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.

I Know That Voice

One morning Poppy and I took Joy out to breakfast, then to her favorite park. She was excited to see other children on the playground. She quickly made a few buddies and they were off to the races. Us old folks found a shady place to rest and watch her. I love watching children play. I love their delight at zooming down the slide and climbing high into the sky on the swings. I love to hear their squeals and laughter.  With so many kids talking and shouting and laughing you would think it would be difficult to tell when my kid was speaking, but as every parent and grandparent knows, you just know your child’s voice. Your ears are attuned to them. There were several “Nanas” on the playground that morning, but I knew when Joy called my name– even when she was on the other side of the lot because I was well familiar with her voice.

Isaiah 30: 21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” The most common lament I hear is “How do I know it’s God speaking?” That’s a good question, especially in this noisy world where everyone has a megaphone and an opinion. We know that the “still, small voice” Elijah heard came out of the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Ki 19:12). How can we know that voice?

The same way I know my granddaughter’s voice over all the other kids on the playground – familiarity. I spend time with her. I listen to her constant chatter. I can recognize her pitch and tone from a hundred paces.  You and I can know God’s voice when we spend time with Him in His Word, in prayer, and the fellowship of the Church.  You will not only recognize the pitch and tone of His voice, but you will recognize the content of His message. God will never speak anything contrary to Scripture. God’s voice is in His Word.

There’s one other important thing – to recognize God’s voice you have to have a personal relationship with Him. I didn’t know any other child on the playground, but I knew mine, and her voice rings in my heart. A personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ – who is The Word – is the first step to knowing His voice. And one more – obedience to what you’ve heard enables you to hear more. Priscilla Shirer says, “God doesn’t just speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.”

Know God, personally. Spend time with Him and become familiar with His voice and message. Obey what He says. Beloved, are you willing to hear from God?

Can you Spot the Lie?

As a Bible teacher, there is nothing I love more than expounding on the Word of God. I know this is what I was created for. But my goal is to teach myself out of a job. What do I mean? I want you to know and love the Bible so much that you don’t need me to teach you anything. I want you to have such a hunger for the Word that you go digging in it for yourself. You need to know what God says because the devil and the world will try to twist Scripture and confuse you – and then defeat you.

Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. The Scripture says, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Isreal. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him” (2 Kings 18:5,6). One of the first acts of Hezekiah’s reign was to tear down the places of pagan worship (v. 4) – don’t miss that, it’s important. An enemy, Sennacherib king of Assyria, was sweeping through the surrounding territories. He set his sights on Judah and sent his field commander with threats, trying to gain their surrender (v. 19-25). But Hezekiah refused, trusting instead in the Lord to protect them.

To shake the people’s confidence the field commander claimed that Hezekiah had removed the high places and altars devoted to the Lord God. Why, then, should He protect them after such an insult by their king (v. 22)? He also said, “Have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord Himself told me to march against the country and destroy it” (v. 25). But they knew the truth. Because they knew their God. They knew that the king had honored the Lord not insulted Him. They knew that the Lord was their Defender. They knew He had not sent the enemy nation to destroy them. When Hezekiah sought out the Lord He told them “Do not be afraid of what you have heard. I will defend this city and save it” (19:6, 34). And He did.

But what if the people didn’t know God? What if they accepted Sennachrib’s lies? They would have trembled in fear and surrendered to their enemy. That is why I want you to know the truth – God’s Word – for yourself. If you don’t, you will fall for the lies every time. Your enemy will use just enough Scripture to make his lie sound plausible. You need to know this Word so that you can spot the lie and reject it. Beloved, I will gladly teach you about God and His Word until I draw my last breath, but you need to know it for yourself. The enemy knows how to tell a slick lie. Get into the Word and stand firm on the truth.

Dig a Ditch

The nation of Moab was on the attack. The armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom set out to fight Moab in the desert. After a week of marching, they ran out of water – a deadly thing to face in a desert. Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel turned to God’s prophet Elisha for the Word of the Lord. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches’” (2 Kings 3:16). Jehoshaphat assumed God was going to send rain to fill the ditches and provide water. Not so. Elisha said, “You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water” (v. 17). Water is going to magically appear in the desert? Right! The prophet answered, “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 18). Not only will God provide water for Israel, but “He will also hand Moab over to you” (v. 19). The armies obeyed and set to digging. In the morning the ditches were flowing with water! The army and the animals were refreshed and ready to press on.

But remember God’s second promise? When the Moabite army began to take up their battle positions in the early morning, the rising sun was shining on the water. “To the Moabites, the water looked red like blood” and they assumed that the armies had turned on one another and slaughtered each other. Their battle plan changed – “To the plunder, Moab!” (v. 23). But Moab walked right into the revitalized armies, and the few that survived turned tail and ran.

I confess I sat down to write with a heavy heart this morning. I am facing some tough things right now. I feel the press of the enemy against me. I feel his hot, nasty breath on the back of my neck. I was flipping through my Bible for inspiration and God stopped me here on this page. This is what He is speaking to me right now – and to you. “Yes, the enemy has put a bullseye on you, but I will help you. Watch Me easily do what is too hard for you. Dig a ditch and prepare to receive My blessing. Watch Me use that blessing to overthrow your enemy.”

I don’t know what the enemy has up his evil sleeve against you. But I know Who has your back. Beloved, dig a ditch.

Surrounded

One of my favorite Bible accounts is in 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha and his aide were pinned down by the Aramean army. Through God’s secret wisdom, Elisha had been giving away Aram’s location to the king of Israel, giving Israel a decided advantage in the war. The Arameans had surrounded the city and were preparing to rush in and capture Elisha. The prophet’s aide saw the army with its horses and chariots and soldiers and cried to his master “O my Lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15).

Ever been there? Me too. The money won’t stretch. The doctor said there’s nothing more he can do. You just got laid off. You watch your spouse walk away. You hand your rent money over to the mechanic. Your kids are hungry and your pantry is empty. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?”

I’ve walked with God long enough to know that that’s the heart of anxiety: What am I going to do? Like it’s all on your shoulders. Child of God it’s not. Let me suggest a different question: “Oh, my God, what are You going to do?”

Elisha told his aide, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he called on the Lord to give the man spiritual eyes to see. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). He was seeing the army of the Lord that had encircled Elisha and stood between him and the enemy. The man of God – and his aide – were completely safe and secure.

God has promised to care for you – but it requires spiritual eyes to see Him surrounding you. Listen to His own Words: Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isaiah 52:12 says “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Psalm 32:10 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in Him.” Beloved, whatever you are facing right now, your Heavenly Father is there with you, before you, behind you, and all around you. Just open your eyes.

The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

Deeper Roots

“Nana, I watered your flowers!” Joy burst into my study the other day and dragged me by the hand to the porch to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?” I smiled down at her eager face and gave her a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet girl!” I said, noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the soil was barely damp. Her idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When she proudly ran off to play, I turned on the hose and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to my study with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16 to read. I started to close my Bible and get on with the chores that nagged me when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my granddaughter’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. When I looked further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick read.

I’ve quit trying to read the Bible through in a year, I’m more focused on reading it. thoroughly. I decided to slow it down and take smaller, deeper bites that I can chew on all day. Peter called believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Growing in knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. Deep roots bear fruit (2 Kings 19:30, paraphrased). Jesus said that we were chosen and appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). That requires time in the soul-nurturing Word of God. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Trading Gold for Bronze

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. . .” (Romans1:25).

I love to watch the Olympics.  I love to see people with great skill and talent at their best.   I admire the determination and dedication they show to hone and strengthen their skills; I am encouraged by their single-minded focus and discipline. Thousands of athletes come with the hopes of winning a medal for their country, with the gold as their ultimate goal. Silver medals are awarded to second place and bronze for third, but gold medals are the pinnacle of success in the competitive world of athletics. Gold is far more valuable than silver or bronze, thus it is awarded to the most worthy athlete.

Gold is also a show of one’s wealth. In fact, that can be taken to ridiculous extremes with gold cosmetics, gold clothing, a gold coffin, gold teeth caps or a gold slinky. And if you really want to show off, you can put a roll of gold toilet tissue next to your gold toilet. Silver and bronze just won’t cut it if you want to really make a statement.

Solomon was the wealthiest of all the Old Testament kings, so much so that the Bible says all the articles for his personal dwelling places were made of gold because “silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s day”(2 Chronicles 9:20).  Solomon had wealth that today’s richest billionaires can only dream about. I found a particularly interesting note in 2 Chronicles 9:15-16 which says: “King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold . . . he also made three hundred small shields of hammered gold.” Gold shields – that’s pretty wealthy, don’t you think?

Solomon eventually died and his son, Rehoboam ascended to the throne in his place. The young man did not inherit his father’s wisdom, nor his grandfather David’s love for God. 2 Chronicles 12 tells the story of Rehoboam’s turning away from the Lord – “he and all Israel with him abandoned the Lord” (v. 1). They soon came under attack from the king of Egypt, and God spoke through a prophet declaring, “You have abandoned me; therefore I now abandon you” (v. 5). At this the King and people recognized their sin and turned back to God for His protection. God relented and rescued, but they still were made subject to the Egyptian king for a season as the Lord said, “so that they may learn the difference between serving Me and serving the kings of other lands.” (v. 8).

While the Egyptian king did not destroy the people, he did strip them of much of the wealth that Solomon had amassed. Verse 9 says, “Shishak king of Egypt . . . carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord . . . and of the royal palace. He even took the gold shields Solomon had made.” Wait, did you catch that. The gold shields – Solomon’s gold shields – were claimed as booty by the king of Egypt. Look at the next verse: “So King Rehoboam made bronze shield to replace them” (v. 10). Because of the sin of the king and his people with him, the royal gold shields were traded out for bronze – an inferior metal for an inferior king.

There are two points to consider here: first, God allowed the people some time with the enemy king so that they could see how much better they had it under His authority. Where they had once been the most feared and respected nation under David and Solomon, they were made a subservient nation under Egypt. Their freedom was taken from them and they were made to pay tribute to the Egyptian king. Their harvests were divided so that Shishak received his portion, whether or not they had any left themselves. The second point is this: they had been the wealthiest and most prosperous nation, but they had been forced to trade their gold for bronze because they turned away from their God. King Rehoboam’s entry ends with these sad words: “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord” (V. 14). They squandered all the blessings God had given them for the false pleasures of the world. And in the end they lost more than all those worldly treasures were worth.

So I ask you – Are your trading gold for bronze – or even less? Are you trading the blessed life God longs to give you for the fool’s gold of the world?   The world we live in is ruled by an evil enemy – Satan, and he is constantly at work taking men and women captive under his cruel banner. God has offered us the safety and security of His Son, but we must set our heart on seeking Him, and receive His loving offer. We must turn to the Lord and commit ourselves completely to Him. I promise you will find that serving God, living under His authority and His golden shield is far superior to anything the world could offer you. Don’t throw away a golden life for worthless trinkets and momentary pleasures. Grab hold of the blessings God has for you and you will never lose the greatest treasure of all.

Holy Father, the world dangles worthless stones before our eyes, and so often we grab for them and forget about the real treasure that You give. Please help us to recognize the difference between fool’s gold and the pure and perfect gold that is only found in You. Amen.