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.

November 29th, 2020

Just Stuff

Psalm 105:43–44 “He brought out His people with rejoicing, His chosen ones with shouts of joy; He gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for…”

Observation: Psalm 105 is a remarkable record of God’s fulfillment of His covenant with Abraham. It is a clarion call to praise and worship in recognition of God’s faithfulness to Israel from their earliest history. He reminds them of the famine in Canaan and His preparation of Joseph to be their deliverer as Egypt’s prime minister. He recounts the signs and wonders performed through Moses and Aaron to deliver them out of Egypt, and speaks of His watchcare during their years in the desert. The chapter closes as it began, with a reminder of His covenant with Abraham (Verse 42) which He says He remembers forever (Verse 8). As a result, God says He gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for.

Application: This psalm is like a love letter tenderly written by a father who wants his children to remember their family heritage. We all long to know our roots, to have some sense of the characters and events that formed us. “What were their struggles, their victories?” we wonder. “What sort of demons did they have to face down for me to be here today?” We give our parents blank legacy books and hope they would fill them with remembrances that might paint a fuller picture of the family’s heritage.

Psalm 105 is God’s legacy letter. He focuses primarily on His divine initiatives rather than on the people’s shortcomings, and He closes by pointing out that they fell heir to what others had toiled for.

Think about the implications of that statement. There are some who toil and some who reap. Some spend backbreaking lives working in their own strength to build their kingdom upon the earth, only to see it slip through their fingers in the end as God rewards those who have “kept His precepts and observed His laws” (Verse 45). How futile are my best efforts outside the will of God. He says that in the end, the fruit of such toil will bless others. In this I glimpse the truth of Proverbs 13:22, “…a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

Just as for Israel, God has had a plan for me from the beginning. I, too, have a promised land where His reward awaits. It is my choice to end my personal desert wanderings, pursuing rewards I hope to create for myself. Ultimately, my desire is to be God’s heir; only in His inheritance will I find “rest from my enemies…and (live) in safety” (Deut. 12:10).  Everything else is just “stuff.”

Prayer: Lord, You have promised an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. Bring my heart into alignment with Yours. I don’t want to waste another minute pursuing less than Your best.

November 28th, 2020

Victory’s Source

Joshua 23:1, 5, 9–10 “The Lord has given rest to Israel from all their enemies. … He will thrust them out from before you and drive them from before you. … The Lord has driven out great and strong nations from before you…The Lord your God is He who fights for you.

Psalm 44:1–3 Our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days. … You…drove out the nations; … For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but [they were saved by] Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence.”

Observation: God was making it crystal clear, both in Joshua and in the Psalm, that it’s He who has won the battles. He has cleared the land, He, by His strength, not by men’s chariots and horses and swords and mighty armies. It is God and God alone who wins every victory.

Application: It is apparently easy to forget the truth of this simple lesson, because God pounds it home repeatedly through Scripture. I do have a role; I am His hands, His feet. I can choose to obey; I give time and money and even life itself. 

But what then seems to eventually happen is, as I review the wonderful victories that resulted from partnering with God, arrogance and pride creep back in. I begin to think the victory was achieved because I was so very good. I must be awesome; after all, look how God was able to work through me! From there, it’s a small step to building a whole perversion of God’s teaching that was intended to emphasize the wonderful qualities of faith in Him. I marvel at what power and authority my prayers must have, what great mountains have been moved due to the strength of my faith. 

What poppycock! What horrible distortion of God’s truth. If I am to take the land and occupy it, whatever the “land” might be, it will happen only as the result of His right hand, His strong arm, and the light of His presence. In myself, I am nothing, but in Him I can do all things.

Prayer: Lord, I ask You to bind me so thoroughly to Your Word, to Your heart, that I will never again stray. And I pray that You would loose from me every chain, every habit, every plan and scheme of the enemy designed to draw me off course. Cause me to hold the things of this world so freely that You can use them, and me, any way You want.

November 27th, 2020

The Fruit of Promises Kept

Joshua 21:45; 22:4 “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. … And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers … therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession.”

Observation: The heads of the Levitical households approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua to remind them that God had promised that they would be given cities in which to live and land where their cattle could be grazed. In response, all the tribes of Israel contributed to the support of the Levites as God had commanded.

Application: These verses paint a compellingly attractive picture of the future. Over a period of many years, the people had accepted all the assignments God had given them. They had overcome every enemy because they consistently responded in obedience when God directed them to act. And now they would be able to enjoy the fruit of that obedience. They could enter into rest as Joshua sent them to their homes and families. They had experienced the reality of verse 45, with not one of the good promises of the Lord failing to come to pass.

Oh, how I want that fruit in my life! I was struck by the statement that they should return to their tents to enjoy all those good promises of the Lord. 

My earthly body is referred to as a tent in the New Testament, a temporary, fragile dwelling when compared to the magnificent, glorious, permanent dwelling that Christ Himself has built for the eternal pleasure and rest of the saints. What a wonderful day it will be when I hear His summation of His good promises kept in my life, and I am invited to graduate to that awesome, perfect dwelling that He has made for me!

Prayer: Father, keep close accounts with me. When I begin to stray or to tire, bring me back into the center of Your purpose for my life. I don’t want to miss any of the good promises You have for me here. I long for the day when You will call me home, fully at peace and rest in the dwelling place You have fashioned just for me.

November 26th, 2020

Entering the Land

Joshua 18:3 “So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?’”

Observation: All Israel had assembled following the conquering of the land, but seven tribes had not yet divided and claimed their inheritance. So Joshua devised a plan for having tribal representatives reach agreement as to what portion each tribe should take.

Application: The cry of Joshua to the Israelites is the same as the cry of God’s heart to His people today: “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord has given you?” Some among us have heard the Gospel and know intellectually what God purchased on the Cross, but still fail to walk in it. Others have been baptized in the past; still others have confessed Christ as Savior at some point, but have never fully laid hold of the reality of a changed life. How the cry of God’s heart for us today is reflected in Joshua’s words!

My heart is heavy with thoughts of so many friends and family members who are in similar situations described above. They have heard but not responded. They know what Christ has done but have turned away or put off their response.  Because of that, many will go into eternity in their lost condition. 

Then I examine the ways in which I fall short of “taking possession of all the land which the Lord has given” me, and I am undone by what I see. My personal priorities leave no room for thinking critically of others; instead, I must fall on my face in repentance for pursuing an inheritance of my own design rather than laying claim to His riches.

Prayer: Lord, You have offered me such a wonderful, wide expanse of rich land, so much opportunity to impact the world for Christ, and yet I fall so far short. Teach me day by day what it is to be truly responsive to You, not just to have a glad heart about all You have done for me. Help me turn that gladness into a good use of time and resources so land purchased by Your blood will bear much fruit.

November 25th, 2020

Snatching Defeat from Victory

Joshua 9:14 “So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.”

Observation: The context here is that Joshua and his army were having enormous success confronting and defeating every enemy they came against, but each success had come through repeated consultation with God. One of the peoples yet to be confronted, the Gibeonites, knew they would be defeated, so their leaders created an elaborate lie about being from a far-off country (one that Joshua would not have to fight), and that they had come to pay homage. 

Application: Joshua and his men were taken in by the lies because they did not consult God. Instead, Joshua entered into a covenant with the Gibeonites, and then was “stuck” with allowing them to remain in the nation after the deception was discovered because of the covenant he had foolishly made.

Gibeonites were the illegal immigrants of that day. They had entered the country through deception and cunning, knowing that legitimate channels would have remained cut off from them. Joshua’s failure to act wisely laid the groundwork for future problems for the nation.

I must understand that my greatest vulnerability may well come in the midst of a string of victories. I can become overconfident and complacent, and begin to think past victories have been won because I’m so good. But failure to consult God at each step can lead to tragically unintended consequences. The enemy never surrenders his attempts to defeat me or to lead me into compromise, so I must remain vigilant, constantly seeking God’s face.

Prayer: Father, keep me mindful that You are the source of every good thing in my life. Keep me from the sin of presumption, as though I know so well what You want for me that I would act without having instruction or guidance from You.

November 24th, 2020

Natural Versus Spiritual

1 Corinthians 2:10–13 “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? … Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”

Observation: These verses draw a distinction between the spiritual and the natural, what one can hear and know and understand when walking in the Spirit and being taught by God versus those who are primarily oriented toward worldly things.

Application: In this passage is the core of my struggle, flesh versus spirit, temporal versus eternal. Everything about my natural life has taught me to pursue natural knowledge and to hone natural skills. From earliest childhood I received an allowance that I might “learn the value of a dollar.” There was financial reward for presenting good report cards. I earned a bicycle by selling countless boxes of greeting cards. Later, I was granted scholarships for excellence in select areas. Through constant reinforcement I was taught to accumulate things and that financial rewards follow hard work. Finance has been but one of many areas of life to which similar principles have been applied.

While this has been the lesson of life, it is not the lesson of Scripture. In order to achieve the kingdom of God, I had to unlearn things I once so diligently pursued. It is hard work precisely because it required an undoing of so much. I had been groomed in one way, but I found that way went against the grain of Christ. What I gradually have had to admit is that even someone who has professed to believe in Christ can still find himself primarily attuned to the things of this world. He wants to pursue the “good” things life offers and he reasons from a worldly perspective even while trying to apply his thoughts to spiritual things.

Prayer: Lord, I repent of those times when my words, thoughts, or actions were birthed out of a worldly mindset. Forgive me for my constant tendency to treat things of this world as more important than the eternal priorities and perspective you want me to have. Renew my mind; restore my heart to Your priorities today.  Thank You, Lord.

November 23rd, 2020

Restoration

Deuteronomy 30:3, 5 “Then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and…The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.”

Observation: The Lord was continuing His final instructions to His chosen people before they crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. Moses was soon to die, and the people who had wandered in the desert for forty years were standing on tiptoe, eager with anticipation.

Application: The very thought of God’s restoring me from captivity is a stunning reality—stunning first, that He is able to restore me, and second, that He will. I have been a captive in so many ways in my life, to unrighteous habits and thought-life, and to judgments and hurt that have closed my heart for a season. 

The very thought that the Lord Jesus Christ will restore me to Himself is profoundly amazing. And make no mistake about it, it is to Him that I am being restored. He is the One who has made me, and His purpose was that I could fellowship with Him first in the garden, and now in all eternity as His beloved. This is staggering. His kindness to me is overwhelming. His restoration is complete, covering everything I have ever done to separate myself from Him. 

My heart soars with joy over the knowledge of how high and how deep, how wide and how long is His redeeming love (see Eph. 3:18). My part in all this is to simply love Him above all else and all others, and to obey everything He tells me.

Prayer: Lord, about the part that’s mine to do—to love You and to obey You—oh, how much is wrapped up in those simple words. How many priorities still must be changed in my life to be completely at one with You. Yet I know You don’t require impossible things of me. So help me to quiet myself afresh today, to care about hearing Your voice above all the noise of life. Thank You for tantalizing glimpses of what You intend our relationship to be like. Thank You for using a bridal paradigm to express that deep sense of longing and unity that You died to win for me. Lord Jesus, I give myself to You today.

November 22nd, 2020

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.

November 21st, 2020

Standing Strong

Deuteronomy 25:17–19 “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” 

Galatians 5:1, 7 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. … You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Observation: God reminded the Israelites that when they had grown weary, they had been severely attacked by their enemy, the Amalekites in this instance. He was encouraging them not to forget, not to fail to come back to a war footing so they could utterly defeat their enemy. And in Galatians, Paul similarly stirred his listeners to take a strong stand against the enemies of our soul; otherwise we will stumble and fall.

Application: As I read this I can think back on seasons in my life where I have stood strong and my heart burned with passion for Christ. Yet in other seasons, my ardor had cooled and I became more vulnerable to attack. Bad habits, bad use of time, poor choice of priorities—these become a downward spiral sapping vitality from my life in Christ. But I am called to war against such ease, to run without growing weary, to remember who the enemy is, and to fight until he has been utterly defeated in my life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I ask You to be my strength for the battles ahead, not just the “big” battles, but also those small, day-by-day decisions that ultimately end up ordering my life and determining the course I will follow. Father, cause zeal for Your Word, Your Son, to be stirred up in me. Let me be one of those old guys, if I live long enough, about whom others would say, “He has been with the Lord.”  Keep me from compromise; let my life be lived sacrificially before You to the very end. I desire to end well, Lord.

November 20th, 2020

The Plowman

Hosea 10:12 “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes and showers righteousness on you.”

Observation: Hosea has spent several chapters reminding Israel in stark language why destruction was upon them. They had abandoned God’s love and provision to pursue self sufficiency. Thinking the grass greener elsewhere they had left His protective covering and now would experience His disciplines. This is a reprise of something God had said in Deuteronomy 28:63: “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you.” Then, in verse 12, He presents the pathway for their return to intimacy.

Application: None of us has a corner on perpetual comfort. See the lengths to which God will go to discipline those He loves? What an astounding commitment He has to my good, even to the point of bringing me to destruction if necessary to win again my full devotion. How unbending He is! How inflexible His standards!

There are always choices laid before me. Like Israel, if I would not want to become victim to my oppressors, I must voluntarily run back to His open arms. He tells me that the way to do that is to sow myself to righteousness, to invest in doing good out of a pure heart set on pleasing Him. Then comes the fascinating phrase, “break up your unplowed ground.”

What am I to understand from this phrase? Fallow, unplowed ground can be among the most beautiful of sights. Rolling hills of native prairie grasslands strewn with a profusion of wildflowers are a sight unsurpassed. Yet such a field is not “productive” in the sense of yielding life-giving fruit.

Similarly, Hosea challenges me to admit that there are depths of my heart I have not yet opened to His full influence. I have been overly protective of full exposure, trusting firmly held doctrine or tradition to allow some part of my heart to remain parched and hardened like a field unbroken by the deep plowing only He can do.

He wants to sunder every hardened place, to bring gentle spring rains that soften and melt those hard places of hidden woundings and fear. But He will only do that at my invitation. He will not trespass my welcome, but remains external until invited to have His way fully.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for reserving unplowed ground in my heart. I yield this place to You, Lord, admitting some fear in doing so, yet confident that Your only desire is to bring me into deeper intimacy with You.