Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

Header image based on "decisions" by Martin Fisch, CC By-SA 2.0

Who Is Your Go-To?

Do you have a “go to” person in your life — someone you can share your hurts and troubles with? Or maybe it’s a “go to” place where you’re certain you’ll be safe and protected?

Philip Philips has a song titled, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In the song, there are some lines that go like this,

You’re my backbone.
You’re my cornerstone.
You’re my crutch when my legs stop moving.
You’re my head start.
You’re my rugged heart.
You’re the pulse that I’ve always needed.

In a time of uncertainty, we need something reliable to keep us going. In a time of powerlessness, we need to know that there is a source of power that we can access. In a time of loneliness, we need to know there is someone who loves us. In a time of danger, we need to know there is a shield that can protect us from harm.

Who better than the One who came down from heaven, who though truly divine, became fully human? Who better than He who has power over the wind and the waves? Who better than the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Who better than the Speaker of prophecies and promises?

Surely you know who I’m talking about. We have God the Father. And his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The living Word. He is our shield from harm.

This is why the book of Proverbs teaches us that the “fear of God” is the beginning of wisdom. When we respect God, when we trust his love and power, when we listen to his word as absolutely flawless, we have certainty in uncertain times, power in our powerlessness, a friend in our loneliness and a shield in times of danger.

He is our backbone, our cornerstone, our crutch, our head start, our rugged heart. Our very pulse.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

‘Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him'” (Proverbs 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 10, is Zechariah 12:1 – 14:21, Revelation 2:1-17 and Proverbs 30:1-10.

Lord God, thank you for being my certainty, my power, my friend, and my shield. When times are troubled and difficult, you are my “go to” and my refuge. Help me to always seek to be in you when my heart is hurting and weak. Your word is flawless, and your promises are my courage. You, Jesus, are my shield and refuge.

Header image based on "Kinard Beach today" by Barbara Walsh, CC By 2.0

Perfect Protection

God’s promises are like a powerful shield that guards us from the slings and arrows of life. Make no mistake, life will throw its best blows at us. But God’s promises are our perfect protection — whether from sin, the temptations of Satan, or even death itself.

God’s promises are our rest. We can lie in them when we feel exhausted.

God’s promises are our rescue. We can look to them when we feel lost.

God’s promises are our medicine. We can find healing in them when we feel broken.

God’s promises are our power. We can find strength in them when we feel weak.

God’s promises are our vindication. We can find justice in them when we feel wronged.

God’s promises are our guidance. We can find direction and purpose in them when we feel life has lost its meaning.

And the Israelites were all of these when they were exiled in Babylon. They were exhausted, lost, broken, weak, wronged and felt life had lost its meaning. So God sent Ezekiel to them to remind them of his promises.

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites would find everything their souls were missing in the promises of their gracious God.

And so will we!

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 18, is Ezekiel 33:21 – 35:15, James 2:1-26 and Psalm 128:1-6.

Lord, your promises are wonderful. Help me to always remember how important and helpful they are. They are my perfect protection. I want to look to your promises for everything my soul needs in life.

Header image based on "Museum of London - London before London - Bronze shield" by Elliott Brown, CC By 2.0

Cross and Crown

Life is filled with trials, tests and crosses to bear. But, while difficult, these don’t have to be the end of us.

Trials, tests and crosses may indeed stretch us, but they don’t need to break us. In fact, the testing of our faith muscles in life can be like the testing of our physical muscles at the gym. Greater strength and endurance will be the result.

That’s why James encourages us to adopt a challenge mindset.

“Consider it pure joy,” he says, when we are tested. And how does one do that? The way to accomplish this is to look past the pain we are currently experiencing to the great end result we will be achieving through the stretching and strengthening of our faith.

No, it’s not fun now. We admit that. And we empathize with the pain you’re going through. But that end result is so beautiful.

The result in this life is that we grow up and become mature. And through our trials, our trust in God and his promises is perfected. We are made more complete people. We become more fully-developed followers of Jesus Christ.

But the best result of all? That’s the one that comes after this life is over. Once we’ve stood the test, once we’ve born the cross, we’ll receive the crown. Eternal life — that beautiful gift of Jesus — will be ours.

Endure and procure. Bear the cross with joy. And you’ll receive the crown with even greater joy.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4, 12, NIV).

Lord, help me to adopt a challenge mindset toward the trials, tests and crosses in my life. I want to be able to see past the pain to the awesome results that will follow. Help me find joy in knowing that because of you, Jesus, my crosses will all one day be exchanged for a crown.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 17, is Ezekiel 32:1 – 33:20, James 1:1-27 and Psalm 127:1-5.

Header image based on "Cross and Crown" by RichardBH, CC By 2.0

Believing Is Seeing

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth and fifth century Christian theologian and philosopher. Viewed as one of the most important “fathers” of the early church, it was said of him that “he established anew the ancient faith.”

Augustine was well-known for his deep thinking. He once wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” He may well have derived that thought from chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews. It’s a perfect summary of what that chapter teaches.

The truth, however, is that we may not see what we believe right away. And it’s important to know that sometimes we might not ever see the fulfillment of what we believe in this life at all.

This seems ridiculous to many. As humans, we like the tangible and the empirical. We want to see the evidence. And most of the time, if you want us to be truly convinced, we don’t want to just see it, but hear it, taste it, touch it, and if possible, smell it too.

Augustine thought like Moses. And that means he thought differently from the run of the mill person. When the book’s author describes Moses, he points out that he took great risks despite the fact that he could not physically see God. He could only see him through the eyes of faith.

Nevertheless, Moses gave up all the riches and power of being “the prince of Egypt.” He accepted being disrespected and mistreated. He chose the hard path with the people of God, rather than the easy path with their oppressive masters, the Egyptians. Even if it meant disgrace, it was disgrace for the sake of Christ, and he could handle that because he was looking forward to the reward that Christ would win for him.

Moses had the ability to look ahead and anticipate the good things that would come. He relied on God’s words and promises, not his own thoughts and experiences. He kept his eye focused firmly on the promised Messiah, and the forgiveness and eternal life he would bring.

Faith is like a set of binoculars. When you have faith in your heart you see things in a way that you haven’t seen them before.

How about us? Are we ready to trade the tangible for the intangible? Are we prepared to exchange the physical for the spiritual, the seen for the unseen? Are we open to seeing the future through the eyes of faith, and through the prism of God’s words and promises? Are we willing to take up the binoculars of faith so that we can see things we wouldn’t see otherwise?

If we are receptive, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to trusting God and accepting trouble because of our faith, then we will persevere as Moses did. And like Augustine says, we will see what we believe.

We can’t physically see it now. But we’re good with that, because what we do see is God’s promises. And believing God’s promises is seeing our future and our reward very clearly.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27, NIV).

Lord Jesus, give me the same eyes of faith that you gave Moses. I want to believe so that I can see.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 13, is Ezekiel 24:1 – 25:17, Hebrews 11:17-40 and Psalm 124:1-8.

Header image based on "Binoculars Portrait" by gerlos, CC By-SA 2.0

Vital Signs

When we are concerned about a person’s physical life, we check their vitals. Do they have a pulse? Can we detect breathing? Do their pupils contract when a light is shined in their eyes?

When we are wondering about a person’s spiritual life, we can look for vital signs, too. Do their eyes light up with the joy of their Savior? Does their prayer life have a pulse? Do they constantly breathe out complaints and curses, or gratitude and hope?

When the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, he lights a fire in our hearts. Fire will always produce heat and light. Faith, like fire, will always produce its effects, too.

Just like you can’t have fire without heat and light, so you can’t have faith without producing the effects of faith — effects like joy, prayer, and gratitude.

That’s why Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Without the fire, you don’t get the effects of the fire. And without faith, you also don’t get the effects of the faith.

Life. Fire. Faith.

They all work the same way. Snuff them out, and you also snuff out the effects they produce. But keep them going strong and healthy, and you will always get vital signs that reflect that strength and health.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ’s Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, NIV).

Lord, I know that when I sin and fail to repent, or when I lose touch with your word and sacraments, I move closer to quenching your Spirit. Help me to live a life of devotion to word and sacrament, and to repent of my sins daily. These will keep my faith strong and healthy, and bring me joy, gratitude, and an active prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 12, is Jeremiah 25:15 – 26:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 and Psalm 119:17-24.

Header image based on "Lubbock Heart Hospital, Dec 16-17, 2005" by Mark, CC By-SA 2.0

Follow Your Heart?

From Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, to Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors, from R&B singer Patti LaBelle to country singer Conway Twitty, the one piece of advice that you’ll hear in common between them all is, “Follow your heart.”

This piece of wisdom is embedded firmly in our culture. Few, if any, would ever dispute that this is the right thing to do. After all, isn’t your heart the place where you discover your true self, your deepest motives, and your most tightly-held values?

So, it’s kind of shocking to come upon the statement that we find in Jeremiah chapter 17. It’s about 600 B.C., and Jeremiah is writing a commentary on current events and issues amongst God’s people. There are a lot of things to comment on. And few of them are good or positive.

The root of the problem, Jeremiah states, is that the people of Israel have been following their heart. Unfortunately, their heart has been seriously deceiving them and misleading them. And there is no cure, no course correction, in sight.

The thing is, in our own day and age we still need to have a realistic view of where following our heart might lead us. We need to learn to take our heart with a huge grain of salt. Because, as Jeremiah tells us, our heart is not just deceitful. It’s “deceitful beyond cure.” Our heart, in other words, is desperately ill and dramatically dark. It is an unsolvable riddle.

And so, our heart is far from being the most reliable guide. In fact, just the opposite — it may actually be the worst possible choice for us to look to our hearts for leadership and guidance.

Instead, look to God’s heart. There is a heart that is fully trustworthy, faithful and true. There is a heart that is clear and steady. There is a heart that will always guide our steps into the right course.

And where do you find out what the thoughts and feelings of God’s heart are?

That’s not hard at all. Simply open your Bible and begin to read.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 8, is Jeremiah 16:1 – 17:27, Colossians 4:2-18 and Psalm 118:17-29.

Lord, send me your Holy Spirit and help me to follow your heart, not my own heart.

Header image based on "daddy's gone" by Elia Scudiero, CC By 2.0