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Archive for April, 2010

To hear this Morning Devotion, please click here

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I love the crystal clear wisdom given by Joshua in Deuteronomy 22:5.

It’s a handful of wisdom from today’s reading in the One-Year Bible — literally.

There are five simple directives — one for each finger of my hand — given by Joshua to thousands of male warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

Just before these faithful servants returned to their families east of the Jordan River — they had helped to conquer the Promised Land west of the Jordan — Joshua challenged them to remain faithful.

And here is part of what he said:

“But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul”

What a simple outline.

Love God.

Walk in all His ways.

Obey His commands.

Hold fast to Him.

Serve Him with all your heart and soul.

Love. Walk. Obey. Hold fast. Serve.

I love simple lists.

Can’t you just see yourself memorizing this list as you raise finger after finger, reciting each directive from Deuteronomy 22:5?

I certainly can.

  • Thumb — Love God.
  • Index finger — Walk in all His ways.
  • Middle finger — Obey His commands.
  • Ring finger — Hold fast to Him.
  • Pinky — Serve Him with all of my heart and soul.

You will do a number of things today that won’t have a direct bearing on the rest of your eternity.

But if you’ll work to memorize the five directives in verse 5 of Deut. 22, you’ll have accomplished something that can have a direct bearing on the rest of your forever and likely the forever of others.

You also will have put a big smile on God’s face as He saw you with your extended hand and the echo of your quoted verse still ringing in your ears and in your heart.

Now that’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it?

As always, I love you
Martin

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It’s been more than 26 years, but I still remember my inner debate about the free hibachi grill.

I was living in Gainesville, FL at the time and had received a postcard promising me a “Free BBQ grill with a chance to win $1,000 cash!” if I’d just take a few hours to visit a St. Augustine timeshare complex.

It was late 1983 and I had nothing planned the following Saturday, so I loaded up the family and drove the 1 hour and 45 minutes to the Hibiscus Resort on St. Augustine Beach.

I was determined to get my new grill, those shysters weren’t going to get me to sign anything and then we were going to have a nice breakfast and later a fun afternoon at the beach or at least in the pool.

That was the plan, at least.

The resort was nothing more than a bunch of octagonally shaped, two-story duplexes on a plain-jane rectangle of sand that fronted the ocean a couple of miles south of the activity area of St. Augustine Beach.

And the weather turned ugly during the trip over and we arrived in the midst of a windstorm and temperatures in the 50s.

So much for frolicking on the beach or in the pool.

The breakfast? Coffee and some cold, store-bought pastries. Should I have really expected anything more?

Most of you know the routine when it comes to time-share spiels. There’s the soft-sell, then the hard-sell, then the “top gun” salesman is brought in and then the effort to make you feel dumb for not buying.

My response to all this?

“I’m sorry that you think I’m making a mistake. Can I please have my grill?” I asked.

I received my grill, all right. But only after I asked the unsuccessful salesperson #2 to give it to me.

It was a piece of Chinese junk that took me 20 minutes to assemble because of manufacturing defects and could accommodate just about four hamburgers. I could have purchased several of the scrawny, flimsy grills for the same amount that I spent on gas to drive to the St. Augustine Beach.

We live and learn, don’t we?

Today’s reading in the One-Year Bible triggered this timeshare recollection in a backdoor way.

The world so often promises something good but then doesn’t deliver on the promise because the motive was tainted all along.

Truthfulness and sales were seemingly polar opposites in the minds of the Hibiscus Resort salespersons.

The sales team decided that doing things the right way would have cost them too much and so they chose the shortcut.

Their shortcut, however, short-circuited their future.

Forsaking the high road, their efforts followed the low road into failure and extinction.

Just like the tribe of Dan’s choices in the Old Testament.

Simply stated, one of the original 12 tribes of Israel became extinct from scripture because, I believe, its leaders chose the low road.

They didn’t want to follow the path of integrity because they deemed it too costly in time and effort.

Joshua 20:47 says the tribal leaders rejected the inheritance apportioned them by God because the pagans put up a tough fight. And so, the Danites substituted an easier shortcut to obtain a place of their own and murdered the peace-loving people of Lesham and then renamed it Dan.

This was an evil strategy that had to have thrilled Satan and infuriated God.

And when heaven’s roll of Israel’s 12 tribes is listed in Revelation 7, Dan is absent.

No surprise, huh?

Here’s the wrap-up — don’t take shortcuts when it comes to integrity and to pursuing the promises of God.

Satan will always paint the “easy way” as the best way even when it goes against God’s values and promises.

Do the right thing. Always avoid Satan’s syrup-coated shortcuts. Even when the world is telling you that wrong is right.

I promise you that God will make sure that you get something a whole lot more valuable than a grill made in China.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Jesus had a knack for drawing very distinct lines in the sand.

Sometimes the lines were drawn literally as with the religious leaders who dragged an adulterous woman to Him in order to create a theological/political trap (John 8).

Most times, though, the lines were figurative though no less real.

One such time is recorded in Luke 18:17.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Wow. There’s no confusing these words, huh?

Evaluated against the backdrop of preceding verses, Jesus was telling His followers that anything other than a humble, dependent attitude toward God will not be accepted by the Father.

And that will mean an eternity of rejection and suffering.

What is it about the little child’s attitude that is SO important to God? There have been countless sermons and lessons on this passage over the centuries, I’m sure. But here is a simple outline that occurred to me this morning.

This outline of HOPE is consistent with my observation and experiences. Please consider if it is consistent with yours.

  • Humble — Little children recognize that they don’t know enough to make it through life on their own.
  • Obedient — Little children know they are weak and unable to overcome threats without strength of others. That’s why they trust the leading of one who is stronger.
  • Pleasing — Little children want to please those they trust because of the relationship, not just because of some tangible reward.
  • Enthusiastic — Little children get excited whenever they reunite with some bigger who really loves them.

As Jesus saw the small children reaching their arms toward Him with bright-eyed smiles painted on their faces, He saw the attitude of HOPE that He desires in every soul.

He knew that the children’s hearts had not yet been stained by sin.

And He knew that the innocence of that moment was like that which will occur when a redeemed soul reaches toward its Father on the throne of heaven.

Dear friend, when you and I invited sin into our lives sometime during our childhood, we forfeited the hope of salvation based on our innocence.

But if we’ll do as the children in Luke 18 — if we’ll humble ourselves by being obedient to Christ’s teachings on salvation/service in order to be please Him enthusiastically — we’ll have the HOPE of salvation.

Please be the child of God in this life that He wants.

That way you’ll be sure to be reaching your arms toward Him with a bright-eyed smile painted on your face forever.

As always, I love you
Martin

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From strength to strength

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After completing my daily reading in the One-Year Bible this morning, I added a new verse to my memorization list.

“They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:7)

Yes, it’s a short verse.

But it’s a verse with long-term implications.

As in “eternal.”

Psalm 84 describes various reflections of a heart committed to God. It’s actually a very compelling chapter that I encourage you to read. You can find it by clicking here.

I found comfort this morning in that some of the verses describe my heart’s attitude toward the Lord.

I also found that I have work to do in other respects so that I might have a heart more pleasing to God and useful in His service.

I’m sure that you will find the same contrasts as you compare your heart toward that described in the passage.

It was verse 7 that seized me, though.

In my mind’s eye, I was transported back to the days of David and Solomon and I pictured a faithful worshiper travelling through barren valley after barren valley in order to worship at the temple on Mount Zion.

I wasn’t sure exactly what “from strength to strength” would have meant to the ancient Israelite of faith. Whatever it would have been in his or her mind, though, it was powerful and enduring.

I thought of how a series of oasis pools could be found at some points of the journey. Those pools would allow the refreshment of strength needed for the next leg through the desert plains, mountains or valleys.

I thought of how a random meeting with a caravan might occur and that would allow the purchase of food and water.

And, intrigued by this verse, I did commentary research and found that sojourners to Jerusalem would sometimes dig deep cisterns in dried streambeds and then cover them with large, flat rocks so that sparsely intermittant rainfall could be accumulated and perhaps provide a vital blessing of water weeks after the last drop of rain fell.

This verse is perhaps describing both a physical strengthening and a spiritual strengthening.

For you can be sure that a tired and thirsty worshiper enroute to the temple would not only be satisfied physically, but also spiritually.

I thought about the peace in the heart of the believer who realized that God had provided for him or her.

I thought about the reason that God provided the physical need — so that the person could provide the heartfelt worship at a place dedicated to pleasing the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of man’s souls.

I thought about how that believer most certainly would have found strength not just in the water refreshing his or her throat, but in the recall of other blessings over the course of his or her life.

Recalled blessings refresh.

And when we recall blessing after blessing, particularly during the barren times in our lives, we go from strength to strength.

God wants us to appear before Him in Zion, both in this life and the next.

If we are going to do so, we need to understand the importance of going from strength to strength.

Please realize that God never intended the Christian life to be always easy.

If that were the case, why would we need faith?

Whenever you’re in a moment of being strengthened by a great blessing or by drinking deeply from the Living Water of scripture, rejoice and remember.

That way, your mind can remain focused on the mountaintop meeting with God even when your earthly self is feeling parched and weak.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Everybody has made bad decisions along the way that were rooted in overconfidence.

You’ve made them.

And I’ve made them.

Though the details have differed, the basic story is as follows.

We are presented with information from somebody who wants something from us. We are asked to promise that we’ll provide something to them in return for something that we want.

It could involve a business deal, a certain type of relationship or joint project of some sort, or perhaps even a Christian service commitment.

We do a bit of homework because we don’t want to be accused of making uninformed, rash decisions.

Then we think that we’re going to win in the proposed deal and we say, “Yes.”

In very short order, we learn that we didn’t have all the information about the other party or parties involved in the deal.

We realize that we’ve entangled ourselves in a mess and it really stinks.

We realize that we’re actually the loser in the deal.

As rotten as these sort of circumstances are — and they do prompt much angst on occasion — our decision-making goof does not have to become our legacy.

If we use the poor decision as a trigger for demonstrating ongoing faith, what Satan schemed in order to erode our faith CAN instead become a tool for the victory of our faith.

It’s all about our willingness to admit our prideful overconfidence in our judgment and commit to the integrity of keeping our promises.

What Satan intended for our defeat can be turned back against his schemes.

It just takes humility, self-discipline and faith.

There is, of course, a biblical trigger for this Morning Devotion.

It’s found in today’s reading in the One-Year Bible.

The story is told in Joshua 9-10 — a passage I strongly encourage you to read.

This is a story about the Israelite leaders trusting their own wisdom with no regard for the place of prayer. You’ll read of the terrible regret the leaders later experienced because of thinking they didn’t need God’s input in their decision.

You’ll read of how thousands of Hebrew lives were put at risk because of the foolish promises.

You’ll also read of how God took the Israelite’s failures of faith and brought about a powerful victory over Satan’s schemes, a victory that actually promoted the pre-ordained plan of God for Israel and cleansing the Promised Land.

I pray that you will read this account. And I pray that you’ll think about those bad decisions that you’ve made in the past, decisions for which you relied too much on your “taste tests” and not enough on humble prayers to God.

Even if you’re still suffering in some way because of those decisions, I exhort you to keep your vows.

Demonstrate that your word is true, that you understand the importance of integrity.

Sooner or later, if you pray to God for strength to show integrity even in the storm, He WILL uphold you and He WILL use you in a way that unmistakably shows God to be stronger than Satan.

He WILL bless your life even though you’ve made a mess of some decisions along the way.

You’ll have more scars in this life, yes.

But you’ll also have the confidence of more stars in your crown for the next life.

Just like Joshua did after the victories were racked up in Joshua 10.

Please, remember this passage and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:5-6

As always, I love you
Martin

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You’ve heard the phrase often used within some faith circles — “I know that I know that I know.”

I’m  typically not one to engage in sing-songy phraseology such as the above, but this phrase did come to mind this morning during my One-Year Bible reading from Joshua 7.

The insight was not directly connected to vv. 12-13 of that passage, but the trigger was still there.

Here’s how.

The occasion was the shameful defeat in round 1 of the Old Testament battle for the city of Ai. Long story short, the Israelites were cocky, presumptuous and tainted by greedy sin, even though just one family was directly involved.

There was sin in the camp and 36 Hebrew men died as a result.

God told the grieving Joshua that the failure was rooted in Achan’s hiding of plunder gathered from Jericho in direct defiance of God’s order to destroy everything but the silver and gold. Those items were to be donated to the treasury.

When Achan’s sin was discovered and dramatically remedied by God, the divine power for victory returned.

Before God revealed the root cause of the failure, Israel knew that it didn’t know why their plans had failed.

Hmmm….. to know that you don’t know. That’s what I call zero-sum knowing.

It took God’s gracious intervention to help the Israelites to transcend the zero-sum knowing.

The challenge with zero-sum knowing is that it sometimes doesn’t involve our sins but instead the timetable of God’s plans that we don’t control or perhaps don’t even understand.

Many stories in the Old Testament record faithful people who were honoring God yet their desires for the progress of life were not happening at the desired pace. In fact, some of those desires didn’t happen at all.

People like Abraham and Joseph and Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah wanted to know all the in’s and out’s of God’s plan and schedule, but they didn’t. When it came to timing and details, these Bible heroes were sometimes gripped by zero-sum knowing.

I can certainly relate to them in that respect. There are a number of circumstances in my life just now that fall under the umbrella of zero-sum knowing.

But just as the Bible heroes above transcended their zero-sum knowing in order to continue moving forward in faith, so should I.

For so many things, I know that I don’t know what’s going to happen or even why some things have happened.

It is not a comfortable place for my human, want-to-be-accomplishing-goals side to be.

What is most important, though, is that I look for guidance and strength from the One who DOES know what’s going to happen and why He’s arranging things to play out the way that He is.

I am gaining more patience and humility. Those are good things.

I am gaining more experiences that will help me to better minister to struggling people in the years ahead. That is a good thing.

I’m ministering to people even though I’m not their church minister. That’s a good thing.

I am learning that, even in the midst of so much zero-sum knowing, I can KNOW the Lord more intimately and enduringly.

I can KNOW peace because I know the One who has already prepared a place of eternal peace for me.

Please, my friends, accept the reality of zero-sum knowing for certain aspects of your life and faith.

It’s part of more deeply appreciating the fact that you KNOW personally the One who knows you and promises eternal peace to those who know Christ as Savior and Lord.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Even though mirrors in Jesus’ day were an uncommon possession typically reserved for the wealthy, that didn’t keep the Messiah from helping countless people to see who they really were.

Some of those people, upon seeing their obvious spiritual defects, decided the problem wasn’t with themselves but instead with the mirror.

So they embraced the philosophy of trying to destroy the mirror rather than to correct their own flaws.

Luke 13 in today’s One-Year Bible reading records the story of a woman healed by Jesus after 18 years of demon-caused back problems. The healing occurred in a synagogue… on the Sabbath.

The cure was immediate.

And so was the backlash of legalism.

The synagogue ruler said that there were six other days in the week when the healing could have taken place and should not have occurred on the Sabbath.

It’s interesting to note that the synagogue ruler didn’t speak directly to Jesus the healer, but instead to the congregation.

That didn’t stop Jesus from pulling out the mirror.

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When He said this, all His opponents were humiliated, but the people were delight with all the wonderful things He was doing” (vv. 15-17).

Hypocrisy is a saddening strategy that still occurs on many occasions.

I’m sure that this embarrassed synagogue ruler did not sign up as a monthly supporter for Jesus’ ministry.

It’s very likely, instead, that he joined the long list of establishment enemies who yearned for the day when this hippie, street preacher with a brain would finally get what they believed He deserved.

I can just imagine this synagogue ruler being at the front of the crowd later shouting, “Crucify! Crucify!”

You know from your own life experience that Satan loves luring us into picking up bricks when others hold up a mirror.

I sure hope you don’t do this when loved ones and friends show you certain things about your life that need attention, yet your pride is wounded because somebody else thinks you dropped — or are dropping — the ball.

Join me in thanking God whenever He uses somebody else to reveal hypocrisy in our lives.

For until we see it, we can’t address it.

It’s SO much better to use bricks for repairing our houses of faith and bridges of influence rather than for throwing them at people who are simply trying to warn us of danger ahead.

As always, I love you
Martin

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