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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [Psalm 19:14] 

I’m sharing these daily devotions in the hope they will inspire you to read God’s word. I’m praying that they will help you find your way to a closer relationship with God.  [Read More ….]

SELLING YOUR SOUL

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)]

Many stories, novels, operas, musicals, and movies have been based on the theme of selling one’s soul to the devil. In Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, a brilliant scholar who’s sure he’s learned all there is to know by conventional means turns to magic and ends up summoning the devil Mephistopheles. The two agree that, after Faustus has enjoyed twenty-four years of absolute power (with Mephistopheles as his servant), his soul will belong to Lucifer. When the handsome Dorian sells his soul so that he will never age in The Picture of Dorian Gray, he enters into a lifestyle of debauchery. While Dorian remains handsome, his picture changes to reflect the immoral and sinful life he’s led. In the 1968 horror movie Rosemary’s Baby, the naïve Rosemary discovers that her husband sold both his soul and her womb to Satan for riches and career success. As expected, none of those tales end well. The Devil and Daniel Webster, however, does but only because of the eloquence of the famed lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster.

While it was Daniel Webster’s persuasive arguments that saved the soul of Jabez Stone from the clutches of the devil, it is Jesus who saves ours! Before we came to Christ, we all were in bondage to sin and condemned to death. Satan may have authority over those who aren’t Christ followers, but he doesn’t over us. Just as Jesus set the demoniac free, he sets us free, as well.

While stories of selling one’s soul are morality tales that vividly illustrate the wages of sin, they are fiction and the concept of making a deal with Satan is not Biblical. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Satan is a deceiver and tempter who is committed to opposing God and all who follow Him. While Jesus has freed us from condemnation, He has not freed us from temptation.

Satan tempts us with things like power, riches, or status every day, just not as blatantly as he did in those fictional accounts. Rather than offering us a contract to be signed in blood, he subtly offers a seemingly trivial compromise one day followed by a minor concession or false rationale the next. Dangling some reward in front of us, he whispers that everyone else is doing it, we deserve whatever it is, no one will ever know, or that we’ve got to look out for ourselves since no one else will! With each concession, we surrender a little bit of ourselves in the false belief that what we’ll gain is more valuable than what we lose.

Temptation is an inevitable part of living in this fallen world but we have not been left defenseless. We won’t need Daniel Webster’s skillful courtroom arguments because we have prayer, self-discipline, and God’s armor. We wear the belt of truth and the breast-plate of righteousness and have the Gospel of peace for shoes. We carry the shield of faith, place the helmet of salvation on our heads, and fight with the sword of the Spirit and God’s Word. Our souls are not for sale!

As the most dangerous winds may enter at little openings, so the devil never enters more dangerously than by little unobserved incidents, which seem to be nothing, yet insensibly open the heart to great temptations. [John Wesley]

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

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SAINTS AND SINNERS

But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Matthew 9:11-13 (NLT)]

The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. [John Stott]

moth mulleinLast week, after posting the second of two devotions mentioning David Bennett, Sr. (who received a pig’s heart in a ground-breaking transplant), I checked news links for an update on his condition. I was surprised to learn that 34 years ago, when Bennett was just 23, he was convicted of stabbing Edward Shumaker seven times, a violent assault that left the 22-year-old paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Bennett was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served 6 of those years before returning to society and moving on with his life. As for Shumaker, after enduring 19 years of staph infections, sepsis, bedsores, a stroke, and moving in and out of nursing homes, he died a week before his 41st birthday.

Understandably, Shumaker’s survivors had difficulty processing the news that the man who caused such heartache and suffering for Edward not only went on to have a normal life complete with children and grands but also received a new lease on that life with his life-saving heart transplant. For Shumaker’s sister, it seems outrageous that someone guilty of such a violent crime could undergo this lifesaving procedure when so many more “deserving” recipients die or become too ill for transplant surgery before a heart becomes available.

Officials at the Baltimore hospital where Bennett received his new heart explained that the decision about Bennett’s transplant eligibility was based solely on his medical records, explaining that they provide, “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University, elaborated, “The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are.…We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints.”

Caplan’s words made me think of Jesus—the Great Physician who came into this world to heal mankind. There is no record of His assessing the purity or sinfulness of those he restored to determine whether or not they deserved healing. He didn’t evaluate people’s righteousness before making the lame walk, the blind see, or the deaf hear. He didn’t categorize acceptable from unacceptable sins or sort out the honest from the corrupt, the moral from the immoral, or the law-abiding from the criminal before healing leprosy, mental illness, fevers, or hemorrhaging. When He fed the multitude, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to offer food only to those virtuous people worthy of receiving it and He broke bread with both the respectable and the disreputable. When it comes to God’s healing, mercy, love, provision, or forgiveness, not one of us is more or less deserving than the next; none of us are worthy because we all are sinners!

Just as the medical profession is not in the business of sorting sinners from saints, neither is the Church. Someday, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats but, until that day comes, let us remember that His Church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints! We don’t scrutinize those who come to us and weed out all of the swearers, liars, ex-cons, crude, self-righteous, alcoholics, doubters, adulterers, divorced, gossipers, or scoundrels before welcoming them through our doors. If we did, both our pews and pulpits would be empty! Our pasts, no matter how soiled or violent, do not bar us from the healing and restoration of the Lord!

Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite. [Harry Ironside]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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TWO MEN AND TWO CHOICES

You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NCV)]

peonyAlthough Elijah had just won an amazing victory over Baal and his prophets, we find the prophet running for his life in 1 Kings 19. The journey of over 120 miles left him physically exhausted and, having endured so many setbacks and challenges, the disheartened prophet was emotionally exhausted, as well. Wanting what he saw as a hopeless situation to end, He begged the Lord for death and he’s not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to do so. Overwhelmed by the heavy burdens he carried, Moses cried to God, “If you are going to continue doing this to me, then kill me now. If you care about me, put me to death, and then I won’t have any more troubles.” [Numbers 11:15] A discouraged and frustrated Jonah told God it would be better for him to die than to live. Job, in his despair and agony, and Jeremiah, in his disappointment after decades of prophesying with no appreciable results, were so miserable that they cursed the day they were born! Even the Apostle Paul admitted having been nearly overwhelmed by his troubles. Yet, as hopeless at their situations seemed, none of them died when they wanted to and none took their own lives. God did not abandon them and they did not abandon life.

One week ago, in a Maryland hospital, 57-year-old terminally ill David Bennett, Sr. underwent open heart surgery and received a genetically modified pig’s heart as a replacement for his own severely damaged one. That same day, in Cali, Columbia, 60-year-old Victor Escobar chose to die by euthanasia. While Escobar suffered from intense pain, his condition was not terminal and he fought for two years in Columbian courts for the privilege of ending his life on his own terms. “I do not think God will punish me for trying to stop suffering,” he said. In stark contrast, Bennett, whose condition was terminal, said, “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” One chose to die while the other (who was well aware of the risks) chose to continue living for as long as possible.

I’m not going to enter into the controversy regarding assisted suicide, euthanasia, or the use of animal organs in transplants. There’s nothing I can add to what theologians, ethicists, physicians, and lawyers have already said. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ponder the choices made by these two men. If I were in Bennett’s shoes, knowing the risks and low probability of long-term survival, would I make such a last-ditch effort in hope of gaining of few more days, weeks or months?  On the other hand, were I confined to a wheelchair and suffering from diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and spasms as was Victor Escobar, would I beg God for death? If I felt like I were living in a torture chamber, would I consider suicide or euthanasia?

Looking to Scripture, we have Paul’s words that we belong to the Lord, body and soul. Just as we have no right to tear down our neighbor’s house no matter how dilapidated it may be, we have no right to destroy our broken-down bodies; they are not ours to destroy. We are the Holy Spirit’s temple, were purchased with Christ’s blood, and our bodies belong the Lord! While we may long to depart this world, the where, when and how of that departure is God’s choice, not ours. Although I’m not sure I would make Bennett’s choice of such radical surgery, I do know I will never make Escobar’s of euthanasia.

I suspect that, like those Biblical heroes, there will be times in every believer’s life when we dread waking up to another day—there certainly have been in mine. Wanting whatever is plaguing us to be over with and gone, we might even cry, “I wish I were dead!” Yet, as desperate and despondent as were Elijah, Moses, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, and Paul, none of them took their lives. God heard their cries of despair just as he hears ours.

A Christian will part with anything rather than his hope; he knows that hope will keep the heart both from aching and breaking, from fainting and sinking; he knows that hope is a beam of God, a spark of glory, and that nothing shall extinguish it till the soul be filled with glory. [Thomas Brooks]

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy and you are that temple. [1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NCV)]

We do not live or die for ourselves. If we live, we are living for the Lord, and if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord. [Romans 14:7-8 (NCV)]

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A NEW HEART

pigsAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

Last Friday, doctors in Maryland made history when they transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human in a last-ditch effort to save the life of David Bennett, Sr. A medical first, Bennett was too ill to qualify for a routine heart transplant or an artificial ventricular assist device. The 57-year-old’s prognosis is uncertain and it will be months before doctors know whether the transplant can be deemed a “success.” As with any organ transplant, the main risk is that of organ rejection and Bennett will need potent immunosuppressing drugs for the remainder of his life.

I remember how astonished the world was back in 1967 when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. The news that a surgeon had cut open someone’s chest, lifted out a diseased heart, and successfully replaced it with a healthy one from a dead donor was astounding. Although that first heart transplant recipient lived only eighteen days, today’s recipients have an 85% chance of living one year and a 69% chance of surviving five. The survival rate continues to decrease through the years with only 50% of heart transplant recipients living ten years and just 15% making 20 years. In spite of the risks, last year over 50,000 transplant candidates worldwide vied for the 5,000 hearts that were available. Sadly, there just aren’t enough hearts to go around.

54 years ago, the medical journals were wrong when they credited Dr. Bernard with the first heart transplant; God has been replacing hearts for ages! He takes our damaged hearts of stone, hearts unwilling to respond to Him, and replaces them with a new heart and spirit. After accepting His new heart, we have no need for immunosuppressive drugs because the new heart won’t be rejected. Unlike transplant candidates, we don’t have to meet specific criteria or put our names on a waiting list. Everyone qualifies and all we have to do is repent! The best news is that there’s no heart shortage and we don’t have to wait for someone to die; Jesus did that for us 2,000 years ago!

Even with a pig’s heart, Mr. Bennett won’t to want to live in a sty, cool off with a mud bath, snuffle in the soil, or start eating a mix of corn, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat. While his new heart will give him a new lease on life (at least for a short time), it will not change him. He will be the same man with the same favorite activities, world view, media preferences, attitudes, likes and dislikes, morals and principles he had before surgery. On the other hand, the new heart God gives us will make a huge change in us. We will have a new mind, new preferences, new spiritual gifts, new beliefs and morals, a new love for who and what we may have hated, and a new aversion to things we once might have loved. Rather than getting immunosuppressant drugs, we will receive an infusion of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! Getting a new heart in God’s hospital also yields a far better survival rate—no death, only eternal life!

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live! [Ezekiel 18:30b-32 (NLT)]

I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. [Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT)]

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TAKE ME TO THE WATER

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. [ Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)]

Baptism - affusion In immersion baptism, a person is completely submerged in the water and, every time I witness a full immersion baptism done in the Gulf of Mexico, I think of what it must have been like when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descended on our Lord. Since the Greek word used to describe this event was baptizo, meaning to dip, sink, or submerge, we can safely assume His was a full immersion baptism.

The water of baptism illustrates dying and being buried with Christ and the coming out of the water illustrates Christ’s resurrection. Baptizo is the word Jesus used when telling the disciples to baptize new believers and, in the early church, full immersion was the norm. There is, however, evidence that affusion, the pouring of water over a person, was used for invalids. Although aspersion, or the sprinkling of water for baptism, is the norm in many mainstream churches today, it did not come into practice until around the 13th century. While today’s Christian church agrees on the importance of baptism, it is divided as to the method and conduct of this sacrament.

In determining the amount of water necessary to make a baptism “official,” it would be easy to become as nitpicky as were the Pharisees of Jesus’ day as they quibbled over specifics of the law. For an immersion advocate, would the baptism be invalid if a person’s hand or some of their hair didn’t get wet and how long must they be under water? For the pourers and sprinklers, how much water is too much and how little water is not enough? If there were no water available, would spittle or tears do? I don’t know the answer but I suspect God is more concerned with matters of the heart than ritual. Since I think our commitment to Jesus is far more important than the method of baptism or the amount of water used, I’m staying clear of that controversy!

Along with the dispute among Christian churches over the method of baptism, there is disagreement on whether baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. On Pentecost, Peter told the crowd they’d receive the Holy Spirit once they repented, turned to God and were baptized, which seems to support the side claiming baptism is required for salvation. On the other hand, while preaching to the household of Cornelius, Peter asked if anyone objected to the family’s baptism since they’d already received the Holy Spirit. This passage seems to support the side that, rather than a condition for salvation, baptism is evidence of salvation. While Scripture makes it clear that belief is a requirement for salvation, it never clearly says that baptism is, so I’ll leave the meaning of the original Greek text to theologians and scholars.

In the meantime, I’ll look to Scripture’s words that clearly tell us we are saved by grace through faith and not through works, effort or the law. A believer can be saved without being baptized because baptism isn’t how we receive forgiveness of our sins—we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Nevertheless, a believer will be baptized because Jesus commanded it!

Granted, I have a distinctly Protestant view of baptism and you are free to disagree. What we can agree on is that, regardless of the method used, it’s never too late to be baptized! Of all the baptisms I’ve witnessed, my favorite is when one of our church family made her declaration of faith at the age of 95.  Too frail for full immersion in the Gulf, while flanked by the pastor and her son, she was baptized (by affusion) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Praise be to God!

Indeed, baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ. Just as a wedding celebrates the fusion of two hearts, baptism celebrates the union of sinner with Savior. [Max Lucado]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28 (18-20 (NLT)]

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THE PRAYER OF INDIFFERENCE

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. [James 4:3 (NLT)]

santa rose de lima - NMWhen we pray about a decision, we often set the desired outcome we want rather than ask God to reveal His will to us. Instead of trusting our decision to Him and bending our will to His, we want God to bend His will to our desires. If His response to our pleas isn’t the one we want, we refuse to recognize it or complain that He never answered our prayers! Until we’re willing to step back and say, “Thy will be done,” we can’t truly discern God’s will.

When writing about discerning God’s will, Ruth Haley Barton suggests starting the decision-making process with a prayer of trust that acknowledges our need to trust in God. The second prayer, the one Barton calls “the prayer for indifference”, is far harder. In this prayer we ask God to free us from our personal stake in the issue or our attachment to a particular outcome so that we become indifferent to anything but God’s will. This prayer echoes the one of Jesus when He asked God to take away His cup of suffering: “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” [Matthew 26:31] It is only then, when we are willing to abandon our agenda and detach ourselves from the outcome, that we are ready for the third prayer in which we ask God for wisdom in discerning the answer.

Twenty-five years ago, long before I knew of this three-step process in discerning God’s will, the Spirit guided me through it. Our daughter was finishing up her post-graduate year of internship at a Chicago hospital when she received two good job offers at the same time. One was from the hospital where she was interning—meaning she could remain in her apartment and live no more than 90-minutes from any of the family. The other offer was from a hospital 1,400 miles west that wanted her to start work within two weeks. The thought of relocating in so short a time to a place she’d never been and a city where she knew no one was daunting. When my daughter called to ask for advice, I wanted to say, “Stay here near family and friends!” The Spirit put His hand across my mouth and reminded me that this was not my decision to make and filled me with wisdom I didn’t know I had. Rather than telling her what I wanted, I advised her to trust that God would handle the logistics if she decided to move and suggested comparing the jobs as if they both were in the same location. Promising our prayers that evening, I told her to trust in the Lord and ask Him for wisdom in making her choice.

Our prayers that night were difficult ones because my husband and I were not indifferent to our daughter’s decision. Although we’d raised her to fly from the nest, we didn’t want her flying across the country to New Mexico! We wanted her to be on her own but with the caveat that she be on her own while staying close to home! Nevertheless, putting our personal feelings aside, we detached ourselves from the outcome and fervently prayed not for what we wanted but for what God wanted and that our daughter would have wisdom enough to discern His plan and make the right decision—whatever that was!

The following morning, our daughter told us that, in spite of the challenges of moving, the right job for her was the one in New Mexico. I don’t think it was dumb luck that, with just a few calls, we found her an apartment there or that the first moving company we called happened to have a truck (with the right amount of space available) passing through Chicago the day before our daughter’s graduation, or that it was scheduled to arrive in Albuquerque the day she took possession of her new apartment! When we trust God and follow His plan, He has an uncanny way of making things come together.

We often complain that God hasn’t answered our prayers. Perhaps we should consider that He may have given us the answer but, because we’re vested in a particular outcome, we haven’t seen it. I wish I could say that I abandon my will and become indifferent to God’s answer whenever I pray, but I can’t. Nevertheless, remembering how well it works when I do, I continue to try!

Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the Lord your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” [Jeremiah 42:4-5 (NLT)]

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. [Psalm 143:10 (NLT)]

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