Author Archives: jenlvest

Psalm 149; Nahum; 2 Corinthians 4

Nahum, a little book tucked into the minor prophets that is often forgotten and/or overlooked, is written as a prophecy about the city of Nineveh.  Yes, that same city that had repented and turned to God after the message of Jonah.  But, in the 100 years since Jonah’s message, Ninevah had returned to its wicked ways, and God was preparing to annihilate the city once and for all.  Ironically, the name “Nahum” means “comfort” but, at first glance, the prophet’s message to the nation of Israel doesn’t seem very comforting at all.  Yet, in reality, Nahum was telling the Israelites, who were at that very moment under siege by the King who made Ninevah his home, that God was going to destroy this enemy. God was reminding Israel that He had chosen them, He loved them, and He was going to preserve them and fulfill His promises to them.

Nahum begins with a description of a powerful God.

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
    the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
    the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
    the world and all who dwell in it.

Who can stand before his indignation?
    Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
    and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
Nahum 1:1-6 (ESV)

Nahum begins his message with some poignant reminders of God’s past power and provision for His people.  These were events in which the nation of Israel had witnessed God’s power and provision firsthand:  He had parted the Red Sea and Jordan River for them (Ex. 14:21; Josh. 3:17).  He had descended to Mt Sinai in fire, and it trembled (Ex. 19:18).  Early in their travels through the wilderness, God had instructed Moses to strike the rock, providing water for the Israelites (Ex. 17:6).

Surely the Israelites were feeling fearful, abandoned, weary.  And, yet, in the midst of their suffering, Nahum’s message was one of comfort and reassurance.  He was reminding Israel to look back and remember that, despite their repeated disobedience and lack of trust, God had always kept His promises. 

The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
 But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
    and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
Nahum 1: 7-8 (ESV)

Nahum begins his message by rehearsing specific instances of God’s power and provision for Israel. He then moves immediately into reminding God’s people of His goodness.  The order of his message is not accidental.  Could Israel trust a God that was powerful but not good?  Could they trust a God that was good but not powerful?  I ask myself the same questions.  If God is powerful but not good, can I trust that He will use His great power to do good things?  And, if He is good but not powerful, can I trust that He will be able to accomplish the good things He has promised?  Of course, the answer is yes!  I can trust because God is both powerful AND good.  He does not make promises He cannot keep, and those promises are always good.

Like Israel, I can look back on God’s past faithfulness to me and trust that He will be faithful in the future.  Even when I cannot imagine anything good happening.  Even when things don’t happen in ways that I would consider “good”.  Even when I have no answers.  God’s past faithfulness is the anchor that grounds me for an uncertain future.  Because of His goodness, I can trust Him.  Because of His power I know that He can—and will—accomplish the good things He has promised. 

With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare,
the wisdom of God to plan it,
and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack? 
Surely, we are the most favored of all creatures. 
AW Tozer

Jen

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Psalm 123; Isaiah, 36-37; I Corinthians 10

It’s difficult to imagine how Hezekiah, King of Judah, must have felt during the events of Isaiah 36-37.  Nearly twenty years earlier, Assyria had attacked Judah’s northern neighbor, Israel, and scattered the Jews who lived there.  Now, Assyria had completed its attack on the other fortified cities in Judah and was preparing to lay siege to Jerusalem.  I imagine that King Hezekiah would be scrambling to meet with advisors and strategists and military personnel.  But instead, even as he faced taunts and ridicule from the enemy army’s Field Commander, Hezekiah chose prayer.  

Hezekiah prayed immediately.  In Isaiah 37:14, Hezekiah’s first response was to pray.  Prayer wasn’t an afterthought or something Hezekiah resorted to after attempting to resolve the situation himself.  He went to God first.  Sadly, I am often much better at realizing I need to pray about something–or even promising to pray about something–than I am about following through and actually praying.  Hezekiah didn’t hesitate.  He prayed first.

Hezekiah prayed honestly.  Isaiah 37:14 says that Hezekiah took the letter he had received and “spread it before the Lord”. (ESV)  I imagine Hezekiah sitting down, unrolling the scroll, and literally looking heavenward and saying “Okay, God.  Now what?”  Obviously, I don’t typically have a threatening letter to lay before God but am I willing to figuratively “lay” my struggles, needs, desires, and, most especially, my sins before Him?  Am I willing to be honest and vulnerable in my prayers?

Hezekiah praised first.  Before Hezekiah started rattling off his many requests and petitions, he spent time in praise and adoration.  Even though he himself was the King of Judah, Hezekiah acknowledged God’s authority and his dependence on Him.  I often skip the important step of adoration and jump right into my list of requests, but Hezekiah was careful to praise God first. 

Hezekiah prayed with certainty.   In Isaiah 37:17, Hezekiah’s boldly asks “Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see.” (ESV) God had shown Himself faithful in Hezekiah’s life before and, because of this, Hezekiah prayed confidently, knowing God would hear and answer.  Reflecting on God’s past faithfulness in my life and answered prayers should give me confidence to approach Him boldly in any situation.

Hezekiah prayed dependently.  Hezekiah didn’t mince words.  He laid it all out there—Assyria was coming to destroy Jerusalem, and they needed divine intervention.  God knows all my needs and struggles.  I don’t pray to inform Him.  I pray to remind myself of my dependence on Him and to invite Him to meet my needs.

Hezekiah prayed for God’s glory.  Hezekiah wasn’t interested in being the hero.  He didn’t care about accolades and praise.  He wanted God to be glorified in their victory.  His simple prayer in Isaiah 37:20 was “So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, SO THAT all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.” (ESV)  What motivates me to pray?  Is it my desire for a certain outcome, or do I want God alone to be glorified, regardless of the answer I receive?

Hezekiah prayed anyway.  In the beginning of Isaiah 37, Hezekiah sent his servants to seek wise counsel from the prophet Isaiah.  God’s response, through Isaiah, was the answer Hezekiah was hoping for “Thus says the LORD:  Do not be afraid because of the words you have heard…..I will make him [the King of Assyria] fall by the sword in his own land.“ (ESV)  This seems like a pretty good answer to me!  God had already answered and promised that Jerusalem would not fall to Assyria!  In fact, by Isaiah 37:8, the King was already busy fighting somewhere else.  God’s promise had already begun to come true!  But that didn’t stop Hezekiah from continuing in prayer.  God planned to deliver Jerusalem all along, but Hezekiah’s prayer helped God accomplish His divine purpose.  My prayers don’t alter God’s plan.  My prayers help to accomplish the good and perfect plan God already has for me. God’s sovereignty should never stop me from praying.  Rather, it should drive me to Him in complete dependence because I need Him so desperately.

God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered.  Isaiah 37: 36 says “The angel of the Lord struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (ESV)  The passage doesn’t record Hezekiah’s response, but I think it’s safe to assume that he praised and thanked God for the victory.  When God answers my prayers, even (or especially!) if His answer is different than I had hoped, am I careful to thank Him and give Him the glory?

Father, thank you for the gift of prayer.  Help me to pray with the humility, boldness, and persistence of Hezekiah so that Your plan will be accomplished, and You will be glorified in my life.

Jen

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Isaiah 14-16; Matthew 28

Life is heavy right now.  For everyone.  For our family. Sickness and death, conflict and confrontation, fear and uncertainty. The past few weeks have been heavy.   

I’m sure Isaiah could relate.  He was prophesying to a divided Israel.  In spite of all God’s goodness to them, His chosen people had abandoned Him and aligned themselves with wicked, sinful nations who had no interest in serving the one, true God.  Sadly, all too often, I respond to all my “heaviness” just like Israel responded to God.  I forget His goodness and look for hope in other people, or self-help books, or Instagram, none of which can truly satisfy.

Isaiah, directed by God, pronounces judgment after judgment upon Israel and the surrounding nations.  It must have felt heavy and hopeless.  Yet, God wasn’t surprised, and it certainly wasn’t hopeless to Him.

For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel…Isa 14:1

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil…..
Isa 14:3

The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be,
and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. Isa. 14:24

For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?  Isa 14:27

A throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David. One who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. Isa16:5

And, although God was speaking to Israel through Isaiah, His words apply to me today as well.

He loves me.
He chose me.
He offers me rest.
He has a perfect plan.
His plan cannot be thwarted.
He is still on the throne.
He is faithful.
He is a righteous judge.

And, just as he promised his disciples in Matthew 28:20, He has not left me alone. 

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matt. 28:20

Always, which literally means “all the days”.  Not occasionally but continually.  Not just when I’m obedient.  Not just when things are happy and easy.  Before any sickness or conflict or fear, God was already there. When He spoke judgment in Isaiah, His perfect plan already included deliverance through His perfect Son—both for Israel and for me.  When Jesus spoke this promise in Matthew 28, He knew everything that lie ahead—for His disciples and for me, my family, and this world.  His sovereign presence is my only true hope.

I shake, but my Rock moves not.
CH Spurgeon

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Hosea 7-10; Matthew 18

I once heard a story about a young woman who was completing a college application and encountered the question “Are you a leader?”  She answered honestly and wrote, “No,” then returned the application, expecting a rejection letter. Instead, she received the following: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that, this year, our college will have 1,452 new leaders.  We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.” I’m sure that the 1,452 other applicants had regaled the entrance committee with lists of their accomplishments and past performances.  No doubt, they listed awards and excellent grades and character traits meant to impress their reviewers.  After all, those things are what our society values and labels as “success”.

In Matthew 18:1-4, it’s pretty clear that the disciples assumed the same.  They believed that their human accomplishments and leadership skills would gain them a top spot in heaven, so I’m sure Jesus’ response was a disappointment to them.  He called a child over and told His disciples that unless they became as children, they would never enter the kingdom.  The disciples must have been confused.  After all, in Bible times, children had no status.  No child had walked on water, healed a blind man, or cast out demons like they had.  Children had no power and were completely dependent on others to meet their needs.  And this was exactly Jesus’ point:  kingdom status doesn’t come from human achievements but by recognizing our complete, childlike dependence on Him. 

It’s easy for me to constantly analyze my performance in an attempt to convince myself that if I accomplish certain things such as a consistent quiet time or avoiding a certain sin, then I will have done enough to make myself worthy.  But the beauty of Jesus’ words is that they proclaim grace over those who are unworthy and condemn those who think their performance or accomplishments make them worthy. In heaven’s economy, earthly values lose their appeal. Being the least is the greatest. Surrender is success. Dependence is freedom.

Father, thank you that there is nothing I can do–or not do–to earn Your grace. Help me to value following You over any accomplishment that the world may view as success and to extend to others the same love and grace that You have shown me.

Jen

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2 Kings 11; 2 Chronicles 22-23; Psalm 131; Matthew 8

Today’s readings are a study in contrasts.  Pride vs humility.  Disbelief vs faith.  Athaliah, the wicked queen who was prideful enough to take matters into her own hands and commit murder in order to place herself on the throne of Judah.  Jehosheba who, along with her husband, the priest Jehoiada, was faithful and trusting enough to essentially kidnap her nephew, Joash, from his grandmother, Athaliah, in order to save him and preserve the line of David.  David in Psalm 131, displaying maturity even as he wrote of his childlike trust, his choice to be content and rest in God. 

Then, in Matthew 8, the leper, a diseased outcast who audaciously approached Jesus asking for healing.  He wasn’t prideful or arrogant; he simply believed that Jesus could heal him and was brave enough to say so.  The Centurion, a high-ranking Roman officer who most Jews would have considered an enemy recognized Jesus’ authority and had faith that Jesus could heal his servant.  The citizens of Capernaum, many of whom were healed and relieved of demonic influence simply because they came to Jesus believing He could do miracles for them.  The scribe and the disciple described in Matthew 8 SEEMED genuine.  They asked great questions and probably assumed Jesus would respond with “Great!  Let’s go!”  But their pride and unbelief were evident when they didn’t like Jesus’ response.  And then there are Jesus’ own disciples.  The very same guys who gave up everything to follow Jesus.  Surely their faith and humility would be apparent!  Yet even they questioned Jesus as they feared for their lives.  These same men, (including several experienced fishermen who were no doubt used to storms on the sea!) who had just seen Jesus perform numerous miracles still doubted!  And, finally, the citizens of Gadarenes.  Jesus had performed yet another miracle, casting fierce demons out of two men, yet they just wanted Him out of their town.

Do any of these describe me?

Am I like Athaliah?  Do I sinfully presume I can handle things on my own and take matters into my own hands, hurting others and missing God’s greatest blessings?

Am I like Jehosheba?  Am I willing to take a risk and do what is right even if my desired outcome is a long-time coming?  Jehosheba and Jehoiada hid Joash for SIX years!  Am I faithful even when it seems like an answer will never come?

Am I like David?  Have I matured spiritually to the point that I calmy and quietly trust that God’s plan is best?  Am I confident that He is always working even if it doesn’t seem that way?

Am I like the leper?  In my pride, do I really think I can hide my sin and faults from God, or am I humble enough to bring them to Him and trust that He will forgive me and heal my heart in the process?

Am I like the Centurion?  Do I acknowledge God’s supreme authority in my life? Do I care so much about others that I’m willing to go out of my way to help them and petition God for them even if that puts me in a difficult position?

Am I like the citizens of Capernaum?  Am I willing to simply come to Jesus and ask for help, believing He can and will answer?

Am I like the scribe and the disciple?  Do I know all the right words to say, the right questions to ask but, when the rubber meets the road, am I ready to make the sacrifices required to follow Jesus?

Am I like Jesus’ disciples? Have I made a commitment and gotten “on the boat”, but when things get difficult and Satan starts to gain a foothold, do I ask “Can you see this, Lord?  I obeyed and this is what happens?”

Am I like the citizens of Gadarenes?  I’ve heard and seen God do amazing things.  I know He has always been faithful, but am I content to try do life apart from Him? 

Father, I know that You are trustworthy, yet I choose not to trust.  I know You have great power to accomplish all things, yet I choose to do things in my own strength.  I know You are in control and working all things for my good, yet I choose to worry.   Please give me a faithful and trusting heart that is desperate for You.  

Jen

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