July 28th, 2020

Cattle Call

1 Samuel 16:7 “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him.”

Observation: Samuel has been grieving over the Lord’s rejection of Saul as king of Israel (16:1), but the Lord had said, in essence, “Buck up! Get over it!” “Go to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.” The first son Jesse paraded before Samuel, Eliab, apparently had the outward appearance of a king insofar as human perspective is concerned, but God cut off any consideration of him by saying, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him.”

When David was finally brought from the fields, he, too, made a fine outward impression; verse 16:12b says that David “had beautiful eyes and a healthy, handsome appearance.”

Application: Like a parade of male models down a Ralph Lauren runway, Jesse’s sons were presented one at a time for Samuel’s consideration, but it quickly became apparent that something other than worldly measures were going to be used in selecting Israel’s next leader. Height, muscularity, chiseled features or vocal timbre were apparently not the qualities by which God intended to make His selection.

God placed no value upon the candidate’s outward appearance. In fact, His sole criteria were revealed in verse 7b: “Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”

How vast the gap can be between how the Lord and I assess relationships. I have too often sought to connect with people thought desirable to be seen with…people of power or wealth or unusual physical attractiveness. Yet the Lord doesn’t even pause to consider such things. Instead, He drills directly down to what really matters in His kingdom. The humble and downtrodden, those with no material attributes to recommend them but whose hearts are aflame for God and for the advance of His kingdom…these are the ones God wants to advance to places of honor.

I recently heard of women in Niger who passionately love Jesus even while caring for those reeking of fistula. Rejected by husband, family and community, they none-the-less attract the stigmatized to the only One who would never leave or forsake them. What a challenging example this presents to me as I consider my own life’s priorities. Wearing just-right clothes, having a full bank account and a great house…if these are not valued by the Lord why am I so inclined to esteem what is visible?

Prayer: Father, cause me to value what You value. Forgive me for misplaced priorities. In the midst of the great plenty that is America, lead me to treasure only what You treasure. Empty me of flesh’s pursuits, that You might view me with as much merit as a simple shepherd boy.

July 27th, 2020

The Pointer

Psalm 116:7, 12 “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?”

Observation: The whole of Psalm 116 celebrates the Lord’s deliverance from death. Verse 3 remembers, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me.” Then come the familiar words of verse 15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” But from every cranny of the Psalm flows an overriding sense of the pure, unadulterated victory that’s given to those who call upon the Lord for deliverance, culminating with verse 12’s question: “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?”

Application: I was praying this morning about yesterday’s letter from a friend who has just received diagnosis of an untreatable cancer. In considering before the Lord how to pray and how to respond to his report I was struck by the magnitude of his willingness to once again turn to God in full confidence of His capacity to deliver, and His faithfulness to do so in every situation.

Having walked together for a while, I’ve had a glimpse of the deep work the Lord has done in my friend’s heart over his seventy-plus years. He and Jesus have walked together through dark valleys, through places of pain and hurt that have seemed at times overwhelming. Yet through each of those difficult places, he has submitted to the humbling disciplines of the Lord. While his day-to-day struggle has surely seemed overwhelming at times, its fruit, not just for my friend but for those of us watching, has been profound. Because he has not just accepted but pressed firm into the full disciplines of Christ, he has become a human bird dog, pointing straight to the heart of the King. In yielding to hard disciplines in the past, he has drilled down deep into Jesus, leaving himself in the same place as Paul who could say in 1 Cor. 4, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”

I wonder: All those years ago when the cusp of discipline loomed, did the enemy darkly whisper that his spiritual usefulness was at an end? Nothing could have been further from the truth. Having yielded to the molding of a loving Potter, my friend has pointed the way to Christ as an unwavering beacon. What the enemy intended for destruction a long time ago has produced immeasurable good. Now comes a medical challenge of Gordian difficulty yet my friend’s testimony mirrors that of the Psalmist who said in verse 1, “I love the Lord, for He has heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.”

Prayer: Father In the crucible of life’s most crushing circumstances, the way of escape is always and only through You. In losing my life, I have entered into the fullness of Your life. In cooperating with Your disciplines, You have given promise of a wonderful future. Thank You for my friend who unwaveringly points to You as the only way of escape. Honor and bless him, Lord. Heal him in Jesus’ name.

July 26th, 2020

DeMille’s Opportunity

Daniel 1:2 “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God.”

Observation: Daniel’s beginning sets the stage for some troubling personal reflection. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had besieged Jerusalem (v. 1) capturing King Jehoiakim and some temple articles in the process.

Application: The simple setup of the opening gambit reveals a truth about how God operates that is upon closer reading profoundly disconcerting. It is easy to imagine the imposing, ruthless army of Babylon overwhelming the weaker defenses of Jerusalem and carting both king and booty back home to the acclaim of cheering throngs. “Hail King Nebuchadnezzar!” the people might have chanted. “Your horses, your chariots, your army have brought great might and power against Jerusalem and you have won a great victory!” Indeed, the procession down Main Street would be worthy of Cecil B. DeMille.

But should that really be the focus of my understanding of this passage? Looking more closely at verse 2 it becomes apparent that any adoring Babylonian throngs would be misdirecting credit for Jerusalem’s fall. The Word doesn’t celebrate the enemy’s prowess; instead, it makes clear that God caused the looting of His own temple and the capture of His king. Thus began 70 years in a God-designed exile. Nebuchadnezzar was simply God’s chosen instrument.

This is jarring precisely because it demonstrates anew that I am held accountable for my own action, my own priorities, and my own thought life. Am I not exactly like Jerusalem, made to be His habitation, designed as His favorite? And yet, have I not found myself at times pressed by His disciplines, burned by the purifying fires of His passionate love in order to bring me into greater intimacy with this jealous lover-God? Just as a 70-year exile was tailor-made to drive the Israelites back into His full embrace, so are His disciplines of me intended to deepen intimacy. This God whose love is both profound and unending will do anything required to restore me to Himself.

Desert places. Financial stresses. Relationship loss. Life’s most untenable places may seem for a season that I have a God-designed Nebuchadnezzar trampling roughshod over my heart. But at exile’s end that trampling may turn out to have simply been evidence of God stirring me to greater embrace of Him. I must keep the perspective of the writer of Lamentations 5:21, “Restore (me) to yourself, O Lord, that (I) may return…”

Prayer: Father, I need never fear Your disciplines, nor should I ascribe to my personal Nebuchadnezzars more power than they truly possess. You alone are worthy. You alone have all glory, all majesty, and all power. And You love me. Thank You for this reminder of that most important of truths.

July 25th, 2020

Searching for Daddy Warbucks

Lamentations 5:3 “We have become orphans without a father…” (NASB)

Observation: The Jews are in Babylonian captivity, having lost everything. Their inheritance (v. 2) had been “turned over to strangers,” their houses had been forfeited to aliens. Everything they needed carried high cost or personal danger: “We have to pay for our drinking water; our wood comes to us at a price (v. 4)” They complained of having to submit to Egypt to get bread which came “at the risk of (their) lives. (v. 9) Their sad litany seems unending. They no longer dance; they have no joy, no crown. Their eyes are dimmed and their youth stumble under heavy burdens; their elders are unrespected.

Application: It is accurate that they should describe themselves as orphans. Life for them was one long series of hardships brought about by their own decisions. Babylon was fitting punishment for a people who had determinedly pursued flesh’s lesser pleasures rather than God’s best.

But orphanhood had not begun with Babylon. In reality, it had entered their DNA in the garden. The core of Adam’s sin was his decision to provide for his own needs by eating what he wanted, then becoming embarrassed at his nakedness and making his own covering of leaves. It was there that my ancestor began to more resemble little orphan Annie than a child of the King of Kings.

What is an orphan but one who lives in lack, who hoards any extra they have? That’s the core, it seems, of our fallen condition for the last six thousand years…choosing to spend our lives under coverings of our making from which God must necessarily turn His back just as He turned from Adam. The result was, Adam would thereafter have to earn his living by “sweat” (Gen. 3:19).

So I find myself too often in the conflicted position of having given my life to Christ on the one hand, yet still looking to my own devices to have my needs met…a strategy that always ends in bankruptcy. Monetary bankruptcy is bad enough, the fruit of purchasing too much eye candy and creating overwhelming debt. But even worse is the spiritual impoverishment that comes from self-reliance, meeting my own needs rather than experiencing the fullness of His best in relationships, in work, in life itself. But the good news is this: Christ promised in John 14, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” It is His Spirit, the “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15) by whom my rescue is assured. My part is to fully appropriate it.

Prayer: Lord, I confess that I too often incline toward self-reliance. To You, it doesn’t matter whether these areas are huge, or whether they represent just little slivers of my life…each is off-putting to You and keeps Your full provision at arms’ length. Forgive me, Lord for any thought of having to meet my own needs. The impoverishment that comes from such mentality is impossible to bear. I choose gladly to look to You for my every need.

July 24th, 2020

Loaded for Bear

Ezekiel 20:1 “Now it came about in the seventh year, on the fifth month on the tenth of the month, some of the elders came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me.” (NASB)

Observation: Ezekiel was Israel’s prophet-in-exile; he had been captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and sent to Babylon along with the rest of the nation.

In coming to Ezekiel, Israel’s leaders may have gotten more than they bargained for, since God seems to have been loaded for bear. “As I live”, declares the Lord, “I will not be inquired of by you!” (v. 3) He goes on to remind them that He had chosen Israel and intended to bless them beyond all imagining if only they would “cast away…the detestable things of (their) eyes (v. 7) and not defile (themselves) with the idols of Egypt”. In this they had utterly failed, so God had “resolved to pour out (His) wrath upon them…” (v. 8)

Application: It is easy to read such passages and not fully appreciate the unique role of God’s prophet as the conduit for clear communication between God and His chosen ones. Whether conveying God’s fury or His tenderest promises, there were but a handful upon whom Israel’s leaders could depend, Ezekiel and Jeremiah chief among them during the Babylonian exile. But I wonder: where are God’s prophets today? Who in our midst can be relied upon to accurately hear God’s voice and convey His plans for His children? More to the point, when is the last time that anyone came to my living room or office to inquire of the Lord?

Paul, that ever-faithful confronter, wrote in 1 Cor. 14: 5, 31 “I would rather have you prophesy…for you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”

See how far short I have fallen! It seems that somewhere between Ezekiel and me God intended there to have been a genuine power-to-the-people revolution, a transference of the gifts of a few to the multitudes who claim today to follow Him. That revolution, traceable to one awful weekend on Golgotha, was intended to transform me into one through whom instruction and encouragement might come. But is that really how my friends experience me? And if not, could it be that I, like the Israelites of old, have been guilty of not fully casting detestable things away from my eyes?

I long to be like Christ in all things, yet God is showing me now idols I have not yet put away. It is by my own decision that I am not yet fully His, else the fruit would be far greater and more consistent.

Prayer: Lord, You are showing me once again that it’s my “chooser” that most needs to be brought into alignment with Your purposes for my life. I remain far too much like the Israelites who merited Babylon’s chains. Forgive me, Lord. Cause me today to turn from every thing, every habit, every aspiration in other than You.

July 23rd, 2020

Wet Rag

Psalm 91:11–12 “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands…”

Observation: The whole of Psalm 91 is one of the most comforting in all Scripture. The promise is simple: If I will but dwell in Christ, I will be protected, hidden from harm. (v. 9) The reason I can know this is certain is found in today’s verse: “because He will command His angels…”

Application: Before looking closer at these commanded angels, I ought first to examine the basic premise of the passage. God says if I make Him my refuge, then…no harm will befall…no disaster will come near…” (v. 10)

Oh really? How believable is that? The mind has unrelenting capacity to recall catalogued wrongs, catastrophes stretching to the far horizon of memories past. As if that isn’t enough, I am also well practiced in constructing scenarios of future devastation that can leave me quaking. If I go to those places in my mind, if I dwell there, then the promise of no harm befalling me seems limp as a wet rag.

But that’s the real problem, isn’t it? If I dwell on past pain and future fears I am not dwelling in Him. It is impossible to occupy two dwellings at once. That place of refuge is something I must assertively enter; it requires an act of will to firmly, wholly, constantly fix my mind, will and emotions upon Him. Having finally succeeded in that, I find that He, too, has acted assertively; He has met me there, extending Himself on my behalf; I find Him welcoming as a comfortable chair near winter’s fire.

Resting thus in Him, warmed by His reassuring embrace, it is possible to then consider the benefits of His disciplines. If I will but make Him my dwelling place I am able to gain His perspective over the toughest of challenges. Then comes an astonishing revelation: those places of devastation and loss then become like a well-tended garden, a place of growth and maturity, even beauty I could never have otherwise attained.

And see His promise concerning my assigned angels: that they would lift me in their hands. That’s what I need; that’s what my heart longs for: to be lifted lovingly, tenderly, as a mother lifts her nursing babe. These are not warring angels charging in with eyes blazing, swords brandished overhead to fend off harm. (Could life in such a cocoon ever be truly satisfying?) No, these angels have a different purpose altogether: to guard me, to protect me, enabling me to know the Father’s love at depths more profound than ever before.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the provision You have made for me, a hiding place where I can dwell securely no matter life’s barbs. Thank You that Your commanded angels are always at the ready, waiting merely for my signal of desire to dwell in You.

July 22nd, 2020

Musty Reflections

Psalm 11:3 “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Observation: This verse, either spoken by David’s friends or perhaps by a whispering enemy seeking to wear down his faith, reflects the stress David experienced as Saul and his army sought to kill him. David’s opening affirmation sets the tone of the Psalm: “In the Lord I take refuge” (v. 1), immediately followed by flesh’s response: “Flee like a bird to your mountain.” The truth of David’s situation is described in the next verse: “…the wicked bend their bows…to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.” (v. 2)

Application: The story seems a bit musty, even quaint, as read 3,000 years later; today’s enemy has been emboldened to destroy the foundations in ways both shadowy and public. Weaponry has advanced beyond mere arrows, yet destruction‘s purposes remain unchanged: the sundering of governmental foundations and paralyzing of the righteous toward inaction and fear.

It is instructive to look to David as my model for response. The problem he faced was never primarily Saul’s pursuing army; rather, his own heart and mind were the real battlegrounds. The temptation to flee, to find an earthy place in which to hide, would make a mockery of his oft-repeated confidence in God’s ability to rescue. It is true that an enemy was determinedly bent not only upon David’s defeat but also on the destruction of the very foundations of the culture and societal values. So here is David’s test: would he respond to the obvious external circumstances that caused the hearts of those around him to melt in fear, or would he trust instead in the unseen reality God had written on his heart? “The Lord…is on His throne” (v. 4), David said; “…the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see His face.” (v. 7)

I bear the same struggle as David. Oh, it is of a different “kind”, for I have no David-like anointing to impact a nation. Or have I? Is not the kingdom of God within me? When everything about me signals a time for retreat does God not remind me to “resist the enemy and he will flee?” (James 4:7) The government of David’s day had become unhinged; all federal resources were marshaled against righteousness. Yet here is what David knew and what I must remember: “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I (God) who hold its pillars firm.” (Ps. 75:3)

Prayer: Father, You have used this long-ago story to draw me back from a precipice of despair over present circumstances. You have reminded me of Your peace in the midst of storms, of Your constancy in the midst of insanity, of Your victory over every enemy. Give me the heart of David, Lord, that I might be reminded to affirm my trust in You no matter destruction’s arrows.

July 21st, 2020

Colander of Love

Ecclesiastes 11:2 “Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster might come upon the land.”

Observation: In this and surrounding verses, Solomon presses me to be liberal to the poor, generous in meeting the needs of others. Verse 1 tells me to cast my bread upon the waters, encouraging me to be lavish to the point of not overly analyzing a need but simply trusting the waters to carry it wherever God wills. Verse 4 admonishes me not to be paralyzed in giving but to instead press through threats of adverse winds and approaching storm clouds. I cannot anticipate how God might use what I have given, and I have no way of knowing when a return might come. Verse 5 reminds that “…(I) do not know the activity of God who makes all things”.

Application: If ever fleshly thinking were counterproductive, verse 2 is its zenith. Give. If seven have need, give to seven. If an eighth comes along, give to him also. Even in the midst of calamity, give and keep giving.

Standard arguments are easily marshaled: “But Lord, I gave generously when times were good. Look at the gathering storm clouds; adverse economic winds sweep the land. Years may be required to recover from the effects, and things may even worsen. Surely this isn’t a good time for me to be giving willy-nilly. You say to cast my bread on swirling currents? Why, I might as well dump dollar bills from a helicopter.” In this I complain like Nabal, “Why should I take my bread and water and the meat I have slaughtered for the shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (1 Sam. 25:14)

On and on goes fear’s reasoning. Yet still I must deal with God’s purposes. He says my reward is certain. He knows better than I how paralyzing might be the raging winds and the darkened clouds, yet He tells me to give into them and then promises that it’s for my benefit to do so. He well understands the degree of evil that lies ahead, yet He calls me to generosity lavish with mercy for others in greater need.

Did my investments take a hit? Do I think by hoarding the remainder I will have anything of eternal value in the end? His love can here be likened to a kitchen colander into which He has poured my life. Having been placed over a drain, the insubstantial parts of me swirl inexorably into the black hole beneath. While I mourn loss and become paralyzed with fear, He gently sifts what’s left to finish the job. What I count as loss He considers gain. Finally, when pressed to the point that only what He values remains, then I enter into full usefulness.

Prayer: Father, You know perfectly what size must be the holes in my colander to be finally drained of all I have valued apart from You. Press me, Lord; sift me, ’til all that remains is You. Bring me to the point where only the substance of Christ is left, fully embraced and empowered by You.

July 20th, 2020

The Proffered Dandelion

Psalm 20:3a “May He remember all your sacrifices.”

Observation: Psalm 20 opens as a prayer for David. We aren’t told who is doing the praying…it may be priests who regularly surrounded David, or perhaps family and friends. But their prayers were the sort of thing each of us might long to hear: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you (v. 1) “May He send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.” (v. 2) And then this: May He remember all your sacrifices…”

Application: All your sacrifices? What is that supposed to mean? Isn’t the Christian faith one that has been gained by God’s sacrifices alone, not mine? Am I to read this and conclude that it is by my own effort that blessings are to flow in my direction? This seems to careen dangerously close to an affirmation of works.

I long to think the prayers and petitions of friends in my behalf would be effective in gaining God’s favor toward me, but there is something discomfiting about the notion that my own efforts to sacrifice must somehow be added to His for me to gain the fulness of His blessing. And yet, there it is.

There is in my album a treasured photo from a summer outing with my grandson. Ben is approaching me with hand outstretched, offering the flower of a dandelion. Big, bright yellow, perfectly shaped, it was in the moment of his presentation that my heart melted. He had searched carefully for the perfect offering simply because he hoped I would love it. What he could not have known is that in presenting his best treasure, my delight in him would grow all the more.

God is like that. All I might bring to Him is necessarily small and insignificant when laid alongside His eternal magnificence. Yet His joy is made full when I bring to Him something in which I hope He would find pleasure. My heart beats faster as I approach the throne; my eyes open wide with anticipation over his potential delight. My expectation of being swept into His arms grows with each step toward His throne.

Then it hits me: I can bring Him nothing except that which He has first given me. Whether it’s a sacrificially large check or simply my decision to arise early enough to climb into His lap so He can hold me before I begin the day’s work, everything has come from Him in the first place. It takes God to love God.

Prayer: Father, this is how I can have full assurance of answered prayer, isn’t it? … to recognize that my every sacrifice has first come to me from Your hand. Bless what is already Yours, Lord, as I approach Your loving, delighted embrace.

July 19th, 2020

Me and My Good Friend Cain

Genesis 4:7 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Observation: God here addresses Cain, who had become “very angry” with God because God had rejected Cain’s offering of produce while accepting Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flocks. Seeing Cain’s anger and downcast appearance, God gave Cain a direct warning of what lay ahead if he didn’t have a heart attitude adjustment.

Application: Do what is right? God says Cain must do what is right? It seems like a strategic phrase, so it’s no doubt important that I figure out what “doing right” means. Cain had experienced one of my fondest wishes: that I might hear God’s voice well enough to have actual dialogue with Him. Cain wasn’t the only one to have this experience; Adam, Eve and the serpent (a talking serpent, no less) had such dialogue with God, as did Abraham, Moses and a host of other ancestors in the faith.

Why would I think that hearing Him “out loud” would be beneficial to me? Did giving voice to His words cause greater obedience in Adam? Was Cain more inclined to work on his heart attitude simply because he and God could converse audibly? Sadly, no. The crystal clarity of God’s warnings had no apparent impact on a rebellious heart’s unwillingness to be broken into glad submission to his creator.

Why do I think I am different? “If only I could hear You better, Lord,” I plead. I find myself at this crossroad or that and my heart longs to hear Him better, to be able to more clearly discern His direction moment by moment. So why doesn’t it happen for me as it did for Cain? More to the point, why do I think I would use such self-disclosure by God to do better in His eyes than did His beloved Adam?

It comes to this: I must long to love and pursue Him with a whole heart regardless of His method of revelation. It isn’t about my making the best business decision, marrying the “right” person, or deciding against slipping office supplies from work into my purse. It’s about loving Him above all else, above all others. Death to flesh would have been an immeasurable help to Adam and to Cain. And to me.

Prayer: Father, it is flesh that rises against You in every instance. It isn’t how well I hear that matters, but how well I love, isn’t it? Break my heart, Lord, over Your brokenness for me.