Christian Devotions

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.

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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.

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

Do It God’s Way

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. ~~ Genesis 12:1-7

Abram was seventy-five years old when God told him to leave his homeland. In verse two of this reading He says “I will make of you a great nation.” And then again in verse seven he says “To your offspring I will give this land.” In these verses, God has twice said Abram would have children.

Abram and Sarai waited. It seemed like they waited forever. Years later, Abram complained to the Lord that he has only Eliezer of Damascus, his steward, as an heir. But the Lord assured Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. God made a covenant with Abram. (Genesis Chapter 15.)

Ten years passed, and Sarai could hear her biological clock ticking. She knew that she was growing too old for bearing children. She decided to take matters into her own hands and sent Abram in to Hagar to conceive a child for her. In a way, Hagar was the original surrogate mother. At least, that was what Sarai intended. But it didn’t work that way.

Sarai was jealous of Hagar and mistreated her. Hagar ran away, only to be found of the Lord and told to come back into her servitude. But the Lord also assured her that her son would have many descendants. He told her to name the child “God Hears” – Ishmael. (Genesis 16)

The prophecy concerning Ishmael in verse twelve, however, forecasts an on-going feud between Ishmael’s line and Isaac’s line. Look at the middle east today. We have the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Isaac in constant conflict.

So let’s play a game of “what if.” What if Sarai had not become impatient, Hagar had not become pregnant, and Ishmael had never been born. Would the middle east be peaceful today? We’ll never know.

Whenever we try to do God’s will our own way, it results in a muddle. God can redeem our messes, but it is never as good as what He had planned originally. It all comes back to the arrogance of the intellect. We think we know how to help God out. We don’t.

Our function is to believe His word and obey His commands. We are to do a thing only if God says so, not because we think it’s the way to do it.

Father, God,

Help us to remember your wisdom is infinite and our minds are puny in comparison. Remind us that You do not need our assistance, only our faith and obedience.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

 

Click the link on Hagar above for a new Bible study about the God Who Sees Me.

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