Walking Before God in the Land of the Living

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By James H. Pence –

Not long ago, some dear friends of mine received news their son had died suddenly. If this wasn’t bad enough, their youngest son died in an auto accident about ten years ago. Another friend of mine learned last year that his eight-year-old daughter has an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer. Someone else I know lost his wife and two sons to murder. Nevertheless, in spite of their terrible tragedies, all of these people are praising God in the midst of their grief. More than that, they are taking that sorrow and using it to bring glory to God and influence others for him.

How is it possible to praise and worship God when you are experiencing unspeakable pain? The psalmist gives us a key when he writes, “For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8-9 NIV).

Believers in Jesus Christ can worship and praise God in the midst of tragedy because He has worked a three-fold deliverance in our lives. First, He has delivered our souls from death. We know that when this brief life is over, we will enter into God’s presence and enjoy Him forever. Through His death, Jesus Christ removed death’s sting, and that has a powerful impact on our outlook.

Second, God has delivered our eyes from tears. The Bible reminds us on many occasions that God will wipe all tears from our eyes when we’re in heaven. But it also says He is our comforter now. Paul told the Corinthians that God is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2Corinthians 1:3-4a NIV). Because God is constantly wiping the tears away from our eyes, we can press on through trial and tragedy, bringing Him glory.

Third, God has delivered our feet from stumbling. While it’s true that all believers stumble and fall at times, God always raises us up and heals us. Jude reminds us that God “is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24 NIV). Even though our circumstances may feel unbearable, we can rest assured that our God will preserve us through them and bring us safely home.

AUTHOR QUOTE: Because of the ongoing, sustaining grace of God, His people can pass through the worst fires human experience has to offer and come out victorious.

“How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:12-13 NIV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his website at: www.jamespence.com.

Swimming Upstream

April 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Life Topics

By James H. Pence –

As I consider my Christian walk, I often feel like a salmon swimming upstream.

Most of us have seen videos of this amazing phenomenon of nature. These fish not only swim against raging currents and rapids, but often have to jump up small waterfalls, all to fulfill their final task in life—spawning and creating a new generation. It is an all-out effort in pursuit of a virtually impossible goal, and it takes every ounce of strength these fish have. And when their task is complete, they die.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the Christian life.

The Christian life is all about pursuing a goal. You can describe the goal in different terms: heaven, glory, holiness, righteousness, etc. As Paul described it in Romans, God’s goal is for us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29). He puts it in more practical terms in his letter to the Ephesians: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4 NIV).

God’s goal—and our goal—is to become like Jesus Christ. The problem is, everything in our world runs counter to that goal.

To pursue Christlikeness while living in this world is like swimming upstream against roaring rapids, jumping over waterfalls, and fighting a constant, unending battle against a current that would inevitably take us in the opposite direction. What is worse, not only do we have to struggle against the current of the world; we also have to resist our natural inclination toward sin. At least salmon don’t have a sin nature to contend with.

Yes, this is a nearly perfect picture of the Christian life. Except that we have something the salmon don’t have. They must pursue and reach their goal, driven only by instinct and gritty determination. We have One who lives in us and empowers us daily, and He has promised to complete the work He began in us.

I often find myself discouraged in my daily battle against my own sin, against my own tendency to allow the stream to carry me away from God. But God has begun a good work in me through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has promised to carry it on to completion.

AUTHOR QUOTE: I will finally reach the goal of Christlikeness, not because of my own will and gritty determination, but because of His faithfulness.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his website at: www.jamespence.com.

The Lord is My Portion—I Shall Not Want

March 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By James H. Pence –

Have you ever thought of God as your portion?

The scriptures use many metaphors to describe God and our relationship to Him. Among other things, God is described as a rock, a refuge, a shepherd and a fortress. But one of the most powerful metaphors for God found in the Bible is portion. Nowadays, we don’t often hear the word “portion” used outside of the context of dieting. But in the Bible, portion is a word rich with meaning. It occurs frequently in the Old Testament and can refer to someone’s share in a meal, part of a sacrifice, a soldier’s share of the plunder, or someone’s inheritance. But when the word is used to describe God, it takes on a whole new depth of meaning.

In Psalm 73, Asaph has been struggling to understand why the wicked prosper when righteous people suffer. As he navigates his way through this question, he finally concludes that, although the wicked may prosper in this life, God has placed them on slippery ground and they will eventually perish (Psalm 73:17-19). But Asaph doesn’t stop there. He realizes that it doesn’t matter how much the wicked prosper because his inheritance, his portion, is not on earth.

Near the end of the psalm, Asaph writes: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26 NIV). As he looks around and sees how unfair this world seems to be, Asaph remembers that he is only a pilgrim on earth. He has an inheritance—a portion—that is greater than any wealth the wicked possess. His portion is God Himself.

Four times in the Psalms and once in Lamentations, the scripture writers describe God as their portion (Psalm 16:5, 73:26, 119:57, 142:5, Lamentations 3:24). Each time it is a reminder that whatever happens in this world, we have a possession that transcends all trial, tragedy, and difficulty.

We live in a world that is increasingly filled with trouble and violence, and it’s easy to become discouraged with the circumstances we must daily face as Christians. On those days it is helpful to remember that God is our portion. If we have Him, we need nothing else.

PRAYER: God, thank You for being my portion and my inheritance. Help me daily to remember that I have no one in heaven but You and that, having You, I should desire nothing on earth. My heart and my flesh will indeed fail someday, but You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.

“I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:24 NIV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his website at: www.jamespence.com.

A Simple Guide to Pleasing God

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Personal Growth

By James H. Pence –

If you had to tell someone (in as few words as possible) how they could live a life pleasing to God, what would you say? I’m not talking about how to become a Christian; rather, I have in mind a brief summary of the Christian life.

You can find many possible answers in Scripture, but one of the best short summaries of God’s expectations for our lives can be found in the book of Micah, chapter 6. In that chapter Micah asks a simple question, “What does the Lord require of you?”

His answer is equally concise. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b NIV).

This verse breaks down the Christian life into three simple areas. Micah tells us first of all that we are to act justly. In other words, all of our dealings with others should be just. We’re to be mindful to do the right thing, no matter what situation we face.

Second, he encourages us to love mercy—be a people characterized by a love of mercy and kindness. Daily we can demonstrate compassion and be ready to show grace to those around us.

Finally he instructs us to walk humbly with our God. There’s no place for arrogance, pride, or selfishness. Also, our walk must not be solitary. We do not live alone in this Christian life. Our life is always conducted “coram deo” before the face of our God. A constant awareness of God’s presence in our lives will keep us mindful of how to conduct ourselves.

Sometimes we make the Christian life much more complicated than it needs to be. We get so caught up in the busyness and challenges of life that we forget that God expects us to act justly toward others, to always show mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. As you walk with Him through 2011, let it be your goal to live a simple Christian life.

PRAYER: Lord, please don’t let me become overwhelmed by the complexities of life. Grant that I might walk every day in the simple Christian life—acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with You.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jamespence.com.

Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By James H. Pence –

New Year’s resolutions. Most of us make them. Or at least we think about making them. Maybe we need to lose weight, exercise more, get out of debt, or read the Bible through. The New Year often gets us in evaluation mode. We examine our lives with a view to being better people.

Unfortunately, more often than not we break our resolutions before January ends. We sink back into long-established habit patterns, and in the end our resolutions are forgotten until the next year. Then we begin the process all over again. This has led some people to think about abandoning the idea of New Year’s resolutions altogether. It’s not that resolutions are bad, but if we repeatedly make them only to break them, they become discouraging and self-defeating.

I’d like to suggest a different approach to resolutions. It was exemplified over 200 years ago by the great pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards. Early in his life and ministry Edwards made seventy lifelong resolutions. His resolutions are inspiring and challenging, even if some of them are a bit daunting.

Here are a few:

  • Resolution #5: Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • Resolution #7: Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  • Resolution #69: Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.

What is it about Edwards’ resolutions that make them significant? Most New Year’s resolutions tend to be “me-centered.” Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions were God-centered. Personal commitments—made one time—with God’s glory in view. How did he manage to keep them and especially to keep from forgetting them? The answer is found just before the first resolution:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.” (Emphasis added.)

Whether or not you make New Year’s resolutions, take Edwards’ example to heart. We should all regularly resolve to live to the glory of God; however that plays out in our daily life. May all the resolutions in our lives be God-centered.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, grant that I might not make meaningless resolutions this year. By the power of Your Holy Spirit please enable me to resolve daily to live for Your glory.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31 NIV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jamespence.com.

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