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.

September 16th, 2019

Beautiful Dreamer

Matthew 2:19-22 “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’  So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judah in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee.”

Observation: Joseph had originally fled with his family into Egypt in response to a dream, and now he was returning to Israel because of a second dream. Then, remarkably, he had yet a third dream from which he received still further specific direction.

Application: God’s method of communicating with Joseph is fascinating…and convicting to the point of near jealousy. I think it would be wonderful to just fall asleep and hear God give me such specific instruction for my own life. 

There were other dreamers in the Bible, too, and each holds similar compelling attractiveness. Of course, miracles such as this cause the heart to burn with desire for more of God, and the temptation is to say, “I want one of those in my life, Lord!” 

But the fact is, my life is already a miracle of His love. He does speak to me. He guides me through His word and through the godly example set by believers all around me. I wonder how much more I might hear His voice tomorrow if I fully responded to Him today? 

What’s really intriguing about Joseph isn’t that God consistently conveyed such clear instruction to Joseph or even the method of conveyance. Rather, the convicting thing about all this is that apparently earlier in his life Joseph disciplined himself to hear God’s voice. God had tested Joseph before and taught Joseph the importance of full and quick obedience in less profound matters of life. When the time came to entrust His own Son’s life to an earthly father for a few years, God knew He could count on Joseph because his ears were already attuned to heaven.

Prayer: Lord, teach me to listen, and to obey as Joseph did.

September 15th, 2019

Obedience! Obedience! Obedience!

1 Samuel 15:3, 21 “Utterly destroy all…oxen, sheep, camels and donkeys.” … ‘But the people took some of the spoil.’”

1 Samuel 16:1 “‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go!’”

Matthew 1:24 “Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife.”

Observation: The readings for today reinforce to my heart this one theme: Obey God! In 1 Samuel 15, Saul only partially obeyed. He did in fact go to war, but he didn’t do as God demanded. Rather, he kept the best of the animals, cowardly blaming his disobedience on “the people,” then tried to justify disobedience by telling God he did it so he could sacrifice to God. God’s response was to tear the kingdom from Saul and to allow mental instability to overtake him.

In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel was grieving over Saul, and was fearful of obeying God’s command to anoint a new king because he thought Saul would hear of it and kill him. God’s paraphrased response was, “Get over it!” In other words, “Be obedient. Now.”

Finally, in Matthew 1:24, by his response, Joseph proved himself the best of these three men. 

All Joseph could have known in the natural was that his fiancée was pregnant, and he knew he wasn’t the one who had impregnated her. But in a dream, he heard an angel of the Lord tell him to marry her anyway. When he awoke, he simply arose and did as he had been told. In a dream, no less! 

Application: Amazing! The church is quick to celebrate Mary, and indeed she was a remarkable young girl, uniquely favored by God, and uniquely responsive to Him. But how about her young husband Joseph, with nothing to rely on but a dream, choosing instantly to obey? 

How many hours of quiet time must he have logged to have a heart so attuned to hearing and obeying God? What must his secret life in God have been like? For how many years had his heart longed for relationship with God? We don’t hear much more about him; he really never had a public presence in the Scriptures, but everything we do hear is remarkably consistent.

Prayer: Oh God! Give me a Joseph heart. Make me quick to hear and obey.

September 14th, 2019

Well-Placed Faith

1 Samuel 14:6 “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”

Observation: The setting is this: Israel was terrified of the Philistines, they were largely disarmed, and many of them were hiding in caves. Jonathan, Saul’s son, took his armor-bearer up a rugged pass toward a garrison of twenty Philistine soldiers. As they advanced, Jonathan reassured his armor-bearer with the above statement.

Application: What faith Jonathan had! The great men Eli and Samuel had sons who turned out badly. But here we see the reverse. Saul had not been king long, but he had already acted in presumption and disobedience, and had shown himself to be cowardly. His son, Jonathan, however, showed that he must have been cultivating a heart for God because his statement reflected perfect understanding of God’s character and power. It showed his faith in a God who can accomplish His purposes regardless of the human resources we bring to the table. Earlier in the verse for today’s reading, he referred to the Philistines as “these uncircumcised,” which was a foreshadowing of the shepherd David who would derisively call Goliath an uncircumcised Philistine. This wasn’t a comment on the enemy’s anatomy. It was a statement of recognition that the speaker belonged to God Almighty, while the uncircumcised had no power and authority to rely on other than their own resources. It was a confident assertion that God was going to win this fight, and that He could do it through a mighty fighting force or through just these two ordinary guys.

This is a wonderful verse to stir up faith in me by reminding me to keep my eyes on God, who is really the One carrying the battle. When I grow discouraged in the face of uncircumcised Philistines in my life, whether witnessing to people who need the Lord or caring for a dying spouse—whatever God has called me to do—I need to remember to leave the results in His hand. And when victory is achieved, all celebration should remind me that it’s Him I celebrate; the victory is His!

Prayer:  Father, thank You for Jonathan’s example of faith in You. It takes God to make God known, and I ask that You would lead me into the kind of secret life in You that must have been Jonathan’s.

September 13th, 2019

Testing the Heart

1 Samuel 13:8, 13-14 “Now he waited seven days according to the appointed time set by Samuel…Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God…The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.’”

2 Corinthians 12:14 “I do not seek what is yours, but you.”

Observation: God had earlier told Saul that Samuel was to offer the sacrifices; this was the job of the priest, not the king. Now, God pressed in on Saul to expose Saul’s heart by preventing Samuel’s arrival to happen quickly enough to “rescue” Saul from his fear. So Saul took matters into his own hands by doing what only the priest of God was to do—he offered the sacrifices himself. 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was saying to the people the same thing that Samuel said to Saul: Actions matter, because they expose what is in the heart. God can use someone who seeks Him wholeheartedly, but He will reject those who claim to belong to Him, yet act in the flesh. 

Application: When I am uncertain which way to go or when to move, it is wise to wait on the Lord. But if God has already told me not to do something, then I must certainly not do it. Even if the world seems to bring defeat in the meantime, I will have God’s approval if in waiting, my heart and mind have been fixed on Him. 

Paul spoke something that is always true of godly motivation when he said, “I do not seek what is yours, but you.” It seems that once I have become fully His in every sense of the word—once I have come fully surrendered to Him, holding nothing back—then God knows that not only does He have my heart, but He also has all my other resources, as well: time, talents, and money. He will test my heart in this as He tested Saul by delaying Samuel’s return. His goal is always to reveal my heart, a revelation that is for my benefit, not God’s. I need to see my heart as God already sees it. Through testing, all that is within me is revealed.

Prayer: Father, I understand that exposure of my heart’s true motive is the only way You can move me from my current place of comfort into a new place of growth. So thank You, Lord that You love me enough today not to leave me in the same place I was yesterday.

September 12th, 2019

Kept by His Good Name

1 Samuel 12:21-22 “You must not turn aside for then you would go after futile things which cannot profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.”

Observation: Samuel had just reminded the people that they had sinned in asking that a king be appointed to rule them. Their motive was that they wanted to be like the other nations of the earth. Yet even so, the Lord had said if they would fear Him and worship Him, both the people and their king would do well.

Application: This is a huge, sweeping promise from God that if I will not turn aside from following Him (that is, going after futile things); if I will remain focused like a laser on Him, then He will keep me, He will protect me. Why would He do that? Not because of my goodness or my righteousness, but because of His great name! 

This would be echoed generations later when Paul asked, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35), and the answer resounded through the ages, Nothing! No one. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39).­­

Only one thing has the power to separate me from the love of God: my choice, my free will. I, like the Israelites of Samuel’s time, have the power within my mind, will, and emotions to decide whether I will serve and love Him above all else, or whether I will follow false gods.

Prayer: Father, there is no in-between, is there? This is light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, isn’t it? Make me a hot-hearted lover of You. Cause me to cling to You with a depth of passion and focus that only You can cause to rise up within me. I choose this day to serve and to love You above all else.

September 11th, 2019

Failing Fathers

1 Samuel 8:3-5 “Samuel’s sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel…and said, ‘Behold, you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.’”

Observation: Samuel, like Eli before him, produced sons who were not worthy of their father’s inheritance. They were not qualified to fill his shoes, so the people used that as an excuse to ask for a king to be established over them. God, of course, knew the reality and told Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 3:7).

Application: With Eli we saw the weak attempts he made to correct his sons; with Samuel, there is no mention of how or whether he tried to bring correction. 

We also don’t know the core reasons that both prophets’ sons rebelled. It may have been that growing up in a household of privilege had spoiled them. It may have been that the fathers were simply too busy with their work and neglected their more primary responsibility to reproduce godly sons. Or, with Samuel’s sons, it may simply have been their choices, having little to do with what their father taught or didn’t teach.

The result was that the people knew the sons were not qualified to fill their father’s shoes. None of this caught God by surprise; earlier, in Deuteronomy, God had described a time when the people would want a king for themselves.  That realization is wonderfully comforting to me, because it shows that even when my failures are greatest, God is always able to redeem the situation. He can restore; He can make a new way; He can bring good out of my most hopeless messes. I and those I love are never beyond His reach.

Prayer: Father, what a comfort it is to read of another father who, like me, fell  short of Your ideal in raising his family. I am so thankful that You are constantly at work restoring the hearts of the sons and daughters to the father, and the hearts of fathers to their children. Thank You that none of the pain and difficulty is ever wasted; You use it all, like bricks in the hands of a master mason, to make each of us more effective in Your service for the rest of our lives.

September 10th, 2019

Doing What Came Naturally

1 Samuel 6:5 “You shall make likenesses of your tumors and likenesses of your mice that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will ease His hand from you, your gods, and your land.”

Observation: The Philistines had conquered Israel months earlier, and had taken the ark of the Lord. But everywhere they tried to store it experienced judgments of God. Plagues broke out, statues of their pagan gods fell over and broke apart; they were desperate to get this “thing” that contained the manifest presence of God, out of their midst. So, they did what came naturally; they consulted pagan priests.

Application: The Philistines had no previous first-hand experience of the power of God except for the occasional defeat in battle. They had heard about Him, about how He supernaturally brought the Israelites out of Egypt, fed them in the wilderness, parted the Red Sea, and so on, but until they took the ark, their understanding had been largely hearsay. 

But now, He was pouring all ‘round evidence of His power and might, and the unbelievers had a choice to make. It seems not to have occurred to them that one option was for them to fall to their knees in repentance before the one true God, yet we know that every man and woman does indeed have that option. 

I have no doubt that at the end of the age when we stand before God to receive His perfect justice, God will remind these who opposed Him that they had every opportunity to repent, to turn from their sins, and yet chose not to. Rather than bow before their Creator, they turned to their pagan priests for help. 

How like me. I have spent years cultivating beliefs of my own devising, and my natural tendency is to turn to the familiar in time of crises. Though the familiar may not be life-giving, its very familiarity prevents me from recognizing its counterfeit comfort. It takes an act of tremendous courage to turn from the familiar and to embrace instead the promises of God.  But He is worthy, and He is jealously working in my heart to stir me to the proper choice.

Prayer: Father, Your deliverance is in plain sight. Your comfort is complete.  Cause me to turn from my familiar patterns and habits and relationships, and to run instead into Your welcoming arms. For only in You is there life everlasting.

September 9th, 2019

The Crowd Was Wrong

1 Samuel 4:5 “As the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded.”

Observation: This verse, taken alone, sounds pretty good. But the bigger picture is this: Israel had already been defeated in one battle with the Philistines, so the people decided in presumption to carry the ark of the covenant to the battlefield, thinking that it would magically protect them. They had not heard from God, but did what they felt best under the circumstances. Then all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth resounded. After that celebration they went into battle and lost everything. The nation was defeated, their priests died, and the ark of the covenant was lost.

Application: Just because large numbers of people are making lots of noise about something doesn’t mean that their position or belief is right. We live today in a society where countless millions think it is right to slaughter unborn children, or to embrace euthanasia, homosexuality, and so many other perversions. 

But these people have not heard from God, else they would not embrace such sin. His word speaks clearly when it is consulted. The result is that as a society, we are heading toward the same profound destruction as the Israelites of old. 

At the individual level, one of the greatest lies advanced by the enemy is that there are many paths to heaven. Jesus said that no man comes to the Father except through belief in Him and acceptance of His sacrifice (see John 14:6). But if a lie is told often enough and embraced by enough people, it will eventually take root and lead a whole people—even a loudly cheering people—straight to the pit of hell.

Prayer: Father, thank You that You are teaching me to withdraw from so many things that cause crowds to cheer. I want to be quiet in Your presence, to hear Your small voice bringing correction and wooing me to be more like Your Son.  When I cheer and clap, I pray that it’s only because of Your presence, because Your purposes and direction have been heard. Make me obedient only to You, Lord, and not to the crowd. Keep me from the sin of presumption. In Jesus’s name.

September 8th, 2019

Receiving a Double Portion

1 Samuel 1:5 “But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb.”

Observation: Though Hannah was much loved by her husband, she was barren.  Her husband’s response, because of his deep love, was not critical of her. He did not heap further condemnation on her. Rather, he gave even more of himself to her—a “double portion.”

Application: How like the Lord, who says to the poor and downtrodden and meek of the earth that He will bless them. In fact, the meek are to inherit the earth (see Matt. 5:5, NIV), which shows intent of physical blessing now as well as the spiritual blessing that comes to all who accept His gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. 

Hannah’s story is a wonderful picture of God’s love for the afflicted of the earth.  But it also conveys a hard-to-accept truth about the afflicted. It says that God Himself had closed her womb. We should pay special attention to that. He blesses whom He will, often in ways and for purposes we cannot imagine. God had a special calling planned for the son she would one day bear, although she could not know that at the time. Instead, she was “greatly distressed” and “wept bitterly” (1 Sam. 1:10). 

Today, it’s very easy  to live with little personal contact with the poor of the earth. When God places poor people in my view, do I respond like Hannah’s husband, heaping a double portion on them?

Prayer: Lord, sensitize my heart to the poor of the earth, and to the poor in our midst. Cause my heart to be softened, that I might approach them with a heart of compassion. Let me have Your heart for the poor, that it might affect how I spend the time and money You have allotted to me.

September 7th, 2019

Humble of Heart

Ruth 3:1, 4, 9  “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? … It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go down and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.’ … And he said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.’”

Observation:  Naomi, as Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law, was the head of her household. As such, she assured Ruth that she sought security for Ruth. Her advice is for Ruth to place herself at the feet of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. 

Application:  I have long loved the book of Ruth because of the picture it paints of Boaz as a “type” of Christ, who came as our kinsman to redeem us from our sin. But today my heart focus is on Ruth. What place of greater humility could there be than to lay at someone’s feet, hoping, waiting to be noticed? Ruth asked Boaz to spread his covering over her, and he agreed.  It’s interesting to see that this isn’t something Boaz initiated; rather, Ruth had to take the initiative and ask.

I see humility as the dominant theme of this part of the story. Ruth’s humility was complete and profound. Recognizing her utter poverty and thus having nothing to lose but everything to gain, she did not hesitate to make her appeal for rescue at the smelly, calloused feet of Boaz. She asked to come under the protection of his covering. 

How unlike Ruth I tend to be! How quick I am to make mental note of all the supposedly great qualities I bring to the table. But God is looking for the humble of heart, for those who know they are but dust to be soon blown away. For those, He spreads His arms and provides covering…if they ask for it.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for all the times I try to act in my own strength, using my own understanding and resources as a guide. I choose this day to place myself at the foot of the cross, and I ask that You be my covering. I desire above all else to be in relationship with You today, enjoying that place of protection and peace.