Daily Devotional

  • The Gospel of Grace – The Only Means of True Righteousness (Sanctification) - Friday, February 22nd

    I (Paul) did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God …. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God …. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:20-21, 24, 27, 32

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In conjunction with our parable from Luke 18, we have been considering the gospel of grace from both an Ephesians 3 passage at the beginning of the week and then in Acts 20 since then (it is interesting that the words from Acts 20 were originally spoken to the elders of the Ephesian church). The gospel of grace stands in stark contrast to the self-righteousness and contemptuousness dealt with in our Luke passage. Acts 20 (from which we have only looked at excerpts this week) is an account of the Apostle Paul’s farewell words to the elders of the church of Ephesus. This is why Paul begins today’s Scripture with the words, “And now I commend you to God.” He is preparing them for his departure.

    Today’s highlighted portion helps us see that the goal of the gospel of grace is not just that people would be reached and receive the gift of redemption but that they would experience sanctification as well. Sanctification is a part of the message of God’s grace. Paul says that God’s grace “is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” This is a forward look to the final result of the difference Christ will make in their lives. The book of Ephesians is a follow up letter to this same group of people and in it there is an additional passage that expounds on what Paul is saying in today’s verse. It says this: “Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25B-27).

    This is God’s goal for his people, every one of them. The goal of the gospel of grace is never just redemption (conversion). It is always redemption (conversion) and sanctification (transformation). While, as we said, this all stands in stark contrast to the self-righteousness and contemptuousness dealt with in our story from Luke 18, there is more to the story. The prayer of the tax collector certainly stands in stark contrast to the prayer of the Pharisee. However, as we saw yesterday, the prayer of the tax collector is exactly the kind of prayer that goes with the gospel of grace. This is clearly seen in the words Jesus uses to conclude his story, “I tell you, this man (tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the other (pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The gospel of grace powerfully dispels the way of self- righteous and contemptuous religious practice and puts us on the path of true righteousness in Christ. It is the path of full humility, repentance, surrender, and reliance in response to the full provision, presence and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for redeeming me and making me a recipient of the gospel of grace. Help me to cooperate with you fully in your goal of sanctifying me. Deliver me fully from all self-righteousness. Help me to view others as ones who can be reached for Christ, but always with a view to the whole and complete people they can become through the word of your grace. Deliver me fully from all contemptuousness. I humbly bow before you asking that by your grace I will always believe, never give up, and keep pressing onward and upward. Amen!

  • The Gospel of Grace – Transformation for Living Fully - Thursday, February 21st

    I (Paul) did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God …. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God …. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:20-21, 24, 27, 32

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    There are a lot of aspects to life, aren’t there? Some of these are marriage, family (children), relatives, work, education, health, community, finances, possessions, recreation, food, clothing, housing, government, protection, etc. When we talk about living for the goal of spreading the gospel of Christ, we are not talking about abandoning all these things. We are talking about not allowing these things to be so central in our lives that they keep us from participating fully in the goal of spreading the gospel. In reality when we let Christ have full reign and look to him to bring transformation to all the aspects of our lives, they form the setting and even the means for how God uses us to impact others with the gospel of Christ.

    In today’s highlighted portion from our Acts 20 passage, the Apostle Paul speaks of “the whole purpose of God.” It is transformation that lies at the heart of “the whole purpose of God.” God’s purpose of transformation touches every aspect of our lives. As a matter of fact, every aspect of this entire fallen world lies within the realm of God’s transformational purposes. So, if we are going to live fully for God, we must not only give him full reign for transforming every aspect of our lives, we must join him in his mission of transforming this fallen world. Transformation of the fallen people of this fallen world is absolutely a prerequisite to the transformation of this fallen world coming about. Every single person who has, does, or will exist, needs to be restored to God for the transformation he alone can bring about. God is always at work drawing people back to himself.

    Today’s highlighted portion from our Luke 18 story uses the tax collector as a very clear example of someone’s initial correct response to this work of God. Remember, transformation is the purpose of God and it begins with rightly seeing one’s self before God like the tax collector did. Look again at his initial response to God, “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” What a difference from how the tax collector saw himself before God and how the Pharisee saw himself before God. The tax collector was repentant. An about face had taken place in his perspective so that he became deeply convicted that in rebellion against God he had up to this point existed solely for himself rather than God. He is ready to be restored to God for his transforming work that will change him into someone who lives fully for God instead of someone who lives only for himself.

    So for all of the fallen people in this fallen world today, repentance is all about confessing our need of a Savior who will rescue us from the plight of living for ourselves rather than God. Faith is trusting Christ and receiving the forgiveness of sins so that Christ can live in us through the Holy Spirit and change us into ones who live fully for God. This is the “whole purpose of God” and he continues to bring it about by transforming lives one person at a time. The “Christian” life is truly all-encompassing, isn’t it? Remember, the Christian life is a life of “surrendering” and not “accomplishing.” It is all about giving Christ “full reign” to accomplish the transformation of every aspect of our lives so that we truly live fully for “the whole purpose of God.” When this is actually happening we will not allow anything else to be so central in our lives that it keeps us from participating fully in the goal of spreading the gospel of grace.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, surrendering to you is an everyday thing, even a moment by moment thing. The thought that living fully for you includes everything, always, is a bit daunting. So, I will just concentrate on seeking you fully, loving you fully, and yielding to you fully now. Help my response to you be absolutely genuine like that of the tax collector. I trust you for the transformation of all aspects of my life. I choose to embrace your “whole purpose” by wholly embracing you. Amen

  • The Gospel of Grace – A Gift Received and Shared - Wednesday, February 20th

    I (Paul) did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God …. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God …. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:20-21, 24, 27, 32

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verse:

    In today’s Scripture the Apostle Paul refers to the “course” of his life. We all have a “course” of life and where that “course” is taking us makes all the difference. When we became a Christian, we became a disciple of Christ. Disciples follow their master. Our Master is Jesus Christ and the “course” of our lives should be all about following him. Paul speaks about finishing his “course” and we can tell from what is included in the passage that he intends to “finish” well as a follower of Christ.

    Paul gives us several things that will help us “finish” well. Paul says that he received a ministry from the Lord Jesus. This is how it is with all disciples. Jesus gives a ministry to every one of his followers that shapes the “course” of their lives. That ministry is to testify of the gospel of the grace of God. Someone who testifies is someone who has firsthand experience with that which they are testifying. We testify about our firsthand experience with Christ through the gospel of grace which he has bestowed upon us. We do this with all that we are, all that we do, and all that we say. We call this our testimony and when we talk to others about our testimony we are testifying.

    Paul starts today’s passage with a statement about himself that needs to be true of us if we are going to finish the “course” of our lives well as ones who truly give themselves to the ministry of testifying of the gospel of the grace of God. He says, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” Paul does not consider anything more “dear,” not even his life, than finishing the course and ministry given to him by Christ. To what do we hold “dear” that interferes with our finishing well? The Pharisee in our Luke 18 story certainly could not say, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” He has a testimony, but it is all about himself as we see from his prayer, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” We may not be as blatant about things as the Pharisee but we are like them. How easily we forget why we need a Savior. Remember, we are all just as sinful in God's eyes. The difference is that some people manifest it (in our eyes) more readily than others.

    Another way to look at this is like this: somewhere buried in my soul is the notion that I deserved (to some degree however small) to be saved while some others (scum) don't. Somehow, we escaped the syndrome of the Pharisees (they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt) enough to receive the forgiveness of sins through Christ but not enough to rid us of self-righteousness and to make us lovers of people (all people) like Christ. To rid ourselves of this inconsistency we need to meditate long and hard on what it means to need a Savior at the beginning and along the way. We need to live life as ones who always need a Savior (my salvation was totally undeserved and unearned and it is Christ and Christ alone who can produce righteousness in me). This and this alone is our testimony. Slipping into a self-righteous Christian lifestyle somewhere along the way happens readily and when it does our hearts become hardened and our testimony becomes all about us.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, help me to grasp how strong and deep your abhorrence is for the "self-righteous religious path of the Pharisees" to which I am so prone. I confess that far too often I find joy from feeling alright about myself because I think I have accomplished so-called righteous living. Deliver me from self-righteousness. Show me how to absolutely depend on your indwelling presence and fill me up with your love and compassion. I am not the Apostle Paul and you have not called me to bring the gospel to the whole world. I do see, though, that you have called me to bring the gospel to my world. Thank you for saving me, thank you for living in me, thank you for changing me, and thank you for overseeing my life. Thank you that I really do have a testimony that is based on grace and grace alone. Show me how and when to testify to others. Help me share the testimony of my relationship with you. I really do want to finish well. Amen!

  • The Gospel of Grace – Repentance and Faith Required - Tuesday, February 19th

    I (Paul) did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God …. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God …. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:20-21, 24, 27, 32

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verse:

    For the rest of the week we will begin each day’s Devotional looking at the portion of Acts 20 that is highlighted before we look at the next highlighted portion of our parable from Luke 18. Yesterday from Ephesians 3 we saw a statement from the Apostle Paul that described his call to be a minister of the gospel of grace. Our Acts 20 passage is a great description of him fulfilling that calling. Today’s highlighted portion says that the gospel of grace is all about “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We join the Apostle Paul in being an agent of the gospel at the very moment we become a recipient of the gospel.

    In essence we are called to help others do what we have done. If we are going to help someone with a response to the gospel that brings them to full repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to take a closer look at our own understanding and experience with repentance and faith. Full repentance is more than just acknowledging our sin and sinfulness. A full repentance needs to get to the core of the matter which is this: God created us for himself to do with us whatever he desires and we chose to ignore him, not be available to him for whatever he desired for us, and we went our own way and did our own thing.

    Turning from this rebellion and getting it right is not what repentance is about. Only Christ can turn our lives around so that we life fully for God. Repentance is an about face in perspective – a deep conviction that in rebellion against God we have existed for ourselves rather than him. Faith is all about seeing our need of a Savior who will rescue us from the plight of living for ourselves rather than God. It is receiving the forgiveness of sins so that Christ can live in us through the Holy Spirit and change us into someone who lives fully for God instead of someone who lives for themselves. Checking the foundation of our own repentance and faith and shoring things up with God will go a long way at helping us be agents of the gospel that are dedicated to the goal of bringing the gospel to a world that desperately needs to be rescued through full repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Today’s highlighted portion from our Luke 18 parable tells us of two men who went into the temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee who thinks he is all squared away with God (we will consider what the Pharisee has to say about this in tomorrow’s Devotional). The second is a tax collector who knows very well that he is not squared away with God (we will consider what the tax collector has to say about this in the next day’s Devotional). It is the difference in how these two men see themselves before God that serves as a line of demarcation for each and every human being down through ages. Being on one side of the line or the other will give a clear forecast to what one’s response will be to the gospel of grace. This is because the side of the line one is on shows whether they are able to respond to Christ in full repentance and faith or not.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

     Lord, I reaffirm my own repentance and faith and take my place before you accordingly. You are my Master and I am your servant. You do not exist for me but rather I exist for you. May others see that this is truly the kind of relationship I have with you. May they see the miracle of it and be drawn to you. Grant that I might live fully for you and be one who fully helps others respond to the gospel in a way that brings them to full repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

  • The Gospel of Grace – God’s Powerful Provision - Monday, February 18th

    The promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, which I (the Apostle Paul) was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power …. so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church …. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have bold and confident access through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:6B-7, 10, 11-12

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Our Ephesians passage tells us that the Apostle Paul was a uniquely gifted minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God used him in special ways to help establish the church of Jesus Christ throughout the world of that day. The Apostle Paul says this all happened so that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church.” The centerpiece of the manifold wisdom of God is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel flows forth from the gift of God’s grace as an amazing and powerful provision of God. It has been the goal of the church down through the ages to bring the gospel to the world. The Apostle Paul says “this was in accordance with the eternal purpose which he (God) carried out in Christ Jesus.

    When we speak of the church we are talking about the church as a whole and each of the individual persons who make up the church. This means that the goal (purpose) of bringing the gospel of grace to the world which God gave to the church is both a collective and individual responsibility. In essence, those who belong to Christ, share Christ. The Apostle Paul concludes by saying that those who belong to Christ have boldness and confident access (to our Heavenly Father) through faith in him (Christ). The bold and confident access we have to God through Christ revolutionizes our lives so that we become wonderfully suited for carrying out the task of bringing the gospel to the world.

    The gospel of grace which our Ephesians passage speaks of, stands in stark contrast to self-righteousness and contemptuousness dealt with in our Luke passage. Jesus, the Master Teacher and Storyteller, often taught in parables. The parables of Christ were powerful stories he used to draw-in to himself those who had responsive hearts. These drawn-in ones became new followers who stuck around and joined his other followers to hear him in private explain his parables and teach them the mysteries of his kingdom. Those who were unresponsive included the self-righteous Pharisees like the one we see in our Luke passage and like those to whom the parable was directed who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt. There is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the Pharisees.

    It begins with the fact that they think they are righteous. It moves to them not knowing they are sinners who need to repent. Then, there are some people they absolutely despise and have absolutely no love. And finally, they think that if Jesus is really a spiritual leader, he should join them in their hatred of the so-called "scum" (like the tax collector in our story) and that he should have absolutely no association whatsoever with them. It is interesting that elsewhere Jesus says he did not come to call those who think they are righteous. I think Jesus says this because he cannot call those who think they are righteous. Jesus is talking about the self-righteous and the self-righteous don't think they need a savior and if you don't think you need a Savior, you don't need Jesus and you certainly won’t follow him. Seeing how the gospel of grace powerfully dispels the way of self- righteous and contemptuous religious practice is the emphasis in our Devotionals for the week.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I believe I am here to walk with you, be transformed by you, live for you, and share you with the world. I embrace this goal today and ask that you help it to be realized in my life in significant ways going forward. Deliver from all self-righteous and contemptuous religious practice that flies in the face of the gospel of grace. Thank you for the powerful provision of your grace that brought me to faith and I look forward to the amazing grace you will yet give me that will wonderfully bring about a lifetime of sharing my faith. Amen!

  • "All for the Best" - An Inspirational Poem for Sunday, February 17th

    All for the Best

    By Edgar A. Guest

    Things mostly happen for the best.
    However hard it seems to-day,
    When some fond plan has gone astray
    Or, what you’ve wished for most is lost
    An’ you sit countin’ up the cost
    With eyes half-blind by tears o’grief
    While doubt is chokin’ out belief,
    You’ll find when all is understood
    That what seemed bad was really good.
    Life can’t be counted in a day.
    The present rain that will not stop
    Next autumn means a bumper crop.
    We wonder why some things must be-
    Care’s purpose we can seldom see-
    An’ yet long afterwards we turn
    To view the past, an’ then we learn
    That what once filled our minds with doubt
    Was good for us as it worked out.

    I’ve never known an hour of care
    But that I’ve later come to see
    That it has brought some joy to me.
    Even the sorrows I have borne,
    Leavin’ me lonely an’ forlorn
    An’ hurt an’ bruised an’ sick at heart,
    An’ though I could not understand
    Why I should bow to Death’s command,
    That it was really better so.
    Things mostly happen for the best.
    So narrow is our vision here
    That we are blinded by a tear
    An’ stunned by every hurt an’ blow
    Which comes to-day to strike us low.
    An’ yet some day we turn an’ find
    That what seemed cruel once was kind.
    Most things, I hold, are wisely planned
    If we could only understand.

  • "Handwriting On The Wall" - An Inspirational Poem for Saturday, February 16th

    Handwriting On The Wall
    Unknown

    A weary mother returned from the store,
    Lugging groceries through the kitchen door.
    Awaiting her arrival was her 8 year old son,
    Anxious to relate what his younger brother had done.

    While I was out playing and Dad was on a call,
    T.J. took his crayons and wrote on the wall
    It’s on the new paper you just hung in the den.
    I told him you’d be mad at having to do it again.

    She let out a moan and furrowed her brow,
    Where is your little brother right now?
    She emptied her arms and with a purposeful stride,
    She marched to his closet where he had gone to hide.

    She called his full name as she entered his room.
    He trembled with fear–he knew that meant doom
    For the next ten minutes, she ranted and raved
    About the expensive wallpaper and how she had saved.

    Lamenting all the work it would take to repair,
    She condemned his actions and total lack of care.
    The more she scolded, the madder she got,
    Then stomped from his room, totally distraught.

    She headed for the den to confirm her fears.
    When she saw the wall, her eyes flooded with tears.
    The message she read pierced her soul with a dart.
    It said, I love Mommy, surrounded by a heart.

    Well, the wallpaper remained, just as she found it,
    With an empty picture frame hung to surround it.
    A reminder to her, and indeed to all,
    Take time to read the handwriting on the wall.

  • Our Available and Helpful God – Trusting in Him Fully for the Long Haul - Friday, February 15th

    O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears …. O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him …. The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:3-4, 8, 17-18

    Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Those very difficult kind of troubles that don’t go away, make one feel powerless against them, and have the ability to produce a lot of pain and suffering, can really take a toll on a person’s life. We saw this in evidence in David’s life in a Psalm from the other day where he said, “My soul is bowed down.” Very few of us are strangers to the impact of troubles that break us down, wear us out, and from time to time get us to the spot where we say, “My soul is bowed down.” However, there are some people who have experienced pain and suffering to a degree that is beyond that of the average person, so that they are almost always in a state of being “bowed down” in their souls.

    Today’s Psalm speaks of those who are “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit.” Whether you are one who is “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” from time to time or routinely, our Psalm offers some helpful things we can do that will really make a difference in our lives. Notice the words, "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” We do this on Sunday mornings when we join with others in worshiping God. But, let’s take it a step further. Find a worship buddy! On a weekly basis or more often if needed, join with another person (not connected with your own troubles) for a time of just “magnifying” and “exalting” the name of the Lord (no complaining).

    A significant factor in why our soul becomes “bowed down” is “fear.” So, every day, seek the Lord in prayer and make your requests known (in regard to your troubles). Go forward from your prayer time believing God will answer and that he will deliver you from all your fears. Until your next prayer session, dismiss all negative thoughts that would counter your faith that God is working to answer you and deliver you from all your fears. This is what taking refuge in God is all about. The more you practice these disciplines, the more you will experience (taste) God and the more you will find him to be good, and the more you know his goodness the more you will be blessed.

    It is important to remember that prayer is talking to God. It is easy to let a prayer session shift into your talking to yourself in a rehearsal of your troubles that just locks you further into the condition of your soul being bowed down. Our Psalm says, “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” In an act of faith you must openly and honestly cry out to God in full awareness that he hears. It is a full exchange between you and God and not yourself and yourself. Expect him to do something for your soul. He delights to bring you to the spot where your soul is lifted up. Perhaps, being delivered out of all your troubles is more about this than it is having the troubles removed from your life.

    “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” We began our considerations today by talking about those who are brokenhearted and crushed in Spirit. If this is you and you let God help you practice the disciplines that have been covered today, then the Lord will be “near” to you in ways you have never experienced before and will “save” you from the impact of troubles in ways that will absolutely amaze you. “Taste and see that the Lord is (indeed) good.”

    We wrap up our week with one final portion from our Luke 4 passage and story. Jesus concludes with an extremely penetrating question, “when the Son of Man comes (2nd time), will He find faith on the earth?” He will find faith in anyone who has recognized their need for him, has trusted in him for salvation, and has been seeking him persistently in prayer day by day in order to behold him, experience him, and receive his willing help with all the issues of life.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    I think this would be a great occasion to write out your own prayer response to God. May God bless you richly today! Amen!

  • Our Available and Helpful God – Dwelling and Abiding in His Presence - Thursday, February 14th

    He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust …. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark …. Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation. Psalm 91:1-2, 4, 14-16

    Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We have another Psalm today to help us with those particularly difficult troubles in our lives that we can’t make go away, that we are powerless against, and from which we experience a lot of pain and suffering. And once again we will couple our Psalm for today with a portion from our Luke passage. Remember that both the Psalm and the Luke passage are about God making himself available to us in times of need. First, we want to look at today’s Psalm and we will do so in the light of an analogy. Picture the mom who sends her young children off to school each day. At home they are safe and secure, but out there in the world of school, they are vulnerable and susceptible to the troublesome things they come up against day after day. The mom can only hope the experience of the home will offset the experience of the world. She pictures the good atmosphere of the home (including her presence, care, and influence) carrying over into the world of school. In our relationship with God, home is the sanctuary of quiet, alone times spent in his presence. The first words of our Psalm capture it this way: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High.” We need concentrated times of being in God’s presence (dwells in the shelter).

    The atmosphere of the shelter of God’s presence (concentrated time with him) carrying over to life on the go (children at school) is captured with the next words of our Psalm: “will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Now granted when we are on the go in life, God is with us in a way that a mom cannot be with her children when they are at school. However, we need to keep in mind that our ability to be aware of God’s continued presence is limited when we are rightly concentrating on other things. It should be noted that we can develop an ability to be aware of him when we are on the go and we can stop and look to him (go home) in concentrated moments with him. But even so, the images of “dwelling in the shelter of the Most High” and “abiding in the shadow of the Almighty,” will help us remember how important it is to have a daily quiet time with God (shelter) that carries over (shadow) into our world of life on the go.

    Developing this kind of relationship with God will make all the difference in how we are impacted by the particularly troublesome things we have been talking about this week. Notice the image of the mother bird in our Psalm. Use this image in your quiet times to help you picture yourself as being sheltered under His wings. In addition, use this image when you are on the go to help you picture yourself as being under the shadow of his wings. Regularly being in the shelter and shadow of God’s presence causes us to grow in our ability to love and know God. Notice from the rest of the Psalm how growing in our ability to love and know God opens the door for him to be at work in our lives in some pretty amazing and powerful ways.

    I cannot help believe that the kind of relationship with God we have been describing in our dealing with today’s Psalm is the kind of relationship Jesus is calling his listeners to through his story. Recall the words that lead into his story, “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” It is today’s portion of Jesus’ story that gives us the heart of the story and the truth about God that can bring us to the place where we truly can pray at all times and not to lose heart. Like the widow in our story and like the Psalmist in today’s Psalm, we want the one who has the ability to act and meet our need to do just that. The widow called on a reluctant judge over and over again and he eventually provided legal protection for her. In contrast to the judge, we have God, who is willing and waiting to take care of us. Notice these words from our story, “now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for these very special words you have spoken to me through your Word today. I know you are always at work bringing about that which is right and just in my life. Help me on a daily basis to experience being in the shelter of your presence and under the shadow of your presence. While your provision of solutions to my problems is great, change me so that I want you more than I want the solutions you provide. Right now, I choose to make loving you and knowing you the centerpiece of my life. Amen!

  • Our Available and Helpful God – Counting On His Constant Willingness to Respond - Wednesday, February 13th

    Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.  He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. God will send forth his lovingkindness and His truth …. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! Psalm 57:1-3, 7

    Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We are looking at various Psalms this week for guidance in how to navigate those areas of life that we are powerless to change and cause us to experience significant pain and suffering. And once again we will couple our Psalm for today with a portion from our Luke passage. Remember that both the Psalm and the Luke passage are about God making himself available to us in times of trouble. The portion of Psalm 57 above was written by David, King of Israel in ancient times. Even though he was a king, David was not a stranger to hurtful, harmful things that he had no power over. Many of David’s Psalms are like condensed episodes from his life in regard to the impact of troubles, turning to God for help, and the outcome of faith and dependence.

    Make no mistake, troubles of the kind we are talking about this week (things like severe illness, loss of loved ones, divorce, disabilities, past disasters, mental illness, etc.) have a terrific impact on us. David is very candid about his own experience with the impact of troubles on his life. Elsewhere in today’s Psalm, David says, “My soul is bowed down.” This is where he is when the Psalm starts. The impact of the trouble he is experiencing seems to be at its pinnacle when he cries out to God, “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me.”

    Not only is David helpless to do anything about the trouble but for the moment he is struggling to escape its impact on his soul. When David cries out to God, “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,” he is asking for intervention in regard to both the trouble and the impact of the trouble. When David goes on to say, “my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by,” he is not there yet in this instance of “trouble” management.

    David’s soul is bowed down and he wants to be in the refuge of God’s presence and care like he has been in the past so his soul can be lifted up, but it’s hard to get there. It is like he is reviewing what he knows is needed and is available from God. When David says, “I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me,” he is asking God to be gracious by moving him from the impact of the trouble to the impact of his presence.

    Experiencing God as a refuge and shelter is what David needs and wants. This is where he wants to be and where he wants to stay for the duration of the problem (until destruction passes by). David knows that his focus needs to be on God and not the problem. When this shift takes place through God’s gracious intervention, then he will leave the problem in God’s hands. Notice what David says next: “He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. God will send forth his lovingkindness and His truth.”

    David’s prayer for God to be gracious to him is answered and he is able to say confidently and boldly, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” God has become more real to him than the trouble. No longer is his soul bowed down but lifted up. David’s experience here can be our experience. This is where Jesus’ story from Luke 18 comes in. Remember, Jesus tells the story of the nasty judge and the relentless widow to show us that at all times we ought to pray and not lose heart.

    And remember, too, that the story depicts the judge as one who stands in stark contrast to God in regard to his willingness to help, while it depicts the widow as someone we should emulate in our looking to God for help. We learn from the judge what God is not like. The judge is totally reluctant to respond to the widows cry for help because he has entirely no regard for God and entirely no concern for the widows needs. As we see in today’s highlighted portion, it is only because the widow keeps coming before him for help that he is moved from being unwilling to being willing to help. The judge reveals he has had enough of being bothered by the widow and he is worried that she is going to wear him out.

    God is never bothered by us no matter how often we come before him and he is never in danger of our wearing him out. Truly, God is not reluctant but rather he is willing and always available to us for the help he provides. Like the widow, we must keep coming to the one who has the ability to take care of us in our time of need and like David, God will become more real to us than the trouble we bring before him. Our soul will no longer be bowed down but lifted up. We may have to repeat the process over and over again (persistent prayer). God does not mind. He loves to have us call on him and count on him to be a refuge and shelter to us from destructive troubles. Whatever we are facing, we really can begin with “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me” and end up with “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, my prayer today is the prayer of David, “be gracious to me, be gracious to me.” I absolutely believe you are not reluctant but totally willing to respond to me and my need. Lord, help me to experience you as a refuge and shelter to such a degree that I am able to say, “my heart is steadfast, my heart is steadfast. Become more real to me than my troubles so that I can fully sing your praises day by day. Amen!

  • Our Available and Helpful God – Keeping at Coming to Him for Help - Tuesday, February 12th

    On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul …. For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; You do not forsake the works of Your hands. Psalm 138:3, 6-8

    Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We continue with our consideration of the things that cause us to experience significant pain and sorrow and are powerless to change. We turn today to another Psalm from which we will see how God makes himself available to us in times of trouble and how he ministers to our deepest needs as we face the challenges of painful experiences produced by these troubles that come into our lives. God’s grace, presence, power, and comfort make all the difference and help us live triumphantly day by day.

    God has made us in such a way that we find deep inside ourselves a desire to have it be that our lives count for something. This is true in regard to what we are able accomplish but also in regard to all we go through in the process. On the one hand we want to know if this experience is “worthwhile” and on the other hand we want to know if this experience is “worth it.” We really do want “what we do” and “what we go through” to count for something.

    Today’s Scripture gives us some insight into this. This is a Psalm of David and one of the most reoccurring words in his Psalms is the word “trouble.” Notice the words, “I walk in the midst of trouble.” This is what lies behind these helpful words of David we are looking at today. You can be sure that David wrestled with whether his experiences were “worthwhile” and “worth it.” David knew all too well about being powerless in the face of troubles that brought pain and suffering. It was David’s connection to God that made all the difference.

    Again we will couple our Psalm with a portion from our Luke passage. Just like our Psalms are about God making himself available to us in times of trouble, so our story from Jesus this week is about God making himself available to us as we seek him persistently through prayer. Today’s portion from Jesus’ story introduces us to a nasty judge and a relentless widow seeking legal protection from an opponent. The story depicts the judge as one who stands in stark contrast to God in regard to willingness to help, while it depicts the widow as someone we should emulate in our looking to God for help. We learn from the judge what God is not like. God is not reluctant but rather he is willing and always available to us for the help he provides. We learn from the widow to keep coming to the one who has the ability to take care of us in our time of need.

    This was truly how David approached his relationship with God. David was a man of faith and he consistently turned to God in full trust and dependence. He knew it was the key to having it be that everything would truly “count” in the end. David had developed the discipline and habit of turning to God when walking in the midst of trouble. Consider carefully what he says about this: “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” Ongoing troubles that produce pain and suffering in our souls, can only truly be countered by God, who makes us bold with strength in our souls instead.

    What is it that really lies at the center of why we do or we don’t face the troubles in our lives the way David did? Notice what David says next: “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” The humble (lowly) are convinced they are powerless and all is futile unless they count on God fully. The proud (haughty) are not absolutely convinced they are powerless and helpless apart from God’s intervention. If you know you need God, he is able to come close to you with the help you need. If you don’t know for sure you need God, he can’t get very close to you with the help that is needed.

    Notice all the things the Psalm goes on to say God will do if he is able to draw near to you with his help: He will revive you; He will stretch forth his hand against the wrath of your enemies, and his right hand will save you. The Lord will accomplish what concerns you (worthwhile); His lovingkindness will last forever and He will not forsake you, the work of his hands (worth it). Certainly we ought to pray and not lose heart.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, forgive me for how easily I leave you out of the equation of my life in so many ways. Even with my troubles and the pain and suffering they have produced, I go it alone far too often. I am sorry for my reluctance to faithfully seek you in prayer. Like David, I call on you right now and I believe you will answer me. Revive me, Lord, and build into me the discipline and habit of humbly turning to you in the midst of my troubles. I ask you to do a work in my heart regarding the effects pain and suffering have had on it. Bring me to the spot where I know my life is “worthwhile” and that all I have been through is “worth it.” Amen!

  • Our Available and Helpful God – Praying and Not Losing Heart - Monday, February 11th

    The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly. I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death …. You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Psalm 118:14-18, 28-29

    Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

     Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    There are things that come with living in a fallen and broken world that cause us to experience significant pain and sorrow and are powerless to change. They are things that we would rather not have in our lives. They are things that God has evidently allowed to show up and stay in our lives for the sake of the bigger scheme of things that he, and he alone has in mind.

    Each day this week we will be looking at a different Psalm from which we will see how God makes himself available to us in times of trouble. Each Psalm will be coupled with a portion from our Luke passage that gives us our next story from the Master storyteller, Jesus. Just like our Psalms are about God making himself available to us in times of trouble, so is our story from Jesus this week about God making himself available to us as we seek him persistently through prayer. We will see how he ministers to our deepest needs as we face the challenges of painful experiences produced by troubles that come into our lives. We are talking about things like severe illness, loss of loved ones, divorce, disabilities, past disasters, mental illness, etc. Even though such things are constant and long-term, God’s grace, presence, power, and comfort make all the difference and help us live triumphantly day by day.

    Today’s verses indicate that the Psalmist was in the middle of something that produced severe suffering and pain. We are told that it was a severe discipline in his life that didn’t kill him. The fact that the Psalmist is one who is properly aligned with God through faith is seen in his words, “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” The focus of the Psalmist is relying on the Lord. However, his reliance is more about the Lord sustaining him in the middle of his troubles than it is about the Lord delivering him from his troubles.

    The Psalmist speaks of the righteous (others who are properly aligned with God) and their example of relying on the Lord. The homes of the righteous are filled with joy. They readily proclaim that the right hand of the Lord is exalted and does valiantly. This is a great image and helps the Psalmist with his own personal reliance on the Lord. The image of the right hand of the Lord depicts the ongoing ability of the Lord to sustain the Psalmist in the midst of his troubles and ultimately to deliver him from them. It depicts the Lord being at the Psalmist side with total availability of his strong right arm for sustenance and deliverance.

    The reassurance and encouragement the Psalmist experiences, lead him to say, “I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.” His response to God is, “You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I bring to you the relentless troubles that have brought sorrow and pain into my life. I want to be one who seeks you persistently in prayer at all times and does not lose heart. I join the Psalmist in saying that you are my strength, my song, and my salvation. I rely upon you with your strong right arm that sustains and delivers. Thank you for being by my side. Help me to trust you and rely upon you more fully. Help me to “live” fully and readily tell of your works. You are my God, and I give thanks, I extol you, for you are good and your lovingkindness is everlasting. Amen!

  • How Rich Are We? - An Inspirational Story for Sunday, February 10th

    One day a father and his rich family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose to show him how poor people can be. They spent a day and a night on the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” “Very good Dad!” “Did you see how poor people can be?” the father asked. “Yeah!” “And what did you learn?”

    The son answered, “I saw that we have a dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden; they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lamps in the garden; they have the stars. Our patio reaches to the front yard; they have a whole horizon.” When the little boy was finished, his father was speechless. His son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how ‘poor’ we are!”

    Isn’t it true that it all depends on the way you look at things? If you have love, friends, family, health, good humor and a positive attitude towards life — you’ve got everything! You can’t buy any of these things. You may have all the material possessions you can imagine, provisions for the future, etc.; but if you are poor of spirit, you have nothing!

    – Author Unknown

  • Shake It Off and Step Up - An Inspirational Story for Saturday, February 9th

    Shake It Off and Step Up

    A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule ‘braying’ — or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer felt sorry for the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and asked them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

    Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back: he should shake it off and step up! This is what the old mule did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up… shake it off and step up… shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself.

    No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought “panic” and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up! You guessed it! It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, actually end up blessing him. All because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

    – Author Unknown

  • Developing Reverence for God and His Word - Friday, February 8th

    Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways. Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You. Psalm 119:33-38

    But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We have been looking at portions of Psalm 119 all week. At the beginning of the week the emphasis of the opening portion of the Psalm was on the necessity for God’s people to carry out his instructions. We saw that carrying out or doing what we are told to do was the emphasis of Jesus in Luke 6:46 where he said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” This is serious business! The Psalmist is dead serious about a life time of being connected fully to God and his Word. Today’s portion of Psalm 119 is like a manifesto covering everything necessary from A to Z. Read it again and let it really sink in. Let the Psalmist’s manifesto inspire you.

    He wants to be fully taught and promises to observe the Lord’s statutes to the end. He wants full understanding of what he has been taught and promises to observe and keep the law of the Lord with all his heart. Nothing but walking in and delighting in the path of the Lord’s commandments for the Psalmist. He asks for a heart that has no inclination for anything but God and his ways. He asks to be kept from even looking at vanity and to be alive (revived) only to the Lord’s testimonies. And then he concludes his manifesto with these wonderful and amazing words, “Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You.” For the Psalmist all that really matters all along the way and in the end is God himself and to this end he wants reverence for God to be produced fully and completely in his life. What higher calling can one have in this life or the next.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I want to be dead serious about being fully connected to you and your Word as well. Grant that the manifesto of the Psalmist becomes mine. All that he asked of you in it, I ask of you, too. Particularly, may you fully “Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You.” My confidence is in you and I know that through dependence on you and your Word the blessing of a spiritual house well built will be mine right on through to the very end. Amen!

  • Revived in Strength from God and His Word - Thursday, February 7th

    Revive me according to Your word …. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders …. Strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart. Psalm 119:25B, 27, 28B-32

    All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    No matter how committed we are to staying on track with our devotion to God and his word, no matter how fulfilling we have found it to be or how much we have experienced its delights, it all takes place in a hostile environment (planet earth) that has a way of wearing us down and affecting us deeply. In today’s Scripture we see the Psalmist at one such point and crying out to God, “Revive me and strengthen me according to Your word.” He asks God to clear out the false and grant only the true. He is counting on God and as he waits for his restoring touch, he reiterates for God and for himself what he knows has been true in his case: “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies.” This is what he wants, not failure. The final part of his prayer is, “O Lord, do not put me to shame!” The Psalmist determines to run the way of God’s commands, which infers that he is also running away from that which is false. He concludes with his confident statement to God that he knows that God will enlarge his heart (for all that is good and true with no room for anything evil or false).

    Once again we see that the Psalmist is a wise builder of his spiritual house as he seeks to respond to God and his Word fully and completely (just like Jesus calls us to be). The Psalmist would have loved today’s 2 Timothy passage. It truly describes his relationship with God and his Word and the work it did in his life.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I need to be revived and strengthened through your Word. Minister to me now and enlarge my heart for all that you desire for me that is good and true. Remove everything false. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies right now. Equip me and prepare for every good work through your amazing Word. May you be glorified through my life. Amen!

  • Experiencing Delight with God and His Word - Wednesday, February 6th

    Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law …. My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times. You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments …. Your servant meditates on Your statutes. Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors. Psalm 119:17-18, 20-21, 23B-24

    But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:49

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    At some point earlier on in his life the Psalmist chose the path of devotion to God and his Word and he is determined to stay on track for the long run. He has found his connection with God and his Word to be so fulfilling that he can hardly wait for God to give him more and more instruction. Today’s Scripture moves from the Psalmist’s yearning for a greater breadth of understanding to longing for a greater depth of understanding. Notice all the things from our passage that indicate this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law; My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times; Your servant meditates on Your statutes; Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors.” Truly the Psalmist’s mind and heart are overflowing with delight in God and his Word as more and more he discovers the wonderful depths of truth and the bountiful way it transforms his life.

    There is something more from today’s portion of Psalm 119. Notice the following words, “You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments.” The Psalmist is very well aware that the story could be different. He does not ever want this to happen to him. If he could have somehow heard the words of Jesus in the Luke 6 passage above, he would have thoroughly understood and carefully heeded his words of warning. Truly, the Psalmist is a wise builder of his spiritual house whose response to God and his Word is full and complete.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word with the same kind of delight that the Psalmist had. There are things in life that truly delight me. I know it would delight you if I would find full delight in you and your Word. Show me wonders from your Word that create a longing in me for you and your Word like I have never known before. May I always be wise and not unwise in the building of my spiritual house. Amen!

  • Finding Fulfillment in God and His Word - Tuesday, February 5th

    Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. Psalm 119:12-16

    Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. Luke 6:47-48

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Yesterday we saw an emphasis from the Psalmist and from Jesus on the importance of carrying out what the Lord tells us to do. Today’s portion of Psalm 119 shows us how fully the Psalmist is connected to God and his Word. It would seem the Psalmist is blessing God for all he has taught him and then he is asking for more. He can’t get enough of God and his Word. This is a very personal thing for the Psalmist. God is teaching him. God’s Words are spoken personally from his mouth to the Psalmist’s mind, heart, and life. The Psalmist is filled to overflowing so that he is telling others about what God has said to him. Look at the value he puts on knowing God and his word, “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.”

    For the Psalmist, nothing of earth compares with knowing God and his ways. How fully the Psalmist is “connected” goes on, “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your Word.” Truly the Psalmist has found fulfillment in God and His Word. This is exactly the kind of connection Jesus expects for those who properly respond to him and his words. His illustration of the well built house says it all. May our spiritual house be well built as we properly respond to God and his Word. May we experience fulfillment like the Psalmist as ones who truly carry out what the Lord tells us to do.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I see that there is nothing worth being connected to more than being connected to you and your Word. Forgive me for all the things I have unnecessarily looked to for fulfillment. May my spiritual house be built well. Lord, help me have the vibrant enthusiasm the Psalmist has for getting all he can of you and your glorious Word. Amen!

  • Being Devoted to God and His Word - Monday, February 4th

    How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes! Psalm 119:1-5

    Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Each of this week’s Devotionals will include a portion of Psalm 119 which in its entirety has 176 verses. Today’s portion uses a number of words to refer to God’s Word, including law, testimonies, ways, precepts, and statutes. All of these words convey the thought that God has given us authoritative instructions for life. Authoritative instructions for life is what God’s Word, the Bible, is all about. The emphasis in this opening portion of the Psalm is on the necessity for God’s people to carry out his instructions. Carrying out or doing what we are told to do is what Jesus is likewise saying in Luke 6:46. 

    The authoritative instructions of God are for all creation. God wants our actual lives to be closely aligned with his Word. However, we must always remember that God never separates himself from his Word. Notice from our passage that it says that those who “observe his testimonies” and those who “seek him with all their heart” are blessed. The authoritative instructions of God’s Word tell us how we can be brought into relationship with God (the Gospel), but also, how through our relationship with God, we can live out his Word. We must always live in the reality that apart from our relationship with God, we are not able to truly observe his Word.  

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, help me to seek you with all my heart so that I can keep your ordained word diligently and consistently. Nothing would be more wonderful than my ways being established to the point that they correspond beautifully with your ways. For your honor and glory, for my good, and for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, help me be fully devoted to you and your word. Amen!

  • "I'm Learning" - An Inspirational Poem for Sunday, February 3rd

    I'm Learning

    By Greta Zwaan

    When you see me don't be alarmed, I'm not a finished project;
    A work in making, just begun, no longer known as reject.
    Many changes must be made, many plans to alter
    Efforts to reclaim the mold, are bound to often falter.

    Restoration will take time, the work God's undertaken,
    The mighty Master of the clay will not leave me forsaken.
    I'm pliable and need to learn, my spirit must be willing,
    God will not force His choice on me, He's lovingly instilling,
    New thoughts to form within my heart, ideas that will inspire,
    To make me more like His dear Son and give me that desire.

    That all my plans fit to His will as each day dawns before me,
    I find the guidance in His Word in case sin should allure me.
    My safety lies within His love, my heart within His will;
    I need to listen to His voice, He's whispering, "Peace, be still".

  • Busy, Busy Me - An Inspirational Poem for Saturday, February 2nd

    "Busy, Busy Me"
    By Greta Zwaan,

    My life is filled with service for family, church and friends,
    The needs seem overwhelming, it simply never ends.
    One friend is terribly lonely, and no one seems to care,
    I try to see her often; her life seems dull and bare.

    My other friend is crying, she's struggling with her grief,
    I listen to her story, which helps to bring relief.
    My neighbor's arm was broken when she fell in her yard,
    And even doing dishes, she finds so very hard.

    I'm glad that I am healthy, there's things that I can do,
    To make their burden lighter, to help to get them through.
    But then an illness hits me, and suddenly I am down,
    I fret and stew and worry, I just can't get around.

    But these folks need attention, I've got to help them through!
    Then comes the quiet whisper, "I can do that for you."
    "My dear, you're very busy, you're running at full speed,
    But you don't seem to notice your own most private need.

    Your time with Me is shortened; at best I get a glance;
    You read the Word I wrote you, just when you get a chance.
    It's time for a refresher, it's time for a review,
    Your busy life is altered; now I take care of you."

    So quickly I remember, it's God I set aside;
    I scatter crumbs of mercy, but God's Word is denied.
    The time I need for gathering the gems it has in store,
    My engine needs refueling before I tackle more.

    God has not caused this illness; I know His hands can heal,
    Yet on my bed of sickness, I know my needs were real.
    A need that I be quiet and listen to Him speak,
    His presence is more precious than good deeds that I seek.

  • The Servanthood of Christ – The Builder of an Army of True Neighbors - Friday, February 1st

    Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” Luke 10:36-37

    Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the LORD endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22-25

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We concluded Monday’s devotional with the following prayer response: Lord, thank you for surrendering to your Father’s will and sacrificing yourself on the cross for me. Thank you for redeeming me from sin and self. Thank you for teaching me the truth that through the forgiveness of sins you have come to live in me through the Holy spirit so that I might embrace and live out a life of servanthood through your empowering presence. I give you the center place in my life so that as your servant I can lovingly live my life in the service of others. Amen! The title of this week’s Devotionals is “The Servanthood of Christ” which was selected to remind us of his servanthood when he was here on earth and our servanthood which he came to make possible. Monday’s prayer response puts this together in a way that helps us readily see how it is that a person can fulfill Jesus’ instruction in today’s passage, “Go and do the same.”

    Truly we are called to love God and our neighbor consistently and thoroughly throughout our lifetime. Through the story of the “Good Samaritan” Jesus helps us see that who he is and what he has to offer will bring a way of living and relating that is like the Samaritan and not like those who just adhere to living within their own little religious system like the lawyer who came before Jesus to test him. It is only by God’s mercy that we are saved and it is only by His mercy that we surrender. Through surrender God is able to take up His rightful place at the center of our lives and there He fills us up with His love which transforms us and then overflows into the lives of those around us. Since this is all God’s doing, it is only by His mercy that it happens. And if it is only by His mercy that it happens then there is no room for boasting. And if there is no room for boasting there is no room for anything but genuine love, acceptance and service of others. This is what proving to be a “neighbor” isToday's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I see the kind of difference you came to make and long to make in our lives today. I come before you in a spirit of worship and surrender and ask you to actually make this kind of difference in my life. I ask the same for your people everywhere. I am so sorry for the little religious systems we get caught up in that cause us to circumvent you and look down our noses at others. I choose to live fully by loving you with all my heart and my neighbor likewise through the power of your indwelling presence. Amen!

  • The Servanthood of Christ – The Producer of Right Living and Relating - Thursday, January 31st

    But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you. Luke 10:33-35

    But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    If the half dead man along the side of the road had been a Samaritan, the priest and Levite who passed him by would likely have been glad that he had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Jews and Samaritans typically hated each other and had no dealings with each other. The priest and Levite passing by anyone in this man’s condition is despicable let alone a fellow Jewish countryman. The contrast of the traveling Samaritan stopping to help his hated enemy, a Jew, makes his actions quite remarkable. What is Jesus trying to do with this contrast in the story he tells in response to the lawyer who is testing him? Jesus is contrasting himself and the religious system of the day. Jesus is seeking to help everyone see that who he is and what he has to offer will bring a way of living and relating that is like the Samaritan and not like those who adhere to the religious system of the day.

    Notice Jesus’ words in the Luke 6 passage above: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Jesus offers those who follow him instead of the religious system of the day, the opportunity to enter into this kind of way of living and relating. To all who choose to follow Jesus, this way of living and relating will come to them after they receive the gift of redemption he provides on the cross and he comes to reside in them through the indwelling Holy Spirit. With Jesus residing within us, he will produce in us His own life and righteousness and it will be a way of living and relating that always compels us to stop and attend to those hurting people he wants to help through us.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I want to be compassionate like you are compassionate and I want to be merciful like you are merciful. Forgive me for my lack of compassion and mercy. I know I need you to deliver me from wrong ways of living and relating and I know I need you to produce in me and through me the right ways of living and relating. Draw me close, Lord, so that through the intimacy of your transforming presence I am changed to lovingly live my life in the service of others. Amen!

  • The Servanthood of Christ – The Lover of People Empowering Us to Help - Wednesday, January 30th

    Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Luke 10:30-32

    Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another …. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. 1 John 4:7-11; 20-21

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We often create standards for ourselves to which we think we measure up. This is particularly true when it comes to love and hate. We are able to justify our attitudes and behaviors towards others by adjusting what passes for love and what passes for not being hate. I am not sure the priest and the Levite in our story considered passing by the half dead man on the side of the road as an act of hatred, but it certainly was not an act of love. Perhaps when we fail to do the loving thing, we are guilty of a form of hatred. There really is no middle ground. The priest and the Levite most certainly felt justified in regard to their attitude and behavior toward the half dead man, but I am sure God saw it differently. 

    Perhaps our reasonings need to be questioned as well. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He also said, “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God’s standards are very high and that is why we need a Savior – to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. He gives to us the gift of forgiveness and the gift of Himself – so that He might reside in us and produce in us His own life and righteousness. Jesus would not have passed by the half dead man and he most certainly will empower us from within not to pass by those hurting people he wants to help through us.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I know there a lot of hurting people out there that I am not called to help. However, there are those you put in my path for whom you intend to provide help through me. Reveal to me the kind of unloving attitudes and behaviors that I am blind to and I am guilty of that keep me from loving others and acting on their behalf in truly helpful ways. I surrender myself to you, your ways, and your specific intentions for me. Amen!

  • The Servanthood of Christ – The Deliverer from Foolish Religious Substitutes - Tuesday, January 29th

    And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29

    For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7B

    Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father …. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Colossians 3:17; 23-24

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    For the rest of the week we will be looking at the passage that contains the story of the good Samaritan. Today’s Scripture is the portion that leads up to Jesus telling the story. It is an exchange between a lawyer and Jesus. Notice these words, “a lawyer stood up and put him to the test.” The test was in the question he asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer doesn’t really want to know how to inherit eternal life. It is just a pretext for finding something in Jesus’ answer that would discredit him as a reputable teacher. This lawyer is a part of the leadership of the religious establishment that would like nothing more than to take Jesus down. Jesus is all about substance and they are all about appearance. Jesus is about true righteousness and they are about self-righteousness. Jesus is all about serving others and they are about serving themselves.

    The lawyer and the other religious leaders know that somehow or another they are being exposed for the frauds they really are through the teaching ministry of Jesus. They were all set before Jesus arrived on the scene. They had their religious system within which they touted themselves as being at the head of the class and from their superior position they looked down their noses at everyone else. Their religious practice was not about loving God and others. It was about loving themselves as they circumvented God and despised others. And all the while they really believed they were right with God and actually living for him. Christians do precisely the same thing today with their Christian faith.

    We need to let God check our hearts to see if we have fallen into this trap. How easy it is for us to get so terribly skewed in our approach to the Christian life that we appear to be lovingly serving God and others, while in reality we are just living within our own little religious system where we actually circumvent God and despise others. Spiritual superiority is a terrible thing. Jesus came to provide himself as an alternative to religious foolery. Jesus and the spiritual life he provides lifts us above appearance to substance, above self-righteousness to true righteousness, and above serving self to serving others. This is exactly what he does when we truly give him the center place in our lives. It is then that we will have a life that is truly lived in the name of the Lord Jesus.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, lift me above myself and deliver me from religious foolery. I want everything I am and everything I do to be about you and for you. Thank you for my salvation and the gift of eternal life that is my inheritance as your true follower. I choose the life that you intend to be the outworking of my salvation. I choose heartily and lovingly to serve you and others throughout all my days here on earth. Amen!

  • The Servanthood of Christ – The Head of the Body Calling His Church to Serve - Monday, January 28th

    And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23  

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:15-20

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In our relationship with God, if he is truly allowed to be first, then we are not. This arrangement can also be described as God being at the center of our lives. If he is not in the center then it means that we are treating him as if he exists for us rather than us existing for Him. God is in our lives, but we are still at the center and he is just one more component of our lives that needs to take its place in orbit around our self-occupied center along with all the other orbiting components of our lives. Jesus came to deliver us from this reversal. 

    When he was here, this is how he lived (submitted to the Father), this is what he taught, and this is what he died for. The Lord saves us and brings us into relationship with himself for the very purpose of being at the center of our lives. Salvation without this kind of surrender is a real dilemma. God calls us to love him, but we will not be able to love him truly if we are not surrendered. And if we do not love him, we will not fulfill his desire for us to love others. When through our surrender, God is allowed to take his place in the center of our lives, we will lovingly live our lives in the service of others.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for surrendering to your Father’s will and sacrificing yourself on the cross for me. Thank you for redeeming me from sin and self. Thank you for teaching me the truth that through the forgiveness of sins you have come to live in me through the Holy spirit so that I might embrace and live out a life of servanthood through your empowering presence. I give you the center place in my life so that as your servant I can lovingly live my life in the service of others. Amen!

  • The Lighthouse - An Inspirational Story for Sunday, January 27th

    The Lighthouse

    There was in a certain city a harbor where ships from all over the world would come and dock. However, the harbor was in between a treacherous and rocky shore. During stormy nights, ships would see the city lights off in the distance and head toward the lights hoping to find refuge from the pounding surf.

    The ships would struggle against the storm as they made their way to the safety of the harbor. As they drew near, seeing the dangerous rocks, the captain of the ship would try to turn and avoid striking the rocks but it was to late. Many ships were destroyed and hundreds of sailors lost their lives because they did not know of the danger. You see, the people of the city did not feel that it was necessary to build a lighthouse. Besides, it would cost too much money to build a lighthouse they reasoned. So year after year and storm after storm ships would be ship wrecked and many lives lost.

    There was a man in that city that saw the need. He felt grief and heartache because the people of the city were content to let the ships be destroyed and were not willing to rescue the drowning sailors. So he took it upon himself to do something about it. He tried to recruit volunteers to help him but no one wanted to. He persisted, looking for someone to help him, but they all just laughed at him and said that he was crazy to risk his life to try to save strangers and people who looked different.

    Determined to make a difference, he sold everything that he had and bought a piece of land close to the shore and built his house there. It was a lighthouse.

    So during stormy nights, the man would make sure that the light from the lighthouse was shining as bright as it could so the ships could be warned of the dangerous rocks. His lighthouse saved hundreds of lives and ships from being ship wrecked that year. But it wasn’t enough because even with the lighthouse some of the storms were so powerful that the ships struggling to come into the harbor were tossed about by the wind and the waves that they would get smashed against the rocks.

    Being a compassionate man, he would run to the roaring sea at the risk of his own life to rescue as many sailors as he could. Then he would bring them into the warmth and safety of the lighthouse. Once there he would heal their wounds and feed them until they were able to sail again.

    The man labored by himself for years rescuing sailors and caring for their needs. Each person that he saved was so grateful to him that they couldn’t thank him enough for rescuing them from certain death. But all the man could feel was sadness because many more sailors died in the sea than he could save. “If only I had help,” he would say. “If only someone would see the need as I do and come and help. Lord please send someone to help, I can’t do it all by myself,” he prayed.

    Then one day it happened, his prayers were answered. His generosity became well known in the land. People in the city began to volunteer to come and help the man keep vigil during stormy nights. Men began to take shifts keeping watch and helping rescue sailors. Then women started cooking and preparing bandages for the wounded sailors. The children did whatever they could to help lift the spirits of the sick.

    Ships still wreck along the treacherous shoreline, but now because there are so many people there to help the man, many more lives are saved than are lost. Together Everyone Accomplished Much. Together they made a difference.

    – by Danny Lizarraga

  • Call from Almighty God - Inspirational Story for Saturday, January 26th

    Call from Almighty God

    This story involves a pastor of a storefront church. The pastor’s church is called The Almighty God Tabernacle. On a Saturday night not long ago, this pastor was working late, and decided to call his wife before he left for home. It was about 10:00 PM, but his wife didn’t answer the phone. The pastor let it ring many times. He thought it was odd that she didn’t answer, but decided to wrap up a few things and try again in a few minutes.

    When he tried again she answered right away. He asked her why she hadn’t answered before, but she said that it hadn’t rang at their house. They brushed it off as a fluke and didn’t give it a second thought.

    The following Monday, the pastor received a call at the church office, which was the phone that he’d used that Saturday night.

    The man that he spoke with wanted to know why he’d called on Saturday night. The pastor couldn’t figure out what the guy was talking about. Then the guy said, “It rang and rang, but I didn’t answer. “The pastor then remembered the mishap and apologized for disturbing him, explaining that he intended to call his wife.

    The man said, “That’s OK. Let me tell you my story. You see, I was planning to commit suicide on Saturday night, but before I did, I prayed, ‘God if you’re there, and you don’t want me to do this, give me a sign now.’ At that point my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID, and it said, ‘Almighty God’. I was too afraid to answer!”

  • The Master Teacher – Showing the Right Steps to Follow - Friday, January 25th

    And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” John 12:44-50

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s passage is an appeal by Christ to everyone. What he has to say is very serious business and he is very, very passionate about it. Notice the opening words, “And Jesus cried and said.” He really wants us to pay attention and get it. He wants us to get who he really is (light of the world) and why he came (so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness). It is absolutely essential that we hear his sayings and keep them because if we don’t we are rejecting the Light of the World and we will remain in darkness. There is a key word in our passage that will help us grasp one important difference between light and darkness. It is the word, “initiative.” When we live by our own initiative we are in darkness. When we live in response to the initiative of our Heavenly Father, we walk in the light. Through his life as the light of the world Jesus showed us how to live according to our Heavenly Father’s initiative and not our own. Through his death and resurrection Jesus made it possible for us to receive the forgiven of sins and to be made right with our Heavenly Father so that in real relationship with him we can surrender to him and sacrificially give up our claim on our own life. This is the true Gospel.

    However, if our response to the message of the Gospel is primarily for what God does for us, then we will be prone to continue to look to God primarily for what He can do for us. When we recognize the forgiveness of sins which the Gospel offers as God’s means for reclaiming us for Himself and His purposes and desires, we will be prepared to suffer with Christ for the sake of the Gospel and all those who are yet to be brought back under the ownership and care of our Heavenly Father. How prone we are to want glory without sacrifice. Taking the steps of our own choosing is hard to resist, but we must give up on them. This is one of the greatest and most needed sacrifices we can make. It is the road less traveled but it makes all the difference every step of the way and in the end.

    Ultimately, Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and yet He gave Himself as a ransom for us in the ultimate act of service. However, we get in trouble if we take the position of ones who are being served by Him. We must humble ourselves in absolute surrender to Him viewing His sacrifice as His means of reclaiming us. His sacrifice gives us the wondrous opportunity for us to sacrifice ourselves for Him. When we are empty of ourselves, our agendas, and what we want from God, we then become to Him vessels with room enough to be filled with His presence and loving benevolence and available for whatever use he has in mind for us. This alone is how we are able to genuinely follow in Christ’s footsteps.

    Jesus knew who He was and why He was here. He came to serve and not be served. Jesus cared about both the physical and spiritual needs of people but their spiritual need for redemption was at the heart of who He was and why He was here. So, when we look at ourselves, we must seek to be the kind of person who desires to serve instead of being served. We need to care about and seek to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people but always with a view toward their redemption in Christ. Here is a good way to think of it: I want to be one who exists to be a servant of God that He readily uses as a vessel to bless others in ways that contribute to the redemptive work He is bringing about in their lives. When we are so focused, then all the other aspects of being human beings who live life here on earth (family, work, community, friends, recreation, etc.) become the context for fulfilling our central calling and mission.

    Quite a high calling. Perhaps it seems so high that it is out of reach. We have been restored to a relationship with God through redemption so that we can enjoy the blessing of God’s presence and so that we become vessels who bless the lives of others as God’s presence in us touches them in powerful ways. Gaining and maintaining the focus necessary for God’s calling and mission to be central in our lives requires that we really do become ones who exist to be true servants of God.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, help me to discern between my steps and your steps. May your steps become the steps I desire. I truly want your steps and not my own. Even so, I recognize that some of what I originally desired for myself will be included in what you desire for me. That is truly amazing but the difference will be that I am living for you and your will and not me and my will. May you be glorified, Lord. Amen!

  • The Master Teacher – Calling for True Discipleship - Thursday, January 24th

    Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall. When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:24-29

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Our passage today tells us that the crowds were amazed at His teaching. We see this response to Jesus over and over again in the Gospels in regard to his miracles as well. But amazement as a response to Jesus doesn’t cut it! Amazement is not enough! Amazement is being surprised and questioning, “how can this be?” Amazement is hearing extraordinary teaching from Jesus or seeing him do something miraculous and concluding, “it makes no sense” that he can say and do such things. This response to Jesus is no more of a response than when we see an accomplished magician perform an elaborate magic trick and we are left mystified. There is a thrill at being mystified and we want to be mystified over and over again. So, if our response to Jesus is merely one of being astounded or mystified, it means we are not gaining the insight we need to respond properly to him and the reason for this is the issue of a heart that is hardened.

    A full response to Jesus means that our hearts have opened up to the reality of who he is and have moved past the mere wonder (amazement) of his Divine behaviors. We come before Jesus in full awareness that we are before the Lord and Master of the universe and we bow in awe, worship, surrender, and devotion. With open hearts filled with the very presence of God Almighty, we are changed forever. The opportunity is ours to respond to Jesus Christ in a full and complete way so that we go forward in the way that he intended for us. Jesus intends that we live out our lives as true disciples. Christian discipleship is essentially about following a course for living life that is absolutely and completely centered in and dependent upon Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us that this course is extremely narrow, goes against the flow of humanity, is filled with obstacles, attracts opposition, resistance, persecution or even death, and requires great endurance.

    We are absolutely not capable of following this course apart from an abiding relationship with Christ whereby His presence, power, and provision are poured into us. Such a relationship requires humility, surrender and dependence and herein lies the greatest challenge of this course for life – our willful selves. We want to be in charge, we want to accomplish, we want the glory of a successful Christian life; but that is not Christian discipleship. In Christian discipleship we are on a course of life where we fix our eyes on Jesus, follow Him by faith wherever He leads us, rely totally on His strength, and do it completely for His honor and glory. Jesus tells all “would be” disciples to count the cost of following Him before embarking on the journey. And what is the cost of following the Lord Jesus Christ? - it will cost everything!

    Are we willing to pay the cost? Our entire self with all its time, abilities, finances and other resources must be at Christ’s disposal. Anything that gets in the way must be set aside. All personal relationships, vocations, and interests must become as nothing compared to our devotion to Christ and our commitment to His centrality in our lives. In 1 Timothy the apostle Paul says, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we should be content.” And then Paul says, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” Life indeed is the life of fruitfulness that comes from trusting Christ to do for us what we cannot do on our own. This is what the true teaching of Jesus the master teacher is all about. This is true discipleship. Hence, his appeal from today’s passage: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, here I am on the other side of the cross and the resurrection. You live in my heart through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that I can always be with you and before you. I ask you to do something about the ways my heart is hardened to the reality of who you are. Help me to enter fully into being with you and before you. Open my heart to the fullness of who you are. I seek to be before you in awe, worship, surrender, and devotion. I want to be a true disciple whose life is built on rock and not sand. I know that following you fully as a true disciple means that I become a truly fruitful Christian. I also know that becoming a truly fruitful Christian means absolutely depending on you through a constantly abiding relationship with you. Help me to surrender my willful self to you and empower me to live fully for you day after day. Amen!

  • The Master Teacher – Revealer of Grace and Truth - Wednesday, January 23rd

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it …. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:1-5, 14-18

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We see from today’s Scripture that Jesus is the Living Word of God. He is grace and truth embodied. Grace and truth are realized through him. Through his presence, because of who he is and what he says, God is revealed and explained. This is what the Master Teacher did while he was here. He proclaimed grace and truth through his life and the words he spoke. The story of his life and his teachings became the centerpiece of Scripture in a miraculous blend between the Living Word and the Written Word of God. A significant part of Christ’s teachings recorded in Scripture (the written Word of God) are in story form (parables). The Master Teacher was an amazing storyteller. Can you imagine being here when he was here on earth and going out to see him. Picture being before him and listening to his stories. Now consider deeply the impact his presence and words would have on you.

    But you and I were not there and yet the impact of his presence and words are available to us today in a way that is even more powerful than when he was here in the flesh. We are on this side of the cross and all he accomplished through his death and resurrection. We have been forgiven and made alive again spiritually. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and through his indwelling presence, Jesus Christ mightily lives in our hearts and lives. In the sanctuary of private prayer we come before Jesus over and over again to bask in his presence and hear afresh the words of the Master Teacher and Storyteller. At church and in these Devotionals we have begun an adventure this week called 90 Days with Jesus that will culminate at Easter. As we consider the stories of the Master Teacher and Storyteller throughout be sure to spend regular time in the sanctuary of private prayer. As you bask in the wonderful presence of Jesus, let him speak afresh to your heart and life his amazing stories of grace and truth.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts: 

    Go back and read Luke 15 and then spend time in Jesus’ presence letting him speak afresh these special words. Be sure to come up with your own prayer response to conclude today’s Devotional time.

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