February 25th, 2018

First Smoke

Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Observation: In this simple phrase we discover again Scripture’s commitment to utter honesty. As severe as a “fool’s judgment” must surely be, the passage goes on to declare the universality of fools: “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Verse 3)

Application: It is worth noticing that a fool disclaims God “in his heart”, as opposed to shouting his convictions from the city square. Although some have indeed been that demonstrative, most of us are not willing to take so public a stand. It is as though there is an inner, secret yearning for an ultimate judge, for one who could govern the affairs of man and bring order out of decay, and enlightened understanding out of encroaching darkness.

Most of us well know that there is indeed such a powerful, awful presence brooding in the background of our lives, watching and waiting to pounce. Why else would young boys sneak their first smoke in hiding? Hearts racing, hunkered into a tight clutch against the match-defeating breeze (whom do they think sent that breeze anyway?) They hide precisely because they well know rebellion is not safe. There remains a measure of fear that the persistent breeze may carry mother’s voice as she inspects the puffs of smoke coming from the garage.

Proverbs 23:7 states my problem clearly: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Thoughts lead to behavior, and repeated behavior leads to depravity of the kind described in the balance of Psalm 14:1, “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Let’s say I have been convicted of some sinful behavior such as inner lusting for wealth or sex. I have sought counsel because something within yearns for intimacy with Him, and I understand lust to interfere with intimacy, yet I nonetheless take a questionable tax deduction. Or, perhaps I’ve had a problem with pornography. After years of my best efforts I am “mostly” victorious, yet I grow nervous as I approach the magazine aisle, knowing my eyes can so easily lead to sinful behavior. This is a plague of the deadliest kind, manifesting a form of Godliness, but without power to prevail in intimacy with Him.

The reality is my actions disclose my heart condition. Paul writes of this in Titus 1:16 where he says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for anything good.” Do I think he is only describing the other guy?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You alone have the power to deliver me fully and permanently from my heart sicknesses. Work there, Lord, for it is there that behaviors change. Let me never again be like the furtive, foolish boy hiding his first smoke.

February 24th, 2018

Welcoming What We Resist

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter. . . The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.”

Observation: The fullness of the truth of these verses can perhaps be known only in our personal experience of profound loss.

Application: As a culture, we tend to celebrate the birth of babies and mourn the death of loved ones. In the physical sense, how could it be otherwise? The hope and promise in the form of a newborn baby fill us with a sense of eager anticipation for the future. And yet, if we reflect honestly, we acknowledge that the life stretching before the child also holds the promise of illness, unfair treatment, and other multiplied griefs.

In the passing of a believer, however, we are filled with a wonderful sense of completion, of a life now free from pain and abuse. In the physical realm we mourn because of temporary separation. Yet for the Christian, the assurance of life’s continuing in His presence is the source of the deepest possible happiness.

All this leads me to conclude that it requires great wisdom and insight for me to see as God sees and to understand as God understands. For while I dread the temporary separation which death brings, and fight against such instruments of that death as cancer, MS, and heart disease, I am wise to fix my heart and mind on what lies beyond. In doing so, I begin to understand this “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17), as His instrument for my graduation; in fact, I may see it as a good friend, serving as my gateway to eternal praise and thanksgiving.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this reminder that this world is not my ultimate home, but that I find my resting place in You. Cause my mind to become fixed upon the eternal rewards You have purchased for me, and even to welcome the fact that Your plan for my eternal joy lies in the ending of life as I know it on earth. Thank You that I need not fear death, O Lord; stir zeal in me this day and every day to worship You even now, while awaiting that final graduation into the fullness of Your presence.

February 23rd, 2018

The Father’s Model

Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

Observation: Paul had been expanding the concept of the body of Christ, enlarging it to include not only Jews who believe, but believing Gentiles, as well.  He had just said that the riches of Christ are unfathomable, and that he had been given grace to bring to light mysteries that had been hidden in God for all the preceding ages. 

Paul was stating his understanding of his mission, and then come these wonderful thoughts in verses 14 and 15 where, at least for a moment, Paul was no longer focused on complex theology, but instead, gives us a word picture. He says that every family on earth is to be modeled after the heavenly family. God the father and His dear Son were to be the perfect picture after which our earthly families were modeled.

Application: Who among us grew up in an earthly family like that, where there was a father who loved perfectly, who discipled and disciplined in perfect love? Who among us grew up being able to look at our earthly parents and see there reflected the breadth and length and height and depth of the Father’s love? 

Obviously, the answer is that none of us had such parenting, nor have any of us been such parents ourselves. To the extent earthly parenting has fallen short of God’s model, I must deal, at some level, with issues of unforgiveness. God set the standard through His relationship with Jesus Christ. To the extent that His standard has not been experienced in the parenting I received is the extent to which release and forgiveness must be given if I am ever to know the fullness of the Father’s love.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray that I might receive the riches of Your glory, to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in my inner man. Cause me, Lord, to be full of grace and to have compassion for those who disappoint, those who fall short of being a perfect reflection of the Father’s love. I need Your mercy for my own shortcomings. You, O Lord, are able to do all these things and far more. I bless You and thank You for not giving up on me.

February 22nd, 2018

Acceptance in Him

Proverbs 22:2 “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.”

Observation: This verse is the great leveler of Scripture. The Lord is indeed the maker of all, and because of that we do indeed have a common bond. Between rich and poor He has no preference; He has made and loves us all.

Application: Elsewhere, Paul said that regardless of his station in life, he had learned to be contented. Romans 14 makes a similar point, not referring to our allotment of the world’s goods, but based instead upon our belief in Christ. Paul said in verses 17 and 18 that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and all who serve Christ in this way are acceptable to God. Even though our convictions about certain matters of opinion may differ, the Lord loves each one who has come to Him in faith; we are accountable to live what we have conviction to live (verse 22). We are not to judge another, and we ought to celebrate the fact that the Lord loves us all. 

As an example, look at Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Or Romans 14:13, “Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Or verse 14: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

Whether we eat and give thanks to the Lord for our food or whether we fast in honor of the Lord, each of us is accountable and can be pleasing to Him. So we must not exalt or value one system above another, but rather exalt God and live faithfully what He has called us to live.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this reminder that love covers all things, and that Your love is above everything else. You care that I live my life in You, and You extend a wonderful measure of freedom in how that might look for me. Cause me to love whom You love and to embrace what You embrace.

February 21st, 2018

Living Wholeheartedly for Him

Proverbs 7:1-5 “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call understanding your intimate friend; that they may keep you from an adulteress.”

Observation: The straightforward language of this passage urges pursuit of wisdom that we might be wise enough to avoid the snares of the adulteress.

Application: I see today that this adulteress is a much broader and more cunning problem than a temptress to sexual sin. The adulteress is anyone or anything that entices me away from purity, away from the wholehearted pursuit of Jesus, away from a love relationship with the Creator God and His Son.

Paul affirmed this in Romans 9:2-4 when he mourned over many of his countrymen by saying, “I have great sorrow and increasing grief in my heart . . . for the sake of my brethren and my kinsmen, according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law.” He goes on to say that it isn’t the word of God that has failed. Rather, the problem is with men who have tried to pursue the law according to the flesh.

The fact is, I become what I pursue. In today’s reading, the writer of Proverbs said to “keep my words and treasure my commandments…Bind them on your fingers, write them on…your heart …call understanding your intimate friend.” I become what I pursue, taking on the attributes of what I spend time with. But Proverbs 9:18 says, “He does not know that the dead are there.”

Prayer: Lord God, keep me from dwelling in the place of the dead. I love Your precepts, Lord; they are life and breath to my very bones. Cause there to spring up in my heart this day a passion for Your Word—Your dear Son. Keep me from pursuing You according to the flesh.”

February 20th, 2018

Beholding the King

1 Kings 10:6-7 “’It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I had heard.’”

Observation: The queen of Sheba had heard reports of the wisdom and prosperity of King Solomon and had traveled 1,200 miles by camel to see for herself.

Application:     I, too, marvel at the vast riches of Solomon’s domain as I read these verses. The majestic throne carved from pure ivory, solid gold drinking cups, mountains of spices from around the world, and such profound wisdom that leaders from everywhere came to seek Solomon’s counsel. Never before had there been such a concentration of wealth and wisdom, nor would there be again until the return of the King of kings.

After fixing the clearest possible mental picture of the riches of Solomon’s kingdom, I then allow my mind to wander over all of God’s creation—the majesty of the mountains, the unmatched beauty of the interplay of sky, meadow, river, and forest, each filled with an abundance of life. Then I focus on this thought: all that I see, all that I can even imagine seeing of the wonders of the world, is the aftermath of destruction.

Every breathtaking view my clouded eyes behold is the residue of the flood of Noah just a few thousand years ago. All creation was destroyed, and every feature of the earth changed from the glory God originally created. Just as Solomon’s majesty and glory dim in comparison to the glory and beauty of the King of kings, all creation I look at today is but a dim reflection of His incomparable original design. One day I will see all this clearly. I will be stunned, as was the queen of Sheba regarding Solomon’s glory, to grasp His full magnificence.

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for the glimpses You give me of how powerful, how beautiful, You really are. Thank You, too, for planting deep within me the knowledge that I can now only behold the ”beginning of the beginning” of Your marvelous character and Your creative power. Cause me to hunger after more of You, Lord. Give me a divine disquiet in my heart as I contemplate how little I truly know of You. Cause me to pant with thirst for the river of refreshing that comes only from Your throne, O God. And thank You that full satisfaction is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. You do intend to be known, and it’s in Him that I can know You!

February 19th, 2018

Missed Opportunity

1 Samuel 5:8(b) “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?”

Observation: Philistines had captured God’s ark when Israel, in presumption, had carried it into battle. Eli, Israel’s leading priest, had fallen over and died when he heard news (v. 4:18) of the Ark’s capture and the death of his two sons in battle. The Philistines knew they had taken an important prize and placed the Ark next to their god Dagon in his temple. The next day they found poor Dagon flat on his carved face, so they righted him only to find it there following day not only fallen again, but this time beheaded with his hands broken off (v. 5:4) and the local citizenry afflicted with devastating tumors (v. 5:6). So they asked the logical question: “What shall we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?”

Application: What a fascinating illustration of the power of sin’s stronghold on a people. Israel had lost over 30,000 troops in the battle against the Philistines.  All the armor, all the weapons, all the heavy artillery they brought to bear against the enemy was for naught…everything was lost. But God’s Presence resided in the captured Ark. And from there He did greater damage and instilled more fear into the Philistines than 30,000 warriors had been able to do.

Yet the peoples’ response was not to fall on their face to worship this God who had shown Himself so powerful. Instead, their only reaction was to ask, “Now that we have this thing, what do we do with it? It’s causing us unprecedented pain, so how can we get rid of it?”

Talk about missed opportunity! The Source of salvation Himself was in their midst, yet they were so bound by darkness as to never have considered that the potential for freedom was at hand. I wonder…how many times have I acted as they did? Planning perhaps to do something a bit on the shady side….something I know better than to do…God’s conviction comes and I have a choice to make, a choice to change course and yield to Him, but too often I would instead plot ever more carefully to keep my secret, and plow forward. Eventually, like Dagon, I fall on my face, utterly broken before the God of the universe, undone by His convicting love.

I ought to consider Luke 12:45-46 here: “But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live inside me, to bring conviction when I allow my thoughts to wander far from You. Make me quick to recognize conviction as a great river of Your love washing over me, protecting and guiding me back to peace. Back to joy. Back to contentedness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

February 18th, 2018

The Unnamed Daughter

Judges 11:36 “My father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised…(but) give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

Observation:  Israel had been severely oppressed by the Ammonites for years when Jephthah, one of Gilead’s sons, rose up to defeat Israel’s enemies (11:32). Ahead of the battle Jephthah, filled with the Spirit “…made a vow to the Lord: ‘If You give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph…I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’” When he came home, his daughter came out of the house, dancing with timbrel in celebration. Jephthah tore his clothes in anguish saying, “I have made a vow to the Lord I cannot break.”

Application: “…because I will never marry?” Never marry?! Is that the reason for your weeping? What about crying over your coming sacrifice, oh innocent one? What about shedding tears over the fact that your dearly beloved father is soon to bind your hands and feet, lay you on the altar and plunge his knife into you? I can hardly conceive that this unnamed maiden of Israel responded as she did: “Do to me just as you promised.” Yet she did. And I can hardly imagine Jephthah following through on his vow. Yet he did. She was still a virgin, obviously devoted to her father, and an only child. All she asked of him was a two-month delay to give her time to roam the hills to weep with her friends because she would never marry. Ultimately she apparently returned home so her father could sacrifice her to the Lord.

This story conjures images of another father generations earlier who would sacrifice his only son, another innocent. Abraham was old and frail; Isaac was a strapping young man full of strength who could easily have evaded Abraham’s knife. Yet he willingly carried the wood for his own funeral pyre up the mountain with his father, and then submitted meekly as Abraham bound his hands and feet. Scripture contains not a hint of struggle; Isaac became a willing sacrifice just as did Jephthah’s daughter.

I have often thought about Christ’s willingness to lay down His life for me and have wondered whether His supernatural pre-knowledge of the plan for mankind’s salvation might have somehow made it easier for Him to willingly surrender to the Cross. Of course at some level I see evidence of how very hard it was for Him…the bloody sweat at Gethsemane, for example. Yet today I read of a daughter of Israel willingly laying down her life to honor her father’s vow to God. Surely she had no foreknowledge whatsoever of any redemptive purpose in it; her sacrifice came centuries before the Cross and the empty tomb. And I wonder: what sort of sacrifice does God require of me? What do I count as loss in light of all that He has done? He tells me I must lose my life in order that I might gain it. But really…in light of all the daily noise and tasks of life, have I laid down anything at all that is worthy of His sacrifice?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You call on me to surrender everything, and You hold out eternal life as my reward. You have promised me so much more than Isaac or Jephthah’s daughter could have hoped for. Stir in me such zeal that I would willingly, gladly die to still more of life’s attractions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

February 17th, 2018

His Increasing Presence

2 Chronicles 5: “…and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the Ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted..”

Observation: The temple’s construction was complete. Solomon had fulfilled David’s vision for building a Temple in Jerusalem so grand, so magnificent that it was unequalled by any structure the world had ever seen. All that remained was to bring into it the Ark of the Covenant along with all its related sacred furnishings (v. 4). Solomon had summoned all Israel’s elders as the Levitical priests ceremonially carried the Ark to its place in the Temple’s inner sanctuary, the most holy place (v. 7). Musicians played and singers praised God by repeatedly singing, “He is good; His love endures forever!” (v. 13), and God’s glory filled the Temple; His presence was so strong that the priests could not function.

Application: This amazing procession with King and leaders preceding the Ark captivates my heart. Imagine! The Word says that as they went they sacrificed so many sheep and cattle they could not be counted. How many must that have been? I think of today’s priest slowly walking the aisle swinging his smoking censor. But today’s representation of Solomon’s original procession is but a dim reflection of the holiness…and the messiness…of the original. The priests of Solomon’s day must have walked within a river of blood surrounded by burning carcasses stretching as far as the eye could see, all the way to that place where God’s presence would be so strong as to bring all human activity to a halt.

I wonder: when was the last time my own sacrifices of praise or worship or giving or surrender were so lavish? When has my own sacrifice been so purposeful for such an extended period as to cause God’s glory to descend to the point of stopping all activity? Am I not His priest today? As part of His royal priesthood does my life reflect His glory so as to stop people in their tracks? Can they ever point to me and say, “He has been with God; God’s presence and glory are strong on him?”

Yes, sometimes. And it does seem most of the time that the trajectory of my life is toward increasing moments like that. But I long for more, and my heart is crushed in moments of shortcoming. The good news is that God joins me in that longing. These days of increasing darkness will also be days of His increasing presence. God’s promise is astonishing: “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples. But the Lord will arise upon you and His glory will appear upon you, and nations will come to your light and Kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isa. 60:1)

Prayer: Bring it on Lord. I need not fear the encroaching darkness because You promise that the very darkness that is so fearful, so foreboding to the world…that darkness is accompanied by Your glory so strong that I cannot stand in its presence. Thank You for such glorious hope in the midst of the world’s hopelessness. Thank You for the light of Your presence filling my heart even as the cloud of Your glory filled Solomon’s Temple so long ago. In Jesus’ Name!

February 16th, 2018

Back Seat Fighting

Numbers 14:33 “And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.”

Observation: Judgment had come upon the Hebrews. Of the twelve spies sent into Canaan, only Joshua and Caleb had been men of faith; the rest had given a coward’s report. God’s anger turned the spies’ forty-day outing into a forty-year banishment to the desert for the whole nation…a year of punishment for each day of spying (v. 34) The ten cowardly spies apparently died right away of the plague, (v 37), but the rest of the nation was doomed to roam the desert for forty years until everyone who was twenty or older had died (v. 35).

Application: Bummer! And they were so close to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land of promise. It lay just across the river, yet they must now turn aimlessly back into the desert. That place of hunger, thirst and tedious boredom was going to be their home until the last of them had died. God would not bespoil His precious gift by admitting this ungrateful crowd. Even as Moses pled for mercy God reminded him that this was the tenth time they had provoked Him (v. 22). Does He seem a bit like the frazzled parent who, tired of the back-seat fighting, ended the fuss by demanding, “Give me that! If you can’t share, neither of you can have it”, thereupon tossing the contested item out the window?

In this He is not unlike the parent of an incorrigible child. It is natural to remember every offence, each time he was called to the principal’s office, or each time she broke curfew. Disappointment piles upon disappointment, yet still there is a flicker of hope for repentance, a hope that provocation would end and we might restored to the offending one. Years may pass as offenses mount. But still we pray for redemption of the one lost, of restoration of heart relationship. In this am I not like God Himself? For surely He longs for restoration each time I wander away from intimacy with Him.

Even as the Hebrews once again merited His judgment God made a way of escape. And He promised that “Your little ones…I will bring in and they shall know the land that you rejected.” (v 31). Hope abounds, for I know that my Redeemer liveth!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am not unlike Your chosen people, led by Your mighty hand to the edge of blessing yet tending constantly toward complaint. Forgive me Lord. Cause me to become like one of Your little ones whom You bring in by Your right hand. Amen.