March 24th, 2020

Grunt Work

Numbers 4:15, 20 “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die” (NIV).

Observation: God was giving instruction to prepare the contents of the Holy of Holies for moving from one camp to another. There were precise steps to be followed for the dividing curtains, the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of the Presence, and such smaller articles as dishes, lampstands, and the gold altar. These were to be wrapped in skins of sea cows, covered variously with cloths of blue, scarlet, or purple, then spread over with more sea cow skins; definitely not a job for two men and a truck.

Application: What a job! These were a nomadic people, so it’s not hard to imagine the scope of the task in conducting repeated moves. In Exodus 3:4 I am reminded that Aaron’s two oldest priestly sons had fallen dead after making an unauthorized offering. So when God warned the Kohathites not to look at or even touch the holy articles on pain of death, they surely took His admonition seriously. But how fair was that? 

The Kohathite clan from the tribe of Levi numbered 2,750 men who were between 30 and 50, the required age to do this work (Exodus 4:35-36). Does it seem fair that a clan many thousand strong should be expected to labor in such blind obedience? Imagine the ignominy of being assigned to carry around items you had no hand in packing, and which you could neither touch nor view: the grunt work of the Gospel. Born into Levi’s tribe, anointed for service to God, this clan was nonetheless assigned an anonymity against which most of us would rebel. 

Seriously now, when I dream about making a significant kingdom impact, doesn’t the mind incline toward more glamorous roles? A foreign missionary preaching to thousands; a doctor to the poor; a pregnancy center volunteer…aren’t these the kinds of roles I would rather imagine behind God’s grooming of me? But the Kohathites were expected to spend their most productive years without ever laying eyes on the ministry tools they were destined to lug around the Sinai. And woe to any who stole so much as a glance at the treasured objects. 

What is it about my heart that causes me to imagine that I ought to have more important roles? In whose eyes are they more important? For all their anonymity, Scripture records exactly how many Kohathite men there were. God knows every one of them intimately. And He knows me.

Prayer: O Lord, how unlike a Kohathite I have been. Forgive me for not gladly accepting Your assignment. Have Your way with me, Lord.

March 23rd, 2020

Precipice of Decision

Acts 24:25 “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (NIV)

Observation: Paul had been arrested and sent to the provincial capital of Caesarea to defend himself against false charges of initiating a temple riot. The high priest and his lawyer came to testify against Paul, who rebutted each of the charges. Felix, who had been Roman Governor of the region for a number of years and would have thus been acquainted with the Christian sect, heard Paul’s case. Scripture says that as Felix listened to Paul testify of Christ and of such tenets of the faith as righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment, he became fearful and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 

Application: “When I find it convenient….” Think how effective Paul must have been in his testimony of Jesus Christ. He had specifically stated that he believed “everything that agrees with the Law and…the Prophets” (Acts 24:14), so he was certainly no revolutionary. On the other hand, the claims of Christ concerning such things as righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment were profoundly revolutionary because they strike to the heart of my standing before God. 

Felix, while not a believer, was nonetheless under conviction of truth, and discovered that his own heart testified against him. So he did what I must do when confronted by the claims of Christ: he made his choice. He sent truth away and embraced instead the accusing mob. 

I who love Christ may find it astonishing that any could refuse His magnificent gift, but the sad reality is that I have friends and family who have done exactly that. Carried to the precipice of decision by the Holy Spirit, they chose poorly and died in their sin. I am left to mourn their fate, their stupidity, their pride that motivated their descent into darkness. But there are two questions that need never burden my heart: Was God fair, and did I do enough? 

God is above all else the just One. The Bible is clear that, like Felix, none will perish without the individual opportunity to respond to the claims of Christ. The yawing maw of hell will receive only those who have chosen to go there. Did I do enough? What a deceptive question! I am called to live in such a way that my life matches His words, but I must never confuse my personal walk, which is to be motivated for His pleasure, with responsibility for another’s decision. My words and life do indeed testify, but no one in the reigning honesty of hell will ever be able to accuse my immature testimony as the reason for their eternal anguish.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is such freedom in remembering what part is Yours, and what is mine. Cause me to live my life in ways pleasing to You; that will be more than enough.

March 22nd, 2020

A Useful Test

Leviticus 26:5, 10 “Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will be eating all the food you want…You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you have to move it out to make room for the new” (NIV).

Observation: Leviticus 26 is the first place to extensively describe contrasts between those who walk in obedience and those who do not. It begins with God saying that if his people would follow His decrees, He would send rain in its season causing the ground to yield its crops and the trees to produce fruit. As if to drive home the idea of a never-ending provision, He said the harvests would be so plentiful that they’d have to move out the old to make room for the new; one harvest would extend to the next, and they would never know hunger.

Application: Think of it: a supply so abundant I would never go hungry! A God-given buffet stretching as far as the eye can see, through every season of need. In this passage, the idea of His provision is that I will find myself living under His constant, generous outpouring, like being surrounded by snowflakes in an unending blizzard. 

Do I really believe that? Was it good for the Hebrews but holds no application to my life today? If I say I believe His promise, does my lifestyle put the lie to my words? It is one thing for the poor of the earth to trust in such promises. They have no opportunity to step into my shoes, accumulating for themselves great stores of capital from which to live. The poor have little choice but to rely on a daily provision—manna falling from heaven or an agency handout. 

But I who am rich ought to consider if, by laying up more wealth than needed for my daily supply, I have begun inching toward a role of self-provision that God intended for Himself. Have I crossed a line from being God-dependent, to the cultish view that I will become a god myself? 

Here is a useful little test. Settle into a quiet place and imagine that all your capital assets have suddenly been taken away: 401(k), life insurance, nice home, well-paying job. Understand that you are now utterly dependent upon God for all daily provision. What passes through mind and heart in that moment? Is it terror and fear, or is there a deep assurance that He will keep all His promises? Does the mind begin to nervously consider whether I have kept my end of the bargain, keeping the first commandment first in all things? Am I glad to throw myself upon Him for every need?

Prayer: Father, this useful test has helped to reveal the focus of my own confidence. Forgive me, Lord, for saying I trust You, yet living another way. Make me into a delighted dependent of Your outpouring.

March 21st, 2020

How Could God Have Gotten It So Wrong?

Leviticus 25:23 “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (NIV).

Observation: God here reiterated His ownership of everything. Knowing that a Year of Jubilee would occur on a fixed, fifty-year schedule became part of the basis for calculating a property’s purchase price. Carrying this even further, a poor man who sold property retained the right to redeem the property at any time (Lev. 25:25). If he remained poor and couldn’t come up with the price of redemption, at least in the Year of Jubilee he knew he would get the land back.

Application: What an astonishing concept, this Year of Jubilee, as it is in such profound conflict with our modern way of approaching life and possessions. I buy land “permanently.” I work hard to buy houses I’m so committed to keeping that I will even joke that “they’ll have to carry me out of here on a stretcher.” I give my life to accumulating capital, whether in the form of real estate, retirement plans, businesses, or whatever. There could hardly be a more profound difference between God’s financial system in Leviticus, and the way I, and most everyone I know, live our lives today. I wonder, how could God have gotten it so wrong?

What He seems to be presenting is the idea of a profound difference between capital and income. All capital, He says, is His. Land could be purchased temporarily but always with the price discounted for the number of years left until the next Jubilee. At some level, God’s approach seems sensible to me. I understand that death is the great leveler; I hold things temporarily in the sense that there are no U-Hauls hitched to hearses. But what if I could take it with me? Would I? Well, sure. I worked hard for my stuff. I deserve it, and besides, isn’t there always the possibility that the place Jesus has prepared for me may not be in the neighborhood I merit? 

One of the most profound privileges of watching my wife’s slow descent into paralysis and death was to realize we were both losing interest in things formerly important: her ability to drive, to dream together about vacations, wearing “just-right” makeup and physical adornment. Political victories, favorite TV programs, all the accoutrements of life gradually extinguished as we contemplated her coming Jubilee, her time of returning to her creator and original owner. And I constantly wondered: How much of God had we missed by living as though He had gotten it all wrong in Leviticus?

Prayer: Father, You have been so constant, so unchanging in Your efforts to get me to live as though You owned it all. Forgive me for living so casually in the midst of Your clear principles. Thank You for finally breaking through my hard heart to make the First Commandment first.

March 20th, 2020

Reading of the Will

Romans 8:17 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (NIV).

Observation: Life lived by the Spirit is our only gateway to assured resurrection with Christ. We choose, according to Paul, whether we will live a Spirit-controlled or a flesh-controlled life. If we have chosen Christ, His life is ours as evidenced by the fact that we share in His inheritance.

Application: Paul used a lawyer’s language to describe my inheritance in Christ. To be God’s heir is a legal position, not something I daydream about being, but something I am. No matter the intensity of wishing, I am not a child of the Rockefellers or Gettys. Dorothy might successfully wish herself back to Kansas, but I will never have an inheritance from these storied fortunes. But by the Spirit of God my inheritance is no longer limited by the earthly lineage into which I was born.

In accepting Christ, God Himself has become my father, and I am His. The time has come for the Probate Judge to read the Father’s will. In the hushed courtroom, palpable anticipation blankets the scene; “the whole creation…groans inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons”(Rom. 8:22–23).

As the probate process gets under way, words I have longed to hear ring through the courtroom: I am indeed His heir! Yes! All He has is mine. I am made a joint tenant, a coheir with Christ of all the Father has. I am to share in Christ’s glory; waiting tabloid reporters sprawling across courthouse steps now have their story, splashing in three-inch headlines that I share in all the glory, the majesty, the bounty, of Christ, if…

That damnable word, if. If indeed I now share in His sufferings. Every contract has fine print, and this is mine. I am coheir with Christ if I now share in His sufferings. I must willingly lay down my life as He laid down His, voluntarily surrender everything I have to gain joint tenancy in all He has. What I give up cannot be compared with what I will gain; yet the point is that I must give it up. Such daily decisions do not come easily. “Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (v. 19). Creation eagerly waits for my decisions.

Prayer: Father, I yield. I cannot cling to my poor estate while inheriting yours. Show me each day what I must lay down in order to lay claim to all You have for me.

March 19th, 2020

Leaners Don’t Count

2 Chronicles 9:12 “Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country” (NIV).

Observation: This verse concludes the chronicle of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon. Extensive trade was consummated and a warm personal relationship established before she and her large retinue returned home.

Application: Personal and corporate diplomacy between Solomon and Sheba seem to have been a smashing success. She had come to test Solomon with hard questions (see 2 Chron. 9:1), each of which he answered brilliantly. She admired his court, his table, his servants, and his worship. In fact, verse 4 says “she was overwhelmed” by all she learned.

She gave gifts of spices and rare woods such as had never been seen; in turn, Solomon gave her even more. It was an all ‘round great ending to an important state visit. Surely the cable news outlets were abuzz with diplomacy’s triumph.

Still, a tinge of sadness must pierce the heart as we watch her ride happily into the sunset. The fact is, the queen had the most favorable brush with God imaginable, yet she left His presence unchanged. “Praise be to the Lord your God,” she said, “who has…placed you on his throne as king to rule for the Lord your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel, He has made you king” (v. 8).

The Lord your God. See how close she careened to the kingdom of God, yet without the kind of collision that would have changed her? She had asked Solomon all she had on her mind, yet there is not a shred of evidence that she considered his faith anything more than a spectator sport.

It is easy to come close to God yet miss Him. It is painfully possible to enter into His presence, yet never permit His presence to enter in. This otherwise smart woman will to all appearances spend eternity in hell, her own words echoing her condemnation: “Praise be to your God—your God—your God.” For all the lasting good her trip produced she may as well have played horseshoes with Solomon, where coming close is a “leaner.” In salvation as in horseshoes, leaners don’t count for much.

I must confess that her problem has too often been mine. Easily focused on tasks at hand I, too, have concentrated on externals when God’s desire was to capture my heart. She surely returned home to a triumphal ticker tape parade unaware that for her, all was lost.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open my eyes to Your kingdom. Unstop my ears. Attune my heart to the language of heaven, that I might be yours forever.

March 18th, 2020

Higher Form of Ooze

Romans 5:12 “Therefore just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin…” (NIV).

Observation: Romans 5 is a robust passage uniquely used in the development and defense of the Christian faith. It opens with Paul’s declaration of justification by faith (Rom. 5:1), the truth of which so moved Martin Luther that the Protestant Reformation resulted. It contains another important theme as well: the reality that sin entered the world through the original, created man named Adam. Through Adam’s sin, death became part of creation’s DNA.

Application: From the beginning of Christendom this chapter has been foundational to an understanding of our problem. Like Uncle Remus’s tar baby, I find death clinging tenaciously to me. No amount of self-scrubbing can rid me of it. It began with the man Adam and now afflicts us all. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins” (Heb. 9:27–28, NIV).

Since Adam, men have known that there was salvation in none but God. Christ’s blood was the acceptable atonement for sin, leading to life everlasting if appropriated through personal faith in His sacrifice. This has been unshakable doctrine since God first instituted death in the garden to cover Adam’s sin.

This same cherished truth has gained fresh importance in combating the lie of evolution which, over man’s few-thousand-year history upon earth has had less than a two-hundred-year run. But it has been a destructive run indeed, persuading many, in direct and flagrant contradiction of Scripture, that Adam’s advent was the result of evolutionary improvements as uncountable billions of ancestors died for his benefit. Such perversion of Scripture, when embraced, profoundly undermines our need for a Savior. The lie says not that death resulted from Adam’s sin, but that Adam resulted from death.

For many years, I believed that lie. I was educated in it and taught to look at things from the lie’s worldview. But if the plain truth of Scripture were to mean anything, I ultimately had to confess to having no wiggle-room; there could have been no death before Adam. God’s love for me is great enough that He sacrificed His Son for my rescue from Adam-induced death. He did not make such sacrifice for an improved, higher form of ooze, but for one who was made in His image.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the unchangeable truth of Your Word, which is a He, written in the blood of Calvary. Forgive me for ever agreeing with the lie about who I am and why You could love me so.

March 17th, 2020

Attic Trunks

Romans 3:3 “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s letter to the Romans is a clear-eyed assessment of the depraved spiritual condition of all men, both Jews and Christians. Spiritual darkness is universal without faith in God, for “there is no one righteous” (Rom. 3:10) under law, and all would be hopelessly lost without His tender mercies. His faithfulness, then, is required by any who long for relationship with Him, leading Paul to ask the obvious, “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”

Application: With the forethought of a courtroom lawyer, Paul drew truth to its logical destination, causing me to first agree with the idea that His chosen ones do indeed lack faith. Then like a sharpened rapier came the next reasonable part of the question: does their lack of faith have any possible capacity to diminish God’s own attributes?

I am now thoroughly trapped by the powerful jaws of Paul’s reasoning, irrevocably forced to acknowledge that there are indeed key differences between God and me. He is the big and powerful one; I am small and weak. There is within me nothing that merits heaven—no goodness, no meritorious works. Death is my well-earned destiny. In one short question Paul causes me to recognize the poverty of my supposed goodness and to admit that it is only His faithfulness, manifest at His initiative, that gives me hope of salvation.

God made this clear to clouded Jewish understanding when He caused Isaiah to write, “apart from Me there is no Savior” (43:11), and “there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior” (45:21).

God’s revelation of Himself requires that I abandon any thought of my own merit. My problem is that the idea of permanently abandoning such thoughts is frightful. In the hot flash of today’s resolve, I pack such thoughts lovingly into sturdy trunks destined for my mental attic, easily accessible at the next wave of self-sufficiency. “I have built this thing or that; surely God must have favored me.” “See how fine my children have turned out; how pleased God must be with me.”

Well, perhaps. But the realization dawns that if He is pleased, it is due to His faithfulness, not my effectiveness. It takes God’s revelation of Himself for me to love and to know Him. Keeping those attic trunks is the ultimate exercise in desperate futility.

Prayer: Lord, Your faithfulness has come to each generation as it comes to me today. You are the eternally meritorious one; You alone have initiated and sustained a bridegroom’s pursuit of my heart. I gladly yield to You today.

March 16th, 2020

A Tall Order

Psalm 101:2 “I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (NIV).

Observation: In this brief psalm David beautifully expressed a heart set on pursuit of God alone. He promised to sing of God’s love and justice (v. 1) and to lead a blameless life (v. 2). He declared devotion to relationship with those who were faithful and who themselves walked blamelessly. And then this: to set before his eyes no vile thing.

Application: David committed himself to a tall order. Line upon line, his words of commitment and devotion tumbled forth, leaving not the smallest opportunity for compromise. There is in David’s writing a sense of one who has tasted the sweet presence of the Lord and can now settle for nothing less. The parched throat once slaked by pure, cool rains will never again find full satisfaction in a stale jug of even the finest libation. In the same way, David’s pursuit of great gulps of God led him to covenants of blamelessness and purity regarding whom he spent time with and what he allowed his eyes to gaze upon. He longed to be so filled with the presence of God that there would be room for none else.

There is abundant evidence that David had already tasted the counterfeit. He had known faithless men with perverse hearts and slanderers with haughty eyes and proud hearts; these he determined to foreswear.

I, too, have known such men and women—people who have kept God at arms’ length while trying to succeed in the strength of their gifting and the fleshly attractiveness of well-honed skills. Indeed at times, I have myself pranced in the giftedness of that miserable troupe.

But David here revealed an important principle: it is never enough to merely recognize vileness and then covenant to walk away. I lack sufficient strength of character to ever fully abandon those self-aggrandizing, dark traits designed to make me attractive in others’ eyes. It is not in choosing to leave the bad that I can ever hope to succeed, but only in embracing the good. I can never permanently abandon destruction until I have committed myself irrevocably to wholehearted love of Him alone. Only in cleaving to what is supremely good can I finally leave that which would destroy me.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the example of David’s solution to mediocrity and evil. Stir me to wholehearted devotion to Your dear Son.

March 15th, 2020

Parched Eternity

Psalm 78:61 “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy” (NIV).

Observation: Psalm 78 begins with parables designed to recount the relational history of God and the Israelites. He blessed and established the nation even as Israel rejected and abandoned His precepts. Through seemingly endless cycles of hope and tragedy we read how His chosen ones disdained God to embrace fallenness instead. Finally, in the face of their continuing pursuit of false gods, He abandoned them to their enemies. He angrily rejected Israel (v. 59) and withdrew His presence from the tabernacle, sending the ark into captivity and His splendor into the hands of the enemy.

Application: Is it possible to imagine how utterly alone Israel found herself? This loving God who had birthed the nation, turned His back. This protector of unimaginable might who had tenderly betrothed Israel to Himself, willingly chose captivity. He who had delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s army and brought water gushing from rocks to slake their thirst, had finally drunk his own fill of their rebellion. The God who had committed Himself to bridal partnership, turned angrily away. But His abandonment was more profound than to merely leave; He actively, purposefully sent His presence into captivity of Israel’s sworn enemies. The full splendor of Israel’s magnificent bridegroom recognized bridal adultery for what it was, and went to reside among those sworn to her destruction.

This is tough love in its fulness. There is no suggestion that God’s leaving was in petulance; the profound truth is that in leaving His beloved to her own devices, He was motivated by His deep passion for her. His enraged jealousy would no longer tolerate her half-heartedness, so it was an anguished lover who withdrew to a place of desolation, that His beloved might recognize the trash heap of her existence without Him. His withdrawal to a place utterly beyond her reach was an act of mercy, graciously enabling Israel to experience the full consequences of her choices. 

Have I not been like she was? Without my own night places would I hold any hope of knowing the fulness of His splendor? Without utter abandonment to my own foolish pursuits, could I ever really appreciate the delight of His drawing me into intimacy with Him?

Prayer: Thank You, Father, for glimpses of Your unending love for me. In Your pursuit of wholehearted love from me You have been willing to remain in the shadows till I could no longer stand the silence. You have withdrawn until my loneliness had become like the dry ground of a parched eternity. This, too, has been part of Your strategy for drawing me into Your full embrace. Thank You, Lord.