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.

May 12th, 2021

Rope Burns

Jeremiah 11:14; 12:15–16 “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.” … “After I have uprooted them, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. Then if they will really learn the ways of My people, … they will be built up in the midst of My people.”

Observation: Jeremiah here continued his prophetic description of the well-deserved destruction God was about to visit upon His people. But tucked within this string of gloomy chapters is a different message, one of hope and divine strategy. God told Jeremiah not to pray or lift up a cry for the people, for He had determined not to listen when their desperate circumstances caused them to cry out to Him. But He went on to say that if they really would turn to Him, if their cry became not just an appeal for rescue so they could go back into sinful ways but a true change of heart, He would have compassion on them and build them up again.

Application: These verses are a rich vein of gold for a variety of relationships where I feel responsible for those determined not to be responsible. This is a “tough love” passage, and God was saying there does indeed come a time when I ought not to pray as I formerly did for someone in determined rebellion. I should simply release that loved one to the well-deserved disciplines of God. After all, I know about His nature. Not only is He just, but He is also compassionate. The deepening pain into which I must sometimes allow my loved one to descend is used by God to be the very instrument for redemption and restoration. God intends this as kindness, as it is a dim glimmer of the total aloneness and eternal abandonment to darkness that must be faced if true repentance does not come.

I must always remember that every descent into darkness comes with a rope attached, a way of ascent. But I must be certain that the rope is in God’s hands, not mine. I must be willing to release fully to God every decision as to who handles the rope. Otherwise, my tendency is to stop the descent every foot or two. Thinking I am being merciful, I may instead be preventing my loved one’s access to the very tools and strategies God has lovingly prepared to bring back this one whom He, and I, love so much.

Prayer: Father, my hands bear the marks of rope burns. Forgive me. Keep me increasing in purity as I live life before my loved ones, but prevent me, Lord, from trying to do what You want to be allowed to do in their lives.

May 11th, 2021

Zipporah’s Zeal

Jeremiah 9:26 “All the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”

Observation: Jeremiah had been called to stand in the gate and proclaim the word of the Lord. Chapter 9 ends with God complaining of this: “all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” His heart was utterly broken by how deadened to Him His people had become. He said that even storks, thrushes, swifts, and turtledoves discern the seasons, setting the wisdom of these simple animals against the dullness of God’s people (see Jer. 8:7). In the end, His grief is summed thus: the people are uncircumcised of heart.

Application: Surely if having an uncircumcised heart is a condition sufficient to cause God to mourn and judge His people, I ought to consider what it is to have a circumcised heart. Zipporah knew. In Exodus 4, God charged Moses with the task of confronting Pharaoh. Yet despite the “chosenness” of Moses, verse 24 says that as Moses and his wife Zipporah encamped one night on their journey to Egypt, God sought Moses to kill him. Zipporah instantly understood that Moses’ vulnerability came from his failure to have circumcised their son as mandated by the Law. So she grabbed a rock (imagine!), cut off her son’s foreskin, and in fury, flung the flesh at Moses’ feet. 

Now there was a family gatekeeper! Moses’s failure to obey God had nearly cost his life. This call to circumcision, this abandonment of my pursuit of the pleasures of the world, is what must happen to my own heart. I am required to be the gatekeeper, the watchman, over my own soul. My heart circumcision is my own responsibility; no one else can do it for me. God has planted deep in me an innate understanding of just how critical this is for my spiritual health; no excuses will be acceptable in the end. Surely I can be at least as bright as a flock of birds compelled to migrate to avoid wintry death. 

I often wish my knife were sharper; like Zipporah’s surgery on her son, my self-surgery seems often to leave blood and jagged bits of flesh as far as the eye can see. Oh, for the ability to slice clean and swift, once and for all! But regardless of the imprecision of my instrument, I am thankful that God has given me the zeal and determination of Zipporah to see the surgery through to its completion.

Prayer: Father, You see my heart perfectly. I know that within it You see passion to pursue You, but it isn’t yet a pure, clean place, is it? Cause me to be like Zipporah, acting with urgency, using whatever tool You place in my hand, that my heart would be fully circumcised. I want all flesh to be cut away, that what remains would be pleasing in Your sight. You are not put off by blood.

May 10th, 2021

Mostly Dead

Jeremiah 5:1 “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her.”

John 12:24–25 “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”

Observation: Jeremiah was establishing reasons for the coming judgment. God had commanded that all Jerusalem be searched to seek one righteous person, in which case God would pardon the city from approaching destruction. This passage echoes an earlier challenge to Abraham who had negotiated with God a pardon for another sin-filled city if only enough righteous people could be found. Of course, both Abraham and Jeremiah found that God had correctly assessed the hearts of the people, and destruction followed. But just as this verse is an echo of the past, it also points to a future time and place where the Lord Jesus Christ, in the John passage, describes His own coming death as the model for me to follow in receiving an eternal pardon.

Application: There are important similarities as well as differences between these two passages. In Jeremiah, all wicked people were to pay the price for their sin; none would escape. But in John, only One would die for the sins of many. Jesus Himself, the innocent one, would take my sin upon Himself, and His death would be a gateway to eternal life in Him. John 12:25 calls me to lose my life in order to save it, to hate the life of the world and the flesh and all the striving that daily presses in. As a result, He promises I will enter into His life for eternity. 

My problem is this: It is a constant battle to die effectively. Like the wizard in Princess Bride who pronounces the corpse only “mostly dead,” so it seems that the tug of the world lingers in the background of my soul, always eager to tempt me again into pursuing temporal pleasures rather than pure unity with God. So the struggle continues with battle lines stark, sharp, and without compromise. Sin cannot be only “mostly dead”; it is either all dead or it is not dead at all. Similarly, there is in God’s economy no such thing as being “mostly righteous.” His call to me is to enter fully into His death, that I might gain His life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have pointed the way. You have told me clearly what must be done to enter into Your life. Search my heart for areas of compromise, Lord. Show me what You see there, that I might make a fresh decision to crucify all that is not of You.

May 9th, 2021

Crossing the Divide

John 11:33–35 “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”

Observation: Jesus deeply loved Lazarus. Lazarus had become ill, so his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus to heal him. Jesus, knowing that Lazarus was going to die, remained where He was for two more days. By the time He set out for Bethany, Lazarus was indeed dead and, upon Jesus’s arrival, had been in the tomb for four days. Both sisters expressed the conviction that if Jesus had come earlier, Lazarus would not have died.

Application: The verse, “Jesus wept” reveals the depth of Jesus’ compassion for those who grieve over loss. But since the death of my wife after a long, debilitating illness, this verse presents an additional dimension of compelling love. 

Jesus knew heaven well, and He knew His dear friend Lazarus was there enjoying unimaginable aspects of being in that beautiful place. Jesus knew well what He was about to call Lazarus from, and He wept. I am convinced this is the meaning of the previous sentence, which says Jesus was troubled. His tears were surely not due to sadness over Lazarus’s death, because He could easily have prevented it. But His profound empathy as He contemplated calling Lazarus away from the divine presence of the Father filled Him with overflowing emotion. Lazarus, crossing the divide this time, would be going in the wrong direction.

I long to be in that place of no more sorrow, no more pain and suffering. The reward for the Christian is the promise of eternity spent in the presence of the Holy One, reveling forever in unending beauty reflected from the countenance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord, I long to be in Your presence for eternity. My heart aches to be with You, immersed in the glory of Your beauty realm. Eternal life with You began the moment I accepted You as Lord and Savior, yet for a while longer You apparently believe it best that I remain here. Do what You will in me to prepare me to stand in Your glorious presence.

May 8th, 2021

Amazing Transformation

Jeremiah 1:18–19 “ ‘Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ ”

Observation: God appointed Jeremiah as His prophet to Judah; Jeremiah had not volunteered. Jeremiah expressed concern about his youth and weaknesses while God assured him that He had taken care of these small problems. Notice that God didn’t deny anything Jeremiah pointed out; He simply intended to overcome them. Then comes this fascinating passage, as God commands Jeremiah to bring hard pronouncements to the people. God said He had made Jeremiah as a fortified city, as a pillar of iron, and as walls of bronze. God further promised that although the people would fight against him, they would not prevail, because God was with him.

Application: What a heartening passage for any man or woman called to do something difficult or intimidating. Think about it: God can make us who are simply soft flesh like a fortified city, impregnable to the attack of the enemy. Easily breakable bones can be transformed into a body like pillars of iron as we take our stand for Him. These bodies, which we know to be so prone to being bent by age and breached by illness can be made by God like walls of bronze, able to withstand anything the enemy can throw against us. 

What an encouraging thought that God promises supernatural transformation as I undertake what He has called me to do. It is so easy for me to look upon my inadequacies as Jeremiah did—tired flesh, weak bones, and lack of stamina throughout. But God calls me to see myself as He sees me: equipped and armored by Him, fortified by His strength, made able by His presence to stand firm against all opposition. So be encouraged, O my soul. Take heart, for what He has called me to do, He will enable to be accomplished. How sweet it is that this weak instrument of flesh becomes a mighty tool of effectiveness when wielded by God in a cause to which He has called me.

Prayer: Lord, You are reminding me of my weakness, of my need to rely upon You to accomplish what You have called me to. Your purposes for me are so much greater than anything I could conceive. Thank You Lord, for taking my small yes and turning it into something worthwhile in Your kingdom.

May 7th, 2021

Complete Wetness

Habakkuk 2:14; 3:17–18 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea … Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flocks should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Observation: It is clear that Habakkuk passionately loved God. He prophesied judgment on sinful Judah, yet he also broke out in praise the likes of which is hardly found in the Old Testament outside the psalms. His simile in 2:14 stretches language as though seeking to convey never-before-imagined meaning: that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would so fill the earth that it would be like water covering the sea. 

Application: Is there anywhere on the sea that is not water? Can there be found any nook or cranny of the sea without the wetness of water covering it? Of course not! And just as this perfect physical example of complete coverage soaks my mind and heart, so am I to understand that nowhere on earth will be found even the tiniest hiding place unsaturated with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Habakkuk uses other similes to declare his heart commitment to praise and trust God. Imagine no fruit from fig or olive trees. Picture no flocks or herds anywhere in the world. Yet even in the direst circumstances, Habakkuk will exult in God.

Talk about challenging me to rise above my circumstances! These verses are a wonderful reminder to reexamine all that I hope in, all that I put my trust in. What a sweet, awful responsibility.

Prayer: I pray, Father, that You would deliver me from any focus on outward circumstances as the basis for evaluating my life and the times in which I live. I have had trials, yet You have met every need. There have been reasons to be fainthearted, yet You have delivered me in the midst of every trial. The times are evil, yet Your goodness fills my heart to overflowing, and I rejoice in Your salvation. Cause great rejoicing to burst forth in my heart as Your spirit fills me with the knowledge of the glory of the Holy One! Bless the name of Jesus!

May 6th, 2021

Wring Away, Lord!

John 7:19, 24 “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me? … Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Observation: Jesus, teaching in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by people who marveled that such wisdom and authority could come from one with no theological education. He responded first by saying that anyone willing to do the will of God would readily discern the truth of what He taught. Then He bore to the core of His challenge: Why are you so upset with Me for healing that man on the Sabbath? Moses gave you yourselves the law, yet you failed miserably at keeping it. Why are you then casting verbal stones at Me? 

What Jesus had done in healing the man had been such a good thing, and in fact was a reasonable extension of something everyone knew the law permitted: circumcision on the Sabbath. If that repair to just a portion of the body was allowed, why not celebrate even more the healing of the whole man? Then He got personal: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Application: My tendency to cover my shortcomings by criticizing others’ is laid bare in this passage. It is part and parcel of my human condition. I know God is wringing that out of me as He works to replace my judgmentalism with a heart that is compassionate toward the shortcomings of others. Sadly, I know He has not yet completed the job. Jesus calls me to judge righteously, which requires Holy Spirit empowerment. Without Him, I remain soaked in hypocrisy, trying to cover or divert attention from my own problems by pointing toward others.

Prayer: So wring away, Holy Spirit! I’m so thankful You don’t give up. I am thankful for Your patience and perseverance. Please, cleanse me of hypocrisy. Give me a new heart, one that’s clean, one that is compassionate toward others, as You are toward me.

May 5th, 2021

The Great Tiberian Cookout

John 6:28–29 “They said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ ”

Observation: Jesus had just miraculously fed well over 5,000 people on the Tiberias hillside with five loaves and two fish. Then, withdrawing from the main crowd, He used the metaphor of eating and drinking to drive home a central point about God’s kingdom. This was like one of those teachable moments that every parent yearns to be wise enough to notice and take advantage of. He pressed home the lesson that began with the people’s asking, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”

Application: Jesus is nowhere better than when He is in the role of coach, as demonstrated here. Having seen Jesus at the Great Tiberian Cookout, their hunger was to know how they might become more effective. Their question does not seem to contain a dangerous motivation for personal glory, but a growing awareness of the gap between Him and them. It was dawning on them how great, how powerful, how able He is, and how limited they are. 

What a perfect posture for a disciple to assume! They had left home and family to follow Jesus; why shouldn’t they desire to be more than a spiritual groupie? So their question, as though from my own heart, is, “How can I be most effective in advancing the kingdom?” 

His answer to me is simplicity itself. First, He notices that I ask about “works,” but His answer describes the one central “work” to which I am called. He moves my sight away from works and toward belief. Repeatedly He says that the work of God is for me to believe in Him. That’s all. He is the bread of life (John 6:48). He is eternally refreshing. Stop striving. Simply accept that He is the Son of God, and enter into His life. That is the work of God.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this fresh reminder of the simplicity of life when You are at its core. I make things so complicated, but You are teaching me that more gets done when I rest in You, that awesome works are done when I am still enough to hear Your voice. I don’t need to be so quick to pick up a hammer or turn on my work computer; rather, I need to be hungry to believe in You and the purpose for which You came to earth.

May 4th, 2021

Sharp Elbows

John 5:7 “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Observation: The man had been sick for thirty-eight years. He had taken his daily trip to the Pool of Bethesda along with a multitude of others. They all waited for an angel of the Lord to come stir the waters, knowing that only the one who got into the water first would be healed of his affliction.

Application: Why would there be such a system? On the face of it, it seems grossly unfair, since only the most vigorous among the sick could leap first into the pool. But think for a moment about what isn’t obvious. The chaos around this pool must have been like a municipal pool on a hot summer day with overcrowding, screaming, eager busloads of children competing to enjoy the cooling waters.

But wouldn’t this particular pool have had a dark edge to it? Wouldn’t childlike eagerness to enjoy cool waters morph into a destructive competitiveness as people frantically pull and fight against one another so they alone might be first into the water to receive God’s blessing? I can imagine destructive, self-serving behavior being the rule of the day every day at the Pool of Bethesda. Cursing, tripping, clawing must have been overwhelming; it was a system where winning could happen only at the expense of another. Think of the deep disappointment of all those who lost the race and of the dark vows and strategies they surely nursed for “tomorrow”—strategies to create more losers and one winner: me.

But then the Savior appears and speaks a simple command: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Oh, that I could hear His voice in the same way as this man. How much of life is spent trying to win at someone else’s expense? I remember years of extensive travel, leaving wife and children to face multiple days and nights without a husband and father at home. I think of the times I have been too occupied with my own activities to give generously to others who needed me, and I cringe in shame. Am I no different than all those sharp-elbowed pool watchers? Am I no less eager to receive at my friends’ expense? Must others lose so I might win? I see now why there is such a system: it is my system.

Prayer: Lord, Paul’s words in Romans 6:2, “May it never be!” come to mind, yet I know my own heart remains too selfish for You to yet find a comfortable home there. Forgive me, Lord. Continue Your work of refining and purifying in me. I do want to be like Jesus in all things.

May 3rd, 2021

Manassehs and Hezekiahs

2 Kings 21:9 “But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.             

Observation: Manasseh was the longest-serving king in Judah’s history. His father was the godly King Hezekiah, and his mother was Hephzibah, meaning, “His delight is in her.” But despite such a godly heritage, Manasseh was one of the most evil kings the southern kingdom had known. He restored all the pagan practices of the nations that opposed Judah, becoming so bad that 2 Kings 21:9 summarizes his reign by saying that Manasseh led the nation to do more evil than even that which was practiced by the pagans that God had destroyed.

Application: My heart broke as I read this chapter, to realize that a contemptibly evil person as Manasseh could be spawned from such godly parents. My heart cries out that evil patterns once conquered by good, ought to remain conquered. Hezekiah was not a perfect man; there is only one such man. But Hezekiah’s heart had been to do good in God’s sight, and he had generally followed through on that good intention.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that had been the end of the story? Wouldn’t I love to hear that the upward path set by Hezekiah could simply be followed to higher and higher planes of God’s approval and blessing. But life is not like that. We experience victories as well as defeats in this life.

Sometimes I run, sometimes I stumble. Rejoicing is followed by mourning, and rejoicing comes again. Confidence mates with despair. Fear follows faith. That Manasseh could be the offspring of Hezekiah isn’t an aberration; it’s simply life, particularly a life lived without unrelenting watchfulness. It shows me that I need to be constantly vigilant. I am all too aware that it is my nature to fall, and the greatest danger of spiritual slothfulness often seems to come on the heels of great victory.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder to be constantly vigilant. As a man, as a father, help me to not let down my guard. I have seen in my own life how easy it is for Manassehs to follow Hezekiahs. Stir me to zealously be on guard when I might otherwise doze. Keep my spirit man alert to hear and respond to Your leading.