Thursday, January 28, 2010

Right hearts, right actions

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Genesis 42:28 (New Living Translation):

“Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!” Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?”

Two weeks ago, I started again on a trek to read through the Bible again in a year. (There is a link at the end of this devotional.) When I came to the story of Jacob, his wives, his, concubines and his 12 sons, I was delighted, because Joseph is one of my favorite Old Testament characters. His life story is one of mystery and intrigue. It could be a modern-day drama on the big screen, with murder plots, deceit, sex, thievery and revenge – all the good stuff. Joseph has an amazing ability to keep his trust in God at every travail that he encounters.

At this point in the story, Joseph is second in command of all Egypt, and his brothers have come from Canaan to buy grain to keep from starving during a severe famine. Joseph recognizes his brothers right away and begins to plot revenge, though what he really wants from them is a confession of their dirty deeds some 15 years prior. The storyline goes back and forth, and Joseph even makes his brothers out to be thieves and prepares prison cells for them. Spine-tingling stuff, all of it.

This passage in Genesis is rich with behind-their-thinking scenes. “What has God done to us?” the brothers ask each other. It seems God is, indeed, weighing heavily on the brothers’ minds. I do think God weighs on our minds to fix what we’ve broken. Relationships are important to God, and when our lies hurt someone, God expects, more than anything, for us to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. Lastly, he expects us to change our ways. True reconciliation can’t happen without those three things.

Now, Joseph didn’t become the No. 2 honcho in all of Egypt for nothing. Pharaoh saw that he was a wise man who knew God intimately. That was a combination that Pharaoh admired greatly in Joseph. He plays a cat-and-mouse game with his brothers for one reason: He genuinely wants to know his brothers are repentant for their deeds long ago. He wants to see that their hearts have changed. That’s what God wants from us, too. He keeps putting things in our lives to remind us that we have some confessing and reconciling to do. Jesus said if we’re at the altar ready to drop money in the offering basket, but have a broken relationship that needs fixing, to pull our cash back and go repair the friendship first. God wants right hearts first, then right actions. That’s what Joseph wanted from his brothers, and it’s what God wants from us.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to hear your voice when you call on me to reconcile a relationship. Help me to know what I must do to fix what is broken. Amen

This week’s reading plan can be found at http:/

Monday, January 25, 2010

The aftermath of deception

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Genesis 33:8 (New Living Translation): “And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?” Esau asked. Jacob replied, “They are a gift, my lord, to ensure your friendship.”

Liars have to constantly work at covering up the lies of their past. Isaac named his second son Jacob because he came out of his mother’s womb grasping onto Esau’s heel. The Hebrew for Jacob sounds like “heel” or “deceiver.” From the time he was a boy, Jacob played the part of the deceiver. He stole his brother’s blessing and birthright by lying to his father. He wasn’t honest with Laban when he took his wives and clan away from the valley he had lived in for 20 years. Lying had become a part of Jacob’s daily life.

As Jacob and his family get closer to his brother Esau, he plots to bribe his brother because he fears for his life, because Esau had threatened his life when his birthright was stolen. God has blessed Jacob greatly while working for Laban, who, it must be noted, did not treat Jacob very fairly. After agreeing to let Jacob marry his younger daughter Rachel after seven years of labor, he tricked him into marrying gloomy-eyed Leah first. Then Laban made Jacob work another seven years for Rachel’s hand. Jacob felt firsthand what it felt like to be deceived.

The term “Liars’ Den” means that liars stick together or deserve each other, which certainly suited Laban and Jacob. A liar’s reputation takes awhile from which to recover. Businessmen or salespeople who lie and cheat their customers soon gain the tag of “untrustworthy” or “unreliable.” People like that tell themselves that “everyone does it; what’s the big deal?” God helps Jacob overcome his dishonesty by changing his name to Israel, so he doesn’t have to live down to his namesake.

That’s why God tells us it’s so important to be honest and trustworthy, in all our dealings. When we fail to be honest, we are to go to the other party, confess our sins and seek forgiveness. There may be painful consequences to our lying, such as broken trust in a relationship. Being honest is at the forefront of any healthy relationship. Many dating and marital relationships are strained by lies and deceit. Trust is hard to gain in such circumstances. Warning: If you’re dating someone and lying is a part of their MO, get out now: It’s not too late. Don’t marry a born liar: Married life will be hell for the deceived.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to be honest with all my relationships. Help me to have a heart like Jesus, and be truthful with everyone I come across. Amen

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do you have sparkly eyes?

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Genesis 29:16-17 (New Living Translation): Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face.

The story of Jacob and Rachel is one of love and patience. From the first time Jacob laid eyes on Rachel, he was “in love” with her. That first glance hooked Jacob, and he was willing to work seven years for his Uncle Laban to gain her hand in marriage. Who among us would be willing to wait seven years to marry someone– with no other wages during that time other than room and board.

What has always attracted my eye in this story was the description of Rachel. This New Living Translation calls Rachel “beautiful” and “lovely” when Jacob saw her, but when he looked at her older sister Leah, she had no “sparkle.” The NIV calls it “weak” eyes, and the footnote in the NLT calls it “dull” eyes, but the Hebrew meaning is uncertain. In plain Ennglish, Leah was boring. What I believe Jacob saw in Rachel – but not in Leah – was a zest for life. Rachel was happy and vibrant, and Jacob was attracted to that. That’s a great quality to have in life.

Attraction of the eye takes on many forms for men and women, and it’s is very real. It isn’t wrong; it’s how God made us. That love-at-first-sight thing is what Jacob originally saw in Rachel, but seven years later, scripture says that Jacob “loved” Rachel. Being “in love,” as the passage above states, is infatuation. Part of that infatuation, surely, is that physical attraction. We want to make a good first impression, and Rachel seems to have that appeal, at least in Jacob’s eyes. But over time, Jacob grew to love Rachel. It took time.

Let’s get back to that sparkle that Rachel had, but Leah didn’t. Countenance counts, people. Are we happy and lively or are we dull and boring? How do we act after we’ve been around people for a while? Being happy and content is a sign of growth and maturity. God wants his followers to have that sparkle in the eye because it reflects on who He is. This has nothing to do with catching the eye of a beau – it’s about attracting others to Christ. It’s like the ad says: “Happy cows make happy cheese.” The fruit we produce is meant to sparkle and not be dull. It’s a choice we make.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to have that zest for life today. Help me to have a sparkle in my eyes as I go about doing your will. Amen

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An angelic marriage match

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Gen. 24:39-41 (New Living Translation): “But I said to my master, ‘What if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to go back with me?’ He responded, ‘The Lord, in whose presence I have lived, will send his angel with you and will make your mission successful. Yes, you must find a wife for my son from among my relatives, from my father’s family. Then you will have fulfilled your obligation. But if you go to my relatives and they refuse to let her go with you, you will be free from my oath.’

In today’s culture, we have the freedom of choice when it comes to marriage. Men and women can choose who they marry here in America (although arranged marriages still occur in some parts of the world). But what if we still had arranged marriages? What would it look like? Would we blame God or an angel if our marriage ended in divorce? Or, as in the case of Rebekah and Isaac, would we be happy with the outcome?

Let’s recap the story from Genesis 24. Sarah has died, and Abraham is an old man. Isaac is 40 years old and hasn’t married yet. Abraham realized it was time to find his son a wife, so he sent his servant to find Isaac a wife from his kinfolk; he made his servant promise that, if Abraham died, Isaac would not marry one of those Canaanite women, saying it with contempt. So the servant traveled in a large caravan bearing expensive gifts from Canaan to distant Aramnaharaim, where Abraham’s brother Nahor had settled. Abraham sent his servant to an area where he thought he could find a suitable wife. Today, the equivalent would be to go to church to look for a spouse.

As the servant entered town, he asked for God’s help in finding the right woman to become Isaac’s wife. The servant prayed that he would have success, that the young girl who gave him a sip of water would respond with kindness and would offer to water his camels, too. Rebekah, Isaac’s niece was friendly and did just as the servant had prayed, so he asked Rebekah if there was room in her father’s home to put him up for the night. The servant told Nahor and his family the story and he, Nahor and Rebekah agreed to a marriage pact with Isaac, and off she went the next day – after she opened all her nifty presents. It was a God thing.

The key to the story is in verse 40: “He responded, ‘The Lord, in whose presence I have lived, will send his angel with you and will make your mission successful.’” Just as it was 4,000 years ago, it is still important that we seek God’s will in our choices of marriage. We should ask God for his wisdom and guidance in selecting a mate. Rebekah and Isaac were a good match because God blessed the pairing. Once the wedding ring goes on, a pact has been made and all effort must be made to make the match successful and happy. If God says no, you can walk away with far less pain. An angel will be with you, if you desire, at no extra cost. The choice is yours.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help us all to include you in our choices to date and marry. Help us to turn to you in every stage of dating, including our decision to marry. Amen

Friday, January 15, 2010

Smile when you see a rainbow

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Genesis 9:12-13 (New Living Translation): Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.

My wife and I enjoy being outdoors and seeing God’s creation in all its splendor. Whenever she sees a rainbow, it makes her smile, because she knows God created it for her to appreciate. She always points out rainbows to me. But God is also reminding us of his covenant with us and how much he loves us. That rainbow is God’s promise that He will always be there for us. The cloud formations just kind of go with rainbows.

Like the beautiful, multi-colored rainbow, the world is filled with reminders of God’s love for us. The more we get out, the more we see God’s hand in his creation. That covenant can be seen in all living creatures. When I catch trout in a mountain stream, I do one of two things: I either release it or take it home and prepare it up for dinner. My policy is that if I’m not going to eat it within a day, I release it back into the wild. The joy was in catching it. I absolutely love eating fresh, rainbow trout, and sometimes they’re meant to fill my tummy. God either provided the sheer enjoyment of catching it or giving me the delight of cooking and eating it. Both are fun.

Fishing is one of the things I love doing outdoors. I have all the gear, and sometimes I take it with me on vacations. I’ve been known to pack up my gear and drive two hours to a remote Sierra stream and just commune with nature for a morning. I like the quiet time alone. That mountain stream or lake is my sanctuary. At times I’m totally focused on catching a fish, whereas at other times I look up and see a beautiful mountain setting that makes my jaw drop in awe. My reactions are usually something like, “Wow, Lord, that was really beautiful. Thanks.” Then I stare for a minute. (My wife, on the other hand, wants to capture the moment with her camera!)

The Bible is filled with reminders of God’s desire to relate to us. God makes the same covenant in Genesis with Abram, for the Hebrews. He makes a covenant with David and his descendants. Jesus presented a new covenant, with all people, with his death on the cross. God’s covenant with us is for eternity. We can count on his promises.

So, the next time you see a rainbow, smile, because it’s God reminding you he wants to hang out.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, thank you for rainbows, clouds, and mountain streams. Thank you for your simple reminders of your love for us. Amen

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

God has already provided

Today’s scripture comes from Genesis 1:29: (NIV): Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Some 6,000 years ago when God created the earth (I’m a young-earth creationist) on Day 1, he knew that people and beasts would be a part of his creation later in the week. He knew that they would need food to nourish them, so he first created plants and fruit for food. God shows his omnipotence early in the Bible to ease our minds of how he would provide for us.

Throughout the Biblical story, God provides for his people. Adam and Eve lived in not just a beautiful garden, but a garden plentiful in fruits and vegetables. (And wasn’t it wonderful that the food was so tasty and not bland! Except for eggplant. What’s up with that, Lord?) When Noah was loading up for his roughly year’s journey on his big boat, God reminded him to bring along seven of certain kinds of animals for sacrifice and eating, as well as seven kinds of birds. Noah had to bring lunch for every animal for a year. Psalms 104:16 says “The trees of the Lord are well cared for …” When John the Baptist was living in the desert, he survived on locusts and wild honey. God has provided for his people from Day 1.

Sometimes, God’s provision will be plentiful, as it was for Adam and Eve in the beginning with the Garden of Eden, and at other times, as with John, the sustenance may not have been exactly what we had in mind, but we survived. During lean times, people learn to get by on less. Perhaps that is the message God wants us to see during such ordeals. Fasting reminds us we can do without food awhile longer than we thought we could. During lent, people sacrifice something that is important to them, such as coffee or chocolate. OK, we won’t go that far.

The point is that when we go through tough times, God knows what will be coming and he has provided for us in advance. We can be thankful for God’s provision before the day even begins because God promised to take care of our needs. It’s that trust part we all struggle with. When the hunger pains cry out from our stomach, we begin to wonder where God is and we start to question God. Why is this happening? What God wants us to do during difficult times is, instead, to ask “Lord, what is it you want me to do? What am I supposed to learn?” Such responses help us to mature and grow in our trust for God’s provisions. He will provide for us what we need to accomplish his purpose for this day.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, before the day even begins, you have already planned out my day and have provided for me. Thank you. Amen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Here we go again

Today’s scripture comes from Proverbs 1:1-3: (New Living Translation): These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.

Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

As I have shared before, I have basically had writer’s block for the past three months. My notes say it started around Oct. 13. I sort of skipped over 35 chapters in the Psalms and suddenly ended it with a year-end devotional from the last chapter. I wish I could say that life is settling down for me, but for an unemployed guy, I’m extremely busy. I don’t know what I will do when I am employed again full-time.

By my notes, I see that 2010 is Volume 5 for these daily devotionals meant for single adults. That means I have been doing this for four years. By my calculations, I have written over 750 devotionals. My original intention was to write for single parents, because I was one for 13 years. Then I done got hitched, and I became a part of a blended family. I expanded the devotionals to included all single adults and blended families. The rules for living in the kingdom are mostly the same, whether you are a single adult or are married.

In the past few days, my desire to write these devotionals has increased again. A medication I take seems to be in balance – finally – and I again am rising before 6 to be with God every day. What will I write about? A couple of days ago, a book in our book case caught my eye: The One-Year Bible, my inspiration for the devotionals in 2006. Then I studied the Gospels more in depth, and last year I studied the Psalms. The purpose of my writing is best exemplified by Solomon’s desire to share his vast wisdom with others in Proverbs.

So it is with my writing in these devotionals. But the wisdom I try to share comes from God’s Word, his story of his creation of heaven and earth, the fall of man, and his plan for redemption – sending his son Jesus Christ to live among us and to die as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. My wisdom and your wisdom come from the same source: by seeking God’s will through prayer and study of scriptures. As I read The One Year Bible each day, I ask God to reveal to me the message He wants you to have. First, and foremost, He wants you to know he loves you and wants to be a part of your life – every day. He wants to hang out with you, be with you as you walk through life (good and bad), listen to your problems, and tell you how to solve them – if you will sit silently long enough to listen to his advice.

As my partner in this endeavor, I ask that you pray that God gives me the wisdom to write fresh messages every day. I will try to write 2-3 times a week, but I make no promises. I write as God leads me. May God bless you as you read along.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, thank you for my gift of writing. I pray that I write solely you’re your glory, and that those who read it see you more clearly. Amen