September 7th, 2021

Standing on Tiptoe

Revelation 5:4 “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll.”

Observation: In Revelation 4 John reported seeing someone sitting on the throne, but the chapter’s focus is on what was occurring in its vicinity. Swirls of light and booming thunder claps enveloped four living creatures and twenty-four elders who surrounded the throne giving constant obeisance to God. Chapter 4 begins with a look at the throne itself where the one seated there held a sealed scroll. A mighty angel challenged in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (5:2) Alas, no one living or dead, human or angel or demon, could open the scroll, so John “wept and wept.”

Application: Imagine the position in which John found himself. He was an old man living in exile when this vision occurred. He had outlived all the other disciples and no doubt clearly remembered Jesus’ promise decades earlier that “Some of you who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matt. 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27)

Now, still housed in his aged, corrupt body, he was seeing by the Spirit into the future when God’s book, written in advance to reveal His plans for governance of the church and the world, was now to be opened. John had lived his whole adult life in anticipation of this moment. Now, no doubt standing on tiptoe as a mighty angel challenged all creatures living or dead to present sufficient merit to open God’s book, his heart sank. No one was worthy; the book appeared doomed to remain sealed.

When was the last time I was so bitterly disappointed that I wept and wept? And over what? What were my unfulfilled expectations that yielded such a torrent of tears? Whatever it was, I should multiply that sorrow by some infinite factor to approach John’s anguish. He stood on the edge of eternity hoping to know more of God’s mind, anticipating even a glimpse of His future plans. But he was now emptied of hope and filled instead with overflowing sorrow.

In the midst of what I think are great tragedies, I must remember that God bids me understand them as “momentary, light afflictions” (2 Cor. 4:17) I wonder: am I living my life in such a way that my only true fulfillment can come from God Himself, from knowing Him better, from seeing Him do what none other can do? Is all my hope, like John’s, in Him alone, or am I satisfied far too easily by things of this world?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, only in You are all my hopes and dreams fulfilled. Forgive me for thinking satisfaction could be had by even the grandest of temporal blessings. Give me greater hunger for Your kingdom, that I would be content in nothing less.

September 6th, 2021

From Ooze to You

Revelation 4:11 “ … for You created all things and by Your will they were created and have their being.”

Observation: This passage was written by John after God invited him to “come up here” (v. 1) to see heaven’s throne room. John reported seeing someone sitting on the throne surrounded by dazzling colors, blazing lamps, and twenty-four other thrones, each seating an elder. The scene was accompanied by lightning flashes, rumblings and peals of thunder. As the elders worshiped, they repeatedly fell before God and laid their crowns before the throne saying, “You are worthy our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things and by Your will they were created and have their being.”

Application: Look closely at what the elders are saying: God is worthy to receive glory, honor and power “because” … Why? Because He created all things. Literally every thing we can see or imagine exists because God was its creator.

This is heaven’s song, the song that will be sung for all eternity before the throne of God. Verse 8 describes four living creatures around the throne who day and night never stop saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.” It is the never-ending testimony of these creatures to which the elders respond by praising God who merits adoration precisely because He is the creator of, literally, every thing.

If it is God’s creation (and therefore His ownership) of everything that stimulates eternal worship of Him, is it any wonder that the God of this age would focus with such severity on opposing that message? For all of recorded history since Genesis 1, men have acknowledged God as creator. Yet as the end of the age draws near, Satan has advanced the deception that I and everything I see are the product of mere chance, of random evolutionary processes, thus undermining the core notion of God that heaven holds pre-eminent. What’s the saying?—“From ooze to you by way of the zoo.”

If I believe that, it naturally follows that the things I in turn create are mine alone. I owe God no particular gratitude for my daily bread; I have earned it myself. The business I have built, the toys in my garage, the lake house—these are appropriate rewards for my hard work and keen perception of how to get ahead.

If He is truly the creator of all, none of this is mine: not treasure, not time, not life itself. How should that truth impact my decisions today?

Prayer: Father, You have indeed created all things. One day soon I will return to You, redeemed by Jesus’ blood. Cause me to live today as though it could happen in the next instant.

September 5th, 2021

Still on the Hook

Titus 2:9–10 “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, to not talk back to them and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

Observation: Titus 2 is Paul’s summation of what various groups ought to be taught to effect the Gospel’s spread. He first addresses men (vs. 1–3), then older and younger women (vs. 3, 5), followed by younger men (v. 6).  Finally he addresses slaves, saying his purpose is that “in every way”, in their lifestyle and their relationships, Christ’s teachings would be seen to be attractive.

Application: In this last phrase is the key that lets none of us off the hook. It is interesting that nowhere in these verses does Paul emphasize winning doctrinal arguments, although sound doctrine is elsewhere held to be essential (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and Titus 2:1). Paul doesn’t focus on the merits of extensive theological training which might be the calling of only a few. He does not issue an insistent or universal call for believers to become great teachers. He nowhere calls us to be able to marshal tightly reasoned arguments to score debating points.

Instead, Paul simply points to the one desired trait that he knew would above all others result in the greatest impact on the culture: that the day-to-day life of even a slave would be lived so as to make Christ attractive. Paul appeals here to behavior, not just to the intellect. In so doing, he issues a universally applicable assignment. We are to simply live lives that present Christ in all His attractiveness to those who observe us.

Here, then, is a standard that ought to be heartening indeed, because it is one I can achieve. No circumstances need thwart its fulfillment … not poverty, not a wheelchair or crutches, not poor parenting or any other limitation I might prefer to use as an excuse.

Not all are equipped to be a great preacher or teacher. But the observable behaviors of my life count for much. The thing I can do is to seek to live my life in a way that presents Christ’s attractiveness. By going deep into Christ myself, I can become as a slave devoted to the Master, with the result that those watching from the sidelines might become jealous for their own hearts to produce fruitful devotion in others. Some may be won by my doctrine, but the Gospel presented in its manifold attractiveness will be powerfully compelling to all I meet.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I stake my life on Your claims to me. I ask, Lord, that all who look upon me would see You as irresistibly attractive.

September 4th, 2021

Buyer’s Remorse

2 Chronicles 25:9 “Amaziah asked the man of God, ‘But what about the hundred talents I paid for those Israelite troops?’ ”

Observation: Amaziah, king of Judah, was preparing to war against Edom. To augment his army he hired a hundred thousand fighting men from Israel for a hundred talents of silver. (2 Chron. 25:6) After doing this he was challenged by a man of God who reminded Amaziah that the Lord was not with Israel; in fact, such alliance reflected lack of trust in God. Amaziah was told to terminate the arrangement if he wanted to experience God’s blessing. Amaziah’s immediate concern was for the money he had already paid to hire Israel’s army, but the man of god assured him that “the Lord can give you much more than that.” (v. 9b)

Application: There is always a cost in following the Lord. While the benefits are eternal and wonderful beyond imagining, they are generally deferred benefits, while obedience’s cost is often immediate. This was Amaziah’s conundrum.

He had just paid a great deal of money to rent a shiny new army, and then came a man of God to tell him he had erred. If he used that army, God would wreak havoc on his plans. Amaziah’s immediate thoughts were of buyer’s remorse. He didn’t express gratitude to God for heading his sin off at the pass. He wasn’t thrilled by the supernatural evidence of God’s watchcare. Instead, he complained about the payment he had made and what obedience would cost. Never mind that his rent-an-army agreement with Israel had been made without consulting God in the first place.

How easy it is for me to act as Amaziah acted: to make commitments for purchase of things I don’t need and for which I have not consulted God. In this I am too often guilty of Paul’s description of lawlessness in the last days: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money … without self control … rash … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:2–5).

The pleasures of comfort, like pleasures of sin, are fleeting at best. Just as there was a man of God sent to speak warning into Amaziah’s life about the approaching consequences of his presumption, so God today speaks through the Holy Spirit to similarly bring correction and warning to me. The surpassingly good news is this: “The Lord can bring (me) much more than that.” Immeasurable blessings are mine, heaped up and overflowing, if I will but seek Him with my whole heart and then obey.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, the passing pleasures of sin and self reliance are as nothing compared to the rewards of loving You above all else. Stir me to zealous obedience.

September 3rd, 2021

African Field Hand

Hosea 4:7 “The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against Me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.”

Observation: Through the prophet Hosea, God condemns both the nation of Israel and their priests. They had rejected knowledge, so God had rejected them (Hosea 4:6) The priests, Hosea said, have fed “on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness … ” (v. 8) In their unfaithfulness to God, they have been led astray by a spirit of prostitution. (v. 12) Then comes the summary indictment: “They exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.”

Application: Israel and her priests had a small beginning; they started out modest in size and wealth, but had grown tremendously over the generations. God’s love and blessing had brought them great wealth and power, but with increased blessing had come increased sin. As affluence and power increased, they had fallen away from God. With national prominence, military victory and increasing creature comforts had come self-reliance and disgusting indulgences.

Their glory flowed directly from God’s blessing. It was by His grace that they had grown in number, wealth and power. These were her glory, yet see how far Israel was about to fall.

I am never more vulnerable than in a season of great accomplishment. That financial pinnacle I’ve worked hard to gain, the important military accomplishment, the winning season after a long dry spell … these successes bring glory, yet the danger is this: it is from such heights that the severest fall is possible.

Danger lies in my tendency to revel in such glories, forgetting that they are simply the fruit of God’s sovereign grace in my life. I may have worked hard in pursuit of some important goal, but it is arrogance to presume success is my right; might not a poor laborer with a hoe in the African sun have labored far more? That African field hand may well find himself in a more right relationship with God than the wealthiest corporate titan. Then who is the impoverished one? Whose future should I prefer?

Ultimately, I run the risk of being counted among the priests addressed by Hosea, for if I dishonor God in the midst of His abundant blessing, then that very blessing becomes my shame. The writer of 1 Samuel 2:30 got it just right when he said, “Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained.”

Prayer: Lord, You keep drawing me back to dependence upon You, where You challenge me to be content. Your grace has produced much undeserved glory in my life. Keep me ever mindful of glory’s Source.

September 2nd, 2021

I’ve never done this before…

As part of my commitment to never clutter up your inbox, I have never sent you anything except my daily devotionals. But today is an exception, because it conveys such reasonable hope, both for the nation and for us personally.

I don’t know whether you have the app from Dutch Sheets called “Give Him 15,” but this message today is a clear presentation of how God works outside of time to provide the restoration Christ has already purchased for us.

If you download the app, his daily “Give Him 15” is written out in text form, but if you’d rather watch the video, scroll to the very bottom and click on the link.

September 2nd, 2021

Chasing Her Tail

Hosea 2:6–7a “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.”

Observation: Israel is portrayed as an unfaithful wife bearing illegitimate children (v. 5) in alliances that can never satisfy. She is shown crediting her success to false lovers rather than acknowledging that it was her husband (God) who had miraculously and faithfully provided her every need. In response, God declares that He will wall her in, making it impossible for her to dally with the lovers she so avidly pursues.

Application: Think for a moment about the profound protection God offers to His beloved. She will not be permitted to find satisfaction in other than Him. Her repeated trysts with substitute lovers will be thwarted. No matter how frantic her efforts to pursue self-debasing relationships, God’s sovereign love will captivate her for her own good.

The Word says, “She will chase after her lovers but not find them,” conjuring an image of a dog fruitlessly pursuing its tail. Perpetually unsuccessful, it seems never-the-less to not tire of the effort.

What is it about the human heart that causes it to seek satisfaction other than in God? Why, against all evidence to the contrary, do we live as though this is our home, and that our chief end is to achieve success as the world measures such things?

It is embarrassing to admit to all the tails I have chased over the years, growling and barking as I circled in unrequited pursuit of “treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy.” (Matthew 6:19) But more embarrassing still, even shameful, is the honest confession that the tendency toward such pursuits has not yet been fully wrung from me.

The great news is this: into the darkness of such discomfiting admission shines the brilliant truth that my Lord and Savior, in His absolute commitment to me, has blocked my path. He has walled me in to prevent my most self-destructive tendencies. He has faithfully pulled me from doom’s brink so I can say, with Israel, “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.” (Hosea 2:7b)

Prayer: O Lord, I cannot begin to fathom the depths of Your love for me, passion that loves even as it disciplines. Thank You for multiplied mercies.

September 1st, 2021

Home to Roost

Hosea 1:2 “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ ”

Observation: Hosea’s family life is to be used as an illustration of God’s relationship with His beloved, Israel. At the beginning of Hosea’s prophetic ministry God’s first command was that Hosea marry an adulteress as a way of illustrating Israel’s greatest sin: unfaithfulness to God.

Application: Generations of rebellion were about to come home to roost. Israel had repeatedly turned from God to worship pagan idols. She had made unrighteous alliances and repeatedly spurned God’s proffered mercies.

It is noteworthy to consider that God uses marriage as the metaphor for Hosea’s story. To have called Israel’s sin the “vilest adultery” suggests the depth and permanence of relationship God intended with Israel. And to command Hosea to enter into marriage with an adulterous wife further reinforces the way God viewed His commitment to His people. The essence of the term “adultery” contains the idea of illegitimate union with another. In Hosea’s language (vilest adultery) we have the strongest possible expression of God’s anger at Israel’s rebelliousness as He condemns her with words reflecting the sundering of the most intimate of relationships.

As I read through much of the Old Testament preceding Hosea, it is tempting to shake my head in disbelief over Israel’s patterns of unfaithfulness. But tongue-clucking too hastily can obscure the fact that God’s object lesson to Israel can have uncomfortable application to modern followers of Christ, as well.

The two testaments reinforce one another. The Old illustrates that there has always been a Father passionately pursuing relationship with His chosen ones, requiring of them nothing less than perfect, wholehearted obedience. The New shows the lengths to which God has gone to win my heart. Yet vilest adultery is what I too often have handed Him in return. Relegating Him to the edges of commitment, I struggle with pursuits that give lie to the idea that this earth is not my home.

Paul calls me, in Hebrews 12:1, to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles … ” It is to Christ alone that I must be wed. He remains a jealous lover, content with nothing less than my wholehearted devotion to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You have not been deterred by even my vilest adulteries. I am grateful for new mercies each morning, and I commit myself afresh to pursue You above all else.

August 31st, 2021

Inertia Toward Destruction

1 Kings 22:8(b) “ … but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.”

Observation: Ahab, king of Israel, was preparing to war when an allied king, Jehoshaphat, encouraged Ahab to first seek God’s counsel. Ahab maintained a stable of four hundred false prophets who assured Ahab of the campaign’s success, but Jehoshaphat pressed, asking if there was “a prophet of the Lord” (v. 7) we could inquire of. Ahab declared his hatred of the Lord’s true prophet, Micaiah, because his prophesies were always, in Ahab’s view, bad.

Application: Here we have the sad picture of an Israeli king blissfully unaware that he was about to meet his doom. He had purposely surrounded himself with four hundred “yes” men. Micaiah was the true prophet, but Ahab hated his counsel because Micaiah was unfailingly honest, never sugar-coating his response.

Micaiah described an astonishing scene around the heavenly throne where the Lord assembled all the host of heaven to ask, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking…and going to his death there?” (v. 20) When a spirit volunteered for the task, God said, simply, “Go and do it.” (v. 22)

Should I think Ahab stupid for proceeding? I can anticipate the end of the story without further reading. If that be so, then why am I so eerily like Ahab, surrounding myself with approving friends, business associates and employees who readily urge me on? How shall the small voice of the Holy Spirit be heard amidst life’s cacophony?

Notice this: even the godly king Jehoshaphat who asked Ahab to consult God’s true prophet, remained silent in the face of Ahab’s obstinate determination to have his own way. How easy it is to think I am following God’s will when I have heard neither His counsel, nor the honest feedback of godly friends and mentors.

My problem is, I can believe that since I am surrounded by godly colleagues, they have heard from the Lord in my behalf and have spoken truth into my life when in fact, I have not even asked. In reality, their forward progress with me may result simply from warm association, a sort of inertia toward my destruction.  It is God’s view alone that I must hear and heed, regardless of the pressure to do otherwise.

Prayer: Father, how easily I can be lulled into equating the comforting presence of Christian friends with Your approval. Cause me to seek Your counsel above all others.

August 30th, 2021

Pimples and Self-Importance

1 Kings 20:42 “He said to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says. You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ”

Observation: A prophet is speaking to Ahab king of Israel, condemning him to death for making a lucrative financial treaty with a defeated enemy and then releasing him. In response, the prophet made clear that God’s intention had been to kill Israel’s enemy but that since Ahab had released him without consulting God, Ahab’s life would be required instead, and Israel would face future defeat.

Application: Ahab’s error in this instance sprung from a habit of taking action on his own. Earlier, when Israel’s much stronger enemy had prepared to attack, God had sent a prophet (1 Kings 20:13) to convey divine strategy and assure victory. Though Ahab had then been obedient, we should notice that he had not sought God’s counsel; it had come at God’s sovereign initiation.

Something similar happened the following spring when Ahab again mustered his army against an external threat and God graciously sent an unrequested prophet with a battle plan from on high. As if to emphasize God’s initiative this time, as the defeated army fled to a city behind the lines, God supernaturally caused a city wall to collapse on twenty-seven thousand of them.

What happens in a man’s heart to so blindly miss the obvious pattern of God’s provision? How could Ahab have received such overwhelming though unsolicited blessing on these occasions yet still not humble himself to seek God’s counsel? After his self-sufficiency had produced his own death sentence, Ahab returned “sullen and angry” to his palace, still unrepentant. (1 Kings 20:43)

What must God do to break my heart with knowledge of His goodness? He has taken every possible initiative to make Himself known, yet I am far too often like the know-it-all teen filled with pimples and self-importance. Despite years of wise counsel and good example from senior generations, arrogant self-confidence drives the teen to make decisions independent of consultation with those who have wisdom to share. I have far too often been like the teen, and like Ahab.

In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, I have not just an advocate but a lover who possesses all knowledge and wisdom. He wants me to seek Him in all things, to rely upon Him more. Self-confidence from the arrogance of past success holds enormous danger; surely previous demonstrations of His love should drive me deeper into His embrace.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord that You are willing to guide in every area of my life. Make me wise to seek Your face in all things.