Dig a Ditch

This is a word to someone besides me. But first a Bible study lesson. Under the Lord’s direction, three nations – Israel, Judah, and Edom – joined forces to do battle against a common enemy, Moab. After days of marching the three armies were out of water – a very dangerous situation. They called on Elisha, the prophet of the Lord who said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches. You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle, and your other animals will drink.” This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; He will also hand Moab over to you.” (2 Ki 3:16-18).

In the morning, every ditch overflowed with water. The animals and people were refreshed and the army was encouraged by the hand of the Lord. But that’s not all. When the early morning sun hit the water it appeared red to the Moabites in their camp across the way. They thought the three armies had killed one another and filled the valley with blood. They took off to gather the plunder, unprepared for the ambush that followed. Not only did God provide water to aid the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom, but the water became a trap for the Moabite army.

What does that mean for you and me? I’m so glad you asked. When we come to God seeking His help and favor, don’t think He will reject us or begrudge our asking. Instead, we should dig ditches to prepare for His blessing. We shouldn’t limit God’s ability to overcome our difficulties. We should expect that He will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or image, according to His power” (Eph 3:20).

I’ve seen Him do some amazing things just this week. Makes me wonder what He would’ve done if I’d dug my ditches a little wider. I don’t know what your need is today – water, funds, hope, strength, healing, peace, wisdom, or a full-blown miracle. Here’s my advice, Beloved, grab a shovel and start digging.

Give Careful Thought

I love deep Bible study, taking verses one at a time, researching the words and context, and mining for treasure. I’m in a writing group that is working through the biblical text in small sections to allow us to notice every word. The insight we’ve gained and shared is remarkable. But there is also a lot to be said for taking on bigger chunks of Scripture. Like the little book of Haggai. Grab your Bible first and read this book in its entirety – it’s only two chapters and 38 verses – then come back.

Haggai is set in post-Babylonian captivity. When the Hebrew people returned to Jerusalem they set to work first rebuilding the city walls (see Nehemiah), then began restoring the Temple – the house of the Lord (Ezra 1:2-6). But they faced opposition from their enemies and struggled with their own issues and needs. They were also discouraged because the new structure was much smaller than the original Temple built by King Solomon. Eventually, lethargy, disappointment, and interference brought the work to a halt. The Jews turned their focus from God’s house to build their own homes.

Enter the prophet Haggai to proclaim God’s message of gentle chastisement and strong encouragement. I found one phrase five times in this little book: “Give careful thought” (1:5,7; 2:15,18 twice). Guess what that means (you’ve heard it from me before)? “Pay attention.” He said, “You plant much, but harvest little,” (1:6). “You earn wages, and it falls through the holes in your purse” (v. 6). “You expect much, but it turns out to be little,” (v. 9). “What you bring home I blow away” (v. 9). Why? In their depressed state, they gave up on the work of the Lord.

Now, I’m not some great theologian or prophet, but I think it’s pretty clear that the church today needs to “give careful thought.” Our ministry efforts are failing. Evangelism is ineffective. Teaching and preaching are weak. Why? Because the attacks of the enemy and the culture have discouraged God’s people and we have turned our attention back on ourselves. And we’re focused on our own issues and needs. Like the Jews, we’re sitting at home licking our wounds while the church goes lacking.

But, God says when we give careful thought to our ways, when we make His priorities our priorities, when we humble ourselves under His authority, He “will grant peace in this place” and He “will bless you – from this day on” (2:9, 19). The Lord is calling His people back to Himself. Beloved, it’s time to put down the phone, turn off the t.v., and pay attention.

Be Patient

I ran across a quote I had posted several years ago that is tugging at my heart this morning. It is by Adel Bestavros, an Egyptian lawyer, teacher, scholar, and preacher:

Patience with others is love.

Patience with self is hope.

Patience with God is faith.

I love this. It is so simple and yet so profound. Love for others is expressed in patience. Hope comes when we are patient with ourselves and our struggles. But I was most intrigued by the last of the three statements: “Patience with God is faith.” But I’ve always taught that faith, by definition, is a belief that leads to action. Faith in God caused the Israelites to step between the walls of water and walk on dry ground. Faith had Joshua and the people march around the walls of Jericho to bring them down and take the city. Jesus said that “Faith as small as a mustard” can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Yes! That’s the kind of faith I want!

But then I looked more closely at the Scriptures and I discovered that faith also involves a lot of waiting. Noah waited in the ark. Abraham waited for God’s promised child. David waited for his throne. The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit. And they waited because they had faith. But faith in what? The psalmist said: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Ps 130: 5). They waited for the Lord. They had faith in Him. They had patience with God.

Now I’m not by nature a patient person. I hate red lights. I tell the microwave to “Hurry up!” I tap my foot impatiently at the coffee pot. And when my laptop drags, and it does it a lot, I get very aggravated. But I’m learning to be more patient and my teacher is my granddaughter. She is in the “I want to do it myself” stage, and so I wait while she fumbles with her shoes and slowly climbs into her car seat and takes forever to do the things that I could do in a matter of minutes. I wait because that is how she learns, and it’s how you and I learn too.

We learn that God is trustworthy and faithful. We learn that He is good and kind. We learn that He is mighty and perfect in all His ways. And we learn most of all that He loves us. And that is why we can wait for Him. Beloved, do you have faith in God? Then be patient.

Child of the King

The Queen knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even Esther. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary. She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do. The author said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended? Beloved, lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

The Overwhelming, Unfailing Love of God

The Psalms are a favorite place in the Scriptures for many of us. The writers (no, David didn’t write them all) often express thoughts and feelings that we can identify with. There is praise and worship and heartache and loneliness and raw emotion. My Bible is full of underscores, dates, and notes – markings to remind me of who I am and whose I am and what God has done. I can find myself in pretty much every chapter. I have been the little lamb in the care of the Shepherd (Ps. 23) and I have been the contrite sinner (Ps. 51). I have taken refuge under the feathers of His wings (Psalm 91) and I have walked the path with only His Word to light my steps (Psalm 105).

This morning, I find myself in Psalm 107 – a psalm of thanksgiving. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the psalmist’s words – perhaps you will see yourself here too. I have wandered in desert wastelands (v. 4) and been hungry (v. 6) and He led me to a place where I could settle (v. 7). I have sat in darkest gloom, in a prison of my own making (v. 10-11), but He brought me out of the darkness and broke away my chains (v. 14). I have been a fool and a rebel and suffered because of my sin (v. 17) yet God sent forth His Word and healed me (v. 20). I have been lost in a storm and cried at my wit’s end (v. 25-28) and He stilled the storm to a whisper and guided me home (v. 29-30). He has poured his showers of blessing out on me when my heart was parched and dry (v. 33-35); and when I was needy and afflicted, He lifted me up and filled my life with Joy (literally) (v. 41-42). I give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for me (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

God has been so good, so kind, and so generous to me. How can I do anything but give Him thanks when I consider His great love (v. 43)? I pray that as you move through this day God brings to mind the many wonderful things He has done for you. I pray you are overwhelmed by his unfailing love. And I pray that when this day is done, Beloved, your heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude and Joy.

(P.S. Who are the movers and shakers of the church? What events and people shaped the Christian faith? Get ready friends – we’re going to history class – that is the history of the Christian church. We’ll start with an overview of Acts and then move beyond. Join me here on Mondays for this exciting study!)

Hebrews: Grace to the End

And so we come to the end of Hebrews and fittingly the author says, “Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter” (Heb 13:22). It may have been “a short letter” (I’d hate to see his long letters) but we’ve been working through this book for 19 long months. We’ve examined Hebrews like a jeweler turning over a gemstone, marveling at its every facet. We’ve discussed a lot of deep doctrines and theology. We’ve pondered the humanity and deity of Jesus and His role as both our Great High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We spent a lot of time in the Old Testament, looking at the law, the temple, and the lives of God’s faithful heroes of the past. We’ve covered some difficult passages, even some very controversial texts, and I’ve upset a few folks along the way. We’ve had our toes stepped on so much we wear boots every time we open our Bibles.

But like the unknown author, my intent with every devotional has been to give you a “word of exhortation” – to encourage you in your faith journey. Remember that the original recipients of this letter were Jewish believers who had transferred their confidence from the law to Jesus Christ. They trusted in the better sacrifice that came through the blood and body of the Son of God. But their faith put them under attack and some abandoned Jesus and returned to the law that could never save them. It was easier that way. Just like those who compromise their faith to get along with the culture today. But easier isn’t always best in the long run. And the long run is eternal.

After the good news of Timothy’s release and the author’s pending visit with their beloved brother, and after passing greetings back and forth, he writes a closing word that I offer to you as well. “Grace be with you all” (v. 25). Grace. The mercy and kindness of God which draws lost souls into an eternal love relationship through Christ Jesus. Grace saves us and keeps us. Grace strengthens us, and grows us up in faith, knowledge, and love. Grace moves us to live as Jesus lived and walk in all His ways. The grace of God brings us Joy, peace, hope, and sweetness. May His grace claim you, fill you, hold you, and delight you, Beloved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Talk to God

“God, I know you must be tired of hearing me. I come to you with the same stuff, over and over and over.” I felt like a broken record. A very broken, weary, discouraged record. It’s been the same struggles for so long now. “Not so, Child,” I heard in my spirit.

I sat down with my coffee and my Bible (a wonderful combination) and was led to Psalm 55. “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me,” (v. 1) David said. Wow! I could have written those words myself. It truly felt like God was tuning me out. But I couldn’t blame Him. I read on, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught” (v. 2). Same here, Brother. “My heart is in anguish within me” (v. 4). “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—’” (v. 6). Lord, are you sure I didn’t write this? David and I are in complete synch here.

David was overwhelmed with the wickedness around him. But more than anything his heart was broken because the people closest to him had turned against him. That might feel familiar to you. David felt like he had no one he could turn to, no one he could trust. No one cared about his troubles. Well, almost no one.

“But I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice” (v. 16-17). Did you see it? Evening, morning, and noon. All day long David pours out his heart to God. And God doesn’t get tired of him. He listens – more than that – He hears. The word David used means God gave heed in order to grant David’s request.

Listen to the advice he gives. It may be familiar, but now that you know the context, it should mean even more to you. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you” (v. 22). All of them. As many times as it takes to lay them at His feet and leave them there. And He will sustain you. He will hold you up and bear the weight – not just of your burden, but of you. Beloved, you are not an encumbrance to the Lord. He will never tire of hearing your voice. It is a sweet, sweet sound in His ears.

Searching for God

“I can’t find my wallet!” my son said when he stormed into the kitchen.

“Did you check your truck or the pants you had on last night?”

“Of course I did!” he barked. He was frustrated and so I let the attitude go for the moment. “Can I go in your room and help you look?” “Yes, but I’ve already looked everywhere in my room.” So I entered where angels fear to tread, picked my way over the piles of clothes and dirty dishes, and what do you know – there lay the missing wallet on the foot of his bed. “Oh, well, I was looking everywhere else,” he said sheepishly. “Thanks, Mom.” I smiled at him and said, “That’s my job, son.”

I went back to the kitchen, finished pouring my coffee, and sat down to read my Bible. My reading was in Psalm 40. It’s a powerful psalm and even has a word of Messianic prophecy. But what caught my attention at that moment was verse 16: “May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You.” It made me think of my son and his wallet hunt that morning. He was looking frantically everywhere for what was in plain sight. And then I thought about man and his search for “truth and meaning.” Some people look at philosophy, some to science, some to power or wealth or pleasure, many look within themselves, and a few even look towards religion. But all those are futile searches because God is not hidden away in any of these. The truth is, He is not hidden at all.

One of the most oft-repeated statements in the Bible is “that you may know me” –  so why would He hide from us? Paul said that God is right in plain sight. He told the people in Lystra that “He has not left Himself without testimony” (Acts 14:17) and he declared, “What may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20). The heavenly beings declared, “the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3).

From the reflection in your mirror to the farthest reaches of outer space, the evidence of God is all around us. If we’re looking. God wants you to know Him. He has set Himself in plain sight. You will find what you want to see. Just look up Beloved.

Why Do I Love God?

My granddaughter is at the “Why” stage of childhood. I try to always answer her whys because that’s how she learns. But every parent and grandparent (and teacher) knows that the string of whys never seems to end. Sunday was another “Why” day as we got to the church for “honey (Sunday) school.”

“Why do we go to church?” “To learn about God and worship Him.”

“Why do we worship God?” “Because we love Him.”

“Why do we love God?” “Because . . .” and the reasons came tumbling out of my heart and mouth.

“We love God because He is our Creator – that means God made us. God made you! We love God because He sent Jesus to pay for our sins. We love God because He is so good to us, He is our Helper; He takes care of us, and He loves us.”

By now we were at her class and as I hugged her and turned to go, she said, “And I love God too!” I held her for an extra few seconds and said, “I’m so glad you do, sweet girl!” As I floated to my own class. I thought of David’s words: “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Ps 8:2).

I didn’t tell Joy all the reasons why I love God – she just needed a simple explanation that she could understand in her 3-year-old mind. There is so much more I could have said. I love God because He gives light where there is darkness (Ps 18:28). He gives life where death once ruled (Lk 24:5-6). God brings hope in the midst of turmoil (Ps 25:5), and peace during the storm (Mk 4:39). He gives assurance in the face of doubts (Jn 14:1). He gives wisdom to the bewildered (Js 1:5), and strength to the weak (Is 40:29-30). He offers sweet rest for the weary (Ps 23:1-2), welcome to the lonely (Jn 6:37), and Joy to those who have been trampled by life (Jn 15:11). He provides cleansing for the stains of sin (1 Jn 1:9) and redeems all we once thought was lost (Rom 8:28).

These are not just verses I found, they are truths I have lived as I’ve walked with Him for forty + years. Why do I love God? Because He is my life and love, light and hope, Joy and peace. If you forget everything I’ve ever told you, don’t forget this: the sweetest blessing this side of heaven is to love God.  There are a million reasons why.

Be Still and Know . . .

Today’s devotional is very short and simple, but I believe someone else needs this as much as I do today.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Be still (relax, let go, be quiet, leave it alone) and know (trust, consider, rely upon) that I (the Creator and Ruler of the Universe) am God (the Sovereign Lord of all – including your life).

When your body aches. . .

When your child rebels. . .

When the job runs out. . .

When your loved one draws a final breath. . .

When you are passed over for promotion. . . again. . .

When you have too many responsibilities. . .

When the washing machine floods your apartment. . .

When their words cut like a knife. . .

When your child is mistreated in school. . .

When your car won’t run. . .

When the doctor says, “There’s nothing more we can do”. . .

When your bills outweigh your paycheck. . .

When family turns on you . . .

When life is hard and you just don’t understand. . . Be still, Beloved, and know that I am God.