August 22nd, 2019

The Freedom of Choices

Deuteronomy 28:2, 15 “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God. … But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statues with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”

Observation: This chapter is broadly divided into two parts. The first recounts the blessings God will pour onto those who obey Him and follow His commandments. They are far-reaching, profound, and encompass every aspect of life. The second part, much longer, is a description of the devastation to be loosed upon those who do not obey God and do not follow His commandments.  These, too, are far-reaching and profound, touching every aspect of life. Even more importantly, this devastation and destruction goes beyond this life into all eternity.

Application: As I read of these blessings and curses, the Lord reminded me how redemptive suffering can be. I see it in Luke 15, where the Prodigal Son chose to squander his inheritance and ended up living with pigs. But ultimately, the depth and breadth of his loss drove him back into the arms of his father. 

I think about a man I know, formerly lukewarm in his faith, who found himself in a horrible marriage. Today, the marriage is no better, but his heart is good, having been ignited with love for Jesus. I think of dear loved ones who struggle with unforgiveness in their hearts over past offenses—for one an imagined offense, and for another, an offense against his grandfather. Both men are in deep bondage to their judgment. One struggles, wanting freedom that can only come with a surrendering of pride. The other is consumed by his unforgiveness and appears poised to go into eternity in his lost condition. 

And I think about my wife, Cindy, and me. We struggled over the years to come to grips with the reality that we have a very, very good God who could have healed her of MS but didn’t. He did, however, heal our hearts through lessons learned while waiting on Him. 

God decrees that rebellion, judgment, and pride will necessarily result in the horrible consequences of Deuteronomy 28, but He also gladly offers a way of escape—a way that tears us from the grip of sin in our lives and binds us to the renewing life of Christ.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me the ability to make choices. Thank You that I am free to choose You, even ‘til the moment of my death. Lord, cause me to be conscious of each unsurrendered area of my life so I can repent of that sin and bind that part of my heart to the life of Christ in me.

August 10th, 2022

Amazing Transformation

Jeremiah 1:18–19 “’Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’”

Observation: God appointed Jeremiah as His prophet to Judah; Jeremiah had not volunteered. Jeremiah expressed concern about his youth and weaknesses while God assured him that He had taken care of these small problems. Notice that God didn’t deny anything Jeremiah pointed out; He simply intended to overcome them. Then comes this fascinating passage, as God commands Jeremiah to bring hard pronouncements to the people. God said He had made Jeremiah as a fortified city, as a pillar of iron, and as walls of bronze. God further promised that although the people would fight against him, they would not prevail, because God was with him.

Application: What a heartening passage for any man or woman called to do something difficult or intimidating. Think about it: God can make us who are simply soft flesh like a fortified city, impregnable to the attack of the enemy. Easily breakable bones can be transformed into a body like pillars of iron as we take our stand for Him. These bodies, which we know to be so prone to being bent by age and breached by illness can be made by God like walls of bronze, able to withstand anything the enemy can throw against us. 

What an encouraging thought that God promises supernatural transformation as I undertake what He has called me to do. It is so easy for me to look upon my inadequacies as Jeremiah did—tired flesh, weak bones, and lack of stamina throughout. But God calls me to see myself as He sees me: equipped and armored by Him, fortified by His strength, made able by His presence to stand firm against all opposition. So be encouraged, O my soul. Take heart, for what He has called me to do, He will enable to be accomplished. How sweet it is that this weak instrument of flesh becomes a mighty tool of effectiveness when wielded by God in a cause to which He has called me.

Prayer: Lord, You are reminding me of my weakness, of my need to rely upon You to accomplish what You have called me to. Your purposes for me are so much greater than anything I could conceive. Thank You Lord, for taking my small yes and turning it into something worthwhile in Your kingdom.

August 9th, 2022

Complete Wetness

Habakkuk 2:14; 3:17–18 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea … Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flocks should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Observation: It is clear that Habakkuk passionately loved God. He prophesied judgment on sinful Judah, yet he also broke out in praise the likes of which is hardly found in the Old Testament outside the psalms. His simile in 2:14 stretches language as though seeking to convey never-before-imagined meaning: that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would so fill the earth that it would be like water covering the sea. 

Application: Is there anywhere on the sea that is not water? Can there be found any nook or cranny of the sea without the wetness of water covering it? Of course not! And just as this perfect physical example of complete coverage soaks my mind and heart, so am I to understand that nowhere on earth will be found even the tiniest hiding place unsaturated with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Habakkuk uses other similes to declare his heart commitment to praise and trust God. Imagine no fruit from fig or olive trees. Picture no flocks or herds anywhere in the world. Yet even in the direst circumstances, Habakkuk will exult in God.

Talk about challenging me to rise above my circumstances! These verses are a wonderful reminder to reexamine all that I hope in, all that I put my trust in. What a sweet, awful responsibility.

Prayer: I pray, Father, that You would deliver me from any focus on outward circumstances as the basis for evaluating my life and the times in which I live. I have had trials, yet You have met every need. There have been reasons to be fainthearted, yet You have delivered me in the midst of every trial. The times are evil, yet Your goodness fills my heart to overflowing, and I rejoice in Your salvation. Cause great rejoicing to burst forth in my heart as Your spirit fills me with the knowledge of the glory of the Holy One! Bless the name of Jesus!

August 8th, 2022

Wring Away, Lord!

John 7:19, 24 “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me? … Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Observation: Jesus, teaching in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by people who marveled that such wisdom and authority could come from one with no theological education. He responded first by saying that anyone willing to do the will of God would readily discern the truth of what He taught. Then He bore to the core of His challenge: Why are you so upset with Me for healing that man on the Sabbath? Moses gave you yourselves the law, yet you failed miserably at keeping it. Why are you then casting verbal stones at Me? 

What Jesus had done in healing the man had been such a good thing, and in fact was a reasonable extension of something everyone knew the law permitted: circumcision on the Sabbath. If that repair to just a portion of the body was allowed, why not celebrate even more the healing of the whole man? Then He got personal: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Application: My tendency to cover my shortcomings by criticizing others’ is laid bare in this passage. It is part and parcel of my human condition. I know God is wringing that out of me as He works to replace my judgmentalism with a heart that is compassionate toward the shortcomings of others. Sadly, I know He has not yet completed the job. Jesus calls me to judge righteously, which requires Holy Spirit empowerment. Without Him, I remain soaked in hypocrisy, trying to cover or divert attention from my own problems by pointing toward others.

Prayer: So wring away, Holy Spirit! I’m so thankful You don’t give up. I am thankful for Your patience and perseverance. Please, cleanse me of hypocrisy. Give me a new heart, one that’s clean, one that is compassionate toward others, as You are toward me.

August 7th, 2022

The Great Tiberian Cookout

John 6:28–29 “They said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ ”

Observation: Jesus had just miraculously fed well over 5,000 people on the Tiberias hillside with five loaves and two fish. Then, withdrawing from the main crowd, He used the metaphor of eating and drinking to drive home a central point about God’s kingdom. This was like one of those teachable moments that every parent yearns to be wise enough to notice and take advantage of. He pressed home the lesson that began with the people’s asking, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”

Application: Jesus is nowhere better than when He is in the role of coach, as demonstrated here. Having seen Jesus at the Great Tiberian Cookout, their hunger was to know how they might become more effective. Their question does not seem to contain a dangerous motivation for personal glory, but a growing awareness of the gap between Him and them. It was dawning on them how great, how powerful, how able He is, and how limited they are. 

What a perfect posture for a disciple to assume! They had left home and family to follow Jesus; why shouldn’t they desire to be more than a spiritual groupie? So their question, as though from my own heart, is, “How can I be most effective in advancing the kingdom?” 

His answer to me is simplicity itself. First, He notices that I ask about “works,” but His answer describes the one central “work” to which I am called. He moves my sight away from works and toward belief. Repeatedly He says that the work of God is for me to believe in Him. That’s all. He is the bread of life (John 6:48). He is eternally refreshing. Stop striving. Simply accept that He is the Son of God, and enter into His life. That is the work of God.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this fresh reminder of the simplicity of life when You are at its core. I make things so complicated, but You are teaching me that more gets done when I rest in You, that awesome works are done when I am still enough to hear Your voice. I don’t need to be so quick to pick up a hammer or turn on my work computer; rather, I need to be hungry to believe in You and the purpose for which You came to earth.

August 6th, 2022

Sharp Elbows

John 5:7 “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’ ”

Observation: The man had been sick for thirty-eight years. He had taken his daily trip to the Pool of Bethesda along with a multitude of others. They all waited for an angel of the Lord to come stir the waters, knowing that only the one who got into the water first would be healed of his affliction.

Application: Why would there be such a system? On the face of it, it seems grossly unfair, since only the most vigorous among the sick could leap first into the pool. But think for a moment about what isn’t obvious. The chaos around this pool must have been like a municipal pool on a hot summer day with overcrowding, screaming, eager busloads of children competing to enjoy the cooling waters. 

But wouldn’t this particular pool have had a dark edge to it? Wouldn’t childlike eagerness to enjoy cool waters morph into a destructive competitiveness as people frantically pull and fight against one another so they alone might be first into the water to receive God’s blessing? I can imagine destructive, self-serving behavior being the rule of the day every day at the Pool of Bethesda. Cursing, tripping, clawing must have been overwhelming; it was a system where winning could happen only at the expense of another. Think of the deep disappointment of all those who lost the race and of the dark vows and strategies they surely nursed for “tomorrow”—strategies to create more losers and one winner: me. 

But then the Savior appears and speaks a simple command: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Oh, that I could hear His voice in the same way as this man. How much of life is spent trying to win at someone else’s expense? I remember years of extensive travel, leaving wife and children to face multiple days and nights without a husband and father at home. I think of the times I have been too occupied with my own activities to give generously to others who needed me, and I cringe in shame. Am I no different than all those sharp-elbowed pool watchers? Am I no less eager to receive at my friends’ expense? Must others lose so I might win? I see now why there is such a system: it is my system.

Prayer: Lord, Paul’s words in Romans 6:2, “May it never be!” come to mind, yet I know my own heart remains too selfish for You to yet find a comfortable home there. Forgive me, Lord. Continue Your work of refining and purifying in me. I do want to be like Jesus in all things.

August 5th, 2022

Manassehs and Hezekiahs

2 Kings 21:9 “But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.                   

Observation: Manasseh was the longest-serving king in Judah’s history. His father was the godly King Hezekiah, and his mother was Hephzibah, meaning, “His delight is in her.” But despite such a godly heritage, Manasseh was one of the most evil kings the southern kingdom had known. He restored all the pagan practices of the nations that opposed Judah, becoming so bad that 2 Kings 21:9 summarizes his reign by saying that Manasseh led the nation to do more evil than even that which was practiced by the pagans that God had destroyed.

Application: My heart broke as I read this chapter, to realize that a contemptibly evil person as Manasseh could be spawned from such godly parents. My heart cries out that evil patterns once conquered by good, ought to remain conquered. Hezekiah was not a perfect man; there is only one such man. But Hezekiah’s heart had been to do good in God’s sight, and he had generally followed through on that good intention. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that had been the end of the story? Wouldn’t I love to hear that the upward path set by Hezekiah could simply be followed to higher and higher planes of God’s approval and blessing. But life is not like that. We experience victories as well as defeats in this life. 

Sometimes I run, sometimes I stumble. Rejoicing is followed by mourning, and rejoicing comes again. Confidence mates with despair. Fear follows faith. That Manasseh could be the offspring of Hezekiah isn’t an aberration; it’s simply life, particularly a life lived without unrelenting watchfulness. It shows me that I need to be constantly vigilant. I am all too aware that it is my nature to fall, and the greatest danger of spiritual slothfulness often seems to come on the heels of great victory.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder to be constantly vigilant. As a man, as a father, help me to not let down my guard. I have seen in my own life how easy it is for Manassehs to follow Hezekiahs. Stir me to zealously be on guard when I might otherwise doze. Keep my spirit man alert to hear and respond to Your leading.

August 4th, 2022

Hide and Seek

Isaiah 65:1 “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, Here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name.”

Isaiah 66:1–2 “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the Lord. But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

Observation: Isaiah 66 begins with God’s reminder of His supremacy. He said that His throne is heaven, and the earth is His footstool; what more of value could I possibly add? He declared that everything I see is something He has created; it all came into existence because of Him. Yet look what He values: those who are humble and who have a contrite spirit, those who tremble at His word are the ones He esteems. It isn’t what I do that pleases God, but the set of my heart to obey Him. Lest I think He is passive in this relationship, I read in Isaiah 65:1 a delightful picture of the Father’s heart whenever He is discovered by one of His children. 

Application: There is a childlike quality to this verse. Imagine an innocent, young child playing hide and seek. As the game begins, the child first runs to an inadequate hiding place; some part of her anatomy seems always to be exposed. In her eagerness to be found, she may spring out shouting, “Here I am! Here I am!” That’s the delightful image of this passage, illustrating God’s profound eagerness to be found. He does not conceal Himself well; rather, He chooses strategies and creates circumstances intended to expose Himself to the one who seeks. Moreover, He is also the source of my internal motivation to seek Him in the first place. Why? Because only as I come face to face with my Creator can I be filled with true humility and live with a contrite heart. That is what He esteems, what He values.

Prayer: O God, You have done it all. You have drawn me to Yourself after planting deep within my soul a longing to be Yours. You have created all I see, and caused my heart to be overwhelmed by Your awesome love and power. Thank You for enabling me to find You. Thank You for giving me the desire to enter into Your life. Look at me, Father; esteem me as You see Your dear Son when Your gaze falls upon me. And keep working in me, Lord, to finish Your job of molding me perfectly into His image.

August 3rd, 2022

Lifted, Not Pulled

Psalm 107:26–29 “Their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still.”

Isaiah 63:8–9 “For He said, ‘Surely, they are my people.’ … So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted. …And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.”

Observation: These verses reflect the depth of God’s commitment to His people as well as the extent of their need for Him. The imagery is of men so consumed with fear that they reeled and staggered as though drunk. Then in the depths of distress, when the troughs between towering waves seemed deepest, He suddenly calmed the storm and all was at peace.

Isaiah opened an additional dimension of understanding when he said that God Himself is afflicted with our afflictions. This statement goes beyond describing a divine cheerleader who from a safe shore says, “I’ve been through the same thing. I made it, and so can you!” No, in my affliction He was afflicted.

Application: This paints a picture of a God who is totally involved, of One who goes through that trough of despair with me, experiencing moment by moment what I am experiencing. But there comes a time when, in His love and mercy, He redeems me. He who is in the storm with me is my rescuer. Rather than being thrown a life preserver by a distant God who stands safely ashore, Isaiah says He lifts me and carries me.

This astonishing imagery of God’s suffering as I suffer exposes the lie of believing that God is somewhere “out there,” removed from the rocky rapids I am hurtling through. My tendency is to think I must try harder or call louder to reach Him. But no, to think that is to not know Him at all. My heart so easily forgets His intimate involvement with me. I must remember that my Savior is smack in the midst of whatever I am going through. His salvation is not so much to pull me ashore as it is to lift me above and out of my affliction.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I see why the image of the thrown life preserver is so inadequate in its portrayal. Your commitment to me is so profoundly complete that You are with me in the waters and in the fires that my heart fears could consume me. Thank You, Lord, for the reality of Your presence in all things that touch me. I face nothing alone, for You are with me. I love You, Lord.

August 2nd, 2022

Watchmen

Isaiah 62:6–7 “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest of yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”

Observation: Isaiah wrote of the future of Jerusalem and of all Israel, but he wrote as well of us who are in Christ and have a glorious future when He has returned to establish His rule and reign upon the earth. The nation will be the envy of all the world, exalted as the center of attention of kings and peoples everywhere. The land will be so illuminated by the light of God that there will no longer be need of sun or moon. It is in the midst of such glory that God said He sets watchmen.

Application: Three things are striking about this verse. First, is what it does not say. I have always thought of watchmen as a kind of spiritual security guard. The word does indeed contain the idea of one who sounds the alarm in the face of approaching dangers: of mothers and fathers training children so they might choose safe paths, or of the vigilant patriot shining a lantern from an old church tower. 

Yet there is in this verse a second, less-considered dimension to the word. Watchmen are set in place by God to remind Him what He has already spoken, what He has already promised for the people. Watchmen are shown as taking no rest for themselves, and as giving God no rest. This is a beautiful picture of a faithful intercessor, praying well beyond personal comfort until the Master of the house has responded. 

Finally, I see no end to the role of the watchmen. When I understand that the role is to remind God of His promises, there is an everlasting, unending dimension to the assignment, for His promises are eternal and without end. Considering all this I am struck by how one-dimensional and limited has been my past understanding of my role as a watchman: “Reef dead ahead! Move starboard twenty degrees! Whew! I‘m glad that danger is passed.” 

God calls His watchmen to much more. I have an ongoing responsibility to remind Him of all He has promised for those He has placed in my life. To do this requires that I focus first on Him, not on danger, to be so centered on Him that fresh aspects of His divine personality and His limitless commitment to give me more of Himself continually delight me.

Prayer: Father, I see how small has been my vision of You, and how expansive are Your promises. Expand my vision, Lord. Let me never be satisfied to merely sound the alarm but to persevere in the much bigger thing You are doing in my heart and in the hearts of those I love.

August 1st, 2022

The End of Language

Isaiah 55:12 “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Observation: The whole of chapter 55 is an enticing invitation to salvation. Addressed both to the Israel of Isaiah’s day and to us, I am fascinated by Isaiah’s use of language to reveal the compellingly beautiful heart of God. “You who are thirsty, come” (see Isa. 55:1). He knows the thirst of my heart, so He offers refreshing waters not only to slake my thirst, but also waters sufficient to become a rushing torrent overflowing all the storms and heartache of life. 

Application: But see how much more He calls me to. Isaiah 55:12 is a culminating, supreme cry of celebration. It is one of many places in Scripture where the capacity of words, of language, to describe the joy of a human heart set on God, utterly fails. So the writer resorts to imagery designed to stun and shock me into astonished attentiveness. Mountains and hills burst into joy. Trees of the field clap their hands in celebration of their Creator God. Just imagine! Inanimate creation bursting with joy!

Such wild imagery reminds me of another place in Scripture, a more sober place for those who understand God’s agenda. Jesus, entering Jerusalem to fulfill His awful destiny with destruction, calls us to praise and worship Him, declaring that if we fail in this, even the rocks would cry out (see Luke 19:40). 

What kind of a God is this whose salvation is so complete that mountains bow to Him and seas roar their gratitude? The depth of His love for my soul is, simply, inconceivable. Cry out if you will, rocks, but I will cry louder. Clap your hands if you wish, trees, but I refuse to be outdone by you; I will clap with greater vigor than a whole forest! Do your best to break into shouts of joy, you mountains, but my joy shall far exceed yours, for I am the object of unspeakable love. He sacrificed for me; He was resurrected to new life so I could enter into His eternal life. 

I declare to you, O mountains, rocks, and trees, we are alike in this one thing: as I have been made new, so will you be. All the earth will be re-created when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to rule and reign. So bow, clap, and cry out, for you should indeed be excited. Even you will be new, remade like before sin. As I have been.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all I can do is weep for joy at Your great salvation. Joy bursts from me this morning, Lord. Search my heart, and bring to light any part of me that may be withholding the praise due You.