Christian Devotions

The Crux of the Matter

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.

They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

~~ Psalm 22:14-18 (KJV)

These five verses seem to bring us to the foot of the cross of Jesus. “I am poured out like water.+ He has become our drink offering, poured out for our sins.

We are taken through the physical traumas that the Lord experienced on the cross, through the throngs of evil men around Him, clear to the casting of lots for his garments.

God gave David a vision, the words of this psalm. A picture of our salvation.

Our salvation was sealed at the foot of the cross of Christ. Without it, we have no offering to God. Jesus became our sin offering so that we could come to God without any other mediator.

It is through Jesus, and Jesus only, that we can come to the Father with the assurance that He sees us only through the saving blood of Christ.

Father, God,

Help us to remember the price of our redemption. Make us mindful of the enormity of Your love for us and the sacrifice of Jesus. Keep us humble and unassuming when we come to You with our prayers.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

First published 9 May 2009 in Garment of Praise.
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Time Out

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. ~~ Genesis 2:2-3 (KJV)

We seem to live in a hurried and harried kind of world. If we are not doing something constructive, we are absorbing inanities from the media world. But we never seem to give ourselves, or anyone else, time simply to sit and think.

God worked for six days on creation and sat down to rest on the seventh. I don’t believe it was because he needed to rest, for God is untiring. I think he did it more as an example to us. We need time to think, to ruminate, simply to be, and to be in his presence.

Without time for contemplation and meditation, we lose sight of God and our position with him and our purpose in his plans.

It is a management principle that you can expect 85% efficiency from your staff about 85% of the time. The other 15% is just “wasted?” No, the other 15% is that sabbatical that God ordained at the time of creation.

If you expect 100% effectiveness 100% of the time, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. You need that sabbatical that God set aside for you.

Take your sabbath rest. Revel in God’s presence. Let him speak to you. Listen for him. Simply be. You will be amazed at how much more productive your 85% will become.

Father, God,

Help us to prioritize our lives to include a healthy dose of quiet time with You. Stir a longing in our hearts for regular Sabbath moments in our lives. Remind us that we have been set apart for Your purposes, and grant us the wisdom and fidelity and strength to carry them through.

In Jesus’ most precious name.

Amen

Look Deeper

And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.

And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,

Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:

Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.

But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,

And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.

For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.

And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.

And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.

Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.

And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.

And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.

And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.

And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.

And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.

And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.

And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.

Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.

And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.  ~~  Mark 5:1-20

In our modern and “enlightened” age, we tend not to think in terms of spirits. Anything which has to do with aberrant behavior must be some form of psychosis or chemical unbalance that we can treat with counseling or medication.

But if the Bible is true, it is all true. That includes this story about the Gerasene. The man was not psychotic or chemically unbalanced. He was demon-possessed.

There are such things as demons. There is spiritual warfare. We need to be aware that we have a spiritual enemy who seeks our eternal destruction.

If we believe in God, we must believe that the devil exists. We see him in conversation with Eve in Genesis 3.

We are told of his fall in Isaiah 14.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.  ~~  Isaiah 14:12-15

There are multiple references to Satan in the New Testament. And the entire Book of Job is a chronicle of spiritual warfare.

It is part of Satan’s first lie in the Garden of Eden, that mankind can know all things, find answers comprehensible to the finite mind for all questions, discover cures to all diseases and maladies.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. ~~ Genesis 3:1-7

When we buy into this arrogance of the intellect, we fall directly into the enemy’s hands.

Not everything is part of our physical, tangible world. There is a spiritual plane of which we know far too little. But all we need to know of it is contained in the Bible. We’ll not find it in psychology texts. Nor will we find beneficial information in books of new age spirituality.

Our hope and our confidence comes from the fact that God is Lord of the spiritual realm, just as He is Creator and Lord of this world. When we serve Him, when we rely solely on Him, He will preserve us from the wiles of the enemy.

Father, God,

Stop our ears from hearing the enticements of the enemy. Shield our eyes from the lust to which he would tempt us – whatever form it may take. Fill our eyes and ears and hearts with Your Holy Spirit so that there is no room for anything else.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

Set Apart

This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:

And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments;

And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken.

~~ Deuteronomy 26:16-19 (KJV)

Today’s reading is a renewal of God’s covenant with the people. In it He sets out the results of fidelity to God – blessings.

But the most astonishing part of this passage is that the Lord calls us not only His people, but also a holy people consecrated to Him.

The word consecrated means set aside for exclusive use. We have been set aside as the exclusive possession of the Most High God. What in the world can He want with us?

God wants our voluntary and exclusive fellowship with Him. Because He is sovereign and all-powerful, He could coerce this fellowship. But He prefers that we come to Him of our own volition. He wants our willing hearts brought to Him openly.

This can only happen when we have been brought to our knees, to the end of ourselves. After we have acknowledged our sinful natures and accepted the death of Christ as our personal savior. After we have been born again as Jesus told Nicodemus.

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  ~~  John 3:3 (KJV)

He asks for our complete trust in Him, telling Him all that is in our hearts and listening for his response, His vision for our lives, His will.

Can we set aside everything else and focus only on Him?

Father, God,

Imbue us with Your Holy Spirit. Remind us constantly that You want us to be Yours. Help us to acknowledge our need for salvation and to accept Jesus as our only Savior. Grant that we may keep our eyes and hearts focused on You alone.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

Spirits

When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. ~~ Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (KJV)

God is quite specific that His people shall have nothing to do with sorcerers or witchcraft or people who practice spells. These practices are detestable to the Lord. And I believe that is because they take the emphasis off God as the author and finisher of our faith.

When you seek out someone to tell the future, you are essentially saying that you don’t believe that God is big enough to hold the future. That you don’t trust Him to make provision for you. That He is not the most important thing in your life.

And that smacks of idolatry.

The only spirit we need to seek is the Holy Spirit. All other spirits lead to the devil. They are his counterfeit of the Holy Spirit, poor imitations of the real thing.

The Holy Spirit is one person of the Triune God. He is the Paraclete, the comforter that Jesus promised His disciples. He is the portion of God that can live within us when we become His children. His presence in our lives keeps us connected with the power and will of God.

If God is the power source and we are the light bulbs, the Holy Spirit is the wire that connects us. No other spirit can connect us with God’s power. Why should we settle for a line that goes nowhere?

Father, God,

Keep us ever mindful that You are the Alpha and Omega, that all knowledge and truth resides in You, that there is no truth or knowledge outside of You. Grant us the presence of Your Holy Spirit in our lives, and help us to recognize Your voice when You speak. Stop our ears to all other voices lest we be led astray.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

Martyrdom and Forgiveness

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him (Stephen) with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. ~~ Acts 7:51-8:2 (KJV)

Stephen is called the first martyr of the church because this death is the first one recorded in the Book of Acts. For many years it was just a so-so story for me. After all, this happened many years ago. I was probably not going to be martyred, so what did it have to do with me?

Then a member of my family was murdered. It was a senseless, random act. He simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger at the perpetrators of this heinous deed boiled and seethed. But then I remembered Acts 8:1.

Saul of Tarsus (whom we now call Paul – yes, the same Paul who wrote more than half of the New Testament) was at this event. Not only was he there, he gave approval. I can see him now, egging the crowd on. It’s a Cecil B. DeMille crowd scene in an epic movie. Lots of noise, lots of anger, lots of yelling, dark clouds, ominous music. Then a break and light and glorious paean of praise at the climax.

Of course, Saul wasn’t “participating.” He was there, giving his approval. He certainly wasn’t throwing stones, but he might as well have been.

And Stephen, as he is dying, repeated the thoughts of Jesus. He asked the Lord not to hold this sin against the members of the crowd. That forgiveness was powerful. It was one factor that freed Saul to become Paul.

If God can take the chief persecutor of the early church and use him to write the larger part of the New Testament, He can do anything. He can even forgive the people who murdered that member of my family.

Forgiveness is not a matter of the emotions. It is a decision that we make. We can decide to forgive. That doesn’t mean feelings will not surface from time to time. It does mean we can decide to override those emotions. We need to agree with God that even the most heinous crime is forgivable if the perpetrator repents.

We hear “forgive and forget” or “kiss and make up.” But those are not really forgiveness. Forgiveness is being able to look at the offense as fact, accurately recognizing the perpetrator’s part in the offense, and then seeing that person through the eyes of God, as a beloved child who has strayed from the path, whom He wants to bring back into the fold.

Father, God,

Help us to see those who have offended us through Your eyes. Grant us the strength and grace to move from anger and hurt and bitterness to forgiveness and peace.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

Vessels of Clay

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

So then death worketh in us, but life in you.  ~~  II Corinthians 4:7-12

The metaphor of clay in the life of the Christian has always been a source of comfort for me, but I didn’t fully realize what it meant until I became involved with my daughter’s pottery class.

Clay is malleable. It can be rolled, stretched, incised, imprinted, and watered down and worked again. I love working with clay.

The clay became even more special to me when I took classes in precious metal clay. You see, the “clay” part is just a binder to hold the tiny fragments of the metal together. The clay burns off when you fire the piece to harden the metal clay. If you are working with silver clay, you come out with a product called “fine” silver. It is more nearly pure silver than sterling.

But handling this clay takes special care. First it must be kept moist or wet. If you let it dry out, you cannot work with it as you should.

Then you must oil both your hands and any surface that it touches to keep it from sticking in places where you don’t want it and ruining the piece you are making.

Once the piece is completed, you let it dry – sort of like a desert experience.

When it is dry, you file any rough edges or accidental protrusions.

Then you put it in a kiln – or in the flame of a torch to fire.

Once it is fired, you polish it by putting it in a tumbler with grit or shot.

If you want special effects, you treat it with chemicals to change the color or give it the appearance of age.

Eventually you have a piece of jewelry that is 99% fine silver, a thing of beauty, and a joy to wear.

We have the treasure of the gospel in our jars of clay. But if we keep it watered with the Word and oiled by the Holy Spirit, it is fit for molding by the Lord.

We may go through desert experiences and have abrasives applied to refine our shape. We will most certainly be proved in fire of one kind or another. Then we will be thrust into a world that tumbles us with grit or shot to polish us to a high shine so that we reflect the light of Christ.

Completely yielded, we can be of service to the Lord. It’s not a quick process. It takes time. Let us yield with patience to the Lord’s shaping.

Father, God,

Help us to be soft, malleable clay in Your hands. Give us the grace to endure the process so that we may come out refined and useful to Your kingdom.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.