Week 18, 2018.. We ARE getting to know God better as we read His eternal word.

This week – the lady who saved David’s bacon!.. life of a fugitive.. cost of unfaithful leadership.. and more…

DAY ONE – 1 Samuel 25-27, Psalms 17, 73

It wasn’t Abigail’s fault that she was married to a fool. Young women in those days were given in marriage by their fathers. But her beauty and character stand out in the wake of her intercession. She saved an entire household by her humble entreaty to a king. Yes, David was already anointed king, but he had not yet come into his calling; he was still running for his life from Saul, whose pursuit was mind-numbing. Wanting only to sustain his six hundred warrior followers, David sent word to Nabal (fool), whose herdsmen he had protected and sheltered during their time with the sheep, asking for provisions. Nabal instead cursed David and his men, totally unfeeling, uncaring. Not good. David’s response was immediate and dire. His warriors strapped on their swords and followed David as they marched toward Nabal’s place, intending to dispatch all of them. When Abigail heard, she quickly prepared a gift for David and sent it ahead of her, following secretly without Nabal’s knowledge. Coming to David, she bowed low and began to explain the circumstances, imploring the young king not to sully himself by dealing with such a fool as Nabal; but to leave him in Yahweh God’s hands. Intercession is powerful, thoughtful and demanding. It required all of her power to persuade David to relent, which he did–and wisely so. For within a few days following, Nabal was dead, but his household was saved. And soon, Abigail became David’s wife.

Intercession–Entreaty in favor of another, especially a prayer or petition to God in behalf of another. (Dict. Pro) The truth is, Nabal did not deserve his wife’s kind consideration; no, she was interceding for an entire household consisting of many families of servants and others. She stood before a king; she gave a wise petition and prayer. The king responded wisely, saving his own reputation and character. God intervened; Nabal died. Abigail was wed to the king. Hello? Does any of this ring out to us? Can we see that intercession has always been one of our Lord’s gifts to shape our character and turn evil aside? Do we understand that humble entreaty turns the hearts of kings and lords? Not only does it influence the course of the present, it can also affect the future. Abigail took her life in her hands to approach the king; in doing so she saved her life. Yahweh God used Abigail; will he use us as well to be intercessors? Intercession saves people; it saves families… and even nations. What do you have to do today that is better than interceding for someone? A caring heart… a little time… an earnest prayer–that is intercession.

DAY TWO – Psalms 35, 54, 63, 18

David is camping in the wilderness of Judah, traveling lightly; he is hiding in a cave at En Gedi, near the dead sea; he is roving the hills, knowing that the king who is hot for his life is just on the other side of the mountain with 3,000 soldiers! Month after month, year after year, the trial of endurance persists. He and his men are fugitives; they can’t return home. Dinner has to wait; the children watch in vain for their daddy; the family is sundered by violence. How long, O Yahweh God? What would you say if this was one of us? What would our prayers sound like? Or would we even pray? Let’s eavesdrop on David during one of his meditations in the wilderness: Psalm 63:1-6  God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water. 2  So I have seen you in the sanctuary, watching your power and your glory. 3  Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. 4  So I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. 5  My soul shall be satisfied as with the richest food. My mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, 6  when I remember you on my bed, and think about you in the night watches. Does this sound like a beleaguered man? Are these words of a fugitive who has been hounded like a common criminal? I don’t think so. I pray these sentiments from a place of relative safety; I come home at night; my family is near; my needs are met. What do I know–other than the suggestive scenes I see on TV of refugees trekking mindlessly toward safety with only what they can carry? They and their little ones can only hope to live again. Is one of them praying this prayer with David, calling out to Yahweh in the name of Jesus? Are their meditations filled with thanksgiving and praise to God? Would mine be? Sobering.

It doesn’t take much thought to remind us of how truly blessed we are every day. Thankfully David has filled his writings with exultations to and exaltations of God. Praise rises easily from his heart; his hands extend toward heaven; his voice intones the greatness of the One whose “lovingkindness is better than life” itself. I like to ‘hang out’ with the young king-to-be, to pray and praise with him, to catch and imbibe his exultant spirit, to join him in his meditations. David’s is the full panoply of human emotions with God always at the center. May his words bless you as they have me.

DAY THREE – 1 Samuel 28-31, 1 Chronicles 10

A sea change is imminent: it appears Israel’s time has run out. With Saul at the helm Israel has declined and become vulnerable, since Yahweh God has departed from Saul and is supporting David. The Philistines will unwittingly become servants of God to take out Saul’s regime and to make room for David to ascend to the throne. Saul, dejected, miserable and way out of sorts, finally resorts to a medium when he cannot contact Yahweh God. When the spirit of Samuel, the lately deceased prophet and judge, is called up, he utters a doomsday message to the fearful king, which is fulfilled the next day in battle. Saul and his three sons are killed, the army flees, and the Philistines move into the land in complete domination. Meanwhile, David and his 600 men have returned to their city of Ziklag to discover it burned with fire and all their families and possessions taken by a band of Amalekites. Unlike Saul, David now turns to Yahweh and asks the help of Abiathar the priest to determine a proper course of action. Assured that ALL will be recovered, they immediately move out. By the next evening, the Amalekites have been destroyed and, as Yahweh predicted, all has been recovered. Wow! Can we not see that turning our life over to God and living in relationship with Him is a wise course of action? Our text clearly demonstrates that Saul’s destiny was sealed when he openly disobeyed God’s orders while on divine mission. His future was totally altered so that God might preserve His plan to save the world. By the way, David did NOT know what had befallen Saul and his sons. David’s ascension was now virtually guaranteed with Saul out of the way. And remember that David had at least two opportunities to destroy Saul but refused because Saul had been blessed by God to be king.

Proverbs 3:3-8  Don’t let kindness and truth forsake you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4  So you will find favor, and good understanding in the sight of God and man. 5  Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. 6  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 7  Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Fear Yahweh, and depart from evil.  8  It will be health to your body, and nourishment to your bones. 

DAY FOUR – Psalms 121, 123, 124, 125, 128, 129, 130 (Variously called Songs of Steps, Degrees, Ascents; sung as worshippers made the trek up to the house of God)

What’s at the Center? Sometimes we talk of being ‘centered.’ Just what does that mean–centered? I think we mean that there is a reference point within us around which everything else must find its place. We will always revert to our center to find balance and stability in life. We will look for whatever we need at the center. For David one Name stands out–Yahweh. God was at his center; all of life’s circumstances and events brought David back to his Center–Yahweh God. His life and writings are so full of the Lord Yahweh that we cannot find anything else as his pivot point. Whether he is talking about life, or protection, or provision, or refuge, or deliverance, or salvation, or an object of worship and praise–it is always Yahweh. When carrying on a conversation it was with Yahweh. When referring to creation, Yahweh was Creator of heaven and earth. David had a center, and God was always in it. Even when he sinned or found reason for self-loathing, God filled his thoughts and was the explanation for his emotions and actions. God was the Center of David’s life; there is no question about that. And in that, he became a precursor or type of Jesus Christ, who was God come down to earth from heaven. For Jesus, the Father, God was always at the Center of His life. And He said in effect that when we find Him we find Life–that is, our Center. If our Center is Jesus Christ the Lord, life may swirl around us, touch us, capture us, even bless us; but our destiny is intact, because our destiny is at the Center of our existence. When Jesus is the Center, our destiny is unassailable. David’s life taken in its entirety shows that, clearly and distinctly.

Psalm 121:5-8  Yahweh is your keeper. Yahweh is your shade on your right hand. 6  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7  Yahweh will keep you from all evil. He will keep your soul. 8  Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forward, and forever more. 

DAY FIVE – 2 Samuel 1-4

The transfer of power is always a messy business in the world of mankind. It was also in the era of the kings of Israel. Saul, Israel’s first king, and his son Jonathan–a soul brother of David–both fell on Mt. Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines, who lived along Israel’s southwestern coast. Already anointed as successor to Saul, David went up to Hebron with his wives and his army, along with their families, and became king over Judah, who swore loyalty to him. However, Saul’s general Abner lifted up Ishbosheth, Saul’s younger son, to be king over Benjamin and all Israel. So the kingdom was divided, and a war of attrition was fought. It too was messy, consuming the lives of strong fighting men and releasing vengeance over the loss of family blood. It’s no fun, really, reading this eventful account. Through it all David refused to join the partisan fighting and vengeful actions. Knowing that Yahweh God was the divine sovereign and that He ruled in the affairs of mankind, David trusted God to bring about the kingdom in His own time. And God did. David meanwhile mourned the loss of fighting men in both armies, attending their funerals and behaving appropriately, leaving a deep impression on the entire nation. He wrote songs to commemorate the loss of Saul and Jonathan and also of Abner, Saul’s general.

Exulting over the transfer of power without mourning the mess it often creates leaves people angry and confused. Such is our world of politics today–partisan fighting, choosing sides, destroying good people, all in the name of holding power over the nation. It’s time we mourn the process, even while we are trying to forward an agenda and get certain candidates elected! In the end, all power belongs to God, and we are here because of His mercy and grace. Judgments we deserve are withheld. Blessings we don’t deserve He shares abundantly, knowing the state of our broken world, which persists  until the final and eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is fully established. In the meantime, humility and repentance go a long way toward healing and peace, regardless our agendas and political preferences. It’s time the world sees that we really do trust God to finish all He has started, and to act accordingly in good faith.

Week 17, 2018 – Our journey thru the Bible, Getting to know God better…

Matter of the heart… When doing good causes suffering… the Cave experiences…

DAY ONE – 1 Samuel 13-16

Matters of the heart may at times seem trivial to us; we might even mistake them as emotionalism. But as we consider today’s reading, remember this: Proverbs 4:23  (NLT) Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. As we review King Saul’s life in these chapters, something keeps surfacing–he cannot follow orders! Though Saul was an attractive human specimen, standing head and shoulders above his countrymen, his fatal flaw destroyed him. Two years into his reign, he was at Gilgal (home of the Ark of the Covenant), with a few hundred men, threatened by the Philistines who had amassed against Israel. Desertion in his army was high, and he couldn’t seem to pull things together. In his mind, only Yahweh God could save him, so he called for an altar and burnt offerings to Yahweh. He waited for seven days for Samuel to come, but the old prophet was delayed, arriving right after Saul had offered to God. Samuel immediately confronted him: “Your instructions were to wait seven days until I arrive.” Saul reverted to rationalism: “But the people were deserting, and I couldn’t wait any longer!” Fear had gripped his heart. Sometime later Samuel related a mission Yahweh was sending Saul on, to completely and utterly destroy the Amalekites for the way they had treated Israel hundreds of years before; it was time for justice. Saul went on the mission, carried out the task, and returned with the conquered king Agag and the best of the booty to be offered as sacrifice. Of course by now God’s prophet Samuel knew everything, for the Lord had revealed it to him the night before. Saul greeted him cheerfully, reporting that he had carried out the mission. Is that so? Then what about all these sheep and cattle? Oh, those are for sacrifice. Really. What part of obeying God’s instructions do you not understand, Saul? Oh…well, I…

As it turned out, Saul once again succumbed by allowing fear of the people to grip his heart. Now everybody knew that Samuel was God’s prophet, and that the Lord let none of his words fall to the ground. Why wasn’t Saul afraid of Samuel? His heart was really messed up! Saul had no spiritual compass, so he was often off course. Since the fear of God wasn’t truly in his heart, he was left with only his thoughts and feelings and circumstances. It ruined him, and he lost his kingdom soon after that to a younger man who served God FROM THE HEART! 1 Samuel 16:7  But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” 

Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. 6  These words, which I command you today, shall be on your heart… 

DAY TWO – 1 Samuel 17-20, Psalm 59

David killed Goliath, and it vaulted him into ‘national hero’ status. That’s a pretty large jump for someone maybe still in his teens, but the glory would be tempered by King Saul’s rabid jealousy. And it was a pretty vulnerable place for someone assigned to the king as his personal musician! Since God’s Spirit had come upon David but left Saul, the rages of the sitting king did not bode well for the young king-to-be. Saul might have succeeded in destroying David, but the Lord gave David an ally in Jonathan, Saul’s son. And he wasn’t just any ally; the souls of the two young men had become knit in a close bond of fellowship and mutual respect, so that Jonathan was willing to lay down his own life for David, and vice versa. At one point, Saul cursed his own son and splattered him with vitriol for protecting David, who had to go into exile away from his family and friends until the matter was dealt with. Most, if not all of us, have had difficult relationships that threatened to spoil our dreams of life and family. Following David’s attitudes and actions through the story unfolding before us can give valuable insights into dealing with our own rigorous relationships. Psalm 59 was attached to this reading–let’s see if we can glean from David’s spirit in how to handle someone else’s wrath, especially when it is unjustified…

Psalm 59:1-4  (A poem by David, when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him.) Deliver me from my enemies, my God. Set me on high from those who rise up against me. 2  Deliver me from the workers of iniquity. Save me from the bloodthirsty men. 3  For, behold, they lie in wait for my soul. The mighty gather themselves together against me, not for my disobedience, nor for my sin, Yahweh. 4  I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Rise up, behold, and help me!  Psalm 59:8 -10 But you, Yahweh, laugh at them. You scoff at all the nations. 9  Oh, my Strength, I watch for you, for God is my high tower. 10  My God will go before me with his loving kindness. God will let me look at my enemies in triumph. 

David’s strategy begins and ends with God. That keeps his attitudes in check, preventing him from doing further damage. As to his actions, he does what he has to do to survive, but he DOES NOT take matters into his own hands to resolve the problem. It is left to Yahweh God. As future chapters will reveal, the Lord can be trusted with all these things. Stay close to Him, and trust Him.

DAY THREE – 1 Samuel 21-24, Psalm 91

What do you do when your innocent and unknowing act inadvertently brings disastrous calamity to someone else? David’s visit to Ahimelech the priest at Nob eventually resulted in the death of all 85 priests in the family and the destruction of Nob with all its women and children. Even though David had nothing to do with the massacre, he thought he might have prevented it by taking out one man. It weighed heavily on his conscience. With King Saul on the rampage again, trying to hunt down David to kill him, the young king-to-be was doing all he could to even survive.  Evidently being in the will of God does NOT mean that we won’t suffer. Suffering in this world is because we are in this world! At times frightened out of his wits, David stepped into the responsibility thrust upon him and became an even greater leader in the process. Six hundred men and their families were now depending on him!

Underlying all the various issues in David’s life was his relationship with Yahweh God. Two things stand out: 1) David consorted with and consulted God in almost everything. Seemingly he was giving honor and respect to Yahweh every day. 2) David TRUSTED God to act in his behalf and to ‘run the world’ so that David didn’t have to! He really believed God was in charge. When Saul discredited himself again and again, David did not see it as an ‘aha’ moment. When he could have taken Saul out, he refused to raise his hand against ‘Yahweh’s anointed.’ God’s will is not always to be discovered in the opportunities we have, nor in the circumstances that appear to come together. By carefully and repeatedly seeking out the Lord, we grow in our ability to discern right and wrong things to do.

The 91st Psalm demonstrates the safest place to live in this world–in God’s secret place. And what is that secret? Watch this: Psalm 91:14-16 (ESV) “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15  When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Ponder that.

DAY FOUR – Psalms 7, 27, 31, 34, 52

Does God really intervene in human affairs? Does He take a personal interest in you and me? Deism says NO. It’s a religious belief holding that God created the universe and established rationally comprehensible moral and natural laws but does not intervene in human affairs through miracles or supernatural revelation (Dictionary Pro). Evidently some of our more prominent American founders were deists. They believed in God, but the question is, which God did they believe in? Was it the God of their imagination, or was it the God of revelation–the God Jesus reveals to us to be “Our Father in heaven”? Ask David…wait, we can’t ask him; but we can read his testimony of the God he believed in. THAT God is the God in these Psalms we are reading today. He is Personal, thoughtful, loving, and supernatural. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the description of Himself that He gave to Moses? Exodus 34:5-6  Yahweh descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed Yahweh’s name. 6  Yahweh passed by before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh! Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth… Is this the god of the deists, or is this the Father whom Jesus revealed to us? At some point in our life, we MUST decide if we really BELIEVE the God of the Bible–the God of David, and Samuel, and Moses, and Jesus, and Paul. David frequently in his prayers and writings says, ‘My God.’

If the God Jesus revealed is my Father, He is also my God–MY God. And if He is as He revealed Himself to Moses to be, which part of His interest in me and my affairs do I not believe? Is God the God of my circumstances only, or is He my God? If He is my God, then circumstances are somewhat irrelevant! He is my God all of the time. Does my Dad ever stop being my father? No. Was I close to my dad? Was he a great dad? Maybe, maybe not, you say. But he was still my Dad. If Jesus says that God is our Father in heaven, and THAT God describes Himself as He did to Moses, then that is the God I believe! I don’t just believe in Him; I believe HIM! To understand David’s heart and relationships, we must also understand David’s God. Then we can confidently move forward.

DAY FIVE – Psalms 56, 120, 140, 141, 142

Caves are not where I want to spend my time. Maybe go in for a look-around, a brief adventure, but I certainly don’t want to have to live in one. For David, the cave became a sanctuary, a hiding place, when King Saul sought his life. The entire ordeal lasted seven years; that’s a lot of ‘caving’! I mention sanctuary, because evidently some of his time in hiding was spent in contemplation, praise, thanksgiving and a lot of attention to Yahweh God. As Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi sang songs and hymns in the deep of night, so David composed many psalms from his place as a fugitive. These are not nice, religious ditties! They are heart-rending, gut-twisting exposes of the soul–deep complaints tempered with hope and thankfulness. David’s faith, trust and confidence were born in the crucible of suffering–away from home and family, cut off from the house of worship, without religious trappings. Psalm 142:1-4  (A contemplation by David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.) I cry with my voice to Yahweh. With my voice, I ask Yahweh for mercy. 2  I pour out my complaint before him. I tell him my troubles. 3  When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, you knew my route. On the path in which I walk, they have hidden a snare for me. 4  Look on my right, and see; for there is no one who is concerned for me. Refuge has fled from me. No one cares for my soul. This is the cry of a man who feels totally alone.

David PROVED God faithful in his own experiences, time and time again. His is not the light prose of someone who believes in a good idea. For him Yahweh is the difference between life vs. death, hope vs. despair, trust vs. faint-heartedness. I have always loved what David said to the king before he went out to face Goliath with his trusted sling and a stone: 1 Samuel 17:37  “Yahweh who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” And God did just that. Will He do the same for me? That’s what I have to find out; that’s what I HAVE found out. And you–will God deliver you? You must find that out for yourself; no one else can offer you that assurance. We have read no fewer than ten of David’s psalms that came out of deep suffering. Hang out with David; wander with him, cry with him, sing his songs with him, and DISCOVER HIS GOD with Him!


 

Week 16, 2018 – Discovering God’s Treasures by Reading thru the Bible

When everyone does what is right in his own eyes… God at work behind the scenes… Speak Lord, I’m listening…

DAY ONE – Judges 19-21

The Bible is a ‘no holds barred’ historical account of mankind and his relationship with God. Nothing, regardless its heinous nature, is withheld if it complements the story of human history. And no history, however positive or negative, is irrelevant to the human situation. Such is the tragic story that unfolded near the end of the era of the Judges. A story of perversion, unspeakable group conduct, revelation of the facts, and a ‘wakeup’ call to the entire nation, unfolds before our very eyes. One of the twelve tribes of Israel is decimated during this incident but hangs on by the ‘skin of their teeth.’ And when the whole story has reached an end, a final statement is added: Judges 21:25  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.

There is a redemptive part of the human narrative that must always be told, if we are to correctly understand the nature and wisdom of Yahweh God. Being the Creator of mankind and the One left holding the bag filled with human failure, God is often blamed for the ills and evils perpetrated throughout nations, in families and even in individuals. Until we know the back story, we cannot understand the secret mysteries of evil and good. Only the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ and His mysterious kingdom brings Truth into focus and reveals what has been, and what is yet to come. The FACTS of history must be rehearsed with the call of Jesus Christ ringing in our ears: Mark 1:14-15  Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, 15  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and God’s Kingdom is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.” It has always been true; now it is critical. Time is running out.

DAY TWO – Ruth 1-4

It has been said that virtue has its own reward. However true that may be, the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz has all the ingredients of a Hallmark ‘feel good’ movie! Famine, emigration and loss of life fill the early pages of this account of Naomi, whose husband, Elimelech died after they settled in Moab. Following the marriages of Naomi’s two sons, to Orpah and Ruth, both sons also died within a ten-year period. Ruth emerges in the following scenes as a truly devoted, self-giving young woman committed to her aging mother-in-law’s welfare. Back in Bethlehem of Judah, Naomi must now look after the welfare of Ruth, whose future seems very uncertain. For us, the emergence of Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, is something new. The kinsman would traditionally buy the family property and marry the widow in order to maintain the family name. It turned out that Boaz was that kinsman willing to perform that function, even though he already had property and family. He had watched Ruth closely, observed her virtuous behavior and considered Naomi’s fortunes as well. Two profound ‘blessings’ are spoken and should be remembered.

First, acknowledging Ruth’s kindness to Naomi, Boaz blessed her in this manner:  Ruth 2:12  May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”  Without knowing, Ruth, by coming back to Israel with Naomi, had placed herself under Yahweh God’s blessing. And Yahweh, who rewards virtue, had laid a plan for Ruth which would reward the young Moabitess with a perpetual blessing that would outlive her; for she would be named in the ancestry of none other than Jesus the Messiah. Second, once Ruth was married to Boaz, her redeemer, she had a son who was none other than King David’s grandfather! And the women of their hometown lavished this blessing on Naomi:  Ruth 4:14-16   “Praise the LORD, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15  May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” 16  Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. So this great story reminds us to trust Yahweh God with the oversight of our past, present and future, no matter the difficult circumstances we may encounter along the way. Ruth, by being focused on the welfare of someone other than herself, and by working hard and accepting elder wisdom, was blessed by God more than she could ever have dreamed.

DAY THREE – 1 Samuel 1-3

Much has been made of Hannah’s prayers for a son, and of the priest’s blessing over her, and of the birth of Samuel, and of his early years in the temple. But he was LENT to the Lord by his mother, having only been weaned. And he was delivered into the old priest’s care, and he grew up before the Lord in the house of God. His mother got to see him once a year. Hannah INVESTED in the future of Israel and trusted Yahweh God with that investment, surrendering all control over what she had given to God. It was soon obvious that Yahweh was with Samuel and oversaw his growing up years. But the defining event in these chapters is how Samuel came to know the Lord’s voice. He thought he heard Eli, but it turned out God was calling him. Three times in the night Samuel ran to Eli to know why he was called. Finally the old man realized it was God calling and instructed Samuel how to answer the next time he heard the voice–“Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening.”

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And so God again found a voice in Israel, a young man who would come to know God’s voice intimately and would speak God’s words fearlessly to his generation. “The Lord was with Samuel, and let none of his words fall to the ground.” When a person becomes that intimate with God of heaven, the Lord’s voice and the person’s voice sometimes sound the same, and God honors his servant’s words as well. If we are praying for a generation of young men and women who know God’s voice and will speak to their generation, well and good! But if we are not praying that prayer; if we are not willing to lend our sons and daughters to the Lord, why not? What mischief will it take for us to realize the desperate times our world is in? When will we give it all up to the Lord? Hopefully sooner than later.

DAY FOUR – 1 Samuel 4-8

“And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.” That’s a good thing…right? It all depends…  The Philistines had been oppressing Israel into service for some time. Now they decided to conquer Israel, so they made war and killed 4,000 Israelis. Recovering from battle, Israel decided to bring the Ark of God into the battle zone to improve their chances of success. Old priest Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, brought the Ark from Shiloh, and a massive shout was raised when it came into the camp! One day later, 30,000 Israelis lay dead, including Hophni and Phineas; and the Ark of God had been taken by the Philistines back to their city. When old priest Eli heard the news, he fell and broke his neck and died. Can it get any worse? Well, Phineas’ wife went into labor and had a boy, whom she named Ichabod–“The glory has departed from Israel.” From “The word of Samuel came to all Israel,” to “The glory has departed from Israel.” Wait a minute…where is the disconnect? Israel is making sacrifices to the Baals and Ashtoreths (foreign pagan gods), having rejected Yahweh as Sovereign. Things have gone from bad to worse. But there are some interesting developments down south…

First, the Philistine god Dagon is not faring well. The Ark of God is in his temple. Day one: Dagon is lying on the ground, knocked off his pedestal. Day two: Dagon is on the ground again, this time his head and hands lying nearby, broken off. Second, the Philistines of Ashdod city are breaking out in tumors all over. Everyone seems infected with the plague. And then a memory surfaces: remember what Yahweh did to the Egyptians? The whole world knew. So the Ark is moved to Gath, then to Ekron, Philistine cities. But the plague is now in those cities too. And the lights come on! Seven months of misery have brought the Philistines to their senses. So they send the Ark of God home and leave Israel alone. That was a great start, but Israel was still in the woods–only when they put away the demon gods and returned to Yahweh did their fortunes begin to improve. And Samuel stood before them all the way, speaking and judging with messages from Yahweh God. May the church of the west hear God’s voice calling us away from pagan persuasions, philosophies and traditions. As Jesus said to the seven churches in the Revelation, “Whoever has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” May we revive the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven among us and seek His kingdom first.

DAY FIVE – 1 Samuel 9-12

Does our Father in heaven plan ahead for things that happen in our life? The story of Israel’s first king suggests that he does. God’s strategy to discover and choose Saul to be commander over Israel was elaborate and carefully executed, bringing together seemingly unrelated events and people to accomplish His plan. What a great story! What’s even more interesting is that Yahweh God’s hand is so clearly seen in the signs accompanying this incredible event, no one would believe that the Lord considered it a wicked thing! Really? God carried out a plan that made Him an accomplice to a wicked act? Not only did the Lord carry this out, He used it to REVEAL to the people the wickedness of their insistence that they have a king. Remember, from the days of Egypt until the days of this story, Israel had a history of unfaithfulness and disobedience to the heavenly commandments. They repeatedly rejected God in favor of foreign, demonic religious practices. And they were about to do it again, asking for a king so they could be “like the other nations.” So He gave them a king. Then, to prove to the people that they had sinned, God’s word through Samuel brought thunder and rain onto the wheat harvest, destroying it completely! So once again, Israel was sorry; but the damage was done. There would be good kings, but some of them would be so grossly pagan that generations later Israel would be swept away into exile and lose everything they had. Soon we will hear Samuel say to King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” But today is another learning experience.

Is there no comfort, no redemption? But yes, certainly… 1 Samuel 12:20-24  “Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the LORD with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on Him. 21  Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! 22  The LORD will not abandon His people, because that would dishonor His great name. For it has pleased the LORD to make you His very own people. 23  “As for me, I will certainly not sin against the LORD by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. 24  But be sure to fear the LORD and faithfully serve Him. Think of all the wonderful things He has done for you. Remember today that the Lord’s plans are ALWAYS redemptive, and He is always planning something better for us as we follow Him.

Week 15, April 8, 2018 – Let’s Get to Know God Better thru His Word…

Samson’s fatal flaw… Dishonest history… Pagan altars… “How’s that working out for you?”

DAY ONE – Judges 2-5

It is pretty well given that we don’t have to look for trouble in this world; it finds us! When Jacob, the father of Israel stood before the Pharaoh, he was asked, “How old are you?” He answered that his days were 130 years and full of trouble. Did he look for it? Not necessarily. Did he cause it? Sometimes, yes, in his quest to get out of life all  he could. Did God help him? Yes, again and again; the Lord was faithful to His covenants. Now we have advanced several hundreds of years, and Israel’s descendants are again in trouble. Though God has kept all His promises and blessed them abundantly, their disobedience to His laws and ways keep activating trouble all around them, especially from the peoples they failed to drive out. One passage says that the remaining remnant nations lived among the Israelites in their new homeland; and after Israel’s failures another passage says that Israel lived among the remnant nations that grew strong again. The tables were turned; the scales were balanced, and Israel no longer enjoyed God’s favor as they had. Now they had to fight to survive. So I’m wondering if we are seeing something akin to this in our millennial generation? It is fairly accepted that in our national culture, diverse ideologies hold about even in the polls–sometimes a bit more conservative, sometimes a bit more liberal. And in the denominational world, scripture is losing ground to distrust and skepticism. So is the Lord testing us as He did Israel? Has the Lord allowed the scales to tip so that we would also have to fight to survive? If so, then our work is cut out for us. Perhaps it’s time we get back to the business of serving the Lord and advancing His kingdom in a milieu of cosmic conflict.

The Judges who emerged in this book that bears their standard were people of commitment and dedication. They led armies, faced fears, defeated their enemies (God’s enemies). They lived on to protect the land and judge the people by serving Yahweh God and encouraging the people to do the same. They rejected idolatry and all its destructive practices. And so the Lord blessed the land with rest for a season during their lifetime. May principled men and women arise in our millennial generation to judge righteously for the Lord and take their stand in our time. After a great victory under the leadership of the prophetess/judge Deborah, and Barak her general, they sang this song: Judges 5:2  “Israel’s leaders took charge, and the people gladly followed. Praise the LORD! Let that song be sung again in our day; may God’s people stand and be counted.

DAY TWO – Judges 6-9

When is it time to tear down our fathers’ altars? Answer: 1) when God’s prophets remind us how far we have strayed from God’s true path of righteousness and relationship; 2) when the ‘angel of the Lord’ (His messenger) finds us at work but living in fear of our enemies. Both of these portents were in evidence in these chapters when the ‘Lord’ appeared to Gideon, son of Joash. This heavenly Messenger gave Gideon a single assignment: tear down the Baal’s altar, using your father’s second bull. Then build an altar to Yahweh God and offer the bull on the wreckage, thus destroying the symbol of Baal worship (Baal has been unmasked in our times as the god of a thousand faces, represented in religions all over the world as their own personal deities). Thus Gideon’s life took a dramatic turn when he carried out the assignment. Not only did God preserve him when his own people sought his life, but the Lord also led him into a campaign that destroyed all the armies of Midian–over 130,000 armed men! And this was done with a small regiment of only 300 men who were loyal to Gideon and God. The Lord Himself gave Gideon detailed instructions at each juncture of the campaign until it was completed. Israel was brought back to God during Gideon’s lifetime because one young man of no particular significance was willing to obey God and buck the tide.

Question: what constitutes an altar? Baal’s altar was prominent, a tower of some sort to which the people resorted with their sacrifices and which provoked them to all sorts of evil practices learned from the Canaanites living around them (oh, right… these were the people who were supposed to be completely driven out during Joshua’s day but never were). We cannot turn back the clock to remedy the mistakes of previous generations, but we can worship and serve the Lord God courageously in the face of the mounting pagan influences saturating our culture. And at some point, the ‘angel of the Lord’ may find us clandestinely going about our business with some fear and trepidation; He may ask us to perform some outrageous act which destroys the evil and tears down wicked altars. What will we say? Will we buck the tide? Will we stand for raw truth regardless the outcomes? Remember, Gideon was no warrior. He was a young man who required several supernatural confirmations to assure himself this was actually God He saw, who was asking him to step out and up to a dangerous mission in a dangerous time. Only when he complied was he lifted to a new level of relationship with Yahweh that positively influenced his generation. Need I say more?

DAY THREE – Judges 10-13

Jephthah was an unlikely candidate to be a judge of Israel. Illegitimate, he was banished from the family compound by his brothers, from which he went into exile and became a mighty man of valor as he struggled to survive the circumstances thrust upon him. Israel at that time came again into the throes of bondage because of their abandonment of Yahweh their God. When attacked repeatedly by the Ammonites from east of the Jordan, they sought out Jephthah to make him their leader and judge, and to deliver them from the Ammonites. With a promise that he would lead Israel, Jephthah contacted the king of Ammon and demanded a reason for their aggression. When the king responded that Israel had stolen their land in the days of Joshua, Jephthah was able to give a truthful and complete retelling of history that debunked the king’s claim. Read it carefully, for based on the truth, Yahweh God stepped in and delivered Ammon into Jephthah’s hands in total defeat. It was history that substantiated Jephthah’s actions; what is more astounding is that he was able to lay out Israel’s history in accurate detail, though hundreds of years had elapsed. God Himself upheld the truth as Jephthah prayed for success.

Rewriting history and retelling it for nefarious purposes is wicked. Yet that is happening in our day, and an illiterate public is buying the lie, which has the effect of changing the entire religious, political and social context of our culture. Ignorant people can be persuaded to blindly follow unscrupulous leaders if they have no knowledge of history. Even the Word of God can be discredited when a lie is offered as a substitute for truth that is historically verified. If, as in the case of the Ammonite king, truth can be skewed by the skillful rewriting of history, it may lead to the downfall of an entire nation of people, as it did to the Ammonites. God stood with Israel and helped Jephthah defeat their enemies and destroy them completely. Always stick with the truth; it needs no other support. And there is no greater telling of history than that found in God’s Word; some have called it ‘his-story.’ Knowing our past is often a prologue to a more secure future.

DAY FOUR – Judges 14-16

It is hard to imagine that one’s strength could also become his fatal flaw. Known for his mighty feats of strength, Samson eventually died because he failed to connect his gift with the source of the gift. When the Philistines oppressed Israel for years, a condition allowed by Yahweh to discipline his errant people, they cried out to the Lord who was reticent to rescue them again after so long a bout with idolatry and apostasy. Yet God did relent. He blessed a barren woman with a son on condition that the boy follow the Nazirite vow throughout his life–nothing from the vine and no razor upon his hair. It’s actually entertaining to read the exploits of Samson, the ease with which he confounded and defeated the Philistines year after year, so that they mostly stayed away from Israel. And then the unraveling began, precipitated by his proclivity to love beautiful, pagan women. It was Delilah the Philistine who patiently and persistently extracted Samson’s secret from his heart. And once revealed, there was no going back. The playboy hero was done for–his eyes gouged out and his life used to provide sport for his captors. In such a setting, his hair now grown again, Samson died avenging the cruelty he had experienced by his enemies. Grasping the two supporting pillars of the temple of Dagon, he pulled down the entire edifice, taking out 3,000 Philistines with him, including their princes and all their ruling class. A beautiful tragedy–inexplicable except for the sovereign hand of Yahweh, Israel’s God, standing in the shadows of heaven and earth.

DAY FIVE – Judges 17-18

Judges 17:6  In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. How does an educated, economically powerful and blessed nation of people spiral so far downward that the above statement could be pronounced over them? The answer is, gradually–it’s the ‘frog in the kettle’ syndrome. But the statement itself is revealing–“Israel had no king.” Israel NEVER had a king. Israel conquered many kings in their exploits but they themselves had always been ruled by God through a few strong leaders raised up by Yahweh God. How did they ever get to the place in which “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”? We might ask that question of our own people and culture. If we study the course of nations, they are founded on the strengths and values they corporately possess. Their longevity is based on the development of memes which express their strengths and values in succeeding generations. If at any point, social, political or religious movements begin to fragment their memes, then their strengths and values erode, at first slowly, then precipitously. Alter enough of a nation’s core values, and there will be no strength left to support its origins. So went Israel; so goes the western church and culture. Without a king a people may flounder. We don’t have kings in our national structure; it is quite understood that God and His Son, Jesus the King, once provided the source of value that maintained our culture. By repudiating Divine Sovereignty through multi-culturalism and doctrines of diversity, we have denuded the spiritual landscape, leaving it barren and devoid of God’s government and rule. What’s left? “…all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” How is that working out for us?

Week 14, 2018 – Reading thru the Bible to Know God better…

Welcome to the Company of Rarified Air! We are about one-fourth the way up the mountain. Take a deep breath and…let’s climb some more!

DAY ONE – Joshua 7-10

With the victory at Jericho behind them, Israel, flushed with a sense of excitement and expectation, considered little Ai, their next target, a sure thing. What a shock they felt when Ai beat them back and killed 36 Israelites. On His face before God, Joshua questioned everything, suddenly afraid and lacking confidence. What happened next was a revelation–one man had sinned, and he must be found and dealt with. Every tribe was examined and Judah taken; every family was examined, then every man in the family, until Achan was taken. Only then did he reveal his greed and deceit–he had stolen a garment and some silver/gold and hidden it under his tent. Thirty-six men died as a result, and the entire congregation faced destruction. Therefore, Achan and all he possessed, along with his family were removed from the camp and stoned in the valley, after which their remains were burned with fire and covered over with a heap of stones. Restored to grace, Israel was ready to renew the campaign under Yahweh’s direct guidance. Dare we ever believe our actions don’t have some larger effect on those around us? Living in daily repentance is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. Lord, have mercy!

An amazing campaign then ensued in the entire hill country and lowlands with multiple cities/kings gathered to fight against Israel. Methodically and strategically Joshua led the troops until every city was overthrown and every person removed as Yahweh had instructed. Only then would Israel be protected from the rampant demonic religions of the pagans. Though we don’t fight in the physical in the same sense today, imagine the overthrow of evil the Lord has planned for this earth, the ultimate purging of the land and release from the conspiracies of all the Lord’s enemies! It is literally beyond our comprehension; as someone has said, “…above my pay grade!” Yet all that happened in Israel, as the apostles and prophets and yes, Jesus Himself indicated, “…were our examples.” Acts 3:20-21  …and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, 21  whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets. Restored to the original–that is the hope and expectation of all of us who serve our Lord faithfully and face bravely the mounting conflicts growing around us every day.

DAY TWO – Joshua 11-14

“Then the land had rest from war.” So chapter 14 ends. These chapters record the extensive battles Joshua and Israel fought against the kings of Canaan–all the tribes of Canaan. When it was over, 31 kings were dead and the campaign was at an end. Joshua was old, ready to retire. Distributions of land were made to the nine and one-half tribes of those remaining, and Israel entered her inheritance. Yet there were many remnants of the inhabitants remaining scattered throughout the land. What of them? Israel’s instructions were to completely destroy them and remove their memory from the earth. Yet there they were. And Israel’s future was jeopardized unless they were gone. So… what now? Well, even after all the miraculous interventions of Yahweh, He allowed the remnants to be there as a test whether Israel would go ahead and finish the work. And they didn’t; they failed the task. And yes, you guessed… those remnants became a thorn and snare to God’s people. Eventually intermarriage and pagan religious practices unraveled the Theocracy and left Israel completely vulnerable, in spite of God’s wonderful plans, instructions and divine intervention. We have something to say about the how things turn out even in our times…

As Israel defeated all the kings of Canaan and left them without any leadership, so Jesus destroyed the powers of death and hell and left them without protection.  Remember what Joshua and Caleb reported when they spied out the land for Moses– Numbers 14:9 (NLT)  Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”  The darkness, deception and perversion of our times is in spite of all that God has done and does through the name of Jesus. And as our Heavenly Father rescued the earth through the triumphant ministry of our Lord Jesus, so He will send Jesus again to provide a final solution to the evil that has persisted against God’s work in our world. As Israel needed their God then, we need the Lord every day that we live. As Israel failed to completely drive out the pagans, we live in this world by faith in God and His wonderful promises. Yes, Satan was destroyed as to his leadership, for Jesus took over heaven and earth with all authority! Our mission is clear–follow Jesus, fight the good fight of faith, and resist the evil that persists in our worldly space. And while we are at it, we get to rest in Him. James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, 3  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4  Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothingAs the Lord intervened then, He intervenes now. Don’t be afraid of the evil; its protection has been removed, and God’s people have the upper hand. Rejoice that we get to live by faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ!

DAY THREE – Joshua 15-18

Psalm 24:1  A psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.  Borders and boundaries– we don’t always like them, but they are necessary. In our world, the entirety of which is ‘owned’ by God Almighty, borders define the limits of our expansion. Acts 17:26-27  From one man He created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and He determined their boundaries. 27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him—though He is not far from any one of us.  The tribes of Israel were now assigned borders to define their inheritance. Within their boundaries they were to settle and steward the land, which meant driving out the remnants of those nations being dispossessed. With their leadership and protection removed, those remnants had lost their lease, which now belonged to the respective tribes. Yet the record shows that Israel never finished the job. Within their bordered territories those remnant peoples remained, clinging and defiant, and were never driven out as commanded by Yahweh. They were reduced to slavery, but their very presence became a snare that led to trouble for God’s people. Repeated bouts of idolatry learned from the pagan remnants plagued Israel in coming generations and threatened to unravel God’s gracious plans for a Messiah to eventually come. Israel’s borders today remind us that the Lord is faithful to all the wonderful purposes and plans He has for them and for us.

What a lesson– remnants of the old life we used to live before Jesus saved us seem to hang around, clinging and defiant. But their power is broken, and they have lost their lease! Our life belongs to the Lord; we belong to Him, and fresh borders and boundaries have been established in our attitudes and behaviors. We settle into our new life in Jesus and steward God’s precious gifts we have been given. We defend our borders and we develop God’s Presence within our territory. We live with faith, hope and love, sustained and guided by The Holy Spirit who shares our space. Wow; what blessings we have inherited from Father in Heaven! Today is a day to praise Yeshua (Jesus) and give copious thanks!

DAY FOUR – Joshua 19-22

One of the most cryptic words in scripture occurs here: Joshua 21:45  Not a single one of all the good promises the LORD had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything He had spoken came true.  Hundreds of years before this Yahweh God made a covenant with Abraham to bless him with innumerable descendants and to give them the land Abraham traversed throughout his life. Canaan was to be extinguished; Israel was to replace the pagan nations and inherit their land forever. And it was done. Do you comprehend? Everything that Yahweh God promised was fulfilled; not a word failed to materialize. This is historical fact; and, if it alone is true, how it demonstrates the powerful future that remains for the people of God. All of God’s promises are now being fulfilled in Messiah Jesus, just as Israel’s destiny was carried out through Moses and Joshua. And since Abraham is held up by St. Paul in Romans as the ‘father of faith’ for all of us, how much more confident can we be that every future blessing is already secured and assured? The question then remains, how should we live out our calling in these most interesting and intriguing times?

For over forty years, from Goshen in Egypt to Canaan and its territories, all was provided by God for an orderly transition and a future life. Israel had rest, her enemies were broken, cities and riches had been claimed, and every tribe now had a permanent home for their families to live and serve God and each other. When they left Egypt they were slaves; when they settled in Canaan they were God’s people by covenant– free and blessed with a theocratic society that set them above and apart from the other nations. Never had a people undergone such radical transformation and never had they been handed such hope for the future. Joshua 21:45  Nothing failed of any good thing which Yahweh had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass. 

DAY FIVE – Joshua 23-24, Judges 1

Legacy is what we leave behind. An old man now, Joshua is ready to die, and yet another season is about to descend upon Israel. The old leader wisely gathers the people a final time to affirm a legacy left by Abraham and Moses and hopefully, generations yet to come. That legacy is built on Yahweh God and the covenants that He has made with a man, a family and a nation. Will it continue? Will God’s plans ever find a finishing point? Every generation has to answer that question in its own collective and individual hearts.

“Serve Yahweh, not the gods of the remnant nations left in the land around you.” “We will serve the Lord (Yahweh). All you have said we will do.” “No, you cannot serve Yahweh God, for He is jealous, and He won’t accept your idolatry and apostasy.” “Yes, but we will serve Him.” And so went the conversation between Joshua and the elders of Israel. History records that they did serve the Lord so long as the elders who outlived Joshua were alive. But in the process, they achieved only moderate success in the continued campaign to drive out utterly the remnant nations still sharing the land. That project was never finished…ever; and history also records the results of that unfinished business!

Joshua said, “Serve whom you will; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That is legacy. It’s what he left behind, a lifetime of faithfulness and completion. That can be respected and replicated, but it can’t be inherited. I cannot pass legacy to my children; they may observe it, evaluate it, and choose it as an influential part of their lives going forward; but they cannot inherit it. Neither can they serve the Lord I serve unless they make that choice individually. As the life I live here and now wanes, only my legacy weighs upon me. Everything else finds its place, but legacy has become my passionate pursuit. “Teach us to number our days, that we may incline our hearts to wisdom.”

WEEK 13, 2018 – Knowing God Better through His Word, the Bible

Find yourself getting behind in your reading? It happens to all at some point. DON’T GIVE UP. Instead, encourage yourself and get back in the game by starting at TODAY. You can always go back later and catch what you missed. By PRINTING OUT the weekly writings you will also have a reference book for as long as you wish or need!

DAY ONE – Deuteronomy 24-27

Whether we are talking about marriage–husband and wife; or family–parents and children; or neighbors–that is anyone nearby; or even foreigners… God’s prescription for social equity and peace has always been the same: love your neighbor as yourself. And, do unto others as you wish they will do unto you. I’m not sure which part of ‘righteousness’ we don’t understand, but it is truly simple. It means doing what is right. Most of us, unless we have been grossly injured or have been taught to dislike the caricature of God given to us, have an innate sense of right and wrong. We hardly require a set of laws and rules to know what is ‘lawful’ or ‘lawless.’ But neither are we naïve and clueless; we know evil when we see it; and just so Israel didn’t get confused on the issues, Yahweh God spelled out in detail what He meant by right and wrong. Knowing the hearts of all men, the Lord made clear what the issues are and how we are to treat one another, and how we will be treated if we openly and flagrantly transgress His commandments. He also reminded Israel that they all were at one time slaves, and they mustn’t ever forget that. Their current blessings lay in God’s mercies and love for them. As Moses reminded them of these things on this day, he was wistful and hopeful, but not naïve. Deuteronomy 26:17-19  You have declared today that Yahweh is your God, and that you would walk in his ways, and keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his ordinances, and listen to his voice. 18  Yahweh has declared today that you are a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you should keep all his commandments. 19  He will make you high above all nations that he has made, in praise, in name, and in honor; and that you may be a holy people to Yahweh your God, as he has spoken. 

I traveled in Israel as early as 1976, and I shall never forget an unusual sight: we were on a road which passes between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal; and having read the scriptures multiple times, I observed a strange phenomenon. But before I tell you what it is, note what the Lord said: Deuteronomy 27:11-13  Moses commanded the people the same day, saying, 12  “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13  These shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. Would you believe that the first time I saw these two mountains, Mt. Gerizim was green and covered with foliage; while across the road Mt. Ebal was brown and bare and arid! Blessings… and curse. Go figure… What does God know that we need to learn? Just saying.

DAY TWO – Deuteronomy 28-30

We have reached an end of the words of the covenant Yahweh God offered to Israel. It is important that we understand that in those times covenants were offered by any king who was strong enough to conquer a people and take over their affairs. Yahweh God, Israel’s God, was strong enough to destroy the gods of Egypt and the Egyptians themselves, in order to bring Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt and back to their own land. This nation of slaves was delivered out of Egypt in ONE NIGHT and brought to Mt. Sinai to meet their Deliverer. God’s name is Yahweh, and they were to come to know Him, to accept His covenant, to enter into a family relationship with Him. He was the same God who called Abraham their ancestor from Mesopotamia and cut a covenant with him. He was the same God who chose Isaac, and then Jacob; and sent the family to Egypt for 400 years until conditions in Canaan were ready for a new occupancy. At Mt. Sinai He revealed Himself to the nation of Israel and laid out all the laws, commandments and conditions of their Covenant being offered by Yahweh. They were NOT entering into covenant with Yahweh; He was entering into covenant with them. It was His covenant, His ordinances, His conditions for approval. They had a choice, but it wasn’t to dictate or negotiate the covenant terms; that belonged to Yahweh alone. Having made it abundantly clear that His covenant would elevate them to a high place over all the nations, Yahweh did what all conquerors did: He laid out the options and the results. Honoring the covenant would bring Israel blessings upon blessings, everywhere and in every which way they turned. Disrespecting the covenant would bring them horrors and curses which they would find unimaginable. It was their choice.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  Behold, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and evil. 16  For I command you today to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it. 17  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18  I denounce to you today, that you will surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants; 20  to love Yahweh your God, to obey his voice, and to cling to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days; that you may dwell in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. That clarion call still rings out today from the New Covenant through Jesus, our Lord.

DAY THREE – Deuteronomy 31-34

A song and a blessing–this is the legacy Moses left to the children of Israel at the end of his journey. From his miraculous rescue when he was only three months old; through his princely childhood in the house of Pharaoh of Egypt; through his fearful flight into Midian for forty years; and finally back to Egypt as a Deliverer for Yahweh–Moses stood now at the apex of his life and strength, 120 years old, and was finished! Israel would move on into her inheritance with Joshua, and Moses would not be there. How did he finish? First, he wrote all the words of the law that had been given by Yahweh at Sinai and entrusted the book to the Levites, to be kept near the Ark of the Covenant. Second, he composed and wrote down a song that told the story of Israel’s future, a song that predicted great and blessed days but also dark and scary times of apostasy and discipline. It was an outline of God’s love and severity toward this fledgling nation, a people always struggling to walk the line of obedience and grace. Finally, he penned the blessings upon the house itself, with its several tribes, outlining destinies determined by Yahweh Himself. Having laid hands on his assistant Joshua and having ordained him before the people, Moses turned his face westward and climbed Mt. Nebo, a solitary figure taking his last walk with his Lord. From the top of Pisgah he surveyed all the land promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom he would soon meet. Then he died there. God buried Him. It was the end of an era, and a great man rested from his labors. One day he would meet Jesus on the heights of Tabor, along with Elijah the prophet, and they would encourage the Messiah prior to the days of his suffering. But for now it was over. Israel was safely secure and poised for what was to come. Joshua stepped forward with a new anointing from God and took the reins of leadership, ready when Yahweh was ready. A new era begins.

DAY FOUR – Joshua 1-2, Psalm 105

The last time Joshua saw Moses, the great prophet was walking away from the camp of Israel. The people waited. Then Yahweh spoke: “Moses, my servant is dead.” For the next thirty days the entire camp was in mourning for their faithful leader, that humble man, who had put up with them for over forty years and had led them insistently from Egypt through all their wilderness wanderings and experiences. Rise up, Joshua! The time has come to lead this people into their land, to conquer it, to apportion it to the tribes and bring them to a resting place. Oh, and yes, I will be with you as I was with Moses. Only remember, your strength and courage will come as you meditate in this Law given by Moses, day and night, remembering to do all that is commanded. Let it become part of you; think of it as a symbol of my Presence among you. Hold it high, and draw its strength into your life. Let it speak to you, encourage you, direct your steps. Then your success and prosperity will grow up around you as a fruit of our relationship.

Joshua immediately sent out two spies to cross the Jordan and reconnoiter in and around Jericho especially. As we look back, we realize Yahweh God had BIG plans for Israel and bigger plans for the world to come. Concealing in her home in Jericho the two spies, Rahab risked her life to participate in their covert operations. In so doing, she saved the lives of her entire family. Only God could have known Rahab, a non-Jew, would become part of the ancestry of Messiah Jesus. She WANTED to join up with them, for she was convinced that their God had done all the mighty miracles of which her people had heard; and they were afraid of Israel. Imagine a world today in which the fear of God has returned as a strong motivator to assist the works of the Lord’s people in our times. And imagine as well that the Lord is with you; and that, as you relentlessly pursue Him through His word and His people, you are daily gaining courage and strength in your walk with God. Now let Psalm 105 raise your levels of expectation by recounting how effortlessly God did all the things recorded of Him there!

DAY FIVE – Joshua 3-6

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” so it is said. For Israel, crossing Jordan River must have seemed like an impossible feat, considering the river was in flood stage. But according to Yahweh God, that crossing would be the SIGN that God was with them forever. It would come down like this: the priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant by poles on their shoulders, would take the first steps into the water. The people would stay back until the priests feet were firmly planted, then they would follow. And twelve men from the tribes would each take up a stone on his shoulder after the crossing and bring the stone to Joshua, who would erect a memorial so that their children would always remember and know what happened! “Oh yes, those stones remind us that God stopped the running of the river; and all three million of us marched across on dry ground while the priests remained firmly planted. Only after we all crossed did the priests come up out of the riverbed; then the waters flowed down again!” Imagine the look on your kids’ faces.

Three days later all the armed men of Israel, more than half a million, organized in front of and behind the priests who again took up the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders to march around Jericho, the walls and gates of which were totally shut up. Seven priests blew seven rams’ horn trumpets as they marched, but nobody said anything. Once each day for six days, they marched around, then returned to base. On the seventh day they went around seven times in succession, still quiet, until Joshua gave the command; then they shouted–what a tumult! The ground must have shaken, because Jericho’s walls went flat to expose the city all around to the waiting warriors. What a sight! Jericho was taken, and Rahab and her family were brought out to safety. Two fabulous miracles were done by Yahweh in Israel’s sight within a single week. The campaign was under way to secure Israel’s future.

Since then there are two more great signs that God is alive and among us today, as He was with Israel.

  1. Messiah’s CROSS– the sign that God loves the world enough to die in our place.
  2. Messiah’s EMPTY TOMB– the sign that God is alive forever and that we are reconciled to Him and saved by Him. Jesus Christ is the forever evidence that everything Yahweh God has done points to triumph over sin and death and provision for a safe and secure future.

Only one question remains: Do we believe in the living Jesus enough to FOLLOW and OBEY Him?

WEEK 12, 2018 – Reading thru the Bible, Getting to know God Better

  • Have you thought about printing each week’s pages and putting together a binder/book? Past weeks are available on this site.

  • Have you thought about sending me an email occasionally to report spiritual happenings in your life? 

  • rayshelton.mps@gmail.com

 

DAY ONE – Deuteronomy 4-7

The name of this book means ‘Second Law.’ That means that Yahweh God had to repeat everything He had said to Israel at Sinai, for it was their children who now stood poised, forty years later, to cross the Jordan into Canaan and carry out the conquest of those nations to be dispossessed by Israel. God willed it, for the Canaanites practiced the grossest wickedness and had become perpetually self-destructive. Left to them the race would surely fail. God, not willing that any perish, chose Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob, and finally their entire posterity to be His people and carry out His gracious plan to save the world. Moses’ great task was to help them understand the blessing and the gravity of being God’s special people. He laid out not only the commandments and statutes, but also the purposes and ways of God for them, reminding them of the fire and other signs on Mt. Sinai. The people commonly believed that anyone who heard God’s voice would die and not live, so they asked that Moses do the listening and then repeat it in their hearing. In this manner they supposed they would serve Yahweh God.

God gave Israel not a single glimpse of Himself, lest they be tempted to create and worship an image of Him. His voice was heard, but that is all. The signs and wonders were intended to instill God’s reverential awe in them so that they would always remember to do as He commanded. Multiple warnings were given by the Lord through Moses not to create any image at all, whether of God or any god; and not to look into the heavens to worship the sun, moon or stars, all created by the Lord. No wonder He laid out for them a complete religious system with its furnishings, sacrifices, ordinances and festivals. Their careful attention to the external means of salvation given to them would allow the Lord to cover their sins and remain in their midst until the day He could reveal His greater plan to save the world through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. By sharing, repeating and writing and speaking Yahweh’s words over and over to their children and grandchildren, Israel was perpetuating that precious religion given life through their festivals and sacrifices.

If we think that grace removes all human responsibility in our relationship with Yahweh God (Yahshua), we are being deceived. Our human response to the divine initiative is what relationship is all about. No, we cannot effect the means of our salvation, but we do respond to the One who saves us. We can do nothing to add to or take away from what the Lord has done, but we can respond with our devotion, love and good works, as any spouse does to his/her loved one. No devotion = no love! Much love = much devotion. That is the Divine/human relationship, as even Jesus affirmed in Simon’s house. Even with the Holy Spirit working within us and in our world, the battle for ‘pure love and undefiled’ rages on until the day Jesus comes. Our faith saves us, but it is a faith expressed in pure devotion and obedience as we wait for the salvation to be revealed at Jesus’ coming. Human weakness is overcome by the in-working power of Holy Spirit, to whom we are ever surrendering and by whom we are being led.

DAY TWO – Deuteronomy 8-11

A short memory may well be the bane of every generation, when it comes to history. Someone has said, “The thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history!” Oral tradition is the passing from one generation to another all the stories of our forebears. The problem is that we forget to tell the truth about what their experiences should have taught us all. And it is happening again right now in our own culture, even though we have had both oral and written history handed to us. It’s called revision–that is, rewriting history to obscure inconvenient truth, and to make it appear to support our current social theory. Moses wrote down both the commandments and the instructions of the Lord so that even we can read and learn from them. In his encouragements to the younger generation, Moses called them to remembrance again and again–remember Egypt, remember Mt. Sinai, remember the miracles, remember the manna, the water, the scandals and even your sandals! Yes, your very sandals, for they lasted for forty years on your feet. Remember Yahweh’s words, His affection, His patience, His longsuffering, and yes, even His discipline. Remember it all, because your very life depends on it.

If we learn one thing from scripture, all of it, it is that God has always had a plan, has been working that plan through the recorded ages, and fully intends to finish all that He has started. It includes a people–a holy people, who have loved Him back and ordered their life around His plans; who have not sought to impede His plans but to help carry them out. This cannot be done impassively or without intention. Every person must answer for himself, to the extent that he has regarded the Lord and brought his passions into the pursuit of God. It is time to lay aside all carnal wrangling and surrender each day to Holy Spirit, to dig into the heart of God through His words, to fear any future without God! If this sounds too serious, I remind you it is in the same vein as that of Moses pleading with the young generation which was about to embark on the divine mission of settling their new land. Life and death are not random; they respond to God’s initiative in our world and our place in His great plans.

DAY THREE – Deuteronomy 12-15

If there is a prevailing theme in these chapters, it is that Yahweh God is a kind, loving and generous God. He is filled with blessing and greatly desires to bless those He calls His own. And so these chapters call Israel to become like God. When people act like God, they too become kind, loving and generous. That’s the secret! That is the way God was going to demonstrate to unregenerate mankind His reality, truth and Presence. They would witness His attributes through Israel. Perhaps then they would forsake their demon gods who held them in bondage and fear of death. Unfortunately Israel was also like the other nations and had had generations to learn the ways of the pagan Egyptians. So Yahweh had the arduous task of bringing them into a special and holy relationship that portended a glorious future with God and mankind, His special creation, together. Tiny little Israel was to be a holy nation and become the center of Yahweh’s covenant with all of mankind.

God spoke through Moses of all that He was about to do, in this manner: “When the Lord your God has…” or “When the Lord your God does…”  In so doing, Yahweh was preparing them with expectation. When they saw the fulfillment they would know the Lord had done it and they would then be pleased to continue to obey His commandments, ordinances and judgments. Over and over He warned them of the consequences of following the religions of the nations they were to dispossess from the land. It was the reason God called for annihilation of those nations–they had been reduced by religion to immorality and to offering their children in the fire to placate demon gods. Surely this would be the destruction of the human race unless divine intervention prevented it.

Our evil arch-enemy will stop at nothing to libel and reproach the True and Living God. His primary cover is religion that is permeated with evil deception so that Yahweh’s true attributes are obscured; and so that mankind will eventually blame God for all the evil in the world, not having understood the truth about the cosmic rebellion. To rebel against the commandments of our Lord for any reason is to join the cosmic rebellion unwittingly and to cast aspersions on the True and Only Source of lasting salvation. So Israel was instructed, warned and even threatened. Why? To make God feel powerful, so that He could dominate His creation? No, but so that God could demonstrate forever His love and generosity and desire to save mankind from his own ways, apart from God. Once we understand that to be apart, or separate, from God is eternal death, perhaps we have discovered wisdom. All the rules and observances given to Israel made an observable path to life in God, if only they would take it. Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. 

DAY FOUR – Deuteronomy 16-19

Another mystery about the nature of God is revealed in these chapters. Justice is weighed against mercy. As merciful as our Lord is, He is also righteous and just. In His mercy He has provided for every possible means of salvation for mankind. As Creator He has reached out in compassion lest He destroy His unfaithful creation. Having chosen Abraham in a covenant relationship He has redeemed Abraham’s descendants from pagan Egypt and brought them to Sinai where the covenant of Law has been instituted through Moses. It is one of the most comprehensive documents in human history and aptly displays God’s attributes of Justice and Mercy. Yes, sin could be covered by following rigid rules and offering plenteous sacrifices. Atonement could be made and judgment averted by keeping festivals and observing times and places for all religious activities. And remember that THIS religion was mandated by Yahweh Himself. It maintained the highest standards and required most strenuous observations. No exceptions were to be made. And when sin was uncovered or discovered, only strict carrying out of the rules would provide cover and forgiveness. Sin could not be undone, but God’s mercy was lovingly unleashed in an attempt to preserve the race until a permanent solution was revealed from heaven.

Honesty, integrity, truth, rightness, are attributes of God, and thus of the creation. The perversion of these is attributable to mankind alone. “God cannot be tempted with sin, neither does He tempt anyone.” So creation itself is soiled and spoiled by the humans occupying this created world. While there may be cosmic forces involved in the rebellion against God, only human beings can frustrate God’s plans to save everyone who comes to Him. The religion He gave was replete with mercy and salvation. And now the grace of salvation has been added so that we may actually flourish in His love and redemption. Justice may at times appear cold–“an eye for an eye…”–but in fact reflects God’s necessary discipline in order to save the race and the planet. That religion given to Israel at Sinai could have no flaws and no exceptions, if it was to survive and accomplish its work! And so it did. Unbending, it brought every person in creation to the just conclusion that God alone is right; that He alone makes the rules; and that He alone can provide atonement, forgiveness and redemption for human beings. None of us has ever or can ever claim to be right as God is right. According to that heavenly religion given by God, we must all acknowledge our sin and therefore our need to be saved. Only then can true Justice and Mercy work their miracle for us and in us. And only then can the creation be restored to its intended order by a loving Creator God.

DAY FIVE – Deuteronomy 20-23

In our fallen world war may be averted for periods of time; but it is sure that someone, somewhere, is going to start one! We know now, according to James, that war is already going on inside some souls, and those wars break out against other persons or nations. In Israel Yahweh God determined that the seven nations living in Canaan were to be permanently removed from existence, due to their destructive and abominable lifestyle. They had been  given an additional 400 years by God to reform (the time of Israel’s stay in Egypt); then their land was to be surrendered to Abraham’s descendants, that is, Israel. War was unavoidable in this case. So God informed Israel that He was going to fight against their enemies; they couldn’t lose. Nonetheless, there might be among the armies of Israel those who had just built a house and not lived in it; or those who had planted a vineyard and not yet eaten its fruit; or one who was betrothed and had not yet married his wife… they were released from battle, if they so chose, and could return home to their interests. What kind of God makes so many concessions to the common needs of mankind? Dare we accuse Him in any manner that slanders His great name and impeccable character?

Jesus confirmed that not even a sparrow falls without our Lord’s notice. How much more so, when a human being is slain and falls? Did anyone see? God did. Can the deed be kept hidden; can the perpetrator cover his tracks? For a time maybe; but divine justice will always be waiting. And so the Lord gave careful instructions to protect whole communities from innocent blood, slain but undetected. This was one of the kinds of evil that the Lord knew would eventually destroy a people. Other things included sexual immorality and idol worship, which were often intertwined. And not least was a belligerent child who could neither be controlled nor persuaded by his father and mother. All of these were to be resolved through capital punishment, so that the malignancy would not spread through a community or the nation. Yes, the Theocracy (God’s sovereign rule) in Israel had to be enforced at any cost if there was to be a Savior who would arise out of Abraham’s descendants and bring eternal salvation to humankind. Lord of Mercy; Lord of Justice–a God who loves without borders!