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.

April 3rd, 2020

No Curtain Calls

Galatians 1:24 “And they praised God because of me” (NIV).

Observation: In this opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he said he was “astonished” (Gal. 1:6) that people he had only recently had a hand in bringing to Christ are so readily abandoning the pure Gospel in favor of easier teachings. He reminded them of the purity of his calling and said that the revelation he shared with them was not something contrived on his own, but given directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. He said that upon conversion he had not sought man’s wisdom by going to seminary in Jerusalem; he had merely started preaching what he knew to be the truth. As proof of his credibility, he says that even to places where he was personally unknown, the testimony of his conversion preceded him: “‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me” (v. 24).

Application: The most powerful thing Paul had going for him was simply the evidence of a changed life. I once was blind but now I see. I was lost, but now am found. I formerly lived in darkness but now have seen a great light. The Gospel’s simplicity is its ability to, in a single moment, change literally everything.

Paul’s authority flowed from the changes God had wrought in his own heart. In his testimony I hear not a word about such power gifts as healings, tongues, prophetic words, or resurrections from the dead. These things and more did indeed attend Paul, but he never represented them as being the source of his power or authority.

This causes me to wonder. Do I become discontent with the Gospel alone and long to add other dimensions to it? When I suffer lack of a prayed-for result, is my faith shaken, or does it rest on bedrock belief in Jesus that is utterly immovable? When confronted by a mountain of need, am I caught in a subtle shift away from reliance only on His permanent work on the Cross, hoping that He will do just this one more thing I now petition Him for? (“Lord, You have healed so many; why not my wife, just this once?”) He loves that I bring Him my requests; He loves my trust in His limitless abilities. But at the end of the day, He owes me no further performances. He said, “It is finished”; there need be no curtain calls after Calvary. To the extent that I require something more from Him, I must re-examine faith’s foundations and urgently make all necessary correction.

Prayer: Lord, I confess I grow excited as I see evidences of Your hand in my life. I thrill to see the miraculous. But I am reminded, Lord, that Your work is only ultimately focused upon changing my heart. You have made me Yours irrevocably. That is enough. Thank You, Lord.

April 2nd, 2020

Are We There Yet?

Deuteronomy 2:5 “Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on” (NIV).

Observation: Israel had begun their desert wanderings under God’s specific direction. In Deuteronomy 2:4, He had said they were about to pass through the territory He had given to Esau’s descendants. Even though the Esau-ites would fear Israel, the Hebrews were to pay a fair price in silver for any food or water they needed. Finally, thirty-eight years later, God repeated the same theme regarding land He gave to the descendants of Lot (v. 19).

Application: Who among us has not heard the plaintive question from the back seat, “Are we there yet”? Apparently the Hebrews didn’t have the foresight to outfit the second hump of their camels with DVD players. Such an immature question communicates that I have entered unfamiliar territory. So my destination could just as well be around the next corner as forty years away. Doesn’t the first trip over new ground always seem longest?

The wearying question comes from a child with no perspective as to time or space. From the confines of a car seat, a three-year-old brain accepts one place as being as good as the next. Why couldn’t “here” be as satisfying as Cleveland? Also, the question conveys limited understanding of the full rigors of the road yet ahead. God apparently anticipated childlike tendencies of the wandering Jews. Whether their trip had just begun or they were a road-weary thirty-eight years along, He knew He must repeatedly warn them against seizing second best.

How like those Hebrews am I! God intends a certain prize for me; in fact, Paul wrote about pressing on “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward” (Phil. 3:14). God will not allow my impatience or lack of vision to settle for anything less than the perfect place He has prepared for me…a place of security and safety snuggled warmly next to His heart. Obstacles may present themselves, challenges may arise, and rest stops may be necessary, but He will not countenance my stopping until I have reached the place He had in mind for me all along. There is joy in such a journey if I will but understand it has been tailored by the mind of God specifically for me. There may be some aimless wandering along the way; I may come upon invitingly weak fences that tempt me to cross over into “pretty good” land. But pretty good is never His best. In the words of Dennis Jernigan’s magnificent song, He wants me “right next to His heart, face to face.”

Prayer: O Father, how I long to rest in Your strong arms at last. Thank You for the unsettling perspective that comes from lingering too long in a place of second best. Stir me, Lord, to press on toward perfect intimacy in You.

April 1st, 2020

The Contortionist’s Trick

Deuteronomy 1:31 “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son” (NIV).

Observation: At the edge of the Promised Land, Moses began summarizing the reasons for the Israelites’ long desert exile…until all in the previous generation had died. In further describing what the people had turned away from, Moses reached for a metaphor of intimacy: “The Lord…carried you as a father carries his son.”

Application: What a delightful thought, to be carried by God as a father carries his son! The possibilities of what that might look like are endless. Think first of the man injured by Egypt’s harsh taskmasters. Bloodied welts now dried are nonetheless still tender to the touch and a tongue swollen from heat and thirst can no longer cry for help, yet the father picks him out of the painful debris, carrying his limp form in extended arms to a place of healing and rest.

Or consider the exhausted woman made angry by years of oppression and struggle. Unable to summon strength to walk farther on her own, the father scoops her up and holds her to his chest, her head resting on his shoulder as his strong legs carry her to freedom and release. Or, picture a playful child laughing in delight as he races toward the father utterly confident that he will be swept into the air, held securely by the father’s sure hands as they twirl together in a delighted dance.

I have a father who is exactly like this. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with His love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). His heart literally explodes with love for me. No crouching danger, no wasting disease, no thought of emotional or physical abandonment can gain foothold in a heart carried by the Father. That’s why His heart broke when the Israelites said no to Him. That’s why He is so grieved when He sees me labor to carry myself, to make my own way through life. His disciplines come in response to my decisions, but as painful as they may be, they are always for the purpose of restoration. Whether I require forty minutes, forty years, or a whole lifetime, His one desire is to carry me like a father carries his child. In His safe, secure arms, absolutely nothing can separate me from His love.

Prayer: Father God, all You desire is a yes in my heart toward You, isn’t it? A final, full surrender. Forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have tried the contortionist’s trick of carrying myself; how Your heart must have saddened. It is good, indeed, to be carried by You. Thank You for Your great love.

March 31st, 2020

Edges of God’s Best

Deuteronomy 1:3 “Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded concerning them” (NIV).

Observation: Forty years of wandering in the desert had ended, and Moses was proclaiming God’s precepts to the Israelites. Key enemies had been defeated, and it was nearly time for the nation to cross the Jordan River into Canaan, the Promised Land. First, though, Moses recounted key milestones they had passed in arriving at this historic day.

Application: Forty years in the desert! Imagine the anticipation of the people. Forty years of wandering around the edges of God’s best, and now the invitation to enter into His perfect place is at hand. Imagine the eagerness of the people to get on with it, to cross the river and lay claim to that which their fathers had forfeited through their lack of faith and resulting disobedience.

But first, they had to endure a very long speech from a very old, though revered, leader, a speech that would recount key events from their entire forty-year sojourn. Imagine their frustration and impatience as they listened to what must have seemed an ill-timed and interminably long history lesson given by the oldest Hebrew any of them had ever laid eyes on. And yet, they apparently listened. They knew why they had endured a forty-year discipline. They understood why they had for forty long years lived in nomads’ tents unable to plant crops, lay out a town square or establish cemeteries for their dead. As the clock ticked off passing years, one year for every day the fearful spies had scouted the land, they remembered.

What would it be like if I could know when my own desert experiences would end? “You will struggle this long, then release will come.” Like the prisoner whose sentence has an ending point, so must the Israelites have anticipated this day. I, though, am without such certainty. I long to know. I cry, “When will this end?” Time spent on calloused knees seems interminable as I wait for His answer. I yearn to see His hand holding keys to bring release and breakthrough, yet the slow clock ticks. But beloved, the clock need not govern my heart if I will but shift my focus from His hand to His face. By gazing into the smiling face of my loving God, I am able to enjoy His daily manna, abound and thrive in the fullness of His presence, not merely persevere at the edges of His best. To be content with His intimate bridal dance in the here and now changes, literally, everything.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I confess I grow impatient and weary in the journey when my focus is on the end of exile. Cause me today to simply enjoy Your sweet embrace; I choose to put down my wearying load so I can fall fully into Your loving arms.

March 30th, 2020

Billionaire’s Vanity

1 Corinthians 13:3 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (NIV).

Observation: Paul opened the chapter by saying, “Now I will show you the most excellent way,” and in the first three verses he offered profoundly troubling images describing love. He said he would be no more than a resounding gong or clanging cymbal if he spoke even in the language of angels but did not have love. He then said that if he possessed all prophetic knowledge, even if accompanied by faith sufficient to move mountains but didn’t have love, he was worthless. Finally, giving all his possessions to the poor or surrendering his life for the faith by being burned at the stake, if not motivated by love, would be for naught.

Application: The danger in such familiarity with a chapter like this one is that I may read it casually, missing its deepest meanings. In the first three verses, Paul considered motivations of the heart…outward actions and inner condition. Paul may be dealing in hyperbole. Surely no one could speak with tongues of angels; who has any idea what that would sound like, anyway? But if I could, would I benefit from it? Or, if I had such an awesome gift of prophetic revelation that I could pray perfectly over every need, wouldn’t credit for that abound to my account in God’s eyes? 

It isn’t likely I would ever volunteer for martyrdom, but if I were to follow Him even in death, surely it would produce great favor with Him. No, Paul is saying that exactly the opposite is true. 

A billionaire may pledge a fortune to charity while continuing to blaspheme God. Will his checkbook overcome his heart in God’s eyes? What about my own gifts of service or money given while I know full well I have a cranky spirit about someone? Does not the suspicion arise that my gift is no more beneficial to me than that of the pagan billionaire

God never condemns me for immaturity; like every earthly father, He delights in my efforts to grow in my Christian walk. He does, though, judge the motives of my heart, and where He finds pretense or disobedience, the result will be brutal. At the end of the age when He returns as King and Judge, many will say, “Lord, Lord, did I not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then He will say, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22-23). Only a heart passionate to tear down every wall, to pursue Him wholeheartedly, can avoid that judgment. In that day, even my best efforts become as dust, the very source of my condemnation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, try me, search me, and see if there is any wicked way in my heart. Cause it to surface, Lord; I urgently desire to yield it to You.

March 29th, 2020

Jet Ski Competition

Mark 4:9 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Observation: Jesus was teaching at the seashore. As the crowd grew, He moved His venue from the shore to a boat put out a short distance into the water. Presumably from there, both visibility and acoustics would be improved. At the conclusion of one of His parables, He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).

Application: Speaking to large crowds in Jesus’s day must have been daunting. Unless there was a high place to ascend, He would be visible to only a few. Another challenge was how to project sound without benefit of the woofers and microphones we rely upon today. Speaking from a boat would help overcome both problems, as His visibility would be increased and at the same time the water’s surface would help carry the sound of His voice. So in moving to a boat, Jesus seems to have done His part to communicate. Still, for the crowd to benefit from the experience, they had a responsibility as well.

It is not hard to imagine them sitting still, straining to hear the Master’s voice. The quiet lapping of gentle waves against the shore combined with the cry of overhead gulls to create an idyllic setting, interrupted only by the occasional passing of joy-seekers on jet skis. Primitive technology left Jesus few options: He could simply sit patiently as the scream of approaching engines increased and then resume His teaching once they receded. Sometimes, though, He might continue in His usual, maddeningly conversational voice even as laughing skiers roared by, His words completely lost to the straining ears of the crowd.

“Wait,” you say, “that’s not in the Bible! That’s not how it was!” Oh really? Then why did Jesus say in verse 9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”? It seems He knew that His words would be easily drowned out by my pursuit of worldly priorities. Apparently the crowd at the seashore had the same problem I have today. Their diversions may not have been game shows, fast cars, and the Internet; perhaps instead they had bet on Sunday’s donkey races or were dreaming about the merchandise expected by camel caravan that afternoon.

It has always been hard to discipline myself to hear God. He is faithful to do His part, but He refuses to raise His voice in competition against my higher pursuits. Oh, He could, and when He returns as Judge and King He will indeed arrest my full attention. But for now, as for 2,000 years, He is simply my lover, hoping I in turn will love Him enough to turn aside from other pursuits to listen for His still, small voice.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are teaching me how to hear You. It requires a conscious decision on my part, doesn’t it? It comes down to my focus being either on You, or on all this other “stuff” of life. I choose You.

March 28th, 2020

Pizza Delivery Faith

Numbers 14:24 “But because My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendents will inherit it” (NIV).

Observation: Israel was poised on the edge of the Promised Land, and the spies had returned in agreement that the land was remarkably productive. All except Caleb and Joshua expressed fear of the land’s inhabitants. Caleb and Joshua did their best to rouse faith that God would enable them to defeat their enemies, but fear and lack of faith carried the day. God’s judgment was that the Israelites would have to stay in the desert for forty years, one year for each day the spies had spent in the land. However, He singled out Caleb as having a different spirit from the people; Caleb followed God wholeheartedly and God promised he would inherit the land he had explored.

Application: In this chapter faith received the promise of future blessing; fear was condemned to die in the desert. No Israelite who had been twenty or older upon leaving Egypt would survive to enter Canaan. Think of it! A couple million of Caleb’s friends, family, and countrymen would have to die before Caleb could receive his inheritance. Imagine standing at the edge of Houston, Los Angeles, or New York and hearing God say that the sea of humanity stretched before you must die before you can receive what God had promised. 

What must have gone through his mind? What would go through mine? Would God’s declaration overwhelm me with grief for their loss? Would doubt creep in that He would really preserve only Joshua and me after a forty-year stench of death? Would I secretly hope that the clock might begin running right away so I could “get mine” as quickly as possible? 

The Word doesn’t address Caleb’s thoughts at that moment, but I do see his heart forty-five years later in Joshua 14:7–14. The Israelites had finally entered the land, and Caleb received from Joshua the gift of the Hebron region in fulfillment of God’s promise. 

Could I carry God’s promise for forty-five years without faith dimming? How about forty-five days? My prayers are filled with requests only He can fulfill, yet I leave the prayer room disappointed if answers don’t come by 8:30. In my expectation of His answers, I must remember that God operates outside time. If He has promised, He will deliver. My faith really ought to have a longer horizon than a pizza delivery guarantee. I’m the one who has set the clock running, knowing exactly when delivery will come. In measuring His faithfulness by my puny timelines, I pay an awful price, losing the ability to wait in expectant faithfulness.

Prayer: O Lord, make me like Caleb. Forgive me for the times I have grown weary in waiting. I trust Your promises, and ask You to change my perspective as I wait. I choose today to take my eyes off the clock and even off the calendar, to simply wait on You.

March 27th, 2020

Penalty Box

Numbers 12:15 “So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back” (NIV).

Observation: Miriam had exposed a petulant jealous streak by speaking against Moses, saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?” (Num. 12:2). Angered, God struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses immediately interceded for her, but God required that she bear her uncleanness by being put outside the camp for seven days, a very public rebuke.

Application: The Lord has a deft touch indeed as he reveals my heart condition through a simple story several thousand years old. Miriam was beloved of God; she also led the nation in exuberant celebration after their Red Sea deliverance from Pharaoh’s army (see Ex. 15:20-21). The prophet Micah would later remind of God’s having “sent Moses to lead [the nation], also Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4, NIV). She was honored, famous, and secure in God’s love. 

Yet Miriam, like me, was apparently still capable of blurting things she would regret, words that revealed an area of her heart not yet fully yielded to God. The resulting discipline, while due to her sin, was nonetheless motivated by God’s love for her and for those around her. As long as she was in the penalty box, forward progress waited. It is in the goodness of God, not meanness, that the time finally comes for Him to address heart issues I would prefer to leave buried. In my headlong rush to achieve something, to become something, my loving Abba will design a penalty box just my size: a major illness, a business reversal, a relational train wreck, or some other creative invention. 

There comes a time when God determines that this thing is to be addressed now, no longer to be hidden from view, covered by pretense. He calls “time out,” and like Miriam, I find that forward progress stops while He works on my heart. I must see this not as the harsh punishment of an angry God, but as a necessary course correction by the lover of my soul. He is much more committed to my intimacy with Him than He is to the outer accoutrements I have given my life to pursue. After all, He Himself volunteered for the shame of the Cross; He would appear to have been a failure in his earthly ministry. Should I think myself above the suffering to which He submitted? Love put Miriam outside the camp. And it is His passionate love for me that has caused me to join her there.

Prayer: O Lord, when I see You through the paradigm of a lovesick bridegroom rather than as a cranky, harsh, disapproving authority, the hard things in life take on new meaning. Thank You for loving me enough to crush me when it is needed. I gladly submit to Your work in my heart.

March 26th, 2020

Remembering Passover

Numbers 9:4–5 “So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses” (NIV).

Observation: A year had passed since the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt when God’s people had hidden behind the blood of sacrificed lambs, safe from the persistent advance of the death that invaded every unprotected home in the land. At the first annual commemoration of that singular event, each Hebrew family would remember how God had cut off the advancing army of Egypt, making it possible for the Israelites to emerge in freedom.

Application: Passover. The most profoundly important moment in Israel’s history. This was not one of those ceremonies done just in the privacy of the Holy of Holies; it was carried out in tens of thousands of Hebrew tents spread in tribal clusters across the desert. It was not a ceremony conducted only by specially consecrated priests and Levites; it was done in families by dads and moms whose bodies still bore the scars of Egyptian enslavement—parents who lovingly gazed at children around the Passover table and with tears in their eyes recounted what it meant to be free. 

The sacrifice that night was intensely personal, individual. Twilight’s air must have filled with the bleating of thousands of lambs, followed by the pleasing aroma of their roasting carcasses ascending to God. Each father was reminded to leave none of it until morning and forbidden to break any of its bones. Foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God at a Passover still generations in the future, I should notice that nothing of Jesus was left until morning; His body was removed the previous twilight. He suffered no broken bones despite the Roman tradition of breaking weight-bearing legs to hasten death. 

But this Lamb, my personal Passover, volunteered for death. His life was given, not taken. His blood was shed once for all. No longer must each home be filled with the aroma of fresh sacrifice. Or must it? Isn’t the point of my identification with Him the idea that I, too, would enter into His death? This isn’t just a once-and-for-all kind of thing on my part, but moment by moment. There was such power in the blood of the first Passover lamb that it could deflect even God. So it is with the blood of Christ. I must remember Him today. I must connect in the midst of today’s busyness with His awesome love for me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I shut out the noise of life today, I weep over Your sacrifice for me. It is not only something historic, but it’s now, very personal and intimate. Thank You for Your great love.

March 25th, 2020

Sky Awake…I Up Now

Numbers 7:19-23 “The offering…was one silver plate weighing one hundred thirty shekels, and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels…each filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense, one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering” (NIV).

Observation: The tabernacle had been set up, its utensils unpacked and properly placed. Moses had consecrated everything, and it was now time to celebrate. For twelve days, a leader from each of the tribes was to bring offerings for the dedication pageantry.

Application: The odd thing about this passage is not its detail; by now both the Hebrews and I should expect that God was able to precisely communicate His requirements for an acceptable sacrifice. I should also expect that the people would have learned to obey; in fact, “Learn or Burn” might have been the subtitle for His training manual.

The odd thing about this passage, and the thing that makes this chapter the longest of the first five books of the Bible, is that it is repeated verbatim twelve times. Why was this necessary? Why not just list the requirements once and then say that each tribe brought the same thing in turn?

I think about my exposure to the developing speech patterns of a small child: repetition is key. My eyes may want to roll with the certainty of what’s coming, but repetition helps imprint understanding into an impressionable brain. “Sky asleep, Grandpa; time for bed.” “Sky awake, Grandpa; I up now.”

Within such repetition to the Hebrews, another message is confirmed: there will be no competition before God for the best or the biggest offering. No tribe needed to bring more than required, and none dared bring less. In the sameness for the Hebrews is the security of acceptance. God loves and accepts me for one thing only: that I am in Christ. When He sees Christ’s blood applied to my sin, I am as fully accepted as I will ever be. No further striving is required, no competitive giving, no sacrifice of my own devising draws me one iota closer to the Father than the sacrifice He has already given. My life in Him, then, can be simplicity itself: Sky asleep; time for bed. Sky awake; I up now.

Prayer: Lord, it is Your sacrifice, not mine, that makes me acceptable. Your life given once for many, has opened heaven’s gates to all who accept Your work on the cross. Thank You, Lord.