One Foot in the Sand

Today’s reading is Proverbs 3.

When reading Proverbs 3:5-6, I thought of the office chair I’m sitting on. What if, halfway through bolting it together and making sure it was tight and steady, I got fed up with the whole process and stuck the rest together with Elmer’s glue. Should I really be surprised sitting on the chair and it falling apart after maybe a few seconds? No; a solid seat requires diligent work throughout the whole process. 

When reading about the blessings of the Lord bestowed upon those who follow His word in Proverbs 3 this week, verse 5 resonated with me – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Trust requires diligent work as a whole to have any impact – does a healthy marriage sound like one where you half-trust your spouse? When we trust in the Lord with our whole and lean on His wisdom and guidance instead of our own, he provides a path through whatever life can bring for us and glory in His kingdom, while failure and shame are guaranteed for those who don’t.

John Trapp said, “He that stands with one foot on a rock and another foot upon a quicksand, will sink and perish as certainly as he that standeth with both feet on a quicksand.” I ask myself – do I lean with my whole self on God’s understanding, or am I trying in vain to balance between His and my own? What could anyone like me possibly know or do that God could not accomplish? When standing wholly in God’s word, our footing remains firm, our path remains straight, and our seat is guaranteed not to be held together by our own flimsy handiwork, but to be at the table by our Father’s side. I simply pray today that God would continue to move in me to trust in Him over myself for the blessings He affords us.

Closely Watching

Today’s reading is on Luke 14:1-14.

It’s often been said your kids are always watching and listening. Not a parent myself, but I remember seeing how my parents treated each other & those around them, and how I learned to interact with those around me, and even how I treat my own wife to this day. I’m sure many parents can attest to kids picking up the things they say and do – and I’ve heard many stories from parents I know & work with of kids picking up the wrong things as well.

In this passage, when it’s said the Pharisees were “closely watching” Jesus, it was judgmental & malicious in intent – looking for a slip-up to pin on Him. It reminded me of how the world closely watches those professing faith to see whether or not they back up their words with actions. But also, of how we look to Jesus as a perfect example of who we are meant to be, and the kind of life God wants us to pursue. No one more esteemed & worthy than Christ could have taken a seat at the Pharisees’ table, yet He chooses to humble Himself and share how we are lifted up & exalted by God when we do so to share His word.

More so, how we look to Jesus is also how those around look to us to see what a Christ-like life looks life. David Guzik had this observation in one commentary about this passage that I loved: “In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul explained that we are letters from Jesus, that all men read; and that the letters are not written with ink, but with the Holy Spirit, and not on paper, but on our own hearts. We are the only kind of Bible many will ever read.” (https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/luke-14/) Whether or not we choose to lift ourselves up and put pride over helping others, like the Pharisees in this passage using a poor sick man for leverage, and experience the subsequent fall and shame, or whether we are moved by the Holy Spirit to help others before ourselves and lower ourselves to bring the Word to the meekest of men, the world will watch with intent eyes. And whether or not they see Christ’s transformation in your life, or they see empty words, is very much in our control. We must obey Jesus’s calling in Matthew 5 to be the light of the world, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Father God, I thank you for the example of your son Jesus who would lead us by example in His perfect life, showing us how to give our lives to glorify you & lead others to your light as well. I pray we would all act in all times in a way that shows the world who you are and the joy & love you fill our hearts with, that others may seek you in their own lives as well. At all times, help us to show the servant love of your son Jesus to those watching, that we may lift your name and further shine the light of your glory to this world.

The Nazarite Vow

Today’s reading is on Numbers 6:1-21.

What are some of the things you abstain from to consecrate yourself from the Lord? There’s all sorts of temptations today from a laissez-faire society built around glorification of the self & disregard for others. Could be serious traps like sexual promiscuity, drug & alcohol abuse, lawbreaking, and general hedonism. Could be everyday temptations like gossip, sloth, prideful behavior, and hurtful or shameful speech. We all have our personal gauntlet of trials to run, but in our walk with Christ, we find strength to overcome & glorify Him in the outcome. 

The vow of the Nazarite – coming from the word for ‘abstain’, ‘consecrate’, or ‘separate’ – was one of incredible dedication and servitude that was open to anyone back in the day who wished to fully discard the self and dedicate oneself to the Lord. Strict rules like forsaking anything grape-related, being unable to cut your hair, and complete separating from corpses or the dead were ways to show your rejection of the flesh & worldly ways, and to dedicate yourself 100% to God. And if broken, there are strict guidelines of how to make up for your broken vow, including sacrifices, a full shave, and the annulment of your vow – very public & serious ways to display the ending of your call to consecration. We heard about Samson yesterday, one infamous Nazarite set aside from birth, and how God blesses and displays His glory through those set aside for Him, even despite our broken prideful will to do things our own way.

I’m guessing many of you reading this aren’t dealing with questionable women trying to cut your hair, but we do all face ordeals that seek to threaten our vow to live righteously. When we lower our guard to temptation, it is incredibly easy for sin to slip in and ruin us, as what happened to Samson. And when sin gets in the way of our promise to God to follow Christ’s example, it can be costly and publicly damaging to both ourselves and our mission to shine God’s light on the world. Following God is not something we can start up and forget about – it is an active surrender of our whole selves that we must constantly and intentionally uphold.

When Samson raised arms against those who opposed God and prayed for strength, God answered. When he cried to God for water, God listened & provided. And when Samson begged for the strength to give his life for God, God blessed him and fulfilled him. In our faith, we are given incredible strength; probably not inhuman strength to kill thousands of men and tear down buildings, but to endure the trials and sorrows of life, to find hope and companionship in the darkest of times, and to be able to experience the many blessings of life God has to offer us. It is in the recognition of God’s glory and truth, the submission to His will, and the love of Him in our hearts that this strength is blessed upon us. It is a gift I am thankful beyond words to receive, and I lift my life to God because He is so generous to even extend such grace upon us. I would pray we would all remember our vow of righteousness to God, keep His promise that we would be seated at the right hand of the Father someday, and live every day in accordance with His loving word.

From the Roots

Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 12.

One of the basic tips of gardening is when pulling weeds, to always make sure you pull out the entire plant from the root, or else it can grow back from just a little bit of the root. I’ve heard this countless times; it was something I kept in mind when we planted our first real garden this spring. But after a summer of laziness on my part, as I look out into our backyard garden half-full of weeds, I’m woefully reminded of the diligence in removing your weeds properly, all the way down to the root, as soon as you can.

Moses’s commands to his people in Deuteronomy 12 to “destroy the all the places where the nations whom you dispossess served their gods” makes me consider my own diligence in rooting out the weeds, not just in a garden, but in my soul & mind. The Israelites had problems throughout the Old Testament of being tempted to turn back to the ways of the world in impatience after God had seen them through trial after trial. Knowing this, Moses made sure they knew to destroy any temptation to fall back to worldly sinful ways by completely ridding any sign of it from the very foundation. The mention of yeast throughout the Bible explains this point (5 Galatians 9: “ A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”) The smallest concession to sin makes one wholly sinful; the momentary distraction of the relics of the gods of man can lead to whole corruption. Instead, we are called to be like Jesus, wholly man but wholly without sin, no concession even when the Devil himself came to convince Him face-to-face to do things His own way.

Instead, Moses encourages us: “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not  yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 12:8-9) Instead we are to do as the Lord wants for us to be with Him and receive His blessings. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him, for God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” When we leave the root of our sin unchecked, encouraged to do things how we want as those of the world would do without a second thought, we open ourselves to the seed of sin growing uncontrollably and choking out the bountiful harvest the Lord has in store for us.

I pray today that the Lord would strengthen me to examine deeply where I have left the root of sin unchecked in my life so that I may better address and avoid doing what wouldn’t please Him. I pray for the courage, self-awareness, and love of what is holy to seek not what the world tells me is okay, what is pleasing in my own eyes, but what pleases the Lord. I rejoice that the Lord has delivered me through the trials of the past to be here now to worship Him, and am thankful and hold on to the hope of the inheritance I have in the Lord.

Warning Sign

Have you ever ignored a very obvious warning sign and paid the price? My mind immediately goes to when I was 18, leaving a ski hill in the hills of rural Missouri after a day of heavy snowfall and low temps. I remember driving by the sign at the ski slope’s exit saying “Watch for Ice,” and thinking to myself “like that’d be a problem for me.” As I found out about 5 minutes later, after sliding down a big patch of ice right off the road down a steep hill, it would indeed be a problem for me. Who could’ve seen that coming?

The message of Hebrews 12:12-29 is a reminder that the warning we’ve been given about living focused on the flesh instead of on God’s kingdom. The author uses the Israelites at Mount Sinai as an example: even with the terrors of facing God’s holiness against their own unworthiness, witnessing “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast” (Ex 16.19), they couldn’t follow God’s command for them despite their terror. Yet while we don’t encounter flaming smoking mountains too often, we’ve encountered Jesus, “mediator of a new covenant”, offering us the gift of eternal life. And the warning is laid bare: Jesus has told us “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens,” removing what can be shaken, leaving only what can not – what is not of this world. The warning signs we’ve been given are clear as day. Yet, even so, many who hear the warning choose not to listen; be it human pride, obstinance, ignorance, or whatever it is, many choose to ignore what Scripture tells us about a life not talking God’s warnings seriously.

Scripture warns us of the danger facing those who turn away from Jesus’ warning. As Galatians 5:21 puts about those living in the flesh versus living in the Spirit: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Or 1 Corinthians 6:9 tells of those living immorally and unrighteously to themselves & others: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Those who live such baseless lives are not only destined to be on the receiving end of God’s wrathful judgement, but do so despite so many warnings & Christ’s offer of redemption on our behalf. We are called as believers not just to live just, righteous lives as God commanded His earliest people (“Be holy, because I am holy” – Leviticus 11:45), but to strive for showing others to Christ’s salvation as well through our words and actions as Hebrews 12:14-15 says.

Remaining ever strong & growing in our faith and vigilant against our desires to do things our own misguided ways is not only a lifelong challenge, but one we must take an active role in always; compared to Esau by this passage, who rejected the blessings laid out for him & “found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” We are called not to be proud & self-reliant as Esau was, but to strive to lean on & serve the Lord, and furthermore, to reflect this in the holiness we demonstrate to others. I pray today for renewal of the strength and perseverance in our walks with the Lord to stay straight on our paths always, and to help & lead others to the Lord as well. I pray that we would take seriously at all times the warnings towards the unrighteousness of man, knowing always that we are to serve the Lord in all we say & do. And I pray for the sharing & growing of the Lord’s kingdom, that His kingdom would continue growing & rejoicing until the day all else is shaken away.

The Peace of God

Today’s reading is Philippians 4.

I’ve often been told I seem like a very relaxed person – probably a little too relaxed sometimes, from what some people say. Reading Philippians 4 gives me a good idea of how I can work sharing Scripture into conversation when people bring this up in the future: Philippians 4:6-7 says “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It is the otherworldly peace that comes with learning to trust God in all things that lets us stand firm & calm when the world around us is shaken, found in daily immersion in God’s word and knowing to trust in Him in the things beyond our control.

If you struggle with worry and anxiety about things beyond your control – as I often do, but find comfort and help in through these writings – ask yourself if what you give sway in your mind, as Paul warns in Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Read through Philippians 4:8 when you need to reflect on your thoughts and ask yourself if what your worries are about are:

•true: is it based on the truth of the word of the Living God? (John 17:17)

•honorable: is it worthy of adoration and relevance in the presence of God?

•just: is it in accordance with the righteousness of God?

• lovely: is your train of thought pleasing to God?

•reputable: do your thoughts & actions reflect the good transformation God has brought in your life?

Our minds are prone to wander, as fallen humans often do, but Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” We have been blessed with a peace and comfort that comes with knowing our God is in control of all things, even those we could never hope to control. I pray for my own heart & mind that I could reflect on whether my thoughts & focus is on things that are false, dishonorable, unjust; and instead, give every thought captive to Christ, and instead give my worries to Him & focus on the good of His grace. And if this is a struggle to you, I pray for your journey in asking yourself these questions as well, as well as helping those around you focus your thoughts on the glory of the Lord.

Staying Strong

Today’s reading is Hebrew 12:12-19.

I’m sure many of you can relate in some way to the post-4th of July struggle I’ve been dealing with. After a rather long stretch of admittedly being very sedentary, I was offered an opportunity to go water skiing at family’s this past weekend. It was a fun experience for sure, but let me tell you; it’s been a while since I’ve done anything similar, and I’d definitely forgotten how much upper-body, shoulder, and core strength you need for that. In the week since, my shoulders have been wildly sore, and after finally getting better, have been a good reminder of how I’ve let myself get weak physically.

When considering the example of Jesus and His continued holiness and spotlessness despite all He went through, Paul continues in Hebrews 12:12-29 on the importance of remaining strong and enduring in our faith. When we let our spiritual guard down and grow complacent and weary in our faith, Paul warns, we can not be guaranteed to live upright lives and lead others to do the same. And when we can not lead others to Christ and refuse what was commanded of us, we are reminded of what awaits – that we will be shaken away and “removed” when God fulfills His promise – “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

When the Israelites approached Mount Sinai, in Exodus 19 & 20, it was an image of fury and fear – the people drawing away at the severity of the punishment of those within God’s presence not being worthy, leaving Moses alone to speak to God. But we are not approaching Sinai, Paul reminds us; we approach Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem and the kingdom of God sits, a place of joy where all right with God may be with Him, a place where Jesus has spoken on our behalf and ensured our salvation. It is this reverence and joy that drives us to stay strong in our faith, to stay upright, seeking and leading others to a more Godly life, in thanks of what Paul summarizes in verse 28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

We are offered the kingdom of God and a chance to be apart; are you spiritually coasting, letting yourself grow weak, so that when a tough workout comes your way you will be left bruised and weary? Or are you immersed & strengthening your spirit at all times, so that when the time to lead others to Christ through word & examples comes, you will be able & willing? I pray that I would never lose sight of the need to stay strong and ready for Christ’s sake, and extend this prayer of self-reflection to you as well. May we never lose sight of He who shakes the earth & heavens, and has shaken up our lives to the point we can not help but offer reverence & awe.

Hope and a Future

Today’s reading is on Jeremiah 29.

It is quite impossible for me to imagine the last few years without my wife Paige by my side, supporting, listening, and loving me. I have seen through the blessing of this marriage how God demonstrates His love for us through what he’s planned for us. There is incredible comfort in knowing you are heard; loved; cared for. Jeremiah’s letter to the Babylonian exiles speaks true to us about this fact even many years later. We, too, are in a land of exile, the weight of our human sinfulness and a broken world deeming us unworthy on our own accord by God’s judgement. But Jeremiah 29 is a reminder all of us need constantly: God hears us, He listens, and He wants us to seek him and share the wealth of life found in Him with those around us. God is thinking about us and cares about us even as we are; as Psalm 40:5 says, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you!” 

Beyond all, I find immense comfort in Jeremiah 29:12: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Hope for the future when looking at this world seems nigh impossible to come by. However, despite all else, the knowledge of my hope in the Lord and my future in His presence provides a peace and joy that simply can not be found elsewhere. In my own exile, do I put myself in the position of these false prophets God condemns, who want to rush God’s plan and determine His undeterminable thoughts on their own? Or do I want to be someone instead who trusts God’s future for me, draws close to Him in the meantime, and prays for the same for those around me? In response to this ineffable gift and the action it inspires in me, I can only list verse 13 as the prayer of my heart: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The Lord hears our cries to Him, and when it is our greatest desire to seek Him and follow His word, I know we will find a greater fortune than any riches could hope to compare to.

The Magician

Today’s reading is Acts 8:4-25.

Maybe you’ve heard the analogy of Simon the Magician in Acts 8, comparing his witness of the miracles of faith to that of showing a toddler a masterful painting. You can explain the work put into it, the technique, the symbolism, and brilliance of the painting to the toddler, and the impact on history it’s had, but all they pay attention to is seeing your pointing to it, the smile on your face, and the positive tone of voice and feel good enjoy themselves. They hear you, they see the appreciation on your face & in your voice, but they don’t understand the truth or the meaning of what’s before them. 

Do you ever catch yourself seeing & hearing and finding amazement at the message, and not what it points to? A powerful sermon; someone’s moving testimony; your favorite hymn. Have you ever got caught up in the miracle as Simon did, without looking to the miracle it points to? Not that these works are not necessary in life,  but they mean so much more when you take into account the living God behind them. Even Simon could believe & proclaim God’s miraculous moving work, but Peter tells him in verses 21 & 22, “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” We can see & be amazed, but without moved hearts made right before the Lord & a living faith in the One who saves, we have nothing. It’s like Jesus’s parable of the Sower in Luke 8, when Jesus describes those planted on the rocky soil: “[they] are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Without deep roots, a surface-level faith is sure to fall to the wayside when times get tough.

This is the essence of the warning Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” Believing in vain being the key here – Simon’s belief in vain, at the spectacle and immediate benefit of God’s gifts, and not the awe at the God they revere. Scripture is clear to warn those who fall into this trap will “fall away”, when we know instead we must vigilantly focus on the meaning of the Cross, instead of merely the Cross itself. God’s salvation is an incredible gift, much greater than the songs we can sing, the leaders we can look up to, or the stories we can tell; it is the living faith in God’s word and our adoration of Him that is our true gift.

Dem Bones

Today’s reading is on Ezekiel 37.

A small example model skeleton

You know those model skeletons you see in science classes? Imagine going up to one of those, starting a casual conversation with it, and asking it to get up and start dancing with you. Do you think it’d listen to you? As you expectantly cha-cha around the room waiting for your boney friend to join you, do you think any onlookers would be questioning your emotional state?

The idea of one of us successfully speaking life into a mere set of bones sounds awfully silly. But when God shows the power of His word & His spirit in Ezekiel 37, raising a vast army of flesh & blood in front of Ezekiel’s eyes from naught but long-dead bones, the power of the word of God over death becomes clear as day to the prophet – and us. God tells Ezekiel the meaning behind what He is showing the prophet in verse 11-14:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Unlike Ezekiel in the midst of this vision, our usual audiences of conversation aren’t piles of bones, but other normal people. We never know what exactly is going on inside of others, if they are feeling hopeless and cut off from God’s presence. But we do know where our hope, life, and spirit come from. The “one king” God tells Ezekiel about in this passage is our hope of eternal life; in John 11:25-26, Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And in John 20:22, “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” The word of God through Jesus Christ has become our promise of victory over death, and in His word we receive the Holy Spirit. When we share this with the metaphorical living “dry bones” around us – people struggling for years with hopelessness and despair – and they accept Christ, they have the opportunity to find life and hope in a future at God’s side again. This same strength and hope that remains in His faithful can bring life to the neediest; so how are you using and taking advantage of that opportunity?

Lord, we know the life in us is more than the bones we leave behind and the breath that will one day leave our lungs for good; but your Word that move us and your spirit that fills us is what gives us eternal life. Lord, as you fulfilled your promise to bring your people out of exile back into the land of Israel, we know you will open our graves and lead us to our rightful home; let us never in all our days forget your promises to us. If we feel our hope is lost and we are empty, let us look to you for life, hope, and joy all of our days, that we may repay your promises and use the life you’ve blessed us with to glorify & praise you always.