Daily Devotions

SINGING THE SPIRITUAL BLUES

Perhaps, the pinnacle of the Hebrews’ appreciation for God’s law is Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Here, God’s law is celebrated in verse. The psalm is an acrostic arranged in alphabetical order. Each of its twenty-two paragraphs contain eight verses with the first letter of each line beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

In the first paragraph of the psalm, each line begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the second paragraph, each line begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This poetic rhapsodizing of God’s precepts is repeated throughout the entire psalm until the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used to begin each line of the psalm’s final paragraph.

Within this divinely inspired lyrical celebration of God’s statues the Psalmist declares God’s law to be: 1. Filled with wondrous things (v. 18) 2. His delight (vs. 16, 70, 77, 92, 174) 3. Better than silver and gold (v. 72) 4. The truth (vs. 142, 160) 5. A source of great peace (v. 165) 6. Cleansing (v. 9) 7. Strengthening (v. 28) 8. Quickening (vs. 50. 107, 154) 9. Forever settled in Heaven (v. 89) 10. Sweeter than honey (v. 103) 11. A lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path (v. 105) 12. Righteous (v. 123) 13. Light-giving (v. 130), and 14. Pure (v. 140).

In light of such affection for God’s commandments, it is easy to see why the Psalmist: 1. Loved God’s law (vs. 48, 97, 113, 163) 2. Meditated on God’s law (vs. 23, 97, 148) 3. Trusted in God’s law (v. 42) 4. Hoped in God’s law (vs. 74, 81, 114, 147) 5. Rejoiced in God’s law (v. 162) 6. Revered God’s law (v. 117) 7. Learned God’s law (v. 71) 8. Spoke of God’s law (v. 172) 9. Sung of God’s law (v. 54) 10. Kept God’s law (vs. 101, 145) 11. Hid God’s law in his heart (v. 11) 12. Observed God’s law with his whole heart (v. 34), and 13. Stood in awe of God’s law (v. 161).

As we have noted in our previous three devotions, God’s law, contrary to popular opinion, is not inhibiting, but liberating; it is not constricting, but expansive. These profound truths, though little known in our time, are clearly spelled out in this ancient rhythmic song sung in rhapsody of God’s law. For instance, the Psalmist proclaims that he “walks in liberty,” because of his keeping of God’s precepts, and that he finds God’s commandments to be “exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:45, 96).

Are you walking today in the liberty of obedience to God? Is your life ever-expanding within the broad confines of God’s inspired precepts and perfect will for your life? Or are you imprisoned today within your own self-imposed dungeon of disobedience to God? if so, you won’t be singing with the Psalmist of God’s law; instead, you’ll be singing the spiritual blues.

WALKING IN THE LAW

According to the Psalmist, those “who walk in the law of the Lord” will be blessed and “undefiled in the way” (Psalm 119:1). Notice, there is room to walk in the law of the Lord.  Contrary to popular opinion, the law does not paint us into a corner, but provides us with a way of escape from life’s tight spaces. Far from hemming us in, God’s law enables us to live out our lives. It is the foundation for an ever expanding life.

No artist feels confined by the laws of composition. Instead, he is eager to express himself in conformity to them so as to prove his mastering of them. Likewise, the tennis player does not feel confined by either the net or the lines on the court. Instead, he realizes that they prove his prowess. Without them, excellence is unattainable, since the game would be undefinable and everyone could claim to be outstanding.

Like the laws of composition to an artist or the net and lines on the court to a tennis player, God’s law is not confining to the Christian. Instead, conformity to it provides the Christian with a way to excel in his life for Christ. Were it not for God’s law, the Christian life would be undefinable and everyone could claim to be spiritually outstanding.

A repeated refrain of the Psalmist is: “Your law is my delight” (Psalm 1:2; 40:8; 119:70; 77, 174). As a sign of their delight to live their lives inside the expansive and emancipating parameters of God’s precepts, the ancient Hebrews wore God’s commandments in phylacteries (tiny boxes) around their foreheads and wrists. This practice served a twofold purpose. It kept the Hebrews ever mindful of God’s law and served as a witness to others of the covenantal relationship between God and His chosen people.

Unfortunately, this practice eventually degenerated into a mere ritual observed by spiritual bruisers who turned the law from the people’s delight into legalistic drudgery (Matthew 23:1-7). Herein lies the danger of shrinking the law into mere regulations devoid of an intimate relationship with God. If we are not careful, we can end up pushing our pettiness and locked up in our legalism rather than liberated by God’s law to live our lives confidently “before God” (1 John 3:19-24).

Gino Severini once said, “An art which does not obey fixed and inviolable laws is to true art what a noise is to a musical note.” In like manner, the Apostle Paul taught that law without love is like “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). While a song may be played on every musical instrument in the orchestra, it cannot be played on the drums or cymbals. They are just accompanying sounds. Is your life a spiritual symphony being performed for the glory of God or merely an indistinguishable sound?

THE ONE THING GOD HONORS ABOVE HIS OWN NAME

God’s law is immutable; that is, it is fixed and unchangeable. Being perfect, it cannot be improved upon (James 1:25). It is as true today as it was yesterday and it will be as true tomorrow as it is today. As the Psalmist said, “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

Although today’s sophisticated world believes it has grown beyond the “antiquated” teachings of the Scripture, it is indubitably proven wrong by the myriad of calamities it suffers as a consequence of ignoring the Scripture’s commandments and being ignorant of its content. For instance, consider the following example of this undeniable truth.

Before Bible reading and prayer were expelled from our public schools, the following problems were sited by teachers as the leading discipline problems with their students: (1) talking (2) chewing gum (3) making noise (4) running in the halls (5) getting out of place in line (6) wearing improper clothing, and (7) not putting paper in the waste basket. Today, however, teachers are concerned with things like: (1) school shootings (2) assault and battery (3) teen pregnancy (4) sexually transmitted diseases (5) substance abuse, and (6) teen suicide. It’s safe to say that one thing today’s America is definitely not learning from its public schools is that our spurning of the Scripture is ruinous to our society.

The ancient Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). The Apostle Peter echoed the Prophet Isaiah in declaring that the Gospel we preach and by which men are saved is an “incorruptible seed” that lives, abides and endures forever (1 Peter 1:23-25). Likewise, the Psalmist declares the Word of God to be “pure” (tried and true) and “forever…settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89, 140). Aren’t you glad that in today’s world of chaos and uncertainty there is one thing you can always be sure and certain about; namely, the Word of God?

How sure can we be of what God has said? According to Psalm 138:2, absolutely sure! In one of the most incredible verses in the Bible, the Psalmist declares that God “has magnified [His] word above all [His] name.” In other words, God says He’ll step down as God if he ever fails to do anything that He has said. No wonder Jeremiah the prophet taught that God is always “watching to see that [His] word is fulfilled” (Jeremiah 1:12 NIV).

For the life of me, I can’t understand the embarrassment of contemporary Christians over the Bible. Why should we run from the rock solid foundation it provides for our lives and homes into the arms of a politically correct society with a foundation of sand that is as wishy-washy as the latest fickle public opinion poll? if you ask me, we should be proudly and loudly proclaiming the Bible’s immutable truths to a world that is drowning in the quicksand of relativism.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY

In James 1:25, James calls God’s law “the perfect law of liberty.” This is contrary to our modern-day understanding of law. Today, the law is seen as something that restricts and prohibits. It forbids us from doing things. It forbids us from driving above the speed limit. It demands that we pay a certain portion of our hard earned income in taxes. It even prohibits us from doing things to our own homes without first securing the proper permitting and paying the required fees.

To show the unbelievable restrictiveness of modern-day government regulations, National Review made the following startling observation: “The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words.” Good luck to all of you cabbage growers and grocers!

How come James saw the law differently than we do, not as something limiting us, but as something liberating us? To James, the law provided us with a black and white snapshot of God. It was God in silhouette. Although Christ eventually fleshed out God for us in full and living color, the law provided us with the divine basics. It was like the musical scale to a musician. Before any musician can freely express himself musically to his own delight, he must first discipline himself and master the notes of the scale.

From James’ perspective, the law was not prohibitive, preventing us from doing things, but emancipating, enabling us to do things. If we follow it, we will be freed to reach our God-given potential. If we don’t, we will be enslaved by our sin and prevented from ever knowing life as God intended for us to live it.

Like the piano player who refuses to discipline himself to master the notes of the scale, those who refuse to discipline themselves to obey God’s law will never be able to play the masterpiece that God intended for them to play in this world. Don’t forget, the Apostle Paul taught that you “are God’s masterpiece,” which “He has created…anew in Christ Jesus, so [that you] can do the good things” He “planned for” you to do “long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

THE LETTER VS. THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW

It is not law, but love that produces obedience. If laws could make people do right, then, there would be no wrongdoers in America. Think about it; this country has more laws than you can shake a stick at. Still, lawlessness abounds in today’s America.

According to the Apostle Paul, God’s law didn’t stop men from sinning, but actually stirred up sin within men (Romans 7:7-13). Its purpose was not to save us from our sin, but to convict us of our sin. God’s purpose in giving the law was threefold: (1) to prove our guilt (2) to leave us without an excuse, and (3) to make known to us our sin problem (Romans 3:19-20). Once convinced by God’s law of our sin problem, we were prepared for God’s Son to come, knowing at last our desperate need of a Savior.

Whereas the “letter” of the law kills, the “spirit” of the law gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Jesus came in the “spirit” of the law to give us life, both abundant and eternal (John 10:10). For instance, consider the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The letter of the Old Testament law called for her stoning, but Christ, in the New Testament’s spirit of the law, gave her salvation. After experiencing the love and forgiveness of Christ, the woman went away with her life changed. No longer would she live a life of sin, but she would now strive to “sin no more.”

According to the Apostle John, it is our experiencing of God’s love in Christ that makes God’s “commandments” no longer “grievous” (1 John 5:3). Once we’ve fallen in love with Christ we will want to do what He commands. As Jesus said Himself, those who love Him keep His commandments (John 14:15; 15:10). Indeed, it is their love of Him and relationship with Him that makes obedience to Him their delight.

Is serving Christ something that you do with gladness (Psalm 100:2)? Are His commandments grievous to you? Is His law your delight or an absolute drudgery (Psalm 119:77, 174)? Is your Christian life about relationship or rules; are you freely obeying Him or always having to force yourself to do so? Your answers to these questions speak volumes about the condition of your current relationship with Christ!

BRANDISHING THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

In Ephesians 6:17, the Apostle Paul tells us to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” According to Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word is “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Despite the clear teaching of Scripture, today’s church is reluctant to take up the “sword of the Spirit.” Instead, we attempt to avoid the persecution of a politically correct culture by leaving our sword sheathed or by blunting its sharp edges. We appear to believe that the best way to win converts is by sensitively prodding a world at enmity with God toward Christ with the slightest, imperceptible pricks. By doing so we’ve foolishly convinced ourselves that we can buddy up to a fallen world that bruised and bloodied the body of Christ on the cross of Calvary.

In the face of this flawed philosophy, we’ve just received another demoralizing report on the sorry state of affairs in Southern Baptist life today. Church membership has declined for the fourth straight year and our baptisms have hit a sixty year low. One cannot help but wonder how today’s church growth gurus explain these continuing trends, especially in light of our spiritual sensitivity training and vastly improved marketing technics.

Do you suppose that our futile evangelism could actually be our own fault, for failing to unsheathe our sharp two-edged sword? Could it be a consequence of our soft-soap peddling of the Gospel to a politically correct world? Instead of speaking with authority the absolute truth of God’s Word, as our Lord did (Matthew 7:28-29), we sheepishly present the Gospel as our personal opinion so as to avoid offending anyone. Far from unashamedly acclaiming it, we apologetically suggest it, as though one’s spurning of it amounts to no more than a mere difference of opinion devoid of any eternal consequence.

What would happen if we unsheathed our sharp two-edged sword and started mightily wielding it in the world today? What if we became unapologetic about our faith and started boldly proclaiming it without fear of raising the ire of today’s politically correct masses? I say it’s time we unsheathed the “sword of the Spirit” and sharpened up its edges! What do you say? One thing for sure, if we fail to do so the church will continue to lose ground and many a man his immortal soul.

“LOVEMONGERS”

Thanks to the present-day lowering of moral expectations by our profane culture and the contemporary church’s monastery mentality, our world is in double trouble. In today’s world human frailty is celebrated and the Christian faith denigrated. We find ourselves in a woeful time similar to that of Isaiah the prophet’s, a time when men “call evil good” and “good evil” and mistake “darkness for light” and “light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).

Our world sees the absolute truth of God’s Word as loathsome, crediting it with such evils as intolerance and hatred. Little does it know, however, that behind the absolute truths of God’s Word is God’s perfect love. Far from hatred, the absolute truths of God’s Word are prescribed for us by an omniscient and loving God, who knows, far better than we do, what is best for us. Thus, the purpose of God’s Word is not to divide us, as today’s world mistakenly believes, but to direct us, as God’s Word clearly explains (Proverbs 3:6).

All who insist on living by their wit rather than God’s Word do so to their own detriment and destruction. Why, then, should they accuse others of hate for simply trying to point out to them before it’s too late the error of their way? What greater act of love could someone perform on their behalf than to try to point them away from their destructive sin to the delivering Savior. Still, all who lovingly attempt to do so on behalf of sinners today suffer the abuse and scorn of the very sinners they’re attempting to help.

Christians are no longer appreciated for their loving concern for the souls of men, but denigrated as hatemongers who are trying to force their morality on others. How dare we have the audacity to suggest that the Bible is true and its Gospel message the only way to peace with God? Why can’t we join the rest of the world in believing our faith no better than any other? Though the world would interpret our acquiescing to ecumenism and multiculturalism as a supreme act of love on our behalf, it would actually be an act of extreme cruelty, for by doing so we would extinguish the only light illuminating the way for the world’s salvation.

MORAL NO MAN’S LAND

We use to say, “To err is human and to forgive divine.” Unfortunately, in today’s politicly correct and profane culture, we no longer see the need to forgive human error (sin). Instead, we celebrate it as proof of our normalcy and the ultimate virtue of vivacity. This explains how the death of a womanizing celebrity who dies an alcoholic can be reported by today’s main stream media in these glaring words, “Some measure out their lives by coffee spoons,” but he “poured his out by the bucketfuls.”

In our present-day world, immorality is perceived as the pulse of healthy humanity. Throwing off the “shackles” of morality is deemed necessary if we are to soar to the heights of human potential. Therefore, morality is denigrated in the eyes of today’s amoral society as something abnormal and unhealthy, not to mention something stifling to both human experience and ingenuity. Is there any wonder, then, that a New York Post columnist calls “the right to be wrong” the “greatest right in the world”?

Whereas the moral and ethical were once admired and highly esteemed in our society, they are now ridiculed and condemned. What was once considered morality is now redefined as bigotry. Those who once believed in goodness are now condemned as intolerant. Consequently, the moral bar has been continuously lowered until today’s society can easily meet it while crawling and slithering around on its belly.

The tremendous challenge facing the contemporary church is how to paint goodness up in an attractive way to a morally colorblind society. How do we get relativists, who are bewitched by abstract truth, to even gaze at the brilliant colors and light of a biblical moral landscape? Truly, there is only way for us to do so.

We must daily exhibit in our life, which serves as our canvass in the gallery of this world, the stark contrast between the attractive consequences of virtue and the unattractive consequences of vice. If the world can see biblical truth painted out in our lives by daily practice it will not be able to escape its appeal. Furthermore, it will be clearly shown how the ways of a politically correct and profane culture pale in comparison to the ways of God.

Will you take up your brush today and begin painting out in your life for the whole world to see the brilliant and beautiful truths of God’s Word?

THE MONASTERY MENTALITY (Part 2)

Contrary to popular opinion, darkness doesn’t overcome light, but light overcomes darkness. According to the Apostle John, when “the light shines in the darkness the darkness [cannot] overcome it” (John 1:5). Think about it; all of the darkness in the universe cannot overcome the least little perceptible light.

Why are we, the light of the world, on the run in these dark days? We shouldn’t be cowering in today’s world; neither should we be retreating from it. Instead, we should be charging into it! We shouldn’t be on the defensive, with a monastery mentality, but on the offensive, with an attack mentality. After all, “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised us that “the gates of hell” could “not prevail against” His church. Many misinterpret these words of our Lord as defensive rather than offensive. They believe that the church will survive in the end by the hair of its “chinny chin chin.” In other words, if we’ll only hunker down and hold on, the forces of hell will not prevail against us, no matter how much they pummel us.

Ask yourself this question: “Have you ever seen gates jump off their hinges and attack anyone?” Gates don’t attack you; you attack them. Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18 are not defensive, but offensive. The church is not being pictured as under attack, but as on the attack. It is not pictured as under siege by Satan, but as storming the gates of hell itself. Furthermore, Christ promises that His charging church cannot be held back, not even by the gates of hell. Christ’s church is promised to prevail!

“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” (C. T. Studd)

THE MONASTERY MENTALITY (Part 1)

Unfortunately, biblical morality is viewed in these politically correct times as little more than the avoidance of so-called evils. God’s saints are seen as spiritual shrinking violets cowering in church corners from the pollution of today’s profane culture. We are supposedly party-poopers threatened by revelry. We are terrified at the thought of rock music blaring in our ears and tobacco smoke blown in our faces. Therefore, we continuously constrict ourselves in order to avoid all worldly corruption.

When our faith is viewed as a religion of rigidity and we as religionists obsessed with whittling down life to ever smaller but safer spheres, the church appears to the world as a diminutive place and we as a rather dwarfish people. Why should others desire to step out of the whole wide world into the midst of cloistered congregates in some closeted church? This perception of modern-day saints being so scared of sin that we fence ourselves off from all that is untoward is counterproductive to our winning of converts. It makes us appear to a sin-loving world as those who are always in frantic flight from vivacity.

If we are to be effective evangelists in our present-day world, we must convince others that our avoidance of sin is not a matter of cowardice, but of preference. Far from being frightened, we are fearlessly living our lives to the full. We are not living apprehensively, but abundantly! In Christ, we have found over and above all that we have ever hoped for or dreamed of. Emptying our arms to embrace Him was merely ridding ourselves of temporal rubbish and gaining for ourselves incomprehensible and eternal riches!