed me to outrun almost everyone on long distance runs. My attitude was: “I’ll show them! I’ll run them into the ground!” Only years later did I learn to develop a thankful heart to the Lord in my running, to see that God could take pleasure in me as I ran, and to use my influence amongst other runners instead of having a vicious need to run them into the ground.

Joni Eareckson has now reached this point: seeing how bountifully God has used her as she is, she would not trade her life as a quadriplegic for what her life would have been like had she remained able-bodied.

Even though few of us have a disability as extreme as Joni’s, each of us can view our weaknesses in a similar light.

Can you see how even your weakest parts can be used for God’s glory?

 

1    A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty.  https://tinyurl.com/ybknk87m

Worship Whining

noises

In a recent worship service, I heard a song which I found grating and insipid and I began to complain about it in my heart.

I thought I was only blocking out the unwanted song………. but then, I knew that the Lord wanted to tell me something—“Listen! You are blocking me out! When you are grumbling you are detouring and avoiding something that I want to tell you to help you grow and change. So, stop complaining about the song and listen up!”

Later, after the service, reflecting, I was reminded of a famous Old Testament passage about grumbling.

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)

So here they are, in the wilderness, grumbling against Moses. “Boo-hoo! That was some rescue you gave us! We’re gonna die! We wanna go back to Egypt!”  We might want to laugh at these silly people. But of course, unfortunately, we have our own ways of grumbling. We each have our own way of going back to Egypt— we are tempted to fall back to how we used to live before we got serious about following our Lord. We end up just like the proverbial washed pig who returns to wallowing in the mud. (see 2 Peter 2:22)

The whining Israelites were growing far away from seeing that God was in sovereign control, was faithful to his irrevocable promises, longed for them to persevere, and would provide the power to do so. Whenever we see these Old Testament examples, they are all in the Bible not to give us historical information, but because God knows that the exact same thing can happen to us!

In my own ideal world, none of the things that make me whine would happen. And in the worship service, after starting to listen, a song did come up which was wonderful —powerful and based on the Scripture: Jesus coming again. What a change of focus! Then, the importance of what I whine about shrinks, and the importance of how Jesus looks at things increases. Jesus, who is coming again, is in control. That gives me a thankful heart; what a wonderful antidote for grumbling!

Not So Small After All

magnifying_glass

Today’s post was inspired at a recent meeting of our Writers group 1 where our leader supplied us a list of prompts of a single word or very short phrases to be a seed for an entire blog post.   I chose “magnifying glass”. After quickly writing a draft in our meeting, I have refined it at home, so that you can read my final post. 

Recently, I had to read a label on one of our major appliances. It was printed in a microscopic font and was totally unreadable. So, I needed to use a magnifying glass to read what it said.

Sometimes, God can seem as microscopic to me as the wording on that label.

A given day may seem boring and listless.
If so, I must be missing something.
Sometimes my God is too small.

Then I remembered a verse in the King James Bible:   

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 43:3) 

Does God need our magnification?
No, not at all. God is still great whether or not I acknowledge it.

But God surely does desire that I see him as great. So, when I magnify the Lord I am simply being enabled to see what is already there! When that happens, I begin to have an experience of God’s greatness. And a big part of that experience is to see how God’s greatness exists totally outside of anything he does for me.

For it is so easy for me to make the gospel be all about me—-thinking that God is only great to the extent that he does stuff for me and gives me nice blessings; it’s almost like I think God is supposed to cater to me like a wonderful supernatural butler!

Paradoxically, the more I experience how God is great outside of me, the more I understand what God does do for all of us. He really invites us to walk in union with his Son. As the Son shines in us, we get to participate in what God’s purposes are—we cooperate in making the Lord’s prayer come true: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   Join in! 

  1. http://njcwg.blogspot.com/

Unpayable Debt?

our debt

 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments…. are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

We’re talking about three kinds of debt today.

#1, the national debt surpassed $20 trillion for the first time in U.S. history in September. It’s a huge debt, it’s continually growing, and it’s not getting any smaller soon.

#2, is the debt I owe for my sin. Astoundingly, it would be easier to pay the US National Debt back than for me to pay back the debt of my sin. $20 trillion is small change compared to that.

#3, is the debt I have to love others. This is a continuing debt, that can’t ever be paid back. Indeed, don’t you hate it when someone reminds you of that by saying “you’re not doing enough”?  Boy, that’s some encouragement to want to do things for people. Not!

Thankfully, there is a great answer for both the second and third kinds of debt (I am not proposing a solution to #1 today!) For Christ paid debt #2 for me, in full, when he died on the cross for my sin. When I think of the infinite love that Christ showed when he did that, then I am delighted to show and pass on a measure of that love. When I do that, I am working at paying debt #3. It’s a pleasure and not a chore.

My wanting to show more love comes from the starting point of knowing I am already approved and loved and forgiven. What a wonderful opposite to feeling unloved and being overwhelmed by feelings of obligation, guilt, etc.

It is rejoicing in what Jesus has already accomplished that motivates me to persevere in love!

Delight in the Lord

Blessed is the one
     who does not walk in step with the wicked
 or stand in the way that sinners take
     or sit in the company of mockers,
  but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
     and who meditates on his law day and night.
  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
     which yields its fruit in season
 and whose leaf does not wither—
     whatever they do prospers.  (Psalm 1:1-3)

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord? Does it happen if we have to force ourselves to read what is in a daily Bible reading plan, taking it like a dose of medicine, staring at a bunch of words on the pages of our Bibles, until that day’s dose is complete?  If that’s all we view the Bible as being, then “getting into the Word” can seem like a dry duty, and even legalistic, with no personal contact with the Lord or heart or emotion in it.

Or—do we enter the presence of the very Lord who gave us the words of Scripture? Doesn’t delighting in his law mean that we delight in Him and being with him?

And how about meditating on the law?  Well, the definition of meditating implies that you are engaging in contemplation or reflection. So, we are taking some time; not jumping to the quick and obvious conclusion; we start to see something a little deeper and begin to understand how God and his ways connect to every single area of life; we start to pray for God’s Spirit to illuminate the scriptures for us.

Finally, what does yielding fruit in season mean? First, remember that we are planted in Christ, he is the vine and we are the branches. And doesn’t that sound a lot like what we read in the Epistles about the fruits of the Spirit? As we encounter the Lord in scripture, then love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control increase in us!

Recently I heard the ex-pastor of our church, an 86-year-old, give a talk on something brand new he saw from the book of Luke about the wonder of how the Lord draws us to himself. If you asked him how old you are when you stop seeing new things in scripture he would say “It’s definitely older than I am now.”   I am glad that his “leaf does not wither”.

May we all grow in delighting in the word of the Lord!