Blog Update

Dear Reader,

The raynoah.com blog will post only on Mondays during the month of January as “52 Simple Prayers.” In February, regular posts will resume on Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to the Monday prayer posts.

Thank you for your support.

A Shield About Me

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Run to God! The Bible says God “will never leave you nor forsake you.” When everyone else is treating you like the plague, God is one who will stick closer than a brother. When you find yourself in a mess of any variety, even a self-inflicted mess, you can still come to the God who will be a shield about you, your glory, the lifter of your head.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 13:14-15, 21-22

But Amnon refused to listen to his half-sister, Tamar, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. Then he hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. He said to her, “Get up and get out!” … When King David heard what his son, Amnon had done, he was furious. And Tamar’s brother, Absalom, never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister.

I am sure there weren’t too many times in David’s life when he might have felt lower. His own son, Amnon, had raped his half-sister, Tamar. This would lead to his murder by Tamar’s brother, Absalom. In later chapters in 2 Samuel, this will lead to Absalom’s military rebellion, where he usurps his father’s throne. David’s family was a complete mess.

Adding to David’s despair was the knowledge that this was his own doing. He was now in the middle of the painful consequences of his adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiracy to murder in order to cover up the affair. David’s sin had set loose some very ugly outcomes within his own family as the prophet Nathan had predicted: Amnon rapes his half-sister, Tamar. Absalom kills Amnon in revenge. Absalom had been banished from the land as punishment, and then when he rturns, he leads a rebellion that sends David into exile, costs him his national dignity, and ultimately ends with Absalom’s death.

But David found solace in the Lord. He always did. When he was on the lam from Saul, hiding in caves, staying one step ahead of death, he found comfort in God. When things went from bad to worse and the few outcasts who were David’s followers were ready to desert him, David strengthened himself in the Lord. And now, as his family crumbles before his very eyes—and from his side of this story, this was a permanent loss, there’d be no fairy-tale ending to this sad saga—David again finds that God is sticking by him. Everybody else might leave, but not God. Everybody else might lose confidence in David, but not God. David might lose everything in this world he had acquired to this point, but he would not lose God.

Part of what makes our admiration and love for David so enduring is his tenacious hold on God. Strip him of everything and what is left is David’s dependence on God. King David’s life was a mess—of his own doing—but he ran to God. Take away his crutches, and David leans on God. The away his power, and David finds strength in God. Take away his palace, the cave becomes David’s sanctuary in God. Take away his position, David positions himself in humility before God. Take away his wealth, David still worships God. Take away his refuge, David runs to God.

When it comes to David’s many flaws, we can relate, can’t we? Maybe thats another reason why we love him so much. We can understand a guy who shoots himself in the foot—we do that sometimes. We can put ourselves in his shoes because we’ve blown it in our lives, big time. We have all had times where our world comes crashing down around us; times where situations turn sour, relationships go south, bad stuff happens, things fall apart, people we thought were friends abandon us, perhaps even turn on us. And to make it even worse, we understand it’s our own stupid fault. We are brother to David!

Hopefully we can also relate to David’s resilience. Hopefully you have learned to choose the option David did when he found himself in these desperate situations—which is still a pretty good option, by the way. In fact, it’s the best option: Go to God!

That’s what David did. And why not! The Bible says God “will never leave you nor forsake you.” When everyone else is treating you like the plague, God is one who will stick closer than a brother. When you find yourself in a mess of any variety, even a self-inflicted mess, you can still come to the God who will be a shield about you, your glory, the lifter of your head. That is a line from one of the most beautiful songs David ever wrote—Psalm 3:3

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high

When you look at the whole of David’s life, he should have ended up on the trash heap of human history. His blunders were so huge, his failures so big, his mistakes so enormous. But David kept going back to God and each time he found God to be his shield, his glory and the one who lifted his head.

And so can you!

Going Deeper With God: One of the best, if not the best response to scripture reading is prayer. Here is a prayer I am offering up to God after reflecting on this story. You may want to join me in praying it: Lord, I relate to David so much, and that’s why I love his story. Like David, so much of what I suffer is the result of my own doing—bad choices, wrong thinking, and willful sin. And like David, I come to you because you are my shield of protection, you are my glorious one, you are the lifter of my head. In this moment of prayer, I look to you once again to surround me with your presence and do your work in me. Heal me, cleanse me, fill me, lift me and use me for your glory.

Breaking You Down To Build You Up

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Testing—the place in your life where every supporting prop gets kicked right out from beneath you. It is where you end up when you thought you were going to do great things for God, or have a great family, or have a successful career, and it becomes clear that things are not working out the way you’d dreamed. It will likely be the most frustrating period in your life—but in hindsight, it will turn out to be the most fruitful. That is because the place of testing and tearing down is also the place of forging and rebuilding. As an unknown poet said, it is the place where you are, “pressed into knowing no helper but God.” And there is no better place.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 21:10-14

David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?”

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) That is the fun part of being a Christ-follower.

Jesus also said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) That is the not-so-fun part of being a Christ-follower. But it is the imminently rewarding part of walking with Jesus.

Before the Son of David spoke those paradoxical words, David went thru the process that Jesus described. You and I will, too. Like David, we must allow Jesus to break us down so he can build us up, that is, to build us into the kind of people he desires us to be. Going through that process means he will strip us of every misplaced dependency.

You see, the good things in life can be a barrier to the great things God has for us. So God removes them. Deuteronomy 8:3 goes on to say, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.”

In David’s case, it took ten years of tearing down as one-by-one all of the good things he’d once relied on got stripped away. Over the course of several chapters in 1 Samuel, God stripped David’s of just about everything:

  • David lost his position. Overnight David went from Israel’s most popular figure to national pariah.
  • David lost his wife. He had married King Saul’s daughter, Michal, but when David fled, Saul married her off to another man.
  • David lost his mentor. About the time all this upheaval took place, Samuel died. So David lost his job, his family, and now he loses his spiritual mentor—the one who’d anointed him and guided him.
  • David lost his best friend.  If losing his job, wife, and mentor weren’t enough, he lost Jonathan. He was the one who had stood up to his own father, King Saul, risking his life to protect David. He warned David to flee, but since Jonathan was bound by loyalty to his troubled father, he could no longer see David. So these spiritual soul-mates parted ways, never to see each other again in life.
  • David lost his country. At the end of I Samuel 21 David’s so desperate, with nowhere to hide, that he flees to Gath, the capital city of Israel’s arch-enemy, the Philistines. and home to the now dead Goliath. That’s how bad it got — David’s now seeking refuge in Gath among Goliath’s people.
  • David lost his dignity. Finally, there in Gath, he reached bottom: “When David realized that he had been recognized, he panicked, fearing the worst from King Achish. (1 Samuel 21:13)

While the Philistine officers were looking at David, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard. Achish took one look at him and said to his servants, “Can’t you see he’s crazy? Why’d you let him in here? Don’t you think I have enough crazy people to put up with as it is without adding another? Get him out of here!” (1 Samuel 21:14-15)

So David, expecting to be king with a kingdom ends up on the lam with no position, no people, no pastor, no partner, no pride—and no prospect that it would ever be different—stripped of every dependency.

Testing—the place in your life where every supporting prop gets kicked right out from beneath you. It is where you end up when you thought you were going to do great things for God, or have a great family, or have a successful career, and it becomes clear that things are not working out the way you’d dreamed.

For David, it was the most frustrating period in his life—but in hindsight, it turned out to be the most fruitful. That is because the place of testing and tearing down is also the place of forging and rebuilding. As an unknown poet said, it is the place where you are, “pressed into knowing no helper but God.”

Pressed into knowing no helper but God—that’s what happened to David. Through the discipline of that difficult season in his life, God was instructing David that God was his true source, and that was the one thing David would need to be a great king.

Guess what: God is teaching you how to “king it” too! Not very fun…but it is incredibly fruitful. And though we wouldn’t choose it for ourselves, thank God he tears us down to build us up!

Going Deeper With God: Are you going through a season of stripping? This may be a good time to simply say “thank you” as an act of trust and faith.

Your Prized Possession

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Like the Old Testament Levites, and in reality, at even higher new covenant levels, for you are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9) That is a pretty big deal, my friend. You are God’s prized possession—and God is your prized possession. And there is no better inheritance, in this life and in the next!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 18:2,5

The Levites will have no land of their own among the Israelites. The Lord himself is their special possession, just as he promised them…. For the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever.

There were twelve tribes in Israel, each the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons. Eleven of those tribes were given land as their inheritance. When they entered the Promised Land, God specifically assigned them territory that would be theirs in perpetuity. But there was one tribe that didn’t receive any land—and land ownership was a very big deal in ancient Israel, even more important than land ownership is today. One tribe was singled out for no inheritance of property: the tribe of Levi.

Now that might seem a bit unfair, or a lot. Yet they were given a better inheritance. Not better from the perspective of the carnal mind, but better from the true perspective of heaven. They were given the Lord himself. God had singled out one tribe, the Levites, as his own prized possession in a nation that was singled out from the rest of the world as his prized people. So the Levites were the prized of the prized.

God chose them for the ministry of worship because they had defended his holiness at great risk to themselves during a times of national rebellion. For their costly sacrifice, God set them apart for the sacred duty of ministering the tabernacle sacraments; for set up, breaking down and moving the holy furnishings from place to place; and for intermediating the rest of Israel’s sacrifices to the Lord their God. The Levites were a very special bunch indeed, both in God’s sight and in the eyes of the rest of Israel.

They had no land, but they had God. They had no earthly inheritance, but they had God. They had no other possession, but they had a prized possession to a degree that no one else had—they had the Lord God himself as their ever-present and eternal reward. I am sure that we don’t fully appreciate what that meant in a day and age where we look to the abundance of things and the accumulation of material wealth as the grand prize, but that was a very big deal, indescribably so.

Here is the deal: God is your prized possession, too. Like Israel, you have been set apart as holy unto the Lord; you are distinctly his. But even more so, like the Levites, you have an even greater, more special calling, for you too are set apart as a priest to God. Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, respectively, tell us,

He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.”

Furthermore, the Apostle Peter taught that like the Levites, and in reality, at even higher new covenant level, you are “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That is a pretty big deal, my friend. You are God’s prized possession—and God is your prized possession. And there is no better inheritance, in this life and in the next, than being chosen by God to intermediate his holy presence.

I am not sure you and I have the capacity to grasp the blessed reality of that, but I think it would be worthy meditating on what God has done by his grace in choosing us for that role.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize 1 Peter 2:9 this week. Then mediate on what that means for you. Finally, offer up prayers of gratitude to God for offering himself as your prize possession and eternal inheritance.

Holy War and a Loving God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

With the things we don’t understand about God, and with the things the world shudders at about God, keep in mind that we don’t always need to defend him. God is perfectly suited to defend himself. We ought to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can through study, but at the end of the day, God is infinite—in being, in wisdom and in power. And we are not. So let God be God, and lean into his loving but just character!

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 31:1-2,7,13-18

The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.” …Israel fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. …Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

What are we to do with the concept of holy war in the Bible? How are we to handle when the Lord unleashes vengeance upon a nation? It is beyond our modern sensibilities that what we have come to understand as a New Testament God of love would order the annihilation of an entire people in the Old Testament. And annihilation is too clean of a word: men, women and children were put to death—by the sword—among other “atrocities.”

Many have set forth scholarly and reasonable explanations for the concept of holy war, so I will allow you to explore those on your own should you desire to gain greater knowledge. I would simply say here, as I have often said in this journey through the Pentateuch, that context is everything. Keep in mind the progressive nature of what God is doing here: he is forming a people for himself. They have been called out from among the pagan nation, are being purged of the ungodly and brutal influences of those nations they have been among, and are now being fashioned into a nation themselves that is to be uniquely God’s and set apart in holiness for his sacred purposes. So God starts with where they are—a people without form and function—and be begins to give them both. Some of the laws and regulations that we read about are to be observed forever, some are for that time and place only, and some are for an indeterminate but definite period of time. Some of those Divine decrees won’t be needed once they are established in their Promised Land and a great many of them will go away entirely when the promised Messiah comes to establish the reign of God in the hearts of his people.

And that is precisely where the student of the Bible has to distinguish between the rigid letter of the law and the eternal principles of God.

Now what about this idea of holy war—which wouldn’t you agree after reading this account—is hell? At this point, it will be helpful to consider the following article from the NIV Student Bible. While it doesn’t soften the tragedy of holy war, it does supply some of the contextual reasons for it:

The Old Testament makes clear that the Canaanites were not being uprooted on a sudden whim. God had promised the land to the Israelites over 400 years before Joshua. He had called one man, Abraham, to found a nation of chosen people. He repeated those promises often (see Genesis 12:1–3; 15:5–18; 17:2–8; 26:3,23–24; 28:13–14) and finally called the Israelites out of Egypt to take over the promised land. Almost from the beginning Canaan was a vital part of God’s plan. Israel’s inheritance, however, meant kicking out the Canaanites. How could innocent people simply be pushed aside, or killed? In answer to this question, the Bible makes clear that the Canaanites were not “innocent.” Through their long history of sin, they had forfeited their right to the land. Four hundred years before Joshua, God had told Abraham that his descendants would not occupy the land until the sin of its inhabitants had “reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16). Later, just days before the onset of Joshua’s campaign, Moses stated, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:5). Historians have uncovered plenty of evidence of this wickedness. Canaanite temples featured prostitutes, orgies and human sacrifice. Relics and plaques of exaggerated sex organs hint at the immorality that characterized Canaan. Canaanite gods, such as Baal and his wife Anath, delighted in butchery and sadism. Archaeologists have found great numbers of jars containing the tiny bones of children sacrificed to Baal. Families seeking good luck in a new home practiced “foundation sacrifice.” They would kill one of their children and seal the body in the mortar of the wall. In many ways, Canaan had become like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible records that God has patience with decadent societies for a time, but judgment inevitably follows. For Sodom and Gomorrah it took the form of fire and brimstone. For Canaan it came through Joshua’s conquering armies. Later, God let his own chosen people be ravaged by invaders as punishment for their sins. The judgment pronounced on Canaan seems severe, but no more severe than what was later inflicted on Israel itself.

Keep in mind with the things we don’t understand about God, with the things the world shudders at, that we don’t always need to defend God. He is perfectly suited to defend himself. We ought to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can through study, but at the end of the day, God is infinite—in being, in wisdom and in power. And we are not.

Let God be God, and lean into his loving but just character. In the final analysis, God will be—and already is for that matter—justified in all his ways.

Going Deeper With God: If the reading today shakes you—and if you are ever shaken by the things you don’t fully comprehend about God—take a moment to prayerfully reflect on Hebrews 10:35, “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” Even when you don’t understand, you can trust in a God who is never evil, is always kind, but is too deep to always explain himself.

The God Who Can Be Deeply Pleased

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God has more emotion and feeling that we realize. Perhaps he loves the scent of the love that we offer up to him as we would enjoy the aroma of a sumptuous meal prepared in a home where love, affection and kindness reign. Who knows, but it is quite likely that God takes more pleasure in us than we realize.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 3:16

This sacrifice is a special gift of food, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Were the Old Testament sacrifices to the Lord more for the peoples’ benefit, or did the Lord really need them? When food was offered on the altar to the Lord and it was said to be pleasing to him, was it because he was hungry? Why was the aroma of the sacrifice important to God?

We don’t really know for sure. To be certain, the act of sacrifice, done in God’s way from a heart of love and obedience was indeed good for God’s people—a way to remind them of their gracious God and an act of obedience that built faith in their hearts. And for sure, sacrifice was pleasing to God when it represented a loving and obedient act of faith.

But perhaps there is more. Perhaps this God has more emotion and feeling that we realize. Perhaps he loves the scent of the love that we offer up to him as we would enjoy the aroma of a sumptuous meal prepared in a home where love, affection and kindness reign. Who knows, but it is more likely than it isn’t that God takes more pleasure in us than we realize.

May God give you a heart that gets it—a heart that so desires to please him through the pure offering of your whole life for his pleasure. After all, he truly deserves it!

Going Deeper With God: Make it the chief aim of your life and the sole prayer you offer today is that through your life, what is offered up will be a sweet smelling aroma that is most pleasing to God. In every thought you think, every word you speak, every action you make, every breath you take, ask for the help of the Holy Spirit whether consciously or subconsciously, that you would be a sacrifice that belongs to you and that pleases him. You are my life—enable me to live it to please you. As the sacrifices in the Old Testament belonged to you, may I be that living sacrifice that belongs to you and brings pleasure to your heart.

The Only Critic Who Counts Is Your Biggest Fan

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 7
Focus: Psalm 7:10-11

God is my shield, saving those whose hearts are true and right. God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day.

Ellen Hubbard said, “to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” In other words, welcome to the human race where no one is exempt from criticism. No one!

Moses—the greatest leader the world has ever known, humble servant of the people, worker of miracles, giver of the Law, desert guide par excellence—wasn’t immune from the most savage of criticism. The very people he had delivered from the cruelty of Egyptian bondage even talked of storing him. (Exodus 14:10)

Jesus—most perfect person who ever lived, the faultless Son of God, selfless sacrifice for the sins of mankind—often had his motives called into question. He lived with misunderstanding, was often misrepresented and endured malicious criticism:

David—the greatest king Israel would ever have, a man after God’s heart, sweet singer of Israel—was often under the thumb of critics. From Saul to Shimei to Absalom, his own son, David lived with a daily deluge of those who challenged his authority. In the title of Psalm 7, David’s critic came in the human form of a pain in the derriere identified as Cush. Apparently, Cush was quite vocal about David’s leadership flaws, real and perceived.

Maybe you face a critic, too. It could be that you have one at work, or at church, or perhaps you face one even at home—the one place that ought to be free of destructive criticism. And if you let them, they will sap the strength right out of you. Frankly, their criticism hurts…even when it is plainly untrue.

If you have a critic nipping at you right now—and if you don’t, stick around for a while, you’ll have one soon enough—I would recommend you do what David did. He ordered his life by the true and only Critic who mattered, entrusting himself to God’s righteous judgment and sin-covering grace.

Search My Heart Oh God

Whenever your critic shows up and starts shooting arrows your way, rather than spending too much of your precious energy on them, go to God. He is the only one who truly knows you, and at the end of the day, it is his evaluation that matters. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 4:3-4, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” It’s true—it is God alone who is qualified to judge you! So learn to pray David’s prayer from Psalm 139:23-24,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Pray that prayer humbly and honestly before God, listen and respond to his voice, and you will be just fine. By the way, this Critic is your biggest fan!

__________________

“All of us could take a lesson from the weather, it pays no attention to criticism.”

 

Making Life Work: Humbly and honestly ask God to “search my heart, test my motives, reveal my wrong thoughts and remove my offenses.” Then listen and respond to his voice. Do that and you will be just fine. And don’t forget, by the way, this Critic is also your biggest fan!