November 29th, 2019

The Inadequacy of Corpses

Revelation 9:21 “And they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”

Observation: John’s revelation relates his vision of seven angels, each with trumpets, coming in turn to bring judgment upon the earth. There had been hailstorms mixed with blood and fire; seas turned to blood and waters made bitter; and the sun, moon, and stars had been darkened. Hoards of locusts had been released, each instructed to harm only those who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. Finally, four destroying angels were released with the assignment of killing one-third of all mankind. In light of all this, Revelation 9:20 is even more astonishing: “And the rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands.”

Application: What can we be thinking? How can the sight of such massive, universal destruction not cause a change in behavior? How can the stench of countless corpses not cause a stampede of hearts to the Lord? When we know there is a place of refuge, why do we stubbornly cling to our own resources? 

The problem is made clear elsewhere in Scripture: delayed obedience brings hardness of heart. God calls and I hear, but am slow to respond. God instructs, but I obey only partially or not at all. God warns, but I am so committed to existing patterns of life that repentance becomes unlikely. Through delayed obedience, eyes no longer see and ears no longer hear. So I foolishly conclude that either I am doing fine and no change is needed, or I calculate that there will still be time “tomorrow” for needed heart adjustments. 

The honest truth is, most of us will die exactly as we have lived. In a heartbeat, this life ends and the next life begins, an eternal life that is informed, shaped, and determined by the daily decisions we made regarding following Jesus Christ above all others. Eternity is set as the last breath flows from our lungs. Today, while opportunity remains to impact our eternal destiny, today is the day for complete obedience to Christ. If we fail to act while we are able, corpses piled even to the ceiling will be insufficient to motivate a course correction.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my heart breaks for those around me who have not yet decided that following You is the most important call on their lives. Though all other pursuits will ultimately be turned to dust, my heart’s tendency is to pursue those things as though I could be nourished by them in eternity. Keep me alert, Lord, when my heart pursues activities You have not directed me in. Fill me, Lord, with a desire to pursue You above all other gods.

November 28th, 2019

The End of Mercy

Psalm 111:9 “He has sent redemption to His people; …Holy and awesome is His name.”

Observation: Three times in Ezekiel 20 the rage of the Lord overflowed as He recounted the good He had done for the people of Israel and the depth of their sin in rejecting Him. Three times He said that He acted for the sake of His name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight He brought them out (see verses 9, 14, 22). But His anger had reached such a boiling point that when elders of Israel asked Ezekiel to speak to the Lord in their behalf, God said in verse 3, “As I live, I will not be inquired of by you.” In other words, “Don’t even think about asking!” 

Application: It seems clear that God does indeed care how He is perceived by unbelievers. He pours mercy upon mercy on us as we fall short; He is more “for” us than anyone else on earth. He doesn’t worry about how much time it takes to bring us to Himself; He lives outside of time. 

But we who live “in” time should be profoundly worried about its passage, because one day no more mercies will flow; I will have come to the end of life, and to the end of mercy. His name is holy and awesome! Whether I have received His overflowing mercy or not, there will come a time when every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (see Phil. 2:10­–11). 

The Israelites had come to their end of mercy; their destruction would look to the watching pagan world like something harsh and arbitrary, even capricious, and His name would thus be profaned in the eyes of the watching world. Yet all the Jews would know within their hearts how great had been His mercy and how deserved was His destruction. 

Similarly, when I come to the end of time and mercy runs out, there will be nothing left but to bow before Him and confess. Whether I bow as a sinner about to be cast into eternal, deserved destruction or as a voluntary lover of God, depends upon the choices I make today. I must either follow Him with increasing passion or gradually fall away into eternal darkness by my daily choices. His name is holy. His name is awesome. Am I living in pursuit of the holy and awesome One, or am I living like one who once said yes to Him and then, like Israel, permitted my daily existence to descend into a place where mercy comes to an end?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for every pursuit, every passion, that draws me away from you. Forgive me for spending time and money on things that have no eternal value. I choose today to turn my heart again toward You.

November 27th, 2019

A Picture of Forgiveness

Ezekiel 16:62-63 “‘Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you all that you have done,’ the Lord God declares.”

Observation: Ezekiel recounts Israel’s history by describing her as a woman who began life precariously as an abandoned baby, but God found her and adopted her as His own. As she grew He adorned her with unparalleled beauty, yet, she scorned Him and became a harlot, giving herself to all sorts of abominable pursuits, leading to her defeat and judgment. Finally the cycle is completed after her repentance and God’s redemption.

Application: It is both winsome and compelling that God uses the metaphor of a woman’s life to describe His beloved Israel. Much loved as she grew, she later abandoned Him in adultery. 

The profoundly appealing thing about this metaphor is how well we can understand it. Who among us, having once experienced the marriage bed, cannot relate to the perfect oneness found there? The sublime completion that comes from such intimacy is unmatched among life’s experiences and therefore perfectly illustrates the depth of commitment God has to His beloved. Tellingly, this is the same metaphor we are left with at the end of the Book, when human history consummates with another wedding, when the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world will become my husband, and I His bride. 

That perfect union for which all the earth groans will be my vantage point from where I can look back and finally understand all He has done for me. Speaking of Israel’s restoration to God, Ezekiel writes, “I will establish My covenant with you and you shall know that I am the Lord.” He goes on to say that they will then be able to understand all they have been forgiven and because of that, they will never again speak against another. So it is with me. Perfect intimacy with Him radically changes my emotional chemistry, making repugnant my tendency to cling to “my rights,” “my accomplishments.” What He then substitutes, as those things are surrendered, is a clearer vision of Him, which causes me to fall upon my face before His beauty and majesty.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, that’s all You want, isn’t it? You are after voluntary lovers for whom perfect intimacy matters more than any accomplishment. Change my emotional chemistry, Lord, so everything in my life falls into divine order. Cause me to lay aside everything to pursue You above all else.

November 26th, 2019

The Backpack

Ezekiel 12:3-6 “Prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; …Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house. Bring your baggage out by day in their sight, as baggage for exile. Then you will go out at evening in their sight, as those going into exile. Dig a hole in the wall in their sight and go out through it. Load the baggage on your shoulder in their sight and carry it out in the dark.”

Observation: These verses portray the sign of the prophet’s baggage. God had Ezekiel shift from verbal communication to a one-man play depicting the coming exile of Judah. Everyone from the king and false prophets down to the lowliest residents were to see this pantomime and take seriously the need to repent in the face of approaching exile.

Application: What a creative God! When words fail, even His words, He is willing to paint a picture. Ezekiel was to act out the trip into exile by carrying only what he could fit into his backpack. Imagine escaping ahead of a raging storm with only possessions that could be carried. Countless people have had to do that down through the ages from Ezekiel’s time to refugees barely escaping torrents of winds and flood. 

But this passage could also carry another meaning, one with perhaps even more universal application. Consider the possibility that our very need for exile is because of the baggage we carry. In this sense, baggage becomes not those few precious possessions I was barely able to grab on my way out the door. Baggage would represent all the “stuff” of life I hold too tightly: beliefs, accomplishments, athletic prowess, possessions, things that have walled off my heart from passionate pursuit of Him. Like electrical static that interferes with broadcast reception, so my baggage interferes with my relationship with the only One in the universe who loves me unconditionally.

“Lay it down,” He would say. “Depend upon Me and nothing else. Be led by My Spirit, filled so sufficiently by Him that you have need of nothing else.” While each of us has a backpack whose contents are unique to us individually, the commonality among our loads is this: it will all, in the end, be lost. Moths, rust, locusts, that sort of thing. He calls us to walk voluntarily into the light of His marvelous love with no baggage at all save a heart in hot pursuit of Him. Ultimately it is the stuff we carry, stuff He never told us to pick up in the first place, that becomes the very reason for exile.

Prayer: Father, what am I carrying that grieves You? What have I picked up that separates me from wholehearted love of Your dear Son? Forgive me for carrying a load You never intended. Restore me to the simplicity of single-minded focus on You. Thank You, Lord.

November 25th, 2019

Winnowing

Ezekiel 11:8 “You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you,” the Lord God declares.

Observation: Ezekiel was speaking the judgments of God upon rebellious Jerusalem. In a vision, God had taken Ezekiel into the temple to see for himself the abominable things the people, even the elders, were doing. The Lord cried out for executioners to come, one of whom was a man clothed in linen with writing instruments in his waistband. God told the man to put a mark on the forehead of every person who groaned and mourned over the abominations around them, but to strike down all the rest. This winnowing was to begin among the leaders and extend to all the people (see Eze. 9:1-6). Then this: “You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you.”

Application: What fascinating insight into the judgments and the salvation of God.  He promises to discipline with the very thing I have feared most. So, not only will the destruction be horrible even to the point of death, depending upon my response to the decadence around me, but the instrument of destruction will be the very thing I most fear. In this is a hint of Matthew 7:1:  “Do not judge…for in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

Notice that before judgment, God sends a man with a writing instrument to mark those whose hearts are His; they will be spared. Even in the midst of unimaginable rebellion, some live with hearts longing to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. These have nothing to fear; they have chosen, in deep humility, not to judge, so the Judge of the universe will pass them by, seeing upon them the mark of Christ. 

But there are many who do judge others, who pridefully hang on to supposed “rights”  God has told them to lay down. These are the rebellious ones, who have no recourse but to live out their days in their own strength, waiting with a growing sense of doom for the coming of what they know in their hearts will be righteous judgment. When it comes, it will be in the fashion most feared. Matthew says they will be judged by their own judgment. God said in Ezekiel 9:10, “I will bring their conduct upon their heads.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have been present from the beginning of the Book, haven’t You? The cross has always been Your way of salvation. Jesus, I long to be in Your presence; since You have not yet taken me home, then I ask You to overwhelm me with Your presence now. Separate me, Lord, from the decadence of worldly pursuits and let me hear Your voice moment by moment. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

November 24th, 2019

Splendid Isolation

Ezekiel 3:22-23 “The hand of the Lord was on me there, and He said to me, ‘Get up, go out to the plain and there I will speak to you.’ So I got up and went out to the plain; and behold, the glory of the Lord was standing there, …and I fell on my face.”

Observation: Ezekiel’s ministry was primarily focused on Judean exiles in Babylonian captivity. In the first three chapters, God commissioned Ezekiel, warning him that these were a hard-hearted people who would not willingly listen to his message. What a way to begin a ministry! Then comes verse 22, where God told Ezekiel to withdraw to the plain, to get away from the noise of life. He was to retreat by himself to a place where he could have an empowering experience with the Lord. Indeed, that is what happened, as he found there the glory of the Lord to be so profound that he fell on his face.

Application: It seems sometimes that splendid isolation is necessary for a clearer encounter with God than life’s routine makes possible. The intrusiveness of daily activities seems to require that I withdraw for special seasons of hearing what God is saying. Withdrawal does not necessarily mean going on a retreat, although that could indeed bring cherished renewal of relationship as it did for Ezekiel. But the idea of withdrawal does convey intentionality, of doing things that can so quiet one’s surroundings that a deep encounter with God can result. I wonder: when is the last time God’s presence was so awesome, His glory so powerful, that the only possible response was to fall on my face? When was the last time that the reality of His claim on my life was strong enough to move from fleshly head knowledge to the spirit-filled weeping over His presence?

I am reminded of Revelation 2:5, where the Spirit of Christ is challenging the Ephesian church to “remember from where you have fallen.” He calls them to repent and do the deeds they had done at first. Failure in this would result in God’s closing off any ministry effectiveness they once enjoyed. It seems they, like Ezekiel, needed some time alone to remember, to have a fresh encounter with God. No doubt the Holy Spirit had been nudging them toward renewal all along; He is irritatingly faithful that way. Works done apart from the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit bring God’s condemnation. My heart longs for those God encounters that cause me to fall afresh on my face; He longs for those times with me, as well.

Prayer: Abba Father, cause me regularly to seek times of splendid isolation with You, to lose myself in Your glory. I choose to turn off the noise of my daily routine so I can encounter You. Let me hear Your voice, Lord. Fill me afresh with Your Holy Spirit.

November 23rd, 2019

A Well-Deserved End

Jeremiah 52:10-11 “The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and he also slaughtered all the princes of Judah in Riblah. Then he blinded the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon and put him in prison until the day of his death.”

Observation: The eyes of Zedekiah were blinded. This had been foretold earlier in the book. As Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was taking captive Zedekiah, king of Judah, he blinded him. Isn’t this interesting? God is showing a pattern. Blindness follows rebellion, and captivity comes next. Verse 10 says that the Babylonian king slaughtered all Zedekiah’s sons and all the princes of Judah “before his eyes,” and then in the next verse, Zedekiah’s eyes were blinded.

Application: Is it an accident of history that the last thing Zedekiah saw before he was blinded was the slaughter of all that affirmed his authority (the princes of Judah) and all that gave him hope for the future (his sons)? Surely the tragedy of Zedekiah’s imprisonment was dramatically magnified by the relentless memory of the last thing he had seen. The army of Babylon continued its assignment in Jerusalem, destroying other remnants of Zedekiah’s life: the temple, the houses and their contents, but it no longer mattered, for Zedekiah’s destruction was already complete.

See what captivity is like? Imagine the constant replay in Zedekiah’s mind of the last thing he saw: the loss of all that had been important to him. No new vision, no new sights would ever again be imprinted upon his mind, for he was now blind. For the rest of his life he had this one mental tape to play. Oh the anguish of his situation! No reprieve from darkness. No fellowship; only separation, forever. No light or vision; only the pitch darkness of the utterly blind. A well-deserved end for Zedekiah’s rebellion. I should understand this: the disciplines of God may seem harsh as I measure things, but they are just and appropriate.

Call to Him, O beloved!  Call to Him from captivity. Use His phone number (Jeremiah 33:3) to call to Him, so your end of days will not be in a prison of eternal darkness and separation with no memory except of loss.

Prayer: O God! O God! Answer my call, O Lord, and fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I might hear from You and live in the light and freedom rather than in darkness and captivity.

November 22nd, 2019

The End of Exile

Jeremiah 50:20 “‘In those days and at that time’, declares the Lord, ‘search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I shall pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.’”

Observation: What a wonderful thought, that at the end of exile, when Judah’s captivity in Babylon came to an end, none of her past iniquity or sins would be found. Diligent search will be made, but it would be fruitless because of God’s pardon. This was Good News indeed, for any man or woman who has received a pardon from God is truly set free of their past sin.

Application: This is not to make the claim that sin and error have not been committed; we have abundant evidence of how richly deserved was Judah’s discipline by her seventy-year captivity in Babylon. But when the time comes that the heart is truly repentant, when there is finally a determination to go and sin no more, then the end of exile is near. In that moment the pardon of God wipes the slate clean and erring people are restored. Discipline has worked its divine purpose, and the exiled one is restored to full relationship.

This is a perfect foreshadowing of how our Savior, the righteous one, works in our lives today. Why do I stubbornly resist the truth of this promise? Part of the answer lies in the fact that I am surrounded by examples of counterfeit pardons, pardons granted prematurely where no repentance was manifest, pardons granted for unrighteousness’ sake. Such easy pardons, unearned and undeserved, cause outrage to rise in the heart of the righteous. Those pardons are offensive precisely because they fare so poorly when compared to a just and righteous pardon that follows true repentance.

In the instant of my sorrowful cry of repentance, everything changes. The Lord Jesus Christ intervenes. In the moment when the reality of my sorry condition brings abject confession of sin, Jesus writes, “Paid In Full” over the charges that had rightly condemned me, and I am free. Sin is defeated, no longer holding the power to condemn me. And like Israel emerging from Babylon, I am metamorphosed into a wholly new creation.

Prayer: Father, the exile I have found myself in has been of my own making. It was the appropriate consequence of my darkened heart. Thank You that true repentance brings the end of exile and restoration of fellowship with You and with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You for freedom only You can provide.

November 21st, 2019

His Way or the Highway

2 John 6 “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

Observation: We are unsure whether John was writing to an individual believer or to a church, but the book makes three primary points: (1) a commandment to love one another, (2) an affirmation for walking in truth, and (3) a caution against false teachers. Regarding love, John’s message here is consistent with every other message on this subject in Scripture. Love is not an emotion, not a feeling.   Love is God’s way of behavior. John said this is not new information; it is the same message that has been taught from the beginning of the Book.

Application: John’s definition of love is so specific, so precise, that there is no room for misinterpretation: keep God’s commandments. The very precision of the definition excludes all the gushy, soft, flesh-motivated ways we embrace as alternatives to love. Keep His commandments. Nothing less counts as love.

John also said, twice, that this is what they’d heard “from the beginning.” It is the great unifying theme of the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments. God is love, and if I love Him I will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Nothing else counts. He is the One who made me. It is He who redeemed me, and He has the right to set all the rules. My opinion doesn’t matter; my feelings don’t count. “I Did It My Way” won’t be in heaven’s Top 40. 

My works done apart from Him will be consumed by fire. Period. Everything I aspire to, all I dream of apart from fulfillment in Him is utterly worthless and will be destroyed. As if to punctuate the certainty of the futility of resisting this core message, I am reminded of Jeremiah 37, where some in besieged Jerusalem hoped the attacking Chaldeans would yet fail. But Jeremiah laid that to rest with these words from the Lord: “For even if you had defeated the entire army of Chaldeans who were fighting against you, and there were only wounded men left among them, each man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire” (Jer. 37:10). The people were being besieged because they did not love God enough to obey his commands.

Prayer: Lord God, Your message today leaves no wiggle room at all. My flesh resists Your narrow way, Lord; I search for any way but Yours to achieve my dreams, to fulfill my needs, but You could not be clearer: those things do not interest You, do they? Forgive me, Lord. Draw me back to Your commandments.  Draw me back to true love. In Jesus’ name.

November 20th, 2019

God’s Phone Number

Jeremiah 33:3 “’Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’”

Observation: The Lord was reviewing powerful promises He will restore to the people once they have been delivered from captivity in Babylon.

Application: God is an encourager. Even as He points to the need for us to receive certain disciplines in our lives, He is also quick to paint a picture of the good that will come through those seasons of discipline. Nowhere is that more evident than in the first nine verses of Jeremiah 33. Destruction was coming, but if in the midst of it the people will call upon His name, He will show them great and mighty things, things they did not know and could not have imagined. 

This calling could not be the simple call for rescue of the man who has fallen into a well and needs a rope, for God had earlier made clear that the man deserved to be in the well. God directed the man’s steps to the very edge, and then allowed its deep darkness to pull him into its depths, all for the purpose of bringing repentance (see Jeremiah 32:42).

No, the calling described by Jeremiah is the call of one who has learned a lesson while in the well and is now ready to rejoin the light. Such a person would be eager to resume his or her place within the family of God, now filled with purpose to make Him known. Lavish promises follow for one who has turned toward the light and is restored: health and healing, an abundance of truth and praise. There will be deliverance from all iniquity and the world will be filled with fear and trembling as others see all the good God will do.

So call upon the Lord. Not a call for rescue from pain, but the call of a heart that celebrates having met God in the midst of pain. Not the call of one who says, “OK God, I’ve been in this hard place for a while. I think I’ve about had enough, don’t You?” No, this must be the call of one who has walked the whole trial and has finally come to the end, to a place where the disciplines of God have finally removed all thoughts of not deserving to be in this fix. 

That’s when my call to God is heard, and deliverance comes. Think of Jeremiah 33:3 as God’s phone number. Use it when needed. He will indeed answer. He will indeed show great and mighty things, the greatest of which will be your own heart, now transformed into a voluntary lover of Him.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for answering my call. Thank You for restoration.  Thank You for redemption. Thank You for seasons of discipline that have made me better able to worship You in all circumstances.