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.

July 7th, 2020

Warming Trend

Genesis 6:14 “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood, make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.”

Observation: Moments earlier God had revealed His heart’s anguish thus: “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” (v. 6) Sin’s stench had so overwhelmed Him that he resolved to “wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…” (v. 7) Only Noah and his immediate family were to escape the God-ordained holocaust.

Application: As a way of escape, God commanded Noah to build himself an ark, and through an astonishing economy of words He requires a mere seven verses to detail not only the dimensions and composition of the ark, but also His plan for redemption of the human race. Even so, the ark wasn’t going to be simply dropped from heaven into Noah’s cul-de-sac. Instead, Noah was required to wield hammer and axe, plane and miter, for one hundred twenty years to be able to lay hold of the rescue God provided. In this is a wonderful foreshadowing of Paul’s admonition centuries later to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12) God’s free gift of eternal life invites my laying aside every agenda of mine, every more immediate priority, to be fully engaged in obedience to Him. He has done this marvelous thing; my part is to gain it in whatever ways He directs.

Yet there is an oddity in His blueprints: “…coat it with pitch inside and out.” Come again? Of course pitch would be needed on the outside; seagoing vessels have always had an understandable need to keep water out, and pitch was universally used for that purpose. Even Miriam applied pitch to the outside of the basket woven to float baby Moses from harm’s way. (Ex. 2:3) But why would pitch be required for the inside of the ark? Might it be to preserve it? Wood pitched round-about would have increased protection from decay’s usual ravages. Is it possible that a vessel thus made and then encrusted in Ararat’s glacial covering could survive, say, thousands of years? It is a tantalizing thought, and has increasing support by hundreds of eyewitness sightings since the days of the Czar.

What I know without a doubt is this: I serve a God who is self-disclosing. He longs to be known by me, to have intimacy with me of a kind not experienced since my ancestors earned eviction from the garden. All creation reveals Him (Rom. 1:20) and by His daily interaction with me I am wooed into ever-deepening intimacy with Him. So yes Noah, pitch the inside too, that one day all mankind might have still more evidence of His magnificent provision.

Prayer: Father, You reveal Yourself to me in countless ways. Everywhere I turn, You are there. I will not be surprised if a warming trend reveals still more evidence of Your truth, yet my own heart is already captured. Thank You.

July 6th, 2020

The Antidote

Genesis 3:16b “Your desire will be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

Observation: Eve comes now before her Creator to receive sentence for her sin. He has already told her that pain in childbearing would be greatly increased; now He addresses the pride and independence from Adam that gave rise to her sin in the first place: “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”

Application: Upon surface reading, does the thought of a woman desiring her husband seem an odd thing to think of as punishment? Doesn’t marital intimacy improve when wife desires husband, and improve further still when he acts as a nurturing, tender covering? Yet God clearly intends to bring Eve to a degree of subjection she was never designed for. How am I to understand this?

My first error is to buy into the cultural idea that these (pain in childbirth and desire for husband) are curses laid upon Eve. Curses are universally intended to bring ruin whether administered by God (think of the withered fig tree), or by a tribal witch doctor. God’s disciplines, though, always have as their purpose repentance and restoration of things to their original condition.

So what was the original condition? Adam and Eve were originally created to have equal standing before God. They were made to be interdependent with one another (1 Cor. 11:11–12), yet each was to receive their richest nourishment from their heavenly Father. God greatly increased Eve’s desire for her husband as a discipline designed to produce an ever-heightened longing for the Father; after all, the man she so desires was never designed to meet all her needs. Her problem is further magnified by Adam’s failure (and mine) to be freed from the fleshly tendency to dominate and control.

So both an imperious husband, and a wife whether domineering or slavishly dependent, each in their own way thwarts disciplines designed by God. The result is, disciplines are turned into curses by my own choice to continue in exaggerated independence from God first manifest in the garden.

This sickness seems to naturally infect all my relationships. Where shall I go for an antidote? Is immunity available? Am I wrong to be hopeful through God’s disciplines, or must I be forever ruined as though under a curse? Peter’s first chapter provides this assurance: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope; though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these have come so your faith may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Prayer: Tenderize my heart, Lord, first toward You, then toward those I love. Restore Your order to my relationships, in Jesus’ name.

July 5th, 2020

Babe in the Woods

Genesis 3:3b “…you must not touch it, or you will die.”

Observation: The setting is Eden’s garden, the place God had made for intimate fellowship between Him and His highest creation. The words are Eve’s, her first recorded in Scripture. Satan has just challenged Eve by asking, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Her response began well enough: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’.”

Application: In Satan’s first utterance are two questions. The first—“Did God really say” planted doubt, while the second—“You must not eat from any tree” overstated and exaggerated what he knew God to have said. In response, Eve correctly parroted God’s command but then she, too, embellished it by adding the phrase “—and you must not touch it.” Subtly, unknowingly, she had entered onto Satan’s playing field. What ensued on this unfamiliar turf was not about to be a fair fight.

I am left to wonder why Adam didn’t speak up. After all, verse 6 makes clear that he was with her, yet he apparently remained silent until it was time to try to put all the blame upon Eve. Neither of them had never before been exposed to this ancient one’s wiles, and they had no idea how badly they were going to lose. Literally, Eve was a “babe in the woods”, about to be overwhelmed by an opposing force of unimaginably evil cunning. And Adam remained silent. Poor Eve.

At least I can comfort myself with this: Surely I would not be so naïve were I in her place today. I have known the enemy’s schemes and have more experience dealing with his craftiness. I possess a Book not yet written at the time of Eve’s blowout loss.

And yet—am I any less likely than Eve to turn away from debating the enemy of my soul? Have I not hosted inner conversations of self-justification to defend continuing darkness of the heart and mind? And once discovered in sin, am I less inclined than Eve to separate myself from fellowship with the saints? While there may be a time for the occasional “Get thee behind me, Satan!” the better part of wisdom is to “flee from all this, and take hold of eternal life.” (1 Tim. 6:11–12)

Prayer: Father it is so easy to read of Eve’s fall and confidently project a better outcome had I been in her place. Yet all too often I, too, have tried to play on the enemy’s turf. Forgive me, Lord. Cause me to run to You, to so live in You that I experience the full measure of Your watchcare.

July 4th, 2020

Bludgeoned by Old Tapes

Acts 11:9 “…Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Observation: Peter found himself called on the carpet in Jerusalem defending his recent visit in a gentile home: “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (v. 3) His defense, though, wasn’t simply focused on accepting the hospitality of gentiles; he struck to the heart of the apostles’ real objection, that the gentiles had through Peter received the word of God. (v. 1)

Application: It is interesting that even in such an early account of church history there were those who felt they had a corner on all truth and were willing to use their position as a bludgeon against others. Some things seem never to change.

Accordingly, Peter found himself playing defense, but with an ace his accusers knew nothing of. God, he said, had given Peter an extraordinary vision of something like a sheet being let down from heaven, filled with all sorts of creatures that Jewish law called unclean but which God ordered Peter to kill and eat. Peter’s objection caused God to repeat the vision twice more, after which he was directed by the Spirit to accompany some men to a gentile’s home where he proclaimed the Gospel.

According to Jewish tradition, gentiles were not to be addressed at all, let alone eaten with and preached to. Yet Peter had done all this in response to God’s audible voice, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Within that simple phrase is summed the entire battle that so often rages within my own heart. I find it easy to be like the circumcised brothers, playing old tapes that declare my unworthiness for the good things of God. In response, I firmly declare to my soul that God’s promises are for my good, that He has made me a new creation, one known to Him now through the covering of Christ’s blood. Then the tapes argue in counterpoint, reminding of my short-comings and failures, to which He responds that I am righteous in Christ (Rom. 5:19). Back and forth I go, seemingly unable to stop hosting mental battles.

It ought to have been settled once for me as it was for Peter by God’s simple statement, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” And thankfully, I am learning to recognize the length and breadth and depth of His cleansing work within me. Christ has won, and He is daily winning. Anguish over shortcomings is gradually squeezed aside until I can say with David, “Though You probe my heart and examine me at night, though You test me, You will find nothing.” (Ps. 17:3) Christ has made me clean indeed!

Prayer: Father, I still find myself tempted by old tapes in opposition to what You have said about me. But You have convinced me, Lord, that Your perspective is the true one: Christ’s sacrifice has made me eternally clean. Hallelujah!

July 3rd, 2020

Grinning

Psalm 17:15b “…when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing Your likeness.”

Observation: The whole of Psalm 17 has the immediate context of a soliloquy David presents to the Lord. Saul is in hard pursuit, yet David affirms his trust in God at every turn. He is confident God will hear prayer and see his plight, that God will answer David’s cry for protection and rescue.

David’s confidence is absolute that God Himself will be the confronter of his enemies; that He will save David from their swords of destruction. Then, at the end of the Psalm comes this beautiful affirmation, “And I—in righteousness I will see Your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing Your likeness.”

Application: My wife Cindy died on the 18th of November. The previous day, as I began reading this Psalm to her I thought nothing of its historic background. Its original purpose as a testament to God’s faithfulness to David was obscure to me, at best. Today, with the perspective of passing years, I can readily understand David’s self-assessment of innocence. His lips, he said, were not deceitful (v. 1), his heart could withstand God’s probing search (v. 3), he had kept himself from violence and his feet had not slipped (vs. 4–5). David unquestioningly knew he could throw himself upon the mercy of God’s great love.

I thought of none of this as I read to my dying wife. But what I did begin to understand inwardly even as I read aloud is that every saint who finishes well can make these same claims upon the Lord.

Finishing well…what does that mean? David’s confidence wasn’t that he had lived a perfect life, nor was Cindy’s. But David, and Cindy, and I, had assurance that having long since yielded ourselves to God’s mercy, the outcome was assured. David’s threat was from a pursuing army while Cindy’s was a long illness, yet both of these afflictions and any conceivable other, should be viewed by me as a sword in the hand of an all-powerful God. I must always remember this: as troubles come, they are used by God to drive me deeper into His heart.

By purposing not to sin even in the midst of troubles (v. 3b), I reap a reward that no power can deny me: I will see His face in righteousness when I awake. These were the last words of Scripture Cindy’s earthly ears heard, but think of it! 1 John 3:2 says, “When He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Sight will no longer be dimmed by dark glasses. I shall be satisfied. Satisfied. Fully filled. Overflowing with perfect knowledge of Him and perfect intimacy in Him.

Prayer: Lord, I long for the day when I, too, will see You face-to-face, when Your likeness will be crisp and clear. Thank You for teaching me through troubles to run into You where I am covered, protected and transformed. I look forward to awakening to see Your face in its fullness. Somehow, I expect You to be grinning.

July 2nd, 2020

Boiler Room

Luke 24:53 “And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

Observation: This last verse of Luke’s Gospel depicts men who have been profoundly changed from their former condition. Following Jesus’ crucifixion they had been abjectly saddened. Then a few hours later word came of His resurrection, after which Jesus appeared personally to them. Verse 41 tells us they were filled with joy and amazement.

Application: What a roller-coaster of emotional extremes; apparently being a disciple of Christ is not for the faint of heart. But see how the chapter ends: they are back at Jerusalem’s temple filled with great joy, continually praising God.

At the temple? Isn’t this the same place where God had three days earlier ripped the veil in two as utter darkness pervaded the place? Isn’t this the same temple where the chief priests of Judaism presided? What frustration and fear must have occupied the priests’ minds as these men stayed “continually” at the temple, praising god?

Some might imagine the disciples had signed up to use a small classroom somewhere in the temple basement, perhaps near the boiler room where raucous praises would not disturb the upstairs orthodox. After all, the disciples wouldn’t have wanted to tweak the sensibilities of the traditionalists upstairs, would they? Does that have the ring of even remotest possibility?

No, these were men transformed, made fearless. The priestly leadership had done its worst to stifle the Christ movement by killing its leader, yet just a few hours later these same men came streaming back into town in jubilation and headed straight to the city’s main house of worship where they, well…worshipped. No longer tentative, they were filled with an exuberance whose voice would have carried throughout the temple no matter the remoteness of their meeting room.

I cannot know with certainty how this display impacted the hearts of others in the temple, but of this I am confident: their praises were genuine, not for show, something extraordinarily rare in the temple’s history. And their praises contained not a scrap of bitterness toward opposing leadership. When Christ has truly impacted my heart all judgment and vindictiveness are drained away, permitting pure, unadulterated praise to ring forth.

Prayer: Father, fill me today with such joyful abandonment that spontaneous praise would continually pour from me, even if I am in the midst of unbelievers. No matter the temple of darkness in which I find myself, I desire that praise would overflow.

July 1st, 2020

Seamstresses

Mark 16:1 “When the Sabbath was over…”

Observation: The sentence goes on to say that very early the morning after Sabbath’s end, three women who loved Jesus set out for His tomb to anoint His body. Christ had been crucified the day before Sabbath, His body quickly rushed from Cross to tomb so as to not violate the Sabbath. Now, Sabbath was over.

Application: It is not hard to imagine what Sabbath had been like for these women and for Christ’s disciples. This routine day of rest must have held unending rivers of tears and sorrow over the loss of a dear friend whom they knew to be so much more. How many times would their minds have replayed the scourging, the mockings, and the nailing of sinless hands and feet? Surely the day’s brutality haunted hearts now bereft of all comfort.

But imagine the very different Sabbath being celebrated in the Temple. The chief priests presided over ceremonies that made a mockery of the Law now dead on a cross. They had prevailed over God, their enemy. As they continued through the familiar service they stuck to liturgy and form now become an abomination to God. Never deviating from the printed bulletin—“Turn in your hymnals to page 364,” they might have intoned, “and let us sing of the coming Messiah.”

Would the blood of Christ now on their hands have stained the scroll as fingers followed ancient text? How did they explain the torn curtain at their backs, now revealing to all the emptiness of the holy of holies? “Poor workmanship,” they might have announced; “We’ll hire a team of seamstresses to repair it as soon as Sabbath ends.”

Two groups. I am called to choose moment by moment to affiliate with one or the other. Shall I be counted among those whose tenderized hearts left them in abject grief? Or would I best fit with the elites making excuses, ignoring the obvious poverty of their lives?

To my shame I must confess I have apparently not made a once-and-for-all choice. Christ has drawn me to increasing intimacy with Him; I have known His sheltering wings, His mercy. His loving gaze has left me utterly undone as we have spent time savoring one another’s whispered affirmations. Yet the elite still have power to tempt. I am not yet immune to the world’s tugs toward emptiness. It seems I can still find a vacant mask to don when my heart wanders.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is in those seasons of rushing that I seem most prone to hire seamstresses to hide my phoniness. Things become too important; projects too pressing. Thank You, Lord, for Your gentle drawing back into the company of those who delight to wait on You, to value the eternal over the temporal. Your manifest presence is more desirable to me than gold.

June 30th, 2020

Blue Laws

Luke 23:56b “But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

Observation: Jesus had been crucified, after which Joseph of Aramathea had removed the body from the Cross, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a garden tomb. John expands the story to tell us that Joseph was helped by Nicodemus who brought seventy-five pounds of aloe and spices (Jn. 19:39) which they applied as they wrapped Jesus’ body with strips of the cloth. Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, along with others (Jn. 19:25) watched Joseph and Nicodemus place the body in the tomb, then returned home to prepare their own spices and perfume for a more proper burial. Then the Word says, “…they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

Application: They took a day off? These women had just watched the degradation and execution of the king of the universe, yet they waited twenty-four hours before going back to the tomb to perform more complete burial services on the body. His own mother, His dear friend Mary Magdalene and others faced the most urgent task, the most important privilege of their lives, but they took off a day for rest? What in Heaven’s name could have caused this bizarre behavior?

Simply, obedience to the commandment. God had said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…the Lord blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8)

Does it strain credulity that these women would delay the most monumental engagement of their lives? With today’s frenetic pace, don’t the weekends become consumed with tasks I couldn’t get to during the week…mowing lawns, shopping, cutting firewood, beach parties, harvesting grain? Oh, I may take a couple of hours to attend church, but do I really observe a Sabbath rest? And what of that hugely important business meeting scheduled for Monday morning? Would I think twice about flying through two time zones to be available for it? What exactly are the most important things of my life? The answer is found in what I do, not what I say.

Should these women have blessed God by tending to His body even as they violated the very commandments He died to fulfill? I wonder: what would I have done in their place? What do I do today when my to-do list contains entries far less profound? Do there remain any blue laws of the heart?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this verse causes me to mournfully reflect upon my commitment to You. You love the commandments and You honored them to the smallest detail. Make me like You, Lord. Forgive my casual approach to that for which You gave Your life.

June 29th, 2020

Heavenly Waiter

Luke 22:19, 20 “This (bread) is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” “…He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Observation: Jesus and the disciples have just shared their last Passover. Also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they were following a centuries old custom mandated by God Himself as commemoration of that long ago night when God’s death angel had passed over the homes of devout Israelis in search of Egypt’s firstborn.

Application: Thus was born a new church tradition: communion with one another in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice of a beaten body and shed blood. As Christians we are told to maintain this custom until He returns, when He says He will once again eat the Passover meal.

The phrase, “…a new church tradition” ought to chill the heart. For most of us, that really is what communion has become: a tradition. The details may differ—a wafer here, a broken cracker there, or a loaf pulled apart. Juice in this place, wine in that. But it’s tradition none-the-less. In such mists of darkness, what is it that I think I am commemorating? Do I simply remember the night that the Son of God served as a heavenly waiter? Do the wafer and wine simply remind me of a memorable evening at table, a peaceful respite preceding His arrest?

In the sheer roteness of remembrance, my heart and spirit can become dulled. Just as the long-married couple may recall the exquisite delight of the wedding bed but rarely experience it afresh, so I, if I try hard, can push through cobwebs of my mind to catch a faint glimmer of what it is I am truly to remember.

It is not the fellowship meal itself that matters. What I must press in hard on is that He died. He interrupted ancient Jewish custom of killing a blameless Passover lamb to personally become that sacrifice for me and stepped willingly forward to be butchered in my behalf. It isn’t communion I am to recall; it is sacrifice. He is like the larger-than-life action hero stepping in front of a train called sin and death that’s hurtling toward me as I lay bound on the tracks ‘round the bend. But instead of being impervious to pain like a true action figure, He died. Still, in His horrific death, I live. My life is now in Him. He is my hope of glory. My own Passover lamb, slaughtered on an altar, has rescued me from death’s certainty.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for allowing traditions of the communion ceremony to dim recollection of the very thing You call me to remember. I want always to carry within a consciousness of Your sacrifice for me. Thank you, Lord, I love You.

June 28th, 2020

Jackpot!

Matthew 26:14 “Then one of the twelve…the one called Judas Iscariot…went to the chief priests and asked “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?”

Observation: It was two days before Passover, and the chief priests and elders assembled in Caiaphas’ palace, plotting Jesus’ arrest and death. Their quandary was this: they dare not arrest Him in the midst of Passover crowds for fear of causing a riot, but they didn’t know where to find Him at night. Judas’ offer of betrayal was the perfect solution.

Application: Jackpot! Imagine the smiles of delight dawning on the schemers’ faces. It surely never occurred to them that one of the twelve could be so tempted. A member of Jesus’ inner circle? One who had walked with and watched the Master for three years, a betrayer? “This is our lucky day,” they must have exulted; “We never imagined this could be so easy!”

The important thing to notice is that Judas went to them. His sin was at his own initiative, to accomplish his own dark purposes. Until now the disciples had been uniformly watchful of possible harm, steering stress-inducing crowds away from Jesus, trying to shield Him from wads of adoring children and even from cities that might harbor harm. Yet now, one of the twelve consciously chooses to reverse course. Judas’ inner blackness erupted into his consciousness and he purposed to commit history’s most profound betrayal.

What can be said for Judas? What, indeed, can be said for me when I commit my own dark calumny? Shall I blame someone else? Adam blamed. Eve blamed. Even Willie Horton famously blamed the fact that banks having money was the reason for his thievery. With temptations ever before me, is my dark yielding the fault of the temptation or the one through whom temptation comes? Of course not!

When I surrender to temptation, I am exactly like Judas. He took betrayal’s initiative because of what was in his heart, not because he was confident that the high priest was looking for a hired gun. He simply knew he wanted money; his sinful heart did the rest. There will always be neon in Time’s Square and prostitutes in shadowy doorways. There will always be pornography on the Internet and profit to be made in business dealings designed to cut integrity’s corners. But my yielding to such temptations is always my fault. No one else can rightly be blamed when I fail. I am the guilty one.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You took my sin upon You; You took my guilt. Willingly, for no reason but love You have chosen to remake me from the inside out. Forgive me, Lord, for not walking fully and consistently in the freedom You proffer. Fill me afresh Holy Spirit, that I might walk in Your empowering love.