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.

June 2nd, 2020

Chasing Her Tail

Hosea 2:6–7a “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.”

Observation: Israel is portrayed as an unfaithful wife bearing illegitimate children (v. 5) in alliances that can never satisfy. She is shown crediting her success to false lovers rather than acknowledging that it was her husband (God) who had miraculously and faithfully provided her every need. In response, God declares that He will wall her in, making it impossible for her to dally with the lovers she so avidly pursues.

Application: Think for a moment about the profound protection God offers to His beloved. She will not be permitted to find satisfaction in other than Him. Her repeated trysts with substitute lovers will be thwarted. No matter how frantic her efforts to pursue self-debasing relationships, God’s sovereign love will captivate her for her own good.

The Word says, “She will chase after her lovers but not find them,” conjuring an image of a dog fruitlessly pursuing its tail. Perpetually unsuccessful, it seems never-the-less to not tire of the effort.

What is it about the human heart that causes it to seek satisfaction other than in God? Why, against all evidence to the contrary, do we live as though this is our home, and that our chief end is to achieve success as the world measures such things?

It is embarrassing to admit to all the tails I have chased over the years, growling and barking as I circled in unrequited pursuit of “treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy.” (Matthew 6:19) But more embarrassing still, even shameful, is the honest confession that the tendency toward such pursuits has not yet been fully wrung from me.

The great news is this: into the darkness of such discomfiting admission shines the brilliant truth that my Lord and Savior, in His absolute commitment to me, has blocked my path. He has walled me in to prevent my most self-destructive tendencies. He has faithfully pulled me from doom’s brink so I can say, with Israel, “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.” (Hosea 2:7b)

Prayer: O Lord, I cannot begin to fathom the depths of Your love for me, passion that loves even as it disciplines. Thank You for multiplied mercies.

June 1st, 2020

Home to Roost

Hosea 1:2 “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’”

Observation: Hosea’s family life is to be used as an illustration of God’s relationship with His beloved, Israel. At the beginning of Hosea’s prophetic ministry God’s first command was that Hosea marry an adulteress as a way of illustrating Israel’s greatest sin: unfaithfulness to God.

Application: Generations of rebellion were about to come home to roost. Israel had repeatedly turned from God to worship pagan idols. She had made unrighteous alliances and repeatedly spurned God’s proffered mercies.

It is noteworthy to consider that God uses marriage as the metaphor for Hosea’s story. To have called Israel’s sin the “vilest adultery” suggests the depth and permanence of relationship God intended with Israel. And to command Hosea to enter into marriage with an adulterous wife further reinforces the way God viewed His commitment to His people. The essence of the term “adultery” contains the idea of illegitimate union with another. In Hosea’s language (vilest adultery) we have the strongest possible expression of God’s anger at Israel’s rebelliousness as He condemns her with words reflecting the sundering of the most intimate of relationships.

As I read through much of the Old Testament preceding Hosea, it is tempting to shake my head in disbelief over Israel’s patterns of unfaithfulness. But tongue-clucking too hastily can obscure the fact that God’s object lesson to Israel can have uncomfortable application to modern followers of Christ, as well.

The two testaments reinforce one another. The Old illustrates that there has always been a Father passionately pursuing relationship with His chosen ones, requiring of them nothing less than perfect, wholehearted obedience. The New shows the lengths to which God has gone to win my heart. Yet vilest adultery is what I too often have handed Him in return. Relegating Him to the edges of commitment, I struggle with pursuits that give lie to the idea that this earth is not my home.

Paul calls me, in Hebrews 12:1, to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles…” It is to Christ alone that I must be wed. He remains a jealous lover, content with nothing less than my wholehearted devotion to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You have not been deterred by even my vilest adulteries. I am grateful for new mercies each morning, and I commit myself afresh to pursue You above all else.

May 31st, 2020

Inertia Toward Destruction

1 Kings 22:8(b) “…but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.”

Observation: Ahab, king of Israel, was preparing to war when an allied king, Jehoshaphat, encouraged Ahab to first seek God’s counsel. Ahab maintained a stable of four hundred false prophets who assured Ahab of the campaign’s success, but Jehoshaphat pressed, asking if there was “a prophet of the Lord” (v. 7) we could inquire of. Ahab declared his hatred of the Lord’s true prophet, Micaiah, because his prophesies were always, in Ahab’s view, bad.

Application: Here we have the sad picture of an Israeli king blissfully unaware that he was about to meet his doom. He had purposely surrounded himself with four hundred “yes” men. Micaiah was the true prophet, but Ahab hated his counsel because Micaiah was unfailingly honest, never sugar-coating his response.

Micaiah described an astonishing scene around the heavenly throne where the Lord assembled all the host of heaven to ask, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking…and going to his death there?” (v. 20) When a spirit volunteered for the task, God said, simply, “Go and do it.” (v. 22)

Should I think Ahab stupid for proceeding? I can anticipate the end of the story without further reading. If that be so, then why am I so eerily like Ahab, surrounding myself with approving friends, business associates and employees who readily urge me on? How shall the small voice of the Holy Spirit be heard amidst life’s cacophony?

Notice this: even the godly king Jehoshaphat who asked Ahab to consult God’s true prophet, remained silent in the face of Ahab’s obstinate determination to have his own way. How easy it is to think I am following God’s will when I have heard neither His counsel, nor the honest feedback of godly friends and mentors.

My problem is, I can believe that since I am surrounded by godly colleagues, they have heard from the Lord in my behalf and have spoken truth into my life when in fact, I have not even asked. In reality, their forward progress with me may result simply from warm association, a sort of inertia toward my destruction.  It is God’s view alone that I must hear and heed, regardless of the pressure to do otherwise.

Prayer: Father, how easily I can be lulled into equating the comforting presence of Christian friends with Your approval. Cause me to seek Your counsel above all others.

May 30th, 2020

Pimples and Self-Importance

1 Kings 20:42 “He said to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says. You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’”

Observation: A prophet is speaking to Ahab king of Israel, condemning him to death for making a lucrative financial treaty with a defeated enemy and then releasing him. In response, the prophet made clear that God’s intention had been to kill Israel’s enemy but that since Ahab had released him without consulting God, Ahab’s life would be required instead, and Israel would face future defeat.

Application: Ahab’s error in this instance sprung from a habit of taking action on his own. Earlier, when Israel’s much stronger enemy had prepared to attack, God had sent a prophet (1 Kings 20:13) to convey divine strategy and assure victory. Though Ahab had then been obedient, we should notice that he had not sought God’s counsel; it had come at God’s sovereign initiation.

Something similar happened the following spring when Ahab again mustered his army against an external threat and God graciously sent an unrequested prophet with a battle plan from on high. As if to emphasize God’s initiative this time, as the defeated army fled to a city behind the lines, God supernaturally caused a city wall to collapse on twenty-seven thousand of them.

What happens in a man’s heart to so blindly miss the obvious pattern of God’s provision? How could Ahab have received such overwhelming though unsolicited blessing on these occasions yet still not humble himself to seek God’s counsel? After his self-sufficiency had produced his own death sentence, Ahab returned “sullen and angry” to his palace, still unrepentant. (1 Kings 20:43)

What must God do to break my heart with knowledge of His goodness? He has taken every possible initiative to make Himself known, yet I am far too often like the know-it-all teen filled with pimples and self-importance. Despite years of wise counsel and good example from senior generations, arrogant self-confidence drives the teen to make decisions independent of consultation with those who have wisdom to share. I have far too often been like the teen, and like Ahab.

In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, I have not just an advocate but a lover who possesses all knowledge and wisdom. He wants me to seek Him in all things, to rely upon Him more. Self-confidence from the arrogance of past success holds enormous danger; surely previous demonstrations of His love should drive me deeper into His embrace.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord that You are willing to guide in every area of my life. Make me wise to seek Your face in all things.

May 29th, 2020

Jeeves

1 Kings 19:5–6 “Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around and there, by his head, was a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.”

Observation: Elijah had fled Jezebel’s murderous pursuit. Exhausted and depressed, he went into the desert and prayed he would die there. “I have had enough, Lord; take my life,” (v4) then he fell asleep. He was awakened by an angel’s touch to find a cake of bread and jar of water. He ate, drank, and then lay down to sleep again.

Application: How easy it is to relate to Elijah in this moment. “I’ve had all I can take, Lord; I’m tired of living, sick of the difficulties of my situation, and exhausted beyond relief.” Who has not had such thoughts?

Yet see how God responds. The all-powerful God has no more ongoing “need” of Elijah than He has for me. God will accomplish His purposes; if I dig in my heels and say no to him, His plans will not be thwarted…I will simply miss the joy of getting in on what He is up to. But here we see that even as Elijah sank into the deep sleep of the despairing, God still ministered tenderly to him by sending an angel for his protection and sustenance.

Here is the astonishing part: roused by the angel, Elijah simply ate, drank, and lay down to sleep again. There is no suggestion of Elijah’s being surprised at being tapped on the shoulder by an angel. Was the angel’s presence so commonplace that Elijah could take it for granted? Was he so depressed that not even a heavenly Jeeves bearing bread and water on a silver tray could truly rouse him? Scripture is silent on these questions, but of one thing I am certain: I have been like Elijah more than I care to admit. Defeated, wound-licking discouragement has caused me to take for granted God’s on-going, generous, unmerited provision in my life.

My faithful God, who could so easily move on to find a more pleasant, appreciative vessel for accomplishing His purposes, none-the-less lingers lovingly over me. He awakens me and shows me the banquet He has prepared, undeterred by my seasons of unappreciative funk. He restores life, He encourages renewal of my mind and spirit, and He meets my every need through His surpassing greatness whether I acknowledge it or not. He bids me to “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Prayer: Father, your faithfulness has been true in every season of my life, and it is true now. Fill me with a deep sense of gratitude for all You have done.

May 28th, 2020

Aimless Wandering

Matthew 28:5 “The angel said, ‘Do not be afraid for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.’”

Observation: Jesus had been crucified two days earlier and buried in a tomb. The two Marys…Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John…had sat opposite the tomb watching the burial and the subsequent sealing of the tomb’s entrance. Now, after Sabbath, the Marys had gone again to look at the tomb when they encountered the angel who said, “I know you are looking for Jesus…”

Application: Was the angel wrong? After all, verse 1 very clearly says they had gone “to look at the tomb.”

These devastated, grieving women had not a thought in the world of seeing Jesus. They had witnessed the cruelty of His crucifixion and burial; they knew Him to be dead. They did intend to see His body, for Luke 24:1 tells us they had brought spices with which to anoint Him for the burial that had occurred before Sabbath. But the angel spoke as if they had gone to see something more than a corpse, yet surely not; if they had expected to see a living man, why would they have brought burial spices?

No, these women were like all bereaved. Once dirt has been mounded, flowers lovingly laid before the tombstone and weeds pulled from near the polished marble, they would simply sit at the tomb and look.

This does not seem a promising way to spend yet a second day; doesn’t life have to move on? There is grain to grind, eggs to gather, clothes to lug to river’s edge. But those who have lost a loved one know all too well the slow-motion nothingness that surrounds heart and mind in death’s aftermath. It is enough to go again to stare at the tomb as though nearness to a plot of freshly turned prairie could restore relationship, as though tending the gravesite could substitute for caressing the one now buried.

But the angel knew better than they what their hearts longed for. While they sought “place”, He offered relationship. They were like a small child meandering slowly through the house in pursuit of a lost shoe, not realizing that the waiting father would joyously sweep her high overhead in spasms of delight once both feet were shod. “Push past the aimless wandering”, the father urges! “I’m taking you on a picnic, in the woods, with mommy,” each phrase building appeal into the day’s promise. The child pokes along unaware of the joy set before her. But God knows. The angel knew. I do not seek a lost shoe, or a place. My heart longs for Jesus who once was dead, but now is gloriously alive.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for repeatedly setting my sights far too low, for being content to gaze at loss when You offer intimacy.

May 27th, 2020

Tottering Tower

1 Thessalonians 2:16 “…in this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.”

Observation: Paul is writing to the Thessalonian church to encourage new believers toward maturity and to hearten mature believers to trust in and look forward to Christ’s sure return. Paul characterizes those who oppose such evangelism as displeasing to God and says, “In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”

Application: The image of sins being heaped up to the limit is mind boggling. To achieve such heights might be prize worthy in another setting, yet that is likely not what Paul had in mind.

Sins…heaped up…to the limit. Sin piled upon sin until the tower totters, presently to collapse under their collective weight. It is that collapse Paul refers to when he writes, “The wrath of God has come upon them at last.” (v. 16b) Like the rushing torrent of a mighty flood causing breachment as it gathers behind a sodden earthen dam, everything downstream is doomed.

What has caused this heaping up of sins? Simply this: opposition to Paul’s efforts to bring the Gospel to the gentiles. Fortunately, I would never oppose efforts to spread the Gospel. I am part of a decidedly evangelical church. I support missionary efforts whenever deserving appeals are made. Surely Paul couldn’t have me in mind, could he?

How easily I am deceived into false self-satisfaction! My every spending decision is a direct reflection of my commitment to the Gospel’s spread. Young Hudson Taylor, in England for training before departing for a missionary life in China, purposely lived far below his means in England. He wanted to sensitize himself to anticipated conditions in China, and he wanted more funds available for ministry.

I must ask myself: What have I given up to make more funds available for ministry? Have I accepted a humbler dwelling? Have I sacrificed travel or household purchases that the Gospel might be furthered? Has my commitment to Christ circumscribed my entertainments in meaningful ways?

This Paul fellow can become a real meddler at times. He writes of overt opposition heaping up sins, but I wonder how God’s wrath might touch me as I passively continue a comfortable life accumulating what I cannot keep while others make the real sacrifices for the Gospel.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for how much of this world’s goods I apply to my own comfort. Stir me to further simplify my lifestyle, that more could be given.

May 26th, 2020

Hammer of Enforcement

Philippians 3:15–16 “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

Observation: Paul had a few verses earlier written, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (vs 9–11) Now he follows with a statement of surpassing grace, encouraging the mature to take his position on the matter, but trusting God to clarify truth for any who are not yet in agreement.

Application: Grace is such a wonderful thing. Think how much lower life’s decibels would be if we would extend such ready grace to one another as a matter of routine. My tendency is first to count myself among the mature to whom Paul refers, which leads inescapably to the conclusion that my view of a matter should be the one to prevail.

From there, it is but a small step to the sweeping conclusion that everyone ought to think like me. How lovely it would be (how smart you would be) if your view would align with mine.

While it is entirely possible that I may actually hold a correct view, I err seriously in trying to force my beliefs upon another. In doing that, how, exactly, does my behavior differ from the Taliban’s? “I have the corner on truth in this matter”, I declare; then comes the hammer of enforcement. Everyone is required to think and believe like me, to dress like me, to work according to my boundless fervor. If they don’t, punishment must surely follow.

What is utterly lost in the passion of such leadership is grace: grace to hear God on one’s own, grace to grow along different lines of gifting, grace to create one’s own mold rather than to simply be stuffed into someone else’s. Paul’s next verse (16) expresses the need perfectly: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” This reminds me of the phrase, “I already have more than I can say ‘grace’ over.”

My call, like Paul’s, is to hear God as well as I can and respond to His direction for my life as wholeheartedly as possible. In this, I should set such a clear standard that anyone who follows my example would be unashamed. The balance of my privilege is to encourage and mentor others to fulfill their own highest destiny in Christ. Theirs will not look like mine, but by grace, each of us will find our place at the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep my eyes on the prize for which You have called me. Give me passion to follow You and grace for others to do the same.

May 25th, 2020

Ultimate Identity Swap

2 Samuel 9:7 “‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’”

Observation: After serving as king for a number of years, David asks his retinue whether there was any surviving remnant of Saul’s family to whom he could show kindness. Eventually he found Mephibosheth, son of his dear friend Jonathan, who had been five years old when Jonathan had died (v. 4). Surely David had once known the boy, but years have now passed and Mephibosheth has a child of his own. Mephibosheth had a tough life, having been crippled in both feet through an accident. Dispossessed of land and inheritance even though his grandfather Saul had been incredibly wealthy, Mephibosheth has been reduced to living with a kind patron these intervening years.

Application: For Mephibosheth, literally everything changed the instant he came into the king’s presence. It was in David’s heart to be generous and kind to Jonathan’s son. Upon meeting David, Mephibosheth’s first thought was fear, but then he heard David’s reassuring, “Don’t be afraid.” Imagine coming into the presence of the great king, the one who now owns all the assets of your ancestors. Fear is a reasonable response, but David’s desire was to cancel fear and to show Mephibosheth kindness.

The next thing Mephibosheth heard was that all the family wealth would be restored, and that he would forevermore dine at the king’s table. It was almost as though David was adopting this one who was once lost. Astonishing!

What a wonderful depiction of my own relationship with the King of Kings. I come to him in brokenness and poverty, crippled from life’s pain, and find there a great and generous king eager to bestow His love and acceptance, a king who has made provision at His bountiful table for me. Having humbled myself before Him, there will be no recrimination for my heritage of opposition. Instead, He gladly restores that which was lost and bids me live under His protective covering for the rest of my days.

In that instant my poverty is traded for His plenty; my lameness is no longer a handicap. Just as David himself longed to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”, (Psalm 27:4) so now I am invited to do the same. Once a prince in a rebellious house, I now rejoice, as Mephibosheth, at being given new identity.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your pursuit of me has been faithful and long. I fully receive afresh today Your offer of relationship and a place at Your table. Thank You for seeking me among the lame and the poor, and for giving me new life in Your house forever.

May 24th, 2020

The First Electrician

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

Observation: By this mid-point in the book of Ephesians, language tumbles from Paul’s pen in a veritable torrent of rejoicing in all that Christ has done for us. We were formerly far from God; now we are near. We were formerly outcasts; now we are “in Him”. We were formerly prisoners of flesh with no hope except eternal separation from Him; now we have been reconciled to God through Christ. We were formerly strangers and aliens; now we are fellow citizens with the saints, and all a part of God’s household. Formerly we had to live in ignorance of the things of God; now He has revealed everything through the Holy Spirit. Such exuberance! Such unsurpassed exaltation! And it builds to this stunning statement: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name.”

Application: Why is this statement such a showstopper? It paints a picture of the Godhead in perfect unity: God the Father with a plan from the beginning for the perfect reconciliation of me to Himself; the plan perfectly and completely implemented by the Son who now indwells every believer through the power and might of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that all this has been for the purpose of grounding my heart in love. Imagine! Paul, through the Holy Spirit, knowing about the need to be grounded in order to have power, and this centuries before the discovery of electricity! All of this, Paul says, causes him to fall to his knees in worship of the heavenly family after which every earthly family is to be modeled.

The problem is, I wasn’t raised in a family like that. Sadly, neither were my children. In fact, apart from Christ Himself, none of us has grown up in a family with such fathering. Neither have I been a picture of Christ in my development as a son. What shall I do in the midst of such shortcoming? How shall I ever be free when in fact my earthly family has fallen so far short of the ideal modeled by my heavenly Father and His Son?

I’m in an awful fix because to the extent others or I have fallen short, they “owe” me, or I “owe” them. Like the foreman of an assembly line that never produces a perfect product, God has every right to throw the lot onto the trash heap. And I, being broken and imperfect, should well go through life expecting to be trashed at the end. But God’s plan was to change the assembly, to rebuild my DNA, to find a new power source, one not grounded in self-centered traditions of men, but one grounded instead in the love of Christ, that I might be “filled up to all the fulness of God.” (4:19) Once that happened I must no longer define myself by my brokenness; rather, I exalt with Paul who ends the chapter like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

Prayer: Wow, Lord. I am in awe of Your power to transform my heart. How I praise You!