When Tragedy Strikes

Unexpected tragedy will impact all of us at some time in life. Those challenges could be the health of loved ones, our own health, a loss of our job and the death of those we care about. Whatever it is, it is only a matter of time until we experience it.

As I was reading the book of Ruth, I was impressed with how she handled the loss of her husband. In that culture, she was very vulnerable as a widow. People could take advantage of her, and her future did not look promising after being married for around 10 years and now without a protector.

How would you respond in similar circumstances? How would I respond? Would we be incapacitated in grief and withdraw from others hoping God would somehow help us?

I think Ruth models a proper response to a tragedy. I am sure she had a season of intense grief at the loss of her husband, but then she got up and did something about her situation.

If you remember, she went and worked the fields of a distant relative. She worked hard, and all day to meet her needs and the needs of Naomi, her mother-in-law. Then, when the closest Redeemer did not come forward to provide for her and take her as his wife,, she did something about it. She engaged and took the initiative by going to Boaz, the owner of the field she was working because he was the next in line if the closest redeemer refused to do his duty before God and redeem Ruth.

Notice the results of her efforts,

“And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are ta worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, was the LORD lives, I will redeem you.” (Ru 3:11-13)

God worked through and honored her effort. She trusted in God, but then she took action. This is a great challenge to all of us. We need to be praying and believing in God, but we also need to be doing our part. The result is God will work to accomplish his will through our efforts.

Father, thank you again for this great reminder of the need for effort in our lives. I need to be completely dependent upon you, but I also have to step out in a direction so that you can lead me. May your will be done in me and through me as I seek to live for you.

Following Jesus with you,

The Surprising Model

As parents, we are regularly encouraging our children to follow our example. We are the ones instructing and showing them how to live life. From walking and talking, to sports, and especially, in developing their relationship with God. Parents are always seeking to train their kids for all of life.

Have you ever had your children tell you that you were wrong or that they knew a better way to do something? These statements mean more as our kids mature, but I remember one time when our children were young they taught me something. We lived out in the country, and our dog was outside. When it was time to let him in the house, the smell on him was overwhelming! It turns out that he was sprayed by a skunk! Now, what do I do? How do I get that smell out? It was then that the kids told me they were watching a T.V show and it said to bathe the dog in tomato juice! I was desperate, so I tried it. To my surprise, it worked!

As I was reading Luke 18 today, I was pleasantly reminded that we can learn something vital from little children. Yes, adults can learn critical spiritual truth from little ones. In fact, Jesus says that very thing. In verse 17 he says,

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

I like what Lenski says about this statement. He notes,

“This statement is astonishing in every way. We should think as, alas, so many did and do think that a babe must receive the kingdom as an adult receives it, but absolutely the reverse is true. The child is the model, not the man.”

What a great picture Jesus gives us through children. Just like children are trusting, humble and dependent, so must we be when we respond to the offer of the gift of forgiveness and life!

Father, thank you for the great reminder of the need for humility, trust, and dependence in my relationship with you. That is necessary not just in my acceptance of forgiveness but in my daily relationship with you. Help me to walk today as a little child in complete trust in you and experience the security that brings me.

Following Jesus with you,

Be Strong and Courageous!

As I was reading through Deuteronomy 31, I was impressed when Moses spoke to the nation on his 120th birthday! He knew that he would be unable to enter the Promised Land and was giving his farewell address to the nation and to his successor, Joshua.

If I were Moses, what would I want to make sure Joshua and the nation knew I was about to die and Joshua was to take my leadership role?

First Moses tells the people as a whole to “be strong and courageous, ” and then he tells Joshua the same thing (Deut. 31:6-7). As I thought about those words which were meant to encourage, I tried to place myself in the shoes of the listeners. This sounds like a “rah rah” pregame speech of a football coach as they were getting ready to play a superior opponent. The excitement and adrenalin from such a speech can only last so long. If I were the listeners and thought about this charge from Moses, I think I would eventually get overwhelmed and possibly, even discouraged. Why?

The task at hand for the nation was to conquer all the people already residing in the promised land! That meant months and years of warfare, struggle and extreme challenge. Then, if I were Joshua, thinking I need to now lead these rebellious people to accomplish this task, I would have doubted my ability to complete the job.

That is why Moses said more than just “be strong and courageous.” Second, notice he also explains why they should be strong and courageous. He said, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

What so encouraged me this morning was the reminder that if God calls us to accomplish great things for him, he will also be with us to enable us to achieve those things. In fact, this reminded me of what Jesus said at the end of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), where he gave the charge to make disciples of all nations. He concludes with, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” An alternate translation would be, “I am with you every minute of the day until the job is done.”

Jesus has called us to follow him and live a life of faithfulness to him while becoming like him so we can help others do the same. This task is too big for me to accomplish, but knowing that he is with me to enable me to do these things, gives me hope and the courage to press on.

Father, thank you that you are always with your followers. Thank you that you want to give me the ability to become the person you designed me to be. Forgive me for forgetting this truth.  You are with me and will enable me to accomplish what you call me to do.  Victory is not based on my ability.  I just need to trust you to help me and then take the initiative.  I yield to your leadership and ask for your enabling to make that happen in my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Our High Priest

In the book of Leviticus, God gave the generation leaving Egypt clear direction in how to deal with sin. The high priest was the mediator between a holy God and his sinful people. The role of this high priest was critical in the nation of Israel. The problem though with the high priest was that he too struggled with sin just like the people he represented. Notice what it says in Lev. 4:3,

If the high priest sins, bringing guilt upon the entire community, he must give a sin offering for the sin he has committed.”

As a result of the Fall, no one is immune from sin. Even the high priest sinned!  His sin required that he offer a sacrifice for his imperfection before he could represent the people and fulfill his role.

The only exception to universal sinfulness is Jesus. Read the following verses to see the difference between Jesus as High Priest,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” (1 Pet. 2:22)

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 Jn. 3:5)

Jesus, as our High Priest, is sinless. He could, therefore, shed his blood for our sins so that he could offer forgiveness to all who believe in him, once and for all. Notice what it says in Heb. 1:3,

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

The statement that Jesus “sat down” is startling.  The high priest’s work in the Old Testament was never finished. He never sat down on the job! But we see that Jesus, through his one sacrifice for you and me sat down at the right hand of the Father as evidence that he completed the work required in addressing our sin!

Father, thank you for giving us a perfect and sinless High Priest. His sacrifice on our behalf is finished. His death was a once and for all sacrifice. Living today as a follower of Jesus truly is a blessing and privilege.

Following Jesus with you,

“Among” vs. “In”

As I concluded my reading of Exodus a couple of days ago, I was impressed with how the book ends. Notice how Moses concludes this book,

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle…For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” (Ex. 40:34, 38)

If you remember back through the whole book of Exodus, there was a lot that happened! It begins with the Jews slavery in Egypt, God’s deliverance of his people through the plagues, crossing the Red Sea as the Egyptian army chased them, and God’s miraculous provisions throughout the book. Then, the last few chapters describe the intricate detail of the construction of the tabernacle and all the items that went with it. When all was prepared, then the glory of God, representing His presence, filled the tabernacle and the nation was ready to proceed to the Promised Land. Wow! What an ending to a book! God has taken up residence AMONG his people! This dramatic summary gives the readers high hopes for what will come next in the history of the nation.

Can you think of anything more exciting than God taking up residence AMONG a unique people on the earth! The God of the universe was visible through the fire and cloud as he inhabited the tabernacle. God was now AMONG His people, and the nation could experience the blessing of his reign over them.

As fantastic as the filling of the tabernacle was, this event is dwarfed by a new truth Paul describes in 1 Cor. 3:16,

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

Did you see it? God is no longer AMONG his people he is now IN them! That is amazing! Unfortunately, we often take this stunning truth for granted. It was only after all preparations were met that God could take up residence IN us just as he did in the tabernacle. Our sin needed to be paid for, and we needed to embrace Jesus as our Savior and God before that could happen. Only as a result of the finished work of Christ, could the Holy Spirit reside IN his people through faith.

Just as the Jews in the Old Testament were to yield to the leadership of God as they took the Promised Land, so must we yield to his direction so that he can make us more like His Son.

Paul tells us of the role of the Holy Spirit in conforming us into the image of Jesus is 2 Cor. 3:18,

“And we all… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Father, thank you for being a God of order. A God who has a plan for our salvation and a means for us to become more like your Son through the enabling of the Holy Spirit as we yield to His authority. Thank you that you now reside IN me! Help me to walk worthy of that honor.

Following Jesus with you,

On Eagles Wings

Sometimes life can be hard. As a follower of Jesus, challenges will come, and we are not immune to tragedy or difficulty. When I think of Israel and their journey to the Promised Land, that time certainly was more demanding and harder than anything I have had to endure as a follower of Christ. They suffered captivity, hard labor, beatings, a lack of food and water and harsh living conditions.

When the Jews were going through their captivity in Egypt and then entering the wilderness, they must have thought that God had forgotten them. They must have thought that God was not very aware of all that was going on in their lives. Such thinking resulted in the scriptural examples we have of their complaining, murmuring and then challenging the leadership of Moses.

God’s perspective of these circumstances was very different than the Hebrews. Notice what it says in Deut. 32:10-12,

“He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,
the LORD alone guided him,
no foreign god was with him.”

This passage is describing Israel in Egypt (“a desert land”), and their journey to the Promised Land as one where God actually led them and carried them! In fact, the level of God’s loving leadership is the picture of an eagle stirring up its nest to push the little birds out so that they can grow and learn to fly. All the while, the eagle is constantly watching, protecting and able to intervene at any moment if the little eagles needed it. Even though the eagle was ready to catch its young, being forced out of the nest was necessary for the young eagle’s growth.  The experience was terrifying but needed for them to learn to soar like eagles.

Jack Deere describes the scene as follows,

“The metaphor of the eagle speaks of God’s wise and loving parental care. As an eagle must force its young out of the nest if they are to learn to fly and fend for themselves so the LORD … led His people into the harsh life of Egyptian bondage and afterward through wilderness wanderings that they might become strong. And like an eagle, the Lord remained ready to ‘catch them’ when necessary.”

This is a great reminder of how God works in our lives as we follow Jesus. He is intimately aware of our lives, needs, and circumstances. He knows that some of the journeys we are each on will be very challenging. He allows those challenges for our growth. When I encounter difficult times, I must not assume that He does not care and then start complaining as the Jews did in the Wilderness. Instead, I must trust Him, pray to him, yield to His leadership and then walk faithfully in obedience. God can use all things to work together for good when they are considered as a whole (Rom. 8:28-29).

Father, thank you for your loving care. Thank you that you know all that is going on in my life. You are leading and guiding me and able to intervene at any time if you think it is necessary. Help me to walk faithfully in dependence upon you especially when circumstances would tell me to do otherwise. Thank you that you care enough about me that you want to help me become more like Jesus over time.

Following Jesus with you,

“Wrestle!”​

As I was reading Ephesians 6 today, I was struck by the word Paul uses to describe our spiritual struggle as we follow Jesus. Notice what it says in verse 13,

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The word “wrestle” is describing close hand to hand combat. I think it is easy to read this verse and miss the significance of this description. Paul is figuratively describing an intense struggle and wrestling on the ground with our enemy.

Is that how you have been thinking of the Christian life?  I think this concept of “wrestling” stood out to me today because last night I experienced my first Jujitsu class. Jujitsu is a form of grappling or wrestling. After we each had learned a couple of moves, we were told to start wrestling with a partner until we could get our opponent in submission! I hadn’t wrestled since High School, but I gave it a try. It was an intense struggle to avoid being put in submission by my opponent while trying to get him to tap out.

Surprisingly, I did well against the other beginner students.  BUT, when the teacher asked to wrestle me I knew I was in trouble.   Because of his skill, speed, and experience, he was able to overcome my strength advantage.  Whatever I tried to do, he had a way to counter or get out of it.  Eventually, he got me to a point where I had to give up.  He forced me into submission!

We as followers of Jesus are fighting a very experienced foe, who has organized this world in a way to bring us into submission. The problem is that we often do not see life in this way.

As I studied this word “wrestle” a little more, I was challenged by the insight of Kenneth West when he said,

“In the word ‘wrestle,’ (palē (παλη)), Paul uses a Greek athletic term. Thayer defines as follows: ‘a contest between two in which each endeavors to throw the other, and which is decided when the victor is able to press and hold down his prostrate antagonist, namely, hold him down with his hand upon his neck.’ When we consider that the loser in a Greek wrestling contest had his eyes gouged out with resulting blindness for the rest of his days, we can form some conception of the Ephesian Greek’s reaction to Paul’s illustration. The Christian’s wrestling against the powers of darkness is no less desperate and fateful.”

We are in a desperate fight for our obedience to Jesus, but most of us in America live as though we have no enemies. We live an unguarded life against the schemes of the evil one. He knows our weaknesses and is ceaselessly trying to pin us before we even know we were in a fight!

Paul shows us that our only hope in this battle is with God’s armor. Verse 13 says,

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Wuest continues his valuable insight into verse 13 when he says,

“The verb is aorist imperative, which construction issues a command given with military snap and curtness, a command to be obeyed at once and once for all.Thus, the Christian is to take up and put on all the armor of God as a once-for-all act and keep that armor on during the entire course of his life, not relaxing the discipline necessary for the constant use of such protection.”

Wow, what a description of our struggle to be faithful as a follower of Jesus in this world! Our only hope is to withstand our experienced foe is by putting on the whole armor of God and fighting. This armor is describing what a soldier would put on as he went into battle. Each piece had a particular purpose.

Father, I thank you for the reminder that following you in this world will be hard even though the victory is assured. I will be wrestling with a global system designed to lead me astray from simple obedience to you. Help me to remember this life will be a daily struggle and that I need your armor to be able to resist its influence. By your enabling, give me a life of victorious faithfulness.

Following Jesus with you,

The Great Energizer

Many of us can remember the commercial with the Energizer bunny. The battery it used allowed that rabbit to keep running and running and running. As I was studying today, I was impressed with the description of God in Phil. 2:13 which says,

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The story of God working in us is fascinating. The word translated “at work” is the source for our English word “energy.” As G. F. Hawthorne points out,

This word “carries within it the idea of working mightily, of working effectively (cf. Matt 15:2; Gal 2:8; 3:5; 5:6; Eph 2:2). The form this new verb takes is a participle used as a noun; thus it becomes another name for God. The Great Energizer, the one who is effectively at work, is God.”

The previous verse (Phil. 2:12) tells us we are responsible to “work out” our salvation, and this verse shows us that God is the one who will energize us as we put forth that effort. God, as the Energizer, makes our efforts fruitful. This truth is a profound blessing for the disciple of Jesus.

This privileged reality for the disciple of Jesus is in stark contrast to something else that Paul teaches us in Eph. 2:1-2, which says,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”

If you notice in these verses, Satan is described as the one “at work” in unbelievers. It is the same word used by Paul in Philippians 2. Here, Satan is the energizer of those who live contrary to God’s will.  Satan’s influence leads to a life of fleshy indulgence in disobedience to God, but God’s power leads to life in conformity to the image of His Son.  When we become a Christian, we are transferred into the Kingdom of Light and God becomes our Energizer as we put forth the effort to follow Him.

Father, thank you for the reminder that through your work and influence in my life to energize me, I can become who you want me to be! Your design of salvation allows for this incredible possibility.  Thank you for setting me free from the one who used to enslave me to pursue his will through my selfish interests before I was a disciple of Jesus.

Following Jesus with you,

When the Compass is “Off”

Have you ever been lost? I remember a time that I was scouting a new area I wanted to hunt.  It was a beautiful forest. I had planned on only being there a short time so I didn’t bring anything with me except my binoculars.

As I walked through the woods looking for the best place to set up my deer stand, time got away from me. As the sun was setting, I exited the woods, and to my shock, I was completely lost and nowhere near where my car was located.  In fact, I was not sure where I was. I guessed that I was  2-3 miles from my car which I thought now was on the other side of the woods. Darkness was also upon me. I had no flashlight or compass, and I was not certain what direction I needed to go.  I began running back through the woods to try to get through as much of the dense timber as I could before it became completely dark. Once darkness engulfed me, I continued through the thicket slowly fumbling through the woods. When I finally came out of the forest, I was very thankful that I could see my car!

What was my problem? My inner compass was “off.” I thought I knew where I was and the best way to get to my destination, but I was terribly wrong. This memory came to mind as I read Gen. 19. This passage describes the tragic story of Lot and his efforts to protect the two angels who had come to Sodom. He was willing to give the mob (consisting of all the men of the town), his two virgin daughters so that they would not pursue their homosexual desires with the angels. What a corrupt city and foolish dad!

The story is sickening, but how could Lot be willing to give up his two daughters to protect the angels? The only explanation is that his moral compass was “off.” As K. A. Mathews notes,

“That Lot sanctions the rape of his daughters indicates a moral compass gone awry; he places hospitality above the protection of his own children.”

Our society’s moral compass has also gone awry. Sinful behavior is parading before us on the news, in the movies, and in many other ways.  Many who are living life by their inner moral compass pursue a selfish and sinful agenda because they no longer have accurate bearings. They no longer see God and His will as true North. The result is that our culture is on a fast downward moral spiral.

Father, I thank you that you do not change. I thank you that you and your will always functions as our moral compass. From your Word, we can determine how you want us to live. If our personal agendas are in conflict with your clearly communicated will as we find it in scripture, then our compass is “off.” Help us to consistently seek you and your will and guide us by your moral compass.

Following Jesus with you,

Stunning News!

All of us have probably had news that caught us off guard. News that may have changed our lives very unexpectedly. In Genesis 17, Abraham had been living with his son Ishmael for 13 years with the clear thought that Ishmael was going to be the heir of the Promise that God had made. That was not God’s plan, and it is here that God shares some fantastic news with Abraham that changes everything.

God again appears to Abraham in this passage and renews his Promise to make him the father of a multitude of nations, and through his seed, the promised Messiah would come. It is also in this passage that God makes clear that Ishmael is not the son through whom the Promise of God will be fulfilled. The Promise is going to go through the son of Sarah. Hearing the reaffirmation of God’s covenant, Abraham still does not understand and thinks God is talking to Ishmael. Notice what he says in Gen. 17:18-19,

“And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name hIsaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.’”

God also responds to Abraham, and his desire for the blessing of Ishmael by saying,

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Gen. 17:20-21)

Ishmael, as one of the sons of Abraham, would experience blessing. He too would become a great nation, but it will not be through his lineage that the Promise would be fulfilled. It will be through Isaac that the Promise will come. Through Isaac, the Messiah would come, and His rule would be established.

This passage is a good reminder that Ishmael and his descendants also will experience the blessing of God.  This blessing comes through their connection to Abraham by the covenant of circumcision. God graciously is able to extend his blessing to more than the singular line of Issac., but it is only through Isaac that God’s covenant and future reign would be accomplished.

This clarification for Abraham is stunning! He is 99 years old and Sarah is 90 years old at this point! This is news that goes beyond anything that Abraham could have ever imagined. This once again is evidence that we serve a BIG God.

Father, your grace truly is amazing. What a benevolent God you are! I am also so thankful that you are a God with a plan. You have been in control of your plan of salvation from day one. Thank you for loving us enough to control history to ensure the birth of a Savior for all the world.

Following Jesus with you,