blog-home-pageIntentional> Deliberate> On purpose> Planned> Premeditated> Calculated.  When we step away from the myriad of responsibilities and opportunities calling to us each day to spend time with God, we have made an intentional decision to connect with Him.  

Join with me as I read through the Bible this year – every day will deliver a life-changing read and provide the guidance we need in the days ahead.  Just follow below or click a day on the Calendar to the right for that day’s devotional. 

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  (Ps.119:105)  More than ever before, let’s be intentional!

Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Isaiah 56-61 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has anointed us to bring Good News

Several years ago I was waiting in my car for my daughter to finish her music lesson and reading my scripture portion for the day that happened to be in Isaiah.  I was going through a difficult time, dealing with some minor health issues and also with some ministry challenges, and I remember saying, “Lord, can’t we do better today than Isaiah.  Come on!”

While Isaiah seems to be mostly about judgment, my reading that day happened to include Isaiah 61.  As I began to read the first verse, I felt His Spirit fill my little car, and before I knew it, I was singing the Word, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach Good News, Good News. To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to deliver the prisoners from darkness and to comfort those who mourn.”  I sang it over and over again until my spirit was soaring with His.  I believe He gave me a song that day to highlight His mission and to remind me of my mission. 

@ Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come…” (1-2)  These words in Isaiah repeated by Jesus in Luke 4 sent a shock wave through those gathered in the synagogue of Nazareth in Jesus’ day when, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:20-21)  This was how Jesus announced His earthly ministry.

Jesus did not complete the scripture in Isaiah which continued, “…and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (2) Most feel he stopped because the day of God’s judgment had not yet come, and the next time He came to earth would be the Day of Judgment.  Today we are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, the time the Lord has given to save the lost, the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee!  This was His mission.

What did Jesus come to do?  Anointed by the Spirit of Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, His mission was clear:  He came as Prophet to preach the good news, the gospel of the Kingdom, to all those who would humbly listen.  He came as Priest to heal the brokenhearted, all those who were broken and sought healing for body, soul and spirit.  He came as King to deliver, as only a king could do, all those who were held captive by sin and sinful enemies.  He came as Comforter to comfort all those who mourn.

This was His mission, and so it is ours as well. As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His followers, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)  Isaiah prophesied that those who accept the One who sends us will receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (3, KJV) How can we help but share this good news!

On that day so long ago when the Lord gave me His song, He was reminding me of His mission, my mission.  He was encouraging me to not get bogged down with the challenges or heaviness of the mission, but to allow Him to breathe on me and receive help from His Holy Spirit.  We are not alone in our mission; He has anointed us to bring Good News. 

Moving Forward: All I can say today is, Holy Spirit, breathe on me and pour on the oil of joy. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 1-2

Job 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Through our intimacy with God, we know He can be trusted

It does our hearts good to see a few of the rich and famous use their wealth on occasion to help those around the world who are destitute. Just how many huge homes and estates throughout the world does one individual need anyway?  With lifestyles less than exemplary in some cases, many seem to flaunt their wealth in the faces of those who struggle to survive.  It was just a matter of time before Job questioned the abundance of the wicked in light of his dire situation. 

@ Job 21
“Why do the wicked prosper, growing old and powerful?” (7) My response to Job is that I don’t know. “They live to see their children grow up and settle down, and they enjoy their grandchildren…” (8) Safe homes, productive cattle, happy children, and on and on. “And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.  We want no part of you, and your ways.’” (14)  Job seemed to be describing the beautiful people of our day as well. However, Job’s greatest concern was not the wealth of the ungodly, but rather the poverty and heartache of those who served God. 

@ Job 22
Eliphaz, Job’s friend/tormentor, asked some questions of his own, “Can a person do anything to help God? Can even a wise person be helpful to him?  Is it any advantage to the Almighty if you are righteous? Would it be any gain to him if you were perfect?  Is it because you’re so pious that he accuses you and brings judgment against you? No, it’s because of your wickedness! There’s no limit to your sins.” (3-5)  Eliphaz went on to list the many possible sins of Job, but his questions give me pause for thought.

The questions of Eliphaz imply an impersonal God who blesses when we are good and punishes when we are bad.  Certainly, God is not dependent on us, but we know from scripture that He is blessed by our faithfulness to Him and even amazed sometimes by our faith.  God desires an intimate relationship with us.  The thought that Job’s ordeal could be a testing is not in the mix for Eliphaz, but both men missed the point.  Job thought God’s blessing in his life was based solely on his own goodness, and Eliphaz felt the lack of God’s blessing was based on Job’s sin.

When God finally responded to Job, He answered none of his questions, but He directed Job to understand that He was in control of all things.  It wasn’t Job’s concern if evil men appeared to prosper and innocent men suffered.  God would determine man’s destination for eternity, which, by the way, is a very long time.

While Satan thought Job would crumble and curse God through his affliction, God was confident Job would remain faithful. Job’s response that we read last week, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” (19:25) had to have put a smile on the face of the Lord.  Job believed in Him through his trial, but would he trust Him through the process?  Could God’s path for Job be trusted?  It was in this test that Job was on shaky ground.

And this is our test as well in the trials we face from time to time.  We know that our Redeemer lives, but will we trust His path for us and not be tormented by all the questions that come to mind? In yesterday’s Psalm 32, David repented then trusted the Lord to care for him.  Job repented early in his story,  but he was challenged to now put down all his questions and trust God to care for him.  Thankfully, better days were in Job’s future… 

Moving Forward: Who cares about the abundance of those around us, whether they are righteous or not!  The bottom line is I know that my Redeemer lives, and I pray I will trust Him through the challenges I face. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 56-61

Psalms 30-32 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He watches and advises us as He guides us on our best path

If I made a list of the things I like least about going to the dentist, it would be difficult for me to choose my very least favorite aspect.  Surely close to the top of the list would be having equipment larger than my mouth shoved in it along with hands, suction devices, and gauze.  And usually, this is the moment when the dentist casually asks me a question about my day.  Of course, answering is impossible, and nodding could send a drill up my nose, but I will admit I’ve become very adept with eye signals.  In this position, we can’t speak, we can’t move, and we know that the dentist is in control of things.

I’ve wondered if this is somewhat how horses feel when their owners choose to use a bit in their mouths and a bridle to control them.  From what I understand, when basic training steps are given and followed by the horse because of its trust in the trainer, a smaller, less offensive bit can be used to guide and direct the horse or even no bit at all.  If these steps are not followed or if the horse has lived in the wild for some time, the will of the horse is more difficult to train and often more severe bits are needed.  It just seems that trusting and following the guidance given in the first place would save a lot of pain and discomfort, not only for horses but for us as well. 

@ Psalm 32
“The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you.’” (8)  When I was a young girl, the Lord directed me to this treasured verse at a time of uncertainty.  The thought that God, the One who knows my future, would guide me along the best pathway for me brought tremendous peace to my young heart because I knew He could be trusted.

David’s quote from the Lord goes on to say, “Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”(9)  The bit is restrictive and causes a measure of pain if resisted, but in time the animal learns to respond to its direction. Just as with the horse, when we come under the Lord’s training, He sometimes will use even more purposeful means to challenge us to surrender to His gentle guidance.  How much better it is to trust our guide and trainer from the start!

Just as thrilling as His guidance is the fact that He promises to advise and watch over us.  God doesn’t just set a course and expect us to go it alone.  No, not our Guide.  He watches over each step, taking care that we don’t stumble. The success of the popular horse whisperers of today is in the relationship that develops through trust – man and animal alike.  And it is through a trusted relationship that the Lord whispers cautions and comforts to help us along the way.  What a great alternative to mouth gear! 

Moving Forward:  Since those early years, the Lord has proven over and over again that He will guide me along the best pathway, watching, advising and often carrying me in the process.  Yes, I will trust Him today!

Tomorrow @ Job 21-22

I Samuel 1-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is speaking to us all the time

One of my earliest memories is listening to my mom tell the story of Samuel.  I remember her emphasizing Samuel’s early years, about hearing the voice of the Lord and obeying Him.  The story was so real to me that I often fell asleep expecting to hear the Lord calling my name; and just for the record, that was a wonderful way to fall asleep.  In reading Samuel’s story today, I’ve thought about how the years have made me less expectant and more sophisticated in my approach to God and to how He speaks to me.  But in this reflection today, just thinking about the Lord audibly saying Phyllis sends chill bumps all over me.  I’m listening.

The story of Hannah touches every woman’s heart because of her desire to bear a child. We get it.  Sharing our husband with another wife?  This we really don’t get, but only understand that it was tolerated in Hannah’s day to fill the earth with God’s people.  Peninnah’s ridicule of Hannah made her more desperate than ever for a child, but she did not take matters into her own hands and resort to a surrogate as Sarah had done.  I mean, really, there were enough women around the house.  Hannah did the one thing that would change her dire situation.  Hannah prayed, and God answered her prayer. 

@ I Samuel 2
With gratitude for God’s answer to her prayer, Hannah dedicated her child to God for fulltime service.  Because the exploits of Eli’s ungodly sons were known throughout Israel, I’ve often wondered if Hannah truly understood that she was sending her beloved son to a home without apparent discipline and care.  However, God was with him, “Though he was only a boy, [Samuel] served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest. Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice…Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” (18-21)

When we dedicate or set aside our children for the Lord, it’s no small thing, and God takes it seriously.  However, Hannah’s responsibility didn’t end with her act of dedication.  Samuel remained in Hannah’s heart as she made clothing for him, no doubt praying for him with every stitch as any loving mother would do and trusting God to keep what she had committed to Him. While Eli’s sons carried on in their sin and disobedience to the Lord, Samuel did just the opposite.  “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (2:26) 

@ I Samuel 3
“The boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.”(1)  But that was about to change.  Israel’s spiritual condition had degraded to the point where God’s visitations were mostly ignored, but now God had the ear of one who would listen.

“Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.  So the Lord called a third time… Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”(7-8)  Samuel knew about God, but now he would know God in a personal way and would listen to His voice, “And the Lord came and called as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’  And Samuel replied, ‘Speak, your servant is listening.’”(10)  God protected Samuel in Eli’s house of cards because he listened to the voice of the Lord and obeyed Him.

In the dedication of our children to the Lord, what greater training can we give than to teach them to listen for God’s voice because He is speaking all the time.  As my mother encouraged so many years ago, I’m listening for His voice.  Whether He speaks audibly to me, through His still small voice to my heart or through His anointed Word, I know He speaks! 

Moving Forward: My heart is saying to the Lord as I move through this day, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Tomorrow @ Psalms 30-32

Genesis 40-43 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He takes us through the fire to bring humility to our hearts

Unless gluten intolerance is a problem, whole wheat bread products are considered to be good for us  I do my best to avoid what many believe to be the enemy of healthy nutrition, that being all things white – rice, flour, potatoes.  However, there’s nothing like the crusty white bread that waiters at Italian restaurants place right in front of my Italian nose. I sometimes go ahead and indulge with the understanding that anything soaked in olive oil must be good for me.  In reality, I know this isn’t exactly true, but at that moment, it works for me.  Life is good.

I’ve learned to replicate this delicious bread at home, crusty on the outside, warm and tender on the inside, by placing an uncut loaf of bread on the oven rack at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  In all fairness, I will admit that most whole grain loaves of bread work just as well.  The bread comes out of the oven firm and crusty on the outside, but because of the steam that develops in it, it’s warm and tender on the inside.  It takes some heat to get it to this point, but it is well worth the effort.  Sometimes it takes a little time under the fire to make us tender on the inside as well.  After time spent in the heat, Joseph appeared hard and crusty on the outside, but on the inside, he was warm and tender.

Sold as a slave and imprisoned when just a teenage boy, Joseph spent 13 years being processed by the Lord, under the heat if you will, to become the second in command of all of Egypt at the age of 30.  This would be a heady position for anyone, but after coming through the fire as he did, Joseph was humble with a servant’s heart.  Through His process, Joseph was transformed from a proud, arrogant young man to a humble servant of God, but the acid test for him was at the meeting of his older brothers. 

@ Genesis 42
“Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph recognized his brothers instantly, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where are you from?’ he demanded.” (6-7)  Well, Joseph certainly appeared crusty on the outside!  But after Joseph heard their regrets over their past sins regarding him, “He turned away from them and began to weep. When he regained his composure, he spoke to them again.” (24)  Joseph – tender on the inside.

 This is when an unchanged man would have jumped up and said in retaliation, “Ah ha!  I have you now!  Prison for you!”  But not Joseph.  Joseph wept.  Of all the examples in the Bible of mercy and grace, for me, the story of Joseph is second only to that of Jesus. Because of Joseph’s heart, the family of Jacob was saved from starvation and grew to be the mighty nation of Israel.

When we respond with a heart of restoration rather than one of retaliation towards those who have hurt us, we are living proof of a changed heart.  Sometimes events in our lives may toughen up our skin a little, and that’s not always bad, but if our hearts remain soft and pliable towards others, we will be motivated to restore relationships rather than destroy them. This is when God knows He can use us for a greater purpose in His Kingdom as He did with Joseph.  Peter said it this way, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.” (I Peter 5:6) 

Moving Forward: My prayer today – Lord, keep me warm and tender on the inside, always seeking to bring healing and restoration in every situation. 

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 1-5

I Corinthians 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Out of love, He disciplines His children

The other day I saw a mother duck with four little ducklings preparing to cross the road.  I think the word adorable comes closest to describing the scene.  She gathered them in, and as if giving instructions, she nodded and quacked.  I am almost sure that she pointed to the road, but I’m not sure.  She lined them up behind her, and off they waddled, stopping traffic until they had safely crossed the road. Simply adorable!

It’s the nature of most of God’s creation to protect and defend our young.  While my children did not always consider my actions to be adorable, nonetheless, I did my best to keep them from harm, and I disciplined them when necessary.  I made careful observation of their friends, and when I found those who were not a good influence, they were no longer a part of my children’s lives. That’s the role of a loving overseer whether it brings popularity or not.  Paul found himself in this role as he addressed the Corinthian church – lining up those ducks. 

@ I Corinthians 5
“I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you – something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.” (1-2)  Help! This isn’t the happy, good news or comfort that I like to share, but then what kind of a mother duck would I be if I didn’t share it? Rhetorical question – no response required.

Paul went on to say that he wasn’t addressing unbelievers, where we make every attempt to lovingly teach and direct towards holy living.  He was referring to believers who knew how they should live, yet disregarded it to satisfy their own desires.  “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you.’” (12)

It’s easy to get a bee in our bonnet, so to speak, about what someone within the church says or does that isn’t to our liking.  Paul is not talking about this. Throughout his writings, he encourages us to be patient, loving and kind to one another (I Corinthians 13).  Nor is he talking about judging the motivation behind what other believers do for these things will be aptly judged by Jesus Himself. (I Corinthians 3:3) Paul is talking about sin in the life of a believer within the church, plain and simple.  Rather than being enablers of sin by ignoring it, our right response when done in a spirit of love just may save the eternal life of one who is living a sinful life. (James 4:19-20)

No one wants to talk about church discipline. It’s not friendly, warm or cuddly. Jesus, however, felt it important and started the discussion in Matthew 18, providing the first steps to keeping the body of Christ protected. (See February 18 @ Matthew 17-19). After the establishment of the church, Paul continued with these instructions in Chapter 5. Not wanting to leave the matter in a hopeless condition for this man who had sinned, Paul followed up in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, “Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise, he may be overcome by discouragement.  So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.”  This is always our goal because it is the heart of the Father – repentance, and restoration.

Had the mother duck not loved and cared for her ducklings, she would have allowed them to wander off as they wished; and in the heavy traffic of life, they would have been lost forever.  “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” (Hebrews 12:6)  So, don’t feel only disciplined by these words today by Paul, but know that we are loved by the Lord as His children. The thought of it is far beyond adorable. 

Moving Forward: My goal is to do nothing that requires His discipline, but I’m so thankful He loves me enough to do so if needed.  Doing my best today to keep those ducks in a row… 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 40-43