I somewhat recently took a job as a Residential Counselor at Residential Treatment Facility for youth in the teenage age range. These kids have had severe traumas in their lives and have had terrible things done to them and happen in their lives. Most of them have terribly dysfunctional families that have hurt them in extreme ways. In order to cope and also survive through learned behavior they verbally and sometimes physically abuse staff for reasons as simple as being told “No.” There are times they will use all the ammo on you to try to hurt you or get a rise out of you. This isn’t normal teenage behavior like saying I hate you or You are dumb. Think the worst things that people have ever said to you. Now I want to be super clear that these behaviors are not entirely these kids’ faults. They’ve simply been dealt an unfair hand and do not entirely have the capacity to behave in ways other than this.
One night, I was handling a situation with a kid where other kids had lied to a girl, I will call Ivery, and told her the lie and how I reacted to the situation. In an attempt to advocate for the youth on the unit she proceeded to call me every name under the sun. She called me a pervert. She made fun of me in every way she could think of and then because she knew I had a girlfriend started to say anything to get a rise out of me in that area of my life. Finally, when she was running out of ammunition to get me off kilter, she threatened to kill me, my family and my girlfriend. Now, I knew she couldn’t actually pull that off but it was quite an experience to be threatened like that. I responded as best I could and didn’t try to discuss anything when she was just looking for an argument. After the fact I was definitely hurt that anyone would say those things about me.
I would love to say my next shift I just showed up and loved her and it all went away but those feelings stuck with me longer than I would have liked them to.
2 Samuel 9 is a great example of a man who despite what was done to him didn’t let the actions of other people affect how he treated overs. In this chapter David is looking for someone from the house of Saul to bless on account of Jonathan, Saul’s son. If you remember, this is the same Saul who had chased David through the desert and caves all over Israel seeking to kill him. This wasn’t just a brief period of time. Some scholars imagine this time period to be 7 years!! I can’t imagine what I would feel toward my oppressor after being chased under threat of death for even 3 years. All the same, I feel David’s desire to try to find someone from Saul’s house to bless is an amazing story of forgiveness. I could probably write a whole devotion about that but I want to focus on one particular verse of this awesome story.
In verse 3 David is talking to Saul’s former servant and asks him, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?”. This whole line is crazy to me. David is asking and even seeking out someone to bless from the house of Saul. I’ll be honest, most my kindness doesn’t go past the people I interact with. It stays in my world. I am not seeking out people that I can bless.
Let alone am I seeking out people from the family of the man who had just tried to kill me for 7 years and literally only by his death could I return to my home country. But that is David, the man after God’s own heart. This is extreme grace, thoughtfulness and care that he would go out of his way to search out a man from Saul’s house to bless.
The phrase “that I may show the kindness of God to him?” says once again so much about David and how he viewed everything. David releases in this simple phrase any form of ownership to how he was going to bless Saul’s relative. He points it directly back to God. He didn’t try to take the credit and say look at my kindness to my enemy. He identifies back to God.
This line continues to show just how much David acknowledged the fact that what he had wasn’t his. He lived in continual recognition that what he had been given to him was by God. He acknowledges his forgiveness isn’t from himself. His kindness isn’t his. His life isn’t his. His kingdom isn’t his. It is God’s.
He viewed the world not “how can I be kind to people” but rather “how can I show God’s kindness to others.” While the difference is oh so subtle, one is making our good deeds about us and the other is pointing the kindness back to God. David recognized as a servant to God it was no longer him doing it. It wasn’t his resources that he was using to bless this descendent of his enemy it was God’s that he was temporarily in possession of.
Now, in the same way I had the opportunity to show God’s kindness to Ivery the next day by overwhelming her with love or by showing her kindness. Don’t let opportunities slip by in your own life to give away something that isn’t ours. Rather, give away what God has given you to give away.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+8-9%2C+1+Chronicles+18&version=NIV
Tomorrow we return to the Psalms (50,53,60,75) as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
Sometimes I feel like I keep beating the same drum but when we talk about David and the Psalms I have such a difficult time getting away from his heart. The heart of this man is extraordinary and I think because of this God made him into someone extraordinary. God molded him into someone that we are still talking about to this day. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here we go.
When we talked about David’s ability on Sunday, we talked about how he looked after God’s people and put their desires above his own. Today we will look at how David continued to be an impressive man after God’s own heart.
I want to look at the entire incident in 2 Samuel 7. In the opening paragraph David recognizes what he sees as injustice. The injustice being that though he lives in a house made of cedar, the ark of God dwells in a tent. David’s heart here is pure. He sees that what represents the presence of God for the nation of Israel is dwelling in a measly little tent while he is living in a full-blown swanky house made of cedar. He recognizes that this just doesn’t seem right. It seems very wrong that the maker of heaven and earth, the God of this nation, the reason for this nation’s success, the reason they even existed, the God who had blessed them and literally done everything for them didn’t have a proper dwelling place. He did everything from singling out Abraham and blessing him and all his descendants after him, saved them from oppression in Egypt by sending the plagues, delivered them out with Egypt’s spoils, parted the Red Sea as they walked between walls of water on either side, saved them from their enemies by collapsing that sea on the army seeking to kill them or enslave them. I could go on and on and on about all that God did for the nation of Israel. David didn’t forget any of this. He looked back in gratitude and decided that his God should at least dwell in a place as nice as the one he had. That gratitude sparked a desire in David to take the action of wanting to build a house for the ark.
God’s reaction to David wanting to build a house for him is quite interesting. He says, “Did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God had never before asked someone to build him a house. Have you ever wondered why God never asked anyone to build him a house? Maybe he didn’t want one. Gods of other nations had physical temples. So why wouldn’t the one true God? When you look back in the history recorded in scripture it seems like God was hesitant to have a physical representation on earth that could be misconstrued. This was not without cause since in the time of the temple when God’s people had drifted away from him, they claimed that they couldn’t be taken over because of the temple. It seems like God’s focus is on his people believing in him and not becoming preoccupied with something that simply represents him. This is continued in the New Testament with what is defined as the church. God defines the church as his people and tells us that we are all the building blocks of his temple as the body of Christ. That is so awesome and mind blowing to me! The thought that I would be a building block of his temple is an overwhelmingly beautiful thought.
Let’s keep going with this passage, though. God continues to speak to David and tells him He would make a great name for him, plant his people and help to leave them undisturbed, give him rest from his enemies, make him a house, allow his children to build him a house, establish his child on the throne, love that child and discipline him as a father, establish his throne, house and kingdom forever. Dang, that is a list, right? Those are some amazing promises! For you girls, if a guy promises you the world – don’t believe him. But if God promises you all that, I would believe him. Utterly blown away is how I think I would feel if I were David.
David responds in the best way ever. He responds in the only way someone who was qualified to receive these promises should. Who am I and what is my house that you have brought me thus far? David didn’t let being king get to his head rather David knew that he was nothing without God. David knew without God he would still be that shepherd in that field. He felt unworthy of all that God had already done for him. Here is the thing, he totally was unworthy. David recognized he deserved none of these things. He recognized that there were better and smarter. David recognized how undeserving he was of the grace and love that God extended to him.
David’s response continues as I think he is lacking the words to even handle this and he says as much in verse 20. He continues to acknowledge and praise God throughout this response where he speaks about God’s knowledge of his heart, his greatness, how none is like him, praising him for raising up the nation of Israel, and stating that because God spoke those promises they would surely come true.
I think it would be too easy to disassociate from this passage and say “God never promised me any of those things” and in doing so we would miss the very heart that David had.
God sent his son to bear your sins. God has made the whole earth and it is all his. I didn’t make anything and yet I still have everything I need. My actions and my sin without the cross mean I don’t deserve a relationship with God, life or breath. My first sin should have been the end of my life and yet the Lord still gives me life and breath. He still wants me and a relationship with me. He is continually extending his grace to us EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t even want to think about what my life would look like without God’s grace.
In this way all of us should be responding every single day “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+7%2C+1+Chronicles+17&version=NASB
Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 25, 29, 33, 36 & 39 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
When we began 1st Chronicles two days ago we likened the beginning of this book to a family reunion. It was written for the people of God who were returning to the Holy Land after years of captivity and living amongst foreign people who did not worship God (which had been their punishment for forsaking God). Now, they were returning and receiving a history lesson on what it means to be God’s people. If we listen in, I believe we can also benefit greatly from this lesson.
In today’s reading our list of genealogies is broken up in chapter 4 with a passage about Jabez. In two short verses we learn: “he was more honorable than his brothers”, “his mother had named him” – PAIN (in Hebrew Jabez sounds like pain), he prayed to be blessed, “and God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9,10). Makes you wonder why we don’t have any babies today named Epidural?
Seriously though, I hurt for this man Jabez. It doesn’t seem very nice of his momma to pass along the brief pain she felt at childbirth (I know, in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel brief) to her son to bear the name PAIN the rest of his life. Can you imagine the jokes he heard from the neighborhood boys? We also know it can be very painful growing up with less than honorable brothers.
It could have been a rough life for poor PAIN/Jabez. BUT – it wasn’t. Even though he had a few strikes against him in his early years, he knew to cry out to God. And, perhaps because of Jabez’s honor, and I am guessing his heart was in the right place, God was ready, willing and able to fulfill his request.
Just what was his request? “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from PAIN.” It is a touching prayer knowing his background. Other versions have slightly different interpretations – I especially love the NKJV, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” It sounds so much more noble. But, either way, he cried out to God and God “granted his request”.
Does anyone else get a vision of a genie, or is it just me? Jabez cried out (with a list of 4-5 wishes) and his wishes were granted. Poof. Who wouldn’t take a God like that! I can fill a whole book with my wishes and cry out to God and all my wishes will be met. Never mind what God requires of His children. Never mind the timeline and big picture that God is working with in His infinite wisdom. Never mind the growth, compassion and character that develops in the midst of trials. I want no pain. I want it now. Give it to me, God.
I would love to read the rest of Jabez’ story – the daily details, his life’s timeline. I highly doubt that he never felt ANY more pain – never stubbed his toe, never lost a friend or family member, never needed to cry out to God again. But, we know that God was faithful. He blessed Jabez and He answered his prayer.
God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of Jabez. He wanted them to know of God’s faithfulness and the good gifts that He brings to His children who are honorable and cry out to Him. Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of Jabez. God takes us in our pain and gives us blessings. God is good. God is powerful. God is love. God is faithful.
BUT don’t be fooled. God is no magic genie. In fact, He is so much more.
Our history lesson continues. Keep reading, in chapter 5 (verses 23-26) we meet the half-tribe of Manasseh. They were God’s people. God had already fought their battles and given them land. They had prospered and become numerous. Their leaders were “brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families” (1 Chronicles 5:24). It sounds so good. It looks like they were leading a charmed life. God’s goodness and power have provided for these people. We see God’s blessings – but do they? NO! “But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land” (1 Chronicles 5:25). In their pampered state they turn from the One who has blessed them. They leave their Provider and Protector to run after false gods. They chase what the ungodly society calls good – rather than clinging to their Creator, the God of their fathers.
And, their foolishness comes with consequences. They don’t get more wishes granted. What they have is taken away. God uses the Assyrians to remove them – to place them into exile in a foreign land. They have earned themselves a Big Time-Out which will last several years, until God prepares the way for the exiles to return.
God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh. He wanted them to know of the serious consequences that He puts into action when His children flaunt their waywardness. Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh. God has given blessings, how will we respond? God is just. God is powerful. God is faithful. His loving kindness requires our faithfulness, too.
Today’s reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+3-5&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Psalm 73, & 77-78 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
A number of years ago I led one of my churches through the 21 day Complaint Free Challenge. The challenge was to go for 21 days in a row without complaining. We each were given a purple wristband to wear throughout the challenge. You were to wear the wristband on the same wrist for 21 straight days. If you caught yourself complaining, then you had to switch your wristband to the opposite hand and start you 21 day challenge again. Some of the studies I read said that it takes most people about a year to go 21 consecutive days without complaining. I forget how many months it took me to get to that point.
What was the purpose? To help people break the habit of complaining. For many people complaining is simply a bad habit. Will Bowen, who invented the 21 Day No Complaining Challenge says that most people complain for one of 5 reasons using the acronym G.R.I.P.E.
Excuse Poor Performance
When we habitually complain to get attention, to remove responsibility (shift the blame) inspire envy, exert power or excuse our poor performance, we dig a behavioral rut and complaining becomes our default response to just about any situation. That’s a sinful habit from which we need to repent.
In order to break the bad habit, like any bad habit, one must counter the undesired behavior with more desirable behavior. The goal of the complaint free world experiment was to improve the world by reducing the amount of complaining that goes on. During that process I became aware of just how often I did complain. I don’t like hearing other people complain all of the time, I don’t think anyone does. Parents don’t like to hear their kids complain all of the time. Spouses don’t like to hear their husbands/wives complain all of the time. Children don’t like to hear their parents complain all of the time. Students don’t like to hear their teachers complain, and teachers, I’m sure don’t like to listen to their students complain. Churches don’t enjoy hearing their pastor complain all of the time and pastors don’t like hearing church members complain a lot the time. And guess what…even God gets fed up with human beings complaining all of the time.
In today’s reading, God has been busy taking care of Israel. He led them out of slavery to the Egyptians by performing ten amazing signs. When Israel was being chased down by Pharaoh’s army and looked like they were doomed for destruction, God miraculously parted the waters and brought them through on dry land. God led them by cloud during the day and fire during the night. God was taking them on a journey to a land that he was going to give them. God was doing nothing but good for them.
And how did God’s people respond to all of this goodness? They complained. We’re thirsty… we’re hungry. They sounded like a bunch of whiney kids on a long trip. If you’ve gone on a long trip, the experience is very different for the parents up front and the children in the back. Think about a family going on vacation. The parents are the ones preparing for the trip. Mom’s doing the laundry, packing everyones clothes, preparing snacks, arranging for neighbors to come and feed the animals and water the plants. Dad is making sure the car is running well, changing the oil, getting the mail stopped, gassing up the car, checking the route to make sure there are no road closures. The parents buy the tickets for wherever they are going, pay for the meals along the way, pay for the hotel rooms, make sure the kids have stuff to do in the car/van/suv. And what do the kids do? They complain: I’m hot… I’m bored… I’m hungry…I’m thirsty… I have to pee… sisters looking… brother hit me… and are we there yet? I had 11 children and I know what I’m talking about here.
Imagine Moses… and God. They are moving roughly 2 million men, women and children across the wilderness toward the promise land. There are no McDonalds on the journey. There are no Holiday Inns with an indoor pool. There are no air conditioned SUVs with built in blue ray players and no iPhones or Nintendo Switches to keep them occupied. They are tired, they are hot, they are thirsty and hungry, and they are complaining… a lot!
If I’d been Moses or the Lord I would have been tempted to say “Ya’ll be quiet or we’re turning around and going back!” Fortunately the Lord, and Moses have more patience and grace than I ever had:
Exodus 16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
God heard their grumbling and he gave them quail and manna to eat. There it was, as much as they wanted. They were able to eat their fill. And after that they never complained again. Well, that’s not true…. before long they were complaining about being thirsty too.
What God should have done was give each of them a purpose wristband to remind them not to complain. It would take them a few more lessons before they quit complaining.
I’m sure God does get tired of hearing our complaining… but he still loves us and he even gives us ways to complain in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are called Psalms of complaint and/or Psalms of lament. Jesus himself, while he was on the cross prayed one of those Psalms of complaint/lament, Psalm 22 which begins: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” When we are suffering real pain, real sorrow, real trials, God wants us to turn those into heart felt prayer and we should. God is able to handle our complaints and do something about them. At the same time, too often our complaining comes from a place of ingratitude. The ungrateful complaining that fails to acknowledge and appreciate God’s blessings needs to stop; legitimate complaining for true hurt in faith is something God is ready and able to hear and respond to for his glory and our blessing.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+16-18&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 19-21 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
One of the most famous experiments ever done to understand the human psyche is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In this study, a marshmallow and a bell were placed in front of a preschool child. The instructions were as follows: if the child wanted to eat the marshmallow in front of them after the adult left the room, they only need to ring the bell to gain permission; however, if they waited for the adult to return to the room on his/her own, about fifteen minutes later, then they would receive an additional marshmallow for their wait, essentially doubling their pleasure. A seemingly simple experiment became a tortuous endeavor for these children. Initially, almost all the children tried to wait, but the longer they watched the door and thought about the marshmallow, disbelief and displeasure began to fill their minds. The ones who were ultimately successful looked in a different direction, sang a song, or reframed their desires, all of which helped to ultimately endure to receive their reward in full. Conversely, some were overcome with their desire or doubt; they rang the bell and received a lesser reward.
Matthew Chapter 7, our reading for today, contains a handful of verses we will most likely wrestle with at some point in our lives when our metaphorical marshmallow is placed in front of us. Yesterday’s devotion showed us God’s provision, but there is a distinction here that appears in times where we appeal to God for greater things, beyond bread or fish (Matt 7:9): the search for a spouse, selection of a college or career, the growth of a church or ministry, the health of a loved one, the birth of a child or wisdom in a difficult situation. All of these have a biblical basis as blessings from God, the giver of “good gifts to those who ask” (Matt 7:11), so we might suspect for these to move up God’s priority list. The only requirements are we ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7:7). Initially, these three actions seems the same, but through my own appeals, I have come to realize these in fact may be steps of a larger process.
First, you must ask. While our action and efforts show our faith, if we bring God in, we are no longer in control (or under the illusion that we are in control). By making our request known to our Heavenly Father, we begin to have peace with the “marshmallow” that passes our comprehension of the situation (Phil 4:6-7). We are settled knowing that if we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father will not only hear our request, but has already placed our desire within the scope of his will and eternal plan (John 14:12-14). You will receive it.
Next, you must seek. We are to search for God’s will in our lives which is much larger than a single request. It is so easy to be consumed with a single desire and measure your faith and relationship with God by it. He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), so we must look away from the “marshmallow”, and look towards God’s kingdom as the first priority for our lives. By daily searching for God and His perfect and pleasing will, we will ultimately collide with the desire of our heart at the single most opportune moment which is mutually benefiting God’s kingdom and us. You will find it.
Finally, knock, which is by far the most difficult of the three. You must patiently wait and trust God. As we wait, the rain will come down, maybe harder than ever, the floods will come up, maybe higher than ever, and the wind beat against the house, maybe stronger than ever, and the foundation of our lives will be exposed (Matt 7:24-29). These are the moments that make or break a faith. To endure the storm, we must be persistent in our prayer lives, even when we are frustrated. We are to be fervent in our discipleship, even when our will is depleted. We must share our faith, even if we have moments of doubt. We will not “earn” our reward, but they give us the strength to continue to stand at the door knocking, waiting for God’s perfect timing, the delayed gratification, the moment when faith becomes sight. And soon enough, He will open the door.
The children who participated in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment were later studied as teens and adults. There were some startling correlations with the group that found their way to endure to the end, delaying their reward until a more pleasing moment. They were better able to cope with stress, more likely to be fulfilled in the work, less likely to be impulsive or aggressive, and less likely to be addicted or become divorced. As we wait for our good and perfect gift from above, God may be moving heaven and earth to bless us (2 Kings 20:1-11). The problem is He is on the other side of the door, and all we can see is the marshmallow. It is so easy to become focused on this one thing and forget about the promise. There is so much blessing waiting in the waiting. Our focus changes, we become disciplined, we find ways to sing while stressed, we become fulfilled in God – blessing or not. We are focused by and consumed with God, not the marshmallow. Then the door opens and we remember the promise, and we see our reward and how His plan was so good. God delays our gratification, not to experiment or simply because He can but to show us He truly is the giver of the greatest gifts to those who ask, and he will double or exponentially multiply the reward. Don’t give in and ring the bell – Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find it. Knock, and the door will be opened.
Happy Tuesday and thanks for sticking with me this far!
I’m leading a Bible Study this summer on the book of Ruth using the study guide Ruth: Discovering Your Place in God’s Story by Eugene H. Peterson. One of the reoccurring themes that has come up during our discussions has been Naomi’s role in the story. If you are not familiar with her story, I encourage you to go ahead and pick up a Bible and read at least the first chapter of Ruth before finishing this post.
There are different ways one can read Naomi’s character. Some people within my group thought of her as sympathetic, down on her luck, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Others, like myself, view her as more selfish, bitter, and self-centered. Regardless as to how one chooses to read her, there is no denying the fact that in the first chapter, she is a complainer.
“Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.” Ruth 1:20 & 21 MSG.
Bad things happened to Naomi. She lost her husband and then both her sons. But there are lots of people in the Bible who had bad things happen to them, yet, they did not turn on God, nor were they led to believe God had turned on them. Take Joseph, Jacob’s son, for example. His whole story was one whole roller coaster ride of ups and downs, trials and triumphs, yet he never stopped trusting that God had a plan.
Naomi’s story presents us with a different sort of Biblical character. She believes God no longer cares for her. All the while, right in front of her, God has left her with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Eventually, because of Ruth and the kindness of a man named Boaz, Naomi’s faith in God is once again restored. In the second chapter she declares: “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” (2:20 MSG).
Here are the two takeaway lessons from Naomi. One, Naomi is an example of how our bitterness can keep us from seeing God’s blessings – even when they are directly in front of us. God never forgot or abandoned Naomi. He had a plan. He gave her a loyal daughter-in-law and orchestrated events for her to meet Boaz. The second lesson we can learn is that even when we complain and are bitter, God doesn’t give up on us. Even when we are fickle and only trust God when things are going well, like Naomi appears to be doing, it doesn’t make us tarnished. God’s grace covers us, liked it covered Naomi.