Friday April 16, 2021 – An essential component

John 15:5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Picture a large sailboat, out at sea, with sails unfurled and moving gloriously with the wind.  (Hopefully imagining this doesn’t make you seasick!)  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be on such a ship, on such a day, with a group of dear ones?  Wow – what a great time that would be!  Donna and I have been able to do this very thing a couple of times and the memories we have are ones we treasure.

But take a moment to think about all of the needed ‘ingredients’ in this adventure.  What must we have to make it happen?  First we’ve got to have a sizable body of water for sailing on.  Then we must have a sailboat big enough to handle the group of friends that are going on the adventure – and a crew to sail it.

We would like to have a beautiful day with a strong breeze.  How about doing the sailing amidst a group of islands with beautiful scenes to behold – and a group of dolphin accompanying us?  Of course we want to have something wonderful to eat, so why don’t we
make it a morning sail and we enjoy homemade coffee cake and coffee and orange
juice as we sail.  Can’t you just picture enjoying one another, the breeze, the sea spray, the beauty and the wonder of it all!?

In considering the necessary ‘ingredients’, does anything seem to be missing?  Not at first glance.  But there is something absolutely essential that is taken for granted in the above items.  Without this ‘essential’ the adventure doesn’t happen – except that we sit on the sailboat, wherever it is, and enjoy the scenery, the food, the breeze and one another – but we don’t go anywhere!

What is this essential – that is taken for granted to be there?  Answer: Sails.  And what is a sail?  A piece of material extended on a mast to catch the wind and propel a boat, ship, or
other vessel: “all the sails were unfurled”.

From God’s perspective, walking in His ways is as much as a given for Christians as sails are for a sailboat. Just as a sailboat won’t go anywhere without sails, Christians who don’t walk in His ways won’t ‘go anywhere’ either.  This is why we are more and more hearing the term Jesus Follower.  This is how we remain in Him!  This is how we bear righteous fruit!  Sailboats with sails = Christians who obey Scripture (Jesus Followers) = the adventure is on!!

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Thursday April 15, 2021 – Accentuate the positive! Eliminate the negative!

John 15:5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Have you ever thought about how wonderful it is to do things right?  To be told, “Good job!”  To have people express their gratitude for what you’ve done or for whom you are?  Boy, talk about something that puts a spring in your step!

Yes, such comments can lead to pride, but they also can lead to us experiencing a heartfelt gratitude for what God has done and is doing in our lives.  Importantly, they can be such an encouragement to do more ‘right’ things; to be more of a ‘right’ person; and in the context of today’s verse, to bear more fruit.  Better still is the desire God gives us to learn what those ‘right’ things are and do them more and more.

Think of sports, hobbies, relationships, work – our goal is to do them well.  The reality is that more often than not, the wrong is eliminated simply by doing the right!  Being kind eliminates unkindness; being patient eliminates impatience; being thoughtful eliminates
thoughtlessness; being generous eliminates stinginess; being loving eliminates being unloving; being other-oriented eliminates self-centeredness.

Then as we bear these wonderful fruits of righteousness, the Holy Spirit asks us, “How would you like to do them even better?”  “How would you like to bear more fruit?”  To which, we reply.  “Oh yes Lord! Show me how!”  And He does so, in a most affirming way.

There’s an old song that Bing Crosby made famous: Accentuate the Positive.  The first three lines are

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
/ Eliminate the negative / Latch on to the affirmative

This is the point!  Our attitude about repentance goes through a significant switch.  Instead of its focus being our wrong doing, the focus becomes “Eliminating the negative” so we can “Latch on to the affirmative.”  It becomes a vital tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit to enable us to bear more of His righteous fruit.  The more fruit we bear the more joy we have and the more we glorify our God.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about Him.

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Wednesday April 14, 2021 – The primary purpose of prayer is not to ‘get’

Nahum 1:7  The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him,

Have you thought about the question, “How do I demonstrate to the Lord that I trust Him?”  Particularly in this season of the coronavirus and all the radical changes it is causing going on around us.  Trusting God is supposed to be a way of life for Christians, but how do we know that we’re actually doing it?  Is trusting God one of those things where we can just take it for granted that we’re doing it – only to discover that we’re not?  Is this something we have to be intentional about?

We heard a powerful message that was one in a series on what the good news of the gospel really is.  The focus was upon having a life that tastes the goodness and power of God and that demonstrates dependence upon the Lord.  The primary way this is done is through prayer.  And prayer is something that defines who we are – much more that it being a weapon to be pulled out in times of need.

Prayer expresses our dependence, our helplessness and trust in our Lord.  It is a continuation of our acknowledgement of our need for God that we experienced when we were born again.  It is a daily acknowledgement and recognition that we need Him in all the areas of our lives – not just those where we feel needy.

The primary purpose of prayer is not to ‘get’.  It is the life-blood of our relationship with Him.  He wants us to have times set aside for Him AND times throughout the day where we talk with Him in the midst of all we are doing.

While He encourages us to make our needs known to Him, He wants us to develop an ever-richer relationship with Him.  The amazing thing is the reality of how many of our ‘needs’ disappear because they are dealt with by our thriving relationship with Him.  And for those needs that don’t, He is our refuge.  He enables us to walk wisely and in obedience through those needs.

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Tuesday April 13, 2021 – Donna’s divine appointment!

Proverbs 16:3 Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed. (Amplified)

Yesterday I wrote about this verse and how God will cause our thoughts to become agreeable to His will when we commit what we do to the Lord.  One of the wonderful things that God does with this is put us into ‘divine appointments’.  I was reading in my journal from several years ago about how God did exactly this with my wife Donna.

It was Sunday June 24 and we were living in Colorado Springs.  On this particular day Donna had a ‘bee in her bonnet’ about going to look at a new subdivision of 24 homes in Manitou Springs.  Upon arriving there she recognized the salesperson as Jill – someone she had worked with at a different subdivision when Donna had a job as a temp employee.  They talked and Donna wound up sharing the events in her life since they had worked together – particularly focusing on her termination the previous August of her job as a sales coordinator with a wonderful new home builder.

Donna shared how much she loved her job – and how she cried all the way home after being told they had to let her go (due to the downturn in the real estate market).  But she
recognized that she had two choices 1) blame God and react negatively, or 2) recognize that God was closing one door but others would be opened.  She shared with Jill how she chose to look to God, making the right faith response.

The very next day, Jill was let go by her employer.  She just could not get over the fact that
Donna had been there less than 24 hours earlier talking to her about that exact experience!  Jill had never had anything like that happen before.  They both were so blessed by this Divine Appointment.

It’s important to recognize that it became a Divine Appointment because of what was shared.  If Donna hadn’t shared her experience, the opportunity would have been missed.  But by doing so, Jill was able to experience the Lord’s love and concern – plus through Donna, He showed her the way to go and an example to follow.

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Monday April 12, 2021 – He will cause your thoughts…

Proverbs 16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (NIV) –

(Amplified Bible):   Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.

There’s the story of the two guys in a boat way out in the ocean.  The one says, “Man – look at all the water!”  The other replies, ‘Yeah – and to think that’s just the top of it!”  Words have meaning – and those meanings usually involve a whole lot more than we might think.  It’s amazing how life changing words in scripture can be when we understand the depth of meaning that they have.

When I first read this verse in other versions of the Bible it seemed like a simple, straightforward recipe for success.  In order to succeed, all we have to do is commit what we’re doing to the Lord.  That seemed pretty simple to do.  But what exactly does it mean to commit something to the Lord?   What about all the times when our plans are unclear or we’re questioning what God wants us to do?  And doesn’t God’s idea of success sometimes differ from what we think?

When I first read this verse in the Amplified Bible it seemed to jump off the page.  I saw what was involved in committing my way to the Lord!  But more than that, the verse describes how God would respond and impact our thoughts, our plans and their development!  The understanding that “He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will” is priceless to the committed believer.

We want to do His will in every area of our life: personal, family, business, faith, …  We want our plans to conform to His plans for us.  We want every decision we make – from the big ones to the little ones that fill our day – to be consistent with a Christ-centered life.  This verse contains the promise and blueprint of how it can happen.

By embracing this process, the Lord will grow our confidence in Him.  We will see the quality of our decisions and lives improve.  The more we commit our way to Him; the more we allow Him to transform our thoughts and plans – the more we will experience the ‘God-results’ that He has for us.  (‘God results’ = God’s idea of success)

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Sunday April 11, 2021 – He turned aside to look…

Acts 7:30  “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.”

I woke up this morning thinking about Moses and his encounter with God at the burning bush.  Talk about God breaking into the routine of someone’s daily life!  Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt to Midian after killing the Egyptian.  He was sitting by the well when Jethro’s 7 daughters came with their sheep.  They had problems with some other shepherds but Moses came to their rescue.  Moses later married one of Jethro’s daughters and spent another 40 years tending Jethro’s flock.  And now as he was leading his flock out in the far side of the desert near Horeb, the mountain of God, he encountered the bush that was on fire but did not burn up.

Moses was 80 years old when this happened.  Over the years I wonder if Moses ever thought about what might have been.  What if he hadn’t impulsively killed the Egyptian who had been beating an Israelite? What might he have accomplished with his life?  He probably thought that now he would just have a family, tend Jethro’s sheep and die in the desert.  But God had other plans for this ‘young’ man.

Moses sees the bush on fire and is intrigued that it isn’t burning up.  So he decides to go over and see this strange sight.  One of the most fascinating and stimulating verses to me in the Bible is involved in this event.  It is Exodus 3:4, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush…”  Think about it – what might have happened – or not happened – if Moses hadn’t turned aside to look.  God did something powerful to capture Moses’ attention.   He inserted this powerful event into the normal daily course of Moses’ life – but then Moses had to respond to it – he had to turn aside.

One way of thinking of this event in terms of how it impacts us today, is the expression, “Opportunity knocks.”  Do we have ears to hear its sound?  Do we have eyes to see the ‘faith’ opportunities that God provides that typically aren’t directly in front of us, but they’re ‘off to the side’.  When we see them with the eyes of faith, we are intrigued and we turn aside to see.  They might be easily missed and we might have to interrupt our plans to respond.  But when we ‘turn aside’ we encounter God given opportunities to be used by Him to accomplish things He has planned for us.  Afterward, it is not unusual to be thrilled with what happened and to have this thought running through our minds, ‘We could have missed this if we hadn’t turned aside!’

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Saturday April 10, 2021 – Psalm 23 and attributes of a loving family

Psalm 95:6-7  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.  Today, if only you would hear his voice,

Isn’t it amazing that the God of the Universe considers us His people?  Savor the reality that because of Jesus, we belong to Him.  When I read these verses, I am so aware of the love and warmth that is in them.  This is not talking about a sterile relationship where we are given the edict to ‘Bow down!’ or ‘Worship!’ like a dog being told to ‘Sit’ or ‘Heel’.  This is family.  There is love, purpose, relationship, awe, community, growth, protection, provision, learning, …  It is the Lotto of life and we are winners!!

Think of all the positive attributes that a loving family has and they are here.  Reading these verses my mind moves to the 23rd Psalm – The Lord is my Shepherd.  The attributes spoken in that Psalm describe the reality of being the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.

Recently I received one of those forwarded emails from my brother Richard that included such a wonderful description of Psalm 23.  I don’t know who wrote the summary description of each phrase but they really bring home what God provides us with:

The Lord is my Shepherd —– that’s a Relationship!
I shall not want —– that’s Supply!
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures —-that’s Rest!
He leadeth me beside the still waters —–that’s Refreshment!
He restoreth my soul — that’s Healing!
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness — that’s Guidance!
For His name’s sake —– that’s Purpose!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death –that’s Testing!
I will fear no evil —– that’s Protection!
For Thou art with me —– that’s Faithfulness!
Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me —–that’s Discipline!
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies —that’s Hope!
Thou annointest my head with oil —–that’s Consecration!
My cup runneth over —– that’s Abundance!
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life —that’s Blessing!
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord —– that’s Security!
Forever —– that’s Eternity!                                                                                              

Most of all they reflect His love for us.  Let me phrase it this way: God so loved the world that He gave us Himself in Jesus to enable us to become His people – His family – His flock – the joyful and grateful recipients of His affection.  Praise God that He also gave us the Scriptures, which are His voice telling us how to return the love He has so lavished upon us.

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Friday April 9, 2021 – Getting rid of the ‘flatness’ in our lives

Psalm 95:1-3  Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  3 For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.

What reality do these verses have in our lives right now?  Do they describe a vibrant inner excitement regarding the relationship we have with our God?  Or, are they words that we acknowledge as true, but they are just that – words?  Is there a ‘flatness’ in our experience of reading them that is more like a soda that has been opened and the fizz is gone?

Think of eating a meal where no seasonings have been used in the preparation of the food.  The food is bland to the taste, and while still nourishing, the enjoyment of it is not there.  With each bite we are thinking that it is not what it could be – or should be.  Our lives can become like that.

Are our days ‘flat’ as well?  Are we so caught up in busy-ness that we don’t savor or even see the wonder of the blessings we have in our lives.  Think of the special ones that you work with or are friends with.  Is there closeness with family members? I try to talk to my sons each week.  What joy there is in hearing their voices!

Every day I get to see my Donna.  I get to hear her voice; see her smile; and feel her touch.  Just to be near her is beyond words.  The blessing I receive when these devotionals touch those reading them.  The thrill never diminishes.  Yet all of these things pale in comparison to the daily wonder available to us in the relationship we have with our God.  He has given us the Scriptures to reveal Him and to lead us to Him – to daily guide our steps.  Finding Jesus is just the start of the adventure!

We get to serve Him with all our heart.  He will enable us to weep for joy and gratitude because of His love for us.  He draws us to learn to seek His face.  He teaches us to love Him with all our heart.  We can get so caught up in other things that we lose sight of the fact that loving and worshipping Him is the pinnacle!  Out of that will flow everything else.  Our hearts will be tender, our spirits will be responsive to Him and our lives will be an obedient walk with Him.  Our lives will be filled with the vibrant excitement that comes from knowing Him.

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Thursday April 8, 2021 – From bad to worse by God’s design!

Exodus 5:22, 23 Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me?  Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Moses experienced the miraculous wonder of the burning bush and the encounter with God.  He and Aaron came to Egypt and met with the Elders of the Israelites and performed the wonders he was to show them.  The people were blessed knowing that God was responding to their plight.

But then came the meeting with Pharaoh and Pharaoh was not convinced in the slightest.  Pharaoh’s response was to make everything worse.  So much so, the Israelite foremen met with Pharaoh to appeal for relief.  Their concern grew when it was rejected by him.  They encountered Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them and declared how they (Moses and Aaron) had made them a stench to Pharaoh.

This is not what Moses expected to happen.  Things didn’t get better – they went from bad to worse.  Yet this was God’s plan.  He just didn’t tell Moses that it was going to unfold quite like this.  Moses knew that God was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let the people go.  But Moses didn’t expect Pharaoh to make the situation worse.  Nor did he expect the Israelites to blame him.  God’s response to Moses’ concern was, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh…”

The principle at work here happens over and over throughout Scripture and in our lives.  God calls us to a mission or task and gives us an idea what ultimately will happen.  But as we obey, God allows all manner of unexpected difficulties to rise up.  He expects us to respond with faith and look to Him.  It is through this process that we are changed and God’s plan is accomplished.  It just doesn’t happen the way we thought it would.

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Wednesday April 7, 2021 – But even if He doesn’t…

Daniel 3:16-18  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

These three young men provide a sterling example of faith and trust in the face of death.  Note that these young men did not say, “Our God is able to keep us from being thrown into the blazing furnace.”  They did not say that He would keep them from the trial.  They believed he would rescue them if they were thrown into the furnace – and He did.  BUT, what they went on to say is priceless because their faith was not predicated on God rescuing them.

They declared, “But even if He does not (rescue us),…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold…” They chose to be faithful to their God – even if it cost their lives.

Many of us have faced or are currently facing trials or situations that range from serious to seemingly insurmountable including the coronavirus.  What has been – or is our response?  How is it actually expressing our faith in God?  Might someone conclude from observing our response that we feel abandoned or betrayed by our God?  Or might they conclude that our response simply doesn’t reflect any faith in Him.

In the face of death, they proclaimed they would be faithful to their God.  Think about this in the “fiery” trials that we face. We can communicate this same truth.  In the midst of difficult situations we can declare, “Our God is able to heal, provide, deliver, rescue, answer, communicate, set free …..BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we are not going to murmur or grumble or complain.”  No matter what happens, we are going to stand with Him.

It is so important to remember that in every test we find ourselves, we have the opportunity to faithfully respond in a way that honors and glorifies Him.

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