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January 2009

Covenant Living: Devotion

"And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5 )

This month's newsletter continues a series of lessons based upon Deuteronomy 6:4-9 . That passage, referred to in biblical studies as the great "Shema" passage, was a classic call to worship for the nation of Israel. "Shema" is Hebrew for "hear" and that is the first word of that passage. It says, "Hear, O Israel..." It then goes on and lists several principles, which, if we are a bit creative, can all begin with the letter "d." For instance, the first "d" would be "doctrinal." The passage begins by saying, "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one." The first statement is a doctrinal statement about the nature of God. We looked at the importance of doctrine in our last newsletter.

This month we want to look at the second "d" principle from the passage, which is "devotional." The next line of our Deuteronomy passage says, "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength." As we noted in our last newsletter, doctrine is very important. We can't even talk about God if we don't have some amount of doctrine. But as important as doctrine is, devotion is equally important. In fact, one day when someone came to the Lord Jesus and asked him what was the greatest commandment, the Lord quoted this verse. To love the Lord is the greatest thing we can do.

In the book of Revelation, we see an interesting comment by the Lord, which was given to the church at Ephesus. He says in Revelation 2:2-4 , "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (Italics added for emphasis). Here the church at Ephesus is commended by the Lord for their attention to doctrine. They do not tolerate evil behavior in their midst and even have a test which was given to determine if someone was really an apostle or not. They were very serious about their doctrine and about those who would teach in their church. Yet in all of their attention to doctrine, they lost their devotion. They "left [their] first love."

As a minister, I teach on marriage and family. I always have a time of pre-marital counseling before I do a wedding. I even taught a course on marriage and family to high school seniors at a Christian high school for 5 years. I enjoy teaching on marriage and family and I believe it is a vitally important concept for people to know and understand. But I must ask myself, in all of my teaching on marriage and family, do I love my wife and children? I must not get so caught up in the teaching of a subject that I fail to actually do what I am teaching others to do. The same goes with doctrine and devotion. We must have doctrine. We must know and teach others about God. But in our teaching we must not fail to love God. God is a Person, not an abstract concept. We are to love the Lord our God, not just love theological statements about Him.

But how do we maintain our devotion to the Lord? For one thing, we know that we won't love God as much as He deserves because we are not perfect. But that does not mean that we should not try to love God as much as possible. Here are some tips for helping us love the Lord. The first thing is time. We should spend time with the Lord. We do this by reading his Word. As we read the Bible, we are not reading just any old book. We are reading living words. As we read the Bible, it is as if God is speaking directly to us. So we read the Bible with a sense of devotion. As we read, we take in the amazing words and actions of the Lord. We see how God has had a plan ever since Adam's sin. We see how this plan entailed sending the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to come to this world, take upon himself a human nature, to live, teach and to suffer and die. He did this to redeem a people for the Father. I never get tired of hearing the story of Jesus. So spend prayerful time reading the Word of God.

Another way of maintaining our devotion is through the church. God has made us social creatures. By fellowshipping with other Christians at church, we can increase our devotion to the Lord. This is because other believers can encourage us through their words and actions. Being cut off from the church is actually a form of punishment. It is a shame if someone voluntarily cuts himself off from the fellowship of the church because he will suffer for that lack of communication and union.

In closing, we should have good doctrine. But our doctrine should lead to devotion. May we be like those disciples on the road to Emmaus all those years ago who said, "Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke?" May God's love and words burn in our hearts.


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