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Our Daily Bread Devotional

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Heart Problem

“Do you see it, brother Tim?” My friend, a Ghanaian pastor, flashed his torchlight on a carved object leaning against a mud hut. Quietly he said, “That is the village idol.” Each Tuesday evening, Pastor Sam traveled into the bush to share the Bible in this remote village.

In the book of Ezekiel, we see how idolatry plagued the people of Judah. When Jerusalem’s leaders came to see the prophet Ezekiel, God told him, “These men have set up idols in their hearts” (14:3). God wasn’t merely warning them against idols carved of wood and stone. He was showing them that idolatry is a problem of the heart. We all struggle with it.

Bible teacher Alistair Begg describes an idol as “anything other than God that we regard as essential to our peace, our self-image, our contentment, or our acceptability.” Even things that have the appearance of being noble can become idols to us. When we seek comfort or self-worth from anything other than the living God, we commit idolatry.

“Repent!” God said. “Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6). Israel proved incapable of doing this. Thankfully, God had the solution. Looking forward to the coming of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, He promised, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (36:26). We can’t do this alone.

By |2023-01-18T01:33:19-05:00January 18th, 2023|

Never Late

As a visitor to a small West African town, my American pastor made sure to arrive on time for a 10 a.m. Sunday service. Inside the humble sanctuary, however, he found the room empty. So he waited. One hour. Two hours. Finally, about 12:30 p.m., when the local pastor arrived after his long walk there—followed by some choir members and a gathering of friendly town people—the service began “in the fullness of time,” as my pastor said. “The Spirit welcomed us, and God wasn’t late.” My pastor understood the culture was different here for its own good reasons.

Time seems relative, but God’s perfect on-time nature is affirmed throughout the Scriptures. Thus, after Lazarus got sick and died, Jesus arrived four days later, with Lazarus’s sisters asking why. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). We may think the same, wondering why God doesn’t hurry to fix our problems. Better instead to wait by faith for His answers and power.
As theologian Howard Thurman wrote, “We wait, our Father, until at last something of thy strength becomes our strength, something of thy heart becomes our heart, something of thy forgiveness becomes our forgiveness. We wait, O God, we wait.” Then, as with Lazarus, when the Lord responds, we’re miraculously blessed by what wasn’t, after all, a delay.

By |2023-01-17T01:33:20-05:00January 17th, 2023|

Be Filled

The horrific assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr happened at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But just four days later, his widow Coretta Scott King courageously took her husband’s place in leading a peaceful protest march. Coretta had a deep passion for justice and was a fierce champion of many causes, eventually becoming an internationally recognized civil rights advocate.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). We know that someday God will come to deliver justice and right every wrong in our world, but until that time, we have the opportunity to participate in making God’s justice a reality on earth right now, just like Coretta did. Isaiah 58 paints a vivid picture of what God calls His people to do: “loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and do not turn away from those who need help” (vv. 6–7). Seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalized is one way our lives point back to God. Isaiah writes that God’s people seeking justice is like the light of dawn and results in healing for them as well as for others (v. 8).

Today, may God help us cultivate a hunger for God’s righteousness here on earth. As we seek justice God’s way and in His power, the Bible says, we’ll be satisfied.

By |2023-01-16T01:33:13-05:00January 16th, 2023|

From Lament to Praise

Monica prayed feverishly for her son to return to God. She wept over his wayward ways and even tracked him down in the various cities where he chose to live. The situation seemed hopeless. Then one day it happened: her son had a radical encounter with God. He became one of the greatest theologians of the church. We know him as Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

“How long, Lord?” (Habakkuk 1:2). The prophet Habakkuk lamented God’s inaction regarding the people in power who perverted justice (v. 4). Think of the times we’ve turned to God in desperation—expressing our laments due to injustice, a seemingly hopeless medical journey, ongoing financial struggles, or children who’ve walked away from God.

Each time Habakkuk lamented, God heard his cries. As we wait in faith, we can learn from the prophet to turn our lament into praise, for he said, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:18). He didn’t understand God’s ways, but he trusted Him. Both lament and praise are acts of faith, expressions of trust. We lament as an appeal to God based on His character. And our praise of Him is based on who He is—our amazing, Almighty God. One day, by His grace, every lament will turn to praise.

By |2023-01-15T01:33:12-05:00January 15th, 2023|

A New Beginning

Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie,” Eugene Peterson wrote in his powerful reflections on Psalm 120. Psalm 120 is the first of the “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 120–134) sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. And as Peterson explored in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000)[1] , these psalms also offer us a picture of the spiritual journey toward God.

That journey can only begin with profound awareness of our need for something different. As Peterson puts it, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. . . [One] has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.”

It’s easy to become discouraged by the brokenness and despair we see in the world around us—the pervasive ways our culture often shows callous disregard for the harm being done to others. Psalm 120 laments this honestly: “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (v. 7).

But there’s healing and freedom in realizing that our pain can also awaken us to a new beginning through our only help (121:2)—the Savior who can guide us from destructive lies into paths of peace and wholeness. As we enter this new year, may we seek Him and His ways.

By |2023-01-14T01:33:19-05:00January 14th, 2023|

The Crowd

“Men have been found to resist the most powerful monarchs and to refuse to bow down before them,” observed philosopher and author Hannah Arendt (1906–1975). She added, “[B]ut few indeed have been found to resist the crowd, to stand up alone before misguided masses, to face their implacable frenzy without weapons . . . .” As a Jew, Arendt witnessed this firsthand in her native Germany. There’s something terrifying about being rejected by the group.

The apostle Paul experienced such rejection. Trained as a Pharisee and rabbi, his life was turned upside down when he encountered the resurrected Jesus. Paul had been traveling to Damascus to persecute those who believed in Christ (Acts 9). From that time forward, the apostle found himself rejected by his own people. In his letter we know as 2 Corinthians, Paul reviewed some of the troubles he faced at their hands, among them “beatings” and “imprisonments” (6:5).   

Rather than responding to such rejection with anger or bitterness, Paul longed for them to come to know Jesus too. He wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people” (Romans 9:2–3).

As God has welcomed us into His family, may He also enable us to invite even our adversaries into relationship with God.

By |2023-01-13T01:33:21-05:00January 13th, 2023|

The Rest of Our Story

For more than six decades, news journalist Paul Harvey was a familiar voice on American radio. Six days a week he would say with a colorful flair, “You know what the news is. In a minute you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” After a brief advertisement, he would tell a little-known story of a well-known person. But by withholding until the end either the person’s name or some other key element he delighted listeners with his dramatic pause and tagline: “And now you know . . . the rest of the story.”

The apostle John’s vision of things past and future unfolds with a similar promise. However, his story begins on a sad note. He couldn’t stop crying when he saw that no created being in heaven or earth could explain where history is going (Revelation 4:1; 5:1–4). Then he heard a voice offering hope in the lion of the tribe of Judah. But when John looked, instead of seeing a conquering lion, he saw a lamb looking like it had been slaughtered (vv. 5–6). The unlikely sight erupted in waves of celebration around the throne of God. In three expanding choruses, twenty-four elders were joined by countless angels and then by all of heaven and earth (vv. 8–14).

Who could have imagined that a crucified Savior would be the hope of all creation, the glory of our God, and the rest of our story.

By |2023-01-12T01:33:21-05:00January 12th, 2023|

Out of the Lions’ Den

When Taher and his wife, Donya, became believers in Jesus, they knew they risked persecution in their home country. Indeed, one day Taher was blindfolded, handcuffed, imprisoned, and charged with apostasy. Before he appeared at trial, he and Donya agreed that they wouldn’t betray Jesus.

What happened at the sentencing amazed him. The judge said, “I don’t know why, but I want to take you out of the whale’s and lion’s mouth.” With that, Taher “knew that God was acting”; he couldn’t otherwise explain the judge referencing two key passages in the Bible. Taher was released from prison and the family later found exile elsewhere.

Taher’s surprising release echoes the story of Daniel surviving the lion’s den (Daniel 6). A skilled administrator, he was going to be promoted, which made his colleagues jealous (vv. 3–5). Plotting his downfall, they convinced King Darius to pass a law against praying to anyone other than the king—which Daniel ignored. King Darius had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions (v. 16). But God “rescued Daniel” and saved him from death (v. 27), even as He saved Taher through the judge’s surprising release.

Many believers today suffer for following Jesus, and sometimes they even are killed. Whether we face this kind of persecution or not, we can deepen our faith when we understand that God has ways and means we can’t even imagine. Know that He’s with you in whatever battles you face.

By |2023-01-11T01:33:10-05:00January 11th, 2023|

The God Who Redeems

As part of a sermon illustration, I walked toward the beautiful painting an artist had been creating on the platform and made a dark streak across the middle of it. The congregation gasped in horror. The artist simply stood by and watched as I defaced what she’d created. Then, selecting a new brush, she lovingly transformed the ruined painting into an exquisite work of art.

Her restorative work reminds me of the work God can perform in our lives when we’ve made a mess of them. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for their spiritual blindness and deafness (Isaiah 42:18–19), but then he proclaimed the hope of God’s deliverance and redemption: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you” (43:1). He can do the same for us. Even after we’ve sinned, if we confess our sin and turn to God, He forgives and restores us (vv. 5–7; 1 John 1:9). We can’t bring beauty out of the mess, but Jesus can. The Good News of the gospel is that He has redeemed us by His blood. The book of Revelation assures us that in the end, Christ will dry our tears, redeem our past, and make all things new (Revelation 21:4–5).

We have a limited vision of our story. But God who knows us “by name” (Isaiah 43:1) will make our lives more beautiful than we could ever imagine. If you’ve been redeemed by faith in Jesus Christ, your story, like the painting, has a glorious ending.

By |2023-01-10T01:33:03-05:00January 10th, 2023|

The Right Jesus

The buzz in the room faded to a comfortable silence as the book club leader summarized the novel the group would discuss. My friend Joan listened closely but didn’t recognize the plot. Finally, she realized she had read a nonfiction book with a similar title to the work of fiction the others had read. Although she enjoyed reading the “wrong” book, she couldn’t join her friends as they discussed the “right” book.

The apostle Paul did not want the Corinthian Christians to believe in a “wrong” Jesus. He pointed out that false teachers had infiltrated the church and presented a different “Jesus” to the congregation (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). He also noted that the people swallowed the lies without much resistance.

Paul didn’t describe the heresy these phony teachers tried to pass off as truth. In his first letter to the church, however, he reviewed some facts about the Jesus of scripture. This Jesus was the Messiah who “died for our sins…was raised on the third day…[and then] appeared to the Twelve, and finally to Paul himself” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). This Jesus had come to earth through a virgin named Mary and was named Immanuel (God with us) to affirm His divine nature (Matthew 1:20-23).

Does this sound like the Jesus you know? Understanding and accepting the truth written in the Bible about Jesus is important. It assures us that we are on the spiritual path that leads to heaven.

By |2023-01-09T01:33:03-05:00January 9th, 2023|
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