blog-home-pageA New Day 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 every day so we don’t miss what He has to say.  Follow the reading plan and next year at this time you will have read through the Bible! Follow below or click a day on the Calendar to the right and that day’s devotional will appear. The Bible is life changing. Don’t miss it!

2 Kings 16-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He accepts our worship that is untainted by the worship of any other

One afternoon several years ago I watched an interesting exchange on the Oprah Winfrey show between Oprah and guest Shirley MacLaine regarding Shirley’s religious beliefs.  As Shirley explained her belief that anything or all things can be god if they are meaningful to you, I detected through Oprah’s nodding and verbal exchange an acceptance of this notion, an odd response from a former evangelical girl.

Through the years, we have seen a slow acceptance of these new age ideas by those who certainly should know better. For many, a belief system that is more encompassing, more accepting of different views and with fewer restrictions whether based on truth or not is more appealing than acceptance of a single God, a single Redeemer.  Israel found itself in this same position after the Assyrians settled in their land. 

@ 2 Kings 17
The invading Assyrians took captive over 20,000 Israelites from Samaria, sent them to live in Assyria and replaced them with groups of people from their own territories.  Many believe that their ulterior motive was to infiltrate the population through intermarriage in hopes that it would weaken the people’s loyalty and destroy national ties as they had done in other cultures.  This new people group became known as the Samaritans.  I’ve always understood that the Jews of Judea hated the Samaritans because of the Jewish intermarriage with the Assyrians.  They believed that it diluted the bloodline of God’s chosen people; but from this story, I realize that their hatred was based on so much more.

There was a slight glitch in the Assyrian plan when the Lord sent lions to devour the new residents.  “So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land.  He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped Him correctly.’” (26)  The king sent one of the exiled Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the new residents how to worship God.

As corrupt as the Jewish priests had been, it was like the blind leading the blind, and the Assyrian residents continued to worship their own gods and the God of Israel.  Soon their offspring, the Samaritans, did the same.  Not good.  The new religion of the Samaritans in Israel was more encompassing, more accepting of different views and with fewer restrictions.  This sounds familiar.

God’s warning at that time is every bit as appropriate for us today as it was for Israel, “You must not worship other gods.  Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship others gods.  You must worship only the Lord your God.  He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” (37-39)  While we want freedom for everyone to worship as they please, it is terribly dangerous to embrace anything that dilutes our belief in the only true and living God and the powerful redemption through His son Jesus.  I really don’t care if I’m unpopular and considered intolerant on this point, I’m not going to budge! 

Moving Forward: Call me stubborn if you want, but I won’t allow the genteel, all-accepting philosophy of this day to infiltrate my belief in my God and my Redeemer.  “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12KJV) 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 87-89

Leviticus 19-21 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He provides for those in need through the generous hearts of those who love Him

@ Leviticus 19
With four older brothers, the prospect of hand-me-downs was a little disconcerting when I was young.  Money, with all the amenities that it buys, was scarce in my early years, and those clothes were threadbare by the time they got to me. However, somehow beautiful clothes seem to magically appear for me to wear from time to time.  It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that a couple of generous families in our church periodically collected clothing for me and gave them to my mom. Yes, they were second-hand but not threadbare, in fact, they were beautiful!  When I wore them, I felt like a million bucks and didn’t realize how poor we really were during those early years.  God bless those generous hearts!

“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

God instituted the first welfare program, the first method to meet the needs of those who were without food.  Instead of seeking to get that last grain or that last grape into their own coffers, God encouraged the harvesters to simply regard those who were lacking and provide out of their surplus for them.  What a concept!  No government programs, no welfare red tape, just generous hearts representing a generous God and providing for the needs of others. Imagine that.

A few years ago I was shopping at the grocery store when a woman walked past me wearing a dress that was familiar to me.  From some distinctive alterations that it had, I realized it was a dress I had bought and worn for a while and then donated to a ministry that provided clothing for those in need.  She wore it well, and that made me smile as I remembered generous hearts that had touched my life so many years ago.

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.  And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’”(2 Corinthians 9:7-9)  When we give cheerfully to those in need, God continues to bless us to do even more.  While I have remembered generous hearts from my youth for almost 50 years, God remembers them forever, and that, my friends, is a very long time.

Moving Forward: Shrugging off the selfish trends all around me, I pray that God will open my eyes to those in need and fill me with a great big heart of generosity. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 16-20

I Thessalonians 1-3 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to nurture and care for His young ones

We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3)  Paul loved his children. Well, at least we know he loved his spiritual children.  Almost two years earlier Paul had started a church in Thessalonica but had to leave the city abruptly because of hostility from the Jewish leaders (Acts 17).  He sent Timothy back to the city to check up on this new congregation because he was anxious to hear how they were standing up under the Jewish opposition. After receiving Timothy’s report, Paul immediately responded with a letter of encouragement and counsel to his dear ones in the church in Thessalonica.

@ I Thessalonians 2
Paul’s demonstration of his love and commitment to this new church reminds me of my feelings after the birth of my newborn baby girl.  I found myself constantly checking up on her, feeling for the rise and fall of her little chest, inspecting those diapers, just wanting to be sure she was okay.  You see, I just loved her so much and I needed to know that all was well with her.  With similar feelings, Paul wrote, “we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” (7-8)  He loved these new ones in the faith and wanted to encourage them and help them grow in the Lord

This causes me to think about the new Christians I encounter in my walk each day whether at church, in the neighborhood or on the job, and I think about how much God loves them and wants to see that all is well with them.  Many are filled with questions about their new faith and some even face persecution for their decision just as the Thessalonians did. They really need our encouragement and help.

Of course, just as Satan hindered Paul’s attempt to visit this church (18), the enemy will discourage us from helping new Christians. He would love for us to feel inadequate or too time-pressed to be of any help to them.  Just as my baby daughter did not need constant professional tending, these young ones in the Lord do not need a theologian.  They just need someone to check up on them and guide them along as they grow in Him.

Well, my newborn baby girl is now grown and a mother herself.  The joy she brings me as I watch her faithfully serve the Lord and raise her own family is indescribable.  I am blessed beyond measure.  And Paul, too, understood this blessing, “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown, as we stand before our Lord Jesus when He returns?  It is you!  Yes, you are our pride and joy.” (19-20) Indescribable joy! 

Moving Forward:  I’ll keep my eyes and heart open today for the young, the newbies in the Lord, encouraging them, helping them and making sure that all is well with them. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 19-21

Luke 21-22 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He prays that we will remain faithful in the face of temptation

I told my children when they were young that if they were accused of something by someone, they needed to understand one thing: I knew that it was possible for them to be guilty of anything they were accused of.  I would hope in my heart that it wasn’t true, but I would seek out the truth.  I imagine this mindset came from serving for decades in youth ministry and encountering the moms or dads who refused to believe that their son or daughter could be guilty of anything.  Be assured, this attitude did not serve their children well.  In this same way, I believe that it is possible for me to fail in any sin, but I hope in my heart that I will not.  Peter, however, was in denial…on two counts. 

@Luke 22
In the timeline before His death, Jesus was approaching Calvary and had just shared a time of fellowship and instruction at the Last Supper.  From the Gospels we know that Jesus declared to His disciples that they would all desert Him during this time of trial.  This news was met by opposition by Peter, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 14:33-34)  “No!’ Peter declared emphatically. ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!’” (Mark 14:31)

I would have thought that Peter was mature enough by this time to know that never and always are fighting words in any setting.  When we say in a dialogue, “I always…I never…you always…you never,” we should get ready to rumble.  Satan was right there to take Peter on. In fact, Jesus had just predicted it. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (31-32) But when the moment came to accept the Lord’s warning and proceed with caution, Peter felt he was too committed to the Lord, too strong to fail.  He thought he would never deny the Lord.

Of course, we know that he did deny Him; then, after the third denial, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (61-62)

When the enemy throws a temptation my way to deny the Lord or to fail Him, I hope I will remember the failure that followed Peter’s arrogance.  Paul expressed it this way in I Corinthians 10:12-13, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  We will never see the way out that the Lord provides if we think we would never need it. It just won’t be on our radar.  And may I add, the thought of the Lord looking at me in the midst of my failure as He did with Peter is one I can hardly bear.

The good news in this story for Peter as well as for us is that Jesus is praying for us when we face temptation (32), and if we will accept His help with humility, we will be victorious.  Peter repented and went on to be a powerful leader in the emerging church, proving that there is hope for all of us! 

Moving Forward: What an assurance I have that in the face of any temptation Jesus is praying for me to remain faithful.  I move forward today accepting His prayer and His cautions with the knowledge that He’s looking at me. 

Tomorrow @ I Thessalonians 1-3

Ezekiel 31-36(NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the Shepherd who never fails us, never leaves us

@ Ezekiel 34
Shepherds and sheep – right up my alley!  While writing the devotional book, Intimate Moments with the Shepherd, I had the joy of visiting sheep farms where I met dozens of shepherds and hundreds of sheep.  I’m sure the shepherds enjoyed watching this city girl navigate the pastures and sheepfolds while learning about the nature of sheep.  My advice for anyone pursuing an adventure like this is to wear sturdy boots, enough said.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?…You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” (1-5)  Ezekiel revealed this prophecy to the kings, prophets and priests of Israel, the shepherds of Israel, who with their selfish cruel behavior had neglected and abandoned the children of Israel.

We’ve followed the sinful acts of Israel’s leadership over the past several weeks recorded in Ezekiel, Leviticus and 1 and 2 Kings.  The common thread throughout the accounts of each evil leader was disobedience to God while following their own selfish desires to be powerful, prosperous and popular.  Whether in the church world or the secular world today, pursuit of these same three selfish desires will cause a leader to neglect and abandon those being led.  The sheep become weak, lost and scattered, no longer the strong flock they once were and because of this, sorrow awaited the shepherds.

Thankfully, the shepherds I met on my journeys were not at all like those described in Chapter 34.  Their eyes sparkled as they talked about their pride and joy and shared the heritage of each sheep, their parents, siblings and offspring.  The shepherds knew them so well that many of the sheep were named according to their personalities.  They knew what grasses and grains each sheep enjoyed the most and recalled the injuries and diseases certain sheep had experienced.  They would never call their sheep dumb but agreed that they certainly were willful at times…hmmm.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again… I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak… And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David [Jesus]. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.” (11-16,23)   And He did just that!  He sent His Son, Jesus, the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd of John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” (14-15)  He is the selfless Shepherd who sacrificed His life, the faithful Shepherd who will never leave us or forsake us, and He is the intimate Shepherd who knows us by name. 

Moving Forward: Standing firm today on the care and guidance of the Good Shepherd.  I know Him and He knows me! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 21-22

Proverbs 11-12 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He delights in our honesty and humility, and He rewards them with wisdom

A day at the Minnesota State Fair was always one of the highlights of my year when I was young.  Where else can you get fried cheese curds, sugary Tom Thumb donuts and food on a stick?  Yum!  My dad would always walk us through the Midway where the rides whirled over our heads and hucksters barked and called to him to take a chance at winning the big prize.  I wanted that big prize, the big cuddly stuffed something, but he always just kept walking, eyes focused straight ahead.

When I asked him one time why he wouldn’t stop and try to win a prize for me, he said that the games were crooked, the balls were weighted and the chances were slim – they couldn’t be trusted.  I never viewed the Midway and its hucksters the same way again. Since then I’ve walked through many midways in life, and I’ve tried to keep my focus straight ahead with added determination for my own life to never be described as one that could not be trusted.  Thanks, dad! 

@ Proverbs 11
“The Lord detests the use of dishonest scales, but He delights in accurate weights.  Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.  Honesty guides good people.” (1-3) Solomon addressed the problem of dishonest scales several times in Proverbs, where the weighing and measuring of foods and goods was common business practice and where heavy thumbs and hidden weights were tools used to cheat buyers.  Dishonest business practices still prevail today, but of course the methods are much more sophisticated and elaborate.  Why do people cheat each other?

It’s interesting that Solomon slips this little statement about pride in between two verses on honesty, “Pride leads to disgrace.”  When we feel that our gain and our advancement are more vital than that of someone else to the point of dishonesty, it is because we regard ourselves as better and more important. The definition of pride: a haughty attitude shown by somebody who believes that he or she is better than others. Ouch!

Clearly, pride throws the Golden Rule right out the window.  But, “…with humility comes wisdom.”  Humility: the quality of being modest, respectful and meek.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5, NIV)  Now that’s quite an inheritance! A prideful heart seeks to bless itself while a heart of humility is blessed by the Lord.

Whenever my motivation in any transaction or exchange, whether financial, relational or really anything is to bless me at an expense or loss to someone else, it’s time for me to evaluate that motivation.  The incredible One-day Sale at Macy’s where sale prices almost seem like stealing?  Acceptable!  Cheating the sales clerk, the tax collector, my spouse or a customer? Not good.  I don’t ever want to be like the dishonest huckster who cannot be trusted.

Honesty guides good people.” Honesty is a valuable guide through the midways of life.  It is humble, reliable, timeless, easy to remember…and it’s trustworthy!  So in light of these scriptures, the right way to gain or advance in life is to treat others in the way we like to be treated, with humility and respect, and we can be certain that honesty will come right alongside and help us do it. Our efforts will be blessed with wisdom and a rich inheritance! 

Moving Forward: Honest guidance today from the Golden Rule, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)  I can’t go wrong. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 31-36

Psalms 84-86 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: His Presence provides a restful place for the whole being 

@ Psalm 84
Tired from the hustle and bustle of life? Looking for the ultimate travel destination for total serenity of body, soul and spirit?  Well, just visit Psalm 84. It’s all there and then some!  “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord…I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord.  With my whole being, body and soul…Even the sparrow finds a home…What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.”(1-4)  A lovely place for the whole being, complete with birds, joy, singing and praises…that’s for me!  Where is it and how do I get there?

The other day I was sitting in a very crowded, noisy restaurant.  With babies screaming, waitresses flying back and forth and dishes clattering, it was difficult to think much less carry on a conversation.  Amidst all this chaos sat a woman at the table next to me reading a book.  I couldn’t help but wonder how she could turn down the volume in the room to concentrate and found myself occasionally glancing back at this phenomenon.  She sat with a slight smile as she read something that obviously delighted her, oblivious to all those around her.  I don’t know where she was, but I know it was a good place.

It was in a good place where the writer of Psalm 84 desired to be, God’s dwelling place of peace and joy, so much so that he was faint with longing for it, a longing I have known as well. But, like the woman in the restaurant, when life has gotten chaotic and crowded with hardly a moment to think, I have found Him amidst all the commotion. When I tune out the noise, turn off my racing mind and call on Him, I realize that the place where I find myself is His sanctuary, and He has been there all along. There I sit, oblivious to the chaos and obviously delighted with Him. “I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”  (Psalm 139:7-8)

When we need a respite for the body, soul and spirit, there’s a good place we can go.  When we need communion with the One who knows us better than any other, there’s a good place we can go.  When we find ourselves so full of thanksgiving and praise that we think we may burst, there’s a good place we can go.  And He’s as close as the mention of His name.

Moving Forward: When the hustle and bustle of life crowds my space, I’ll find His presence and receive His rest. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 11-12