Saturday, March 31, 2018

Three relationship lessons from David and Absalom

Absalom - James Tissot
Absalom - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 13-15; Psalm 90

TO CHEW ON: And Absalom answered Joab, "Look, I sent to you, saying, 'Come here, so that I may send you to the king, to say, "Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still." ' Now therefore, let me see the king's face; but if there is iniquity in me, let him execute me." 2 Samuel 14:32

The story of David and his sons is full of relationship game-playing.

It starts with David and two of his sons—half brothers Amnon and Absalom. When Amnon rapes Absalom's sister Tamar, David doesn't do anything about it even though there is a specific law against and punishment prescribed for incest (death) (2 Samuel 13:1-22; Leviticus 20:17). So Absalom takes revenge for the sin against his sister, kills Amnon, and flees to Geshur (2 Samuel 13:23-37). David us understandably heartbroken, and upset with Absalom.

Three years pass. When Joab, captain of David's army, sees that David is pining for Absalom, he devises a scheme whereby David's conversation with a wise woman gets him to recall Absalom to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:1-24).

That brings us to our today's reading where, after two years of David and Absalom living in the same town, David still hasn't called Absalom to see him or given him any indication that he's forgiven. When Absalom requests Joab come to him, Joab ignores him too. Absalom, in desperation, lights Joab's field on fire and that finally brings them face to face.

The result is a clear request for a meeting from Absalom to David (via Joab). When they meet, Absalom bows before his father, gets his dad's kiss (forgiveness) and things are good between them again… well, not quite.

For somehow, all this relationship drama has nurtured the thought in Absalom that he is more fit to be king than David is. And so we leave him conspiring to take over the throne.

I see in this story some relationship mistakes. They show us some things we can learn and apply as we interact within our families and communities:

1. David is lax in the way he handles Amnon's incest. This causes Absalom to distrust his father, who no longer appears to be acting righteously and justly.

David's failure here underlines the need for justice and integrity in us as parents and leaders—in front of our children and everyone who watches us.

2. Joab and David send mixed messages to Absalom. David calls him back to Jerusalem but then they never get together. Joab is instrumental in getting Absalom to return but then he ignores Absalom's request for an audience. Absalom is justifiably confused. Why has he been recalled? Has David forgiven him, or is he planning to kill him in revenge for Amnon's death?

We too need to give clear messages with our words and actions: " 'Let your yes be yes and your no, no' " Jesus says in Matthew 5:37.

3. Finally, Absalom lets his hurt and confusion fester into a plan to hurt his father back. If David is remiss in delaying his expression of forgiveness, Absalom is wrong in cultivating bitterness toward his dad.

When we've been wronged, we too need to forgive—completely and without secret plans to retaliate.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live out these relationship qualities of justice transparency and forgiveness. Amen. 


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 30, 2018


Nathan Confronts David
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 9-12; Psalm 89

TO CHEW ON: "But what David had done was evil in the Lord's eyes .... 'You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.'" 2 Samuel 11:27b, 12:12.

On the day of Nathan the prophet's visit, at least nine months, perhaps a year or more had passed since David had begun his affair with Bathsheba, been foiled in his attempt to cover it up with a visit from the front by her husband Uriah, and then had Uriah murdered. Now, with his relationship to Bathsheba legitimized by marriage, he probably thought that he'd gotten away with what he'd done. Not so fast, David!

Nathan told David of God's deep displeasure. This showed David that his attempt to be sneaky with God was useless. No wonder David penned the words:

"If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall fall on me,'
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from you,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You'" - Psalm 139:11,12.

Other Bible incidents remind us of God's all-seeing ability:
  • Adam and Even couldn't hide from God - Genesis 3:18
  • The garment and the gold and silver Achan secretly took from Jericho were uncovered - Joshua 7:18
  • Ananias's and Sapphira's lie to Peter came to light - Acts 5:1-11
And there are many more Bible examples of secrets becoming public knowledge.

Our attempts to sneak around behind God's back will prove just as futile. He still knows, sees, and has the ability to expose us. Let's let the words of Jesus Himself warn us:

"For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops" -Luke 12:2,3 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be honest in the way I live, first with myself, and then with You and others. If I have committed secret sins, please give me the courage to confess them and make them right. Amen. 


MORE: A false declaration

I remember exactly where I was when I recalled that I had lied on my declaration of the value of goods I brought into Canada after my Europe trip (back in the '70s). Seemingly from out of the blue, as I was walking down the hallway at Bible School where I was attending an alumni event, the realization came to me, and the thought: I'm going to have to make this right.

Don't kid yourself, it was a struggle. I had a mighty argument with myself:
- This happened a while ago. Why bring it up now? I just won't do anything like this again.
- I don't have the precise numbers.
-  What would the consequences be? Could Canadian Customs and Excise go after me?

Eventually, though, I wrote and mailed a letter, and felt better. Now there was nothing between God and me. And, as often occurs with such confessions, all my fears were groundless. I think I received a confirmation that they got my letter, but nothing more happened. It was an action so worth doing to have my relationship with Jesus clear and open again.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sit before God

David by Rembrandt
"David" - by Rembrandt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 4-8; Psalm 88

"Then King David went in a sat before the Lord ...." 2 Samuel 7:18

In today's reading we see how David became king over all Israel and Judah, consolidated his rule, and buitd a house for himself. Then it occurred to him to build a permanent home for the ark. He told Nathan the prophet, who gave his blessing to this plan. But God thought otherwise. He told Nathan to return to David and tell him, 'No. You are not to build Me a house.'

Did David feel shock and disappointment at the change? Did he have the urge to question and argue? Nathan's message obviously got him thinking and wanting to be in touch with God about what was going on. So he went in and "... sat before the Lord."

"'Sat' actually means remained," says my Bible footnote to this verse. "David spends a lengthy time before the Lord, that is, in the tent where the ark stood"- Jerry Cook,  commentary on 2 Samuel, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 411.

As he sat there, his thoughts ranged:
  • He saw his own puniness and insignificance - 2 Samuel 7:18.
  • He marveled at God's grace and favour to his family, given for reasons only God knows - 2 Samuel 7:18-21.
  • In God's blessing of him and the nation of Israel, he recognized God's greatness and he foresaw Israel becoming a blessing to the whole earth - 2 Samuel 7:22-24.

By the end of his time of sitting before God any vestige of a snit is gone. He was completely back in sync with God's plan - 2 Samuel 7:27-29.

What a great example David is to us. When things catch us by surprise, when our expectations come crashing down in disappointment or failure, when the road forks and we sense God tugging us in a direction we hadn't planned on going—and tens of other times—is a good time for us to stop and sit before God.

There we can let Him impress us with His person. He may reassure us with memories of His help in the past. And no doubt He will feed our imaginations with the possibilities of the course He is setting us on for the future.

PRAYER: Dear God, in the hustle and bustle of life, I don't take enough time to sit before You. Please draw me aside to do this, and to make a habit to spend time regularly sitting in Your presence. Amen.


The Bible Project VIDEO: Messiah (Theme series) 

MORE: His presence—a cure for anxiety

"Our eyes should be taken off self, removed from our own weakness and allowed to rest implicitly upon God's strength .... A simple confiding faith, living day by day and casting its burden on the Lord, each hour of the day, will dissipate fear, drive away misgiving and deliver from doubt (Philippians 4:6).

"That is the divine cure for all fear, anxiety and undue concern of soul, all of which are closely akin to doubt and unbelief" - E. M. Bounds, E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Kindle location p. 20)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Are you like David or Abner?

David anointed king over Judah
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 1-3; Psalm 87

TO CHEW ON: "'Now that Saul is dead, I ask you to be my strong loyal subjects like the people of Judah, who have anointed me as their new king.'
But Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul's army, had already gone to Mahanaim with Saul's son Ishbosheth. There he proclaimed Ishbosheth king over Gilead ... and all the rest of Israel." 2 Samuel 2:7-8 NLT

After years of running from Saul, David is free of his persecutor at last. Samuel had anointed David king years earlier so we might expect him to now make a play for the throne. But instead of acting on his own initiative, he keeps depending on God as much as ever.

He begins this new stage of life by asking God about two rather small practical matters: "Should I move  back to the towns of Judah?" and "Which town should I go to?" Then he does exactly what God tells him.

After he is crowned king by Judah, he offers his kingly services to the rest of Israel. Abner, Saul's army commander, takes it upon himself to answer by crowning Saul's 40-year-old son Ishbosheth king at Mahanaim.

What does David do about that? Nothing. He doesn't challenge Abner's action and insist that they crown him king, even though he knows he is God's anointed.

David and his dependence on God is quite a contrast to Abner whose claim to power is rooted in family (his father Ner was Saul's uncle, he was Saul's cousin - 1 Samuel 14:50) and his own manipulations. As a result it takes seven and a half more years and much more bloodshed before the remaining tribes approach David and ask him to be their king (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

I love David's dependence on God, especially as it contrasts with Abner's self-reliance. We would do well to copy David's example, praying about the minutest details of life, listening for and taking God's advice, and exercising patience as we wait for events to take their course (even as we cling to God-given dreams and promises made long ago). It's a course of action described so well by James: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up." James 4:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these examples of David's dependence on You. Help me to translate his attitude to the details of my life. Amen.


The Bible Project VIDEO: 2 Samuel (Read Scripture series)

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A united heart

heart with crack down the middle
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 28-31; Psalm 86

TO CHEW ON: "Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name." Psalm 86:11

In the world of words, prevailing wisdom says if you want to make it as a writer, stick to one thing. If you've had success with mysteries, for example, don't suddenly switch to writing historical romances and then over to contemporary suspense and, for a change, science fiction.

Why?  Because it confuses your readers and erodes their trust in you. Fans of your mysteries will be put off when they pick up your newest and find it's not another whodunit but a tale about life on Mars. What they wanted, and thought they were getting, when they saw your name on the cover was a puzzle, not a space fantasy.

David in our reading today asks for God's help with something similar in the realm of his life and affections when he prays: "Unite my heart to fear Your name." My Bible's notes suggest other ways of expressing "Unite my heart": "Give me singleness of heart" and "Do not let the heart have many allegiances or distractions" - Dick Iverson, study notes on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 752. 

Why is a divided heart a bad thing? For one, it blunts the impact our lives will have because it confuses those who observe us. But even worse, it confuses us too (James 1:4-8).

It takes only a few minutes to come up with a list of things that could compete for the allegiance of our hearts: money, security, desire to be liked, success, popularity, personal appearance and image, pleasure, leisure…

How do we get to that place of having an undivided, undistracted, unified heart?

"Teach me Your ways," the psalmist begins his request here. Teach (yarah) means to instruct, direct, teach, point, shoot, aim, cast in a straight direction. One Bible word derived from Yarah is Torah which means instruction, teaching, as in the instruction Moses got from God written in the first books of the Bible (from "Word Wealth" by Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 710).

I believe we can make the leap and conclude that spending time in God's word (for us the Old and New Testaments) will also teach us what it means to have an undivided heart.

I love how Leslyn Musch sums up this thought in her Truth-In-Action Through Psalms: "God desires for our hearts to be undivided, fully devoted to Him, daily choosing Him above all else in all decisions of our lives" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 755 (emphasis added)


PRAYER: Dear God, as I read the Bible, please help me to understand how its teachings apply to me. Help me to choose to put You first in every aspect of my life. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Revive us again

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 25-27; Psalm 85

TO CHEW ON: "Will you not revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?" Psalm 85:6

This is a happy psalm. The Son of Korah writer begins by listing ways God has shown favour to the Israelites. He has: 1] brought them back from exile; 2] forgiven and covered their sins; 3] turned away from showing His anger in the way their sin deserved.

But all is not perfect. We detect concern in his next request: "Will You not revive us again / That Your people may rejoice in You?'

Perhaps he senses superficiality in their worship. Perhaps he knows individuals who have divided loyalties. Perhaps he witnesses hypocrisy, where people are dressed all righteous and sanctimonious when they come to the temple but change into their everyday me-first duds as soon as they leave. Perhaps he knows they aren't really 'rejoicing' in God at all but in everything else, and it is just a matter of time before they'll be casting the same old sinful fruit because they are still living from a sinful root.

A brief look at some of the revivals in the Bible show such uprooting:

  • Asa banned perverted persons and removed idols from the land - 1 Kings 15:12.
  • Jehu and Jehoiada broke down the Baal altar and temple - 2 Kings 10:27; 2 Kings 11:18.
  • Josiah took all the religious paraphernalia associated with idol worship out of the temple and burned it - 2 Kings 23:4. Then he insisted people serve God - 2 Chronicles 34:33.
  • Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah removed the wooden images and high place altars from the land - 2 Chronicles 19:13; 2 Chronicles 31:1.
  • Nehemiah stopped commerce on the Sabbath - Nehemiah 13:19.
  • The people of Ephesus collected their occult books and burned them - Acts 19:19.

These drastic actions attacked deep loyalties and removed what was usually an idol of one kind or another. In our quest for revival, maybe we need to do some of the same life-altering uprooting:
  • Confess and get rid of known sin.
  • Sort out areas where we have mixed faith in God with beliefs from other religions (syncretism).
  • Identify and remove idols—anything that claims our affection above God.
  • Change our lifestyles to show our sensitivity to what does and doesn't  please God.

PRAYER: Dear God, I so glibly pray for revival, but do I really want the deep spirit work that the answer entails? May the prayer for revival be the honest cry of my heart. Amen.


MORE: Modern idols

In her book Embracing Your Second Calling, Dale Hanson Bourke lists some modern idols—ones I know I've been guilty of bowing to (she attributes Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods for the original list):

  • "Approval idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am loved and respected by …'
  • Control idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of …'
  • Helping idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if people are dependent on me.'
  • Work idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am highly productive and get a lot done.'
  • Achievement idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments / excelling in my career.'"  
Embracing Your Second Calling, pp. 90, 91.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Are you an eager Sunday pilgrim?

St. Joseph's Langley BC (© 2015 -  V Nesdoly)
St. Joseph's Langley, BC

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 21-24; Psalm 84

TO CHEW ON: "My soul longs, yes even faints
for the courts of the Lord,
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." Psalm 84:2

Today is Sunday. It's the day many of us will go to our version of Zion—our place of worship be that a church building, community hall, rented classroom, or someone's living-room. Do we have the gut longing to be there that the writer of Psalm 84 has?

Underlying the strong desire to go to Zion may be an even deeper want.
"This psalm expresses the author's deep longing for the presence of God …. The psalm gives voice to the yearning and happiness experienced in Christ's nearness" - Psalm 84 entry in the Reformation Study Bible, accessed through's "Study This," emphasis added.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would we rate our eagerness to go to our Zion today (10 being the most eager)? If our rating is low to medium, why might that he?

  • Perhaps our "heart" and "flesh" cry out for someone or something other than the "living God" (Psalm 84:2).
  • Perhaps we don't spend any time with God the rest of the week and this feels like an awkward outing to meet with a stranger (Psalm 84:4).
  • Perhaps we've been overwhelmed by and waylaid in the dry place of sadness, the "Valley of Baca," and our focus is on our troubles (Psalm 84:6).
  • Perhaps we'd rather be somewhere else, even "dwelling in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10).
  • Perhaps we're skeptical that He has good things in store for us; we're not convinced "No good thing will He withhold…" (Psalm 84:11).
  • Perhaps, and I think this is key, we don't really expect to meet Him there, to have a sense that we are seen, we are known, that He is gazing straight at us, into us with His all-knowing, all-loving eyes (Psalm 84:9).

As we prepare for church today, and any Sunday, let's expect to actually meet with Him. If we believed that the God of the universe, our Saviour and Redeemer, will meet us there, I think we'd be as eager to attend our Zion as the psalmist was to go to his.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to prepare myself to meet You in church today. As You seek me out, may I recognize Your presence and hear Your voice. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fighting God's anointed

"Triumph of David" by Matteo Rosselli
TODAY'S SPECIAL:  1 Samuel 18-20; Psalm 83

"Thus Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him; and Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul became David's enemy continually." 1 Samuel 18:28,29

Saul's admiration of David quickly turned to jealousy as the people expressed their preference for this youthful, brave, and spirited shepherd over him.

In a pretense of rewarding David, Saul tried to trap him with marriage to his daughters. But instead of getting killed in battle and later in the slaughter Philistines to obtain a gory dowry for Michal, David succeeded in not only  defeating the enemy and delivering the dowry, but also in winning the love and loyalty of Saul's own daughter Michal. With each victory David endeared himself to the people more. Saul was right to fear him, for his successes were evidence of God's Spirit on him.

Saul's actions remind me of how we too sometimes fight the "Lord's anointed."  When we gossip about our pastor or resist God-given leadership in other ways (grumble and complain, divide into factions, try to figure out ways to get rid of one or the other) aren't we engaging in a Saul-type battle—a battle we're sure to eventually lose?

I am reminded of Jesus' words to another Saul who was fighting the people God had anointed: "'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? .... I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads'" Acts 9:4,5.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize those You have anointed for leadership in my life. Help me not to rebel against them, but to accept Your authority over me through them. Amen. 

MORE: Pray for leaders
Instead of resisting God-given leadership, we could pray for our leaders. John Piper lists eight prayer points:

1. Ask God to give them an inclination to His word versus money, fame, or power.
2. Pray for their purity.
3. Pray for their biblical and doctrinal purity.
4. Pray for their solid, joyful, Christ-exalting marriages.
5. Pray for their boldness in witnessing.
6. Pray for visionary creative energy for them.
7. Pray for converting power, i.e. that the Lord will open hearts and save people through their ministry.
8. Pray that they would be a small part of a global spiritual awakening.

Read all of "How to Pray for the Pastoral Staff"  - by John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website:

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The "see" that really matters

Image from The Story of the Bible
 by Charles Foster (© 1873-84)
Drawings by F. B. Schell and others

David anointed at Bethlehem - F.B. Schell
David anointed at Bethlehem
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 15-17; Psalm 82

TO CHEW ON: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7

In 1 Samuel 16 and 17 we have at least seven different views of David, who was soon to become an important character for the people of Israel and a pivotal player in the story of redemption.

The Parent (Jesse, David’s father):
In the eyes of his earthly father, David didn’t even rate the day off to meet with Samuel. When Samuel had gone through the first seven and asked if that was it for sons, Jesse replied: “‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep’” - 1 Samuel 16:11. David was the youngest. He was needed for work when the other older, more distinguished looking, filled out, fully grown sons got an invitation to worship with the prophet.

The Prophet (Samuel):
According to 1 Samuel’s introduction in my Bible, scholars believe that Samuel wrote 1 Samuel. So this description of David in the narration: “… ruddy, with bright eyes, and good looking” is probably how David looked to Samuel at this, their first meeting (1 Samuel 16:12).

A Fellow Citizen (Saul’s servant):
Later, when King Saul had “distressing spirit” problems and asked for help finding someone who could ease him with music, a servant who knew the populace suggested David. This is how he saw him: “‘… a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valour, a man of war, prudent in speech and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him” - 1 Samuel 16:18. Talk about a fabulous referral!

The Boss (King Saul):

So Saul summoned David for a job interview and he was hired on the spot for Saul “… loved him greatly.” David obviously passed his employment probation, for Saul soon requested of Jesse that David be released from shepherding to work for him full-time because David had “found favour” with him and could also chase the dark spirit away from Saul with his music - 1 Samuel 16:21-23.

Eliab, Joseph’s older brother:
I sense a little sibling rivalry in Eliab’s view of David and his insulting comments to his “baby” brother. He belittled David’s occupation, called him proud and insolent, and implied that he was a shirker. David’s nonchalant response: ”’What have I done now?’” tells me that this was not the first time Eliab was on his case (1 Samuel 17:28,29.


This Philistine giant was beyond scornful of the insignificant champion and his weapons the Israelites sent out to spar with him.  His sarcastic “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks” was followed by a string of curses and threats (1 Samuel 17:42-44). 

God’s reaction to David is found in his words to Samuel: “‘Arise, anoint him for this is the one!’” - 1 Samuel 16:12. God chose David by what He saw in David’s heart, for he had just had Samuel turn down seven of Jesse’s sons on the basis of what was, or wasn’t, in their hearts: “‘I have refused him (and him, and him…). For the LORD… looks at the heart’” - 1 Samuel 16:7.

What came next is also significant, for following Samuel’s anointing of David “The Spirit of the LORD came on David from that day forward” - 1 Samuel 6:13. The story of Goliath's defeat at David's hand is proof of that something remarkable took place.

Two take-aways:

1. God still sees and evaluates us by our hearts. No matter how young or old, ugly or beautiful, insignificant or important, skillful or klutzy we are, He sees beyond all exteriors to our inner selves. There’s no fooling Him with a fancy outside.

2. I love how David’s anointing and the Spirit’s coming upon him only enhanced his appearance, reputation, and favour. Even strangers like Saul’s servant noticed that “… the LORD is with him.” And his boss Saul experienced it through David’s work and then through the defeat of Goliath. May we, in this time when the Spirit is available for all who accept Jesus, be so filled that others would say: “The Lord is with him /her.”

PRAYER: Dear Father, I know You see my heart. Help me to see and understand myself better. And may Your Spirit on and in me be evident in the skill with which I do my work, my courageous attitude, my prudent speech, and in the favour my life attracts. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Food of obedience

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 13-14; Psalm 81

TO CHEW ON: "Oh that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat;
And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you." Psalm 81:13,16

The promise is for quality food — the finest wheat for bread, the staff of life — and honey, for energy and pleasure. Inspired Bible writer Asaph promises these blessings on behalf of God. They come as the result of acknowledging God and obeying Him.

Obedience is linked with plenty in other scriptures.
- It triggers the right weather and growing conditions (Isaiah 30:23; Ezekiel 36:30).
- The plenty that follows obedience is so marked that the year becomes one big harvest (Leviticus 26:5; Amos 9:13).
- Obedience results in God's delight in us generally, which adds His blessing to all of life so that not only do we have enough to eat, but our family and work prosper too (Deuteronomy 30:9; Psalm 132:15).

What specifically brings these blessings into a life (or shuts them out)? In today's psalm they are dependent on the people acknowledging God:
- As the One to worship (Psalm 81:9)
- As the One to credit for past success (Psalm 81:10).
- As the One who holds the future (Psalm 81:10).
- As the One whose voice they will listen to and obey (Psalm 81:11).

I ask myself, am I allowing anything in my life to become an object of worship--an idol? Do I acknowledge God's help in the past and His sovereignty over the future?

In our culture of salaries and superstores, where our lives are mere steps or a short drive removed from our food supply, the connection between obedience and enough to eat is easy to miss. Then again, our persistent, consistent need for refueling illustrates, every four to six of our waking hours, how tangible this connection could become.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have a faith simple enough to connect the way I live with Your supply of my basic needs. Help me to worship You and acknowledge You in all of life — past, present and future. 

 PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 81

MORE: "Do You Know Why You Need to Eat?"

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 9-12; Psalm 80

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man." 1 Samuel 10:6

Who of us wouldn't welcome such a transformation as happened to Saul?

The Bible speaks much of being transformed, changed, and renewed. As we study it, we discover we too can experience such a radical remake. Let's look at some other Bible passages that speak of becoming a new person (i.e. spiritual renewal) to understand what such a radical renewal involves.

It begins when we trust Christ for salvation.

  • Jesus calls this event being "born again" and "born of water and the Spirit" - John 3:1-8.
  • Paul speaks of being saved "through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" - Titus 3:5.
  • In another place he calls this being "in Christ" and describes it as a "new creation—old things have passed away; behold new things have come" - 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Our new spiritual baby selves need to grow.

  • We do this by spending time with God - Isaiah 40:31. For us this means things like reading the Bible, reflecting on how its teachings relate to our lives, and talking to God in prayer. During this time spent with Him God transforms and renews our minds - Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23.
  • God promises to stay involved in the process of renewal for our entire lives - Philippians 1:6; 2:13.
  • All is not lost if we mess up, like David did. "Create in me a clean heart ... and renew a steadfast spirit in me," he prayed (Psalm 51:10) after repenting from adultery with Bathsheba and masterminding the murder of her husband.

Empowering for special jobs. 

  • God sometimes brings about such new-person events to empower people for special jobs. That's what happened to Saul here—and to other Old Testament characters before the Holy Spirit was available to all after the day of Pentecost.
  • Throughout the New Testament we see God the Spirit assigning and empowering people:
- The Holy Spirit directs the choosing of seven men to oversee the daily distribution of food - Acts 6:1-7
- The Holy Spirit sends Ananias to pray for and baptize Saul - Acts 9:10-19
- God tells the Antioch church leaders to send out Barnabas and Saul/Paul, which they do after laying hands on them and praying.

And so we see that this renewal that happened to Saul can also take place for and in us. It will probably not happen in an instant, as it did in him, but may the change in us over time, be just as dramatic.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the many ways You bring about change and renewal in my life. Help me today to live in cooperation with that process. Amen.


MORE: The Holy Spirit invades all of life
"The Holy Spirit cannot be accepted as a guest in merely one room of the house— He invades all of it. And once I decide that my “old man” (that is, my heredity of sin) should be identified with the death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit invades me. He takes charge of everything. My part is to walk in the light and to obey all that He reveals to me."- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest,  April 11 reading.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Prayer, not panic

"Israel demands a king" J. Winter
"Israel demands a king" J. Winter
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 5-8; Psalm 79

TO CHEW ON: "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, 'No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.'" 1 Samuel 8:19,20.

The people of Israel are tired of being the only nation without a king. At least that's what their elders make it sound like when they come to Samuel begging for a change in government style.

Samuel is hurt. It feels to him like the people are rejecting him. (And in a way they are, for his two corrupt sons, the fruit of his own fathering, are the catalyst for the peoples' request.)

But God makes it clear that Israel's rejection of the judge mode of government isn't a rejection of Samuel or his sons so much as a rejection of God himself and His sometimes unorthodox but effective methods and people (e.g. a cloud by day and fire by night, judges like Samson and Gideon).

How little things have changed. These people are operating like we see most people around us still today. If something is wrong, figure out a human way to change it. Surely a new leader or political party will be able to keep us safer, make us more prosperous, leave more money in our pockets, guarantee we have jobs, houses... Forget "most people," I often find myself thinking that way too. Don't you?

Contrast that with some of the Bible declarations of where our real trust should be:

  • "Give us help from trouble, for the help of man is useless (Psalm 60:11; 108:12).
  • "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalm 118:9).
  • "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man in whom there is no help" Psalm 146:3.
  • "Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord'" Jeremiah 17:5.

The challenge for us, for me, is to acknowledge that God is behind our human governments and governors. If our countries need change, we bring it about most effectively by going first to the power behind the throne, or oval office, or wherever our leaders make their decisions. That is, going to God in prayer about our governors and the things of government.

We can do this on a personal level too, as we put our trust in God over our CEO, or boss, or supervisor, or whoever seems to be pulling the strings in our life or career.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to give more than lip service to the fact of Your sovereignty in human affairs. Remind me to go to You first with all my problems and concerns. Amen.


MORE: When we are in fear...
"When we are in fear we can do nothing less than pray to God, but Our Lord has a right to expect that those who name His Name should have an understanding confidence in Him. God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis they are the reliable ones. Our trust is in God up to a certain point, then we go back to the elementary panic prayers of those who do not know God. We get to our wits' end, showing that we have not the slightest confidence in Him and His government of the world; He seems to be asleep, and we see nothing but breakers ahead..." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, August 12 reading.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 19, 2018

When God spoke again

"Eli and Samuel" by William Brassey Hole

"Eli and Samuel" by William Brassey Hole
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 1-3; Psalm 78

TO CHEW ON: "... And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation .... Then the Lord appeared again in Shiloh. For the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord." 1 Samuel 3:1,21

What a contrast between the beginning and end of 1 Samuel 3. Israel went from
"the word of the Lord was rare" and "no widespread revelation" to "The Lord revealed Himself..." What made the difference? A boy—and a young boy at that.

That boy was Samuel. What made him a good candidate to hear and pass on God's words? Some things we see as we study his life:

1. His mother's prayers and a kept promise.
He had a heritage of faith and was pledged to God from before birth. His mother Hannah prayed for him making a promise to God that if she had a son, she would dedicate him to God's service. After God answered her prayer she kept her promise and brought him to Eli when he was weaned (at three or four years old) - 1 Samuel 1:1-28.

2. He stayed pure.
The old priest Eli and his lewd and rebellious sons, Hophni and Phinehas, mentored Samuel. Despite the awful example of the sons, Samuel kept his innocence. With his mother hovering in the background, bringing, every year, a new ephod, you've got to think those mother-prayers were still ascending and effective to keep little Samuel pure despite his surroundings - 1 Samuel 2: 12-10.

3. He was attentive and obedient
In our reading today we see Samuel jump out of bed three times in response to what he thought was Eli's call - 1 Samuel 3:4-8.

4. He passed on the message.
God's words to Samuel were a chilling denunciation of Eli and his sons, along with a prediction of judgment. Notice that after hearing them, Samuel didn't rush off to tell Eli. In fact, the next morning Eli had to pry God's message out of him. But Samuel did finally tell him exactly what God had said, even though it was nasty. Perhaps this was an apprenticeship test for Samuel, because throughout his ministry God would give him many more unpleasant messages to deliver.

We can apply some of these qualities to our lives to ensure the word of the Lord is not rare in our days.
  • We can pray for, dedicate, and support the next generation in the things of God—our children and the young people in our churches.
  • We can ourselves cultivate a keen ear to hear God's voice and be quick to respond to His voice.
  • We must then be willing to speak God's words to our generation, both the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant, the words of life and the words of judgment.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Samuel and his inspiring example. I love how all his words were significant. May it be said of me, "The Lord was with her and let none of her words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19). Amen.


The Bible Project VIDEO: 1 Samuel - Read Scripture series

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tell your story—and tell it well

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth1-4; Psalm 77

TO CHEW ON: "There was a relative of Naomi's husband, a man of great wealth of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz." Ruth 2:1

Don't you just love reading a story as skilfully told as this one? The tale that starts out with two unfortunate widows expands as wealthy Boaz comes on the scene. There is just enough detail and zoom in on specific incidents to make the characters come alive.

We see conscientious Ruth doing all she can to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Her stellar reputation has reached the ears of landowner Boaz who arrives in a flourish of hoofbeats and dust (my imagination here). We watch his gentleness with her and her trusting response. We notice Naomi perk up when Ruth tells her of the day. We look forward to what will happen next as the at-a-safe-distance Boaz-Ruth relationship continues through the harvest season.

The question, Who wrote this? occurred to me. My Bible's introduction to Ruth suggests Samuel:
"It is also reasonable to suppose that Samuel, who witnessed the decline of Saul's rule and was directed by God to anoint David as God's heir-apparent to the throne, could have penned this himself. The lovely story would already have attracted oral retelling among the people of Israel, and the concluding genealogy would have secured a link with the patriarchs—thus giving a steady answer to all in Israel who would desire their king's family background" - Jack Hayford, Introduction to Ruth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 349.

Ruth's story brings to mind the power and usefulness of our stories. I love hearing accounts of how God works in lives—stories that reassure us of God's faithfulness and thus build our own faith. Hayford's defense of Samuel as author (above) suggests other things about stories. They are sometimes first told orally before being written down. They serve as a link to the past. They also provide valuable information about the background of a prominent person.

We can tell our stories in many ways:

  • Orally to friends and family, and especially to the next generation.
  • More formally as part of a talk, presentation, or sermon.
  • In a written devotional.
  • In a memoir.
  • Through poetry. 
  • Via the actions and words of a fictional character in a novel.
  • In a play.

Do you tell your story? Do you know how to tell it well?
Are you conscious of things like how and when to introduce characters and events with a view to timing, tension and keeping the listener or reader on the interest hook?

Your story is worth telling—and worth telling well!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the beautiful narrative of Ruth and the stories You are telling through each of our lives. Help me to tell my story with skill and Holy Spirit anointing. Amen. 


The Bible Project VIDEO: Ruth (Read Scripture series)

MORE: More on story-telling

Another word Bible writers use for story is testimony Here are a few verses that encourage us to tell our stories / testimonies:
  • Psalm 60:4
  • Psalm 107:2
  • Isaiah 12:4
  • Acts 1:8
  • 2 Timothy 1:81 Peter 3:15
  • Revelation 12:11

Get some story-telling hints from Jeff Goins:

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Man's wrath turned inside-out

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Judges 19-21; Psalm 76

TO CHEW ON: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You;
With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself” - Psalm 76:10

As we read the last horrible chapters of Judges, we find our selves saddened, even repulsed. Israel has degenerated into violence, civil war, and chaos.But the last verse in the book gives us a clue to how this dreadful state might be setting them up for change: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:26.

The “wrath of man” and its consequences were preparing Israel for a king. Samuel warned them it was not the best option. A king, he cautioned, would be the type of ruler to claim their sons for his army, their daughters as his perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He would manage their farms, seize their land for his servants, help himself to their best servants and livestock, and tax them to boot - 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

But this development would also lead to their second king—David—who was the ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah. And so the wrath of man was turned around to give praise to God.

This is one of God’s characteristic ways of working. He did something similar:
  • When Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt - Exodus 14:14.
  • When David’s son Absalom, in his attempt to wrest the throne from his father, chose the advice of Hushai (his father’s secret ally) over Ahithophel - 2 Samuel 7:14. (God’s control in this is expressed in the words of another of David’s sons—Solomon: “A man’s heart plans his way, / But the Lord directs his steps” - Psalm 16:9).
  • When God spoke to Israel’s prophets explaining international events before they happened:
- Concerning Assyria and its King Sennacherib - Isaiah 37:29
- Concerning an Israelite king, a puppet of Babylon, who secretly broke a covenant - Ezekiel 17:20.
- Concerning Pharaoh, king of Egypt - Ezekiel 29:4.
- Concerning Babylon and Egypt - Ezekiel 20:24.
(… the above illustrative of another of Solomon’s proverbs: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, / Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” - Proverbs 21:1).
  • When Jesus’ life was preserved until “His hour” had come - John 8:20.

God will continue to work this way. An example is predicted in Revelation, when God will cause unity among 10 kingdoms to accomplish His purpose: “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose to be of one mind and to give their kingdom to the beast until the works of God are fulfilled” - Revelation 17:17.

We, with our limited vision are easily flummoxed by what is happening in our world’s halls of power. Often it looks like God and the causes of His kingdom are losing. But the story is not over. The Bible assures us that God is in control, no matter how things may look when we’re in the middle of them.

PRAYER: Dear Father, when I am troubled by apparent Kingdom of God setbacks, buoy my faith as I recall Your ability to turn man’s wrath around to praise You. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The deadly end of flirting with temptation

The binding of Samson - Rembrandt
The binding of Samson - Rembrandt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 16-18; Psalm 75

TO CHEW ON: "Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah." Judges 16:4

Delilah was not the first woman to lure sensuous Samson into trouble. His first wife (not named) used whining and wiles in a similar way to get Samson to say more than he should have (Judges 14).

Samson's cat-and-mouse game with Delilah illustrates his vulnerability to feminine temptation and how dangerous it is to play with sin. Three times Samson put Delilah off. Yet even as he did, he crept ever closer to telling Delilah the secret of his strength when he told her:
  • Seven fresh bowstrings would hold him (Judges 16:7).
  • New ropes never yet used would make him weak (Judges 16:11).
  • Weaving his hair into the web of a loom would neutralize him (Judges 16:13).
  • And then he broke down and told her the truth about his uncut hair (Judges 16:17). The story ended tragically in his death (Judges 16:23-31).

There are some lessons for us here in how to deal with temptation.

1. We need to be students of ourselves and aware of our own weaknesses and what situations are likely to cause us to compromise and sin. Samson's irresistible temptation was women. What is ours? Money? Earning the praise of people? Needing to be liked? Fearing to offend? Self-indulgence?

2. We need to resist temptation instead of flirting with it.
How do we do that? The Bible has some good advice:
  • "Take heed to yourselves" ("Be on guard" - J.B.Phillips & Message; "Watch out!" - NLT; "Be careful" - NIV) about our tendency to be led away and distracted from godly things - Luke 21:34.
  • Be warned or forewarned against temptation - 2 Peter 3:17.
  • Prepare for it by putting on the armour of God - Ephesians 6:13.
  • Don't say the first 'yes' to temptation - Proverbs 1:10.
  • Refuse to even put our feet on the path to giving in to sin, let alone walking that path - Proverbs 4:14.
  • Present our body parts to God for His use and not to sin as "instruments of wickedness" (NIV) or "weapons of evil" (J.B.Phillips) - Romans 6:13.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know myself and the things that tempt me. Help me to be prepared for temptation by keeping myself clothed in spiritual armour. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Angel visits

Angel - Judges 13:2-5
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 13-15; Psalm 74

TO CHEW ON: "And the Angel of the Lord said to him, 'Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?'" Judges 13:18

An amazing thing happened to Manoah's barren wife. An angel visited her, told her she would have a son, and gave instructions for how she should live during her pregnancy as well as how to raise her soon-to-be-born little boy.

When she told Manoah, he prayed for an another angel visitation and the Angel appeared to his wife again, stuck around long enough for Manoah to meet Him, quiz Him, even offer Him food.

Did you notice my capitalizations there? That's because in this instance it seems that the Angel was none other than God Himself—a theophany—the Angel of the Lord as distinct from an angel of the Lord. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology chapter on angels says:

"Who is the Angel of the Lord? Several passages of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, speak of the angel of the Lord in a way that suggests that he is God himself taking on a human form to appear briefly to various people in the Old Testament.

In some passages "the angel of the Lord" (not "an angel of the Lord") is spoken of as the Lord himself. [He goes on to give some examples and continues] .... These are clear instances of the angel of the Lord or the angel of God appearing as God himself, perhaps more specifically as God the Son taking on a human body for a short time in order to appear to human beings" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 401.

In addition, in this case the fact that the Angel says His name is "wonderful" reminds us of Isaiah 9:6 where "Wonderful" is one of the names of the coming Messiah.

Why did God choose to visit Manoah and his wife in this way? Why does God ever break through in supernatural visitations and unexplainable phenomenon? Some time ago I read a fascinating book called Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters. It is a collection of first-person and as-told-to stories of people who have experienced angelic visits.

Compiler James Stuart Bell in the Introduction gives us some reasons as to why God may choose to break through in such ways:

"The supernatural world, the world revealed to us in the Scriptures, is normally apprehended by faith and not by our senses. But at times, though they may be few and far between, for God's own mysterious reasons, we are allowed a window into that world. He may be trying to warn us about some danger, encourage our faith, or provide guidance in terms of our behaviour .... Some of these experiences may be meant to be shared to edify others ... these very personal stories ... convey how much God cares for us and how active and close He is to us—fighting our battles and revealing the eternal consequences of our choices and behaviour, even our thoughts and attitudes here on earth" - James Stuart Bell, "Introduction," Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters, Kindle Location 130 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your involvement in human existence. Thank You for these stories of angel visits—old and new—that reinforce Your reality and how much You care for us. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Destructive cycles

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Judges 9-12; Psalm 73

TO CHEW ON: “Then the children of Israel again did evil in th sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths…

So the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines …

And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD…

And the children of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned…’

So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” Judges 10:6,7,10,15,16).

In the depressing chapters of our reading today we see firsthand the living out of the summary of this book from Judges 2:
1] The people leave God to worship idols - Judges 2:11-13. 
2] God gives them over to plundering neighbours and nomads who wreck their land and livelihood - Judges 2:14-16. 
3] In desperation the Israelites pray to God for help - Judges 2:15,18. 
4] God sends a leader—a judge—to deliver them - Judges 2:16. 
5] They have peace during the judge’s lifetime but on his death revert back to idol-worshiping ways - Judges 2:19. 
6] The cycle begins again - Judges 2:20-23.

As we read today’s stories of Israel descending with every generation and judge into greater anarchy, chaos, and depravity, it’s easy for us to feel critical. How could they not recognize the self-sabotage in their cycles?

Yet I would submit that their actions are only an outworking of the condition of the human heart that by default rebels against God and looks for other deities.  And I’m not so sure we’re immune from these same kinds of cyclical reactions that keep us from freedom and forward motion.

Do we find ourselves in the same spot of joblessness or debt or hoarding or obesity or addiction or relationship problems that we’ve broken free from in the past? 

Could the answer to complete and final breakthrough be that we need victory over spiritual rebellion in some chamber of our own hearts? Are we returning to our own idols of self, indulgence, fear of not enough, lust, etc. 

Let’s pray for God to give us insight into our own destructive cycles.

PRAYER: The destructive cycles of Israel are not unfamiliar to me. Please help me to see and recognize the rebellions and idols of my own heart that have me going in circles. Please show me the path to breakthrough. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Playing games with God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 6-8; Psalm 72

TO CHEW ON: "Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.'" Judges 6:39

This little story is the origin of the saying 'put out a fleece' meaning ask for a sign to test a situation.

Asking for or depending on signs was a frequent thing in the Bible.
  • Abraham's servant asked for a sign when he was sent to find a wife for Isaac - Genesis 24:42-44.
  • Samuel told Saul that certain signs would prove that God was with him as he assumed the role of king (1 Samuel 10:7).
  • Later Saul's son Jonathan determined that the sign he and his servant should fight the Philistines would be if they said: "Come up to us" instead of "Wait until we come to you" - 1 Samuel 14:10.

So why did Gideon seem fearful of God's anger when he asked for this sign?

I believe it was because this was the second sign that he asked for to confirm the same situation. God had already given him an answer with a sign, so he realized that in a way he was trivializing God's first response by asking for another one.

Perhaps Jesus' vexation over the Pharisees' request for a sign was the reaction Gideon feared from God: "When the Pharisees came to dispute with Him and sought a sign from heaven to test Him, He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, 'Why does this generation seek a sign?'" Mark 8:12.

Seeking sign upon sign can easily disintegrate into playing games of stalling, quibbling, and rationalizing with God—what the Pharisees did again and again. That is not the behavior Jesus calls "blessed." Rather, He praised simple faith that believed because of the signs it already had. To Thomas, who insisted that he see Jesus' scars before he will believe that He rose from the dead, Jesus said: "'Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" John 20:29.

The Bible is full of reported signs: "... these (referring to "this book"—John, and all of Scripture) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name" - John 20:31. Let's let them be enough for us.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, please grow my faith so that Your sign-filled Bible is enough for me. Help me to recognize the signs of guidance, confirmation and affirmation that You send my way. Amen.


MORE: Reckless faith

"If you debate for a second when God has spoken, it is all up. Never begin to say - "Well, I wonder if He did speak?" Be reckless immediately, fling it all out on Him. You do not know when His voice will come, but whenever the realization of God comes in the faintest way imaginable, recklessly abandon. It is only by abandon that you recognize Him. You will only realize His voice more clearly by recklessness." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 18th reading
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A sanctified imagination

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4-5; Psalm 71

TO CHEW ON: "'Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
When it comes out in full strength.'" Judges 5:31

Judge Deborah was a woman with a vivid imagination. The "Thus..." in the verse above refers to the details of her victory over Sisera as we find them in her song (Judges 5:1-31). This victory ballad is full of imaginative specifics.

She describes the incident of Jael, the tent peg, and the hammer in gory detail (Judges 5:24-27).

She imagines Sisera's mother waiting for her son to return from battle. When he delays, she envisions how this woman and her maids will explain his lateness to themselves:

"Are they not finding and dividing the spoil:
To every man a girl or two;
For Sisera plunder of dyed garments..." (Judges 5:30).

But Deborah's most inspiring use of her imagination is in Judges 4, before she ever had reason to sing that song. Then the situation was still dire. Israel under the thumb of Canaanite King Jabin (and Sisera, his army commander), hadn't seen a ray of hope in twenty years (Judges 4:3). Yet Deborah said to Barak (the commander of Israel's army):

"Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?" (Judges 4:14).
Her faith in God fueled her imagination so that she saw the victory before it ever actually happened.

Deborah's use of imagination demonstrates three ways we can use our imaginative ability.

  • To communicate the human experience in literature: Her description of Jael's actions is imagination put to use in the service of story and poetry. It is one God-given way we can use our visionary ability.
  • To reassure ourselves: Deborah's speculation of how Sisera's mother was handling her son's delay shows how imagination can bolster feelings of well-being. However this kind of imagining can easily disintegrate into worry when we  fuel it with pictures of the bad things that could be happening.
  • To affirm our faith: We sanctify our imaginings when we use them in the service of faith like Deborah did. This is building a visionary future on God—His person and promises—and then going into action to make it a reality.

May we have more of the kind of imagination that, ignited by God's promises and fed by faith, sees victory before the battle has even begun.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my imagination. Please help me to fuel it not with fear but with faith in You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 71 

MORE: The gift of imagination
"Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. If you have been bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, it will be one of the greatest assets to faith when the time of trial comes, because your faith and the Spirit of God will work together" - Oswald Chambers, February 12th entry in My Utmost for His Highest.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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