Return

In Canada, today is Boxing Day. Not unlike Black Friday in the United States, today is the day of sales and deals and everyone goes out to get what they wanted for Christmas, but no one saw fit to give them. It’s also a day where many may try to return the gifts they got, but never wanted or needed, and exchange them for something they really want.

Life is full of exchanges. We want something and we go after it. Sometimes, once we get it, we may decide that we never really wanted it in the first place. But we keep it since it took so much effort to get it, or we may decide to give it up after all and go after something else.

All through the the Old Testament, Israel is chasing after something. Sometimes it’s God. Most of the time, it’s not. But, unlike Canadian stores on Boxing Day, God will take returns at any time from any vendor. You don’t have to bring something back to the place you got it from. You can take it to place you want to get something from.

I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.’

Zechariah 1:2-3 (NLT)

Israel was always out searching for the next best thing. Going out like Black Friday shoppers and making purchases for no other reason than it was a really good deal. Then they got home and realised they had absolutely no need for their acquisition. Instead of immediately returning it, they decided to make use of it. They borrowed gods and idols from other nations and, when they realised that those gods could do nothing for them, instead of tossing them in the hearth for firewood, they kept them. The effort to make the exchange was too great.

And then God comes along and makes a better offer than anyone or anything else could give them. Return to me, and I will return to you. Give me your useless things and I’ll give you what you really need.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve managed to bring into your life, God’s exchange policy will cover it. You can bring it to Him, lay it at His feet and He will give you what you truly desire and need. We don’t have to live our lives full of all the junk we’ve managed to pick up along the way because it seemed like a good idea at the time. God will take it all.

So if you’re holding on to some things that you don’t need, jump to the front of the line and go straight to God. He’ll take it all without any proof of purchase. Return it to Him and He’ll replace it with something worthwhile.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 1-3, Revelation 17

Ready and willing

Ready and willing. If you haven’t said that you are, you’d probably like to think you are when it comes to obeying God. Here am I, Lord, send me! We think we really mean it. But most of us probably haven’t taken the time to think through all of the consequences of what it means to be ready and willing.

But as for me, I am filled with power and the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and might…

Micah 3:8a (NLT)

Filled with power, justice and might! Yes! I want all of those things!

…fearlessly pointing out Israel’s sin and rebellion.

Micah 3:8b (NLT)

Now, wait a minute, I’m not so sure I want to be the one to have to make that point.

The point is this: being ready and willing includes far more than just the good news and the blessings. Micah stood alone in his time. He was just a peasant from a town on the outskirts of the territory. He was a nobody telling the priests and prophets that they were a bunch of lying scoundrels. That’s not a very comfortable conversation to have with anyone. To be ready and willing means to be ready to have the uncomfortable conversations.

And on the other side of the same coin, as ready as we must be to initiate those difficult encounters, we must also be ready and willing to be on the receiving end.

Ready and willing is not a physical place, but a spiritual posture. If we want to proclaim the Good News, we may also have to give a hard word. If we want to be blessed, we must also be able to be a blessing. To be ready and willing means to be prepared for whatever God has for us—the good, the hard, and the uncomfortable.

Those who act honestly, may act boldly. And those who come to hear the word of God, must be willing to be told of their faults, must take it kindly, and be thankful.

Matthew Henry

Like Micah, when our true strength comes from the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can willingly give and receive the truth no matter what package it comes in.

Daily Bible reading: Micah 1-3, Revelation 10

Going through the motions

We all go through motions every day. There are things we do that we’ve done so many times that we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing—getting dressed, brushing your teeth, pouring a cup of coffee, work, even commuting. We go through our daily routines by rote. Little or no thought is required. It’s easy to slip into those kinds of habits. Even when it comes to God.

I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.

Amos 5:21-23 (NLT)

Ouch! Here God is, telling Israel that He will not accept the very things He gave them. Why not?

Yaweh did not desire the slavish observance of ritual, he desired right conduct, which in itself is an act of true worship.

International Bible Commentary

At this point in Israel’s sin, notice that God no longer referred to the festivals and offerings as His own. The attitude behind the sacrifices had become so focused on the action that God had nothing to do with them anymore and the actions belonged solely to Israel.

God has given us so much, so many ways to praise and worship Him yet we, like Israel, can easily slip into habits where we go through the motions, but our hearts and even our minds are no longer engaged.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry.

Amos 5:24 (NLT)

Far more than mere actions of pious offering, God would have us live lives of perpetual worship. Fake it ’till you make it can only get us so far. Sometimes we just need to start, but if our entire lives become a series of hollow actions, God receives no glory.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)

Let us all strive to produce a river of righteous living. Let us put meaning to our motions so that our works become our worship.

Daily Bible reading: Amos 4-6, Revelation 6

Message received

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some books. I was pretty excited at the time to place the order and was impatient to receive my parcel. Then I ordered a few more things and those parcels arrived in my mailbox. I had forgotten about the books until someone else ordered the same books and told me they’d received a message that they’d been sent. I could recall no such message in my inbox. So I went back to check and found only the purchase confirmation. So, 15 days after my initial purchase, I followed up.

Sometimes, I think we forget about our prayers like we do our parcels. New ones come along and take the place of the old ones and they get lost. We forget to follow up. We made the initial effort and investment, but after a while the outcome doesn’t seem so important.

We have a better example to follow than my forgotten parcel. Let’s take a look at Daniel. In chapter 9 of the book of Daniel, the man receives a vision from the angel Gabriel. It has to do with the exile of Israel. Having already been in prayer about the sinful nation, Daniel decides to seek further understanding about what he’s seen. So he starts to fast and he starts to pray. Three weeks later, a heavenly being who looks like a man appears in front of him and, like a sack of potatoes, Daniel drops to his face.

Then he said, “Dont’ be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come to answer your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.

Daniel 10:12-13 (NLT)

Now, I don’t know if my parcel has actually been sent out or not, but the process was started the moment I clicked complete my order. I could sit at home twiddling my thumbs hoping that the package comes before I need the books, or I can go after my purchase and be sure that it end up in my hands.

What Daniel was looking for was far more important than a couple of books. And he didn’t even get the handy confirmation email that his first prayer had even been heard. He didn’t pray once, brush off his knees and go about his business. He kept praying. He remained in a state of humility until his answer came. I wonder if he’d have ever met the one who looked like a man if he knew he’d been sent the first day. Would Daniel have been as fervent in his prayer if he knew the answer was already dispatched? Would the answer have even made it if Daniel had stopped praying?

Here’s what we can learn from Daniel: prayer and humility dispatch an answer. Continued prayer and humility ensure the message is received.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 9-10, 2 John1

The wait

Sometimes it feels as though our life is made up more of waiting than actually doing. Just wait. Hold on a minute. Can I put you on hold? Just a moment, please. Hold your horses! We wait so much that we have lists and rooms designated for that purpose. And they’re full. All the time.

And, as much as the waiting is bothersome, everyone else’s reaction to your waiting can be even more so. When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? Are you having more kids? When are you ever going to get a job? What about that promotion? We can get so caught up in what everyone else thinks of our waiting that we plow ahead, bypassing God’s timing for our own.

The Bible is full of people who decided that they knew better than God. All the way back to Eve, if she’d only waited for Adam’s input before eating the fruit, things may have turned out differently. What about Sarah and Abraham? At 90, Sarah didn’t think she could wait any longer and foisted her servant on her husband so the promised child could be produced. The result was Ishmael—we’re still seeing the effects of that mistake today. The entire nation of Israel grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and decided it would be better to worship idols.

The list goes on and on. The short of it is that no one likes to wait. We don’t like to feel as though we’re not accomplishing anything. But what is the penalty for our impatience?

Those who wait for me will never be put to shame.

Isaiah 49:23b (NLT)

We can try to blame God all we want, but when we jump the gun on His plan, the shame is ours alone. That’s not to say that God can’t repair what we broke, but there are still consequences.

But I don’t know what to do with myself!

I get it. I hate waiting, too. I hate not being productive. My hands must be busy. I have to have something to show for my time. In the practical sense, I bring something with me when I know I have to wait. A book. A crochet project. My journal. Candy Crush. But what about when I’m waiting on God?

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2 (NLT)

God doesn’t make us wait to watch us squirm. He makes us wait because He’s either preparing us, preparing someone else, or preparing a situation. We will never see the entire picture, yet God is only asking us to trust in Him. The best thing to do—pray. Devote yourself to God. The wait may not be as long as you thought it was.

Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity.

Colossians 4:5 (NLT)

Waiting doesn’t have to be, and even shouldn’t be, idle time. The wait in itself is an opportunity. An opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. An opportunity to grow in our relationships with others. An opportunity to grow our faith and trust. An opportunity to prepare ourselves for the promise to come. The only shame in waiting is if we waste the opportunities God gives us in that time.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 48-49, Colossians 4

Through the wilderness

In order to get to the place where God wants or needs you to be, He may lead you through the wilderness. When God led Israel out of Egypt, the final destination was never the wilderness. They should have only been passing through for a couple of weeks. Instead, they took their eyes off the prize and ended up wandering for forty years in a place they were never meant to stay.

Give thanks to him who led his people through the wilderness.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:16 (NLT)

Was God unfaithful because Israel stayed in the wilderness? Did His love not endure through that time of trial, grief, and wandering? No. God didn’t fail in that situation, Israel did. God brought them to the place He promised and it was Israel who failed to take hold of the promise.

We may look at Israel and scoff, yet we ourselves may be caught in the wilderness. We may find ourselves in a place where we don’t see or feel God. We allow ourselves to get stuck on the way to the promise and lose sight of where we were headed in the first place. Paul tells us that we are in a race. No one ever won a race by pausing on the path. Even in the story of the tortoise and the hare, the quick rabbit who paused lost the race because he took a rest in the middle of his journey. He forgot his purpose. He became too sure of himself and his own abilities. It wasn’t talent that won the race, it was persistence and purpose.

So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches.

1 Corinthians 9:26 (NLT)

Are we running straight toward the goal God has set before us or are we wandering along the way? Remember that God never leads us to the wilderness, but He may lead us through.

If you find yourself in a spiritually dry place, remember that’s not where God wants you to be. Seek Him. Look for direction. Refocus your sight on the promises God has made. Then run. Run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. Don’t stop. Don’t hesitate. Keep your eyes on God, not the situation around you.

He will lead you through the wilderness.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 136-138, 1 Corinthians 9

Law to love

If, according to Galatians 5:14, the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbours as yourself”, the words law and love should be interchangeable through much of the Old Testament. Jesus came and fulfilled the law with love—great love. So what does that fulfillment look like in light of the law according to Psalm 119?

I meditate on your age-old [love];
O Lord, [it] comfort[s] me.

v. 52

Your [love has] been the music of my life
throughout the years of my pilgrimage.

v. 54

I pondered the direction of my life,
and I turned to follow your [love].

v. 59

Evil people try to drag me into sin.
but I am firmly anchored to your [love].

v. 61

Your [love] is more valuable to me
than millions in gold and silver!

v. 72

Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live;
for your [love] is my delight.

v. 77

Your [love] remains true today,
for everything serves your plan

v. 91

Even perfection has its limits,
but your [love has] no limit.

v. 96

Your [love] make[s] me wiser than my enemies,
for your [love is] my constant guide.

v. 98

Your [love] give[s] me understanding;
no wonder I hate every false way of life.

v. 104

When we look at the law through Jesus and his fulfillment of it, what a difference it makes in our understanding of these verses! It’s not a bunch of rules and regulations that we follow, but love—perfect love at that. Love that gives understanding and wisdom. Love that teaches. Love that is valuable. Love that has no limits. Love that is our delight.

If the psalmist found all of these things in the law that God gave to Israel, how much more should we be able to find in the love that fulfilled the law?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 119:49-104, 1 Corinthians 4