November 30th, 2018

Strange Bedfellows

1 Samuel 27:2  “So David and the six hundred men with him went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath” (NIV).

Observation: Under constant pressure from Saul’s pursuing army, David decided to seek relief by settling among the Philistines. He and his army, together with their families, migrated to Gath where David asked permission to live in one of Gath’s rural communities. As David anticipated, Saul gave up the chase once he learned that further pursuit would require incursion into Philistine territory.

Application: Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. Through the ages we have seen even seemingly good leaders make unrighteous decisions to ally in common effort under the banner of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is what has happened here, as David makes no effort to consult God in the matter, relying instead upon the logic of fallen intellect and the pressure of exhaustion.  David, whose reputation had been established by vanquishing the Philistine warrior Goliath, sought refuge among Goliath’s countrymen. He chose the covering of Israel’s enemies in a foreign land over God’s covering in the land of God’s promise.  For his part, the Philistine leader recognized a useful alliance when presented with one; hospitality to David now would obligate David in the future to join the Philistine army in the war against Israel (see 1 Sam 28:1).

David’s logic was insightful to a point, as it purchased immediate relief from Saul, but there is always a price to pay for reliance upon strategies of our own devising. This was the same David who earlier was convicted of error when he merely snipped off a piece of Saul’s cloak. Here he proposes an arrangement that would require him to join full battle against Saul whenever a Philistine king demanded it.

It is worth considering: Have I made such alliances in my own life? When weakened by whatever battle now rages, do I conclude that the ends justify the means, or do I believe that the means matter as much to God as do the ends?

If I believe God to be sovereign, if I trust absolutely in His superior ability in every situation, I will be led to the unalterable conclusion that His ends will be accomplished every time. No exception. What leads me to bend where means are concerned is my own pathetic desire for credit as part of God’s resource for accomplishing His ends.  Compromise results, every time. No exception.

I must remain content in the knowledge that God will win. Having read the end of the Book, I know His victory is complete, on His terms, without compromise. Each step of my own journey requires an uncompromising commitment to living in utter dependence upon Him.

Prayer:  Lord, above all, I want to be counted among those who seek Your face moment by moment, no matter today’s exhaustion and despair.

November 29th, 2018

Knowing His Timing

1 Samuel 24:4  “This is the day the Lord spoke of when He said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands to deal with as you wish’” (NIV).

Observation: Saul has gone into a cave, apparently to rest from midday heat, unaware that David and some of his men were themselves hidden within.  Seeing Saul at rest and realizing this was a unique opportunity for David to kill Saul, David’s men urged him to take action, justifying it by claiming it’s what God intended by orchestrating these remarkable circumstances.

Application: Perhaps the first thing we ought to note about verse 4 is that David’s men were flat wrong; God had never said He would give Saul into David’s hands for David to do with as he wished. God had indeed on several occasions given David a promise to one day lead the nation; He had also assured David that the kingdom would one day be taken from Saul. While these promises had surely expanded David’s heart with vision, his men were seriously overreaching in their misrepresentation of what God had actually said.

The second and perhaps more important thing to understand about the story is that even knowing God’s general plan for David’s life still left him in the dark as to its timing. Had David acted to take Saul’s life he would have been fulfilling God’s promise in the flesh. Rather than waiting for God’s perfect timing, David’s acceleration of the implementation of God’s plan would surely have turned intended blessing into an agonizing source of regret for the rest of David’s days.

How easy it is to project myself into this story. Sadly, though, I would often best fit the role of David’s men, rather than that of David. In innumerable ways, God has been gracious to reveal wonderful promises to my heart. Just to know that the God who created the vastness of the heavens deigns even to consider me is a daily astonishment; to know He actually intends good for me rather than evil is beyond comprehension.

My shortcoming is this: having some sense of His promises for my life, I assume He must intend them for now. Today. “Seize the moment,” my heart cries! Make it happen. In such presumption I am almost always wrong. David was wise enough to understand that God’s timing is not always revealed as clearly as is God’s plan. He had spent enough time contemplating the beauty and majesty of God to know that if God had ordained some good thing for his life, He was perfectly capable of bringing it about in His perfect timing.

Prayer:  Father, I shudder in self-disappointment when I think of my presumption in believing that I knew Your timing as well as Your promise. Forgive me for moving ahead of what You have clearly revealed. Cause me to wait in contentment upon You.

November 28th, 2018

The Best Hiding Place

1 Samuel 23:16  “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (NIV).

Observation: Earlier in this chapter David led his band of fighting men to victory over the Philistines at Keilah. Even though he was not yet king of Israel, God nonetheless used him to protect the nation. Immediately afterward, as David sought to hide from Saul’s army in Keilah, the Lord supernaturally told David he was in danger there, that the people would turn him over to the army when Saul arrived. So David left and continued living as a fugitive in the desert.

Application: So much for gratitude. David risked his and his men’s lives in battle to protect Keilah, yet they immediately turned against him under threat of the next perceived danger—besiegement from their own king. It seems they feared an Old Testament version of friendly fire. After this, we read of David’s strenuous efforts to hide in desert caves and behind mountains, constantly under threat of discovery.

Psalm 31 tells us that through it all, David understood that his true hiding place was in God. David might be crouching in a cave in the natural, but he had no vulnerability when God was his true refuge and fortress. “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; . . . deliver me in your righteousness” (v. 1). “Come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge” (v. 2). “You are my rock and my fortress” (v. 3). On and on it goes. David knew danger lurked in physical hiding places, but no such vulnerability attended hiding in God. Then we are drawn to the delightful insight of 1 Samuel 23:16, “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David . . . and helped him find strength in God.”

What an inviting picture of God serving as my refuge. In God’s sovereignty, Jonathan had no trouble finding David. The son of the man investing massive resources in an unsuccessful search for David knew exactly where to go.

See the goodness of God? When I am most fearful, when it seems the enemy’s pursuit has nearly succeeded, God has always been the best hiding place. Sometimes my renewed strength has come in the form of a Jonathan with skin on, while other times it has been the Holy Spirit Himself, whom Jonathan here depicts. But this one thing I know: hiding in Him is always effective. Taking refuge behind any other rock never works. There, my fears will find me; there my insecurities will have their way with my heart. But when I have sought refuge in Him, He always provides Jonathan, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen me.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank You for the picture of Jonathan as the Holy Spirit, able to find and strengthen me no matter the darkness. How I rejoice in Your sweet refuge.

November 27th, 2018

Learning to Fear

Psalm 34:9  “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing” (NIV).

Observation: There are many familiar, comforting lines in Psalm 34, such as, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (v. 1); “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (v. 2); “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (v. 3). In meditating on these and other familiar passages, I was struck by a different theme, but a recurring one:  the command to fear the Lord. Verse 7 proclaims, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”  “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (v. 11). And then this all-encompassing promise: “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.”

Application: Scripture is replete with the idea that those who would draw near to God must do so in fear. The rewards of knowing Him in such intimacy are unsurpassed; here I am told I will lack nothing if I will but fear Him. What this leads me to understand is that fear rightly comes as I contemplate aspects of God’s personality that are so overwhelming as to stun me into deeper realization of His awesome power or majesty or goodness or forgiveness as in Psalm 130:4: “With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.”

Who is this astounding personage in whom dwells the very nature of forgiveness? Not just the ability to forgive, nor a willingness to forgive, but the very nature of forgiveness itself is contained within the heart and character of God. It is He whom I must fear, He who has power over my very soul, over life itself. In coming to this terrifying realization, fear is a natural, appropriate response.

Moreover, I am commanded in Psalm 34:11 to teach the fear of the Lord to my children and by extension, to one another. I am not in possession of a feel-good gospel. The Christian Gospel insists upon being understood in its fulness not simply that none would perish in the end, but also that I might lack nothing along the way. Nothing! Imagine it! The implication here is not simply that I will end this life satisfied to finally pass into His presence, but to find moment-by-moment that He is enough, He is everything. Paul said even Jesus would be “made subject to [God] who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). In this I find no lukewarmness, but a call to radical submission, a call to embrace the same view of God held by my Lord Jesus.

Prayer: Father, it takes God to know God. Only You are able to so ignite my heart, mind, and emotions that I arrive at a proper fear of You. I pray for Your fiery anointing today, Lord, that in fearing You I would lack nothing.

November 26th, 2018

Positive Confession

Psalm 59:9, 16-17 “O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God…But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (NIV).

Observation: In other verses of Psalm 59 David’s oppression is palpable. Saul had sent soldiers to watch David’s house in order to kill him. Israel itself would later find other applications for the Psalm when the nation was besieged, yet attention for today is drawn to David’s situation and to three verses using three words three times to describe God: He is David’s strength, his fortress, and He is loving.

Application: Imagine David’s life in those days, ardently pursued by an army of 3,000 and seeking effective hiding places in an uncomfortably small region. David’s confidence in God’s deliverance never wavers even as he realistically portrays the wickedness of his enemy. Yet in the midst of unremitting danger, David’s characterizations of God remain consistent: Strength, fortress, and love.

David’s repeated confession of who God is provides much-needed comfort to his soul in the midst of great trial, yet it contrasts with great swaths of the church today as believers presume to take this Scripturally sound principle one better, thereby falling into error. Many embrace secular management and sales training techniques even in today’s church, encouraging us toward repeated confession of goals to which we aspire. Driven by desire to attain “x” we are encouraged toward behavior “y” by listening to success tapes, reading success books, and making positive confessions to immerse ourselves in an I-can-achieve-this environment.

And it works. Growing out of Scriptural principles here modeled by David, we can indeed achieve what we envision. But that was precisely the danger attending construction of the Tower of Babel. God Himself said, “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Gen 11:6).

I must always keep primary the one prize truly worth pressing toward: the prize of being called heavenward in Christ Jesus (see Phil 3:14). Any other prize is a pursuit less worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, and can become cunningly deceptive in pulling my heart away from the pure Gospel. Positive, accurate confession of who I am in Christ (beloved of the Father, seated with Christ in the heavenlies, healed, victorious) together with David’s confession of God’s attributes are the focuses I must keep before my soul above all others.

Prayer:  Lord, You are my strength. I am weak, but You are not. You are my fortress. I search frantically and find only ineffective hiding places, but You are the true fortress. You are love. Even in my self-seeking, You are love.

November 25th, 2018

Never Forsaken

Psalm 9:10  “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (NIV).

Observation: The psalmist began by declaring that he will praise God with all his heart and testify of His wonders. He had seen God cause his enemies to stumble and turn back, which led to his declaration that the Lord reigns forever. It is in that reigning that God has established His throne for judgment, leading to this confident declaration: “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice” (Ps. 9:8). He went on to say that those who trust in the Lord have never been forsaken by Him.

Application: O psalmist, are you sure about that last statement? My life has at times seemed littered with the detritus of forsakenness. I have gone through seasons when the thing I had clung to crumbled within my grasp, leaving me feeling lonely and forlorn in the midst of life’s disintegration. It is one thing to piously look at the mess of someone else’s life and ascribe it to some shortcoming in their walk with God, but in this view my r vision is skewed, my assumptions fleshly, at best. The person who has lost employment (or spouse or health or . . .) may well mope in apparent forsakenness. But what then shall I make of countless believers around the globe who have never enjoyed the things whose loss I mourn, yet still exude the radiance of His presence?

The hard reality is, it is the goodness of God to confront me with loss so as to test in what, more properly in whom, I am trusting. How else am I to learn about myself the thing that He already knows so well? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” What today’s verse is saying is that if my circumstances lead me to forlornness, it is because I have been trusting in someone or something other than God.

Jesus put it this way in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As the psalmist so rightly says in 9:7–8, the Lord does indeed reign; He will judge the world in righteousness. “He is a stronghold in times of trouble” (v. 9). In the midst of trouble, it is my choice to run into His protective stronghold trusting His provision of all I truly need, or to mourn on the pile of life’s rubble.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as tough as it is to admit sometimes, I am grateful for those times when I have been confronted with forsakenness. Thank You for reminding me to surrender, then to call upon You. Cause me in my worst moments of apparent forsakenness to choose to go deeper into You.

November 24th, 2018

A Profound Forfeit

1 Chronicles 5:1  “He could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright” (NIV).

Observation: The early chapters of 1 Chronicles contain a blur of nourishment easily left undigested if not approached by a heart hungry to discover their insights.  They are filled with genealogical details about tribes and offspring—who lived where, who was honorable, and who was not. The passage about Reuben, firstborn of the twelve sons of Jacob, is interrupted by a parenthetical phrase that stops us dead in our tracks. Reuben had forfeited his birthright by defiling his father’s bed by having sex with Jacob’s concubine (see Gen. 35:22). The birthright contained three parts lost to Reuben: dominion over the rest of the family, a double portion of inheritance, and the right to be listed in the genealogical record of our Lord. His one-night stand caused those rights to devolve to others, namely, Joseph’s sons.

Application: Does Reuben’s forfeit seem a small thing? A close reading of the story in Genesis 49 reveals the depth of Reuben’s loss. As firstborn son, Jacob called Reuben “the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power” (v. 3). But his night of sin produced this stark penalty: “You will no longer excel” (v. 4).

What is it to no longer excel? In Reuben’s case, it meant to no longer have dominion or a double portion of the family estate. No longer singularly excellent, he became ordinary, surrendering the profound blessings God intended for him.  Reuben had been born to something far better.

What about me? Does my rebirth into Christ not carry with it an inheritance of His excellencies? 1 Timothy 3:13 tells me that if I have served well I have gained an excellent standing in Christ. The horrifying implication is that, like Reuben, I might not serve with excellence, which is not to say my kingdom membership has been cancelled, but that in failing to live in the “most excellent way” of 1 Corinthians 12:13, I will be left in a place of unfulfilled promise at the end of the day. I must put to death anything of my own excelling, that the grace of Christ might be exalted above my own poor gifts. Such voluntary death to my own supposed excellencies enables Him to increase to the point where it is no longer I who am seen, but Christ.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I know I fall short of Your ideal, never more so than in the choice of becoming utterly dependent upon You. Let me look upon my own strengths until they have completely disgusted me, so what might shine forth is nothing but You.

November 23rd, 2018

Hobson’s Choice

1 Samuel 11:2 “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you” (NIV).

Observation: Ammonites led by Nahash besieged Israelites living in the area of Jabesh-Gilead. Preparing to surrender, the men of Jabesh told Nahash that they were willing to be subject to him if he would agree to peace. His response was that he be allowed to gouge out the right eye of all the townsmen, the price required to end his siege.

Application: Think of it! The men of an entire city—your city or mine—first blinded in their right eye, then enslaved, but promised to be overrun and killed if they don’t agree to such terms. A Hobson’s choice, indeed.

What would have been my choice had I been a member of that community? Willing to surrender to enslavement in exchange for the lifting of my enemy’s siege, I then receive word that something more would be required: a mutilation that would still permit servitude, yet assure that I could never again aim a weapon at my oppressor. 

As difficult as it is to imagine my response in that situation, my own reality is far worse. The men of Jabesh-Gilead had a profound advantage over us who today face similarly stark choices: they knew their enemy. He was self-disclosing. They had dodged his slings and arrows. He was approachable under the white flag of temporary truce. They could hear his terms of surrender and thoughtfully weigh their response. But the enemy of my soul gives me no such advantages.  He is a master of self-concealment, and he comes with enticements intended to ensnare by their sensory appeals, thence to lead to my destruction. He would indeed enslave and blind me, but he is far too cunning to so freely advertise the consequences of surrender. The damnable thing about his sensory enticements is that he so masterfully counterfeits the very pleasures God created for my enjoyment. 

Lust and greed, pride and selfishness are but poor substitutes for the far greater pleasures God lays before me. Pascal addressed the problem of seeking happiness and fulfillment from things that can never satisfy when he wrote in Pensées, “But these are all inadequate because the infinite abyss can only be fulfilled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”  Without wholehearted, passionate devotion to Him, I run the risk of being both enslaved and blinded without even being aware of the battle raging ‘round about me.

Prayer: Father, open my eyes to Your majesty and beauty. Cause me to so focus on You in all Your glory that all else fades into insignificance. I choose today to violently command my soul to find its satisfaction only in You.

November 22nd, 2018

Mud Pies

Ruth 3:4  “He will tell you what to do” (NIV).

Observation: Ruth told Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law, that Boaz had been extraordinarily kind to them. Ruth gleaned Boaz’s fields after harvesters had done their work, and Boaz had gone out of his way to be both generous and protective toward the two women. As Ruth tells her mother-in-law about the day’s events and reveals Boaz’s name, Naomi responds with excitement; she knew Boaz to be her late husband’s near relative, which would give him legal right to redeem the family estate. She also knew him to be an honorable man, and confidently told Ruth to go to the threshing floor at night and, as Boaz slept, to  uncover his feet after which “he will tell you what to do.”

Application: Ruth’s obedience is admirable; in lying uninvited near Boaz, she risked her reputation and her very life. Perhaps even more striking than Ruth’s obedience, however, is Naomi’s confident faith. Naomi understood the rules of Hebrew law; she knew that based upon his being a near relative, Boaz was positionally able to redeem the family assets, but she had no guarantee that he would do the right thing. Apparently, her instructions to Ruth flowed from a reservoir of deep and abiding faith that Boaz would respond well. Naomi, the widow; Naomi, whose only sons were dead; Naomi who had been left without inheritance or any means of support in the alien land of Moab—it is out of this same Naomi that flowed such words of faith and trust. “He will tell you what to do,” she had said.

I must ask myself: when everything I value has been lost, what then is my attitude? When loved ones die or I am abandoned without resources in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place, what is it, exactly, that flows from me? When everything I value has cratered, when every support system I have relied upon has collapsed, what then will be revealed of my heart?

Those who know they truly have nothing will more readily rely upon the one who is their all-in-all. C. S. Lewis got it exactly right when he wrote in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, “If we consider the unblushing promise of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambitions when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Naomi, it seems, knew the truth of this. How well do I?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, You have come as my kinsman-redeemer and in doing so have set before me all the riches of Your creation. Forgive me, Lord, for so easily settling for so much less than Your fulness.

November 21st, 2018

Longing for Home

Ruth 1:5:  “Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband” (NIV).

Observation: Naomi and Ruth’s story is a portrayal of loss, commitment, restoration, and divine provision. Naomi had gone with her family to live in Moab due to Bethlehem’s famine. There, her husband died. She remained in Moab where her two sons married local women, but Naomi’s sons also died leaving Moabite widows, one of whom was Ruth. From the depths of her loss, Naomi spoke words of blessing and release to her daughters-in-law as she prepared to return to Bethlehem. Orpah kissed Naomi and went back to her people, while Ruth clung to Naomi and pledged to remain with her regardless. Together Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem bereft of any means of support except to glean the “leavings” after fields had been harvested. In the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s husband’s relative, they found one who would take them under his sheltering wings.

Application: Who among us would not be smitten by a God of such love? In Boaz, the kind kinsman-redeemer, we see a picture of Jesus, the one who paid a price only He could pay to redeem that which would otherwise be lost forever. Ruth captures first the eye of the king, and then His heart. It is a stunning story we long to see played out in our own lives. We want to be the one chosen and have our needs met in the most lavish provision of the king. Ruth met Boaz, and her needs were met with enough to spill over and bless Naomi as well.

Scripture bears no hint that they had been in error to go into Moab in the first place: Bethlehem experienced famine, and they had simply gone to find food. But Moab never became home to them; they had not “settled in” after a decade. Once the men in Naomi’s life had died and she heard that the Lord was again providing for His people in Bethlehem, she set her face toward her true home, prepared to leave behind even her sons’ widows. Naomi’s heart was so attuned to God’s provision that she coached Ruth into a position of receiving all God was willing to pour out. Naomi’s loss in an alien land became her gateway to the Lord’s provision.

I, too, have run into the arms of the Savior after awakening to my need in Moab. Life’s pain is the tool God uses to plant within me a longing for my true home, not to “escape” per se, but to embrace something far better. Just as there was a glimmer of remembrance of her true home in Naomi’s mind, so He builds into each of us the faint echo of remembering a place we may have never yet been, but a place we long to be: safely home, held in His loving arms.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I am in that alien land even now, yet my heart expands with longing for a place I have never seen. Only in You, Lord, is that longing fulfilled.