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Death by Devotional

Death by Devotional

I am about to sell you something that will kill you. I stand at the head of the line of a long list of professionals that should also admit the same. Alongside of me should come Mr. Mayfield ice cream man, the guy who sold you your car, the cashier at your favorite sporting goods store, and a vast number of servers, cooks, and clerks at your favorite restaurants and leisure spots; each of us a testament to the adage “too much of a good thing.”

Ice cream, good. A gallon a day, bad.

Your car, good. Your car going too fast while texting and driving, deadly.

All the stuff you can buy and do at the sporting goods store, fun. Any of it crashing upside your head, concussion.

Food and fun, always good. Living only for food and fun, always bad.

So what is it that I am selling you to death? A devotional!  

A devotional?  

On my website I have listed the Grace, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional. I think it is a fantastic collection of Scripture and applicable stories that would be a blessing to anyone who reads it, but I am warning you not to misuse it. Too many people misunderstand the intent of a devotional book. For them, something that was written to help their spiritual walk has become spiritually crippling.  

So that your devotional reading can be a blessing and not a curse, here is a list of cautions and encouragements when it comes to using devotionals.

A devotional book is not a devoted life.

The word devotion in Scripture is a powerful one. In the New Testament it is often translated from a word that entails three concepts; to beware, to believe, and to apply. This should be a daily expectation of the disciple seeking counsel from God’s Word. We need God’s Word to reveal, redeem, and repair areas of life of which we need to beware and/or be-aware. We need our faith informed so we may more strongly believe. We need God’s Word applied so we may obey.  

A devotional book is purposed to help you with this endeavor in a daily, structured way. But devotional reading is not a devoted life. The word devotion in its strictest sense speaks of what you give yourself to. Devotion is not a something you read, it is something you do. We do not need a Bible reading plan as much as we need a Bible doing plan. Just because you are reading a devotional book does not mean you are giving yourself to the Lord in a devotional life.

A devotional book is a start not a stop.

Many great pastors and Christian thinkers have written devotional material to help shepherd and feed God’s people. There are many notable ones in churchdom, but one of classics is Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. The title reflect a constant theme in Scripture. In the creation week there was evening and morning.  David called for those who were truly devoted to God’s Word to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1). Morning and evening, evening and morning is the the rhythm of creation set in motion by God.

Many people purchase devotional books that they use either first thing in the morning to get them going, or perhaps they use them at night as they seek to still the busy mind. I find no fault with either.  Yet the concept of morning and evening as devotional reading is not meant as a discipline of consideration - as in to make sure you do it daily, but as a discipline of meditation to make sure it guides your thoughts throughout the ENTIRE day; as in starting with the morning and keeping you throughout the evening.

Devotional books are quick reads to get you going, but the deeper call of God is for Bible intake, memorization, and study. I like to use material written by Warren Wiersbe as part of my devotional reading. He is about as meat and potatoes of a Christian author as they come. But he is not my stop, as in, I read it and now I have fulfilled the discipline. Rather, a Wiersbe’s book alongside God’s Word is my start, as in I will ingest it in a way so that I DO NOT stop thinking about it throughout the day - morning and evening!

A devotional book is text, not context.

Devotional books will often give you a verse or a chapter of Scripture to read and give you an immediate application of that passage to life. Awesome idea! In that sense a devotional provides you a text. Where a devotional fails is that it does not provide you the context.

Use a devotional, but read the Bible. Find out where those verses are IN Scripture. A devotional may tell you that this verse came from Ephesians, but what in the world is an Ephesians? Where is it? What is it about? 

Ephesians 2:10 is wonderful. Ephesians 2:10 in context is a masterpiece. 

I am a big advocate for having a paper copy of the Bible. Learn where the books of the Bible are located in the cannon of Scripture. These books form the collective story of God.  

A devotional book is a bloom in a garden. Its intent is to pluck something sweet and fragrant that will inspire you, but the greater glory is the garden from which it came. Sure, the blooms are beautiful, but if you never walk the garden you really won’t smell the roses.  

The Christian life is not meant to be lived verse by verse. We are sovereignly immersed in the story of God. Each text/verse of the Bible exists within the larger context of God’s story. Use your devotional to point you to curious places. Use your Bible to walk the garden paths.

A devotional is application, not exposition.

One of the reasons people enjoy devotionals is because they quickly get to the point. Many people find it challenging to read the Bible, understand it, and know what to do with it. Yep, me too.

Devotionals cut out the leg work. Don’t bog me down with long, arduous explanations of what passages say, just tell me what they mean.

I recently had a conversation with a doctor about feeding tubes. Odd topic, I know, but sometimes a necessary one.  

As many doctors tend to be, he is an eclectic fellow, a highly intelligent man who walks to the beat of a different drum. In demonstrating to me the ease of use of a feeding tube, he demonstrated to me how one can conveniently uncork the tube, pour in a bottle of nutrients, re-cork the tube, chunk the now empty can of nutrients into the trash and go about the day. He said, “It would save me a whole lot of time having to eat.” I assure you, he was laughing when he said it, but I also think he was somewhat serious about the prospects of installing one on himself.

Devotional books are spiritual feeding tubes. They will give you what you need, but wow, what a joy it is to chew!  Feeding tubes may be faster, but there is a flavor in food you will soon miss if you do not have to break it down in your mouth.  

Sometimes a tube is necessary, but insane if we want one merely out of convenience. God gave you a tongue, not a tube!

While it is true that what we need from God’s Word is application, there is a flavor that emerges from the hard work of exposition that helps us taste and see that the Lord is good. The Bible is not a ‘How To’ guide for life. It is a story. It is a poem. It is a command. It is a revelation. It is a multi-course meal robust with the flavor of God. Don’t forget to chew!

A devotional is personal insight, not personal investment.

One of the things I like most about the Faith, Hope, and Love Devotional is that it gives you insight into God’s Word from 52 pastors, teachers, authors, and evangelists. It is an indispensable resource full of wisdom. These people have a journey with God that is curious to me and I love hearing from them.

But wouldn’t you like to hear the voice of God for yourself?

One of the great truths of Scripture is that we have a God who desires to be with His people. The Bible is filled with image rich words that communicate the opportunity we have to be close to God. One of the words we translate as “prayer” in Scripture speaks of intimacy, not merely request.  

Prayer is not shouting aimlessly into the heavens, prayer is communing with God. Prayer is not an announcement over a megaphone, it is a conversation at the table.  

The only way to have a personal experience with God is to make a personal investment in His Word. Use a devotional book, but devote yourself to Bible study.

__________________

It is a worn out metaphor for many things, but the Christian life is not a microwave, it is a crock-pot way of living. We would like to think that a few convenient seconds is all we need to be like Christ. Devotional books ARE NOT intended to be the Bible nuked for you!

There is NO devotional author worth their salt who would ever advocate his or her book as a replacement for the Bible. Their intent, my intent, is not to replace Biblical reading or meditation. Our intent is to inspire you to start somewhere and to help keep you there daily.  

At some point the devotional book should be a gateway into something greater, not an end in itself. We have to simmer on Scripture if we are ever to truly appreciate the flavors of God that are there. There is no shortcut to the good stuff!     

 

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How much do you weigh?

In Psalm 138:3, David writes, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.”
Life is heavy.  There is a weight in situations and circumstances that cannot be measured with a scale.  There is no physical mass to a hard day, but still you feel and weight of it.  
How heavy is the soul?  
Can you imagine going through the day, walking up to friends, acquaintances, and strangers and asking them a common question, “How much do you weigh today?”  Talk about getting personal!  
And so, I will start the day with you, how much do you weigh today?  I can ask because I am at a safe “no slap” cyber-distance from you through the blog.  Yet, I can also ask, because I am not speaking of the weight of your body, but the weight of your soul.  How about the weight of your day?  Perhaps the weight of your situation?  The weight of the body, you and I mindlessly carry it around day by day.  I think very little of 211.  I’m so used to it, I don’t feel it.  I am what I am!  But, weight of soul, I feel it.  So do you.
How do we increase the strength of our soul?  From Psalm 138 we can draw some solid principles.
  1. Thankfulness from the whole heart (v. 1) - The Psalms are not trite songs and prayers that mindlessly look for the good in every situation.  If anything, the Psalms are honest songs and prayers.  They are the anthems of heavy souls.  In fact there is a small collection of them that in Latin are referred to as misery Psalms.  The foremost of them being Psalm 51.  Yet even in Psalms of hopelessness there is thankfulness.  In Psalm 138:1 he sings praise to his God before the gods.  Our soul is strengthened in the song of thankfulness.  The situation may not change, but a burdened soul finds resolute strength when we take a moment to enter into the equation of our situation who God is.
  2. Bowing the body in prayer, daily (v. 2) - Notice in the second verse David bows toward the Temple.  It is the same as saying, “I bow before God.”  The posture of our body reflects the posture of our heart.  When we bow before God we are not only expressing reverence, but humility and vulnerability.  When arresting someone a policeman says, “Hands up where I can see them.”  If the hands are up, it is assumed there will be no defense.  Bowing is the “hands up” of the soul.  It is the posture of total surrender.  How often do we pray a pithy prayer, a token word to God as we walk, or before we eat, or even as we drive.  There is no surrender in religious ritual.  There is no strength of soul in mindless habit.  But have you taken time in prayer today to bow before God?  Bowing requires that you stop what you are doing.  It requires that you get on your face.  Bowing is breaking the back, cracking open the soul, laying down before the Lord.  Bowing before God not only says, “God, you are holy” but it also says, “I can’t do this.”  The soul is strengthened in holy vulnerability.
  3. Remembering the plans, purposes, and promises of God (v. 4-8).  I will admit, it is difficult for me to pray for long periods of time.  The digi-brain is easily distracted.  Smartphones are the death of meditation and of the attention span.  Yet when my mind is stayed on Scripture I can concentrate.  What I am writing this morning is due to my time praying through Psalm 138; my strength of soul has been increased - and so I blog.  In verses 4-8 David is citing what he has found to be true of God by experience, but for the most part, he is reciting back to God what he knows to be true of Him from His Word.  The thought that all the kings of the earth will give God praise is an eschatological hope.  The world is unwound right now, but we know how the story ends.  Truth strengthens the soul.  Verse 6 reflects God’s character.  “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.”  You and I need to remind ourselves of this - it strengthens the soul to know God cares.  He is with me in my times of trouble (v. 7).  His promises do not fail (v. 8).  The weight of the day threatens to crush me, but in these truths there is a new reality that strengthens my soul.
It cannot be measured on the scale, but you feel the weight of the day.  The situation may not change, but the soul has the potential to be strengthened.  Prayer, singing, bowing before God, staying the mind on truth - these are the things that increase the strength of the soul.  

How much do you weigh today?    
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My Shield

Psalm 18:1 and 2 reads, "I love you, O LORD, my strength, The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

According to the prescript on this Psalm David penned it on a day when he experienced rescue from his enemies, particularly Saul.  No doubt in the heat of the moment, for those who trust the Lord the application of God acting as our strength and our refuge becomes apparent.  Our walk with Him deepens in the experience of the trial.  Yet I wonder how often God acts as "my shield" and I walk away unaware?

Our student pastor's wife  at Liberty, Lindsey Rainey has a father who holds a critically important position.  Her father Micah, is the director of the Homeland Security Division for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/HS).  He probably has a faceplate on his desk that weighs 12 pounds!  I'm sure when you ask Micah, "How was your day?" there is only a certain percentage of that answer that you really want to know.  For the percentage left unanswered, fill your imagination with The Blacklist, NCIS, 24, and a smattering of other crime shows in which we are exposed to the terrorist underworld for 60 minutes, with commercial interruptions.  The difference in our day and Micah's day is that we can safely turn off the television and it all goes away.  He can't.

When something blows up, you'll know about Micah's office.  But I wonder how many things haven't blown up and you had no idea Micah was there?

There is so much going on in the world that I don't want to know.  I like to sleep.  But I wonder how great is God's grace as our shield?  How often does He protect me, and I am unaware?  Psalm 18:2 reminds me that He is there when I need Him as my shield, my rock, my strength, my fortress, and my deliverer.  Psalm 18:2 reminds me that He is there even when I am unaware of how desperately I need Him. I wonder how many things in my life were so close to blowing up, and I walked away from my shield ungrateful and unaware that He was there.
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