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.

January 15th, 2021

Responding to God’s Testing

Deuteronomy 13:3 “The Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Observation: Through Moses, God warned the people to have their guard raised high against false prophets who, though they come with signs and wonders, are not from God.

Application: The context here is that people and things will come into my life with the intent to draw me away from following God wholeheartedly. My response is to be two-fold; first, recognize the distraction for what it is so my heart and soul will be protected; and, secondly, kill the tempter. Remarkably, the rest of Deuteronomy 13 says to kill the tempter even if he or she is a prophet whose words come true, or even if he was my brother, “the wife you cherish,” or “a friend who is as your own soul” (verses 1, 6).

Whew! God seems pretty serious about wholeheartedly following Him. But this passage also makes clear that God uses the distracting things of life to test my heart. Will I be faithful to follow Him even amidst the distractions and temptations of life? His desire is that I brutally oppose those things that could distract my walk with Him.

Turn off the TV! Cancel some subscriptions! Say no to some things I’m doing or being asked to do that don’t reinforce and build my secret life in Him. It’s interesting that verse 3 says I’m to love Him not just with my heart, but with my soul, as well. It’s soulish things that are my most immediate problem, things my eyes delight in or things I love to eat or the hottest car, the bigger home. Even such phrases as “love to eat,” “hottest,” or “bigger” reveal soulishness that is to be opposed as ultimately distracting me from whole-heartedness.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I’m thankful that You came to lay down a marker. The line in the sand that You draw is not flexible. You never bend Your standards nor reduce Your expectations for me. Yet even as You see me struggle, You remain my most faithful cheerleader, my affirmer. I’m so grateful that You look at me as the finished work You have in mind. Forgive me for my soulish pursuits, Lord, and draw me into greater intimacy with You. Let me be content to simply be still, allowing my mind to fix its gaze on nothing but Your beauty, Your majesty, and Your passion for me. I love You, Lord.

January 14th, 2021

Easier the First Time

Deuteronomy 10:1–3 “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand.”

Observation: When Moses had first come down the mountain with the original tablets of the Ten Commandments, he had found the people in rebellion and had destroyed the original tablets. So now, God was instructing him to cut two new tablets, build an ark to keep them in, and carry them up the mountain so God could again write His commandments.

Application: These instructions must have felt like real punishment to Moses. The stunning thing about these verses is how much easier Moses’s life would have been if everyone had been obedient the first time. After all, the first time, God had cut the stone tablets out of the rock himself, using His finger. The second time around, Moses had to do it.

How did that work? Did he use a band saw with carbon-tipped blade or perhaps a laser beam? Then, he was told to build an ark of acacia wood. Did the local Home Depot carry that kind of lumber? No, he would probably have to find an acacia tree and saw his own.

Finally, this really, really old guy was to carry the blank stone tablets back up the mountain. Wow! Think how tempted he must have been to mutter epithets under his breath against the rebellious Israelites, but he knew better. After all, he was already paying the price for their rebellion in all this hard work he had to do. With each cut of the chisel in the stone, with each stroke of the saw, with each labored step up the mountain carrying his heavy burden, he must have been thinking how much easier it would have been to obey God the first time.

How many difficult things in my life might have been easier had I been quicker, or more thorough, in my obedience the first time around?

Prayer: Lord, remind me not to break these new tablets! Help me to learn of You the first time, to follow with a glad heart wherever You may lead so I don’t have to keep repeating lessons already taught. And show me Lord what situations I may be in now where I’m in danger of having to repeat a lesson because I’m not paying sufficient attention the first time.

January 13th, 2021

Planning Ahead

Mark 14:13–15 “And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ ” And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready for us there.’ ”

Observation: Passover approached, and a place was needed for Jesus and the disciples to share it. Jesus gave clear instruction as to how they would take advantage of preparations already completed.

Application: The remarkable thing about these verses is that Jesus had every detail of their need prepared in advance of the question the disciples asked in Mark 14:12. He knew where they would celebrate, what the conversation with the proprietor would consist of, and even how they would find the proprietor, down to the detail of saying that their guide to him would be a man carrying a pitcher of water.

What a wonderful reminder that Jesus cares about the smallest details of my life. No matter how bleak things may seem, no matter how thick the darkness or how great the exhaustion clouding my vision, no matter how heavy my heart or how devoid of answers I may be, Jesus always is able to speak exactly the right word to bring clarity of vision and refreshing direction.

In asking one of my young grandchildren to go on some great adventure with me such as walking to the mailbox, she has never questioned my planning for the event. There is no concern expressed as to weather conditions or wonder if we would be back by such-and-such a time. Instead, she simply trusts that being with me is enough; no thought of the details behind my plan ever occurs to her. In the same way, Jesus, who said He only does and says what He knows the Father wants Him to do and say, long ago had figured out how to meet the minutest need of my life.

In this is affirmed Psalm 139, which says that His thoughts about me are more than could ever be counted, and that they began long before I was formed in my mother’s womb (see verses 13–18). What profound reassurance, enabling me to simply rest, secure in His presence.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so ashamed of all the times I can remember being afraid of some lack in my life. You have already planned for every detail, relationally, financially, and professionally; all needed provision is already “in You” and has been since the beginning of time. Cause me to become quiet enough to hear what You are saying, and to then trust in You.

January 12th, 2021

Stones Must Fall

Mark 13:2 “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.’”

Observation: A student of Jesus had just remarked on the beauty and magnificence of the surrounding buildings as they came out of the temple. As delighted by the works of men’s hands as the student was, Jesus struck to the heart of pride. He pierced through any satisfaction in temporal accomplishment by saying that it all had to come down.

Application: Was there anywhere a construction project more magnificent than the Jerusalem temple? Had not Solomon brought together the finest artisans and carpenters, and gathered the most precious building materials, to make this house for God? Hadn’t God’s own presence been manifest there?

We do the same thing today, spending months with architects and boards of directors, lining up lenders and meeting with governing authorities seeking permits for various aspects of our construction projects. We raise up mighty corporations and spend the bulk of our lives primarily in relationship with colleagues, not with family. We push to pay off the mortgage between the time the kids are out of college and the date of our retirement, working feverishly at the same time to build up an impressive 401(k). How much like my own heart are those buildings that looked so good to the outward observer. But Jesus said that all stones must fall.

He knows that my heart can be hard and cold as stones at times, prideful over accomplishments or possessions. But His purpose is to break my heart, to utterly defeat pride of accomplishment, to tear down every high thing I have lifted up in my own strength and in my own eyes.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You are teaching me to cooperate with the work You want to do in and through me. I’m sorry for being such a slow learner, and I repent and ask Your forgiveness for every instance of stubbornness or rebellion against the correcting things You have wanted to do in my life. I want my life, my family, to be something You have built, Lord—something that will stand for all eternity. Show me day by day what my part is in the work You are doing in my own heart. Thank You, Lord.

January 11th, 2021

Seeing Past the Smoke

Deuteronomy 1:39 “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.”

Observation: The early chapters of Deuteronomy describe the Israelites poised at the edge of the Promised Land. They were finally ready to enter after forty years of wandering in the desert as the nation waited for the rebellious generation of adults to die off or to be killed by God (see Deut. 2:15). In today’s reading, God was reminding the people that one of the foolish justifications their parents had used for their disobedience to God was “concern” for the safety of their children.

God’s response nearly forty years later is that not only will those little ones be kept safe by Him, but in fact, they are the very ones who will have the privilege of crossing over into the land God had first made available to their parents two generations earlier.

Application: It is painful to remember so many times in the past when I have tried to justify disobedience to what I knew God was saying with the claim that it was “for the benefit of my family,” or even more stupidly, “to serve the Lord.” I remember many lonely nights in motel rooms as I traveled the nation when our children were young. My speaking and working supposedly was to earn a living for them or to help the needy children of the world. The reality was that the Holy Spirit was wooing me to treat as higher priority my family’s need for my daily presence.

I suspect I am not alone in living by such an ill-advised priority system. Though I may blow smoke about how “I’m doing this for you, for us,” God sees through my real motives perfectly.

Finally, through my wife Cindy’s illness, God got my attention and wrung out of me the need to succeed in the world’s eyes by making a radical change in my lifestyle. He taught me that nothing is more important than obedience to Him in even the smallest detail.

Prayer: Father, I pray that these lessons, once learned, will not have to be repeated. Forgive me, Lord, for each action I have taken to pursue notoriety or fame or impact beyond the field You have provided for me to labor in.

January 10th, 2021

Living Free

Numbers 35:25 “And the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with holy oil.”

Observation: Various types of offenses carried different penalties. Here, a way to deal with someone who had unintentionally killed another person is proscribed (see Num. 35:15).

Application: Cities of refuge were places where an “unintentional” murderer could live in safety. The family of the deceased was given the right and authority to kill the murderer to avenge the death of their loved one, but they could only do this outside the city of refuge; inside the city was safety and sanctuary from judgment. And when the high priest (the one who was anointed with holy oil) died, the debt of the murderer was cancelled, and he could resume his life in safety; the right to avenge the death was cancelled by the death of the high priest.

This single verse sums up the entire Gospel! I am held accountable for my sin, including sins I had no conscious awareness of. But there is a place of safety—a place of refuge—designated by the Father. That place is in my accepting the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son as having been done for me personally.

This passage paints a picture of my coming voluntarily to Him for protection from my just penalty. By His death I am set free, no longer bound by the bondage of my sin.

I love that this verse even describes the dying high priest as being the one who was anointed with the holy oil. Jesus Himself, my Great High Priest, was anointed with the oil of myrrh in preparation for his death on my behalf. God has shown this pattern of safety and redemption since the earliest days of dealing with His people. In myself, I deserve death—I deserve to receive punishment for my sin, yet He provided Jesus to pay my penalty. By His shed blood and broken body I am living free.

Prayer: Father, thank You that I can walk in freedom because of Your sacrifice. And Lord, I pray that the eyes of the blind would be opened, that they might understand the implications of what You wrote here thousands of years ago.

January 9th, 2021

Living with Pricks and Thorns

Numbers 33:52–53, 55 “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. … But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land in which you live.”

Observation: These verses perfectly foreshadow and encompass the Gospel message. The Israelites had entered the Promised Land, and God told them to drive out all the old inhabitants, to sweep the land completely clean of every old idol, every thing and every place that had once been an object or a place of worship. It was to be warfare of the kind that would take no prisoners, or brook no compromises. The consequences of disobedience in this weren’t that they were going to be thrown out of the land to wander in the wilderness again. No, they were going to have constant trouble, constant irritation, and a lack of peace.

Application: Living in freedom is a choice, not a guarantee. The Israelites were told to enter into the land, and they had done so. But their possession of it had to be complete. 

The relationship of this passage to the Gospel message is this: simply accepting Christ as Savior is merely the beginning step, equivalent to the Israelites’ entering into the land. But then I must do the hard work of dispossessing every old idol, every old habit, every enemy and all their possessions. If I don’t, I will be a miserable Christian indeed, living not in victory, but with the pricks and thorns that have every right to afflict me because I have not turned them out completely. 

I want Christ to bless and “clean up” my old life, but He wants to bring everything about my old self to utter and complete death. Every remnant of my old flesh life is to be crucified with Christ so He is free to begin writing a new story on my heart.

Prayer: Father, You are a jealous God. You say I am to have “no other gods” but You. Show me, Lord, every area of my life where I am clinging to something You want me to surrender—whether it be relationships that aren’t life-giving or possessions I hang on to out of financial fears or habits that weren’t formed under Your watchful gaze. All these things, Lord, I choose to put to death so I can enter into true life in You.

January 8th, 2021

Vows

Numbers 30:2–4 “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word. … Also if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself…in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow…and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand.”

Observation: Numbers 30 contains extensive details about vows—when they “stand” and when one can be released from them. But the overall thrust of the chapter is not only about vows themselves; it also addresses a headship or authority issue. 

A single woman or a man could make a vow and the vow would be perpetuated, or “binding.” But when a person was under the covering of someone else (a married woman under her husband or a young woman living at home with her father), and if her covering intervened in a timely way, then the vow could be cancelled. And since single people, whether male or female, were in effect, their own covering, they had to “live with” their vows, once made.

Application: When I think about what vows actually are, it’s no wonder God treated them seriously. Think of it like this. When petulance first begins to rear its head in a young child, it is immediately recognized for what it is: a test of wills, to see who will be in charge. Inattentive or inappropriate parenting in that moment has lasting impact. The child must learn that he or she is not to control the course of events; attitudes must come under submission to parental authority.

In making a vow I am saying to God, in effect, “I will be in charge of this particular area of my life. You may be my God, even my Savior, and even my Lord in most areas of my life, but I will handle this particular part, thank You very much.” 

And so a vow, even a “good” vow such as “I’ll never beat my wife,” or, “I’ll never marry an alcoholic,” has a binding influence on my life. God can become Lord of every other area of life, but by my vow, I have maintained control—I am on the throne—of that part of my life covered by the vow. 

Prayer: Lord, teach me not to vow, but to simply trust You for every need in my life. I ask You to bring to my remembrance any vows I may have made in the past, that I might repent of them and ask You to break them in Jesus’ name. I want You to be Lord over every area of my life. Thank You, Father.

January 7th, 2021

A Better Way

Numbers 28:2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at the appointed time.”

Observation: God laid out the sacrificial system that was to be followed: Every day of the year, two male lambs. Once a week on every Sabbath, two additional male lambs. On the first day of each month, an additional offering of two bulls, one ram, seven male lambs, and one male goat. On Passover, for each of seven days, two bulls, one ram, and seven lambs. Similar patterns were to be followed for other special feast days, culminating in the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, when on each day there were to be two rams, fourteen lambs, and one goat sacrificed. In addition, a total of seventy-one bulls was to be sacrificed over the days of the feast.

Application: I am struck, as I read this, by one thing above all else: In establishing this system of constant sacrifices, God was creating multiple daily reminders to keep the Israelites in relationship with Him. As the people went about their daily lives, earning a living, going to school, preparing meals—whatever they did—they were never far from the reality of the system required by their covenant with God.

Despite physical sacrifices that the people could see with their own eyes and the manifest presence of God that they could see in the cloud by day and the fire by night, they would grumble and fall away from following God. How much easier is it to fall away from God today, when the required sacrifice is one of the heart, not outwardly visible? 

Christ, by whose one-time sacrifice I am offered eternal life with God, made it so much simpler to come to God. Once, for all, it was done. And yet, to enter into His life, I must still make daily sacrifices to put Him first, to put the first commandment in first place. These sacrifices, though, are not motivated by law, which God knew I could never keep, but are motivated instead by love—compelled, in fact, as the only possible response to His magnificent sacrifice for me.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for showing me the extent of the physical sacrifices the Hebrews had to follow, and the impossibility of keeping them perfectly enough to earn, by them, eternity with You. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your dear Son on the cross, wooing me by love into daily and eternal relationship with You.

January 6th, 2021

Remaining in the Desert

Numbers 14:2–3 “All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’”

Observation: This passage tells how the Israelites’ grumbling and rebellion sealed their fate. God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt. From the perspective of simple geography, He could have brought them safely into the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. 

Application: But complaints filled the camp. People looked back yearning for the past, fearful of the future. In response, God’s punishment was that the entire generation would die in the desert. He required forty years of wandering in the desert before the people would be delivered.

I have thought much about this example over the years of my wife’s declining health. She and I, together and individually, went through many different phases of response to the advance of multiple sclerosis. We struggled against God, sometimes turning away, sometimes embracing Him, always with a combination of hopefulness and sadness. 

Through it all, there remained a growing sense that despite her and my eventual readiness for the Lord to take her home, she tarried several years longer than God’s perfect plan required, just so God could bring our hearts into conformity with His. It was as though we were like the Israelites, having to remain in a desert place until rebellion died. 

God did a wonderful work in my heart through those desert years, as He gave me an eagerness to take care of her, a joy in knowing I was partnering with Him to accomplish something important in her life and in my heart. Cindy paid a high price for my slowness to learn. She had to linger in her corrupt body much longer than might otherwise have been necessary. But the price she paid has produced life in me, and what Scripture calls “an eternal weight of glory” for her, as well (see 2 Cor. 4:17).

Prayer: Lord, remind me constantly of the price You paid for my freedom. Thank You for illustrating it in Numbers 14, and again in my experiences with Cindy’s illness. Use all this for good for the rest of my days.