August 22nd, 2019

The Freedom of Choices

Deuteronomy 28:2, 15 “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God. … But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statues with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”

Observation: This chapter is broadly divided into two parts. The first recounts the blessings God will pour onto those who obey Him and follow His commandments. They are far-reaching, profound, and encompass every aspect of life. The second part, much longer, is a description of the devastation to be loosed upon those who do not obey God and do not follow His commandments.  These, too, are far-reaching and profound, touching every aspect of life. Even more importantly, this devastation and destruction goes beyond this life into all eternity.

Application: As I read of these blessings and curses, the Lord reminded me how redemptive suffering can be. I see it in Luke 15, where the Prodigal Son chose to squander his inheritance and ended up living with pigs. But ultimately, the depth and breadth of his loss drove him back into the arms of his father. 

I think about a man I know, formerly lukewarm in his faith, who found himself in a horrible marriage. Today, the marriage is no better, but his heart is good, having been ignited with love for Jesus. I think of dear loved ones who struggle with unforgiveness in their hearts over past offenses—for one an imagined offense, and for another, an offense against his grandfather. Both men are in deep bondage to their judgment. One struggles, wanting freedom that can only come with a surrendering of pride. The other is consumed by his unforgiveness and appears poised to go into eternity in his lost condition. 

And I think about my wife, Cindy, and me. We struggled over the years to come to grips with the reality that we have a very, very good God who could have healed her of MS but didn’t. He did, however, heal our hearts through lessons learned while waiting on Him. 

God decrees that rebellion, judgment, and pride will necessarily result in the horrible consequences of Deuteronomy 28, but He also gladly offers a way of escape—a way that tears us from the grip of sin in our lives and binds us to the renewing life of Christ.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me the ability to make choices. Thank You that I am free to choose You, even ‘til the moment of my death. Lord, cause me to be conscious of each unsurrendered area of my life so I can repent of that sin and bind that part of my heart to the life of Christ in me.

June 18th, 2021

Higher Form of Ooze

Romans 5:12 “Therefore just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin … ” (NIV).

Observation: Romans 5 is a robust passage uniquely used in the development and defense of the Christian faith. It opens with Paul’s declaration of justification by faith (Rom. 5:1), the truth of which so moved Martin Luther that the Protestant Reformation resulted. It contains another important theme as well: the reality that sin entered the world through the original, created man named Adam. Through Adam’s sin, death became part of creation’s DNA.

Application: From the beginning of Christendom this chapter has been foundational to an understanding of our problem. Like Uncle Remus’s tar baby, I find death clinging tenaciously to me. No amount of self-scrubbing can rid me of it. It began with the man Adam and now afflicts us all. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins” (Heb. 9:27–28, NIV).

Since Adam, men have known that there was salvation in none but God. Christ’s blood was the acceptable atonement for sin, leading to life everlasting if appropriated through personal faith in His sacrifice. This has been unshakable doctrine since God first instituted death in the garden to cover Adam’s sin.

This same cherished truth has gained fresh importance in combating the lie of evolution which, over man’s few-thousand-year history upon earth has had less than a two-hundred-year run. But it has been a destructive run indeed, persuading many, in direct and flagrant contradiction of Scripture, that Adam’s advent was the result of evolutionary improvements as uncountable billions of ancestors died for his benefit. Such perversion of Scripture, when embraced, profoundly undermines our need for a Savior. The lie says not that death resulted from Adam’s sin, but that Adam resulted from death.

For many years, I believed that lie. I was educated in it and taught to look at things from the lie’s worldview. But if the plain truth of Scripture were to mean anything, I ultimately had to confess to having no wiggle-room; there could have been no death before Adam. God’s love for me is great enough that He sacrificed His Son for my rescue from Adam-induced death. He did not make such sacrifice for an improved, higher form of ooze, but for one who was made in His image.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the unchangeable truth of Your Word, which is a He, written in the blood of Calvary. Forgive me for ever agreeing with the lie about who I am and why You could love me so.

June 17th, 2021

Attic Trunks

Romans 3:3 “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” (NIV).

Observation: Paul’s letter to the Romans is a clear-eyed assessment of the depraved spiritual condition of all men, both Jews and Christians. Spiritual darkness is universal without faith in God, for “there is no one righteous” (Rom. 3:10) under law, and all would be hopelessly lost without His tender mercies. His faithfulness, then, is required by any who long for relationship with Him, leading Paul to ask the obvious, “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”

Application: With the forethought of a courtroom lawyer, Paul drew truth to its logical destination, causing me to first agree with the idea that His chosen ones do indeed lack faith. Then like a sharpened rapier came the next reasonable part of the question: does their lack of faith have any possible capacity to diminish God’s own attributes?

I am now thoroughly trapped by the powerful jaws of Paul’s reasoning, irrevocably forced to acknowledge that there are indeed key differences between God and me. He is the big and powerful one; I am small and weak. There is within me nothing that merits heaven—no goodness, no meritorious works. Death is my well-earned destiny. In one short question Paul causes me to recognize the poverty of my supposed goodness and to admit that it is only His faithfulness, manifest at His initiative, that gives me hope of salvation.

God made this clear to clouded Jewish understanding when He caused Isaiah to write, “apart from Me there is no Savior” (43:11), and “there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior” (45:21).

God’s revelation of Himself requires that I abandon any thought of my own merit. My problem is that the idea of permanently abandoning such thoughts is frightful. In the hot flash of today’s resolve, I pack such thoughts lovingly into sturdy trunks destined for my mental attic, easily accessible at the next wave of self-sufficiency. “I have built this thing or that; surely God must have favored me.” “See how fine my children have turned out; how pleased God must be with me.”

Well, perhaps. But the realization dawns that if He is pleased, it is due to His faithfulness, not my effectiveness. It takes God’s revelation of Himself for me to love and to know Him. Keeping those attic trunks is the ultimate exercise in desperate futility.

Prayer: Lord, Your faithfulness has come to each generation as it comes to me today. You are the eternally meritorious one; You alone have initiated and sustained a bridegroom’s pursuit of my heart. I gladly yield to You today.

June 16th, 2021

A Tall Order

Psalm 101:2 “I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (NIV).

Observation: In this brief psalm David beautifully expressed a heart set on pursuit of God alone. He promised to sing of God’s love and justice (v. 1) and to lead a blameless life (v. 2). He declared devotion to relationship with those who were faithful and who themselves walked blamelessly. And then this: to set before his eyes no vile thing.

Application: David committed himself to a tall order. Line upon line, his words of commitment and devotion tumbled forth, leaving not the smallest opportunity for compromise. There is in David’s writing a sense of one who has tasted the sweet presence of the Lord and can now settle for nothing less. The parched throat once slaked by pure, cool rains will never again find full satisfaction in a stale jug of even the finest libation. In the same way, David’s pursuit of great gulps of God led him to covenants of blamelessness and purity regarding whom he spent time with and what he allowed his eyes to gaze upon. He longed to be so filled with the presence of God that there would be room for none else.

There is abundant evidence that David had already tasted the counterfeit. He had known faithless men with perverse hearts and slanderers with haughty eyes and proud hearts; these he determined to foreswear.

I, too, have known such men and women—people who have kept God at arms’ length while trying to succeed in the strength of their gifting and the fleshly attractiveness of well-honed skills. Indeed at times, I have myself pranced in the giftedness of that miserable troupe.

But David here revealed an important principle: it is never enough to merely recognize vileness and then covenant to walk away. I lack sufficient strength of character to ever fully abandon those self-aggrandizing, dark traits designed to make me attractive in others’ eyes. It is not in choosing to leave the bad that I can ever hope to succeed, but only in embracing the good. I can never permanently abandon destruction until I have committed myself irrevocably to wholehearted love of Him alone. Only in cleaving to what is supremely good can I finally leave that which would destroy me.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the example of David’s solution to mediocrity and evil. Stir me to wholehearted devotion to Your dear Son.

June 15th, 2021

Parched Eternity

Psalm 78:61 “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy” (NIV).

Observation: Psalm 78 begins with parables designed to recount the relational history of God and the Israelites. He blessed and established the nation even as Israel rejected and abandoned His precepts. Through seemingly endless cycles of hope and tragedy we read how His chosen ones disdained God to embrace fallenness instead. Finally, in the face of their continuing pursuit of false gods, He abandoned them to their enemies. He angrily rejected Israel (v. 59) and withdrew His presence from the tabernacle, sending the ark into captivity and His splendor into the hands of the enemy.

Application: Is it possible to imagine how utterly alone Israel found herself? This loving God who had birthed the nation, turned His back. This protector of unimaginable might who had tenderly betrothed Israel to Himself, willingly chose captivity. He who had delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s army and brought water gushing from rocks to slake their thirst, had finally drunk his own fill of their rebellion. The God who had committed Himself to bridal partnership, turned angrily away. But His abandonment was more profound than to merely leave; He actively, purposefully sent His presence into captivity of Israel’s sworn enemies. The full splendor of Israel’s magnificent bridegroom recognized bridal adultery for what it was, and went to reside among those sworn to her destruction.

This is tough love in its fullness. There is no suggestion that God’s leaving was in petulance; the profound truth is that in leaving His beloved to her own devices, He was motivated by His deep passion for her. His enraged jealousy would no longer tolerate her half-heartedness, so it was an anguished lover who withdrew to a place of desolation, that His beloved might recognize the trash heap of her existence without Him. His withdrawal to a place utterly beyond her reach was an act of mercy, graciously enabling Israel to experience the full consequences of her choices. 

Have I not been like she was? Without my own night places would I hold any hope of knowing the fullness of His splendor? Without utter abandonment to my own foolish pursuits, could I ever really appreciate the delight of His drawing me into intimacy with Him?

Prayer: Thank You, Father, for glimpses of Your unending love for me. In Your pursuit of wholehearted love from me You have been willing to remain in the shadows till I could no longer stand the silence. You have withdrawn until my loneliness had become like the dry ground of a parched eternity. This, too, has been part of Your strategy for drawing me into Your full embrace. Thank You, Lord.

June 14th, 2021

Tomb of Revenge

Matthew 28:1 “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb” (NIV).

Observation: At week’s beginning, the two Marys had for the second time gone to Christ’s gravesite. Arriving after a great earthquake, the women found not the expected undisturbed gravesite, but an angel sitting calmly on the rolled-away stone once assigned to cover the tomb’s entrance, his radiant-as-lightning appearance having left the guards as dead men. It was into this stunning scene that the angel spoke, “I know you are looking for Jesus … ”

Application: Is this one of those “gotchas” of Scripture, where we read near-by verses in seeming conflict? The angel does appear to have got it wrong; Scripture clearly says they had gone to look at the tomb, not that they were looking for Jesus.

These women had no expectation of seeing Christ. Instead, they would likely be counted among His grave-tenders, delivering plastic flowers, pulling desecrating weeds and making sure lawn maintenance was done on schedule. They had no hope of such sublime pleasure as to see Christ.

The women well knew the place of their vigil, but they had no idea of its purpose. Surely their expectation was to sit again in morose silence, hearts wrung of ability to experience further pain. I can imagine them resigned to staring numbly at this last place on earth He had touched, as though the place itself could keep memory fresh.

But the angel was right, of course. He knew what they really sought: fresh embrace, renewed intimacy with the only One who had ever awakened their darkened hearts to full passion.

As I have experienced some of life’s troublings, it is shamefully easy to recount times when I have pursued the wrong things. I was willing to focus on tombs of revenge or bitterness when God intended blessing, to seek fulfillment at the gravesite of pleasure-in-earthly-things while the Spirit of God whispered persistently, “This will never satisfy; I know what you really seek.” And I am led again to Christ, fully alive, eagerly awaiting my embrace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that You know my heart perfectly, even when I don’t. Help me to look past the stuff of this world to embrace only You, life’s sustainer. I love You, Lord.

June 13th, 2021

Stunted Sovereignty?

Psalm 51:4 “Against You, You only, I have sinned.”

Observation: David’s adultery with Bathsheba had resulted in her pregnancy (see 2 Samuel 11, 12). In an attempt to cover his sin, David called her husband Uriah from the battlefield for a home visit, hoping it would deflect from David any suspicion as to the parentage of her baby. Uriah, though, in an act of supreme loyalty to his fellow soldiers and to the ark of God on the battlefield, refused the offered leisure with his wife. A frustrated David then ordered Uriah to the area of fiercest fighting, that he might be killed. Confronted and condemned by the prophet Nathan, David quickly repented of his sin, penning Psalm 51. The heart-searing language of David’s anguish is rightly summed in these words, “Against You, You only, I have sinned.”

Application: Perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture, this single verse reveals understanding of the fulness of God’s sovereignty. Had David truly sinned only against God? Not really. There was an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and deceit behind his summons of Uriah for some home-based R and R. There was subterfuge in his attempt to trick a drunken Uriah into bedding Bathsheba and in Uriah’s subsequent assignment to a place of likely death in battle. And what, by the way, was the ark of God doing on the battlefield while David lounged at home? Surely there had been sinful affronts all around, yet David had the prescience to say, “Against You, You only, I have sinned.”

This profound understanding of God’s sovereignty brings me up short. There may be a whole host of justifications I hope to rely upon to explain present sinful behavior—generational shortcomings leading to my present hardened heart. But with each attempt at blame shifting I must realize, as David understood, that it is God I am judging. I sin against Him, for it is by His sovereignty that I am in the place I now find myself.

The only possible alternative is to view His sovereignty as stunted. Has He yet been heard to say, “Oops, I planned for you to be a Jones, but your mother’s promiscuity made you a Smith instead—you lose”? None of the things against which my heart may take offense are outside His abilities to work in and through. Ultimately, then, my every judgment, my every sin, is against Him and Him alone.

Prayer: Father, thank You that as I know You better, I find my heart tenderized toward those I formerly judged. Thank You that in every sinful circumstance I can better identify with Your pain; I can forgive even as I receive Your great forgiveness.

June 12th, 2021

Stupid Pills

2 Samuel 10:3 “The Ammonite nobles said to Hanun their lord, ‘Do you think David is honoring your father by sending men to you to express sympathy?’ ” (NIV).

Observation: Hanun had succeeded his deceased father as Ammonite king. In an act of kindness, David sent an official delegation to express sympathy in Hanun’s loss, but Hanun’s advisors persuaded him that David’s motives were impure. In turn, Hanun humiliated the envoys by, among other things, cutting off their garments at the buttocks. Not surprisingly, the insult led to war in which David was victorious over Hanun and his allies.

Application: There is an oddity here we must not miss: “When the Ammonites realized they had become a stench in David’s nostrils” they prepared for war (2 Sam. 10:6). When they realized! Had they taken a stupid pill that morning? They had intentionally visited profound humiliation on David’s envoys; should they not have had forethought as to the implications of their actions? Any time governmental representatives of a powerful nation are intentionally brought low, doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect the offended ruler to consider it an act of war?

The phrase when they realized suggests that the Ammonites were clueless. But think for a moment. Assume the United States sent several ambassadors to honor the deceased leader of another country. Upon arrival, their host cut off their garments at the buttocks and sent them back to their official plane. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the president would consider it an intentional offense? 

Is it difficult to conceive of the Ammonite stupidity in this story? We would never similarly dishonor our King and Lord, we self-righteously claim. O really? He said to pay Caesar his due; have I never fudged a deduction or taken pay under the table? He tells me to cherish my wife; has my behavior never sent her tearfully to bed? He bids me to work for my employer as unto Himself; have I never allowed Internet diversions into company time?

The list of possible parallels between the Ammonites and me is fearfully long. Thankfully our King is a forgiving king if I will but repent, but absent repentance, should I react as an Ammonite surprised to find I might be a stench in the King’s nostrils? To be guilty indeed, but to then lay that awful burden at His feet, is the gateway to ultimate freedom. It moves us in an instant from the posture of enemy to one of receiving unparalleled affection.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have seen my every act of insult and rejection, yet You pursue me. You know my every offense as though each one had intentionally pierced Your side personally. Forgive me, Lord, that I might spend my days in uninterrupted intimacy with You.

June 11th, 2021

Early Hires

Matthew 20:13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?’ ” (NIV).

Observation: This verse is found within the familiar story of workers hired to labor in a vineyard. Some had been hired early in the morning to work all day for a denarius. Several more times as the day advanced, the owner hired additional men; at day’s end, the foremen distributed wages of one denarius to each man regardless of the length of his workday. The early hires objected to their one-denarius paycheck, claiming it was unfair that others who worked less should be paid the same. But the owner reminded them that there was no unfairness in what they were paid; their wage was exactly as promised at the beginning of their engagement.

Application: Whose side seems right in this exchange? Upon careful reflection, we must confess that the owner is exactly right in what he says to the early hires. Doesn’t he indeed have the right to pay each laborer whatever he wishes for their work?

While it may be easy to concede the owner’s correct response, doesn’t the heart tend toward sympathy with the complaint of the early hires? Despite their agreement to work all day for a denarius, doesn’t something within us empathize with their emotions? Perhaps that is because we too readily think as they think.

When I came to Christ as a single man, there was a time when I declared to God that he alone was more than enough. Each of us, if we have experienced genuine conversion, must have said something akin to that.

Why then, when I see an elderly couple holding hands do I feel pangs of envy as I recall my too-young wife now dead? I must ask myself: Did I mean it when I told the Lord that He is more than enough? For the childless couple struggling with empty playgrounds in their mind, or the family that has lost son or daughter prematurely, thinking of birthdays uncelebrated and grandchildren unborn, the question must be answered afresh. Did I mean it when I said Christ is sufficient? It is in life’s empty moments that I must remember my hiring wage—one denarius for a day’s work, regardless of what others receive. In that breathtaking moment hangs my destiny: to linger in loss and disappointment or to confess again that He is more than enough.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know each time I have responded like a worker claiming mistreatment. Forgive me, Lord. You are eternally just and righteous in Your provision for my life.

June 10th, 2021

The Eternal Rub

Psalm 106:4–5 “Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise” (NIV).

Observation: Through Psalm 106 the psalmist recounts Israel’s rebellious history and petitions God to save His people. Sin was confessed in admirable detail, along with remembrance of the pain and disciplines Israel experienced as a result. The psalmist in verses 4 and 5 asked the same favor of God for which each of us longs, that when (not if) God shows favor to His loved ones, it might spill over onto him.

Application: Notice the three evidences of favor the psalmist anticipated, the three effects of being favored by God: prosperity (“that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones”); joy (“that I may share in the joy of your nation”); and praise (“that I may join your inheritance in giving praise”).

A proper question then arises: Am I experiencing these evidences of God’s favor: prosperity, joy, and praise? And, if I am not, is the fault to be laid at God’s doorstep, or ought I search more deeply within for the culprit?

See, too, the three ways the psalmist referred to God’s people: as a chosen one, as His nation, and as His inheritance. Surely we would lay claim to fitting within the second three categories, but if that be so, why then might there be a disconnect with the first three? If I am His chosen yet not prosperous, if I am part of His nation yet lack joy, if I am His inheritance but not overflowing with praise, has God failed me?

Herein is the eternal rub. As long as my focus, my identity, my satisfaction are centered upon me, then my experience of prosperity, joy, and praise must always be conditional, my contentment relative to those around me. If my gaze remains fixed on what God has done for me in terms of the things of this world, He could never possibly give me enough. Why, He could even sacrifice His Son on a cross for me, yet I would remain discontent.

Once my gaze moves from myself and fixes instead on a Bridegroom who has moved heaven and earth to win me to Himself, then I can join fellowship with those in earth’s poorest hovels in a shared experience of prosperity, joy, and praise. Then I will understand that He has indeed shown me great favor.

Prayer: O Lord, forgive me for conditional praise, for comparative prosperity, and circumstantial joy. I am filled with awe and gratitude for Your unmatched accomplishment in my behalf. How I love You!

June 9th, 2021

The Levitical Praise Band

1 Chronicles 15:19–20 “The musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah were to play the lyres … and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps” (NIV).

Observation: David’s first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem had ended in disaster (see 1 Chronicles 13:10) because he had not followed God’s proscribed method of transport. This time he would not make the same mistake. First Chronicles 16 tells of David’s care in appointing Levites to carry the ark and then gives us a mind-numbing roster of men assigned to play cymbals, lyres, and harps as part of the joyous processional.

Application: The Levitical praise band. Why doesn’t God deem it sufficient for us to know that the ark was brought to Jerusalem in a party atmosphere? Admittedly a bit more detail could add texture and color to the story, such as listing the kinds of musical instruments employed. For some reason, though, God was not satisfied with such generalities; instead, He risks our bogging down in difficult pronunciations of unfamiliar names or, alternately, that we would notice the approaching swamp and rush to skip over or around such minutiae. He chooses to give us far more detail than we may think helpful to a quick reading over morning coffee and a Danish. Surely He should have known we’re far too busy for this.

But consider: the Christian faith always comes down to the individual. Through history’s broad sweep, Christianity has profoundly altered the world, but Scripture never quite celebrates the society-changing effect of the Christian movement. Rather, its focus is always on celebrating the individual changed heart. Revelation 21:27 delights in individuals “whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Luke 10:20 similarly reminds us to rejoice that our name is written in heaven. Thankfully the Lord doesn’t skip quickly past my name.

Perhaps God’s memorializing of obscure cymbal clangers is meant to remind me that it’s my heart that He is jealous over. His kingdom contains countless millions of souls even as there are countless stars in the heavens, but the miracle is, He knows each by name. I make my mark by one thing only: that I love Him with my whole heart. Then, in joyous celebration of my fully belonging to Him, He takes the simplest of offerings, such as the ability to clang cymbals, and then exults to the Father, “This one is mine! I will use his simple gift to magnify My name through all eternity, and I will remember who he is forever!”

Prayer: Father, forgive my human tendency to think I must accomplish great things to catch Your eye. As I stumble again over the unfamiliar names in today’s verse, I rejoice that You cherish me as I am, and that You will remember my name forever.