surrender


Romans 1-2 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will determine our faith in Him by our deeds

My mom seldom made pies for her large family because of the time factor involved, but one day she made a beautiful blueberry pie.  I watched her roll the pastry dough, mix up the blueberry filling, top the pie and slide it into the oven.  The smell as it baked was almost intoxicating – I love pie.

After dinner mom sliced up big pieces and topped them with vanilla ice cream.  We all took a big bite simultaneously and then one by one our smiles turned to frowns from the bitter filling.  It seems mom mistakenly used baking soda instead of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.  It looked like a blueberry pie and smelled like a blueberry pie, but it sure didn’t taste like one.  The old English phrase comes to mind, “The proof is in the pudding,” or more accurate is the original saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In our reading today, Paul challenged us with the proof of a believer. 

@ Romans 1
The church in Rome had been around for quite some time, but the Apostles had not had opportunity to visit Rome.  Paul longed to visit the church to strengthen its members in the faith and to teach them, but in the meantime, his letter to them would have to suffice.  His first order of business was to establish their faith.  In this chapter, faith is not the same faith of hope and trust mentioned in Hebrews 11 but is a faith signifying a belief in God.  “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’”(16-17)  Our belief, our faith in God, is what we live by and what brings us to eternal life. 

@ Romans 2
But then Paul made a statement that could be considered contrary to this scripture when he wrote, “He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.(6-7)  We may look like a believer, walk like a believer, go to church like a believer, but He and others will determine if we truly are a believer by what we do.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding.  Our deeds give overwhelming proof of our belief and what is in our hearts.

Paul went on to write that the condition of our hearts is not determined by strict adherence to the law, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.” (28-29)  Only a heart that is submitted to the spirit of God will do the good deeds that the Lord will judge.  Like that old saying, the proof is in the pudding.

Moving Forward:  As I submit my heart to the Lord today, I pray my deeds will prove my faith in God – overwhelming proof!

Tomorrow @ Genesis 1-3

Psalms 140-142 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He perfects and changes us through His messengers

No one likes to be criticized.  I’ve never started the day with the thought I hope someone criticizes me today so that I can grow and improve.  Critical words can disrupt a friendship and destroy family ties, yet when those words come from pure intent, they can change us and make us more like Him.  David was facing an enemy in our reading today.  We don’t know for certain if he was trying to save his own life from the king who had gone rogue or if it was in battle; but in the midst of it all, David opened his life to criticism as he prayed to the Lord for help. 

@ Psalm 141
David’s heart-felt prayer that he offered in a difficult circumstance is an example for us of the contrition and humility we should exhibit in the challenges we face.  His first step was surrender, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.” (2)  His arms were raised in surrender to the One who would help him.  David offered plenty of suggestions of what God could do to his enemies, but his first action was one of surrender.

David surrendered the most difficult member of his body according to James 3:6; he surrendered the words of his mouth.  “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.” (3)  How easy it is in the face of criticism and pressure to spout off the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s rarely a good thing.  Guard our lips, Lord.

Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness.  Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do wrong.” (4)  Seldom do we move from a godly life one day to the depths of sin the next.  It is usually a slow drift, a little compromise here and a little concession there.  It is right here, at this moment, that David opened his life to the possibility of criticism.  God often uses the wise counsel of others to help keep us on track, to keep us from drifting and sharing in the deeds of evil and wickedness.  It’s much easier to see the drift in others because we’re not standing in their skin.

However, David knew exactly what he was praying, “Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness!  If they correct me, it is soothing medicine.  Don’t let me refuse it.” (5)  Only a heart of humility will look at criticism in this way.  The key word is godly. “Let the godly strike me!”  David asked God over and over again to protect him from the criticism of the ungodly, but when the godly offered correction, he said “Bring it on!”  Solomon expressed this same thought throughout Proverbs, “Correct the wise, and they will love you.  Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.” (9:8-9)

No, I don’t like criticism, but when it comes from time to time, I want to listen with the surrendered heart of David, keeping my mouth shut in the face of it. I want to view it as an act of kindness from someone who cares about my well-being and prayerfully consider its message.   In prayer, God has always been faithful to reveal the truth of the matter to my heart.  Even more than my own desire, God wants me to be wise and righteous.  He will send the godly to my life when He sees the drift, and how could I not receive His messengers? 

Moving Forward: It humbles me to think that the God of all heaven and earth is so mindful of the condition of my heart that He sends His messengers to bring wisdom and righteousness to my life.  “All to Jesus, I surrender…” 

Tomorrow @ Song of Solomon 1-2 (Help)

Amos 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He speaks through those He chooses to deliver His message

I must admit that I have a certain affinity toward the prophet Amos.  He was a shepherd who had visions!  Minding his own business and tending sheep in the countryside just south of Bethlehem, he started to receive visions from the Lord.  Perhaps the solitude of the countryside and the lack of social interaction provided the right atmosphere for God to communicate with Amos. This is something I think about when I find myself running all day long.

Amos was not from a family of prophets or priests, but he most certainly had a heart for God with open communication with him.  He was a shepherd and used many metaphors from the pasture in his writings.  Equally important to the lessons learned from what Amos said is the example of how his life reveals God’s intention to use anyone who is willing to touch the world.

Amos was a forerunner in the timeline of Israel’s next three professional prophets. Through divine revelation, he pronounced judgment on the surrounding countries as well as on Israel, and his tactic was brilliant.  People often say that sheep are dumb, and with that thinking, it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence or skill for Amos to tend them. However, through my encounters with countless sheep and numerous shepherds, I can say with confidence that most sheep are not as dumb as they are willful.  How better to describe the mindset of Israel at this time in history – pleasure seeking, idol worshiping willful sheep.

Just like with his sheep, Amos found a way to get the attention of Israel.  In Chapters 1 and 2, Amos waxed eloquent on the judgment that was coming to Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom and Ammon.  This must have thrilled the Israelites, and I can imagine them shouting in agreement with Amos, “Yes! Get them, God, for their injustices to us.” It’s easy to see the error in the lives of others and overlook our own problems, and so it was Israel at that time.

Then in his proclamations, Amos lowered the boom, “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!  They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.  So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.’” (2:4-6)  Party over.

The cultural norm of Israel at this time was not unlike what we are experiencing in the world today, a blending of right and wrong, blurred lines, everything gray.  Do what feels right…it can’t be wrong if it feels so right…God only wants us to feel good.  Many in Israel had crossed the line to what they knew to be wrong, yet did it anyway. After enumerating the ways God had attempted to get Israel’s attention through the years, Amos, speaking for God, delivered the final blow, “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”  I’m fairly certain that any affection for Amos and his message was over.

We can somewhat understand the feelings of the Israelites at this point.  I really don’t like it when a preacher, or a devotional for that matter, gets all up in my business and conviction comes to my heart. It’s easy to get uncomfortable and perhaps a little angry thinking, don’t mess with my gray areas and certainly don’t mess with my sin.   It never helps to shoot the messenger; it only helps to submit to the message.

When I stand before the Lord one day, I want to have responded to His merciful messages, I want to have experienced His wonderful grace and I want to hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  So, messengers of God, bring it! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that He opens doors of ministry to each one of us, regardless of our backgrounds, and I’m ever challenged to submit to the messages that He brings my way. 

Tomorrow @ John 16-18

Philippians 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He empowers us to do what pleases Him 

@ Philippians 1
What a treat it is when we attempt to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time and find ourselves encouraged the most! This is probably how the Philippians felt when they read Paul’s letter to them.  The Philippians were his first congregation on the European continent and his affection for them is obvious. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (3)  I feel this same way about so many people in my life.

The Philippians had supported him throughout his ministry, including his time in prison where he sat writing his letter to them.  I’m sure their hearts were breaking for this father of their faith who had nurtured them and was now in prison for sharing that very faith. Their gifts and messages sent through Epaphroditus – never will I complain about my name again – were no doubt intended to lift his spirits and encourage him.  His response was the joyful letter of Philippians.

Just like a father would do, Paul encouraged them to continue to mature and grow in the Lord regardless of their concern about his prison confinement.  “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives…” (9-10)  Don’t worry about my state of affairs and what I am going through, but press on and you will understand what really matters in life.

“I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (20-21)  We can tell if we have discovered what really matters in life by how tightly we hold on to this world and what it has to offer.  Paul had let go.

Oh, that I would always view the trials I face with the heart and attitude of Paul, “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here…knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (12-14)

What if Paul had responded to his chains with depression and fear, disillusioned by his situation?  The local Christians in Rome, who would soon face great persecution themselves, would have no role model of tenacious faith to follow.  There would be no encouraging letter to the Philippians that we so often quote and receive blessing from today.  Thank you, Paul, for showing us what really matters. 

@ Philippians 2
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (12)  When we reverence God and obey Him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11) and the power that changed Saul to Paul will empower us to do what pleases Him, to do what really matters.  Just as Paul was not alone sitting in that prison cell, we are not alone in our trial.  We can respond to our trial with the same heart and attitude as Paul because of what God is accomplishing within us. 

Moving Forward:  With God working in me today, I am empowered to face this day with tenacious faith, living His example of one who knows what really matters in life – the eternal side of living. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 7-9

1 Kings 5-9 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills our lives with His glorious presence to accomplish His will

“During the fourth year of Solomon’s reign he began to construct the Temple of the Lord…480 years after the people of Israel were rescued from their slavery in the land of Egypt.” (6:1) The construction of the portable Tabernacle that we have read about in Exodus was built to last for several lifetimes – 480 years!  God was specific in His instructions for a reason.

Those of us who have been involved in temporary church sites in strip malls and rented spaces understand the cumbersome putting up and tearing down week after week of sound systems, chairs and all that goes with church.  Compared to 480 years, our duration seems insignificant, but because these accounts in the Bible are given to us as lessons, we would do well to consider the reasons for the delay in the building the permanent temple.

During the 480 years, the Israelites were often disobedient and willful against the Lord and were ruled by many judges of like mind.  The people wanted to be like other nations and demanded a king to rule over them because God was not quite enough in their thinking.  King Saul was a major disappointment to everyone, including God, and David the warrior king had too much bloodshed on his hands for the building of God’s temple.

Finally, King Solomon was chosen for this task.  In the building of almost everything, God uses people as his instruments to accomplish His will.  When the building is taking longer than we desire, it never hurts to examine our hearts.  Are we disobedient or willful in our labors?  Is God’s plan enough in our thinking or are we compelled to help Him out, usurping His plan?  No doubt this will slow down our progress.

A major hindrance to the building of the temple was Israel’s enemies.  From the moment they entered the Promised Land, nobody wanted them there. The Israelites fought to take possession, fought through the judge era and then through the early kings, but they never gave up.  We can be sure that anything we build for the glory of the Lord, be it family, career or church, will be met by resistance from our enemy.  He will attempt to defeat us at every turn, but we can never give up!  Every demon from hell in local governments will thwart our attempt to build a church or a business for the Lord, raising our costs and burying us in red tape.  The enemy may bring out the big guns by attacking our families, but we can never give up!

How do we defeat our enemy and stay strong in our process of building the temple, our family or whatever it is? We do it the same way we maintain victory once we achieve it.  At the completion of the temple, “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord.  The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the temple.”(8:10-11)  I just love it when the presence of the Lord fills my space to the point where I can no longer perform (NIV) or continue my service and it becomes all about Him.  Willfulness and disobedience cannot exist there in His Presence and governments and enemies must bow before Him.  With tenacity to complete the task, I yield to His direction, His handiwork – He is more than enough. 

Moving Forward:  Submitted to His plan for my day, I call for His glorious presence to fill my space, to defeat my enemies and to complete the work He has begun.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 66-68

Jeremiah 17-21 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires to shape us into vessels of honor

Years ago I visited a potter who allowed visitors to take a stab at the potter’s wheel.  My attempt became a literal mud-slinging contest between me and the wheel – the wheel won.  The condition of my clothing testified to that fact.  One thing I learned that day was that the master skills of the potter are difficult to replicate by a novice, and the example given to Jeremiah by God at the potter’s shop in Jeremiah 18 became very real to me.

With the Master Potter willing to mold us into useful vessels of honor, why do we choose to allow novices to mold our lives, often allowing our own willful desires or those of others to influence and shape us? The results are never what God intended.

“[I] found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”(18:3-4)  As long as the clay was soft and moldable, the potter was able to crush and remold it; but in time, the clay became dry and ultimately hardened.  It was no longer possible to refine its shape into something useful.  Sadly, this was the shape that Israel was in. 

Repentance would have challenged God to start over with the nation that had not turned out as He had hoped, molding it into a nation of honor, but repentance did not come. So God allowed the hardened vessel to be smashed as foretold in Chapter 19 through the Babylonian invasion.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (17:7-8) While traveling the countryside, I’ve always been able to know where the rivers and streams are located by the outcrop of trees and shrubs that grow alongside them.  Their roots have reached into the water source.

When we make the Lord our hope and confidence rather than the dictates of our own desires, our roots reach deep into the Source.  Instead of becoming dry and hardened, we remain fresh and supple, and our presence points others to the Source as they travel life’s countryside.  Even in this, we are useful vessels of honor for Him. 

Moving Forward: A cherished old hymn comes to mind, “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

Tomorrow @ Mark 11-12

Mark 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His Heart: He calls us to surrender everything so that we may receive everything

I give up! Or, I should say, I gave up! Many, many years ago this reluctant college-bound student knelt at an altar and gave up her plans and aspirations for a career in decor and design in exchange for His plans and aspirations for her. It was a struggle, but He won – and so did I! There’s nothing wrong with a career as a designer. It just wasn’t His plan for my life. The life I’ve walked since that day of surrender hasn’t been without its challenges, but His abiding peace and guidance has been with me every step of the way. I’m so glad I gave up.

@ Mark 8
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (34) Mark was writing to the Romans who understood the significance of taking up the cross as surrender to Roman power, and it was important for Mark to relay these words of Jesus. Jesus was calling those in the crowd that day to follow Him, to lay down their own aspirations in surrender to His guidance and to accept Him as their Savior. And He is calling each one of us today to do the same.

This challenge from Jesus includes a willingness to allow His will for our lives to take preeminence over our own will. Is the trade worth it? If we think about it, this struggling over decisions and direction in life all on our own and then living through the consequences of wrong choices is not all that appealing. Instead, receiving direction from One who knows the future and who has our best interests at heart, while offering sweet fellowship here on earth with the promise of eternal life in heaven…well, how do you improve on that? Wisdom would say the trade is worth it.

Jesus took commitment a step further, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (34-37) Jesus taught by example. He gave up – He gave it all through His death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.

At least ten individuals, His disciples, listening to Him that day ended up giving up their lives as martyrs, for His sake and for the sake of the Good News. A sobering thought, to say the least. While our surrendering to Him today does carry this potential, most of us will continue on as business men and women, doctors, nurses, sales clerks, grocers, missionaries, ministers or whatever He has guided us to do. But for the sake of our souls we will continue on our journey, ever surrendered to Him “for His sake and for the sake of the Good News.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  These are the words of Jim Elliot, a man who gave up everything in the jungles of Ecuador for the sake of the Good News!

Moving Forward: With joy I repeat, I gave up! I surrendered it all to Him, and I’ve gained it all! With His help, I’ll never take it back.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 13-14

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