Direct Your Heart

The crazy cycle of the judges continues in 1Samuel. Israel had again hit rock bottom. Having been handily defeated by the Philistines in a war undertaken in their own strength, the people of God saw the ark lost and the priesthood wiped out in single day (1Samuel 4). The result? Ichabod–“the glory has departed” (1Sam. 4:21-22).

That’s what happens when the presence of God is viewed more as a good luck charm to be rubbed when convenient than a holy privilege to be pursued. When those who should be mediating on behalf of God have grown fat, lazy, and corrupt, content to mock heaven by saying, in effect, “Not Thy will, but mine be done.” Ichabod.

And while the ark is eventually recovered, the vacuum remains and the oppression continues. And so, says the holy record, “all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” for twenty years (1Sam. 7:2).

They groaned for Jehovah. They mourned to know again the light of His face shining upon them. They cried to heaven to again know the glory. And God graciously responds through Israel’s last judge and first prophet.

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only.

(1Samuel 7:3-4 ESV)

Samuel, led of the LORD, deals with the heart of the matter . . . literally.

Favor would be found in faithfulness. They would again have His face when He again had their heart. Not some divine quid pro quo, where if we do this then God owes us to do that, but a divine dynamic based on a divine reality–God shares His glory with no other (Isa. 42:8). A heart set on idols, is heart that has no room for God’s glory.

It’s a matter of the heart. Jesus said so.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

(Matthew 5:8 ESV)

And so, we need to direct our hearts.

Those serious about returning to the LORD, those sincerely wanting to know His glory in their midst, are those who realize it starts with directing their heart toward Him. First by dealing with the competing gods. Recognizing and removing those idols which, in effect, dethrone God and deplete time and energy otherwise available to pursue His kingdom. Then by determining, as much as lies within them, to serve the LORD only. To so align their motives that, whatever their hand finds to do, their desire is that it all be done for the glory of God.

If we sense the glory’s departed, then perhaps we need to examine our hearts. If we desire to know afresh His face, then maybe we need to clean house and put away the foreign gods inhabiting our hearts. And this too, by God’s grace and through God’s power.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting!

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Direct your heart . . . and He again will deliver you . . . and make known anew His presence.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Rule Breaker

OK . . . someone might need to check my thinking this morning. If I’m heading down some erroneous rabbit trail, let me know. But for some reason, as I’m reading the opening chapters of 1Samuel, I end up fixated on what a rule breaker that kid was.

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

(1Samuel 3:1-3 ESV)

So, as I read the opening verses of chapter 3, this questions pops into my head, “What’s Samuel doing lying down in the temple where the ark of God was?” I know he can’t be in the holies of holies. Maybe it’s not even saying that he was inside the tent, in the holy place where the lamp and showbread were (though maybe it is). But what’s Samuel doing anywhere near the place where the glory of God resides?

First, I don’t think he’s a Levite. 1Samuel 1:1 says his parents were of the tribe of Ephraim. Samuel wasn’t of the tribe God had set apart to minister in the tabernacle– that privilege was specifically given to the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3). Sounds like grounds for disqualification to me.

Then, it occurs to me, he’s just a kid! The “boy” Samuel was ministering to the LORD–that word in the original looks to mean just that, a boy, a lad, a youth. But the Levites had to be 30 years old to enter into service (Number 4). Hmmm . . . . something’s not right here.

And as my “what’s-wrong-with-this-picture” filter continues to scan over these opening chapters of Samuel, I notice he was worshiping before the LORD when just a weaned child (1:28). Really? Can he even understand what he’s worshiping? And as a boy ministering before the LORD (did I mention I don’t think the rules really allowed him to do that?) he’s doing it though he “did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (3:7). The kid knew about God theologically (as much as a kid can know), but had yet to know Him relationally.

So again, what’s the kid doing there?

Well, the divine record says he was growing “in the presence of the LORD” (2:21). That he was becoming great “both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man” (2:26). That he was being shaped and formed to be established throughout Israel as “a prophet of the LORD” (3:20). And, evidently, not because he deserved it, not because he covered all the rules, but because he had been chosen for it by the sovereign determination of the Rule-Giver.

And my fixation on the rules of the game gives way to awe and wonder at another reminder of the grace of God.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

(John 1:12-13 ESV)

God delights in taking those who would seem to break all the rules and lifting them into a place of promise and privilege. Not because of their qualification, but because of His determination. Not because they fit the mold, but because they were created to bear His image. Not because of their bloodline, but because of the shed blood of God’s Son. Not by the will of man, but by the will of God.

God delights in taking those who were still weak, those who were still sinners, those who were enemies, and reconciling them to Himself through His Son’s death (Rom. 5:6-10). But more than just saving them and reconciling them to Himself–though that would be more than enough to worship Him for throughout eternity–He ransoms them that He might make them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession” (1Pet. 2:9). Those who fell short of the technical qualifications, now fully qualified in Christ on the basis of His finished work on the cross and through the power of His risen life from the dead.

Maybe the reason I was led to fixate on Samuel’s “unworthiness” to be so near to the presence of God, is so I’d be reminded of mine.

Another rule breaker.

Feebly ministering before the LORD by His grace alone. Brought near, into the holy place, for His glory alone.


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A Good Thing

Yesterday, I heard of man who doesn’t like singing. Says he’s a believer, but doesn’t like singing . . . not his own, not others. Apparently he’ll listen to instrumental music, but doesn’t listen to, or like being around, melody with lyrics. And to be honest, I wonder how that’s possible? How does a believer not like singing?

Not saying it can’t be. And, I have to admit that I have a pretty strong bias–I’ve always been drawn to music, both pre-salvation and post-salvation. In fact, I can remember the joy when I realized, shortly after turning from the world and turning to Christ, that music wasn’t something that was going to be removed, but something that was going to be exchanged. That, in Christ, the child of God is given a new song to sing.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
   and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.

(Psalm 40:2-3a ESV)

There’s something about redemption that should result in a response. Something about rescue that should evoke rejoicing. Something about being given new life that’s just going to  bear the fruit of a new song.

And this morning I’m reminded it’s a good thing.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
   to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
   and Your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
   to the melody of the lyre.

(Psalm 92:1-3 ESV)

It is good. It is becoming. It is appropriate. It is pleasant and agreeable. It is rich and esteemed valuable. Beneficial. And just plain the right thing to do.

To give thanks to the LORD. To sing praises to His name. To declare His holy character to the music and melody of instruments.

You can’t get any more biblical than singing with the saints.

So how come this guy I heard about doesn’t have a heart tuned to sing His praise? I don’t know. But there might be a clue in the fact it didn’t sound like he didn’t have a Sabbath cycle. Didn’t sound like he was setting aside time weekly to rest, reflect, and yes, rejoice in the mighty works of God on his behalf.

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by Your work;
   at the works of Your hands I sing for joy.

(Psalm 92:4 ESV)

Psalm 92 says it was a song written for the Sabbath. Written for that time when, weekly, God’s people were to pause, turn towards the temple, and remind themselves of God’s work in creation. That it was a good work. That it was a finished work. That it was a work worthy of resting in. Just like the work of salvation.

Guessing that if we don’t slow down regularly to be reminded of, and to remember, His mighty works, it might be kind of hard to sing for joy about those works. That if we don’t see the value of being with other redeemed souls, we might have a problem to know afresh the awe and wonder that comes from considering the One who redeems.

I get that some may just be more wired to worship in song than others, but I also find it kind of sad to think of songless saints.

Because song born praise is a good thing. A good thing to do individually. A good thing to do corporately.

It is good to give thanks to You, LORD . . . and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.

Because of Your grace. All for Your glory.

(Got a few more minutes this morning for a good thing?  Check out Paul Baloche’s take on Psalm 92 by clicking here).

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You Need a King!

Wrapped up Judges this morning. Heavy sigh! What a train wreck.

The book finishes with three accounts of incidents which occurred “in those days, when there was no king in Israel.” Not necessarily chronological, occurring after the days when Samson was judge, but illustrative of the time period after Joshua and his generation had passed, when “there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). Narratives which portray the depths of depravity a people who had forgotten their God descended into.

The stories seem to present a slippery slope. Begins in a home where a man decides he no longer needs to go to the temple in order to worship. Instead he makes his own idol of silver, fashions his own ephod for worship, and ordains one of his own sons to be his priest. He then “upgrades” his customized religiosity when he contracts a wandering Levite to be his own personal intercessor between God and man. And the crazy thing is, rather than see how far he’s strayed, he is almost giddy with how close he thinks he is drawing to God.

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

(Judges 17:13)

But, in those days when there was no king in Israel, what began with an individual soon spreads to an entire clan. And the tribe of Dan, still trying to appropriate the land they had been given, convinces Micah’s priest that if being the priest to the house of one man is good, then being the priest to an entire tribe of Israel has got to be better. And so, they take the priest, and the priest takes the idols and ephod from Micah’s house.

And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

(Judges 19:30-31 ESV)

And so, an entire tribe of promise settles for a cheap imitation of the Promiser.

But hearts that have ceded the throne of God to idols of their own making are prone to cede it further to the desires of hearts steeped in their own depravity. And the final story (ch. 19-21), in those days when there was no king in Israel, is one of unbridled sexual lust,  violence, rape, and human desecration beyond imagination. One resulting in God ordained revenge and destruction, but one of man marred foolish oaths and desperate “Plan B’s” which result in chaos and confusion. And all this because, as the book concludes:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

(Judges 21:25 ESV)

You can’t read the end of Judges without hearing the repeated warning: People! You need a shepherd! You need a ruler! You need a king!

Left to our own self-governance, we can only expect descent into increasing depravity and destruction. Hearts set on idols are hearts disconnected from heaven’s ideal. Worship as it seems right in our own eyes can only lead to worship of the wrong things. Distancing ourselves from the Author of Life can only diminish our sense of the purpose, value, and sanctity of life.

Maybe that’s why something I also read this morning, in Mark’s gospel, is resonating so deeply:

And [Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.”

(Mark 8:29 ESV)

Just as Peter did, we need to affirm allegiance to our King. Regardless of what others say, what scoffers scoff, what skeptics deride, we need to double down that there is a King. And that we, by His divine enabling through the gospel, will set our faces to follow Him and do what is right in His eyes.

In these days, there is a King. The King of heaven who rules over the kingdom of heaven established in the hearts of His people.

How we need a King.

A King of grace. The King of glory.

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Satisfied in the Desert

It’s a prayer of Moses. Kind of amazing that it would have been preserved for so many years and found its way into a collection of songs by David and his worship leaders. The same sort of amazing I should feel when I think about the Scriptures as a whole–breathed of God, preserved of God, presented by God.

And the overall context for this song of Moses seems to clearly be the dirge of desert wandering. Moses acutely aware of what a difficult life looks like and what its ultimate destiny will be–that God returns man to dust (v.3). Moses aware of life’s transience as he sees those who walked out of Egypt being swept away “as with a flood” (v.4). Here one day and gone the next, their lives are like grass which in the evening “fades and withers” (v. 6).

Every evening! Literally! Moses saw some of his people fade and wither every day for forty years.

I don’t think it’s bad math to estimate that about a million souls were told that they wouldn’t enter the promised land and would die in the desert because of their rebellion and refusal to trust God to provide what He had promised (Numbers 13 and 14). Because of their lack of faith and fear of the “giants” who inhabited the land, they would instead learn to trust in God, and to fear Him all the days of their lives, as they sojourned in the desert. And if those million souls died over a period of 40 years, then there were, on average, 70 new graves a day. Every time they broke camp in the morning to move on, they left a small cemetery behind. Seventy people who woke “like grass that is renewed in the morning” would fade and wither by evening.

Talk about a depressing day-in-day-out reality. The years of life being 70, or perhaps 80, determined by up close and personal observation. Their span but “toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (v.10). (Is that where “I’ll Fly Away” came from?)

That was their reality. No wonder Moses asks of the Time-Maker:

So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom.

(Psalm 90:12 ESV)

But Moses also petitioned the God who had been their dwelling place in all generations (v.1) for something else. Something which I think I’ve tended to overlook in past meditations of his song. He asked that they would be satisfied in the desert.

Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love,
   that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

(Psalm 90:14 ESV)

Knowing their lives were short, that they would “end like a sigh” (v.9), Moses asked that each day until then would have a reminder of God’s faithful presence. Aware that the desert they sojourned today would be the same desert they would walk tomorrow, that they would awake each morning to an awareness of God’s steadfast love. That even amidst toil and snare, they would know the mercies of God and rejoice and be glad in the days He had allotted. The manna a daily reminder of His provision. The morning visitation of bread from heaven a reason to be satisfied, even in the desert.

Let Your work be shown to Your servants,
   and Your glorious power to their children.

(Psalm 90:16 ESV)

I’m reminded this morning that we can be satisfied in the desert. That the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, that His mercies never come to an end; that they are new every morning and that great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23).

And ours is not some aimless wandering that comes up short of the promised land, but ours is a pilgrimage with the assurance of victory that one day we will inhabit His glory.

“O death, where is your victory?
   O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV)

Satisfied in the desert.

By His amazing grace. For His eternal glory.

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Promises and Circumstance

I read Psalm 89 and am again reminded of how much I want a story to have a happy ending. If Ethan the Ezrahite’s song had stopped at verse 37, that would have worked for me. If the pivotal phrase, “but now,” had been omitted, I’d be happy to glory in the greatness and goodness of God without trying to reconcile it with the struggles and sorrows we sometimes face.

But, praise God, I’m not the songwriter. And so, I’m left to noodle on this song that exalts the LORD, rehearses His promises, declares His steadfast love and faithfulness, and still asks the question, “How long, O LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever?”

And so, I’m left to chew on the reality of promises and circumstance.

The songwriter comes out of the gates with glorious praise. He sings of the LORD’s steadfast love and makes known His faithfulness to His covenant with David — themes repeated throughout the song (v. 1-4). He then shifts gears and transcends earth to consider the praise of the heavens. Awesome above all who are around Him is our God! The name of the LORD magnified for His mighty arm, His righteousness, and His justice (v.5-14).

And what of the people who walk in the light of the face of such a God? Blessed! That’s what they are. And so, the song shifts to the benefits of being the people of God. They know the festal shout. The exult in His name and, in return, are exalted in His righteousness. He is their shield. He is their help (v.15-18).

The song then returns to the opening theme and rehearses in full length the terms of the promise to David, and to his offspring, concerning his eternal throne (v.19-37).

And then . . . . Ethan slams on the brakes! Throws the wheel wildly to the left and spins the song 180 degrees from laud to lament, from worship to weeping, from praise to the problem. From promises to circumstance.

But now You have cast off and rejected;
   You are full of wrath against Your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with Your servant;
  You have defiled his crown in the dust.

(Psalm 89:38-39 ESV)

Wait a minute! This isn’t where I thought this was going. This isn’t the crescendo I was looking for. Why bring in reality? But the songwriter mournfully pours out his petition before a seemingly silent God (v.38-51).

Don’t know exactly who Ethan the songwriter is, or the timing and occasion of his song, but he knew the promises made to David and was living out a dire circumstance befalling Israel. And it seems, at face value, like all bets are off. That the covenant must have been renounced by heaven as he sees the crown of David’s forever throne defiled and cast into the dust.

Lord, where is Your steadfast love of old,
  which by Your faithfulness You swore to David?

(Psalm 89:49 ESV)

Such is reality, so often, when promises meet circumstance. When the pieces don’t seem to add up. When the story’s not going as we’d like it to. Whether because of sin or just a sin-marred world, our happy ending is interrupted by a cruel or difficult reality.

So what do you say when you don’t know what to make of things? When promises and circumstances don’t seem to line up?

Blessed be the LORD forever!
  Amen and Amen.      (Psalm 89:52 ESV)

That’s how Ethan wraps up the song. Blessing God who is God forever and ever. Knowing that His steadfast love and faithfulness prevail even when the promise seems swallowed up by the circumstance. Believing that what He has said will be accomplished will, in fact, be accomplished . . . punctuating that belief with a double amen!

Verily, verily! Truly, truly! So be it, so be it!

So, while the song didn’t progress the way I might have wanted it to, it finished just as God had intended. Calling His people to trust Him. Assuring His people of His steadfast love and His faithfulness in all the promises and circumstance.

Because of His unfailing grace. For His everlasting glory.

Amen and Amen?

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Living Outside of Legacy

He knew who he was, he just chose to ignore it. Aware of where he’d come from, he didn’t really want it to impact where he was going. Able to articulate his roots, but not all that willing to live in light of who he was. As I chew on the life of Samson this morning, I can’t help but think this guy was a really complex character.

The fingerprints of the Almighty are all over him. From his divine birth announcement to his parents by the angel of the LORD Himself (Judges 13), to God’s calling on his life as an instrument to “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (13:5), to the number of times it is recorded that the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon Samson to allow him to wage war against the enemy (14:6, 14:19, 15:14)–all of it pointing to Samson being God’s man for God’s purposes at God’s time.

But what a train wreck this guy’s life was. Having a divine calling, he subjects it to his own lustful desires. Given a platform for deliverance, he instead plays silly games. Endowed with great power, he recklessly presumes upon it so that he can pursue the world’s pleasures.

God gets done what God wants to get done through Samson’s life, but it’s almost in spite of Samson. Mission accomplished, but the missionary was a mess.

Like I said, kind of complex.

And what’s hit me this morning is the tragedy of living outside of legacy.

And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. . . No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

(Judges 13:3, 5b ESV)

And [Samson] told [Delilah] all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mothers womb.”

(Judges 16:17a ESV)

He knew!!! That’s what hits me between the eyes. When Samson finally caves to Delilah’s incessant, sensual interrogation, when he carelessly open his heart to her, it’s clear he knew who he was and why he had been born. His parents had done their job. They had brought him up “in the way he should go” and when he was at the end of the life he didn’t depart from it (Pr. 22:6). He knew his calling, he knew his legacy. But he chose to live most of his life outside of that legacy.

That he was to be devoted to God was part of his DNA, but he chose to desire foreign women anyway. That he was to pursue holiness had been drilled into him, but defiling himself with what was unclean made more practical sense. That God would have him be a deliverer had been the stuff of bedtime stories as kid, but that he would desire forbidden fruit had been the bedmates for most of his life.

To be sure, you read this story and you’re reminded again that a sovereign God will accomplish His sovereign purposes in whatever sovereign manner He chooses. But you can’t help but wonder, “What if?” What if Samson had been happy to be God’s guy, doing God’s work, God’s way?

Instead, there’s just a sense of tragedy when reflecting on the life of someone who knew better, but lived worse. A mighty man who became a shadow of a figure because he settled for rewards far below his high and holy calling.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

(1Corinthians 10:11-12 ESV)

We too are people of a high and holy calling. Set apart from birth. Our DNA wired for holiness and power through regeneration of the Spirit. Given everything we need to participate in the divine nature and partake in His divine mission. More than conquerors in Him, even if, sometimes, despite ourselves.

But oh, to know the blessing of living in light of our legacy.

By His grace. For His glory.

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