October 9th, 2019

Living with Pricks and Thorns

Numbers 33:52-53, 55  “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. … But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land in which you live.”

Observation: These verses perfectly foreshadow and encompass the Gospel message. The Israelites had entered the Promised Land, and God told them to drive out all the old inhabitants, to sweep the land completely clean of every old idol, every thing and every place that had once been an object or a place of worship. It was to be warfare of the kind that would take no prisoners, to brook no compromises. The consequences of disobedience in this weren’t that they were going to be thrown out of the land to wander in the wilderness again. No, they were going to have constant trouble, constant irritation, and a lack of peace.

Application: Living in freedom is a choice, not a guarantee. The Israelites were told to enter into the land, and they had done so. But their possession of it had to be complete. 

The relationship of this passage to the Gospel message is this: simply accepting Christ as Savior is merely the beginning step, equivalent to the Israelites’ entering into the land. But then I must do the hard work of dispossessing every old idol, every old habit, every enemy and all their possessions. If I don’t, I will be a miserable Christian indeed, living not in victory, but with the pricks and thorns that have every right to afflict me because I have not turned them out completely. 

I want Christ to bless and “clean up” my old life, but He wants to bring everything about my old self to utter and complete death. Every remnant of my old flesh life is to be crucified with Christ so He is free to begin writing a new story on my heart.

Prayer: Father, You are a jealous God. You say I am to have “no other gods” but You. Show me, Lord, every area of my life where I am clinging to something You want me to surrender—whether it be relationships that aren’t life-giving or possessions I hang on to out of financial fears or habits that weren’t formed under Your watchful gaze. All these things, Lord, I choose to put to death so I can enter into true life in You.

October 8th, 2019

Vows

Numbers 30:2-4 “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word. … Also if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself…in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow…and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand.”

Observation: Numbers 30 contains extensive details about vows—when they “stand” and when one can be released from them. But the overall thrust of the chapter is not only about vows themselves; it also addresses a headship or authority issue. 

A single woman or a man could make a vow and the vow would be perpetuated, or “binding.” But when a person was under the covering of someone else (a married woman under her husband or a young woman living at home with her father), and if her covering intervened in a timely way, then the vow could be cancelled. And since single people, whether male or female, were in effect, their own covering, they had to “live with” their vows, once made.

Application: When I think about what vows actually are, it’s no wonder God treated them seriously. Think of it like this. When petulance first begins to rear its head in a young child, it is immediately recognized for what it is: a test of wills, to see who will be in charge. Inattentive or inappropriate parenting in that moment has lasting impact. The child must learn that he or she is not to control the course of events; attitudes must come under submission to parental authority.

In making a vow I am saying to God, in effect, “I will be in charge of this particular area of my life. You may be my God, even my Savior, and even my Lord in most areas of my life, but I will handle this particular part, thank You very much.” 

And so a vow, even a “good” vow such as “I’ll never beat my wife,” or, “I’ll never marry an alcoholic,” has a binding influence on my life. God can become Lord of every other area of life, but by my vow, I have maintained control—I am on the throne—of that part of my life covered by the vow. 

Prayer: Lord, teach me not to vow, but to simply trust You for every need in my life. I ask You to bring to my remembrance any vows I may have made in the past, that I might repent of them and ask You to break them in Jesus’s name. I want You to be Lord over every area of my life. Thank You, Father.

October 7th, 2019

A Better Way

Numbers 28:2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at the appointed time.”

Observation: God laid out the sacrificial system that was to be followed: Every day of the year, two male lambs. Once a week on every Sabbath, two additional male lambs. On the first day of each month, an additional offering of two bulls, one ram, seven male lambs, and one male goat. On Passover, for each of seven days, two bulls, one ram, and seven lambs. Similar patterns were to be followed for other special feast days, culminating in the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, when on each day there were to be two rams, fourteen lambs, and one goat sacrificed. In addition, a total of seventy-one bulls was to be sacrificed over the days of the feast.

Application: I am struck, as I read this, by one thing above all else: In establishing this system of constant sacrifices, God was creating multiple daily reminders to keep the Israelites in relationship with Him. As the people went about their daily lives, earning a living, going to school, preparing meals—whatever they did—they were never far from the reality of the system required by their covenant with God.

Despite physical sacrifices that the people could see with their own eyes and the manifest presence of God that they could see in the cloud by day and the fire by night, they would grumble and fall away from following God. How much easier is it to fall away from God today, when the required sacrifice is one of the heart, not outwardly visible? 

Christ, by whose one-time sacrifice I am offered eternal life with God, made it so much simpler to come to God. Once, for all, it was done. And yet, to enter into His life, I must still make daily sacrifices to put Him first, to put the first commandment in first place. These sacrifices, though, are not motivated by law, which God knew I could never keep, but are motivated instead by love—compelled, in fact, as the only possible response to His magnificent sacrifice for me.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for showing me the extent of the physical sacrifices the Hebrews had to follow, and the impossibility of keeping them perfectly enough to earn, by them, eternity with You. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your dear Son on the cross, wooing me by love into daily and eternal relationship with You.

October 6th, 2019

Remaining in the Desert

Numbers 14:2-3 “All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’”

Observation: This passage tells how the Israelites’ grumbling and rebellion sealed their fate. God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt. From the perspective of simple geography, He could have brought them safely into the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. 

Application: But complaints filled the camp. People looked back yearning for the past, fearful of the future. In response, God’s punishment was that the entire generation would die in the desert. He required forty years of wandering in the desert before the people would be delivered.

I have thought much about this example over the years of my wife’s declining health. She and I, together and individually, went through many different phases of response to the advance of multiple sclerosis. We struggled against God, sometimes turning away, sometimes embracing Him, always with a combination of hopefulness and sadness. 

Through it all, there remained a growing sense that despite her and my eventual readiness for the Lord to take her home, she tarried several years longer than God’s perfect plan required, just so God could bring our hearts into conformity with His. It was as though we were like the Israelites, having to remain in a desert place until rebellion died. 

God did a wonderful work in my heart through those desert years, as He gave me an eagerness to take care of her, a joy in knowing I was partnering with Him to accomplish something important in her life and in my heart. Cindy paid a high price for my slowness to learn. She had to linger in her corrupt body much longer than might otherwise have been necessary. But the price she paid has produced life in me, and what Scripture calls “an eternal weight of glory” for her, as well (see 2 Cor. 4:17).

Prayer: Lord, remind me constantly of the price You paid for my freedom. Thank You for illustrating it in Numbers 14, and again in my experiences with Cindy’s illness. Use all this for good for the rest of my days.

October 5th, 2019

One Thing

Psalm 27:4 “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (NIV).

Observation: Psalm 27 exudes David’s confident faith in the Lord. He declared God to be his stronghold in the midst of his enemies. He stated his determination to sacrifice with joy, to sing and make music before the Lord even though surrounded by enemies. He expressed certainty that he would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13, NIV). In the midst of his exultation, David had one consistent lifelong prayer: to dwell in the house of the Lord, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.

Application: If ever a man accurately assessed the source of his effectiveness, it was David in Psalm 27:4. In every season of life he was a man of one overriding desire. Whether as the warrior king conquering his nation’s enemies or as a lustful, sinful man whose punishment included burying his own sons, David asked one thing of the Lord with unfailing consistency: to dwell in the house of the Lord, to gaze upon His beauty, and to seek Him in His temple.

His is the heart cry of longing for intimacy with God. David, who had repeatedly led his people into war, was a tender-hearted man who thirsted for just one thing.  He had seen the Lord’s beauty and was determined to allow nothing to interrupt his focused gaze into that place of beauty. The passionate longing of David’s heart gave him courage, not merely in the face of external enemies or personal loss, but courage to know he was secure in his intimacy with God. 

Like the well-married couple content to merely gaze upon one another, to drink in every soft curve of her face, to explore the depth of blazing color in her eyes, to trace evidence of laughter freely given; this is the one thing David determined to pursue of His beloved. When I read his desire to dwell in the Lord’s house and to seek Him in His temple, I must not allow the mind to imagine a solitary man wandering through a deserted sanctuary. Rather, here is a man who had learned to drill down deep into the heart of God. David pursued God as his friend, mentor, and lover. Regardless of the number of his days upon earth, he knew he would never drink in enough of God’s magnificence, but he determined to try all the days of his life.

Prayer:  O Lord, I too want to be a man of one thing. Ignite my heart to greater passion for You.I choose to consciously set aside other pursuits, lesser pleasures, in search of greater intimacy with You. Cause everything else to dim in the light of Your marvelous love.

October 4th, 2019

The Deep

Genesis 1:1-2 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…”

Observation: Time now begins. The uncreated, eternal God who had ‘til now communed within Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created. No light yet existed for there was nothing to be observed except an unwieldy, heavy, swirling mass of material where none had existed a moment before. Untamed waters mixed with amorphous elements to form chaos—an unimaginably huge mixture from which God would later form the heavens and the firmament called earth.

Application: Darkness was profound, not because God created the darkness, but because He had not yet created light. The formless chaos was said to be empty, yet it had a surface to it, a surface which covered what could only be called “the deep”.

Thinking about this, the senses are helpless; they require a reference point or they are reduced to meaninglessness. To understand what this “deep” must have been like, two ideas come to mind. First is the grave…not the grave as experienced by mourners seated on bright green astro-turf at its yawing entry, but the grave as experienced by one who inhabits it forever with no hope of eternal life in Christ’s glorious presence, sealed in a box of steel, sunk into a concrete sarcophagus, covered by tons of dirt.

The second idea for understanding the deep is related to the first. It is both the pre-grave and the post-grave darkness inhabited forever by the soul never infused with the light and life of Christ. Jeremiah 4:23 speaks to the power of unregenerate sin to recreate this darkness when he says, “I looked at the earth and it was formless and empty, and at the heavens, and their light was gone.”

I was born into a sin-darkened world. Until I reunited with my Creator God through the redemption of His Son, my life could never overcome the morass of deep darkness that overwhelmed my soul. The conviction for me in this is how casually I consider the utter darkness of the lost. Having been delivered unto the light so many years ago, I no longer spend much time contemplating the deep’s darkness, yet I should. Such thought will radically impact what I do with money, with relationships, and with every moment of time I have left on this earth. In a moment, I will move back into the glorious light of timeless eternity. But what about her? What about him?

Prayer: Father, it seems odd to think about heavy, unending darkness as part of my devotional time this morning, yet it is a profound reminder that my salvation wasn’t just for me. Others, too, desperately need to find rescue as I did. Move upon my heart, Lord, even as you moved upon the deep.

October 3rd, 2019

Who Is Lord?

Acts 25:26 “Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord.”

Observation: Festus had a real problem on his hands. Paul had come into the Roman justice system for discipline, yet Rome’s representative had to confess to King Agrippa that he had no meaty charges to levy against Paul. Festus was faced with the certain knowledge that Paul had done nothing deserving death, yet he also knew he would appear foolish in Caesar’s eyes by forwarding Paul to Caesar without meaningful charges.

Application: Paul was caught in the Roman system of justice whose wheels ground inexorably toward conclusions that bore no relationship to the original charges. This one sentence demonstrates that Festus, like everyone else, bows before and gives allegiance to someone or something. Festus was saying that he gave lordship to the Roman emperor because he had power and authority over Festus’s career and, indeed, his life.  

God wired me to worship, and worship something I shall. Whether I pour through the latest issue of People magazine lusting over bodies beautiful or seek to build the most impressive home in the neighborhood, I am built to yearn for the approval and acceptance that come from being deemed desirable in others’ eyes. But what we give lordship to speaks volumes about not just our present condition, but about our eternity, as well.

I must go to the Lord constantly to renew my commitment to make loving Him and allegiance to Him the only high priority of my life. He says that I am to “love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength” (see Mk 12:30). Everything else doesn’t then necessarily become unimportant, but all else must occupy no more than second place in the allegiances of my heart.

Prayer: Father, I choose today to shake off and turn away from everything I have loved more than I love You. I ask You to shed Holy Spirit light on my heart to bring conviction of sin where I am sinning; I agree to turn down the noise, to turn off the bright lights of life, to turn away from unrighteousness so that I can truly say that You alone are my Lord.

October 2nd, 2019

A Spiritual Nation

Acts 24:14 “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.”

Observation: Paul affirmed here, as Jesus Himself had earlier affirmed, that being a Christian does not supplant the Old Testament law and all that God laid down for His people to follow. 

Application: The Law’s requirements are foundational and are also predictive of the redemption Jesus provided on the Cross. The essential problem was that on their own, no person could fulfill the Law, without which only death could result. To confirm the Law’s importance, Paul pointed out that just twelve days earlier he had gone to the synagogue, continuing to observe as a follower of Christ the principles laid down many generations earlier.

God chose the Jews for special roles in the world—to live in ways and according to values that would show a watching world the way to salvation. That only intensified and clarified with the coming of Jesus, but nothing about my belief in Him and His new covenant releases me from the need to support and pray for the nation of Israel nor to honor the precepts by which God commanded His followers to live. 

God chose us—each of us who accepts the sacrifice of His son—and He chose the Jews. Together we are a spiritual nation, owing allegiance to our heavenly Father.

Prayer: Remind me daily, Lord, what it is to follow You in all areas of life. Keep my heart softened toward Your chosen people; remind me to pray for the land You have said is holy, and for the peace of Jerusalem.

October 1st, 2019

Stark Choices

Leviticus 26:3-4, 14, 16 “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments…then I shall…But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments. …I…will…”

Observation: We find set forth here the laws concerning obedience, given by God as unalterable evidence that there are benefits to be reaped from following God, offset by desperate, far-reaching consequences for not following His commandments. 

Application: It says that obedience to God would lead to such rewards as a financially productive life, plenty to eat, peace and security, ultimately resulting in God’s promise to dwell in the midst of His people. But for those who refused to obey God, He promised to cause their eyes to waste away, their souls to pine away, and whatever their life had been spent on to come to nothing. He promised he will break their pride, their strength, and bring poverty, sickness, and death upon them.

Jesus said in the New Testament that not all illness is the result of a person’s sin, but my predominant experience affirms that there is great reward in following Him and serious consequences for not doing so. This seems true in the natural realms and crosses into the spiritual, as well. 

For example, I have met many people in the Amazon jungles having virtually none of life’s comforts, but who are nonetheless glowing with the happiness that comes from knowing they are loved by Him. It’s as though their hearts, once given to Christ, then go to work enabling their souls to redefine what it takes to bring contentment. People with much less to eat than I, are nonetheless content. People living in the simplest of shelters nonetheless feel secure. People with far fewer entertainments than mine still are captivated, their heart and mind fully occupied with thoughts of Him.

These people have decided on the wise, spiritual side of God’s stark choices. My heart’s desire is to live in such obedience to God that I experience in full all that He promises to those who love Him.

Prayer: Father, bring correction to my life where it’s needed. Guide me to change these habits or practices or attitudes that might keep me from knowing Your full provision, Your protection, Your comfort.

September 30th, 2019

Foreshadowing Jesus

Leviticus 20:2, 6 “Any man from the sons of Israel…who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death…As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists…I will set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.”

Observation: Through fully three chapters I am told in detail what the people had to do to avoid sinning in God’s eyes. A variety of sinful behavior is listed, with the punishment always the same: being cut off, killed, separated.

Application: To be unclean before God meant separation from Him and from His people. And, depending upon the severity of the sin, the penalty was death. In dozens of passages, God reminds me that He is holy, and He requires that I be holy too if I am to live in His presence. 

And so, dozens of times, He tells me how to achieve holiness or cleanness. He tells what kind of sacrifice to make for various kinds of sin—how to kill the animal—when its flesh was to be burned and when it could be eaten—who could eat it, and even whether there could be leftovers for the following day. He said what was to be done with the blood, the bones, the fat, and the entrails, and if they got it wrong, they were sinning again!

Be holy! Be perfect! Do this this way. Do that that way! Be perfect, for I am holy! What an overwhelming, impossible set of rules to keep! And then there comes this wonderful statement in Leviticus 22:19, “For you to be accepted, it [the sacrifice] must be a male without defect.”

What a thrilling foreshadowing of the sinless, perfect Son of God, who assumed our humanity to come to the earth so He could become my ultimate sacrifice, perfect and blameless, once and for all paying for my sin with His blood and His broken body. 

Without Him I would be reduced to rummaging through the muck of thousands of cattle, sheep, and goats, desperately searching for one whose perfection might finally set me free. Think of it! Think how radically different and how utterly hopeless life would be without Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross!

Prayer: Father, You knew that the blood of bulls and goats could never set me free. You knew that I could never follow all the rules perfectly enough to earn my way into heaven. And You knew that You would have to give the sacrifice Yourself if I were to have any hope of spending eternity with You. Thank You, Lord. Oh, how I love You!