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.

The Art of Gentleness

I was going in a whole other direction this morning, climbing up on my soapbox with my script in hand. Then the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a small yellow post-it tab peeking out of my Bible. “Hmmm – wonder what you were marking there?” I flipped to the page in Ephesians where I found a verse I had previously underlined: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). And I heard very clearly, “Remember Gentleness.” In case you missed it, “Gentle” is my “word for 2023.” Yes, I realize it’s the third time I’ve written about it since the beginning of the year – and it’s only the 25th of January, but that’s because God keeps bringing it up to me. Probably because I keep dropping the ball.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been chaffing at this call lately. I don’t always want to be patient and kind. I want my way. I want my time to be my own. I want to spend my money on what I want.  I want my priorities to be other people’s priorities. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me, but that’s just my human nature coming out. You’ve got one too, you know.

My verse is sandwiched between a call to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger . . .” (v. 31) and the command to “live a life of love . . .” (5:2) This, Paul said, makes us “imitators of God” (5:1). Think about it – God has every right to be angry at us because we are sinners, but He instead offers us forgiveness and love. He is gracious and gentle with us – even though we don’t deserve it. Can we do any less for those who have hurt, used, and offended us?

The culture panders to our human nature. “You don’t have to take that. Put yourself first. Nice guys finish last.”  But God says, “Be gentle. Be gracious and kind and compassionate. Forgive. Be loving. Be like Me.” God keeps bringing to mind Romans 12:10 “Honor one another above yourselves.” What will you choose, Beloved? The world may look down on you for giving yourself away, but you will never be more like God than when you do.

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.

Hebrews: Yes, God

My granddaughter loves to do “hidden picture” puzzles. These are scenes with small things drawn to make them blend into the other elements of the picture, essentially hiding them in plain sight. For instance, a banana becomes the bill of a cap or a ruler sits among the rails of a fence. She’s gotten quite good at finding the prize amid all the rest of the picture.

The passage we’re considering today in Hebrews is like that. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen. (Heb 13: 20-21).  There are some deep doctrinal truths here: God is the source of peace and He imparted that peace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, who signed the eternal covenant with His blood and sealed it with His resurrection. He has taken up His position as our great Shepherd as we – His sheep – follow Him. You could fill countless theology books with just verse 20. But for the purpose of our study, we’re going to set the descriptive text aside to get to the point. We’re not changing the Scripture, we’re just zeroing in on the hidden nugget. “May God . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him . . .” There it is! A prayer that God will equip us to do His will and work in us the things that please Him.

This verse echoes Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). This is a promise that if God calls you to it He will equip you for it. When God called him to rescue the Israelites, Moses pointed out his stuttering problem (Ex 4:10). And God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (v. 12). And He did. And God was pleased with Moses and called him His friend (Ex 33:11).

Yes, the calling is bigger than you but you have the promise of God – the God who brings peace through Jesus Christ – that He will help you do it. Say “Yes” to God’s call Beloved and discover what He will do through and in you.

Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

The Eternal Way

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But I wanted to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning for college educations and retirement, and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Real life is eternal.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance for its eternal impact.  Paul said, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Though our struggles don’t feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me toward my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “How will my words impact someone’s eternity?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that rivals any earthly mansion.  I will wear a robe of righteousness that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.

When we have an eternal perspective of life we understand better the journey we are on.  Twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches, and detours cannot stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its pain and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Taste-Tested and Approved

I see lots of recipes on social media – yummy-looking desserts, casseroles, crockpot meals, dips, and the one that caught my eye this morning: white bean chicken chili. I may try that one soon. If my family likes it, I may even pass it on. But not until I’ve served it and it gets the thumbs-up – especially from Joy. I can’t imagine sharing a recipe I’ve never tried first. I wouldn’t recommend a doctor I’ve never seen or a church I haven’t attended or a book I’ve not read. If you get any kind of recommendation from me it’s only because I’ve tested it out and found it to be good.

That is why my messages are all about the Lord. As David said, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). I have found Him to be satisfying in every way. When I need help – and I need it a lot – He is my Helper (Ps 54:4). When the enemy attacks me Almighty God is stronger than my foe (Gen 17:1-2). When I am weary He is my Strength (Ps 19:14). When I fall into sin He is faithful to forgive me (Ps 99:8 ). When I am lonely He is with me (Jud 6:12). When I have a need I go to the Lord who provides (Gen 22:14). When the world is dark and full of evil I look to the Light (John 8:12). When I am sick I trust in the Lord my Healer (Ex 15:26).  When chaos is all around me I run to the Lord my Peace (Jud 6:24).

And when I need counsel or wisdom or just need to know what is right I know where to go because I have tested His words and they are true (John 17:17). The Bible is as sure and powerful as the One who spoke it – the God of truth (Ps 31:5). I can tell you that He is a Faithful God (Deut 7:9) because He has always been faithful to me. I can recommend Him to you without hesitation because He has proven Himself to me over and over and over again. He is the God of my Life (Ps 42:8 ).

If the white bean chicken chili shows up on my page you can know that I have tasted it and it is good. But more important than a recipe, I want to share God with you because He is everything to me. Oh, Beloved, I pray that you will taste and see that the Lord is good. I highly recommend Him.

Arguing With the Devil

Common wisdom says to never argue about politics or religion. Those are two of the most polarizing subjects known to man. There’s a long history of trouble and anger surrounding both. Politics didn’t enter the scene until much later in the history of man, but the first religious argument happened in the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t between Adam and Eve – it was between Eve and the serpent – the devil in disguise.

In Genesis 3, Satan comes slithering along and asks a misleading question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (v. 1). Look back to 2:16 where God said “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” Do you see the subtle twist? Eve responds with a partially true but still misleading answer: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” (v. 2-3). Do you see where she veered from God’s exact command?

The serpent started with a deceptive question and she followed with a partially true answer. Scholars have considered that she may have told the serpent what Adam told her. The original prohibition was given to Adam with the expectation that he, as her head, would relay God’s words to her. Adam may have added the “no touching” to keep her away from the tree altogether. But her altered answer gave the serpent just enough of an opening to reach through and pull her into sin. Had she responded with the exact words of God, he would not have had the advantage. And it would have changed everything. Consider instead how Jesus answered the devil – “As it is written . . .” The old liar couldn’t gain the slightest toe-hold on Jesus because He spoke nothing more or less than God’s anointed Word.

Satan can and will argue against man’s words all day long, but he cannot stand against the Word of the Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has all the power and authority of God Himself. And satan knows it. You need to know it too. Beloved, keep the Scriptures always in your heart and on your lips. It’s the only argument you need.

The Promise

There have been a lot of changes at the college where I work in the past few weeks. Our president of 30+ years retired and a new leader has stepped behind his desk. Several people also retired at the close of the year and a couple of people left unexpectedly. Old friends are going and new faces are coming. It’s all a bit unsettling.

Maybe that is why the Spirit directed me to the book of Joshua this morning. The Israelites are facing some major changes. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness of Judea, they are about to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.  And most concerning of all, their long-time leader Moses has died and a new leader stands in his place. No doubt Joshua was feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As the new chapter in the Hebrews’ story opens, the Lord speaks directly to him. He filled Joshua with confidence as He promised His presence.

“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (v. 9). I’m coming with you Joshua, every step of the way. The God who rescued two million plus slaves, who parted seas and led you across the seabed on dry ground, who defeated mighty armies, and provided for your every need – I, Joshua, will be with you. That’s a promise he and all of Israel could depend on.

As I read this passage my first thought was: I’m not going anywhere. All these changes are happening around me. The principle is the same. Life is unpredictable. Your world, like mine, may be uncertain right now. It may be a diagnosis or a broken relationship or even an upheaval at your job. You may have lost someone you love and you’re not sure how to go on. It may even be positive changes – a baby is on the way or your kid may be heading to college – or like mine – to the military. The promise of God still stands firm: In all the changes of our lives, He will be with us – whether we stay or go – or someone else goes. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5). He will never go against His Word.  He is with us, always and everywhere. That’s a promise Beloved, you can stand on – and rest in.