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.

September 17th, 2021

Cows and Carp

Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ ”

Observation: God had put Adam into the garden made expressly for their shared intimacy. (Gen. 2:8) He had set the boundaries (vs. 15–17) and then made the observation that Adam needed a helper because it wasn’t good that he should be alone.

Application: My natural expectation is that having once expressed the thought of making Adam a helper, God would hop to it and create her, but He didn’t. He completely broke creation’s previously established pattern. Instead, after declaring Adam’s need for a helper, God delays. He first parades before Adam “all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air” (v. 19) so Adam could name them.

Does this seem a senseless exercise? Surely the God who had set countless billions of stars in their place and given each its name could Himself have thought of names like “cow” and “carp.” Was naming the animals an unfair interruption in solving Adam’s aloneness problem, or was something deeper going on?

Adam may not have minded the delay; after all, he was fairly new in town and could have no particular expectations of God. Neither could he have imagined what God meant by the word “helper.” We who are more seasoned in our walk than Adam have learned to have higher expectations of God; when He promises a good gift it is all too easy for me to not only assume I merit His largesse but to also anticipate its immediate appearing, as in “You have promised abundant life; fill my bank account today, Lord.”

God had longed for fellowship from eternity, but longing had not yet been awakened in Adam. In parading all the birds and beasts before Adam, at least two things must have been occurring. First, Adam would have noticed that everything seemed to come in pairs. And having to name each one must have caused him to study them at least cursorily, causing him to realize that none was suited to him. (2:20) “This one’s neck is too long; that one’s size isn’t right; those over there seem to live in treetops.” God was birthing in Adam longing for a mate made in God’s own image, through whom Adam could come to learn more about God’s passionate love for him. Contemplating a God motivated by such love, strategizing how to awaken love in me, arrests my heart. I am stunned that the God of the universe went to such lengths to create voluntary lovers.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for so easily turning to lesser satisfactions in my daily walk. Interrupt my prideful, self-conceived pursuits, that I might find satisfaction in none but You.

September 16th, 2021

Knee Pads and a Hoe

Genesis 2:8 “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man he had formed.”

Observation: Genesis 2 begins to give more detail of God’s provision for Adam. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were created in His image, then this business about a garden hints at His greater purposes behind our creation.

Application: Prior to this, “no shrub … had yet appeared on the earth and no plant … had yet sprung up.” (v. 5) But God had specifically gone to Eden, apparently moments before creating man, to plant a garden. There He made “all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (v. 9) Then He “took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it.” (v. 15)

Why a garden? Why didn’t God plunk Adam down on a rocky seashore or a high mountaintop? Why not in a desert or a dense jungle? After all, these and much more were in His inventory of potential new places to show off. But God specifically made a garden, a place of romance. Kings and king wannabes across the earth value gardens as places of refuge and respite, places of retreat from the heat of the day. Filled with a symphony of songbirds to delight the ears and a profusion of flowers, the full palate of sounds and colors and fragrances overflow the senses. What a perfect place to meet one’s Bridegroom.

And what of the work God gave Adam to do there? Can I really imagine that Adam’s assignment came with knee pads and a hoe? Not likely. This garden had not a weed in sight. If Adam had been made in God’s image, then surely his work was of a kind with God’s own work, not actually creating out of nothing, perhaps, but certainly enjoying creation. The profusion of butterflies, the sweet tastes, the chorus of sounds, and the cool of streams … enjoying these was Adams work. And of course, this garden was to be the place of lovers meeting. Romance blossoms in gardens, and this one was perfect in every way.

Why is it so hard for me to just “be” with God? How long at one stretch, really, do I simply sit and contemplate His beauty? When was the last time I just breathed in His fragrance and allowed myself to revel in His delight in me? The problem isn’t clocks and calendars and airline schedules. The problem isn’t demanding bosses or kids’ runny noses. The problem is my choices. If I have been filled with His Spirit and restored to Him, is there not once again a garden for just Him and me? It is my choice to meet Him there and to linger once again.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I think about going hard after You, keep me from the error of “doing;” cause me instead to simply “be,” to seek that place of romance You have prepared where we can enjoy one another forever.

September 15th, 2021

Dinner Bell

Genesis 2:2 “ … on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” (NIV)

Observation: God’s first workweek was finished. Creation was complete, so now He rested. Genesis 2:3 tells us more … that it was because He rested that the seventh day was blessed and made holy.

Application: Does God seem a bit grandfatherly in this passage, heading into the farmhouse with the setting sun at the end of the sixth day, red handkerchief in hand to mop sweat from His brow? I can imagine His destination being His favorite recliner into which He will ease His huge, aching frame, awaiting the dinner bell.

The first five days hadn’t been overly stressful; He merely spoke things into being. But the sixth day was different; it had been more “hands-on.” The creation of man had involved God getting His hands dirty, first creating a garden, then forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing life into his nostrils. No such exertion had been required for, say, the aardvark or the dandelion. He later was similarly involved in Eve’s creation. No wonder He rested from such unaccustomed work; getting in one day the necessary permit for just the garden must have been an enormous challenge.

Viewed through my lens of fallenness, God as a tired laborer is almost sensible. But here is what this view misses entirely: His rest was not the result of exhaustion, but of deep satisfaction. He was joy-filled with eager anticipation for fellowship with … me. The garden beckoned, a place surely filled with extravagant beauty and sensuous smells designed by the lover Himself to delight me with overflowing pleasures. His rest was satisfying precisely because He knew the previous six days fulfilled His eternal desire for a love relationship. It was in the fullness of contented delight that He declared the seventh day blessed and holy.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” He had told the Israelites (Ex. 20:8). He wasn’t simply an unfeeling taskmaster denying me needed extra income from a second job. His vision far exceeded a desire to simply control my days. I must see Him as a lover who sets the dinner table just so … fresh linen and sparkling china with three roses as the centerpiece and strolling violinists discreetly in the background. He set aside the seventh day to enjoy me, to fulfill His longing for intimacy. When I don’t honor that, I break not merely His rules; I break His heart. He remains in the garden still, awaiting love’s fulfillment in a wholehearted bride. Entering in is my choice; He has already declared His.

Prayer: Lord, You have filled my heart with longing for fellowship, for quality time with You, even as Your heart has been filled since Your first thoughts of me. I choose to gladly turn from life’s distractions today so I can meet You in that place of intimacy.

September 14th, 2021

Driveway Gravel

Genesis 1:3 “And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”

Observation: God created light on earth’s first day. A moment before, the earth had been “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep … ” (Gen. 1:2) But in an instant God spoke light into being, and He “separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness He called ‘night’ (vs. 4–5).

Application: With an economy of words unimaginable to the inventor of something as simple as a pencil, the creation story is complete in a mere thirty-three verses. We think we know it so well we can skip lightly through the first seven days to get into the meat of human history. But lest His creative powers be taken for granted, there is within the story an astonishing thought: the light He created on the first day, this light that became “sky” on the second day (v. 8), was light exclusively on the earth.

This earth-light came not from the sun, moon and stars; they weren’t created ‘til the fourth day. No, earth’s light simply emitted from the mind of God Himself, given birth by His Word, just for earth. Imagine standing in your back yard on creation’s second day, gazing at the night sky and seeing—absolutely nothing. Try to imagine the first day of glorious bright light without a sun as its source.

To my small mind, it would have been more logical for God to have made the sun, moon and stars first. From them, light would naturally flow to the earth already organized into days, nights and seasons. But as I read the Genesis account, I realize that His plan trumps my logic yet again. Everything I can see far beyond even Hubble’s precision lenses is precisely two days older than my driveway gravel. Why would He do it this way? Wouldn’t my way have been easier? None of this makes sense unless I view it through the prism of romance. The eternal God by His methodology reveals Himself as a lovesick bridegroom eager to stun me with His best capabilities.

At the end of the most perfect day of courtship, isn’t part of my beloved’s delight the fact that I had planned every detail with her surprise and pleasure in mind? The wise lover would not give his beloved an hour-by-hour itinerary, would he? That would spoil the romance! How much more must romance’s flame engulf the heart of God? His delight is in me “ … as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will God rejoice in you.” (Isa. 62:5)

Prayer: Father, I give You my heart. You are my lover, my Bridegroom, the One who delights in surprising me at every turn. Forgive me for ever thinking I have You figured out. You have ravished my heart with Your love.

September 13th, 2021

Herding Cats

Genesis 1:28 “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Observation: We witness here the sixth day of creation, the day when God commanded the land to “produce living creatures…livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals … ” (v. 24) This was the same day they (God) made “man in our image, in our likeness” (v. 26) and said “let them rule” over every created thing.

Application: “Subdue” and “rule” over every living thing … this command was within the first sentence Adam and Eve, as a couple, heard from God. What thoughts might have gone through their minds in that moment? They had just appeared on the scene having been formed by God’s own Word, plunked down in a shiny new creation only six days in the making. Surrounded by lumbering Tyrannosaurus rex and scampering field mice, by soaring pterodactyls and mollusks at sea depths Adam had no hope of visiting, the first command to fall upon newly-formed ears was to subdue and rule.

How? With what tools? One man, one woman … both stark naked … commanded to subdue and rule. My conundrum is this: when I think of subduing and ruling it is through the lens of fallenness. I think of Adam running through the landscape on feet not yet calloused, trying to herd cats into a pen or Eve mesmerizing snakes with yet-uninvented flutes. Or perhaps they would set traps to sell the world’s first pelts to Nordstrom’s fur-buyers. See what sin has worked in my understanding?

But isn’t there another kind of dominion? I am putty in the face of my two-year-old grandson’s heart-melting smile as I enter the room. In that moment he has captured me afresh. I find myself disarmed and stripped of all resistance as he snuggles into my embrace. He knows well how to subdue and rule; his trap of intimacy is perfectly natural. Love, indeed, conquers all.

God adds to my understanding of what He has in mind when He says to His beloved, “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride…” (Song 5:1) His heart is fully captivated by passion’s gaze … ” you are beautiful, my darling … your eyes overwhelm me … my dove, my perfect one … ” (Song 6:4-9) It is the language of love that subdues; it is His delight in me that gives Him rule over my heart.

Prayer: Now I see it, Lord; now I understand how Adam could rule over every living thing. It isn’t by weapons or threats that You have won my heart, but by longing. My desire is for You above all others. Break me more, Lord, pierce me more deeply. Let me see Your beauty so I can enjoy Your presence forever.

September 12th, 2021

Stones of Remembrance

Joshua 4:5 “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder … to serve as a sign among you.”

Observation: Multiplied millions of Israelites have entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan River, at flood stage, on dry ground. The river passage had dried instantly the moment the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant advanced into it. Then God instructed Joshua to select a representative of each of the twelve tribes to take up a stone from the dry riverbed “right where the priests stood” so a memorial could be built.

Application: God’s purpose in this exercise was clear: “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ ” (v. 23) “He did this so all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (v. 24)

It is possible that within the purposes of such memorial there is another, more subtle purpose as well. Through the Israelite’s focus on God’s deliverance, their remembrance of daily endured pain would dim. Forty years of nomadic wandering, years of drudgery and dirt and death, all these would become but a faint recollection, overwhelmed by the story of God’s plan fulfilled.

Had the Hebrews kept diaries they surely would have been filled with comments on the daily grind, sprinkled with occasional celebrations of the miraculous. Yet what we read in the recounting of Israel’s journey from God’s perspective heavily focuses on the miraculous: water gushing from rock, manna and quail in abundance, waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan parted by God’s command, shoes never worn out. Perhaps I need more stones of remembrance in my own life, markers to memorialize astonishing things that God has done.

The problem with diaries, whether written or remembered, is that they can be counterproductive to a full focus on God’s wonderful deliverance. His markers are not of the pain and loss of the past…those markers are mine. Instead, He would say, “Look my child, at where I have brought you. Now you are Mine; we can go forward together.” The claim that time heals all wounds isn’t necessarily true; I can always look back with remorse on not having been quicker to obey, or more wise, or, or, or. … But as I erect stones of remembrance to focus on deliverance in and through past hard places, I can say, with the hymnist, “ … the things of the earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Prayer: Lord, You have done marvelous things in my life. Cause me not to look back with remorse, but to focus instead upon Your glory and grace in my life. You, O Lord, are so very good. Thank You.

September 11th, 2021

Pain’s Purposes

Acts 7:57 “At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”

Observation: Stephen had been brought before the Sanhedrin under false charges of blasphemy against God and Moses. When invited to speak in his defense he began a fifty-verse discourse truthfully summarizing evidences of God’s hand in the deliverance of His people beginning with Abraham, extending through the exploits of Moses and continuing to the building of Solomon’s temple.

His long discourse comes to an abrupt end when he addresses his accusers and judges as a stiff-necked people who resisted the Holy Spirit and had killed even the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. Stephen’s listeners responded in fury and dragged him out of the city where they stoned him to death.

Application: Stephen had come to this place because, as Acts 6:8 reports, he was “a man full of God’s grace and power (who) did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” Even as his stoning began, he, “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God … ” “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)

What could have passed through Stephen’s mind as stones began to fly? Might he have admitted a glimmer of remorse over an effective ministry cut tragically short? Could he have reflexively crouched near the ground and thrown his arms around his head in a vain attempt to shelter from pain?

No, there was none of that. Instead, he simply prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

I am left with questions. Where was our protector God during Stephen’s brave stand? Why didn’t Stephen’s passionate discourse break through his hearer’s locked hearts to bring repentance rather than rage? What good could come from such consummate evil? What could God possibly have been thinking?

One answer is in Acts 8:1, which says simply, “Saul was there, giving approval to (Stephen’s) death.” By this I am reminded that the fully yielded heart need not question God’s purposes in suffering. He has designs for fruitfulness from my pain and loss that I can never imagine. Stephen couldn’t see future fruit any more than I, but it is real nonetheless, beautiful and sweet to those quietly watching.

Prayer: Lord, I confess to limited understanding of Your purposes in my life. When discouragement looms, remind me that You are at work in even the darkest situation. Fill me afresh with Your Holy Spirit, that I might fix my gaze beyond life’s disappointments and onto that place where You sit at God’s right hand.

September 10th, 2021

Idols at Risk

Esther 5:13 “Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”

Observation: Haman had been elevated to high position by the king. From his lofty role, he arrogantly demanded that all the king’s subjects bow before him and pay him homage. As a faithful Jew, Mordecai could not give such honor. Nor, Haman realized, could any other Jew who was captive in the land. In frustration, Haman called his wife and friends together to express his anger. He had been appointed to great honor and given glorious riches; he even had such supposed favor from Queen Esther that he alone had been invited to join the king as Esther’s private banquet guest. But in spite of these honors, Haman could still say, “Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai sitting at the gate.”

Application: Poor, stupid Haman. He is walking into a trap that will prove his ultimate destruction. The bait is his own heart’s intoxication with the false authority of worldly riches and power bestowed by earthly honor. His doom is further assured by gathering his wife and closest friends as an audience for his vindictive rants. From such as these there could be nothing but worldly advice, for they were but sycophants, groupies who no doubt enhanced their own social standing by their proximity to Haman’s power.

It is easy to imagine that Haman and his friends would descend that evening into a pool of morose self-pity from which an evil plan would emerge. Mordecai should be hanged even as the wider plot was to destroy all Jews.

Could I imagine myself ever behaving as Haman? Sadly, yes. My own false pride holds the capacity for deep wounding. Such wounding leads to self-justifying scheming to regain or expand my rights … rights to which Christ has called me to die. In jealously defending my rights, I would, of course, never seek Godly counsel; my condition in that moment is not such to receive it. Instead, I gather other wounded and we tickle one another’s ears with stories of mutual offense.

These are idols all, false idols leading to destruction. What was it God had said?—“You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) In my area of greatest internal tension today can I honestly say I have no idols at risk? Isn’t my distress caused by clinging tight to them?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You see my heart. You know what motivates me in those seasons when I permit other gods to hold sway. Break my heart over Your truth, Lord, that I might not be crushed by Your judgments. Yours is the kingdom, and the glory, and the power, forever.

September 9th, 2021

Practice Run

Revelation 7:15–16 “ … and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them nor any scorching heat.”

Observation: Rev. 7 movingly focuses on God’s ability to redeem and protect those who are His. In John‘s first vision, he sees an angel come to earth with God’s seal to be affixed to the heads of 144,000, signifying their salvation (v. 3). These would be protected from further destruction yet to come. John’s second vision was of the throne where the Lamb is surrounded by the multitude that had “come out of the great tribulation” (v. 14). They worship the Lamb through whose salvation they had gained admittance to heaven; in turn; He spreads His tent over them, protecting them from further want.

Application: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10). This is the multitude’s cry, and He responds by spreading His tent over them.

What a singularly powerful moment! It evokes memories from Leviticus 26:11 where God first established His tabernacle among men, reminding them of His salvation from Egypt’s bondage and promising His eternal presence in their lives. Now, in Revelation, God renews His promise of covering, picturing again not just His rescue from temporal oppression but His eternal watchcare, as well.

God’s Book repeatedly expresses the idea of covering in its numerous calls for submission: one to another, wives to husbands, slaves to masters, children to parents, and everyone to leaders, governing authorities and to God. Within each such submission is the idea of covering. Just as Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet on the threshing floor and covered herself with his blanket, so we who willingly humble ourselves come under the covering of the Lamb of God. It is in that place of perfect protection that all He has becomes ours.

I ought to suspect that such a frequent theme of Scripture as covering may be more easily talked about than achieved. It is one thing to give intellectual assent to the vast benefits of willingly placing myself under another’s covering, but my tendency is to always have an end point in mind. “I will submit to you if you treat me as I feel I deserve.” The first truth I must admit is that reserved rights reflect submission withheld. Then this: if I withhold full submission to authorities I can see and touch, how can I ever know that my submission to Christ is complete?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my greatest desire is to come fully under Your covering. Cause me to honestly consider the fullness of my submission to those You have set over me. I accept the most difficult of these as mere tests, practice runs in Your process of conforming me fully to Christ’s image.

September 8th, 2021

God’s Devotedness Scale

Revelation 6:11 “Then each of them was given a white robe and they were told to wait a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed … was complete.”

Observation: John had been commanded to watch what happened as the first four seals on God’s scroll had been opened, each in its turn. Now the fifth seal was opened, and John saw something truly astonishing. Beneath the altar were the souls of all martyrs ever slain for their testimony of Christ. They cried out, asking how long it would be before He avenged their spilt blood. To this impassioned question came the sobering reply that it would happen “when the number of their fellow servants and brothers to be killed … was complete.”

Application: How shall we who have not yet experienced martyrdom for Christ view this passage? Am I simply called to be “a good Christian”, foreswearing such obvious sins as adultery, lies, murder and the like, or might God have something more in mind? Am I a bit like the cartoon bear with a target painted on its chest that tries hopefully to direct the hunter’s attention to another bear nearby?

What is it that ought to distinguish me from those whose hearts remain far from God? After all, except for that pesky notion about having no other gods before Him, couldn’t the remaining commandments be about as well-kept by a pagan as by a devout Hebrew? (We’ll overlook for now the inconvenient fact that without Christ none can keep the spirit of the Law.)

From today’s verse it is apparent that there is an appointed, pre-determined number of believers who must give their lives in testimony to God in the course of which onlookers will be convicted of sin. Until then, God will not roll out the last parts of His end-time scenario. Is it possible that God’s end game is delayed while waiting for some among us to become hot-hearted pursuers of Christ? Have my personal lukewarmness, my own self-protectiveness, somehow slowed God’s timeline?

Not so! His sovereignty is not subject to my fickle flesh. On the other hand, I am certain that He occupies the high balcony overlooking my life, longing for such a resounding “yes!” from me that I might be counted worthy for my soul to join those of history’s martyred saints in that holiest of places ‘neath the altar. What silly goals am I pursuing, what earthly mindsets still prevent my wholehearted devotion to Him? I wonder what He might do through me if I were wholly sold out to Him.

Prayer: Lord, You have reserved places of highest honor for those who devote themselves to You with not the slightest reservation. Show me my heart in this matter today, Lord. Show me where I am on Your “devotedness” scale.