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.

August 1st, 2021

Substitution

Genesis 27:13 “His mother said to him, ‘My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say’ ” (NIV).

Observation: Isaac had grown old, feeble, and blind. Knowing death was near, he told his oldest son Esau that he would grant him the traditional eldest’ blessing as soon as Esau returned with a savory meal of wild game for Isaac to eat. When Esau departed, eavesdropping Rebekah called her favorite son Jacob and counseled him to deceive her husband so Jacob might receive Esau’s blessing. Jacob was reluctant, not for integrity’s sake, but fearing instead that he might be discovered and thus cursed rather than blessed. But his mother said, “My son, let the curse fall on me.”

Application: Isaac’s was a household of broken hearts and interpersonal conflict. Esau had years earlier shown himself to be godless by trading his birthright for one bellyful of food. Isaac and Rebekah each had their favorite son, thus laying the groundwork for deception at the end of Isaac’s life. Blessing and birthright always accompanied birth order; they were granted to the firstborn without regard to character or merit. The firstborn was to be blessed. He was the one to receive the family’s wealth, the one to carry the blessing of covenant into the future.

Rebekah’s cunning statement arrests me in my tracks: “Let the curse fall on me.” Rebekah, loving her son, was prepared to take Jacob’s deserved wrath upon herself if it came to that. Have I not sat by the bedside of a suffering loved one and said, “If I could take your pain, your illness upon myself, I would; I would bear this for you if I could”? In Rebekah’s statement is the anguished cry of every wife, every husband, every mother and father desperate to grant relief by any means possible, including a substitutionary transference onto themselves of a loved one’s fever and cold sweats.

In Rebekah’s statement I hear a faint echo of a moment in time when heaven no longer remained silent, when God Himself said, “Let your curse fall on Me.” And this Father has the power, the authority to pull it off; the substitutionary transference will indeed be complete. God went to the cross, taking upon Himself my deserved punishment, my curse. Where Rebekah and I are powerless to bring relief, my heavenly Father has all power to settle things once and for all. His substitution for me does what I am helpless to do on my own. What a stunning offer: not one too good to be true, but one that is good precisely because it is true. His sacrifice contains both blessing and birthright. Once accepted, I become His firstborn, made available without regard for my merit.

Prayer: Father God, what an amazing thing it is to consider what You have done for me. Thank You for taking my curse upon Yourself. How I love You!

July 31st, 2021

Lessons of a Low-Wattage Bulb

Genesis 39:5 “From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (NIV).

Observation: Joseph had been sold into slavery by jealous brothers, beginning a journey that brought him to Egypt and into the service of Potiphar, a high official of Pharaoh. Potiphar soon appointed Joseph head of his household, resulting in Potiphar’s prosperity. Later, when Joseph was imprisoned, the same pattern was repeated. His gifting, his character, and the favor of the Lord caused the warden to put Joseph in charge of “all that was done there” (Gen. 39:22).

Application: Joseph, the fair-haired offspring of Jacob. Joseph, the son favored by God and by his father. Joseph, the guy for whom everything came easily. When I look at someone like Joseph do I feel just a tinge of jealousy? Perhaps a stirring of envy has arisen as I have flipped through a magazine of high-end homes, fast cars, or bodies beautiful. Perhaps the story of accumulated wealth showcased on a late show has caused descent into self-pity like a shadow marking the passage of time that whispers, “What have I done? What have I accomplished?”

“They get all the breaks,” I grouse. “Things always seem to go their way.” Beloved, that attitude is as silly and as unjustified as pouting over Edison’s success with the light bulb. Yes, fame and fortune followed, but we also recall the thousands of failed experiments required to achieve that one low-wattage glow. Similarly, Joseph did eventually prosper through each of life’s tough circumstances. But remember, his success came as a slave of Egypt, as a prisoner of Pharaoh’s gulag. The things Joseph touched did indeed prosper, but the circumstances could hardly have been less promising.

Clearly, Joseph carried a powerful gifting from the Lord, but is that not also true for me? “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Rom 12:6). “There are different gifts, … different kinds of service, but the same Lord” (1 Cor. 12:4–5). But Joseph was more than his gifting. He was also a man of personal integrity, character that had been developed through crushing adversity—hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned, apparently forgotten.

God, too, has gifted me. He has implanted something of Himself into my DNA. Character development, though, is another matter. That is left to my choices. How I respond to adversity, how I deal with affliction, how I react both inwardly and outwardly when life throws its curveballs, these are the reservoir from which character is watered and nourished. Gifting without character yields chaos. Every time.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I see today more of what You have for me in adversity as well as success. I understand more about why my willingness to submit to Your discipline is so vital. Thank You, Lord, that You provide what it will take to grow me into a worthy part of Your eternal bride.

July 30th, 2021

The Shucked Covering

Genesis 25:34 “So Esau despised his birthright” (NIV).

Observation: Esau and his brother Jacob were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. As the first-born, Esau had a natural birthright to receive Isaac’s estate, but Esau one day returned home famished and agreed to sell his birthright to Jacob for some bread and stew Jacob had been cooking. Esau ate, drank, and left, leading to the summation of verse 34: “So Esau despised his birthright.”

Application: To despise one’s birthright! Think of it! How stupid! How shortsighted. How sad. The birthright was not just the legal source of inheritance; it also contained, at its heart, the covenant provision Abraham had received from God, which had then been passed to his son Isaac. That’s what Esau despised. He would have been delighted to have the cattle, but had no interest in the covenant. He would have loved the money, but didn’t want to pursue relationship.

His problem wasn’t just that in his rush to get to the table he briefly forgot his position as the eldest son. Rather, his quick agreement to sell his birthright to Jacob in return for a full belly was merely a symptom of much deeper problems.

Esau was a godless man, governed by flesh and emotions, never having submitted himself to the twin yokes of discipline and obedience required by God. To so lightly shuck off a covering of such profound value was to reject God Himself; Jacob was merely the instrument God used to expose Esau’s heart.

Is there anywhere a man more to be pitied than one who rejects and despises God’s covering and provision? Listen to the hard edge of women who have liberated themselves from the marriage covenant. Ponder the loneliness of a man who has chosen to move outside his father’s proffered covering. Countless billions pass into eternity with their life’s song being, “I Did It My Way,” only to find upon arrival that their way has been a path to everlasting destruction.

I, too, have a birthright from God, an inheritance from the Father not of earthly possessions, but an imperishable inheritance of life itself. The One who provides my inheritance has already died in my behalf, so all He has is mine for the taking. The will has been read and the court stands ready to authorize distribution but for one small, fine-print detail I may overlook in my rush to collect the loot: I, too, must die. I have a choice. Esau despised his birthright by rejecting covenant with the One who owns the storehouse of all inheritance. Am I quick to call him the fool even as I cling tenaciously to the “good things” of life, resisting final surrender?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I confess I have been more like Esau than I ever wanted to admit. Covenant on my terms is no covenant at all, is it? Forgive me Lord as I surrender to Your covenant.

July 29th, 2021

Fleshly Bargain

Genesis 24:12 “Then he prayed, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.’ ”

Observation: Sarah had died, and Abraham was nearing the end of his life. The one thing he had yet to do was to secure a wife for his son Isaac. To do so, he turned to his trusted chief household servant, probably Eliezer, and assigned him the task of traveling back to Abraham’s homeland to find a daughter-in-law from among his countrymen. God had promised Abraham that he would father many nations and countless descendants through Isaac’s lineage. Abraham in turn entrusted the covenant’s fulfillment to the wisdom and obedience of his chief servant. Once Eliezer arrived at the well outside Nahor, he stopped to pray for God’s supernatural guidance.

Application: It is striking that Abraham seems to have no heartburn either over the prospect of his servant’s obedience or of his expected success. He had asked Eliezer to swear an oath of obedience, and then he had assured the man that God would send an angel as his guide (Gen. 24:8). After all this, Abraham trusted his and his family’s future to his servant. The fulfillment of God’s plan came down to one servant’s obedience and his willingness to be led by God. It is instructive that Eliezer’s first act upon reaching his destination was to pray for God’s guidance. Did he feel considerable pressure as he thought about all that rode on his human shoulders? Was the weight of his master’s confidence difficult to bear? After all, a whole caravan of lesser servants was no doubt watching his every move; any misstep would surely get back to Abraham. What the Word says is, “he prayed.”

I generally understand that God wants a yes from me. Like Eliezer obeying orders from Abraham, I, too, must be quick to obey. Yet I am always left with the choice of method: either in the flesh or by the Spirit. Eliezer could have assessed key outward attributes of all the women at the well that day, determined to select the finest beauty. He could have shrewdly negotiated a private bargain with the prospective bride’s father for side compensation—a fleshly bargain indeed. After all, she would be marrying into one of the world’s wealthiest families. But instead, he simply prayed, asking God for concrete evidence that the decision he was about to make would fulfill God’s kindness to his master Abraham. And I wonder … what would I have done?

Prayer: O Lord, how often I have acted in the strength of my own experience or supposed wisdom. Forgive me, Father. Cause me to not just obey, but in doing so, to seek Your best. I pray that the fruit of my life would evince Your working in and through me.

July 28th, 2021

What Good Is a Lying Prophet?

Genesis 20:7 “Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you” (NIV).

Observation: Twice, Abraham had lied about his relationship with Sarah, this time to Abimelech, the pagan king of Gerar. Sarah was technically Abraham’s half-sister, having been sired by Abraham’s father, but the full truth is, she was Abraham’s wife. Fearing he would be killed so the widowed Sarah could then be claimed by Abimelech, Abraham had told Sarah years earlier, “Say you are my sister” (Gen. 12:13). God, however, revealed the deception to Abimelech in a dream and told Abimelech that he should return Sarah to Abraham for he is a prophet, and Abraham would then pray for Abimelech.

Application: Here lies Abraham, the lying prophet. Wouldn’t that look great on a tombstone? I find myself face to face with the troubling reality that a pagan king has acted with greater integrity than a prophet of God. In fact, Abimelech was so appalled at the wrong he had been led into by Abraham’s lies that he gave Abraham sheep, cattle, male and female slaves, one thousand shekels of silver and the freedom to settle anywhere in the land that he might choose. Does it seem odd that a pagan king should want forgiveness from a lying prophet? Is it troubling that Abimelech should want prayer from a deceiver?

What about my own situation? A lay leader in church, believing in a God whose power and authority over illness are unlimited, yet with a wife whose illness inexorably advanced until she was overwhelmed and died? Should any who know my feeling of helplessness now be glad to see me approach with a flask of healing oil? Run while you are still able! But let me ask, where shall you run? To another whose success rate is higher, or whose following is larger? To one whose human frailty has not yet been so exposed? Where can you hope to find a human vessel better equipped to pray for you than a lying prophet or a man with a dead wife?

When I am finally desperate enough to know that only God can help me, then I must run to Him! There are only two, critical components for my answer. The first is to abjectly recognize my need, which Abimelech did; and the second is to trust in God’s sovereignty, nothing and no one else. He alone can deliver me. If He should choose human vessels to convey His help, it will not be because the vessels are perfect; none are. Rather, they have yielded to the Master Potter, to the One whose business it is to break every vessel, then to make them anew.

Prayer: Father, it is You in whom all power, all righteousness, all glory reside. Make me a vessel of Your sovereignty.

July 27th, 2021

Sodom Wasn’t the Problem

Genesis 19:8 “Don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof” (NIV).

Observation: By these words, Lot was trying to protect two male houseguests from marauding homosexuals who had the place surrounded, demanding to have their way with the men. In the bigger picture, Lot’s family, his home, and his wealth were based in the city of Sodom, a place so evil that God had sent Lot’s guests, two angels, to rescue Lot in advance of its destruction. Lot had met the angels at Sodom’s gate and, recognizing them as strangers (but apparently not as angels), he urged them to overnight in his home. When the men/angels expressed the intent to sleep in the town square, Lot “insisted strongly,” no doubt fearing the harm that could come to them in such an unprotected place.

Application: I have considered Lot a fool for settling in Sodom, for putting roots down in such an evil place, for so risking the safety of his loved ones. Why would a righteous man ever find himself in Sodom, let alone live there? Surely he could have assessed their sinful surroundings accurately and gotten out of Dodge.

I tend to see Sodom as akin to Dante’s x-rated gate topped by flashing neon, “Abandon all hope, you who enter.” But my “place” is never the real source of my danger, is it? Sodom has become a by-word for evil, a trigger point for unleashing God’s judgment, but as such, it is simply a microcosm of the whole earth. God saved the righteous Lot and his small family even as He provides a way for me today to be rescued from judgment by entering into Christ’s righteousness. Shall I be judged for living in a sin-filled city, or nation, or world? If so, how could I ever escape?

Lot’s address wasn’t his primary source of danger, any more than I can be faulted for being born into Adam’s race. But his destruction, and mine, is assured until God’s offer of rescue is accepted. No change of address, no fresh start in a new place, will ever be sufficient to protect me. Lot’s wife, even in the midst of her deliverance, was turned to a pillar of salt because of her disobedience along the way, which issued from her heart, not from her address. She had already escaped Sodom, yet it had not escaped her, so she fell under its penalty.

Prayer: Father, it always comes down to my heart response, doesn’t it? You offer complete freedom and security amidst sin’s binding chains, but You require that I choose. You will never judge me for being in the world, for where else could I be? But I thank You, Lord, that the world no longer needs to be in me.

July 26th, 2021

Firepots and Torches

Genesis 15:8 “But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’ ” (NIV).

Observation: Abram and God were in the midst of a conversation that would be astonishing were it not so commonplace with them. God had just promised him “great reward,” and Abram’s reasonable yet bold response was to ask how such reward could be received, as he had no heirs to enjoy it. God then promised “a son coming from your own body” (Gen. 15:4), and Abram believed God. Yet still he asked “How can I know?”

Application: How can I know? I mean, really God, I have all these wonderful promises from You about offspring more numerous than the stars, but I can’t even see you! I’m childless and my wife is far beyond childbearing years; how can I know this promise is something You’ll actually deliver?

Abram, whose faith God counted as righteous, nonetheless needed the same sort of reassurance I need in the midst of pain and loss. Faced with intrusive illness that grows daily more debilitating, as loved ones choose values and lifestyles opposite the ones I have worked to instill, when money runs out and the people and systems I have trusted in leave me empty and desperate, how can I know that God is good for His promises?

Abram was about to find out. At God’s direction, he brought a heifer, a goat, and a ram. Cutting each of them in two, he arranged the carcass halves opposite one another. After dark, as Abram watched in no doubt wide-eyed amazement, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. The firepot and torch manifested the presence of God drifting down the aisle of carcasses in fulfillment of a traditional Middle Eastern oath that said, “May it be so done to me if I do not keep my oath and pledge.”

Well, OK then. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I question God as Abram did, I haven’t seen the presence of God drifting among slaughtered carcasses on my front lawn. Or have I? Hasn’t God shown me the broken body of His Son and told me if I would go “into” Him, that is, identify with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection, I would find in Him all the answers I need? In fact, I have today something Abram lacked: a vast body of saints who testify that impossible promises have been kept. The Spirit of God moves among every tribe, tongue, and nation, manifesting His covenant-keeping power. So how can I know? Because He has done it before, and He has promised.

Prayer: O Lord, when my heart cries out in fear or questioning, thank You that You comfort and encourage me by Your Holy Spirit. When I need reassurance, You remind me that You never change; Your mercies are new every morning. I pray, Father, that You could count my faith as righteousness, as You did Abram’s. I love You, Lord.

July 25th, 2021

Attractive Humility

Genesis 13:8–9 “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me … for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right, or if to the right, then I will go to the left.’ ”

Observation: Abram had become extraordinarily wealthy. After spending time in Egypt to escape famine in his adopted home of Bethel, he and his nephew Lot ultimately returned to the Bethel area, each more prosperous than before. The available pastureland could not sustain both men’s flocks, so Abram determined that they separate. He generously gave his nephew first choice as to where he would like to settle. This gained for both families more grazing land than they would otherwise have had and also preserved peace in the family.

Application: Abram’s humility is evident in his approach. As the wealthier man and as Lot’s elder, no unfairness would have been perceived had Abram claimed the choicest lands for himself. In this he mirrored Christ Himself who comes to me containing all the power and might of the universe yet clothed in the meekness and humility that would turn men’s hearts and governmental systems on their heads. Strength under control, power not trumpeted: what compellingly attractive humility Abram and our Lord modeled for me.

A vignette in the following chapter shows me another dimension of Abram’s humble character. Lot, along with his household and his possessions, are taken captive by armies that had also captured the king of Sodom. Upon hearing of Lot’s capture, Abram led his household guards on a rescue expedition. Later, in gratitude, the now-free king of Sodom requested the restoration of his citizens, but offered to Abram all the booty as his just reward. Here, too, Abram chose a humble response, saying, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours lest you say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”

It is always a pleasant surprise to find a man who is humble; men and women of great accomplishment are often prideful because of their station in life, while the poor man may exude a false pride clothed in anger or resentment. But Abram was mindful of God’s sovereignty, and in that understanding, God made him into a vessel of honor, one that would be profoundly useful in the advance of Christ’s kingdom. Would that I would exemplify such usefulness.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask You to so fill me with Yourself today that there would be no room for any other. Crowd out “self,” Lord, with more of You. So fill me that only You would shine forth.

July 24th, 2021

What’s in the West Wing?

Genesis 9:22–23 “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness” (NIV).

Observation: Noah, his wife, their three sons and their sons’ wives had survived the destruction of all living things on earth by riding out the world-wide flood inside the ark. Having gone into the ark, God Himself had closed the massive door before floodwaters swept away all the corruption and evil on the face of the earth. Or had they? Later, Noah made wine from his new vineyard and passed out in a drunken stupor in his tent, uncovering not only himself in the process also managing to expose the hearts of his sons.

Application: Two sons, Shem and Japheth, honored their father by covering him; one son, Ham, exposed his father’s failure, thus dishonoring him. Two held their tongues; one gossiped. Two blessed; one cursed. Each faced the same choice, but two chose life, while the other chose death.

What could God have been thinking? Had He been naïve in believing He could eradicate man’s sinful condition by killing all but one family? Didn’t He understand that sin left in even one surviving individual, would act like sourdough starter? Was it a cosmic miscalculation that caused Him to kill nearly everyone on earth, only to find that death and the curse still resided in the DNA of the eight sole survivors? Or did He have some additional purpose in setting up this story?

Romans 6 says that through baptism, I have been delivered from sin just as Noah’s family was delivered from death by drowning. And Colossians 2 says that my baptism “into” Christ, like Noah going “into” the ark, is my circumcision, a cutting off of sin from me. So the standard for me, if I have experienced the spiritual circumcision of baptism as a believer in Christ, is for me not to sin.

His life in me, however, is merely an invitation to purity, not a foregone conclusion. I have been given the same fresh start that enabled Shem and Japheth to choose well, yet I still sometimes choose as Ham did. This choice I now have recalls the moment when Beast’s heart softened toward Beauty. He had given her a tour and granted her permission to freely roam the castle except for the west wing. Her immediate response wasn’t gratitude for her newfound freedom. Rather, she asked, eyes wide with curiosity, “What’s in the west wing?” I have Beauty’s opportunity to choose, just as did Noah’s sons.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have given me the priceless invitation to live my life “in” You. Seal the reality of this into my heart, Lord, that I would choose wisely as I go through each day of the rest of my life.

July 23rd, 2021

Shortcomings of Loincloths

Genesis 3:7 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”

Observation: Sin had been firmly established through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they gained knowledge as their understanding was opened to their nakedness. Since they lived with both the immediate and the long-term consequences of sin, they viewed their nakedness with shame rather than delight, and took steps to cover themselves from one another.

Application: Sin is an awful bedfellow, but in my natural condition it is inescapable. Its consequences are often immediate, always long-term, and unfailingly horrific. The Word says that as they understood their nakedness, they sewed fig leaves together to make themselves loin coverings. In this I must see that they traded God’s covering for a covering they made themselves.

Every aspect of the story is tragic, but none more than this. God’s covering had brought peace and fellowship with Him and delight in one another and in their surroundings. They were soon to be expelled from Eden, sentenced to earn their living by sweat, to bear children in pain, and to live with the loss of intimacy with God. Their own covering was a poor substitute indeed, a false covering which necessarily led to a false identity.

“I can do it myself! I must try harder or work smarter. I’ll have to get up earlier to get a jump on our competitors. I’ll be watching next time, ready for any funny business they might try.” The man or woman who has for a covering their own ingenuity, their own capabilities, is in deep trouble. We get our identity from our covering, and there are only two possible sources: from God or from the place where Adam shopped. Take this challenge: go to the loincloth department of the finest clothing store in town. The best they have will still permit the cold, chilling updraft of reality to blow in. Even the freshest of fig leaves will soon dry and crumble.

Terror of exposure will dog me all my days until I at last confess that I must come under a more substantial covering. I need a cleft in an immovable Rock in which to hide, not the vagaries of a loin covering of my own making. Christ gave His life to purchase for me His kingdom, the me whom He found pitiably cowering behind fig leaves of my own design. He again offers me the open doors of Eden. Will I be wise enough to enter into Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all the striving in the world leaves me exhausted and failed. Thank You for reestablishing Your covering over me, and for the peace and rest I find there.