God’s Mercy


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

Psalm 78-80 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He longs to restore our hearts and our land

Recently I heard a speaker at church share a portion of his life story, and I thought he was telling my story because our early years were similar.  I understood so well the feelings he was sharing and the gratitude of God’s faithfulness to him.  I sense this same familiarity when I read Psalm 80, not on a personal level but about my nation. 

@ Psalm 80
Asaph, or one of his descendants, wrote this song of prayer probably after the fall of his nation, Israel, to Babylon.  Israel had worshipped many gods through the years, but Asaph made it abundantly clear that his song was to the true and living God, “Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel…O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory…Show us your mighty power.  Come to rescue us!” (1-2)  He was calling on the God who was their Shepherd, the God who sat above the cherubim of the Ark, on the mercyseat, and he was crying for mercy.

In his Psalm, Asaph reminded God of how He brought His people out of Egypt and planted them in Israel like a grapevine that rooted and filled the land, but because of their sin, He broke down their walls of protection and they were devoured by their enemy.  “Come back, we beg you, O God of Heaven’s Armies.  Look down from heaven and see our plight.  Take care of this grapevine that you yourself have planted” (14-15) was Asaph’s desperate plea for the salvation of God’s people.  Would I be so bold to compare my nation’s state of affairs today to God’s chosen people?  Well, in a sense, yes I would.

True American history tells me that our forefathers left a land overseas where they felt in bondage to prescribed worship.  With Divine providence, they were planted in a new land, dug deep their roots and filled the land.  Their nation was based on the principles and guidelines of God’s Word, the Bible, with a commitment that all men could worship, or not worship, as they desired.

Factual history tells me that my early leaders sought God’s direction for everything including the laws that would govern their new land, and they put God’s words in their documents, on their monuments and throughout their White House.  They trusted Him to be their Foundation that would not crumble.

Sadly, through the years we have come to worship many other things and have been weakened by those who would once again like to control who and how we worship, an enemy slowly chipping away at our Foundation.  This is the condition the Israelites found themselves in before their enemy captured them and took them away to Babylon. But here is the difference between then and now:  I’m not leaving!

I’m not forsaking this land that I believe was ordained by God to be His tool to share eternal freedom through Jesus to the world. I’m offering now, not when it is too late, my song of prayer to God, my Shepherd, Who sits on the mercyseat, “Turn us again to yourself, O God.  Make your face shine down upon us.  Only then will we be saved.” (3,7,19)   Before you do anything, God, turn us again to you, our Foundation, and then shine your grace and mercy on us to save us.

According to God’s Word, He will answer this prayer, “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.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) Who will join me? 

Moving Forward: In celebration of our Day of Independence this week, how can I help but pray for our nation to return to its roots, founded on Him.  “Revive us so we can call on your name once more.” (18) 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 8-9

Luke 15-16 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He searches for His lost ones, rejoicing when they are found.

I lost my purse years ago.  Well, actually it was stolen out of my car and was lost to me.  It wasn’t a Gucci or Coach nor did it hold anything of great monetary value, but it was my purse, and all women know what that means – pictures, wallet, credit cards, driver’s license, make up and a special little Swiss Army knife that I would miss.  The police came and helped us search the blocks around my car in hope that the thief grabbed the $6.00 inside and dropped the rest, but we found nothing.  I missed my purse.

Through a series of unbelievable events throughout the night, everything was returned to me except for $6.00 and the little knife.  Well, I told everyone about this amazing story, and they rejoiced with me – the lost had been found!  A few months later I received a package in the mail, and when I opened it, I was shocked.  Inside was a brand new Swiss Army knife like the one I had lost, no return address, no one to thank. Crazy, but true.  Once again I told my story to everyone who would listen, and we rejoiced.  A long story, but I trust the joy shines through. 

@ Luke 15
Luke 15 is about lost things and the celebrations that occurred when they were found.  Lost sheep, lost coin and lost son all recovered with great celebration and joy.  We understand these parables because of the joy we have known when something we’ve lost has been found.  All of them speak to the heart of our Father who searches for us and watches for our return back to Him when we are lost.  The joy of reunion overshadows any sorrow or blame over the separation – that’s just the way He is.  When the prodigal son returned home, the father was, “Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him…‘We must celebrate with a feast!..He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (20,23-24) 

@ Luke 16
Luke 16 is about another kind of loss – loss of employment, something many can identify with today. The employee had been wasteful managing his employer’s money and now he had to give an account for it and leave.  Through some shrewd bargaining, the employee secured favor for his future with those he had been in business with around town by reducing the amount owed and then he settled up with his former employer.

Whether or not he was cheating his employer in this process or losing his own commission, we are uncertain, but the employer responded favorably, “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd…Here is the lesson:  Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends.  Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”(8-9)

Of course, Jesus was not encouraging us to be dishonest, but rather encourages us to take a lesson from this employee’s eventual wise bargaining, not his integrity.  With all the money, gifts and talents the Lord has given us to manage here on earth, we would be wise to share them abundantly to bless others, make friends and lead them to the Lord.  Eternal investments.

We will be entrusted with greater responsibility (10) and with the true riches of heaven (11) when we prove ourselves faithful with what God has given us to manage, whether it is money, time or talent.  He is the best employer I could ever hope to have – I want to do my best on the job! 

Moving Forward: I pray I will spend all that this day has provided with wisdom, making eternal investments that “moths and rust cannot destroy.” (Matthew 6:20) 

Tomorrow @ Philippians 3-4

Ezekiel 13-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to His everlasting covenant with us

Ohhh…some rough reading today. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to Babylon and now judgment was about to fall on Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  The prophets had given warnings to no avail, and most of the Israelites remained in their idolatry and sinful ways even in captivity.

At the end of Chapter 12 we read, “You’ve heard that proverb they quote in Israel: ‘Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.’  Tell the people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.’ Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled.’”(12:22-23)  And then the judgments began.

Judgment prophecies were given through Ezekiel regarding: 1) false prophets of the day who whitewashed the truth so that the Israelites would feel only good about themselves, 2) mediums who used magic and charms to ensnare the people away from God, and 3) leaders who set up idols in their hearts to worship instead of worshipping the true and living God. (14)  The similarities today are remarkable.

The Babylonian captives believed that Jerusalem, the Holy City, would survive the siege, but God called Jerusalem and its people a useless vine, “The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest.  Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” (15:6)  Even more devastating was His charge that Jerusalem was His unfaithful wife, who, worse than a prostitute, had many lovers and didn’t even charge them because she so wanted to be with them.  Jerusalem was filled with altars and shrines to the gods of neighboring countries and final judgment was coming to Jerusalem.

The riddle of Chapter 17 speaks of the besieged Jerusalem attempting to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against Babylon, but both were crushed by the mighty Babylonian army.  I’ve wondered if it was as perplexing to God as it was to me when I read of this alliance with Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites without mercy for so many centuries.  Why would they seek to go back to the very ones who had bound them? It was as if they would do anything to keep from trusting God.

Early in our ministry we had an evangelist friend that God had miraculously delivered from drugs and given a powerful ministry, but over time he slipped back into the bondage of drugs once again.  I’ve never really understood how it happened, but I believe it had to do with pride in what he had accomplished, forgetting Who it was that had delivered him.  Likewise, Israel, so proud of the nation they had become, trusted only in their own plans, rejecting both God and the warnings of Isaiah and the prophets against this alliance with Egypt.  But then, wasn’t it pride that started the whole sin thing with Lucifer? Anytime we consider ourselves equal to God, we are headed for destruction as well.

Well, before we fall right through the floor in depression, let’s remember that Israel is alive and reasonably well on planet earth today.  “Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (16:59-60)

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He would take the remnant that turned toward Him, the Daniels and Shadrachs, and build a nation.  The everlasting covenant, Christ Jesus, is available to Israel today; and when we pray, let’s pray they will accept Him and escape final destruction.  After all, hasn’t His Word asked us to pray for Israel? 

Moving Forward:  May I not take lightly my solemn vows to God’s everlasting covenant with me through Christ Jesus.  I reject even the slightest bit of pride in anything I may accomplish.  May it be He who sits on the throne of my heart today. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 15-16

Psalms 75-77 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He hears our distress call and answers with wonderful deeds 

@ Psalm 77
Asaph the temple choir director and worship leader was in a bad way.  When God’s instrument for worship is distressed, the entire body can easily be affected.  According to history, many of the Psalms of Asaph and his descendants were written during enemy invasions of Israel; but whether his distress was personal or about his nation, he was troubled.  Thankfully, he knew where to go for help.

“When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.  All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.” (2)  Asaph did not seek distractions to help him get through his distress, no comic relief or sleep meds for him.  He searched for the Lord and prayed earnestly all night; however, peace did not come. If we’ve been there, we understand his struggle – doing all that we know to do, but seemingly to no avail.  He got to the point where he cried out, “I am too distressed even to pray!” (4)  I’ve been there also…not fun.

Asaph reflected on the way things used to be and on what he had lost, and this brought no comfort at all.  In fact, it caused him to question God’s integrity.  Over verses 7-9, Asaph asks several questions, “Has the Lord rejected me forever?”  God would never reject anyone who is searching for Him.  “Will He never again be kind to me?”  God is mercy and kindness.  “Is His unfailing love gone forever?”  A dichotomy at best, how can unfailing love be gone forever?

Asaph continued his questions, “Have His promises permanently failed?” One might expect lightening to strike for a question like this, but God was full of mercy and kindness to Asaph. God is faithful to His promises. David answered this question when he wrote, “I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.”(Psalm 138:2)  “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”  How could God forget anything!  “Has He slammed the door on His compassion?”  God is love and compassion.

Peace finally came to Asaph when he turned his focus to all the great things that God had done. “But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.  They are constantly in my thoughts.  I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.” (11-12)  I have been here as well, and I feel the faith rising in Asaph!  Then he recounted the great miracle in Israel’s history, “When the Red Sea saw you, O God, it waters looked and trembled!…Your road led through the seas…a pathway no one knew was there!” (16,19)  Victory! He will do the miraculous on our behalf. It doesn’t matter the cause of our distress as much as it does our response to it.

Remembering what was and wallowing in self-pity will never bring us peace.  But remembering His faithfulness in times past, how our troubles “trembled” at the sight of Almighty God and how He provided the victory that no one else could have seen will bring peace to our hearts and the faith to believe that victory is in sight.  God has an unlimited number of ways to answer our heart’s cry – we need trust Him for just one.

Moving Forward:  Regardless of what I may face today, I will focus not on what was but on Who is my answer, “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me.” (Psalm 118:5) 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 7

Ezekiel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides a sanctuary for His people – anywhere.

The prisoner slowly makes his way to the execution chamber with the knowledge that all will be over soon.  Appeal after appeal has been denied, and now the end is in sight.  It’s 11:59 p.m., and the straps have been tightened, the hood is in place and…a telephone rings. The Governor has issued a reprieve, and the prisoner will live!  Dramatic I know, but I would imagine the exiles in Babylon felt a similar rush of relief at the news from the prophet Ezekiel, a reprieve if you will, that God would be with them in Babylon!

@ Ezekiel 11
Tragic prophecies had been given repeatedly to the Exiles about Jerusalem, their homeland, and all hope was gone in their minds for restoration because they were far from God’s Temple presence.  Now, God was issuing a reprieve for those who had turned their hearts toward Him.  “I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile.” (16)

Just like the Israelites, sometimes we find ourselves in a place that seems far from what we desire.  Perhaps we’ve arrived there through no fault of our own, or maybe our deeds have put us there.  Regardless, when we turn our hearts to God, He will provide a sanctuary where we can fellowship with Him.  I like the way the KJV says it, “Yet I will be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”

Most believe that little sanctuary is referring to a short period of time while in captivity rather than space, but I think of it also as a place where we can meet with Him, wherever we may be, whether in a huge church or in a tiny closet far from home.  It doesn’t matter – He will be for us a little sanctuary in the prison cell, on the hospital bed or the work cubicle.  “I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:7) God is omnipresent, everywhere, waiting for our cry for help, waiting to be our safe haven, our sanctuary.

“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.  I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations.” (19-20)  Some situations in life may hardened our hearts, not only toward God, but towards others as well.  It is in His sanctuary where He softens us and makes our hearts tender like His heart.

Within this prophetic dream from Ezekiel is a promise to Israel as a nation, “I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” (17)  The Jews have lived in Israel periodically throughout history, but in 1948, it was recognized politically as a nation.

While nations around the world have fought hard to destroy this tiny nation, it remains!  It is a testimony of God’s blessing on it, and His miraculous power.  However, this prophesy of Ezekiel will not be fully realized until the Second Coming of Christ, when the end-time believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, will inhabit the New Jerusalem.  What a day it will be!

For all who follow God, both Jew and Gentle, He longs to give us one heart, undivided, tender and fleshy that is responsive to Him and one that follows His Word.  “Then,” He says, “they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” (20) 

Moving Forward: I will enter His sanctuary today, wherever I am, with a tender heart and with a prayer on my lips for the nation of Israel. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 13-14

Jeremiah 47-52 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He patiently waits for His long-lost children to return home, not wanting any to be lost

There’s little that concerns me more than waiting for my husband and children when they’re late returning home.  I’ve never considered myself highly imaginative, but in moments like this, I surprise myself.  I imagine accidents and breakdowns, degenerates and aliens, all converging on my loved ones. Help!  Even when I know everything is fine, I just want them home, safe and sound. Regardless of the anticipation I feel on these occasions, I really can’t begin to imagine the longing that our Father has for His long-lost children to come home, but one thing I am certain of is that He’s waiting for them.

Jeremiah opened his book with this declaration from God, “I will certainly carry out all my plans,” (1:12), and by the last chapter of Jeremiah, He did just that.  Jeremiah 46 was the beginning of pronouncements from God against the countries surrounding Israel.  Powerful Egypt met its doom and was ultimately consumed by the Babylonians.  The following chapters continue with many other indictments on nations, including Israel itself.  The futures of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon were not rosy.

It’s interesting that the Moabites and Ammonites, who had long been contentious with Israel, were actually descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and the Edomites descended from Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. All were considered enemies of Israel and had done their best to wipe them out, but their day was coming. God judged them for their pride and their vicious treatment of His wayward sheep, Israel.

At first glance, these chapters in Jeremiah are negative and certainly not uplifting, but with a second look, we can find a tiny bud of hope amongst all the destruction.  Although Israel’s sins were many as they copied the idolatry of the surrounding nations, God had made a covenant with Abraham and His eye was on a remnant, a remnant that would turn to Him in their hour of need.  He was waiting for them. 

@ Jeremiah 50
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains.  They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” (6)  But He would help them.  In coming days Israel would return to their land, weeping and searching for God, “They will bind themselves to the Lord with an eternal covenant that will never be forgotten.” (5)  “In those days…no sin will be found in Israel or in Judah for I will forgive the remnant I preserve.” (20)

Israel did return home, they restored their culture and temple and their sins were forgiven.  However, many centuries later they rejected the Messiah because they were so full of their religious ways that they did not recognize Him.  Through His Word, we have the promise that one day the Messiah will reign in Israel, and it will be fully restored and forgiven.  He is waiting for them.

Jeremiah 50 is a source of hope for me.  When things looked so devastating for Israel, God had not given up on them. He found the remnant, the lost sheep of Israel, and brought them home. There are those we love who are lost, and they can’t seem to remember how to get back to the sheepfold.  But the Great Shepherd has not given up on them, and He will find them! (Luke 15:4)  While we anxiously wait for the day that the Messiah  returns to reign, it is for our loved ones He is waiting.  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)  He is waiting for them. 

Moving Forward: I pray today, once again, for those I love who can’t seem to find their way to God.  I’m so thankful that He is longsuffering and patient and that He loves them even more than I do.

Tomorrow @ Luke 7-8

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