Monday, March 19, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 23

Monday, March 19, 2018
Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you.  This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.  It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.  We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.  It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own.  Our qualification comes from God.  He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant.  This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit.  The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.  
2 Corinthians 3:3-6(NLT)
God led the Apostle Paul to Corinth, and as Paul followed God’s leading there was a strong movement of God’s Spirit.  That resulted in a church that was to have a huge impact on the spreading of God’s message throughout the region.
In his later testimony before the high council of Israel, Paul described in his own words how previously he had been the chief persecutor of the church:
And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.  The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so.  For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.  Acts 22:4-5(NLT)
Back then he had been called Saul; now, with a changed heart and a re-purposed mission, his name was also changed to Paul, and the Spirit of God moved mightily in his life to change the world.
This is the difference between spirit and letter of the law.  The “letter of the law” alerts us to the fact that sin is possible…indeed, it is impossible to avoid.  The “spirit of the law” is written without words on the heart, deep within, and lifts us to a higher plane. 
Saul had been acting on the letter – even carrying letters of condemnation against Jesus and the church.  The letter of the law can only create division between people, and more separation between humans and God; the Spirit, conversely, knits our brokenness together.  Previously Saul was a breaker, destroying people’s lives; now, under the direction of the Spirit of God speaking mercy and grace to his heart, a once-condemned sinner became a saint, and was building the church instead of tearing it apart.
The Spirit of God always dwells in places where hearts are tender, responding to love, grace, and mercy.  It is that condition to which Lent drives us.  Like Paul, confronted with a great light (which was actually the presence of the resurrected Jesus) on the Road to Damascas; the light blinded him, led him to accept Christ, healed his spiritual and physical blindness, and set him on a road that would turn the world upside down for the Kingdom of God.[2]
We are also confronted with that same light when we consider the great sacrifice of the cross.  It is not a light you can ignore for long.
For You Today
The letter of the law always ends in death, because sin is always first-degree.  The spirit of the law ends in life. 
If the abundant life of Christ is your aim, let the light hit your heart…that’s where the Spirit of God wants to live.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of
[2] Acts 9:3-20

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 22

Friday, March 16, 2018
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God.  He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins.  And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses.  That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.  And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor.  He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was.  
Hebrews 4:14 – 5:4(NLT)
In yesterday’s devotion we considered the importance of confession in our Lenten journey.  Scripture declares over and over that confession is indeed good for the soul.  To ignore that truth and practice is to trample the grace by which we are saved.  Confession should be quick, genuine and without reservation; without confession we cannot begin to have a relationship with God, much less continue.
Today’s passage leads us to the priest who receives our confession…and, for me, the rub of ministry leadership.  Of course Jesus is THE High Priest; no ordinary human can fill this role.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for sin was sufficient; it was one time – for all time and all persons.  We need no other high priest; Christ IS our salvation.  That being noted, we see also that God does call humans to serve in a priestly fashion, leading others in their dealings with God.  And God reserves the selection of these to Himself.
The “rub” – or place where the rubber encounters the road, when it comes to being called as a minister (priest, if you will), is whether it is God doing the calling, or if it is some other voice.  This is the struggle-story I’ve heard countless times.  A person senses a pull towards ministry and then spends, perhaps, years running from it…fearing answering a call that may not have been a call from God at all.  Perhaps it was just a weird stomach cramp after too much pepperoni on the previous night’s pizza.  Or the supposed call was really just a pull towards getting a little needed attention to boost a poor self-esteem level.  (That one is really pathetically-funny actually…because, if God didn’t call you into ministry, you will have nothing to sustain you when the actual day-to-day of ministering to people blows your self-esteem out of the water, and you are left sitting in a corner somewhere staring at your naval.) 
In the end, those who choose ministry as a career, rather than respond to God who does the choosing, will find a hollow emptiness instead of the leading of that still, small voice.  It’s the difference between the called one who empties himself…and is filled by God with His Spirit and the fire to preach the Word…as opposed to the one full of himself, who just enjoys having preeminence in leadership.[2]
That principle is also just as valid in the pew as it is in the pulpit.  If we assume we are Christian by virtue of anything less than God’s grace and call to forgiveness by repenting of our sins, we are as foolish as a child playing with toy soldiers in the backyard thinking he is conducting a war.  The difference is huge, considering one day the child will probably grow up and understand the difference between play war and the obscenity of real war.  Not so in pretending to be a Christian by being good, being obedient, or thinking your way into being better; a pretend Christian just isn’t.
For You Today
1 Hand-PenEmptying before God all of who you really are, trusting in Christ alone, will result in being filled to overflowing with Who He is!  That is a terribly flawed English sentence, but an eternal, life-giving, life-changing truth you cannot live without.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of
[2] See 3 John – the apostle’s warning against being like Diotrephes.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 21

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.  Wash me clean from my guilt.  Purify me from my sin.  For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.  You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.  For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.  But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.  Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.  Don’t keep looking at my sins.  Remove the stain of my guilt.  Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me.  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.   Psalm 51:1-12(NLT)
Having spent the early and middle years of my life in a religious tribe for which Lent was something those other people did, I missed a lot of opportunity to develop a readiness to do good for my soul.  This thought arises out of one of our idioms which says it plainly, that confession is good for the soul.
Now this idea and the idiom it belongs to is not merely a cultural saying, born from human wisdom; the concept is all over the pages of Scripture. 
Our insides are not equipped to hold onto our sins like a killer keeping his secret:
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  
Psalm 32:3(NLT)
Holding on to and hiding our sin holds us back from growing:
People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.  Proverbs 28:13(NLT)
Leaders of great movements like Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls confessed:
I confess that we have sinned against you.  Yes, even my own family and I have sinned!  Nehemiah 1:6(NLT)
Relationships can be reclaimed:
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense.  If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.   Matthew 18:15(NLT)
Our wholeness and physical health depend on confession:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  
James 5:16(NLT)
Being forgiven is the entry to an unburdened life with a clear heart:
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  1 John 1:9(NLT)
The question that haunts my understanding of human nature about confessing our sins is:  If confession is so good for us, why are we so reluctant to do it? 
And the answer to that question is no different now than it was for the first pair of humans who sinned and wouldn’t own up to it:
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.  I was afraid because I was naked.”  “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked.  “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”  Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”  “The serpent deceived me,” she replied.  “That’s why I ate it.” 
Genesis 3:8-13(NLT)
Pride – when you stand naked before God with cookie crumbs all over the hands that have done what you’ve been told not to do…well, it’s time to pass the buck!
For You Today
1 Hand-PenLent is a time for owning that buck, and releasing it back into the hand of your God.                                                  
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 20

Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery.  They rebelled against the words of God, scorning the counsel of the Most High.  That is why he broke them with hard labor; they fell, and no one was there to help them.  “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.  He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains.  Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.  For he broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.  Psalm 107:10-16(NLT)
Darkness, deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery – can we say depression?  Can we say “mother of all depressions”?  Anyone (including myself) who has suffered a bout (or a lifetime) with the pit knows what Buck Owens and Roy Clark were singing about all those years:
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me[2]
This unofficial theme of the long-running TV variety show Hee Haw, is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that we tend to poke fun at that which we cannot change.      It is the corollary to needing to laugh so you don’t cry.
Of course the Psalmist never met Buck Owens or Roy Clark; this Biblical author was writing a chronicle of Israel’s disobedience to God, and her dark times of consequence. 
You are certainly on thin ice when you draw conclusions about individual behavior from circumstances surrounding national sins or successes.  However, there are many parallels in Scripture that help us understand why a nation or an individual can wind up in the pit of despair. 
For Israel, and for every human being who has drawn breath, there is a birth from God, rebellion against God, and God’s offer to heal and restore life.  Some respond well; others simply sit in the darkness.  A case in point is Nineveh, the ancient enemy of Israel.  Jonah, the Hebrew prophet, was instructed by God to preach to that city, warning them of impending judgment if they didn’t repent.  Eventually Jonah did just that, and the entire nation responded in national mourning for their sins.  The result was national health.  The same story can be repeated for individuals from beggars to kings.
The flip-side of this is stubbornness.  The Pharaoh in Egypt resisted God’s messages through Moses.  In this case Pharaoh suffered, but he brought suffering on the entire nation, including the first-born son of every household.  Sometimes national and personal consequences are intertwined.  But certainly not always!
Buck and Roy’s song is a gentle reminder that depression, whether lifelong or temporary, demands a hard look at where it came from.  Whether we find our depression comes from the spur of a situation beyond our control or a genetic predisposition towards a melancholic outlook to be the diagnosis of our despondency, there is, genuinely a one-size-fits-all place to find help…our Creator who made us is always willing to love us.
For You Today
The Psalmist said God snapped Israel’s chains of darkness, broke the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron.  Certainly God can deal with the shadows that are holding you down.1 Hand-Pen
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of
[2] Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me, Lyrics by Bernie Brillstein, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth, recorded by Roy Clark & Buck Owens, 1969

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 19

Tuesday, March 13, 2018
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.  And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.  
1 Corinthians 10:12-13(NLT)
Paul’s wild-child in the faith was the Corinthian bunch, a church planted in a garden that was a rampant sinful culture; it was sexually-charged, superstitious, arrogant and unrestrained.  That certainly sounds like the 21st century in the good ol’ USA! 
The letters Paul wrote to the church at Corinth were heavy on correcting their wrong ideas about how to live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And in these three short sentences we find some of the greatest (and sometimes most misunderstood) advice to any believer endeavoring to live the life in-Christ when residing in a culture that is a moral cesspool.

There is a caution

Paul says that human nature is now what it has always been; what is written in Scripture about those who fell into sin is there to teach and remind us of just how powerful and insidious moral failure can be.  In the current day we should not need such words; our culture would probably make 1st century Corinthians blush!

There is a reminder: 

Paul reminds his fellow believers that God is faithful, and will not allow a temptation in your life greater than you are able to withstand.  This is one of those verses that is so-often misunderstood.  Sometimes temptation comes that is way over our pay grade.  That doesn’t mean God has laid-down his faithfulness; it usually means we have wandered off the straight path and gone looking for forbidden fruit.

There is a light:  

Notice Paul didn’t write in his letters to the believers IF you are tempted; he used the more definite WHEN you are tempted.  Temptation is a little like trials and tribulations.  You’re either in the middle of one, just come out of one, or, brace yourself because you’re about to bump-into one. 
The great reformer Martin Luther analogized temptations as the picture of birds circling overhead.  His teaching was that you cannot help it if they land on your head, but you certainly have something to say about them building a nest up there.
Temptation is a fact of life in the fallen human race.  But Paul points to the light that God will always provide a sure path to defeat temptation.  The light Paul offers in his advice to the Corinthians is equipped with the switch, so-to-speak, that is in our hands.  God will show you the way out IF you’re ready to cooperate with the Spirit and do the right thing.  If you’re pre-disposed to claiming victim status – that you can’t resist – the temptation is too strong, what you’re really saying is that Christ in you is a lie, and God’s promise is untrue.
My dear Christian friends, save the cards, letters, and emails about the power of addictions and the pitiful nature of those with poor genetic inheritance; temptation is an offer of sin against Almighty God, whom you have promised to worship and obey.  Like you, I have a carnal nature within that feels the pull of temptation.  I also have the Spirit within fighting against that nature.  Which is going to win that spiritual war going on?  The answer is much like the owner of two fighting dogs – the dog that is equipped to win is the one the owner feeds.  Feed your temptation/addiction/genetic-disposition with its cravings…or feed your spirit that which dwells on a higher plane.
For You Today
1 Hand-PenGod has promised to provide a pathway through, around, or over the temptations that come your way.  The choice comes down to the straight and narrow, but sometimes really hard way…or the one our culture offers.  The choice is always ours!                         
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 18

Monday, March 12, 2018
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.  After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus.  “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us.  Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus.  “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”  Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”  “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.  Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things?  I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.  But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  No one has ever gone to heaven and returned.  But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.  
John 3:1-13(NLT)
For a smart man, Nicodemus had trouble comprehending spiritual issues.  That is quite problematic for someone charged with guiding a nation’s spiritual and moral conscience.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the rulers, meaning he probably sat on the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling council.  As such, this important man who came to Jesus under cover of night (perhaps afraid his colleagues would find out he was consulting with a simple carpenter) should have recognized what the carpenter was saying.
The simple question here is:  What was Nicodemus’ disconnect?  To be a Pharisee at all Nicodemus would have had to be highly educated, particularly in the Scriptures.  The Pharisees had the strictest moral code, held the Scriptures in highest priority as God’s Word to be obeyed, and, this night he opened the conversation with Jesus as an honest, willing-to-learn, open-minded scholar…or was he?
The ruler seemed to have a right attitude, except for the fact that he didn’t.  He framed his question in the form of teaching Jesus, rather than presenting himself as one who needed to be taught.  He said: we all know you’re from God.  He said:  you’ve come to teach us.  He said (essentially):  the evidence – the miracles you do – support our theis; so, Jesus, I’m here; teach me if you will…I’m waiting.
Now, I’m willing to admit I’ve made the cardinal sin of reading that last bit into the text.  Considering Nicodemus came to Jesus at all indicates he probably wasn’t defiant, daring Jesus to teach him – a learned Pharisee.  But attitude notwithstanding, Nicodemus still got it wrong; Jesus had not come primarily to be a teacher…rather he came to be a preacher.  He didn’t come to have a conversation; he came to announce the Kingdom’s arrival and that salvation was at hand.  Notice Jesus’ first sermon in the synagogue of his home town:
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”  He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.  All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently.  Then he began to speak to them.  “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  Luke 4:16-21(NLT)
It’s no wonder a man, deeply trained in Scripture, Theology, Reason, and the Experience of being immersed in the religious life of God’s people didn’t get it at all when Jesus said that he had to be born again.  Nicodemus was expecting a thesis from the teacher, along with appropriately detailed discussion; Jesus laid out an ultimatum. 
For You Today
1 Hand-PenOur Lenten Walk is a season of preparation to be dead-honest with Jesus in all we do and say.  Don’t repeat the Nicodemus blunder of trying to control the conversation; let God determine everything about your agenda today.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lenten Walk - Part 17

Friday, March 9, 2018
Then I, Daniel, looked and saw two others standing on opposite banks of the river.  One of them asked the man dressed in linen, who was now standing above the river, “How long will it be until these shocking events are over?”  The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, “It will go on for a time, times, and half a time.  When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened.”  I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant.  So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?”  But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end.  Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials.  But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand.  Only those who are wise will know what it means.  
Daniel 12:5-10(NLT)
God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan.  And this is the plan:  At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.  Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.  Ephesians 1:9-11(NLT)
Much of what Daniel recorded is apocalyptic, casting a vision for (what was for him) the future conclusion of God’s plan for all humankind.  It didn’t make much sense to him, but the LORD explained to Daniel it was going to be like our government’s secrets – sealed and out of sight until a later date.
Fast forward six centuries and Gods prophecy to Daniel is beginning to be unveiled through the Apostle Paul.  That plan is to bring all of Gods mysterious, free grace to bear on all creation.  Like an incredibly wealthy father gathering his children, grands, and all the cousins by the dozens for a final blessing and distribution of the wealth, God, at the time of His choosing, will conclude history with the grandest possible blessing.  God will draw His children to Himself Gods very presence is the ultimate and utmost blessing; there is nothing greater possible. 
This is the somewhat veiled theme of the Lenten Season – that we have little to fear as we walk, even through the valley of the shadow of death, for God has an immutable plan that will result in endless fellowship between Himself and all who love Him.
The fact is, you need that on the Lenten pathway that leads through Golgotha a few weeks from now.  You need that when your job is at risk, or the doctor uses the “C” word.  You need that when you get served divorce papers out of the blue.  You need that when you get a call from the hospital and the first words are:  your daughter.  You need God’s plan to which you can cling when life comes undone.
And life does come undone!  Have you notitced these past 3 weeks the picture on this devotion?  It’s a path through the dense woods; woods that surround the path, and hang-over the path, casting shadows over everything.  At the end of the path, almost out of sight, there is a man…walking.  This is a metaphor for walking through life in all of its’ uncertainty. 
Stephen King would love this path.  America’s premier author of suspense and horror sees a path like this, and his creative juices give birth to fear.  Some of his quotes belong on this path:
Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.[2]
Life’s pathway can be bright at times…sometimes the dark, scary patches seem to win!                                                  
For You Today
Lent is a time to declare God’s light, no matter how many shadows try to say otherwise!
1 Hand-PenYou chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.


[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of