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.

January 25th, 2020

The Pressure of His Forming

Isaiah 43:1–3; 44:21–23 “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator; …He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.’…‘I have formed you,…you will not be forgotten by Me. …Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.’ Shout for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it. For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel He shows forth His glory.”

Observation: In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, He still loved her and promised her release from Babylonian captivity. His words reminded Israel who she was to Him (redeemed, beloved) and who He was to her (Creator, Lord, the One who formed her.) And He said, “Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” Here we see God as though standing on a precipice overlooking the pit of hell, calling Israel to a redemption He had already provided even though Isaiah wrote these words 700 years before the birth of Christ. Finally, He commanded that the whole earth: mountains, forest, and trees, shout joyfully over this redemption.

Application: Throughout these chapters God uses the language of forming, suggesting something beyond merely creating or fashioning. There is within the word the additional concept of applied pressure, of a knife cutting away unwanted attributes that the finished thing of beauty might emerge. 

God does indeed have that in store for His chosen people Israel. But there is also a personal application here, an individual way of understanding what He is doing in my life as He takes me through waters of affliction that cannot overwhelm me and fires that cannot scorch or burn. These are for my refining, that I might become the pure, spotless bride that His sacrifice has already purchased. He calls me forth from the messes I become mired in, into His redemption, His freedom, His peace. As I yield to His call, the world and everything within it will rejoice.

Prayer: O God, Father of all redemption through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have felt the pressure of Your formation; I have known the cutting of Your knife. How I thank You that You do not leave me as You found me, but that Your great love has called me forth to eternal redemption as the bride of Your dear Son.

January 24th, 2020

Highlighting the Enemy’s Claims

2 Kings 18:31-32 “Thus says the King of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me and come out to me and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, of olive trees and honey that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’”

Observation: If the reader isn’t careful, these sound like sweet promises of God, don’t they? But the opposite is true: these are the siren songs of Satan himself.  Hezekiah was one of Judah’s best kings. He trusted God (2 Kings 18:5), clung to the Lord (verse 6), and kept all His commandments. When the powerful King of Assyria attacked and conquered Judah, Hezekiah prayed to God while the Assyrian king’s envoys taunted the defeated Judeans. But God promised miraculous deliverance, a rescue so complete that the enemy would not be able to shoot a single arrow against Jerusalem, nor build any siege mound. God said, “I will defend Jerusalem,” and that night an angel came to the Assyrian encampment and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, utterly defeating the enemy army (see 2 Kings 19:34–35).

Application: The saying, “They never knew what hit them!” comes to mind as I read of God’s supernatural defense of Jerusalem. It is unusual for a devotional reading to highlight the carefully crafted claims of the enemy, as this one does today. His lies are so appealing: make peace with me, and you will eat of your vine and fig tree and drink from your cistern. Follow me and I will give you a wonderful place to live with plenty of grain, wine, olive trees, and honey.

In short, we see the enemy’s clear strategy: taunt, lie, and make captivity seem appealing. It is little wonder that I so easily succumb to his appeals. After all, would he be called the father of lies if he weren’t really good at it? (see John 8:44). But God is faithful. Holy Spirit truth is always speaking to my heart. There is a veritable river of information rushing toward me from heaven targeting my heart rather than my ears. The problem is that heaven’s broadcast seems generally to come through small tweeters rather than the booming woofers used by the enemy. That’s why it is so critical that I work aggressively to do all I can to pursue quiet time with Him, to shut out extraneous sights and noises that continually accost me. His peace results; I am then able to notice that He has slain 185,000 of my enemies, exposing their impotence for all to see.

Prayer: Father God, make me wise enough to arrange my life so I can hear what You are saying and see what You are doing.

January 23rd, 2020

Renewal of All Things

2 Chronicles 29:10 “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His burning anger may turn away from us.”

Observation: The story of Hezekiah’s becoming king of Judah is one of those sudden turning points of Scripture. His father Ahaz had been an abominable king for sixteen years. He reinforced and encouraged Baal worship, even to the point of cutting up temple implements to use for worship of false gods. But when twenty-five-year old Hezekiah became king, things changed immediately. He had the temple cleansed and priests reconsecrated. Sacrifice was reestablished in the temple and throughout the land. In short, everything was made “new,” restored spiritually to how things had been when Solomon was king, even to the point of an astonishing incident. Because the priests hadn’t been consecrated in time to celebrate the Passover in the first month, all Israel and Judah had a national celebration in the second month. But 2 Chronicles 30:18–20 shows how delighted God was with their heart. Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary. So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

Application: This is so encouraging! The breadth of renewal, the scope of restoration to God, is simply amazing, reaching into every sin-darkened corner of the land. How many times have I been discouraged by pervasive sin in my family or in my own life? I have been so overwhelmed at seeing how well rooted sin has become and believed all was lost, that nothing could ever root out entrenched habits, hard hearts, and sin. 

But look what God did through the power of just one heart fully set on Him! Everyone touched by Hezekiah’s authority was transformed because he determined to follow God. I am so heartened by this example: as a parent yearning for children to have hearts set to passionately pursue Him, as an employer praying for submission to the King of kings among those I work with, as a husband yearning for perfect intimacy and oneness with his wife, as an individual seeking victory over dark habits that have led to ground being surrendered to the enemy. 

God can restore all things! He can wipe the slate clean and give me the desires of my heart, His desires. Hezekiah pursued God with his whole heart, and everyone rejoiced at God’s response because, as 2 Chronicles 29:36 says, “the thing came about suddenly!”

Prayer: Lord, my part is not to strive nor lecture, not to correct or admonish; rather, my part is to worship You in spirit and in truth, to fall on my face acknowledging You as King and Lord of my life. Forgive me, Lord, for trying to “fix” broken lives around me. As Your presence overwhelms me I know it will splash onto those around me, bringing renewal, refreshing, and cleansing.

January 22nd, 2020

Standing Alone

2 Chronicles 28:10-11 “Now you are proposing to subjugate for yourselves the people of Judah and Jerusalem for male and female slaves. Surely, do you not have transgressions of your own against the Lord your God? Now therefore, listen to me and return the captives whom you captured from your brothers, for the burning anger of the Lord is against you.”

Observation: Israel had just won a decisive battle against Judah and was in the process of hauling spoil home, including some 200,000 captured Judites and all their possessions. At that moment, Obed stepped forward to remind Israel that they have sins of their own to deal with, and that they had won this time because of God’s judgments against Judah. Wonder of wonders, Israel, the conquering army, completely shifted gears and took excellent care of the captives before repatriating them to Judah.

Application: This is an astonishing incident. Obed was an obscure prophet; he is not spoken of elsewhere in Scripture. But think of it! This one man, Obed, came before a conquering army, and changed the course of history. Rivers of adrenaline must have been flowing through the army: they had just killed 120,000 Judites and captured another 200,000. They had risked their lives in war and been victorious. Surely the sounds of battle were still ringing in their ears when this lone guy, Obed, stood before them. 

I suspect the reason we hear nothing more about Obed is because the story isn’t about him in particular. Rather, its intent is to reveal the remarkable power and authority of one righteous man when he is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks what God has given him to say. 

Through this I am reminded how critical it is that I hear and obey God’s voice even when I find myself standing alone. My strength and courage don’t come from within or from having a horde of friends backing me. It is God who is sufficient. If I have heard His voice and go forward in the strength and confidence of the Holy Spirit, then I, too, will see lives changed for the good. James 3:18 puts it this way: “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Prayer: Father, there have been times when I have stood like Obed, and I have seen You bring a result I could not have imagined. Fill me afresh today with Your Holy Spirit so I can hear You rightly and, after hearing, walk out whatever it is You tell me to do. I pray for the peace of God to reign and rule in my heart today and for Your kingdom to touch the earth today in my sphere of influence.

January 21st, 2020

What about Now?

Isaiah 32:1 “Behold a king will reign righteously, and princes will rule justly.”

Observation: Isaiah 32 depicts a time in the future during the millennial reign of Christ when He will reign righteously and princes will rule justly. Leadership then will be good, as it is submitted to the headship of Christ.

Application: Upon first reading, it is easy for this passage to hold little personal application; after all, we are not yet in the millennial kingdom, Christ has not yet returned, so meanwhile, I can view this as a condition to be established in the “by-and-by” that doesn’t touch me now. But for those of us who claim Christ as Savior, this verse has an interesting application now. It’s true that once Christ returns to head His kingdom in both a physical and a spiritual sense, all ruling will be done righteously and justly.

But what about now? If I say that through Christ God is my Father, does that not already make me a prince in His kingdom? Am I not already expected to behave justly and righteously in those relationships my own life touches? 

I think of relationships at church and at work, of friends and family with whom I relate. What does it mean to be “just” in those relationships? The term “fairness” comes to mind when I think of being “just,” as does the word “servanthood.” If Christ, the King of kings, came to manifest His kingdom through having a servant’s heart, then surely I can do no less as I walk out my own faith. 

This passage calls me not to be “over” someone as I generally think of a king or a prince; rather, it calls me to servanthood. An effective leader or friend is most righteous and just when he or she is giving, serving, pouring out both life and resources for another. That is what Jesus modeled for me, so surely I am called to do no less in my own life. This same thought is reflected in James 2:13, which says, “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Prayer: Father, thank You for taking a passage that at first seemed to be for people living in an age yet to come, and showing me how it applies to my own heart today. Make me a doer of this word today, and not just a hearer. Give me a servant’s heart in every relationship I touch today. Thank You, Lord.

January 20th, 2020

Dryness Within

Isaiah 29:1–2, 13 “Woe O Ariel, Ariel the city where David once camped! Add year to year, observe your feasts on schedule. I will bring distress to Ariel, and she will be a city of lamenting and mourning. … This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me.”

Observation: Ariel is another name for Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah is here describing the people of Jerusalem who were very good at their rituals. They kept all the feasts on schedule, they performed all the sacrifices, but God says He will destroy them and cause the city to be filled with lamenting and mourning in place of ritual.

Application: Some things never change! For over 2,000 years God has been condemning ritual, yet still I persist. Why do I think I can come up with my own ways of pleasing God, rather than simply yielding to Him in all things? 

My methods, the things I have tried, are not only fruitless, but they are exhausting! How many times have I found myself just going through the motions of loving Him, yet found nothing but dryness within? Why O why would I ever foolishly think my way could be better than His? There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I bring to the table that He values other than obedience. God looks at the substance of my life, at its fruit, and His evaluation of me begins and ends there. 

He sees how I spend my time. He watches what I invest in. And He calls me constantly to turn away from my attempts to look good outwardly. A heart fixed firmly upon Him is the only thing He takes pleasure in. James 1 calls me to endure in the things of God, and in verse 4 says, “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me today to endure in the right things, in those things that draw me closer to You. Sift me, Lord; examine my heart; look at what I spend my time doing, and speak to me about its eternal value. Evaluate what I spend money on, and let me hear what You conclude, Lord. Keep me from ritual and pretense; give me Your life instead.

January 19th, 2020

Devastation

1 Kings 9:8 “And this house will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by will be astonished and hiss and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’”

Observation: God is appearing to Solomon on the occasion of the completion of the temple, which is an event of both national and heavenly rejoicing. God has promised to establish Solomon’s throne forever if he will keep God’s commandments, but as a counterpoint, God also promises to bring upon the nation such ruin if they do not follow God (see verses 67), that onlookers will be astounded at its devastation.

Application: As I read, the Lord brought to mind a later echo of this same idea: a stunning parallel to what God did to His own Son. Isaiah 52:14 says that His [Jesus’s] appearance was marred more than any man. The language suggests that passersby would look at Christ, whipped and beaten until He bled out, beard ripped from His face, and they would hiss, “Can that be human?” (see Isa. 52:14, NIV). It’s the same reaction God said in 1 Kings that people would have, as they were astounded at the devastation of the nation of Israel. What I need to understand is that the exaltation of Christ and His devastation are really two sides of the same coin. God had chosen the nation of Israel and had spent centuries preparing them to be a place of habitation worthy of Him. 

In the same way, God has chosen me; He loves me and has spent not just my whole lifetime, but He has also spent the life of His dear Son, to make me a worthy habitation for Himself. But the Israelites, like me, had a choice to make. They, and I, can follow His precepts and enjoy the full blessings of the Father, or I can reject His commandments, His claim on my life, thus bringing the devastation of Christ onto myself for all eternity.

Prayer: O God, how You love me! You took all the initiative to save me from the eternal devastation of hell by putting my full load of sin onto Your perfect Son. He became my devastation! O Lord, the choice for me is so stark, so clear. Like Solomon and the Israelites, my desire is to follow You, to honor You, to worship and to love You above all others. Turn that desire into victory today, Lord, and again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

January 18th, 2020

Prayerlessness

2 Chronicles 6:18–19 “Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built. Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You.”

Observation: Solomon’s temple had been built and the dedication ceremony was under way. In this Scripture reading, Solomon gave voice to one of the profound conundrums of the God we worship: He is so great that all of heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain Him. Yet Solomon had complete confidence that this God of unimaginable magnificence would hear his individual prayers and that He would in the future also hear the prayers of all who call upon Him.

Application: I wonder if I sometimes fail to pray because I don’t see God as one who is intimately concerned with me. He is so big, so majestic, so far “out there” that I sometimes suspect that He would never be inclined to tune into “just me.” 

Yet Solomon was so confident in God’s desire for intimacy that He also wrote verses 29-30: “Whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own pain, and spreading his hands toward this house, then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each according to his ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men.” 

Fully assured of God’s desire for intimacy with His people, I ought to pray constantly about everything. He sees far beyond my perception, and so will reward in ways I can only begin to imagine.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for being prayerless so much of the time. Your desire for intimacy was so great that You sent Your Son to establish relationship with me, yet so often I rely on the ritual of the church rather than quietly place myself at the foot of the Cross. Thank You, Lord, that I no longer pray toward a building made by men, but have now become the dwelling place for God Himself. It is astounding to realize that You know my pain and my affliction. Hear my prayer today, Lord, and cause me to come to You continually.

January 17th, 2020

Salvation through the Law

Romans 2:12–15 “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law, for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”

Observation: In the remarkable passage above, Paul was affirming those who kept the law, declaring that even those who had never heard of the law yet lived according to its precepts, would be blessed by God; their very being had “become” the law just as Christ Himself embodied, or fulfilled the law. Of course, the opposite is also true: the law condemned those who had known the law but failed to practice it. Paul said that those who had kept the law had been justified, set free from the consequences of sin, whether they had ever heard of the law or not.

Application: Apparently we who have trusted in Christ for our salvation will be greeted, and probably surprised, in heaven by countless souls who found their way to glory by keeping the law, by having it written on their hearts, and as a result, by then living according to its precepts. So just what is this law we are commanded to keep? Romans 13:8 gives us a clue when it says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 

I am reminded of Christ’s words to Thomas who, after seeing the wounds in the hands and feet of the risen Christ, finally overcame his doubts and was able to believe. Even while affirming Thomas for believing after seeing, Christ affirmed even more those who would believe without seeing. In much the same way, Paul exhorts me to bless the lawgiver by my obedience to His precepts, all of which point to love. In loving well, He says that my sins will be forgiven.

Prayer: Father God, I pray that You would find the law of Christ written on my heart; make me a wholehearted lover of your dear Son. I ask that Holy Spirit would nudge me each time I violate any of the precepts You have laid down, not just by my actions, but by my thoughts and heart attitudes, as well. I bless You, Lord, and thank You that You have provided a way of salvation for all who love well.

January 16th, 2020

Overwhelmed by His Presence

Psalm 97:1-6 “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad…Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord…The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people have seen His glory.”

Observation: Psalm 97 ascribes emotions to inanimate things: the earth rejoices, islands are glad, mountains melt at seeing His presence, and the earth trembles. Character attributes are described as having physical substance: righteousness and justice are a “foundation” for His throne. The language is so soaring that it could be easy to conclude the psalmist was simply carried away trying to allegorically describe the impact of the Lord’s appearing. 

Application: Something more than allegory is depicted here; these verses are more than mere metaphor. They are a precursor to Christ’s declaration generations later that if we—we who, after all, were made in His own image—fail to give proper praise to God then even rocks themselves would cry out His glory. Then still later, Paul would write in Romans 1:20 that “since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse.”

The imagery here is overpowering precisely because it is more than imagery. Does anyone who has truly encountered the creator God who delights in flinging universes off His fingertips, doubt that His presence would cause mountains to melt like wax? Earth trembling, islands rejoicing, rocks crying out—aren’t these perfectly reasonable responses to seeing the God of heaven and earth? Beloved, these expressions are far more than just a quiet, inner “knowing”; these are the wild, abandoned, exuberant outward responses to His presence, responses that must please the Father, else He wouldn’t describe them throughout His Word. 

I long to participate in that! I want to be at least as much in awe of Him as are some remote islands. I want never to be outdone in praise by a pile of rocks! I desire that every part of my being shout in His presence and give glory to His name. I love that He dances in delight over me, and I want everything within me to respond with irrepressible joy.

Prayer: Father, Creator God, how I praise You. You are glorious and majestic and beautiful beyond words. I celebrate Your power and Your awesomeness, and I delight in being the object of Your love. Help me to see You even more clearly; to have eyes opened even more fully to Your mighty attributes. I want to be a man whose heart is filled with Your glory until the moment I die, and I want everything about me to reflect Your reality until that moment comes.