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Devotionals

That Thing You Do

Our Daily Bread - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 18:00

As the convoy waited to roll out, a young marine rapped urgently on the window of his team leader’s vehicle. Irritated, the sergeant rolled down his window. “What?”

            “You gotta do that thing,” the marine said. “What thing?” asked the sergeant. “You know, that thing you do,” replied the marine.

Then it dawned on the sergeant. He always prayed for the convoy’s safety, but this time he hadn’t. So he dutifully climbed out of the Humvee and prayed for his marines. The marine understood the value of his praying leader.

In ancient Judah, Abijah doesn’t stand out as a great king. First Kings 15:3 tells us, “His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” But as Judah prepared for war against Israel, outnumbered two to one, Abijah knew this much: Faithful people in his kingdom of Judah had continued worshiping God (2 Chron. 13:10–12), while the ten tribes of Israel had driven out the priests of God and worshiped pagan gods instead (vv. 8–9). So Abijah turned confidently to the one true God.

  Surely Abijah’s checkered history had caused grave damage. But he knew where to turn in the crisis, and his army won soundly “because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (v.18). Our God welcomes whoever comes to Him and relies on Him. 

Categories: Devotionals

The Swagger

Our Daily Bread - Tue, 08/16/2016 - 18:00

In the summer of 2015, Hunter (aged 15) carried his brother Braden (8) for a fifty-seven-mile walk to raise awareness of the needs of people with cerebral palsy. Braden weighs sixty pounds, so Hunter needed frequent rest stops where others helped him stretch his muscles, and he wore special harnesses to disperse Braden’s weight. Hunter says that while the harnesses helped with the physical discomfort, what helped him most were the people along the way. “If it weren’t for everyone cheering and walking with us, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. . . . My legs were sore but my friends picked me up and I made it through . . . .” His mom named the arduous trek “The Cerebral Palsy Swagger.”

The apostle Paul, who we think of as strong and courageous, also needed to be “picked up.” In Romans 16 he lists a number of people who did just that for him. They served alongside him, encouraged him, met his needs, and prayed for him. He mentions Phoebe; Priscilla and Aquila who were co-workers; Rufus’s mother who had been like a mother to him as well; Gaius who showed him hospitality; and many more.

We all need friends who pick us up, and we all know of others who need our encouragement. As Jesus helps and carries us, let us help one another.

Categories: Devotionals

Bringing Light into Darkness

Our Daily Bread - Mon, 08/15/2016 - 18:00

In 1989, Vaclav Havel was elevated from his position as a political prisoner to becoming the first elected president of Czechoslovakia. Years later at his funeral in Prague in 2011, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who herself was born in Prague, described him as one who had “brought the light to places of deep darkness.”

         What Havel’s introduction of light did in the political arena of Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic), our Lord Jesus did for the whole world. He brought light into existence when He created light out of darkness at the dawn of time (John 1:2-3 cf. Gen 1:2-3). Then, with His birth, He brought light to the spiritual arena. Jesus is the life and light that darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

         John the Baptist came from the wilderness to bear witness to Jesus, the light of the world. We can do the same today. In fact that is what Jesus told us to do: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

         In our world today—when good is often considered bad and bad is seen as good, when truth and error are switched around—people are looking for direction in life. May we be the ones who shine the light of Christ into our world.

Categories: Devotionals

A Legacy Life

Our Daily Bread - Sun, 08/14/2016 - 18:00

While staying in a hotel in a small town I noticed that the church across the street was having a service. People were jammed into the church with a standing-room-only crowd of both young and old flowing out onto the sidewalk. When I noticed a hearse by the curb, I realized it was a funeral. And given the crowd, I assumed that it was the celebration of the life of some local hero—perhaps a wealthy businessperson or a famous personality. Curious, I said to the desk clerk, “That’s an amazing turnout for a funeral; it must be for a famous person in town.”

“No,” he replied. “He wasn’t rich or famous but he was a good man.”

This reminded me of the wisdom of the proverb that says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). It’s a good idea to think about what kind of legacy we are leaving for our family, friends, and neighbors. From God’s perspective it’s not our resume or the amount of money we’ve accumulated that matters but rather the kind of life we have lived.

When a friend of mine passed away, his daughter wrote, “This world has lost a righteous man and in this world that is no small thing!” It’s that kind of legacy that we should be seeking for the glory of God.

Categories: Devotionals

Your Father Knows

Our Daily Bread - Sat, 08/13/2016 - 18:00

I was only four years old as I lay by my father on a floor mat on a hot summer night. (My mother, with a baby, had her own room at the time.) This was in northern Ghana where the climate is mostly dry. Sweat covered my body and the heat parched my throat. I felt so thirsty I shook my father awake. In the middle of that dry night, he rose up and poured water from a jar for me to quench my thirst. Throughout my life, as he did that night, he exemplified the image of a caring father. He provided what I needed.

Some people may not have a good father figure in their lives. But we all have a Father who is strong and ever-present and who does not disappoint us. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He told us that when our daily needs confront us—food, clothing, shelter, protection (v. 31)—“your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8).

We have a Father who is always there. Night or day, whenever the going gets tough, we can trust that He will never abandon us. He has promised to care for us, and He knows better than we do what we need. 

Categories: Devotionals

When We Don’t Understand

Our Daily Bread - Fri, 08/12/2016 - 18:00

Although I depend on technology every day to get my job done, I don’t understand much about how it works. I turn my computer on, bring up a Word document, and get to work on my writing. Yet my inability to comprehend how microchips, hard drives, Wi-Fi connections, and full-color displays actually function doesn’t get in the way of my benefiting from technology.

In a sense, this mirrors our relationship with God. Isaiah 55:8–9 reminds us that God is far beyond us: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ”

Even though we don’t understand everything about God that doesn’t prevent us from trusting Him. He has proven His love for us. The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Trusting that love, we can walk with Him even when life doesn’t make sense.

Categories: Devotionals

Shaping Your Thoughts

Our Daily Bread - Thu, 08/11/2016 - 18:00

When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in 1964, personal computers were unknown, mobile phones were science fiction, and the Internet didn’t exist. Today we understand what great foresight he had in predicting how our thinking is influenced in this digital age. In Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, he writes, “[The media] supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

            I like J. B. Phillips’s paraphrase of Paul’s message to the Christians in Rome: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Rom. 12:2). How relevant this is today as we find our thoughts and the way our minds process material affected by the world around us.

            We cannot stem the tide of information that bombards us, but we can ask God each day to help us focus on Him and to shape our thinking through His presence in our lives.

Categories: Devotionals

No Fear

Our Daily Bread - Wed, 08/10/2016 - 18:00

Nearly every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Do not be afraid!” (Dan. 10:12, 19; Matt. 28:5; Rev. 1:17). Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet Earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in catatonic fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance on earth in a form that does not frighten. In Jesus, born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough, God finds at last a mode of approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby?

                  Puzzled skeptics stalked Jesus throughout His ministry. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, be the Messiah from God? But a group of shepherds in a field had no doubt about who He was, for they heard the message of good news straight from a choir of angels (2:8-14).

                  Why did God take on human form? The Bible gives many reasons, some densely theological and some quite practical; but the scene of Jesus as an adolescent lecturing rabbis in the temple gives one clue (v. 46). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation, a debate, with God in visible form. Jesus could talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!”

                  In Jesus, God comes close to us.

Categories: Devotionals

Relief from the Scorching Sun

Our Daily Bread - Tue, 08/09/2016 - 18:00

Living in Britain, I don’t usually worry about sunburn. After all, the sun is often blocked by a thick cover of clouds. But recently I spent some time in Spain, and I quickly realized that with my pale skin, I could only be out in the sunshine for ten minutes before I needed to scurry back under the umbrella.

As I considered the scorching nature of the Mediterranean sun, I began to understand more deeply the meaning of the image of the Lord God as His people’s shade at their right hand. Residents of the Middle East knew unrelenting heat, and they needed to find shelter from the sun’s burning rays.

The psalmist uses this picture of the Lord as shade in Psalm 121, which can be understood as a conversation on a heart level—a dialogue with oneself about the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. When we use this psalm in prayer, we reassure ourselves that the Lord will never leave us, for He forms a protective covering over us. And just as we take shelter from the sun underneath umbrellas, so too can we find a safe place in the Lord.

We lift our eyes to the “Maker of heaven and earth” (vv. 1–2) because whether we are in times of sunshine or times of rain, we receive His gifts of protection, relief, and refreshment.

Categories: Devotionals

Who Will Tell Them?

Our Daily Bread - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 18:00

World War II had ended. Peace had been declared. But young Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army, stationed on an island in the Philippines, didn’t know the war had ended. Attempts were made to track him down. Leaflets were dropped over his location, telling him the war was over. But Onoda, whose last order in 1945 was to stay and fight, dismissed these attempts and leaflets as trickery or propaganda from the enemy. He did not surrender until March 1974—nearly 30 years after the war had ended—when his former commanding officer traveled from Japan to the Philippines, rescinded his original order, and officially relieved Onoda of duty. Onoda finally believed the war was over.

            When it comes to the good news about Jesus Christ, many still haven’t heard or don’t believe that He has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). And some of us who have heard and believed still live defeated lives, trying to survive on our own in the jungle of life.

            Someone needs to tell them the glorious news of Christ’s victory over sin and death. Initially, they may respond with skepticism or doubt, but take heart. Imagine the freedom they’ll find when Christ illumines their mind with the knowledge that the battle has been won.

Categories: Devotionals

Because I Love Him

Our Daily Bread - Sun, 08/07/2016 - 18:00

The day before my husband was to return home from a business trip my son said, “Mom! I want Daddy to come home.” I asked him why, expecting him to say something about the presents his daddy usually brings back or that he missed playing ball with him. But with solemn seriousness he answered, “I want him to come back because I love him!”

His answer made me think about our Lord and His promise to come back. “I am coming soon,” Jesus says (Rev. 22:20). I long for His return, but why do I want Him to come back? Is it because I will be in His presence, away from sickness and death? Is it because I am tired of living in a difficult world? Or is it just because when you’ve loved Him so much of your life, when He has shared your tears and your laughter, when He has been more real than anybody else, you want to be with Him forever?

I’m glad my son misses his daddy when he’s away. It would be terrible if he didn’t care at all about his return or if he thought it would interfere with his plans. How do we feel about our Lord’s return? Let us long for that day earnestly and passionately. Let us long for that day passionately, and earnestly say, “Lord, come back! We love You.”

Categories: Devotionals

Who Are You Defending?

Our Daily Bread - Sat, 08/06/2016 - 18:00

When Kathleen’s teacher called her to the front of the grammar class to analyze a sentence, she panicked. As a recent transfer student, she hadn’t learned that aspect of grammar. The class laughed derisively.

Instantly the teacher sprang to her defense. “She can out-write any of you any day of the week!” he explained. Many years later, Kathleen gratefully recalled the moment: “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could.” Eventually, Kathleen Parker would win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.

As did Kathleen’s teacher, Jesus identified with the defenseless and vulnerable. When His disciples kept children away from Him, He grew angry. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). He reached out to a despised ethnic group, making the Good Samaritan the hero of His parable (Luke 10:25-37) and offering genuine hope to a searching Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). He protected and forgave a woman trapped in adultery (John 8:1-11). And though we were utterly helpless, Christ gave His life for all of us (Rom. 5:6).

When we defend the vulnerable and the marginalized, we give them a chance to realize their potential. We show them real love, and in a small but significant way we reflect the very heart of Jesus. 

Categories: Devotionals

Chin Up

Our Daily Bread - Fri, 08/05/2016 - 18:00

Emil was a homeless man who spent a whole year looking down at the pavement as he plodded around the city day after day. He was ashamed to meet the eyes of others in case they recognized him, for his life had not always been lived out on the streets. Even more than that, he was intent on finding a coin that had been dropped or a half-smoked cigarette. His downward focus became such a habit that the bones of his spine began to become fixed in that position so that he had great difficulty in straightening up at all.

            The prophet Elisha’s servant was terrified as he looked at the huge army the king of Aram had sent to capture his master (2 Kings 6:15). But Elisha knew he was looking in the wrong direction, seeing only the danger and the size of the opposition. He needed to have his eyes opened to see the divine protection that surrounded them, which was far greater than anything Aram could bring against Elijah (v. 17).

            When life is difficult and we feel we are under pressure, it’s so easy to see nothing but our problems. But the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggests a better way. He reminds us that Jesus went through unimaginable suffering in our place and that if we fix our eyes on Him (12:2), He will strengthen us. 

Categories: Devotionals

Who’s Watching You?

Our Daily Bread - Thu, 08/04/2016 - 18:00

No matter where the athletes of the 2016 Olympics go in the city of Rio de Janeiro, they can see Jesus. Standing high above this Brazilian city and anchored to a 2,310-foot-high mountain called Corcovado is a 100-foot-tall sculpture called Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). With arms spread wide, this massive figure is visible day and night from almost anywhere in the sprawling city.

As comforting as this iconic concrete and soapstone sculpture may be to all who can look up and see it, there is much greater comfort from this reality: The real Jesus sees us. In Psalm 34, David explained it like this: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (v. 15). He noted that when the righteous call out for His help, “The Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (vv. 16–18).

Just who are the righteous? Those of us who place our trust in Jesus Christ, who Himself is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Our God oversees our lives, and He hears the cries of those who trust Him. He is near to help in our greatest times of need.

Jesus has His eyes on you.

Categories: Devotionals

Not Perfect

Our Daily Bread - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 18:00

In his book Jumping Through Fires, David Nasser tells the story of his spiritual journey. Before he began a relationship with Jesus, he was befriended by a group of Christian teens. Although most of the time his buddies were generous, winsome, and nonjudgmental, David witnessed one of them lie to his girlfriend. Feeling convicted, the young man later confessed and asked for her forgiveness. Reflecting on this, David said that the incident drew him closer to his Christian friends. He realized that they needed grace, just as he did.

            We don’t have to act like we’re perfect with the people we know. It’s okay to be honest about our mistakes and struggles. The apostle Paul openly referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He also described his wrestling match with sin in Romans 7, where he said, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). Unfortunately, the opposite was also true: “The evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19).

            Being open about our struggles puts us on the same level with every other human alive—which is right where we belong! However, because of Jesus Christ, our sin will not follow us into eternity. It’s like the old saying goes, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”

Categories: Devotionals

More Than We Can Imagine

Our Daily Bread - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 18:00

What are the five best toys of all time? Jonathan H. Liu suggested the following: A stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt (GeekDad column at wired.com). All are readily available, versatile, appropriate for all ages, fit every budget, and are powered by imagination. No batteries required.

            Imagination plays a powerful role in our lives, so it’s not unusual that the apostle Paul mentioned it in his prayer for the followers of Jesus in Ephesus (Eph. 3:14–21). After asking God to strengthen them with His power through His Spirit (v. 16), Paul prayed that they would be able to grasp and experience the full dimension of the love of Christ (vv. 17–19). In closing, Paul gave glory to “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20).

            Often our experience limits our prayers—a situation we can’t picture being different; destructive habits that remain unbroken; long-held attitudes that seen to defy change. As time passes, we may begin to feel that some things cannot be changed. But Paul says that is not true.

            By God’s mighty power working in us, He is able to do far more than we may dare to ask or even dream of.

Categories: Devotionals

Never Give Up!

Our Daily Bread - Mon, 08/01/2016 - 18:00

Joop Zoetemelk is known as the Netherlands’ most successful cyclist. But that’s because he never gave up. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times—placing second five times before winning in 1980. That’s perseverance!

Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory.

The apostle Paul persevered despite persecution and affliction (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He viewed life with realism, recognizing that as followers of Christ we will suffer persecution (vv. 12–13), but he instructed Timothy to place his faith in God and the encouragement of the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Doing so would help him face discouragement and endure with hope. At the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).

We too can allow the Scriptures to strengthen us to press on in the race marked out for us. For our God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God and will reward those who faithfully finish the race (v. 8). 

Categories: Devotionals

The Best Is Yet to Come

Our Daily Bread - Sun, 07/31/2016 - 18:00

Are the best days of your life behind or in front of you? Our outlook on life—and our answer to that question—can change with time. When we're younger, we look ahead, wanting to grow up. And once we've grown older, we yearn for the past, wanting to be young again. But when we walk with God, whatever our age, the best is yet to come!

         Over the course of his long life, Moses witnessed the amazing things God did, and many of those amazing things happened when he was no longer a young man. Moses was 80 years old when he confronted Pharaoh and saw God miraculously set His people free from slavery (Exod. 3–13). Moses saw the Red Sea part, saw manna fall from heaven, and even spoke with God "face to face" (14:21, 16:4, 33:11).

         Throughout his life, Moses lived expectantly, looking ahead to what God would do (Heb. 11:24-27). He was 120 years old in his final year of life on this earth, and even then he understood that his life with God was just getting started and that he would never see an end to God’s greatness and love.       Regardless of our age, “The eternal God is [our] refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27) that faithfully carry us into His joy.

Categories: Devotionals

The Price of Admission

Our Daily Bread - Sat, 07/30/2016 - 18:00

Every year some two million people from all over the world visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is well worth the admission fee to experience the magnificent structure designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren during the late 17th century. But tourism is secondary at this place of Christian worship. A primary mission of the cathedral is “to enable people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ.” If you want to tour the building and admire the architecture, you must pay an admission fee. But there is no charge to enter and attend any of the daily worship services at St. Paul’s.       

How much does it cost to enter the kingdom of God? Entry is free because Jesus Christ paid the price for us by His death. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). When we acknowledge our spiritual need and accept by faith God’s forgiveness for our sins, we have a new and everlasting life in Him.

You can enter a new life today because, by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has paid the price of admission!

Categories: Devotionals

Keeping Faith

Our Daily Bread - Fri, 07/29/2016 - 18:00

It’s tempting to think of faith as a kind of magic formula. If you muster up enough of it, you’ll get rich, stay healthy, and live a contented life with automatic answers to all your prayers. But life does not work according to such neat formulas. As proof, the author of Hebrews presents a stirring reminder of what constitutes “true faith” by reviewing the lives of some Old Testament giants of faith (Heb. 11).

                  “Without faith,” the author says bluntly, “it is impossible to please God” (11:6). In describing faith he uses words such as “persevere” and “endure.” As a result of their faith, some heroes triumphed: They routed armies, escaped the sword, survived lions. But others met less happy ends: They were flogged, stoned, sawed in two. The chapter concludes, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39).

                  The picture of faith that emerges does not fit into an easy formula. Sometimes it leads to victory and triumph. Sometimes it requires a gritty determination to “hang on at any cost.” Of such people, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (v. 16).

                  What our faith rests on is the belief that God is in ultimate control and will indeed keep His promises—whether that happens in this life or the next.

Categories: Devotionals
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by Dr. Radut