Welcome 2015! A New Year and another opportunity to connect with our creator through His written Word. Let’s make it intentional, let’s make it a habit to read the Bible each day so we don’t miss what He has to say to us. My input will be the same as last year, but rest assured God’s revelation on the Bible reading will be fresh and up to the minute. As my friend Kim says, “How many times do we read the scriptures and something new pops out of the same scripture we’ve read many times before?” If you haven’t already done so, subscribe at the right to have devotionals sent daily to your email or phone – follow the reading plan and next year at this time you will have read through the Bible! Cover to cover, the Bible is a great life-changing read! Don’t miss it.

Ezekiel 13-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to His everlasting covenant with us

Ohhh…some rough reading today. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to Babylon and now judgment was about to fall on Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  The prophets had given warnings to no avail, and most of the Israelites remained in their idolatry and sinful ways even in captivity.

At the end of Chapter 12 we read, “You’ve heard that proverb they quote in Israel: ‘Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.’  Tell the people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.’ Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled.’”(12:22-23)  And then the judgments began.

Judgment prophecies were given through Ezekiel regarding: 1) false prophets of the day who whitewashed the truth so that the Israelites would feel only good about themselves, 2) mediums who used magic and charms to ensnare the people away from God, and 3) leaders who set up idols in their hearts to worship instead of worshipping the true and living God. (14)  The similarities today are remarkable.

The Babylonian captives believed that Jerusalem, the Holy City, would survive the siege, but God called Jerusalem and its people a useless vine, “The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest.  Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” (15:6)  Even more devastating was His charge that Jerusalem was His unfaithful wife, who, worse than a prostitute, had many lovers and didn’t even charge them because she so wanted to be with them.  Jerusalem was filled with altars and shrines to the gods of neighboring countries and final judgment was coming to Jerusalem.

The riddle of Chapter 17 speaks of the besieged Jerusalem attempting to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against Babylon, but both were crushed by the mighty Babylonian army.  I’ve wondered if it was as perplexing to God as it was to me when I read of this alliance with Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites without mercy for so many centuries.  Why would they seek to go back to the very ones who had bound them? It was as if they would do anything to keep from trusting God.

Early in our ministry we had an evangelist friend that God had miraculously delivered from drugs and given a powerful ministry, but over time he slipped back into the bondage of drugs once again.  I’ve never really understood how it happened, but I believe it had to do with pride in what he had accomplished, forgetting Who it was that had delivered him.  Likewise, Israel, so proud of the nation they had become, trusted only in their own plans, rejecting both God and the warnings of Isaiah and the prophets against this alliance with Egypt.  But then, wasn’t it pride that started the whole sin thing with Lucifer? Anytime we consider ourselves equal to God, we are headed for destruction as well.

Well, before we fall right through the floor in depression, let’s remember that Israel is alive and reasonably well on planet earth today.  “Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (16:59-60)

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He would take the remnant that turned toward Him, the Daniels and Shadrachs, and build a nation.  The everlasting covenant, Christ Jesus, is available to Israel today; and when we pray, let’s pray they will accept Him and escape final destruction.  After all, hasn’t His Word asked us to pray for Israel? 

Moving Forward:  May I not take lightly my solemn vows to God’s everlasting covenant with me through Christ Jesus.  I reject even the slightest bit of pride in anything I may accomplish.  May it be He who sits on the throne of my heart today. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 15-16

Proverbs 7 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to a pure and moral life

Triple chocolate fudge cake with chocolate mousse filling…can you see it?  I see it every time I pass by the dessert counter at my favorite restaurant.  It’s not content to just sit there on the counter.  No, it calls to me. In fact, it walks right up to me dressed in its seductive ganache icing, surrounded by a blanket of silky sauce and a perfumed dusting of cocoa.  I inhale its fragrance, and it’s as if I hear it say, “You are alone and no one will ever know you allowed my sweet creamy mousse to kiss your lips, you deserve it.”

Seduced by its smooth flattery and clever words, I eat it, and then I am immediately filled with remorse, remembering “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips” and all the things I know to be true.  I vow to never eat it again…until next time…when I walk that way again and it calls to me…triple chocolate fudge cake with chocolate mousse filling…can you hear it?

All that to say that I understand seduction.  Although too many fudge cakes may send me to an early grave, there are seductions that will send me to an eternal grave. In Proverbs 7, Solomon warned his sons about the road that leads to the grave through seduction.  A much weightier subject than cake.

The way of the temptress is something to reckon with amid the vast array of seductive tools the enemy has at his disposal today.  When I started in ministry 45 years ago, adultery was something that happened in society but was frowned on and discouraged. Today, it is accepted as a part of social living by many and often celebrated throughout the media.  Men and women alike have yielded to the seductive call of the immoral man or woman, leaving behind precious children caught in the fray.

After counseling hundreds of hurting young people over the years, I can promise that there is not a man or woman on the planet worthy of sacrificing the security and peace of these dear ones – not one.  They may act as though everything is great; but believe me, for most, it is not.

“Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands.  Obey my commands and live!  Guard my instructions as you guard your own eyesTie them on your fingers as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.”(1-3) When I married and the beautiful wedding ring was placed on my finger, it wasn’t meant to be an ornament.  It was intended to be a safeguard, a watchman if you will, to keep me from sin as I remember its significance.

The ring, a circle without beginning or end, symbolizes eternal agape love that is not threatened by the seductress or seducer.  “So listen to me, my sons [and daughters], and pay attention to my words…Don’t wander down her wayward path.  For she has been the ruin of many…her house is the road to the grave.” (25-27)  Don’t wander over to the dessert counter, don’t go down the path to ruin Solomon warned.  Heed the watchman.

Moving Forward: I cherish my wedding ring today and all that it symbolizes – eternal love and fidelity and the commitment to God’s morality, written deep within my heart. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 13-18

Psalms 75-77 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He hears our distress call and answers with wonderful deeds 

@ Psalm 77
Asaph the temple choir director and worship leader was in a bad way.  When God’s instrument for worship is distressed, the entire body can easily be affected.  According to history, many of the Psalms of Asaph and his descendants were written during enemy invasions of Israel; but whether his distress was personal or about his nation, he was troubled.  Thankfully, he knew where to go for help.

“When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.  All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.” (2)  Asaph did not seek distractions to help him get through his distress, no comic relief or sleep meds for him.  He searched for the Lord and prayed earnestly all night; however, peace did not come. If we’ve been there, we understand his struggle – doing all that we know to do, but seemingly to no avail.  He got to the point where he cried out, “I am too distressed even to pray!” (4)  I’ve been there also…not fun.

Asaph reflected on the way things used to be and on what he had lost, and this brought no comfort at all.  In fact, it caused him to question God’s integrity.  Over verses 7-9, Asaph asks several questions, “Has the Lord rejected me forever?”  God would never reject anyone who is searching for Him.  “Will He never again be kind to me?”  God is mercy and kindness.  “Is His unfailing love gone forever?”  A dichotomy at best, how can unfailing love be gone forever?

Asaph continued his questions, “Have His promises permanently failed?” One might expect lightening to strike for a question like this, but God was full of mercy and kindness to Asaph. God is faithful to His promises. David answered this question when he wrote, “I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.”(Psalm 138:2)  “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”  How could God forget anything!  “Has He slammed the door on His compassion?”  God is love and compassion.

Peace finally came to Asaph when he turned his focus to all the great things that God had done. “But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.  They are constantly in my thoughts.  I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.” (11-12)  I have been here as well, and I feel the faith rising in Asaph!  Then he recounted the great miracle in Israel’s history, “When the Red Sea saw you, O God, it waters looked and trembled!…Your road led through the seas…a pathway no one knew was there!” (16,19)  Victory! He will do the miraculous on our behalf. It doesn’t matter the cause of our distress as much as it does our response to it.

Remembering what was and wallowing in self-pity will never bring us peace.  But remembering His faithfulness in times past, how our troubles “trembled” at the sight of Almighty God and how He provided the victory that no one else could have seen will bring peace to our hearts and the faith to believe that victory is in sight.  God has an unlimited number of ways to answer our heart’s cry – we need trust Him for just one.

Moving Forward:  Regardless of what I may face today, I will focus not on what was but on Who is my answer, “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me.” (Psalm 118:5) 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 7

1 Kings 19-22 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He speaks to us through His gentle whisper

@ 1 Kings 19
I don’t know why it is, but so often we find ourselves on the floor of the valley after an incredible mountaintop experience.  That is where we find the great prophet Elijah in our reading today.  God had just shown up BIG at Mount Carmel; what a demonstration of His greatness! Now rain had come to the dry parched land, and Elijah should have been walking on air, but he wasn’t.  We find him under a broom tree wanting to die. Not good.

Jezebel wanted Elijah dead for killing all her prophets of Baal, “So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah, ‘May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.’  Elijah was afraid…” (2)  If you’ve ever experienced a Jezebel in your life, you probably understand his fear. Even now, almost 3,000 years later, most everyone understands that a Jezebel spirit, often attractive and compelling, is evil personified and represents a controlling spirit bent on taking us down.  Rather than living in the grip of fear, we will do well to remember Jezebel’s fate – she was thrown out a window, trampled by horses and eaten by dogs.(2 Kings 9:30-37)  God is not threatened by Jezebel.

However, Elijah sat under the broom tree discouraged, fatigued, afraid and ready to die, but God was not going to let His servant stay that way.  He sent food to strengthen Elijah for a 200-mile journey to Mt. Sinai.  After he arrived, the Lord asked him this question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”(9)  Elijah gave a little history lesson of all had happened, something that really wasn’t necessary, and then said, “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”(10)

Then God showed up BIG for Elijah with a mighty wind, an earthquake and fire, proving once again that He was able to control all things including the fate of one Jezebel, but God’s message to Elijah was not in these demonstrations. It was in the gentle whisper where God spoke and caught Elijah’s attention, “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And a voice said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” God went on to tell him all about his role in the future events of Israel. (12-18) Everything He said came to pass.

As with Elijah, we may have finished a great task, built a new church, held a big event or completed an assignment and find ourselves on the floor of the valley feeling discouraged, fatigued and afraid of what the future may hold.  We may be tempted to give Him a history lesson of all that has happened.  We may be looking for the great wind, the earthquake and fire, sky writing or a great leader to show up in our lives with a word, but perhaps God is whispering to us: What are you doing here, dear one?  Get up and eat from My Word, My bread, and be strengthened for the journey ahead.  At my Holy Mountain, in My presence, I will direct your steps and all that I have said will come to pass.  What are you doing here, dear one? 

Moving Forward: Strengthened by your Word today, I wait in your presence and listen for your gentle whisper

Tomorrow @ Psalms 75-77

Leviticus 7-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He has cleansed us to serve Him in the priesthood

The soon return of the Lord was a daily conversation in my home when I was young.  My mom would often go to a window, look up at the clouds and say, “One of these days we will see Jesus coming in the clouds, and we will rise to meet Him in the air.” When she said this, I imagined grabbing onto her skirt for all I was worth so that I could go with her.  Over time I learned that it would be my own blood-bought commitment to the Lord that would give me rise.  The same was true in Old Testament times – no one got a free ride into the presence of the Lord. 

@ Leviticus 8
The process for priestly ordination was lengthy and detailed.  Although Aaron the High Priest was from Levitical lineage, he was instructed by Moses to follow the process of cleansing for priestly duties.  His sons, also priests, were not exempt from this cleansing because of who their father was and what he had done.  They, too, were submitted to the same cleansing that would make them worthy instruments of service for God, “So Moses followed the Lord’s instructions, and the whole community assembled at the Tabernacle entrance.  Moses announced to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded us to do!’  Then he presented Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.” (4-6)

The Tabernacle was then anointed with oil throughout and sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins for the priests and another for the congregation.  A third sacrifice was offered for the ordination of the priests, and in this ceremony, blood was applied to the right ear lobe, the right thumb and the right big toe.  The ceremony had become very personal for Aaron and his sons at this point.

Scripture does not elaborate on the significance of this blood application, but most believe it speaks for itself.  The blood on the right ear lobe was symbolic of the dedication of the priests to hear and listen to God’s Word.  The blood on the right thumb represented a willingness to do His work, and the blood applied to the right big toe was a commitment to walk in His ways and commands.  All priests were to follow this ordination process, even lefties like me, because it demonstrated total commitment to God.

With the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, this ritual is no longer necessary because we have a new High priest, the Lord Jesus, and those who have had His blood applied to their lives are now part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6)   A whole new process is in place, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

By the personal acceptance of His sacrificial blood to our lives, we may now enter His Holy presence just as Aaron and his sons did, no need grabbing hold of another’s coattail. As part of His royal priesthood, we are qualified to serve Him with sincere hearts by listening to His Word, and fully trusting Him when doing His work and following His ways.  Sometimes we just don’t fully understand what His supreme sacrifice has accomplished in our lives.  We are His royal priests, and we have ministry to do!

Moving Forward: Ever mindful of my ministry role, I will keep my life cleansed and pure, listening to His voice, doing His work and following His ways. 

Tomorrow @ 1 Kings 19-22

Philippians 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He empowers us to do what pleases Him 

@ Philippians 1
What a treat it is when we attempt to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time and find ourselves encouraged the most! This is probably how the Philippians felt when they read Paul’s letter to them.  The Philippians were his first congregation on the European continent and his affection for them is obvious. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (3)  I feel this same way about so many people in my life.

The Philippians had supported him throughout his ministry, including his time in prison where he sat writing his letter to them.  I’m sure their hearts were breaking for this father of their faith who had nurtured them and was now in prison for sharing that very faith. Their gifts and messages sent through Epaphroditus – never will I complain about my name again – were no doubt intended to lift his spirits and encourage him.  His response was the joyful letter of Philippians.

Just like a father would do, Paul encouraged them to continue to mature and grow in the Lord regardless of their concern about his prison confinement.  “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives…” (9-10)  Don’t worry about my state of affairs and what I am going through, but press on and you will understand what really matters in life.

“I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (20-21)  We can tell if we have discovered what really matters in life by how tightly we hold on to this world and what it has to offer.  Paul had let go.

Oh, that I would always view the trials I face with the heart and attitude of Paul, “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here…knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (12-14)

What if Paul had responded to his chains with depression and fear, disillusioned by his situation?  The local Christians in Rome, who would soon face great persecution themselves, would have no role model of tenacious faith to follow.  There would be no encouraging letter to the Philippians that we so often quote and receive blessing from today.  Thank you, Paul, for showing us what really matters. 

@ Philippians 2
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (12)  When we reverence God and obey Him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11) and the power that changed Saul to Paul will empower us to do what pleases Him, to do what really matters.  Just as Paul was not alone sitting in that prison cell, we are not alone in our trial.  We can respond to our trial with the same heart and attitude as Paul because of what God is accomplishing within us. 

Moving Forward:  With God working in me today, I am empowered to face this day with tenacious faith, living His example of one who knows what really matters in life – the eternal side of living. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 7-9

Luke 13-14 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He asks that we count the cost of following Him, loving Him more than any other 

@ Luke 14
Within our cache of junk mail, we all have received the seemingly innocuous credit card offers.  What a deal!  Free annual fee, 0% interest for about two minutes followed by a monthly pint of blood and extortive interest rates.  Well, somebody has to pay for it!  We would be wise to count the cost of this incredible offer – some offers just are not what they appear to be.

On the other hand, we all have been offered an amazing opportunity that is not only more than what it appears to be, but more than we can even imagine:  free paid membership, life-long eligibility as per the agreement, including out-of-this-world dividends – literally.  However, before we sign on the dotted line, it would be good to read all the print. There will be some dues to be paid as well as commitment to the everything stipulation.  In spite of this, the offer is miraculous, and there’s really nothing like it anywhere.

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison…carry your own cross and follow me…count the cost…giving up everything you own,” Jesus explained to the large crowd following Him that day. (26-33) While these requirements to His offer may seem difficult, this blog couldn’t begin to hold all the blessings that result from our acceptance of His offer – abundant life here on earth and eternal life in heaven, just to name a couple of them.

We can easily understand the examples Jesus gave of the builder, the king and the importance of counting the cost to follow Him.  And because of the example of Jesus at Calvary, we can somewhat understand what it means to carry our own cross and the willingness to follow Him even to death.  Many throughout history have followed Him to this very end, and others are walking this path today. Does He really require us to hate our families and friends? In comparison to our love and devotion to Him, it may appear that way at times.

The giving Him everything stipulation is a tangible, hardcore, giving of all that we are, all that we ever will be, all that we have and all that we ever will have.  The truth is that our everything could not be in better hands—He gives back to us what we need, when we need it and how we need it.  We couldn’t find a better life coach and financial planner anywhere!  More importantly, He is our Creator, the One who knows us better than anyone else does and the One who knows our tomorrow.

Jesus desires that we count the cost of following Him so that our passion and enthusiasm is authentic and eternal.  The offer is this:  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  When counting the cost, how can we can we not consider His incredible offer!

Moving Forward: Today I renew my commitment to the cost of following Him, regardless of the path it takes. I’m yours, Lord, everything I am or ever hope to be, everything I have or ever hope to have.  I love Him most. 

Tomorrow @ Philippians 1-2

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