God’s compassion

Matthew 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He understands our guilt and pain

After observing the exploits of four mischievous older brothers while growing up, I was decidedly a compliant child and teenager.  I mean, how much can parents take?  My obedience wasn’t due so much to any goodness on my part, but more so out of compassion for my mom.  Somebody needed to give her a break!  However, I remember a time as a young teen when I blatantly disobeyed her.

It wasn’t an unpardonable sin kind of thing, but in that day and in our church, it was considered wrong. Today? Not so much.  I will never forget the torment of guilt that plagued me as I sat in disobedience, nothing was right with the world, I was somehow stained, and God seemed completely out of reach.  The feeling of guilt over something we have done wrong is a powerful emotion.  In light of this, I can’t imagine bearing someone else’s guilt of sin for them.  I just wouldn’t want to do it. 

@ Matthew 26
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (39)  Do I really understand this prayer? Jesus knew the physical pain He would experience.  He knew the emotional pain He would feel as He bore the sins of the world.  He knew the spiritual pain of separation from His Father that He would endure.  Yes, I have known physical, emotional and spiritual pain, but I have never known them as the sinless Son of God.  “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

If sinful me would run from this cup, I can only imagine the dread felt by our spotless Lord to take on the guilt of the entire world, for us. If it is possible…but, no, it wasn’t possible.  Our redemption would require a spotless Lamb, the only One of its kind, “He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

I can’t think of a more desperate moment for anyone who has ever walked this earth than the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, The Olive Press, and the place where He felt the press of agonizing pain before His crucifixion.  Rejected by those He came to redeem, betrayed by one of His own, knowing He would be denied by all who followed Him and now the Cross, He prayed, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have been rejected by those we have tried to serve, betrayed by those we trusted or denied and abandoned by those we have loved – friends, companions, children, parishioners.  We pray for the pain of this cup of suffering to pass, and because of Gethsemane, we know He understands.  “He prayed more fervently, and He was in such agony of spirit that His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44)  He understands our pain, and unlike His disciples, He will keep watch with us.

Perhaps we know individuals who are walking this difficult path right now.  Will we keep watch with them and pray with them in their hour of Gethsemane?  I regret the times when a busy day keeps me from watching over others like I want to, but at the very least I will pray for them, along with Jesus who “lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf.” (Hebrew 7:25)  No one, absolutely no one, understands like Jesus. 

Moving Forward: Reminded of an old song today, “No one understands like Jesus when the days are dark and grim. No one is so near, so dear as Jesus. Cast your every care on Him.” (J.W. Peterson) 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 5-6

Isaiah 40-44 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He is God, creator of all things, yet tender enough to carry us in His arms.

“You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’…He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (40:9,11 nkjv/nlt)  The first 39 chapters of Isaiah have been rugged with prophetic judgments on the nations, but the tone of the prophet Isaiah changed in Chapter 40 as he reminded Israel of who God really is:  He is God, creator of all things, yet tender enough to carry us in His arms.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.” (43:2) I am thankful that because of Jesus, I am part of this promise to Israel.  As I go through rivers of difficulty in my life, He is with me and will not let me drown. Sometimes the waters feel like they are right at my neck, but somehow He supports me and keeps me afloat through the difficulty.  I look back at situations in life and see myself as though I was almost walking on water rather than drowning because of God’s grace.

This is the God that Isaiah was encouraging Israel to remember and to follow.  One of the most beloved and quoted scriptures is found here in Isaiah 40:31, “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” And they just may walk on water…

These chapters in Isaiah remind me of Who ultimately controls the outcome of powers, governments and kingdoms and their deeds.  In Chapter 41:2 and again in 44:28, Isaiah prophesied about a king from the east, 150 years in the future, who would deliver Israel out of Babylon captivity, someone God called into His own service to do His bidding. King Cyrus of Esther and Nehemiah fame, a pagan king, sent Israel back to their homeland simply because God willed him to do so.

I think of the events in more recent history where powerful men and nations chose to carry out their evil imaginations causing death and destruction, but their actions soon brought their own demise.  Out of the rubble of World War II, an evil regime died and Israel once again returned to its homeland, a nation stronger than ever, with a friend by its side, a strong friend and ally, the United States.  My prayer is that we remain a friend to Israel, for our own sake as well as for theirs.

Because heartless leaders and zealot groups around the world have met their doom, the gospel is now being preached and churches established in an area of the world where they were once forbidden. I am ever convinced that God will use the acts of all powers, governments and kingdoms to ultimately bring about His good.  Yet, so personal is He that He feeds little me, carries me in His arms when needed and guides me along life’s path.  I declare with Isaiah, Behold our God!  There is none other like Him.

Moving forward:  God is in control – I will remember this today regardless of the news alerts and headlines.  I’ll remember that He is with me through my difficult moments of life as well.  He’s got this! 

Tomorrow@Matthew 20-22

Matthew 11-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His yoke is easy and His burden is light

I fondly remember the first time I walked into a bakery in Paris and viewed the vast array of French pastries. Be still my heart!  As I walked back and forth in front of the pastries, I saw chocolaty éclairs, buttery croissants, eggy sweet brioche, nutty tarts and many other delectable sweets.  Choosing just one was painful, but for the sake of my well-being, it was necessary to decide on just one.

That’s how I felt today reading Matthew because it holds so many great truths from the words of Jesus Himself.  How do I choose to share about just one?  Fortunately, many of the His truths from our reading today are woven together into one great thought.  By the way, at the bakery, I chose the Chocolate Almond Croissant with that gooey creamy filling – a little bit of everything together in one great pastry! 

@ Matthew 11
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”(28-30)  These verses spoken by Jesus and found only in Matthew are some of the most comforting words in the Bible to me.  The burdens of this life can be difficult to carry, but Jesus offers a remedy for us.

There is a yoke of responsibility that comes with living on this earth and living for God, and those who attempt to live a yoke-free life often shirk their responsibilities and live only for themselves.  One might think that those already bearing a heavy burden certainly don’t need the burden of yet another yoke, but Jesus was saying try my yoke instead, trade your yoke of heaviness.  A yoke is simply the framework used to carry a load, and a proper yoke is an easy yoke, one that balances the load and makes the task much easier. This is the yoke that Jesus offers us.

In the following chapter, Jesus went on to give examples of the yokes that burden us and make us weary.  The man-made laws of the Pharisees did not allow the disciples to pick wheat for lunch nor did they allow Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath.  Those with a religious spirit are always more concerned about legalistic rituals than they are about man’s needs and they have little desire for the supernatural work of God.  Jesus said, “You would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”(7)  His yoke is easy and full of mercy.

The parables of Jesus that followed were examples of what He meant by, “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  For all those who would take the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him, they would be good soil and reap a great harvest. (13:23)  The parables of mustard seed faith, planting good seeds, hidden treasures, the pearl of great worth and all His teachings are words that will bring understanding to our hearts and lighten the load we carry.

The difference between the yokes of this world with their heavy burdens and the yoke that Jesus offers to us is that it is balanced by His merciful love.  Yes, without a doubt, to follow Him we must keep His commandments, but in the keeping of them, He gently guides us along in the process.  So Jesus says to us today, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,” cast away the yokes of man’s rituals and expectations and the taunts from the enemy, throw away the yokes that make you heavy and downhearted, take my yokeand be light and easy.  Jesus has made us an offer we really can’t refuse. 

Moving Forward:  I won’t wear the yoke of heavy burdens today because I’ve chosen to wear His yoke, and I feel as light as a feather. 

Tomorrow @ Romans 11-12

Job 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Unthreatened by our questions, He answers those at the heart of our need

The tales I’ve heard about the language mother’s-to-be have used in the throes of delivering their babies could make a grown woman blush, especially in the days before the pain relievers available today.  I think of the dear father coaching his sweet wife along in the process when the pain of an absolute explosion occurring in her abdomen causes her to lash out at the instigator of all this pain.  Obviously, the lack of understanding in his advice was insulting and not welcomed.  Poor guy – he was just trying to help!

Just like these fathers, we may experience something similar when we offer advice after listening to someone’s woes.  That well-intended advice could come back to bite us. Some questions come to mind from our reading today in Job:  In the midst of a struggle and in our telling of it to others, what response are we really expecting from them?  What is our responsibility as a listener? 

@ Job 3
In all the trials that Job faced, he did not take his wife’s advice to curse God, but he did do some cursing.  “At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth.” (1)  So miserable was his existence that he asked that the day of his birth be removed from the calendar. (6)  Job just wanted to die.  Jeremiah expressed similar words in Jeremiah 20:14, “Yet I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth.  I curse the messenger who told my father, ‘Good news—you have a son!’”  Some struggles in life are so painful that dying just seems easier.

Job began his questioning of why, seven times just in this chapter alone. “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die…Why is life given to those with no future?” etc. (11-23)  God isn’t really threatened by our questions because He made us and understands our desire to know the answer to our why; but in this testing, God had more important truths for Job to learn.

Job’s friends had come to him and sat in silence which was the custom of the day, but also because grief and anguish leave many of us without words.  However, when Job started to ask his many questions, his friends felt compelled to answer, and answer they did.  As in the mother scenario, Job did not care for their answers.  Perhaps we can learn from Job’s experience that when going through a crisis, we can express our sadness and pain to caring listeners, but for the answers to our difficult questions, we are wise to go to those who may have actual answers, and even more so, we should seek the Lord. 

@ Job 4
Put on the spot, Eliphaz, the most seasoned of Job’s friends, felt obliged to answer, “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?  My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” (7-8)  Because we are privy to the dialogue of Chapter 1, we know that Eliphaz, in all his experience, was just offering his opinion in Job’s case and even had the audacity to say he was speaking on God’s behalf.  His counsel to Job was inaccurate and wasn’t helpful.

In Galatians 6:2, Paul strongly encouraged to “Share each other’s burdens,” and this is one of the many blessings we receive as believers.  Sometimes we feel all we can do is listen to our hurting friend, but so often, that is exactly what is needed.  The most valuable time Job’s friends spent with him was when they sat in silence.  From Eliphaz’s poor counsel, we learn that the best and most helpful advice is based on fact and not on opinion.  Finally, praying with our friend is the one thing we can do that opens the door to God’s supernatural intervention for their need. Whether He uses us or someone else to help our friend, He is the One who knows all the right answers to all the questions and reveals them at just the right moment.

Moving Forward: For those I meet today who may be hurting, I pray that my response is Spirit-led, whether in simply listening or in sharing truths. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 7-11

Psalms 143-145 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His grace and goodness are immeasurable, His love unfailing

“Would anyone like to share a testimony tonight of what God has done in your life this past week?”  Those of us who remember hearing this invitation from our pastor during a Wednesday or Sunday night service are probably over 50 years old.  At that invitation, church members would stand and give a testimony.  As a little girl, I enjoyed hearing testimonies of miracles, healing and provision straight from the mouths of people I knew.

Yes, sometimes Sister So and So would go on and on for quite a while and share much more than was needed, and as churches grew in size, it was difficult to hear what was being said. But the testimony service seemed to build a foundation of faith in me – God is faithful, He will not fail me and He loves to bless His children.  Today I love when my pastor calls someone up front to share about the goodness of the Lord, and I love the testimony of David in our reading today. 

@ Psalm 145
“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness… Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness.” (3,6-7)  Well, it’s testimony time!  Regardless of the difficult challenges we may be facing at the moment, there is always something that will stir us to give praise and glory to our God.  Just in case we need a reminder, David supplied us today in verses 8-20 with some thoughts that should encourage our testimony of praise:

  • The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
  • Slow to get angry
  • And filled with unfailing love.
  • The Lord is good to everyone.
  • He showers compassion on all his creation.
  • All of your works will thank you, Lord,
  • And your faithful followers will praise you.
  • They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
  • They will give examples of your power.
  • They will tell about your mighty deeds
  • And about the majesty and glory of your reign.
  • For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
  • You rule throughout all generations.
  • The Lord always keeps his promises;
  • He is gracious in all he does.
  • The Lord helps the fallen
  • And lifts those bent beneath their loads.
  • The eyes of all look to you in hope;
  • You give them their food as they need it.
  • When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.
  • The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
  • He is filled with kindness.
  • The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.
  • He grants the desires of those who fear him;
  • Hears their cries for help and rescues them.
  • The Lord protects all those who love him, but he destroys the wicked.

Our testimony service has gone on and on, but my faith is renewed!  I am reminded that God is faithful, He will not fail me and He loves to bless His children. Our testimonies are powerful tools, building faith in us and touching the hearts of others as well, giving power to overcome the enemy.  Revelation 12:11 gives insight to the cause of our future victory, “And they overcame [the enemy] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (KJV)  I’m wondering, does anyone have a testimony today of what God has done in your life?  I’m certain you do. 

Moving Forward:  “My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD: and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.” (KJV 21) 

Tomorrow @ Song of Solomon 3-4

Psalms 120-121 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He watches over us day and night and protects us from harm

Traveling around Europe, whether by car or train, we can’t help but notice the huge castle fortresses that were built centuries ago usually at the highest point of the city. They were built to hover over the city as a protector from enemies who could advance from any side.  Sentries stood guard day and night so that the city would never be hit by a surprise attack and the residents could work and sleep with the knowledge that they were protected.  Wouldn’t that be a great solace?  Well, we have our security systems, alarms and law enforcement today that help keep us safe, but sometimes we forget about our Sentry who is so highly skilled that He even sees the invisible forces that come against us.  Move over ADT!

@ Psalm 121
“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” (1-2)  It certainly does help to look up when we need help, but as the psalmist decided, we need to look a little higher than the mountains.  Our help comes from the Lord who made the mountains, the oceans and who made us, but He didn’t just create us and leave us to flounder here on earth.  No, He protects us as well.

“He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you!” (3-5) Just like the sentry guarding the city, the Lord watches over us 24/7, but from His vantage point, He sees both the visible and the invisible and is never taken by surprise.

Not only does He watch over us, but He stands with us, “The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.  The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.”(5-7) He stands with us like a shadow covering us from the intense heat of life and the darkness that comes. (Psalm 91:1) The word keeps speaks to His ability to preserve us as we walk through the harm that is all around us.

Sometimes when we’re going through an especially difficult moment we are tempted to think that God has closed His eyes or stepped away from His Sentry post, but nothing could be further from the truth.  God is faithful.  “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” (8) And as we all know, forever is a very long time. 

Moving Forward:  So very thankful today for the protection of the Lord.  He watches over all my comings and goings and stands with me through the challenges. 

Tomorrow @Proverbs 31

2 Chronicles 16-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He searches for the cry of the righteous heart and will answer

As parents, it’s difficult to watch our teenagers struggle through situations because they have refused our help.  We’re standing close by them, ready to help at a moment’s notice, but it’s as if they forget that we are the ones who brought them to this point in life through our guidance and direction.  Instead, we see them turn to peers or others who really don’t know them at all for the help that we are so willing to give.  We watch and wait for any indication that would tell us they are seeking our guidance.  I wonder if this was somewhat how the Lord felt when King Asa, who had sought His help for many yearas, decided to turn to others for help. 

@ 2 Chronicles 16
King Asa started his reign in a positive manner.  God was his help, his source and the one he ran to for help. Last week we read the covenant Asa and the Israelites made with the Lord, “Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.”  Because of Asa’s reliance and trust in the Lord, the country was protected from war.

Unfortunately, as time when on Asa decided he no longer needed his Father’s help and he made alliances with Aram to secure protection for Israel instead of praying to God.  A prophet came and pronounced judgment on Israel because of this, “What a fool you have been!  From now on you will be at war.” (9)  Then, to add insult to injury, “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (12)  There’s nothing wrong with using physicians, but why not seek the Lord’s help first?

God, the Father of all Israel was standing by waiting for Asa to pray for help, but Asa failed to do so.  What happened to cause this change in his heart anyway?  And why do we fail to pray when we should and instead turn to others for help?   I once heard an evangelist say that pride keeps us from praying.  When we fail to pray for a need and in turn make alliances with others for help, we are saying to God that we feel we can handle it all by ourselves.  We really don’t need His help.  Or perhaps we don’t trust that God is able to handle our problem, and in a sense, that is pride too.

Just like a loving parent, God is standing by waiting for us to ask for help.  After all, He knows our need before we even pray because of how intimately He knows us.  In fact, the prophet told Asa, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (9)  God is actually searching to help those who trust in Him.  David declared it in Psalm 34:15 and Peter did as well in I Peter 3:12, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help.”  Do we really want to let a thing like pride or unbelief keep the Creator of the Universe, the One who knows us best, from helping us in our time of need?  I pray not! 

Moving Forward:  Oh yes, I need His help today. I can’t do it myself. Hear my cry, Lord. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 119

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