Saturday, February 27: Ruth 3- can a person be both humble and bold at the same time?

This question tumbled in my thoughts as I read and pondered this chapter. Today I struggled to receive devotional thoughts from the Lord. Most of the struggle was my doing. I didn’t guard my time in the Word.  I read and got distracted, I read again and my mind flitted to other things. I came back again to the Word and bounced from it to other things and back again. Like a super ball bouncing in a small room, I ws all over the place. This was not my finest hour.

I persevered, literally, throughout the day.  Now almost 4 pm I write, having first read the text at 8 am.

At different moments throughout the day, Naomi, Boaz or Ruth would seem to be highlighted. In the end I landed with Ruth.

Can a person be both humble and bold at the same time? Watching Ruth, I would have to say, “Yes.”

Ruth is incredibly humble. First she listens to and then attends to Naomi’s plan with nary a complaint or fuss. Now maybe Boaz is a hunk, a real catch but the circumstances would seem to indicate, NOT. He is after all, successful and unmarried (that suggests some issues) and advance in years (hmmm, more issues). There must be some reason he is unmarried.

Then the plan itself calls for Ruth to put herself in a position of extreme vulnerability and humility. Threshing floors were outside in the open air, so after Boaz is fast asleep from a hard day of work, she slips under his cloak at his feet. I suspect lying at his feet made for pleasant sleeping???! Apparently that maneuver implies her willingness to wed Boaz. A woman approaching a man in that day and age … bold, dare I say, ‘BOLD move Ruth!’

Here I see the two seemingly disparate character traits combining.  She is humble enough to place herself in a completely humble and vulnerable position, yet bold enough to advance the notion of them marrying.

Lord, may I display such a mix in my life. May I always be humble before You and may I put others in a position where they feel good about themselves. Yet, Lord, may I draw so close to You that I have the boldness to believe that You are at work and that You will open doors. Lord, steer me from the arrogance that says I am right, that puts off others and gives Your name, in whom I live and move and have my being, a bad rap.

Bold and humble, Humble and bold… they are worth striving for together. Like Jesus before Pilate, bold and humble, humble and bold. Teach me how to put these two together in my life… amen.


Friday, February 26: Ruth 2-Love, honor, perseverance and virtuous living

God’s hand is floating quietly beneath this account. Ruth just happens to glean in the field of an honorable man, Boaz.  Boaz happens to come to the field that day and also happens to be Naomi’s close relative. God is quietly at work, His hand unnoticed, at least to Ruth.

Ruth displays love for Naomi. She honors her mother-in-law by putting her life in danger and quietly doing the belittling work of following harvesters by rooting through their leftovers for any missed grain. She keeps at this, persevering through the barley and wheat harvests.

Unbeknownst to her, God is at work (I know the story, I know what happens).

Ruth’s dedication to doing what she had to do gave me pause. Without complaining, Ruth kept at it, doing what she needed to do to provide for Naomi and herself. In doing so, Ruth gave substance to her pledge from chapter 1. Ruth was a woman of her word. Honorable, hard working, compassionate (she saved part of her lunch for Naomi), and dedicated are all words that can be used to describe Ruth. Beneath the surface God is at work.

Ruth reminds me that there is virtue in honorable living, hard work, compassion and dedication. Her life gives me pause. Do I display similar character in my life?

Lord, give my hands and heart strength to labor honorably, to do those things I know in my heart I should do and to do them well. Lord, may my faith in You find expression in the diligence and work of my hands… amen.



Thursday, February 25: Ruth 1-Actions the substance of our faith

I wonder what it was in Ruth that propelled her to stay with her mother-in-law instead of returning to her own people. Was it her love and trust for Naomi, her mother-in-law? Was it her love and trust in the Lord who had become the God she worshipped? We don’t know. The best we can do is surmise or guess. The text is silent.

I thought about that situation. Without inside information, we cannot know what motivates a person. All we can do is watch their actions and surmise their motivation. Actions are important. Actions are the stuff of faith. Our actions, more than merely our words, are the stuff of our faith.

Ruth’s determination (actions) to remain faithful to both Naomi and the Lord, thunder through the lines of this chapter. The author of this book tells us what Ruth is planning to do. Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me (16-17). But her actions, going with Naomi, who offers no future and where she will be an outcast, proved her metal. Actions are the stuff of faith…

It was at this point that the Lord turned the tables on me. Text moved to life… “Bill, how about your actions? Do you follow through on your words spoken about Me and spoken to Me? Bill, do your actions show that I am your God?”

I think it was Lloyd Olgivie who asked, “If you were put on trial for being a Christ-follower, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That question drove these thoughts deeper into my soul…

Lord, I adapt Ruth’s promise to Naomi as my pledge and words to You today.  Where You want me to go I will go and where You want me to stay I will stay. And, Lord, I ask that You send the Holy Spirit so that I might have His strength to let these words of mine be more than words, but be lived out by my actions… In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.


Wednesday, February 24: Judges 21-Fixing mistakes our way. watch out!

The book of Judges ends with these words: In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (25). Left to ourselves we can make a mess even worse.

Remorse sets in after the battles with Benjamin as Israel realizes that they have killed off an entire clan. Their revenge drove them to kill not only the soldiers but the women and children as well. So the only survivors were the men not killed in battle and since Israel had taken a vow not to let daughters marry with these Benjamintes, Israel effectively wiped out an entire clan, hence the remorse.

I read the chapter twice just to make sure. Nowhere does Israel ask God to help them justify the situation. Yes, they cry out blaming the Lord for the situation. "O LORD, the God of Israel," they cried, "why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?" (3). Interesting how we can overlook our own fault in a tragedy and blame God… but that’s another devotion.

However, they never seek God asking Him to help them correct the wrong, instead they come up with 2 more cockamamie ideas that involve more bloodshed and kidnapping women. Yeah, they sound like God-honoring solutions!?!

As I pondered this chapter, I found myself thanking God that Judges was over. The last chapters have been very difficult and sad to read. But beyond my complaining God began to show me that when I try to solve a problem (particularly one I have created by not listening to Him in the first place) with my own ideas, rather than talking with Him and seeking His way out, I make a further mess.

What the Lord reminded me this morning was that when I leave Him out of the equation, I create a recipe for disaster. I can think of a number of messes I have amplified because I rushed ahead with my solution without checking in and seeking the Lord’s guidance first.

This morning God is giving me a gentle reminder about a better way.  Seek Him and His wisdom first. Cry out to God, admit my complicity in the problem when necessary and listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit. God will provide a way out and His way will not destroy others.

Lord God, thank You for taking an ugly incident in Israel’s history and teaching me Your ways. Now, Lord, help me apply what You have shown me today to my life. Thank You too, Lord, for being a redeeming God who can and will reach down into the mess of my life and lavish Your peace, supply Your grace and show mercy when it is undeserved. Praise be to Jesus, my redeemer and my Lord. Amen.


Tuesday, February 23: Judges 20-Revenge is a dangerous desire

   It is one thing to punish wrong, it is another to go beyond punishment to humiliation. It seems to me that Israel crosses that boundary in chapter 23, yet another sad chapter in the history of Israel.

There is so much carnage in this chapter: 25,000 Benjamites dead in battle; 40,000 Israelites dead in battle. That is a high price to pay to make a point. As vile as the rape was, the Israelites coming to exact revenge were no saints. Remember everyone did that which was right in their own eyes. It seems that pride lurked beneath the surface, multiplying the carnage. Israelites seeking revenge sent wave after wave of men to their death to make a point. Then the pride of the Benjamintes caused them to get sloppy and overly aggressive on day, 3 which led to their demise. Revenge and anger ruled the day. Revenge and anger resulted in death, lots of death.

No wonder Proverbs says: Pride goes before a fall (Pr 16:18).

I began to think about revenge and the dangers of it. When I want revenge, I loose restraint, I get all self-righteous and I do stupid things, which either costs me or costs others because I go overboard. It seems that is what happened in this chapter… 65,000(!) people died because a group of rabble gang raped and murdered a woman. What the gang did was horrible, even despicable, but there must have been a better way to seek justice than to sacrifice 65,000 additional lives to make a point.

God whispered, “Beware of revenge, Bill… leave revenge to me. Revenge is My arena not yours.” I was reminded of the scripture which reads, Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (Romans 12:19). Such was my lesson from the Lord today.

God, there are times when I get all self-righteous over something that happened to me and I want to rush out and gain my revenge. As a teen I had a ‘playful’ expression, “I don’t get even, I get ahead.” Stop me, Lord, slow me down, hedge me in when I want to get even or worse, ahead. Keep me from seeking my revenge because, Lord, those are the times I hurt people. I say things I ought not, or I do things I should not. And, Lord, it is hard to clean up the damage I can do. Forgive me, Lord. Lord, You warned me today about the damage that revenge can do. Forgive me for past transgressions and help me, Lord, to not go there in the future. Lord, I submit my impulse to You… even more, I submit my life to You… I am Yours, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am Yours…


Monday, February 22: Judges 19-O the sin we are capable of.

This may be the most disgusting chapter in Scripture. I wondered out loud, a couple of days ago, “How low can you go?” As low as it was then, this chapter is worse.

I think it is no mistake that the chapter begins, “In those days Israel had no king.” That phrase seems to be short hand, implying a follow up comment, “and everyone did what was right in his/her own eyes.”

Every part of this story troubles me.

·       The father-in-law whose passive aggressive behavior drove the man, his servant and concubine to leave late at night necessitating them to make only a portion of the journey that first day.

·       The town members who refused common courtesy of hospitality and left the traveling trio in the town square until late at night.

·       The evil men of the town hunting for sex at any cost.

·       The hospitable man who suggests casting his daughter and the concubine out rather than the male servant.

·       The traveler who pushes his concubine out the door to the savage men.  Then the next morning, steps over her body seemingly uncaring and unmoved by the travesty.

This chapter from beginning to end disgusts me. How low can we go?  This chapter tells me that we humans can go pretty low!!!

Lord, this chapter drives me to my knees. I wonder how I would have reacted if I were a character in the story. I would like to think I might have acted differently, but there are no guarantees. I have every bit of human depravity coursing through my veins, just as these folks. Only the grace of God, the blood of Jesus and the on-going sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit separates me from the people in this story.

O, God, thank You. Thank You, Father, for Your grace, for calling my name and saving me. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me by Your blood, for washing me clean in Calvary’s atonement, for entering my life and giving me a new heart and a new standing with the Father. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for filling me, for working in my life day in and day out to make me more like Jesus. O, God, thank You for revealing Yourself to me and for saving me. You are my only defense against rampant depravity.

Hallelujah! I love You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I love You.


Saturday, February 20: Judges 18-An avalanche of sin


Chapter 18 begins, At that time the Israelites did not have a king.. I thought, but God was to be their king. As Israel’s tribes scattered to take their allotment of land, the people of God disintegrated into separated islands. In the last chapter we read that, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6). What a sad state of affairs. God is displaced from His rightful place as Lord and King. God’s word is forgotten, so people do what they “think” is right, just and fair. BIG PROBLEMS.

Today’s account is like watching the birth of an avalanche. Last chapter,like the loud band or the slipping of the first boulder, snow begins to rumble down a mountainside slope.  A man makes an idol, an ephod and hires a Levite to be his personal priest. It is bad that one family is so lost but in a land of hundreds of thousands of families, it is not a big deal, or is it?

In chapter 18 the small snow tumbling turns into a full-fledged avalanche careening down the mountain. An entire tribe steals the idol, ephod and priest and makes it their God!  One family has mushroomed into 1/12 of the nation!

I know enough OT history to know that this sin will haunt Dan and Israel for the rest of their existence.

As I thought about this, God began to impress within me the problem of allowing a known sin (or sin pattern), no matter how seemingly small and insignificant it may appear, to go unchecked in my life. Why? Because it just might start gaining momentum and before I know it … you get the idea. This thought then led to a time of soul searching and prayer…

Psalm 139:23-24 came to mind and became my morning prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.



Friday, February 19: Judges 17-How low can you go?

There is a discount furniture store in my area that is always advertising, Bob’s Discount Furniture. The ads are a little quirky and usually feature Bob or his wife. In one ad his wife and another woman are singing a jingle, “How low can you go? How low can you go?,” as the screen shows Bob slashing prices on some furniture. The ad will not win any awards but I guess it is memorable.

The jingle came to mind, but not in a good way, as I read this chapter. “How low can you go?” In other words, how far will Israel stoop from the ways of God???

Verse 3 blares with the fallen-ness of Israel, When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you." This mother consecrates money to the Lord to do something that God expressly forbids in the 10 Commandments!

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, … (Deut5:6-9)

We are not talking about breaking one of the more obscure rules of the faith, this mother is expressly breaking one of the 10 Commandments! And she thinks she is honoring God by doing it!!! How low can it go???

Verse 6 describes the state of affairs throughout the Land, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. No bearings, no foundation, no word of God to provide a mooring. People simply did as they saw fit!?! How low can it go?

The Spirit’s voice chimed in at this point, “Bill, this is what happens when people, even well meaning people, lose the anchor of My word.” This mother knew the name of the Lord and probably did want to honor God for returning the money. Unfortunately, she was completely misguided; she was off the mark by a mile. Actions count, behavior matters, how we live and what we do is significant. God’s word and His word alone, not our thoughts or ideas about God, will lead us to truth and right living before God.

O, Lord, keep me in Your word. Lord, let Your word be my anchor and the guide for my life. Lord, intensions aren’t enough, I need the truth of Your word to guide and direct me. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.


Thursday, February 18: Judges 16-Please.

Sampson is a tragic figure a man of immense strength and equally immense weaknesses. Sadly, Sampson never grew more mature. He let his weaknesses ruin his life.

Still with the Lord, the door is always open for a new chance. No one strays beyond the reach of the Lord.

In the last moments of his life, Sampson calls out to the Lord, one last time, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes" (28). Listening to that prayer I heard something I hadn’t heard in Sampson’s story before. The word ‘please.’ This is the first time Sampson doesn’t demand from God or from his parents. In all the other exchanges, Sampson demands or cries out (my sense is that he would through a tantrum, for example 15:18) but not so in this verse. In 28 he seems humbled and contrite; something clearly has changed within him.

God answers, God comes to his side, and God gives Sampson his greatest victory. I am prone to think that God was always there but Sampson was too proud to call out until the end.

Lord, we teach our children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ They can be mere words or they can reflect the position of the heart. Help me find and live in a place of humility before You. Help me to come to You with ‘please’ on my lips and gratitude and trust in my heart that You will always be there when I call.  In Jesus name… amen.


Wednesday, February 17: Judges 15-Uncensored

I struggled this morning. Lord, what word would you have for me? Sampson seems to act both impulsively and violently seeking his own revenge, none of these are character traits high on the godly list. And in the end Sampson wins a great victory but the ends don’t justify the means, do they?! The chapter closes with Sampson leading Israel for 20 years.

I sat and wondered and questioned God.  What do You have for me today from Your word?

I am amazed how uncensored God’s word is. The stories and accounts often reveal raw humanity. Certainly this is true of Sampson. He may be a hero who saves Israel from the Philistines but he is anything but a good, even honorable man. He is flawed, imperfect and yet used of God.

It was with this last sentence that God’s voice flashed. Even with my imperfections God can and will use me to bring good, to advance His kingdom. Of course I should strive to live an honest God-honoring life but I don’t have to be perfect to be used of God…

Lord, warts and all, I surrender to You. Perfect me, change me, mature me, grow me to be more like Jesus every day. Lord, knowing that this side of eternity I will never reach perfection, I offer my imperfect life to You and Your service. Use me as You deem best for advancing Your kingdom, encouraging Your people and serving all in Jesus’ name… amen.



Tuesday, February 16: Judges 14-

I find Sampson’s story tragic. He epitomizes a brainless hunk. Chuck Swindol called Samson a “he-man with a she-weakness.” Sampson reminds me a great deal of the character Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Sampson has radar for manipulative women.

I sit here this morning thinking this man needs therapy, or a slap up-side the head. I want to scream, “How can you be so stupid, so dim?” Let’s face it, Sampson was not the ‘brightest bulb in the pack.’

Then I got to thinking, with all his glaring faults, (and who doesn’t have faults, weaknesses, blind spots? I know I do, maybe mine are not quite so obvious but they are there…), God still chose to use him to be His agent of deliverance. Another thought I had was that God used Sampson’s he-man strength for His glory. We all have strengths. God made us with them and God will use our strengths, too, if we let Him.

The overriding message that the Spirit seemed to sear into my heart today was I have value before God. He has made me for a purpose. God has things for me to do and I am particularly gifted for the things God has for me to do. So stop making excuses and get on with doing the things of God.

Oh, by the way, all of this is true for you, too.

Here am I, Lord, send me… Here am I, Lord, use me… to bring honor and glory to Your name! To save Your people, to advance Your kingdom… use me.


Monday, February 15: Judges 13-

Many of us know the basic story of Sampson. Today’s chapter is the ‘back story’ about his parents, ordinary people touched by an encounter with the Lord God Almighty.

The ‘back story’ begins with the all too familiar refrain of Israel living evilly. Again they forsake the Lord and stray after false gods which results in doing evil. 40 years of doing evil, that’s more than a generation of doing evil. Often overlooked in this ‘back story’ is the fact that despite the culture around them, Manoah and his wife were able to cling to the hope of the Lord’s salvation. Somehow they were able to say ‘NO’ to the influences of their anti-Yahweh culture. Somehow they were able to resist the ‘everyone is doing it’ living of the people around them. Somehow they were able to recognize God when He came to them with a job to do.

Even as I wrote this, God-connections to my life began to flow:

“Bill, will you cling to Me as your hope for salvation and the world’s hope for salvation. Will you cling to me?”

“Bill, will you say ‘NO’ to the against-God influences of your culture. Will you say No?”

“Bill, will you resist what everyone else is doing and instead, live to please Me. Will you?

“Bill, are you listening for my voice, I have some jobs for you to do. Are you listening?”

O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I speak out loud my devotion to You. Yes, I will cling, Yes, I will say ‘no’ to God-less influences. Yes, I will resist. Yes, I will listen for Your voice, Your leading, Your will!  Yes, God, Yes! In Jesus’ name, amen.



Interesting Tidbit

In verse 18, as the angel of the Lord (who is later revealed to be the Lord) speaks with Manoah, the angel replies read: "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding."

The word for ‘beyond understanding’ or ‘beyond comprehension’ is sometimes translated ‘wonderful.’ The same root word is used in Isaiah 9:6. You know that verse:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

How true! Jesus, the child who was born, is beyond comprehension!


Saturday, February 13: Judges 12-jealosy in the house.

Forty-Two Thousand, that’s a lot of people. 42,000 deaths is not far from the number of US soldiers who died in the Vietnam war (58,000). 42,000 in one battle! And this was 42,000 deaths within the family of Israel, one family killing members of another family. Needless deaths that stemmed from jealousy…

Ephraim grew jealous of Gilead’s victory. Ephraim fed its jealousy by distorting the facts of what happened, like a camper stoking and adding wood to her campfire, Ephraim began to blaze with jealousy and related emotions until words were exchanged and swords were drawn and 42,000 brothers needlessly died.

Sad days in Israel. And to make matters worse the text never hints that anyone even mourns this atrocity. The sin of Israel continues to spiral down at an alarming rate.

Jealousy is a dangerous emotion… my mind scans my life for seeds of this sin. It is too easy to allow jealousy to sneak into the soul.

It can be personal:

Bob got a better raise than I…

Jane got the promotion I deserved…

It brews within families:

Sally is mom’s favorite…

Harold got a better slice of the estate in the will…

It can even show up spiritually

John can sing, I wish got to stand and sing for everyone…

Why did Margaret get picked to be an elder (deacon) and not me…

XYZ church gets all the breaks…

Jealousy left unattended and untreated brews a dark reality… thoughts and impressions are distorted; words are exchanged personally or behind the scenes; wrongful actions are delivered. 42,000 may not die, but friendships do, families are torn apart, neighboring churches stop relating…

“Bill, God speaks, check your soul for jealousy…”

O Lord, help me look inside my life. It is dark in there and I often don’t like what I see. Help me Lord to not only look inside, but to treat the sin if find by taking it to the cross of Jesus, allowing Jesus my Lord to cut it out. May it be so O Lord, may it be so… amen.


Friday, February 12: Judges 11- Jephthah

I found Jephthah’s story so rich I decided to sit with it two times today contemplating verses 1-30 in the morning and 29-40 later in the day.

Verses 1-30; second chances…

Rejected, abused and eventually run off by his family, Jephthah’s early life was one of compounding disappointment. As painful as it must have been, I found two elements of the account fascinating, even inspiring.

First Jephthah never gave up or gave in to the devastation of his early life. He didn’t allow those rejections to define him. Forced from his family, he rebuilt his life in another town where his natural leadership gifts drew others to follow him. How he was able to do this, I don’t know. I can only guess since the text is silent. But that he did this is a certainty.

Second, Jephthah maintained the spiritual heritage of his Israelite family even though his brothers ran him out of town. Another way to say this is that Jephthah didn’t blame God or turn his back of God for his lousy family and the abuse they heaped on him. Instead he apparently stayed close to the Lord despite his family rejecting him. It is amazing to me that during a time when Israel has forsaken the Lord, Jephthah recites perfectly the history of his people to the attacking king, and before a single sword clashes Jephthah turns to the Lord for help and strength with a vow.

As the story goes, Jephthah’s people turn to him in their hour of need and God blesses him and graces him as the one to save Israel from the Amorite threat. And so God gives Jephthah a second chance with his family.

I love second chance stories. But what strikes me this morning is how Jephthah reacted and lived with the rejections of his early years. He never gave up on God and never gave up on himself… here’s the morsel I chewed on during the day…

Lord, thank You for the myriad of second chance You have given me, and You continue to give to be. Thank You. … amen.


Verses 29-40; a man of his word…

For me these verses are some of the most disturbing in scripture… I cringe reading it. At the same time, Jephthah inspires me because he lives up to his word, despite the supreme cost. Jephthah is Abraham without the angel shouting, “STOP.” [Tidbit, Hebrews 11:32 lauds Jephthah as a man of faith!]

We live in an era when a person’s word is broken at the mere thought of discomfort or when a better offer is presented

[examples abound, athletes and coaches regularly sign contracts which they then break when they want more money or a better coaching job comes calling… why give your word in the contract in the first place? Marriages break up after pledging “fidelity” (whatever happened to that concept!?!) and vowing that the marriage will “be for better or worse.”]

Jephthah, reminds us that a vow before God is a vow no matter how difficult it is to fulfill and in this case no matter how foolish a vow it was to make in the first place.

Like it or not Jephthah is a man of his word, period.

Jephthah’s example is a prime reason why I read through the Bible yearly. Back in the 70’s I prayed, “Lord if I can find the money to buy this new Bible call the NIV, I will read it every year of my life.” Well I found the money and bought the Bible, I read it voraciously early on. But honestly, there have been seasons and years when I have said to myself I have read it so many times maybe this year I can only read parts of it… Invariably Jephthah comes to mind. If he can fulfill his vow of sacrificing the first thing that came out of his house, which to his dismay turned out to be his daughter, then I can suck it up and be a man of my word and read God’s word.

Lord Jesus, this story drives me to two connected prayers. First Lord, guard my heart and mouth from making foolish and impulsive vows to You or to others. Secondly, Lord give me the fortitude to be a man of my word, and when I make a vow to You or others to keep it. Amen.


Thursday, February 11: Judges 10- the incredible love of God.


I found myself growing profoundly sad reading this chapter. Israel, it seems, at every turn forsakes the Lord and runs after any god available. Verse 6 was the depth of sadness: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him…

Marriage is one of the word-pictures God uses for the love relationship between God and His people. It is meant to be faithfully monogamous… God to His people; His people to God. And yet Israel seems to treat its marriage to the Lord like Tiger Woods treated his marriage to Elin. Israel like Tiger maintained no discretion. Look at the list, Baal & Ashtoreth, the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammonites, & the Philistines; if someone worship it Israel did too. Nothing was too low for Israel. Sure God got angry… who wouldn’t. I mean Israel didn’t have one indiscretion and then come to her senses. Israel was a serial-adulterer.

And yet here is what blew me away; God never gave up on Israel. God continued to save Israel and to love Israel with an undying, amazing, unconditional love! Wow… that is the God we serve.

I sat for a while mesmerized by God’s incredible love for Israel and for me!

Father God, thank You for Your vast, incredible and amazing love… even when I turn my back on You, You never forget or forsake me… thank You, bless You… amen.


Wednesday, February 10: Judges 9- Sad, sad days.

Senseless murders, scheming for power, despicable acts, lies and cheating, these were ugly days. What happened? What changed?

It seems people were left to themselves. It has been many chapters since we witnessed God’s word restraining, correcting and or directing peoples’ lives. There have been a few judges who heard and followed God, but the prominence and place of the word preserved and written is no where to be seen.

“Left to ourselves,” I thought, “humanity spirals down. No checks, no balances, corruption grows and sin abounds.” Every society has laws, why? Because the sin that is within all of us needs to be held in check by some force. A week or so ago we read about seeds of disobedience being planted. Well the roots have grown strong and the fruit of disobedience was clearly visible in today’s Bible chapter.

Each week in worship we set aside a few moments to recognize our own personal sin. There are some weeks when I am planning the service that I think, “O I don’t want to keep pounding people (and myself) with our sinfulness. I want to build them (me) up.” Then when I read chapters like today and realize how often God’s word reminds me of just how vulnerable I am to sin, I come back to my senses and realize I (we) have to regularly look at my true sin-filled self. I don’t like doing this, but it is one of the few habits that helps restrain sin in my life. Left to myself I could (would) be an Abimelech. Now that is a frightening thought… God help me!

Lord God, that is exactly what I must pray. Help me. God my Father help me. Jesus help me. Holy Spirit help me. Expose to me my sin. Ugh I don’t want to pray this, I don’t want to see the ugliness and sinfulness of which I am capable… but Lord it isn’t healthy for me to trick myself into believing that I am better than I truly am. The better I see myself, the clearer my need for You becomes. And Lord God it is to You that I want to run. You are the only place of safety. Your word is my only true source of correction.

Lord God I also lay myself before You, asking that You purify my heart. Clean up my sin, wash me whiter than snow, so that I may enjoy intimate connection with You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.


Tuesday, February 9: Judges 8- A disappointing conclusion. lessons learned



Gideon’s tremendous victories crash and burn because of one poor decision. After the final victory the people want to make Gideon king, he replies "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you." And he said, "I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder." … "We'll be glad to give them." So they spread out a garment, and each man threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels [~$750,000 US in today’s market], … Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (24-27).

An ephod was a religious vestment worn by priests and the like. Gideon turned the gold into a symbol of religious authority, rank and privilege. Gideon’s mistake wasn’t asking for a gift. Payment for leading the troops is not wrong… but turning the gold into religious dominance or authority was. Now we have the problem, the ephod became an idol, a snare for Gideon, his family and Israel.

I wondered, “How does something like this happen?” I know I am moving beyond what the text says, but sanctified imagination in often part of devotions.

Did Gideon act hastily? Maybe he was still exhausted from the battle and depleted physically, emotionally and spiritually… I am not excusing him. But I know that I make poor decisions when I am emotionally, physically and spiritually depleted. Maybe that is God’s warning for me today?

I thought too, how easy it is to think success and prowess in one arena automatically translates into others. Being a successful general does not qualify Gideon for religious leadership. Knowing our limitations is important, because when we venture into arenas in which we are not gifted problems happen…

Again I wondered did his ego and pride prompt this foolish move?

The more I thought the more I realized that I have to guard myself, all of these possible reasons are potential points of personal struggle. Guarding myself, keeping close to the Lord. Seeking spiritual, physical and emotional renewal regularly is an important safety feature for life (no wonder God designed a weekly Sabbath). Gideon had no check or balance in his life and his impulsive act resulted in huge damage.

Lord Jesus, I am as vulnerable as Gideon. Pride lurks in hidden place of my life. I am particularly vulnerable when tired, stressed, and following a spiritual/emotional/physical high (or low, for that matter). Help me Jesus to keep these pockets of sin in check that I might live for You and finish well. Something Gideon didn’t do. Help me to be more like Joshua … who I studied a few weeks ago. I love You Jesus and I need Your help and the abiding presence of Your Holy Spirit to keep on faithfully living for You.


Monday, February 8: Judges 7- Egos to the back of the bus.

I can’t imagine that present- day Israeli military studies Gideon’s battle for its advanced tactical maneuvers! From the outset God has a greater goal than winning a military battle. Be honest, what military leader would give up his numerical advantage and then go into battle with musical instruments and clay pots rather than weapons? But that’s what God directed Gideon to do.

Verse 2 reveals God’s intentions: The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her. My eye caught a couple of keys.

·       Too many men for me to deliver: The battle was never about Israel’s strength, but rather God’s deliverance. God was going to do His thing, He would do the delivering.

·       Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her: No boasting allowed for Israel or Gideon.
   I find it interesting that boasting by Israel is linked to being against God… ouch that’s a double whammy. I never realized that when I boast or take the credit for something God did that I am opposing or acting against God!

As my reading and these thoughts sift in my soul, I am realizing that following God requires me (us) to set ego aside and adopt the posture of humility. Typing the word ‘humility’ fires off some other biblical linkages. Moses, probably the greatest leader in the scriptures was known as the most humble man on the face of the earth (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Nu 12:3). David regularly worshiped and praised God. His psalms are filled with boasting in God. Peter, Paul the list goes on.

God is reminding me through this chapter to keep my ego in check and to honor Him in all I do and to give Him praise when successes come.

Lord I never realized that when I boast and take credit for things that You have done I am against You. That is a frightening thought… forgive me Lord for I am certain that I have done just that!

And now O Lord, help me to learn and grow… O Lord, may my life boast only in You… Never, ever, in me. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.


Saturday, February 6: Judges 6- All the time or some of the time?


Gideon presents an interesting character. A not-so-brave person who will finally do God’s bidding but only after he gets a direct sign from God. Just writing this stings because I too act that way. Oh, I’m more sophisticated than Gideon, I don’t lay a fleece on my front lawn daring God to use it to give me a sign. But I often ask for additional “confirmation” before I trust the voice of the Spirit nudging me from within. Is that really any different than what Gideon did with the fleece? And I too sometimes ask for even more “confirmation” when I am not sure, which is usually when I don’t really want to do what God is asking.  Hmmm, I need to pray about this area of my life.

Where the Lord spoke the loudest this morning was with the first few verses, the cycle of not following the Lord, and then crying out for salvation. Verses 1& 6 tell the story: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. … Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help. I have read Judges often enough to know that this cycle will repeat itself over and over again.

However, during my reading this morning, it was as if God held a mirror up. Instead of thinking about “them” (the people in ancient Israel), my thoughts rebounded to me and my world. How often does a similar cycle breed in my life? My walk with Jesus gets a little bumpy and life unravels. Sin has its consequences. So I beg God to help me straighten me out, and God does. Isn’t that really the same pattern as the text?

Next, I thought how many people, myself included, draw near to God when things are tough? “O, God, help…” But then when life re-normalizes, they forget God until the next crisis. For example, throughout the US, following 9/11 worship attendance swelled but within 6 months worship attendance was back at pre-9/11 figures. I was commenting with a prayer partner just yesterday, “Will people who are begging God to help them during this economic downturn, stick close to the Lord as the recession ends?” Time will tell. But what I realized this morning is that I, too, have the ability to treat God like a “Get out of Jail” monopoly card rather than the Lord of the Universe.

O, Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that You do continually come to my aid, that You routinely forgive, that You save me again and again. Jesus, forgive me for taking advantage of You and for less than stellar ongoing faithfulness. Lead me to deeper last and abiding trust and following.

Also, Jesus, help me to cultivate an intimacy with You so that I will know Your voice and follow without incessant requests for more ‘confirmation.’ Teach me the sound of Your voice so that I will know it the first time and act IMMEDIATELY. Please, Lord,  please. Amen.



Friday, February 5: Judges 5- praising God for what He has done


Yesterday we read the story of Israel’s victory over Sisera. We read how God used Deborah, Barak and Jael to defeat Sisera’s far superior army. Today’s chapter is a song written by Deborah and Barak praising the Lord for the victory over Sisera.

There is something about poetry/song; it penetrates into the human soul going places that mere prose can never go. There’s something about song and rhyme that is far more memorable than mere prose. Song is powerful, even for the non-musical person like myself.

Deborah and Barak immortalize God’s victory over Sisera in song. Through this song, Israel will relive God’s great victory again and again. Parents will teach children the greatness of God by singing this song. The assembly will praise God when they gather and sing this song. Even today in our everyone-can-read world, courage grows, faithfulness blossoms and love for God deepens when God’s people sing of His greatness. How much more important was song when people couldn’t read, when few books or scrolls existed? Deborah and Barak understood the power of song and so they sang…

I began to wonder, “How do I pass along the greatness, wonder and interventions of God in my life?” I can’t sing a lick and can’t tell one note from another, so singing is out. Yet this passage shows me the importance of passing along the great things You have done and are doing How can I do that so that my children will know? How can I give my children and others the gift Deborah and Barak gave their family Israel???

Lord, make me mindful of passing along Your stories. Not just Your story in scripture, but Your story written every day in my life and the lives of those I know. Show me, Jesus, how to praise You for all You are doing in my life. … show me, Lord. Show me.


Practical Ideas for Praising God

I don’t sing, maybe you do… sing. Write a song if you can. Can’t sing, write a story, put it on paper. I journal my mission trips. Each year my wife and I recap our year in a Christmas letter, in which we make sure to include the wonderful ways God impacted our lives during the year. We have copies of each letter in a file for ourselves and our kids. These are ways we capture, for generations to come, the things God has done in our lives. In whatever way works best for you, memorialize the wonders of God in your lives.


Thursday, February 4: Judges 4- Against insurmountable odds God wins

I focused on the military odds: one iron chariot against 10 foot-soldiers. Put your money on the chariots. In modern warfare that would be something like 1 loaded-armored Humvee (with its supporting troops) against 10 foot-solders. Or maybe 1 tank against 10 foot soldiers armed only for hand to hand combat. Israel is facing a stronger mechanized and armored foe. This is a David vs. Goliath battle. Again, David wins because the Lord is on his side.

The telling of this story emphasizes the Lord’s victory. Deborah said to Barak, "Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?" So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. At Barak's advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, …

Who won the battle? The LORD! Yes, God employed the army of Israel and Deborah with Barak as leaders but the LORD won the victory. Israel understood this, Deborah and Barak understood this… No LORD leading, no victory.

This is a great reminder for me. No matter what the odds seem like from my perspective, when the LORD is leading the initiative, He wins!

Jesus, Deborah is blessed with faith to see Your hand at work. She worries not about the odds, she listens and obeys. Lord, her role is my role, is our role. First listen, listen for what the Lord is doing, then follow, do what the Lord would have you do.

Jesus, this is much easier to put in a prayer than my life. I have breakdowns in both areas. Sometimes I fail to listen or to listen well. I charge ahead before You send or I miss opportunities when I don’t listen well. And then there are times I listen but fail to act. As I sit this morning, Lord, I ask for Your forgiveness for the times I have missed Your leading. I also ask for renewed zeal to listen for the voice of Your Spirit and fortitude to obey. Lord, help me to live believing the proverb, The Lord + One person = victory. In Jesus’ name I live and pray and find my being… amen.


Wednesday, February 3 Judges 3- The ways of God are deeper than we know

As I read this chapter I had two distinct devotional encounters with the Lord. As I contemplated the first 4 verses I marveled at God’s ways. Take a moment and read them again.

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience) …. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD's commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.

Reading through Joshua and now beginning Judges, I wondered why God didn’t finish the job and destroy all the peoples of the land. Why leave enemies in Israel’s midst? Now I know. God had a plan all along. And in Israel’s case it was for their good. God wanted to teach the men warfare, something God knew would be essential for Israel to survive in the world. Secondly, God was testing their faithfulness. Would Israel follow Him or run after foreign gods?

Isaiah 55:8-9 flashed through my thoughts: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Yes, God’s ways are higher and deeper than I will ever know. God had a good reason to leave some enemies in the land.

More times than I can remember I have wondered why God allowed something. Generally these wonderings revolve around something I don’t like or something that God asks me to do that is hard. Yet, what I have learned over the years and what this text shows me is, that God knows what He is doing and God has reasons for what He does. Sometimes God has multiple reasons for what He does. What I need to do is learn to trust God and to be faithful in my living…

O, God, nothing gets past You. You have a sovereign plan. Your ways are right. You have Your reasons, reasons and ways that are higher than I can ever understand. Give to me a trusting, following heart… this I pray in my Savior Jesus’ name. Amen


PS, so I don’t leave you hanging, my second devotional-thought was the sad refrain of verses 5-31. Israel did evil and eventually, after crying out, God saves them. I have read Judges enough to know that theme will emerge and re-emerge throughout the book. In all likelihood God will lead me to write some thoughts on that before the book is through.

There is always much more in God’s word than I can write about and if you see something different than what I see, trust the Spirit is speaking to you and follow Him into His appointed devotional time for that day…


Tuesday, February 2: Judges 2- who is keeping you on track


What struck me reading yesterday’s chapter became explicitly clear this morning. Israel slipped into disobedience. I suspect, based on yesterday’s reading, that Israel’s disobedience wasn’t blatant at first but over time the ‘seeds of disobedience’ matured into deeply rooted sin and sin patterns in Israel’s life. Verse 11 reveals that Israel’s slide resulted in the blatant worship of false gods. Oh, the depths of sin we are capable of committing.

Connecting verse 7 to verse 10 is telling, The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel. After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.

It begs the question in my soul, “To who am I (are you) listening?”

Everyone of us is capable of slipping into sin and sin-patterns. A strong defense is having someone we trust speaking God’s truth into our lives, someone rooted in the Lord, someone who longs to follow the Lord, someone guided by the word of the Lord. These ‘someones’ won’t be perfect but must be faithful and be willing to speak direct truth into our lives.

O, Lord, may I never see myself as incorruptible. Instead, Lord, give me a profound understanding of my capability to fall into sin and to sin. Holy Spirit, speak into my life, continue to show me places of vulnerability, continue to reveal sin-pockets in my life. Holy Spirit, place in my life men and women who will speak Your truth into my life so that I may live faithfully all the days of my life… serving my God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Monday, February 1: Judges 1- seeds of disobedience


For years we planted vegetable gardens. It is pretty amazing, really. You push small seeds into soil, add some water, sun, and a little care and in a while plants begin to grow. Before you know it, you’re eating fresh vegetables. Once the seeds are planted and germination begins, it doesn’t take much effort, seeds just seems to grow.

In today’s account I watched as Israel planted disobedience-seeds. Up through verse 20 things are going well. Different tribes connect for particular battles, one clan helping another. A wise strategy.

Then somewhere in the white space between verses 20 and 21 things change. Benjamin, a small tribe, is not able to oust the Jebusites from Jerusalem. It is one thing to not have the strength at present to finish the job, unfortunately, the text includes a little ‘seed of disobedience,’ the diminutive preposition ‘with;’ …to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites(21). Seems harmless, ‘if you can’t beat them,’ join them, but God specifically forbade any mixing. Israel was to destroy all inhabitants. A little seed of disobedience…

Next we read that Manasseh takes the easier road of subjugation rather than defeat. But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely (27-28).

Benjamin didn’t bother to call for help from his brothers and lived with the enemy. Manasseh, who was strong enough to defeat the enemy, went further opting for subjugation rather than battle.

At this point God began to nudge me. “See how easy it is to slip? A minor deviation from My way here, another one there and before you know it, Bill, you are not following My instructions at all. You have substituted your way for Mine…” Sometimes it is tempting not to write the full tithe check…. I’ll just take a little off. It is so easy to neglect the speed limit, everyone else does. It is so simple to adopt belittling or vulgar language at work/school, just like everyone else. Life gets hectic and I go a day without devotions, then 2…. no one will know…

None of these are devastating, yet each reveal a seed planted, which left to its own, will continue to grow.

My heart caught God’s message and so I began to pray,

Okay, Lord, I see. I need to be vigilant. I need to scrupulously attend to Your business in Your way allowing Your character to flourish in my life. Lord, show me areas of inattention where I have let the ways of people not walking with You infiltrate my life.

Please, Lord, as difficult as it might be, show me seeds of disobedience I have planted. In Jesus’ name…