(I Samuel 1-2) The Bargaining Prayer

It sounds like Hannah is making a bargain with God. If you… then I will…

Is that what are witnessing here? I wonder.

I remember when wearing seatbelts when driving became a law. I, like many, took awhile to get into the habit of buckling up. One morning, as I was heading to work, I was involved in a minor accident. The police were called. And I, who had not been wearing my seatbelt prayed, “God, if you’ll help me not get a ticket for breaking the seatbelt law, I promise I will never drive again without buckling up first.”

Turns out I didn’t get a ticket. And I began fastening my seatbelt every time I drove after that.

Did God accept my deal? Did He accept Hannah’s? We both got what we wanted.

A famous Bible teacher tells of her “salvation experience” by saying that as a divorced mom, she had a driving need to be with a man. Men. She confessed she lived a very sinful lifestyle that made her miserable. She said she didn’t know much about God, but at her lowest point she prayed something like, “God, I give you men, I give you my sons. Do what you will. Just give me peace.” Then she goes on to say at that moment she received the “Prince of Peace.”

Friend, that is NOT salvation, I don’t care who claims it to be. You don’t bargain with God. You don’t trade your sons for peace. Show me in Scripture where that prayer has anything to do with being saved. Scripture tells us peace comes when we humble ourselves, repent of sin, and receive what Jesus died to give us. Not promising to never sleep around again just so you can feel peaceful.

I believe there is a lot we can learn from Hannah. She was evidently a devout believer, a true worshiper of God. The prayer we see her praying was deep, and intimate with the God she loved. And her will, her wants and needs aligned with what God wanted for her.

What I see here is that she wasn’t bargaining with God as much as she was agreeing with Him. My seatbelt prayer, and the prayer of the teacher I sited above weren’t that. We were trying to trade something we had for something we wanted God to do.

Do you want God’s blessing? Then get to know Him. First of all humble yourself, confess that you are a sinner, and repent of sin. Accept the grace of God that is available when you believe the fact that Jesus lived, died on the cross, and rose again so that you can be forgiven. Accept His forgiveness.

Read the Bible. Pray. Worship Him in spirit and truth. Get to know His heart. Set your desires aside and seek His desires for you. Then when you receive the desires of your heart, you’ll realize those were His desires for you all along.

I don’t believe the fact I didn’t get a ticket, or the fact that Hannah got pregnant are signs that we can bargain with God to get what we want. Rather, I believe God blessed us both because of our relationship with Him.

Please don’t bother praying a bargaining prayer. If you need God to do something for you, go to Him on His terms. You have nothing He needs or wants except YOU.

(Ruth) It’s Not Just About Love

I usually look at the book of Ruth as a lesson in love, and it truly is that. But today, I see it mostly as a picture of redemption. I think this book could easily have been named, “Boaz.” Because without Boaz’s act of redemption on behalf of Naomi and Ruth, they would have had no hope. The would have continued in their poverty for the rest of their lives.

It wouldn’t have mattered how much they’d loved each other. Their love could not have saved them. Only the work of the redeemer would take them from curse to blessing, from bitterness to joy, from death to life.

Get the picture?

We can talk about love all day, but without the redemptive work of Jesus, we are without hope. Love cannot save until it is nailed to the cross.

Do you love God? Great! Do you know He loves you? He does! But His love without His redemption will not save you.

The book of Ruth isn’t just about love. It’s about redemption.

The Gospel isn’t just about love, either. It’s about redemption.

Ruth laid everything at the feet of her redeemer, Boaz. In that act she became totally dependent on him to save her. That’s the Gospel: Putting everything we have, are, and hope to be at the feet of Jesus, becoming totally dependent on Him, confessing our sin and turning from it is our only hope of salvation. Otherwise there is no saving.

Only the work of Jesus, our Redeemer, can take us from curse to blessing, bitterness to joy, death to life. Only Jesus.

Only our Redeemer.

(Judges 14-16) Struggles With Sin

Samson led a violent, self-centered life. Even though he had been a Nazarite from birth, his actions were far from godly. Yet God blessed this man with superhuman strength. God used Samson to punish the Philistines for their rejection of Him. Samson ended up dying with the enemy.

So, where is he today? Heaven or hell? I wonder the same thing about Ravi. Can a person who does great things in the name of God, yet live an overtly sinful life, hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when they face a Holy God? Or do they hear God say, “I never knew you?”

I ask myself the same question about all of us who profess Jesus as our Savior, yet struggle with sin. Does one unconfessed sin get a free pass when we face our Judge? What about two sins not confessed? Ten? What is the limit if we die before confessing every evil thought, every vulgar word, every act of disobedience?

I think of Paul, who admittedly struggled with sin (Romans 7), yet was mightily used by God and continues to be used by God 2,000 years later. Paul called himself the worst of sinners, a wretched man, and confessed that he had to “die daily” to self. Paul was not one and done in his walk with the Lord. He committed himself to the Lord every day.

We can’t NOT be human. Humans have a sin nature. So there will always be a struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Scripture goes so far as to tell us if we think we don’t sin, we make God out to be a liar. (I John 1:10).

The struggle is real. But so is the victory over sin. Paul talks a lot about our focus, our goal. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, if we draw near to God, if we flee temptation, “God has delivered us and will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:10) The closer I am to God, the faster I am convicted about sin, and the quicker I am to repent of it. It is a daily struggle, sometimes a minute to minute struggle. But, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25).

I guess I’m understanding that if a person can live in sin, can hold on to a sin and refuse to repent of it, I have to question their relationship with God. A Holy God cannot have communion with unholiness. A person comfortable with sin cannot have a real relationship with God, neither in this life nor the next.

So, the answer to my question about how many sins get a free pass, the answer is zero. But because I in myself am incapable of living a sin-free life, I need to look to Jesus. I need to check my relationship with Him every day, confess any sin immediately, and put on His righteousness since I have none of my own. I cannot be comfortable entertaining sin in my life and expect to have a right relationship with my Holy God. It can’t happen.

I don’t know what Samson, or Ravi, or anyone else said to God before they died. I believe if they confessed their sin, God was faithful and just to forgive them, to cleanse them, and to ultimately welcome them into His Presence forever. If they died holding onto their sin, I believe they will have taken those sins with them into hell.

I pray that as you and I struggle with sin today, we will look to Jesus for the victory, that we will confess quickly and sincerely repent so that sin is not repeated. I pray that none of us will become comfortable in any sin, whether in thought or word or deed. And I pray that those around us will recognize the righteousness of Jesus we wear, humbly, thankfully, boldly.

(Judges 11-13) No Reason To Complain

I was surprised to find out that there are some who read about Samson’s parents and say the fact that his mother is not named is proof that the Bible looks at women as less than men. Really? I know we are a society that look for chances to be offended but… really?

If you read the Bible you will in fact, see that God challenges the norms of that day and honors women. Take Samson’s mom. Who did God appear to – twice? It wasn’t her husband. Does the fact that we don’t know her name devalue the honor she received when the Lord visited her, spoke with her face to face?

People who criticize Scripture and, in turn Christianity, for being male-dominant are wrong. There is no difference between male in female in God’s kingdom. We are equally accountable to Him, loved by Him, and saved by the same blood.

Those who know Scripture know about Deborah, Jael, Dorcus, Mary, Miriam, the daughters of Zelophehad, and others who led armies, owned land, were prophetesses, and were honored by God as men’s equals. Jesus Himself treated women with respect and, in fact, revealed Himself as the Messiah first to a woman.

So ladies, if you are going to get your feelings hurt because you don’t know the name of Samson’s mom, you have much deeper problems you need to consider. We need to get over ourselves and quit looking for reasons to complain.

(Judges 1-3) Failures

The Jews were failures. Manasseh failed. Ephraim failed. Zebulun failed. Ashar failed. Naphtali failed. The Danites failed. They all failed to obey God by not driving out the enemy from the Promised Land.

Judah didn’t drive out the enemy, using the excuse, “They have strong chariots.” Judah failed.

Benjamin didn’t drive out the Jebusites, but learned to co-exist with them instead. Benjamin failed.

All the tribes of Israel obeyed God to a degree. But Scripture doesn’t celebrate their partial victories. Scripture reports their failures.

I guess I’m understanding that mostly obeying God means I’m disobeying Him. The Israelites will pay dearly for their disobedience as we will see in the books of Judges, the Samuels and the Kings. The Jewish people are going to look and worship just like the enemies they didn’t drive out of the land. And God will judge them.

Our 21st century Church needs a wake-up call. Baptists are failures. Presbyterians are failures. Methodists are failures, Catholics are failures. We haven’t driven out the enemy, but have learned to co-exist with him. And we look and worship just like those who follow the enemy.

I think God would have us take a look at our level of obedience. Because if we aren’t obeying Him 100%, we are disobeying Him. If we aren’t obeying Him according to Scripture, we are failures.

(Joshua 24) Dads

Joshua, as the spiritual head of his family, declared: “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In other words, no matter what the decisions the other Jews made concerning obedience to God, Joshua said emphatically that his family would choose obedience.

How could he make such a statement? Didn’t his kids and grandkids have minds of their own? Couldn’t they choose to worship idols, no matter what Dad said?

Of course they could. But here’s what I hear Joshua saying:

“My family will know the truth about God because I’m going to tell them. I’m going to raise them to fear God, to love God, to serve Him according to His Word – which I will teach them. If they choose to disobey God, they are going to know what that choice entails because I will tell them exactly what the consequences of sin are. And I will do everything in my power to help them choose obedience.”

I don’t see Joshua’s declaration so much a commitment for his family, as a commit for himself to be the spiritual head of his family.

So who is the spiritual head of your family? Many households depend on the mothers to read the Bible stories, say the blessing at mealtime, be sure the kids are in Sunday School. I’m thankful for women who take on this role in their families, especially if the husband doesn’t step up. I know there are lots of moms who have had the privilege of praying with their young children to receive Jesus as their Savior. What a precious moment that must be.

But there is something about a Dad gathering up the children around him to read and explain Scripture, to pray aloud with them, then boldly living his faith in front of them. The picture of family according to God places the husband as the spiritual head, like God is the head of His spiritual family.

I am not about to get into a gender role debate. I’m a woman. I know I am capable of guiding children in the truth of Scripture. I know mothers are an essential part of their families’ existence. I’m not discounting their importance. But if I believe the Bible, I must believe we women need to allow our husbands to lead. It’s God’s design.

So men, is it time you stepped up and became the spiritual head of your family? Your children are watching and learning, watching and learning. They see through you much more clearly than you think. What do they see?

Can you, with Joshua, commit yourself to raising your children to worship God, to choose obedience rather than sin? That is your calling, your responsibility, your privilege. Your child’s eternal soul may live in your home today. But one day, that little one will go out on his or her own. Are you preparing them? Or are you hoping someone else will do that for you?

Don’t drop the ball, Dads.

(Joshua 11-15) Move Right In

All of those cities had been built and were inhabited by men, women, boys, girls, grandparent, aunts, uncles. Yet all of them refused to bow to God. They had heard about Him, how the Jews had crossed the Jordan, how the walls of Jerico tumbled. They just couldn’t let go of their pretend gods, even when faced with the truth.

Not all of them were killed at the hands of the Jewish soldiers. Some were merely driven out of their homes and towns. They lost everything they’d worked for, everything their parents had worked for. Their gods could not save them.

The Jews who knew God, walked right into those towns and went house hunting. They moved into homes they did not build, took over businesses they did not start, enjoyed the comforts they didn’t earn. Is that fair?

The big picture here is God. Any of those residents of those towns could have at any time surrendered to God and been dealt a different hand. It was their stubborn refusal that brought about that judgment. What they had built, using their own devices, could not withstand the hand of God.

The same is true today. Many people have built themselves a comfortable existence, worship who and how they want, refuse to submit to God, and are ok with that. But just as the people of the land had done, they have created a life that cannot last. Those ancient people had lost it all, as will any of us who refuse to surrender to God. Be warned.

On the other hand, the Jews who had submitted to God received blessings from Him they didn’t deserve. And so have I. I don’t deserve God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness, His Presence. I haven’t earned a second of His favor. But He gives it to me because I have surrendered my life to Him.

The fair thing would be if I was made to pay for my sins, as the ancient people we read about today paid for their’s. I’m guilty. I sin. I’m no better than the rest. But Jesus loved me enough anyway to go to the cross, pay what I owe, and freely gives me Himself when I surrender to Him.

The reality is, the Jewish people moved right into the land God had given them. In a very real sense I did, too. They went through the water of the Jordan. I went through the blood of Jesus. But that which is on the other side is blessing after blessing.

My prayer is that you have surrendered to Jesus and know what it is to live in the Promised Land of His Presence and blessing. If you haven’t, I pray you will do that today. Understand that what you are building your life on apart from Him will not withstand the hand of God.

Surrender your life to the God who loves you enough to die for you. Then move right into to a relationship with Him and enjoy what Jesus paid to give you.

(Joshua 6-10) It’s Time To Pay Attention To The Signs

You can’t read these chapters and not realize how serious God is about unrepentant sin. He punishes – without mercy – the unrepentant heart.

I read the official statement and investigative report from RZIM, the apologetics and evangelistic organization started by Ravi Zacharias. I will say that personally, Ravi’s influence has helped me to think about and define what it is I believe according to Scripture. His radio program, books, lectures and debates have encouraged me to never take what I hear at face value, but to test everything through the lens of God’s Holy Word. The man knew the Bible.

So reading that the accusations against him are true, and even more depraved than what was initially thought has been shocking to say the least. How? Why? I am angry and sad.

The RZIM organization, according to their statement, is accepting responsibility. They ask for forgiveness, not absolution.

The thing that hit me is that, in hindsight, there were signs. The people who worked with Zacharias had questions. But they rationalized Ravi’s behavior, trusted what he said, and went as far as discrediting his accusers because, after all, Ravi was their founder, a seemingly godly man, a man who knew the Bible better than the rest of us.

They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, believe Ravi could commit such awful sins. But the investigation reveals that this renowned Bible expert lived a very sinful private life. I only hope that before he died Ravi, like the thief on the cross, humbled himself and accepted the grace Jesus died to give him. If he didn’t, according to Scripture he knew so well, Ravi’s hell is more agonizing than we can imagine.

Here’s what I believe God would have us see here: He is serious about sin no matter who is sinning. And unrepentant sin is judged without mercy.

We can criticize the RZIM organization for not recognizing the signs. But are we guilty of ignoring the signs in our own lives, in the lives of our family members, in the lives of fellow believers, pastors, and teachers? Are we any less guilty of rationalizing certain behaviors than RZIM has been?

Let this be a wake-up call. If Ravi’s sin had been confronted, dozens of women could have been spared the harassment and abuse. Ravi could have repented years ago. His victims, family, friends, and the cause of Christ might not be living with the aftermath of such a devastating blow.

But I wonder what level of pain we are inflicting as well, when we turn a blind eye to sin? We need to see sin as God sees it. We need to hold each other accountable. We need to address it today, before more time passes, before more people are hurt and more consequences are faced. We need to call sin sin and, if a person refuses to repent, separate ourselves from them. We don’t do anyone any favors by ignoring sin.

If we can learn anything from the Ravi Zacharias scandal, we should see the need for calling for true repentance of believers. We (not the unsaved) need a revival in our hearts and in our churches. We (not non-believers) are too often guilty and need to confess our own sin.

We can’t continue to ignore the signs. We can’t continue to allow sin to co-exist within God’s Holy Church. We need to not only know what the Bible says, but we need to live accordingly, and demand other believers do the same.

It’s time.

(Joshua 1-5) The Forever Miracle

Do you believe in miracles? Some people read things like the Israelite’s crossing of the Jordan River, and because it would be impossible, write it off as fantasy, folk-lore, imagination. Others come up with what they think are plausible answers like the pull of gravity on that particular day at that exact time…

What these people don’t seem to understand is, if the event could be explained, it wouldn’t be a miracle. If we can understand the “how” of it, it isn’t miraculous. So the question again is, do you believe in miracles?

Do I believe the Jordan River water stopped flowing, that a new generation of Jews crossed over on dry ground like their fathers had crossed the Red Sea? I do.

Can I explain it from a scientific perspective? No.

Have I ever seen river water stop flowing like reported in the book of Joshua? Never.

Then why in the world would I believe it to be true?

Because I believe in the God of the Bible. And because I believe in Him, it’s not that hard to believe in miracles. In fact, I’ve seen even greater miracles than the Jordan River crossing.

Every time a sinner repents and is changed from the inside out through the blood of Jesus, there’s a miracle. There is no greater miracle than true repentance because it’s eternal. All other miracles had a time frame. Not so salvation.

It’s the forever miracle.

(Deuteronomy 29-30) Exempt?

We’ve got a problem. Too many of us live like we believe that if we identify as Christians, if we prayed the prayer and confessed our sins, if we read our Bibles and are good people, we are somehow exempt from the consequences of sin. We believe our sins are “under the blood,” so that sin we commit has already been dealt with. But I wonder.

Too many of us are comfortable with sin in our lives, and in our churches. Listen to what God says through Moses about this in 29:19a:

When someone hears the words of this oath, he may consider himself exempt, thinking, “I will have peace even though I follow my own stubborn heart.”

Is reading God’s Word or hearing a sermon that golden ticket to exemption? Read on:

This will lead to the destruction of the well-watered land as well as the dry land. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against that person, and every curse written in this scroll will descend on him. The Lord will blot out his name under heaven, and single him out for harm… (19b-21a)

If you are a Christian the bar set for obedience isn’t lowered. In fact, God requires more of us. Didn’t Jesus tell us we commit murder if we hate, we commit adultery if we lust?

Dear one, we are not exempt. I hope you’ll read 30:11-20. God hasn’t hidden what he demands. We are blessed when we obey and cursed when we disobey.

…love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to him. For He is your life… (30:20a)

We must remain faithful. That means confessing every sin, praying God will create clean hearts in us and renew steadfast spirits in us. It means dying daily, fleeing temptation, and surrendering our stubborn hearts at the earliest sign of rebellion.

God, through Moses, tells us He has put it all out there. He has told us and shown us life and death, blessing and curse. Then He tells us to choose life.

That’s my prayer for all of us today.