The Power in Death

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”
Judges 16:4-5

Dear God, I can’t help but think about all the times I’ve been seduced by worldly desires Like Samson, at times I’ve let confidence in myself be the backbone of my battles instead of You.  I’ve pushed aside Your Spirit’s wisdom speaking warning into my mind, and chose willingly to arrogantly rely on my own tactics to win the battle. You are the giver of all good gifts. Any strategies I might consider come from the intellect You have given me.  My passion, my boldness, my strength, just like Samson, came from Your design. I was made to worship You and be a tool of Your kingdom, yet I have pursued victory with arrogance and trust in my own power.

I know that the lesson here can be that You will still use me, sloppy and self-serving as I am, for Your greater good, because that’s what You do.  You chose to partner with me, knowing my flaws. But Lord, I think the deeper lesson for me is that the enemy is tricky and will beguile me into falling for schemes that cause me harm.  If I would take the time to be vigilant and watch for the attack of the enemy, my defense will be stronger. I would rely on You for my salvation, instead of myself.

You want me to use the gifts You have given me, but under Your leadership and authority.  When You give me power, it must be for Your Kingdom and not my own. I can’t serve myself and also serve You.  That’s Christianity 101. I know that.

So why do I fall short?

I’m so broken, Lord.  

Create in me a clean heart, O God
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

Then maybe we can get some stuff done!  I love you, Jesus. Thanks for taking me broken and gluing me back together with Your Spirit.  I will walk in Your restoration. Only when I die to myself and my own strength, can we truly win the battle for life that is Your Victory.

 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.
Judges 16:30

Samson did so much for You God.  He judged Israel for twenty years.  But He didn’t truly have victory until He’d experienced the truth of his power: that all his power was from God and not from himself.  He had to die to himself and live for Your Victory, knowing that only His death could bring victory.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Jesus said it best:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

 

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Devoted to Destruction

“For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Joshua 11:20

It’s funny to me that the day after God shows me the mercy of His love through Joshua, I would be stirred by His dedication to the destruction of His enemies.  But here we are. Let’s face it, Joshua got asked to lead God’s people into a whole lot of destruction of other people. And it would be really, really easy to decide that God liked destroying people based on the above verse alone.  We can be so quick to decide things when we look at scripture through the lense of our own analysis, can’t we? However, if we look at the scripture through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, where we can recognize the true character of God, we can see more clearly the Lord’s intent and our faith is built up.  We learn to trust the Lord and not ourselves, for the Lord is light and we are born into shadow and destined for death without Him.

Our first clue in the book of Joshua to the Lord’s view on destruction happens with the fall of Jericho and the salvation of Rahab.  Right off the bat, at the very beginning of Joshua’s siege to claim the Holy Land, God rescues a prostitute. Ya, that doesn’t sound like a God devoted to destruction.  At least not at first. How can we reconcile the opposing points of view and not think God is a bully bent on utter annihilation? Easy. Think back to Exodus. Think about the Golden Calf and the Ten Commandments.  

7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
Exodus 32:7-14

 

When people worship idols, and claim the works of God on the idols they have made with their own hands God no longer becomes important to you. (Think of your own hypocrisy and how many times you counted God’s acts of providence upon you as “good old fashioned hard work”, or luck, or something else.)  Not really. If you know He is God, and yet worship yourself or your success, you retreat from the presence of God’s light and love, and into a darkness born of your own depravity. With Moses and the people of Israel, God called attention to the most important thing a person can do: choose to follow and trust God, or not.  (Remember Adam and Eve?) When Moses stands before the Lord in defense of the people, acknowledges their sin, and asks for God to forgive them, he mirrors the very thing that Jesus would do for mankind in the future. Moses argues for salvation for the people based on God’s own character. Repentance brings God to relent from destruction.  Sin must be destroyed. But we can choose to be healed from our sin rather than destroyed with our sin, simply by repenting and allowing God to reign in our lives.

When we look ahead a chapter or two in Exodus, we can see that the Lord defines himself as merciful and good.  

5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Exodus 34:5-7

Based on this truth of who God says He is, we can discern the intent behind this business of devotion to destruction, can’t we?  It can’t mean what we think it means because God doesn’t contradict himself. What, then, has God done when the Bible says He hardened the hearts of people to make them worthy of destruction? If God is merciful and compassionate, and the stain of sin is in all mankind through Adam, what is it that God wants destroyed?  Simply put: Sin. The hardening of a man’s heart by God means that God has allowed their sin to be amplified by their own stubbornness or hardened hearts. But if we believe that we have free will (as was discovered with Adam and Eve and their submission to the temptation of Satan), then when faced with the truth of God’s mercy and desire to rescue humanity, we all the more can see that we are depraved and in need of saving.  The hardening of our hearts makes us hyper aware of the sin in our lives and becomes either conviction to fight against God or to repent and be saved. The amplification of the sin in mankind makes the need for salvation all the more real. (By the way, that is how we know it is the very Spirit of God that convicts us of our sin and leads us to salvation through Him. We can’t seem to even recognize our sin without Him.)

Through this understanding of scripture, we can reconcile the seeming contradiction of devotion to destruction and the mercy and compassion of God.  As Paul so beautifully put it:

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:18-21

When we see the profound failing of humanity in ourselves, by having a hardened heart or recognizing by our own conscience by failure to obey the letter of God’s law, we have an even greater opportunity to recognize our need for salvation through Jesus Christ.  Paul said that the Law of Moses came “to increase the trespass”. Does that mean God made the law so we would fail? Definitely not! Look what Paul says a little later in the book of Romans:

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:13-20

Joshua led God’s people into the destruction of sin but still offered mercy and adoption into the family of God for any who would repent.  The Gibeonites knew the reputation of the Law of the Isrealites: that they were to include foreigners in their practices and worship if they wanted to follow God, and thus used that loophole to finagle their way into God’s protection.  Why didn’t God devote them to destruction? Because God is full of mercy and honor. He allowed the Gibeonites to live (for a little while) in order to honor the covenant that Joshua had made with them and to show His power to save, even through the disobedience of man.  It is that same mercy that allowed Rahab and her entire family to be saved simply by turning away from the sin and community of Jericho and aligning herself with God’s people. So too, at the end of Chapter 11 of Joshua, we discover that a handful of people from the “enemy tribes” remained after the dedicated destruction was finished.  

21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

At the end of the day, God will do anything to show us our need for Him.  We can choose to walk in our sin and be ruled by sin that leads to death. Or we can walk away from our sin and be ruled by Christ who offers victory over sin and death and gives us life.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:1-4

 

Creator of All Things

“God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
Daniel 1:17

God, you are the creator of wisdom, intellect, beauty, and leadership.  You made everything and bestow Your gifts upon mankind as You see fit. Since I’ve been back in counseling I’ve been so introspective.  I’ve been pondering who I am. As I examine myself more deeply and consider all the things that have made me and molded me, I am reminded that You are the one that made me.  You’ve given me Spiritual Gifts, and You’ve also given me everything else. You’re the one that made me sweet and kind and gregarious and bold. You’re the one that put me together piece by piece and decided how I would look and what my personality would be.  You decided what family I would be born into and the time and world I would live my life in. All of it was You.

As I’ve been studying Daniel, You keep pointing out that You are the author of everything.  You gave Daniel his lineage, his appearance, his wisdom, his knowledge. It all came from You.  And even though Daniel had been hurled into captivity in Babylon, You used him mightily for Your glory!  Daniel honored You, acknowledged You, and deferred to You in praise and petition for everything that he did, and You blessed him in that.  Daniel had faith to see You in everything.

Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
   to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
   he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
   and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
   he knows what is in the darkness,
   and the light dwells with him.
23 To you, O God of my fathers,
   I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
   and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
   for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
Daniel 2:19-23

Lord, help me to see You and know You in everything, so that I can be strengthened and encouraged, and so that I can bless and teach the people I come in contact with.  I am a captive in this Babylon of sin and death, Lord. But You have given me wisdom and faith and boldness to see You and trust You. Lord, the mustard seed of faith that You planted in me as a small child has grown into a giant tree of trust and faith.  Let me move mountains for You, God! Let me trust You more! As I ponder myself and my architecture, Lord, let me see Your grand design in a fresh light. Remind me of Your complete faithfulness. And give me the boldness to proclaim it even in the face of death.

 

Surely Not!

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Luke 20:9-18

For the longest time I have denied certain sins in my own heart, God.  Like the scribes and the chief priests in the temple long ago, I’m guilty of denying the blatant arrogance in my own heart.  I say, “Surely not, Lord! Not me. I’m a good Christian! I go to church and read my Bible, and I pray! I do this and that and this and that and this and that!”  We all do that, don’t we, God? In the past I would read these words scattered all over the Gospels and I would shake my head and think in my heart, “Sure am glad I’m not like that!”  Wow! How wrong I was! How wrong I am!

How many times have I said to You, “Surely not!”  

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6

I’m so sorry, Lord.  I’m sorry for refusing to hear your conviction in my heart because of my own arrogant confidence in myself and my deeds.  Of course I knew that my deeds were “filthy rags”, but I still acted like they were so much more than that! In my own depravity I welcomed the validation of my own actions with the pride I felt in them.  

But I’m done with that, Lord.  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-2

I want to always remember that only by Your grace and only by Your blood am I worthy of anything.  But by that same grace and blood I am worthy of all things! I’m done with sin and death. I want to pick up Your life and be free!

So, humble me, Lord Jesus.  Show me again how great You are!  Show me fresh the love You have for me.  Show me deeply how beautiful I am because of You.  I won’t walk in shame for the failure of my own heart.  Instead I will lift up Your name and acknowledge the banner of love You cover me with.

He brought me to the banqueting house,
   and his banner over me was love.
Song of Solomon 2:4

I’m in your banqueting house because You brought me there.  I didn’t do anything to deserve it, but You choose to fly your banner of love over me. So, Lord, the next time I start to say, “Surely not!”, please show me with your gentle love and correction.  Only that will bring wisdom and peace for my whole life.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
   or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
   as a father the son in whom he delights.
13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
   and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
   and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
   and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Proverbs 3:11-15

The Bow of Bronze

“They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but YAHWEH was my support.”
Psalm 18:18

Lord, I feel kicked when I’m down a lot.  My troubles seem to stand up and mock me every time I turn around.  And no sooner than I overcome one obstacle, another rises up to take its place: bigger and stronger and crueler than the last.  But You truly are my only support. You alone are my rock and my fortress. You alone are my salvation.

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
   my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
   and I am saved from my enemies.
Psalm 18:1-3

Thank you, God, that when I am beaten, you lift up my head.  You comfort me and strengthen me. This battle training builds me up for the war to come.  The armies of Satan are an endless stream of terror and rage, but You truly are my strong tower.  

The battles will come.  I will grow weary. I will get caught up in fear.  I will have moments when I believe every lie the enemy hurls at me.  But You, YAHWEH, You are my shield in spite of my weakness.

The cords of death encompassed me;
   the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
   the snares of death confronted me.
Psalm 18:4-5

I’m tethered to this world and the evil that rules it.  I’m tethered by its brokenness and my own. I walk in the mire.  I get tired. I get scared. I get overwhelmed. But You are always present.  You are always there. You hear me. You answer me. No matter what sin ensnares me, You will save me!

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
   to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
   and my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 18:6

I know you are training me for what is to come, Holy Father.  You train and refine me. You make me stronger and stronger. All I can do is stand and wait and watch and learn.  All I can do is trust You and what You will do.

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He trains my hands for war,
   so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
Psalm 18:34

Who can bend back a bow of bronze but YOU?  I will trust in Your strength and not my own.  

“For You equipped me with strength for the battle;”
Psalm 18:39

 

No Other Love Compares

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-41

Lord, You don’t look at me the way I look at myself.  You see the labels I put on myself as a distraction to me that keeps me from sitting at Your feet and worshipping You.  It’s humbling to be reminded of how often I get distracted and side tracked by my own opinion of myself, or even worse, the opinion that others have about me.  I get caught up in what I think I’m supposed to do. I worry about obedience to what You want from me and don’t stop to listen to what You are saying.

Lord, help me to listen.  Help me to stop putting pressure on myself to do what people expect of me.  Instead, let me fall at Your feet and worship You. Teach me to lay aside the world and the constraints of my own sinful pride and a misplaced desire to serve You in a way that I have decided I am supposed to.  I just want to hear your words teaching and guiding me.

I want to wash Your feet with my tears, Jesus.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

Holy Spirit, move in me.  Humble my arrogant heart. Temper my human longings and create in me a clean heart.  Guide me in the ways of Your thinking and desires for me. Drown out the sounds of my human will and the demands that the world has placed on me.  I long to be in Your right mind and not my own. I long to be true to Your definition of who I am and what I am to do. I long to worship You with humility.

39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
Luke 11:39-41

I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who puffed themselves up on the outside with their dependence on praise and obedience to the Law.  I don’t want to be honored by men or even know what they think of me. I don’t want to care, dear Jesus! I don’t want to care! Let me be a fool or a loud mouth.  Let me be brazen or unrefined. Let me be so aware that there is nothing good in me, that I all I can see is Your grace lifting me up! Let me choose the better portion in You, my Love!  

Sweet Holy Spirit, let me hear Your whispers.

I will submit to Your love for me, my Lord Jesus.  Only in You am I free. And no other love or praise can compare.

Set Your Face Toward Jerusalem

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Luke 9:23-25

Father, the cost of following You is great.  It’s so great that most of the time we don’t even get it.  I don’t get it. It’s the complete opposite of my nature. Yet, You have given me Your Spirit and so in the depth of my soul I know Your Truth.  I know the path. And I know the cost. I’ve felt it. I’ve experienced it. The longer I walk on Your path, the more I see how much the world doesn’t understand it.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”55 But he turned and rebuked them.
Luke 9:51-55

You fixed Your eyes on Jerusalem, Jesus.  And I, too, will keep my eyes fixed there.  Because Jerusalem meant death in the eyes of the world, but it means glory to You.  Jerusalem is Your Majesty revealed. It’s where Heaven and earth become one. It is Your city.  It is Your Kingdom. It is the place where Your promise to the world is fulfilled.

Sometimes it becomes hard to understand that Your eyes are fixed on the prize for us when we think You don’t see our needs or our pain.  Like the Samaritan village that rejected you, or the disciples who pondered which one of them was greatest, we look at You and say in our hearts, “What have you done for me?”  Your disciples were ready to destroy that village! They didn’t even know that they were being hypocrites. They weren’t being like children, ready to accept Your will and Your plan without an explanation.  They could only see the rejection.

A child doesn’t question your intentions toward them, or Your intentions toward anyone.  They just see Your face, accept Your love, and find the peace and joy that You offer. But, Lord, it’s really hard to put reason and logic of the world behind.  Living in this world hurts! From the moment of our birth we are moving toward death. Our lives become filled with obligation and work and a chorus of demands that tries to drown out Your peace.

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Luke 9:46-48

Lord, the one who is least among us, is the one who stops focusing on the praise of men or the world.  The one whose eyes are focused on You and Your Kingdom first is the one who finds peace. So, Lord, help me to keep my face set toward Jerusalem.  Your majesty is revealed there. And I will trust Your plan!

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33