Archive for : December, 2020

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 2 Samuel: After God’s Own Heart

King David is one of the most interesting and exciting people in all of Scripture. His story is filled with intrigue, betrayal, great conquests, bitter sorrow, intense joy, and deep faith in God. He was a shepherd boy, a musician, a brother, a friend, a servant, a warrior, and a king. More space is given to David than to nearly every other character in the Old Testament (at least by my unofficial estimation). And what is the lasting legacy of this towering figure in Israel’s history? In my mind, it’s his designation as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). Every other accolade or accomplishment or victory or description pales in comparison with this identification with the very heart of the God of the universe. It is difficult to think of a greater aspiration than to be known as a person after God’s own heart. What makes David worthy of such a designation? His failures that we read about in Scripture are numerous and disastrous. Adultery, deception, unjustified violence, and arrogance are just a few of the items on David’s laundry list of shortcomings at different points in his life. So why does God set David over Israel as King? Why does he look into the heart of this man and see someone after his own heart? There is much to be said about David’s character and many stories that could illustrate why David is given such a title. There is one story that illustrates it well in my mind.
Consider the account of 2 Samuel 9. By this time, David has risen to the throne of Israel after the death of King Saul and the king’s son Jonathan. Following many years on the run and great pushback from those still loyal to the dynasty of Saul, David finally takes his place of the chosen king of the people of God. In those days, it was not uncommon for a new ruler to eliminate rivals to the throne, especially those from the previous ruling family. Yet, David had a profound friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 20, David made a promise to Jonathan that even when he became king, he would show kindness to the family of Jonathan and

not cut them off forever. When he ascends to power, he does not forget or neglect this covenant. Notice what David does in 2 Samuel 9:1-3:
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”
It was on the heart of David to keep his promise and to show faithful love to one who would have been considered by some to be an enemy. This son of Jonathan was named Mephibosheth, and he was unable to walk. Once an heir in the royal family, Mephibosheth would have likely been considered an outcast and an enemy following the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. 2 Samuel 9 tells us that David restores to Mephibosheth all the land and produce of his father, and he invites him to eat at the king’s table, “like one of the king’s sons” (2 Samuel 9:11). David takes the weak Mephibosheth, who thinks of himself as a “dead dog” (2 Samuel 9:8), and crowns him with all the honor due to a prince. All the days of his life, he dines at the table of the king.
Years later, when Zephaniah prophesies to a dejected Israel, he offers a beautiful picture of hope for the future Messianic kingdom of God’s people:

“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:19-20).
Just as David did, God has a heart for the weak, the vulnerable, and the outcast. He delights to turn weakness and shame into praise and honor, and he invites all to his royal table to enjoy his feast of blessing.
In Luke 14:13-14, Jesus gives a radical teaching concerning banquets:
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
He then follows up this teaching with a parable about a great banquet, in which the master invites the outcasts, the lame, and the poor to dine with him at his feast. In the kingdom of God, there is always a seat at the table. At God’s table, even the lowly and weak are invited and are treated with the honor due to a child of the King.
In the life and ministry of Jesus, the king of the world reached out to the lowly, the sinners, the sick, and the vulnerable. He dined with the outcasts and invited them into his kingdom. The way of the Son of David was one that loved his enemies and lifted up the weak. He died on a cross while asking forgiveness for his enemies so that everyone could be invited to

the great feast of the lamb one day. That’s the heart of God on display. May each of us strive to have such a heart.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 1 Samuel: Little in Your Own Eyes—A Different Kind of Pride

Surely, God hates arrogant narcissism and self-exalting pride. Those who lift themselves up can expect to be cut down by God. Those who think they can rely on their own power will be shown to be weak. Those who glorify themselves will be mired in shame. We see this pattern evident in the story of Scripture. When King Nebuchadnezzar pridefully boasts in his kingdom in Daniel 4, God made to him to be like a beast of the field, out of his mind and humbled. In the book of Acts, Herod is struck down and eaten by worms for not giving the glory to God. Self- exaltation, self-glorification, self-deification, and arrogance are easily detectable and are overtly ugly. Yet, there is a subtle form of pride that is just as foul and just as damaging. Yes, pride manifests most clearly in quests for glory, but pride can also be displayed in false humility and irrational feelings of inadequacy that lead to the shirking of God-given responsibility. We can feel so small and so worthless that we are paralyzed by fear and by a desire to please others. Pride isn’t always thinking much of yourself; often it can mean thinking about yourself much. An intense focus on the self can flow out into deep feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that do not match reality. If we are always so concerned about what others think of us or about our own faults and failings, we will tend to ignore the needs of others and the call that God has for us because we think we will never be good enough.
One of the clearest examples of the dangers of this form of pride come in the book of 1 Samuel through the character of King Saul. Saul might exist in our imaginations as the maniacal and murderous King of Israel corrupted by power, desperately clinging to his throne as he tries to kill his servant David. It would be simple enough to say that Saul’s unhinged rage and downfall was motivated by pure lust for power and self-aggrandizing arrogance. Yet, the real story is much more nuanced and tragic.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people Israel reject God and ask for a king like all the other nations. After warnings from the mouth of the prophet Samuel about this dangerous desire, God grants Israel’s request for a king. When we are introduced to God’s choice for this role (Saul) in 1 Samuel 9, he is portrayed as likeable and qualified prospect for the throne. He is wealthy, handsome, taller than any of the people, respectful to his servants, and seems to be of honorable character. He is everything that Israel could have wanted in a great military leader and champion. When the prophet Samuel reveals to Saul that he is the future king of the nation, Saul responds with seemingly admirable humility:
“Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:21).
Yet, it is the feeling of inadequacy, which is hinted at here, that will be part of the root of his eventual downfall. Although Saul’s modesty gives hope for his reign, this quality also possesses a darker side and signals a glaring weakness in Saul’s character. This trait manifests itself as insecurity and self-doubt as Saul, the tallest man in Israel, is humorously found hiding among the baggage when chosen to be king (10:22). Rather than accepting his divine task and stepping up, he is cowardly and hiding away. Throughout his rule, this will result in a dangerous deference to the will of the people rather than a commitment to obedience to God.
1 Samuel 13-15 chronicles several episodes in the reign of Saul that lead to God’s rejection of Saul as king, and each is connected to Saul’s desire to please the people. For example, as the Israelites are about to enter battle against the Philistines, Saul eagerly awaits

Samuel to come and make a sacrifice the Lord. Saul seems to have intention of being obedient to procedure in this regard, but when Samuel does not arrive by the appointed time, Saul makes the sacrifice himself. When he is confronted by Samuel about this grave error, he knows it was wrong because he admits he “forced” himself to do it (13:12), but he excuses it because the “people were scattering” (13:11). In 1 Samuel 15, God commands him to utterly destroy the Amalekites, but they spare the king and some of the livestock. When he is again confronted by Samuel for this sin, Saul points to the actions of the people and places the blame on them (15:15). The LORD, through Samuel, responds in a way that highlights the disappointing nature of Saul’s leadership and shows that it is rooted in the king’s insecurity:
anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed” (15:17- 18).
God saw and believed in the potential of the king who had hidden among the baggage, so much so that He made him to rule over His people. He gave him responsibility and a mission and equipped him with the resources to accomplish the task. Yet, Saul was so little and insecure in his own eyes and heart that he was never able to see this potential in himself. His lack of trust in God’s commands and in himself caused him to succumb to the will of the nation. He will admit as much in 15:24: “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Because he is too little in his own eyes, he is never able to trust God’s power and plan to work through him.
“Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?
The Lord

Aggressive self-doubt, paranoia, and anxiety continue to plague Saul and result in extreme jealousy as David enters the story. After the young David slays Goliath and returns home, the women of Israel sing his praises, proclaiming that “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7). This angers Saul so much that he subsequently attempts his murder David on several occasions. Perhaps this is because Saul sees in David everything he failed to be. Little boy David, with his great trust in God, steps up to the task of defeating the giant Goliath as the tallest warrior in Israel, King Saul, stands by helplessly watching the lowly shepherd boy. Once again, the tall king is too little in his own eyes to face the giant.
While it is normal to sometimes feel inadequate or small, a debilitating self-doubt could be a result of a lack of faith in God to work in us and through us. We are small and frail, but God has empowered his people and given them great responsibility and honor. Each of us has abilities, talents, roles, and opportunities that God expects us to use, however big or small those things might be. Feeling like we are not good enough is no excuse to hide from our God-given mission. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25 to this effect. In the story, a master gives varying amounts of money to three servants as he prepares to go on a journey. He gives one five talents, another two, and another one talent. The first two servants multiply the money given them, but the one with the least given to him is paralyzed by fear and hides his share in the ground. When the master returns, the first two are greatly honored and given more, but the third servant is severely punished. If we do not use what God has given us for good, we cannot please God.
We may feel woefully unprepared or inadequate to do what God has commanded of us. We may feel weak and untalented. We may feel worthless. But in Christ, we are greatly valued and treasured by God. Not only that, but we are given power, courage, and strength by God’s

Spirit to do all that God has set out for us. Setting our eyes on him and his adequacy rather than ourselves will remove self-pitying or self-exalting pride. Having a right view of our identity in Christ, who he has made us to be, and how much he loves will prevent us from being too little or too great in our own eyes. Because God has made us strong, we can serve him with joy and passion, without fear that we might not be good enough.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Ruth: Remembered in Eternity

It is an unsettling and somewhat disturbing reality to realize that most of us right now will not be remembered by anyone on Earth in a hundred years from now. We will likely all fade away from memories and into the foggy void of history as new generations rise and forget the distant ancestors of the past. Time presses onward and only a select few are remembered for several decades past their own lifetimes. It is no wonder, then, that many want to make a great name for themselves, to be remembered, to extend a legacy, to do something noteworthy and great. None of us want to be forgotten. Yet, God teaches us to not exalt ourselves, and he reminds us that we ought to make his name great.
In the book of Ruth, we see some incredible acts of self-sacrifice and humility. This book of the Bible invites us into the lives of a seemingly obscure and insignificant family. In the time of the judges where almost everyone was corrupted by idolatry and doing what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6), we are provided with a rare story of hope and faithfulness. We are introduced to a young Moabite woman named Ruth, who demonstrates incredible loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi’s husband dies, as well as both of her sons, leaving her as a grieving widow alongside her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. While the sorrowful Naomi insists that they leave her alone and return home in order to remarry and bear children, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi in an amazing affirmation of loyalty and love:
“ But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you’” (Ruth 1:16-17).

For Ruth to spurn a chance to return to her homeland, to remarry, and to bear children all for the sake of caring for widowed Naomi is truly stunning. Ruth places the needs of Naomi over her own desires and chooses a life that will surely be more difficult. She shows that she is more concerned about taking care of Naomi than she is about building her own family and making her own name and line great.
In the same book, the writer of Ruth makes us aware of another person characterized by humility and service. Boaz was a successful and upstanding man who takes special notice of Ruth as she goes to glean in his field. He has heard about her plight and her love for Naomi, and he ensures that she is protected and provided for in Ruth 2 and 3. He also agrees to be her kinsman redeemer. This was a practice prescribed by the Old Law in which the closest unmarried relative of a deceased individual would gain the inheritance and land of that person, but he would also be required to marry the wife of the deceased in order to ensure that she was provided for and so that there would be an heir to continue on the name of the one who had died. In the ancient world, this was of huge significance to ensure that the family name, line, and inheritance was carried on. So the firstborn son would not be considered the child of the kinsman redeemer, but he would carry on the name of the man who had passed before being able to have an heir.
In Ruth 4, there is a man who is a closer relative to Ruth’s former husband than Boaz is, so he is the one who ought to take hold of the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer. When this man hears that he might gain land, inheritance, and property, he seems up for the task in Ruth 4:4. Yet, when Boaz informs him that he would also be responsible for marrying Ruth “in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5), he balks. Notice what he says in Ruth 4:6:

“I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
He was worried about his own inheritance and family name being continued and remembered and made great, so much so that he was not willing to perform the duties of the kinsman redeemer. Boaz gladly and selflessly steps up and marries Ruth instead. Ironically, the name of the man who refused is not recorded; he is lost to history and forgotten. The name of Boaz, however, is enshrined in the pages of Scripture thousands of years later. Even more amazing is that it is through the line of Ruth and Boaz that King David comes, as well as the promised Messiah Jesus Christ. These two humble servants of God did not seek recognition or fame in their acts of sacrifice and service, but they are exalted and honored by God because of their faithfulness. Truly, it is those who are humble who become great, just as Jesus taught.
I am reminded of when Mary anointed Jesus with expensive oil and humbly washed his feet not long before he was crucified. Mary was criticized for this act, but Jesus said that “wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13). In other words, this act of submission, sacrifice, and humility would be remembered for generations. She did not seek honor for herself but only desired to honor Jesus. Even so, what she did in that moment will never be forgotten.
Similarly, it is the greatest act of humility that is the most consequential event in history: the incarnation of Jesus and his death on the cross. If we pursue a great name in this life by lifting ourselves up and preserving our own interests, the best we can hope for is a mention or two in some history books. But if we deny ourselves and are faithful to Jesus, we will be

rewarded in eternity by having our names written in the book of life (Revelation 3:5). In the book of Isaiah, God promises that even eunuchs who are faithful to his ways will be remembered and will have a great name:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
Those who have no hope of a continuing family line and have no descendants, even they will have a great name in God’s house and will be remembered by God for eternity. So if we are tempted to think that our little acts of faithfulness are unimportant or if we think that we won’t make an impact on the world by our humility and sacrifice, think again. Be a servant and God will lift you up. Your faithfulness will echo through the ages and will be a monument to God’s glory and grace.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Judges: Expect the Unexpected

Expect the unexpected. This is fair advice for those seeking to know and understand the God of Israel. Although unchanging and utterly faithful, this God surprises at every moment. Even in his consistent patterns of working, he baffles and undermines the wisdom of earthly eyes and minds at every turn.
The strange ways and workings of the Lord are on full display in the book of Judges. Also on display are the predictable patterns of unfaithfulness in God’s people Israel. In Judges, the cycle repeats over and over and they unsurprisingly do what they always do: they reject God and his ways, God hands them over to their enemies, they call out for help and deliverance, they thank God when he saves them, and then they soon after fall right back into sinful ways. As Judges 17:6 tells us, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what
was right in his own eyes.” The repetitive process is summed up early on in the book:
“Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:18-20).
Over and over, Israel fails to be obedient, they are conquered and forced to suffer at the hands other nations, God raises up a leader to save them, and then they do it all over again. Whereas God is consistent in his righteousness, humanity is often tragically unswerving in the

habit of sin. Yet God, throughout the book of Judges, constantly keep his people on their toes and demonstrates his power by delivering his people in strange, unexpected, and surprising ways.
In chapter 3, he raises up a judge named Ehud, a left-handed man, and uses that peculiar trait to save Israel from the reign of the king of Moab. In the very next chapter, we read about a woman Deborah who became the leader in Israel, a shocking choice for that day and time. When God raised up a timid man Barak alongside Deborah to lead the armies against Israel’s oppressor Sisera, she tells him this:
“I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).
It is amazing enough that God would use a woman (an unlikely hero in these times) to win a great military victory. But even more surprises are in store for first-time readers of the book of Judges. The reader is led to believe that Deborah herself is the woman referenced here as the source of triumph, but later in the same chapter we read that the mighty leader Sisera is brought to his demise by a non-Israelite woman named Jael, who lures him into her tent, lulls him to sleep, and drives a tent peg through his temple, thus saving Israel. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a stranger or more unexpected way for God’s people to win victory. Yet over and over in Judges, God uses unlikely people in incredibly strange fashion. The doubtful Gideon is among the weakest in his house in the weakest tribe, yet God wins a mighty victory over Midian through him and just three-hundred men. Jephthah was a wicked man, an outcast, and son of a prostitute. Samson was rebellious and disobedient but still used by God to defeat the Philistines.

And even when God brought deliverance through Samson’s famed strength, he did it at Samson’s greatest moment of weakness, when he was blinded by his enemies and being mocked.
Why does God act in this way? Why so strange? Why so unexpected? We get a clue in Judges 7:2, when God commands Gideon to narrow down his army from thousands to a small few:
“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”
God’s unique way of providing salvation prevents anyone else from getting the credit because human wisdom would never come up with the wild and weird methods that we see in Judges. God stifles and subverts human wisdom to demonstrate the superiority of his wisdom and plan. When we see salvation come through the most unexpected means, there is no other explanation than the fact that the God of surprises is at work.
Over two-thousand years ago, the world received the greatest shock of all. God chose to save the world through the son of carpenter and a humble young girl, and this instrument of deliverance looked like the exact opposite of what one would expect, even though he was predicted all along. He was the king, but he acted as a servant. He was mighty, but he was humble. He was beautiful, but he had no physical traits that he should be admired. He was born in a small town and had no earthly riches. And in the ultimate act of strange salvation, God thought it pleasing and right to save the world from sin by sending his son Jesus to die on the cross. All throughout Scriptures, the voices of the prophets and the echoes of the narrative ring

clear—the Messiah is coming; expect the unexpected. A suffering servant is coming, and he will transform the world.
If we don’t think God can use us, expect to be surprised. God works in our lives in ways that we cannot imagine and through people we would not suspect to be prime candidates for his mission. We can be encouraged that we serve a Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but who is never boring or predictable. We serve a God of surprises.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Joshua: Whose Side Are You On?

Do the circumstances of your life ever loom over you so much that you feel like you are facing insurmountable obstacles? The enemy before you is too great, and the wall to climb is too high. It’s at times like these that we are often reminded of our need for God because we know and remember that God has the power to knock down walls, and we know the Lord is strong enough to defeat vast armies. Because of this, it can be tempting to treat God as an on-demand source of victory and triumph. If I can get God on my side, he will do what I need him to do. He will fight for me. In him, I can claim my victory. While this is not an entirely untrue perspective, it misses the key aspect of a healthy attitude toward and relationship with God.
Consider the book of Joshua. Israel is finally ready to enter the land of promise; they are destined to conquer Canaan at last. Yet, there are difficulties on the horizon: impenetrable city walls, impending battles, and towering armies of wicked Canaanites. Israel must certainly rely on the Lord’s help in order to receive and inherit the promise. And as we read the book of Joshua, in the beginning chapters, we clearly see the provision of God. He appoints a new leader in Joshua, he parts the Jordan River, he gives instructions and encouragement, and makes sure physical needs are met. God is clearly gracious and good to his people; yet, he is not their personal servant or their butler or their secret weapon in battle. This is illustrated in Joshua 5:13-15:
“ When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of
the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord’s army said to

Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”
So an impressive man appears before Joshua, the leader of Israel, and he has a sword drawn in his hand. Naturally, Joshua wonders if this is a friend or foe, so he poses that simple question: are you for us or for our adversaries? In perplexing fashion, the man answers by saying “no.” He chose neither option, as if to say that Joshua was asking the wrong question altogether. The text tells us that this is no mere man. This is the commander of the army of the Lord, and we can safely assume that this is God himself because this figure accepts worship from Joshua. What’s the purpose of this encounter? God shows up with sword in hand to visibly demonstrate who is really in charge of this Canaanite conquest operation. As they are about to enter the land, the Lord reminds Joshua who is the true leader and whose purposes are going to be accomplished. The real question is not “Is God on our side?” but “Are we on God’s side?” God does indeed fight for his people, but we must always remember that God is the true commander and ruler over our lives. We don’t command God to do anything for us. He is not at our beck and call. God is worthy of worship and total devotion, which Joshua demonstrates here as he bows and removes his sandals. When we need God, when we come to him in prayer, we ought not ask him to bend to our needs and our will. We must humbly submit and align to his will and ask for his help according to his purposes.
We can see this dynamic play out in the story of Joshua. In the very next chapter, God wins a decisive victory by his great power over Jericho. He knocks down the fortified wall of the city with his great might, and Israel barely has to lift a finger. All they do is obey God’s instructions by walking around the walls and allowing God to do what he promised. Yet, one

chapter later, Israel suffers an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Ai. After their triumph at Jericho, confident Israel is brought to its knees and sent on the run. What happened? Why didn’t God fight for them? Why didn’t he fulfill his promise? Why didn’t God do what Israel wanted him to do? It’s revealed to us that Israel loses the battle of Ai because they had disobeyed God’s command by taking of the spoils of Jericho. It is only when the sin is purged from their midst and when they conform to God’s will that they are able to be victorious once again.
It is an unfathomable blessing to have the power of God in our lives. He enables us to endure every trial and press on to every promise in his power. As Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” That ought to encourage us greatly. We do not have to fear anything if we are one of God’s people. However, in the wider context of Romans, we see that God is for us because of the work of Christ on the cross, and it is only by submission to God’s will in Jesus that we can be assured of that wonderful blessing of relationship with God. Not only that, but it’s better for us that God is in control. If God was submitted to my will, and I had access to his power to get whatever I wanted, that would only lead to destruction and pain. But, because God is for us in Christ Jesus, I can be assured of obtaining every victory and every good gift that God promises, which is better than anything I could ever imagine or want.
So the choice falls to us. Will we be on God’s side? Will we submit to him as the commander of our lives? That choice is set before us just as it was for Israel at the end of Joshua. In his final days, Joshua says this to the people of Israel:
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers

served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
Who will we serve? Which side are we on? The only safe place to be is on the side of the sovereign Lord who will win the ultimate victory in the end and who will provide for his people entry into the promised land.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Deuteronomy: God in Every Moment

Out of the thousands of mundane, seemingly insignificant choices that I make each day, how many of those choices does God care about? Is the majestic Lord of the universe, who laid the foundation of the earth and is the master of all the galaxies and unknown worlds far beyond our reach, really concerned with the daily happenings of our average lives?
In the book of Deuteronomy, God’s people Israel are about to finally enter into the land which God had promised after forty years wandering in the wilderness. The hope of generations is about to be realized as they are about to embark on another epic chapter of God’s grand plan and narrative. Yet before this momentous event in Israel’s history, Moses (right before he is about to die) takes special care to urge the people to faithfulness as he sets before them the Law and commandments of the Lord. When we read some of these commandments, they might strike us as bizarre, obscure, or irrelevant. Why would God care about that? Why waste time instructing the Israelites to do that? Doesn’t God have bigger concerns to worry about?
Deuteronomy 22 offers some examples of apparently trivial commandments from God:
“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. 2 And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. 3 And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3).

In verse 8 of the same chapter, God commands this:
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.”
Does a lost ox or sheep or garment of a neighbor really matter all that much to the God over all creation? Why is he insistent making sure that Israelites make an effort to return that which is lost? Why does it matter what the roof of a house in Israel looks like?
A sheep or a garment might not matter much to us, but it certainly mattered to the owner of the lost item. There is little inherent value in those things, but God does care about His people. He does care about how we treat our neighbors, even down to the smallest of details. He cares that houses are safe in order to prevent death or injury to a neighbor. He cares that I care about the wellbeing of those around me. He cares that I consider the needs of others. God instructs in the details and he guides us in mundane decisions because how we act even in those small aspects of life reflects our hearts and attitudes toward God and our neighbors. He desires that we are the kind of people that demonstrate love not just in grand gestures and large sacrifice but also by everyday kindness and consideration for the needs of others because God cares deeply for every person. Not one sparrow falls from the ground apart from the care and attention of the sovereign Father above (Matthew 10:29). God is big enough and powerful enough to attend even the smallest of occurrences and details of his creation. How much more, then, is God concerned about each person? This idea is exemplified in Deuteronomy 10:17-19:

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
The mighty Lord of lords loves the weakest and most vulnerable, each and every one: the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner. He expects his people to share in that same compassion in every action that we take and in our overall way of living. Ultimately, nothing we do should be disconnected from our love for God and others. How we live matters. How we care for our neighbors matter. How we think about choices matters. This can encourage us because we are reminded that each moment has an eternal purpose and each day can be lived in a way that magnifies the intense love that God has for his created beings. Not only that, but we can know that God is with us and present in each moment as we seek to honor him in all of our decisions and choices. He strengthens us and guides as we try to live with every ounce of energy that we have for his divine will and purpose.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Numbers: Curses Reversed

The past is painful. Mistakes were made there, regrets multiply, and consequences cast a cruel shadow. Terrible choices haunt us and invade our memories. The curse of our own failures and sins hangs like a dark cloud. How could I have caused so much pain? How could I have rejected God in that way? As part of the human experience, we are forced to live with the often dire effects of our sin. God even sometimes gives us over to those consequences in order to shake us awake from the destructive sleep of rebellion against His will.
This is a lesson that must be learned by Israel over and over again in the book of Numbers. In this section of Scripture, we find Israel in the wilderness after leaving Egyptian bondage as they set out for the promised land. Yet, rather than a story of new beginnings and triumph, Numbers often reads more like a list of colossal failures from Israel. They do not trust God, they constantly complain, they consistently break God’s commands, and they even try to rebel and head back to Egypt. Although God proves to extremely patient and faithful to His hard- hearted people throughout the book, He often responds to them with strict discipline designed to purify and purge the evil from Israel.
One particularly severe case of punishment occurs in Numbers 21:4-6:
“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against
Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”

Surely, this was a dark day for Israel, being handed over to the consequences of their sin and utter faithlessness. Their sin brings death in the terrifying form of fiery serpents. This would be a mistake of the past that would be looked back on with regret and dread. But God, in his great mercy, does not let it only be that. Notice what happens next in Numbers 21:7-9:
“And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against
the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
Isn’t this rather strange? God sent serpents as a means of punishment, but he then commands Moses to make a bronze serpent that would be a source of healing. Anyone who looks upon it would have life and be healed. What’s this all about? God has the ability to turn the moments of our deepest pain and failure into means of redemption and healing. The Lord forces His people to confront the consequences of their sin by looking upon a symbol of wrath and punishment, but he uses that same symbol as an object of redemption and mercy and new life. From then on, this moment in Israel’s history would be looked back on with pain but not with despair. God transformed it into a moment of hope. He can turn our most horrible mistakes into opportunities for our healing through His grace.
That reality is revealed most clearly at the cross. Jesus refers to Numbers 21 in John 3:14- 15:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus says that He will be lifted up on the cross in the same way that Moses lifted up the serpent. The crucifixion of our Lord was the darkest moment for humanity, the pinnacle consequence of destructive sin and rebellion. Yet, God used that shameful moment to produce a profound hope, the ultimate act of redemption and healing if we look to him and confront our sin. So, we can look back on the cross not with mere sadness, but with joy for how God has worked in that horrible event.
In Numbers 22, the very next chapter, the enemies of Israel hire a prophet Balaam to curse the people, yet every time Balaam attempts to curse them, he can only speak blessing. What was meant for evil became a source of good for God’s people. Another moment that could have resulted in pain and suffering was turned into hope and protection.
As we as Christians look to our own histories and mistakes of the past, God does not leave us mired in shame and despair. He takes each failure and sin and puts it on the cross as a display of His grace and mercy. We no longer have to look back, dwelling on all the wrong we have done; rather, we can look back and see the faithfulness and goodness of God in our failure, how He can use even the worst moments to work for our transformation and redemption. The past now becomes evidence of how God rescued and delivered and blessed despite the curse.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Leviticus: Holy from Head to Toe

What were you made for? For what purpose did God craft your ears? For what reason did He bless you with hands? Why did He grant you feet to walk with? Humanity was designed with a purpose; we were made to be images of God, representing Him as we ruled over creation and submitted to His will and reign. The ears of man were made for listening to God’s voice, to commune with a Creator who wishes to impart His own words. The hands were built for work in God’s good creation, stewarding His gracious gifts. Feet were created for walking alongside God in the cool of the day, living in peace and friendship with the Designer. Yet, out of the glories of the garden came the curse of creation when humans sinned against their Maker. The ears of humanity listened to the lie of the Serpent and rejected God’s truth. The hands of man took hold of a lesser promise and were cursed with bitter work. The feet ran away from the Lord of all the earth and as a result, could no longer walk with God as they were exiled from the garden to step out into a foreign land. The sin of man shattered and marred the image of God in us, leaving a broken reflection of all that we were supposed to be. The body designed to display God becomes a demonstration of brokenness. We see that all around us today in our world. Humans refuse to listen to God and to one another. Hands are used for violence and for greedily grabbing as much as can be held. Feet run swiftly to evil.
Yet, we know God did not leave humanity in the brokenness. He initiated a plan to preserve a holy people, a people who could reflect God’s goodness and blessing to the world. The book of Leviticus is all about the holiness of God’s chosen people, Israel. The commands of Leviticus have often perplexed and bored readers by their strange and seemingly mundane character. However, each instruction in this book of God’s Word was designed to set the people apart for a sacred task so that they could be God’s true representatives to the world.

For example, Leviticus 8 details the consecration (the setting apart) of an especially holy group, the priests. This chosen group’s purpose was to go before God on behalf of the people and go before the people representing God. The rituals described in the chapter exhibit the special mission and role of the priests as set apart servants. Consider Leviticus 8:22-24:
Then he presented the other ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. And he killed it, and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses threw the blood against the sides of the altar.
Part of the process of installing the priests was to kill a ram and put some of its blood on the lobe of the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe of each priest. From the head down to the toe, they were imprinted with the stain of the life of an innocent sacrifice. This symbolically purified them and prepared them to begin their service to God.
In similar fashion, the people of the Church are God’s priestly representatives today (1 Peter 2:9-10). While we do not have the blood of a ram place upon us, at baptism we are permanently stained with the blood of Jesus, the innocent sacrifice. His life laid down and given for us purifies us and consecrates us for the great task of being the reflection and image of God’s character to the world. And this is not just one part of who we are, the sacrifice and life and holiness of Jesus ought to encompass all that we are. We are a people who are holy from head to toe. God reclaims our bodies and our lives for His original purpose. Our ears once again become

faithful listening ears. Our hands work with joy and generosity for the King and all His subjects. Our beautiful feet run to bring good news to a world in desperate need of it. And this is all made possible by the blood of Jesus, who was the perfect image of God from head to toe. We can be encouraged that through His Son, God has renewed our bodies, our souls, and our minds for His good purposes so that we can joyfully partake of His mission in the world.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Exodus: These Uncertain Times

The only thing certain about this past year is that every few days (if not more often), we are all likely to hear the phrase, “these uncertain times.” We are all acutely aware that we do not know what is coming next. Each day this year has seemingly provided us with surprises and greater mystery about what the future might hold. When will the virus end? What will happen in our country? When will life be normal again? No one knows. No one is certain.
That reality can be quite frightening. How do we prepare for that? How can we be ready? Most of us balk at uncertainty and do whatever we can to minimize it because we find comfort in being in control. In the book of Exodus, we are offered a picture of a people who face incredible uncertainty. Israel, after hundreds of years of being in Egypt and enduring the monotonous brutality of slavery, experiences a great deal of sudden change. In Exodus 7-12, we read about the wonders of God and the amazing and terrifying plagues that he brings upon Egypt in order to liberate His people from bondage. This newfound freedom is met with rejoicing from the Israelites, but it is not without uncertainty, and it is not without fear. God leads His people out of Egypt, the only place they had ever known, and brings them into the wilderness, a wild and unpredictable place. They soon realize that they are being pursued by the armies of Egypt; Israel quickly decides that they miss the comforts of home:
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this
what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11- 12).

With the obstacle of the Red Sea in front of them and the raging Egyptian army in hot pursuit behind, they have no idea what will come next. In this moment of doubt and fear, they would prefer the certainty and security that they had before, even though that old life had been full of misery. Yet, we know the ending of the story. Just as God was faithful to deliver His people with the ten plagues, He continues His deliverance and parts the sea so that Israel can escape. Again, Israel responds to this wonderful work of God with joy and song in Exodus 15. However, the praise of the Lord in Exodus always seems short-lived. The people continually grumble and complain about their uncertain new reality. ‘How will we get food? What about water? We had all those things in Egypt.’
Over and over, Israel seems to prefer the comfort and surety of the known (despite its horrors) over God’s provision as He leads them into unknown places. Certainty can be a blessing; having comfort and security can be a good thing. Yet, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we can ever truly be certain about the circumstances of this life, that we can truly be confident about what will happen next.
The only things that we can really be assured of are those things which God has promised. We can only be confident in His faithfulness. But paradoxically, as was the case with the Israelites, following a faithful God can create an apparent uncertainty from the vantage point of our own earthly perspective. This is because we are not in control and because God’s vision and wisdom is so beyond ours that we cannot always predict where obedience to Him will lead us in this life (although we do have confidence in the eternal result). Moses understood this, yet he trusted in God anyway. One of my favorite passages in Exodus illustrates this. In Exodus 20, God appears to Israel with thunder and lightning and smoke at Mount Sinai, displaying his majestic and frightening power. Notice the response of the people and of Moses:

“… the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
The people were afraid of God’s presence, and rightly so. That caused them to stand far off from God. But for Moses, the fear and the darkness didn’t hold him back. He went into the darkness, into the uncertainty, because he knew God was there. He was willing to walk into unknown territory because he was seeking after God’s presence. As Christians, we cannot know what will happen in the future, but we can have confident expectation that God will be with us if we follow and trust in Him as we walk into the uncertainty. God’s promised presence and His will as revealed in His Word will keep us and direct us in “these uncertain times.”

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Genesis: Plans, Promises, and Freedom

Note: The idea is to provide a brief weekly encouragement, and each week I’ll be trying to pull an encouraging and relevant thought from a different book of the Bible. This week we start with Genesis, next week will be Exodus, and so on.
It’s the season for talk of plans, promises, and freedoms. Every four years, our nation is inundated with constant chatter and endless commentary about plans of various candidates, promises core to their campaigns, and freedoms that those candidates are vowing to protect. And very soon, many in our nation will plan to exercise that great freedom that we have to vote. That freedom, that privilege, that right is central to our nation’s identity.
And every four years, there are countless questions about the plans and promises of the candidates. Are they trustworthy? Will they keep their promises? Will my freedoms be protected? Seemingly every election cycle, there is a grave concern from people of both sides that if their candidate of choice isn’t elected, then our freedoms will be in peril, the whole system will collapse, and our future will be uncertain.
So plans, promises, and freedoms are truly important to us in the context of our nation, and they should be. Yet, I am thankful that Christians have their true freedom, the freedom above all others, secured by the plans and promises of a faithful God who is uniquely trustworthy. God’s people do not have to be beholden to the cycle of despair or elation that comes each election at the failure or success of one’s preferred candidate.
We may be rightfully concerned by the choice of our nation, or we may be genuinely thankful that a certain person was elected (and we may even work for the election of a particular candidate in a God-honoring fashion), but our joy and our confidence in a bright and free future must never waver. It must never fluctuate by the rise and fall of earthly kings or the political

affairs of the day. All the way back in Genesis 3:15, God made a rock-solid promise that secured the liberty of all who follow Christ. God, speaking to the serpent, said:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
From the very beginning, God had a plan and made a promise to deliver humanity from the power of the snake. Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise and destroyed the power of death and the slavery of sin for all who trust in him. His heel was bruised in his death on the cross, but he dealt a fatal blow to Satan through his sacrifice and resurrection. Because of that, we can be liberated from the clutches of the serpent, free to live a life of joy in God. And even more than that, this is not a plan or promise for one nation or people. Genesis also shows that God’s plan all along was to bless all the nations of the earth through his Son. All the way back in Genesis 12:3, God promises Abraham that through his family, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So for those of us who are Christians, if we are tempted to hopelessness or despair by the results of the upcoming election or really any other earthly circumstance, be it pandemic or whatever else, know that we fit into a beautiful plan that stretches back thousands of years and reaches forward into eternity. We are participants in a promise that is bigger than one nation in one period of history. In Christ, we are free.
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16-17).