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.

Acts 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the known God; and in Him, all things exist

A somber moment in my life was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s a monument that honors fallen soldiers of war whose remains had not been identified but who are our heroes just the same.  We would never want to miss out on the opportunity to honor and remember those who so valiantly gave their lives for our freedom.  The Greeks of Paul’s day had a monument to an “Unknown” as well because these pantheistic Greeks did not want to miss out on an opportunity to honor and worship all gods.   In Paul’s visit to Athens, he let them know exactly who their unknown god really was. 

@ Acts 17
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” (22-23)

Paul didn’t try to impress the council with his exhaustive knowledge of Jewish history, but he talked in terms that were relevant to his listeners.  He talked to them about the attributes of the true and living God they had not yet discovered but who was the God of their search.  They had reserved a place for God in their thinking but could not put a name or face to Him so Paul did his best to enlighten them.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” (24-25)  In Verse 16 we learn that Paul was deeply troubled by the many idols he saw everywhere in the city of Athens, but the God they were seeking could not be put on a shelf or displayed on an altar.  Men could not create God in their own fashion because God is the creator “who made the world and everything in it.”

Our world today is similar to Paul’s day in Athens.  Men today are searching for the “unknown” to fill their deep longings inside.  They talk about and worship a God that they do not know, or they create a god that sits on a shelf to serve their purposes when needed.  The true and living God will never live inside the definition of man’s understanding of Him.  Many individuals want to create a God that fits their own image of Him. Paul added, “For in HIM we live and move and exist,” and it’s not the other way around. (28)

Our job is to bring an understanding of God through the message of Jesus Christ to those we meet each day.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us present a relevant message and to touch the hearts of our listeners.  Of course, it’s difficult for us to talk about someone who is unknown to us or to share a testimony we don’t have.  God expects us to be informed and equipped just as Paul was in his day to combat the darkness in our world. 

Moving Forward:  My very existence today is in HIM and my every move is by HIM, and I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to share this truth with others today. 

Tomorrow @ I John 1-3

Zechariah 8-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the God who does the impossible

One of the highlights of my life to date was a trip I took several years ago to visit the Holy Land.  It was a thrill to look out across the Sea of Galilee and imagine Jesus viewing the same scene so many years ago, to walk the streets of Jerusalem where He walked and visit the Garden of Gethsemane stained by His tears.  At the Wailing Wall, I felt as though I heard the prayers of God’s people through the ages, prayers for peace and safety.  Will it come? 

@Zechariah 8
Returning to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon, the Israelites saw utter devastation to their beautiful city and Temple.  The controlling forces in Jerusalem had no desire to see Jerusalem rebuilt by the Jews, but God’s people rebuilt their Temple by the Spirit of the Lord (4:6).  Now their prophet gave a declaration from the lord, “I am returning to Mount Zion, and I will live in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City; the mountain of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be called the Holy Mountain.’  This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: ‘Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.’” (3-5)

These words were difficult to accept because of the dismal reputation that Israel had in the eyes of its neighbors.  Zechariah was a great Messianic and end-times prophet and the words that he shared from God will come true.  Throughout the ages, God enabled the Jews time and again to return to their Jerusalem, but because of their rejection of Him as in the day of Zechariah, they had been scattered throughout the world.

In 1948, Israel was once again before the eyes of the world when they were recognized as a nation, and just as in the past, their neighbors did not accept them.  Zechariah continued the message that has carried Israel through these many years of turmoil, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: All this may seem impossible to you now, a small remnant of God’s people. But is it impossible for me? says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (6)  Nothing speaks more clearly of God performing the impossible for Israel than does the six day war of June, 1967, where Israel fought against countries much larger and better equipped, yet came out the victors.

One day the prophecy of Zechariah will come to pass and the Lord will return to Mount Zion and live in Jerusalem.  Until that day, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior have been grafted in to the vine as His chosen people and can claim His promises to Israel as well.  Circumstances that seem impossible to us now – our healing, a job, our unsaved loved ones, or whatever it is – must respond to the question from the Lord, “Is it impossible for me?”   Israel is our example of how the hand of God moves in the impossible areas of our lives.  “With God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) 

Moving Forward: Believing today for the impossible things in my life to be touched by the God of possibility.

Tomorrow @ Acts 17-18

Ecclesiastes 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  His Word provides the wisdom we need to keep sharp!

A few years ago a friend and I prepared a meal in her home for our families.  My job was chopping veggies, so I searched through her drawer for the best knife I could find.  Now, it needs to be understood that in food prep, it’s all about the knife for me.  Maybe that comes from my Italian heritage, I don’t know, but I want my cutting knife to carry the right weight in the handle, fit easily in the hand and cut like a dream.

On that day I couldn’t find a knife to fit any of those requirements.  The knives were so dull they couldn’t cut through butter…almost.  I ask my friend if she had a sharp knife, and she replied, “No, I can’t have a sharp knife. I would cut myself.”  She didn’t get it.  My job was tedious to say the least.  Aarghhh…

The other day I spent some time in my daughter’s kitchen doing food prep and once again my job included chopping veggies.  In her drawer was the perfect knife, great balance, great fit and the sharpest of blades, and I whipped through those veggies effortlessly.  My daughter got it.  A sharp blade requires less effort for the task and provides greater safety in the process.  Bottom line – we have to keep our edge. 

@ Ecclesiastes 10
“Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.  That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” (10)  Well, obviously Solomon got it, and there are some lessons to be learned from a dull ax.  Whether we realize it or not, a sharpened ax will lose its edge over time with use or without use.

An ax that sits on a shelf without being used, no matter how sharp it once was, will begin to lose its edge over time through oxidation from humidity and other elements. Only when it is taken off the shelf and sharpened will it once again be useful to do the job it was intended.  Sometimes we go through periods in life where we feel we are sitting on the shelf, not very useful and, well, kind of oxidizing.  That is where we’ll stay unless we sharpen up – sharpen our skills, our training and get up-to-date in our thinking.  It’s amazing how just sitting in on a local training course or an online session in our field will get our creative juices flowing or open doors for the future.  We have to keep our edge.

An ax will lose its edge from overuse as well.  After a couple of hours of chopping, slicing and dicing the other day, my knife was starting to get a little dull, but I knew my son-in-law would be able to fix that in no time.  When a knife starts to dull, it doesn’t go as easily through the onions or whatever we are cutting and that provides a little play in its action where a slight turn of the blade can cause it to go places where we don’t want it to go. It’s a subtle deterioration that slowly moves to an unsafe venture for us.

We so often are slicing and dicing our way through life, and I mean that in only the kindest of terms, and over time we have dulled our edge.  Our work takes greater effort than ever before and even our safety may be at stake.  This is when it is time to reevaluate the tool, our skill or our vocation by putting down the ax and picking up the sharpener.  Perhaps a little sabbatical is in order or once again attending a class or a refresher online, something that will sharpen our edge and help our efforts moving forward.  I once read, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

Most important is our walk with the Lord – we don’t want to lose our edge.  If we sense our relationship with Him is taking more effort and feeling a little dull, it’s time for some sharpening, stepping away from the day-to-day for some alone time with Him.  He said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

And “That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.”(10)  Thank you, Solomon, for your wisdom today and encouragement to keep our edge sharp!

Moving Forward:  No dull ax here, I want to keep sharp for Him so that my efforts will accomplish the most for the Kingdom. 

Tomorrow @ Zechariah 8-14

Psalms 134-136 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: “His faithful love endures forever” 

@ Psalm 136
Psalm 136!  The perfect Psalm to read during the Thanksgiving season. Thanksgiving is the day we commemorate the early settlers of our great land who paused after a bountiful harvest to celebrate and give thanks to God for their blessings.  Unfortunately, we would be hard pressed to discover to whom they were giving thanks if searching through our current history books. The honoree is seldom mentioned.

Abraham Lincoln, the President who proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving, had no qualms about giving thanks where thanksgiving was due:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” (Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863)  Amen!

The writer of Psalm 136 was proclaiming thanks with an overflowing heart of praise and gratitude, and there is no doubt he knew who should receive the praise and thanksgiving as well, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever.” (1-3)  His praise, too, went to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

In verses 4-9, God receives thanks for the miraculous creator that He is. Verses 10-16, He is honored for His faithful guidance through the challenges of life.  His protection and powerful rule are praised in verses 17-22.  And in verses 23-26, God receives thanks for His personal blessings to our lives – His mercy, salvation and provision.   Each word of thanks is followed by yet another attribute of God for which to be thankful, “His faithful love endures forever.”

Our early pilgrims had survived a year of hardship and trials, but when they came through it, they were grateful to the One who had blessed them with His faithful provision.  In the midst of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln paused to give thanks to His beneficent Father.  And we, regardless of the struggles we may be facing should offer praise and thanksgiving to the One who will see us through to victory.

As we express our thanks for our country, our family and our friends, let’s thank Him for being our miraculous Creator. Let’s thank Him for His faithful guidance, His protection and His blessings. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below…” (Doxology) 

Moving Forward: Blessed beyond measure and so very thankful for His faithful love, I praise Him today, tomorrow and every day!

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 9-10

Ezra 6-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He knows the plans He has for us and He has the power to bring them to pass

The only good thing I can say about the packing up and moving process is that we often run across pictures, notes and sentiments that we may not have seen for many years.  Memories come flooding to our minds of all the special days and special loved ones.  In a box of old photographs, I recently discovered a set of documents about my family’s history and their beginnings in their new country, the United States.  My rediscovered papers were a joy to read once again, but there were nothing compared to some old documents that were discovered deep in Persia about 2,500 years ago.

Israel has almost always had a difficult time defending, building and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem on the Holy Hill, Mt. Moriah.  Still today, they long to once again worship on the Temple Mount.  The situation found in Ezra was no different for the Jews returning to Jerusalem after their Babylonian captivity.  The ruling forces west of the Euphrates River did not want the Jewish refugees to rebuild their Temple, but God had other plans.

Through the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jewish leaders stated their case to the authorities and finally had to take a stand in order to be faithful to God’s command to build the temple regardless of the opposition.  In building our churches, our ministries and our homes, do we really ever want pagans who oppose God to determine our success?  God used the decrees of ungodly rulers, Cyrus and Darius, to change the situation, but the Israelites had to resist intimidation and take a stand. 

@ Ezra 6
“So King Darius issued orders that a search be made in the Babylonian archives, which were stored in the treasury. But it was at the fortress at Ecbatana in the province of Media that a scroll was found. This is what it said:  ‘Memorandum: In the first year of King Cyrus’s reign, a decree was sent out concerning the Temple of God at Jerusalem. Let the Temple be rebuilt on the site where Jews used to offer their sacrifices, using the original foundations.’” (Ezra 6:1-3)  Yes, tucked away in the distant Persian fortress of Ecbatana was an old decree from King Cyrus that the Jews returning home from Babylon captivity should build their temple.  Who would have thought of checking for them there?

I doubt someone was packing up and moving across town and just happened to run across this amazing document. Most certainly, God brought about its discovery!  God is never threatened by pagan governments or rulers, but He often uses us to carry out His will.  Because of this document, King Darius enforced King Cyrus’ decree, and even added benefits to the original deal.  I love the way God operates!

“So the Jewish elders continued their work, and they were greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. The Temple was completed on March 12, during the sixth year of King Darius’s reign.” (14-16)   As had been commanded by the God of Israel!   Ezra had it right – this was God’s plan!  Foreign rulers had to bow to it, faithful prophets had to proclaim it and Jewish elders had to obey it.  And some dusty old documents had to be discovered to confirm it.

Whatever His plan is for us today, we can be confident of His unlimited resources to bring it about.  I’m so thankful that He is not stymied by opposition and that He helps us find the answers we need at every turn.                       

Moving Forward:  I’m placing my future in His hands today.  He’s the One with the plan and He will bring it to pass. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 134-136

Deuteronomy 16-19 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He expects us to guide and protect our children

Over the years I’ve spent time in large European cities where I have observed very young children on city streets, subways and tourist areas begging for money as the parent or guardian stands by to watch.  These children are mostly treated with disdain by those who pass by them, and it’s a heart-wrenching scene to watch.  It’s difficult to understand the willingness of parents to sacrifice their children in this cruel process, but then we have our own issues on this side of the big pond. One thing I know for certain is that God expects us to protect our children not exploit them. 

@ Deuteronomy 18
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there.  For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering.” (9-10)  Who would do such a despicable thing?  Well, mostly no one today, at least with an intention to do so.  We may not offer them as a burnt offering, but are we sacrificing them through our ignorance of the detestable customs and practices surrounding us?

 I’m always amazed by the television programming, movies and music that youth, Christian and secular alike, digest each day.  Parents have complained through the years about their troubled teens that don’t follow the lifestyle they have lived out in front of them, but there are other influences that are much more attractive and enticing than the day to day routines that parents are exhibiting.  To be sure, our godly modeling to our children is valuable, but we need to be attentive to what is captivating their attention through their media as well.

When we discover something in our child’s environment that appears to be questionable or something we just don’t know anything about, our best offense is to check it out for ourselves and be knowledgeable about it.  If we find something objectionable, a dialogue is much more effective than a declaration as a starting point and it keeps the doors of communication open for the future.  If our impressionable youth still does not accept our viewpoint, we may be tempted to just let it go because it’s just easier or because we’re afraid of their response, but sacrificing them to the customs of this world just isn’t an option.

When we stick to our convictions, we can offer this resolve to our children:  In scripture, we understand that God expects children to obey their parents, and He really doesn’t offer a way around that.  If they disobey, God will deal with them.  However, if we as parents make an unreasonable demand or an inaccurate assessment that is not righteous, God will deal with us. As the child or youth waits for lighting to strike the parent for grave errors in judgment and the heat of the moment is gone, they often move on to yet another thing or are distracted by something else and the disagreement becomes a mute point.  In the process, offering a godly alternative is helpful although not always immediately appreciated.  Youth need our guidance whether they like it or not.  We do our part, but they are responsible for the decisions they make.

As parents, smothering is not our goal, but guidance and discipline are our responsibility according to a myriad of scriptures including, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)   There’s more than one way to sacrifice our children, and we don’t want to participate in any of them and end up with a millstone around our necks (Matt 18).  Fortunately, we are not alone in raising our children if we submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit every day and make certain that He is our first reaction to the challenges we face.

Moving Forward: I’m praying for parents who need God’s help today, believing that God will give them the resolve to follow through with their convictions with all the grace and wisdom He has to offer them. 

Tomorrow @ Ezra 6-10

2 Peter 1-3

Discover His heart:  “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.”

Tom and I are celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary this week, and yes, we did get married when we were twelve.  I thank God every day for the love that we share and the blessing that Tom is in my life.  There was a time back in our early years of dating, however, when I couldn’t foresee this long and happy union because Tom just wasn’t perfect, and this was troubling to me.  I had a friend offer wise counsel when she advised, “God created woman to be a helpmate.  If you’re looking for the perfect man, he doesn’t need one.” Husband and wife, working as a team, bringing their strengths to the union – great advice!  But it took a little admonition from the Lord to finally straighten me out. 

@ 2 Peter 1
One particular day back then I was talking to God about Tom and his imperfection.  I didn’t think that I had accomplished perfection in my own life, but for some reason I felt I needed it in the one I loved. Thankfully, because God is so merciful, He chose not to smite me on the spot but instead sent me to 2 Peter 1:3-7: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life… And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature…In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”

After reading these words, God suggested that I contact Him again regarding any criticism of Tom after I had achieved all these godly attributes in my own life.  Ouch!  Well, needless to say, we’ve never had that conversation.  I took God’s correction to heart that day and have done my best to remember that we all are a work in progress.   Every day the Holy Spirit is working on developing His divine nature in my life and in Tom’s life as well. 

Faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, love for everyone – I’ve got my work cut out for me, and there’s little time to be criticizing someone else.  As far as reaching perfection on this earth, chances are…well, there are no chances.  Only One has lived a perfect life, and He died for it.

Moving Forward:  Living this day as a work in progress, seeking to share in His divine nature and looking forward to a perfect eternity in heaven. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 16-19


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