Servant Leadership

Readings for today: 2 Samuel 2:12-3:39, John 13:1-30, Psalms 119:1-16, Proverbs 15:29-30

The greatest among you will be a servant. These are the words of Jesus and they run directly against our culture today. In order to serve, one has to be selfless. One has to be willing to put another’s needs above their own. Be it their spouse. Their children. Their co-workers. Their classmates. The poor. The sick. The hurting. One has to be willing to put aside one’s own needs, wants, and desires. Position, power, and privilege. One has be willing to listen. Learn. Love without strings.

This is the model Jesus gives us when he wraps a towel around His waist and washes His disciples’ feet. He took the position of the slave. The servant. The lowest of the low in order to serve those He loved. He washed their feet in humility. The Lord of the Universe not holding onto pride or privilege and instead relinquishing it all for the sake of both His friends and His enemies. We too often forget that Judas Iscariot was present throughout the Last Supper. His feet were washed. He too was served the bread and the cup. Jesus loved him to the end as much as He loved the rest of the disciples. 

We live in a self-centered world. We talk about self-protection. Self-care. Self-esteem. Self-help is a billion dollar industry. Self-proclaimed gurus use all kinds of media to promote their latest, greatest “secret” to a fulfilled life. But the fruit is rotten. Our society is more fractured than ever. People are more depressed than ever. People are more lonely than ever. Life is more unfulfilled than ever. It doesn’t seem to matter how many toys we buy. How much money we make. How many awards and accolades we receive. How many people we sleep with. It doesn’t seem to matter how many laws we pass or people we elect or organizations we launch. We cannot seem to grasp the simple truth that the more we focus on “Self”, the more we will despair. We will never measure up. Never satisfy all our desires. Never arrive at self-fulfillment. 

So what do we do? We follow the way of Jesus. The way of surrender. The way of service. The way of selflessness. Whoever loses their life will find it. Whoever gives up the world will gain it. Whoever denies “self” will find true acceptance. Jesus gave Himself away. He laid down His life so the whole world might be saved. He forgave freely. He embraced sinners. He loved even His enemies. If you want to know what a life of surrender looks like...look to Jesus. If you want to know what a life of service looks like...look to Jesus. If you want to know what a life of self-denial looks like...look to Jesus. He is literally the most joy-filled man who ever lived. He is the most peace-filled man who ever lived. On this everyone -from Buddhists to Hindus to New Age to Agnostics to Christians -seem to agree. Jesus found the secret to a truly fulfilled life. Maybe we should trust Him when He says His is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? 

Readings for tomorrow: 2 Samuel 4-6, John 13:31-14:14, Psalms 119:17-32, Proverbs 15:31-32

Whose Glory do you Seek?

Readings for today: 2 Samuel 1:1-2:11, John 12:20-50, Psalms 118:19-29, Proverbs 15:27-28

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John‬ ‭12:42-43‬)

We love the glory of man. We love the honor, success, and accolades of this world. We love the power and privilege and position we achieve. We love the wealth and possessions we accumulate. We love to compare ourselves to others. To keep up with the Jones’. To compete for the trophies of this world. It may be in business where we seek to climb the corporate ladder. It may be in the home where we push our children to achieve all they can. It may be at school where we collect honors and awards for our academic success. It may be at the end of careers where we look back and recount the mountains we summited along the way. Yes, we love the glory of man.  

And for the glory of man, we too often sacrifice the glory of God. Living out our faith is costly. It requires sacrifice. Humility. Putting others before ourselves. It requires the greatest to become the least. The rich to become poor. The powerful to let go of their control. Living out our faith means taking all that we are and all that we have and putting it to use for God’s Kingdom. It means claiming the name of Jesus even though it may cost us a promotion. A friendship. Our reputation among our neighbors. Advancement at school. Living out our faith in some parts of the world costs a Christian their family and community. They are cast out and shunned much like the the people John references here in his gospel. The pressure to conform is incredible. And the temptation to seek the glory of man over the glory of God very real. 

We face this temptation on a daily basis. When a co-worker comes to you to gossip about another colleague. When a group of students tries to rope you in on their bullying. When your neighbors throw their parties with all kinds of booze and drugs. It’s hard to take a stand for Christ. It’s hard to have the courage to stick out from the crowd. To seek the glory of God over the glory of man. When your boss tells you professional advancement depends on you toning down your faith. When teachers at school make fun of Christians, calling them ignorant, intolerant, and bigoted. When neighbors no longer include you or talk to you because you are raising your children so differently. These are all very real situations faced by real Christians on a regular basis. We can get angry at the injustice of it all. We can shake our fists and let our frustrations get the best of us. We can play the victim and develop a “persecution complex.” Or we can simply recognize seeking the glory of God over the glory of men requires sacrifice. Requires us to give up honors and accolades and recognition in this world in order to obtain those things in the world to come.  

I have some dear friends who live in Muslim-dominated eastern Ethiopia. When they came to Christ, they were thrown out on the street by their family. Ostracized by their community. They lost friendships. Jobs. Homes. Even marriages and children. They were beaten. Thrown in jail. The temptation to backslide was real. The pressure to relinquish their faith to go home almost irresistible. But they persevered. Like the Apostle Paul, they considered the present sufferings of this world not worth comparing to the glory that will one day be revealed in Christ. (Romans 8:18) They have given everything to follow Christ. To seek His glory above the glory of man. 

What about you? What have you given up? What is God challenging you to give up right now? Where will you have opportunities today to seek the glory of Christ above your own glory or the glory of man?  

Readings for tomorrow: 2 Samuel 2:12-3:39, John 13:1-30, Psalms 119:1-16, Proverbs 15:29-30

An Egotistical God

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 29-31, John 11:55-12:19, Psalms 118:1-18, Proverbs 15:24-26

Recently I had dinner with someone who asked me why the Christian God had an ego. I asked him what he meant. He talked about how the God of the Bible seems overly concerned about His own glory. His own honor. His own fame. He demands too much from us. All our gold. All our wealth. All our time and attention. He wondered if God was co-dependent or insecure and said he could never worship a God like that. I asked him what would make God more worthy of worship in his mind? He answered with a laundry list of human needs - poverty, violence, drought, famine, etc. - that God could take care of and if He did, He would be more worthy of worship. 

It’s tempting to use God as a means to accomplish our own ends. Judas looked with disdain on the extravagant offering Mary gave to Jesus. The ointment she “wasted” on Jesus’ feet could have been sold and given to the poor. Surely Jesus didn’t need such extravagance? Surely Jesus didn’t need such devotion? Surely Jesus would side with Judas and rebuke Mary for her sin? He must have been shocked when Jesus instead turns and rebukes him. "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." (‭‭John‬ ‭12:7-8‬) Jesus knew the future. He knew what was coming. He knew Mary - however unwittingly - was anointing him for his burial. Her act of devotion was preparing Him for His death. All Judas could see was the immediate needs before him and even those were an excuse for him to line his own pockets. He was not focused on Jesus. Jesus was a means to another end for Judas and the same was true for all the disciples. They believed Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel and they would be granted places of honor. None of them truly understood what was happening except for women like Mary. Women who were fully devoted to Jesus. Women who loved Him for who He was not just for what He could do for them. 

God is worthy of our worship. He is worthy of all our honor and devotion. He is worthy of the best we have to offer. Our gifts. Our time. Our talent. And yet how many of us see God as a means to another end? Perhaps we see Him as the means of blessing in our own lives and so we give and serve with the expectation that we will get something in return. Perhaps we see God as the means of solving the world’s problems and so we serve with the expectation that God will relieve human suffering and pain. Perhaps we see God as the means of eternal salvation so we raise our hand. Pray our prayer. Check the boxes and then go about life as usual assuming we’ve got our “get out of hell” free card. Friends, God will not allow Himself to be used. He will not be reduced to some genie in a bottle. He does not exist to serve us. We exist to serve Him. We exist to love Him. We exist to worship Him. This is why we were created and it is why Jesus affirms Mary. She saw Him clearly whereas Judas did not.  

God doesn’t have an ego. He doesn’t need us. He lives in perfect communion with Himself - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The great news is that He wants us to share in His life. He invites us into relationship with Him. He loves us and reaches out for us and longs to draw us close. There will always be problems in this world. The poor. The hurting. The suffering. God never intended this world to be this way and in fact, He is preparing a world for us where all tears will be wiped away and sin and death will be no more. He sees more and knows more than we do so perhaps a little humility is in order? Perhaps God is God and we are not? Perhaps He knows what’s best for us and it transcends the needs of this present world? 

Readings for tomorrow: 2 Samuel 1:1-2:11, John 12:20-50, Psalms 118:19-29, Proverbs 15:27-28

Resurrection Threat

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 26-28, John 11:1-54, Psalms 117, Proverbs 15:22-23

Death is something all human beings fear. Death is something we all work hard to avoid. We resist aging because it reminds of death. We hate funerals because they remind us of our own mortality. Governments use the death penalty as a tool to deter crime. Nations threaten one another with death in order to achieve their own ambitions. Death is the ultimate weapon of the principalities and powers of this world.  

But what happens when death is defeated? What do you do when a man can stand at the mouth of a tomb and call a dead man back to life? Surely this cannot be tolerated! Surely this kind of thing must be eliminated lest people start to believe there is a world beyond this world. A life beyond this life. If people started to believe such things then death would lost its power. Hell would lose its sting. The principalities and powers would have no way to keep people in line. So what do they do when they hear the news that Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead? Rejoice? Celebrate? Praise God? No. They hatch a plot to kill Jesus. 

Why would they do such a thing? Because they are afraid of death. Scared of what the Romans might do if word got out that dead people were coming back to life. The delicate political compromise they had struck with Rome would come crashing down like a house of cards.  “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." (John 11:48) This was a very real fear. They had seen firsthand the brutality of the Roman legions. They knew the fate that awaited those provinces that rebelled. Their nation would drown in violence, blood, fire, and death. 

So one of them, Caiaphas the high priest, came up with a solution.  "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." (John 11:49-50) If we can just kill Jesus, we can put an end to this movement before it starts. If we can just get to Jesus, then the rest of the people will fall in line. If we can just eliminate Jesus, then the nation will be safe. Little did he know he was prophesying the manner in which Jesus would die. Jesus would indeed become the atoning sacrifice...just not in the way Caiaphas had planned. 

Throughout this story, Jesus reminds us all things are happening for the glory of God. All these events are taking place so that we might believe. They are signs given by God Himself to His people to lead us to faith. In fact, the entire gospel of John is one sign after another culminating in the ultimate sign of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These things are written, John says, so that we might believe. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John‬ ‭20:30-31‬) So do you have life in Jesus’ name? Have you accepted Christ as the Son of God? The One who made full atonement for your sins? This is the offer Jesus makes to Mary and Martha when He says He alone is the resurrection and the life. He is offering a life that transcends death. A life that is eternal and indestructible. A life that never ends. 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 29-31, John 11:55-12:19, Psalms 118:1-18, Proverbs 15:24-26

Surrendering to God’s Will

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 24-25, John 10:22-42, Psalms 116, Proverbs 15:20-21

Imagine having everything you ever wanted within your grasp? Position. Power. Peace. You have the opportunity with a single stroke to bring it about. Imagine spending your life defending yourself against injustice. On the run for crimes you did not commit. Falsely accused by your enemy. And now you have the chance to end it. All you have to do is take matters into your own hands. A sudden strike in the darkness and you could lay hold of all God had promised.

The temptation to bring about the will of God in our own way and own time is very real. David faced it in the cave when Saul came in to relieve himself. Jesus faced it in the wilderness when the enemy offered him all the kingdoms of the world without the cross. You and I face it everyday as well in big and small ways. Yes, we know the will of God for our lives. We know His Word. We know His Truth. We know His Law. We know what He desires for us. But we get impatient. We get frustrated. We get anxious. We get afraid. And in our fear, we take matters into our own hands.

I remember vividly sitting down at a coffee shop one morning in Sun Prairie, WI. Kristi and I had been seeking God’s will for many months. God had led us to resign from a difficult and painful ministry position. He had led us to a great church family who welcomed us in to help us heal. He had provided a sixty day severance package that we lived on while we waited for Him to reveal what was next. Through a mutual friend, God had connected us to a church in Parker, CO that was just beginning their search for a new senior pastor. But these things take time and I was growing anxious. I was afraid. The church in Parker was literally my only job prospect. I had no other options. How would I feed my family if it fell through? How would I pay the rent? Was my career in ministry over? Was it time to go do something else? All these thoughts ran through my head as the weeks passed and the wheels of the search process slowly turned. I was getting about two to three hours of sleep a night. I would pace the hours away praying and crying out to God.

One Saturday evening, I made up my mind. Enough was enough. I needed to expand my search. I needed to look at other ministry positions. I needed more options. So I told Kristi I would start looking the next morning. She and I went to bed. She tossed and turned all night, suffering from the sudden onset of a migraine. I did my normal pacing routine. We were both deeply unsettled. Eventually, morning dawned. I showered. Got dressed. Headed over to the coffee shop, laptop in hand to begin my day. I ordered my regular cup of black coffee. Sat down at my favorite table. Opened up the browser on my computer. Just as I went to type, I heard the word “NO” in my mind. It was clear. It was loud. It was startling. I looked around. Shook my head. Went to type. Again came the word...”NO!” This time I jumped a little. I looked around again. No one else was in the shop. Just me and the barista who was in the back. So I tried a third time to type. “NO!” I sat back. I looked out the window. I knew it was the Lord. Calling me to trust. Calling me to be patient. Calling me to wait on Him to reveal His will rather than make my own plans. I called Kristi. Told her what had happened. Told her God wasn’t allowing me to apply to any other positions and that we just needed to wait for Him to reveal what would happen with the church in Parker. Immediately she felt the pain from her migraine lift and relief flood her body. It remains one of the most incredible moments in our lives.

God’s ways are not our ways. All of us would have counseled David to take Saul’s life in the cave that day. Put an end to the running. Put an end to the civil war. Kill your enemy and take your rightful place on the throne of Israel. All of us would have counseled Jesus to avoid the cross. To accept the deal the devil was offering. Accomplish all the Father has sent You to do without the suffering and pain. We all compromise. We all rationalize. We all have our excuses for why we don’t follow the will of God. Why we don’t walk in His ways. Why we don’t wait on His timing. The reality is we are always looking out for number one. We are always looking out for our own interests first before we look to the interests of others. Even God. But David was a man after God’s own heart. He refused to take matters into his own hands. He refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed even though Saul was an evil and corrupt king. He trusted all God had promised would be fulfilled in God’s time and in God’s way. Just like Jesus did in the wilderness. Just like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Friends, take a step back. Take your hands off the wheel. Relinquish control. Let go. Trust God to fulfill His promises in His perfect timing and according to His perfect will. 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 26-28, John 11:1-54, Psalms 117, Proverbs 15:22-23

Hearing the Voice of Jesus

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 22-23, John 10:1-21, Psalms 115, Proverbs 15:18-19

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John‬ ‭10:3-4‬)

Noise. There’s a lot of it in our lives. From the moment our alarm clocks go off until we finally put down the phone or turn off the television at the end of the night, our lives are full of noise. So many voices. Telling us all kinds of things. Much of it not good for us. The bully at school who tells us we’re worthless. The co-worker who’s so negative all the time. The spouse who badgers or berates us. The child who screams when they don’t get their way. The commercials that tempt us to think life is all about us. The subliminal messages coming through on social media that constantly invite comparison. The news outlets spinning world events to bolster a particular worldview. The proliferation of fake news, gossip, and a rumor mill run wild. And, in the middle of it all, the still small voice of God whispering continually to our hearts.

Can you hear Him? Can you hear His voice? Amidst all the noise and distractions? When was the last time you sat in silence? I mean true silence. No one around. No devices present to distract. No radio. No television. Just you and God sitting in silence together. “My sheep hear my voice…” Perhaps one of the main reasons we struggle so much with our faith is we do not take the time to listen for God’s voice. We expect Him to compete with all the other voices in our lives. Shout them down. Yell over the top of them. We expect Him to make Himself known to us but we refuse to create space in our lives for that to happen. Instead, we expect Him to push His way in. Elbow His way to the front of the line. Then and only then will we turn and acknowledge Him.

Jesus doesn’t work that way. There’s a great story from the Old Testament about a man named Elijah. He went out to meet with God. A great storm whipped up. God wasn’t in the storm. A great fire raged. God wasn’t in the fire. A great earthquake shook the very ground. God wasn’t in the earthquake. Then a still small voice. Elijah covered his head. He knew he was hearing the voice of God. “My sheep hear my voice…” Do you want to hear the voice of God? Make time for solitude and silence in your life.

For me, this often comes at the end of the day. My children are in bed. My wife as well. I sit in my favorite chair in the living room. Nothing is on. I read God’s Word. I meditate. I pray. I think back over the events of my day. The people I met. The conversations I had. The work I was able to accomplish. I pay close attention to how I experienced each moment. And I lay those feelings before the Lord. I ponder what’s to come the following day. What am I excited about? Nervous about? Who will I be meeting with and how can I serve them? What challenges will I be facing and how do they make me feel? All of these things I simply lay before Lord and ask Him to speak into them. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He simply reaches out and takes my hand. Let’s me know He’ll be with me no matter what.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them. They follow me. There’s nothing more comforting than walking through life with the Good Shepherd at your side.

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 24-25, John 10:22-42, Psalms 116, Proverbs 15:20-21

Living Right-side Up in an Upside Down World

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 20-21, John 9, Psalms 113-114, Proverbs 15:15-17

 "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." (John‬ ‭9:39)

Jesus came to turn an upside down world right-side up again. In the Kingdom of Jesus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The poor shall be rich and the rich shall be poor. The privileged will be the first to serve those who are underprivileged. The blessed will share generously with those who have not. Hate will be met with kindness. Hurt with forgiveness. Brokenness with healing. Creation will be cared for rather than exploited. Selflessness shall replace selfishness. We will exchange all our “identities” for the only one that truly matters...our identity in Christ. 

In our passage today, Jesus heals a man who was born blind. In those days, being born with a disability meant someone had sinned. Perhaps it was your parents who did something wrong or perhaps you had committed some error in the womb. Whatever it was, blindness was seen as God’s righteous punishment on the wicked rather than an expression of the brokenness of our world. Jesus corrects this misunderstanding. He heals the man. He takes the opportunity the man’s blindness affords to show forth the glory of God. To remind His disciples that this world is not as it should be. It is not as God intended it to be. And this is why Jesus was sent in the first place. 

What does it mean to  “do the works of God” like Jesus? It means living right-side up in an upside down world. I happen to believe the one Christian doctrine that is empirically proven is total depravity. Human beings are naturally inclined towards selfishness. They naturally put their own needs, wants, and desires first. They naturally prioritize the accumulation of wealth and possessions and power in order to ensure their own personal safety and security. When human beings possess political power, they codify their selfish desires into law thus creating systems of oppression and injustice and privilege that help them maintain control. One sees this played out on the world’s stage over and over again and throughout human history. Those who throw off the chains of oppression tend to take up the tools of the oppressor and become oppressors themselves. 

Where can we find hope? Only in the way of Jesus. Only in the Kingdom of Jesus. Only by surrendering our lives to Jesus and allowing His Spirit to reshape our hearts and reorder our desires. Jesus came to give sight to the blind but His ways also result in bringing blindness to those who think they have sight. If we persist in thinking/believing our ways are better than the Way, we remain blind and in our blindness, we perpetuate the very problems we are trying to solve. Need an example? Consider sex education. Despite rising rates of sexual addiction, the proliferation of pornography that objectifies women, sexual harassment and abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, broken relationships, etc., we still believe the answer is teaching kids to practice “safe sex.” Rather than recognize the sacredness of the sexual act and the deep intimacy of giving oneself physically to another person, we treat sex as a commodity to be used for our personal enjoyment. Need another example? Consider gender dysphoria. Somehow we believe it is right and true to teach children who are psychologically incapable of abstract thought that they should disassociate from their biological gender. We are teaching them that gender is a social construct, denying the scientific, biological reality of their chromosomes. We are celebrating their choices despite the overwhelming evidence that it leads to higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation. Need yet another example? Consider the recent rise in identity politics. Human beings attacking other human beings simply because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, economic wealth, educational privilege, etc. The rise in tribalism in our nation is tearing apart the social fabric of our country. The blindness is real, friends. 

Jesus comes to make us see. See things from God’s perspective. See one another as human beings made in God’s own image. See the world as God’s beloved creation. He comes to teach us the ways of God’s Kingdom. Selflessness. Service. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Grace. Peace. Love. Jesus embodied these values while He was on earth and He calls His followers to do the same. To work for justice. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with our God. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of the gospel. And it is the only hope our upside down world has of ever becoming right-side up again. 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 22-23, John 10:1-21, Psalms 115, Proverbs 15:18-19

Envy

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 18:5-19:24, John 8:31-59, Psalms 112, Proverbs 15:12-14

 "Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands." (1 Samuel‬ ‭18:7‬)

It doesn’t take much to ruin a relationship. A friendship. A partnership. Saul and David’s relationship began with such great potential. David was Saul’s champion against Goliath. David was humble and aspired to nothing more than service to his king. David didn’t pose any kind of threat to Saul. In fact, quite the opposite. Everywhere David went, the armies of Saul had success. Every battle David fought, the armies of Saul won. David was Saul’s greatest general. His greatest asset. Their partnership could have re-shaped the geopolitics of the entire region. Sadly, Saul fell prey to envy. He simply could not and would not share any glory with another. So when they returned in victory over the Philistines and the women ascribed greater glory to David, Saul became angry. The more David experienced success, the more Saul’s jealousy grew. Finally, things came to a breaking point when Saul tried to take David’s life. Such is the power of envy in a person’s life. 

Ultimately, the sin of envy is rooted in discontent. We believe we deserve more than what we have. We aspire for greater position. Greater power. Greater wealth. Greater influence. We believe we’ve been wronged. Passed over. Dismissed. When we see others around us seemingly getting ahead. Collecting awards. Achieving success. We perceive it as a diminishment. We fall for the lie that their success somehow highlights our failure. Their victories somehow bring to light our defeats. We measure ourselves against them and are found wanting. As soon as envy sets in, it is tough to root out. It warps our thinking. It clouds our vision. It changes our perceptions of reality. 

I think of how envious I have been in my life. I remember as a young pastor just starting out how envious I was of my colleagues who led larger congregations, held greater influence in our city, and seemingly got all the press. I remember going through difficult times in my marriage or with my children and envying those around me whose marriages and families seemed to be so strong. To this day, I struggle with the sin of envy. Always comparing myself to those who have achieved more than I ever will in my life.  

What’s the antidote to envy? Godly contentment. Resting in the truth that it is God who directs my life. God who commands my destiny. God who holds my future in His hands. My life is not my own. My achievements and success are not mine to claim. This life is not about me and my glory. It is about God and God alone. Jesus understood this, of course, when He says in John 8:54, “My glory is nothing.” The Son of God didn’t come to glorify Himself but to bring glory to His Heavenly Father. He didn’t come to accomplish His own will but to fulfill the Father’s plan. He didn’t come seeking His own success but sought first His Father’s Kingdom and righteousness. Because Jesus was faithful to His Father, He was exalted. He was lifted high. He was given the name above every name. Imagine if Saul rested in God? Imagine if Saul truly understood that the glory of Israel had nothing to do with him and everything to do with God? Imagine if Saul saw his role in God’s Kingdom clearly? David would never have been a threat no matter how many ten thousands he killed. Imagine what would happen if you and I rested in God? If we truly understood the glory of our lives was not our own but the Lord’s? Imagine if we saw our role in God’s Kingdom clearly and we embraced it with joy? Would that not put an end to envy in our lives? 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 20-21, John 9, Psalms 113-114, Proverbs 15:15-17

Trustworthy God

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 17:1-18:4, John 8:21-30, Psalms 111, Proverbs 15:11

The best things about the Psalms is how they teach us to sing the character of God. To praise God for who He is and what He has done. To reflect on God’s nature and being. Over and over again, they declare His righteousness. His faithfulness. His steadfast love. Over and over again, they declare His justice. His holiness. His splendor and majesty. Over and over again, they declare His mercy. His grace. His compassion and forgiveness. If were lost on some deserted island somewhere and I had to pick one book of the Bible to bring with me, it would be the Psalms. 

Praying the Psalms is a wonderful exercise. I don’t know about you but sometimes I struggle to pray. I struggle to find the right words to express my emotions. Struggle to give myself permission to be honest and real and authentic before the Lord. I struggle to pray in faith, trusting God’s character. This is where the Psalms come in. I can pray these words rather than my own. I let the Psalmist guide me deeper into the heart of prayer. I find myself praising. Lamenting. Expressing every emotion imaginable. I find myself thanking God. Remembering all His mighty works and miracles. Praying these words restores my soul. Helps me find my way back to faith again.  

Romans 4:21 defines faith as “being fully convinced God is able to what He has promised.” Praying with such confidence is rich and powerful. And one can only do that if one is fully convinced God is who He says He is. The Psalms keep God fully in view. They fix our eyes on Him. The focus our hearts on His character and nature and being. They remind us of all His glorious attributes and this, in turn, leads us to pray with greater faith. 

Why do we praise God? Why do we give thanks to Him with our whole hearts? Because He is great. “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” Splendid and majestic. “Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.” Gracious and merciful. “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.” He is our faithful provider. “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” He is trustworthy and true. “He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” Holy and awesome. “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!” (Psalms‬ ‭111:1-9‬)‬‬

Because God is all these things and so much more, we fear Him. We reverence Him. We worship Him.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalms‬ ‭111:10‬) Let everything you do today - in word or deed - be an act of worship to the Living God! 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 18:5-19:24, John 8:31-59, Psalms 112, Proverbs 15:12-14

Sin of Presumption

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 15-16, John 8:1-20, Psalms 110, Proverbs 15:8-10

 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel‬ ‭15:23‬)

“I cannot believe in a God like that.” “Surely God wants me to have fun?” “God can’t be that picky, can He?” “Man, it sure seems like God has an ego.” I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard fellow Christians say these things and others like them. Typically, these comments come when Christians run smack up against a command of God they do not want to follow. They feel like God is out to get them. Out to steal their joy. Out to squash all their fun. So they presume upon His grace. They presume upon His merciful character. They go their own way. Do their own thing. And when the consequences come, they get angry or confused or blame God. 

Sadly, too many people who call themselves Christians are biblically illiterate. They don’t even know God’s commands much less follow them. They find worship boring and pointless. Reading the Bible a chore. Prayer a waste of time. They live their lives any way they wish. They seek the fulfillment of their own desires. Spend their money primarily on themselves and their families. Use their time selfishly rather than seek to serve those around them. All the while believing they are loved by God. Forgiven by God. Blessed by God.  

Saul presumed upon God’s grace as well. He followed God’s command and attacked the Amalekites. He defeated them and won a great victory for the Lord. However, he didn’t follow God’s commands. He spared the life of the king and kept the best of the spoil for a sacrifice. Now I can already hear the protests. Wasn’t his heart in the right place? Wasn’t his intent - if misguided - still pretty good? It’s not like he was trying to enrich himself? The answer to these questions is an unequivocal “no!” What God wants is our complete and full obedience. He wants us to follow His ways not create our own. He wants us to love Him with all our hearts. Show Him our full devotion. And Saul, by choosing to do things his way rather than God’s, lost his kingdom. He presumed. And in his presumption was destroyed. 

This is a sobering story for us all. How often do we presume on God’s grace? How often do we take God for granted? The first commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. To love Him with all that we are. To put Him first. What does this look like in our everyday lives? It means spending time with Him in prayer and study of His Word. It means worshipping Him on the Lord’s Day with our fellow believers. It means serving Him and giving generously to support His work in the world. These things are non-negotiable. It also means loving and learning God’s commands. Actively aligning our lives to the life of Jesus. Taking His words seriously and seeking to apply them to our daily lives. Will we do that perfectly? Of course not. We will make mistakes along the way but there is forgiveness for those who are truly seeking the Lord. There is grace for those who stumble and fall as long as we are continually falling forward. 

Let me challenge and encourage you to examine your life. Where do you need to confess the sin of presumption? Where have you taken God for granted? Do you truly love His commands and seek to follow them? Or do you go your own way. Do your own thing. And assume God will give you a pass? 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 17:1-18:4, John 8:21-30, Psalms 111, Proverbs 15:11

Discernment

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 14, John 7:31-53, Psalms 109, Proverbs 15:5-7

One of the most important gifts we can exercise is an ability to discern between right and wrong. Good and evil. God’s will and our own will. Saul is now king over Israel. He is the man God is going to use to deliver His people. He is a strong man. A valiant man. Sadly, he is not a wise man. He makes rash decisions. He takes vows in the name of the Lord that come back to haunt him. He is often his own worst enemy.

In today’s reading, Jonathan wins a great victory for Israel. He and his armor bearer undertake a dangerous, potentially even suicidal, mission. They invade the camp of the Philistines. They kill twenty men and the result is chaos. The Philistine army starts panicking and racing in every direction. Saul sees the confusion and takes advantage of it. He marshals the rest of his army and sends them after the Philistines. God gives them a great victory. However, in his zeal, Saul issues an edict that no Israelite shall eat until their defeat of the Philistines is complete. The battle is hard. The fighting is fierce. God’s people grow faint. In the midst of it all, Jonathan - who didn’t know about his father’s command - eats a some honey and it strengthens him. He openly questions his father’s wisdom. The people follow his example, slaughtering animals for a feast. The news gets back to Saul. He interprets their actions as sin. He attempts to talk to the Lord who remains silent through the whole episode. In response to God’s silence, Saul casts lots to determine who has broken his command. It’s Jonathan. In his foolishness, he decides to kill him but the people of God stand in his way. 

The whole story is a mess. It’s a confusing jumble and hard to follow. And it points to what happens when human beings take matters into their own hands. When we fail to discern the difference between God’s will and our own. How often do we make this mistake? How many times over the course of my life have I pursued something out of pride or selfish desire, foolishly assuming it to be God’s will? How often have I grown impatient and rushed into a decision I later regretted? If I am completely honest, there have even been times in my life where I chased something I knew to be sin but did it anyway, hypocritically asking God for forgiveness in advance. 

How do we discern the will of God? First, we have to know God’s Word. We have to know God’s law. We have to commit ourselves to obedience to His commands. It is NEVER God’s will that you disobey Him. It is NEVER God’s will that you live out of alignment with Jesus. Second, we have to ask God for wisdom. The wisdom to follow Jesus. He promises in James 1:5 to give this wisdom generously to all who ask. So we pray in faith, trusting God to keep His promises. Finally, we learn through constant, daily practice to discern the difference between good and evil. Right and wrong. God’s will and our will. There is a process of trial and error here as we get better at listening to God’s voice above our own or the voices in our world. 

I love what Hebrews 5:12-14 says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Discernment rests on our ability to become “skilled in righteousness” or skilled in God’s ways. If we walk in His love. If we obey His commands. If we submit our lives to Him, we can know the will of God for our lives. 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 15-16, John 8:1-20, Psalms 110, Proverbs 15:8-10

The Bread of Life

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 10-11, John 6:43-71, Psalms 107, Proverbs 15:1-3

John 6 challenges us. Challenges us to think about why we seek Jesus. Is it for the signs and wonders? The miracles He can perform? Is it because of His blessings? The eschatological rewards we will one day receive? Is Jesus just a means for us to accomplish our own ends? Fulfill our own desires? The people had experienced a great miracle. Five thousand of them had been fed by a few loaves and a few fish. They had eaten their fill which was no small thing in a 1st century agrarian economy. And they’re probably thinking to themselves, “If we follow this man, we will never grow hungry again.” 

But is that why we seek Jesus? To satisfy our physical needs?  “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." (John‬ ‭6:27‬) Yes, Jesus! That’s what we want! Help us understand! What does it mean to do the works of God that He might be pleased with us and give us the food that never perishes? “Believe in Me.” Jesus responds. “What sign will you perform that we may see and believe?” You can almost see Jesus shake His head. Really? Did I not just multiply loaves and fishes and feed five thousand? Was that not enough? Of course, it’s never enough for us. We always want more. Always need more. Always seek yet another sign. Another confirmation that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. 

Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John‬ ‭6:35, 47-51‬) 

In other words, “You aren’t getting it. You’re missing the point. This isn’t about the manna you ate in the wilderness during the Exodus journey. That manna may have sustained but it could not save. This is about the true bread the Father is offering you from heaven. The bread that not only sustains but saves you eternally. I am the living bread. Believe in Me! Feast on Me! Trust Me and you will live forever.” Essentially what Jesus is telling them is He is the sign. He is the wonder. He is the miracle of God come down from heaven so that all who believe might have eternal life. 

We get so caught up trying to meet our own needs. We focus so much on our own desires. We work so hard for selfish gain. But we all know we can’t take this stuff with us. We all know there are no storage units in heaven to store our stuff. No moving van to pack us up for glory. Naked we came into this world and naked we shall depart. As much as we achieve in this world, it will be forgotten. As much as we accumulate in this world, it will fall to dust. The only thing that endures is our faith in Christ. The only thing that is eternal is our belief in Him. The only thing that matters is that we trust Him and surrender to Him and let Him meet our needs according to His will and perfect plan.  

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 12-13, John 7:1-30, Psalms 108, Proverbs 15:4

National Righteousness

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 8-9, John 6:22-42, Psalms 106:32-48, Proverbs 14:34-35

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs‬ ‭14:34‬)

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Colorado Prayer Luncheon and hearing from Governor Polis, Mayor Hancock, and others discuss the state of politics at national, regional, and local levels. It was a particularly insightful and poignant conversation especially in the wake of tragic shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. Everyone seems to be asking the same question. How in the world can this be happening in our country? How is this the new “normal” for our children? And how should we, as leaders, respond? Of course there will be the standard calls from both the right and the left to either arm or disarm. If only our teachers carried in schools then our children would be safe. If only we banned automatic weapons then our children would be safe. Each side will entrench and do their level best to legislate their agenda but neither side will be successful. Why? Because we keep focusing on the symptoms rather than the disease. We struggle to have any kind of honest, respectful national debate on the issue of gun control and instead allow the extremes on either side to devolve the debate. 

It’s not just gun control. The same is true on issues of race, wealth, criminal justice, etc. Because each political party employs a scorched earth approach hell-bent on the denial of any victories to their political rivals, we cannot come together. When was the last time a political leader on either side actually acknowledged their political rival had a good point? A good idea? A good policy initiative? When was the last time our political leaders tried to authentically share the credit rather than hoard it for themselves? It simply doesn’t happen as both sides do all they can to defend the indefensible in their own tribe while ruthlessly seeking to drag down their enemies. This naked pursuit of political power at all costs is slowly eroding the social fabric of our nation. And things are picking up steam. I have had people leave my church over politics. I have seen friendships end over politics. Businesses suffer because of our “call-out” culture that makes party loyalty/tribal identity a litmus test for every relationship in life. It’s getting harder and harder to imagine a shared future. 

Does the Bible offer any guidance? Yes. The wisdom of Solomon. We must return to righteousness. We must re-establish a strong moral foundation. We must engage in a respectful conversation around national values and we must - we absolutely must - demand more from our leaders. Righteousness exalts a nation. Righteousness forms the bedrock on which strong nations are built. A shared sense of righteousness helps us discern right from wrong, evil from good. 

What would happen if our national charter proclaimed, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of righteousness” rather than the pursuit of personal happiness? What might change if we chose righteousness over selfishness? Righteousness over bitterness? Righteousness over outrage and anger? Righteousness over sin? Righteousness demands we look over our history as a nation and acknowledge our sins. The massacre of First Nation people. The systematic enslavement of an entire race of people. The subjugation of women and abuse of children. The rapacious greed that drives economic inequality. Righteousness also demands we acknowledge our virtues. The establishment of a government by the people for the people. The establishment of equal rights - even if harder won for certain groups - is a miraculous anomaly in human history. Wealth creation that has lifted billions around the world out of life-threatening poverty. And, of course, the incredible sacrifice of a generation as they fought to free the world from tyranny. 

Righteousness demands we acknowledge every human being is made in the image of God. Righteousness demands we refuse the temptation to demonize and dehumanize those with whom we disagree. Righteousness demands we think the best of one another rather than the worst. Righteousness demands we actively and empathetically listen to one another and honor our different life experiences. Righteousness demands those who are blessed seek to bless others. Those who have seek to lift up those who have not. Those who have “made it” turn around and offer their hands to those still slugging it out. Righteousness means we refuse to take up the tools of oppression or seek vengeance or try to tear others down. Righteousness exalts a nation. 

I truly believe we occupy more common ground than we imagine. I truly believe there is more that holds us together than drives us apart. I truly believe we hold some truths to be self-evident and we are working hard to make those truths even more self-evident. I truly believe the road to righteousness is messy and long and hard. But I also believe it is worth every effort. And I believe pursuing righteousness is essential for the follower of Jesus. 

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 10-11, John 6:43-71, Psalms 107, Proverbs 15:1-3

The Danger of False Gods

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 5-7, John 6:1-21, Psalms 106:13-31, Proverbs 14:32-33

Imagine you are living in ancient Israel during the time of the judges. You have no Bible. You have no synagogue. You have no centralized system of government. Every now and again, a charismatic leader rises up and for a time you have peace. For a time you seek after God. But pretty soon you lapse back into your old ways. You live in a very tribal culture. Every tribe around you has its own gods and goddesses and its own way of worship that seems to have been working for them. As you build your house and plant your crops and grow your family, you grow complacent. The incredible miracles God worked on your behalf recede further and further. You are preoccupied with the present. What you will eat. What you will wear. Will your wife get pregnant this year? How many lambs will be born this spring? What will the harvest yield? Sure, you go up each year to Shiloh to make your sacrifices but then it’s back to normal. And “normal” doesn’t really include God.

It’s actually not hard to imagine, is it? This is familiar territory for all of us. How many of us own a Bible but rarely open it? How many of us belong to a church but rarely go to worship? We too live in a “tribal” culture whether it’s our family, social group, political party, etc. Everyone of those tribes has its own “gods” and “goddesses” and different ways of worship. And if we aren’t careful, we can get sucked in. We buy our homes. We grow our families. We work hard. We play hard. And we too can get complacent. The miracles and blessings of God can become commonplace in our lives as well. We too are preoccupied with the present. What we will eat. What we will wear. What kind of home we will live in. Will I get a raise this year? A promotion? Will my child make the team? Will I get into my dream college? Will I get my dream job? Will I meet the man or woman of my dreams? Sure, we go to worship on Christmas and Easter just in case but then it’s quickly back to normal. And “normal” doesn’t really include God.

Enter Samuel. A man sent by God to bring Israel back. To remind her of her covenant commitments. To have no other gods before God. To worship no idols. To honor God’s name and keep the Sabbath. “Samuel said to all the house of Israel, "If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." (1 Samuel‬ ‭7:3‬) Samuel led Israel during a very difficult period in her history. She had suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Philistines. The ark of God had been captured. Her priests had been killed. All hope seemed lost. And then along came Samuel to remind her of God. To challenge her to return to God with her whole heart. To put aside all the other gods and goddesses. To cleanse herself of all the false worship she had engaged in. To come back to God and watch Him work yet another miracle on her behalf. This is exactly what happened. God brought them a great victory over their enemies. The Philistines were subdued. Territory was reclaimed. Hope was restored.

Enter the church of Jesus Christ. Sent by God to bring our world back. To remind humanity of her most sacred calling. To have no other gods before God. To worship no idols. To honor God’s name and keep the Sabbath holy. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century is called to lead during a very challenging time. Persecution is on the rise across the globe while here in America the church is in steep decline as it struggles against the increasing secularism of our culture. Pastors are failing morally. Sexual abuse and financial infidelity seem rampant. Heresies like prosperity preaching bring shame to the name of Jesus. It does feel like we are facing a steep, uphill battle. Perhaps you even feel like all hope is lost. But God isn’t finished! The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe! Of all who place their trust in Christ! And the church is being sent out as lambs amidst the wolves to call people back to God. To stand up against the principalities and powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We are being sent to challenge the people of our world to put aside all the false gods and goddesses that only deal in suffering and death. To cleanse themselves of false worship and re-commit their lives to Christ. As we do this, we can be confident. For we know we worship the only true and living God. All the false gods will bow before Him just as Dagon did that day in the temple. There is no weapon that’s formed against us that can stand for greater is He that is in us than is in the world!

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 8-9, John 6:22-42, Psalms 106:32-48, Proverbs 14:34-35

School Shootings

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 2:22-4:22, John 5:24-47, Psalms 106:1-12, Proverbs 14:30-31

It’s been a very long day. Filled with lots of conversations, text messages, and emails regarding the latest school shooting in our area. Parents. Teenagers. Families. All reaching out. All needing comfort. All needing hope. And I have to admit, I don’t have much to offer. I am tired. Tired of the shootings. Tired of domestic terrorism. Tired of the senselessness of it all. Our culture has made a pact with death and we are reaping the whirlwind. Our obsession with violence too often ending in self-destruction. When will the cycle end? 

We have to come to grips with reality. The violence we are experiencing is a symptom of a deeper disease. One that has taken root in every human heart. We are sinful. We are selfish. We are narcissistic. Driven by our basest desires, we no longer seem able to moderate our reactions. Instead we give them full rein. We vent. We emote. We perpetuate hate. Social media throws gasoline on this dumpster fire exacerbating our worst tendencies. Disconnected from authentic relationships. Lonely and isolated. We feel we have no outlet other than unbridled rage. “If we’re going down, we’re going to take as many with us as possible.” Some of us do it with words. Others with guns. Either way, the root of the problem remains the same. A heart tormented by pain and suffering. Wracked by shame and guilt. Numb to the humanity of others.  

What happens when we use the very freedoms that make our nation great to indulge the very worst parts of our sinful nature? Freedom of speech used to defend the spread of hate, misinformation, and fake news. Freedom of expression used to defend the graphic depiction of violence in video games, television, and movies. Freedom of assembly used to defend the lunatic fringe. All the while, media outlets make millions fanning the flames of our national discontent. Can we really be surprised when angry, abused, bullied, and neglected adolescents/adults become emotionally unhinged, get their hands on easily obtainable firearms, and shoot up a school? I know, I know. “Guns don’t kill people...people kill people.” However, this seems dangerously naive sentiment in a culture where mental health issues continue to rise at an extraordinary rate and we consistently demonstrate an inability to mature or show any kind of capacity for emotional restraint.  

It’s time for a reality check. A national conversation around not just human rights but human responsibilities. A national commitment to the ethics of Jesus which involves self-denial for the sake of others, sacrifice for the greater good, and a dedication to the golden rule. Though all may not accept Christ’s divinity or believe in His name unto salvation; surely we can all agree practicing the way of Jesus would lead to a more just and gracious society? And we don’t need a theocracy to achieve it. Simply a willingness to be held to a higher standard personally, professionally, and politically. 

Sadly, our situation is not new. It is as old as Cain and Abel. There is a violent streak that runs through the heart of every human society which is why God sent His one and only Son. He sent Jesus to give us hope. He sent Jesus to give us peace. He sent Jesus to bring heaven to earth. Even in the midst of the violence and corruption of Eli’s time, we read these prophetic words about the coming of the Messiah, “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel‬ ‭2:35‬) Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 5-7, John 6:1-21, Psalms 106:13-31, Proverbs 14:32-33

Spiritual Renewal

Readings for today: 1 Samuel 1:1-2:21, John 5:1-23, Psalms 105:37-45, Proverbs 14:28-29

Today’s reading represents a transition point in salvation history. As we’ve already seen, things are really bad in Israel. The people do not honor God. They do not have leaders who honor God. They are simply going through the motions of worship. Saying all the right things. Making all the right sacrifices. But in their hearts, they reject God. The rebel against His Law. Their priests are a disaster, engaging in sexual immorality. Making a mockery of the sacrificial system. Abusing their spiritual authority. Eli and his sons are the last in the line of the judges. A corrupt time in Israel’s history that heartens back to the days of the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, and slavery in Egypt. At each of these points, God raised up a new leader. A godly leader. Someone who sought Him with all their heart and was “blameless” (not perfect) in their generation.

Noah. Abraham. Moses. Now it’s Samuel’s turn to take up the mantle of leadership and lead Israel back to Yahweh. Samuel is really a bridge from the time of the Judges to the time of the Kings. He will oversee a major transition in the life of Israel as they go from a bunch of tribes, each with their own identity, to one nation under a strong, centralized monarchy. It’s also striking to note Samuel’s age when he receives this call. Noah, Abraham, and Moses were all old men. Well beyond their prime. Samuel is a young boy. Not yet come into his own. The message here? God can use anyone at anytime to accomplish His purposes. 

Admittedly, we are bleeding into tomorrow’s reading a bit but it’s worth getting the whole narrative in front of us. “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.” (1 Samuel‬ ‭3:1-3‬)

Several things stand out in this passage. The Word of the Lord was rare. There was no vision. Eli, the current judge and spiritual leader of Israel, was going blind. All of these are connected. Israel was so mired in sin that God had gone almost silent. Throughout the Bible we see this dynamic in play. 

  • “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
  • “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes.” (Jeremiah 16:17)
  • “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” ‭(Hebrews‬ ‭4:13‬)

God will not be mocked. When God’s people continue to turn to sin instead of turning to Him in faithfulness, He will withdraw His presence. He will withhold His Word. He will give “them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity...give them up to dishonorable passions...give them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) And that is exactly what had taken place in Israel and in Eli’s own family. Eli failed to discipline and restrain his sons. Hophni and Phineas are the very definition of corrupt religious leaders who manipulate the faith for their own benefit. And though things look okay on the outside - i.e. sacrifices are being made, prayers are being said, worship is taking place - the people of God are spiritually dying. (By the way, we see these same things happening in our world today. Think of the health and wealth preachers who speak to thousands every week. Or the Christian self-help gurus who masquerade as preachers. Or the many preachers who have fallen into sin, reject any kind of accountability or spiritual authority or process of repentance, and then get back into the pulpit. As incredible as it seems, faithlessness is often very popular and faithfulness unpopular.)

Thankfully, all hope is not lost! The lamp of God had not yet gone out! A young boy lies down in the temple of the Lord ready to receive His Word anew! Note the differences between Eli and Samuel. Eli is old. Infirm. Going blind. Samuel is young. Strong. His eyesight is clear. Eli is alone. Lying down in his own place. Samuel is also alone but makes his bed in the temple to be near the ark of God. Eli is associated in this passage with the rarity of God’s Word and a lack of vision. Samuel is associated with hope because light still flickered in the lamp of God. 

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man (or woman) fully consecrated to him.” (Attributed to Dwight L. Moody) Spiritual revival always begins with one person fully devoting themselves to God. Samuel was set apart from conception to be such a man. His mother gave him to the Lord to be raised in the temple. He was open to hear God’s call when it came. As a result, revival did come to Israel. “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (1 Samuel‬ ‭3:19-21‬)

Where do you find yourself in this story? Are you like Eli, Hophi, and Phineas? Enslaved to your sinful desires? Pursuing a life apart from God? Is the Word of the Lord rare in your life? Let me strongly encourage you to go before the Lord in honest, even ruthless, self-examination. Ask God to show you the areas of your life that need to be surrendered. Are you like Samuel? Do you have a heart for God? Let me encourage you to dig deep into His Word. Dedicate daily time in prayer. Listen for God’s voice as it comes to you through His Word or through other believers or through your own personal prayer time. And when He speaks, may you answer with Samuel, “Speak Lord! Your servant is listening.”

Readings for tomorrow: 1 Samuel 2:22-4:22, John 5:24-47, Psalms 106:1-12, Proverbs 14:30-31

Ruth

Readings for today: Judges 21-Ruth 1, John 4:4-42, Psalms 105:1-15, Proverbs 14:25

I love the book of Ruth. It upends so many expectations and helps us understand the heart of God. Ruth is a Moabite. A foreigner. A sojourner. She married an Israelite named Chilion and became part of his extended family. This was forbidden by the Law of God but it took place during the time of the judges when everyone was doing right in their own eyes. Tragedy strikes. Her father-in-law, Elimelech, dies. Ten years later both her husband and his brother die as well. This puts the whole family in dire straights. There are no men to work. No men to protect them. So Naomi makes the decision to return home. She encourages her Moabite daughters-in-law to do the same. Start over. See if they have better luck with a new family because hers has brought them only grief. Ruth refuses. She makes this extraordinary declaration, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth‬ ‭1:16‬) So powerful is her statement that we often hear it read at weddings thousands of years later!

Ruth not only returns with Naomi to Bethlehem, she cares faithfully for her mother-in-law. She puts her life at risk by going out to the fields to glean what was left after the reapers had made their way through. It was backbreaking, painstaking work. Women who did this were often molested, harassed, and abused. They were the poorest of the poor in the land. Completely without hope. In the providence of God, the field she chose belonged to a man named Boaz. A righteous man. A man who left the gleanings for the poor as the Law of God demands. (Lev. 19:9-10) A man who protected her from the men who worked for him. A man who included her among his own young women so she woudn’t be alone. Even invited her to sit and eat at his table. Boaz is a man who clearly honors the Lord. I love what he says to Ruth when she asks him why she has found favor in his eyes. “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!" (Ruth‬ ‭2:12‬)

Naomi cannot believe their good fortune! Ruth has been led by God to the very fields of the man who can redeem them! (Lev. 25) A man who is a close enough relative to bring them into his family and continue the family line! Thus unfolds this beautiful courtship in chapter three where Ruth goes and lies at Boaz’s feet to ask him to take them in. Boaz is humbled by the request and makes the necessary arrangements to become their kinsman-redeemer. They get married. Conceive a son. The family line continues which is important since her great-grandson is King David! Furthermore, many generations hence, her descendent Joseph will marry a young pregnant woman named Mary and they will have a son named Jesus. The Great Redeemer who will save His people from their sins!

After all the bloodshed and violence and suffering and pain, it is nice to read that not all was lost in Israel. Even in the time of the judges, there were still faithful men and women who followed the Lord. It is a great reminder to us in our own time that the night is always darkest right before the dawn. God using ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary plans in a culture seemingly hell-bent on ruin. God is faithful and He has promised to the moral arc of this universe towards His Kingdom. Thanks be to God! 

Readings for tomorrow: Ruth 2-4, John 4:43-54, Psalms 105:16-36, Proverbs 14:26-27

Heart of Darkness

Readings for today: Judges 19-20, John 3:22-4:3, Psalms 104:24-35, Proverbs 14:22-24

Today we encounter some of the most difficult material in all of Scripture. We see Israel at one of her lowest points. She has forgotten Yahweh. She has become like all the pagan tribes around her. She is more focused on her own gratification than she is on serving and honoring the Lord. Her world is full of idols and sexual perversion and violence. Yes, she still goes through the motions. She still makes her sacrifices. She still prays. Fasts. Appears before the Lord at the appointed times. But it’s all empty at this point. Everyone is doing what seems right to them. They are all following their own ways. They are plumbing the depths of sin. They are pushing the boundaries of evil. Unspeakable atrocities are taking place in Israel such as the gang rape of a woman whose body is then dismembered resulting in a genocidal war that basically annihilates an entire tribe. It’s madness. 

One of my favorite books is the Heart of Darkness  by Joseph Conrad. With penetrating insight, he describes the nature of man. Given the right conditions. Given the right set of circumstances. We will all succumb to temptation. In the book, Kurtz sets himself up as a god to be worshipped. He exploits those around him. He uses them for his own personal gratification and enjoyment. He is evil and selfish and insane. Towards the end of the story, he finds himself dying as he “returns” to civilization. His life flashes before his eyes. He reflects back on all he has done. And his final words are, “The horror! The horror!”

Horror. It’s a good word to describe what we read today from the book of Judges. There simply is nothing redemptive in the story. Nothing good. Nothing godly. Man’s inhumanity to man is on full display. It’s dark. It’s evil. It’s terrifying. Horror. It’s a good word to describe what’s going on in our world today.  One only has to scroll through a Twitter newsfeed to see the hate that leads to violence that leads to death and then return the next day to watch the cycle repeat itself. Horror. If we’re totally honest, it’s a good word to describe what goes on in all of our hearts. All of us are perpetrators. All of us are victims. We are the Levite. We are the concubine. We’ve sacrificed others and we’ve been sacrificed for the sake of self-protection and self-gratification. In the Bible’s judgment, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans‬ ‭3:10-18‬)

So where can we find hope? Where can we find light in the midst of our darkness? Only in Jesus. On the cross, Jesus embraced our darkness. On the cross, Jesus walked into the valley of the shadow. On the cross, Jesus let evil have it’s day. The murder of God is the most horrific act in human history and it is worth our reflection. Reflect on the price Jesus paid. The blood He shed. The penalty He bore. Reflect on the suffering He endured. The pain He experienced. The heartbreak of betrayal. Reflect on the depth of our sin. The depravity of our nature. The darkness of our hearts. Reflect on the cost of our salvation. On what it took to redeem us from sin and death. To deliver us from evil.

But make sure to also reflect on our salvation! God plunging Himself into the horror of our condition! Plumbing the depth of our darkness! Immersing Himself in the breadth of our madness! And embracing us as His own! Today we declare there is hope for the Levite and his concubine! Today we declare there is hope for the Kurtz’s of our world! Today we declare there is hope even for us! And that hope is found in Jesus!

Readings for tomorrow: Judges 21-Ruth 1, John 4:4-42, Psalms 105:1-15, Proverbs 14:25

Identity

Readings for today: Judges 17-18, John 3:1-21, Psalms 104:1-23, Proverbs 14:20-21

 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John‬ ‭3:3‬)

Our culture is obsessed with identity. Gay, straight, bi. Black, brown, white. Republican, Democrat. Socialist, Libertarian. Male, female, tran. Boomer, Gen X, Millennial. Abled, disabled. Rich, middle class, poor. Religious. Non-religious. Everyone wanting to be part of a tribe. Part of a group. Part of a community who understands their needs. Everyone wants to be affirmed and accepted. Everyone wants to be validated and embraced. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these desires. Human beings have an existential fear of loneliness that is hardwired into the deepest parts of our souls. We were not made to be alone. In fact, part and parcel of being made in the image of God means being made in the image of our Creator who exists eternally in community in Himself.  

Enter Nicodemus. A man who belonged to the tribe of the Pharisees. A leader among the Jews. A man who identified clearly with his people and his faith. But something is missing which is why he finds himself coming to Jesus. He’s nervous. He’s anxious. He’s afraid. He doesn’t want to cross his tribe. He doesn’t want to put his reputation at risk so he comes to Jesus at night. Under the cover of darkness. He wants to get in and out unseen. But Jesus - as he so often does - cuts right to the heart of his problem. It’s one of identity. 

“You must be born again.”  What a statement! You must ground your identity in Christ alone. You must take on a new name. Belong to a new family. One defined by love and devotion to God. It’s not new. It’s really the only way we can live out the first and second great commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. The only way this happens is if we are first born again. Born to new life. Born to a new identity as a child of God. 

But how can we be born again? How can we lay hold of our new identity in Christ? By faith. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John‬ ‭3:16-18‬) We cannot make this happen on our own. We cannot climb back into our mother’s womb. And thankfully we don’t have to! All we have to do is believe. Receive the gift of God’s only begotten Son. Trust He came not to condemn but to save. 

Readings for tomorrow: Judges 19-20, John 3:22-4:3, Psalms 104:24-35, Proverbs 14:22-24

Meditating on Truth

Readings for today: Judges 15-16, John 2, Psalms 103, Proverbs 14:17-19

My wife and I were sitting down for dinner last week when one of our daughters came downstairs. She was in the middle of her homework. There were still dishes to do. A floor to sweep and mop. A lunch to be made. A room to clean. And it was getting late. She was tired. Frustrated. Upset. And I could tell by the look on her face that her internal critic was in overdrive. Telling her all kinds of lies. “You can’t get it all done.” “You are so far behind.” “You will flunk your assignment.” “You’ll never finish.” As we talked, her emotions escalated. Her voice raised. Tears came to her eyes. Her body language more animated. Now I will confess I used to escalate with her. I used to get angry. I too believed lies. “She’s just being disobedient.” “She’s trying to avoid work.” “She’s just wasting time.” My voice would raise. My body language would become animated. And we’d end up in a shouting match that just wrecked her spirit. 

Meditating on Psalms like the one we read today have been so helpful.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's...The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children...” (Psalms‬ ‭103:2-5, 8-17‬) You see, if God is merciful and gracious. If He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. If He does not deal with me according to my sin. If He removes my sin as far as the east is from the west or as high as the heavens are above the earth. How can I do the same for the people in my life? I know their frames. I know they are dust just like me. I know they are fragile and anxious and afraid. So how can I encourage and bless? How can I crown them with steadfast love and mercy? How can I satisfy them with good so their strength is renewed? 

So rather than yell, I simply held out my arms to my daughter. She resisted at first. I actually had to chase her around the kitchen for a full five minutes or so before she relented. She was so upset the last thing she wanted was a hug. But eventually she gave in. As I held her, her tears dried up. Her heart rate slowed down. You could feel her body relax. We started talking through everything she had to do. We identified the lies she was telling herself and I reminded her of the truth. “You have plenty of time.” “You are more than capable.” “Your mom and I are here to help.” She wrapped everything up in no time and was able to relax before bed.

Such a beautiful moment. And if I - a sinful, broken dad - can bless my children, how much more our Heavenly Father? I don’t know about you but I too often believe the lies. How can God forgive me? How can God love me? Where is God when I hurt? He must not care about my suffering? Psalm 103 teaches us the truth. Our Father forgives all our iniquity. He heals all our diseases. He lavishes all blessings on us. He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west and His steadfast love never fails. He is merciful. Gracious. Good. Compassionate. When we are anxious and afraid and find our emotions amping up, He simply holds out His arms to us. Inviting us into His embrace so He can give us peace.  

Readings for tomorrow: Judges 17-18, John 3:1-21, Psalms 104:1-23, Proverbs 14:20-21