Christian Devotions

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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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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.

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.

Love Is the Key

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 

~~ I Corinthians 13:1-13 (KJV)

Love is the key to the Christian life. But I think, sometimes, we miss the mark on our definition of love. While this chapter is frequently read at weddings, I believe it has less to do with weddings than the everyday relationships between friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

Jesus said the first commandment was to love the Lord. But what kind of love is this? It certainly isn’t the same kind of physical desire and emotion that men and women sometimes feel for one another. It is, in fact, not a “feeling” so much as a decision and commitment. You seek the Lord and His will for your life, so that what you do pleases Him. It is His approval that you are wanting. His “well done, good and faithful servant” is your goal.

We love the Lord by loving what He created. This kind of love is committed to the well-being of the other. We are to work for the benefit of the Lord’s creation. Since man was created in the image of God, when we look at another person, we should strive to see the mark of God on him or her. It is that essence of the divine in each person that we respect and admire.

The qualities of love in Paul’s list spring from the recognition of God’s image in man. We have no clear picture of God except what of God is reflected in man. In eternity, we shall see Him face to face – no veil, no shadow, no dim mirror.

Father, God,

Prepare us to see You face to face. Create in us Your love for all mankind. Help us to hear as You hear, see as You see, and feel as You feel.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen

Real or Virtual?

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. ~~ John 8:32 (KJV)

In a wireless phone store the other day, I watched a boy, about seven years of age, entranced by a virtual reality headset. Old as I am, I had no idea what those strange looking goggles were until I asked. After the explanation, it struck me that virtual reality is a kind of prison.

There is a physical reality going on around the user, but the user is totally unaware of it. The visual and aural senses are plugged in to the VR, not anything in real space. Imagine being blinded and deafened by virtual reality when an intruder enters your home.

There is a parallel here with our world. You see, this physical world is not all there is. We are told in scripture that there is another dimension, a spiritual plane.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. ~~ Ephesians 6:11-13 (KJV)

If we are concentrated only on the physical world that we see around us, we are helpless against that spiritual dimension.

God, however, has made a way for us to be plugged into that spiritual dimension. That is the function of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. ~~ John 14:16-17

The Holy Spirit is that within us which is plugged in to the knowledge and wisdom and comfort of God. As we learn to hear Him, we walk more closely the path Jesus would have us walk. Our steps become more sure.

No matter what the world and its evils throw at us, we are secure in the knowledge that nothing will happen to us that surprises God. He is there before us and has made provision for us regardless of what the enemy uses to try to defeat and discourage us.

We’ve read the back of the book. God wins. The enemy loses. Therefore we win!

Father, God,

Help us to become more sensitive to Your Holy Spirit. Quiet our spirits in the turmoil of this world that we may hear clearly and obey swiftly. Thank You for giving us this Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ most precious name,

Amen

The Christian Advantage

I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.

But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.  ~~  Job 32:7-8 (KJV)

Older is not necessarily wiser unless the wisdom of God informs it. People have no choice but to grow older day by day. They don’t have to grow wiser. We’ve all seen the perpetual adolescents who are fifty years old and haven’t yet decided what to be when they grow up. Or even decided to grow up at all. Heedlessness, recklessness, and thoughtlessness mark their actions. And when the consequences of those actions are negative, they cry “why me” incessantly. They hurry to place the blame on someone else.

But the Christian has a distinct advantage here. Jesus sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to teach us and to guide us. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully God, just as God the Father and Jesus Christ are fully God. Therefore he has the mind of God, all the knowledge and wisdom of our Triune God.

It is up to us to cultivate a teachable spirit, to listen carefully for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In our busy, loud, hurried world, it isn’t always easy to hear him. He doesn’t shout. He nudges you with a fleeting thought “I ought to….” Sometimes we have these fleeting thoughts, and then we talk ourselves out of them. “That doesn’t make any sense.” or “What would people say?” or “I don’t have time and energy to take that on.” We have rationalizations for everything.

When in doubt, we can ask God for confirmation. If we are to pursue that action, he will confirm it. He may speak in your head again – or he may provide an external confirmation. Someone will say something to confirm what you’ve been hearing in your head. We cannot lean on what we know alone. The finite mind of man is not equal to wrapping itself around the infinite mind of God.

If we are to be part of his plans, we learn to step out in faith. We learn to hear him, to follow him, to obey him. That is the ultimate joy, to be in the will of God.

Father, God,

Help us to learn from you so that our days may be profitable to the kingdom. Keep our ears tuned to your voice and our hearts tuned to your will. Let us be ever faithful which is the ultimate wisdom.

In Jesus’ most precious name.

Amen