June 20th, 2018

Wrecking Ball

Exodus 23:29-31 “I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out from before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land…I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.”

Observation: God showed Himself to be both thoughtful and strategic as to how to bring freedom and deliverance to His people. He had a pace in mind that would enable the Israelites to be set free yet not be overwhelmed with the success of the effort.

Application: Well, this is certainly not the approach I would use were I in charge of things. But imagine the profligate accustomed to having her own way in every area of life. Never yielding to authority, seeking constantly to satisfy fleshly desires at the expense of another, has she bullied through life inflicting pain and rejection upon those who dare come close enough for relationship. Her health has been dissipated through hard living, and her moral values could hardly be at greater odds from the Father’s.

So often my heart cries out for a fast deliverance, for freedom to come at once, with little effort on my part. This passage suggests such quick and easy release may not be in my best interests. Each old habit must be replaced with new; old priorities must be rebuilt using new materials; old structures of belief and behavior may need a wrecking ball before reconstruction can be attempted. Then very deliberately, He begins working on whatever part He chooses.

I want my issues to be dealt with now. I want freedom from unrighteous habits to come all at once. But God, in His wisdom, provides that deliverance gradually, enabling me to savor and more fully appreciate increasing measures of freedom. 

I love the idea in Exodus 23:31 of partnering with God, as He is the one who delivers my enemies into my hand. But the next step is for me to be the one to drive them out. Being remade in His image is always a process rather than the one-time event I might prefer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am thankful for Your wisdom in giving me the choice to walk in the deliverance You provide. Thank You that I can look back over long periods of time and see that little by little, I have learned to cooperate with what You want to do in my heart. Thank You for grace during all those times that I’ve been a slow learner, and for Your faithfulness to never give up on me.

June 19th, 2018

Houston, We Have a Problem

Acts 3:26 “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

Observation: Peter had called his listeners to repent, that they might have their sins wiped away and experience times of refreshing. He had said that this Servant, Christ, has been prophesied from the earliest days of the Jewish people, and he reminded his hearers that because they sprang from Abraham’s seed, they are intended to receive the blessings of God that can come only from Christ.

Application: This message was infuriating to the religious hierarchy of the day, yet it contained desperately needed hope for every honest heart. Still, even for the average reader, there is within Paul’s writing a conundrum, for he says that it is in turning each of us from our wicked ways that we are to be blessed.

Houston, we have a problem! I can imagine that being turned from my wicked ways might be a blessing, but as God is doing the turning it doesn’t necessarily seem like the blessing this verse describes. Instead, this statement takes on the ring of the familiar parenting truth: “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!” In the moments just before impact, how believable is that, really? As the child is bent over to receive her discipline, does she not experience fear coursing through her veins? Who among us, upon hearing such a claim, does not dread the coming moments? Do we honestly view what is about to happen as intended to produce blessing?

Instead, God’s efforts to turn me from my wicked ways may feel like anything but a blessing. It feels more like pain or loss or threatening circumstances of all kinds. I well recall a season in my life when a beloved child’s rebellion was so profound that my prayer was for God to cause his pain to increase, that he would quickly come to the end of himself. In the end, God blessed that prayer and a prodigal reunion followed, but it required years of courage to await God’s promised results.

This verse, then, is a great reminder of the importance of knowing and trusting the Word of God, rather than my feelings. I must believe without question that His desire is for my best, and that He seeks to have intimate fellowship with me forever.

Prayer: Father, I am so thankful that You are faithful to work on my heart issues as the Word says, always for the purpose of blessing me. Thank You for this reminder that my feelings aren’t trustworthy. Make me eager, Lord, to invite You to dig deeply into the soil of my heart to bring correction wherever it’s needed.

June 18th, 2018

Graduation Day

Exodus 3:3-4 “So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’”

Observation: These verses are the turning point in Moses’s life, and in the life of the children of Israel. Moses had been living for forty years in a desert place, self-exiled from Egypt because of his violence against harsh taskmasters. Then, in the course of his simple daily life, he had an encounter with God manifested through a bush that, though it burned, was not consumed by fire. 

Application: It is good that Moses had curiosity, for it was to lead to his graduation day. He was about to move from being a simple shepherd to the deliverer of a nation. Confronted by a miraculous curiosity in the midst of the desert, Moses turned aside to investigate. In the course, he learned more not merely about the heart of God, but about his own destiny as well.

Imagine Moses’s trepidation as he approached this astonishing sight. He must have felt the same fear that I recall as a child peering into a dark basement in wonder at unfamiliar sounds. The house creaked and groaned in the windy night; terror entered the mind in contemplation of the unknown. Slowly, tentatively, I searched for the string attached to the bare bulb overhead. As light filled the room, trepidation subsided.

That must be what it was like for Moses. Over the next several verses, God had a conversation with Moses; the unfamiliar and terrifying gradually became well enough known that Moses was able to debate the wisdom of God’s plan: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11).

How often do I just skim life’s surface, too busy or too disinterested to probe more deeply what God is doing in the people around me or even in my own heart? How much of God have I missed by not delving deeper? The wonderful thing is that when I do turn aside to learn more, as Moses did, I find that God is always there, ready for a word with me or a revelation of more of His character.

Prayer: Lord, I am so thankful that You are ready to meet me every time I slow down enough to turn toward You. Forgive me, Lord, for missing so much of You over the years. Cause my heart to quicken to Your voice, and deepen my discipline to obey. I don’t want to miss You again.

June 17th, 2018

The Approaching Iceberg

1 Samuel 18:10 “An evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul.”

Observation: Saul’s mental deterioration had already begun, as God had earlier lifted His anointing due to Saul’s rebellion and sin. Now, Saul’s destruction is set and certain.

Application:     How little I understand the ways of God. I want desperately to think I can spend my life in a private party with God—a kind of intimate dance with Him that just goes on and on. Like the young child who complains at bedtime because of reluctance to end an evening of great fun, so I long constantly to be in fellowship with Him.

Certainly, I know that for His part, that is what He desires for His bride. Yet here I read that He is also a God who sends evil spirits. What kind of paradox is that?  The fact is, Saul had sinned, and was doomed. Oh, his dance continued. Saul was not yet aware of his coming destruction. He had glimmers of awareness, but had not accepted the fullness of it. Saul reminds me of a massive ship, slipping silently and inexorably toward an iceberg. The watchman sees the coming doom, but the others on board are still oblivious. 

I do what I want; I go against God’s laws, and assume that because the music continues and the drinks still flow, all is well. But with each passing moment, the iceberg looms closer. 

God is looking for men and women with hearts that burn after Him, not for people whose hearts are focused primarily on the things of this world. He wants me to have ears that long for His music, rather than pursue the discordant music I can make myself. He is jealous to be my only dance partner as I go through life, yet I wander repeatedly to the punch bowl to see what other enticements life holds.

Prayer: Lord, how convicted I am of the tension in my heart. Part of me desperately wants to belong fully to you, but there’s this other part that’s not yet dead to sin. Make me fully alive to Christ. Cleanse me, Lord; purify me; cause me to turn from all pursuits that don’t glorify You, that I might have eyes only for You.

June 16th, 2018

Beautiful Dreamer

Matthew 2:19-22 “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’  So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judah in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee.”

Observation: Joseph had originally fled with his family into Egypt in response to a dream, and now he was returning to Israel because of a second dream. Then, remarkably, he had yet a third dream from which he received still further specific direction.

Application:     God’s method of communicating with Joseph is fascinating . . . and convicting to the point of near jealousy. I think it would be wonderful to just fall asleep and hear God give me such specific instruction for my own life. 

There were other dreamers in the Bible, too, and each holds similar compelling attractiveness. Of course, miracles such as this cause the heart to burn with desire for more of God, and the temptation is to say, “I want one of those in my life, Lord!” 

But the fact is, my life is already a miracle of His love. He does speak to me. He guides me through His word and through the godly example set by believers all around me. I wonder how much more I might hear His voice tomorrow if I fully responded to Him today? 

What’s really intriguing about Joseph isn’t that God consistently conveyed such clear instruction to Joseph or even the method of conveyance. Rather, the convicting thing about all this is that apparently earlier in his life Joseph disciplined himself to hear God’s voice. God had tested Joseph before and taught Joseph the importance of full and quick obedience in less profound matters of life. When the time came to entrust His own Son’s life to an earthly father for a few years, God knew He could count on Joseph because his ears were already attuned to heaven.

Prayer: Lord, teach me to listen, and to obey as Joseph did.

June 15th, 2018

Obedience! Obedience! Obedience!

1 Samuel 15:3, 21 “Utterly destroy all…oxen, sheep, camels and donkeys.” . . . ‘But the people took some of the spoil.’”

1 Samuel 16:1 “’How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go!’”

Matthew 1:24  “Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife.”

Observation: The readings for today reinforce to my heart this one theme: Obey God! In 1 Samuel 15, Saul only partially obeyed. He did in fact go to war, but he didn’t do as God demanded. Rather, he kept the best of the animals, cowardly blaming his disobedience on “the people,” then tried to justify disobedience by telling God he did it so he could sacrifice to God. God’s response was to tear the kingdom from Saul and to allow mental instability to overtake him.

In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel was grieving over Saul, and was fearful of obeying God’s command to anoint a new king because he thought Saul would hear of it and kill him. God’s paraphrased response was, “Get over it!” In other words, “Be obedient. Now.”

Finally, in Matthew 1:24, by his response, Joseph proved himself the best of these three men.

All Joseph could have known in the natural was that his fiancée was pregnant, and he knew he wasn’t the one who had impregnated her. But in a dream, he heard an angel of the Lord tell him to marry her anyway. When he awoke, he simply arose and did as he had been told. In a dream, no less!

Application: Amazing! The church is quick to celebrate Mary, and indeed she was a remarkable young girl, uniquely favored by God, and uniquely responsive to Him. But how about her young husband Joseph, with nothing to rely on but a dream, choosing instantly to obey?

How many hours of quiet time must he have logged to have a heart so attuned to hearing and obeying God? What must his secret life in God have been like? For how many years had his heart longed for relationship with God? We don’t hear much more about him; he really never had a public presence in the Scriptures, but everything we do hear is remarkably consistent.

Prayer: Oh God! Give me a Joseph heart. Make me quick to hear and obey.

June 14th, 2018

Well-Placed Faith

1 Samuel 14:6 “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”

Observation: The setting is this: Israel was terrified of the Philistines, they were largely disarmed, and many of them were hiding in caves. Jonathan, Saul’s son, took his armor-bearer up a rugged pass toward a garrison of twenty Philistine soldiers. As they advanced, Jonathan reassured his armor-bearer with the above statement.

Application:     What faith Jonathan had! The great men  Eli and Samuel had sons who turned out badly. But here we see the reverse. Saul had not been king long, but he had already acted in presumption and disobedience, and had shown himself to be cowardly. His son, Jonathan, however, showed that he must have been cultivating a heart for God because his statement reflected perfect understanding of God’s character and power. It showed his faith in a God who can accomplish His purposes regardless of the human resources we bring to the table. Earlier in the verse for today’s reading, he referred to the Philistines as “these uncircumcised,” which was a foreshadowing of the shepherd David who would derisively call Goliath an uncircumcised Philistine. This wasn’t a comment on the enemy’s anatomy. It was a statement of recognition that the speaker belonged to God Almighty, while the uncircumcised had no power and authority to rely on other than their own resources. It was a confident assertion that God was going to win this fight, and that He could do it through a mighty fighting force or through just these two ordinary guys.

This is a wonderful verse to stir up faith in me by reminding me to keep my eyes on God, who is really the One carrying the battle. When I grow discouraged in the face of uncircumcised Philistines in my life, whether witnessing to people who need the Lord or caring for a dying spouse—whatever God has called me to do—I need to remember to leave the results in His hand. And when victory is achieved, all celebration should remind me that it’s Him I celebrate; the victory is His!

Prayer:  Father, thank You for Jonathan’s example of faith in You. It takes God to make God known, and I ask that You would lead me into the kind of secret life in You that must have been Jonathan’s.

June 13th, 2018

Testing the Heart

1 Samuel 13:8, 13-14 “Now he waited seven days according to the appointed time set by Samuel…Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God…The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.’”

2 Corinthians 12:14: “I do not seek what is yours, but you.”

Observation: God had earlier told Saul that Samuel was to offer the sacrifices; this was the job of the priest, not the king. Now, God pressed in on Saul to expose Saul’s heart by preventing Samuel’s arrival to happen quickly enough to “rescue” Saul from his fear. So Saul took matters into his own hands by doing what only the priest of God was to do—he offered the sacrifices himself.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was saying to the people the same thing that Samuel said to Saul: Actions matter, because they expose what is in the heart. God can use someone who seeks Him wholeheartedly, but He will reject those who claim to belong to Him, yet act in the flesh.

Application: When I am uncertain which way to go or when to move, it is wise to wait on the Lord. But if God has already told me not to do something, then I must certainly not do it. Even if the world seems to bring defeat in the meantime, I will have God’s approval if in waiting, my heart and mind have been fixed on Him.

Paul spoke something that is always true of godly motivation when he said, “I do not seek what is yours, but you.” It seems that once I have become fully His in every sense of the word—once I have come fully surrendered to Him, holding nothing back—then God knows that not only does He have my heart, but He also has all my other resources, as well: time, talents, and money. He will test my heart in this as He tested Saul by delaying Samuel’s return. His goal is always to reveal my heart, a revelation that is for my benefit, not God’s. I need to see my heart as God already sees it. Through testing, all that is within me is revealed.

Prayer: Father, I understand that exposure of my heart’s true motive is the only way You can move me from my current place of comfort into a new place of growth. So thank You, Lord that You love me enough today not to leave me in the same place I was yesterday.

June 12th, 2018

Kept by His Good Name

1 Samuel 12:21-22 “You must not turn aside for then you would go after futile things which cannot profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.”

Observation: Samuel had just reminded the people that they had sinned in asking that a king be appointed to rule them. Their motive was that they wanted to be like the other nations of the earth. Yet even so, the Lord had said if they would fear Him and worship Him, both the people and their king would do well.

Application:     This is a huge, sweeping promise from God that if I will not turn aside from following Him (that is, going after futile things); if I will remain focused like a laser on Him, then He will keep me, He will protect me. Why would He do that? Not because of my goodness or my righteousness, but because of His great name!

This would be echoed generations later when Paul asked, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35), and the answer resounded through the ages, Nothing! No one. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39).­­

Only one thing has the power to separate me from the love of God: my choice, my free will. I, like the Israelites of Samuel’s time, have the power within my mind, will, and emotions to decide whether I will serve and love Him above all else, or whether I will follow false gods.

Prayer: Father, there is no in-between, is there? This is light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, isn’t it? Make me a hot-hearted lover of You. Cause me to cling to You with a depth of passion and focus that only You can cause to rise up within me. I choose this day to serve and to love You above all else.

June 11th, 2018

Failing Fathers

1 Samuel 8:3-5 “Samuel’s sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel…and said, ‘Behold, you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.’”

Observation: Samuel, like Eli before him, produced sons who were not worthy of their father’s inheritance. They were not qualified to fill his shoes, so the people used that as an excuse to ask for a king to be established over them. God, of course, knew the reality and told Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 3:7).

Application: With Eli we saw the weak attempts he made to correct his sons; with Samuel, there is no mention of how or whether he tried to bring correction. 

We also don’t know the core reasons that both prophets’ sons rebelled. It may have been that growing up in a household of privilege had spoiled them. It may have been that the fathers were simply too busy with their work and neglected their more primary responsibility to reproduce godly sons. Or, with Samuel’s sons, it may simply have been their choices, having little to do with what their father taught or didn’t teach.

The result was that the people knew the sons were not qualified to fill their father’s shoes. None of this caught God by surprise; earlier, in Deuteronomy, God had described a time when the people would want a king for themselves.  That realization is wonderfully comforting to me, because it shows that even when my failures are greatest, God is always able to redeem the situation. He can restore; He can make a new way; He can bring good out of my most hopeless messes. I and those I love are never beyond His reach.

Prayer: Father, what a comfort it is to read of another father who, like me, fell  short of Your ideal in raising his family. I am so thankful that You are constantly at work restoring the hearts of the sons and daughters to the father, and the hearts of fathers to their children. Thank You that none of the pain and difficulty is ever wasted; You use it all, like bricks in the hands of a master mason, to make each of us more effective in Your service for the rest of our lives.