Monday, September 23, 2013

Making deals with God...

Week 39:

Judges 11:30-35 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”  32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands.  33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.  34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

The following has been one of my favorite devotional thoughts for years. I have used it in many settings, usually with teens. However, it is a lesson we all can use and a great reminder to me.

How many times have we made deals with God? When we were young we would say things like, “God, if you would get me out of this, then I will never sin again.” Or, “Help me pass this test and I promise I will study from the beginning next time.” Or, “If you will get me through this situation, I will be more devoted to you.” The list can go on and on. Of course, when we were young, many of these deals were the kind we could not keep. Even though we are a new creation in Christ, the remnant of sin is still being flushed out of our system and we will fail to keep some promises, deals, or vows. Even now I make my deals with God. Those deals may not be out loud like in my youth, but they are deals just the same. I think, “If I just pray more, God will bless me.” “If I follow this ‘method’ I will draw near to Him and Him to me.” Maybe this jars some memories for you and your deals with God. The thing about making deals with God is…He may hold you to your end of the deal. And sometimes that is not pleasant.

Several years ago a passage of scripture I had read over many times really began to stick to my heart. As I re-read and study this passage I continue to gain new insights into God and how he works. It gave me chills to think about the deals I had made with God. It is the story of the judge Jephthah (Judges 11 and 12). Jephthah is about to go into battle with the Ammonites. Beginning in Judges 11:30, Jephthah makes a vow with God as he enters into this battle.

30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

God gave Jephthah the victory he asked for. In fact, he routed the Ammonites. God kept His end of the deal…now comes Jephthah’s part.

34When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” Judges 11:34-35

Now before I get to the ‘deal’, I want to go down a quick rabbit trail here. I’m not sure if this is just how it is translated to English or if there is any intent of this phrase toward how I will critique it but notice what Jephthah says, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched…” Notice how it is phrased. How many times have I done something rash, and the result made me realize how rash it was, and in an emotional outburst, cast the blame on someone else? Wow, that one hit me square between the eyes. Initially, one of God’s appointed did not own his decision, he blamed his daughter. That phrase is both comforting and scary. Comforting because I know I am not alone, nor the first, when casting blame in an emotional moment. Scary because a righteous man of God can fall into that trap even though it is a natural reaction.

Now, back to the ‘deal’ Jephthah made. I fantasize that Jephthah envisioned that when he would get home coming to meet him at the gate would be one of the sheep or goats or even his trusty dog Rover. But no, it is his only daughter. It could have even been his wife. Jephthah made a deal with God and God kept His end of the bargain. What is interesting is the vow Jephthah made. He could have stopped at: “…whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s…” It’s a reasonable deal to dedicate whatever he met at the gate to the Lord. That’s a safe play. I mean, Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord. She didn’t get to raise him, but he didn’t die either. So, why did Jephthah go to the extent of not only dedicating to the Lord, but also offering to sacrifice to the Lord? Scholars are divided in their interpretation of this story. Some believe that because the Spirit of the Lord (vs. 29) had come upon Jephthah he could not sacrifice his daughter. They look at the text as saying just making a sacrifice (burnt offering) in general and essentially cursing his daughter to never marry or bear children the rest of her life. They also believe that human sacrifice is against God’s law (easy to believe). However, these same scholars believe that the vow was to sacrifice a human because a dog and/or many other animals would have been unacceptable sacrifices. Others believe that Jephthah took inspiration from Abraham and how God rescued Isaac from his hand, hoping that God would do the same for him. Even others believe that he did go through with his vow because he had made it to God and had no choice. Jephthah also lived in area where the Israelites had begun some of the practices of the neighboring countries and that Jephthah was influenced by them.

Regardless of the interpretation of Jephthah’s final decision, what are some lessons we can take from this text? One, I must be intentional and discerning about promises and vows that I make with God. This is God, the one true God that I am dealing with. As I continue to read scripture, God is a God of mercy and grace. However, when it comes to oaths, there are many passages where he holds his people to their oaths. God does not give us a pass on a rash vow or oath. Jesus talks about oaths and letting your “…Yes be Yes, and your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) God takes vows seriously. Vows to God are not all bad…but what is our intent? Is it to gain the blessing am I vowing for and is my want misguided to the point that I am not thinking about what I am promising God? I am not saying “play it safe” here by choosing something to vow that is easy to follow through with. There must be some sacrifice to a vow of this nature. What I am asking here is, “What is my intent?” Is my vow to gain blessing or is my vow to honor God regardless the answer?

Secondly, are my vows rooted in my lack of trust for God? Am I so lacking in faith at times that I have to make a deal with God thinking it will prompt him to action? Again, lacking in faith is normal as we have seen in many of the great men and women of the Bible. Sometimes the vow gives us focus and clarity we may not have had before.

Third, when I make a vow, I need to follow through in order to stay in integrity. If it is up to me, I must fulfill the vow. In some circumstances when obvious blocks to finishing the vow keep me from it (I am not condoning looking for those blocks as a cop out) it must be God either saying, “You’ve done enough” (like I envision he felt for Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice Isaac), or, “This is not what I wanted from you.” Otherwise, I am to finish or keep my vow to God.

Fourth, my vows to God can affect those around me. Just like making choices can affect my family, friends, and others (even long term), so can my vows to God. Jephthah’s vow affected more than just him. Imagine the conversation with his wife. Wife: “I don’t know if this is a good idea.” Jephthah: “God will take care of me.” Later…Wife: “I told you so!” Jephthah: “Maybe I should listen to your intuition.” There are vows to ministries that have affected my family and still do. My current job is a ministry that puts us in a position that my wife has to work full time. There are times where that puts a strain on us. Think long term when considering a vow with God. It does not mean, do not vow, but be intentional and discerning.

Finally, notice the attitude and submissiveness of Jephthah’s daughter (11:36-38). Now, I am well aware that the time in history and the Israelite culture was very patriarchal. Children were trained to be submissive. However, what an awesome example of submissiveness to authority this example is for us. Ultimately, we must submit to God’s authority. Even in times of trouble, like Job, God asks for submission, expects submission. Some of this submission is out of fear. Some of this submission stems from faith. Some of this submission is for our own good…God knows what is best for us. Some of this submission is so we can understand authority and be in authority ourselves. God will further His kingdom with or without us. Our submission allows us to join Him in His work. I have always been amazed by Jephthah’s daughter’s submissiveness. I do not know many daughters today who would be that submissive.

In conclusion, the story of Jephthah and his vow to God is choke full lessons. I am sure there are many more stories and lessons to be learned out of these few verses in the Old Testament. I encourage all to review Old Testament stories we all grew up with and look at them from more mature eyes. God has revealed to me many new insights into His nature, character, and personality. Obviously, I am only scratching the surface of such an ominous God. But, this little piece draws me closer.


1.      In what ways do you make deals with God?
2.      Describe a time where you made an oath to God that you realized later it may have been rash?
3.      Where has God held you to the deal/vow you have made?
4.      Where has making a deal/vow with God worked out for you?
5.      What, if anything, disturbs you about this passage?  Explain.
6.      Where do you need to examine your life around oaths?
7.      Spend time this week thinking about the oaths, vows, agreements you have made recently.  Where does God come into the picture for you around these agreements?  Ask God to walk you through as you fulfill your agreements.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Blame to cover shame...

Week 38:

Genesis 3:12-13 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Our society’s lack of responsibility for action is nothing new.  From the beginning, humans have cast blame on to other things in order to avoid responsibility.  Adam and Eve made a choice.  After that choice, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  Why would they not own their responsibility?

I think they were avoiding shame.  Feeling shame stirs up a powerful emotional response.  When I am in a shameful frame of mind, I will do, say, and act in strange ways to avoid the pain of shame.  Personally, I will use anger, defensiveness, and blame to avoid shame or shameful messages. 

How do we know that Adam and Eve were avoiding shame?  Look back at the end of Genesis 2 (2:25) and notice how they felt.  They were naked and felt no shame.  Once they ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked.  They were feeling shame.  Did they feel shame because they were naked?  I think not.  Their heart was exposed.  They had disobeyed and now were feeling remorse and shame.  They had realized that what they had done was against what God had set out and they began to believe that they may have disappointed God.

So, let’s fast forward to today.  I watch and experience boys, girls, men, women, and I use blame and excuse to avoid the painful messages of shame.  When I miss the mark on something, my first inclination is to blame something else or give some sort of excuse (which is a form of casting blame).  A common scenario I deal with as a school Principal is when a student is not doing well in a class.  In this situation, it is not unusual for the student to make a comment like, “The teacher just doesn’t like me.” Or, “That teacher singled me out.” Or, “There is just a personality conflict.”  Although at times that may be true, most of the time this is a sure sign of a student avoiding shame.  He/she are not taking care of his/her requirements for the class, or he/she does not understand the material and feels ‘stupid’.  Either of these may cause shame.  Now I’m not saying that the student’s blame game is malicious.  They are truly avoiding the shame; the pain is too much.


When I look at it this way, I have some compassion on the student.  I get it…because I do it myself.  The pain or the embarrassment of the shame is more than I am willing to go through.  I do not want to face the work it will take to rid myself of that shame. 

Now, dealing with others (students, my children, accountability partners), I can have a different approach to the ‘blame game’.  I can ask a question like, “It’s easier to lay blame than to own what happened and feel stupid or that you have disappointed me isn’t it?”  I can have grace for others in that situation.  I also can have grace and compassion on myself.  I can begin to recognize that I am avoiding the painful and condemning messages of shame in my life.  This is not to say that I do not hold another or myself accountable for missing the mark.  However, it does allow me a different approach and method.


1.      Think of a recent situation where someone would cast blame instead of taking responsibility for an action.  Now dig underneath, how is this about avoiding shame?

2.      What shame do you cover with blame and excuse?

3.      In what ways has this article opened up your thinking?

4.      What is a step you can take toward having compassion on one who lays blame (including yourself)?

5.      This week, ask God to show where you cover your shame.  Ask Him to come into your heart and help to know the truth about the goodness He created in you.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

The evil and God's promise...

Week 37

Spend some time this week meditating on this passage.  Read through the passage slowly 3 times each day and answer the questions.


Psalm 37:1-13

1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.


1. What is God saying to you today from this passage?
2. What jumped off the page as you read this passage?
3. How does this passage, or part of this passage, apply to your current life situation?
4. What action do you think God is calling you to after reading this today?
5. As you read this passage, what stirs in your heart? How do you feel?
6. Where do you see this passage at work in the world currently?
7. In what ways?
8. Ask God to reveal something new to you from this passage each day.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Put it into practice...

Week 36:

Matthew7:24-27 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

As Jesus finished what we know as the Sermon on the Mount, He uses the above parable. So many different teachings can and do come from this passage. In fact a children’s “Sunday School” song came from this passages. Let’s look at some of what can be learned from this passage.

To build a house or a building, there must first be a solid foundation. If there is no foundation, then the builder digs down and lays one on the bedrock. To build our life in Christ, we must lay a foundation of knowledge of Jesus’ teachings and faith in Him. When storms (trying times) come, our house can stand because of this knowledge and faith base. Whereas, if we do not have the strong foundation of knowledge and faith; we will fall away because we have little faith. This is a great lesson to ponder and very applicable to the Christian walk.  

Another lesson can be the comparison between the wise and the foolish. The Proverbs are full of examples of wisdom vs. foolishness. By focusing on the fool in this story one can learn not how to do something. The story of the three little pigs comes to mind when I focus on the fool. Which house stood in that story? The one made out of brick. A solid structure built by wisdom. So, a great lesson on wisdom can be pulled from this story as well.

My favorite teaching from this passage comes from a preacher/teacher friend. He asks the question, “What is the difference between the wise man and the foolish man in this story?” He waits as he receives various answers similar to my two examples. Then, he mentions what I think is the core of the whole story. The wise man hears Jesus’ words and put them into practice. This view is simple but profound. If I think about it, nothing else matters but to put Jesus’ words into practice. The rest is just an example of the man who does and the man who doesn’t.

Now, I’ve always pretty much been a rules follower. Of course, I had my rebellious stretch in life, but for the most part, if a credible person told me to do something, then I generally complied. It’s the rules. However, in reflection, I wonder how many times I have walked away from a sermon or a Bible study where truth was revealed and I did not put it into practice in my life. In fact, if I were to trace back to the source of spiritual breakdowns in my life, I bet I would find that I did not heed Jesus’ words and put them into practice in my life. Conversely, when I put Jesus’ words into practice (even better, have them in my heart) they become a part of my belief system. I start living my life by Jesus’ standards and spiritually, life is more solid, no matter the circumstances.

Another passage comes to mind when I think about this concept of putting Jesus’ words into practice. James 1:22-25 says, “ 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Daily, I must challenge myself to hear Jesus’ words and put them into practice. When I do, my journey will have more purpose and meaning. And…I will be able to stand in times of trouble.


1. What has been your life work around this passage? How has it touched you?
2. Where do you need to put Jesus’ words into practice?
3. Describe a time where putting Jesus’ words into practice has been beneficial.
4. Describe a “spiritual crash” that may have been the result of not putting Jesus’ words into practice.
5. What do you need to do in order to follow putting Jesus’ words into practice?
6. This week, pay attention to what Jesus may be telling you and look for a way to put His words into practice. Notice the results.
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