3/23/19 “You Are Great, O Lord God” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 7-9)

“For Your word's sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them. Therefore, You are great, O Lord God. For there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (2 Samuel 7:22-23).

God had greatly blessed David. God was with David as he had killed Goliath. The Lord had preserved David as he escaped from the King Saul’s pursuit of David’s life in a jealous rage. God also enabled David to ascend to the throne of Israel. Finally, David had been able to return the Ark of the Covenant back to its proper place in the Tabernacle of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:17).

At this point in his life, David now wanted to do something special for God. It came into his heart to build God a permanent house in which the Ark of the Covenant could remain. David tells the prophet Nathan, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains" (2 Samuel 7:2). However, God has Nathan the prophet to tell David not to do this (2 Samuel 7:4-16). Why? Because David had been a man of war and shed much blood during his lifetime, he was not to be the man to build God a house (1 Chronicles 28:3).

However, in the midst of God’s reply to David through Nathan the prophet, God promises that although God would not let David build Him a house, God would build David a house (2 Samuel 7:11). This was not a physical house, but a house in the sense that David’s descendants would continue to reign on the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 7:12-15). More importantly, spiritually it would be through David that the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, would come to set up His Kingdom, the church, which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44; John 18:36; Colossians 1:13). Through Nathan the prophet, God tells David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

Rather than being disappointed that it was not in God’s plans to have David build the temple, David is overwhelmed at the thought of God blessing him in this way. As the opening verses above indicate, David considered God blessings upon him and proclaimed God’s praises (2 Samuel 7:20-29).

As I reflect on this, I need to take time to “be overwhelmed” as I consider how God has blessed me. Rather than dwelling on what I do not have or the goals in my life I have been unable to accomplish thus far, I need to take time to rejoice in what I do have and consider the opportunities presently before me to serve God and honor him. Instead of bringing myself down by focusing on all the problems and challenges that surround me, I need to look up and spend time in meditation reflecting on just how awesome God is.

God has blessed me with my health, my family, and my friends. He has allowed me to live in a prosperous nation where I am free to serve Him without fear of persecution. More importantly, he has saved me from my sin through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. He has blessed me with a great spiritual family in the church. He has given me love, joy, and peace to fill my life. Today, I will rejoice in the great God I serve!

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:1-3).

3/22/19 “Arousing the Anger of the Lord” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 4-6)

“And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Following the death of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines, David became king and began to establish and strengthen his kingdom. His army conquered Jerusalem, which will become known as the city of David (2 Samuel 5:6-9). Through God’s power, he defeated the Philistines in 2 separate battles (2 Samuel 5:17-25). Of this period in David’s life we read, “So David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him” (2 Samuel 5:10).

However, David was aware that the ark of the covenant, which was supposed to have remained in the Most Holy Place of the Lord’s Tabernacle, was away from where the Lord wanted it to be. Instead, years earlier the Israelites had taken it with them in battle believing that by doing this God would help them defeat the Philistines. God never told them to do this. Instead, Israel was defeated by the Philistines and the ark of the covenant was captured. After suffering a plague from the Lord, the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant to the Israelites by setting it on an ox cart and setting the oxen off in the direction of Israel (1 Samuel 4:1-7:2). The ark of the covenant returned to Israel and remained in the Israelite city of Kirjath Jearim for many years (1 Samuel 7:2; 1 Chronicles 13:6).

Because God had so greatly blessed him, David wanted to do something for God. He wanted to bring the ark of the covenant up from Kirjath Jearim and set it in its proper location within the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle of the Lord (1 Chronicles 13:1-4). He had the ark of the covenant loaded on a new cart and had a massive celebration as they brought the ark of the covenant towards Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-5; 1 Chronicles 13:5-8).

However, then everything went wrong. The oxen stumbled, the ark of the covenant began to move on the cart, and one of the drivers of the cart, Uzzah, reached out and touched the ark to steady it. God’s anger was aroused against Uzzah and he died (2 Samuel 6:6-7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-10). David also became angry and confused about why God did this (2 Samuel 6:8-9; 1 Chronicles 13:11-12).

Why did God do this? Did He not know that David meant well? Did God not know that Uzzah was trying to prevent the ark of the covenant from slipping off the ark? God knew all these things, but God also knew that His people had not respected His authority. They did not follow God’s instructions regarding how the ark was to be transported via poles on the shoulders of the Kohathites of the tribe of Levi (Exodus 25:14; Numbers 4:1-15). David later realized this and, after consulting God’s Word, has the ark of the covenant transported to Jerusalem in the manner in which God had prescribed (1 Chronicles 15:1-15; 25-29).

God is angered when His people do not respect His Word and show reverence or godly fear for Him and His statutes. This account serves as a powerful reminder that I must strive to learn God’s Word and submit to His Will for my life. I must worship Him and serve Him in the manner He has prescribed, not in the way I think may be right. For whatever reason David and the Israelites had failed to do this and it cost Uzzah his life. Today, I will rejoice that God has given His Word to direct me in the way I should serve Him! I will fear Him and keep His commandments!

“Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments” (Psalm 119:73).

3/21/19 “Genuine Love for Your Enemies” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 1-3)

"Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury; who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle...” (2 Samuel 1:23-25).

These words were part of a song that David had written down to teach the children of Judah (2 Samuel 1:18). Saul and Jonathan had been killed by the Philistines in a great battle in which Israel was defeated at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-6). David lamented over the death of his good friend Jonathan and, also, he wept for King Saul who had made himself David’s enemy (2 Samuel 1:17).

It is easy to understand David’s great mourning over his friend Jonathan. Jonathan had been a great friend to David. Jonathan loved David as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:1-3). Jonathan had defended David before his father Saul (1 Samuel 19:4-6). Jonathan had also helped David escape from Saul’s repeated efforts to kill David (1 Samuel 20:1-42). After David had fled to the wilderness, Jonathan supported David and strengthen his friend’s hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16). It is easy for us to relate as to why David wept over the death of his close friend Jonathan and said, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

What is so striking about the opening verses above is how David wept over King Saul. Saul had been jealous of David’s success (1 Samuel 18:7-9). This jealousy caused Saul to feel threatened by David so he tries multiple times and in multiple ways to have David killed. David has to flee for his life and gets no rest as Saul doggedly pursues him from one place to another seeking to kill him. If most of us were in David’s shoes we probably would have rejoiced in hearing of the death of Saul and felt great relief because we would know that our life was no longer in danger by King Saul.

But David did not do this. Why? Because David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22). David had true, genuine love for his enemies. Even though Saul had sought to kill David, David bore no malice towards Saul. David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul and to end his misery caused by Saul’s pursuit of him, but David did not harm Saul. David’s feelings towards Saul is reminiscent of Jesus’ words on the cross regarding his enemies, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). David’s example of the love and forgiveness he had towards Saul is a great example for us to follow regarding how we should love our enemies.

David was not a perfect man. He would struggle with sexual sins. He would struggle with his parenting skills. But, in regard to the love he showed for his enemies he excelled more than most. I am not a perfect man either. I may not struggle with sexual sins or with my parenting skills as much as David did, but when I look at my life and my feelings towards my enemies and compare my attitude towards my enemies with the attitude David displays here towards King Saul, I realize I have a lot of room to grow in loving my enemies if I am going to be a “man after God’s own heart”. Today, I realize my weaknesses, but I rejoice that God is still working on me to help me become transformed more and more into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2). I will strive to love my enemies as David loved his.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

3/20/19 “When God Will Not Listen” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 27-31)

“When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets” (1 Samuel 28:5-6).

Regarding the background of the above passage, the Philistines had gathered together for a great battle against the Israelites. They had encamped at Shunem, while Saul and the Israelites encamped at Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). Saul’s faithful servant David had fled to the Philistines and was pretending to have turned against his own people Israel (1 Samuel 27:1-12). Saul was no longer pursuing David’s life as he had been doing for quite some time (1 Samuel 27:4). However, Saul now had a greater problem on his hands than worrying about David’s getting the kingdom from him: Saul and Israel were facing a huge Philistine army. He was afraid and his heart trembled (1 Samuel 28:5).

King Saul wanted answers as these matters weighed heavily upon his heart: What was Israel to do? What was he as the king of Israel to do? Would God deliver Israel and himself from their enemies? If they would be delivered from the Philistines, how would God accomplish this victory for them?

Although Saul wanted answers to these questions, as the opening verses above indicate, God was not giving Saul any answers (1 Samuel 28:6). Why? The answer is Saul’s continued rebellion against God. God had told Saul He had rejected him from being King of Israel (1 Samuel 15:26). He told Saul He was going to tear the kingdom from him (1 Samuel 15:28). Now it was time for the fulfillment of this prophecy of Saul’s kingdom being torn away from him.

However, Saul had refused to accept God’s judgment about the kingdom being taken away from him. He had spent a long time trying to kill David the man who God had chosen to succeed him as king (1 Samuel 16:7, 13). Now that God was no longer answering him, Saul continues his rebellion against God by turning to a spiritualist, a woman who was “a medium at En Dor”, to seek answers to his questions about his future (1 Samuel 28:7). She will conduct a séance and, to her surprise, conjure up Samuel who had previously died (1 Samuel 28:14). Samuel will tell Saul that he will die in battle along with his sons and the kingdom will be given over to David (1 Samuel 28:15-19).

In applying this passage to our lives, Saul is an example of how God refuses to hear the prayers of those who continue in their evil ways and refuse to repent. I wonder if David had Saul in mind when by inspiration he wrote, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:15-16). God will not listen to those who persist in rebellion against Him!

On the other hand, what a blessing it is that God takes the time and gives His attention to the prayers of His people who seek Him with their whole heart. He eyes are upon them! His ears are open to their cry! Even though God is controlling the universe and ruling in the kingdoms of men, when I call upon Him in prayer, He is not a distracted listener. His eyes are not upon all these other things. His attention is focused upon me and what my heart has to say to Him! It is comforting to have the assurance that the Ruler of the universe listens to my cry to Him. Today, I rejoice that as I strive to be righteous before God that God attentively listens to me and answers my prayers!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” (Psalm 66:18-20)

3/19/19 “Seeking Vengeance” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 24-26)

“Now it happened afterward that David's heart troubled him because he had cut Saul's robe. And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord’" (1 Samuel 24:5-6).

As David continues to flee from Saul’s jealous rage, David hides out in a cave in the Wilderness of En Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1). Saul pursues David to this area; but, he is unaware that David and his men are hidden in the cave. He goes to “attend to his needs” (i.e. “goes to the bathroom”) in the cave. This presents a “perfect opportunity” for David to kill Saul and for David to relieve himself of this continual threat that Saul has posed on his life (1 Samuel 24:2-3). David’s men strongly encourage him to take advantage of this opportunity and kill Saul. Although David has the opportunity to kill Saul, he only cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4).

However, as the opening verses above indicate, as soon as David did this his heart troubled him. He realizes he had stretched his hand against God’s anointed. He acknowledges that he had thoughts of trying to execute vengeance against King Saul. Saul had been anointed by God to be king over Israel. After having cut off the corner of Saul’s robe, David conscience bothered him because he felt it was God’s place to execute vengeance, not his (1 Samuel 24:5-6).

David will have additional opportunities to kill Saul (e.g. 1 Samuel 26:1-25), but he restrains himself from doing so. He turns to God to look for justice for himself against King Saul. On a later occasion David will say regarding seeking vengeance on Saul, “"As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed…” (I Samuel 26:10-11). David knew that somehow, someway, God would see that David was given justice against Saul. However, David would not allow himself to raise his hand against the one whom God had anointed.

What would I have done if I were in David’s shoes? I admit it would be a strong temptation to want to avenge myself against this madman chasing me all over the country even though God had anointed him to be king! I would have a strong desire to want to put an end to Saul’s continually creating havoc in my life!

Do you ever struggle with thoughts of vengeance? It is difficult to watch some of the events in the world and see all the injustice that happens and not want to step in and destroy those who cause these things to happen. For example, it is difficult to hear of a child being abused and not have thoughts of vengeance of wanting to kill the person who is causing the abuse. However, is it my place to exact vengeance?

I rejoice that God doesn’t expect me to execute vengeance. He expects me to commit vengeance to him. Today, I will strive to guard my heart from the temptation to execute vengeance on my enemies!

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

3/18/19 “Strengthening Your Friend’s Hand in God” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 21-23)

“Then Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.’ So, the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house” (1 Samuel 23:16-18).

Carole King wrote and sang a hit called, “You’ve Got a Friend” of which many of us are familiar. We appreciate the blessing it is to have a friend to give you support in your hour of need.

David had such a need for a friend. Regarding the background of the above passage of Scripture, David had fled for his life from before King Saul. Saul was seeking after David every day in an attempt to kill him (1 Samuel 23:14). Saul was using all the available resources at his disposal to get David. On the other hand, David realized the great challenge he faced in trying to escape from King Saul. Earlier, he had told his good friend Jonathan, who was also Saul’s own son, “But truly as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). David was in a desperate situation. He was getting discouraged from being on the run from King Saul.

Can you imagine how David must have felt? He couldn’t stay in one location very long because Saul was constantly on the hunt for him. Every time he went to a new area he had to wonder if someone was going to try to turn him over to King Saul. Doeg the Edomite had done this and had killed the priests of Nob, who had unknowingly helped David in his efforts to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 22:9-19). Those of the city of Keilah, whom David had rescued from the Philistines, were also going to turn their back on David and deliver him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:1-12). David must have felt there was no one he could trust. David gives us a glimpse of how he felt during this period of his life when he writes, “Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4).

David felt like no one cared for his soul. However, as the open verses above indicate, his friend Jonathan did care for his soul. Jonathan was a faithful friend to David. He risked much to remain a friend to David. He risked inheriting the kingdom from his father Saul because of his friendship with David. In fact, Jonathan accepted the fact that David would become king and not himself (1 Samuel 23:17). He even risked his own life when on one occasion his father Saul had thrown a spear at him because he was angry with his son for befriending David (1 Samuel 20:33). Yet, in spite of all of this, Jonathan’s commitment to being a friend to David did not waver.

When David needed Jonathan the most, Jonathan went to him and “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). A lot of people have friends whose company they enjoy. They have similar interests. Some people have friends who will lead them astray into self-destructive practices such as drinking alcohol and doing drugs. But, Jonathan was a friend who helped David in his walk with God. In his relationship with David, Jonathan personified Carole King’s song, “You’ve Got a Friend”.

Today, I rejoice that God has given me friends and brethren in Christ who “strengthen my hand in God”. I am grateful for friends who encourage me and uplift me to continue in the faith. It is a blessing to have friends with whom I can talk about God and His working in our lives. Today, I will strive to be a friend to others around me and strengthen their hands in God!

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

3/17/19 “The Destructive Effects of Jealousy” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 18-20)

“So, the women sang as they danced, and said: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten- thousands.’ Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten-thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So, Saul eyed David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 18:7-9).

Do you ever struggle with feelings of jealousy upon hearing the success other’s may be experiencing? Jealousy is a temptation with which many of us battle. What are the harmful effects of jealousy if we allow it to gain a foothold in our lives?

After David returns from killing the giant Goliath, David and Saul’s son Jonathan strike up a great friendship (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Saul also puts David in charge of some of his soldiers. David conducts himself honorably and “behaves very wisely” in this new position (1 Samuel 18:5, cf. v.14, 30). Saul had found a great, faithful servant in David.

However, Saul knew God was going to take the kingdom away from him because of his own sin (1 Samuel 15:26-28). Centuries earlier, God’s servant Moses found himself in a similar position as King Saul. God had told Moses he was not going to lead His people into the Promised Land because of his sin (Numbers 20:12). Moses had accepted this judgment from God and he continued to lead Israel through the wilderness years. Moses faithfully served God during the remainder of his days upon this earth even though he knew he would not be the one leading Israel into the Promised Land.

King Saul, however, did not embrace God’s taking the kingdom away from him and giving it to another. He fought against the directive from God. He became very insecure. As the opening verse above indicates, King Saul becomes very jealous when he hears the women praising David for killing ten-thousands and ascribing to him the killing of only thousands. Instead of celebrating David for being a faithful servant who had helped him in defeating their enemies, the Philistines, Saul chose to be jealous of David’s success. He casts the eye of jealousy upon David (1 Samuel 18:7-9).

Saul’s jealousy had destructive effects not only upon himself, but upon his relationships with those around him. His jealousy over David created a breech in his relationship with David as he attempted to kill David by throwing a spear at David as David was trying to comfort Saul with music (1 Samuel 18:10-11). Later, Saul devised a plan to have David fight against the Philistines in hopes that the Philistines will kill David for him (1 Samuel 18:18-27). Following this, Saul’s own daughter Michal was forced to choose between her father Saul and her husband David as she helped David to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Furthermore, Saul’s jealousy over David created a rift between himself and his son Jonathan as Saul, in his jealous rage, throws a spear at his own son Jonathan as Jonathan defended David before his father (1 Samuel 20:30-33). Saul’s jealousy over David had disastrous effects upon himself and his relationships with others.

When I let jealousy gain a foothold in my life, does it not also have disastrous effects upon my attitude and begin to affect my relationships with others? Today, I will rejoice that I can feel secure that God loves me and cares for me. Instead of feeling jealous over the success of others, I will celebrate their success and rejoice with them. I will learn to be content with how God has blessed me! I will not give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold in my life by being jealous of others!

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1Timothy 6:6-7).

3/16/19 “Facing Peer Pressure” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 15-17)

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice’” (1 Samuel 15:24).

We often speak to our children about the dangers of letting their friends influence the choices they make for themselves? We call this peer pressure. But, as adults don’t we also face peer pressure?

Through the prophet Samuel, God had commanded King Saul and the Israelite army to destroy all of the Amalekites including all their animals (1 Samuel 15:1-3). God had granted them a great victory over their enemies, but Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag and some of the animals (1 Samuel 15:7-9). Why did Saul do this and would he face consequences for not obeying God’s command?

God sends the prophet Samuel to confront Saul about Saul’s failure to carry out God’s command (1 Samuel 15:10-12). As Samuel arrives, King Saul says, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13). It appears Saul had convinced himself he had actually performed God’s command to destroy all the Amalekites and their animals when in fact he had not (cf. 1 Samuel 15:15, 20-21).

However, Samuel knew the truth of Saul’s failure to keep God’s command. Samuel says, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). The noise of the sheep and oxen announced to all that Saul had forsaken God’s instruction.

Why had Saul not kept God’s command? After initially denying he had done anything wrong and trying to justify his actions (cf. 1 Samuel 15:15, 20-21), Saul tells Samuel why he failed to keep God’s command to destroy all the Amalekites. As the opening verse above indicates, he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul gave in to PEER PRESSURE.

Often, we tend to think that teenagers are the only ones who face peer pressure. However, as we see with King Saul, adults face peer pressure as well. For example, why don’t more Christians stand up for what the Bible says regarding the essentiality of a person needing to be baptized in order to be saved when talking amongst a group of “believers” from other “Christian” churches? Why don’t more followers of Christ take a stand when in the company of their coworkers or friends with regard to what God’s Word has to say about such sins as homosexuality? The answer is: Peer pressure. We feel the pressure from our peers not to say or do anything which is contrary to popular opinion!

I am not suggesting we should go out and intentionally upset people by seeing how blunt we can be with regard to the teachings of the Bible. I believe God expects us to use wisdom and to choose our words carefully. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We should use wisdom and discretion regarding the words we use and the tone in which we use them when trying to teach others God’s Word.

On the other hand, we need to be conscious that we face peer pressure today and need to challenge ourselves not to give into it. I rejoice that God has given me His Word. I acknowledge that peer pressure is a real temptation that I face. Today, I will strive today to keep all of God’s commands and not give into peer pressure.

“I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings and will not be ashamed. And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:46-47).

3/15/19 “The Lord Will Work for Us” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 12-14)

“Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few’” (I Samuel 14:6).

These words were spoken by Jonathan, the son of King Saul of Israel. Israel had been oppressed by their enemies, the Philistines. So great was the oppression that Israel had no blacksmiths in the land to make them weapons. There were few swords and spears to be found in all of Israel (1 Samuel 13:19-22). Furthermore, the Philistines had created such fear among Israel that people were literally hiding in caves, rocks, and thickets (1 Samuel 13:6).

Even Jonathan’s own father, King Saul, had allowed the fear of the Philistines to lead him to violate God’s command to wait for Samuel to come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Samuel 10:8). Because he feared the people would be scattered from him for fear of the Philistines, Saul forsook God’s command and “felt compelled” to offer the sacrifices himself (1 Samuel 13:10-12). Because of this, Saul’s kingdom would be taken away from him (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

It is with this background in mind that Jonathan makes this great statement of faith in God as is seen in the opening verse above. It appeared everything was stacked against Israel being able to be delivered from the oppression of the Philistines. All around, in every direction things appeared hopeless. Israel did not have enough weapons. The morale of the army was so bad that people were hiding in caves. Their new leader, King Saul, was beginning to panic under pressure.

However, Jonathan chose not to look around him at the fearfulness of the people, the inadequacy of materials for the army, or the weaknesses of its leader. Instead, he looked up in faith to God and God’s ability to deliver. He believed God was not restrained in any way by all these circumstances in His ability to save Israel. God could save by many or by few!

Do you ever find yourself dwelling upon the apparent hopeless circumstances in which you may find yourself? So many times, we look around at the problems we face and become full of fear and anxiety. We panic and try to solve our problems all by ourselves which leads us to say and do things we regret. Like King Saul, we usually get ourselves into more problems when we focus upon our inadequate ability to deliver ourselves from our trying circumstances.

It is during these trying times, that we need to have the faith of Jonathan. God used Jonathan to accomplish a great victory for Israel. Jonathan defeated the Philistine garrison he faced (1 Samuel 14:7-14). This encouraged the Israelites to rise up out of their caves and join in the battle and defeat their enemies (1 Samuel 14:15-23). This great victory all began because of one man’s great faith in God!

Today, I will strive to place my faith fully in God. I rejoice that “nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few”. The Lord will work for us!

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills-- From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

3/14/19 “Okay, Have It Your Way” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 8-11)

“Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles’" (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

The prophet Samuel had faithfully judged Israel (1 Samuel 7:15-17). Later in life he made his sons judges over Israel, but they turned aside from God and were corrupt (1 Samuel 8:1-3). The elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:4-5).

Although he was disappointed, Samuel prayed to the Lord about this (1 Samuel 8:6). God told him, “Heed to voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Even though God viewed this request as the people’s rejection of Him as their king, God allowed the people to have a king.

God told Samuel to “solemnly forewarn” Israel by showing them the “behavior of the king” who will reign over them. Samuel does this (1 Samuel 8:9-17). Samuel ends this warning by describing the consequences of Israel’s desire to have a king: “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (I Samuel 8:18).

As the opening verse above indicates, Israel insisted on having a king so that they can “be like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:19). Being like the other nations was more important to them than being in a right relationship with God. God used Samuel to anoint Saul king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:1-10:27).

Saul’s reign over Israel started off well with the defeat of the Ammonites who had encamped against Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-15), but things quickly began to unravel as Saul disobeyed God’s commands and God rejected him from being king over Israel. Future kings would lead the kingdom further and further away from God, into idolatry, into alliances with heathen nations, and eventually into captivity by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

God rules the nations. He works His will and accomplishes all His purposes. His power is immense! Yet, He doesn’t take away man’s power to make his own decisions, even when those decisions (i.e. like Israel’s in wanting a king) are incredibly foolish and self-destructive. Even though He doesn’t desire to see me hurt, God will not prevent me from being stupid when I insist on being so!

God never stopped loving his people because they chose to have a king. He disagreed with their choice and viewed it as a rejection of Him. He knew their decision would bring tragic consequences. Yet, He knew He still loved them. He would continue to show them love by sending prophets to them to attempt to get them to turn from the errors of their ways before eventually his longsuffering with them runs out and their sinful behavior leads to the judgment of captivity for them.

I rejoice that God loves me even when I insist on making dumb choices! This doesn’t remove the consequences I will face as a result of my choices, but it doesn’t remove God’s love for me either. I will strive to make the choices that are in accordance with God’s Will for me and not contrary to it.

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

3/13/19 “Here I Raise My Ebenezer…” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 4-7)

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12).

How often do you reflect upon the various ways God has helped you in your life? If you are like me it is so tempting to get so wrapped up in the activities of daily living that you fail to take time to rejoice in how God has blessed you in helping you through your journey of life.

Samuel grew up and became a great prophet of God (1 Samuel 3:19-21). His mentor Eli, along with Eli’s sons, died following the capture of the ark of God by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:11, 18). After being plagued by God, the Philistines returned the ark of God to the Israelites (1 Samuel 6:11-21).

Samuel showed an excellent spiritual leadership by leading the people to put away their idols (1 Samuel 7:3-6). The Philistines had gathered together to fight Israel and Israel became very afraid. However, to Israel’s credit, they called upon their leader, Samuel, to cry out to “the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8). Samuel did this and offered sacrificial offerings to God (1 Samuel 7:9). The Lord caused a great thunder to occur which confused the Philistines and God’s people defeated their enemies (1 Samuel 7:10-11).

Following this victory, Samuel set up his “Ebenezer” as the opening verse above indicates (1 Samuel 7:12). One of the hymns we sing in church is called “O, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. The 2nd verse of that song begins: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy great help I’ve come…”. I had sung this song for years not understanding the significance of these words. The only “Ebenezer” I knew before was Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

The word “Ebenezer” comes from a Hebrew word which simply means, “stone of help”. An Ebenezer, then, is simply a monumental stone set up to signify the great help that God granted the one raising the stone (Kyle Butt, “Here I raise my Ebenezer,” Apologetics Press). Samuel was setting up this stone as I way of expressing his gratitude for God’s help in directing Israel thus far and he took time to give God glory.

As I take time to ponder the words of Samuel following the raising up of his “Ebenezer”, when he says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12), I am filled with a sense of awe as I reflect how God has helped me thus far in my life. God has led me out of my sinful past and into the salvation found in His Wonderful Son Jesus (Colossians 1:13). He has shown tremendous longsuffering with me as I struggled with my own weaknesses and failures in attempting to follow Him. The Lord has led me through valleys during challenging trials I have faced and He has led me to high mountaintops and allowed me to experience times of great joy. Today, I rejoice and glorify God and say, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I’ve come…”. God is the Fount of Every Blessing!

“One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore, I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord” (Psalm 27:4-6).

3/12/19 “Feeling ‘Bitterness of Soul’?” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 1-3)

“Then she made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head’" (1 Samuel 1:11).

These above words were spoken by Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2). She lived during the period of the Judges when men were not following God’s laws but each was “doing what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Her husband Elkanah had another wife named Peninnah who had children. Peninnah tormented Hannah because Hannah had no children (1 Samuel 1:6). Because of these circumstances, Hannah’s heart was grieved. She experienced “bitterness of soul” (1 Samuel 1:7-10).

Even during this dark period of Israel’s history, Elkanah still led his family to Shiloh (i.e. where the tabernacle of God was) to worship God (1 Samuel 1:3). It is while she is here that Hannah makes the vow mentioned in the opening verse above (1 Samuel 1:11). Eli the priest confirms that God will fulfill this vow Hannah makes (1 Samuel 1:12-18). She bears a son, Samuel (1 Samuel 1:19-20).

Hannah keeps Samuel at home until he is weaned. She then brings him to the tabernacle to fulfill her vow to dedicate him to God’s service (1 Samuel 1:21-28). After singing a song praising God for all He had done (1 Samuel 2:1-10), Hannah dedicates her son to God by leaving him in the care of Eli (1 Samuel 2:11, 18). Each year when she comes to the tabernacle to worship, she brings Samuel a new robe she has made (1 Samuel 2:19). God blesses her with 3 more sons and 2 daughters (1 Samuel 2:20-21). Samuel is called by God and becomes a great prophet in Israel (1 Samuel 3:1-21).

What a great woman of faith Hannah was! As she experienced “bitterness of soul” (1 Samuel 1:10), she did not allow this to make her become a “bitter woman”. Instead, she cast this pain upon the Lord because she knew God cared for her (1 Peter 5:7). She made an incredibly challenging vow to God that if God gave her a child, she would dedicate that child to God’s service all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:11). More importantly, she kept this vow. She must have experienced some pain at having to watch Samuel grow up away from her. It must have been tempting for her to want to take him home with her each year she went up to the tabernacle to worship. But she didn’t. She showed her tender love for this child by making him a new robe each year. Samuel knew his mother loved him, but he also knew that his mother was fulfilling the vow she had made to God.

As I think about Hannah and us today, I can’t help but think how many of us have “relationship issues” that we face. Some of us are single and long for a spouse. Others are married and strongly desire to have children, but have been unable to have children thus far. There are still others of us are married with children and have struggles with our relationships within our families such as communication problems with our spouses or rebellion amongst our children.

This can lead us to feel “bitterness of soul” as did Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10). To her credit she gave this “bitterness” over to God and will eventually say, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord…” (1 Samuel 2:1). Are you struggling with feeling “bitterness of soul” because you desire a relationship with someone (e.g. having a spouse or a child) or you are having challenges within a relationship that already exists? Follow the example of Hannah and give this “bitterness” over to God. Today, I will rejoice that God is willing to bear my “bitterness of soul”!

“Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I WAIT all the day” (Psalm 25:4-5).

3/11/19 “A Virtuous Woman (And Man)” (Daily Bible Reading: Ruth 2-4)

“And he said, ‘Who are you?’ So, she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.’ Then he said, ‘Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman’” (Ruth 3:9-11).

After returning with her mother-in-law Naomi to a foreign land she had never known, Ruth enters this land with no idea of how she is going to provide for herself. She and Naomi are widows. They did not have any kind of social program such as Social Security to take care of them. She begins to glean the leftover crops from a field owned by Boaz, one of Naomi’s dead husband’s relatives (Ruth 2:1-3). Boaz is an honorable man and goes out of his way to fulfill the way of the Old Testament law to provide for the poor and the stranger (Leviticus 19:9-10). Boaz instructs his servants to make sure they purposely let additional grain fall from their bundles so that Ruth may glean it (Ruth 2:4-23).

Naomi, Ruth’s mother in law, rejoices in this and seeks a way of providing future security for Ruth (Ruth 3:1). Naomi is well aware of a law of God that required that when a man died without children, his closest relative was to marry the widowed wife and raise up children for that man so that his land inheritance would not be lost and that his name would not be forgotten (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Naomi tells Ruth to clean up herself, go to where Boaz was winnowing barley, and lay down at his feet after he falls to sleep. Naomi instructs that when Boaz wakes up, Ruth is to ask him to carry out this Old Testament duty and care for her as the widowed wife of his close relative (Ruth 3:1-7).

As the opening verses above indicate, Boaz is willing to do this. However, there is a closer relative to Ruth’s dead husband than he. Boaz must first give him the opportunity to carry out this obligation (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 3:8-18). However, the closer relative cannot carry it out (Ruth 4:1-12). Boaz marries Ruth, Naomi rejoices, and they all, literally, live happily ever after (Ruth 4:13-22).

This is a beautiful story showing God’s providential care for those who commit themselves to Him. It is an account about the innocent love of a man and a woman. It is the interaction of 2 people, Boaz and Ruth, who conduct themselves in an honorable way which glorifies God. It is a romance which should encourage all the unmarried among God’s people that if they will commit themselves to following God, and if it is God’s Will for them, He will provide for them a mate.

How different is this story from what we see how people “fall in love” according to the scripts that come from the movies coming out of Hollywood. Hollywood has men and women playing games with each other, jumping into sexual relations on the first date, and never facing any challenges in their relationship once they are “together”. Unfortunately, many young people (i.e. even among those professing to be followers of Christ) buy into Hollywood’s version of “falling in love”.

I encourage young people to study this great story of the romance of Boaz and Ruth. It is a powerful example of “true love”, dedication, and purity. I appreciate the challenges young people face to keep pure and conduct themselves with honor in their relationships with the opposite sex. Today, I will rejoice in my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who seek to follow the example of Boaz and Ruth and conduct themselves with honor in their relationships with the opposite sex.

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

3/10/19 “Commitment to the Broken-hearted” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 20-Ruth 1)

But Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17).

When your heart has been broken by someone or something that has happened in your life or you are battling with feelings of depression, how do you want people to respond to you? How do you react to others whose hearts have been broken or who struggle with being depressed?

The opening words above were spoken by Ruth, the great grandmother of King David (Matthew 1:5-6). What a great lady she was. I wonder about the influence she may have had on David and him becoming “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).

Today, these words are often used in weddings as part of the vows grooms and bride make to each other. It is fitting because it shows the commitment that those who are truly in love should have for one another. It speaks of a beautiful dedication that one person has to love another unconditionally.

However, it is important to realize the context of these words. Earlier, Naomi and her husband had left Bethlehem in Judah and went to the land of Moab because of a great famine (Ruth 1:1). While there her 2 sons each marry women of Moab. One of these women was Ruth (Ruth 1:2-4). Ruth had recently lost her own husband who had died (Ruth 1:5). Her mother-in-law Naomi had lost not only her own husband, but also both of her sons. The circumstances of life had greatly burdened Noami and she was severely depressed. She felt like “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). After she returns with Ruth to her homeland, Naomi tells her people, “Do not call me Noami (i.e. meaning “Pleasant”); call me Mara (i.e. meaning “Bitter”), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). To say the least, Naomi was very depressed about all that had happened to her. Her heart was broken.

When Ruth says the opening words above, she is not speaking to someone who is positive, encouraging, and fun to be around. She is speaking to someone who is downtrodden, bitter, and discouraged. I believe we can all understand Naomi’s feeling this way. This isn’t meant to condemn Naomi for feeling this way. I can certainly understand and empathize with her feelings. The point is: Ruth was choosing to love someone who wasn’t exactly the easiest person to love at that moment. Loving those who struggle with depression isn’t always easy, but it is what they need the most. They need to be loved for who they are. They need to know how much God loves them. Ruth is a great and powerful example of choosing to love someone who is fighting with severe depression.

Who do you know in your life who is battling with depression? Follow Ruth’s example and show this kind of love and commitment to them. Perhaps, you yourself are battling with depression or you are brokenhearted; May those around you show you this kind of love. Most of all, remember this is the kind of commitment God has for us in His love for us. Today, I will strive to love others with the kind of love and commitment Ruth showed Naomi and rejoice that nothing, even if I am struggling with being broken-hearted, can separate me from the love God has for me!

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

3/9/19 “Doing What Is Right in Our Own Eyes” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 17-19)

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

In the book of Judges, we see Israel moving further and further from God. At times, they repent and God provides a judge such as Gideon, Jephthah or Samson to deliver them. After being delivered each time, once again God’s people turn their back on Him and fall back into sin. By the time of the end of the book of Judges, there is no longer a desire on the part of the people of God to repent and turn back to God; instead, “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

In fact, one can see just how far away from God they had departed. A man Micah sets up an idol and has a Levite to serve as his priest (Judges 17:1-13). Then some from the tribe of Dan come and steal this image and take the Levite and have him serve as their priest because they conclude it is better for the Levite to serve as priest for a whole tribe than for just one person (Judges 18:1-31).

Then, another Levite takes for himself a concubine and on his return trip home he comes to the city of Gibeon located within the tribe of Benjamin. While there some “perverted men” surround the house where he is lodging and want to “know him carnally” (Judges 19:22). Instead, they take his concubine and abuse her to the point of death (Judges 19:25-28). The Levite then takes the dead body of his concubine, divides it into 12 parts and sends these parts to the tribes of Israel (Judges 19:29-30). This leads to civil war and most of the tribe of Benjamin is destroyed (Judges 20:1-48).

Because almost all of Benjamin is eliminated, the Israelites try to salvage the tribe by providing wives for the surviving Benjamites from one of the cities that did not go up to fight against them, Jabesh-Gilead (located within the tribe of Gad). All of the inhabitants of this city were destroyed except for the young women who had not “known a man intimately” (Judges 21:1-11). These women were given to the surviving Benjamites (Judges 21:12-15). Because there were not enough of these young virgins for all the surviving Benjamites, the remaining Benjamites were allowed to “catch a wife for himself” at one of the feasts of the Lord at Shiloh and take her back to Benjamin (Judges 21:16-23). Israel had degenerated to the point of allowing their daughters to be kidnapped.

The book of Judges ends with: “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This is a very fitting end that accurately describes Israel’s condition: Each was doing what he or she believed was right. They were not following God!

As I read this, it is easy to get depressed because this shows in very graphic terms what happens when people turn their back on God. Paul described what happened to the Gentiles who turned their backs on God: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:24-25). When people turn their backs on seeking after God, they begin to act in very cruel ways. There is no set of values they seek to follow. Each does what is right in their eyes!

However, instead of getting depressed about what happens to men when they depart from God, I can rejoice God has given me the opportunity to know him. He has given me His Word to enlighten me and show me how I should walk upon this earth. God is my king and I will follow Him!

“With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!” (Psalm 119:10-11).

3/8/19 “Incredibly Strong and Weak” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 14-16)

“Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, ‘Entice him, and find out where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and every one of us will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver’” (Judges 16:4-5).

Because of the evil they had done, God delivered Israel over to the Philistines who oppressed them for 40 years (Judges 13:1). God raised up Samson to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:2-25). Samson is mentioned as being a great man of faith (Hebrews 11:32), but he is also a man who struggled with his own weaknesses, sexual temptations, which eventually led to his demise.

As the opening verses above indicate, Samson loved a Philistine woman named Delilah (Judges 16:4). Earlier, he had married a Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-4). After his wife was given to another man and eventually killed by the Philistines (Judges 15:1-6), Samson goes to the Philistine city of Gaza and has sexual relations with a harlot at the time he was judging Israel (Judges 15:20; 16:1). He then enters a relationship with Delilah who entices him to reveal the secret of his strength (Judges 16:15-18). She then has his head shaven. Samson’s strength leaves him as the Lord departs from him. The Philistines capture him and put out his eyes (Judges 16:19-21).

As I look at this account, it is easy to see that although Samson was physically incredibly strong, spiritually he was incredibly weak when it came to his ability to withstand sexual temptations. Because he did not control these sexual desires, but rather let these desires control him, time and time again, we see him committing sexual sins (cf. James 1:14-15).

As I consider myself and how this applies to me, I need to be mindful of areas in my life where I am spiritually weak and be aware of sinful desires with which I may struggle and need to keep under control. I need to realize how the devil uses these desires to lead me astray. All of us struggle with inappropriate desires that lead to sin. Samson struggled with sexual desires. Delilah struggled with love of money. She was willing to hand Samson, a man who loved her (Judges 16:4) over to the Philistines for 1100 pieces of silver (Judges 16:5). The sinful desires with which you struggle most are probably not exactly the same ones with which I struggle.

Even though he struggled with these desires and fell into sin, God was still able to use Samson to accomplish his purposes to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 16:4). Even though Samson time and time again fell into sexual sin, he still displayed great faith in God (Hebrews 11:32) when at the end of his life he calls on God to give him strength one last time that he may push the pillars of the temple of the Philistines down causing its destruction, his death, and the death of 3000 Philistines (Judges 16:28-30). None of this excuses Samson’s sin. It just shows that God is able to use people who struggle with their weaknesses and display faith in Him to accomplish great things.

Today, I will rejoice that God can use me even though I struggle with my own weaknesses. I will strive to guard against temptation, especially being mindful of my own inappropriate desires and how these lead to sin. I will seek the way of escape from temptation which God has provided!

“Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

3/7/19 “Fighting Among Ourselves” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 11-13)

“Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!’” (Judges 12:1)

Because of their sin, Israel had been oppressed by the Ammonites for 18 years (Judges 10:7-9). When God could no longer endure the misery that was happening to His people Israel (Judges 10:16), following their repentance, God raised up another judge, Jephthah, to deliver Israel from the Ammonite oppression (Judges 10:10-11:28). Following a needless, hasty vow made by Jephthah, in which offers to sacrifice whatever comes out of his house to meet him when he returns in peace to his home from fighting, God gives Jephthah victory over the people of Ammon (Judges 11:29-33).

Upon returning home from battle, Jephthah’s daughter is the first to come out of his house. Even though God did not expect him to do this, all indications are Jephthah followed through with keeping this rashly made vow to God and sacrificed his daughter (Judges 11:34-40). This is further proof of how far the Israelite nation had fallen from God. Their leaders of the nation were less than ideal.

As the opening verse above indicates, instead of celebrating the victory God had given Israel over the Ammonites, one of the tribes of Israel, Ephraim, is upset because they were had not participated in this victory (Judges 12:1). They are so upset they threaten to burn Jephthah’s house down!

Jephthah mentions that he had called upon them, but they had not come to help. So, he went to battle against the Ammonites without them (Judges 12:2-3). As a result, Jephthah and his men fight against the men of Ephraim in a civil war in which 42,000 men of Ephraim are killed (Judges 12:4-6).

How utterly senseless all of this was! I wonder how often God’s people today find themselves fighting over senseless things. Unfortunately, I have been part of a church recovering from a church split. Over the years, I have also seen brethren leave the church because their feelings had been hurt or their pride wounded. I have also witnessed brethren leading rebellions within the church.

I appeal to my brethren that we need to remember who the enemy is. It is Satan and his allies. It is not our own brethren! We may disagree at times, but we are still brethren. With the exception of those who teach, we may even disagree on matters about which the Bible teaches. As fellow “disciples” or learners” we need to have patience with each other and give each other room to grow.

For example, the apostle Paul could work with a church in which the members had so many doctrinal misunderstandings such as the church at Corinth (e.g. doubts about the resurrection, misunderstanding about the use of spiritual gifts, etc.) and still call them brethren. This doesn’t mean we can’t challenge each other regarding “doctrinal issues” or rebuke false teachers. We should. Those who teach are held to a higher standard and must ensure they are teaching the truth (James 3:1). But, above all we must conduct ourselves in a spirit of love remembering they are our brethren!

Today, I rejoice in my brethren. They are fellow soldiers of the cross who are striving to serve Jesus and implement His Will in their lives. I will be considerate of them and give them room to grow as they, like me, mature in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:9-10).

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

3/6/19 “O My Lord, How Can I Save Israel?” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 6-10)

“Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?’ So, he said to Him, ‘O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house’ (Judges 6:14-15).

Once again because of Israel’s turning their backs on God, God allows Israel to be oppressed by their heathen neighbors, the Midianites (Judges 6:1-6). After sending a prophet to Israel informing them of their sin (Judges 6:7-10), the Angel of the Lord comes to Gideon and informs him that God is going to use him to deliver Israel from the heavy hand of the Midianites (Judges 6:11-14).

As the opening verses above indicate, Gideon reacts to this opportunity with great doubt. He looks at himself and sees by his own power he is completely unable to do such a task. He is from the weakest clan in his tribe of Manasseh and he is the least among those in his father’s house (Judges 6:15). How can he possibly save his people from the Midianites?

Like many of us, Gideon looked to himself for the power to accomplish this task. He did not look up to God. His faith in God at this point is very weak. God is going to work with Gideon to increase his faith. God does this by: (1) causing fire to come out of a rock that consumes a sacrifice Gideon had prepared on an altar (Judges 6:17-24), (2) challenging Gideon to prepare a 2nd sacrifice on an altar he will make after destroying his own father’s idolatrous altar (Judges 6:25-32), (3) causing a fleece of wool to be wet with the morning dew while the ground around it remained dry (Judges 6:36-38), the next day causing the fleece of wool to remain dry while the ground all around it was wet with the morning dew (Judges 6:39-40) and, then, having Gideon and his companion go down into the Midianite camp and overhear them saying the Israelites would defeat them in battle (Judges 7:8-15).

When I consider this, I am amazed at how God worked with Gideon to help grow his faith. Gideon’s faith would then be put to a great challenge as God would decrease the size of Gideon’s army down to only 300 men with which He would have Gideon lead to defeat a massive army of Midianites (Judges 7:1-7, 16-25). Gideon’s faith in God is mentioned in “Faith’s Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11:32).

As I consider this, I think how God has worked with me over the years to patiently help my faith grow in Him. Even as a Christian, there have been multiple times when facing a challenge, like Gideon, I have looked inwardly to my own weaknesses instead of looking up to God and placing my faith in His power. God has patiently allowed me to continue in my study of His Word, so that my faith in His power may grow (Romans 10:17). God has allowed me to go through challenges so that by these my faith in Him can grow (Romans 5:1-4; James 1:2-4). My faith in Him certainly isn’t perfect. I have not “arrived”. However, I do rejoice that my faith is growing.

From the beginning God told Gideon, “Go in this might of yours…” (Judges 6:14). It appears Gideon interpreted this to mean, by Gideon’s own might. God was not talking about the “might” of Gideon, but the “might” of God. Through God’s power, the Midianites would be defeated: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man’" (Judges 6:16).

God is Almighty! Today, I rejoice in the “might” of God to work in my life in the challenges I face. I will also rejoice in God’s incredible patience with me in working with me to help my faith in Him to grow!

“Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word. Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Psalm 119:17-18).

3/5/19 “Great Resolves of Heart?” (Daily Bible Reading: Judges 3-5)

“And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As Issachar, so was Barak sent into the valley under his command; among the divisions of Reuben there were great resolves of heart. Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, to hear the pipings for the flocks? The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart” (Judges 5:15-16).

The book of Judges is a dark period for God’s people as they continually depart from Him and follow the gods of the people among whom they live (Judges 3:5-7). A cycle is seen throughout the book of Israel departing from the Lord to serve other gods, the Lord God delivering them into the hands of their enemies, Israel repenting and crying out to God for help, God raising up a judge to deliver them, and, then, Israel again departing from the Lord shortly after he delivers them.

The opening verses above are part of the “Song of Deborah” which Deborah and Barak sung on the day God had delivered them from Jabin king of Caanan and his army commander Sisera (Judges 4:6-5:1). Israel had been sold in the hand of Jabin because of their sin against the Lord and Jabin had harshly oppressed Israel (Judges 4:1-3). God had raised Deborah who used Barak and his army to deliver Israel and give them victory of their enemies (Judges 4:4-5).

This song praises such tribes of Israel as Issachar, Zebulun, and Naptali who came out to fought in this battle against Israel’s enemies (Judges 5:15, 18). But the song also has strong words of condemnation for such tribes as Dan, Asher, and Reuben who stayed at home and did not help their brethren in this battle (Judges 5:15-17). The Angel of the Lord was very upset at these tribes for their failure to support their brethren in time of need. Notice what He said: “Curse Meroz, Curse its inhabitants bitterly, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty” (Judges 5:23).

Of the tribe of Reuben, it is said, “there were great resolves of heart” and “great searchings of heart” (Judges 5:15-16). It appears those of the tribe of Reuben “thought” it might be a good idea for Israel to gather together to fight this battle, but their resolved ended with their “thoughts”. They did not put their “thoughts” into “action” and failed to go help in this conflict. Essentially, they told their brethren, “Be warmed and filled” (James 2:15-16), but did not actually lift a finger to help them in this fight!

As Christians, we are part of the body of Christ, the church. Each of us has a role to play so that the body of Christ can function effectively in reaching a lost world for Christ and to encourage our brethren to continue in the faith (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Each of us needs to do “our share” to make the body function effectively (Ephesians 4:16). Am I doing my share or am I like Reuben standing on the sidelines with “great resolves of heart”? Have I discovered my particular ministry or way I can serve in the local church to help build up the body of Christ or am I like Reuben, stuck in the mud having “great searchings of heart”?

I am very thankful for my brethren who strive to serve God, fight God’s battles alongside me, and encourage me. They are doing their share and are an encouragement to me to keep up the faith. If you have not discovered your ministry, speak to one of your church leaders and say to them, “I want to serve. Here am I. Where can I be of help?” I am sure they will eagerly help you discover your ministry for the Lord. Today, I will rejoice that God has blessed me with fellow soldiers of the cross!

“Also. I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’" (Isaiah 6:8).

3/4/19 “…As for Me and My House We Will Serve the Lord” (Daily Bible Reading: Joshua 24-Judges 2)

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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 24:15).

As a parent, do you struggle with trying to lead your family in the ways of the Lord? There are so many things which compete for both our and our children’s time and attention that it can make it very challenging to keep our family’s focus upon serving God. It takes great determination and commitment on the part of Christian parents to set the right example, set the right spiritual values in the home, keep straight the family’s priorities, and instill the self-discipline both within themselves and their children to keep the family moving along the path of faithfully following God.

Joshua pronounced the opening words above during his final address to the children of Israel. As he says farewell to these people with whom he had conquered the Promised Land through God’s power, he challenges them to decide whom they are going to serve. Are they going to go back to the gods of their ancestors which lived beyond the Euphrates River? Would they begin following after the gods of the people among whose land they now dwelt? Joshua urges them to COMMIT THEMSELVES FULLY to serving Jehovah God because that was exactly what he was doing.

It would be a tremendous challenge for those to whom Joshua was speaking to do this. With great eagerness we see the people’s response: “And the people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!’ " (Joshua 24:24). However, saying this was so much easier than actually doing this. This generation remained faithful to the Lord and did serve Him (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7). However, future generations did not commit themselves fully to serving God. A few verses later we read, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). Because of their lack of commitment and focus, these Israelites had allowed the surrounding influences around them to cause them to waver in their walk with God.

As I read these words, I am reminded of the great challenge parents have raising their children. The apostle Paul challenged Christian fathers, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This is such a great challenge for Christian parents today as there are so many “gods” of the land (e.g. entertainment, worldly values, etc.) in which we live that can lead our hearts and the hearts of our children astray.

I have great admiration for fellow Christian parents who have taken up Joshua challenge to lead their family in the ways of God. Although it is very challenging to keep one’s family faithfully following God, it can be done. It takes tremendous spiritual strength which God will give (Philippians 4:13). May God’s blessings be upon you as you say along with me, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Today, I rejoice that God encourages me through such Christian parents as you!

“My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).