October 23 – Integrity

(still working a day behind…sorry)

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16; Isaiah 14-16; Psalm 113

Jesus taught a lot about integrity. He taught that amidst the background of those who would use God’s word and the worship of God as tools to get around upholding their word while maintaining the semblance of having integrity. As Paul taught the Thessalonians and reminded them in his letter, our integrity is far too important to compromise for personal gain as some did. He taught them “…that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:12) Their society valued turning phrases and cutting sharp business deals so that they could cheat others to make lots of money. Today, we see the same attitudes. There was a time in the life of our country when our word was our bond. At worst, a handshake meant a deal was consummated. Nowadays, even for what would seem to be the simplest transactions, we need a contract approved by lawyers from both sides of the table. Even when we have these contracts, there are other lawyers who make it their job to break the contracts if one of the sides can get a better deal. Paul’s words still ring true and indict Christians and our society today: we should walk worthy of God who called us into His kingdom and glory. Does this mean we shouldn’t sign contracts? No. It does mean, though, that anyone who does business with us in our litigation-laden society will say or think, “I know I don’t need this contract with you, but my lawyers demand I have it.” Paul taught the Thessalonians the same thing that Jesus taught: Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Walk with personal integrity in a world of tricksters and schemers. Let the world watch us and be impressed that we always maintain our integrity; that our lives are always worthy of the God who called us into His kingdom and glory.

Lord, it’s so easy to cut corners and try to get ahead. We call it shrewd business, or great business practice. Remind me that who I am as a man of God is far more important than how much material wealth I gain. Let me life reflect Your kingdom and glory to others.

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October 22 – About My Church

(Yes, a day late. I’m a day behind right now)

1 Thessalonians 1; Isaiah 11-13; Psalm 112

So much of the New Testament consists of letters written by Paul to churches. What would Paul write about your church? If he were to write about you as a member of that church, how would he describe you? As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, he began by describing the church and the members. “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7) While it’s a simple description of the church, those words say so much. They didn’t receive the gospel because of the promise of wealth, riches and a better life now; they received the gospel in the midst of affliction and still became followers of the Lord. They followed so closely that other believers saw them as examples of living for Christ. Paul had a way of complimenting a church, when possible, in a sincere way that highlighted their strengths. Did the Thessalonians have troubles, of course! Most of those letters that Paul wrote were to churches in trouble, or at least with theological difficulties. In the midst of their troubles though, they were an inspiration to others. Too often we look at our churches as either the greatest church of all time with no troubles at all, which is guaranteed to be false; or a church that has nothing but troubles and for which there is no hope, which is also false. Our churches are made up of sinful human beings. As has been quoted by many people, “I could never join a perfect church; as soon as I joined it, it would be imperfect.” No church is perfect, yet all churches have reasons for being placed where they are in the world. No church is so bad that God can’t use it, if the people repent. So perhaps the question isn’t “What would Paul write about my church?” but “What would I want Paul to write about my church?” That last question should compel us to act like the church we want to be.

Dear Lord, my church isn’t what it should be. The people who are members are sinners, especially me. The people who are members are weak in faith, especially me. For my church to be the church You want it to be, the change needs to begin in me. Take me just as I am and mold me to be the man You called me to be and the man my church needs to be for it to grow in grace.

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October 21 – God Wins!

Revelation 21-22; Isaiah 9-10; Psalm 111

In the beginning of time, God set before man two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Time since then has been an exploration of the knowledge of good and evil. God speaks of the end coming in Revelation and in Isaiah’s reading today. In the end, no longer is the focus on the knowledge of good and evil; now the focus is on life. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) In the end the focus will be on healing, on justice, on eternal life. The curse of sin will be gone and all people will serve the Lord joyfully. It’s hard to see the end, when we are caught in the middle times. We live in a world where evil is rampant and good seems like a short-lived, but refreshing change of pace. Oppression exists. That which is evil is called good and that which is good is called evil; even though deep in our hearts we know the real difference. God revealed His plan to John and to Isaiah. The end will come. The end will bring healing. There is hope. That hope sustains us in the most difficult times. We’ve seen the back of the book. We know who wins. We can approach the difficulties of this life with confidence knowing that whatever happens, if we are on God’s side we will win. To put it in football terms, it may be fourth and goal from our own one yard line with one second to go on the clock. We may be losing by six points. When we come up to the line of scrimmage, we come up with confidence because we know the outcome of the game. God wins. God wins. When today’s trials come upon you, remember that God wins. When life seems overwhelming, remember that God wins. When we take our last breath, remember that God wins. That hope will keep us going in the best of times and the worst of times. God wins.

Lord, remind me today that You win. When the traffic is annoying and that mom tailgates me in the school zone – You win. When I get cut off in the free way remind me that You win. When the troubles and stresses of the job seem ready to crush me, remind me that You win. Let me live victoriously today not from my own strength, but from the sure and certain knowledge that You win!

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October 20 – Overcoming False Piety

Revelation 20; Isaiah 7-8; Psalm 110

Judah was fighting for her life. The kings of Syria and Israel gathered together in war to take Judah out. King Ahaz was worried and God sought to strengthen him. He sent Isaiah out with a message. Israel would soon be no more. Syria would not be able to threaten. God Himself would prevail. God gave Ahaz an opportunity: “Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!’ Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:10-14) Ahaz had the opportunity to ask for any sign he wanted to be fulfilled. In a fit of false piety said he wouldn’t test the Lord. We often hear that we shouldn’t ask for signs from God, but when God directs us to ask for a sign, we need to be obedient. Isaiah broke through that false piety and gave him God’s message: you will have a sign and the sign is that the virgin will conceive and bear a child. God’s word is amazing in many different ways. We know this as a prophecy related to Jesus. Yet for Ahaz, it was a prediction that God would protect. God fulfilled this prophecy for Ahaz as the child was born in the right time frame so that he could see God’s work. God also fulfilled this prophecy in the birth of Jesus. There are some lessons for us. First is obedience. When God asks us to do something, we should do it immediately. Second, we need to understand that God has ways of fulfilling His word that we may not understand. If we are obedient to His call on our life, He will use us to fulfill His word. If we are disobedient, His word will still prevail – we’ll just miss the blessings of being part of that fulfillment.

Dear Lord, help me to be sensitive to how You speak to me. Let me be willing to listen. Help me to be obedient. You will deal with the problems and the fears of this world; You will provide for Your people. Let me be a part of Your work each and every day.

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October 19 – The Marriage of the Lamb

Revelation 19; Isaiah 5-6; Psalm 109:20-31

Marriages are times of great celebration! We rejoice with the bride and the groom as their relationship begins a new phase. They are now supposed to work together in unity as one. When God wanted to describe that final union between Jesus and His people, He used that idea to explain what our time with Jesus would be like. “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’” (Revelation 19:6-7) What a glorious time we have to look forward to! At the same time, as we live in the here and now; as we live in the engagement period we must keep our hearts and minds focused on our relationship with God. The Scripture talks about the the wife of the Lamb, whom we know as the Church, who has made herself ready. That’s our job now. As Christians working in our own churches, we are to guide our individual churches to honor Christ. As our individual churches grow closer to Christ, we are to influence the Church, the Bride of Christ, to be ready for the wedding feast. Yes, the Church has problems. True, we have conflicts and disagreements. Still, there will come a time when we are united as one in Jesus as celebrate the marriage of the Lamb and the Church. Until that time – keep focused on Jesus.

Lord, we are going through difficult times in the Church. We have family squabbles and disagreements. Insofar as it depends on me, though, let my life reflect my relationship with You. Let my relationship with You reveal Your love and grace to a world that needs Your power.

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October 18 – God and the Averages

Revelation 18; Isaiah 3-4; Psalm 109:1-19

People pay attention to averages and tendencies. A baseball player who hits .300 is generally a pretty good hitter because, on the average, he’ll get one or two hits a game for his team. It doesn’t mean that he’ll get a hit every time he comes to bat and it doesn’t mean he’ll get his hit at an important time. Life is like that, but the averages are better with God. “’Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him.’” (Isaiah 3:10-11) We all realize that sometimes those who are righteous go through difficult times and, in fact, may undergo difficulties because of their righteousness. In the long run though, people who are righteous and follow God will have a life that is good. Things will go well with them. They will get what’s coming to them, and it will be good. We also realize that sometimes it seems like the evil prosper. We see those who flout the law flashing their wealth and their status; we see those who claim to be leaders who are flush with ill-gotten gains making a splash in life. We see corruption in politics as people rise to power and wealth follows. In the long run, we know that they will answer to God. It’s sometimes hard to deal with in the short run, though. Still, most who break the law to gain their wealth end up paying a high price for the lives they have ruined on their way to material riches. The key is that we are to live righteous lives by keeping our hearts and minds focused on Jesus. We are to treat others as we would like to be treated. We are to recognize the hand of the Creator in all people. When we do that, we can face the future knowing that God is in control.

Dear Lord, how hard it is to stay true to You and Your ways when I see others prosper who live in ways that You hate. Remind me that You still love each of those people and that You want to draw them back to You. Remind me that I am called to be faithful to You no matter what the circumstances may be.

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October 17 – First Things First

Revelation 17; Isaiah 1-2; Psalm 108

If we really want to know how to serve God, perhaps the best thing to do would be to ask Him what He would consider to be service that honors Him. Otherwise we could fall into the problem of creating an elaborate scheme to serve Him not realizing that we are only satisfying our own desires. God has numerous directives throughout Scripture that give us direct orders on how to carry out His will, and yet so often we don’t do what we know He wants while we are seeking His will on smaller things. Like the Priest and the Levite who are so intent on honoring God that they fail to do God’s will when they pass by the traveler lying on the roadside, we miss opportunities to do what God has already told us to do. “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) How do we learn to do good? In our society, we should seek justice. When so often it seems that those who are wealthy or those who oppress others seem to get all the breaks while the fatherless, the widows, the street kids get the short end of the stick, we must seek justice. In America, “Justice” is portrayed as being blindfolded and weighing the evidence impartially, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if she’s sneaking a peek at those she deals with. We wonder how the rich are able to pay for justice, while the poor, the fatherless and the widow are oppressed by the system. If you want to do God’s will, when God makes a direct statement about what He wants: do it! Make today a day to seek justice. We must speak out when we see oppression. We must find ways to care for those who cannot care for themselves. In ancient biblical times, that included the orphans and the widows. While we have some societal protection in place now, it’s not nearly enough. God calls us to minister as His people and not depend on society to deal with the issue. Make today a day to care for the poor, the oppressed, the orphans and the widows. When we get those things right, we will find that God’s will in other areas of our lives becomes easier to understand.

Lord, remind me that the search for justice is something that I must do each and every day. I cannot leave that responsibility for others. I am called by You to seek justice. Help me to care for and lift up the oppressed, the orphans and the widows. Give me Your heart to meet needs.

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Devotional will not get posted this morning. Forced computer update is taking forever. I apologize. If I weren’t so frustrated, I would probably think the category of “setting up a few more things” was kind of funny. 40 minutes into setup process..it isn’t.

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October 16 – The Wonder of it All

Revelation 16; Esther 9-10; Psalm 107:23-43

Many of the ancients feared the sea. It was dark and mysterious. It contained creatures that were different and surprising. Yet, as commerce expanded in the ancient world, some found it necessary to travel on the sea. As frightening as the sea was, God revealed Himself in many different ways. “Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters, They see the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep.” (Psalm 107:23-24) Even traveling on the seas and seeing God’s works as they did, they literally only scratched the surface of the waters in recognizing the glory and the handiwork of God. When they overcame their fears, they saw God’s amazing works. We face many different challenges in life. One of the most difficult challenges is dealing with the unknown. “How will this person react if I do things God’s way?” “What will they think of me if I don’t go along to get along?” As vast and complex as the sea is; as unexplored and unknown as the sea is; humanity is far more complex and less predictable. We live among people who are going through difficult times and don’t realize it; we work with people who will tell us that they are “Fine, just fine,” when their hearts are breaking because of personal or medical issues that they don’t want to talk about. It is this sea that God calls us to dive into each and every day. For just as Jesus came to earth to live and work among people, so He calls us to be His hands, feet and heart to the people we live among. If the sea seems fearful and mysterious, how much more the human heart. As we enter into a covenant with God to reach out to people and share His love with them, we will truly see the works of God and His wonders in the hearts of people.

Lord, it’s so easy to withdraw and think of my own troubles. You have called me to reach out to people in this world. At times, it may be frightening to think of the barriers I have to cross. Remind me, though, that as I trust You and minister, You will make a difference in people. At the same time, You will show me Your wonders.

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October 15 – Vindication Will Come! but when?

Revelation 15; Esther 6:14-8:17; Psalm 107:1-22

The time for the banquet arrived and Haman’s plot was exposed. He pleaded for his life, but then fell across Queen Esther on the couch. The solution of King Ahasuerus was that Haman must die and in a nice bit of irony, the gallows prepared for Mordecai were used to execute him. Esther finally revealed who Mordecai really was. “On that day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. So the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman.” (Esther 8:1-2) There was only one problem left. The edict against the Jews could still be carried out. The laws of the Medes and the Persians could not be revoked, even by the king who made them, but they could be counteracted. The king gave Mordecai permission to write an edict that would counteract the plan of Haman and so the Jewish people were given permission to protect themselves. The massacre would not happen. Haman planned great honor for himself; it went to Mordecai. Haman planned death for Mordecai and all Jews; he received the death sentence. The message here is that God protects His people. We may go through struggles. We are living in times when it seems like evil is winning. All that being said, God protects and provides for His people. The Book of the Revelation constantly reminds the saints in heaven who were killed for their faith that God’s way will win out in the end and they will be vindicated. Those who are being martyred for their faith today have the same assurance from God. Sometimes we go through times of great pain and great grief. Those we love and those we pray for may undergo great persecution, assuming that we love and pray for the persecuted church. God’s word in Revelation to the saints is “patience. God will vindicate you.” The Jews in Esther’s day had undergone all types of suffering and tribulation and with the threat of total annihilation hanging over their heads, God vindicated them. His word to us today continues to be “patience. God is in control.”

Lord, it is so easy to be upset over what is happening to Your people today. Your church is undergoing severe persecution in other countries. My brothers and sisters are dying or being enslaved because they follow You. It is hard to cry out for justice patiently. I need Your strength to do that. Even more, I pray for my brothers and sisters who are undergoing persecution in other lands. Protect them Lord. Vindicate them. Give them the patience and strength they need to be able to endure until Your vindication comes.

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