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.

February 26th, 2021

The Backpack

Ezekiel 12:3–6 “Prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; … Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house. Bring your baggage out by day in their sight, as baggage for exile. Then you will go out at evening in their sight, as those going into exile. Dig a hole in the wall in their sight and go out through it. Load the baggage on your shoulder in their sight and carry it out in the dark.”

Observation: These verses portray the sign of the prophet’s baggage. God had Ezekiel shift from verbal communication to a one-man play depicting the coming exile of Judah. Everyone from the king and false prophets down to the lowliest residents were to see this pantomime and take seriously the need to repent in the face of approaching exile.

Application: What a creative God! When words fail, even His words, He is willing to paint a picture. Ezekiel was to act out the trip into exile by carrying only what he could fit into his backpack. Imagine escaping ahead of a raging storm with only possessions that could be carried. Countless people have had to do that down through the ages from Ezekiel’s time to refugees barely escaping torrents of winds and flood. 

But this passage could also carry another meaning, one with perhaps even more universal application. Consider the possibility that our very need for exile is because of the baggage we carry. In this sense, baggage becomes not those few precious possessions I was barely able to grab on my way out the door. Baggage would represent all the “stuff” of life I hold too tightly: beliefs, accomplishments, athletic prowess, possessions, things that have walled off my heart from passionate pursuit of Him. Like electrical static that interferes with broadcast reception, so my baggage interferes with my relationship with the only One in the universe who loves me unconditionally.

“Lay it down,” He would say. “Depend upon Me and nothing else. Be led by My Spirit, filled so sufficiently by Him that you have need of nothing else.” While each of us has a backpack whose contents are unique to us individually, the commonality among our loads is this: it will all, in the end, be lost. Moths, rust, locusts, that sort of thing. He calls us to walk voluntarily into the light of His marvelous love with no baggage at all save a heart in hot pursuit of Him. Ultimately it is the stuff we carry, stuff He never told us to pick up in the first place, that becomes the very reason for exile.

Prayer: Father, what am I carrying that grieves You? What have I picked up that separates me from wholehearted love of Your dear Son? Forgive me for carrying a load You never intended. Restore me to the simplicity of single-minded focus on You. Thank You, Lord.

February 25th, 2021

Winnowing

Ezekiel 11:8 “ ‘You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you,’ the Lord God declares.”

Observation: Ezekiel was speaking the judgments of God upon rebellious Jerusalem. In a vision, God had taken Ezekiel into the temple to see for himself the abominable things the people, even the elders, were doing. The Lord cried out for executioners to come, one of whom was a man clothed in linen with writing instruments in his waistband. God told the man to put a mark on the forehead of every person who groaned and mourned over the abominations around them, but to strike down all the rest. This winnowing was to begin among the leaders and extend to all the people (see Ezek. 9:1–6). Then this: “You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you.”

Application: What fascinating insight into the judgments and the salvation of God. He promises to discipline with the very thing I have feared most. So, not only will the destruction be horrible even to the point of death, depending upon my response to the decadence around me, but the instrument of destruction will be the very thing I most fear. In this is a hint of Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge … for in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

Notice that before judgment, God sends a man with a writing instrument to mark those whose hearts are His; they will be spared. Even in the midst of unimaginable rebellion, some live with hearts longing to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. These have nothing to fear; they have chosen, in deep humility, not to judge, so the Judge of the universe will pass them by, seeing upon them the mark of Christ.

But there are many who do judge others, who pridefully hang on to supposed “rights” God has told them to lay down. These are the rebellious ones, who have no recourse but to live out their days in their own strength, waiting with a growing sense of doom for the coming of what they know in their hearts will be righteous judgment. When it comes, it will be in the fashion most feared. Matthew says they will be judged by their own judgment. God said in Ezekiel 9:10, “I will bring their conduct upon their heads.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have been present from the beginning of the Book, haven’t You? The cross has always been Your way of salvation. Jesus, I long to be in Your presence; since You have not yet taken me home, then I ask You to overwhelm me with Your presence now. Separate me, Lord, from the decadence of worldly pursuits and let me hear Your voice moment by moment. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

February 24th, 2021

Splendid Isolation

Ezekiel 3:22–23 “The hand of the Lord was on me there, and He said to me, ‘Get up, go out to the plain and there I will speak to you.’ So I got up and went out to the plain; and behold, the glory of the Lord was standing there, … and I fell on my face.”

Observation: Ezekiel’s ministry was primarily focused on Judean exiles in Babylonian captivity. In the first three chapters, God commissioned Ezekiel, warning him that these were a hard-hearted people who would not willingly listen to his message. What a way to begin a ministry! Then comes verse 22, where God told Ezekiel to withdraw to the plain, to get away from the noise of life. He was to retreat by himself to a place where he could have an empowering experience with the Lord. Indeed, that is what happened, as he found there the glory of the Lord to be so profound that he fell on his face.

Application: It seems sometimes that splendid isolation is necessary for a clearer encounter with God than life’s routine makes possible. The intrusiveness of daily activities seems to require that I withdraw for special seasons of hearing what God is saying. Withdrawal does not necessarily mean going on a retreat, although that could indeed bring cherished renewal of relationship as it did for Ezekiel. But the idea of withdrawal does convey intentionality, of doing things that can so quiet one’s surroundings that a deep encounter with God can result. I wonder: when is the last time God’s presence was so awesome, His glory so powerful, that the only possible response was to fall on my face? When was the last time that the reality of His claim on my life was strong enough to move from fleshly head knowledge to the spirit-filled weeping over His presence?

I am reminded of Revelation 2:5, where the Spirit of Christ is challenging the Ephesian church to “remember from where you have fallen.” He calls them to repent and do the deeds they had done at first. Failure in this would result in God’s closing off any ministry effectiveness they once enjoyed. It seems they, like Ezekiel, needed some time alone to remember, to have a fresh encounter with God. No doubt the Holy Spirit had been nudging them toward renewal all along; He is irritatingly faithful that way. Works done apart from the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit bring God’s condemnation. My heart longs for those God encounters that cause me to fall afresh on my face; He longs for those times with me, as well.

Prayer: Abba Father, cause me regularly to seek times of splendid isolation with You, to lose myself in Your glory. I choose to turn off the noise of my daily routine so I can encounter You. Let me hear Your voice, Lord. Fill me afresh with Your Holy Spirit.

February 23rd, 2021

A Well-Deserved End

Jeremiah 52:10–11 “The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and he also slaughtered all the princes of Judah in Riblah. Then he blinded the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon and put him in prison until the day of his death.”

Observation: The eyes of Zedekiah were blinded. This had been foretold earlier in the book. As Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was taking captive Zedekiah, king of Judah, he blinded him. Isn’t this interesting? God is showing a pattern. Blindness follows rebellion, and captivity comes next. Verse 10 says that the Babylonian king slaughtered all Zedekiah’s sons and all the princes of Judah “before his eyes,” and then in the next verse, Zedekiah’s eyes were blinded.

Application: Is it an accident of history that the last thing Zedekiah saw before he was blinded was the slaughter of all that affirmed his authority (the princes of Judah) and all that gave him hope for the future (his sons)? Surely the tragedy of Zedekiah’s imprisonment was dramatically magnified by the relentless memory of the last thing he had seen. The army of Babylon continued its assignment in Jerusalem, destroying other remnants of Zedekiah’s life: the temple, the houses and their contents, but it no longer mattered, for Zedekiah’s destruction was already complete.

See what captivity is like? Imagine the constant replay in Zedekiah’s mind of the last thing he saw: the loss of all that had been important to him. No new vision, no new sights would ever again be imprinted upon his mind, for he was now blind. For the rest of his life he had this one mental tape to play. Oh the anguish of his situation! No reprieve from darkness. No fellowship; only separation, forever. No light or vision; only the pitch darkness of the utterly blind. A well-deserved end for Zedekiah’s rebellion. I should understand this: the disciplines of God may seem harsh as I measure things, but they are just and appropriate.

Call to Him, O beloved! Call to Him from captivity. Use His phone number (Jeremiah 33:3) to call to Him, so your end of days will not be in a prison of eternal darkness and separation with no memory except of loss.

Prayer: O God! O God! Answer my call, O Lord, and fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I might hear from You and live in the light and freedom rather than in darkness and captivity.

February 22nd, 2021

The End of Exile

Jeremiah 50:20 “ ‘In those days and at that time’, declares the Lord, ‘search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I shall pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.’ ”

Observation: What a wonderful thought, that at the end of exile, when Judah’s captivity in Babylon came to an end, none of her past iniquity or sins would be found. Diligent search will be made, but it would be fruitless because of God’s pardon. This was Good News indeed, for any man or woman who has received a pardon from God is truly set free of their past sin.

Application: This is not to make the claim that sin and error have not been committed; we have abundant evidence of how richly deserved was Judah’s discipline by her seventy-year captivity in Babylon. But when the time comes that the heart is truly repentant, when there is finally a determination to go and sin no more, then the end of exile is near. In that moment the pardon of God wipes the slate clean and erring people are restored. Discipline has worked its divine purpose, and the exiled one is restored to full relationship.

This is a perfect foreshadowing of how our Savior, the righteous one, works in our lives today. Why do I stubbornly resist the truth of this promise? Part of the answer lies in the fact that I am surrounded by examples of counterfeit pardons, pardons granted prematurely where no repentance was manifest, pardons granted for unrighteousness’ sake. Such easy pardons, unearned and undeserved, cause outrage to rise in the heart of the righteous. Those pardons are offensive precisely because they fare so poorly when compared to a just and righteous pardon that follows true repentance.

In the instant of my sorrowful cry of repentance, everything changes. The Lord Jesus Christ intervenes. In the moment when the reality of my sorry condition brings abject confession of sin, Jesus writes, “Paid In Full” over the charges that had rightly condemned me, and I am free. Sin is defeated, no longer holding the power to condemn me. And like Israel emerging from Babylon, I am metamorphosed into a wholly new creation.

Prayer: Father, the exile I have found myself in has been of my own making. It was the appropriate consequence of my darkened heart. Thank You that true repentance brings the end of exile and restoration of fellowship with You and with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You for freedom only You can provide.

February 21st, 2021

His Way or the Highway

2 John 6 “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

Observation: We are unsure whether John was writing to an individual believer or to a church, but the book makes three primary points: (1) a commandment to love one another; (2) an affirmation for walking in truth; and (3) a caution against false teachers. Regarding love, John’s message here is consistent with every other message on this subject in Scripture. Love is not an emotion, not a feeling. Love is God’s way of behavior. John said this is not new information; it is the same message that has been taught from the beginning of the Book.

Application: John’s definition of love is so specific, so precise, that there is no room for misinterpretation: keep God’s commandments. The very precision of the definition excludes all the gushy, soft, flesh-motivated ways we embrace as alternatives to love. Keep His commandments. Nothing less counts as love.

John also said, twice, that this is what they’d heard “from the beginning.” It is the great unifying theme of the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments. God is love, and if I love Him I will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Nothing else counts. He is the One who made me. It is He who redeemed me, and He has the right to set all the rules. My opinion doesn’t matter; my feelings don’t count. “I Did It My Way” won’t be in Heaven’s Top 40.

My works done apart from Him will be consumed by fire. Period. Everything I aspire to, all I dream of apart from fulfillment in Him is utterly worthless and will be destroyed. As if to punctuate the certainty of the futility of resisting this core message, I am reminded of Jeremiah 37, where some in besieged Jerusalem hoped the attacking Chaldeans would yet fail. But Jeremiah laid that to rest with these words from the Lord: “For even if you had defeated the entire army of Chaldeans who were fighting against you, and there were only wounded men left among them, each man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire” (Jer. 37:10). The people were being besieged because they did not love God enough to obey his commands.

Prayer: Lord God, Your message today leaves no wiggle room at all. My flesh resists Your narrow way, Lord; I search for any way but Yours to achieve my dreams, to fulfill my needs, but You could not be clearer: those things do not interest You, do they? Forgive me, Lord. Draw me back to Your commandments. Draw me back to true love. In Jesus’ name.

February 20th, 2021

God’s Phone Number

Jeremiah 33:3 “ ‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ ”

Observation: The Lord was reviewing powerful promises He will restore to the people once they have been delivered from captivity in Babylon.

Application: God is an encourager. Even as He points to the need for us to receive certain disciplines in our lives, He is also quick to paint a picture of the good that will come through those seasons of discipline. Nowhere is that more evident than in the first nine verses of Jeremiah 33. Destruction was coming, but if in the midst of it the people will call upon His name, He will show them great and mighty things, things they did not know and could not have imagined. 

This calling could not be the simple call for rescue of the man who has fallen into a well and needs a rope, for God had earlier made clear that the man deserved to be in the well. God directed the man’s steps to the very edge, and then allowed its deep darkness to pull him into its depths, all for the purpose of bringing repentance (see Jeremiah 32:42).

No, the calling described by Jeremiah is the call of one who has learned a lesson while in the well and is now ready to rejoin the light. Such a person would be eager to resume his or her place within the family of God, now filled with purpose to make Him known. Lavish promises follow for one who has turned toward the light and is restored: health and healing, an abundance of truth and praise. There will be deliverance from all iniquity and the world will be filled with fear and trembling as others see all the good God will do.

So call upon the Lord. Not a call for rescue from pain, but the call of a heart that celebrates having met God in the midst of pain. Not the call of one who says, “OK God, I’ve been in this hard place for a while. I think I’ve about had enough, don’t You?” No, this must be the call of one who has walked the whole trial and has finally come to the end, to a place where the disciplines of God have finally removed all thoughts of not deserving to be in this fix. 

That’s when my call to God is heard, and deliverance comes. Think of Jeremiah 33:3 as God’s phone number. Use it when needed. He will indeed answer. He will indeed show great and mighty things, the greatest of which will be your own heart, now transformed into a voluntary lover of Him.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for answering my call. Thank You for restoration.  Thank You for redemption. Thank You for seasons of discipline that have made me better able to worship You in all circumstances.

February 19th, 2021

Belonging Together

Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Observation: The theme is the restoration of Israel as the people of God. In the natural world, their captivity would come to an end and they would be restored to the covenant land God had first promised to Abraham and fulfilled in David. In the spiritual realm they, like us, would be drawn to God with His lovingkindness by His everlasting love.

Application: Everlasting love. Doesn’t the heart long to be loved with that kind of love, a love that will never dim, never diminish? That’s the kind of love that flows only from the heart of God Himself, for it is the only love that is truly pure, not performance based. When He says He will never leave me, never forsake me, it is utterly believable because He is Himself the source of this love. Great rivers of it are washing over me moment by moment, raging torrents of love strong and vibrant enough to not be put off when I disappoint.

And this word, “lovingkindness.” See the strange way that it is used: to be “drawn” by lovingkindness. I see the image of a fisherman pulling in his nets, a tangible, physical connection between me and the God of the universe, me being inexorably drawn close to the great Source of all love. In this scene I have incomparable worth, valuable enough to motivate Him to have given life itself to redeem me.

The idea of the word lovingkindness stresses His faithfulness, His loyalty to me; it suggests a belonging together of the one doing the drawing and the one being drawn. The two fit together beautifully—everlasting lovingkindness. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the marriage covenant. Earthly marriages are intended to be a picture, a preview, of the everlasting lovingkindness I will experience one day at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Husband and wife are intended to draw the other, as in a net of love, deeper into the comfort and safety of the arms of Christ, so that when I experience His embrace it will be something familiar.

The thought that such astounding intimacy could somehow be familiar is something I can hardly grasp, yet I trust the truth of it because it’s from Him. We belong together, and He is doing the drawing into perfect intimacy, into His everlasting lovingkindness.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that I am solidly in Your net, and that You are drawing me closer and closer to You. Thank You for relationships on earth that model, however imperfectly, Your great love. Perfect me in that love, O Lord.

February 18th, 2021

Stinking Pride

Job 41:11 “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?”

Observation: The great conclusion to the book of Job comes as God focuses on just one of His created things, Leviathan, and points out how absolutely futile would be Job’s attempts to catch it, tame it, even survive an encounter with it. He then challenged Job: if you can’t even stand before this one small example of My creation, “Who then is he that can stand before Me?” (Job 41:10). God went on to say that He owed Job nothing: “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?” Then, in Chapter 42, Job showed that he finally understood. He said that he had heard of God before this, “but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (verses 5–6).

Application: After forty-one long chapters, the simplicity and the sufficiency of Job’s repentance are striking. In one verse, Job said all that needed to be said, thus closing the ordeal of his questioning that he had been going through. At the time of his repentance, none of his outward circumstances had changed; his skin still oozed, and his loss of family, fortune, and respect were still profound. But he had been given a glimpse of his own pride, and knew he had to lay it down in order to have intimate fellowship with God. He had reached the point in his life where fellowship with God was sufficient, and he regained that fellowship through one simple sentence of repentance. He gained the whole world when he finally accepted the idea that God’s purpose was to wring out of him every last vestige of self and pride.

Jesus asked in Matthew 16:26, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” I, too, must finally confess that God owes me nothing. The entirety of my journey is once and for all to be done with stinking pride. It was pride that caused Lucifer to be cast from heaven, and pride that entered my DNA in Adam. And at the end, my invitation to the wedding banquet hinges upon my response to God’s question, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?” My answer to that single question determines my eternity. All the rest, as they say, is mere detail.

Prayer: O Lord, I remember so well the moment I finally knew I had broken through in husbanding my dying wife. For so many years I had cared for her as dutifully as I could, yet as long as my heart yearned for release, I could never get beyond duty and pride to advance to pure love. But there came a day, a moment, when I knew You had finished needed heart surgery, when I became eager to serve her every need. Lord, I want to be in that place in every circumstance of my life. Fill me with Your love, Lord; it is enough.

February 17th, 2021

Unfulfilled Expectations

Job 40:4 “I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.”

Observation: Through all of Job 38 and 39, God had been affirming His unlimited majesty and power using fascinating examples from the natural realm and the animal world. Then He addressed Job directly, inviting Job to reprove God, to find fault with Him. “Will the fault-finder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (40:2). Job’s wise response was to decline the bait: “Behold, I am insignificant; what shall I reply to You?” (v. 4).

Application: Job is not saying he approves of everything God has recently done in his life. He certainly isn’t saying that he has enjoyed the past season. But he does recognize that he is in the presence of the One who made heaven and earth and all they contain. He knows full well that he is speaking with the One who holds life and death in His hands. So at long last, he seems to have put the “why me” questions behind him, questions that had surely filled his mind and heart to this point, questions spurred on by his remarkably unhelpful friends.

This is a place we must each reach in coming to grips with our grieving, angry hearts over life’s seeming unfairness. We are no doubt each confronted at some point in our lives with unfulfilled expectations that lead us to ask God, why do I have to go through THIS? Why does my life have to be like that? What have I done to deserve this (illness, job loss, disappointing relationship)? Haven’t I loved You sufficiently? Haven’t I given enough or served enough or obeyed enough or, or, or? These kinds of heart-wrenching experiences will never make sense apart from me understanding the bridal paradigm of God, and in my recognition that He became sin for me so He could enter into my suffering. He took my brokenness upon Himself. As I begin to understand that He bled out for me upon the Cross so He might win me as His bride, my complaints are reduced to nothingness; my questions evaporate. The fact is, if my hopes and aspirations are truly in Him, then what unfulfilled expectations could possibly remain? Like Job, I will be reduced to silence as I esteem Him stricken on my behalf.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I realize that You have entered into every hurtful place of my life, I have nothing left to say. When I begin to understand more of what is meant by the “sins of the world” being taken upon Your shoulders at Calvary, I am overcome. You did it for love, for me, and to show me how I ought in turn to love. Like Job, I am so insignificant, yet in Your eyes, supremely important. I love You, Lord.