Category Archives: Devotional

Leaving Jesus Alone

"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
—John 16:31-33

I believe in the Lord – not just that he exist – but that he died bearing all the sins of the world past, present and future. I believe that by believing that and asking his death to count for my sins and asking his resurrected life to become my own, that Jesus becomes my Lord and my very life rather than Satan or myself. This is my faith. This I believe.

Yet, like my brothers, the disciples, how often do I leave Jesus alone and go back to my old home and old haunts. I paint pictures of Egypt and leave out what it lacks (see Sara Groves’ song, Painting Pictures of Egypt). “The time is coming and has come”, Jesus says-and so it goes with me. I am scattered by these fears and pains and I run. As Sara adds, it not about losing faith or trust – it just about being comfortable. That old home is so known and comfortable even though it is meaningless and futile. It can no longer fulfill me but it is so easy to escape to.

In 2000, I took a 10 day journey through the back country of Philmont Scout Reservation with my oldest son, Justin, and a group of Boy Scouts and adult leaders. We had to carry everything we needed for the entire journey on our backs. Our trek led us away from base camp to the furthest point away before bringing us back. For us the furthest point away was climbing to the second highest mountain in Philmont, Mt. Philips, and staying the night. The climb was well above the water line so we would have no access to water from the base camp the day we started until after the descent the next day.

As a result, we split gear from one of the adults, my friend, Gary, and he carried half his gear plus 5 gallons of water on his back. It was a very difficult thing for him to hike up the mountain as he had suffered knee issues before. He slowly kept going at an even pace even when the scouts would sprint faster ahead then rest from exhaustion. It was like the tortoise and the hare all the way up. The air was so thin at the top of the mountain that you would wake up from sleeping feeling as if you were suffocating. It was a difficult part of our trek.

Gary and I found a great analogy to our half-hearted walk with Christ in that place. Being at the half way point, any accident we would have encountered – it would take just as long to press forward as to go back. There was no escaping the difficulty of the journey. Gary kept pressing on because there was no option. But in our Christian adventure, we can walk in the spirit, but when we feel overwhelmed by that, we can turn our minds and hearts from him and simply return to the comfort of the couch, the TV and the tangible.

We may leave Jesus alone, but he is not alone – his Father is with him. We may feel we are alone and long for home, but we are not – our Father is with us. We need to learn to weep in those moments as men longing for our real home as the late Rich Mullins shares in his wonderful song, If I Stand. Sara gets to this idea too – “The place I had wasn’t perfect But I had found a way to live It wasn’t milk or honey But then neither is this”. We think that part of our longing for comfort is the desire to get back to what we know – but when we examine it, we find “the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I"ve learned” and that our real longing is to fully know him who we can only see dimly now.

Recognizing that we are our weeping is a longing for our heavenly home is helpful. It isn’t so much that we want those old, familiar death clothes – that we want to return. It is that we long to see Him face-to-face. Proverbs 13:12 clarifies this, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Don’t we really long for the tree of life? Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”. Also, we are longing to be free from sin and this longing that pulls us back – and on that day, our flesh and the world and God’s adversaries will no longer plague us. It is helpful to identify our longing, not for the comfort of what was behind but for the glory that is before us so we can set our minds in that direction. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Galatians 5:5

Perhaps the most fascinating thing Jesus says to the disciples in this passage is, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” If we were telling our friends that they were going to abandon us in our time of need, it would be likely that they would feel shame, incredulousness, or maybe fear. Our master has caught us in our selfishness and accused us of betrayal. But Jesus tells them that he is sharing this with them that they may have peace. He says that peace is in Him. When we get scared or overwhelmed and we look back to Egypt and to our comfortable living room couch and we scatter and leave Jesus alone, we may find a temporary comfort but we do not find what we are longing for. And we also find, amidst our comfort-seeking distractions, a voice of guilt and accusation. This voice that says, “See! That adventure toward Jesus is really not for you. You were wise to save yourself from that discomfort.” But the truth is we’ve buried our head in our comforts but that does not make our troubles go away. Jesus told the disciples to remember that, “in me you may have peace”, and he then tells them, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

We turn back to our comforts, we find that they do not fit us anymore and we find our adversaries ready to plague us. Shortly, we find that we long for peace more than comfort and we race back into the arms of our Savior, the source of peace and life. We are discovering our dependence on him. We cannot make our world work or find what we need – but Jesus, and Jesus alone, has overcome the world.

In another place in the Gospel of John (6:67-69), many disciples of Jesus decide to leave him and Jesus asks the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” and Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”. Indeed! If we KNOW in our heart of hearts that Jesus is the Holy One of God – to whom shall we go?

Turning to Press On Toward God

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Cor 7:10 NIV

Sorrow, remorse, regret is always a component of repentance but repentance is not necessarily a component of sorrow, remorse or regret.  Is the sorrow your feeling leading you to repentance.  If so, God is in it.  If not, then the voice of sorrow is coming from the flesh, the world, the devil – and is only producing death.  It is a sorrow that is not focused on sin and how it separates us from God but on the consequences that we’d like to avoid impacting us.

But if you see this, you can pray to God to help you renew your mind. Doing this, you are already moving from worldly sorrow that is powerless and a waste of time to repentance because you are turning to God. Repentance means to turn again to your right mind – the mind of Christ – to God.  This movement – this turning – is a movement forward again, rather than back.  St. Paul tells the Philippians, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 3:12-14

This turning toward the forward focus on God is what transforms your life – renewing your mind to that of God’s.  If you can see that your sorrow is not God’s, you can choose to turn from that self-oriented sorrow to God and ask for him to show you his sorrow, rather than your own. This choice elevates us back to the seat of Christ – taking our sorrow from the selfish sorrow of our action’s impact on us to the Godly sorrow of how sin and separation from God ravishes God’s children and does nothing to showcase God’s glory.  From this vantage point, your sorrow is now transformed to bring true repentance mingled with Godly sorrow and the motivation that is able to overcome evil – not by focusing on evil – but by focusing on and moving toward God.  Father, please help us to distinguish the hurt pride, worry, and vanity of self-oriented sorrow and to choose to turn away from this dead-end to get back onto the course with you as our guide and very life which is always your will for us and always in our best interest and always a real demonstration of your glory.  Thank you, Father, for always being there when we turn away from sin to look into your beautiful eyes full of grace and mercy.

With your mind renewed to God’s perspective, your life is transformed.  Then you are able to see clearly and understand God’s good, pleasing and perfect will and have the power to walk in it.

For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief (the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world) is deadly [breeding and ending in death]. 2 Cor 7:10 AMP

Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. 2 Cor 7:10 MSG

John 6:16-21: Meeting Jesus in the Boat

John 6:16-21

We ought to wait on Jesus – remain in sync with him – but sometimes we don’t. Maybe we do this because we are confused. He does something amazing and we read into it that he wants us to head off into some direction that he did not tell us to go. We get excited and forget to ask him and take the lead. We think that he is like another person and if we take off, he may follow our lead. But Jesus is always following the Father in submission so submission to him is what is always required of us.

We take off without him and find that the waters are rough. We use our strength instead of calling on him until we find ourselves in the middle somewhere in the dark, exhausted with storms raging. Fortunately for us, God’s mercy is always toward us and his glory is unshakable.

If Jesus was a mere man and we had left him behind and navigated half a journey, then realized our need, we would have no choice but to return to the beginning. The quickest way to get back on track if you’ve gone the wrong way is to turn around. But Jesus is not a mere man. He has authority over everything – even nature (including time and space) and death. He comes to us and meets us where we are. And his presence has an immediacy. By his authority, nature yields. Storms subside and we often find he immediately moves us to the place we need to be. But he does all this for his glory – which also happens to be for our best good. He alone knows our best good even if we forget this and take off without him.

We look at our good in very limited terms. We look at our most basic needs and mix this up with wants (lusts) and our glory (pride) and forget about life eternal and abundant. We are so consumed by our own limited point of view that we barely grasp just how much God wants for us and offers us, much less the endless magnificence of his glory. But Jesus is not a rabbits foot to provide us good luck, or a food stamp program to meet out basic needs or even a life coach or mentor to guide our success in the world. He is the bread of life and we must partake of that bread – the very word of the Father. It is hard for us to understand this or to take it. We want to be offended. Men don’t like grace because it highlights their unworthiness and their lack. Still, to whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life and Jesus alone can meet all our needs.

Psalm 119:81-88 That Day and This Day

My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.
Psalm 119:81

Dear Father,

In a moment, even a sliver of a moment, in which I am not consumed with thinking of you, sin is whispering in my ear.  I thank you, Father, that it can only torment me from outside the gate that you have formed around me in Christ – that it has no real power over me and cannot carry me away.  But how gross am I to give into it within your Holy city of love that is my real life, Christ Jesus.

My soul does faint longing for the future salvation from this body of sin (Romans 7:24-25).  But I thank you so much for your word that confirms that you have me in your hands and nobody can snatch me away (John 10:28-29) and that one day you will disrobe me from this body of death and clothe me in the new, eternal and holy body (Philippians 3:20-21).  As for today Father, transform this weak body and mind to conform to the holy life of Christ within me that you will be able to receive glory from the dust of my life. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

I love you, Jesus.

Psalm 117: Nothing but Praise for Eternal Love

Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 117 

This short Psalm says a great deal in the brief focus it gives us.  Always, we have no reason to do anything but praise God FOR His love is great toward us and that is eternally true – from eternity past to eternity future – even if we don’t feel that or see it at a given moment.

Some days we are happy with our lives – praise the Lord for his great eternal love toward you.
Some days we are disappointed with our lives – praise the Lord for his great eternal love toward you.

Getting our minds to focus on the eternal always great love of God toward us rather than our temporary situation – our light and momentary troubles (2 Corinthians 4:17) – is what it means to have faith.  Faith that God is Lord of our lives in all things and that he works all things to the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)

When we can do this, we are free even in the difficult moments to look confidently for God’s blessing and glory to emerge.  When we do this in the midst of the people of the world – who are running around with their hands waving in fear, they are amazed at our confidence and want to know the great God of ours whose love is eternal. (1 Peter 2:12)

Father, this day, help me to live in the constant moment of your eternal love toward me and all men.  Give me right orientation in all the tasks of the day to see your love transforming each moment and to praise you for it.

Psalm 116: Free to serve God

Oh, God, here I am, your servant,
your faithful servant: set me free for your service!
Psalm 116:16 MSG

Even though God saves us and we are now Hischildren serving in the family business magnifying His glory, we must continue daily to get our minds free to this reality so as to serve Him well.  To be a faithful servant is to daily come back to Him, even moment-to-moment and surrender everything and ask His help to see from His perspective (renew our minds Romans 12:1-2) and therefore be made free for His service.

Even at the moment of choice of following God or running to self and sin, we can surrender it.  Even if we don’t and we fail Him, we can reconcile and pickup with fellowship the very moment after.  This is so foreign to us.  We think we need to stay away from Him for awhile – grounded in our room, punished.  But that time is just wasted time or time which we become resentful.  If we run back into His grace right away, our enemies tell us that we are just taking advantage of Him – just taking His grace for granted.  We can answer to that – Yes, we are taking advantage of the grace He provided but No, we are not taking it for granted, just accepting in faith that IT IS.

Don’t let Satan trick you into further rebellion.  It is a sin to not let the grace of God prevent sin in you but it is also a sin to not accept God’s grace afterwards – why sin twice? Grace gives us strength to overcome sin – both in prevention (1 Corinthians 10:13) and in reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

The sooner we get back to Him, the sooner we really believe the power of His grace, the sooner the power of it keeps us from that sin forever. 

Father, please forgive my rebellion of you – thank you for the grace that encompasses and devours all my sin (Psalm 103:12).  Father, transform me by the power of your love so that I not only do not sin but that I become your faithful child – set free for your service.

Psalm 114: Becoming God’s Sanctuary

When Israel came out of Egypt, 
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2

Leaving Egypt is a key to becoming God’s sanctuary.  God does miracles to free us but we still must believe him and leave.  God, help me give not anything, but everything to you. The earth trembles before you – let me also always continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) – neither by way of platitudes and policies nor by empty ritual – but in the real, magnificent, uncontainable presence of the Lion of Judah. 

He is not safe, but he is oh so good.

Psalm 114: Becoming God's Sanctuary

When Israel came out of Egypt, 
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2

Leaving Egypt is a key to becoming God’s sanctuary.  God does miracles to free us but we still must believe him and leave.  God, help me give not anything, but everything to you. The earth trembles before you – let me also always continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) – neither by way of platitudes and policies nor by empty ritual – but in the real, magnificent, uncontainable presence of the Lion of Judah. 

He is not safe, but he is oh so good.

Ps 119:33-40: Surrendering Choice

Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Ps 119:36-37

Bob Segar pines in his song, Roll Me Away:

Stood alone on a mountain top,
starin’ out at the Great Divide
I could go east, I could go west,
it was all up to me to decide

In this case, his song is about escapism from the complexity, pain, and frustration of life and his freedom is riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle alone – escaping responsibility and abandoning any relationship that would tie him down. 

I like the picture of standing above the noise of the day – looking east and west and choosing.  That is God’s gift and power to mankind – to choose.  The psalmist here continues to focus on that choice but instead of leaving it to himself to decide – he continues to cry out to God to turn his eyes to God’s purpose – away from the worthless things.

Segar wants to escape from responsibility – the typical passivity of man, that which is displayed by Adam in the garden when he fails to step between Eve and the serpent.  One of the techniques used in sales closes is choice – do you want A or B – focusing the customer on only two choices when the available ones are more infinite and the ones he is offering may not even be the crucial ones.  In Segar’s song, there is simply oppression to the East and freedom to the West – but the Apostle Paul says in Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  He exercises freedom from this decision – “do I follow Christ or not” and translates them to “do I follow Christ by serving in this world or by serving him in the next”  – he does not offer the choice of not following. 

As a Christian, we have Christ – period.  So our choices are simple.  How will we serve him and honor him today?  We can turn away from him, but we can’t lose him.  So we are free to get beyond this escapism and serve him wholeheartedly because he is our life.

I like this image of climbing above the noise of it all and being able to decide – our quiet times with God are a great way to do that.  When we come before God in his word and look up and see from his perspective – we gain clarity over the thousands of noisy choices below.  There is all type of talk now days about the choice overload that people must swim in each day – and the insufficiency of training to enable us to deal with that.  But most of those choices are marketing lies – “do you want 42″ or a 46″ HDTV?”  When we have been up on the mountain with God and have seen Jesus transfigured as our very life and heard God’s voice – the choices of selfish worldly gain become less. 

Still, we have to be careful even here.  We have the tendency to immediately translate this experience into the creation of an alter just as the disciples wanted to do for Jesus.  This doesn’t mean we should avoid serving, just avoid needless alters or traditions as substitutes for the true Christ.  God is trying to show us we can relax and be his children – that he has done this – that Christ IS. He is revealing him in us, as us – so we can simply worship in all things and overcome the tyranny of self. 

There is another picture on a mountain that I like – that of our Lord as Satan tempts him.  In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus from a mountain top offering him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him.   Jesus in his response surrenders choice to the will of God.  He does not consider “do I or don’t I” because “it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” 

Segar muses that he will find freedom but his choice of escapism will only find a meaningless and wasted life.  Our Lord surrenders his choice to God’s will knowing there is the freedom in worshipping God and serving him.

Paul says in Phil 3:8-9, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  When we surrender our choice for God’s will, we become free of worthless things and gain Christ.

Father, set my eyes on you – make me single-minded on you.  Amen.

Ps 113: Remembering God Each Moment

Just to remember God is a blessing—
now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk,
keep lifting all your praises to God!

Ps 113:2-3 MSG

We are certainly commanded to remember the Lord and to praise him but The Message version of this scripture adds a dimension that this is a blessing – and I think that can be assumed toward God from us as well as toward us from God.

To remember is to recall to mind that which we know but has slipped from our conscious mind. Where repent means to Think Again – remember means to Think OF Again. In that sense, the two are closely linked in our experience. If I think again about my plight of sin – I’ve taken a fork in the road that lead me far away from God and I think I should have taken the other fork – this then makes me Think OF God again. This interaction is clearly displayed in the story of the prodigal son.

But remember can also mean to retain in conscious memory – so as to not have to recall. It may seem impossible to constantly keep God in conscious memory but this is possible when we see all things as his, and as coming from him, and as being about his purpose. It is what we are called to grow to believe – being transformed by the renewing our minds that we will then know God’s good, holy, and perfect will. This is not something that happens once then we go about our merry way. Rather, it is available to happen every moment of every day. If we will think of God again, it can renew our mind and transform our life in that moment. Clearly east to west and dawn to dusk encompass this idea.

Finally, we can remember God to others. This use of the word remember means to commend. If this moment is God soaked in our memory – consciously – it is easy to commend him to those involved in the situation with us by what he does in and through us and by our expression of that. This is naturally letting our moment-to-moment experience share God with others in both word and deed. Clearly, this is a blessing to God, to us, to others.