God is always faithful, but He’s not always predictable. While reading the Book of Job, I discover a great “drama” being played out with God on one side and humanity on the other. Job is experiencing grief and suffering, and his friends are no real comfort. God is with Job but is mostly silent (until the last several chapters). God knows what man cannot see. The big challenge of Job is the challenge we also face as believers. There are times we go through when we can’t “figure it out.” We know that God is faithful, but, by outward appearances, it seems like He is silent or aloof. Job and his friends had their preconceived ideas of how God “should act,” and how life should look. When trials came instead of blessings, Job’s friends came to quick conclusions. “Job, you must have sinned. You weren’t good enough. God is finally giving you what you deserve!” Even Job jumped to conclusions about his difficulties. “God doesn’t like me. He just wants to judge me. He knows I am innocent but doesn’t do anything about it.” From Job chapter 32 to chapter 42, God lifted Job to a “higher perspective.” Job is not given specific answers to all his questions, but his faith in God’s majesty and sovereignty were raised to a higher place. After this awesome revelation of God’s greatness, Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). Job finally discovered what we need to discover. Our God is faithful to us, but that doesn’t mean that we can put Him in our “predictable” box. We can’t assume that God will “do what we want Him to do.” We, as Christians, live on the edge of faith which declares, “God answers prayer, but He is not our servant.” We are His servants. This means that we don’t need to pretend we know all the reasons for the worldwide pandemic. We must admit that sometimes God’s ways are past finding out. The best we can do is repent of our sins (known and unknown) and trust God’s faithfulness to bring about His plan. You may not be able to trace His hand, but you can always trust His heart. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:23).
Have you noticed the Bible contains a lot of irony? This is especially true when people take it on themselves to “destroy” God or His people…only to end up destroying themselves. Take, for example, the Book of Esther. Haman, the righthand man of the King of Persia, took it upon himself to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. His intense hatred started because of a Jew named Mordecai, who refused to bow down before him in public. Haman’s super-sized ego created an obsessive hatred—not just for Mordecai but also for the whole Jewish race. Haman had a “final solution” to dispose of Mordecai. At the urging of his wife and friends, Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai. Mordecai would become a public spectacle of those who dare to insult the high and mighty Haman! The gallows were far from ordinary; they were seventy-five feet high…so people from long distances could view “the exhibit.” As the Book of Esther unfolds, we see the “fortunes” of Haman drop like a rock. During a banquet held by Queen Esther (the cousin of Mordecai the Jew), Haman was exposed in the presence of the king as a murderous racist. While the king considered the fate of Haman, one of the servants spoke up saying, “A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai who spoke up to help the king” (Esther 7:9). It did not end well for Haman. The Bible states, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai” (7:10). What Haman “sent around” came “back around.” As I read the story this week, I thought of our lives and actions as building something for others. Haman was obsessed with “building” hatred and harm for others he deemed as unworthy. His rich—but miserable—life ended in great shame and disgrace. On the other hand, the principle of “what goes around, comes around” can be a source of hope and joy to the followers of Jesus. Our prayers and actions of love and service for others are not unnoticed by our Lord…and by others. Even though we don’t expect to be noticed and rewarded by others, we believe that blessings come to those who live to bless others. What are you “sending around”?
Most of us have spent a lot more time at home recently. This can be both good and bad. The downside is that we easily get stuck in bad habits. Instead of staying sharp in our spirit, we can “put off” seeking God and ignore His Word. Staying at home for an extended time can dull our heart if all we do is watch TV and binge on movies. For spiritual fruit to grow, we have to “stir our hearts” to desire Jesus and His will. As most of you know, I am preaching a series through 2 Peter entitled, “Stir it Up.” This week in my devotions, while reading the Book of Ezra, I was surprised to discover the expression “stir up” twice in chapter one. The first time is found in verse one: “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing…” (Ezra 1:1, ESV). The Israelites had been in exile from their homeland for about 70 years. Now, God worked in the heart of King Cyrus (who did not even know God) and “stirred” his heart to encourage the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. How would the Israelites in captivity respond to this challenge to return home? The proclamation by Cyrus was not a forced evacuation. They had a choice to stay or to go. To return to Israel was God’s best for the Israelites, but He allowed His people to make up their own minds. “Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5). The Bible tells us that over 50,000 made the choice to do the right thing—to go build God’s city and the Temple. In order to venture into this step of faith, they needed to allow God to stir their hearts. Because of routine habits, it would have been easier for the Israelites to stay in Persia and continue the “same old same old.” When I read this, I thought of all the people I know who have slipped away from the Lord through neglect of their “heart life” with God. Yet, He is willing—right now—to stir our hearts if we let Him! Keep your heart tender toward God by praying, “Lord, stir me up so that I always say yes to Your will! Help me not to drift into bad habits that dull my heart toward You and deafen my ears to hear Your Word.” The Lord is faithful to stir us up…just ask Him!
I keep hearing people say, “I just want things to get back to normal.” As I write this, the news reports that over 486,490 people in the United States have confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, and 17,925 people have died. Anyone in their right mind wants this virus to go away, but do we really want to go back to normal? Or could there be a “new normal”? What if our new normal would see a deeper respect and reverence for God? What if we humbled ourselves and asked God to forgive us for our pride and walked before Him in faith and humility? I just finished the Book of 2 Chronicles. Chapter 36 ends with the sad story of Judah’s demise over many years of spiritual neglect and idolatry. Their final defeat came after many attempts by the Lord to get their attention. “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (vv. 15-16). I don’t believe God delights in seeing something like COVID-19 grip the nations of the world. I do believe, however, God’s people should take this crisis as a call to pray for our world and to repent. These days of struggle are a powerful lesson that life can change dramatically, and whatever we put our hope in (besides the Lord) can disappear quickly. So, my prayer is not that we return to “business as usual.” I pray that we stop ignoring God and that we learn to reverence Him and walk before Him in justice, mercy, and humility (see Micah 6:8). May we, as the church of Jesus, do our part to seek the Lord, crying out to Him for our family, neighbors, community, and world. Does America have a prayer? Only you can answer that.
Sometimes it feels like you’re living your life inside a parenthesis. Your life story seemed to be moving along just fine, and suddenly it seems like someone pushed the “pause” button. Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the world, but it certainly has changed how we do life. Is it possible to not just survive this time of parenthesis but actually thrive? When I think of the fruit that grows in the fields, I realize that fruit weathers many storms and unpredictable days. How can we make the most of what we are going through? Instead of complaining about being bored, maybe we should seek the Lord for how He would have us fill the hours of our days. Let’s first ask the Lord to help us think right about this unusual season. This brings us to the Word of God. The young man Joshua found himself of the edge of the Promised Land…a vast unknown land filled with adventure and danger. For him to act on his own emotions or impulses would bring disaster and defeat to himself and those he led. He needed God’s thoughts. Here is what God told him. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:8-9). The only way to know God’s way is through God’s Word. Those who love the Lord and His Word discover His words to be more powerful than negative thoughts and fickle emotions. During this stay-at-home time, we need to know what God is saying to us. This “parenthesis” is a great opportunity to saturate ourselves in the Bible. My suggestion is to start reading the Book of John slowly and carefully. Think about what Scripture said to the people back then and what God is saying to us now. Write down what stands out to you. Then pray over what you have read. This discipline is not too hard. When you do right things, you feel right thoughts. Please start today…you won’t regret feeding your soul on His thoughts for you! Take this “pause” in your life and make it a special part of your story!
Like you, I am spending a lot of time at home. We are trying to do our part to stay healthy and keep our city and community safe. I admit that I’m not used to staying in so much. I like to be out and about, moving and on the go. “Lord, what is it You want me to do?” is a prayer I often pray. At the end of my days on this earth, I want the Lord to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). So, now that we find ourselves in a different way of living (for who knows how long) how can we make the most of our time? Here are a few of my thoughts and practices during this time of “social distancing.”
Take this time to
develop a deeper devotional life. Sadly, most Christians offer God the crumbs
of a leftover schedule. More time on our hands means we can read the Word of
God without being in a hurry. We can pray and not worry about having to be
somewhere. My practice is to spend about an hour each day just being with God
and then reading and soaking in His Word for another half hour. This may seem
too much for you, but discipline yourself to develop an appetite for the things
of God. This will enrich your soul!
Keep connected with
people. If you have family or friends who live with you, do your part to share
with them. Talk, laugh, play games, and just enjoy each other’s company. Also,
social distancing doesn’t mean we have to drift apart from our church family.
Use the phone, Facebook, and internet for meaningful connections. We are not
alone in this time of testing!
Serve others as
you are able. This starts at home by helping those right around you. You may
also have the opportunity to help someone outside of your residence by getting
groceries or meeting a need. Of course, while doing this, we practice wisdom
and follow the counsel of our city and government leaders.
Catch up on rest.
It’s not wrong to get a good night’s rest or to refresh ourselves with a nap.
In the Old Testament, God specifically required the Israelites to refrain from
work during various feasts and holy days.
Try not to worry.
No one can guarantee an easy and carefree future. However, we can receive what
the Lord gives to us, and hold on to His many promises. How many times does He tell His people, “Do
not be afraid”?
Keep busy with
projects. Have you considered it may be just the right time to organize “that
room” or clean the basement? This season could be the ideal time to accomplish
those tasks we procrastinate to do.
Finally, pray to the Lord each day, asking, “What do You want me to do today, Lord?” And then, go and do it!
So, life is hard for David. He knows God has called him to be king over Israel, but he finds himself constantly on the run from the homicidal maniac King Saul. The Bible reveals that not once, but twice, David is presented with an easy opportunity to kill Saul. The second time, David and his cousin Abishai are standing over Saul in the middle of the night as he sleeps in the camp of his army. Abishai sees this as David’s chance to say goodbye to all his problems, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice” (1 Samuel 26:8). But, David adamantly refuses, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (v. 9). There’s a special character quality we need to see here. David, a man after God’s heart, refuses to take “shortcuts” to achieve God’s promises and goals for his life. Through the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must discern between legitimate opportunities to be seized and shortcuts to resist. The enemy of our soul is a mastermind at tempting us to take the short, easy path. “If you don’t have money…just steal some. Are you lonely…just sleep with someone. Is studying hard…just cheat. Are you depressed…just reach for the bottle or drugs.” Even Jesus was tempted to take a shortcut. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to enjoy the kingdom “right now.” Forget the hard path of obedience and the cross; enjoy the power of ruling and reigning without pain. Jesus rejected all shortcuts. He chose God’s kingdom God’s way. David also refused shortcuts. He knew that in God’s time he would ascend to the throne…without having to kill Saul to make it happen. What is the “shortcut” you are tempted to take? Choose the path of patience and perseverance, knowing that our God is faithful! Let Him fulfill your longings and desires. Walk the path of Jesus; experience the victory of Jesus!
So, you think you have it hard? Read the Book of Ruth. While I was reading this yesterday in my devotions, I tried to put myself in Naomi’s place. In this short book of four chapters, Naomi (the mother-in-law of Ruth) emerges as the main character, referred to 23 times, whereas Ruth is mentioned 17 times. In fact, this book could have been called the Book of Naomi. The story opens with Naomi following her husband, Elimelech, away from the land of Israel due to a famine. They travel to the nearby country of Moab. While there, Elimelech dies. Later, both of Naomi’s sons also die. She is left in great despair…a destitute widow in a foreign land. But God, in His faithfulness, sees Naomi and knows her situation. He has blessed her with a daughter-in-law, Ruth, who is totally committed to the Lord and to following Naomi. After about ten years, Naomi hears of God’s blessing of provision back in the land of Israel and decides to return, with Ruth right beside her. While back home in Bethlehem, the Lord shows Naomi amazing grace and the story ends with great joy. Ruth marries a relative of Naomi and bears a son (Obed) who carries on the family name, eventually becoming the great-grandfather of King David! This story helps me consider the realities of life. Naomi, a believer in the Lord, was not immune to life’s difficulties. For a long time she had to fight discouragement and the temptation to give up. Naomi could have stayed in Moab and died in Moab…end of story. But she allowed hope to rise in her heart and took a step of faith back to the Lord’s promised land. As we walk with Jesus, we realize that difficulties and problems are never the end of the story. The Lord is with us, and He shows us the steps of obedience we need to take toward ultimate victory. He doesn’t give up on us—no matter our circumstances, past mistakes, or wrong choices. By His grace, the Lord can take the dark colors of our disappointments and use them as the backdrop for a beautiful masterpiece. If you feel you are in a “Moab” time, take heart and humbly receive the grace God freely gives. He has a good ending in mind for you!
I have been listening to some debates on YouTube concerning the argument for the existence of God. One reason I listen is to better understand how many people around me have been taught to think about God. It is my hope that by knowing more about these things, I may be better able to offer witness to the life of Jesus. After listening to a debate last night, I came away with a few thoughts. First, we need to expect that people who think of themselves as “wise and educated” will generally dismiss the message of Jesus. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” As Christians, we must realize that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is “hard to swallow”—especially if you presuppose that life is just nature and miracles do not happen. Paul goes on to say, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). So, let’s expect opposition…and even ridicule. Also, keep in mind to follow a line of reason to its’ conclusion in human behavior. If you truly believe there is no God or afterlife, you will live according to your beliefs. No hope after death invites a depressing, purposeless life. And, with no belief in our accountability to God, what prevents us from becoming totally absorbed with our own desires? What prevents us from treating our neighbors with contempt, and simply living for what makes us feel good in the moment? Atheists often point out the “problems of religion” and refer to the crusades and the Inquisition as evidence of God being “man-made.” Though these events were evil for sure (masquerading as Christian), how much more evil has been poured on humanity by godless leaders and their regimes? On a personal level, would you rather live in a city where everyone was godless or in one where the people honestly sought to live for the Lord? One reason I follow Jesus is because of the many godly people who have gone before me. They showed me that God is real by their love, wisdom, and humility. I want to finish my “race” on earth as they did. So, it’s okay to learn more about how people without God think about life, but let’s understand that the arguments of atheism do not satisfy our deepest needs. May others who are searching for meaning discover that Jesus lives…because they see Him living in us!
During Bible days, the world was governed by kings. Imagine yourself a king. How would you rule? Would you be just and fair? The greatest temptation of a king is to use his power and authority for sinful, selfish pursuits. History is littered with records of wicked kings and queens. Before Israel entered the Promised Land, the Lord knew that the people would want a king in order to be like the other nations. So, in Deuteronomy, the Lord (through Moses) gave commands and directions for Israel’s future kings. “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). For kings, arrogance and superiority attitudes were constant temptations. God provided just the right antidote to such poisonous thinking…the Word of God! The Bible was given to us not just to reveal God but to help us to think right about ourselves. The truth from Scripture is that we are no better than others…even if we are kings! Reverence for God, combined with the discipline of immersing ourselves daily in His Word, enables us to think accurately about our relationships with others. In the Bible we discover that we are here to serve God and love others, and that we will give account to the Lord. On that day, He will ask, “What did you do with what I gave you?” I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to read the Word daily. This Word, fit for a king, helps us not to get too high or too low on ourselves. Stay focused on Jesus, and let Him define your self-worth and self-image. And remember that the Lord Jesus, the King of Kings, humbled himself and died for you that you might have life in Him.