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.

Job 33-34 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Whether instructing or disciplining, He always does what’s best for us

The early earth dwellers believed the world was flat. They made this statement based on their limited knowledge of their surroundings, but then the adventurous Italian, Columbus, proved them wrong when he didn’t turn a corner and fall into oblivion.

Actually the debate in Columbus’ day was more about the size of the world and whether or not he could ever reach his goal.  I have to admit when I’ve looked out the window over the terrain in Central Florida, it looked pretty flat, but I understand that things are not always as they seem.  If only Job’s comforters could have understood this concept. 

@ Job 33
The young Elihu introduced a new reason for Job’s suffering.  Job’s three friends insisted he was being punished for his sins, and no other explanation was acceptable.  Job repeatedly defended himself to them to the point of arrogance as he explained his righteousness.  Elihu contended that God not only uses suffering to punish but he also will use suffering to instruct.  Through suffering, “God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it…He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings.  He makes them turn from doing wrong; he keeps them from pride.  He protects them from the grave…OR God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds…” (14-18). This left the door open in Elihu’s thinking for Job to be the righteous man he claimed to be but possibly suffering so that God could disciple him, OR, He could be punishing him.  Either way, he was suffering. 

@ Job 34
Elihu continued his speech under the impression that Job was suffering because God wanted to bring instruction.  However, he felt the suffering continued on and on because Job was sinning by arrogantly questioning God, “Job, you deserve the maximum penalty for the wicked way you have talked. For you have added rebellion to your sin; you show no respect and you speak many angry words against God.” (36-37)  Later, when God spoke to Job, we learn there was an element of truth to what Elihu was saying, but like his friends, his conclusion was based on the wrong premise.

Elihu’s conclusion reminds me of the early earth dwellers. Elihu based his conclusion on his limited knowledge of Job’s situation and only on how he viewed it.  The earth is flat.  Again, no one in the scenario was privy to the reason for Job’s suffering other than God, Satan….and us.

I’ve certainly made mistakes in my life by forming conclusions based on limited knowledge.  Fortunately, none have hugely altered my life in a negative way.  I read recently about the reason for Oprah’s acceptance of many gods rather than the true and living God alone.  She heard a minister once say that God was a jealous God.  In her limited thinking, she decided that a jealous God was not for her, and she left church and has never returned.  I question that she knew God in a personal way. She knew of Him, but she didn’t really know Him or understand the scripture quoted in her church.  Her conclusion based on limited knowledge dramatically altered her life, and it is altering many of the lives she influences each day. That said, jumping to a false conclusion may not only affect my own life, but may affect the lives of all those I influence as well.  Noted and taken to heart. 

Moving Forward: God’s plans and purposes are often hidden from my understanding. With this in mind, I’ll not be so quick to form conclusions and risk negative results. 

Tomorrow @ Jeremiah 22-26

Psalms 48-50 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Knowing the brevity of our lives, He values our eternal gains

The old saying, “You can’t take it with you,” speaks of our entrance into eternity without all the items we’ve collected through the years and is a truth that most of us accept.  However, a few millenniums ago, the Egyptians were convinced that they could take it all into eternity as a comfort in the afterlife.

In 1922, Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen who died around 1346 B.C. at the age of 18.  The tomb had remained untouched for over 3000 years and contained a treasury of gold and valuable items that boggles the mind.  It seems the Egyptians wanted King Tut to be comfortable in his new surroundings by allowing him to take with him all the things he cherished most.  Of course, after his death the young King knew something that the other Egyptians did not know at the time and that is you just can’t take it with you. 

@ Psalm 49
With all the economic problems we’ve had over the past few years, investors have lost a lot of money and many others have lost their jobs and their homes.  The drug lords, swindlers and scam artists seem to be doing all right, however, but according to Psalm 49:16-17, this is not something we should worry about. “So don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid.  For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave.”

We spend a great deal of time struggling to achieve the measures that society has dictated as success – houses, cars, upscale clothes and shoes and food and…upscale everything!  Sadly, our indulgences finally caught up with us a few years ago.  The economic problems have caused many to return to basics, but nobody likes it very much and most people find it depressing.  I believe that God loves to bless us with upgrades at times, but it surely must sadden Him when we are depressed without them.

Timothy had a good idea of what really defines great wealth, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.  After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.  So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” (I Timothy 6:6-8)  What great counsel for us today!

Knowing we can’t take all our stuff with us, is it really worth all the time and energy we spend trying to achieve it? James had a way of putting things in the proper perspective, “Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14) That about sums it up.  Life is short – eternity is a very, very long time.  It has been said that through our witness, people are the only thing we take with us into eternity.  Wise investments with great returns! 

Moving Forward: I’ll enjoy every blessing that I receive today but remain ever mindful of those things with eternal value. 

Tomorrow @ Job 33-34

2 Samuel 1-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He rewards our patience and integrity; He desires that our zeal is surrendered to Him

“I was just trying to help.”  How many times have we offered this explanation when our attempt to help someone has not been helpful.  Often unsolicited, our help is well-intended but sometimes it doesn’t achieve our goal.  So often we don’t understand the big picture in a situation or the long-term ramifications yet charge ahead with opinions that we feel would be helpful.  Through the years I learned to offer my help to others with enthusiasm; but if it’s not accepted, I know there must be a reason for it.  In our reading today, the less than helpful Amalekite and valiant Asahel had not learned this lesson.

The Amalekites, Esau’s descendants, had been the bane of Israel’s existence for quite some time, and now one lone Amalekite came to David bearing the crown and armband of David’s arch rival, King Saul, announcing his death as well as the death of his son, Jonathan.  Some believe his story of killing Saul to put him out of his misery was fabricated; but regardless of the truth, David did not congratulate him.  “Why were you not afraid to kill the Lord’s anointed one?” (2 Samuel 1:14) Obviously the Amalekite did not anticipate the integrity of David, and David ordered him killed for his terrible deed. I guess he was just trying to help. Shortly after this, David was anointed king of the southern kingdom of Judah. 

@ 2 Samuel 2
Ishbosheth (say that fast three times), Saul’s son, was crowned king of the northern kingdom of Israel, and almost immediately fighting ensued between the divided kingdoms.  David had the three sons of Zeruiah who were dominant figures in his army – Joel, Abishai and Asahel.  Chapter 2 gives the fateful account of the young Asahel who put upon himself the task of taking out Abner, Ishbosheth’s mighty leader.  We learn through this story that the life of even the fastest runner in the land is worth very little when he is running in the wrong direction.  Abner tried hard not to kill this young warrior; but it was kill or be killed, and Asahel died at the hand of the mighty Abner.  Although Asahel’s desire to diminish the strength of the enemy by killing Abner seemed valiant, dead self-directed heroes can do little else for the kingdom.

Not only did Asahel die that day, but his murder sparked a great civil war between the two kingdoms that finally culminated seven years later at the murder of Ishbosheth.  David was crowned king of Israel and the two kingdoms were finally united.  God rewarded David for his integrity and patience.  When the Israelites entered the Promised Land many years before, their assignment was to rid the land of its inhabitants and to build a holy nation, God’s special treasure.  It took many more years to accomplish this than was necessary because of disunity and infighting. Asahel’s self-directed zeal came at a cost. Obedience is better than sacrifice (I Samuel 15:22).

Several times throughout my life I have tried to help God out in areas where He hasn’t asked for my assistance.  My intentions were honorable, but my actions were not.  Anytime I try to be the Holy Spirit, rather than be led by Him, I can expect poor results.  Fortunately, the Lord has not let it kill me, but I have found myself on my knees, asking forgiveness, pleading His mercy. And, true to His nature, He is merciful. The Holy Spirit is big enough for any task and His guidance never misdirects. 

Moving Forward:  Like all the examples from His Word, I receive its life-giving counsel to make me better, more like Him. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 48-50

Exodus 13-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Remember His power to deliver

Several years ago my uncle did a great favor for me and my siblings and cousins.  As a gift to our grandparents, he officially documented their passage through Ellis Island to the United States when they arrived from Italy over a century ago.  Because of this, I was able to visit Ellis Island a few years ago and view the record of their entrance and see their names inscribed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor.  It was a touching moment for me as I remembered the courage of my young grandparents as they embarked on a journey of new discoveries that certainly affected the course of my life.  It’s good to understand and to remember our heritage. 

@ Exodus 13
“And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’  Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery.’” (13:14)  Immediately after the escape from Egypt, God gave to Moses some instructions for the Israelites in light of their new-found freedom:  give your first-born sons to God because He spared their lives in the escape from Egypt and buy them back through the sacrifice of a young lamb or goat.  I would imagine the children in the future would certainly want to know what that was all about.  It was about remembering, remembering all God had done, “This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt.” (16).

This story causes me to wonder if I have adequately shared with my children the story of my deliverance from slavery, the slavery of sin, and the day the Lamb was sacrificed in my stead.  What happened that day to draw me to Him?  Where did it occur?  How did I feel?  Remembering…forever marking their hand or forehead in remembrance of His great power to deliver, and one day passing it on to their children and their children’s children along with their own stories of deliverance.

“The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and He provided light at night with a pillar of fire.” (21) A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire to guide their every step!  Come on!  How could they go wrong?  But they did.  We may think that if we had a visible guidance from God like this we would never take a misstep. But then, we do have His guidance.  We hold in our hands the Bible, the tangible Word of God that brings guidance and direction through the work of the Holy Spirit to direct our lives and keep us on the right path. How could we go wrong?  But we can.

Just like the Israelites, we may take for granted the wonderful gift of His direction regardless of how it comes to us, or we may look for a new word, possibly a word with a face.  But for certain, remembering how He has directed His people in the past through the living Word of God and remembering how He has led us will help to keep us on the right path.

@ Exodus 14
As the 2 million Israelites stood wedged between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, panic ensued.  In verse 11 they cried, “Why did you make us leave Egypt? We said, ‘leave us alone!’”  Huh?  Had they already forgotten the miracle night of their escape?  “But Moses told the people, ‘Don’t be afraid.  Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.’” (13)  And of course, He miraculously rescued them that day, split that sea wide open and they crossed on dry ground.

What wonderful words for us today!  Regardless of how tightly we are wedged between our challenges with no obvious way out, we can remember, “Don’t be afraid.  Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.” 

Moving Forward: Today I remember the story of my deliverance, retelling it to my children, and look to my pillar of cloud and fire for guidance – the Living Word.  Unafraid in my circumstances, I will just stand still and watch… 

Tomorrow @ II Samuel 1-4

2 Corinthians 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He comforts us so we are able to comfort others and transforms us into His Christ-like fragrance

I love this time of the year when we celebrate Easter, a glorious day!  For Jesus, the week before His crucifixion and resurrection was filled with travel, teaching, great moments in prayer and also with fragrance.  Yes, fragrance.  “While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head…‘She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.’” (Matthew 26:7,12)

As He prepared Himself for the greatest challenge of His life, the cross, His fragrance permeated His surroundings.  No doubt this fragrance blessed and comforted those who loved Him but disgusted those who were seeking to kill Him.  Because He was victorious on the cross and defeated death through His resurrection, we, too, can be victorious in our challenges and fill our world with His fragrance. 

@ 2 Corinthians 1
Sometimes we wonder why we go through the challenges we face.  Ultimately, God is concerned not so much about why, but with what we do with our challenges.  How do we respond to them?  “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (4-5)  In light of this, I have to admit that my flesh doesn’t really desire to be all that helpful to others in this way – I’ll pass on the trouble, but thank you for offering.

On the other hand, I also know the unbelievable joy that comes from comforting someone who is passing through a difficult place where I have been.  Solving the troubles of others may or may not be our task, but encouraging them with the hope of moving past their problems through our testimony is invaluable to them.  Acknowledging the presence of the Lord through all of our own troubles offers comfort and strength found nowhere else.  While I’m hesitant to say to the Lord regarding trouble, “Bring it on,” I’m confident of the abiding comfort He will give me when I need it most. In the process, I truly desire to share the fragrance of His comfort with others.

@ 2 Corinthians 2
“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” (15) In the United States, we are excessively concerned about our personal fragrance, our smell.  I’ve visited several countries around the world where I dare say a more conscientious approach to personal hygiene would be welcomed, but Americans are extreme in this.  By the time I have finished grooming each morning, I am wearing no less than eight different scents, which more than likely contribute to my allergy problems.  However, Paul was speaking of a different kind of fragrance.

“But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.  To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.  But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.  And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (15-16). Only those who are washed by the blood of Jesus, cleansed from the stench of sin’s decay, are adequate to represent Him by wearing His fragrance. To fellow believers, we are a life-giving perfume, but to the lost we are a constant reminder of their need for cleansing.  Oh, that they would tire of the dreadful smell of doom and instead run to the cross, allowing His fragrant perfume to fill their lives.  I’m forever challenged to smell just like Him. 

Moving Forward: Through the eyes of the Spirit, I will look for those in need of comfort, sharing His comfort with them, wearing His Christ-like fragrance. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 13-16

Mark 11-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He expects our lives to bear fruit for the kingdom

It seems that I have a knack for selecting the best fresh fruit at the grocery store, or at least this is what I’m told by family and friends.  I’m fairly certain this knack developed because I’ve been selecting fruit for about 150 years, but nevertheless, there are a few things that I look for when I’m inspecting fruit.   Weight plays a big role in the selection – ripe fruit will weigh more for its size than is expected because sugar increases the moisture content in the fruit making it weigh more.  Smell is important as well – no smell indicates that the fruit isn’t ripe and a moldy smell usually means it is overripe.  Well, I could go on, but much more important than my fruit selection is the lesson that Jesus taught His disciples about fruit inspection. 

@ Mark 11
“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs…Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat your fruit again!’” (11:12-14)  These were interesting observations for the disciples who were following Jesus that day.  We might think that Jesus was very hungry to be moved to the point of cursing a tree for bearing no figs, but the symbolism speaks too loudly for us to imagine it as only about hunger.  From the fig tree, Jesus moved to the temple and cleaned it out, cleaned out the scam artists and thieves.  Those things not producing fruit that day were addressed.  The temple had lost its function as a house of worship and the fig tree had lost its function as a food source and both were rebuked.

In Matthew 7:16, Jesus explained about false prophets, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act…”  We often find ourselves as fruit inspectors of those who are professing Jesus as their Savior.  Through the years I have learned that any process of inspecting should always begin with me.  Am I showing the promise of fruit with my leafy show as a believer, yet bearing no fruit? Do I exhibit the fruit of the spirit in my life as well as the fruit of the harvest of souls?

A merciful Jesus may not curse me for my lack, but what have I done that marks me as a believer when I pray for anything in verse 24?  “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”  Forgiveness – the precursor to answered prayers! Having inspected myself with an honest heart, I can then evaluate the actions of others and their legitimacy as a believer should the need arise – are they good fruit or bad fruit? 

@ Mark 12
With clearing out the temple and remarks thereafter, Jesus upset the religious folks that day. The Sadducees believed only in the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and did not believe in the resurrection because it was not addressed in those scriptures.  After the Pharisees failed to trap Jesus about taxes, the Sadducees attempted to trap Him regarding marriage in Heaven.

Jesus’ response was our perfect example of how to handle what I call professional unbelievers.  These individuals attempt to dilute our message with questions regarding what they consider inconsistencies in the Bible or difficult passages we may not fully understand until we get to heaven.  However, just like Jesus, we are wise when we go directly to the heart of the matter.  He knew their real hang up was the resurrection – His resurrection.

Regardless of the arguments presented to us, in reality we are addressing the struggles that unbelievers have with accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Our best response is to sidestep the rhetoric and share the truth of the Gospel first.  We should never forget that there is an innate power to John 3:16 that convicts men of sin much more effectively than all of our debating or bloviating. When the dust settles, the Gospel will remain. 

Moving Forward: May I bear the fruit of the spirit as well as the fruit of the harvest, never disappointing my Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 1-3

Jeremiah 17-21 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires to shape us into vessels of honor

Years ago I visited a potter who allowed visitors to take a stab at the potter’s wheel.  My attempt became a literal mud-slinging contest between me and the wheel – the wheel won.  The condition of my clothing testified to that fact.  One thing I learned that day was that the master skills of the potter are difficult to replicate by a novice, and the example given to Jeremiah by God at the potter’s shop in Jeremiah 18 became very real to me.

With the Master Potter willing to mold us into useful vessels of honor, why do we choose to allow novices to mold our lives, often allowing our own willful desires or those of others to influence and shape us? The results are never what God intended.

“[I] found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”(18:3-4)  As long as the clay was soft and moldable, the potter was able to crush and remold it; but in time, the clay became dry and ultimately hardened.  It was no longer possible to refine its shape into something useful.  Sadly, this was the shape that Israel was in. 

Repentance would have challenged God to start over with the nation that had not turned out as He had hoped, molding it into a nation of honor, but repentance did not come. So God allowed the hardened vessel to be smashed as foretold in Chapter 19 through the Babylonian invasion.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (17:7-8) While traveling the countryside, I’ve always been able to know where the rivers and streams are located by the outcrop of trees and shrubs that grow alongside them.  Their roots have reached into the water source.

When we make the Lord our hope and confidence rather than the dictates of our own desires, our roots reach deep into the Source.  Instead of becoming dry and hardened, we remain fresh and supple, and our presence points others to the Source as they travel life’s countryside.  Even in this, we are useful vessels of honor for Him. 

Moving Forward: A cherished old hymn comes to mind, “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

Tomorrow @ Mark 11-12

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