Author Archives: rheren

A year in The Word

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7-9; Revelation 18.

This will be my last entry in this devotional blog, and it’s been good to follow along with everybody. I’ve learned a lot, and been encouraged by many of the devotionals. Today’s reading seems to be a good time to revisit one of my passions: the importance of Scripture.

Following the completion of the labor in repairing the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah doesn’t stop there. He is interested not only in Israel’s economic and political health, but also in it’s spiritual health. Ezra the priest begins a public reading and preaching campaign, to a people who have been in exile for 70 years: the people in front of Ezra quite possibly hadn’t heard what was written in the Law for several generations. I imagine it had probably become a theoretical reference point that people knew existed but hardly anyone actually had read. There were probably rules that people had taken out of it that were passed around but nobody really knew whether that was actually from the Law or just made up by someone. Whatever the case, the people were eager to hear what the Law actually said, and were struck to the heart when they heard it. It motivated them to rededicate themselves to God, and to submit themselves to His lordship.

Reading the Bible has a significant effect, I think we all can agree. It’s how we know God’s voice, how we can be encouraged or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before, and the most reliable evidence of what God is really like. It is the most valuable thing I think we humans have ever been given. I’m blessed to be able to work for Wycliffe USA, a Bible translation organization that is involved  in translating the Bible into the nearly 7,000 languages used around the world. I consider it to be among the most vital, fundamental works going on in the world: evangelism, church-planting and humanitarian missions are important, but all of them can go only so far in advancing God’s kingdom unless people can read the Bible and apply it for themselves. Working here has given me a greater appreciation and a greater love for God’s Word and for what it can do in people’s lives. It allows each of us to approach God on our own and study His Words spoken to us, personally.

As we enter the new year, I am planning to be more intentional in studying God’s Word; this past year I’ve started slacking off, I have to confess. Regular reading, thinking, meditating and applying what we read in the Bible is essential for our spiritual health, and I hope and pray that you will continue to be impacted by God’s Word throughout this next year.


The Savior is Born

Today’s reading: Esther 1-2; Matthew 1; Luke 3.

Today we get to read the beginning of the Christmas story, because the organizers of the reading plan wanted to put it in its most significant place in the reading of Revelation: right before the allegory of the woman and the dragon. Our church down here in Florida just recently finished their Children’s Christmas play, which I watched because, of course, my daughter was in it 🙂 It focused on dispelling some particular myths surrounding the traditional “Christmas story”: the fact that there could’ve been more than 3 wise men (we’re told how many gifts there were, the number of wise men is just tradition), the angels “singing” (the Bible actually just says that they “said” “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”). However, it came back to emphasizing that the important part of Christmas isn’t these minor details that aren’t recorded for us, but the fact that God came down to become a man and to live among us.

As the production stated, we don’t know for sure that December 25th was “Jesus’ birthday”. I was struck by the significance of the fact that we have no idea what day Jesus was born: in fact, scholars argue about what year it even was. It emphasizes the obscurity that God chose to introduce Himself into the world. People challenge God by saying, “if He exists, why doesn’t He make Himself plainly visible?”: the fact is, even when He did come to earth, He didn’t make a big fuss. That’s not His style (at least, at this stage in history. Things change when we get to His second coming). I’m amazed by His humility, to come in such a way that His birth (probably the most earth-altering event that had ever happened up to that time) went unrecorded and almost completely unheralded, except to a few smelly herdsmen outside the city.

Think about it: if you had no Christmas story and were just writing a novel: making up a story in your head about God coming to earth, how would you have it happen? I would probably have Him spontaneously appear in the desert, a handsome, mysterious, muscular 25 years old, perfect in beauty, ready to conquer the thrones of the world. Maybe He would take advantage of a natural disaster: step out of a tornado that destroyed the White House, or a crack in the earth that swallowed up the Kremlin or something. Maybe He would descend from the sky in a shining, iridescent ball, like the witch of the North in Wizard of Oz. Nobody could make up the Christmas story that God’s given us: it’s too mundane, too common. If we hadn’t heard it all our lives, we wouldn’t accept it as real. Why would God be content with such humility and obscurity?

Let’s remember: He accepts those who come to Him: He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Let’s consciously seek Him out this season.


What Will Be

Today’s reading: Psalm 74-76; Revelation 5.

The book of Revelation really excites me. There’s scary things in there and confusing things that I don’t understand, but the important part- the ultimate message of the story- is that God wins! And we get to be on the winning team! I think heaven will be awesome: I can’t wait to get there.

Revelation 5:9-10 “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.””

What creates a sense of camaraderie? I hope everyone reading this has at some point in their lives had a group of people that they were close to and felt a strong connection to. I have had that in a couple different contexts, and there’s nothing like it in the world. The most intimate, powerful bond comes from undergoing a grueling, shared experience where you have to lean on each other for support. I think it’s why Basic Training in the military is such a big deal: after going through the “initiation”, if I could be forgiven for characterizing it as that, you feel a powerful bond with the others who’ve done the same thing, and come through the other end of the crucible. Veterans after a war, a sports team that wins a championship, a small working team that accomplished something great; they all share a sense of camaraderie based on something they experienced and/or accomplished together.

I’m excited about heaven because we’ll spend eternity bumping into people who used to live on earth: spoke different languages, lived in different centuries, some of them will have lived totally, utterly different lives than I do today. We’ll all have very different experiences from each other. I think, however, that when we get there the most powerful feeling for each other will be the same camaraderie I was describing, though; every person I meet who spoke a different language on earth or lived in a different century will have been saved by the same grace, will have struggled against most of the same sins, and will be in awe of the same God as I am. Life in these mortal bodies on Earth will have been a crucible (we could even call it a “Basic Training” I suppose) that we all will have shared, and will remember with mixed emotions. “Remember having headaches?”, we’ll ask each other, and laugh at how our bodies don’t even feel pain anymore, but it was such a big part of life back on earth. “Did you ever  try to lick your elbow? Why did God make our noses run when we got sick? Why on earth did God invent hiccups, anyway?” Some of these universal human emotions and experiences will be remembered with nostalgia, and will be a bond that will link me with monks from the Middle Ages, and Armenian Christians persecuted by the Persian empire during the days of Rome, and Israelites who lived under King David. It’ll be so much fun to compare notes and swap stories.

And in the midst of it all, in some way that I don’t pretend to understand, God will give us new things to accomplish and work to do. We will be “a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and [to] reign on the earth.”What that will be like I can only imagine, but I think it’ll be awesome. Maranatha, Lord Jesus!

 


Our Faith

Today’s reading: Ezra 3-4; 1 John 5.

1 John 5:4 “This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.” In all the battle between God and the ponderous dragging weight of our sin nature, this is the greatest victory that can be achieved: not great things that we strive to accomplish, not impressive sacrifices that demonstrate a depth of devotion, not anything like that. The greatest victory God has ever won over the pull of the world system in my life is seemingly the simplest, perhaps the most basic: my faith in Him. That is the point at which the world system around me tries to attack every day, in every way that it can. That is the one point that Satan most hates and that he tries to weaken at every opportunity. But it is one aspect of my resistance to the pull of the world that is fully in my control: whatever happens, I choose to have faith in God and in His goodness.

Every time that things go wrong and you choose, instead of becoming bitter and angry at God, to trust that He knows what He’s doing and must have some plan behind it all, that is the victory that has conquered the world. Every time that common sense screams at you not to take the chance and risk comfort or security for something you feel moved by God to do, but you choose to ignore that common sense and trust God that He will look out for you, that is the victory that has conquered the world. Every time you choose to view the future, even the future after death, with something other than worry and uncertainty, and choose to “store up your treasures in heaven”, and not in this life, that is the victory that has conquered the world. These small decisions aren’t as impressive as doctoral degrees, or as concrete as financial empires, but they are the stuff that victory in God’s kingdom is made of. This is the victory God has called us to. Have faith in Him, and let Him win the battles for us.


Everything We Need

full toolbox

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 35-36; 2 Peter 1.

My wife and I just recently bought our first house. Before now, we’ve always been renting wherever we’ve lived. It’s amazing the shift in perspective that comes when you’re responsible for your own house. Before we bought it, I was dreading having to be the one to take care of every leaky faucet and loose doorknob that came along. Now that we’re a few months into the process, though, I’m invested in the house, and it’s not a burden. I feel a sense of accomplishment about improving the house as I get things fixed up.

However, all this work is difficult because I live thousands of miles removed from my dad, a professional remodel carpenter. I can remember things he’s told me, and I can always call him up to get his advice, but what really hurts is not having the tools that were always available in his shop. All my current tools will fit in a small tackle box, and they’re often rather inadequate for the task at hand. I guess part of being a homeowner is purchasing all the tools required to fulfill the responsibilities inherent in the position.

Peter tells us, however, that when God gave us our new dwelling at salvation, it came with the tool shed already fully furnished!

2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

“Everything required”! To live a godly life, I don’t have to spend lots of money to go to conferences or go through programs. I don’t have to work hard to earn something, or to learn something that’s only available to a select few who devote decades of effort. I don’t have to climb a mountain and get wisdom from a aged guru. All the tools I need to keep my spiritual self in good repair are provided to me simply by knowing Christ. It’s not to say that effort won’t be involved in the repairs that have to be made: that’s what verses 5-8 are all about. There’s still a lot of work involved in fixing things. But I don’t have to start with an empty toolbox, desperately hoping that I can scrape by until I’m old enough in the Lord to acquire the tools necessary to change myself: I have them already, and I just need to get to work! As someone who still has plenty of work to do on himself, I find this very comforting.


God is with us!

Today’s reading: Psalm 137; Ezekiel 1-2; 1 Timothy 2.

“On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin— the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.” ~ Ezekiel 1:2-3

I’ve read the Bible most of my life, so I tend to read over familiar stories quickly. It’s hard to stop, concentrate, and realize the full significance of something I’ve read several times before. Ezekiel starts the same way that Jeremiah does, and Isaiah 6 has a similar vision, etc. Another vision; skip past it and get to the prophecies, I was subconsciously thinking. Suddenly I stopped, and was struck by the significance of how the book of Ezekiel starts, and what it must’ve meant to Ezekiel when it happened.

You see, the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin was after Israel’s first deportation: Babylon had invaded once, taken the cream of the crop of Israel’s nobility and intelligentsia, and left most of the population under a weak, inferior government ruled by a puppet king Zedekiah. It was only after that puppet king rebelled (6 years after this vision of Ezekiel’s) that Jerusalem was burned to the ground, and all its people were deported and Israel ceased to exist as a state anymore. Ezekiel, as one of the priests, was part of the “cream of the crop” taken in this first deportation. As a priest, he was very conscious of this deportation as a result of God’s judgement on Israel’s sin, and the priests’ role in Israel’s moral decay over time. It must’ve been a sobering, depressing time for him: 5 years of constant reminders that Israel was likely never going to be the same, and that his family and other fellow priests were responsible (certainly not solely responsible, but at least partially) for this calamity. Here he is in a foreign land, surrounded by idols, speaking a strange language, ruled by a harsh, alien law, humiliated, discriminated against and uncertain what the future would hold.If there was ever someone who felt like God had abandoned him and would never be there for him again, it would’ve been Ezekiel. And then, imagine his amazement to see “visions of God” even here, where he never would’ve expected that God would show up! By the banks of a river thousands of miles away from the temple of God he’s amazed to find that God meets him even there, with a breathtaking vision of awe and majesty.

Have you ever failed God? Have you ever felt like you’re banished to an uncomfortable, impossible land where you don’t know the rules and have no hope for the future anymore? Has a dream ever been pulled out from under you, and you don’t understand why? Ezekiel felt each of these, and yet God was there with him, and still had a job for him. God hadn’t given up on him, and He hasn’t given up on you, no matter where you are or what you have done. He is with us! I found this very encouraging this morning, and I hope you do, too.


How well do you handle correction?

Today’s reading: Lamentations 1, 2; Hebrews 12.

I think every one of us recognize that we don’t get everything right. We all make mistakes sometimes. So why is it so hard to respond gracefully when someone points one out to us? Why is defensiveness and outrage our first natural reaction to criticism ?

Both of our readings today discuss reacting to reproof. Lamentations 2:14 illustrates the dangers of having only encouragers speaking into your life:

“Your prophets saw visions for you that were empty and deceptive; they did not reveal your guilt and so restore your fortunes. They saw oracles for you that were empty and misleading.”

The book of Lamentations is written looking back after crashing into the bitter end of that way of living. Hebrews 12 is all about God’s correction and how we respond to it. Verses 5 and 6 tell us:

“My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.”

Everyone who speaks uncomfortable words of correction into our lives is helping keep us from destruction: we should learn to be grateful for it, especially if we know it’s from God. I’m by nature a very non-confrontational person, so the other half of this is the one that I have a hard time with: if God shows you a blind spot you need to point out to someone, it’s not doing them a favor if you just ignore it and let them go on their way. I usually try to look the other way instead of speaking to someone, and that’s not healthy for them or for me.

Correcting each other (in a loving attitude and gentle manner!) is an important part of being the body of Christ, and accepting that correction when someone gives it to us is an important part of how God matures us as believers. Both sides are often difficult and uncomfortable (at least for people like me), but both sides are also very important.