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.

September 23rd, 2020

Extraterrestrial Guidance

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!

September 22nd, 2020

The Name of the Lord

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.

September 21st, 2020

The Great Shaking

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.

September 20th, 2020

More Than a Caterpillar

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.

September 19th, 2020

A Welcome Shaking

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.

September 18th, 2020

Changing Egypts

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.

September 17th, 2020

All Other Loves

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.

September 16th, 2020

Forever Increasing

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.

September 15th, 2020

Course Correction

Micah 6:6–8 “With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Observation: These verses begin with the desperate cry of sinful Israel. God had brought an indictment against them as in a court of law. He had already declared their awful penalty, and in desperation they cried out hoping to appease Him with burnt offerings, yearling calves, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, and even suggesting human sacrifice, offering up their own firstborn children.

Application: How like me! I am gripped by the fact that these pitiable people were proposing to placate God with the very fruit of their hedonistic, sinful behaviors that had so angered Him in the first place. Like me so often, they had kept God well positioned on the back burners of their lives while the hottest fires of their hearts burned to pursue things of this world.

Apparently they had done very well for themselves, having accumulated rivers of precious oils and countless herds. So from the fruit of their sin they hoped to win God’s favor. Then comes Micah 6:8, where God reminds them that all He ever wanted was their hearts.

I become guilt-laden over some shortcoming in my life and decide to throw extra money into the offering. Or I solemnly promise myself (and Him) that I will improve my behavior; next time I’ll eat more wisely or turn away from the pornography or better cork my anger. But all of that misses God’s mark. He is interested in my heart’s being His, for He wisely knows that all else will follow. The fruit of my life will be consistently good once He has fully captured my heart.

Prayer: Father God, forgive me for trying to win Your approval by some sort of man-conceived payoff. Draw me close to You, Lord, that my heart would be changed. Infuse me with the fragrance of Christ, that I might be pleasing to You forever.

September 14th, 2020

Perfect Afflictions

Micah 4:6 “In that day,” declares the Lord, “I will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted.”

Observation: Judah had been in such rebellion that God sent Micah to prophesy destruction of the nation and judgment against the people. For three chapters, Micah had described in creative yet clear language the things that were coming. But a shift occurs in chapter 4. He began describing the glories of the coming kingdom, leading to God’s declaration that He would “assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I afflicted.”

Application: Now hold it right there, God. Is this supposed to be good news? It is one thing to be angry at a rebellious nation and to rain judgment on them. They were asking for it. I’m OK with that. It’s also not much of a stretch to understand individuals behaving in ways that merit Your wrath. But hold on. Are you saying that I—me personally—deserved to eat at this table of bitterness? I mean, I have no problem with the corporate “we” as it is called. Nations and peoples are one thing, but “we” and “they” are surely different from “me,” right, God?

What is it within me that resists the logical conclusion that His judgments and wrath should somehow be personalized, tailored uniquely for me? Imagine! Yes, Lord, You have every right to correct whole nations. But do I really merit such individualized attention? O, what a creative God He is, able to bring perfect affliction to each member of the multitudes.

But always remember this: while His disciplines might seem like judgment and wrath, they really aren’t. They reflect a love so great I can hardly begin to imagine it, always for the purpose of restoration. When I think of restoration it conjures a broken leg that’s healed, or a drug-stupefied loved one now clean. But His purpose in restoration is never limited to just making me again how I had once been. Restoration envisions uniting me with Him in the fullness He intended before sin separated us. Perfect peace, perfect rest, attained by passing through afflictions lovingly designed for each of us. Hebrews 6:19–20 says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered.”

Prayer: O loving God, Your purposes in affliction are so far beyond my imagining. Thank You for doing whatever it takes to unite me with You for all eternity. For years I have used one passage of Scripture to thank you “in” my afflictions but drawn the line against thanking you “for” them. I see today that I’ve been remiss in that. Forgive me, Lord, even as you enlarge my understanding of Your purposes in my life.