June 14th, 2019

Perfect Afflictions

Micah 4:6 “In that day,” declares the Lord, “I will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted.”

Observation: Judah had been in such rebellion that God sent Micah to prophesy destruction of the nation and judgment against the people. For three chapters, Micah had described in creative yet clear language the things that were coming.  But a shift occurs in chapter 4. He began describing the glories of the coming kingdom, leading to God’s declaration that He would “assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I afflicted.”

Application: Now hold it right there, God. Is this supposed to be good news? It is one thing to be angry at a rebellious nation and to rain judgment on them. They were asking for it. I’m OK with that. It’s also not much of a stretch to understand individuals behaving in ways that merit Your wrath. But hold on. Are you saying that I—me personally—deserved to eat at this table of bitterness? I mean, I have no problem with the corporate “we” as it is called. Nations and peoples are one thing, but “we” and “they” are surely different from “me,” right, God?

What is it within me that resists the logical conclusion that His judgments and wrath should somehow be personalized, tailored uniquely for me? Imagine! Yes, Lord, You have every right to correct whole nations. But do I really merit such individualized attention? O, what a creative God He is, able to bring perfect affliction to each member of the multitudes. 

But always remember this: while His disciplines might seem like judgment and wrath, they really aren’t. They reflect a love so great I can hardly begin to imagine it, always for the purpose of restoration. When I think of restoration it conjures a broken leg that’s healed, or a drug-stupefied loved one now clean.  But His purpose in restoration is never limited to just making me again how I had once been. Restoration envisions uniting me with Him in the fullness He intended before sin separated us. Perfect peace, perfect rest, attained by passing through afflictions lovingly designed for each of us. Hebrews 6:19–20 says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered.”

Prayer: O loving God, Your purposes in affliction are so far beyond my imagining. Thank You for doing whatever it takes to unite me with You for all eternity. For years I have used one passage of Scripture to thank you “in” my afflictions but drawn the line against thanking you “for” them. I see today that I’ve been remiss in that. Forgive me, Lord, even as you enlarge my understanding of Your purposes in my life.

June 13th, 2019

Learning Obedience

Hebrews 5:8 “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”

Observation: Does it seem  odd that God had something to learn? Isn’t He the all-knowing One, the very Source of knowledge itself? Yet here, speaking of Jesus, the Bible makes clear that He was previously unfamiliar with suffering.  Why did He come? To identify with me so I could more clearly see and identify with God. Yet this verse shows that the Savior had Himself to learn obedience to the Father through the suffering He experienced.

Application: I love the idea of a savior, of one who comes to rescue me from pain, affliction and the exhaustion of daily living. I want my Savior to be close. Something within me knows I lack everything till I have gained Him. Still, when I come in my life to the point of His own greatest learning, I work furiously to escape identification with Him. 

It is as though I am the oarsman in a canoe, desperately paddling to escape the grip of waters rushing me ever faster toward the precipice. But consider this: if Christ Himself had to suffer in order to learn obedience, why should I feel exempt? Why do I consider my own suffering as something I don’t deserve, rather than accept it as something I need? God says He prizes my obedience above all else (see 1 Sam. 15:22). 

I can try taking many shortcuts to reach full relationship with Him, but they all lead to dead-ends. Only by walking with Him full-faced into suffering can He deliver me through to the other side, where obedience finally basks in His full approval.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it’s a stunning thing to realize You had anything yet to learn when You came to purchase me. The price You paid was awful, but I thank You for it. Lord, I do resist suffering, yet what You have told me to resist is the devil, because He would then flee. Forgive me for my confusion. Thank You, Lord, that You are molding my heart into something that desires to obey You even more than my flesh wants to avoid suffering.

June 12th, 2019

Train Wreck

Hosea 10:1 “Israel is a luxuriant vine; he produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made.”

Observation: The context of Hosea 10:1 is that as the people became more prosperous, they had less need to rely upon God and began to build their own altars. This is an echo of Hosea 8:11, which speaks of having built “multiplied altars” that became places of sinning. The rest of the chapter describes God’s response: He would destroy literally everything the people had come to value other than God Himself.

Application: This verse is a spiritual mirror if ever one existed: Altars: 401k plans, IRAs, houses, careers, ministries. I see my own reflection, filled from earliest days with a stubborn determination to be independent, to “make it” on my own, to do well. 

But who is to say what “doing well” looks like? Have I asked God’s opinion lately? Or dare I not, for fear His opinion could mean total derailment and train wreck from tracks so feverishly laid down? The Gospel of Christ is a downward call insofar as this life is concerned. It is a call I strain against, a call to simplicity of lifestyle and singularity of focus. A call away from entitlement. It’s terrifying, because the more I understand it, the more I realize it is the complete opposite of the mentality I have learned to live by. 

In my prosperity, I do indeed build my own altars. I worship at them, asking God to bless my plans and the work of my hands. The possibility that these plans, these works, may not be His plans and works is too profoundly troubling for me to seriously consider. But verse 12 tells how to right things: “Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” And again in Psalm 73:25–26, “Besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Prayer: O God, You Who have made all that my eyes delight in, You are indeed all I need. Pull me back today, Lord, from the precipice of my own pursuits, and cause my heart to exalt You and You alone. Teach me contentment in less, Lord, for as I make You my only refuge, You open storehouses of heaven as my portion in You. Rain Your righteousness on me today, Lord. I love You!

June 11th, 2019

Holding Fast, Not Wobbling

Hosea 6:3 “So let us know; let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Hebrews 3:6, 14 “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. . . . For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”

Observation: Twice in this chapter of Hebrews we are presented with the same phrase, “Hold fast . . . until the end.” In verse 6, we are to hold fast our confidence in Christ and the boast of our hope. In verse 14 we are to hold fast the beginning of our assurance. In Hosea, an apostate Israel cried out for restoration to the God they had abandoned. They did not “hold fast” and had lost fellowship with God. God was here described as one whose presence is as certain as the dawn, as refreshing as spring rain on a receptive earth, yet Israel was far from experiencing Him like that.

Application: The book of Hosea is a powerful prophetic picture of the devastation and utter purposelessness of a life that has rejected Christ. To be separated from Him by our overt rejection of His precepts brings only the awful harvest of a life lived aimlessly. That is followed by God’s eternal punishment. But not all rejection is overt. Paul, in Hebrews, reminds us that our spiritual condition is the direct result of choices we make. The choice to hold firm until the end surely suggests the antithesis. It’s possible to go wobbly, choosing to turn from wholehearted pursuit of Him, leaving us with what is called in verse 12 an “evil, unbelieving” heart.

Apparently there is no middle ground we might occupy.  We are either holding fast, or we have an evil heart. That’s worth thinking about today as I make moment-by-moment choices as to how I spend time and money. I suspect that the process of going wobbly is a gradual thing; since my heart is where my treasure is (see Matt. 6:19), exerting intentional focus on things of eternal value becomes supremely important.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I cry out for Your help today, that what I think about, what I speak, what I spend time and money on, would draw me closer to You. I choose, Lord, to hold fast those things You value. Give me Your discernment, Lord, to know what those things are, and what they are not. As Israel cried, water my heart today. Cause my heart to be receptive soil for Your refreshing.

June 10th, 2019

Sharing in the Full Victory

Hebrews 2:9 “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”

Observation: Hebrews 2 exalts the most remarkable love story ever written.  Verse 9 makes clear that it’s a love story written in the blood of Jesus, rather than in any of our best efforts. He tasted death “for everyone.”

Application: Such a simple phrase, “He tasted death for everyone.” Yet the profound reality is how easy it is for me to denigrate such sacrifice, often unknowingly, as I continue to rely on my own resources to build my kingdoms, my systems of security. 

But the kingdom He has already purchased for me is unimaginably more than enough. While I try to lay up my own treasures, verse 8 says He has put all things under my feet. What more could I possibly need or desire? This Savior, Jesus, has already done all and more than I could imagine. 

Verses 14–15 report the absolute, complete victory of Christ: “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

Amazing! He has set me free from the thing I fear most! And if I am free from even the fear of death, how much more ought I be free from all those other supposed “needs” that creep in around the edges of my faith? Financial insecurity, loneliness, health—these things, and everything else I could imagine, are in subjection, under my feet!

Prayer: Father God, show me today more of the reality of what it means for things I fear to be in subjection under my feet. Cause me today, Lord, to live in the fullness of Your victory, confident that Your taste of death has absolutely set me free!

June 9th, 2019

The Lord of Storms

Jonah 1:4 “And the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.”

Observation: This ought to be one of the most reassuring passages in Scripture.  Here we have Jonah, who obviously knew the voice of the Lord and could hear perfectly the Lord’s instruction. We know that his hearing was clear enough to cause him to decide immediately to run from God’s purpose for him.  Jonah’s was not the gradual, partial disobedience of the fence sitter. Rather, his was the flight of one who knew exactly what God had told him to do, and he instantly said no! Jonah was nothing if not decisive.

Application: How many times have I said no to the Lord? How often have I either turned away in overt, intentional flight or quietly skulked in the shadows of God’s will, hoping He might not notice my lack of wholeheartedness in response to His nudgings? Regardless of the intentionality of my stubbornness, what is the emotion that always follows? Fear. Fear that now that I’ve turned down the King of heaven, He might abandon me altogether. Fear that He is so peeved with me that He might never again trust me with divine assignment.

So how heartening is the verse that shows He will do anything it takes to win my obedience. Will He stir up a ship-wrecking storm? Sure. Send a great fish to swallow and carry me to the place of God’s design? No problem. As a matter of fact, nothing is too difficult for Him—no stubbornness, no fear, no rebellion. He overcomes all my objections, whether suddenly or gradually, and turns me toward His dear Son. In the light of His sacrifice, I must not, I cannot, say no.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are in the winds and the waves of my life, ever urging me to full obedience. Thank You for the honest look at Jonah, loved, equipped, and assigned by You for important work, yet resisting. Thank You for Your faithfulness to walk with him, and with me, through every difficult assignment. I choose today to yield to You fully, Lord, in pursuit of the eternal glory You promise to all who wholeheartedly love You.

June 8th, 2019

Transition

1 Timothy 6:20 “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”

Observation: In a few minutes my daughter, Rachel, and I will be leaving the home we have shared for the past six months as we drive to the State of Maine so she can settle in to medical school. 

Last night late, Rachel and I sat together simply savoring the intensity of the changes now before us. While I am on this trip, the sale of my home is to be concluded. This makes Rachel’s transition all the more bittersweet, as we both know she will not be returning to this house—this place where she and I established new ways of living after my wife Cindy’s death. In a very real sense, we are both feeling a fresh wave of loss because of that.

Application: But as I read the phrase, “Guard what has been entrusted to you,” I am heartened again with the reminder that Rachel and I have a call to go forward. None of us knows what the future holds, but I do know that one day literally everything I see, and everything I know of this world, will in an instant, be changed, as the Lord Jesus returns to earth to claim His own. Meanwhile, I am called to use whatever gifts and talents He has given me in service of the advance of His kingdom. 

He has entrusted much to each of us who love Him. We are, literally, the fulfillment, the embodiment, of His purpose on earth, as we have traded our life’s devastation and loss for His life of eternal joy and peace. He calls us to guard those things, nurture them, practice making use of them. How are we to do that? The rest of the verse tells us: “avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge.’”

Prayer: Lord, as we drive away, I pray that You would so firmly fix our eyes upon Jesus over these next two weeks that worldly and empty chatter would hold no attraction. Bless us, Lord, as we walk into the future You have prepared. And cause us to continually reflect upon Your overwhelming goodness in our lives as the things of this world dim in comparison to the light of Your marvelous grace.

June 7th, 2019

Responding to His Call

1 Timothy 4:14 “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.”

2 Kings 9:13  “Then they hurried and each man took his garment and placed it under him on the bare steps, and blew the trumpet, saying, “Jehu is king!”

Observation: These passages reflect the spiritual authority that comes to us through the laying on of hands and through prophetic words spoken over us by men acting in obedience to God. 

Application: Timothy had received powerful gifts for exhortation and teaching, and was urged by Paul to develop his skill in those areas. The ability of God’s Word to change hearts and convey power is perhaps even more clearly illustrated in 2 Kings 9:13. Elisha had sent “one of the sons of the prophets” to find Jehu with instructions to privately, “in an inner room” pour oil on his head and anoint him king over Israel. This wasn’t to be a big-deal public ceremony; it was to be behind closed doors, with no witnesses, carried out by a nameless young man no one knew but who was acting on instruction from the Lord. 

What the young man did was obviously effective, because moments later when Jehu emerged from the room dripping oil and told his fellow captains in the army what had just happened, they immediately responded with honor. They removed their cloaks so Jehu could stand on them as a sign of their submission, and they proclaimed him king. There was no sign of jealousy, no second-guessing; just an instant acknowledgement of what God had said.

How very different were the instruments for these anointings. One was Paul, arguably the most famous apostle in the land, while the other was a nameless lad who fled as soon as he had carried out his task. Might I conclude from this that the “instrument” of anointing may not matter all that much? 

Timothy and Jehu are great examples of ordinary people who said yes to God. That’s not to say they were overnight wonders; Paul, for example, exhorted Timothy to keep practicing, keep honing his skills for greatest usefulness to the body of Christ. Surely that is a good word to me as well. Saying yes to God’s call is the first step of a journey that will take me to places and relationships and impacts I could not have imagined. But God Himself has uniquely designed each journey, and I would do well to be engaged in it.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes glimpses of where You want me to go take my breath away. But You have good things for those who love You. Your calling is for eternally significant purposes, even when those purposes aren’t clear. So I say, “Yes, Lord” again this morning. Have Your way with me. I love You, Lord.

June 6th, 2019

Winepress of Love

2 Chronicles 20:3 “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord.”

Observation: What a godly response to fear and stress! The nation of Judah was about to be attacked by foreign enemies. When Jehoshaphat heard of the gathering threat, his natural response was to be fearful. The enemy was looming, and he knew the enemy well enough to be appropriately intimidated and fearful. 

But then he had a second response, an unnatural response: he “turned his attention to seek the Lord.”

Application: Why is this an unnatural response? Because my tendency is to be self-reliant—to think that I can, I must, fight my own battles. So, to turn to God for His help is a cultivated response, a learned behavior. It requires great discipline that can only come from faith and experience, by repeated exposure to battles that I cannot win on my own.

God loves me enough, and is passionate enough in seeking relationship with me, that He will repeatedly expose me to trials to test my responses. His greatest desire is that I would eventually learn to surrender my own lousy capabilities and to rely instead upon His limitless ones. 

Upon honest reflection, I must ask whether I will ever fully learn that lesson no matter how many tight spots the Lord graciously arranges. But I should make no mistake: He is on my side. He is for me. He has me…each of us… in a winepress intended to mold us into men and women who would choose godly responses, who would commit to His priorities for our lives regardless of the apparent strength and capabilities of our enemy.

What does that enemy look like? I should put away the notion of pitchforks and dragon tails, substituting instead the much more realistic picture of my inherent tendency to pursue the good rather than the best. What I view as opportunity is often temptation disguised, temptation designed to test what my heart truly values: wholehearted pursuit of Him, or a panting chase after this world’s acclaim and rewards.

Prayer: Lord, Your word says You have conquered even death, which is the last enemy. Cause the truth of this to sink deep into my spirit so I don’t faint in fear the next time a familiar enemy looms on my horizon. Give me profound understanding of all that You have done in my behalf. Let the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Christ so flood my mind, will, and emotions that there is room for nothing else within me except praise to Him. I love You, Lord, and am grateful for the things You have taught me. Thank You for Your winepress of love.

June 5th, 2019

Wheelbarrows and Tankers

2 Kings 4:5-6 “So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing the vessels to her and she poured. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not one vessel more.’ And the oil stopped.”

Observation: This widow’s sons were about to be taken from her by creditors who were pressing legitimate claims following the death of her husband. Elisha had told her to borrow vessels from her neighbors, and to then begin pouring into them her small supply of oil. As she began pouring, what little oil she had became much.  Her small treasure of oil filled every vessel she had borrowed, and then the oil stopped.

Application: At least two kingdom principles are illustrated in this story. First, she had enough faith for basic obedience; she indeed borrowed vessels and she began pouring. But one wonders why she had not borrowed more vessels? Did she come to regret having “some” faith, enough to borrow just “some” vessels, but not having enough faith to borrow all the jars and wheelbarrows and tankers in the county? How did the limits of her faith limit the extent of God’s miracle in her behalf? 

Second, this incident is also a wonderful reminder that God creates out of nothing. I tend to look at my need—more income to pay the bills, or larger-than-ever pledges to build a church—and I can’t imagine the need being met precisely because in my humanness I believe that a generous supply always costs me more. If I want more income, I must work harder or longer or smarter. If I want to give more generously, it’s going to be at the expense of my retirement security or some other thing I have been saving for. 

But His provision is never met at my expense; it does not depend upon my efforts. After all, I am supposed to have already surrendered everything. When He supplies, there is always more than before. I should remember this when my needs loom large, whether needs for my daily life or my desire to respond when God calls me to be “impossibly” generous. When He supplies He goes far and above what I could have imagined. If it were otherwise, it would not have been a miracle, and God’s hand would not have been required. Do I really want to respond just out of my own strength and resources or out of God’s?

Prayer: Father God, You who created out of nothing all I can see or imagine, I want to live in a way that increases my reliance upon You. Convict me of wrong when my human calculus is about to limit my response to what You have called me to do. O creator God, pour Your abundance before me. The work is Yours.  The effort is Yours. To You be the glory!