Lenten Devotionals…Week 3, March 1-7

Monday, March 1…Psalm 68:24

Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers, after them are the maidens playing tambourines

The Psalmist here describes the festal procession celebrating the occasion of the Ark of the Covenant being brought back to the Temple.

He says that the worshippers actually see God processing as this festival is played out. I think that if some of us American Christians were there we would have only seen the procession (the costumes, the professionalism, the precision, the ages of the singers and what style of music they played) and not God himself. We would have separated out the “spiritual” from the “act” and made a judgment as to how worshipful the service was. CS Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms uses the analogy of a child who cannot separate the religious from the festal character of Christmas or Easter. To the boy, chocolate eggs and Jesus’ resurrection are a unity. “And once he has distinguished (them), he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on independent, and therefore a soon withering, life. Either at some period in Judaism, or else in the experience of some Jews, a roughly parallel situation occurred. The unity falls apart; the sacrificial rites become distinguishable from meeting with God.” 

Do we separate out the spiritual from the act of worship and judge the effectiveness of the latter by how it moves us? Might it be that we judge those who lead us in worship as guilty of performance when it is we who fail to see God “in the procession”?   

Reflect on this reflection and tomorrow we will make another application.

Tuesday, March 2… Psalm 50:8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19

I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens…If I were hungry I would not tell you for the world is mine, and all that is in it…Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you…You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.   

The other danger of separating out the unity of worship (the spiritual from the act) is vividly portrayed in Psalm 50, as well as in Isaiah 58. Israel’s performance of worship and other acts of piety became separated from the obedience that God required, or the slave-owning church-goer making no connection between his worship and his ownership and treatment of human flesh of another color. 

Instead of seeking and honoring God in all of life, the sacrificial system and the worship of the Temple became a kind of commercial transaction, which traded carcasses of animals for God’s blessings, as if God needed animals and blood in order to survive. Many a “religious” person in our day looks to rites and rituals as a means of merit that earns God’s favor eventuating in salvation. In Morocco, I am told that a Muslim earns one point each time he prays at home, but twenty-seven points for praying at the Mosque.

It is a proper understanding of the gospel that provides the antidote. “Not the labor of my hands can fulfill the Laws demands.” We cannot achieve a right-standing with God on the basis of any work or act of worship. It is only through the worship (sacrifice) of Christ that we are made acceptable to God. And it is through the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit that we are given a heart that desires to seek after God, to long for his beauty and to obey his commands. It is, therefore, God’s work for us and in us through Christ that breaks down the barrier between the sacred and secular, and all of life becomes a venue for expressing our praise and adoration to God—whether it is in act of “temple” worship or in the worship of making coleslaw for supper for the glory for God. 

Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God. Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.Thy love to me, O God—not mine, O Lord, to thee, can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free. I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine, and with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.  (Horatius Bonar)

Also, please pray for me (Dave McDowell) today as I will be receiving the first infusion of my clinical trial for cancer at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, MD. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 3…Job 40:1-5; 42:1-6

I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?  I lay my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, but I have no answer; twice, but I will say no more… Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Spirituality has become a very big business. The tools and techniques that were used by New Agers off in the dark corners of our culture twenty years ago have now been mainstreamed into a very popular vague, tolerant, and fluffy spirituality. There is also a very interesting shift in our culture where the terms religion and spirituality have been separated so that the latter has more to do with us than with God. 

However, unlike our culture’s version of spirituality, biblical spirituality does not begin with our own self awareness, but with God and the awareness of His holiness. John Calvin wrote “True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. [But] which of them preceded and produces the other is not easy to discover. [For] no man can take a survey of himself but he must immediately turn to the contemplation of God, in whom he lives and moves.” (Institutes1.1.1.),

In doing this (contemplating God), however, we run into an immediate problem. True Spirituality does not “feel good” initially because coming to know the biblical God is a deeply unsettling experience. Modern religious movements “de-fang” God and transform him into some nebulous higher power or tolerant grandfather.  

You know the story of Job, a righteous man who lost all his possessions through war, a natural disaster that took the lives of his ten children, and finally he was incapacitated by a painful skin disease.Job yelled and complained and wondered why he was even born.  He told his friends who were no help at all and only added to his suffering. Then he turned to God and asked, Why?  Why me?  Why not someone else?  All the normal questions; but as we read on it gets uncomfortable because of Job’s uncensored honesty.  Job tried to reconcile his integrity with his adversity and he couldn’t, so he questioned God’s justice.  God is tormenting me for reasons that have nothing to do with my behavior.  Is that justice?  I want God to come out of hiding and answer my questions!    

Suddenly God showed up! It was He who hurled question after question at Job.  He didn’t unlock the mystery of suffering or solve the enigma of death.  He simply revealed Himself as a God of power and wisdom. And before the presence of the Living God, all Job could do was repent in dust and ashes.

Almighty and merciful God, to whom the light and darkness are both alike, and without whom nothing befalls your children; strengthen us to meet all the experiences of life with a heart that responds like Job who said, ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, March 4…Isaiah 6:1-4

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…

Isaiah had this vision of the sovereign God in a time of national crisis.  Uzziah (Azariah) was the first godly national leader since Solomon.  Under his leadership, the nation prospered and Temple worship was restored to its proper place.  He reigned for 52 years and with his death, the hopes and dreams of Judah also began to die.  It is in this context that Isaiah saw the Lord in a vision, probably while worshipping in the Temple.   

Isaiah saw the awe-inspiring splendor of God.  He saw his sovereignty and his holiness. What a scene! Isaiah saw the holiness of God, the only attribute ever mentioned in this three-fold way (the Trisagion). Never do we hear, Love, Love, Love or Justice, Justice, Justice…but we do hear, Holy, Holy, Holy.  God is ethically pure, absolutely upright and utterly truthful in all His ways.  All his other attributes flow from his holiness.  The primary meaning of God’s holiness, however, is not just his ethical purity, but the fact that He is distinct or separate from all created things. [hagiasmos, signifies separation; we are to be holy, which implies a separation from the world and unto God.] There is nothing in this universe like God; He is completely unlike anything we can ever imagine. “God is not beautiful; he is beauty itself, the fountain from which all beautiful creatures draw their excellence. God is not loving; he is love. His attributes are the infinite standard against which all limited perfections are measured.” (Richard Lovelace)

What are you, O Lord, what are you? How shall my heart think of you? Certainly you are life, you are wisdom, you are truth, you are goodness, you are blessedness, you are eternity, and you are every true good. But these are many, and my narrow understanding cannot take in so much in a single glance and take delight all at once. (St. Anselm, ca.1033-1109)

Friday, March 5…Isaiah 6:5

Woe to me, I am coming apart.  For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.  

What was Isaiah’s reaction to this vision of God? Did he get warm and fuzzy feelings all over? Did he experience a sense of worthiness and acceptance, embraced by love? On the contrary, Isaiah found that God’s holy character was too much for him to bear. He had the sense that his whole being was being undone, coming apart, “shriveled to a clinker.”  And so, Isaiah fell on his face in worship before the mysterium of God, and repented.

We have seen Job’s and Isaiah’s reaction to the untamed, undomesticated God of the universe. If we desire to know true spirituality, than we must begin to know God for who he is and that he is holy; that he is completely different than we are and there is no possible way we can stand to be in his presence. Our only possible recourse is to bite the dust in humble repentance. 

This is also where the gospel begins. Saving faith in Jesus Christ can so radically change the spiritual landscape of our lives that instead of cowering in God’s awesome presence or trying to flee from him in fear, we will desire to draw near to him and to be in his presence. Jonathan Edwards wrote: “As I walked (in my father’s pasture)…there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, as I know not how to express…God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity, and love, seemed to appear in everything… I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break…Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.”  

Jonathan Edwards’ relationship to God was changed when he understood the work of Christ. Christ Jesus came into the world to bridge the chasm between a holy God and sinful humanity, so that we might be forgiven and brought near to Him. Has that been your experience or are you still running from God and involved in a spirituality of your own making? Have you found your rest in Christ?

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. It is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul. (Philip Paul Bliss)

Saturday, March 6 … Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes…just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  

Martin Luther in commenting on this passage wrote, “Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the open doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on new meaning… This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.” 

This was a radical departure from the Roman Catholic understanding of Justification. The Church understood it as an infusion of righteousness whereby a person is actually made righteous through the sacraments. However, Luther discovered in The Book of Romans that Paul used the term justification in a declarative and forensic manner. In other words, when we believe in Jesus Christ we are not made righteous (we can talk about that in terms of Sanctification), but we are declared righteous. Here is an excellent definition: Justification by faith is “the legal act of God by which He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.” (Louis Berkhof)    

Luther was a priest and a professor in the Roman Catholic Church. He had been taught that one’s acceptance by God was based upon the spiritual life of good works and the merits of Christ’s death. The Scriptures convinced him otherwise; that his only hope of being in the right with God was not on the basis of our efforts, but on the basis of faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. 

In Christ alone, I place my trust , and find my glory in the power of the Cross. In every victory, let it be said of me, my source of strength, my source of hope is Christ alone.

Sunday, March 7 … Psalm 32:1, 2

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.    

Paul quotes these verses in Romans 4:7, 8 and gives us another perspective on Justification by Faith. God justifies completely the one who believes, so that not only is the righteousness of Christ credited to our account, but He also refuses to credit our sins against us.  Paul quotes King David who wrote Psalm 32.  It should be noted that David was a believer, one whom God had declared righteous and yet he committed adultery and tried to cover it up by becoming a conspirator in the murder of an innocent man.  He kept his crime to himself for about a year before the prophet Nathan confronted him and said, “You are the man!” David confessed his sin and repented of what he had done and then wrote of the blessings of forgiveness in Psalm 32. 

Thus, we see that being justified by grace through faith involves a positive; the crediting of righteousness to our account even though we are morally and spiritually bankrupt.  Justification also involves a negative; the forgiveness of all of our sins and never counting them against us ever again. That is why the play on the word justified is so accurate: just-if-I’d never sinned. When a person believes in Christ, that person is accounted righteous in the sight of God. Every sin—past, present, future, is washed away and God will never bring them up again. David also expressed this in Psalm 103:12, As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our sins from us. The prophet Micah agreed in 7:18-20, Who is a pardoning God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgression…and hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. God doesn’t throw them into the shallow water where we can go and scoop them out, but he casts our sin into the depths of the sea where they are lost forever in his grace. 

As believers, our slate is clean with God because of Christ. We should not respond to this grace by sinning all the more because we know we are forgiven.  In fact, it calls us to a higher standard of righteousness (“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”) It calls us to a life in community where love, justice, and mercy live. It calls us to care for the poor and the oppressed, because that how we were before Christ liberated us by his grace. This grace should humble us and motivate us to live in such a way never to disappoint the one who has been so gracious. “O God, thank you for your grace and forgiveness and that I stand completely accepted and loved in your sight. Now, help me by my love for others to show just how much to you I owe to you. Amen”

Be sure to check back here next week for our last week of Lenten Devotionals...

Lenten Devotionals – Week 2, February 22-28

May the Lord continue to bend your heart towards him in humility and repentance…

Monday, Feb 22…Matthew 4:3, 4  

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  (Deut 8:3) 

The tempter did not come to Jesus when he was full, but when he was empty— and when he was alone. He had also just come off a spiritual high point—his baptism. (Luke 4:1 says that he was full of the Holy Spirit.)  Such mountain top experiences are often the times when one is particularly vulnerable to temptation. And yet Jesus was not left unprotected, after all the Holy Spirit led him to this place. This particular temptation was aimed at the area of bodily appetites. Jesus was hungry because he had been fasting for forty days. Satan impugned the trustworthiness of God. “Doesn’t it seem a bit strange to you that your Father who, by the way, said at your baptism that you were his much loved son has led you to be in this place where you are starving?” Jesus choice was between satisfying his own appetite or trusting that his heavenly Father would provide for him. He chose the latter and learned that the only thing that really satisfies is found in relationship with God

He already knew that God satisfied, but his knowledge was experienced through being tested. It is one thing to sing a worship song that God alone satisfies, but it is quite another to affirm that when you are in the struggles of life. Jesus was willing to trust God’s provision for him rather than taking matters into his own hands. Perhaps you are feeling deprived in some area of your life or feeling frustrated that if God really loved you then he would want you to be a lot more happy. Perhaps you feel justified in grabbing for some of that satisfaction now instead of trusting the Lord to provide it for you in his time. As a consequence, we do not learn the secret of the Christian life that our deepest fulfillment can only come through a relationship of trust, and trust also includes waiting. Could it be that God might allow us to suffer deprivation or disappointment just to show us that he alone can satisfy? Wouldn’t that be worth it in the long run? It was St Augustine who said, “He who has God has everything; he who has everything but God, has nothing.”

O Lord you are more precious than silver, more costly than gold, more beautiful than diamonds and nothing I desire compares with you. O Lord, whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but you are the strength of my life and my portion forever. Please help me to stay steadfast in trusting instead drawing conclusions about your love for me based on a very limited understanding how you are working in the situation with which I am most concerned. Amen.

Tuesday, Feb 23…Matthew 4:5-7

Once again, the evil one tempted Jesus to force the hand of God into showing how much he was loved. And once again, Jesus chose not to yield to temptation and confirmed the lesson that the gifts and resources given him by his Father are to be used for God’s glory at God’s command and not for his own selfish ends. God did not ask Jesus to jump 450 feet into the middle of the Temple worship in order to begin his ministry with a powerful demonstration of Messiah-ship. If Jesus had done this on his own initiative, it would have artificially and presumptuously forced the hand and the plan of God. Instead he chose to only act upon God’s command and wait upon his timing.

The preacher Alexander McClaren once said, “If we take a leap without God’s command, we shall fall mangled to the pavement below.” Perhaps that is why so many of our plans and programs fail, because we create them without God’s command and then ask God to bless our doomed creations.

Father, help me to clearly see the difference between faith and presumption. Help me to understand that faith is about you and presumption is usually about me. May I learn to trust in you and listen for your instruction. May I not just do good things for you, but may I do the things you desire that reflect your goodness. Teach me to wait, O God, teach me to wait…Amen.

Wednesday, Feb 24…Matthew 4:8-10

If the first temptation dealt with the physical, and the second dealt with the religious, this third temptation zeroed in on ambition and power. Satan lied, he always does. Even though he claimed a certain amount of power over this world, he had no right or authority to give anything to Jesus.  Nonetheless, he tried to tempt Jesus into thinking that the crown of glory need not come through the path of suffering, but through the easier road of ambition. “C’mon, Jesus, bow to the inevitable. You know you’ll be King, that’s why you’ve come, so why suffer for it? There’s an easier way, however; just one little compromise, no one will know, just one little act of worship, it will be over in a jiffy, C’mon Jesus it will be so much easier.”  NO! AWAY FROM ME SATAN! I WILL WORSHIP GOD ALONE AND DO WHAT HE SAYS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST! 

Jesus learned that following the rough pathway of suffering, which had been chosen for him by his heavenly Father, was more important than seeking a pain-free road to success and power.  Perhaps we’ve made an idol out of success or personal ambition and we will do anything and everything to gain it. Such a mindset is a philosophy of failure. God is the only legitimate object of worship and the only way “up” is the downward pathway of humility and serviceWhat an essential lesson to learn!

O God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, O God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like yours, Lord Jesus. Amen. (Jim Elliot) 

Thursday, Feb 25…Matthew 4:11 

And so the devil left him. In the parallel passage of Luke 4:13 it says, When the devil had finished his tempting, he left him for an opportune time. Jesus was successful in resisting the temptation, but satan would be back again. How many of us have experienced this scenario of successfully resisting temptation on one occasion only to fall for the same temptation the next moment or the next day?

How did Jesus successfully resist the temptations of the evil one and keep him at bay? 

Jesus brought a weapon with him into the desert—a sword. It wasn’t the light saber of the Jedi Knights, or the glowing “sting” sword that Frodo used against the Orcs, or the bright blade of Anduril belonging to the future king of Aragorn. Jesus used a weapon far more powerful, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  Jesus parried each thrust of the evil one by using the Word of God and satan was defeated.

93% of Americans say they have Bibles, 90% believe in God, 90% of teens say they believe Jesus was divine; yet our culture continues to crumble morally and spiritually. The problem here has nothing to do with a shortage of Bibles or churches, but rather a desperate shortage of people who both read and obey the Bible. Countless people claim to be Christian, but so few are successful in overcoming temptation and having a godly influence in this world. We know so much and show so little. In a fascinating article in Christianity Today, one pastor asked, “ Why in a Christian subculture served by 24 hr Christian radio and TV, bathed in books and periodicals of unparalleled quality and quantity, instructed by state-of-the-art seminary systems, and inspired by state of the heart worship music industry… why are so few people good Christians?” He goes on, “Why are our marriages falling apart and our kids straying away from the faith? Why are the most biblically knowledgeable so often so mean-spirited? Why are our pastors dejected so often? Why do our speakers (both human and electronic) have to blare so loudly to get a response, and even then, why is it so shallow and temporary?” Why? 

O Lord, you make a profound and searching distinction between natural human morality and authentic spirituality. A veneer of correctness would only conceal my corruption within and utterly fail to touch the root of my sinfulness. Your gospel, O Lord, is not just another human religion. It is new and full of hope, because it replaces the best that I can do with the best that you can do. Dear and blessed Savior, I look up to you now with open-hearted faith and hope an desire. Let me draw strength from you right now. Make me a living example of authentic Christianity today, I pray. In the holy name of Christ. Amen.(Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr)

Friday, Feb 26…Matthew 7:24-27

Do you remember the graphic story that Jesus told at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, about two men who built houses? One built on the foundation of rock and the other built in a prime location, but on the sand. A huge storm came and washed away the house on the sand. I used to think that this represented the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, the one who built his life on the rock of Christ and the other who did not. But this is not necessarily true. Jesus said, Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. (7:24, 26)

Do you understand the implications here? Everyone who hears and does not do builds his house on the sand; this includes Christians. It was to the church that James wrote be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (1:22).  How can you expect your marriage to be healthy if you are dealing with your spouse in ways that are inconsistent with scripture, especially relating to issues of forgiveness, anger, respect, faithfulness, and sexual purity?  Your marriage will be built on the sand and in danger of being swept away. How do you expect your children to grow up as faithful followers of Christ when the only time your faith is practiced is when you decide to show up at church? How can you expect to have an influence for Christ when you spend more time filling your minds with the thoughts and images of our culture than with the word of God? You are deceiving yourself—you are “a sand-man or woman.”

Lord, please do a work in my heart this Lenten season so that I will dig deep into the bedrock of your Word and allow the Holy Spirit to show me the areas of my life in which I have been content to be just a hearer and not a doer. Reveal those areas of my life that are quite obvious to others, but to which I am blind because of my self-deceit. Amen  

Saturday, Feb 27… Matthew 7:24

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be “a rock-man or woman.” There’s the secret; hearing and practicing the Word of the Lord. I must read and do what God commands. Pastors, elders, deacons, church members —you must always be practicing the Word. No Christian can rest on her laurels; yesterday’s obedience does not fulfill today’s responsibility. Everyday we must intentionally read the Word of God and put it into practice, like Jesus did in the wilderness. Then we will see some victory, some healing of relationships, and experience freedom from our addictions to this world. The Holy Spirit will work in our lives through God’s word to strengthen us and to protect us from the temptations of the evil one. 

There is a certain tribe of indigenous people that had an interesting rite of passage for a boy to become a man. On the night of his thirteenth birthday, the boy would be blindfolded and led deep into the forest. There, the blindfold would be removed and he would be left in total darkness to spend the night alone. He would hear the howl of the wolf, the growl of the bear, and the snarl of the mountain lion. He would hear the cracking and snapping of twigs and branches and prepare himself for any approaching danger. Then, as dawn came, and he began to see the leaves and trees and colors of the forest, he would also see something else. He would see that not far away stood an armed warrior from his tribe who had been there throughout the night. The boy would also notice that this warrior was his father who had been ready to defend him from all danger. He was never alone for his father was with him. (Dr. David Fiddes, Back to God Hour)

We in ourselves are no match for the evil one, but when we are in the wilderness striving to live according to the word of God, we can be confident that our Heavenly Father will be our guard and defender. He will take whatever wilderness experience we are facing and turn it into an opportunity for growth and ministry. Count on it!

Here I sit in the dark, Lord, like a little child fearing there are monsters in the closet. I trust you are here watching me in the darkness and will protect me from the fear of the uncertainty that awaits. Would you just let me know that you here, Lord? Amen

Sunday, Feb 28… Psalm 27

One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

The Psalmist delighted in the presence of God and desired to behold the beauty of the Lord and to dwell in his Temple. I love that verse and share the same desire for the presence of God and for his beauty to be reflected in my own life. The only part that I have trouble understanding is what it means to dwell in his Temple. Sounds like it means hanging out in church all day, and for a pastor that’s almost a reality. However, the Hebrew believer did not make a distinction between the loving God in everyday life and their worship. Life was a unity and whether one was eating, working, being hospitable, or worshipping. The Hebrew recognized God’s presence and beauty in the very act and not as a separate experience. Do you dwell with God (recognize his presence) in all of life or just when you are in church? How about right now? Do you separate out the sacred from the secular and think you need a mystical experience to satisfy your soul?

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.(E. Browning)

O God, give me eyes to see your glory in all things created and may my proper response be to dwell with you—to worship and adore you, no matter where I am and what I am doing; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

(Look for the 3rd week devotionals that will be posted on Feb 28.)

Lenten Devotionals, Week 1

Please use these brief daily devotionals throughout Lent as an aid to your faith and a help in the bending of your soul toward God in humility and repentance.

ASH WEDNESDAY, Feb 17… Luke 15:11- 24

Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day period leading to Easter known as Lent, which simply means “Spring.” Ash Wednesday has developed throughout the history of the Church as a day of repentance. It is a day to put aside our busyness and get back to the basics of our faith: a time for returning to the Lord and basking in the grace of our wonderful God. 

Some of us can identify more than others with the pitiful condition of the Prodigal Son in our Scripture. The shameful consequence of a Jewish man feeding pigs was the result of a willful rebellion and separation from his father. Such an act also brought disgrace upon his father much like our sins have “fallen short of the glory of God.”  

The greatest miracle in this story is not the Prodigal’s repentance but the father’s love; not the boy’s return, but the father’s willingness to receive him back.

Let us get one thing straight on this Ash Wednesday, our repentance does not earn for us the grace of God. He is a God we whose very nature is gracious and who produces in us the very repentance that brings us back home.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fastbound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray: I woke- the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart went free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. (Charles Wesley)

Thursday, February 18….Luke 15:25-32

The Lenten season provided the Ancient Church 40 days in which converts to Christianity were prepared for baptism and incorporated into the Body of Christ. It was also a time when those who had been separated from the community because of serious sin were reconciled upon repentance and restored to fellowship.

There have always been some in the Church who like the older brother in our parable have grown so used to the grace of God that they think it is unfair to restore those who have run away from home. The older brother challenged the Father’s grace. He not only accused his father of wasting grace on his rebellious brother, but never demonstrating it to him after all his years of faithful service. What the older brother failed to see was that his very relationship with the father was a gift of grace. “My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

The greatest gift anyone could receive is a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. Who needs the reward for faithful service? Who needs a gold watch after retirement if we have Him?

I’d rather have Jesus than silver and goldI’d rather be His than have riches untold. I’d rather have Jesus than houses or landsI’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand; than to be the king of a vast domain or be held in sin’s dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.(Rhea Miller)

Friday, February 19…Psalm 51

The ashes used during the traditional Ash Wednesday service are a powerful symbol of repentance.  In the Old Testament, ashes were a visible sign of humiliation and abasement. There is nothing that humbles one more than to see her/his sin in juxtaposition to God’s holiness. 

The Psalmist, King David, pleads for the mercy of God after his sins of adultery and being an accomplice to murder.  His greatest sadness was that these sins were committed against God; against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. David does not ask for forgiveness, but for God’s mercy. He is so humbled that he believes only God’s mercy can save him. He wants more than to be forgiven. He wants a new heart so that he would never again offend his God. 

This is exactly what God has provided for us in Jesus Christ. He has given us a new heart, a new spirit (Ezek. 36:24-27) so that we might obey him. How it should grieve us when we do not perfectly love and serve him after all he has done for us.

Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in though word and action, by what I have done and what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart nor my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and repent; for the sake of your son Jesus Christ have mercy upon me and forgive me that I might delight to do thy will and walk in all your ways to the glory of your wonderful name. Amen.

Saturday, February 20… Genesis 3:1-8

The Lenten season not only reminds us of the need for repentance, but also of our human frailty. What better picture of this than in our text for the day? It also reminds us that we have an enemy of our souls who is hell-bent on our destruction.

Satan used a specific strategy in order to deceive Eve. He began with using the good with which to tempt her toward evil. He focused upon the single tree which God had prohibited from use and twisted the words of God to imply that all trees were off limits and that God was miserly with his gifts. Satan then denied the truth completely by telling the New Age lie that Eve become like God if she ate from the tree. 

Satan was so deceptive that he made Eve see the things that were not there and then blinded her to things that were. Can we be deceived like this? You better believe it! Paul wrote, I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

What do you need to do in order to simplify and purify your life with God?  In what ways do you unnecessarily complicate your relationship with Christ? Have you been tempted to believe that God has become demanding and has ceased to be gracious to you?

Avoid every tendency that takes you away from simplicity of relationship to God in Jesus Christ, and then prayer will be as the breath of the lungs in a healthy body. (Oswald Chambers)

Sunday, Feb 21…Matthew 4:1, 2 

The first thing we notice about this account are these words, Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In other words, God orchestrated this desert experience. Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? The fact that both Matthew and Luke place this account at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry should give us a clue. Before he could minister strength and healing to others, Jesus had to learn that the source of his own strength and provision was his Father. Before he could influence others he had to be certain of the greatest influence in his life.

Admittedly the very acknowledgment that Jesus had anything to learn is one of the great mysteries of the incarnation. However, perfection and growth in understanding are not mutually exclusive as the writer of the Hebrews indicates, Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered. (5:8) In his human nature, Jesus continued to grow and deepen in his relationship with the Father. It was Luke (2:52) who said And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

Perhaps you are at a “growth point” in your life because things are not going well. Maybe you don’t look at it that way, but why not? Don’t waste these desert moments, because it is usually in these that we learn to trust and obey, and build the muscles of faith.

Then in fellowship sweetwe will sit at his feet or we’ll walk by his side in the wayWhat he says we will do, where he sends we will go—never fear, only trust and obey. (John Sammis) 

[Be sure to look for next week’s devotionals)

Above all things the heart is deceitful, and desperately sick…

Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23

The recent news of the frivolous sexual dalliances of Ravi Zacharias is a disturbing case in point. I met Ravi at a conference at Gordon Conwell many years ago. We were the same age. He was beginning his upward rise as an apologist and I was just beginning as a young pastor of a church in New England which (ironically) just had a pastor leave because of alleged sexual liaisons.

An article in Christianity Today relates that on the day of RZ’s funeral, in May 2020, where he was eulogized by such notables as VP Mike Pence and retired football player Tim Tebo, one of his victims was there and wondered why no one had set the record straight. She had googled a website put up by an atheist who had story after story of women who were sexually abused by RZ. Of course, no one wanted to believe the word of an atheist about a man of God. She finally contacted Christianity Today who did their own investigation which led to a 4-mo. investigation by the authorities and eventually by RZ’s own organization. His computers revealed contacts for more than 200 massage therapists in the US and Asia, as well as hundreds of pictures of young women, some of them unclothed. He also owned several massage parlors in the Atlanta area. He used tens of thousands of ministry money to pay for 4 therapists, providing housing, schooling, and monthly support. One woman told an investigator that after he arranged her support, he required sex.

I could tell you stories of other pastors I’ve known who have crashed and burned, who have lived double lives (literally). They deceived themselves into thinking that somehow the laws of God did not pertain to them. In fact, they were so self-deceived that their sinful behavior was transmuted (in their minds) into something righteous, holy, and justified. They had been bitten by the snake of pride and co-opted by the father of lies. Seeking to deceive others they themselves were led into self-deception. They became hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13) to the extent that they could “honestly” think they were being faithful to God while they were being unfaithful to him. Therein lies the hardness—they crossed the line between hypocrisy and self-deception.

I’m not judging these men, as much as I am terrified by them. I know that I have the capacity to “bring it all to destruction” – to quote Luther. I know the feelings of pride in my accomplishments and the secret sins of my heart, which never broke out into the open, probably because I was too chicken. (I wish I could say it was because I was too holy.) However, by Grace and Mercy, I have never crossed the line for in my own halting way I know how essential it is for me to begin every day and fulfill every task from a place of repentance and humility— literally, bowing before my Creator, Redeemer, and Father in child-like dependence. I am aware that while have the skills and gifts to do the “job,” I am also fully aware that I have the capacity to use what God has given me to puff myself up and build my own kingdom. I never want to be like Samson who, when he went to snap the cords that bound him, was not even aware that the Spirit had departed from him.

Listen to what RZ said during one of his teachings, about a year before he died. Those of you who have seen me in public have no idea to what I am like in private. God does. God does. And I encourage you today to make that commitment and say, “I’m going to be the man in private who will receive the divine accolade, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.'” Either this was a cry for help and a wish to come clean or he clearly evidenced self-deception.

Come clean before God for he knows your heart! Don’t be a lone wolf, like Samson or RZ; stay accountable to others, which is an act of humility itself, especially if you think you’re a big shot. Stay humbly on your knees before the Lord; be in the Word daily to feed your own soul. And if you have a secret life developing, bring it to the light now no matter what the cost. God knows, God knows… confess it and deal with it now!! Don’t find a hiding place except in Christ. Don’t cross the line!

“But I the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10