“If you should choose to accept this mission . . .”

When Jesus approached Paul near Damascus, He told him through Ananias that he was to be “My chosen instrument to take My message to the Gentiles and to kings as well as to the people of Israel.  And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15)  An ominous assignment!

Returning from his third missionary journey, Paul told the elders at Ephesus that he had been told “by the Holy Spirit that in city after city, jail and suffering lay ahead.” (20:23)  In Caesarea, he told those wanting him to go hide himself from danger, “Why all this weeping?  You are breaking my heart!  I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem, but even to die for the Lord Jesus.”  (Acts 21:13)  This was very much like the response Peter got from Jesus, when He outlined the sequence of His certain death approaching in Jerusalem.  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are not thinking God’s thoughts but man’s.”

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This is really bold devotion to God’s assignment!  Both Paul and Jesus were totally committed to God’s plan for reconciling men to Himself through them, even if it would cost them their lives.  Paul must have been “prayed-up” to prepare him for the moment, when carried on the shoulders of the Roman guards to get him out of the murderous hands of the Jewish mob, asking if he could have a word with his accusers.  He saw and seized the opportunity to speak publicly to a large crowd of people.  (37, 39)  This eventually did get him imprisoned and much later executed, but it provided many months of opportunities for him to speak before Jewish leaders, Roman authorities, soldiers, and judges.

None of Paul’s difficult circumstances happened by accident.  All was planned and known by the Lord, who is always busy bringing glory to Himself and bringing new children into His adopted family, in belief and trust. He is always in control, sovereignly bringing to pass His unstoppable plan.  Nothing can kill us or stop us, until God is through using us to accomplish what He has planned to do through us.

O Lord, help me to trust You in the difficult circumstances that naturally come in life.  May You use every crisis to Your glory and the extension of Your kingdom.  I trust You to preserve my health and my life until such time as You have completed what tasks You created me for.

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As one approaches the house where the Japanese tea service is offered, the middle gate (naka kuguri) is purposefully small, requiring slight stooping to enter.  This is intended to help those who approach to do so humbly, reverently anticipating the experience.  This is a time of quiet self-awareness and -examination, and an openness to personal growth.

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Likewise, we do well to approach God humbly, reverently, aware of our neediness and of His majesty and power.

But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”       Isaiah 66:2  NASB

If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”                                                                                    2 Chronicles 7:14 NASB

A good place to start in our journey to seek humility would be to fear God appropriately.  For this leads to wisdom, and wisdom teaches us humility.  It opens our eyes to who we really are and who God is, in comparison.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
”                        Proverbs 9:10  NIV

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”                                  James 3:13   NIV

O God, help me to voluntarily learn my rightful posture before You, so You do not need to forcefully teach me humility.

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O come let us adore Him!

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”                                             Revelation 4:8, 11

Half Dome at SunsetThe first phrase of this praise to God comes unceasingly, day and night, from four living creatures who are within and around His throne in heaven.  Holy is an attribution to God that He is totally other than anyone or any thing in all creation.  There is no one like Him in heaven or on earth.  A feeling that is similar to what might provoke us to say Holy would be our uncontrollable gasp in awe when we first step up to its edge and look into the Grand Canyon.  Lord let me daily approach You with such appropriate awe!

God simply identifies this totally overarching Being as Him from whom all things were created and to whom all things are due.  Lord conveys a more personal relationship of King/subject or Father/son, implying ownership, caring, and responsibility for the well-being of the lesser party.  That this personal Lord God is also Almighty is comforting and reassuring, since He dedicates Himself to our well-being.  Were He not also our caring Lord, His infinite power would be terribly frightening.  The four living creatures attribute to this Lord they worship that He has always existed and always will.  He is the only self-existant One.  He will make things right, and He will always be there to keep them right.

The next verse (11) is voiced by His believing human creation, the 24 elders, now translated into heaven.  They honor their Lord by casting before Him the crowns awarded to them.  These 24 elders praise Him for His power and His sovereignty, for He creates anything He wills into being by simply willing it to be. 

O give me a heart that approaches You with appropriate humility and contrition, acknowledging Your infinite majesty and control over the universe and my total dependence on You to order every detail of my life.


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Misusing the Precious Gift of Sex

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.  You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”  The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?  Never!  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?  For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”  But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

“Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

This last half of 1 Corinthians 6 addresses the foolhardiness of taking license from the undeserved grace of God’s forgiveness to live a life of misusing His gift of sexual pleasure.  Paul’s logic is that, 1) though forgiven, these sins are not good for us,  2) it is never good to be enslaved to anything,  3) sexual joys are only for this world; spiritual joys and living by the Spirit are for eternity,  4) our bodies are important, as they will be raised up at the end of time, so we must be good stewards of them,  5) we are both part of Christ Himself (He is the head; we are His body, as in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and we are temples of the Holy Spirit, so we must not desecrate ourselves in this way, and that  6) we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price.  So we must live in a way that fits in with the designs of our Maker and Owner.

Lord, help me to live in such a way as to honor and please You.  Help me not to waste my precious time on earth wallowing in mud or misusing your precious gifts.

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Timid ambassadors

In Corinth, rebuffed and frustrated by resistance to his teaching, Paul was encouraged by his Lord in a night vision, “Do not be afraid!  Speak out!  Don’t be silent!  For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to Me.” (18:9)  So Paul stayed there 1 ½ years, encouraging and teaching them.  It is comforting to me that, as bold as he was, Paul also had fears and required reassurance.  His frustration shows his human frailty.  I can identify with that.

I’ve read that courage is not the absence of fear but the character quality which allows us to do the right thing despite our fear.  It also helped for God to remind him that he was not alone;  not all depended on him.  For God had been working in the hearts of these Corinthians before Paul ever arrived, and many already believed.  Others were ready to be harvested.   We are not alone in ministry;  we are partners with the God of the universe, who goes before us!

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”                           2 Corinthians 5:18-20

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Lord, give me confidence and courage to carry out the mission You assigned to me.  Remind me that I represent You to people in my circles of influence, not in my own inadequate capacity, but in Your strength.  You have gone before me to prepare hearts receptive to Your truth.  I will not recognize who these people are unless I initiate spiritual conversation with them.  I will leave the results to You.

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Sin-expelling devotion

Jesus told the parable of the man healed of the unclean spirit who ended up in a worse condition than he had suffered before he was purged.  He had nothing to take the place in his life previously occupied by that spirit.  “And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”     Luke 11:25-26

In 1830 Thomas Chalmers spoke of The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, expanding on this theme.  He said that the best reformer of our life is not redoubled effort in overcoming our sinful patterns.  Rather, the best progress is made when our hearts are filled to the brim with the joy that comes from our close relationship with the Father who has adopted us.   

Charles Spurgeon also wrote of this phenomenon in his devotional Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden 1883.

Spurgeon begins by quoting a Puritan from the early 17th century, Thomas Manton:  “Old leaves, if they remain upon the trees through the autumn and the winter–fall off in the spring.”  Spurgeon elaborates:


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We have seen a hedge all thick with dry leaves throughout the winter, and neither frost nor wind has removed the withered foliage–but the spring has soon cleared them off. The new life dislodges the old, pushing it away as unsuitable to it.

In the same way, our old corruptions are best removed by the growth of new graces.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!”         2 Corinthians 5:17

It is as the new life buds and opens, that the old worn-out things of our former state are compelled to give up their hold of us. Our wisdom lies in living near to God, that by the power of His Holy Spirit all our graces may be vigorous, and may exercise a sin-expelling power over our lives — the new leaves of grace pushing off our old worldly affections and habits of sin.

With new converts, it is often better not to lay down stringent rules as to worldly amusements–but leave the new life and its holier joys, to push off the old pleasures. Thus it will be done more naturally and more effectively.

We have all heard of the expulsive power of a new affection. This new affection of love to God coming into the soul, expels love to sin!

Spurgeon prays:  Lord, let Your life in me, push off the relics of my former sinful self–that I may put on the new man, and manifest Your transforming grace!

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New citizenship; new King

In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 6 is such good news!  Paul’s logic is that, since we have judicially died with Christ, we should exercise the confidence that we are also dead (or no longer obligated) to sin and temptation.  It no longer has obligatory control over us.  We now have a choice – to choose right or wrong.  It makes no sense to offer ourselves back to our old master.

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He caused us so much harm and loss when we were under his dictatorship.  It is crazy to continue doing that!  I now have the choice to obey my New Master, my Creator, who knows what is best for me and always leads me in ways that are good and beneficial to me and productive for His kingdom.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.                              Romans 8:12-13 NLT

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His Simple Gift

A major theme in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is God’s powerful, elegant simplicity.  He makes earthshaking, epoch-defining restoration in the world we have ruined, through humble, simple principles, one individual at a time.  Although “the message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed to destruction, . . [it is actually the very] power of God.” 18  “God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom.”  He used His simple plan of salvation “to bring to nothing what the world considers important.” 21, 28

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This is the most important thing that will ever happen to anyone – “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and He freed us from sin.” 30  He restored His errant creation back to His original design.  He did it, since we could not do it ourselves.  Forgiveness and eternal life are easily obtained; it is ours for the asking.  But we must receive His gift with empty hands, having given up all hope of ever earning His acceptance through what we do for Him.  As he says in this chapter, this path to eternal life does not appeal to most people in our world today, who prefer to think of themselves as being a significant part of the solution for the mess they are in.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it isthe gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”             Ephesians 2:8-9

” . . being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:24

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No longer a robot

Romans 6 tells me that I have died to sin when I died with Christ.  Often, I do not feel so dead to it.  Temptation and sin still can have a strong pull, urging me to live for myself and forget God’s design for me.  But translators tell us that, “Our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with” (6:6), means that this old body of sin has been rendered powerless by Christ’s crucifixion.  Sin can be likened to a toothless lion.  Or an evil king that has been dethroned and imprisoned, yet still barking orders to his former subjects, frightening them unnecessarily.   I can still choose to succumb to his orders, but I no longer have to.  I now have a choice.  I can choose to listen to Another Voice and follow the Good Shepherd.

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Chapter 7 reassures me that this means that I have died also to the Law, so that it no has jurisdiction over me.  I am no longer subject to its condemnation.  Christ has fulfilled all the requirements of the Law in my place;  I no longer have to do this to be right in God’s eyes.  Just as I have been forgiven forever, not according to what I have done, but according to God’s choice to punish Jesus in my place, so too, I can now only live a life that makes Him smile when I stop trying to perform in my own effort and let Him do what I cannot.

So I am no longer wringing my hands at not being able to do what I want to do, nor at not being able to do what I know is right. Christ has already lived my righteousness for me.  Dead to the Law, I no longer have to see righteous goals and tell myself, “That is what you now must do!”  Instead, I say, “O Lord, that kind of victorious, righteous life is beautiful!  I want to be like that!  You can make me like that!  Please do it for me!  I cannot do this on my own.  I trust You to make me like that!”

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Gifted to make a contribution

Exodus 31 records the Lord’s statement that He purposefully filled Bezalel with His Spirit, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts – such as were needed for the building of the portable tabernacle they would use during their wilderness wanderings, as well as all the accoutrements of worship.  In fact, God gave to all  the workmen on the project special skills for the accomplishment of this important work. This is in keeping with the gravity of the task — which would help the people of Israel worship in a reverent manner appropriate to the majesty of their King.

dreamstime_xxl_131671332.jpgThese are not spiritual gifts, such as are listed in the New Testament for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.  I believe that He likely gifts all people in ways that help them to flesh out the glory of God’s creation.  Believers in Christ are given specific spiritual gifts to build up His people to maturity and usefulness.   But I also believe God generously gives common grace to all creation to show off attractively the beauty and goodness of His creation.  This can manifest in harmonious social order, soul stirring music, beautiful buildings, lovely paintings and sculpture —  God gifts people he can use to make the world He created run as smoothly as possible, even presently shackled by the corruption of sin.  People are used by God in their spheres of influence, through artistic endeavors, their careers, hobbies, community involvement, and neighborhood contacts.

Thank You, Lord, for standing back with satisfaction as You created the world and saying, “Now, that is good!”  Thank You for letting us be a part of Your precious creation.  Thank You for gifting us be useful to You in making the world run smoothly.  Thank You for using flawed, broken tools like us.  Forgive us where we fail You.

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