A Display of Strength

Nothing puts the Lord’s strength on greater display than forgiveness.

And was forgiveness ever needed! The children of Israel had sent representatives to explore the Promised Land. They found it just as God had promised — flowing with milk and honey. But they also became terrified of the people who already occupied the land.

Twelve men went up on the reconnaissance mission. Only two of those — Joshua and Caleb — came back confident that the Lord would lead them to victory. The remaining ten caved in to their fears. Worse, they then incited the Israelites to do the same.

That fear ran rampant throughout the entire community. First, the Israelites cried out to return to Egypt. They accused God of wanting them dead, then of wanting their wives and children to be taken as plunder. They threatened to rebel and go back to Egypt under new leadership.

Moses and Aaron did what only Christ-like leaders would consider doing. They interceded and tried to reason first with the people. Then when the people really stepped across the line, threatening to kill Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, God finally got ticked off.

Really ticked off.

So Moses was placed in the role of interceding with God, because God was preparing to destroy the Israelites. And that’s when Moses reminded the Lord of his true strength:

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now” (Numbers 14:17-19, NIV).

Now, centuries later, you and I are the beneficiaries of the Lord’s true strength — the strength of forgiveness. All because Jesus displayed his strength in going to the cross for us. All because our Savior, God’s Son, was willing to intercede with our Heavenly Father for us.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, March 22, is Numbers 13:26 – 14:45, Luke 4:14-37 and Psalm 36:1-12.

Lord, display your true strength. I need your grace and forgiveness so much. Forgive me for my sins.

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Taste Test

David was in a jam. Again.

Before David became king of Israel, he sometimes needed to find a place where he could hide from the king who preceded him. David’s gifts threatened King Saul and this led him to attempt to eliminate David.

So David fled to the Philistine city of Gath where he hoped to be sheltered. But the officials there reminded their king that David had slaughtered many of their own people.

Feeling trapped, David resorts to trickery. But it’s not the most clever or courageous ruse. He pretends to be insane so that the king will no longer perceive him as a threat. The king becomes convinced David is nothing more than a raving lunatic and orders him kicked out of the city.

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, David knows the true reality of the situation. God has preserved his life. The words he writes to commemorate God’s protection are profound:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (‭Psalm‬ ‭34‬:‭8-10,‬ NIV).

We just need a taste of God’s goodness to know that he is the real thing. David had sought out the Lord when the jaws of the trap were about to spring shut. And the Lord came through.

Was acting crazy God’s idea? The Bible doesn’t say that. But David recognizes that God had somehow used this weird plot to shield him from harm.

We all find ourselves in a jam at times. In that situation, you can’t go wrong by taste-testing God’s goodness. Seek him out. Tell him about your problem.

If he can use a dumb idea like David’s and somehow protect him — despite the utter lack of either brilliance or courage — think about what he might do for you!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, March 15, is Numbers 2:10 – 3:51, Luke 1:39-56, and Psalm 34:1-10.

Lord, protect me from harm and danger. Keep me from stumbling into Satan’s trap, or snares of my own making. Forgive me for my sins, and wash me clean in the blood of Jesus. Thank you for allowing me to taste your goodness and love daily.

Header image based on "Glasgow Cathedral Bible" by Clegg, CC By-SA 2.0

The Last Word

Near the end of his life, David went against God’s explicit wishes and counted his fighting men. It’s clear that David had slipped into thinking that he should rely on human power, rather than God’s strength. Even David’s leadership team knew that this was a hugely bad move, and they told him so.

David pressed on anyway with the count. God then became angry with David’s sinful actions, and especially his prideful heart. In response, the Lord sent a plague on Israel. The plague actually progressed to the point where 70,000 people ended up dying.

But then the Lord suddenly relented from his anger. He withdrew the angel who was bringing this disaster on the people. With some irony, the place where the plague ceased became the place that David purchased for a temple, so he could demonstrate his repentance and honor God.

Not all bad stretches in our life are brought about as a result of God’s discipline. But when this does happen, we need to remember that God’s anger lasts only a short while. God’s true nature is not to display anger but love.

In other words, displaying love is what God most loves to display. Look throughout the entire Bible. Yes, God gets angry at times. But grace and forgiveness always get the last word!

So, if it’s your “night of weeping,” remember these words always and know that rejoicing will come in the morning.

“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, March 4, is Leviticus 11:1 – 12:8, Mark 12:13-27 and Psalm 30:1-7.

Lord, I pray with David: “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing” (2 Samuel 24:10, NIV). Thank you for forgiving me. Let rejoicing return quickly. Show me your favor, and lead my heart to find joy in your grace.

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The Language of Love

It’s Valentine’s Day. And I want to share another love language with you.

Possibly you’ve heard of the “Five Love Languages” popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book of the same name.

The five love languages Chapman identifies are: 1) gifts, 2) quality time, 3) words of affirmation, 4) acts of service and 5) physical touch.

But I believe there’s another love language, one that Chapman overlooks. And that love language is Jesus.

Sometimes when we think of sharing Jesus with others, we think of people we don’t know very well. Often, when we think of doing “mission work” our minds drift immediately to the other side of the world.

But what about the person who is right next to you, the one you love with all your heart, your “Valentine”?

“But they’re already a Christian,” you say? That’s OK. They still need a daily “valentine’s card” with the message of grace, mercy, love and the peace of Jesus. They still need to taste forgiveness and hope more than chocolate.

“They’ll never become a Christian and I’ve given up trying,” is your thought? Have you tried combining the love language of Jesus with one of the other five love languages? There’s more than one way to share the love of Jesus!

Yes, we absolutely want to share the “John 3:16 gospel.” We must! Otherwise there’s no way for our Valentine to know Jesus. We fully trust the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the gospel to change hearts.

AND, Jesus conveyed his love in many ways. So can we.

Jesus gave gifts. Jesus invested time in people. Jesus affirmed our status as children of God in words. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Jesus used the power of touch to heal. And as we see from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (and many others), he had a way of working the conversation gently toward the gospel message from there.

Sometimes when we obey the Great Commission and go, we don’t have to go that far in terms of geography. We just have to go farther in terms of love.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to love the way you love, with all-out passion in every love language. Your love is self-sacrificial. Your love is caring and giving. Forgive me for the times when my “love” has been selfish and self-serving. Create in me a clean, new heart. Strengthen my by your Spirit’s power. I want to love the way you love.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, February 14, is Exodus 15:1 – 16:36, Matthew 28:1-20 and Psalm 21:8-13.

Header image based on "Happy Valentine's Day" by Jackie, CC By 2.0

Solitude Dismissed. Compassion Summoned.

He just yearned for a brief respite, a tiny quiet space in which to grieve.

Jesus was supposed to be boarding a boat to go somewhere private where he could mourn the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.

“Cousins” was their relationship in the physical universe. But their relationship in the kingdom was even closer. John the Baptist had been the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. He was the “one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3, NIV).

Now John was dead–violently executed by the despot Herod. And Jesus just wanted to be alone for a little while with his thoughts (and with his Father).

But that was not to be. The Bible tells us that Jesus got into a boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee to a solitary place. Suffice it to say, the crowds did not have Jesus’ needs in mind.

And since they couldn’t all fit into a boat, they followed Jesus around the very large lake on foot, until they found him. In fact, it seems they beat Jesus to the punch, somehow knowing where he planned to drop anchor.

What was Jesus’ response to these people refusing to leave him alone? Did he get frustrated? Angry? Upset that they weren’t respecting his boundaries? Was he incensed by the reality that they seemed to always put their own needs ahead of his?

None of those. His response, surprising for anyone but Jesus, was love. But then, there’s a reason why it wasn’t shocking that Jesus responded this way. After all, as the apostle John writes later in his first epistle, “God is love.”

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for being so compassionate toward me. You do this all the time. And not because I’ve done anything to earn or deserve your love. You love me simply because you are love. How awesome to have your steadfast love to rely on every day.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, January 20, is Genesis 40:1 – 41:40, Matthew 14:1-21, and Proverbs 2:12-22.

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Gut Reaction

Sometimes people think that God doesn’t care. They feel like people don’t really matter to God. Thoughts like this begin with natural questions…

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why such great poverty? Why the illnesses and the natural disasters? Surely, if God is real, and truly as powerful as the Bible claims he is, he could cure all this.

And since he hasn’t cured it all, the only logical alternative seems to be that he doesn’t care. So the argument goes.

It’s a big problem for us when God doesn’t keep himself within reach of our logic.

That’s why it’s so important to meet the real God, instead of the one we logic out in our own minds. Because if there’s one thing that’s made clear over and over again in the Bible it’s that people matter greatly to God. Our hurts, our suffering, our heart-aches and our struggles, they all matter to God.

He cares. Deeply.

Jesus, who was sent to reveal the mind and heart of God (because he is the Son of God, and true God himself), demonstrates this many times over. He shows it in both big ways and small. And those who followed him saw that caring heart.

Matthew was one of those. A person rejected by his own people, he was chosen by Jesus to be loved. Matthew also witnessed it with others. He saw Jesus’ gut reaction to suffering. In fact, he saw it so vividly and clearly, he wrote to tell us about it.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV).

You need to know something about the verbs in this passage. The verb for “he had compassion” means to be moved to the deepest part of one’s gut. “Harassed and helpless,” when taken in a physical rather than emotional sense, means “all skinned up and thrown to the ground.”

That gives us some insight into Jesus’ heart. Jesus saw their hearts were all “skinned up and thrown to the ground” and he had a visceral reaction. And that was, “We’ve got to do something about this pain. We need to get these people some help. Ask God to call in more workers! Let’s get this taken care of!”

A gut reaction is a pretty good indicator of where someone’s heart is. Right here, Jesus shows us his heart clearly.

People matter to God. You matter to God.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, January 11, is Genesis 24:1-67, Matthew 9:14-38 and Psalm 8:1-9.

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