God’s Mercy


2 Chronicles 33-36 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  His blessing follows our choice to serve Him

I was about twelve when my dad asked me to go with him one Saturday to a Minnesota Twins baseball game.  They were playing the New York Yankees, so this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  It was a great game with the Twins ahead for an inning or two, then the Yankees ahead, back and forth until the eighth inning when the Yankees scored bringing them ahead by one point, and the Twins came back with nothing.  Top of the ninth, Yankees did not score.

Finally, it was the bottom of the ninth, Twins at bat, one man on and the batter hit a Home Run.  Twins win it by one!  The crowd went wild!  I think it was Yogi Berra who said regarding baseball, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Of course, he also said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” So… 

@ 2 Chronicles 36
“So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them…They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar…Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value…The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon.” (17-20)  Over the past several months we’ve read about the warnings and prophecies of the prophets, God’s final attempt to change the hearts of His people but to no avail.  The Israelites continued in their sinful lifestyle, disregarding God’s laws. They proudly thought that they would have the final say over their own lives.  But they didn’t.

“So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.” (21)  One of the laws the Israelites refused to observe was the command to allow the land to rest from planting one year out of every seven.  This law was for their own good so that the soil would be replenished and provide the nutrients they needed in their food, yet they willfully disregarded the law.  Now the land would have 70 years of rest in a row to compensate for the years that were missed.  God is always the last one up to bat.

Sometimes we think we can live the way we choose without any ramifications.  As we read in yesterday’s scripture, “Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today.  But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God.” (2 Chronicles 36:26-27)

Yes, we walk in the grace of the New Testament, but we still have to choose the one we faithfully will follow, no fence sitting or gray areas.  A baseball game never ends in a tie; the innings are played out until the last batter determines the game.  In life, our loving God shows mercy to us inning after inning as He draws us to Him, we make our choices and He always closes out the game. I’m good with that. 

Moving Forward:  When we walk away from our willful ways and surrender to the One who determines the final score, we can’t lose. We’re making that run to our eternal Home! 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 128-130

Habakkuk (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He uses whatever means He chooses to change the hearts of men

I’ve had several friends throughout the years that are just plain bold.  They’re not intimidated by anyone and seem to have the intestinal fortitude to ask the hard questions of others without batting an eye.  Some of them have come from difficult situations that have made them strong and fearless, and I think a few of them just don’t know any better.  Regardless, they are the ones I like on my team, whatever the task, because they get the answers we need.  After reading Habakkuk, I get the impression that he was one of them.  I mean, with a name like Habakkuk, it’s either going to make you or break you, and in the way he addressed the Lord, I think we can assume he made it just fine.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen!  Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.  Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?” (1:2-3)  See what I mean?  Habakkuk was bold, he asked the hard questions of the Lord and he certainly lived up to the reputation of a prophet.  God answered Habakkuk’s questions because He understood his heart.  Over the years, the prophet pleaded with the Israelites to repent and sought God’s help, but sin and disobedience increased.  In these verses, He was calling on God to act.  Many of us find ourselves in similar situations, calling for our nation, our family or our friends to repent and praying for God to act, but as Habakkuk learned, we must be prepared to accept how He chooses to respond.

“Look around at the nations; look and be amazed!  For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people.  They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” (1:5-6)  God would one day allow the Babylonians to humble Israel, but this wasn’t what Habakkuk had in mind when he prayed.  Not willing to hold back, he responded to the Lord, “O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins…Will you wink at their treachery?” (12-13)

God will use whatever means He desires to bring about change in the hearts of men, and He went on to inform Habakkuk that Babylon would one day receive its punishment for its willingness to destroy Israel.  Whatever change we are praying about in the lives of individuals or nations, we must surrender to God’s omnipotent plan for the answer he chooses and not attempt to confine Him to our limited understanding.

When I surrender to His divine plan for the one I am praying about, I often say a similar prayer as this offered by Habakkuk, “I have heard all about you, Lord.  I am filled with awe by your amazing works.  In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by.  And in your anger, remember your mercy.” (3:2) Remember your mercy.  We surrender to your plan, but our hearts cry for mercy. Don’t give us what we deserve, but be merciful in how you perfect and change us.  And we know He hears our prayer because we, just like Habakkuk, have heard all about Him. (3:2) 

Moving Forward: I may not be a bold prophet like Habakkuk, but I know how to pray a bold prayer for my nation and for those I love.  I will trust His plan to bring about change, but with it, I pray for His mercy. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 9-10

Psalm 122-124 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  He signals us with His hand of mercy as we fix our eyes on Him

I remember a movie from several years ago about a bride who left several grooms at the altar over a period of time because she got cold feet and ran away, hence the title, Runaway Bride.  The final groom devised a plan to keep her feet from running through eye contact as she walked down the aisle.  It was a great plan and all was going well until a camera flashed, she lost eye contact with the groom, and yes, she headed for the hills.  As with most romantic comedies, they eventually got married and lived happily ever after, but the movie provided a great example of what can happen when we get distracted and lose our focus. 

@ Psalm 123
“I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.  We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.” (1-2)  Servants stand ready to move, like runners at the block, anticipating the signal to run, to fetch, to do for the master.  Shifting their eyes away could cause them to miss the awaited signal, the chance to serve or even to be served by the master’s generous hand.

Whenever I faced a difficult situation in my youth, my mom always said, “Phyllis, you can’t look at circumstances. You have to keep your eyes on Jesus.”  And how right she was!  Every time I put my focus on the problem, I lost sight of my Master and His hand of mercy for my problem.  When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, just like the servant fixed on his master, we won’t miss anything God has for us and the opportunity to serve Him.

As we read in Acts 7 last week, Stephen knew where to turn his focus as the stones were flying, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” (55)  Stephen’s darkest moments was turned into a glorious light as he looked to God for His mercy. And as we recently read in Hebrews 12, “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (1-2)  He’s our Master who signals, who initiates and perfects our faith as well as how we move in that faith.

I don’t want to miss even the slightest signal from the Lord, where He directs my life through His mercy.  Mom was right – keeping my focus on the circumstances of life will cause me to get cold feet and run.  I have to stay focused on the Lord no matter how many flashes attempt to disrupt my gaze.  I’m no Runaway Bride!  My eyes are fixed on my Groom. 

Moving Forward: I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus today, ready to serve.  I won’t look at circumstances but only to His hand of mercy for even the slightest signal. 

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 1-2

2 Chronicles 6-10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He looks for repentant and obedient hearts

I was one of those nerds in high school and college who actually read the history textbooks.  I love history. I especially enjoy exploring the ruling families and dynasties from the past. God allowed me the privilege of living in Austria for a few weeks, home of the Habsburgs.  This family controlled much of Europe from the 12th century through to the early 20th century, and its history is fascinating.

While many rulers have overthrown countries through wars and bloodshed, the Habsburgs had a different strategy – just marry them!  Their children were farmed out to all of Europe ruling families over centuries, alliances were made and the Habsburg footprint remains today in much of Europe’s ruling families.  However, they were not the originators of this strategy.  Solomon used this approach in keeping peaceful alliances with his neighbors, but unfortunately, it did not serve him well. (June 13 @ I Kings 10-13)  Anytime we sacrifice Godly principles to achieve earthly gain, disappointment is in our future. 

@ 2 Chronicles 7
Things had been going extremely well for Solomon early in his reign.  He had just completed the building of the Temple and called together the entire community as he offered a beautiful prayer to the Lord.  God’s response was a flash of fire to burn up the sacrifices and then His glorious presence filled the Temple.  A lavish festival followed over the next seven days with much animal sacrificing, singing and dancing unto the Lord. There was joy in the land.

Later when Solomon was alone, God visited him with an amazing promise, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (12-14)

God had accepted Solomon’s prayer, yet His response included a caution.  God may allow difficult times to come when His people turn away from Him, but if they repent and turn back to Him, He forgives and brings restoration.  God is merciful.

Sadly, Solomon’s response over the next few years to God’s offer was to disobey Him by marrying pagan women from other countries in order to protect Israel through these alliances.  God really didn’t need Solomon’s help to protect Israel through godless marriages.  Instead of protection, Solomon ushered in the very thing that would one day destroy Israel – idol worship!  Although some of the kings had momentary periods of repentance, Israel never completely turned its heart back to God.

We won’t save ourselves or our country by engaging in alliances, no matter how good they may seem or how well-intentioned we may be, if those alliances take the place of obedience to His laws and trust in His ability to protect us.  Should we falter in this, then humble repentance and seeking His face is what He is looking for. “If my people…”

The help God does want from us is the advice He gave to Solomon, “If you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty.” (17-18) In response to our humble obedience to Him, God’s hand is free to provide personal security for our homes and families and national security for our country.  We need Him more today than ever before.

Moving Forward:  Today I reject any godless solutions to problems that may seem right, and submit in obedience to Him and His divine guidance and protection. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 114-116

Hebrews 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He became flesh, He understands all that we face

Our propensity to judge the behavior of others would be curtailed if we were given the opportunity to walk a mile or so in their shoes.  In their shoes we may come to understand the reason why they do the things they do.  When we’re trying to comfort someone or give direction, we so often hear, “Well, you just don’t understand” or “You just don’t get it,” and many times they are right.  Jesus, on the other hand, gets it all!  He has walked in our shoes and understands anything and everything we are going through. Praise the Lord!

We’re not certain who authored Hebrews, though most believe it was someone who knew or traveled with Paul or even Paul himself, but what a challenge faced the writer!  Most of the Jewish Christians were probably second generation at this point and faced extreme persecution from the Jewish leaders as well as the Roman government.  On top of that, doctrinal error was threatening the church, and it appeared that many were considering returning to Judaism.  The writer of Hebrews had the task of presenting the legitimacy of the risen Lord, the benefits of accepting Him and the lifestyle of one who does.   He, or possibly even an educated she, began with the humanity of Christ and the fact that He walked in our shoes.

“It was necessary for Him to be made in every respect like us, His brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then He could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested.”(2:17-18) Because of His humanity, Jesus is a sympathetic mediator for us to God as our High Priest who goes before God on our behalf.  Jesus understands us, and He’s on our side!

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”(4:15-16)  We might be tempted to say, Of course He didn’t sin, He was God and had all of heaven’s resources to help Him.  Well, we’re not God, but we do have all of heaven’s resources to help us stay strong.  “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.” (I Corinthians 10:13)  Help is on the way!

The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to make the point that God, through His Son Jesus, became human and understands all the trials and temptations we face and knows how to provide what we need to endure and conquer.  All we need to do is run, not walk, to His throne and tell Him all about it.  This seems to be the difficult part for us, running from our temptation and trial and running to Him for help.  But when we run to Him, “We will receive His mercy.” He understands our need and does not punish.  Then, “We will find grace to help us.”  He will give us all the help we need at that moment whether we deserve it or not.  What part of that deal did the Jewish believers not like?  It’s beyond me, but then I haven’t walked in their shoes.  Fortunately, He has.

Moving Forward:  How great to know that He understands everything we will face today. Any temptation that comes our way, He’s been there, but did not yield.  Any trial we walk through, He’s been there and came through victoriously.  And He will give us exactly what we need to do the same. 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 25-28

Amos 5-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He offers one more call, one more chance to come to Him

One of the most loved parables of Jesus is that of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son who left home with his inheritance and spent it on wild living.  When the money was gone and food was scarce, the careless young man decided to return home to his father where he knew even the servants were living better than he was.

The story goes on to give a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace toward His children, “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)  I’m fairly certain the father watched for his son every day because he wasn’t taken by surprise at his return, he saw him coming.  He was waiting for him, looking for his return home, just like God was waiting for the children of Israel to return home to Him in our reading today. 

@ Amos 5
“Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel:  ‘Come back to me and live!  Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba…Come back to the Lord and live!’” (4-6)  God was waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance to come to their senses and return home. Amos, the simple shepherd from outside of Bethlehem, prophesied over and over again that judgment was coming to this wayward nation because they sought other gods from other nations.

Twenty years later, Isaiah would call for Israel’s repentance and for their return to God with one more call, one more chance, “Come to me with your ears wide open.  Listen, and you will find lifeSeek the Lord while you can find him.  Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:3,6)  But as we know from scripture, Israel would not return home like the Prodigal Son to their awaiting Father.

The Father’s invitation to come has been extended throughout the ages to any and all, and He is still making His appeal today through those of us who will share it, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)  He is still waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance because, like the Prodigal’s father, He is filled with love and compassion, ready to embrace all who will come. 

Moving Forward:  Reminded once again of His great love for His lost children, I will continue to make the appeal for Him to those who have lost their way, Come back to the Lord and live! Come back to God!

Tomorrow @ John 19-21

Numbers 21-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He has provided salvation through His Son

After seeing hundreds of young lives receive salvation and a touch by His Spirit at camp one summer, we drove the 45 minutes home over the weekend to get refreshed, wash clothes and buy supplies for the next week of camp. This particular weekend my husband Tom was out ministering, but I stayed home with our children.  I got up one night to visit the bathroom, and when just about finished, I looked down on the floor and saw movement.  It was a snake.

The snake in my bathroom had to be reckoned with because this worn out body would not get needed rest for the week ahead with a snake in the house.  I prayed for His strength, woke up my 9 year-old son and loaded us up with shovels and hoes. We went after that 14 inch snake as though our lives depended on it, and got it!  Unfortunately, the Israelites’ snake encounter did not go as well as ours did. 

@ Numbers 21
The Israelites had just won a huge battle and defeated the Canaanites.  The Promised Land was within a few days reach after 40 years in the desert, but they became impatient.  They knew the journey ahead through Moab would be long, they were tired of manna and they wanted to possess the land now.  They complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’ So the Lord sent poisonous [fiery] snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (5-6)  Oh…

“Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’   So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (7-9)  In a weakened moment after a great victory, the Israelites sinned, but a replica of the very thing that had caused them pain became their salvation.  In just a short time they went on to possess their land.

I don’t remember complaining about anything that summer weekend invoking a snake encounter to bring about correction from the Lord as it did with Israel.  I do know that I was worn out, somewhat depleted and a perfect target for the enemy who sends His fiery darts in weak moments.  It’s often after a great victory for the Lord, like the powerful camps we had experienced or the Israelites’ mighty victory, that the enemy brings his attack.  However, Jesus has already provided the remedy for us.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)  Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), became the very thing that was killing us so that we may be saved and have eternal life with Him.

And we may also look to Him for salvation from the enemy’s fiery attacks against the body, soul and spirit.  The enemy did not win in my life that weekend, and we went on for yet another great week at youth camp, lives changed by the power of God.  When we turn our focus to Jesus, high and lifted up, whatever our fiery trial may be, He will bring victory. 

Moving Forward:  Jesus lifted up! I look to Him today for salvation and deliverance because He paid the price for me on the cross. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 1-5

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