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.

November 27th, 2022

Ultimate Identity Swap

2 Samuel 9:7 “‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’”

Observation: After serving as king for a number of years, David asks his retinue whether there was any surviving remnant of Saul’s family to whom he could show kindness. Eventually he found Mephibosheth, son of his dear friend Jonathan, who had been five years old when Jonathan had died (v. 4). Surely David had once known the boy, but years have now passed and Mephibosheth has a child of his own. Mephibosheth had a tough life, having been crippled in both feet through an accident. Dispossessed of land and inheritance even though his grandfather Saul had been incredibly wealthy, Mephibosheth has been reduced to living with a kind patron these intervening years.

Application: For Mephibosheth, literally everything changed the instant he came into the king’s presence. It was in David’s heart to be generous and kind to Jonathan’s son. Upon meeting David, Mephibosheth’s first thought was fear, but then he heard David’s reassuring, “Don’t be afraid.” Imagine coming into the presence of the great king, the one who now owns all the assets of your ancestors. Fear is a reasonable response, but David’s desire was to cancel fear and to show Mephibosheth kindness.

The next thing Mephibosheth heard was that all the family wealth would be restored, and that he would forevermore dine at the king’s table. It was almost as though David was adopting this one who was once lost. Astonishing!

What a wonderful depiction of my own relationship with the King of Kings. I come to him in brokenness and poverty, crippled from life’s pain, and find there

a great and generous king eager to bestow His love and acceptance, a king who has made provision at His bountiful table for me. Having humbled myself before Him, there will be no recrimination for my heritage of opposition. Instead, He gladly restores that which was lost and bids me live under His protective covering for the rest of my days.

In that instant my poverty is traded for His plenty; my lameness is no longer a handicap. Just as David himself longed to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”, (Psalm 27:4) so now I am invited to do the same. Once a prince in a rebellious house, I now rejoice, as Mephibosheth, at being given new identity.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your pursuit of me has been faithful and long. I fully receive afresh today Your offer of relationship and a place at Your table. Thank You for seeking me among the lame and the poor, and for giving me new life in Your house forever.

November 26th, 2022

The First Electrician

Ephesians 3:14 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name.”

Observation: By this mid-point in the book of Ephesians, language tumbles from Paul’s pen in a veritable torrent of rejoicing in all that Christ has done for us. We were formerly far from God; now we are near. We were formerly outcasts; now we are “in Him”. We were formerly prisoners of flesh with no hope except eternal separation from Him; now we have been reconciled to God through Christ. We were formerly strangers and aliens; now we are fellow citizens with the saints, and all a part of God’s household. Formerly we had to live in ignorance of the things of God; now He has revealed everything through the Holy Spirit. Such exuberance! Such unsurpassed exaltation! And it builds to this stunning statement: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name.”

Application: Why is this statement such a showstopper? It paints a picture of the Godhead in perfect unity: God the Father with a plan from the beginning for the perfect reconciliation of me to Himself; the plan perfectly and completely implemented by the Son who now indwells every believer through the power and might of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that all this has been for the purpose of grounding my heart in love. Imagine! Paul, through the Holy Spirit, knowing about the need to be grounded in order to have power, and this centuries before the discovery of electricity! All of this, Paul says, causes him to fall to his knees in worship of the heavenly family after which every earthly family is to be modeled.

The problem is, I wasn’t raised in a family like that. Sadly, neither were my children. In fact, apart from Christ Himself, none of us has grown up in a family with such fathering. Neither have I been a picture of Christ in my development as a son. What shall I do in the midst of such shortcoming? How shall I ever be free when in fact my earthly family has fallen so far short of the ideal modeled by my heavenly Father and His Son?

I’m in an awful fix because to the extent others or I have fallen short, they “owe” me, or I “owe” them. Like the foreman of an assembly line that never produces a perfect product, God has every right to throw the lot onto the trash heap. And I, being broken and imperfect, should well go through life expecting to be trashed at the end. But God’s plan was to change the assembly, to rebuild my DNA, to find a new power source, one not grounded in self-centered traditions of men, but one grounded instead in the love of Christ, that I might be “filled up to all the fulness of God.” (4:19) Once that happened I must no longer define myself by my brokenness; rather, I exalt with Paul who ends the chapter like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

Prayer: Wow, Lord. I am in awe of Your power to transform my heart. How I praise You!

November 25th, 2022

Countdown to Capture

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; prepare for us there.”

Observation: The countdown to Jesus’ capture is well under way, although He is the only one fully aware of that fact. For the disciples, this Passover was to be the same as all the others: one of Israel’s great annual festivals celebrating their deliverance from Egyptian captivity generations earlier.

Application: It was on the first Passover night that God’s destroying angel looked for lamb’s blood smeared on the cross pieces of Israeli doors and “passed over” those homes in search of unprotected Egyptian firstborn. Yet now, this year’s Passover with Jesus, in Jerusalem, would be profoundly different, for at the very moment that the High Priest was in the temple sacrificing the Passover lamb, the disciples asked Jesus (Mark 14:12) where He would like to commemorate God’s people having been passed over by death generations earlier. Yet He would eat this Passover knowing full well that He was Himself to be our Passover sacrifice.

The remarkable thing about this passage is that Jesus had fully prepared the answer to the disciple’s question in advance: a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; he will take you into the house; the owner will already have prepared the upper room for our last meal together. Jesus knew in advance the need they would have; the room was furnished and ready; he knew what the conversation with the proprietor would entail.

Is this not profoundly comforting for today? On the very day when the Lamb of God’s own distractions could understandably have been at such fever pitch as to have caused Him to completely forget Passover (“O, is it that day already?”), He knew perfectly what their needs for the evening would be, and had made full preparation.

Of course, it is not possible to distract Jesus; no amount of stress, no gathering flood tide of opposition could deter His plan to go to the cross. This was His Passover for you and me; this time it would be His own blood spattered upon the cross, enabling me as a spiritual Jew to escape the coming destruction. See how He cares about me? Psalm 139 says that His thoughts about me are more than could be counted; as the world spins wildly out of control, He has gone ahead to prepare a place of safety, and it is in Him. What wonderful reassurance!

Prayer: O Lord, Your sacrifice is overwhelming. I cannot conceive such love, but I gladly receive it, and I thank You.

November 24th, 2022

Stumbling Over Jesus

Luke 7:23 “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”

Observation: John the Baptist is in prison and is about to be beheaded by evil King Herod and his wife Herodius. Knowing his life was nearing its end, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the one they had been waiting for.

Application: I have heard it taught that as John’s death approached, he was having a “shaky moment” in his faith, that he needed reassurance that he was not about to die in vain. But no, this is something else entirely. After all, John was called the “burning one” by Jesus. This was not about weak faith rising in John; instead, it was about John’s desire to connect his disciples to Jesus.

Until now, these men had followed John, but John knew he must decrease, so He sent them to question Jesus. Jesus’ answer gave clear-eyed evidence of who He is, then this strange statement: “and blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”

What did Jesus mean by that? In effect, He was saying, “Fellas, I know you are worried about John’s fate. You have come hoping I would set him free. But though I love him and though I desire that he be free, and though I have the power to free him, for purposes you do not understand I’m not going to do it. John is going to lose his head.” He was warning that they were going to have occasion for great offense because it was not the Father’s purpose to rescue John.

What a profound thought: that if my heart is offendable, I will be offended, and it’s by Christ’s design. Christ calls me to lay down my rights, to die to self, yet offenses keep bubbling up over issues of life’s unfairness. Bad relationships. Unfair decisions. Things keep breaking. People become sick and die. In 1 Peter 2:8 Jesus’ ministry is described like this: to be a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.

The very core of His purpose is to test me, to see if I have, finally, become unoffendable. If not, I will trip over Him every time. Any wounding I carry from the past becomes a stone over which I stumble, and that stone is Him. He knows that an offendable heart will keep me from the purity required of His Bride, yet He passionately yearns to be united with me. So He purposes to test me, to try me, to put rocks of offense in my path so I might learn, finally, to die to self, that I might enter into new life in Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I’m not sure what hurts worse: the offenses that come, or my awareness of how far short of Your standard my responses usually fall. Thank You for testing. Thank You for Your faithfulness to not give up on me. How I love You!

November 23rd, 2022

 The Elusive Piñata

Acts 13:17, 19, 20–22 “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers…and with an uplifted arm He led them out from Egypt…He destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan…He gave them judges…He gave them Saul…He raised up David to be their king.”

Observation: Paul had sailed to Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath had gone into the synagogue where they heard the reading of the Law and the Prophets. Afterward, the synagogue officials invited them to bring a word of exhortation to the people, thus beginning the reading excerpted above.

Application: In six tightly constructed verses Paul summarized God’s hand in the life of Israel from His original choosing of them, through Egyptian exile and deliverance, and onward through the naming of national prophets such as Samuel, the establishment of kings, ending with the reign of David.

Throughout, there is one common theme in all of Paul’s words: God does the choosing. It is at His initiative that each significant step of His people has been taken. He led the people into safety in Egypt, thence into freedom from Egypt’s captivity; He set their rulers in place. Sometimes the people complained bitterly while at other times they expressed gratitude, however fleetingly.

Just as He has ordained the twists and turns of Israel’s path to eternal security, so He desires to lead me to the same freedom from anything I might be prey to. If left to my own devices I would be as helpless as the blinded child trying to pin a tail on a donkey or batting the air furiously because I had once seen a hanging piñata. To the blind, piñatas are elusive indeed. It is so easy to fall into sin and habits that don’t glorify Him. Such disappointment often happens so gradually that I find myself far off course before I hear His corrective voice.

Freedom comes as I hear His voice and choose to follow the path He has laid before me. Corrective action is always at His initiative; mine is to respond, gratefully walking where He has shown me.

Prayer: Lord, the scary thing about all this is that following You really is a choice. You draw me to Your heart, but You leave me free to respond or not. Thank you for that freedom to choose, because when I choose well, I know Your pleasure. That is sweetness itself…reward enough no matter how difficult the journey.

November 22nd, 2022

No Longer Spectators

Leviticus 23:1 “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.” ’ ”

Observation: All of Leviticus 23 is given to a description of the feasts God expected His people to observe, on schedule. Most of these are sadly obscure to Christians today, but a short review may lead to something interesting:

Sabbath, a day of rest for people and animals, observed everyseventh day

Sabbath Year, a year of rest for the land, observed every seventh year

Year of Jubilee, every fiftieth year, when all debts were cancelled and all slaves freed

Passover, an annual remembrance of God’s delivering Israel from Egypt

Unleavened Bread, an annual remembrance of Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt

Firstfruits, an annual celebration of God’s bountiful provision

Weeks, an annual expression of joy and thankfulness for God’s harvest blessings

Trumpets, an annual day of rest to seek God’s favor for Israel

Day of Atonement, an annual atonement for sins of the priests and the people

Tabernacles, an annual remembrance of the journey from Egypt to Canaan, and thanksgiving for Canaan’s productivity

Sacred Assembly, formal closing of each year’s cycle of feasts

Purim, an annual reminder of the nation’s deliverance in the time of Esther

Application: It is all too easy for me to breeze through this kind of material without thought as to its application to me today. For a moment I must set aside the fact that God proclaimed these celebrations for all time. Set aside, too, the discomfiting fact that our earliest Christian ancestors, including Jesus and the entire early church leadership, faithfully observed these feasts.

What else might God want me to learn about Him and about me from all this? It seems He is a God who loves to gather His people in joyous contemplation of Himself. Is it also possible that He wants to underscore the coming importance of the greatest feast of all, the one at the end of the Book when he will preside over the marriage supper of the Lamb? I will move from being one of the spectators in the stands simply cheering God on and applauding His work in my life. At that feast, I who have loved His Son and trusted in His sacrifice on the cross will become instead an intimate participant. At that feast, His bridal chamber will beckon, and His gaze will melt my heart. Heaven will no doubt stand at attention as He looks with pleasure upon His own beauty adorning His bride. In that moment, both the Spirit and the bride will say, “Come. Whoever is thirsty, come. Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the waters of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Prayer: Father, as important as all the earlier feasts are to You, they are preparatory to the ultimate feast. You are preparing not just the table, not just the meal, but You are also preparing Your bride. Have Your way in my heart, Lord.

November 21st, 2022

The God Who Never Blushes

Leviticus 18:3 “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in Canaan, where I am bringing you” (NIV).

Observation: Thus begins one in a long list of chapters in which God detailed rules to live by, this chapter focused on unlawful sexual relations. No possible perversion of God’s ideal is overlooked; every kind of relationship abominable to God is forthrightly discussed, each being called defilement.

Application: Apparently we have a God who never blushes. The unadorned language of this chapter ought to have at least caused Him to wince. But no, He apparently considered the horrifying practices of pagan nations surrounding His people and said, in effect, “Don’t even think about doing what you see them doing!”

The list of prohibited intimacies is long: no Bob and sister, no Bob and granddaughter, no Bob and Rover, no Bob and Bob. He calls these “defilements.” Why would sexual perversions form the basis of defilement? Why would defilement not spring from the sordid gain of a shopkeeper using dishonest weights for measuring peanuts, or the deceit of a used-chariot salesman trying to hide weaknesses caused by a past collision?

Why was sex so defiling? I may try to intellectualize the issue by saying that intermarrying degrades the gene pool to produce drooling idiots, but it doesn’t explain His objection to sex with animals. There is something deeper here, something far more important. I could make the claim that because God is so much bigger than I, He has the right to set all the rules; after all, He uses the phrase, “I am the Lord” with unnerving frequency in this chapter.

The only way this chapter makes any sense at all is when I view God’s mandates through a bridal paradigm. He isn’t merely hoping to protect the gene pool; nor is He bullying in an area of life He designed to be most fulfilling. The reality is, He is a passionate lover of us created beings, and He is searching hopefully among us for an undefiled bride for His Son. God never lists His laws because He loves lists or because He loves laws; what He loves is me. What He is wildly ecstatic about is the idea that by living within the boundaries He proscribed, I would be considered undefiled and thus qualified to be part of the magnificent bride He is wooing for His Son.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, viewing You through the lens of a bridal paradigm breathes life into even musty passages like this one. I am overwhelmed by Your intention from the beginning of the Book to capture my heart even as I have captured Yours. Thank You.

November 20th, 2022

White Hairs and Mildew

Leviticus 14:14 “The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.”

Observation: Leviticus 13 and 14 are unusually long chapters of minutely detailed instruction regarding skin diseases and mildew, how such problems were to be assessed, and what must be done about them. A priest was to examine individual hairs within a skin sore to determine whether a disease might spread (white hair) or heal on its own (black hair). Different kinds of mildew were treated different ways. Each priestly examination carried with it specific instruction as to how something once unclean could be made ceremonially clean again, down to such detail as which ear lobe, which thumb, which toe were to be sprinkled with the blood of a sacrifice or with oil or both.

Application: To the modern mind, the minutia in these chapters is mind numbing. Focused discipline is required to do more than skim these passages, but it might not have been so for a people who were impressed with the need to hear and obey God precisely. After all, these chapters follow chapter 10 in which Aaron’s two oldest priestly sons were incinerated by fire from God for not getting some details exactly right. So aside from the health benefits of this instruction, there may have been more going on here than a casual reading reveals.

Think of the sheer scope of this activity. Instruction is couched in language addressing individuals: this hair, that article of clothing, the mildewed rock in the northwest corner of Steinmetz’s TV room. But there were literally millions of Jews. Imagine the scale and scope of priestly responsibility. One senses that God intended His people not to live their lives casually before Him. The unending sacrifices of doves and pigeons, of fine flour and oil surely taught them the need for atonement for such external afflictions as boils and mildew.

In their small daily sacrifices, the Hebrews were being groomed to one day recognize Calvary’s ultimate sacrifice. I, living on this side of Calvary, am too often guilty of treating it casually, as though I can take it or leave it without consequences. Given the busyness of life, Calvary can easily become one of a long list of things I briefly consider each week, on a par with tomorrow’s menu or the planned weekend test drive. How might I be transformed if I considered His sacrifice as seriously as a Jew considered white hairs and mildew?

Prayer: Lord, there are patterns everywhere in Your Book, patterns meant to inform and govern my lifestyle today. Cause me to keep the first commandment first all the rest of my days.

November 19th, 2022

Burned to a Crisp

Leviticus 10:2 “So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (NIV).

Observation: Aaron and all his sons had been ceremonially consecrated as priests before both the Lord and His people. They were in a new temple in a new land, and a new order of worship had been instituted. Aaron’s two older sons decided on their own to perform a ritual contrary to God’s command, so He incinerated them. Aaron, seeing what happened, remained silent. Moses saw, too, and reminded Aaron of God’s earlier words: “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored” (Lev. 10:3).

Application: Doesn’t this seem a little harsh? Here were Aaron’s sons just getting started in the family business; one little mistake and they were burned to a crisp. Whatever happened to on-the-job training? Aren’t mistakes to be encouraged so we can learn from them? Surely a good scolding and docked pay would have helped them improve. And what of Moses, this man of God with whom Aaron had been in close partnership these forty years, what of his unfeeling response? Should he not have extended some brotherly, syrupy comfort over Aaron’s loss? Couldn’t Moses have come up with at least an empathetic verbal hug such as, “I feel so sorry for you”? The implication, of course, would be that God was at fault for the boys’ deaths, but what can be done? He’s the one who writes the rules, and He seems to have been a bit inflexible. Moses said none of that. Instead, he summoned Aaron’s cousins to carry the corpses outside the camp, then turned to Aaron and his other two sons and told them, in essence, to get over it. “Do not let your hair become unkempt, and do not tear your clothes, or you will die” (Lev. 10:6).

Oh, how I want to resist personal accountability. Flesh longs to lay blame for my shortcomings at the feet of long-forgotten ancestors whose sins have been counted against ten succeeding generations. My ancestors have done me in! Or perhaps I have been touched directly by some of life’s harshness and I strain against the unfairness of it all. In the balance of my response hangs my eternal destiny. I have the choice to use pain as an opportunity to drill down deep into the heart of a God who Himself knew ultimate pain, or I can decide that He is unfair, and that I will run my own life from now on. He leaves room for no middle ground.

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for showing me Moses’s right perspective. You are holy and countenance no disobedience. Thank You for what this must have taught watching Hebrews and for what it has taught me.

November 18th, 2022

Moving Off Dead Center

Acts 14:27 “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (NIV).

Observation: Paul and Barnabas have been on a preaching circuit, the fruit of which was anything but neutral. The same message that moved many to Christ led others to plot the death of the messengers. In each city a similar division resulted: effective preaching backed by signs and wonders drew some to the Cross and enraged others. In Lystra, for example, listeners’ initial response was to rally ‘round the priest of Zeus who brought animals for sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:13). Not long after, the same crowd was inflamed against the preachers by out-of-town Jews, so they stoned Paul, leaving him for dead (v. 19).

Application: In light of all that, Paul’s trip report to his church back home was almost comical: “God,” he said, “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Well, yes, that would be the “glass-half-full” way of reporting your stoning. Like the child who begins excitedly digging through the pile of stable offal under conviction that a pony must be in there somewhere, so is Paul’s report as he assesses the impact of their latest tour. Not everyone believed, but all were stirred to a response—even those who tried to maintain a center-of-the-road stance had to move to one side or the other.

No one in Paul’s crowds would be able to lean on ignorance of Christ’s claims as a defense against future judgments. What was it about his presentation that wrought such impassioned response from his listeners? Was it the decibels of his sound system or the just-right lighting? Perhaps it was the warm-up band or the slick PowerPoint his audiovisual team developed for each message. Likely not. Paul summed his world-shaking message in one line of his report: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22). Listeners already open to loving God loved Him all the more as Paul’s words tenderized their hearts. The offended ones were those who preferred to rely on their religious traditions for “doing church.” The idea of personal accountability to a suffering Christ was so offensive that they would stone a man and leave him for dead in the self-righteous name of their religion.

See how stark are my choices? Blessing or curses. Light or darkness. Lukewarmness, that deadly middle ground cursed by Jesus in Revelation 3:15-16, is the religiosity of the day. I must be moved from that so in the end, based upon my response, I will know that His assessment of my life is just and true.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep me from the deadness of lukewarmness. Stir such passion for You in my heart that none who know me would doubt how I have responded.