Just One Little Lie

“David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out.  The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy.  How much more so today!’” 1 Samuel 21:5

 Have you ever told just a little lie?  One little fib that no one will ever discover.  No harm, no foul.  What’s the worst that can happen from one little lie?  I offer you the example of David in Nob.  Please take a few moments and read 1 Samuel 21:1-7.

Allow me to set the scene for you.  David is on the run from King Saul, who because of jealousy, is hunting him down like prey.  He goes to the city of Nob, to the priest, Ahimelech, there in the place of worship.  He is hungry and he knows that the Levites place fresh bread before the Lord as an offering every Sabbath, and the previous week’s bread is then theirs to eat.  He tells the priest that his men, who are camping in another location are hungry and he asks – almost demands – bread.  The priest is uncomfortable with the request, but this is David, the mighty commander of the King’s army.  His victories are the stuff of legend.  So, in an attempt to take some of the sting off of his conscience, he asks David if he and his men have remained pure.  David answers with a resounding yes, they have been sent by the king and theirs is a holy and secret mission.  Of course they have kept themselves pure!  Ahimelech acquiesces and surrenders the consecrated bread to David.

There are two big no-no’s here.  Ahimelech knew that because this bread had been offered to the Lord it is considered holy, and cannot be eaten by anyone except the Levites (think church staff) and must be eaten only in the holy place. (See Leviticus 24:5-9) God did not offer any exceptions.  By not standing on the Levitical law, the priest was wrong.

But David was also wrong, his entire story was a lie.  The Scripture indicates that he was alone, there is no mention of a company of men with him, as he told the priest.  He was not on a secret and holy mission for the king, he was running for his life from the king.  As to his declaration of purity, there is no indication one way or the other, but at this time he is married (to the king’s daughter!)so it is likely he may not be.  But he is far from home and no one knows him here.  What’s the worst that can happen with one little lie?

But someone was there who knew him.  One of the king’s servants, Doeg, was there in the tabernacle, and he witnessed the entire episode.  We don’t know if he realized David was lying, but the implication is that he did, because, knowing the king was hunting David down to kill him, he returned to report that he was in Nob and had gone to the priest there.  Now the little lie that David told morphs into a great tragedy.  1 Samuel 22:9-23 tells the rest of the story.  With Doeg’s report, Saul sends for Ahimelech and his entire family, who were all priests.  The king confronts the priest and accuses him of conspiring with his enemy, David.  Ahimelech pleads his innocence, saying he did not know David was lying.  But Saul ordered the entire company of priests – eighty-five men of God – be put to death.  Because of one little lie.  One man escapes and reports to David the slaughter of the priests, and he realizes he is to blame.  He says “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” (1 Samuel 22:22).

David learned the high cost of a lie.  Perhaps that is why, very shortly after this incident, he wrote, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13). And near the end of his life he prayed, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity” (1 Chronicles 29:17). Proverbs 12:22 says “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.”

The God we love and serve is a God of truth. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God cannot lie.  It is completely counter to His perfect nature.  Jesus spoke only truth, and spoke of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God who would reveal truth.  Followers of Christ should be known as people of truth.  In every aspect of our lives, we should be seen as people of integrity and honesty.  If I am known to tell lies, even “little white lies” and “innocent fibs,” how will anyone believe me when I tell them about Jesus?  What does a little lie do to my witness?  Here’s another thought: if my child hears me telling lies to others, will he believe me when I tell him “I love you”?

I am making a personal commitment to be a person of honesty and integrity.  I will follow the example of Christ Jesus who spoke the truth, acted in truth and walked in truth.  Will you make that commitment with me?  Let’s start a “truth revolution” together.

Holy Father, I am Your child, and I want to live like my Father and like my “big brother,” Jesus.  Purify my heart and my lips.  Teach me to be a person of integrity in all I say and do.  Amen.

Real Faith for Real Life

“Take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”  1 Samuel 12:16, NASB

“You just need to have faith.”

“You just have to trust God.”

“Just let go and let God.”

I’m sure you have heard these well-intended statements before, and like me, you’ve probably thought “What does that even mean?” True, we know that when we are in the midst of a storm, dealing with struggles or grief or uncertainty, faith is vital to our survival. But what does “faith” really look like? How do you really trust God?

I believe it is something the contemporary church has forgotten how to do, particularly in countries with “religious freedom,” though that freedom is being eroded. From the days of Adam and Eve, faith has been refined and strengthened through struggles. Job was put through severe trials and he declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10)[1]. Abraham’s faith was tested, and he “was called God’s friend” (James 2:23). Moses’ faith was stretched by two million plus whiney Israelites, but God said he “would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). In studying recently the history of the church, it was the persecuted, the martyrs, and those who were forced to flee for their lives whose faith was the strongest. It is true today, as Christians around the world are being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.

What does persecution have to do with faith? Everything, because when you lose everything else and your faith is all that is left, you learn to stand strong on the character and the Word of God. Without trials and struggles faith becomes soft and too weak to help us stand. It is in these difficult seasons that our faith, like a muscle, gets “a workout” and becomes stronger.

But back to our original question – What does faith look like? How can we learn to have real faith in a real world?  By focusing our hearts on a real God and our minds on a real Word. Let me give you an example from my own life.

I am in the middle of a difficult season in my life. I am confronted daily with a situation that breaks my heart and there is nothing I can do to change it. God knows I have tried. After several exhausting months, I’ve finally come to the point of understanding: this one is out of my control. All I have left now is my faith in God and His Word.   At first I begged and pleaded with God to make this problem go away. I knew this situation was not God’s will and I told Him so.   As it drug on and took many twists and turns, I began to have physical and emotional health issues from the stress. I was sorely distracted from the work God had called me to and thought about giving up.   Then I realized that is just what the devil was after – to make me abandon the kingdom work and run back into my protective shell. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence.   I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures so I could pray God’s Word over the matter.   I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that has become almost a mantra whenever Satan starts to taunt me over the situation: “I have rested the matter in the hands of my Father.”  Mind you, the issue still isn’t resolved, it is ongoing and looks even bleaker than when it first began. The devil continues to hammer away at me, but I run that phrase over and over in my head, and often speak it out loud so that I know the enemy can hear me.  I cannot describe the peace that has come to me since.

That is real faith for real life. It is making the moment by moment determination to keep my focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength and promises.  It is trusting in Him rather than trying to solve the problem on my own.  It is looking into the Word of God for a word for my soul, and praying His will through His Word. It is coming before Him in raw honesty and allowing Him to soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. And most importantly it is holding up my shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), remembering His character, remembering His Words and choosing to believe that He is with me in the battle; and God never loses a battle.

The early martyrs found the faith they needed the same way, remembering God’s promises, looking to Him for strength and holding out hope – not in a solution to their problems – but in the steadfast character of their God. Like Peter, we must keep our eyes on the Savior in the storm. And thankfully, like Peter, we can trust that He will grab onto us when we lose our focus. He is forever faithful. He is a real God for real life.

Holy Father, platitudes will not sustain my faith, but keeping my mind and heart focused on Your character and Your Word always will. Help me Lord to have real faith in a real God as I live this real life in a real world. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Bible.

How to be Perfect

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. The truth is, I knew “perfect” was so far out of my league, I didn’t expect it. I was just pleased if my mistakes were few and not too glaring. When I worked as a church secretary I used to say “If there wasn’t a mistake in the bulletin, people would think someone else did it.” I didn’t expect perfection from myself – that is until I started back to school, and perfection became the goal. Not for my sake mind you, for my grades became my expression of gratitude to God for the opportunity to go to seminary. But my friends noticed how discouraged I became when I didn’t get an A on an assignment or missed even one question on a test. I wanted to be perfect – after all, isn’t that what God expects of me? Isn’t that what Jesus said?

Let’s get this right out on the table. God is perfect, and we are not. The Bible is replete with God’s perfection: His works are perfect (Deut. 32:4), His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16), His ways are perfect (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30), His law is perfect (Ps. 19:7; James 1:25), His beauty is perfect (Ps. 50:2), His faithfulness is perfect (Is. 25:1), His peace is perfect (Is. 26:3), His will is perfect (Rom. 12:2), His power is perfect (2 Cor. 12:9); and we can give thanks that He gives perfect gifts (Jas. 1:17), and that His love is perfect (1Joh n 4:18).

But you and I? We are from perfection with no ladder tall enough to reach it. We are flawed, we are weak, we have tempers and attitudes and prejudices; we are selfish and self-centered. We are human, with all that our humanness entails. And we are sinful. God knows all this. So why, then does Jesus tell us “Be perfect.”? Why throw out a command He knows we will never achieve?

There are two points we need to consider in this impossible quest for perfection.

In the Greek, the word “perfect” means “perfect, complete, mature, finished.” Jesus is using both meanings to speak of our lives here on earth – and our lives in heaven. First, He is expressing what James echoes with the same Greek word, teleios, when he says “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4-emphasis added). Modern translators have Jesus saying “perfect” and James saying “mature,” but the word in the Greek is exactly the same. And both are saying that we are to work towards maturity in our Christian lives. Listen to Paul’s words, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” This “perfection” is the life-long process of growing and becoming mature believers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a day-by-day, choice-by-choice walk – the walk of faith. It is also the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He leads and guides us on to this maturity. Knowing that I am “a work in progress” frees me from the burden of perfectionism.

Jesus also uses the word to express our future state, when we are complete – in Him. You see, the root word for “perfect” and “mature” is telos, which means “end result, outcome, goal. This is the work of Christ that achieves the end result of perfection.  The writer of Hebrews expresses it beautifully: “By one sacrifice He (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).   Christ has made us perfect before the Father through His sacrifice on the cross.  This verse also encompasses both expressions of perfection in heaven and the perfecting work in this life.  Want to dig a little deeper? Look again at James 1:4. We examined the word “mature,” but let’s look at the word “complete.” The combined root definitions of “complete” mean “whole, entire” with “share, place, inheritance.” Oh, this is so exciting! We will be made perfect, as Christ is perfect, when we have come into the entirety of our inheritance, our share of eternity – HEAVEN! The perfect place for perfect people!

Jesus is giving us both the perfect way to walk in this life as His followers and the promise of a perfect eternal home as His perfected saints.

So why does Jesus command us to “Be perfect, therefore as your Father in heaven is perfect.”? I think Charles Spurgeon expresses it very well: “The youthful artist as he grasps his newly sharpened pencil can hardly hope to equal Raphael or Michelangelo; but still, if he did not have a noble ideal before his mind, he would only attain to something very mean and ordinary.”

Perfection is the aim, it is the picture God paints in our minds, not as an unrealistic goal, but as a promise and a vision. Certainly we will stumble and fail, and for that He sent us a Savior – a Savior who makes us perfect in every way.

Holy Father, I cannot achieve perfect grades, be a perfect parent or live a perfect life; but I can look to my perfect Savior and know that I am perfect in Him. Amen.

In the World but not of the World

“Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

Is there any doubt that evil rules the world we live in?  Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the world-wide web and you are face-to-face with the evidence of evil.  You don’t even have to go looking for it anymore.  It’s on billboards as you drive on the highway, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news.  Satan rules the world – for now.  So to borrow from Francis Schaeffer- “How Should We Then Live?”

How do we live godly lives in an ungodly world?

Christians tend to have one of two extreme reactions to the world; we either bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend that evil doesn’t exist, or we become radically defensive and try to shout down evil by throwing Bible verses around like grenades.  If you can’t ignore it, try to blow it away.  Time has proven that neither approach works.  To ignore evil just allows it to escalate and become overwhelming.  Taking an aggressive stand has only offended and ostracized the world Jesus died to save.

As in every aspect of life, Jesus has the answer. “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (emphasis added). This is the command He gave to His disciples as He sent them out into the world to be His witnesses.  This is the command we must live by as well.  As I read this verse today, the two contrasting words jumped out at me. That is always my cue to dig a little deeper.  The original Greek definitions for these words shed tremendous light on the command of Jesus.

“Shrewd” is phronimos and means “wise, sensible” and its root meaning is “thinking, understanding.” Jesus was telling them to think and understand and then make a wise and sensible determination.  Do you know that one of Satan’s most effective tools is to dull our minds and then feed us from the world’s banquet table of ideas and philosophies?  Let’s be completely honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told without bothering to examine things for ourselves.  That is one reason I love the story in Acts about the Bereans. “The Bereans…received the message (Paul’s preaching) with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  We must wake up our dulled minds and think about the messages we are receiving day after day, lay them alongside of the Word of God and see if they are true.  And this is not just for spiritual matters.  The advertising world depends on the fact that we take in their “pitch” without thinking or examining the validity of their message.  Try watching a few commercials sometime with a sharp mind.  We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in.  Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent. Akeraios means innocent, pure, not mixed with evil, and has the root meaning “to mix, to be poured.”  His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to keep themselves separate from the world around them and not fall into their evil ways nor worship their pagan gods.  They tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God.  They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord.  Has anything changed?  Certainly not God’s command to worship and live for Him and Him only.  The truth is God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness.  It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for Christ’s followers today.  Mind you, I’m not advocating separatism; Jesus called us to be His witnesses throughout the world.  We must interact with the lost world to tell them about Jesus.  But we must also keep our hearts purely devoted to Him alone and not allow the world to mix us up.

When I studied this verse, I recalled Jesus prayer in John 15 where He said we are “in the world” (v.11) but “not of the world” (v. 14).  We live alongside of people who do not follow Christ or His Word and that is by God’s good design; but we live for the One who died for the world, and we live by His Word and for His glory.  How else will they know we belong to the one true God if we believe the world’s message and live as if God is just one option among many?

Holy Father, You are not one God among many, You are the God of all, the Creator and Sustainer and the Sovereign Lord.  My heart, my mind, my soul and my all belong to You.  Use me in this world to bring others to Christ and to bring glory to Your Name. Amen.

Where Are You?

“Where are you?”  “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid. . . so I hid”         Genesis 3:9,10

 “Where are you?”

Have you ever asked that question? Perhaps you were looking for your friend in a crowd or frantically searching for your child in the store. I’ve often impatiently asked that question while waiting for someone who is running late. I have an unmarried friend who often cries as she asks that of a future soul-mate. It is sometimes said in frustration or fear or wistfulness. But did you know that the first time those words were spoken, it was God asking the question?

“Where are you?” God called out to Adam and Eve as He was “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). It was their usual habit to meet every day and fellowship together, but today, they were nowhere to be found. I imagine they had always eagerly met Him in their paradise home, but now the two humans had hidden themselves because they had disobeyed God and done the one thing He had forbidden them to do, eating of the tree from which the Lord God had said, “You must not eat.” From their hiding place, Adam answered God, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10).

This is a familiar story and as I read the passages today I was thinking, “Yes, I know this story very well.” Until I came to that question and the answer that followed, and the words lit up on the page as if I were reading them under a laser light.

God is asking Adam the question, “Where are you?” Forever after this fateful moment in time, the question turns, and man has been asking God, “Where are You?” When troubles come we ask God, “Where are You?” In the face of bad news, rejection, grief and struggle, we ask the question. When the world turns upside down and violence and disaster and disease seem out of control, we look up, sometimes with a clenched fist and shout, “Where are You!?” When our hearts are breaking we cry out in a whisper “God, where are You?” God asked the question first, but we have been asking the question ever since.

Adam answered the question, “I heard You…so I hid.” Forever after this fateful moment, God has said, “I have heard you” (2 Chron. 34:27) and “I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). God hears you when you call out His name. He hears your cries. He hears your heart. Hagar named her son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because He heard her cries in the desert. He heard the grief of His people in bondage in Egypt. He heard their call for help when they faced great armies. He heard David’s pleas for forgiveness. “You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (Ps. 31:22).  He heard the groaning of men’s spirits bound by sin and death. God hears you beloved.

Unlike Adam, when God hears us He does not hide Himself from us. He promises to be with us, and He has kept His Word faithfully to His people. He promised to be with the Israelites as they crossed the wilderness, and as they faced their enemies. He promised to be with them as they settled in Canaan and He promised to be with them even as they were taken away into captivity because of their own sin.   He promised to be with them and redeem them, and He came to be present with His people in flesh and blood; flesh that was torn and blood that was spilled at the cross.   He did this so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  It is the same promise Jesus made to His disciples and to all who would follow Him, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He is our Immanuel, God with us.

God first asked the question, and Adam’s answer broke God’s heart. Now our broken hearts ask the question, and God’s answer gives us hope and comfort and peace.

“Where are you God?”

“Right here with you my child.”

“I love you Lord, for You heard my voice; You heard my cry for mercy. Because You turned Your ear to me, I will call on You as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1; para).

Related posts: Hope in the darkness

 

Rescued

“The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”  Judges 2:18b

Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence it’s saying that the hard situation I am in is the result of my own choices and I have to live with the consequences. We’ve all experienced it in some form in our lives. It’s a principle that plays out from time-outs in childhood, being grounded as a teenager, and dealing with all sorts of struggles and issues as an adult that are the direct result of our own decisions and actions. Sometimes the consequences are simple, like my son having to replace a window he broke, or me having to stay up late to finish a paper because I put it off too long. But some consequences are far more difficult and painful; just ask any prisoner. Sorrow and suffering is magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation.

Judges 2 is the story of the Israelites’ rebellion and idolatry against God. As we noted in the previous post, Israel had allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land, in opposition to the Lord’s command, and the Israelite men were seduced into pagan worship by the Canaanite women. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel, and the Lord God who had delivered them out of Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land was now forgotten in their lust. They broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh, and now He was angry. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

The result of their sin was tragic. They were enslaved and oppressed, in constant peril from their enemies and unable to defend themselves because God had removed His protective hand from them. Their property was taken, their children were ripped from their arms and pressed into slave labor. All because of their own actions. What misery is greater than knowing your suffering has your own fingerprints all over it? I’ve been there several times, grieving the consequences that were the result of my own foolishness. I expect you have too. Perhaps you are there right now, sitting in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into a mess. Oh I knew He was faithful to help me when I was suffering for any other reason, but I figured He would make me deal with my own messes. And I made plenty of messes. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” After all, don’t we learn best from our mistakes?

I am so grateful God doesn’t think like me.

Our key verse tells us that God heard His people’s cries and was moved in His great heart for them. He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (Jud 2:16). This pattern of sin, misery and rescue in the lives of the Israelites repeats itself over and over in the nation’s history. And over and over God hears, He sees and He rescues. God’s compassion is boundless. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22).   His mercy never fails because His love never fails. His love never fails because it is the essence of who He is. God takes no pleasure in our pain and suffering, even when we are the only ones to blame.  He will allow us to feel the sting of our sin, but He will never abandon us to our self-made misery when we cry out to Him. The Bible is a record of God’s great compassion and mercy. From the cycles of sin and rescue in Israel’s history, to His salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has been actively rescuing His people from the misery of their own sin.

If you are struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions, know that God hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Holy Father, Thank you for not leaving me in the pit of my own messes. Thank you for your great mercy and grace. I echo David’s words, “out of the goodness of Your love, deliver me” (Ps 109:21).  Amen

Related posts: While; The Wonderful Love of God

 

“What Not To Do”

 

But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High. Psalm 78:56

The nation of Israel had endured four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt, a dangerous escape, and forty years of wilderness wandering; but now, they were finally setting foot in the Promised Land, the place the Lord had promised to Abraham for his descendants so long ago. This was “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8). It was everything God had promised.

So why then, by Judges 2, do we find the Israelites caught up in the first of many cycles of sin and bondage? Why did the nation’s spiritual temperature grow cold? There are many reasons, but two stand out most vividly in the first chapter of Judges.

• The people didn’t listen to and obey the Lord’s word. God had instructed Israel to drive out the evil, pagan Canaanites from the land He was giving them, but they did not completely obey. Many communities inhabited by the Canaanites were allowed to remain. From the text in Joshua 1, it appeared that some of the tribes of Israel simply gave up on claiming the land that God had given to them. A few settled in with the pagan Canaanites, and one tribe of Israel abandoned their God-given territory altogether and sought property elsewhere.

• They compromised with the sinfulness around them. Since they were unable (or unwilling?) to drive out the Canaanites, they instead “pressed [them] into forced labor, but did not drive them out completely” (Jud 1:28). God had warned, “If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live” (Numbers 33:55). And this is exactly what happened, as men were drawn into pagan worship by the seduction of the Canaanite women. The book of Judges is a continual story of the Israelites being led into sin by a godless people who should not have remained in the Promised Land.

What is our application here? I think it is pretty obvious.

• Read and obey God’s Word. Though the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, and there are multiple Bible apps and websites available, this generation is largely Bible-illiterate. How can you obey what you do not know? How can I know it unless I read it? It’s not brain surgery, it is picking up the book and letting the Word of God teach us the ways of God, and obeying what we read. James put it very plainly: “Do not merely listen to (or read) the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (Jas 1:22-emphasis added). Where God has said “do…” go and do. Where He has said “don’t…” stop doing it.

• Do not allow the sin of the world to invade your life. We cannot live a monastic life, tucked away on a mountain far from the evil of this world, (although, that’s looking pretty good these days), but we can chose to intentionally separate ourselves from the world’s sinful influences. What T.V. shows and movies am I watching? What websites are you viewing? What magazines and books are we reading? What trash have you grown comfortable with? Maybe it’s time for some spiritual – and literal – house-cleaning.

The Israelites left a legacy of disobedience and idolatry, but they also left us a primer on “what not to do” to live a lift that pleases God. There are many more lessons from the Book of Judges, and we will investigate them over the coming weeks in these devotional posts. Today, make the decision to be a student of God’s Word, to be obedient to Him, and to examine your life and “take out the trash. Let’s be the people who know and obey the Word of the Lord and live purposefully for Him.

Holy Father, I have a choice: to know and obey You or to become comfortable with the world’s sin. “Earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Ps 73:25). Help me Lord to walk faithfully before You. Amen.

CPR for Your Dreams

“How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” Joshua 18:3

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. When I was very little, I would draw crayon scribbles on paper and call them my “stories.” I wrote with real words as I grew up, and placed well in writing and poetry competitions in high school. Writing gave me an avenue to express my feelings and order my thoughts and emotions. As an adult, I wrote in journals and developed the habit of journaling my prayers. Yet I kept those writings tucked away in boxes, never letting my words go any further as life and responsibilities pushed those dreams down deeper and deeper inside.

Ten years ago, God began to lay on my heart the desire to attend seminary, to write and to teach, another of my long held passions. He reached out and started plucking the strings of my heart to stir up old songs and old dreams; but once again I let life and the needs of my family and job take over. The more I pressed those dreams down the more discouraged I became. After an extremely difficult season, believing those dreams were dead, I took all those boxes of journals and notebooks and pitched them into the fireplace and shut those dreams out for good.

But God didn’t. He knew the plans He had for my life, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Two years ago, I heard the soft, faint sounds of the song again. This time I picked up the melody and began once again to put the words in my heart on paper. God made a used laptop computer available to me and a dear friend became my “editor,” giving me counsel and guidance in my writing. A sweet friend (a high-school student, no less!) helped me create this blog-site and I took a deep breath and finally put the words God placed in my heart out there for the world to see. Last fall, I began my first classes in seminary, and the Lord has opened doors for me to teach multiple weekly Bible studies in and around my community.

We often let our dreams and passions fade in the demands of work and family and the pull of responsibility. Sometimes we find ourselves chasing the world’s desires for us instead of God’s. When we push those God-given dreams aside, we can fall into depression and hopelessness, as I did while feeding the fire with my writings. But God has always had a plan for you, and He hasn’t let that plan die. Philippians 1:6 tells us that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God sets His purpose for your life and He works in and around you to fulfill that purpose, as David testified in Psalm 138:8- “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” God works out His plans for His children. He knows everything about you, because He created you. He knows the desires and dreams in your heart, because He put them there. He has a plan to bring those dreams to reality. Listen to Philippians 2:13: “God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

What dream has God planted in your heart? What dreams have you buried under the responsibilities of your life? What dreams have you walked away from? My friend, if God has given you a dream or a passion, He has not given up on it – or on you. Ask Him to restore that desire and show you how He wants to fulfill His plan and purpose for your life. Listen carefully- do you hear the sounds of an old familiar song?

Holy Father, life has gotten in the way of the dreams You placed within my heart. Please stir those dreams back to life and fulfill the wonderful plans You have for me. Amen.

Paying for Wisdom with Pain

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  Psalm 119:71

I am somewhat hard-headed and tend to believe that my way is the best way. I don’t always think things all the way through and then I wind up scratching my head, wondering what went wrong. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. Know anybody else like that? Could it be that you and I are classmates in the “School of Hard Knocks?” As I read the Bible, I see that we are in a pretty large class, because God has had to deal with a lot of hard-headed people, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the entire nation of Israel, King David, Jesus’ disciple Peter, Saul…and the list goes on and on.

Often, the most effective teacher in life is consequence. When he was little, I told my son many times, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot, it will burn you,” but it wasn’t my words that convinced him – it was his own little red and painful hand that made him understand. Needless to say, he didn’t go near that stove again. Of course we then moved on to other hard lessons like not playing in an ant hill, not leaving your bike in the driveway, not driving over the speed limit – I think you get the idea. He is still learning difficult lessons, and truthfully, so am I.

My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid dearly for some lessons. I learned to choose my friends more carefully by sitting in a police station on prom night. I learned the value of money when I found myself deep in debt. I learned to pay attention to my driving when I ran a red light and t-boned a car. But the most important lessons I have learned came from the Word of God as we read in our key verse, and in verse 67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. God’s Word is chock-full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just reading the Bible – but putting its teachings and principles into practice. The Psalmist said, “Oh that my way were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame” (Psalm119:5-6a). Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up.

I didn’t banish my son from the kitchen, the police didn’t lock me up for good (however, now that I think about it, my Dad did say I was grounded for the rest of my life), I paid off my bills and got my finances under control, and the DMV allowed me to drive again. How much greater is our merciful and gracious God to give us second and third and tenth changes? Look back at verse 67 and see my favorite words: “but now.” But now – after I have suffered the consequences of my actions and am a little wiser for it, God forgives me and says, “Try again child, I know you can get it right.” The mistakes we make, our failures and missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we are hard-headed. If that were so, mankind would have never made it past Adam and Eve, much less to you and me. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the mud of my own choosing. Jesus died so you can be forgiven; He died so I could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart friend, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Put your blistered hand in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

Holy Father, God of second chances, I have made some mistakes and the consequences are painful. Please take this mess I have made and teach me to walk in the wisdom of Your ways. Amen.

Deeper Roots

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time, when trouble or persecution come because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21
My mom always had the most beautiful flower beds in the neighborhood. Early mornings and evenings would find her tending her buds and blossoms and pulling up weeds. I don’t remember her ever purchasing flowers to plant in her beds, she always grew hers from seeds and bulbs. She knew just where to plant and how to water and tend the seeds until those tiny green shoots began to push their way through the soil. Mom had gladiolas, four-o-clocks, daylilies, zinnias, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, and more. I admired her talent so much, so when I moved into my own home, I decided to plant a flower garden. Let’s just say, I did not inherit my mom’s green thumb. My seeds barely sprouted, and what came up was thin and scraggly and quickly withered and died. When she came to my house, she took one look at my garden and said “You didn’t give them room to put down roots.” I had tried to make a flower garden in gravely, sandy soil. The plants sprouted where they could in the coarse soil, but didn’t have a strong root system to anchor them and draw nourishment from the ground. What came up wasn’t healthy and didn’t last long because there were no roots.
The same principle applies to our Christian faith, which is what Jesus is describing in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-23. A farmer in those days would walk through his garden spot and broadcast seed by hand. Jesus describes seed that falls on the path that has been packed hard by many feet as those who do not receive the message of the gospel because their hearts are hard and Satan takes that seed away. Other seed find the soil, but are choked out by weeds, meaning the message of Christ is lost amid the cares and materialism of this world.
The seed that falls on the rocky soil are those who receive the message, but like my flower seeds cannot put down good roots. These are people who give up on their faith and the church at the first sign of any discomfort or struggle. They do not sink their roots in the rich soil of God’s Word, they don’t establish the habit of prayer and are often too distracted by the world to regularly attend church. They do not have strong roots. The seed that is planted into the good, healthy soil is the one who receives the gospel with an open and humble heart, who believes the message of Christ and sinks his roots down deeply into God’s Word, who seeks Him every day in prayer and who spreads his roots outward in fellowship with other believers.
Trees are a perfect example. I live in Florida, a state very prone to tropical weather systems. Walking the neighborhood after a hurricane is a real-life illustration of the importance of one’s roots. Trees with deep roots, such as oaks and nut trees are usually able to withstand the storm’s high winds, but shallow rooted trees such as maples, poplars, cottonwoods and willows will frequently be toppled by the strong winds, thrown aside with their shallow roots exposed. Trees with shallow roots draw from surface moisture, but trees that seek out water deep underground have deep, strong roots that anchor them firmly into the ground.
In case you haven’t noticed, storms happen in life. You and I will face strong, howling winds and pounding rain in the form of health problems, financial struggles, job loss, difficult relationships, depression, and on and on. If I have a shallow relationship with God, if I am being nurtured by the world, I will not be able to endure these storms. But if you have invested time in Bible study, prayer and fellowship, searching for the deeper things of God, your roots have grown deep and strong, and though you may sway and bend in the wind, when the storm passes- and the storm always passes – you will still be standing.
When God called me to write this devotional blog, He gave me the title: “Deeper Roots,” and that is the heart is my ministry, to help others develop roots that are secured deep in the rich soil of God’s Word and nourished by His truth and His character. What threatens your life? What storm rages around you? Are you anchored deep in the Word? Are you securely rooted in prayer? Are you being nurtured in the Christian fellowship of the church? Will your roots hold? If you are grounded firmly in God, in His Word and in His love, you are standing strong.
Holy Father, this life sends storms that threaten to knock us down. Help us, Lord, to put our trust in You and let out roots grow strong in Your Word and Your love. Give us deeper roots God. Amen.