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.

October 19th, 2019

Roused

Zechariah 4:1 “Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is wakened from his sleep.”

Observation: In just fourteen short chapters, Zechariah prophesied more about Messiah than anyone but Isaiah. Chapter 4 relates a remarkable series of visions. But as interesting as all that is, I was arrested by Zechariah’s saying that He was roused by an angel.

Application: Roused by an angel. Imagine! Reading that filled me with instant jealousy. Zechariah wasn’t sleeping; he was already awake and conversing with an angel. But something in him apparently needed to be even more alive, even more attentive. How many of my days have been lived only partly awake? How much of my life has been lived routinely, not truly roused to the fullness of what is going on in the spiritual realm around me?

Clearly Zechariah was chosen by God to be His prophet; there is no suggestion at the beginning of the book that he stood on a hilltop and pled with the Lord to give him a prophetic voice. But aren’t we all chosen? 

Even before I came to Christ, God established a special, specific call on my life. After all, a great many gifts of the Spirit are expressed in natural abilities which He hardwired into me and which spring to life with kingdom impact once I am His.  Even pagans can be teachers, givers of casseroles to sick friends, or performers of acts of charity. But until God has roused that life and brought him or her to Christ, the expression of those natural ability gifts has little lasting impact. It takes Christ in me for my gifts to have eternal usefulness. 

What if I were to be truly roused? Am I not, like Zechariah, surrounded by angels? Do I think they are dumb, unable to speak? Of course not! Angels are conversing with us all the time. Is there perhaps some added dimension of attentiveness to God’s Spirit that, once roused to its reality, would make my current condition seem like slumber? Doesn’t the heart long to experience something more? Luke 12:2 promises this: “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be known.”

Prayer: Father, You see the longing of my heart to be roused to deeper dimensions of life in You. As best I know how, I surrender my mind, will, and emotions to Your tutelage. I need You to be my teacher. Rather than receiving the cacophony of voices around me that are not from You, let me be roused to new levels of wakefulness by Your Spirit.

October 18th, 2019

Clarion Call for Involvement

Deuteronomy 22:1, 3 “You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. … Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them.”

Observation: God here establishes rules for relationship among His people. His commands are startling by their intrusiveness. No one would be permitted to live anonymously in his neighborhood, excused from next-door attentiveness by the excuse of a busy workweek. This was a clarion call for involvement in the lives of others.

Application: The passage reinforces the importance of community, of living in caring relationship with one another. If someone has a need, I am first commanded not to ignore it; even more, I am to do all I can to meet it. 

It makes me think of the tendency of people who are hurting or ashamed over some failure in their life or in the life of a loved one, to withdraw from fellowship with others. Such withdrawal is too often met with cooperation from friends who welcome any excuse to not be bothered. Usually, though, withdrawal comes at precisely the stage of life where fellowship with others could be most helpful. The support of a caring, loving network can do much to bring light to a life darkened by pain.

Prayer: Lord, show me more as to how this passage applies to me today. Make me sensitive to needs around me, and eager to help with others’ losses. Teach me to be Your hands and Your heart in reaching out to others.

October 17th, 2019

Confusing Roles

Deuteronomy 19:1, 8-9 “When the Lord your God cuts off the nations, whose land the Lord your God gives you and if the Lord your God enlarges your territory,…and gives you all the land which He promised…if you carefully observe all this commandment…to love the Lord your God and to walk in His ways always…”

Observation: The Lord was describing His plan to give the Israelites all the land promised them, and even more, so there would be plenty of cities of refuge. The magnificent sweep of His promises was that if obeyed, He would be surpassingly generous in response.

Application: In the course of relating His promises to the people, God makes clear that there is a division of labor in His economy. God has a role, and I have a role. His part is to do the warring to cut off His enemies, to defeat every foe so my territory can be enlarged. My part is to possess what He has made available, and to love Him and to walk in His ways.

How often I confuse my role with God’s. Is it the responsibility of an employee to see that the rent is paid, equipment purchased, supplies laid in for the day’s work? Of course not. That is the responsibility of the owner, properly delegated. Still, when I survey what seems to have been laid before me, it seems I must be quarterback, receiver, and blocker as I rush the goal. But that is never God’s intent. He is the owner; it is His job to plan, His job to run interference so each play will delight with its apparent ease.

My problem is that I grow impatient or conclude that I know better than He what needs to happen. So I try to assume His responsibility, warring in the flesh, mistaking presumption for great faith. Whenever I do that, I am actually operating in a lack of faith, because I do not trust Him to do what He has said He would do.

Prayer: Father, teach me to wait upon You, to be content in Your timing. Your resources are more than sufficient to win every battle, so when it seems that I am losing, when I see myself sinking like Peter did as he walked on the water, remind me, Lord, that the battle is Yours, and cause me to learn what You want me to learn while going through Your process. I choose to sit at Your feet, focusing on Your beauty, waiting on You, yearning to become one with You in every way. I love You, Lord.

October 16th, 2019

Teleprompter and Cue Cards

Deuteronomy 17:18 “He shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.”

Observation: Moses was telling the people what he had heard God say, which included the fact that one day they would have a king. God required the king  to write out his own copy of the law, and do so in the presence of the priests. 

Application: The priests were probably there to make an honest man of the king, making sure he wrote the law completely and accurately. But of greater interest to me is that the king wasn’t to hire the writing done; he was to do it himself.

Think about why the king was to write the law himself. Why not just read what others had written; surely with a good teleprompter and cue cards he would be able to convince most of the people through future prime time telecasts that he knew the law inside and out.

I think about my own quiet time journaling in the context of this verse. I learn much more when I write it down. I read more purposely for meaning, and find myself being more intentional about asking God to teach me something from that day’s reading. 

Before journaling, I used to do my Bible reading in a comfortable chair; now I sit at a table, which makes me much more attentive. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it”  (NIV). Reading what others have written is good, but it is far more excellent to write myself what I hear God saying from His word. I realize that journaling is probably a very good idea.

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your faithfulness to meet me each morning. I know I can never recapture those countless mornings when I failed to meet You, but I’m just grateful for today with You, and look forward with eager anticipation to tomorrow.

October 15th, 2019

Responding to God’s Testing

Deuteronomy 13:3 “The Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Observation: Through Moses, God warned the people to have their guard raised high against false prophets who, though they come with signs and wonders, are not from God.

Application: The context here is that people and things will come into my life with the intent to draw me away from following God wholeheartedly. My response is to be two-fold; first, recognize the distraction for what it is so my heart and soul will be protected; and, secondly, kill the tempter. Remarkably, the rest of Deuteronomy 13 says to kill the tempter even if he or she is a prophet whose words come true, or even if he was my brother, “the wife you cherish,” or “a friend who is as your own soul” (verses 1, 6).

Whew! God seems pretty serious about wholeheartedly following Him. But this passage also makes clear that God uses the distracting things of life to test my heart. Will I be faithful to follow Him even amidst the distractions and temptations of life? His desire is that I brutally oppose those things that could distract my walk with Him. 

Turn off the TV! Cancel some subscriptions! Say no to some things I’m doing or being asked to do that don’t reinforce and build my secret life in Him. It’s interesting that verse 3 says I’m to love Him not just with my heart, but with my soul, as well. It’s soulish things that are my most immediate problem, things my eyes delight in or things I love to eat or the hottest car, the bigger home. Even such phrases as “love to eat,” “hottest,” or “bigger” reveal soulishness that is to be opposed as ultimately distracting me from whole-heartedness.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I’m thankful that You came to lay down a marker. The line in the sand that You draw is not flexible. You never bend Your standards nor reduce Your expectations for me. Yet even as You see me struggle, You remain my most faithful cheerleader, my affirmer. I’m so grateful that You look at me as the finished work You have in mind. Forgive me for my soulish pursuits, Lord, and draw me into greater intimacy with You. Let me be content to simply be still, allowing my mind to fix its gaze on nothing but Your beauty, Your majesty, and Your passion for me. I love You, Lord.

October 14th, 2019

Easier the First Time

Deuteronomy 10:1-3 “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand.”

Observation: When Moses had first come down the mountain with the original tablets of the Ten Commandments, he had found the people in rebellion and had destroyed the original tablets. So now, God was instructing him to cut two new tablets, build an ark to keep them in, and carry them up the mountain so God could again write His commandments. 

Application: These instructions must have felt like real punishment to Moses. The stunning thing about these verses is how much easier Moses’s life would have been if everyone had been obedient the first time. After all, the first time, God had cut the stone tablets out of the rock himself, using His finger. The second time around, Moses had to do it. 

How did that work? Did he use a band saw with carbon-tipped blade or perhaps a laser beam? Then, he was told to build an ark of acacia wood. Did the local Home Depot carry that kind of lumber? No, he would probably have to find an acacia tree and saw his own. 

Finally, this really, really old guy was to carry the blank stone tablets back up the mountain. Wow! Think how tempted he must have been to mutter epithets under his breath against the rebellious Israelites, but he knew better. After all, he was already paying the price for their rebellion in all this hard work he had to do. With each cut of the chisel in the stone, with each stroke of the saw, with each labored step up the mountain carrying his heavy burden, he must have been thinking how much easier it would have been to obey God the first time.

How many difficult things in my life might have been easier had I been quicker, or more thorough, in my obedience the first time around?

Prayer: Lord, remind me not to break these new tablets! Help me to learn of You the first time, to follow with a glad heart wherever You may lead so I don’t have to keep repeating lessons already taught. And show me Lord what situations I may be in now where I’m in danger of having to repeat a lesson because I’m not paying sufficient attention the first time.

October 13th, 2019

Planning Ahead

Mark 14:13-15 “And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’” And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready for us there.’”

Observation: Passover approached, and a place was needed for Jesus and the disciples to share it. Jesus gave clear instruction as to how they would take advantage of preparations already completed.

Application: The remarkable thing about these verses is that Jesus had every detail of their need prepared in advance of the question the disciples asked in Mark 14:12. He knew where they would celebrate, what the conversation with the proprietor would consist of, and even how they would find the proprietor, down to the detail of saying that their guide to him would be a man carrying a pitcher of water.

What a wonderful reminder that Jesus cares about the smallest details of my life. No matter how bleak things may seem, no matter how thick the darkness or how great the exhaustion clouding my vision, no matter how heavy my heart or how devoid of answers I may be, Jesus always is able to speak exactly the right word to bring clarity of vision and refreshing direction. 

In asking one of my young grandchildren to go on some great adventure with me such as walking to the mailbox, she has never questioned my planning for the event. There is no concern expressed as to weather conditions or wonder if we would be back by such-and-such a time. Instead, she simply trusts that being with me is enough; no thought of the details behind my plan ever occurs to her. In the same way, Jesus, who said He only does and says what He knows the Father wants Him to do and say, long ago had figured out how to meet the minutest need of my life. 

In this is affirmed Psalm 139, which says that His thoughts about me are more than could ever be counted, and that they began long before I was formed in my mother’s womb (see verses 13–18). What profound reassurance, enabling me to simply rest, secure in His presence.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so ashamed of all the times I can remember being afraid of some lack in my life. You have already planned for every detail, relationally, financially, and professionally; all needed provision is already “in You” and has been since the beginning of time. Cause me to become quiet enough to hear what You are saying, and to then trust in You.

October 12th, 2019

Stones Must Fall

Mark 13:2 “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.’”

Observation: A student of Jesus had just remarked on the beauty and magnificence of the surrounding buildings as they came out of the temple. As delighted by the works of men’s hands as the student was, Jesus struck to the heart of pride. He pierced through any satisfaction in temporal accomplishment by saying that it all had to come down.

Application: Was there anywhere a construction project more magnificent than the Jerusalem temple? Had not Solomon brought together the finest artisans and carpenters, and gathered the most precious building materials, to make this house for God? Hadn’t God’s own presence been manifest there?

We do the same thing today, spending months with architects and boards of directors, lining up lenders and meeting with governing authorities seeking permits for various aspects of our construction projects. We raise up mighty corporations and spend the bulk of our lives primarily in relationship with colleagues, not with family. We push to pay off the mortgage between the time the kids are out of college and the date of our retirement, working feverishly at the same time to build up an impressive 401(k). How much like my own heart are those buildings that looked so good to the outward observer. But Jesus said that all stones must fall.

He knows that my heart can be hard and cold as stones at times, prideful over accomplishments or possessions.  But His purpose is to break my heart, to utterly defeat pride of accomplishment, to tear down every high thing I have lifted up in my own strength and in my own eyes.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You are teaching me to cooperate with the work You want to do in and through me. I’m sorry for being such a slow learner, and I repent and ask Your forgiveness for every instance of stubbornness or rebellion against the correcting things You have wanted to do in my life. I want my life, my family, to be something You have built, Lord—something that will stand for all eternity. Show me day by day what my part is in the work You are doing in my own heart. Thank You, Lord.

October 11th, 2019

Seeing Past the Smoke

Deuteronomy 1:39 “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.”

Observation: The early chapters of Deuteronomy describe the Israelites poised at the edge of the Promised Land. They were finally ready to enter after forty years of wandering in the desert as the nation waited for the rebellious generation of adults to die off or to be killed by God (see Deut. 2:15). In today’s reading, God was reminding the people that one of the foolish justifications their parents had used for their disobedience to God was “concern” for the safety of their children. 

God’s response nearly forty years later is that not only will those little ones be kept safe by Him, but in fact, they are the very ones who will have the privilege of crossing over into the land God had first made available to their parents two generations earlier.

Application: It is painful to remember so many times in the past when I have tried to justify disobedience to what I knew God was saying with the claim that it was “for the benefit of my family,” or even more stupidly, “to serve the Lord.” I remember many lonely nights in motel rooms as I traveled the nation when our children were young. My speaking and working supposedly was to earn a living for them or to help the needy children of the world. The reality was that the Holy Spirit was wooing me to treat as higher priority my family’s need for my daily presence.

I suspect I am not alone in living by such an ill-advised priority system. Though I may blow smoke about how “I’m doing this for you, for us,” God sees through my real motives perfectly.

Finally, through my wife Cindy’s illness, God got my attention and wrung out of me the need to succeed in the world’s eyes by making a radical change in my lifestyle. He taught me that nothing is more important than obedience to Him in even the smallest detail.

Prayer: Father, I pray that these lessons, once learned, will not have to be repeated. Forgive me, Lord, for each action I have taken to pursue notoriety or fame or impact beyond the field You have provided for me to labor in.

October 10th, 2019

Living Free

Numbers 35:25 “And the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with holy oil.”

Observation: Various types of offenses carried different penalties. Here, a way to deal with someone who had unintentionally killed another person is proscribed (see Num. 35:15).

Application: Cities of refuge were places where an “unintentional” murderer could live in safety. The family of the deceased was given the right and authority to kill the murderer to avenge the death of their loved one, but they could only do this outside the city of refuge; inside the city was safety and sanctuary from judgment. And when the high priest (the one who was anointed with holy oil) died, the debt of the murderer was cancelled, and he could resume his life in safety; the right to avenge the death was cancelled by the death of the high priest.

This single verse sums up the entire Gospel! I am held accountable for my sin, including sins I had no conscious awareness of. But there is a place of safety—a place of refuge—designated by the Father. That place is in my accepting the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son as having been done for me personally.

This passage paints a picture of my coming voluntarily to Him for protection from my just penalty. By His death I am set free, no longer bound by the bondage of my sin. 

I love that this verse even describes the dying high priest as being the one who was anointed with the holy oil. Jesus Himself, my Great High Priest, was anointed with the oil of myrrh in preparation for his death on my behalf. God has shown this pattern of safety and redemption since the earliest days of dealing with His people. In myself, I deserve death—I deserve to receive punishment for my sin, yet He provided Jesus to pay my penalty. By His shed blood and broken body I am living free.

Prayer: Father, thank You that I can walk in freedom because of Your sacrifice.  And Lord, I pray that the eyes of the blind would be opened, that they might understand the implications of what You wrote here thousands of years ago.