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.

October 20th, 2021

The Proffered Dandelion

Psalm 20:3a “May He remember all your sacrifices.”

Observation: Psalm 20 opens as a prayer for David. We aren’t told who is doing the praying … it may be priests who regularly surrounded David, or perhaps family and friends. But their prayers were the sort of thing each of us might long to hear: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.” (v. 1) “May He send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.” (v. 2) And then this: “May He remember all your sacrifices … ”

Application: All your sacrifices? What is that supposed to mean? Isn’t the Christian faith one that has been gained by God’s sacrifices alone, not mine? Am I to read this and conclude that it is by my own effort that blessings are to flow in my direction? This seems to careen dangerously close to an affirmation of works.

I long to think the prayers and petitions of friends in my behalf would be effective in gaining God’s favor toward me, but there is something discomfiting about the notion that my own efforts to sacrifice must somehow be added to His for me to gain the fullness of His blessing. And yet, there it is.

There is in my album a treasured photo from a summer outing with my grandson. Ben is approaching me with hand outstretched, offering the flower of a dandelion. Big, bright yellow, perfectly shaped, it was in the moment of his presentation that my heart melted. He had searched carefully for the perfect offering simply because he hoped I would love it. What he could not have known is that in presenting his best treasure, my delight in him would grow all the more.

God is like that. All I might bring to Him is necessarily small and insignificant when laid alongside His eternal magnificence. Yet His joy is made full when I bring to Him something in which I hope He would find pleasure. My heart beats faster as I approach the throne; my eyes open wide with anticipation over his potential delight. My expectation of being swept into His arms grows with each step toward His throne.

Then it hits me: I can bring Him nothing except that which He has first given me. Whether it’s a sacrificially large check or simply my decision to arise early enough to climb into His lap so He can hold me before I begin the day’s work, everything has come from Him in the first place. It takes God to love God.

Prayer: Father, this is how I can have full assurance of answered prayer, isn’t it? … to recognize that my every sacrifice has first come to me from Your hand. Bless what is already Yours, Lord, as I approach Your loving, delighted embrace.

October 19th, 2021

Me and My Good Friend Cain

Genesis 4:7 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Observation: God here addresses Cain, who had become “very angry” with God because God had rejected Cain’s offering of produce while accepting Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flocks. Seeing Cain’s anger and downcast appearance, God gave Cain a direct warning of what lay ahead if he didn’t have a heart attitude adjustment.

Application: Do what is right? God says Cain must do what is right? It seems like a strategic phrase, so it’s no doubt important that I figure out what “doing right” means. Cain had experienced one of my fondest wishes: that I might hear God’s voice well enough to have actual dialogue with Him. Cain wasn’t the only one to have this experience; Adam, Eve and the serpent (a talking serpent, no less) had such dialogue with God, as did Abraham, Moses and a host of other ancestors in the faith.

Why would I think that hearing Him “out loud” would be beneficial to me? Did giving voice to His words cause greater obedience in Adam? Was Cain more inclined to work on his heart attitude simply because he and God could converse audibly? Sadly, no. The crystal clarity of God’s warnings had no apparent impact on a rebellious heart’s unwillingness to be broken into glad submission to his creator.

Why do I think I am different? “If only I could hear You better, Lord,” I plead. I find myself at this crossroad or that and my heart longs to hear Him better, to be able to more clearly discern His direction moment by moment. So why doesn’t it happen for me as it did for Cain? More to the point, why do I think I would use such self-disclosure by God to do better in His eyes than did His beloved Adam?

It comes to this: I must long to love and pursue Him with a whole heart regardless of His method of revelation. It isn’t about my making the best business decision, marrying the “right” person, or deciding against slipping office supplies from work into my purse. It’s about loving Him above all else, above all others. Death to flesh would have been an immeasurable help to Adam and to Cain. And to me.

Prayer: Father, it is flesh that rises against You in every instance. It isn’t how well I hear that matters, but how well I love, isn’t it? Break my heart, Lord, over Your brokenness for me.

October 18th, 2021

Heavenly Recliner

Genesis 2:3b “on it (the seventh day) He rested from all His work.”

Observation: In six days God had unleashed unimaginable creative powers. Things inanimate that had never before existed (earth and sky, dry land and seas, stars sufficient to fill the eternally expanding universe, light and every kind of vegetation … in four short days all these were done. Over the next two days had appeared every animate kind: waters teemed with living creatures while birds filled the skies. And on the dry land appeared animals, bugs and ultimately man. “Thus the heavens and the earth were created in all their vast array.” (Gen. 2:1) And God rested.

Application: Why did God rest? It’s critical that I understand this if I am to become like Christ. Do I really believe He needed rest? Is He like me after a hard week’s work, staggering exhaustedly back to His Lazy Boy throne? Can I imagine Him, muscles aching, slipping shoes off swollen feet, rubbing weary eyes before flipping on the TV? After all, His work of creating had been far broader than I sometimes consider. With the exception of man, He had everywhere created in multiples: herds, schools and flocks along with vegetation sufficient to feed them all. It’s no wonder He might have needed a break.

See how easily I can be overtaken by a fleshly perspective and a works mentality? If I believe God took rest because He needed rest, then I shall never understand Sabbath. His wasn’t the rest of the needy; it was the rest of deep satisfaction in Himself. This inexhaustible God needed no tub of warm water in which to soak weary feet. He paused to delight in Himself as He surveyed creation.

Yet how often do I, made in His image, view rest in the way He intended? Too frequently my day of rest is a cross between recovery … a time for catching up on sleep or kicking back in front of a game … or striving to get a running start on a week’s worth of shopping, meal preparation or yard work. Before I know it, my weekend is shot, and I castigate myself for once again blowing my chance to rest.

But consider this: If God’s rest wasn’t the crashing of the exhausted, why should mine be? What He modeled was what I should aspire to: contented contemplation of the one who made me. God, my bottomless Source of delight in His handiwork, still wants now what He wanted on the sixth day of creation: fellowship. Yet all the while my aspiration is merely for an uninterrupted nap or an afternoon of texting.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for being so caught up in a works mentality that I assume You want me to rest from something. Just as You rested in Yourself, it’s toward You that You woo me. Cause me to so reorder my thinking that I am only fully satisfied resting in contemplation of You.

October 17th, 2021

Stunted Experience

Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Observation: The Lord in verse 1 had come to Abram to assure him that “I … am your very great reward.” Abram’s response was to ask how that was possible since Abram had no heir. When God had first called Abram to migrate to Canaan, God had promised that a great nation would come from Abram, and that “all peoples on the earth would be blessed by (Abram).” (v. 12:3) Since that original promise, life had moved on; Abram and Sarai had relocated to Egypt where he had become wealthy during Sarai’s season in Pharaoh’s harem. Then Abram and Lot had separated. Yet through all these lengthy days, Abram remained childless. Abram fought a war to rescue Lot and declined significant payment of worldly goods from the king of Sodom.

Application: To now hear God renew His promise to be Abram’s “very great reward” caused legitimate questions to arise for Abram. How could he be confident when he again heard God say that Abram’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars? What the story next says is key: “Abram believed God.”

Abram’s faith was not shaken by what he had not yet experienced. Apparently he was satisfied to know God’s character and to have experienced His faithfulness in the past. Because of that, Abram’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness.”

Jesus would later affirm a similar principle to Thomas, when He said that those who could believe without seeing are blessed.

This strikes to the heart of human disappointment in God. I may begin strong, full of confidence in God’s abilities and His unchanging character. But gradually, if a wise guard has not been set over my heart, I can begin to assess God not by who He is, but by my stunted experience of His performance in my behalf. God, whose character is healing (Jehovah Raphe) none-the-less did not perform according to my expectations for my wife. God, also known as provider (Jehovah-Jireah), seems to abandon in the midst of a well-conceived business plan. God, who has promised that He would bless righteousness to a rich panoply of future generations, can appear to have left bereft much-loved offspring in their darkest season. In all of this, I must remember: my experience does not have the authority to diminish God. When I evaluate Him based upon my experience rather than His immutable character, I will always be in error.

Prayer: Father, there are many things in my journey with You that I do not understand. Cause me, like Abram, to focus on what You have done and on what You are doing, that my own response to You may be credited to me as righteousness.

October 16th, 2021

Tears In The Driveway

Genesis 12:1 “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’ ”

Observation: The family into which Abram was born had already done one leaving. Genesis 11:31 says that Abram’s father Terah had originally left Ur with part of his family, intending to migrate to Canaan. But they only got as far as an area called Haran, where Terah decided to put down roots. Later, the Lord called Abram to complete the relocation to Canaan.

Application: Joshua 24:2 clarifies why this migration was a two-generation process by telling us that Terah “worshipped other gods,” which is why he was comfortable remaining in Haran; both Ur and Haran were places where the moon-god was worshipped, so he likely felt at home in either place.

Through Abram, though, God intended to do something new. Terah and all the rest of Noah’s lineage were part of the post-flood, post-Babel rebellion. But in Abram and through his offspring, God had a plan to introduce a redemptive work for all mankind.

Terah settled in Haran and was no doubt satisfied, spending the rest of his life and dying there.

We are not told the sequence of Terah’s death and Abram’s leaving, but Genesis 12:1 suggests that Abram had received his call to leave while his father was still alive. I wonder what the day of Abram’s departure was like. Any of us who have stood with tear-filled eyes in the driveway as our eldest child drove happily away to a remote college has experienced the cleaved heart Terah must have felt. “Call me when you get there”, we urged. “Drive safely. See you at Christmas.” What were Terah’s thoughts? There would be no phone calls, no text messages, no holiday reunions. Likely this father and son would never again embrace.

Yet Abram left, something he could surely have only done in the certainty of having heard God’s voice. There is such a profound difference in being called “to” something as opposed to escaping from something. How easy it is to rebelliously abandon a tough situation: difficult family relationship or an unreasonable employer. But it is something else entirely to be called by God’s vision to the new and unknown. Paul said it well: “putting away what lies in the past, I press on.”

Prayer: Lord, You do have a call, a destiny, for my life. Cause me to listen well and to put my complete trust in Your promise to never leave or forsake me as I follow You.

October 15th, 2021

To Bed Without Supper

Genesis 11:2 “they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”

Observation: Thus is introduced the story of the tower of Babel. The previous verse reveals that the whole world had one language and a common speech. This is reasonable, given that the story is set a mere two generations after the flood. Genesis 10 details the progeny of Noah’s son Ham: Ham fathered Cush, who in turn fathered Nimrod. Nimrod was a mighty warrior-hunter whose kingdom encompassed several cities “in Shinar.” (Gen. 10:10)

Application: In Shinar. This suggests that Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, was the visionary who sponsored Babel’s construction project. Ham, who was cursed for exposing his father’s drunken nakedness, would father offspring so prideful as to think they could “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4)

Yet God’s instruction as Noah and his sons disembarked the ark had been the exact opposite: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) It seems tragically predictable given human nature after the fall, that Nimrod would have done the reverse. In fact, as God faced Noah after the flood in Genesis 8:21, His promise was to never again “curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”

What, then, has been the purpose of the flood’s destruction? Because I have known of the flood story from childhood, I realize that I have remained captured by childish understanding. God was not so naïve as to believe He could wash sin out of man with a worldwide flood; even in those righteous enough to be saved, sin abounded. In the immediate aftermath of the flood we find drunkenness, gossip and prideful disobedience, none of which caught God by surprise.

“Change your attitude young man or you’ll go to bed without supper,” we might say. While hunger pangs may bring quick enough compliance to fill the belly, improvement, sadly, is never lasting. What’s required is heart surgery, recognition that without sharing in Christ’s death it is impossible to please God. The flood was meant to be a picture—a mirror—of man’s core sinful condition. Oceans of water could never adequately cleanse, but blood could. Blood from God’s own body would prove the only effective agent of change. Noah must have reflected on the irony of his incredible deliverance only to be followed so quickly by fresh failure. My own experience has too often reflected his, yet I have a hope Noah never knew.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that through the flood story You have handed me a mirror and said, “every inclination of my heart has been evil since childhood.” Only Your blood has kept me from well-earned death. Fill me today with constant remembrance of Your fully effective sacrifice.

October 14th, 2021

A Prospering Portfolio

Genesis 12:16 “Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.”

Observation: God had supernaturally led Abram to migrate to Canaan with his entire household. As famine there became severe, Abram decided on his own to move once more, this time into Egypt where food was plentiful. The problem was, Abram anticipated his wife Sarai’s beauty would capture Pharaoh’s eye. To save his own skin, Abram and Sarai agreed to the lie that they were siblings, thus enabling her to be taken into Pharaoh’s harem legally, without necessity of first making her a widow, as David later did to Bathsheba.

Application: We are not told how Pharaoh discovered the ruse, merely that illness in the house somehow led to the lie’s exposure. But what we do know is that when Pharaoh learned the truth, he acted far more honorably than had Abram. Pharaoh’s response was first to give Abram a good tongue-lashing, then he returned Sarai to Abram and unceremoniously gave them both the boot from Egypt, along with “everything he had”. (v. 20)

We are not told how quickly this whole episode played itself out, but I have delicately presumed that Sarai’s expulsion from Pharaoh’s harem was quick enough that the two had no time for dallying between the sheets. Even so, her time in the harem could have been months, given how long a beauty was prepped for her first conjugal visit. However much time elapsed, Abram had opportunity to grow wealthy, acquiring sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and servants aplenty to manage his expanding fortunes.

Abram is here exposed as having accommodated himself quite nicely to his wife’s horrible predicament, growing prosperous while she no doubt shriveled in fear. The man who should have been her knight in shining armor plotting to rescue his beloved, was apparently content to remain in the marketplace bettering the family’s portfolio. “But honey”, he may have written her, “I’m doing this for us. I want our children to have a better life, to not have to work as hard as we have.” All the while, Sarai died little by little as the months ground slowly by.

Abram was thriving in a place God had not called him to. Rather than remaining in Canaan dependent upon God’s provision he acted on his own, apparently trading Sarai for worldly success. I must ask myself: what have I pursued that God never called me to? What price have I paid for such pursuits? What price has been extracted from my loved ones?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as You unfolded this application to my heart I am undone. I reflect with shame upon my own heart’s connivance with the world’s systems. Forgive me, Lord, and restore me and my loved ones to ever-deepening intimacy with one another and with You.

October 13th, 2021

Magazine Aisle

Genesis 14:13 “…he was living in Sodom.”

Observation: Abram and his nephew Lot had come to an amicable parting once it was apparent that their holdings were too vast for them to live near one another. Large herds needed expansive lands, so Lot had chosen to occupy the fertile, well-watered Jordan plain. Thus he “pitched his tent near Sodom”. (v. 13:12) Later, when the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and three other local kings lost a battle, they and their armies fled to the hills, leaving their cities to be looted of “all their goods” and “all their food.” (v. 11) The victors “also carried off Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.”

Application: See what has been Lot’s progression? He was carried off as a spoil of war because he was living in Sodom, while just a few verses earlier he had pitched his tents “near” Sodom.

When Abram had generously allowed Lot to have the pick of choice spots in which to settle, Lot saw that the Jordan plain was “like the garden of the Lord.” (v. 13:10), and like the land of Egypt. Wow…imagery evocative of both the garden of Eden and the fertile Nile river valley. Can Lot be blamed for choosing flesh’s best? “Aha”, he may have thought, “this is my chance to become as prosperous as Uncle Abram”! So he pitched his tents near Sodom.

The next verse makes clear that Sodom’s spiritual condition was already infamous: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”

What passed through Lot’s mind as he camped tantalizingly close to such debauchery? He has already shown himself greedy by not yielding dibs to Abram, his elder. I wonder if he fooled himself into actually believing he had the moral strength to resist Sodom’s siren song. Perhaps. But it is more likely he purposely put himself in harm’s way. Like the food addict who saunters near the bakery, or the pornographer who chooses the magazine aisle as a shortcut to the milk cooler, Lot’s flesh was likely in the driver’s seat. Seeking neither God’s counsel nor Abram’s, he purposely settled in a high-risk neighborhood. I should not be surprised that soon he had made one more move, this time to dwell inside Sodom’s walls. I wonder: how have I acted similarly?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it seems that You constantly drill deeper into my heart to reveal what is there. I tend so often to yield to worldly tugs rather than to Your best. Forgive me, Lord, for my embrace of Lot’s decision paradigm.

October 12th, 2021

Short Accounts

Genesis 9:22 “Ham … saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.”

Observation: Genesis 9:19 states that from Noah’s three sons “came the people who were scattered across the earth.” Along with their wives, each had experienced God’s deliverance through the flood. Now, in establishing a new life in the postdiluvian world, Noah planted a vineyard, became drunk, and apparently passed out naked inside his tent. At some point Ham saw his father’s nakedness and went out to tell his brothers.

Application: Scripture is silent as to why Ham found himself inside his sleeping father’s tent. No doubt his original motive was benign. Perhaps he sought to quiet his father’s loud snoring, or maybe he sought clippers with which to prune the vineyard for next year’s crop. But whatever the reason, Ham got quite an eyeful, enough to cause him to step outside and gossip.

“Shem, Japheth,” he may have said, “you’ll never guess what the old man has done now.” Or maybe his approach was more compassionate, as in “Hey guys, dad is in a really embarrassing situation in there; what can we do to help him out?”

No matter Ham’s approach or his heart in the matter, Noah was furious when he awakened and realized Ham had talked about what he had seen in the confines of Noah’s tent. As a result, Noah cursed Ham and his descendants, condemning them to live as slaves to the offspring of Shem and Japheth. Indeed, Israel would struggle for centuries with the consequences of Noah’s curse, from constantly encroaching Canaanite sin to strife with such cousins as Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians and others. (see Gen. 10:6–20)

What is it that motivates the human heart to gossip? Because we who know Christ know it is wrong, we find ourselves dressing it up in more acceptable garments. We use the language of “concern,” of wanting to marshal help for one who seems deficient in one thing or another. But such disclosure of another’s shortcomings contains a more sinister purpose than mere compassion. My hidden motive, once honestly exposed, is to somehow elevate me above the one I am supposedly concerned for. Thus my real motive stands exposed, every bit as naked as Noah on his bed. I must learn the lesson of Ham if I am to live under God’s blessings rather than merit His curses. This old, old story has an uncomfortable currency about it, one I am called to bury along with all those other traits I must put to death.

Prayer: Father, I see clearly the awful consequences of Ham’s sin, even as the story causes me to reflect with honesty on similar sins of my own. Forgive me, Lord. Thank You for keeping short accounts with me.

October 11th, 2021

The Cyclone

Genesis 8:1a “But God remembered Noah … ”

Observation: Preceding verses have described the effects of the flood: every living thing on the earth perished, along with all mankind. “Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died (Gen. 7:22) Then comes the simple phrase, “But God remembered Noah.”

Application: What am I to make of this phrase? Does it suggest that ‘til God had finished with the flood’s devastating work He had been too occupied with death and destruction to give Noah a thought? Not likely. From God’s perspective, His thoughts must have continually been toward Noah. After all, hadn’t God commanded the ark’s construction as a vehicle for salvation? Didn’t the ark carry the precious remnant of all God held dear?

No, the statement of God’s remembrance of Noah must surely have been written from Noah’s perspective, not God’s. In the telling and retelling of the story to succeeding generations, surely this simple phrase was fraught with emotion and relief. Until Noah recorded that God remembered him, the previous time we’re sure Noah had heard from God had been months earlier when God had closed the ark’s door. Save the natural cacophony of the animals, the ark might have been possessed of a tomb-like quiet. Then, after a week, the flood began. Not as a gentle rain that went unendingly on, but as vengeful torrents of raging waves body-slamming the ark and its precious cargo. All the while, Noah had not heard from God.

But suddenly, destruction ceased. Waters began receding, and the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Surely it was with a sense of relieved celebration that Noah realized they had made it through the storm. They were alive; all was going to be well once again.

I am often like Noah. In the midst of life’s most violent storms I can easily forget that God remembers me moment-by-moment. It is easy to exult on the other side of a difficult season, but I should learn the more important reality: that God had never left me, He never forsook me. As I climb gratefully down from Six Flags’ most terrifying ride and breathe relief at the certainty of solid ground, I should remember that He was with me through every violent twist and turn of the entire ride.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder that You are always with me; Your thoughts toward me are more than I could count. You have a strategy for safe deliverance through life’s worst trials, and I am grateful.