Posts filed under ‘Devotional Thoughts’

What Does God Think of You?

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In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

No Longer Shut Out

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At the end of the book of Exodus, Moses and Israel have just set up the tabernacle – the place where God dwells. But when Moses tries to enter it to be with God, something unsettling happens:

The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)

Moses cannot enter to meet with God.

The Psalmist asks:

Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. (Psalm 24:3-4)

The Israelites do not have clean hands or pure hearts. They are recalcitrant and rebellious. As Exodus 32 recounts for us, they have sworn by idols. They cannot stand in the Lord’s holy place because of their sin.

The book of Exodus, then, leaves its reader wondering if God’s people will ever be able to meet with God. Or, has God cut them off because of their sin?

John’s Gospel opens with this description of Jesus:

The Word became flesh and made His tabernacle among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Israelites were barred from standing in God’s holy place by His glory. Jesus comes to us as God’s holy place and freely shows us His glory. How? By grace and with truth. John 1 is the answer to Exodus 40. Despite our sin, we are not blocked from being with God, because God has chosen to be with us in Christ.

May 9, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Daily Bread

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As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Don’t Destroy Yourself!

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In the book of Exodus, the Pharaoh of Egypt seeks the destruction of the Israelites because they “have become far too numerous for us” (Exodus 1:9), and he is worried that “they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10). In response, Pharaoh issues an edict: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22).

It is at this time a Levite woman gives birth to a son and, at first, attempts to hide him so he might not drown in the Nile:

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

This brave mother follows the letter of Pharaoh’s edict to throw her son into the Nile, but with a twist. She places her son into a basket, and then places the basket with her son into the Nile. Famously, this basket boy survives and grows up to become Moses – the one who rescues the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

In a showdown with another Pharaoh of Egypt that takes place some 80 years after Moses was first placed into a basket as a baby in the reeds of the Nile, Moses and the Israelites find themselves backed up against a sea called the Sea of Reeds, which we know today as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), with Pharaoh and his army coming to destroy them. But just like God protects Moses from the waters of the Nile when he is placed among the reeds, God protects Israel from the waters of the Sea of Reeds by splitting them into two, so the Israelites can pass “through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:23). But when Pharaoh and his army try to pursue them, “the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28).

Pharaoh sought the destruction of the Israelites by declaring that they must be drowned among the reeds of the Nile. But instead, he himself is destroyed by being drowned in the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s berserk desire for destruction only destroyed him.

When we are slighted or hurt by someone, it can be easy for us to wish for – and, perhaps, even work for – their destruction – the destruction of their job, their reputation, or our friendship with them. But our desire for destruction – our desire for vengeance – more often than not, only destroys us. The bitterness and anger we harbor toward someone drowns our souls. This is why Jesus says, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them” (Mark 11:25). Jesus does not just say call for forgiveness in an effort to let someone who has upset us or hurt us off the hook. He calls for forgiveness to let us off the hooks of our own dangerous desires for destruction that will, if left unchecked, only destroy us. God doesn’t want our souls to get trapped in a vengeful Sea of Reeds.

So, who is God calling you to forgive today? Remember, forgiveness not only helps someone else; it rescues you.

And you’re worth rescuing.

April 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Help Needed

Moses had gotten himself in too deep. As he and the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, he had not only taken on the role of leader, but of judge:

Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. (Exodus 18:13)

The Israelites were going a bit stir crazy in the wilderness, and they were getting into so many disagreements and disputes with each other that Moses was spending all day trying to arbitrate their altercations. He had time for nothing else.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit his son-in-law, he is impressed by what God has done for Israel, but is concerned over what Moses is doing with Israel. He says to Moses:

What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Jethro knows that Moses needs help. He cannot judge alone.

Jethro’s words hearken back to God’s words when He saw that the first man He created, Adam, had no one to help him through and with life:

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)

So, God created Eve.

In a world where it is noble to be a self-made person and self-sufficiency rules, Jethro reminds us that our limits are blessings. We cannot do it all. We need help. Contrary to our cultural myths of independence and autonomy, it is not good for us to be alone and to try to carry every burden alone.

We don’t always like to hear this, because our limits humble us. Sometimes, we’d prefer to live under a delusion that we are, if not theoretically and theologically, at least functionally omnipotent. But our limits are ultimately meant to bless us. Because they create opportunities for us to form relationships with others who we need – and who need us.

Who do you need to ask for help? The help you ask for may just be the start of a beautiful friendship that you need. And that is good.

April 11, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Thorny Lies

Satan loves to send malicious messages. This was something the apostle Paul struggled with. When writing to the church he planted in Corinth, he admits:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul struggled with a thorn. Exactly what this “thorn” was, we don’t know. Some people think it was a physical malady like a loss of sight while others conjecture that he battled some spiritual temptation. Whatever it was, Satan used this thorn as his messenger to torment Paul.

Satan does the same thing with us, too. When we struggle with and suffer from life’s thorns, Satan loves to say:

        “This thorn is because God is angry at you for a sin.”

        “This thorn means God does not care for you.”

        “This thorn proves you are unworthy of others’ love.”

        “This thorn will never end. You’ll be miserable forever.”

Have you ever struggled with thoughts that sound something like these? Satan is tormenting you with his malevolent messages.

Do not believe them. Do not believe him.

Paul certainly doesn’t. Because at the same time Satan is seeking to torment Paul with his deceptive messages, God is speaking loving words to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God responds to Satan’s lies of human worthlessness with the truth of His worthiness, which He gladly and freely shares with us out of His grace. When Satan tells us we are insufficient, God reminds us that His grace is wonderfully sufficient.

Satan may try to speak to us through thorns, but these thorns, instead of destroying us, are taken for us. They’ve all landed on Jesus’ head. And, in exchange, He gives us grace.

Believe that. Believe Him.

April 4, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Very Good”

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Creation was never intended to be what it has become. Wars. Disease. Hunger. Refugees. This world has come a long way from what God called “very good” when He first made it (Genesis 1:31).

When Jesus arrived, part of His mission was to restore what God had made “very good” to its intended and original state. This is why Jesus preached peace, healed disease, fed the hungry, and gave a place in His kingdom to the displaced of the world.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann captures this mission in Jesus’ ministry well when he writes:

When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, He is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God, to which the healings witness, restores creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly “natural” thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.

What Jesus does, Moltmann argues, is the work of recreation in a world where the destructive and demonic powers of de-creation are hard at work.

This begs a question: where has your life been de-created? Are you struggling with a sin? Is your body ravaged by illness? Are you mired in depression and despondency? Are you somehow unable to provide for yourself or your family adequately?

At moments like these, we often pray for miracles – acts of power that are supernaturally wrought by God Himself. But perhaps we also ought to pray for Genesis 1:31 to come to pass in our life. Perhaps we should pray that the most natural thing fathomable would come to pass in our lives – that we, and the world around us, would be restored to its God-ordained and God-intended created state – that of “very good.”

March 28, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A New Genesis

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The Old Testament opens with these famous words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

In Greek, one word for “beginning” is genesis, which is why we call the first book of the Bible “Genesis.” It is a book about humanity’s beginning.

The New Testament opens with these words:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)

In Greek, the word for “genealogy” is genesis. Matthew opens with a genealogy that describes Jesus from the beginning, which echoes the beginning described in Genesis 1:1 because, as John notes, Jesus “was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2). In other words, there was never a time – even in the very beginning – when Jesus was not.

But there’s more.

A little later in Genesis, we read:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)

What follows is a genealogy of Adam’s descendants, just like in Matthew we get a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors. And the Greek word behind “generations” is again genesis.

But by Genesis 5, there is a problem. Adam has fallen into sin and has reaped the consequences of sin, including pain, struggle, and death. In other words, Adam’s beginning is now marching toward a tragic end. He will perish.

The story of Scripture, then, is that of a struggle and search for a new beginning that will not inevitably end in pain, struggle, and death. And in Matthew 1, the Scriptures show us that ever since the beginning of Genesis 1, God has been planning to give us a new beginning in Jesus Christ. Genesis 1 is not the only genesis we have. We have a new genesis in Jesus.

So, where do you need a fresh start? A second chance? A new beginning? What has tragically ended for you in this life? A relationship? A hope? A dream?

Christ takes your first beginning – the one we have in Adam – and nails it to a cross and exchanges it for another beginning that will not end. No ending in this life can stop what will endure eternally in the next life.

Now that’s the kind of new beginning we all need.

The end.

March 21, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What’s So Great About God?

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In Hebrew, the name “Micah” means “Who is like the Lord?”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah concludes the book that bears his name with the question his name asks:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

Right before he asks this question, Micah speaks of God’s unmatched power on behalf of Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

Just as God dazzled the world when He rescued the people of Israel out from under their slavery to the world’s preeminent superpower at that time – Egypt – God will do so again during Micah’s day when, again, He rescues His people out from under their oppression under the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

But this unlimited and unmatched power is not what makes Micah’s God unique. It is not just that Micah’s God can “beat up” on other nations’ gods.

Instead, what makes Micah’s God truly unequaled is something other than His power:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

What makes God matchless, according to Micah, is His mercy. All other religions and gods find their foundations in merit – you do your best, and the gods will perhaps sweep in and do the rest. But Micah reminds us that even when we do our worst, God, though He may discipline us, ultimately takes our worst and hurls it down into the deepest ocean trench and, in exchange, gives us His compassion.

Power, then, is not what foundationally makes God, God. Mercy is. Yes, we should fear God’s judgment on our sin. But we can actually see God’s mercy for our sin. Because “we do see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9). And there is no one like Him – One who would die for our sin.

March 14, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Fair-Weather Faith

Credit: “King David Playing the Harp” by Gerard van Honthorst (1622) / Wikimedia

In 2 Samuel 7, David, king of Israel, comes to the prophet Nathan with a concern:

Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent. (2 Samuel 7:2)

David wants to build a temple for God, whose place of residence has, up until this point, been a tent that the Israelites took with them across the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.

In Psalm 132, we learn more about just how committed David was to procuring a more permanent residence for God:

He swore an oath to the LORD, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed,I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:2-5)

The oath that David swears as he is considering building a temple for God is the same oath that David will hear just chapters later after he has committed adultery with another man’s wife.

When David sleeps with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military commanders named Uriah, and gets her pregnant, he tries to cover up the affair by summoning Uriah in from the battlefield and encouraging him to go home and “enjoy” his wife so that no one will suspect she has been forced into sleeping with another man. But Uriah refuses, telling David:

The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing! (2 Samuel 11:11)

Like David four chapters earlier, Uriah refuses to go to his home while the ark of God is in a tent and his men are on a battlefield. But the same oath that David once made has now become a liability that David has. So, David commands his general, Joab:

“Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. (2 Samuel 11:15-17)

It turns out that David’s oath to God was a fair-weather oath. It was fine for a building project that would make David look good, but it was discarded when David was caught in a sin that made him look bad.

We are called to be more than fair-weather fans of God. Our faith in Him is refined not when it’s easiest to commit to Him, but when it’s hardest. In the words of one of Jesus’ followers named Peter, who himself struggled to stick with his faith when things got tough:

Trials have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

May the oaths that we make be the oaths that we keep. May we be faithful. After all, God has been, is, and will continue to be faithful to us.

March 7, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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