May 22nd, 2019

Living Wholeheartedly for Him

Proverbs 7:1-5 “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call understanding your intimate friend; that they may keep you from an adulteress.”

Observation: The straightforward language of this passage urges pursuit of wisdom that we might be wise enough to avoid the snares of the adulteress. 

Application: I see today that this adulteress is a much broader and more cunning problem than a temptress to sexual sin. The adulteress is anyone or anything that entices me away from purity, away from the wholehearted pursuit of Jesus, away from a love relationship with the Creator God and His Son. 

Paul affirmed this in Romans 9:2-4 when he mourned over many of his countrymen by saying, “I have great sorrow and increasing grief in my heart . . . for the sake of my brethren and my kinsmen, according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law.” He goes on to say that it isn’t the word of God that has failed. Rather, the problem is with men who have tried to pursue the law according to the flesh. 

The fact is, I become what I pursue. In today’s reading, the writer of Proverbs said to “keep my words and treasure my commandments…Bind them on your fingers, write them on…your heart …call understanding your intimate friend.” I become what I pursue, taking on the attributes of what I spend time with. But Proverbs 9:18 says, “He does not know that the dead are there.”

Prayer: Lord God, keep me from dwelling in the place of the dead. I love Your precepts, Lord; they are life and breath to my very bones. Cause there to spring up in my heart this day a passion for Your Word—Your dear Son. Keep me from pursuing You according to the flesh.”

May 21st, 2019

Beholding the King

1 Kings 10:6-7 “’It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I had heard.’”

Observation: The queen of Sheba had heard reports of the wisdom and prosperity of King Solomon and had traveled 1,200 miles by camel to see for herself.

Application: I, too, marvel at the vast riches of Solomon’s domain as I read these verses. The majestic throne carved from pure ivory, solid gold drinking cups, mountains of spices from around the world, and such profound wisdom that leaders from everywhere came to seek Solomon’s counsel. Never before had there been such a concentration of wealth and wisdom, nor would there be again until the return of the King of kings. 

After fixing the clearest possible mental picture of the riches of Solomon’s kingdom, I then allow my mind to wander over all of God’s creation—the majesty of the mountains, the unmatched beauty of the interplay of sky, meadow, river, and forest, each filled with an abundance of life. Then I focus on this thought: all that I see, all that I can even imagine seeing of the wonders of the world, is the aftermath of destruction. 

Every breathtaking view my clouded eyes behold is the residue of the flood of Noah just a few thousand years ago. All creation was destroyed, and every feature of the earth changed from the glory God originally created. Just as Solomon’s majesty and glory dim in comparison to the glory and beauty of the King of kings, all creation I look at today is but a dim reflection of His incomparable original design. One day I will see all this clearly. I will be stunned, as was the queen of Sheba regarding Solomon’s glory, to grasp His full magnificence.

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for the glimpses You give me of how powerful, how beautiful, You really are. Thank You, too, for planting deep within me the knowledge that I can now only behold the ”beginning of the beginning” of Your marvelous character and Your creative power. Cause me to hunger after more of You, Lord. Give me a divine disquiet in my heart as I contemplate how little I truly know of You. Cause me to pant with thirst for the river of refreshing that comes only from Your throne, O God. And thank You that full satisfaction is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. You do intend to be known, and it’s in Him that I can know You!

May 20th, 2019

The Nub

Deuteronomy 8:5 “Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.”

Observation: Forty years have passed since the Hebrews began their odyssey through the wilderness. Instigated by their intransigence toward the commands of God, He none-the-less proved to be a faithful provider through all their desert wanderings. He had allowed them to become hungry so they might appreciate His provision of manna and “understand that man does not live by bread alone but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (v. 5).

He reminds them that though they were on history’s longest hike their clothing had not worn out nor had their feet swollen (v. 4). Then comes the nub: “Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.”

Application: Is this comparison really to be trusted? God sends His chosen people through 40 years of blazing sun, cold nights and withering thirst and hunger, to what end? That they might ultimately be delivered into a “good land (v. 7), a land where they would “eat without scarcity” and “not lack anything” (v. 9).

I should remember that the vision Moses now paints comes at the end of desert’s disciplines, and the listening crowd are a completely different bunch than those who first began the journey. Death had at the end claimed all who had begun. Like bodies sloughing off millions of dead cells each day to be replaced by young, vital ones, so the Hebrews had died off by the millions to make way for a fresh generation. Through the telling and re-telling of the story, they were equipped with memory of a God who provided in the midst of every need. From Pharaoh’s pursuing army to all the other desert hardships, the God who provides had overcome. And then He compares Himself to an earthly father who disciplines his own son.

“An inheritance gained quickly will not be blessed in the end.” (Prov. 20:21). How willing am I to take this to heart? God could have allowed His people to skip the disciplines and proceed straight to the Promised Land, but they would have arrived without the knowledge of generous provision the Lord has for those submitted to Him. And I wonder…how inclined am I to provide an overly generous inheritance for loved ones who have not yet experienced the disciplines of moving from dependence upon an earthly father to a heavenly Papa…a Papa who knows far better than I how to bless those who fall deeply in dependent love with Him?

Prayer: Father, as I survey my own life I am struck once again by how much growth has come in my desert places…those places where earthly resources were at an end and my only choice was to reply upon You. Make me wise, Lord, as my family transitions from dependence upon me to utter reliance upon You. Your disciplines are eternally good and are always available no matter the depth of my distress. Thank You for the desert places You have brought me though. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

May 19th, 2019

Recognition

Acts 3:10 “And they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms.”

Observation: The setting is the gate called Beautiful. Peter and John were heading to morning prayers when they came upon a beggar who asked alms of them. In response, Peter said he had no money, but he would give what he had: “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.” To the crowd’s amazement, the beggar responded by leaping to his feet, ankles suddenly strengthened, and accompanied the disciples into the temple “leaping and praising God.” (v. 8). And then this: they took note of him as being the one who used to beg at the temple gate.

Application: Then, as now, there were likely two kinds of beggars. First are those headed somewhere on a trip when their camel breaks down and they have no money for food or housing while the local vet makes needed repairs. These are temporary beggars, reduced by unanticipated loss to seeking help to continue on their journey to Nebraska.

But there is another kind of beggar…one who has been at it a while. He has no occupation other than begging. Always on the same corner with a well-worn cardboard sign, his fixture has become permanent on the landscape. This is the kind of beggar Peter and John encountered: lame from birth, he has no other occupation.

The disciples’ generosity and boldness are striking. They take note of him and not only pray but then raise him up by his right hand; as they did so, the miracle happened (v. 7), profound and visible to all.

But what convicts my heart is that the regulars in the crowd recognized him as being the former beggar. We aren’t told that anyone actually knew him, but they recognized him. And I wonder…would I have registered recognition? When I see a beggar do I engage him or her in any meaningful way, or do I roll up the window and toward the important task of fiddling with the radio? I wonder how many times I might pass the same poor soul before I, like the crowd at the Beautiful Gate, began to truly realize that this disheveled, dirty man, beloved of the Father just as I am, is an actual person, someone with a real name, with a past made up of who-knows-what painful circumstances…a real person with hopes and dreams now diminished by circumstances, but a child of God none-the-less.

How willing am I to allow such a scene to intrude upon my own heart to the point that I give what I have, at the very least offering my best by praying, and perhaps giving financially or in some other way engaging in meaningful connection with a brother or sister for whom the Lord died? When did I last act so as to cause a hurting one to declare, as did Hagar, that “You are the God who sees me!” (Gen. 16:13)?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive my smugness that would all me to pass in disdain by one such as these, refusing even a prayer in their behalf. Break my heart, Lord, by Your view of the poor whether on my walking path or on the other side of the world. Tap my wealth in their behalf, whether of my wallet or of my heart, and cause generosity to spring forth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May 18th, 2019

Castle Archives

Isaiah 37:14(b) “…and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord.”

Observation: The King of Assyria was on a rampage to conquer every tribe and nation within reach. Preceding chapters recounted his numerous victories, and now he was bringing his intimidating tactics against Judah’s good King Hezekiah, sending messengers to Hezekiah with a threatening letter that lists other kingdoms he’s wiped out, and warning Hezekiah to “not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria” (v. 10). Hezekiah’s response was to go “to the house of the Lord and spread it (the letter) before the Lord.”

Application: How easy it would have been for Hezekiah to cower in fear before Assyria’s threatened onslaught…to break into a cold sweat with night after night of sleepless turning. Don’t I do that? Has the enemy of my soul not been able to capture territory in my own heart and mind that can cause me to shrink in fear and trembling? It seems I have my own personal Assyrian king who comes to me with a litany of coming dooms: financial collapse, broken relationships, sundering of freedoms…the list is long and creative in its ability to strike fear.

But Hezekiah responded well. He went to his prayer closet and laid before the Lord everything that struck fear, every intended diminishment and evil threat. As Assyria’s king leveled bombast and threats, Hezekiah’s response was to tear his clothes, cover himself with sackcloth and go into God’s presence. He then sent for Isaiah who assured him of God’s deliverance (v. 7).

It would be nice if I had a personal Isaiah to turn to when my heart encounters my own Assyrians. A counterpoint voice of assurance would be so welcome in such times…an Isaiah who would assure me of Assyria’s defeat.

In fact I do have a personal Isaiah. He says things like, “Do not be afraid.” “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” “Lay your burdens down.” “Trust Me.” “I am able.” Yet I admit to still sleeplessly soaking my pillow with sweat and tears.

Hezekiah did two things proactively worth mimicking. He admitted his utter dependence upon God, pictured by tearing his clothes and covering himself in sackcloth. While sackcloth is in short supply perhaps confession, self-denial and fasting would suffice as places to start. But then he did the second important thing: he went into the Lord’s presence and exercised the same divine exchange that I am able to do if only I will. He laid all his burdens before the Lord and left them there. The Word doesn’t say that he later took the Assyrian’s letter back for the castle archives. Instead he gave it all, proactively, purposefully, to the only One who could help, exchanging His sackcloth and fears for the immutable assurance of the Lord’s deliverance.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the good example of Hezekiah. Assyrians will always threaten, yet You promise to overcome them all. Cause me to be quick to admit when calamity seems poised to overwhelm, and to turn to You. I choose to lay my burdens at the foot of the Cross and to put on Your new life. What a great exchange! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

May 17th, 2019

Once More Around the Mountain

Deuteronomy 2:3 “You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north…”

Observation: The nation of Israel was near the end of their 40-year exile, and Moses was recounting important passages from their journey. Early on they had licked their wounds from defeat at the hands of the Amorites, and they had retreated to the safety of Mt. Seir, which they circled for many days (2:1).

This repeated a pattern already established, with one important difference. This time they would hear and obey the Lord as He led them safely through enemy territory: Step by step, turn by turn they moved as the Lord directed; in doing so, they proved victorious in every battle.

But it hadn’t always been like that. Earlier the Lord had spoken similarly: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and set your journey to the hill country of the Amorites…” (1:6). It was a call to go in and possess the land that the Lord had sworn to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (1:8). Only this time they chickened out. They got to the border of the Amorites, dug in their heels, and were condemned to forty years of desert wanderings.

Application: But I am struck by the phrase, “You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn…” The Israelites heard it twice. The first time led to disobedience and a very long exile, while the second time they obeyed and experienced the Lord’s protection. They were still in exile…that part of their lives had not changed; their circumstances still bore the fruit of disobedience, but now, even as they had to walk out His disciplines, at least they would do so with His protection and favor.

“You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn.” How many times have I heard that? Caught in some seemingly intractable hard place, a way of escape has been promised, yet I continue to wallow in fear or remorse. Excuses for disobedience pile to the ceiling as I imagine all that could go wrong. I fear doing the one thing God bids me to do and I hang back, mired in the mud of apparent fleshly circumstances when all along God offers a way of escape if I would just fix my mind upon Him and take the steps He has proscribed.

Prayer: Father, You say in Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” (5:1). And then, “You were called to freedom…” (v. 13). Upon my response hinge the next 40 years. Grant me courage to respond wisely. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

May 16th, 2019

A Bold Pitch

Mark 10:51 “What do you want Me to do for you?”

Observation: Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” is His response to one of the most arrogant statements in all of Scripture. James and John had just come to Him saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Jesus’ rebuke was both blunt and direct, saying that among unbelievers men rule over one another, but the Kingdom is different; here we are to serve one another, even to the point of laying down our lives for one another (v. 42-45). Just a few verses later, in a completely different setting, Jesus asked the same question of blind Bartimaeus, saying “What do you want Me to do for you?” but with a very different result.

Application: Just think of it! Try reading their demand slowly, half a dozen times, and see if its brazenness, its arrogance doesn’t increase with each reading. Apparently they didn’t even have enough wisdom to make their bold pitch privately, because the other disciples heard and became indignant (v. 41).

What sense of superior privilege must James and John have carried in their hearts to make such a presumptive statement to the Lord? It isn’t hard to think critically of them, but I wonder…am I all that different? As I stop to reflect honestly, I have to admit that I, too, have carried within my heart a litany of desires revealing self-serving, self-promoting plans. How many times have I asked Him to bless the work of my hands when the better course would have been to ask Him to let me in on whatever He is up to?

On the other hand, poor blind beggar Bartimaeus was well in touch with his need.  But his cry to Jesus seems not to have been motivated by the arrogance of the Sons of Thunder. When he cried, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” it flowed from a heart filled with faith in the only One who could truly heal. It was a request…a plea…not a demand.  Jesus rewarded his faith by healing him with just a spoken word. I should realize that when Jesus asks the question, “What do you want Me to do for you?”, it is never motivated by His need for more information; rather, it is always for my benefit. I need His light shined into my interior darkness.

Verses 43-45 are worth repeating here, and remembering: “…but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus…reveal the motivation of my heart! Bring conviction when I ask in arrogance rather than in humility, when I seek to prevail in a situation rather than to assume the position of servant. Cause me to become effective in advancing the kingdom, Lord, that I might spent eternity in Your sweet presence.

May 15th, 2019

Party Favor

Mark 6:27 “…and He went and had him beheaded in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.”

Observation: Herodias’ daughter had danced before King Herod and his party guests. In response, Herod offered her any reward she wished, so at the urging of her mother, the girl asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. In response, the king sent an executioner to carry out the deed. His pride was at the root of this heinous crime. The Word says he felt regret but “because of his dinner guests (v. 26) he was unwilling to refuse her.

Application: Herod was led into profound sin because of his pride and arrogance, but there is another, more convicting thought that arises as I read: see how easy it is to develop immunity from tragedy visited upon others? For Herod and his guests this exchange was but a few minutes’ interruption before they would all turn again to the party that was their higher priority. But for John and his friends, Herod’s command had the most profound, life-altering implications. Even as John’s head was presented to Herodias as a gruesome party favor, John’s friends were dealing with his headless corpse and with their unimaginable anguish, their lives forever altered.

And I wonder: how much like Herod and his friends am I? When someone asks for prayer due to approaching surgery, when a friend finds herself in the throes of deep loss due to divorce or death, I may respond wonderfully in the moment, but how am I at follow-up? Do I pray repeatedly in coming weeks, or treat it as just a one-time duty? Do I take food or send a note, or better yet make myself available to just listen, without offering advice? Or do I treat their loss, their anguish as an out-of-sight thing that need not interrupt my own party, my daily life’s flow?

All too often I have treated a friend’s devastation as a party favor presented once to the King so I can go on about my business.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I realize that my compassion is rarely like Yours. Show me what it means to truly give myself to another, withholding nothing of the time and money at my disposal. I have nothing except by Your blessing, so cause my resources to be repositioned at Your disposal, Lord.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May 14th, 2019

Foiled Again

Matthew 27:66 “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”

Observation: Jesus had been crucified the previous day and Jewish leaders had gone to Pilate asking that the grave be made secure to prevent Jesus’ followers from stealing His body and falsely claiming He had been raised from the dead. So Pilate told them to post their own guard, making it “as secure as you know how.” (v. 65) So they posted guards and set a seal upon the stone.

Application: I have never before noticed that they set a seal upon the stone. The posting of guards is familiar, but the fact of the seal is new to me, and I wonder: is the idea of a seal significant? This phrase immediately evokes another place in Scripture where a seal and a grave are presented. Song of Solomon 8:6-7 says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart…for love is as strong as death, jealousy as severe as the grave.” Here in this greatest song of all songs, a seal is set as a way of confirming victory over the grave, over death itself. Hot wax was to join two objects, and the signet of the king would be imprinted into the wax signifying authority over death itself.

The idea of a seal being set upon the bridegroom’s heart has a rich history in the affairs of men. The seal was symbolic of the king’s ownership. When his ring’s imprint was set in hot wax, whatever was thus sealed became sacrosanct. A contingent of soldiers would be dispatched to safely deliver a sealed document to its intended recipient, but if the seal was already broken upon arrival, those assigned to deliver the document safely would be executed. In this setting of a seal upon the heart there was also the absolute certainty that the bridegroom was both willing and able to perform what had been requested: to seal for eternity His bride to Himself. None would enjoy her except her bridegroom. So when Solomon wrote, he was describing the Bridegroom’s unending love for His bride.

A temporal king such as Pilate may set his seal where he wishes; princes of men, even leaders of the church might lay claim to victory over the grave, but love wins every time. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. It bursts through the darkness of sin and death. Try as I might to keep my own places of failure and doubt sealed away beneath wax and a stone, Jesus’ love breaks through, foiling again every tendency toward darkness.

Prayer: Father, the whole point of Your Book is that this whole journey is to end at a banquet table, where we who are committed to King Jesus, our heavenly Bridegroom, will be invited to His wedding table to be sealed with Him for all eternity. I ask You now, Lord, to remind me in fresh ways that Your purposes will not be foiled…that You have won over death and the grave for all time.

May 13th, 2019

Missed Opportunity

1 Samuel 5:8(b) “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?”

Observation: Philistines had captured God’s ark when Israel, in presumption, had carried it into battle. Eli, Israel’s leading priest, had fallen over and died when he heard news (v. 4:18) of the Ark’s capture and the death of his two sons in battle. The Philistines knew they had taken an important prize and placed the Ark next to their god Dagon in his temple. The next day they found poor Dagon flat on his carved face, so they righted him only to find it there following day not only fallen again, but this time beheaded with his hands broken off (v. 5:4) and the local citizenry afflicted with devastating tumors (v. 5:6). So they asked the logical question: “What shall we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?”

Application: What a fascinating illustration of the power of sin’s stronghold on a people. Israel had lost over 30,000 troops in the battle against the Philistines. All the armor, all the weapons, all the heavy artillery they brought to bear against the enemy was for naught…everything was lost. But God’s Presence resided in the captured Ark. And from there He did greater damage and instilled more fear into the Philistines than 30,000 warriors had been able to do.

Yet the peoples’ response was not to fall on their face to worship this God who had shown Himself so powerful. Instead, their only reaction was to ask, “Now that we have this thing, what do we do with it? It’s causing us unprecedented pain, so how can we get rid of it?”

Talk about missed opportunity! The Source of salvation Himself was in their midst, yet they were so bound by darkness as to never have considered that the potential for freedom was at hand. I wonder…how many times have I acted as they did? Planning perhaps to do something a bit on the shady side….something I know better than to do…God’s conviction comes and I have a choice to make, a choice to change course and yield to Him, but too often I would instead plot ever more carefully to keep my secret, and plow forward. Eventually, like Dagon, I fall on my face, utterly broken before the God of the universe, undone by His convicting love.

I ought to consider Luke 12:45-46 here: “But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live inside me, to bring conviction when I allow my thoughts to wander far from You. Make me quick to recognize conviction as a great river of Your love washing over me, protecting and guiding me back to peace. Back to joy. Back to contentedness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.