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.

December 9th, 2019

How Like a Father

Ezekiel 36:5 “Surely in the fire of My jealousy I have spoken against the rest of the nations…who appropriated My land for themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy.”

Observation: To this point Ezekiel had focused on the depth and justification of God’s anger toward rebellious Israel. But in these verses He defended Israel, bringing His anger to bear against her enemies.

Application: While not excusing Israel’s sin, God vented His anger against those who had harmed his people. He is nowhere more like a father than in these verses. He had seen His offspring’s shortcomings in a clear-eyed way and dealt appropriately with them. Now, He showed that He is still Abba-Father, bringing all the power and might of heaven against those who would strike His beloved. 

God is clearly saying He does these good things not because the people deserve them, but because of His own holy name (see Eze. 20:22; 39:25). He wants to remind me of His holiness standard and bring me up to it. The actions are all His: Ezekiel 36:23, “I will vindicate”; verse 24, “I will take,…gather…and bring”; verse 25, “I will sprinkle”; verse 26, “I will give…a new heart and…new spirit”; verse 27, “I will…cause you to walk in My statutes”; verse 29, “I will save you…and will call for grain…and I will not bring a famine on you”; verse 30, “I will multiply the fruit”; and finally in verse 36, He says He is doing all this so everyone “will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate.”

He is like a godly father who disciplines his child. The wayward child bears the pain of discipline and enjoys the fruit of restoration when it finally comes. But the father’s motivation goes deeper than to help the child and does not spring from the child’s merit; it springs instead from a sense of duty to fulfill the purposes of fathering itself. There is accountability to God to intervene in the life of a wayward child, to rebuke, to bring correction. While the fruit of this rests in the child’s response, the core willingness of the father to bring correction and then to lavish benefits of restoration reflect loving obedience of the father to walk in the ways modeled by God Himself.

Prayer: Lord, Your word once again reminds me that there is nothing I can do to merit your special favor. You lavish all its benefits upon me because of Your great name, because of Your character. Thank You, Lord, for bringing correction when needed, and for your unmatchable grace.

December 8th, 2019

No Soft Salvation

Ezekiel 33:12 “The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.”

Observation: The thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel is a beautiful word picture concerning the restoration of Israel as a nation, but it has application to us as individuals. It contains hope for those lost in sin and rebellion and is a clear warning for the complacent righteous.

Application: Ezekiel firmly nails shut the door to an easy salvation when he warns in 33:13, “When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity…he will die.” Ouch! This makes it sound as though eternal security is something more than a one-time premium paid on a fire insurance policy. You mean the policy must be maintained? That once acquired, I have to continue making regular payments? Forever? Why, there would be no end to it, no point at which payments could stop if that were the case! 

But of course that is the case. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Having once accepted the finished work of Christ, we then find ourselves at the beginning of the beginning of our journey in Him. Our assignment, our joy, is to live the rest of our lives in the righteousness He has purchased for us. No room in His inn for Christian slackers. Those who continue in sin, trusting in a soft salvation, will die in their sin.

Ezekiel had a hopeful word for the unrighteous. “’As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.’” What this clarifies is that eternal death, like eternal life, is a choice I make while I yet have life. Even to the end, God is for me; He will never stop tugging, wooing, and convicting me to abandon the way of death. O, how He longs to see me finish the race well, to enter into His presence hearing His “Well done!” ringing in my heart. The desire of my heart is the same as His: that I, having once been made righteous through the blood and body of Jesus, would make righteous choices not just once, but daily, for as long as life remains.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your word today, which brings conviction of my failures, yet contains great hope. I am so grateful that You never give up on me nor become discouraged when I make wrong choices.

December 7th, 2019

Testimony of a Grass Eater

Daniel 4:37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

Observation: This may be the only chapter of the Bible written by a pagan king. Nebuchadnezzar recorded his dream, which according to Daniel’s interpretation, predicted that the king would lose both his mind and his reign, being reduced to eating grass like cattle. After seven periods of time have passed (probably seven years), Nebuchadnezzar wrote that he finally raised his eyes toward heaven and blessed God and honored Him with the sort of lovely, exalted language that could come only from one who has had a personal revelation of the most high God. Listen to this tribute from the king who ate grass for seven years: “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 7:34-35). The passage ends with this profound statement of God’s power: “all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (v. 37).

Application: It seems Nebuchadnezzar finally “saw the light” to borrow an old revival phrase. It is remarkable that the Bible contains not just the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s journey into darkness and then his restoration, but even more astonishing that he is able to tell his story in first person. When he writes that God is able to humble those who walk in pride, I must give his words considerable weight as they come from one who was himself consumed with pride and had experienced the humbling of God first-hand.

It is one thing for God to say this sort of thing about Himself; much of Jeremiah and Ezekiel contain warnings of God’s coming discipline. Yet here is the word of a man who was extraordinarily prideful, who can say with unique clarity that God is able to change men’s hearts. He testifies His ways are just. Is there any better news upon the earth than this? Had He not the ability to change my heart, I would remain forever mired in the dark muck of stinking pride. But He is able to make me into a sweet fragrance pleasing to Himself. Praise His name!

Prayer: Father, You who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and the dry land, You are able! Thank You for Your persistence and faithfulness. Thank You for never giving up on me.

December 6th, 2019

The Kibitzing Altar

Revelation 16:7 “And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.’”

Observation: Seven angels were pouring seven bowls of wrath upon the earth, and each bowl contained terrifying, though merely temporal, judgments of God: (1) malignant sores; (2) seas turned to blood; (3) rivers and springs turned to blood; (4) fires unleashed to scorch men; (5) unremitting darkness; (6) the drying of the Euphrates River; (7) lightning, thunder, and earthquakes of a magnitude never before imagined.

Application: In the midst of all this, voices come from the altar saying,“You, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” Who or what is this kibitzing altar? Revelation 6:9 says that underneath the altar are the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had maintained. They were crying out to God asking Him how long He would refrain from avenging their blood. These are saints who have already experienced their own personal bowl of wrath.

Three times, in Revelation 16:9, 11, and 21, we are told that the people’s response to these catastrophic bowls of wrath is to blaspheme God. As awful as it is, I must consider my own response to catastrophes. How quick I am to look at catastrophes in the natural realm (hurricanes, tsunamis) or by the hand of men (wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns) and to interpret these things as somehow deserved: a just response of an angry God against sin. But shall I then say the same thing about those who speak from under the altar, having already experienced their personal bowls of wrath? Of course not.

What I must understand is this: God is at work in the midst of these things. Wind and water obey His command. So when my heart cries with fear, or when I lay spiritual claim to exemption from such catastrophes, I am exposing the limits of my view of His sovereignty. After all, it was Stephen’s stoning that broke the hard heart of Saul, making Him into Paul. 

I must remember how puny and insignificant I am when compared to God; His ways are not my ways. Blasphemy of God spawns from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement; a failure to have died to self. A clear-eyed reading of Scripture reveals that I will experience a personal bowl of wrath: death to self, however it comes. My heart rejoices when I do not receive what I deserve, but the real test comes in the midst of the wrath: will my heart rejoice then? I am at true peace only in that the finished work of Christ has given me a guaranteed outcome in the end.

Prayer: God, have Your way with me. Teach me to praise and thank You no matter the storm around me.

December 5th, 2019

How Is She Now, Lord?

Lamentations 3:55-58 “I called on Your name O Lord, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice…You drew near when I called on You; You said, ‘Do not fear’. O Lord, You pled my soul’s cause; You have redeemed my life.”

Observation: God used this passage to minister to me when my wife, Cindy, passed away. Because it has come in today’s reading, I want to journal the story again so the impact of God’s hand during that time might be felt afresh.

Application: The crushing immediacy of grief has thankfully dimmed, but I have not forgotten that God was manifest as I walked through the ending of Cindy’s life on earth. In the weeks following her death, the Lord dealt once and for all with a question that still loomed in my mind: how is she now, really? She had been so ill for so long, and we had been so helpless in the face of advancing disease. So how is she now, Lord, really?

My journey to peace began a few days before Cindy died when the mortician asked, “Does she have a favorite life verse?” The children and I responded in unison, “Yes, Jeremiah 33:3,” which she had always called “God’s phone number”: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

During Cindy’s memorial service, I heard God’s phone number in other verses—one I shared I had read to her just hours before she died, Psalm 17:6, and one was read by a dear friend, Psalm 91:15. But my heart still cried for evidence that Cindy was now free of illness, enjoying her new, perfect body. I wasn’t asking God for an apparition in the night, just some reassurance from His Word that all was now well for her. I didn’t realize He had already begun that process through the verses shared above.

For the next month or so, I awakened unusually early—3:55, 3:56, 3:57, or 3:58. Always one of those four times. Finally, it occurred that perhaps the Lord was communicating to me through those numbers, so I began searching Scriptures. Only one book in the entire Bible has a chapter 3 with that many verses: Lamentations. There, again, is what Cindy called God’s phone number. His promise is that He hears and responds to the cry of His children as we call upon Him. Like the children of Israel, it is good that we remember His past involvement in our lives. It is good to recount His glorious deeds. O beloved, “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8).

Prayer: Great and glorious are Your works, O Lord. Your watchcare is forever; You are faithful to deliver. Thank You for renewing the joy of my salvation, Lord. I choose today to rest in Your peace.

December 4th, 2019

Fearing God

Revelation 14:7 “And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.’”

Observation: John’s revelation had reached the point where an angel had been released having “an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (Rev. 14:6). What he preached was this: fear God and give Him glory because His judgment has come!

Application: What does it mean to fear God yet at the same time give Him glory? The Word says I am to give Him glory because judgment has come, so fear of God results in giving Him glory. But fearing an “hour of His judgment” and fearing Him are intimately connected. His judgment will fill me with awe as the mighty hand of God finally does its dividing work: sheep from goats, wheat from tares. 

Those who love Him eagerly anticipate this hour in history; those who have lived in disobedience to Him also know it is coming and dread it. Unlike our modern court system with its arbitrary and often unpredictable outcomes, the eternal judge is perfectly fair. His judgments are righteous and true in a way that every person will recognize and agree with. So fear is the appropriate response to the coming hour of His judgment. But it won’t be the run-and-hide kind of fear; the time for that will have ended. Rather, He will fill us with awe that He is able to judge both the living and the dead. And we know that His judgment of every person who has ever lived will always be perfect and right. 

There will be no more blowing smoke when that day comes, no more murmuring or excuses. Psalm 130:3–4 (NIV) says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” There is unspeakable joy in this for the believer; indeed He does not keep a record of my sins. I am certain that I will find myself on my face before a holy God, but the fear-struck heart that puts me there will exult in the joy of knowing that I belong to this awesome, most powerful God and that I have absolutely nothing to fear! What a paradox! He sees my heart perfectly; He reads the transcript of my life, but knowing all, He will judge me as righteous because the blood of Christ covers me. What a fearsome thing!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my acceptance of Your sacrifice has saved me and will deliver me through the hour of judgment. Not a church, not a belief system, but You, O Lord, have saved. I give You thanks, and ask that You tenderize my heart today with countless remembrances of all You have done for me.

December 3rd, 2019

Telling His-story

Psalm 48:13 “Go through her palaces, that you may tell it to the next generation.”

Observation: This wonderful psalm of praise and thanksgiving ends with this: “We have thought on Your lovingkindness, O God, … So is Your praise to the ends of the earth; … Walk about Zion and go around her; count her towers; consider her ramparts; go through her palaces, that you may tell it to the next generation. For such is God, our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death” (Psalm 48:9–14).

Application: I can draw from this a great lesson as to how to raise children. Think about Jerusalem: so magnificent, yet her ordeals have been enormous. She has gone through repeated judgments because of her apostasy; she has been held captive by Babylon, her palaces burned and her walls destroyed. And yet by God’s hand she has been made so resplendent that all who look upon her will testify to the next generation of God’s goodness and greatness.

It should be the same with my family. God has been with me through each deep valley. At those points where oppression has seemed so great I thought I might never draw another breath, He has brought relief, restoring joy where once was only mourning and dread.  He has been patient in my times of rebellion and shallowness of faith. He has seen my woundings, and wept. But He has also lifted and restored me. He has shown me how to put roots down deep into His marvelous love, and He promises to guide me until death. 

What a story I have to tell to the next generation! The point of the story isn’t how deep the valley was, but His faithfulness in meeting me there. The heart of my message isn’t how glorious were the mountaintops, but rather His greatness and mercy that got me there. His is my story! It is in Him that I exult. It is His story in my life that I ought to tell the next generation so as to set a marker of God’s hand in our lives, in our family. All too often I talk about the valleys and mountaintops themselves but if that’s the focus of what the next generation hears, they will have missed the point of the story!

Prayer: Father God, Your hand has been profoundly evident in the lives of my family and me. Stir me; remind me, when remembering our story, to focus on Your involvement at every turn. It’s not about us, Lord; it’s about You. I ask You to redeem the time, to give me more opportunity to intentionally tell the next generation of Your faithfulness in the midst of our history.

December 2nd, 2019

His Finished Work

Revelation 12:9-11 “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who was called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”

Observation: Halfway through the tribulation Satan and his demonic hoards were cast to earth from heaven. His time was now short, and earth was warned that Satan’s rage would be fully unleashed.

Application: Two things will overcome Satan and his demons: the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony of the saints of God. The shed blood of Christ is a raging torrent powerful enough to overcome and defeat Satan and every enemy of God. The second weapon is the word of their testimony. What words could possibly defeat Satan? How could mere words be sharp enough, explosive enough, to be effective in defeating the strongest enemies of God? 

Here is an example: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, and He is my personal Lord and Savior.” Once I uttered those words, accepting who Jesus is in relation to God and declaring who He is to me—my Lord and Savior through His death, burial, and resurrection—Satan and his demons were overcome in my life. The attacks haven’t stopped, but he is now like an old, spent lion, still roaring, but without teeth or claws.

So when I take communion, it is more than just a symbol of my personal salvation, although it is that for sure. But it is also the reassurance of coming victory, the future cleansing of the world of Satan and all his demons. It ought, therefore, to be a time of great celebration as I recognize all Christ has done, is doing, and will do. Because of this, I can believe and declare with joy from Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, O, the awesome power of Your shed blood! And the awesome power of my testimony of belief in You! Unmatchable! Unequalled! Undefeated! Thank You for Your finished work in me.

December 1st, 2019

The Celebration Already Begun

Revelation 11:15 “And there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever!’”

Observation: Tribulation had been under way for precisely three and a half years. Two witnesses who had been prophesying daily in Jerusalem for three and a half years had been killed and their bodies left untouched in the street for three and a half days. Earthquakes broke out and everyone suddenly heard what John called “loud voices” from heaven announcing, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever!”

Application: Loud voices indeed! Try to imagine the cacophony resulting when countless millions of angels are finally released to herald Christ’s return, the event for which the earth has groaned since creation. The only possible response was demonstrated by the twenty-four elders who fell on their faces and worshipped God: “We give You thanks, O Lord God; …because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign” (Rev. 11:17). What an awesome moment to witness: the instant Christ begins His reign upon earth. 

But there was an earlier moment when the angels rejoiced: the moment I accepted Christ’s finished work on the cross and asked Him to become my Savior and Lord. Heaven rejoices as its population increases one soul at a time. While most of the earth rages against God, the celebration of the end game has already begun. 

My senses are overwhelmed to meditate on what it will be like to hear the thunderous chorus of angelic voices when history reaches the moment of Christ’s reign. Like the anticipation of coming cannon in the 1812 Overture, so comes a moment in which everything changes in the relationship between heaven and earth. Anticipating this event makes me eager to live today looking forward not only to this future spectacle, but also appreciating anew a similar event that has already occurred in my heart. Christ’s reign began there years ago and increases day by day as I yield further to Him. So the heavenly celebration of Revelation 11 is in a very real sense a continuation of something already begun.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how I thank You that Your kingdom has already come to my heart. Lord, You profoundly changed me the day of my commitment to You, and through Your indwelling Holy Spirit You have been faithful to continue changing me. Keep it up, Lord! Don’t stop until You, as the master craftsman, know that I have been made ready to see You face to face.

November 30th, 2019

Unfamiliar Experience

Ezekiel 27:33-34 “When your wares went out from the seas, you satisfied many peoples…Now that you are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters, your merchandise and all your company have fallen in the midst of you.”

Observation: Tyre was a great financial center on the Mediterranean coast. Immensely prosperous, her King Hiram had provided men and materials to help construct David’s temple. But a succession of enemies destroyed her: Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, and, in 1291, an invading Muslim army.

Application: As I watched hurricane Katrina devastate New Orleans, a tough concept to grasp was that a great city could be so utterly destroyed that it could be said to be dead. But according to Ezekiel’s description of Tyre’s destruction, the death of a city is not such an unfamiliar experience after all. Tyre is one in a long list of cities destroyed over the centuries, from the volcano over Pompeii to cities of Europe emptied by plagues during the dark ages. Two cities of Japan were razed by nuclear attack, and countless cities of the Old Testament succumbed to siegeworks laid down by persistent attackers. 

The shock of New Orleans is simply that the death of a city has never before happened to us. We have been protected from what the rest of the world has experienced for millennia. Yet we know from the great sweep of Scripture that God’s desire, His intent, is to bring beauty from ashes. 

In the worst of Israel’s captivity in Babylon, there was always hope of restoration. In the depths of personal despair and loss remains His promise of redemption for me if I will turn toward Him. Surely God’s character has not changed. Surely He is aggressively at work touching hearts filled with fear and loss, that the victim might be drawn even closer to His dear Son. God will not miss an opportunity. After all, He said of Sidon in Ezekiel 28:22 on the eve of her destruction, “I will be glorified in your midst.”

Prayer: Father, glorify Yourself upon the earth. In every place of darkness, let the light of Christ shine. Where fear reigns, cause faith to arise. Replace loss with plenty. And bless every searching heart, that You might be glorified in the midst of whatever we will face today. Thank You, Lord.