Great Commission


Ezekiel 19-24 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He’s looking for someone to stand in the gap

The first time I visited London I was amused by the terminology the Brits used in the Underground train system.  Warning passengers to watch out for the space between the platform and the train, it was announced as well as printed on the platform, “Mind the Gap.”  My mind immediately looked for a Gap Store, but perhaps that’s just me. However, I appreciated their warning because missing that step could have been a very painful learning experience, maybe more painful than reading Ezekiel 19-24.  God’s message to Israel regarding the gap takes this warning to another level.

Ezekiel’s ministry of unheeded warnings to the captive Judeans in Babylon was coming to a close.  God had spoken to His people through many prophets only to be ignored and scorned, so when a group of leaders came to Ezekiel asking for a word of encouragement from the Lord, His response was not good.  “Some of the leaders of Israel came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply. Then this message came to me from the Lord: ‘Son of man, tell the leaders of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing!”‘” (20:1-3)

At one time or another, we all have gone to someone with a question or piece of news and had the person jump down our throat, metaphorically of course, with an unexpected and unhappy response.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our own self-serving life that we are absolutely clueless how much we have offended someone.  Israel was about to find out how much they had offended their God.

God’s message over the next couple of chapters was scathing at best, and Jerusalem and its inhabitants were reminded of their rebellious history, even as far back as their trip out of Egypt where God held back His hand of judgment.  In the message, Jerusalem was called a City of Murderers, the people compared to worthless slag from melted silver and the nations of to Judah and Israel were compared to vile prostitutes.  Only a handful of kings and prophets throughout their history attempted to turn these nations back to God, and all the rest were found guilty – guilty prophets, guilty priests, guilty princes and guilty people.  Whew!  I can feel the heat.

However, even in this dissertation of judgment, God could not hide His true heart, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” (22:30)  But I found no one.  How His people had broken His heart!  How He longed to restore, renew and revive.  God offered mercy and grace, but no one wanted them.  Ezekiel and others tried to stop the hand of God as Moses had done in the wilderness, but they were without a defense because of the utter wickedness of His people.  No one could speak for them.

God is not looking for cautious gap minders or fence sitters today.  He’s looking for gap standers, those who will rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards our lands.  He is looking for gap standers who will build a defense in the courtroom of judgment by seeking out and presenting to Him a people who will love and serve God. 

Moving Forward: Challenged by God’s heart today, I will join with so many others around the world to stand for righteousness and to seek out those who will love and serve Him.  See you at The Gap!

Tomorrow @ Luke 17-18

Ezekiel 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He gives hope for restoration through discipline

Our heavenly Father is not the kind of parent who gives empty threats or perhaps is too busy or too lazy to even care.  It’s painful to watch the parent who threatens punishment for a willful child over and over again but never follows through with discipline.  And of course, that child usually remains willful.

Almost 900 years before Ezekiel was written, God had threatened to wipe disobedient Israel off the planet because of the worship of the golden calf.  Up to this point in our reading, He hadn’t done it.  It wasn’t because He was lazy or too busy – something He could never be – but because He was and is longsuffering and merciful.  Aren’t we thankful for His mercy!  However, we find in the book of Ezekiel that punishment had finally come to the house of Israel.

Punishment of our children is seldom helpful to them if we don’t explain the purpose of it.  It may make us feel better to punish them, and children will tell you the old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” is a myth, but it won’t bring about a change in behavior unless they understand the reason for their punishment.  God was interested in change for His wayward child, Israel, and sent prophets to warn of punishment and to explain the reason for it.  Ezekiel was one of them.

Ezekiel was a priest and prophet who grew up during the great spiritual reforms of King Josiah, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord.  Ezekiel had been exiled from Judah to Babylon during the second exile in 597 B.C., and at 30 years old, this young prophet had an encounter with God that changed the course of his life.  “On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God,” (1:1) and Ezekiel goes on to explain the four living beings that he saw.

Let me just say, if I had experienced this, I would be on the ground with my face in the dirt, and apparently so was Ezekiel, “Stand up, son of man,’ said the voice. ‘I want to speak with you.’  The Spirit came into me as He spoke, and He set me on my feet.  I listened carefully to His words…‘I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation…I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’  And whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet among them…but the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me!  For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” (2:1-5;3:7)  Whew!  This was going to be a hard sell for Ezekiel.

It was disheartening for Ezekiel to realize that he would spend the ensuing years of his life as a faithful watchman over Israel, warning of impending doom, yet assured by God that no one would listen. Over the course of time, we learn that very few, just a remnant, listened to the prophet Ezekiel, but they came through the punishment understanding why it happened and more determined than ever before to follow after God.

Today as we attempt to reach a nation much like the one of Ezekiel’s day, we can only hope that God doesn’t choose to use us with the methods and illustrated sermons in Ezekiel.  Would I be willing?  I might not mind 430 day of rest, but 430 days of the same meal?  Help!  But there has never been a day when the gospel has been easier to share than today through the unlimited media of television, radio, the internet and print materials, not to mention the convicting power of the Holy Spirit working through us.

Yes, we will meet some opposition and perhaps persecution along the way, and we may not be as popular as we would like when we share the gospel of Jesus, but our responsibility is not how it is received, but solely in the telling of it. “Whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet, [a messenger] among them.”  Ezekiel 3:18 assures us that the Lord will not hold us responsible if they do not listen. 

Moving Forward: I will be His watchman over my nation, my personal world that I move in throughout the day.  With His wisdom, I will share the good news, not hindered by fear of rejection but emboldened by His love. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 11-12

Luke 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to be fishers of men

I grew up in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  I have many grand memories of canoeing on the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, swimming in their cool spring-fed waters during the hot summers, almost drowning in Cedar Lake (not such a grand memory) and fishing in lakes all over Minnesota.  Lots and lots of fishing.

I’ve sat for hours in a boat or on a pier with hardly a nibble, waiting for the big one to come along. I’ve caught hundreds of sunfish, perch and trout and I’ve even snagged a walleye or two. I love to fish, I don’t know why, but I do.  And there’s nothing like taking fresh-caught fish, cleaning them up and pan frying them on the spot, tasting their freshness while dodging all those bones.  Great memories!  However, our fishing story today reminds me of another kind of catch, one with an eternal destination. 

@ Luke 5
“[Jesus] said to Simon, ‘now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing.  But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’ And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!” (4-6)  Fishing with Jesus – now that was a sweet catch!  I’m blessed by the fact that Jesus is concerned about our temporal needs, abundantly providing for us at just the right moment, but as we continue to read the story, we understand that the compelling goal of Jesus was to complete His mission. He was looking for fishers of men.

My mom was a fisherman and very successful, but she wasn’t after trout or bass or grouper.  She was always fishing for people.  In her lifetime, she caught hundreds and hundreds of lost and hurting people and reeled them into the lifeboat, one by one, day in and day out.  In all my years of observation, I never saw one person refuse her message of the love of Jesus.  Although she was delightful in every respect, her success was not due to her eloquent speech or charismatic personality.  No, she was a successful fisher of men because she got into the boat with Jesus and threw out the net, so to speak.  Every morning as she made the beds and prepared for the day she asked God to lead her as she went about her day to those who were in season, ready to be caught.  And He did.

One of the things that made mom a great fisher of men was her acceptance of others.  It’s easy to be busy judging and condemning the bad behavior of others rather than being about the business of catching them.  Not mom.  To her there wasn’t a living, breathing soul that did not deserve to hear about the Lord, no throwbacks for her, everyone was a keeper.  “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.  Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” (6:37)  Mom even shared the love of Jesus with those who had wanted to hurt her at one time or another because all she cared about was their eternal destination.  She’s in heaven now with a boatload of catch.

The stories of her fishing expeditions are endless, but on one occasion mom left the grocery store with a cart full of groceries. She was walking to her car when a woman approached her.  It was one of those moments when Jesus said, “Cast your net.”  Without concern for the melting ice cream or wilting lettuce, she turned her attention to the woman who said, “I really need a cigarette.  Do you have a cigarette you could give me?”  Mom smiled and said, “No, I don’t have one, but I have something that will satisfy you much more than a cigarette.”  She shared with her the wonderful love of Jesus and His power to satisfy.  The tearful woman accepted the Lord as her Savior and started attending church with her.  Yes, mom was quite the fisherman.

After filling two boats full of fish (be still my heart), Jesus said to Simon, “From now on you’ll be fishing for people!’  And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.” (5:10-11)  If you’re looking for me, I’m with Simon – Gone fishin’! 

Moving Forward: Net in hand…looking for the catch of the day!

Tomorrow @ Galatians 1-3

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. Paul wrote, “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)  It is a simple message but one with a profound impact.

@ 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 with 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

2 Corinthians 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He comfort to us enables us to comfort others and transforms us into His Christ-like fragrance

I love this time of the year when we celebrate Easter, a glorious day!  For Jesus, the week before His crucifixion and resurrection was filled with travel, teaching, great moments in prayer and also with fragrance.  Yes, fragrance.  “While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head…‘She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.’” (Matthew 26:7,12)

As He prepared Himself for the greatest challenge of His life, the cross, His fragrance permeated His surroundings.  No doubt this fragrance blessed and comforted those who loved Him but disgusted those who were seeking to kill Him.  Because He was victorious on the cross and defeated death through His resurrection, we, too, can be victorious in our challenges and fill our world with His fragrance. 

@ 2 Corinthians 1
Sometimes we wonder why we go through the challenges we face.  Ultimately, God is concerned not so much about why, but with what we do with our challenges.  How do we respond to them?  “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (4-5)  In light of this, I have to admit that my flesh doesn’t really desire to be all that helpful to others in this way – I’ll pass on the trouble, but thank you for offering.

On the other hand, I also know the incredible joy that comes from comforting someone who is passing through a difficult place where I have been.  Solving the troubles of others may or may not be our task, but encouraging them with the hope of moving past their problems through our testimony is invaluable to them.  Acknowledging the presence of the Lord through all of our own troubles offers comfort and strength found nowhere else.  While I’m hesitant to ask the Lord to bring it on regarding troubleI’m confident of the abiding comfort He will give me when I need it most. In the process, I truly desire to share the fragrance of His comfort with others.

@ 2 Corinthians 2
“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” (15) In the United States, we are excessively concerned about our personal fragrance, our smell.  I’ve visited several countries around the world where I dare say a more conscientious approach to personal hygiene would be welcomed, but Americans are extreme in this.  By the time I have finished grooming each morning, I am wearing no less than eight different scents, which more than likely contribute to my allergy problems.  However, Paul was speaking of a different kind of fragrance.

“But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.  To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.  But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.  And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (15-16). Only those who are washed by the blood of Jesus, cleansed from the stench of sin’s decay, are adequate to represent Him by wearing His fragrance. To fellow believers, we are a life-giving perfume, but to the lost, we are a constant reminder of their need for cleansing.  Oh, that they would tire of the dreadful smell of doom and instead run to the cross, allowing His fragrant perfume to fill their lives.  I’m forever challenged to smell just like Him. 

Moving Forward: Through the eyes of the Spirit, I will look for those in need of comfort, sharing His comfort with them, wearing His Christ-like fragrance. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 13-16

Mark 11-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He expects our lives to bear fruit for the kingdom

It seems that I have a knack for selecting the best fresh fruit at the grocery store, or at least this is what I’m told by family and friends.  I’m fairly certain this knack developed because I’ve been selecting fruit for about 150 years, but nevertheless, there are a few things that I look for when I’m inspecting fruit.   Weight plays a significant role in the selection – ripe fruit will weigh more for its size than what is expected because sugar increases the moisture content in the fruit making it weigh more.  Smell is important as well – no smell indicates that the fruit isn’t ripe and a moldy smell usually means it is overripe.  Well, I could go on, but much more important than my fruit selection is the lesson that Jesus taught His disciples about fruit inspection. 

@ Mark 11
“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs…Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat your fruit again!’” (11:12-14)  These were interesting observations for the disciples who were following Jesus that day.  We might think that Jesus was very hungry to be moved to the point of cursing a tree for bearing no figs, but the symbolism speaks too loudly for us to imagine it as only about hunger.  From the fig tree, Jesus moved to the temple and cleaned it out, cleaned out the scam artists and thieves.  Those things not producing fruit that day were addressed.  The temple had lost its function as a house of worship, and the fig tree had lost its function as a food source, and both were rebuked.

In Matthew 7:16, Jesus explained about false prophets, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act…”  We often find ourselves as fruit inspectors of those who are professing Jesus as their Savior.  Through the years I have learned that any process of inspecting should always begin with me.  Am I showing the promise of fruit with my leafy show as a believer, yet bearing no fruit? Do I exhibit the fruit of the spirit in my life as well as the fruit of the harvest of souls?

A merciful Jesus may not curse me for my lack, but what have I done that marks me as a believer when I pray for anything in verse 24?  “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”  Forgiveness – the precursor to answered prayers! Having inspected myself with an honest heart, I can then evaluate the actions of others, and their legitimacy as a believer should the need arise – are they good fruit or bad fruit? 

@ Mark 12
With clearing out the temple and remarks after that, Jesus upset the religious folks that day. The Sadducees believed only in the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and did not believe in the resurrection because it was not addressed in those scriptures.  After the Pharisees failed to trap Jesus about taxes, the Sadducees attempted to catch Him regarding marriage in Heaven.

Jesus’ response was our perfect example of how to handle what I call professional unbelievers.  These individuals attempt to dilute our message with questions regarding what they consider inconsistencies in the Bible or difficult passages we may not fully understand until we get to heaven.  However, just like Jesus, we are wise when we go directly to the heart of the matter.  He knew their real hang-up was the resurrection – His resurrection.

Regardless of the arguments presented to us, in reality, we are addressing the struggles that unbelievers have with accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Our best response is to sidestep the rhetoric and share the truth of the Gospel first.  We should never forget that there is an innate power to John 3:16 that convicts men of sin much more effectively than all of our debating or bloviating. When the dust settles, the Gospel will remain. 

Moving Forward: May I bear the fruit of the spirit as well as the fruit of the harvest, never disappointing my Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 1-3

Exodus 9-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart: Our merciful God offers us many opportunities to turn our hearts towards Him.

I’ve known some stubborn people in my life, but none the likes of Pharaoh. After the snake-swallowing event with Moses, I’m reasonably sure that I would have given in and let God’s people go! Bloody water, frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness – obviously Pharaoh wanted to keep his cheap labor.

For a long time, I didn’t understand the scripture that said God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because this would definitely put Pharaoh at a disadvantage even if he had wanted to let God’s people go. However, I have come to understand that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God’s actions. I know many individuals who experience trouble in their lives because of their sins; and in blaming God for it, their hearts are hardened towards Him and His people. Jesus came to soften their stony hearts and bring healing and deliverance.

@ Exodus 12
The instructions the Lord gave to Moses regarding the Passover dinner preparations and the blood on the doorposts were detailed and non-negotiable. God was about to deliver from bondage all those who followed His instructions to the letter, and through their obedience, the sons of Israel were spared. “Pharaoh and all his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died.”(30) With the death of his nation’s firstborn sons and the wailing of his people, stubborn Pharaoh finally acquiesced – Israel was free to leave.

The story of the Passover dinner paints an interesting picture. “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover.” (12:11) Dressed for dinner! How appropriate! With the wailing of the mourning Egyptians in earshot, the Israelites were told to dress for dinner and eat quickly as if ready to leave at any moment. And they did.

I view the church today in somewhat the same position. We are dressed for dinner with our lamps full, with His blood on our heart’s door and waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. We are expecting to leave at any moment! But within earshot, if we really listen, we hear the wailing. We hear the wailing of the lost souls of our world expressed in so many different ways, needing deliverance too.

The blood on the doorpost was only for the Israelites, but it was replaced at Calvary by the blood of the perfect lamb, the perfect sacrifice, and this blood is for everyone! How can we ignore their wailing, their cries for help? Better we roll up the sleeves of our dinner dress, seek out the lost and bring them to the table. Maître d’? Table for….all!

Moving Forward: With a soft heart this day, I listen for the wail, the cry of the lost, and invite them to come and dine with me.

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 26-31

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