February 25th, 2019

Pimples and Self Importance

1 Kings 20:42 “He said to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says. You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.”

Observation: A prophet is speaking to Ahab king of Israel, condemning him to death for making a lucrative financial treaty with a defeated enemy and then releasing him. In response, the prophet made clear that God’s intention had been to kill Israel’s enemy but that since Ahab had released him without consulting God, Ahab’s life would be required instead, and Israel would face future defeat.

Application: Ahab’s error in this instance sprung from a habit of taking action on his own. Earlier, when Israel’s much stronger enemy had prepared to attack, God had sent a prophet (1 Kings 20:13) to convey divine strategy and assure victory. Though Ahab had then been obedient, we should notice that he had not sought God’s counsel; it had come at God’s sovereign initiation.

Something similar happened the following spring when Ahab again mustered his army against an external threat and God graciously sent an unrequested prophet with a battle plan from on high. As if to emphasize God’s initiative this time, as the defeated army fled to a city behind the lines, God supernaturally caused a city wall to collapse on twenty-seven thousand of them.

What happens in a man’s heart to so blindly miss the obvious pattern of God’s provision? How could Ahab have received such overwhelming though unsolicited blessing on these occasions yet still not humble himself to seek God’s counsel? After his self-sufficiency had produced his own death sentence, Ahab returned “sullen and angry” to his palace, still unrepentant. (1 Kings 20:43)

What must God do to break my heart with knowledge of His goodness? He has taken every possible initiative to make Himself known, yet I am far too often like the know-it-all teen filled with pimples and self-importance. Despite years of wise counsel and good example from senior generations, arrogant self-confidence drives the teen to make decisions independent of consultation with those who have wisdom to share. I have far too often been like the teen, and like Ahab.

In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, I have not just an advocate but a lover who possesses all knowledge and wisdom. He wants me to seek Him in all things, to rely upon Him more. Self confidence from the arrogance of past success holds enormous danger; surely previous demonstrations of His love should drive me deeper into His embrace.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord that You are willing to guide in every area of my life. Make me wise to seek Your face in all things.

February 24th, 2019

Jeeves

1 Kings 19:5-6 “Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around and there, by his head, was a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.”

Observation: Elijah had fled Jezebel’s murderous pursuit. Exhausted and depressed, he went into the desert and prayed he would die there. “I have had enough, Lord; take my life,” (v4) then he fell asleep. He was awakened by an angel’s touch to find a cake of bread and jar of water. He ate, drank, and then lay down to sleep again.

Application: How easy it is to relate to Elijah in this moment. “I’ve had all I can take, Lord; I’m tired of living, sick of the difficulties of my situation, and exhausted beyond relief.” Who has not had such thoughts?

Yet see how God responds. The all-powerful God has no more ongoing “need” of Elijah than He has for me. God will accomplish His purposes; if I dig in my heels and say no to him, His plans will not be thwarted…I will simply miss the joy of getting in on what He is up to. But here we see that even as Elijah sank into the deep sleep of the despairing, God still ministered tenderly to him by sending an angel for his protection and sustenance.

Here is the astonishing part: roused by the angel, Elijah simply ate, drank, and lay down to sleep again. There is no suggestion of Elijah’s being surprised at being tapped on the shoulder by an angel. Was the angel’s presence so commonplace that Elijah could take it for granted? Was he so depressed that not even a heavenly Jeeves bearing bread and water on a silver tray could truly rouse him? Scripture is silent on these questions, but of one thing I am certain: I have been like Elijah more than I care to admit. Defeated, wound-licking discouragement has caused me to take for granted God’s on-going, generous, unmerited provision in my life.

My faithful God, who could so easily move on to find a more pleasant, appreciative vessel for accomplishing His purposes, none-the-less lingers lovingly over me. He awakens me and shows me the banquet He has prepared, undeterred by my seasons of unappreciative funk. He restores life, He encourages renewal of my mind and spirit, and He meets my every need through His surpassing greatness whether I acknowledge it or not. He bids me to “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Prayer: Father, your faithfulness has been true in every season of my life, and it is true now. Fill me with a deep sense of gratitude for all You have done.

February 23rd, 2019

Aimless Wandering

Matthew 28:5 “The angel said, ‘Do not be afraid for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.’”

Observation: Jesus had been crucified two days earlier and buried in a tomb. The two Marys…Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John…had sat opposite the tomb watching the burial and the subsequent sealing of the tomb’s entrance. Now, after Sabbath, the Marys had gone again to look at the tomb when they encountered the angel who said, “I know you are looking for Jesus…”

Application: Was the angel wrong? After all, verse 1 very clearly says they had gone “to look at the tomb.”

These devastated, grieving women had not a thought in the world of seeing Jesus. They had witnessed the cruelty of His crucifixion and burial; they knew Him to be dead. They did intend to see His body, for Luke 24:1 tells us they had brought spices with which to anoint Him for the burial that had occurred before Sabbath. But the angel spoke as if they had gone to see something more than a corpse, yet surely not; if they had expected to see a living man, why would they have brought burial spices?

No, these women were like all bereaved. Once dirt has been mounded, flowers lovingly laid before the tombstone and weeds pulled from near the polished marble, they would simply sit at the tomb and look.

This does not seem a promising way to spend yet a second day; doesn’t life have to move on? There is grain to grind, eggs to gather, clothes to lug to river’s edge. But those who have lost a loved one know all too well the slow-motion nothingness that surrounds heart and mind in death’s aftermath. It is enough to go again to stare at the tomb as though nearness to a plot of freshly turned prairie could restore relationship, as though tending the gravesite could substitute for caressing the one now buried.

But the angel knew better than they what their hearts longed for. While they sought “place”, He offered relationship. They were like a small child meandering slowly through the house in pursuit of a lost shoe, not realizing that the waiting father would joyously sweep her high overhead in spasms of delight once both feet were shod. “Push past the aimless wandering”, the father urges! “I’m taking you on a picnic, in the woods, with mommy,” each phrase building appeal into the day’s promise. The child pokes along unaware of the joy set before her. But God knows. The angel knew. I do not seek a lost shoe, or a place. My heart longs for Jesus who once was dead, but now is gloriously alive.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for repeatedly setting my sights far too low, for being content to gaze at loss when You offer intimacy.

February 22nd, 2019

Tottering Tower

1 Thessalonians 2:16 “…in this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.”

Observation: Paul is writing to the Thessalonian church to encourage new believers toward maturity and to hearten mature believers to trust in and look forward to Christ’s sure return. Paul characterizes those who oppose such evangelism as displeasing to God and says, “In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”

Application: The image of sins being heaped up to the limit is mind boggling. To achieve such heights might be prize worthy in another setting, yet that is likely not what Paul had in mind.

Sins…heaped up…to the limit. Sin piled upon sin until the tower totters, presently to collapse under their collective weight. It is that collapse Paul refers to when he writes, “The wrath of God has come upon them at last.” (v16 (b)) Like the rushing torrent of a mighty flood causing breachment as it gathers behind a sodden earthen dam, everything downstream is doomed.

What has caused this heaping up of sins? Simply this: opposition to Paul’s efforts to bring the Gospel to the gentiles. Fortunately, I would never oppose efforts to spread the Gospel. I am part of a decidedly evangelical church. I support missionary efforts whenever deserving appeals are made. Surely Paul couldn’t have me in mind, could he?

How easily I am deceived into false self-satisfaction! My every spending decision is a direct reflection of my commitment to the Gospel’s spread. Young Hudson Taylor, in England for training before departing for a missionary life in China, purposely lived far below his means in England. He wanted to sensitize himself to anticipated conditions in China, and he wanted more funds available for ministry.

I must ask myself: What have I given up to make more funds available for ministry? Have I accepted a humbler dwelling? Have I sacrificed travel or household purchases that the Gospel might be furthered? Has my commitment to Christ circumscribed my entertainments in meaningful ways?

This Paul fellow can become a real meddler at times. He writes of overt opposition heaping up sins, but I wonder how God’s wrath might touch me as I passively continue a comfortable life accumulating what I cannot keep while others make the real sacrifices for the Gospel.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for how much of this world’s goods I apply to my own comfort. Stir me to further simplify my lifestyle, that more could be given.

February 21st, 2019

Hammer of Enforcement

Philippians 3:15-16 “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

Observation: Paul had a few verses earlier written, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (vs 9-11) Now he follows with a statement of surpassing grace, encouraging the mature to take his position on the matter, but trusting God to clarify truth for any who are not yet in agreement.

Application: Grace is such a wonderful thing. Think how much lower life’s decibels would be if we would extend such ready grace to one another as a matter of routine. My tendency is first to count myself among the mature to whom Paul refers, which leads inescapably to the conclusion that my view of a matter should be the one to prevail.

From there, it is but a small step to the sweeping conclusion that everyone ought to think like me. How lovely it would be (how smart you would be) if your view would align with mine.

While it is entirely possible that I may actually hold a correct view, I err seriously in trying to force my beliefs upon another. In doing that, how, exactly, does my behavior differ from the Taliban’s? “I have the corner on truth in this matter”, I declare; then comes the hammer of enforcement. Everyone is required to think and believe like me, to dress like me, to work according to my boundless fervor. If they don’t, punishment must surely follow.

What is utterly lost in the passion of such leadership is grace: grace to hear God on one’s own, grace to grow along different lines of gifting, grace to create one’s own mold rather than to simply be stuffed into someone else’s. Paul’s next verse (16) expresses the need perfectly: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” This reminds me of the phrase, “I already have more than I can say ‘grace’ over.”

My call, like Paul’s, is to hear God as well as I can and respond to His direction for my life as wholeheartedly as possible. In this, I should set such a clear standard that anyone who follows my example would be unashamed. The balance of my privilege is to encourage and mentor others to fulfill their own highest destiny in Christ. Theirs will not look like mine, but by grace, each of us will find our place at the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep my eyes on the prize for which You have called me. Give me passion to follow You and grace for others to do the same.

February 20th, 2019

Ultimate Identity Swap

2 Samuel 9:7 “’Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’”

Observation: After serving as king for a number of years, David asks his retinue whether there was any surviving remnant of Saul’s family to whom he could show kindness. Eventually he found Mephibosheth, son of his dear friend Jonathan, who had been five years old when Jonathan had died (v4:4). Surely David had once known the boy, but years have now passed and Mephibosheth has a child of his own. Mephibosheth had a tough life, having been crippled in both feet through an accident. Dispossessed of land and inheritance even though his grandfather Saul had been incredibly wealthy, Mephibosheth has been reduced to living with a kind patron these intervening years.

Application: For Mephibosheth, literally everything changed the instant he came into the king’s presence. It was in David’s heart to be generous and kind to Jonathan’s son. Upon meeting David, Mephibosheth’s first thought was fear, but then he heard David’s reassuring, “Don’t be afraid.” Imagine coming into the presence of the great king, the one who now owns all the assets of your ancestors. Fear is a reasonable response, but David’s desire was to cancel fear and to show Mephibosheth kindness.

The next thing Mephibosheth heard was that all the family wealth would be restored, and that he would forevermore dine at the king’s table. It was almost as though David was adopting this one who was once lost. Astonishing!

What a wonderful depiction of my own relationship with the King of Kings. I come to him in brokenness and poverty, crippled from life’s pain, and find there a great and generous king eager to bestow His love and acceptance, a king who has made provision at His bountiful table for me. Having humbled myself before Him, there will be no recrimination for my heritage of opposition. Instead, He gladly restores that which was lost and bids me live under His protective covering for the rest of my days.

In that instant my poverty is traded for His plenty; my lameness is no longer a handicap. Just as David himself longed to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”, (Psalm 27:4) so now I am invited to do the same. Once a prince in a rebellious house, I now rejoice, as Mephibosheth, at being given new identity.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your pursuit of me has been faithful and long. I fully receive afresh today Your offer of relationship and a place at Your table. Thank You for seeking me among the lame and the poor, and for giving me new life in Your house forever

February 19th, 2019

The First Electrician

Ephesians 3:14 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name.”

Observation: By this mid-point in the book of Ephesians, language tumbles from Paul’s pen in a veritable torrent of rejoicing in all that Christ has done for us. We were formerly far from God; now we are near. We were formerly outcasts; now we are “in Him”. We were formerly prisoners of flesh with no hope except eternal separation from Him; now we have been reconciled to God through Christ. We were formerly strangers and aliens; now we are fellow citizens with the saints, and all a part of God’s household. Formerly we had to live in ignorance of the things of God; now He has revealed everything through the Holy Spirit. Such exuberance! Such unsurpassed exaltation! And it builds to this stunning statement: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name.”

Application: Why is this statement such a showstopper? It paints a picture of the Godhead in perfect unity: God the Father with a plan from the beginning for the perfect reconciliation of me to Himself; the plan perfectly and completely implemented by the Son who now indwells every believer through the power and might of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that all this has been for the purpose of grounding my heart in love. Imagine! Paul, through the Holy Spirit, knowing about the need to be grounded in order to have power, and this centuries before the discovery of electricity! All of this, Paul says, causes him to fall to his knees in worship of the heavenly family after which every earthly family is to be modeled.

The problem is, I wasn’t raised in a family like that. Sadly, neither were my children. In fact, apart from Christ Himself, none of us has grown up in a family with such fathering. Neither have I been a picture of Christ in my development as a son. What shall I do in the midst of such shortcoming? How shall I ever be free when in fact my earthly family has fallen so far short of the ideal modeled by my heavenly Father and His Son?

I’m in an awful fix because to the extent others or I have fallen short, they “owe” me, or I “owe” them. Like the foreman of an assembly line that never produces a perfect product, God has every right to throw the lot onto the trash heap. And I, being broken and imperfect, should well go through life expecting to be trashed at the end. But God’s plan was to change the assembly, to rebuild my DNA, to find a new power source, one not grounded in self-centered traditions of men, but one grounded instead in the love of Christ, that I might be “filled up to all the fulness of God.” (4:19) Once that happened I must no longer define myself by my brokenness; rather, I exalt with Paul who ends the chapter like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

Prayer: Wow, Lord. I am in awe of Your power to transform my heart. How I praise You!

February 18th, 2019

No Longer Spectators

Leviticus 23:1 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.”’”

Observation: All of Leviticus 23 is given to a description of the feasts God expected His people to observe, on schedule. Most of these are sadly obscure to Christians today, but a short review may lead to something interesting:

Sabbath, a day of rest for people and animals, observed every seventh day

Sabbath Year, a year of rest for the land, observed every seventh year

Year of Jubilee, every fiftieth year, when all debts were cancelled and all slaves freed

Passover, an annual remembrance of God’s delivering Israel from Egypt

Unleavened Bread, an annual remembrance of Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt

Firstfruits, an annual celebration of God’s bountiful provision

Weeks, an annual expression of joy and thankfulness for God’s harvest blessings

Trumpets, an annual day of rest to seek God’s favor for Israel

Day of Atonement, an annual atonement for sins of the priests and the people

Tabernacles, an annual remembrance of the journey from Egypt to Canaan, and thanksgiving for Canaan’s productivity

Sacred Assembly, formal closing of each year’s cycle of feasts

Purim, an annual reminder of the nation’s deliverance in the time of Esther

Application: It is all too easy for me to breeze through this kind of material without thought as to its application to me today. For a moment I must set aside the fact that God proclaimed these celebrations for all time. Set aside, too, the discomfiting fact that all my Christian ancestors, including Jesus and the entire early church leadership, faithfully observed these feasts.

What else might God want me to learn about Him and about me from all this? It seems He is a God who loves to gather His people in joyous contemplation of Himself. Is it also possible that He wants to underscore the coming importance of the greatest feast of all, the one at the end of the Book when he will preside over the marriage supper of the Lamb? I will move from being one of the spectators in the stands simply cheering God on and applauding His work in my life. At that feast, I who have loved His Son and trusted in His sacrifice on the cross will become instead an intimate participant. At that feast, His bridal chamber will beckon, and His gaze will melt my heart. Heaven will no doubt stand at attention as He looks with pleasure upon His own beauty adorning His bride. In that moment, both the Spirit and the bride will say, “Come. Whoever is thirsty, come. Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the waters of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Prayer: Father, as important as all the earlier feasts are to You, they are preparatory to the ultimate feast. You are preparing not just the table, not just the meal, but You are also preparing Your bride. Have Your way in my heart, Lord.

February 17th, 2019

The God Who Never Blushes

Leviticus 18:3 “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in Canaan, where I am bringing you” (NIV).

Observation: Thus begins one in a long list of chapters in which God detailed rules to live by, this chapter focused on unlawful sexual relations. No possible perversion of God’s ideal is overlooked; every kind of relationship abominable to God is forthrightly discussed, each being called defilement.

Application: Apparently we have a God who never blushes. The unadorned language of this chapter ought to have at least caused Him to wince. But no, He apparently considered the horrifying practices of pagan nations surrounding His people and said, in effect, “Don’t even think about doing what you see them doing!”

The list of prohibited intimacies is long: no Bob and sister, no Bob and granddaughter, no Bob and Rover, no Bob and Bob. He calls these “defilements.” Why would sexual perversions form the basis of defilement? Why would defilement not spring from the sordid gain of a shopkeeper using dishonest weights for measuring peanuts, or the deceit of a used-chariot salesman trying to hide weaknesses caused by a past collision?

Why was sex so defiling? I may try to intellectualize the issue by saying that intermarrying degrades the gene pool to produce drooling idiots, but it doesn’t explain His objection to sex with animals. There is something deeper here, something far more important. I could make the claim that because God is so much bigger than I, He has the right to set all the rules; after all, He uses the phrase, “I am the LORD” with unnerving frequency in this chapter.

The only way this chapter makes any sense at all is when I view God’s mandates through a bridal paradigm. He isn’t merely hoping to protect the gene pool; nor is He bullying in an area of life He designed to be most fulfilling. The reality is, He is a passionate lover of us created beings, and He is searching hopefully among us for an undefiled bride for His Son. God never lists His laws because He loves lists or because He loves laws; what He loves is me. What He is wildly ecstatic about is the idea that by living within the boundaries He proscribed, I would be considered undefiled and thus qualified to be part of the magnificent bride He is wooing for His Son.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, viewing You through the lens of a bridal paradigm breathes life into even musty passages like this one. I am overwhelmed by Your intention from the beginning of the Book to capture my heart even as I have captured Yours. Thank You.

February 16th, 2019

White Hairs and Mildew

Leviticus 14:14 “The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.”

Observation: Leviticus 13 and 14 are unusually long chapters of minutely detailed instruction regarding skin diseases and mildew, how such problems were to be assessed, and what must be done about them. A priest was to examine individual hairs within a skin sore to determine whether a disease might spread (white hair) or heal on its own (black hair). Different kinds of mildew were treated different ways. Each priestly examination carried with it specific instruction as to how something once unclean could be made ceremonially clean again, down to such detail as which ear lobe, which thumb, which toe were to be sprinkled with the blood of a sacrifice or with oil or both.

Application: To the modern mind, the minutia in these chapters is mind numbing. Focused discipline is required to do more than skim these passages, but it might not have been so for a people who were impressed with the need to hear and obey God precisely. After all, these chapters follow chapter 10 in which Aaron’s two oldest priestly sons were incinerated by fire from God for not getting some details exactly right. So aside from the health benefits of this instruction, there may have been more going on here than a casual reading reveals.

Think of the sheer scope of this activity. Instruction is couched in language addressing individuals: this hair, that article of clothing, the mildewed rock in the northwest corner of Steinmetz’s TV room. But there were literally millions of Jews. Imagine the scale and scope of priestly responsibility. One senses that God intended His people not to live their lives casually before Him. The unending sacrifices of doves and pigeons, of fine flour and oil surely taught them the need for atonement for such external afflictions as boils and mildew.

In their small daily sacrifices, the Hebrews were being groomed to one day recognize Calvary’s ultimate sacrifice. I, living on this side of Calvary, am too often guilty of treating it casually, as though I can take it or leave it without consequences. Given the busyness of life, Calvary can easily become one of a long list of things I briefly consider each week, on a par with tomorrow’s menu or the planned weekend test drive. How might I be transformed if I considered His sacrifice as seriously as a Jew considered white hairs and mildew?

Prayer: Lord, there are patterns everywhere in Your Book, patterns meant to inform and govern my lifestyle today. Cause me to keep the first commandment first all the rest of my days.