devotionals, non-music

Random Devotional 8: Seek The Welfare Of The City

Plant gardens and eat their produce

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 NASB)

God sent most of the Israelites into exile for awhile, essentially because they were getting ornery and needed some discipline. They didn’t want to be in Babylon, but God sent a message to them through Jeremiah to encourage them to make the most of their time there, as opposed to just moping around or waiting for a rescue. Yes, he was going to rescue them and bring them back, but for now they needed to “build houses,” “plant gardens,” and “take wives” (Jeremiah 29:5-6). Then in seventy years (v. 10) the time would be completed and he would bring them back (leading into v. 11, the most popular all-time verse of evangelical Christianity).

Continue reading “Random Devotional 8: Seek The Welfare Of The City”

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devotionals

A Grandma’s Devotional

My grandma is one of my heroes. She lost two of her sons before I was even born (one shortly after birth and one as a teenager), and her husband left this earth to be with Jesus eight years ago. Yet throughout my life she has been the most tangible representation of the joy of the Lord that I have ever known. Even as her hearing fades, her heart and mind are strong, and she always has a smile on her face. (She also loves her immediate and extended family very much, and probably prays more every day than I pray in a week.)

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inside my brain

Devastation and Reform: Inside the Story of Job

I love finding the story of humanity’s depravity and redemption hiding in unlikely places. Job’s friends, in their imperfect understanding of God’s justice, assumed that his suffering must have been caused by sin. We know they were wrong because God told Satan that he had incited Him to ruin Job “without cause.” (Job 2:3)

Yet as Job and his friends discuss Job’s situation, they keep hinting at a larger picture, and I can’t help but think that this story is peeking at something more fundamental about humanity. “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?” Eliphaz says. “Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:7, 17) “Does God pervert justice?” Bildad asks. (Job 8:3)

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devotionals

Random Devotional 7: Making Choices

One of the spiritual lessons we can learn from our current financial crisis is about how God bails us out, so to speak, especially when we’re not sure about the choices we’re making.

The beautiful thing about the coexistence of God’s divine plan and our free will is that there’s nothing we can do to ruin God’s plan. He is so creative that he could come up with a million different ways to accomplish every one of his purposes, and when we make a poor or wrong choice, it’s just an opportunity for him to rearrange things to still accomplish his purpose.

The classic example of this is Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery. They intended it for evil, but God used it to save the lives of thousands of people across Egypt (Genesis 50:20).

Obviously, this does not give us a blank check to make reckless or unwise decisions. Just because God’s overall plan will still be accomplished does not mean that we cannot create consequences or pain and hardship for ourselves – or worse, for others.

But it should give us a confidence that when we’re in a situation where we’re unsure about which direction to take (should I wear my blue shirt or my red shirt today?), in the long run it doesn’t really matter because God is able to make things work out either way. God promises to work things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

When you’re unsure about something, you should consider the matter, pray, and seek wisdom and counsel. Do everything you can to make sure you’re not being led by selfish desires (Philippians 2:3). But if you still feel clueless, there is no need to despair or worry that you’re going to screw things up!

God has not given us a spirit of fear (Zech. 4:6), and he has told us to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:8). So have confidence! If God can take the selfish, hateful actions of Joseph’s brothers and use it to save thousands of lives, how much more can he work with our fretful stabs at righteousness! God is creative enough to accomplish his purposes no matter what we do, and if we trust in him, he will direct our paths.

devotionals

Love. Joy. Apples.

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

(Psalm 37:5)

Much of my work at the Apple Store consists of unboxing packages and shelving inventory. One of my secondary duties is to answer the phones when others are occupied, and last Tuesday I was answering them just a little more than usual. One man called around one in the afternoon. He had a technical support appointment at 6:00 and wanted to know if he could make it earlier. There was a spot available at 4:00, so I clicked the name of a man with a 6:00 appointment and rescheduled it.

But both 6:00 appointment slots had been filled with a name, and with an inexplicably inexcusable haste, I did not clarify the name of the man who wished to change his appointment time, and unbeknownst to me, changed the wrong one.

At 3:46, the phone rang. I happened to answer it. It was the same man. He called to say that he wasn’t going to be able to make it at 4:00 and to see if he could just change his appointment back to 6:00. “Wait… what was your name?” With a muffled shock, I realized I had changed the wrong man’s appointment. By the grace of God, the other 6:00 slot was still open, and I changed the other man back to 6:00 and informed the original man that his appointment was now (or, just as correctly, still) for 6:00.

This may seem like a trivial coincidence, but let’s review the possibilities.

If the other 6:00 slot had since been filled, which is not uncommon with two hours remaining, I would not have been able to fit both men into the time, and would probably have had to move the calling man to the nearest available time to move the clueless man back to his intended time slot. My mistake would have inconvenienced the calling man at best, as well as probably angering him and/or making him wait longer than necessary to have his machine checked. The calling man would have suffered because of my failure.

Secondly, if someone else had answered the latter call (and I never answer close to half of the phone calls), he or she would not have known about my mix-up and would have told the man he was already scheduled for 6. He might have been surprised and suspicious, but at least he would still get serviced when expected. However, the other man who had been unknowingly “rescheduled” to 4, would have been crossed off the list as a “no-show” by the time he came in at 6, and he would have to wait a couple hours to get serviced, if there was any time available at all, and at least the clueless man would have suffered because of my failure.

Finally, if the man had not called back but come in at 4:00, he would have learned that he was still scheduled for 6 with few if any earlier slots remaining, and would have been extremely upset at Apple’s customer service that led him to expect he could be serviced at 4. In this case, both customers would have suffered because of my failure.

It was improbable that neither man would feel the effects of my mistake, but nothing occurred except for my learning an important lesson to be more careful about rescheduling appointments. I thanked God for his grace that prevented my mistake from causing grief to others.

Later in the week, God used that event to remind me how he’s been faithful through my entire life, even to the point of sometimes saving me from my own mistakes that should have caused greater consequences. I was overcome with the joy of the assurance that his grace will continue to be faithful through the future.

It’s hardly uncommon for a single guy to wish to be otherwise, but lately that desire has been more distracting than usual. I’m perfectly content, in theory, to wait for God’s timing, but I had been starting to wonder if I’m supposed to be, shall we say, looking or trying harder, or if I’m doing something wrong. God reassured me that his grace will continue to cover my life, and that I’ll know when to pursue. He’s never failed to come through in the past; it’s literally impossible for him to not continue to do so!

When this revelation becomes real, the dutiful, unverified “faith in the unseen” becomes an excited, confident faith rooted in the simple fact of God’s overwhleming and consistent love. Only then can one truly understand how “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” And this assurance is a double blessing. Not only do you realize while you are showered in God’s grace that he is going to come through ~ a certainty that is powerful enough ~ but you realize that because you are loved by and favored by ~ indeed, you are with ~ God, it doesn’t even matter in a particular situation whether or not he comes through, because you are with God, and nothing could make that more complete.

I was explaining some of this to a friend last night who has also seen God working in her life, and she said she felt like she was talking to herself. To top it off, we discovered that we had both independently been led to the same encouraging psalm (did I mention that someone at church this morning also quoted from it?). These “coincidental” confirmations only increase the amazement of God’s blessing and the powerful joy of the confidence that he will continue to guide our lives. It is only within that joy that you can wonder with self-amusement how you could ever doubt, and not feel shamed, because that same Love is there to forgive, and then be overcome all over again by that great and mighty Love.

If anyone feels inclined to caution against putting too much stock in the emotional experiences of the religious life, he must also caution the lover against feeling too happy after a long, beautiful walk with his beloved. The emotional outpourings of a well-founded relationship are not an artificial danger, but the most fulfilling expression of its reailty. God is REAL. And he loves YOU. Let that warm your heart.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand…
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip…
Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright
For the man of peace will have a posterity.
But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
Because they take refuge in Him.

(Ps 37:23-40)

inside my brain

Do you hear what I hear?

My discovery last week that I could not hear the same pitches as each of my peers inspired some philosophical thoughts about our senses and the nature of our existence. It is well known that intense exposure to sound can permanently damage hearing. In fact, the greater the sound, the greater risk of greater damage to your ears.

My ears were designed to take in sound, but every time I expose myself to too much pure sound, I risk further restricting the range of my hearing ~ the more pure sound I receive, the more impure my ability to take in sound becomes.

Light works in the same way. My eyes were designed to take in light, but if the light becomes too bright, it hurts my eyes. The closest thing to pure light in our experience is the sun, and if I stare at it for too long, my eyesight could be damaged or I could go blind.

What does this say about ourselves that the more we exposure ourselves to a pure quality, the more impure we make our ability to receive it?

Our corrupted bodies simply can’t handle pure light or pure sound, and the more they try, the more they destroy the limited capacity they have.

Why then do we wonder at our inability to reach God on our own? For what light is more pure than that which emanates from him? And what sound is more pure than his voice? Why do we wonder that our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite love of God? Should we not be in complete awe that it is only his infinite grace that cleanses us to even allow us to be capable of receiving it?

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art!

inside my brain

In Defense of Emotion

I vividly remember a high school chapel service in which Scary Mark read a verse about Christ’s power over death and was upset that a rousing cry did not ring out among the students. After a chastizing sermon about being passionate for Jesus, he read the verse again, receiving his shouts from a few students who hoped he would then leave us alone. I believed in Christ’s resurrection and thanked God for it, but I would not fake such emotion.

Emotion is a tricky thing when it comes to our faith, and it is often ridiculed because it is so easily mistaken, misled, and misused. Many times we look at those who break into tears at every special service or abandon themselves in worship and condescendingly think, “I just don’t worship God like that. I don’t feel all that emotion which will be gone tomorrow or the next week. My faith may be quieter, but it is not so superficial.”

Because it often receives so much focus (especially in my charistmatic-ish neck of the Christian woods), emotion is often feared and avoided when it comes to our God.

Yet I feel this is a terrible mistake.

Do lovers, resting quietly in a park on a sunny day, gaze at each other and proclaim, “No. We shall not touch. That is all emotion. It is not real.”

Of course not!

Yes, it can be dangerous. It is easy and convenient to focus only on those emotional satisfactions, and a relationship that relies on such experiences may falter without them. But when the relationship has been built on a solid foundation, those emotions are the pure expression of complete joy!

I do not always feel ravishing emotion towards my God. Some days I read the Word and feel like I’ve received nothing; sometimes I pray only crying out for help. Sometimes I believe all the truths about God but feel nothing stirring inside me.

But when God reveals some facet of his unfathomable mercy and grace and power, some direct answer to prayer or some direct speaking through a verse, some hidden insight into his glorious, unconditional love that covers us completely and eternally ~ O my soul, Rejoice! How can we not be overcome! When that lyric plays across my iPod or verse plays across my mind and that emotion fills my being,

I cannot hold it in and remain composed
Love’s taken over me
So I propose
The letting myself go, I am letting myself go

You are my joy
You are my joy
You are my joy
YOU ARE MY JOY!

In that moment, I don’t care whether I’m getting caught up in an emotion or stop to ponder the theological significance of my feelings ~ I just want to smile and laugh and sing and shout and dance because of the consuming joy!

Does this mean I believed any less in God’s love and power on that emotionless chapel day than I do on this day when the simplest lyric cannot keep a smile from my face? Of course not. Religious emotion is a curious thing, nearly as fleeting and unreliable as its romantic counterpart. Perhaps tomorrow, or next week, there will be no smile.

But that does not make today’s emotion, or the emotion of any genuine “mountain-top experience,” any less real than that of the lovers in each other’s arms. In fact, it is probably part of something infinitely more real than anything in this world.

devotionals

So shall I be saved from my enemies.

Today Meredith told me to read Psalm 18 because it was awesome.

“I will call upon the Lord, Who is worthy to be praised. So shall I be saved from my enemies” (verse 3)

Oh yes… I know that song… I remember this Psalm now… it’s really long and towards the end it has a verse that they used for the rest of that song… nice little Psalm about God saving David from his enemies, yeah, alright, cool.

I’m somewhere around verse 11 when… wait a minute… God’s doing some stuff here… let’s back up a bit…

The psalmist is in big trouble. So he calls upon God in his distress. And guess what? God takes action. And I don’t just mean a little outpouring of hope or something. I mean God takes ACTION.

“Then the earth shook and trembled… because He was wroth. There went up a smoke out of His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth devoured… The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice, hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, He sent arrows, and scattered them, and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.”

God is getting angry because someone dared to harm his child. Remember how enraged Mufasa got when the hyenas cornered Simba? Picture that times a thousand. God loves his child so much that you better not dare lay a hand on him, or you’re in BIG trouble. God personally comes to answer the call for help, punish the criminal and save his child (see an amazing human video illustration of this).

“He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy and from them which hated me, for they were too strong for me.”

This is such beautiful imagery! How did I never see all this before? Next the psalmist explains that God delivered him, not only because of His great and unfathomable love, but because the psalmist had been righteous. Then God girds him with strength and gives him weapons to take on the enemy himself.

And that’s when he concludes, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be my rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted!”

Let’s recap.

I will call upon the Lord when I’m in trouble.
Ungodly men trouble me.
I call upon the Lord.
God says, “HOW DARE YOU HARM MY CHILD?” and personally comes to the rescue.

While meditating on these words from David, I listened to the words of yet another David. (David Crowder, that is)

when clouds veil sun
and disaster comes
o my soul…

ever faithful
ever true
you are known
you never let go

you never let go

Simply beautiful.

Whatever you’re going through right now, child, call out to God.
He loves you.
He will come to the rescue.
He will come.