Day 146: The quiet work of God

1 Kings 19-20; John 7:1-31

Key Verses

1 Kings 19:12-13
And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

John 7:15-16
The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”

Elijah had a great purpose, and he understood his purpose. He lived to defeat the apostasy in Israel. He battled against the worship of Baal and hoped for the people of Israel to turn to God with an undivided heart.

Elijah had just persevered through 3 years of drought, and led the people in a powerful display of God’s power. The people worshiped the Lord and killed the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah must have thought he had won. His life purpose felt complete. The rain came and Elijah ran empowered by the Spirit all the way to Jezreel – to the home of Queen Jezebel.

I don’t know what Elijah expected… maybe for Jezebel to admit defeat, maybe fire from heaven to consume her, but he did not expect Jezebel to belittle his victory and threaten his life.

In the course of one rain storm, Elijah went from the heights of victory to the depths of despair. Consumed by disappointment, Elijah fled south through Judah to the southernmost town of Beersheba and further south into the wilderness. There, in complete despair, Elijah asked God to take his life.

We read in Chapter 19 of God’s graciousness to Elijah. God sends an angel to provide food and comfort. Elijah makes his way to Mount Sinai (Mt. Horeb) and God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It is an invitation for repentance. “Elijah, pour out your heart to me. Tell me your fears. Let me encourage you with my Truth.” But Elijah is angry and disappointed. He justifies himself. So God tries to reveal His ways…

He tries to show Elijah that the battle will not be won with spectacular displays of power, but in quiet, persevering strength. God’s voice was in the whisper – not in the wind, earthquake or fire.

But Elijah’s disappointment blinds him to the truth, so when God asks him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah’s answer remains unchanged.

God’s ways are quiet, yet strong. Mysterious, yet glorious. Invisible, yet powerful.

Jesus shows us the mysterious ways of the Father. Although Jesus demonstrated the power of God in signs and wonders, it was his humble sacrifice that broke the power of sin – and today, it is the Spirit that works quietly to turn our wandering hearts wholeheartedly to the Savior.

We must cling to these truths as we face disappointment and despair. God rarely offers “quick-fixes” to our problems, but works painstakingly slowly – to squeeze the most good out of every circumstance. Elijah’s character would be strengthened as he overcame his anger and despair and re-entered the battle to continue the fight against apostasy. We must also re-enter the battle – moment by moment – and continue to fight for righteousness to rule our hearts and our world!

Day 145: A Hard Choice

1 Kings 17-18; John 6:45-71

Key Verses

1 Kings 18:21
And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

John 6:66-69
After [this hard teaching] many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

I have come back to this Scripture in John many times over the course of my Christian life. I typically come here when I am at a crossroads in my faith. Some call it a crisis of belief or a choice between fear and faith. Whatever you want to call it, I read this passage when I know God is asking me to walk down a difficult road. The disciples were at that crossroads. They had a choice to make… stay with Jesus and relinquish control of their lives or walk away to follow their own path.

In today’s reading from 1 Kings, we see many “crises of belief…”

First, the prophet, Elijah, risked his life and delivered an unwelcome message to the evil king Ahab that there would be a three-year drought in the land. By prophesying a drought, Elijah was telling Ahab that his little god Baal, who supposedly controlled rain and fertility, was powerless against the living God.

Then God told Elijah to flee east of the Jordan and that He would direct the ravens to provide food. This made no earthly sense. The land east of the Jordan was desolate with no reliable source for food. Also, ravens don’t even take care to feed their own young… why would they feed Elijah?? But what choice did Elijah have? He obeyed and God kept Elijah alive through the drought.

The widow of Zarephath also faced a crisis of belief. She had enough flour and oil to make one small cake of bread for her and her son to share, but Elijah asked her to give it to him – with the promise that God would provide enough flour and oil to feed all three of them through the end of the drought. The widow chose wisely. She chose life and God rewarded her obedience.

In Chapter 18, we read the familiar story of Elijah confronting the people as he organized a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the people just as Jesus challenged the disciples. The people were faithless and silent. They didn’t have the faith to set aside their fertility god, Baal. They doubted the Living God.

Each time God calls me to obey, I have a choice. Do I echo the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” or do I remain silent, passive and ignore the voice of the Lord.

I pray for the grace to choose the Savior – I am more afraid of facing the perils of this life without Him than of facing what He has prepared for me. I desire obedience. I long for Jesus. I choose life.

Keeping up with the Kings
Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat
Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab

Day 125: The motivation for obedience

1 Kings 3-4; Luke 22:1-30

Key Verses

1 Kings 3:12-14
“Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

Luke 22:25-27
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Solomon loves the Lord, and the Lord gives him great wisdom, but Solomon falters in the nitty-gritty daily-ness of his faith. He doesn’t obey God in all areas of his life, and eventually, his missteps lead him further and further away from God and God’s blessings. Specifically, we read of Solomon acquiring many horses (4:26) and turning back to Egypt to find a wife (3:1). These actions are in direct opposition to the laws for Kings written in Deuteronomy:

Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you,‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

Solomon’s mistakes are a familiar road for many of us. Compromising obedience in daily life can slowly turn us completely away from our faith. Many times, apostasy is a slow burn and not a quick blaze.

In order to keep ourselves from falling away, we must cling to the hip of our Savior. His grace and help are our lifeline to an obedient life. The sacrament of communion (instituted in today’s passage from Luke) is a gift to us to help us remember the great Sacrifice of our Savior. His death is the evidence of His incomprehensible love for us! It is this love that should motivate us to obey…

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV).

Day 105: David’s Heart

1 Samuel 15-17; Luke 14:25-35

Key Verses

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Luke 14:27
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Saul… He had the audacity to use religious duty as an excuse to disobey God’s word – and we learn from vs. 15:30 that Saul’s first priority was to have honor in the people’s eyes. So, God sent Samuel to anoint a new king, and we read from today’s key verse the qualification most important to God – the condition of the heart.

We see the valor of David’s heart as he faces Goliath in Chapter 17, but more importantly, we see his trust in God! David was also equipped with the Spirit. We read in Chapter 16 (vs. 13-14) that after David was anointed by Samuel, God’s Spirit departed from Saul and rushed upon David. This Spirit was not associated with salvation (as in the New Testament) but rather the Spirit was an Equipper – helping God’s chosen leader to accomplish his kingly purpose.

We too have been given a royal purpose…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9).

Jesus reminds us in today’s reading that discipleship requires whole-hearted commitment. But we have also been given the Equipper – the Holy Spirit – to help us accomplish this high calling.

So I ask… Are our hearts more like the self-serving Saul? Or more like the valiant David? I hope neither!!! I hope for my heart to be like Jesus! I think David would agree ;)

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness (Psalm 26:2-3; of David).

Day 104: Saul’s Heart

1 Samuel 13-14; Luke 14:1-24

Many years have passed since Saul was anointed the king over Israel. Saul is now old enough to have a son, Jonathan, and Jonathan is old enough to command troops. We find Saul engaged in battle with the Philistines – and it is here in Chapter 13, that we first read of God rejecting Saul as king.

Key Verses

1 Samuel 13:13-14
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Luke 14:11
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

What did Saul do that was so bad that God would remove his kingship? On the surface, it seems as if the punishment doesn’t match the crime. Saul was pressed from all sides…  Samuel was late in arriving, and Saul wanted to inquire of the Lord, so he took on the priestly role and offered the sacrifices in Samuel’s place… What’s the big deal?

Saul’s heart. That’s the big deal. Saul did not obey God in the face of difficult circumstances. And when questioned by Samuel, Saul had the opportunity to repent, but instead, he made excuses. He justified his sin.

Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 only reinforces the truth that God is concerned with the heart – not religious duty or outward appearances.

God looked into Saul’s heart and saw a presumptuous man who trusted more in himself than in God. He saw independence and vanity – foolishness and pride. Saul was not a man after God’s own heart.

I shudder at what God sees when He looks inside my heart. Apart from Christ, I am ruined! But thankfully, my Rescuer lives… and works on my behalf to mold me to be more like Himself. This is my hope, and I am grateful.

Day 95: The diverse work of the Spirit

Judges 13-14; Luke 9:37-62

Key Verses

Judges 13:24-25
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Luke 9:51
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The next 10 chapters of Luke record Jesus’ teaching and work during his last journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). Jesus knew what would happen. He predicted his death for the 2nd time in vs. 44. But the disciples still didn’t understand…

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. (Luke 9:45)

The disciples would understand – but only after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples, we also depend on the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s word and ways!

The Holy Spirit makes an appearance in today’s reading from Judges as well. It is by the power of God’s Spirit that Samson has the strength to overcome Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.

But.

As is typical of most Old Testament narratives, the author simply retells the story without commenting on the morality of the characters. This is a disadvantage to us as modern readers, because we aren’t as familiar with the ancient culture and Mosaic law. Actions that would have been so obviously horrendous to an ancient Jew are morally ambiguous to us. There are so many instances where Samson breaks God’s law, but you have to be familiar with the laws concerning Nazarites to catch them!

In Chapter 14, he marries a Philistine, touches a dead carcass, and partakes of strong drink at his marriage feast. Nazarites were strictly forbidden to touch anything dead or to partake in strong drink. His flagrant disregard for God’s law is offensive. Yet God sends His Holy Spirit to Samson in spite of his sin. How amazing is God’s grace!

Consider this nuance in Chapter 14… On the way down to marry the Philistine woman, Samson scrapes honey from a lion’s carcass – the very lion that he killed with his bare hands. This is a picture of what sin can do to our hearts. Samson’s pride and independence blinds him to the grotesque carcass. He’s oblivious to the stench and the flies… As we are tempted to compromise God’s standards for the pleasures of this world, we must remember this image of eating honey from a lion’s carcass. All we see is the honey – and we are blinded by the grotesqueness of the sin.

Unlike Samson, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to open our ears to understand God’s word, open our eyes to see the sin in our hearts and finally, to give us hearts to obey!

Day 94: Perplexed and Amazed

Judges 10:6-12:15; Luke 9:10-36

Key Verses

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

In Judges, we read of Jephthah. He is a double-sided puzzle to me…

On one hand, Jephthah showed extensive knowledge of Israel’s history and seemed to have faith in the God of Israel. But on the other hand, he made a rash vow which resulted in the sacrifice of his own daughter. The law provided an “out” for rash vows (Lev. 5:4-6), so it is unclear why Jephthah would do something so horrible as child sacrifice.

I think Jephthah’s story illustrates the consequences of idolatry and apostasy on the human heart. The heart becomes duplicitous – double minded.

I wonder what Jephthah and Israel would have thought of Jesus’ words in today’s Key Verse? These verses convict me… Because just like Israel, I make compromises and look to modern-day idols to fill my longings. It always amazes me to read of God working on behalf of his adulterous people. Even though God did not “raise up” Jephthah, He still used him to defeat Israel’s oppressors. But Jephthah’s half-heartedness led to horrible personal consequences. The nation also suffered for their idolatrous hearts… as Judges 12 describes civil war in Israel.

What do we do with a passage like this? I know what I do… I’m more thankful for Jesus! I’m thankful that my sin has been forgiven. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit convicts and equips me. I’m thankful for Jesus’ life of compassion and grace. And I’m thankful to be swept up in a relationship with the living God.

Oh God, help me live a life worthy of the calling I have received. Help me to love and obey you with a whole heart!

**For commentary on other significant parts of Luke 9, such as Jesus’ first prediction of his death and/or the Transfiguration, see “Day 24: Setting the Stage”.

Day 92: Diluted faith

Judges 6-8; Luke 8:1-21

Key Verses

Judges 8:27
And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.

Luke 8:21
But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

In the time of Gideon, the people had fallen so far away from the Lord that Gideon was threatened by his neighbors for destroying the altar of Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole. No longer did the people fear the God of Israel.

God showed amazing grace to Gideon – stooping to fulfill Gideon’s requests for signs and compensating for Gideon’s fear. Gideon was so tainted by his culture that his faith was diluted and weak at best.

In spite of himself, Gideon was used by God to defeat the Midianites and the people enjoyed rest from oppression for 40 years. Truly, Gideon showed great heroism…but in the end, Gideon gave in to pride and led the people away from true worship of their God.

With each subsequent judge, the people fell further and further away from the standards of the Mosaic law – and became even more addicted to “whoring” after other gods.

Judges should serve as a warning to us… How diluted is our faith because of the culture in which we live? Do we compromise our beliefs to avoid conflict or hardship? We will be held accountable for our actions and choices.

Listen to the parable of the sower in Luke 8 and ask yourself… What kind of soil am I? Only by God’s grace can we be the good soil that upon “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

God, I ask for the privilege to hear your word and the grace to obey it. Please, open my eyes to see how the culture dilutes my faith. And grant me the patience to persevere and the discipline to worship you alone.

Day 90: The Rescuer

Judges 1:1-3:6; Luke 7:1-30

Key Verses

Judges 2:11-12
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.

Luke 7:9
When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

If you need evidence of the darkness of the human condition, look no further than Judges. It is the story of every human heart apart from Christ. Our best efforts to follow and obey lead only to ruin and apostasy. We just can’t make this journey in our own strength. We need rescuing. The people in Judges needed rescuing…

But as we’ll read over the next few days – the rescuers that God sends are inadequate. The people just keep falling further and further away from the Lord and falling deeper and deeper into worshiping the despicable gods of the Canaanites. The book of Judges ends with the people crying out for a king.

Many kings would come – but it would take many hundreds of years for the real King to come. We read of Him today in Luke. From our modern eyes, we don’t understand how odd Jesus’ ministry was to the Jewish nation. They expected a military ruler in similar form as the Old Testament judges or kings – only more powerful and effective!

Imagine their surprise when rumors spread of a man in rags that could heal and bring people back from the dead! But he was so different – even John the Baptist questioned whether he was truly the Messiah.

And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19).

Jesus answers by referring back to Isaiah’s descriptions of the days of salvation and then Jesus turns to the crowds and praises John the Baptist. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the one who had the highest honor of preparing the way of the Savior… But Jesus says that even the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John! Why?

Because of the Rescuer.

No longer would the people be left to obey a law that was impossible to obey in their own strength. No. When Jesus came and made the ultimate Sacrifice for sin, God instituted a New System. He writes the law on the heart and gives the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus to rescue you, your faith is credited to you as righteousness. We live in the New System, under the New Covenant. We, yes, even we, are greater than John the Baptist because we know the Rescuer. We know the Savior. We know Jesus!

Day 89: Fulfillment fulfilled!

Joshua 22-24; Luke 6:27-49

Key Verses

Joshua 24:31
Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.

Luke 6:47-48
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.

The end of Joshua marks the end of the patriarchal history. It ends with God fulfilling His promises to Abraham of 1) blessing, 2) becoming a great nation and 3) possessing a land. Fulfillment… at least partially.

Jesus would come and bring the next stage of fulfillment – the ushering in of his Kingdom – but we will not see the consummate fulfilling of all the promises until the end of the age with the dawning of a new heaven and a new earth. Until that glorious day, we wait…

In Luke, we read of how we are to live as members of God’s Kingdom – but Jesus’ teaching is not only an instruction manual for a life-well-lived in the present day, but it paints a picture of life in the new earth… A life that is not tainted with sin – a life where everyone loves and lives for the sake of Another. We will live as a great nation, under blessing with the new earth as our land. There will be fulfillment. Complete and glorious fulfillment!!