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 24th, 2019

Natural Versus Spiritual

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? … Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”

Observation: These verses draw a distinction between the spiritual and the natural, what one can hear and know and understand when walking in the Spirit and being taught by God versus those who are primarily oriented toward worldly things.

Application: In this passage is the core of my struggle, flesh versus spirit, temporal versus eternal. Everything about my natural life has taught me to pursue natural knowledge and to hone natural skills. From earliest childhood I received an allowance that I might “learn the value of a dollar.” There was financial reward for presenting good report cards. I earned a bicycle by selling countless boxes of greeting cards. Later, I was granted scholarships for excellence in select areas. Through constant reinforcement I was taught to accumulate things and that financial rewards follow hard work. Finance has been but one of many areas of life to which similar principles have been applied.

While this has been the lesson of life, it is not the lesson of Scripture. In order to achieve the kingdom of God, I had to unlearn things I once so diligently pursued. It is hard work precisely because it required an undoing of so much. I had been groomed in one way, but I found that way went against the grain of Christ. What I gradually have had to admit is that even someone who has professed to believe in Christ can still find himself primarily attuned to the things of this world. He wants to pursue the “good” things life offers and he reasons from a worldly perspective even while trying to apply his thoughts to spiritual things.

Prayer: Lord, I repent of those times when my words, thoughts, or actions were birthed out of a worldly mindset. Forgive me for my constant tendency to treat things of this world as more important than the eternal priorities and perspective you want me to have. Renew my mind; restore my heart to Your priorities today.  Thank You Lord.

August 23rd, 2019

Restoration

Deuteronomy 30:3, 5 “Then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and … The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.”

Observation: The Lord was continuing His final instructions to His chosen people before they crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. Moses was soon to die, and the people who had wandered in the desert for forty years were standing on tiptoe, eager with anticipation.

Application: The very thought of God’s restoring me from captivity is a stunning reality—stunning first, that He is able to restore me, and second, that He will. I have been a captive in so many ways in my life, to unrighteous habits and thought-life, and to judgments and hurt that have closed my heart for a season. 

The very thought that the Lord Jesus Christ will restore me to Himself is profoundly amazing. And make no mistake about it, it is to Him that I am being restored. He is the One who has made me, and His purpose was that I could fellowship with Him first in the garden, and now in all eternity as His beloved. This is staggering. His kindness to me is overwhelming. His restoration is complete, covering everything I have ever done to separate myself from Him. 

My heart soars with joy over the knowledge of how high and how deep, how wide and how long is His redeeming love (see Eph. 5:18). My part in all this is to simply love Him above all else and all others, and to obey everything He tells me.

Prayer: Lord, about the part that’s mine to do—to love You and to obey You—oh, how much is wrapped up in those simple words. How many priorities still must be changed in my life to be completely at one with You. Yet I know You don’t require impossible things of me. So help me to quiet myself afresh today, to care about hearing Your voice above all the noise of life. Thank You for tantalizing glimpses of what You intend our relationship to be like. Thank You for using a bridal paradigm to express that deep sense of longing and unity that You died to win for me. Lord Jesus, I give myself to You today.

August 21st, 2019

Standing Strong

Deuteronomy 25:17-19 “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” 

Galatians 5:1, 7 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. … You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Observation: God reminded the Israelites that when they had grown weary, they had been severely attacked by their enemy, the Amalekites in this instance. He was encouraging them not to forget, not to fail to come back to a war footing so they could utterly defeat their enemy. And in Galatians, Paul similarly stirred his listeners to take a strong stand against the enemies of our soul; otherwise we will stumble and fall.

Application: As I read this I can think back on seasons in my life where I have stood strong and my heart burned with passion for Christ. Yet in other seasons, my ardor had cooled and I became more vulnerable to attack. Bad habits, bad use of time, poor choice of priorities—these become a downward spiral sapping vitality from my life in Christ. But I am called to war against such ease, to run without growing weary, to remember who the enemy is, and to fight until he has been utterly defeated in my life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I ask You to be my strength for the battles ahead, not just the “big” battles, but also those small, day-by-day decisions that ultimately end up ordering my life and determining the course I will follow. Father, cause zeal for Your Word, Your Son, to be stirred up in me. Let me be one of those old guys, if I live long enough, about whom others would say, “He has been with the Lord.”  Keep me from compromise; let my life be lived sacrificially before You to the very end. I desire to end well, Lord.

August 20th, 2019

The Plowman

Hosea 10:12 “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes and showers righteousness on you.”

Observation: Hosea has spent several chapters reminding Israel in stark language why destruction was upon them. They had abandoned God’s love and provision to pursue self sufficiency. Thinking the grass greener elsewhere they had left His protective covering and now would experience His disciplines. This is a reprise of something God had said in Deuteronomy 28:63: “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you.” Then, in verse 12, He presents the pathway for their return to intimacy.

Application: None of us has a corner on perpetual comfort. See the lengths to which God will go to discipline those He loves? What an astounding commitment He has to my good, even to the point of bringing me to destruction if necessary to win again my full devotion. How unbending He is! How inflexible His standards!

There are always choices laid before me. Like Israel, if I would not want to become victim to my oppressors, I must voluntarily run back to His open arms.  He tells me that the way to do that is to sow myself to righteousness, to invest in doing good out of a pure heart set on pleasing Him. Then comes the fascinating phrase, “break up your unplowed ground.”

What am I to understand from this phrase?  Fallow, unplowed ground can be among the most beautiful of sights. Rolling hills of native prairie grasslands strewn with a profusion of wildflowers are a sight unsurpassed. Yet such a field is not “productive” in the sense of yielding life-giving fruit.

Similarly, Hosea challenges me to admit that there are depths of my heart I have not yet opened to His full influence. I have been overly protective of full exposure, trusting firmly held doctrine or tradition to allow some part of my heart to remain parched and hardened like a field unbroken by the deep plowing only He can do.

He wants to sunder every hardened place, to bring gentle spring rains that soften and melt those hard places of hidden woundings and fear. But He will only do that at my invitation. He will not trespass my welcome, but remains external until invited to have His way fully.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for reserving unplowed ground in my heart. I yield this place to You, Lord, admitting some fear in doing so, yet confident that Your only desire is to bring me into deeper intimacy with You.

August 19th, 2019

Heavenly Maître d’

Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11 “’Yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord” (NIV).

Observation: In each of these five verses God testified of Israel’s sin and established justification for coming judgment. He recounted things He had done to show His commitment to Israel including withholding food and rain to produce empty stomachs and failed crops. He had sent blight on gardens and locusts to devour fruit trees. He had sent plagues and wars in which the nation’s youth would be killed. He even reminded them that some had been overcome even as at Sodom and Gomorrah, yet still the nation had not returned to Him.

Application: What’s going on here? Is this how God treats His friends? These verses present a picture of God unlike the one I prefer to keep front and center. In my pursuit of the good things of life I much prefer to imagine God wooing me by unceasing whispering of His undying devotion to me. In this, I make Him rather like the Roman prelate’s servant who attentively pops grapes into her boss’s mouth as he is fanned on his couch—a sort of heavenly maître’d who remains continually at my beck and call.

This idyllic view, much preferred by the Israel of Amos’s day and by cultural Christians of today, is abruptly cast aside by God’s summation in Amos 4:12, “Therefore this is what I will to do you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (NIV). Whew! No wonder I would rather breeze past Old Testament prophets like Amos in my reading. Israel, crushed by the Assyrians, was about to meet the God with whom she had formed a covenant relationship and then profoundly offended by taking the relationship lightly.

I should consider whether such admonitions apply to me today. Is He a God who never changes, or has He softened with the passing of generations? Having walked an aisle or prayed a sinner’s prayer, do I secretly hope He is more accepting of half-heartedness today than He was with Israel of old? Chillingly, He puts me on notice that whole-hearted obedience is still what He expects. Have I not claimed identification with His Son who went to the cross for me? Is it possible to identify with Christ’s death without dying to my persistent embrace of things temporal? How else can I show that I have “returned to Him” as He yearned for Israel to do?

I have the choice of either walking willing, gladly, into the fullness of His embrace or clinging stubbornly to my own pursuits. Both options lead to this: “Prepare to meet your God”; each have profoundly differing results.

Prayer: Father, You are eternal and unchanging. Neither passing time nor creature comforts change Your expectation that I fulfill my part in our covenant. Guide me into right choices by Your Word and by Your Spirit.

August 18th, 2019

Christian Hedonism

1 John 1:3-4 “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (NIV).

Observation: John the apostle was the writer, the one who referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved (see John 13:23). He began by testifying that he had actually seen and heard the God who had existed from the beginning; he had even touched this pre-eternal God (see 1 John 1:1). Declaring that this “Word of Life” had appeared to him, John then disclosed his motivation for writing: that his readers might connect with the body of Christ in a fellowship of the Spirit. Finally, his motive comes down to this: that his joy may be made complete.

Application: John testified of Christ to make his own joy complete? That carries the distinct ring of self-centeredness. He says his motive is to meet his own need for complete joy. Is John being disgustingly self-serving here, or has he careened headlong into a truth that too many of us would deny in our half-heartedness?

Christ Himself commanded that we were to deny ourselves to follow Him (see Matt. 16:24). We remember admonitions to lay down our rights, to die to self until filled with Christ alone, but then comes John, unabashedly trumpeting the most hedonistic of motives: that his joy be made complete. The motivation he confessed is very personal, one that compelled him forward in his own self-interest. This is Christian hedonism in its fullness. How are we to understand this?

C. S. Lewis says it best in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambitions when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The fact is, when I withhold I am miserable and small. When I give, my joy, like John’s, is made complete and I am expanded. My heart grows. What might I withhold? Perhaps money, perhaps testimony to an angry pagan, perhaps time that could be spent in service to others. So I give, that my joy may be made complete. As John Piper writes in Desiring God, “ … this persistent and undeniable yearning for happiness (is) not to be suppressed, but to be glutted—on God!”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my needs are met in You. In You my deepest longings are not denied, but fulfilled. Help me to live in lavish, passionate, persistent pursuit of You, for in You I lack nothing. My joy is complete!

August 17th, 2019

Measuring Stick

1 Peter 1:7 “These have come so that your faith … of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire … may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (NIV).

Observation: Peter is encouraging us to keep our focus heavenward. He said we have much for which to rejoice (1 Pet. 1:3—5, NIV) even though all kinds of trials may come for a season (v. 6). It is these very trials, through their winnowing refinements, that assure praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Application: What does Peter mean about being assured of praise, glory, and honor when Christ is revealed? Is it seemly that we ought to hope for praise, honor, and glory? Are we as Christians not called to meekness? Rather than hoping for acclaim are we not instead admonished to walk in a spirit of humility? What Peter says seems to go against the grain of a great deal of teaching.

If the sense of this passage seems a bit jarring, it may be due to our struggle against flesh’s satisfactions. That’s the very struggle that Peter here called “all kind of trials.” Such trials have not only such outward manifestations as poverty or illness, but also reflect an inner battle as we must honestly confess that desire for worldly acclaim has not yet been fully wrung from us.

Peter speaks of praise, honor, and glory as something to be sought, acclaim, which comes from heaven itself. Paul wrote of it in Romans 2:7, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” And in verse 10, “but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good … ” (NIV).

Think of it! In response to my wholehearted pursuit of Him, heaven rejoices. Jesus Himself addressed this when He described the future day when He would return in all His glory, accompanied by hosts of angels, to sit on His throne in heavenly glory (Matthew 25:31). He will then “say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my father; take your inheritance’” (verse 34, NIV).

Could there be a more wondrous benediction over my life than for the Son to call me blessed of His father? Honestly? How often do I reflect on those future words? How consciously do I pursue His inheritance as compared to my toil for earthly treasure? I must consider this: my investment of time and money exactly reflect my true longing for praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for such a clear measuring stick of my heart’s fervor for You: how my time and treasure are spent. Cause me to spend them in wholehearted pursuit of You.

August 16th, 2019

Wrong Questions

Ephesians 5:8 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

Observation: Paul has just encouraged the Ephesians to “be imitators of God … as dearly loved children … ” (Verse 5:1) We are told to be a “fragrant offering” (Verse 2), and to carry not so much as a hint of sexual immorality, impurity or greed … no obscenity, no foolish talk, no coarse joking. These things, Paul says, spring from idolatry and prevent such a man or woman from having “any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Verse 5) Verse 8 sums the thought: we once were darkness (not like darkness or in darkness, but we were darkness itself), “but now you are light in the Lord.”

Application: Paul isn’t finished yet. He evidently understands how easy it is for me to read such a passage yet still keep my mask firmly in place. I am able to put on my best Sunday countenance and venture forth determined not to show such inner idolatry. But verse 12 reveals Paul’s fingers tugging at the mask’s edges, determined to rip it off in utter exposure: “It is shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”

“How does he know about a secret life?” I wonder. “Who gave him knowledge of things hidden?” These are, of course, the wrong questions. They are defensive, revealing just how on-target Paul really is. Besides, the answer is self-evident: it is by the eternal, omniscient God that Paul knows these things. Hosea, commenting on the Hebrews’ history of building physical idols, mourned, “How long will they be incapable of purity?” (Hosea 8:5) From both Hosea and Paul it is apparent that impurity, whether outward or hidden, leads to my destruction.

As I write well before winter’s dawn, my eyes are drawn to the tree on my deck decorated with lights of the holiday season. Snow has fallen through the night, coating each needle with the purest of white so the tree itself is no longer visible; I can only see it through its fresh covering. Yet from within, the lights still glow. Radiance shines forth, filtered through the refining purity of its covering of snow.

This, I think, is how I become what Paul wrote of: “ … a light in the Lord.” Paul isn’t calling me to reflect His light as a dead, cold moon reflects the light of the sun. Instead, I am to “be” light in the Lord. I am to live as a child of light, as one who possesses it and gives it away to all who come within view. He is to so completely suffuse me that like the needles of the tree, I am no longer visible; only Christ can be seen.

Prayer: Lord, cleanse me of every impurity, every idolatry, whether hidden or visible. I want more than anything to be light in the Lord, shining as Christ upon all whom You bring across my path.

August 15th, 2019

Laundromat Attendant

John 20:6 “Then Simon Peter … arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen laying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen” (NIV).

Observation: Mary Magdalene had visited Christ’s tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away. She ran to Peter and John to breathlessly sputter, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:2, NIV). Peter and John then rushed to the tomb and entered its shadows only to see the linen body wraps lying near the neatly folded cloth that had been around Christ’s head.

Application: This presents a picture different from the one my mind has spun in the past. I have imagined burial cloths simply lying loose as though the body had been snatched from within and the cloth left to drift gently downward, now emptied of its precious cargo. Given the frantic scurrying of His friends I have assumed that He, too, had acted in haste. Perhaps Christ had been teleported from His stone resting place to nearby woods to watch what would happen next.

Apparently, that isn’t what happened. The Word says the cloth that had wrapped His head was neatly folded by itself and set aside from the linen. This presents a very different picture, one of deliberate, thoughtful intent.

It is possible to imagine Jesus taking a moment to savor the scene. God is a God of order, and there is something about the orderliness of this moment and His complete mastery of it that I should think about. As He stood beside the place where His broken body had lain a moment earlier, did He perhaps reflect with deep satisfaction on the eternal victory just achieved? Did a faint smile form as He heard anguished screams of foes now forever defeated? Whatever His thoughts, He apparently lingered long enough to fold the cloth even as a dutiful laundromat attendant might have done. It was as if He wanted me to know, “This was no body-snatching; there was no chaos here.” What a wonderful thought, that in the swirl of events He would not be rushed.

Then this thought comes: I am to be like Him, centered upon the reality of the resurrection, savoring His victory over my otherwise darkened heart and contemplating with unconcealed delight His soon return. As He lovingly folded the cloth, His thoughts were of me. He looked into the future and saw me safely delivered from the same darkness He had just experienced. Then satisfied, I imagine He laid the cloth aside and strode purposefully into the light.

Prayer: Wow, Lord, in this short passage You have caused me to understand the resurrection in a new way. Everything in the tomb was under Your full control. As the world’s chaos presses in, fill me today with the same sense of calm You showed in folding the cloth.