Archive for Devotional with Hymn

The Gift of Life

With You is the fountain of life. (Psalm 36:9, NASB)

Do you believe the whole universe simply came to be, with no cause or creator? Do you believe that all the matter in all the stars in all the vastness of space had no source? Do you believe that the well-ordered laws of nature somehow just happened on their own?

What about life? Your body is a miracle. It is made up of billions of microscopic cells, each alive, each intricately constructed, each carrying on complex functions that no factory or laboratory can match. And somehow they all perform together in a magnificent dance that keeps your body working around the clock, without you even being conscious of it.

You didn’t ask to be born. You didn’t create yourself. You do little to keep yourself alive. Most of your essential physical functions operate automatically, requiring no conscious effort on your part. Virtually all you have to do is feed and water yourself, and for that you’ve been given powerful, built-in drives.

Quite literally, life is a gift. Your life is a gift. Each human life is a precious gift.

How should we respond to this gift of life? We should receive it with awe…with reverence…with joyful gratitude…with sober thought for how we treat this life in ourselves and in others.

We should receive this gift with love. Life was given with love, and we should receive it with love – love for our Creator and love for His life in each human creation around us. Love preserves life, enriches life, and treats it with the care and respect that it deserves.

Father, help me to see other people,
not as physical creatures,
not as crumbling shells, shallow and temporary,
but as You see them,
as living, eternal beings.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Praise to You, Giver of Life!
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Know Your Creator

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1, NIV)

God is an all-powerful Spirit Being. He created us as physical beings. How could He reveal Himself to us in a way we could understand? How could He show Himself to each of us in a way that is unlimited by language and culture and that is undiminished by all the changes that swirl around us?

He reveals Himself by the physical world of which we are a part.

What may be known about God is plain…For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, NIV)

Any open-minded view of our physical world tells us about God. But even though He has made Himself plain, we observe and experience His creation without knowing Him. How does this happen?

We intentionally suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).  We refuse to accept Him as Creator. We work to write Him out of our story. We insist on making this physical world our ultimate reality, though actually it is but a small part of a much greater reality. We crown ourselves as the gods of our own lives and destinies, even though our smallness and weakness is inescapably obvious.

Meanwhile, God’s glorious revelations of Himself go on speaking to all who will hear.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19:2-4, NIV)

Observe our world and experience it with an open mind. See and feel the order, the pleasure, the beauty, the mystery, the power, and the infinite wisdom that connects it all. All this is only the faintest whisper of the magnificent Being that He is (Job 26:14).

He wants you to know Him, to trust Him more completely, and to experience life more fully in Him.

Father Creator,
help me to joyfully give You
all that is Yours:
my mind,
my life, and
all that I hold. 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Speak, I Am Listening
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What Do You Worship?

“I am the Lord your God. . . . You shall have no other gods before me.”
(Exodus 20:2-3, NIV)

“The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.”
(Psalm 16:4, NIV)

We all seek security. We want our lives to have significance. We want to achieve. We crave a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

How are we seeking those things? On what are you focusing your hopes and energies? A house? A job? Comfort? The praise of other people?

What are you worshiping? Who are you serving?

We are children of the Creator. We have His life within us. He has patterned us after Himself. And He has planted in our hearts a yearning for something beyond what we can touch. He has given us a deep longing for the eternal.

He wants us to know Him. He wants us to share His life fully. He keeps prodding us to seek Him, to love Him and trust Him as our Father. Of all the guidance He has given us, He says that the most important thing in life is this: 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30, NIV)

That is the key to happiness.

Yet we worship the temporary. We devote ourselves to what can’t possibly satisfy our deep desires. We fashion gods from created things. What was written 2,700 years ago still applies to us: 

They pour out their money. They hire a craftsman to make a god for them, then they bow down and worship it. They lift it up and carry it – it cannot carry them. They care for it – it does not care for them. They put it in its place, and there it stays – it cannot move. Though they cry out to it, it does not answer. It cannot save them from their troubles. 

Remember this, fix it in your minds: I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:6-9, para.)

We are like selfish, rebellious children. Anxious to have complete “freedom,” impatient to fulfill our every desire, we turn our backs on the love that gave us life. We reject the wisdom that taught us and nurtured us. Instead we chase things that can’t possibly help us and can only drag us down. Our “gods” are a burden and a false hope. They don’t carry us. We carry them.

As a result, we are out of balance. Look around you. Our lawns are better manicured than our lives. We have nearly every material resource this world can offer. Yet we are unhappy and unfulfilled. We have no peace.

We are worshiping gods that are not gods. We are ignoring the one true God – our Creator, our Father.

Turn to the One who can truly help you. Seek Him. Talk to Him. It’s not at all difficult – He hears each word, each murmur of your heart. Discover your Creator. He is the security, the significance, the fulfillment that you crave.

My God, I want to know You. I want to obey You. I’m sorry for all my wrongness. Forgive me and fill my life as I believe in You now.

Father,
when I begin to realize who You are,
Your lavish gifts are not enough.
I want to know You and
please You and
worship You.
I want to love You and
walk with You and
trust You every moment.
I want to live
in You and
for You and
to You alone.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Come
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The Transcendent God

Death is naked before God…
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing…
The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea. 

And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand
the thunder of his power?
(Job 26:6-7, 11-12, 14, NIV) 

Many insist on a god as small as they are,
a human deity comfortably within their puny understanding.
They want a god without
power,
holiness, or
transcendence,
a god without
fire,
anger,
zeal, or
sovereignty.
Many prefer a god who is no god at all.

But for the true and living Creator, even our grandest images –
the thunder of His power,
the oceans of His love –
are childish understatements.
His love boils over into
universes,
races, and
epochs,
bounded only by His own wisdom.
His self-giving cannot be stopped any more than
a sandcastle can hold back the ocean.

I find comfort in the immanence of God, in His
personal nearness and
constant presence with me.
He is closer and more intimate than any of us can imagine.
Knowing Him and
realizing His presence
have transformed my life.

But in the rushing stream of our daily struggle and
in the crises that inevitably come,
I desperately need to see the transcendent God.
I need to be reminded of
the God who is God indeed,
the One who is bigger than my shriveled perspective;
the God who overflows all names and all descriptions;
the God whose self-given name, “I AM,” suggests that
He is being itself,
beyond all time and all categories.

Once we grasp that Almighty God is
fully real and
is all He says He is,
everything changes.
Much of our religious talk becomes
pale, humanistic, and irrelevant.
Focusing on anyone or anything other than Him
seems senseless.
Once we know Him,
He commands the stage. 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Our Lord I AM
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The Immensity of God, Part 1

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have ordained;
What is man that you take thought of him,
And the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:1, 3-4, NASB)

Have you ever been out under the clear night sky and
looked up at the stars and
the vastness of the heavens?
Have you marveled that the Creator of all this has any interest in you?
Consider this:

Light travels so fast that a beam of light can circle the earth
more than 7 times in a second.
The moon is a quarter of a million miles away, and
its light reaches the earth in less than a second and a half.
The sun is 93 million miles away, and
its light arrives in only 8 minutes.

Our group of stars, our galaxy, is called the Milky Way.
How long do you think it takes light to travel across this one galaxy?
100,000 years!
Light travels around the earth 7 times in a second and
93 million miles in only 8 minutes.
But our galaxy is so vast that even light takes 100,000 years to cross it.

Galaxies are vast beyond our imagination.
But ours is only one galaxy.
How many galaxies do you think there are in the universe?
One recent estimate says there are
125 billion galaxies in the universe.
Try to imagine that:
93 million miles in only 8 minutes;
100,000 years to cross our galaxy;
125 billion galaxies.

We are so very small.
Reality dwarfs us.
It dwarfs the human race.
It dwarfs all that we can imagine.

But there’s more:
This vast universe is only the smallest taste of the Living God.
He overflows all physical existence.
Job 26 says that in all God’s mighty creation,
we see only the fringes of His robe.
We hear only a faint whisper of Him.

Father,
Your Word,
Your creation, and
the presence of Your Son here
all proclaim that there are
realities beyond our earthly reality.
But You are
the Creator and Sovereign King over all reality, and
I am secure in You.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Everlasting Father
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Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 4

As we begin looking at our magnificent, transcendent God, I am reflecting on how He has patiently drawn me toward Himself. Here is the last of four major turning points.

On February 20, 2015, our thirty-eight-year-old son, David, took his own life. I will not recount the shock and trauma and the depths of grief that have gripped our lives in the aftermath. But within months, I began trying to process my struggle the way I had always processed my struggles: by writing about them. But as I wrote about my grief, I found myself overwhelmed. The river of sorrow that normally flows quietly within me would overflow and flood my heart. Writing about my grief proved counterproductive. It dragged me down. It only made my grief worse.

The Lord then told me that instead of focusing on my grief, I should focus on my joy in Him. Instead of dwelling on my loss, I should dwell on all that is mine in Him – permanently, completely, joyfully, irrevocably. I should fix my eyes on Him. He is the joy that never changes.

Each day as I began to pray “Our Father in heaven,” I found myself hungry to see Him and know Him again. I needed to fix my eyes on Him again. I craved it the way I crave a refreshing morning shower. Only by refocusing on Him could I regain a true perspective. Only by seeing Him could I see everything else clearly (Psalm 36:9).

Over the years I have become increasingly aware that being a Christian is not obeying a set of rules. It is living as Jesus lived: in loving, wholehearted response to the Father. Our son’s death brought this need into focus. As I remember who God is, I remember who I am. Only then can I live in response to Him – simply and naturally, in humility, trust, and joy. Only then can I live in that ongoing connection with Him that Jesus enjoyed, and that I deeply desire more than anything else in heaven or earth.

Each and every day I want to walk in the full light of all He is. Each and every day I need to connect with the Transcendent God.

That is why all the reflections that follow were written. I want to draw you and myself to the Magnificent God who longs for us to know Him, love Him, trust Him completely, and walk in Him forever.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: We Need You, Holy God
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Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 3

As we begin looking at our magnificent, transcendent God, I am reflecting on how He has patiently drawn me toward Himself. Here is the third of four major turning points.

In my mid-forties, God challenged me to begin spending more time with Him in prayer. He specifically asked me to begin using the Lord’s Prayer as the pattern for my praying. I had heard speakers suggest that before, and it had struck me as artificial. So when God asked me to do it, it took me by surprise. But I began to obey.

Then a few years later, in 1998, I reduced my work load to half-time in order to have more time to write. That schedule change took away my long-established means of daily exercise, so I found myself looking for another exercise routine. In early 1999, at age 49, I began taking long daily walks – an hour or more every weekday. Those walks soon became my prayer time.

Those extended prayer times have done more to enrich my life and my relationship with the Living God than anything else. The first half of the Lord’s Prayer, applied to my daily situation and prayed from the heart, has been deeply formative in the way I think of God and relate to Him.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV)

In the early years of those walks, I usually walked outside, alone, in nature. Spending all that time speaking with God the way Jesus taught us to pray, while immersed in His creation, continued God’s process of drawing me into Himself.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: As I Pray
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Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 2

As we begin looking at our magnificent, transcendent God, I am reflecting on how He has patiently drawn me toward Himself. Here is the second of four major turning points.

In my early-to-mid-twenties, as I was entering adulthood, I longed to be all God wanted me to be. But I didn’t really know how, despite a thorough grounding in the Church’s teachings. I tried self-discipline, thinking that it held the answer to a productive and fruitful life. I tried in-depth Bible study, suspecting that somewhere in its pages were hidden secrets that only the astute could discover. Both self-discipline and Bible study are important, but neither proved to be the answer I was seeking.

Over time I realized that God doesn’t reserve His blessings only for the spiritual elite. In fact, I learned the opposite. God graciously showed me that the secret to a satisfying life was the simple truth I had learned as a young child in Sunday School: God is a real Being, and He is constantly, personally with us. What’s more, what He wants from us is amazingly, stunningly simple: He only asks that we trust Him, one step at a time.

Even as I say this now, the words seem so plain. But the personal realization of an ever-present God and a relationship of simple faith began to change me.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: You Are Near, O Lord
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Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 1

On Fridays during the coming months, I will be blogging reflections on the transcendent God. To begin, let me reflect on my personal journey toward Him.

All my life God has been drawing me toward Himself. He has been working to help me know Him and trust Him and walk constantly with Him. But as I look back over the years, several key turning points stand out. Here is the first.

I became a Christian at age 10 and was active in my faith throughout my public school years. But about the time I started at the University of Cincinnati, I began to doubt. Were all the Bible’s fantastic stories really true? During my first two years in college, I was a sincere atheist, though I continued to attend church.

However, I came to realize that in my human limitations, I could not rationally know whether there was a God or not. The human mind, the human perspective is far too limited. Without even knowing the word, I wrestled with His transcendence and came to admit that He was beyond me.

But when my reasoning reached its limits, the living witness of God’s people took over. I became firmly convinced that God was real because He was real in the lives of my parents and the people in my home church.

There was no emotional crisis moment when I returned to God. His Spirit spoke to me quietly, personally, and I responded in faith. I decided to believe in Him. It was that simple. I decided to trust Him, and my life changed forever. I’ve never looked back.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Simple Faith
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Complete Your Love in Us

Father, You are love.
As You immerse us in Yourself,
You immerse us in love.

Your work in us begins in love.
When we were far away and
walking the other direction,
Your love patiently,
sacrificially
drew us near.

In the heavenly places,
in the power center of all reality,
You blessed us abundantly in Your Son Jesus Christ.
You lavished on us eternal gifts
beyond our understanding.

You rooted us in love.
You planted us in
the rich soil of Your boundless goodness.
As we grow in love and
grow in You,
we bear the fruit of love,
nourishing the needy hearts all around us.

As You began Your salvation in love,
You will complete it in love.
You will come to us again.
You will take us fully to Yourself.
We will forever be
Your chosen people,
Your holy temple,
Your glorious bride.

Praise to You, Father!
As we trust and obey You,
complete Your love in us.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Love Has Brought Us Near
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