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Amble Past the Cemetery

Friday, September 25th, 2020

Matthew 8:29 “Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Observation: As Jesus passed a cemetery, two demon-possessed men confronted him. They were so crazed that locals avoided that section of road. The demons within these men instantly recognized the Savior; they knew His authority, and they knew their own destiny as demonstrated by their loud cry, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Before what time? Those demons knew their place, and they thought they could occupy it for a little longer, but they also knew a time was coming when all would change. In an age to come there would be a season of judgment, when the fruit of our lives will be ripe, and we will have our rewards based upon what we have done with the claims of Christ.

Application: No conceivable thought is more terrifying than to look into the future and know we are doomed to hear, “Depart from Me!” (Matt. 7:23). This is what the demons dreaded, for they knew full well it was deserved. Their objection was not over their destination, but over His timing; their end seemed to come sooner than they had assumed. They had been confident that the Son of God would delay a bit longer.

What goes through my mind as I think about these two sorry demons? “You’ll get yours! You deserve whatever God has in store for you! How can you be so blind, so stupid?” But somewhere between “blind” and “stupid,” the tumble of thoughts slows a bit as the idea intrudes that I, too, have been as they were. I know my destiny; it is a wedding banquet.

But as good as all that is, I sometimes struggle over the timing of destiny’s fulfillment. That struggle is rooted in only one thing: reluctance to fully abandon pursuits other than Him. I want to teeter on the edge of sin, seeing how many ways my heart can be divided while casting one eye nervously toward the eastern sky, planning against all odds to instantly abandon worldly pursuits when I see Him beginning to split the heavens. But here’s the problem: when He comes, He’ll be really quick about it. First Corinthians 15:52 says in a moment, in an eye’s twinkling, everything will be changed. He won’t be on a slow amble past the cemetery next time; rather, He will come for His bride quicker than a blink. Will my response be any different from the demons’, “Lord, have You come here…before the time?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your timing is perfect, and it is unknowable. I repent, Lord, of every scrap of unfinished heart business, every tendency to linger over habits and patterns of life that keep me from wholehearted pursuit of You. Stir zeal for You, O Lord, for You alone.

Imprisoned by My Own Decisions

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Matthew 5:23–26 “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering…first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law…so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and you be thrown in prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”

Observation: These verses are a basic treatise for forgiveness. Jesus was teaching that I cannot approach God if an offense exists between my “brother” and me. Its effect is as binding as any set of chains. I must first be reconciled to the offended (or to the offending) brother. The penalty for failure is profound: being thrown into prison until every cent of debt has been paid.

Application: This is a circular punishment, indeed. However justified one may feel as a result of being wronged, the punishment for nursing wounds is both chilling and lasting. For who among us, once having been thrown into prison, could ever hope to be financially productive enough to pay back a debt? Productivity ceases in prison, so the judgment must be viewed as permanent.

There is no reprieve for being “right.” Judgment is equally as binding on the one doing the judging as on the one being judged. Bitterness and unforgiveness, whether toward a perceived or an actual wrong, will land me in a prison from which no escape may be purchased. “For in the way you judge you will be judged, and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2). Furthermore, forgiveness is not an emotion, but a legal act. If I choose to cancel a debt, it is cancelled; I cannot later lay claim to collections on that debt.

Ephesians 4:31 speaks to this issue in a passive voice: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” These are the emotional baggage that follows unforgiveness. If I will do my part to forthrightly cancel even the “just” debts I may hold against others, God promises to take care of the emotional residue of unforgiveness. But if I am unwilling to cancel debts by saying, “I can’t forgive; they have hurt me too much!” I find myself buried under a load of emotional detritus even as I am rightly imprisoned in a cell from which escape is impossible. Mark 11:26 is a stark presentation of my options: “If you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” Thus I am imprisoned by my own decisions.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You forfeited everything to win my release from bondage that would have otherwise meant my eternal death. Cause me to be quick to cancel debts, Lord, so I can enjoy Your sweet fellowship forever.

Extraterrestrial Guidance

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Matthew 2:12–13 “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way. Now when they had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, ‘Arise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy Him.’”

Observation: Matthew 2 possesses enough beauty and intrigue to satisfy the most demanding reader. Magi were guided over vast distances by a star to adore the child Jesus. Since the evil Herod knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but couldn’t find the precise location, he told the Magi to report Jesus’ location to Him on their return. But once they had worshiped the child, God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, so they took another route home. Joseph, too, had a dream in which an angel warned him to flee to Egypt at once with Mary and Jesus because Herod intended to kill the child. They left that night and remained in Egypt through Herod’s massacre of all male children in the Bethlehem region who were two years old or younger. After Herod’s death, an angel appeared in yet another dream to tell Joseph he could take his family back to Israel.

Application: Does anyone notice a pattern of unusual communication here? God used a star to provide such precision guidance that the specific house where Jesus lived was identified. Yet an intensely interested king in Jerusalem just a few miles away couldn’t intercept the message. Then He used dreams populated by angels to give such precise instruction that the Magi and Joseph (on two occasions) altered their lives immediately.

Set aside for now the fascinating illustration of what can come when our hearts and minds are so focused on God that we pick up on His extraterrestrial guidance. For a moment, consider just how intent God was on protecting Jesus from the forces of evil. The child would be found and worshiped by those who would understand the signs of the times. He would be sheltered from harm by a spiritually attuned father who leaped to instant obedience. Do I believe God is as equally determined to protect me from harm? “No, Jesus was special.” Indeed He was. But, so am I. I need to bask for a while in the first few verses of Ephesians 1, where eleven times we who believe are said to be “in Him”…secure in Him, blessed in Him, chosen in Him, sealed in Him, redeemed in Him, adopted through Him. He even tells me where to run and hide: in Him.

Prayer: Father, Your refuge is so secure. It isn’t inside a hollow mountain or behind a barrage of missile defenses; it is in Him. Oh that You would find me there, moment by moment. How I love You!

The Name of the Lord

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Psalm 124:8 “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Observation: The psalmist began by recounting flood tides of opposition Israel had experienced, saying had it not been for the Lord, they would have been swallowed alive, engulfed by raging torrents of overwhelming waters. He then declared God their Deliverer and finished with this simple yet profound truth: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Application: Who is this “name of the Lord” who has been so helpful to Israel? The Lord Jesus Christ is the name of the Lord, which the psalmist confirmed by adding that He’s the one who made heaven and earth. In one sentence David took us back to the creative energy of Genesis when the Word of God created everything that is out of nothing. He then swept us forward a few thousand years to John, where we are told that this creative Word, this name of God, is the Lord Jesus Christ. David knew Israel’s Deliverer, and it wasn’t advanced weaponry and satellites. He knew the profound destruction Israel had been spared by the Name above all names.

Scripture is fascinating partly because it is as relevant as today’s headlines. God remains the protector of Israel, but in this present age I too am invited to His sheltering. Having put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I am filled with a profound “knowing” that I am hidden in Him. As headlines scream of danger and destruction, as the Internet warns of an incoming flood of evil, my natural tendency is to view this through a prism of flesh, as though there are forces “out there” that control my destiny.

But my deliverance comes not from success in battling these external things. The true war rages in my heart. It is there that freedom is established or lost. Once the “name of the Lord” has full rule and reign over my heart, the external ragings of the enemy no longer have a hold on me; the enemy is exposed as toothless, weaponless. David never foolishly denied the existence of Israel’s enemies. He could still use his eyes and his understanding to discern external forces arrayed against him. But like me, he knew a deliverer whose strength is immeasurably greater than raging torrents. He knew the foundation that could never be swept away. David knew the “name of the Lord,” Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have been in the midst of men’s affairs from the beginning, and You are involved yet today. Thank You that Your redemption is complete, Your deliverance is unquestioned, as I have put my full faith in You. Expose my enemies for what they are, Lord: utterly unable to separate me from Your love.

The Great Shaking

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Psalm 62:1–2 “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Observation: In this beautiful psalm, David was satisfied to trust only in the Lord rather than upon anything his human efforts could produce. He said that his waiting was in silence, suggesting that true peace comes even in the midst of great turmoil if I will but trust in Him. My attention was captured, though, by one verse in particular that is repeated almost verbatim just four verses later: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”

Application: When God repeats something, I ought to consider it with special care. Here David asserted that he would not be greatly shaken. The implication, of course, is that a great shaking will come. In fact, God Himself promised to do the shaking, saying in Isaiah 13:13, “Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger.” This comes just one verse after God has promised to “make mortal man scarcer than pure gold.” Oh, joy!

I have heard God’s promise that everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and have long associated that with the cataclysmic events at the end of the age. But in reading today, the thought occurs that in preparation for that day, God extends me the immense favor of regularly shaking me now over smaller things. His plan seems to be that He will bring circumstances into my life now, things that He calls “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17) so I will be trained to trust only in Him when the great shaking arrives.

These day-by-day shakings, these things like illnesses and painful marriages, rebellious children and unfair bosses, false accusations and financial stresses, are but preparation for the day when the ammo coming at me will be live. Now I am on the training field; then it will be the site of true battle. Like any loving Father, He is equipping me, getting me accustomed to the furious cacophony of weaponry so when live rounds are used, when the great shaking comes, I will instantly be at peace and take refuge in my Rock, my Salvation.

Prayer: Father, thank You that You don’t leave me uninformed about what’s coming, nor ill-prepared to meet it. Lord, I am so grateful for what I have learned about You through the hard places I’ve been in. Thank You that You alone are my Rock and my Salvation. Cause me to wait in silence for You today.

More Than a Caterpillar

Sunday, September 20th, 2020

2 Corinthians 4:7, 11 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Observation: Paul wrote as one compelled to lift up Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, he plumbed language to find words, metaphors, similes, that adequately expressed the reality of a transformed life. As glorious as the Law once was, having been chiseled in stone by the finger of God, its purpose was ultimately dark: to reveal the utter poverty of the human heart.

But Paul lays claim to something more…to a power and a glory that will never fade because their continuance does not depend upon man, but upon God Himself. When His Spirit has filled a person, it is He who shines forth rather than a set of impossible laws. And the miracle is that this treasure is contained in earthen vessels, in frail, human bodies. None can take credit when the light of Christ shines through us; it is God Himself that is visible in the life of the believer. Then Paul arrived at this instructive statement from today’s reading: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Application: It seems that God’s goal for me is that the life of the Lord Jesus would shine through me continuously. But how do I arrive at this wonderful state? By being constantly delivered over to death for His sake. Constantly. Death, that dread word. But should it really be dreaded?

Think of a tiny, hard-shelled seed that is somehow given a vision of the glorious flowering plant ready to spring forth. Wouldn’t that seed exult at the thought of dying in the dark earth? Or consider an ugly caterpillar, all prickly and standoffish. Once given a glimpse of the magnificent butterfly waiting just beyond the cocoon, wouldn’t that caterpillar be glad for its entombment? As a matter of fact, it moves willingly to the darkness of the cocoon, compelled by an inner vision of the life that waits on the other side. In the same way, there are things I need to die to in order to live a better life. But the difference between the caterpillar and me is I have a choice that is denied the caterpillar. I can choose to run from “death,” nursing and affirming my rights, or I can volunteer for it, laying down my rights to embrace the painful yet renewing work of God in my heart.

Prayer: Lord, You have made me more than a caterpillar by giving me a choice in my responses to your invitations to death. Fill me with vision for life lived in You, that Your glory and beauty might cover me.

A Welcome Shaking

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

Hebrews 12:26–29 “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Observation: Paul is using powerful language to describe the disciplines and hope of Christians. The things which cannot be shaken refer to God’s eternal kingdom to which all Christians belong and by extension, it refers to those priorities and practices we embrace as we grow more passionate in our pursuit of Him. What a wonderful promise of His unmovable, unchangeable nature.

Application: As I read this passage promising that shaking will come to everything that can be shaken, the imagery that came to me was of a gardener working among flowers and vegetables. As carrots or potatoes, the good products of a garden, are pulled from the ground, they receive a good shaking to knock away the clumps of soil that cling to them. So this shaking, while violent, is for a very good purpose: to cleanse the plant so it can be used for the purpose for which it was made.

As I pull weeds from my garden, I give them, too, a good shaking, but for a different purpose: to assure their death. If I allow any clump of nurturing soil to remain, roots within those clods have an irritating way of springing to life again wherever I have tossed the weed.

So this is God’s good promise for me: He is the Good Gardener, wholly committed to preparing me for an eternal union with His dear Son. He promises to shake, to violently rock my areas of complacency, so my natural tendency to cling to earthiness, might fall away. The unwise habits or patterns of my life must be once and for all put to death so what emerges will be the perfect fruit He intends for my life.

Prayer: Lord, You are indeed the Master Gardener, and I am so grateful for the shaking You have done and are doing. As You give me fresh glimpses of what You intend for my life in Christ to be, I choose today to cooperate with Your shaking. Cleanse me, Lord, knock off all the remaining clods, so I can be wholly useful in Your kingdom.

Changing Egypts

Friday, September 18th, 2020

Isaiah 19:18–22 “In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will be speaking the language of Canaan and swearing allegiance to the Lord of Hosts. … There will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord near its border. It will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them. Thus the Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day. … The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing; so they will return to the Lord, and He will respond to them and will heal them.”

Observation: Isaiah here continued to paint a picture of the millennial reign of Christ. Packed into these five brief verses is a surprising description of Egypt, because Egypt neither historically nor currently has given any sign of turning to the God of heaven. In fact, as I survey recent and current world events, Egypt seems to be firmly set against God’s purposes for Israel, having participated in a series of wars and covert destructions against Israel since its modern founding.

Application: Because in the natural world Egypt seems such a hopeless case, a powerful river of hope floods my soul as I read these verses. What a profoundly encouraging passage!

The point of my excitement, however, doesn’t have anything to do with Egypt itself. I do, though, have my own list of Egypts—situations of Pharaoh-like toughness: loved ones who are rebellious, stubbornly resisting God’s call; illness that seems unrelenting; patterns of repeated behaviors which always yield disappointment and defeat, yet never change. I am surrounded by Egypts! 

But look! God can change even the most incorrigible of Egypts. How many prayer projects have I abandoned because of the perceived hopelessness of the effort? Surely Egypt is a hopeless case if ever one existed. But this passage says God will strike them and in the striking, bring healing. So I must be encouraged.  Let God renew my strength as I resolve to pray afresh. Nothing is too difficult for Him. I believe He gave me these verses today as an encouragement to continue partnering with Him over those deep issues of my heart.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes the disappointments I have experienced when I haven’t seen evidence of hoped-for progress has caused me to wall myself off emotionally from the very person I’ve lifted before You. Restore my faith in Your abilities. Move creatively in each situation to overcome every resistance. Thank You for restored vision for what You can and will accomplish.

All Other Loves

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

Isaiah 17:7–8 “In that day man will have regard for his Maker and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands.”

Observation: Isaiah’s prophecies, like most prophecies, generally addressed two time frames, two groups of people. First were the people standing in front of him, listening with their physical ears. But he also addressed me, those of us who would be alive at the end of the age, when the Lord’s return would in an instant change history and expose peoples’ heart condition. At that time, I will have regard for my Maker, having no regard for the altars made by my own hands. My eyes then will look only to the Holy One. Hebrews 10:1 makes the same point: “The Law…can never, by…sacrifices…, make perfect those who draw near.”

Application: Through these passages, God is again appealing to me not to rely on my own best efforts, no matter how good they may be, to win His favor. All I undertake in my own capabilities will fall short of satisfying both Him and me. If that’s the case, then it would seem wise to put away once and for all my human efforts to build and acquire things even if I then intend to offer them to God, when all He wants and all He accepts is my heart.

Oh to have eyes now for the Holy One of Israel—now, while it can still be said that I voluntarily came to love Him! Since it is inevitable, when Christ comes, that everyone will bow and confess that he is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11), why not experience now the indescribable blessings and joy of reordering my life today, to reduce interruptions, to heighten my focus on God? I want this to be something I have done willingly, something I have undertaken because of passion and zeal He has stirred in me. I want to be one of His voluntary lovers, having put into second place every other love of my life, every other pursuit. Let them grow dim, even as fiery passion for Him burns more brightly in my heart.

Prayer: You say, Lord, that at the end of the age every knee will bow before You, every tongue will confess You as Lord. How awful it would be to have waited till then to bow and confess. Now is the time I gladly confess You as Lord. Today I bow before You by making choices about how I spend whatever time and money are available to me. I pray, Lord, that You would know me as a voluntary lover, as one who has regularly set all other loves into second place.

Forever Increasing

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

Isaiah 9:7 “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.”

Observation: The people of God had been plundered, scattered and defeated; impoverished, left without hope. But Isaiah prophesied of a time of restoration and deliverance for them, not just the deliverance of the nation of physical Israel, but also looking ahead to when Christ would come to establish His kingdom upon the earth. It is in that context that Isaiah said, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.”

Application: This is one of those verses that is simply beyond my finite mind’s ability to understand. Imagine a small child quietly holding a flower close to her face to better examine its minute facets, in awe of the details, the colors, the fragile construction, yet at the end not understanding the whole of it any better than at the beginning. So it is with this verse for me.

I can certainly imagine the Lord Jesus Christ establishing His government. After all, He is all-powerful, able to defeat every foe, and well able to manage all the details required to finally reign and rule. I can even imagine Him doing this for a very long time, perhaps even through eternity. In much the same way, utter, complete, perfect peace can be envisioned. After all, don’t I experience moments of great peacefulness even now when conditions are just right? And don’t I long for such moments to continue forever? Yes, I suppose He is a Lord mighty enough to cause such peace to be my eternal condition.

But this simple verse promises far more than just a government that lasts forever or peace that knows no end. Rather, this verse describes a perfect government and peace that will keep increasing forever. There will be no end to the increase of these things! If that concept isn’t absolutely mind-bending, then I wasn’t paying attention! My new life, His life in me, as wonderful as it is and will be is just the beginning of the beginning. It never stops, and it never stops increasing! Infinitely expanding.

That’s the journey He has me on. He doesn’t just promise a wonderful destination which, once arrived at, I can take off my coat and hat and settle back into a heavenly recliner, as pleasant as that might be. No! He has far more than that to show me, infinitely, ever-increasingly more. Simply amazing.

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for even the faintest glimpses You give of Your majesty, Your power, Your glory. No wonder Isaiah fell on his face when he saw You. Help me today, Lord, to pause long enough, to be still enough, to better understand all that You have in store for me. I am in awe of You, Lord.