Author Archives: jenlvest

I Samuel 21-22; I Chronicles 5; Psalm 52; Acts 5

Anyone who thinks the Bible is boring has never read I Samuel 21 and 22!  These passages read like a suspenseful plot in a blockbuster movie.  David is a fugitive, running from Saul, whose increasing paranoia causes him to imagine that David wants to kill him.  Enter Doeg the Edomite, who has seen David visiting the high priest, Ahimilech, and is happy to (incorrectly) inform Saul that the priest is protecting David.  Paranoid Saul then instructs Doeg to kill Ahimilech and all the priests at Nob, and Doeg obliges by killing not only the priests but every man, woman, child, and animal.  Only Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, escapes and runs to David, telling him about the massacre.  David is overcome with guilt because he knows Doeg told Saul he had been with Ahimilech, and he feels responsible for the deaths at Nob.  Suddenly, the future king of Israel is hiding in a cave, fearing for his life.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s safe to assume that David was fairly confident God would protect and preserve his life.  After all, God had chosen him to be king when he was just a boy.  But I’m also fairly certain that when David was on the run from Saul and acting like a madman in front of an enemy king and hiding in a cave alone, he wasn’t feeling very protected.  In fact, he probably felt very much like a failure, wondering what God was doing?  I’ve been there. Sure God had called me to something and wondering what went wrong–that mentoring relationship that didn’t go quite as well as I prayed it would.  That small group that didn’t “gel” like I’d hoped.  That ministry idea that never became reality because I was too scared. Those things sure felt like failures to me.  But God doesn’t promise protection from failure or fear.  He just asks me to be obedient and faithful, like David.  And, when I choose to learn from past failures and step out in spite of my fears, God often rewards me far above what I could have imagined.  

And then there’s Abiathar.  He was the sole survivor of the massacre at Nob and yet he sought out David, the guy who was responsible for killing his father and other family members.  David couldn’t do anything about the killings, but he could offer Abiathar sanctuary and reassurance. “Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” (I Samuel 22:23, ESV) David wasn’t scared of Abiathar, although maybe he should have been!  David was confident God would protect Abiathar because David was confident God would protect him.  His trust and hope were in the Lord, and he offered that trust and hope to a very frightened Abiathar.  And David was right!  Of course, he survived and became king, but Abiathar also survived and went on to become High Priest and “the king’s companion” (I Chronicles 15:11; 27:33-34).  God had a plan for David and Abiathar, and He has a plan for me.  And, just like them, I am indestructible until God’s plan for me is complete.

Although we can easily imagine what they may have been, I Samuel 21 and 22 don’t reveal much about David’s emotions during this time.  However, Psalms 52, written in the cave just after David found out about Doeg’s betrayal, gives us a clear picture of David’s thought and feelings as he condemns Doeg’s behavior and affirms the steadfast love of God.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?  The steadfast love of God endures all the day. (Psalm 52:1, ESV)

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good… (Psalm 52:8-9, ESV)

I’m grateful for today’s reminder that David was human, just like me.  I tend to think of him as a spiritual paragon; after all, he was a “man after God’s own heart”.  But he didn’t always think or do the right (spiritual) thing.  He was afraid and worried. He made poor choices and sinned, just like me.  But, as Psalm 52 reveals, David’s heart was focused on God, even in the most difficult situations.  He recognized that God alone was worthy of his faith and trust.  And, in the end, God dealt graciously with him, just as He deals graciously with me.

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I Samuel 1-2; Psalm 120; Acts 5

And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said “I have asked for him from the Lord.” (I Samuel 1:19b-20, ESV)

Hannah was all too familiar with grief and sadness.  She had been unable to conceive for years.  And as she waited and hoped for a child, she watched her husband’s other wife, Peninah, give birth many times while she taunted and provoked Hannah for her childlessness.   

One of the most difficult parts of this passage for me is the phrase “because the Lord had closed her womb”.  Why was God was withholding from Hannah the one thing she wanted most? But “in due time”—when it was appropriate, and God determined that the time was right—He remembered Hannah.  He honored her faithfulness and answered her prayers.  He gave her a son, Samuel, who would himself be a deliverer for the nation of Israel.  Hannah was watching for a child, but God was watching His people and waiting for the perfect time to provide the leader He knew Israel would need. 

I am reminded that even when I think I know everything I need to know about any given situation, my knowledge is finite.  God sees the big picture; He designs every circumstance in my life to complete His perfect plan.  Occasionally, He graciously allows me a glimpse of His bigger plan but, most often, He simply asks me to trust.

In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.  Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. (Psalm 120:1, ESV)

Psalm 120 is the first of the “Psalms of Ascent”—a collection of songs (Psalms 120-134) that the Israelites sang as they travelled to Jerusalem for their annual feasts each year.  (They were kind of like those Spotify or Apply Music playlists we enjoy on road trips!)  Each Psalm of Ascent begins with the writer calling out to God for help and ends with praise to God for His goodness and deliverance. 

The unknown author of Psalm 120 was surrounded by liars and cheaters; he begins the song by begging God to save him.  And just like the Lord heard and remembered Hannah, he heard the Psalmist.  It’s interesting (and convicting!) to me that the author doesn’t ask God to help him deliver himself.  He simply asks God for deliverance.  How often do I pray assuming God needs Jennifer to accomplish whatever it is I’m asking for?  The Psalmist knew God could handle the liars and cheaters surrounding him.  Like Hannah, when he was distressed, he called out to God asking God to do what he knew God could do…remember, deliver, answer.  My prayers don’t need to be lengthy works of poetry or perfectly curated speeches.  God longs to hear from me.  A simple “Help me.” or “Deliver me.” is beautiful to Him.

“They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5: 41-42, ESV)

In the final verses of Acts 5, after a miraculous release from prison and narrowly escaping being thrown right back in jail, the Apostles were beaten once more and sent on their way.  Just as God had delivered Hannah and the Psalmist, God delivered the Apostles.  And their response was to rejoice that they were worthy to suffer for Him and to continue—not just occasionally or once a week, but every day—teaching and preaching about Christ.

Today’s passages include various examples of God’s deliverance, but I also know that “deliverance” doesn’t always happen the way I pray that it will.  God always answers, but sometimes He answers with a “no” that I don’t understand.  Why didn’t He heal that friend or repair that relationship or provide what I thought was needed?  And I confess, in most of those situations, I don’t respond like Hannah or the Psalmist or the Apostles.  But thankfully, my sinful responses don’t change my God.  And, often, I can look back with the value of hindsight and see that what I prayed for and even thought I wanted was very small compared to God’s amazing plans for me. 

Father, thank you that You are unchanging, regardless of me.  Thank you for all the times You have taken my small, human desires and answered by delivering something so much better than I could have imagined.  Help me to be obedient like Hannah, trusting like the Psalmist, and joyful like the Apostles.  Deliver me from me, and make me more like You.  Amen.

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Joshua 22-24; Psalm 116; Luke 19

Today I’m sharing Psalm 116 in my own words followed by a song, entitled Psalm 116, by one of my favorite artists. (If you’ve never rearticulated/rewritten a Psalm from your own perspective back to God, I encourage you to try it!)

Psalm 116

I love you, Father.  Thank you for knowing me and knowing my voice specifically and for HEARING and ANSWERING my prayers.

You have shown me in the past that You hear and listen, so I know that, for the rest of my life, I can talk to You anytime and You will hear me.

I have experienced grief and sorrow.  At times, the sadness and fear are almost too much to bear.  

But I remember! Because I know that You have heard and answered in the past, I can call on You NOW and ask for help and comfort.

God, You are so kind and loving to me.  You make ALL things right even when this world seems very WRONG to me.

Thank You for protecting me even (and especially!) when I don’t realize I need Your protection.  You guard me in every way- physically, spiritually, and emotionally. You protect me from my own ignorance and inexperience. You pick me up and carry me when I am at my very weakest.
 
I’m a worrier, God. I lose a lot of sleep worrying. But I should be able to rest peacefully, having left all my worries and concerns with You.  You have blessed me more than I could ever know or articulate. Because you have done good things for me in the past, I know You will do them in the future.

Unlike the author of this Psalm, I haven’t faced the possibility of my own physical death.  Although I have experienced times when it seemed like death would be a welcome relief from the struggles of life and the sins of the world, You give me hope.  Your Word and Your reputation of kept promises console me and keep me from spiraling into despair.

And I have the assurance that, while I live on this earth, I am living in Your very presence because of the salvation You have so generously bought for me.

I confess that often, during difficult times, even when others assured me that You were working for good, I didn’t believe them.  I couldn’t understand how my circumstances could possibly be good.

But now I can look back and clearly see Your repeated goodness to me.  And although it seems silly to ask, I wonder how I could ever repay You?

I know what I can do! I can thank You again and again!  I can continue to pray so that You can answer my prayers and put Your goodness and love for me on display for everyone to see. And then I will have the opportunity to thank You yet again. 

I trust You to work on my behalf in the future so that I can see Your goodness and praise You again.  I will tell others of Your goodness so that they too can see what You’ve done and can believe that You will do the same for them.

Death is not something to be feared! Because all of Your children are precious to You, You welcome us to eternity when death arrives
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You have given me true freedom to serve You forever.  Thank you for the godly heritage I have been given in parents and grandparents and great grandparents who loved and served You.  May I give my own children this same invaluable inheritance that was given to me.

Thank you, Lord.  I have committed my life to you, and I want all my days to be a sacrifice of thanksgiving to You. I will do what I’ve promised to do in fellowship with other believers and in Your church.  Hallelujah!

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Deuteronomy 15-18; Psalm 115; Luke 9

In Luke 9:51, eight simple words, “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” (ESV) mark a turning point in Jesus’ earthly ministry and hold deep meaning for you and me.  Up until this point, most of Jesus’ ministry had been in Galilee, near his home.  But as He began the journey to Jerusalem, He was resolute and willing to face what awaited Him there.  Jesus knew that He was on the way to His death.  He was heading to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s promise of a Savior who would die and forever satisfy the payment for sin.  It was a journey that Jesus took willingly, knowing He would be required to offer up His life.  Yet “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” and followed the path—for me. 

Jesus was resolved.  He had many opportunities to change His mind.  He was the God of the universe who could have called armies of angels to release Him from the cross.  But He knew that I was a sinner in a need of a Savior, and “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” and accomplish that for me.  I am always humbled when I think that even if Jen VeStrand had been the only sinner on earth, Jesus still would have willingly died just for me.  He loves me that much.

Jesus wasn’t interested in prestige.  Jesus willingly gave up all His glory to sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world. Israel was anticipating a king who would conquer evil and reign in Jerusalem.  Instead, God sent a baby who would live a humble, sinless life yet die a sinner’s death.  The Son of God had no place to lay His head, resisted temptation, and suffered persecution because “He had set His face to go to Jerusalem” and die for me.

Jesus turned toward Jerusalem, but He did not turn away from people.  Jesus’ determination and resolve did not overshadow His love and care.  The next few chapters of Luke are filled with examples of Jesus teaching to crowds yet stopping to have dinner with new convert Zacchaeus and his family, of using parables to teach valuable biblical principles to His disciples, of healing ten lepers and the blind beggar.  Those who society had cast out as worthless were important to Him, and He took the time to stop and show compassion to them even as He reminded His disciples that His death was imminent.  “He had set His face to go to Jerusalem” and even then, as He hung on the cross, He forgave the very people who had put Him there and, in so doing, He forgave me.

In a few days, I will join my church in celebrating the culmination of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem as we observe Palm Sunday.  It is my prayer that I will remember not just the King who rode triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst waving palm branches and adoring crowds but the humble Savior who “set His face to go to Jerusalem” to die and purchase my salvation.

“O you redeemed ones, on whose behalf this strong resolve was made—you who have been bought by the precious blood of this steadfast, resolute Redeemer—come and think awhile of Him, that your hearts may burn within you and that your faces may be set like flints to live and die for Him who lived and died for you!” CH Spurgeon

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Numbers 15-18; Psalm 113; Colossians 3

Although Numbers 16 is a difficult passage, it is also a beautiful display of God’s holiness and Moses and Aaron’s godly leadership.  And, as is always the case with God’s Word, it contains some valuable lessons for modern-day me (and you!) as well.

To summarize the passage, three groups within the nation of Israel expressed their discontentment with the leadership of Moses and Aaron: Korah (a Levite), Dathan and Abiram (from the tribe of Reuben), and 250 “well-known community leaders” (NIV) who Korah managed to rile up and convince to join him in his rebellion against God’s chosen leaders.  In the end, God vindicated Moses and Aaron and struck down Korah and his supporters. 

A few observations (necessary reminders for me!):

God is patient.  In Numbers 16:4, Moses first reaction to the uprising is to pray and seek God.  He gives Korah and his cohorts until the following morning to consider whether they want to rebel and be judged or repent and be spared.  They choose rebellion, but God in His patience gives them an opportunity to see the error of their ways and choose differently.  He exhibits the same patience with me. 

God cares about my motives.  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were envious of Moses and Aaron.  This, combined with their selfish ambitions, created a perfect environment for rebellion.  They were seeking their own greatness rather than the glory of God.  Although their outward rebellion was against Moses and Aaron, their hearts were rebelling against God’s appointed leadership for Israel.  I may not have mounted any insurrections lately, but simple disobedience to God’s Word because I think my plan is better is a form of selfish rebellion as well.

God requires humble peacemaking.  Rather than approaching Moses humbly and sharing their concerns, Korah and his cohorts decided that accusations and confrontation would be better.  They lost their lives because of that decision.  Is my life characterized by a prideful desire to create dissension, or do I prayerfully and humbly approach those with whom I disagree?

God provides wise counsel.  Numbers 16:1 mentions a man named On.  On is never mentioned again in Scripture.  What happened to him?  Did he change his mind?  Jewish tradition holds that On’s wife rebuked him for taking part in a rebellion and because he listened to her, his life was spared.  Am I humble enough to seek and listen to godly counsel, or do I prefer to forge ahead with my own plans not caring about the potential fallout?

God avenges sin.  Moses did not try to vindicate himself; he lets God defend him.  This is a hard one for me.  My sin nature wants to see anyone who hurts me or my family “get their due”, preferably immediately.  When I slow down long enough to be obedient and pray for those who have hurt me, God does amazing things in MY heart even if I don’t see any evidence of God “judging” like I would prefer.

God blesses abundantly.  In Numbers 16:8-10, Moses essentially says to Korah “You already have so much!  Why are you coveting the priesthood, too?”  Korah’s discontent ultimately caused his death.  God has blessed me immeasurably, and yet I often find myself wanting the positions or possessions of others.  How would my outlook change if I were simply grateful for ALL I have already been given?

God is forgiving.  Twice in Numbers 16, God was prepared to destroy the entire nation of Israel.  Twice Moses interceded on their behalf, and they were spared.  God has shown me the same mercy–many more than two times!

God is holy.  Yes, God is patient and forgiving, but He is also holy.  Those who were unwilling to repent and accept God’s appointed leadership for Israel were judged accordingly.  God’s holiness demands MY obedience in the same way.

Father it’s so easy to fall into my own form of “rebellion”.  Thank you for the lessons I can learn from the story of Korah.  Remind me that my sins are as hurtful to you as Korah’s were.  And thank you for offering me the same grace and forgiveness if I am humble enough to repent and accept them.

Jen

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