April 2017


2 Corinthians 4-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  “And God has given us the task of reconciling people to Him.”

When election time rolls around, we have an opportunity to choose by ballot individuals who are elected to represent us in the federal and state governments.  Compared to many forms of governing around the world, this system of representative government is desirable over dictatorships and communism. However, we run into problems when the representatives choose not to represent their constituents and succumb to pure politics. Any time representatives or ambassadors fail to perform their duties, there is a breakdown in communication and the system fails.  May we never be guilty of failing to serve faithfully in our roles as ambassadors. 

@2 Corinthians 5
“And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him…So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (18-20)

Just like Paul, as believers in Jesus, we are His ambassadors.  Just what we need – another task!  We are already spinning so many, many plates – providing income, meals, clean clothes, clean homes, raising children. Where would we find the time to be an ambassador?  An ambassador is an official representative of a country or organization.  The definition alone is daunting, yet our message is so simple:  “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.”  (17-18)

I guess I would feel pretty silly, being His representative and all, to stand before Him one day and explain that I was just too busy washing those dishes, frying that bacon or working on the job to tell someone the simple truth of His gift of love, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (21) 

@ 2 Corinthians 4
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God…Yes we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus.” (8-11)  I can’t help but think of missionaries when I read this – heroes willing to leave their homes, families and friends and venture out to parts unknown around the world as His ambassadors.  They can’t help it.  It’s all they know to do with the task of sharing the wonderful message of reconciliation to those who do not know about it.  Like Paul, many of them face difficult situations and even death, but they would say with Paul, “But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke’” (13)

Will I speak today to that troubled co-worker or neighbor?  Will I share God’s love with the unhappy sales clerk or waitress who so desperately needs Him?  Will I speak, “Come back to God!  Come back to God!” 

Moving Forward:  Today I pray that I won’t be able to keep from sharing His wonderful message of reconciliation with those who don’t know Him.  When I stand before God one day, a clean house or my job performance really won’t matter.  He’ll be looking for those I brought along with me. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 17-20

Mark 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is blessed by the sweet fragrance of our worship

When I was very young I was given a tiny bottle of perfume.  It wasn’t cologne.  It was the real deal – perfume.  I remember opening it, enjoying its sweet fragrance and thinking that it was something only for special occasions.  Over the next few Sundays I dabbed it behind my ears and on my wrists like my mom had taught me, and I have to admit that I felt pretty special.  The perfume was a gift of great value for such a young child, and I used it sparingly.

Somehow the perfume was misplaced, and after a while I forgot about it.  When I discovered it several years later, it had become rancid and stale and had lost its value to me.  That was when I understood that some things need to be spent and enjoyed when they’re fresh and available.  This was a lesson that dear Mary understood very well.

@ Mark 14
Chapter 14 portrays the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume.  We learn that she was Mary, of Mary, Martha and Lazarus fame.  There was just something about Mary.  Mary was excessive. Mary was extravagant. Mary was irrational in her worship of Jesus.  According to the dictionary, worship is great or excessive love, admiration, and respect felt for somebody or something, and Mary was all over that.

In fact, we read in Luke 10 that Mary had an adoration problem when Martha could not pull her sister away from the Lord’s presence to help in the kitchen.  So this excessive use of her resources does not come as a surprise. Mary didn’t hoard or save.  Mary didn’t open her jar of spikenard with great care so that she could save some for other occasions.  No, she gladly broke it open to saturate her Lord with a year’s worth of wages.  Can you imagine giving to the Lord something equal to this entire year’s wages?  Not holding back some for a rainy day, but giving it all?  Mary got it – she understood worship.

All through the ages God had been looking for a people, made in His image, whose desire to give themselves to Him is equal to His giving of Himself to them.  In our humanity, we’ll not achieve this, but He responds to our desire to do so.  Mary’s selfless worship of Jesus that day reflected God’s undying love for us, the gift of Jesus who was His most precious treasure, and it also reveals His desire for intimacy with us. “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (9)  Just as we’re doing today

Some of those present that day did not appreciate her extravagance, Judas to be sure, because they just didn’t get it – unabandoned worship was off their radar.  I’ve found that sometimes it’s easy to justify economizing my resources, time and attention rather than lavishing them on the One who most deserves them. It’s at those moments that I just don’t get it.  He’s waiting for my love for Him to resemble, as best as this human body possibly can, His love for me – excessive, extravagant love.

Jesus left the dinner that day carrying with Him the sweet fragrance of Mary’s gift.  “She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” (8)  Her gift permeated the Last Supper, it surrounded the betrayal and arrest in the garden and it lingered in the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus was led to His death.  Oh, how I want my love today to permeate heaven, to fill His nostrils with a sweet fragrance of my excessive, extravagant love for him, to somehow reflect His love for me.  But for this, I understand it takes some breaking, some spilling out…some excess. 

Moving Forward:  My prayer today, “Broken and spilled out, and poured at Your feet. In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out and used up for Thee.” (G. Gaither) 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 4-5

Jeremiah 22-26 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Through the ruins, He will search for a people who will love Him

My mother use to say to me “Be careful what you ask for from God because He might just give it to you.”  Perhaps she was thinking of Israel’s insistent request to God for a king.  “All the elders of Israel met at Ramah…with Samuel.  ‘Look,’ they told him, ‘you are now old, and your sons are not like you.  Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.’” (I Samuel 8:4)  And so God gave them their kings.  Now in Jeremiah, after almost 500 years of mostly bad kings, the kingdom is coming to an end at the hand of Babylon.  The Israelites received from God what they had asked from Him. 

@Jeremiah 22-23
Bad kings, bad shepherds, bad prophets – bad times for Israel. Jeremiah had preached repentance to the nation for 23 years, but no one cared to listen.  The kings ruled unfairly, the selfish religious leaders deserted the sheep and the prophets spoke lies and words to tickle the ears of their listeners.  Some of this sounds….current.

“If they had stood before me and listened to me, they would have spoken my words.” (23:22)  Instead they made up dreams and stole messages from each other.  And in their audacity, they thought that God wouldn’t notice. “Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?  Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” (23:24) Can no one see us when we close our eyes? Just as ridiculous.

I remember when I was young – or was it yesterday – I thought I was free and clear if no one saw when I did something wrong, as if God did not get the memo that day.  According to Psalm 139, He knew everything about my life before I was born, so chances are I haven’t fooled Him about a thing – the bad and the good.  He sees all that we do and He still loves us.  He just can’t help Himself. 

@Jeremiah 24
Bad figs. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’  I replied, ‘Figs, some very good and some very bad, too rotten to eat.’” (3)  The bad figs represented the Israelites who stayed in Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege.  They had every opportunity to turn from their sin and repent, but they chose not to do so. 

Good figs. The good figs represented the hope of Israel – those exiles to Babylon who chose to follow God, like Daniel.  A remnant of hope would remain after this terrible period in Israel’s history. Tucked away in the middle of all this badness was something good.  Jeremiah 23:3-6, “But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them.  I will bring them back to their own sheepfold…For the time is coming when I will raise up a righteous descendant…He will be a King who rules with wisdom…And this will be his name:  The Lord is our righteousness.

Jesus, the righteous descendant came, yet Israel is still struggling to accept Him.  Regardless, Israel exists today because it has known His mercy through the decades.  He has seen it all, and He still loves them.  He just can’t help Himself. 

Moving Forward: Today when I make my petitions, I pray for His will.  Lord, don’t give me what I ask just because I want it, but give me what you know to be good for me.  I am ever thankful for your grace to me – and to Israel.  In response to your great love, may our hearts be ever contrite before you. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 13-14

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

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