Obedience


Jeremiah 32-36 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He will not easily let go of us and rewards our commitment to stay

Because I went to a small college and knew my fellow students reasonably well, the first day of each school term was somewhat revealing as to how challenging our classes would be.  After we filed into each of our classes, we would look around the room for the curve wreckers – those students that we knew would ace the tests and raise the grading curve for all the other students.  In our reading, Jeremiah, too, was looking in his day for those who would set the standard high and follow after God. 

@ Jeremiah 33
While Babylon was laying siege to the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah received these words of promise from the Lord, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come…You expect to fight the Babylonians, but the men of this city are already as good as dead…Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace…I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.  He will do what is just and right throughout the land…I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant…Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.” (3-26)

This message to Jeremiah reveals the heart of our Lord.  He desires that we ask Him when we need direction for our lives.  In our asking, we are humbly saying that we cannot figure this out on our own and that we are dependent on Him for His help, and He responds to our submission to Him. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” (Matthew 7:7)

The “righteous descendant from King David’s line” is yet another Old Testament prophetic promise about Jesus.  Although Israel would face dark times, God had not given up on His special treasure, and He had a plan to redeem them.  Even still, the Israelites rejected the first coming of Jesus, but these scriptures foretell of His second coming where His throne will be forever established in Jerusalem.

Israel’s existence today is proof that He has not given up on His chosen ones. As adoptees into this family, it is our assurance as well that He will not give up on us.  He will send Jeremiahs into our lives to call us back to Him if we stray, and as with Israel, He will not let us slip away without great effort to keep us.  Oh, how He loves us! 

@ Jeremiah 35
Oh, those Recabites! They were the curve wreckers of their day.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)  For over 200 years, this Nomadic group had followed their ancestor’s special vow of dedication to God to not drink wine, to not buy land and to not plant crops.  Because Israel had trouble keeping a commitment to God for two minutes, much less 200 years, God brought the Recabites before the Israelites as an example of steadfast devotion to Him.  “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me…Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.” (13,19)  As with the Recabites, I pray that my commitment to the Lord will be so evident that it is imprinted on the hearts of my children and my children’s children.

Today I have learned a lesson about how to obey Him. I am challenged to listen to the Jeremiahs of my generation even though their messages don’t always bring warm fuzzies to my heart.  Their messages from God are given to save me, protect me and keep me so that one day I will worship before God’s very throne in Heaven.  I’m challenged to be a curve wrecker in my generation, setting the bar high and keeping strong my commitment to follow the Lord in obedience.   If I do this, I believe He has promised that I will always have descendants who serve the Lord! 

Moving Forward: I move forward today so very thankful that He has not given up on me.  I pray that I will always have descendants who follow the Lord, and may they be the curve wreckers of their generation! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 1-2

Exodus 17-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He considers us His special treasures

No visit to London is complete without a visit to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels of England, an interesting location for them to say the least.  The lower floors of the Tower display various methods of torture used in England’s history, and all I can say is that crime and punishment were taken very seriously in early England.  Help!

The Tower’s Jewel House, under seriously armed guard I might add, displays centuries of priceless crowns and jewels viewed by millions of people each year.  At first, I wondered why the royal family would take the risk to display their fortune, but when I considered the price I paid for my ticket to see the jewels, it all came together for me.  I appreciate, however, that they have chosen to display their treasure for the entire world to see.  And really, God has this same perspective about His special treasure. 

@ Exodus 17
Israel defeated the Amalekites!  What a great story from Israeli history.  The Amalekites were the evil descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau.  Although they were from the same bloodline as the Israelites, there was not a bond of brotherhood.  I call them evil because it was said of them that they killed purely for the pleasure of it, but their contest with the Israelites brought them no pleasure.  Due to Joshua’s leadership and to loyal staff who stood by Moses’ side, they were soundly defeated.

I’m always blessed when I read this excellent example of the role of under staff.  Moses climbed to the top of a hill to see the battle for himself, but it was equally crucial for the warriors to see their leader.  I can imagine looking up and seeing the silhouette of my leader holding high his staff over his head like a banner, Jehovah Nissi, the Lord is my banner.  Alongside him, I see his assistants, not jealous or lazy, not arguing or bored, but holding up their leader’s tired arms until the victory was won.  Oh, I like that!  Leadership has a heaviness to it that few understand, and those who support the leader ease the burden and enable the banner or standard to remain lifted until the victory is won. 

@ Exodus 19
“Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among the people on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.  And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” (5-6)  What a tremendous message of promise from God that Moses delivered to the Israelites that day!  God’s own special treasure!  But God’s desire was not to hide His treasure in safekeeping as we sometimes do with our treasures.  No, God’s plan was for His treasure to be a testimony of His love and greatness for the whole world to see, drawing everyone to Him.

In every covenant or contract there always seems to be an if clause and God included His if clause, “Now, if you obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure.”(5)  God knew what it would take to make and keep this strong-willed nation worthy of such a covenant, and He gave Moses a list of practical guidelines laid out over the next several chapters for the Israelites to follow.  More instructions were revealed over time, each attempting to bring holiness to His treasure.  Of course, after centuries of resistance, God finally had enough and personally came to His people through His son Jesus Christ.  The if clause was no longer just a list of guidelines to follow, but it was now a personal Savior to accept and follow.

It humbles me to think that through my adoption into this family (Romans 8:15), God considers me His own special treasure as well.  This is cause to jump for joy and/or fall on my knees!  I am, however, ever mindful of the if clause.  While no longer required to follow the endless regiment of laws found in Exodus, I am duly challenged to a life of holiness as I follow Jesus.  Then I, too, will be a testimony of His love and greatness for the whole world to see, drawing everyone to Him – His treasure. 

Moving Forward: As His special treasure, I am compelled to support the leaders I serve, making certain our victory.  And as His treasure, I seek the brilliance of His holiness today in my life that I may draw many others to Him 

Tomorrow @ 2 Samuel 5-9

I Samuel 16-20 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He looks at our hearts to determine our role in His kingdom

I was recently at a party and spent much of the night eyeing a delicious-looking cake on the food table. Artfully crafted with gooey chocolate buttercream frosting and gorgeous sugar glazed strawberries adorning it, the cake seemed to be beckoning me throughout the meal.  I was really looking forward to dessert time. Finally, the cake was cut, and we casually made our way to the dessert table. After all, this wasn’t a sale at a bargain basement, and some decorum was expected.

Disappointment is just too generic of a term to describe how I felt after taking my first bite, but of course, devastated is just too dramatic. The buttercream wasn’t butter, and I’m almost certain the cake had freezer burn…dry and tasteless. A single strawberry saved the day! Once again I was reminded that we just can’t judge a book by its cover. I would imagine this is somewhat the point the prophet Samuel was making when he chose the next king of Israel, but with a more eternal illustration.

@ I Samuel 16
When [Jesse’s sons] arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, ‘Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (6-7) While the baker was able to fool me by the outward appearance of a cake, God is never fooled by how we look on the outside. He is able to look past what man is able to see right through to the heart of the matter, and with David, God saw pure gold.

“Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse replied. ‘But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.’ ‘Send for him at once,’ Samuel said…So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, ‘This is the one; anoint him.’”(11-12) In light of God’s previous statement, David could easily have been ugly, but he was handsome as well. However, God’s anointing on David had nothing to do with his appearance.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that if we were more attractive, more charismatic or more irresistible, then we could be more used by God, but that is how man looks at things. David and also Moses were both trained and equipped for service to the Lord because of what God saw in their hearts.

No doubt the long hours spent in the pastures as a shepherd sharpened David’s musical skills as he played the lute and harp to where he would one day play in King Saul’s court. No doubt David’s commitment to protecting the flock against the animals of prey made him strong, agile and a sharpshooter who was trained to take down a giant. No doubt David’s faithful care for his father’s sheep at any cost prepared him to lead the great nation of Israel.

None of this had anything to do with David’s appearance but had everything to do with his heart. “But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’” (Acts 13:22/I Samuel 13:14) God’s choice of David to lead His people was all about David’s heart of obedience to God, and as we read last Tuesday, obedience is more beautiful to the Lord than anything else

Yes, in consideration of others, every day I do a face-check before the mirror, enhancing as best I can, but every day I also do a heart-check before the Lord. I ask the Lord to purify my heart of anything I have allowed to taint it, those little things that over time will change the condition of my heart. I surrender my heart and life to Him to be used however He pleases. I don’t want to just look my best on the outside – I want a heart that looks like His heart.

Moving Forward: Once again, Lord, purify my heart, make me a pure reflection of who you are and then anoint me for your service.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 39-41

I Corinthians 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He asks that we remember His death

Every culture in the world has its holidays and remembrances, occasions that are celebrated and honored with gatherings, food and gifts. Beyond the ten major holidays we observe in the United States, it seems we are always celebrating someone’s birthday or anniversary where we set aside time to honor an individual or couple, remembering their special day.

When my family celebrates the birthdays of our children, I love to refresh everyone’s memory of the events that took place on the day of their birth. I especially enjoy sharing all the facets of our son’s birth, embarrassing little details for him. I’m not certain why I do this, but the word payback comes to mind – it was a difficult delivery. Regardless, our moments together as we remember and celebrate are filled with much laughter, joy and often sweet tears. Another day we frequently remember and honor is a day that entirely changed our lives.

@ I Corinthians 11
“For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.’”(23-25)

These are familiar words to those who observe the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we most often refer to it, and observe we should! We may struggle with knowing what God desires for us to do at certain times in our lives, but there is one thing we know for certain that He wants us to do and that is to remember, honor and give pause to what He did for us on the cross. “Do this,” He said, and even if we don’t know one other observance that He desires from us, we know to do this. Sometimes He observes our faithfulness in the things we know to do before He reveals the unknown.

As a child, I don’t remember a single Communion Service where I didn’t look over to see my mom’s face moistened by tears of gratitude and love as she remembered what Jesus did for her, transforming her from death unto life. My response is much the same, always humbled by His willingness to suffer the cross for me. “With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (Hebrews 9:12) And when I remember this, I am forever humbled to tears by His grace.

“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (26) Our participation in Communion is even more than remembrance – it is our confession, each and every time, of our involvement in the new covenant, the new testament or testimony of what Christ has done for us. In a Communion Service, we are testifying to everyone present of our commitment to Him as we eat the symbols that represent His body and blood.

How appropriate that this sacred celebration would be shared with others until He comes again. One day we will gather at another Supper with the very One we have remembered through Communion, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelations 19:7,9) Oh, what a celebration!

Moving Forward: Today I look forward to my next opportunity to do this, to remember His death, His body and His blood, and what they mean to me through Communion. Whether gathering with believers or at home with my family, I will remember…

Tomorrow @ Exodus 1-4

I Samuel 11-15 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires our obedience more than our sacrifice

The human will is a powerful drive. It keeps us moving forward and helps us accomplish good and sometimes great things. We see it in the very young when their will clashes with our will, perhaps as a little foot stomp of defiance. When left unchecked, a teenager often expresses this rebellion with door slamming, outbursts, and things can get ugly. From a very early age, my children more than once heard me repeat the scripture from today’s reading, “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,” and this was followed by an explanation of witchcraft. Their tender hearts really didn’t want to be a part of such a thing, and, thankfully, they avoided the rebellion that many teenagers allow to disrupt their young lives. Unfortunately, King Saul just didn’t get it.

@ I Samuel 15
In response to the Israelites’ demand for a king to rule over them, Samuel, under God’s direction, anointed the tall, handsome Saul to lead His people. I envision the mother’s of Israel tucking their children in at night with the assurance that all would be well because they now had a king to rule over them. Sadly, nothing was further from the truth.

“Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.’” (10) The first several months of King Saul’s reign were a disaster. In less than two years, Saul had managed to: usurp the role of priest by sacrificing a burnt offering to the Lord (13:8-14), starve his army so they did not have the strength to fight the Philistines (14:24-26), threaten killing his son because of his senseless oath (14:42-45) and disobey God’s direct orders to kill all the Amalekites (1-9). Saul certainly had been a busy king.

Saul’s disobedience led God to reject him as king and make His statement to Samuel in verse 10. When Samuel went to Saul with a heavy heart over God’s news, Saul did his best to cover his tracks and even lied to cover up his disobedience with the Amalekites – as if he could fool God. Saul argued, “I did obey…I carried out…I destroyed…” and I sacrificed. (20-21) But to this Samuel replied with a valuable lesson for all of us, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” (22-23) And with that, Saul was rejected as king by God.

God did not include this story and others like them in the Bible to tattletale on His people. No, He included them as life lessons for us today. We may faithfully attend church, joyously sing a sacrifice of praise to Him, give to the poor and run ourselves ragged by serving on committees and doing good works.  However, if we are walking in disobedience to His voice, if we are doing all this instead of obeying Him in any area, our actions mean little to Him. In fact, He considers our rebellion and disobedience as sinful as something we would never do – witchcraft!

According to Jesus, the very beginning of our obedience is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31) If we spend more time with television, social networking or computer games than we spend meditating on Him, reading His word and praying, does He really honor and receive our sacrifice of time or money in our doing for Him? If we harbor hatred or unforgiveness towards someone, does He really honor and accept the sacrifices we make for Him? In light of I Samuel 15:22, whether or not they make us feel good, these are questions we should answer.

Moving Forward: As a New Testament believer, I’m thankful for the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that leads me to obedience. I want my sacrifice of praise today to reach God’s throne and please Him.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 36-38

I Samuel 6-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He longs to be the King of our lives

I find television commercials to be annoying most of the time.  Usually louder than regular programming, they are meant to get our attention and entice us to buy, buy, buy or sell, sell, sell.  My seven-year-old granddaughter watches very little television, but even at that, she wants to know from the start of a recorded program where to find the fast forward button on the  TV clicker because she doesn’t like commercials either.

The commercials that intrigue me, however, are those that advertise various medicines.  After touting all the wonderful ways they will make our lives better, they are required to tag on all the risks and complications that can occur from using the products.  A favorite line is, “Use of this product may result in death in some cases.”  Well, I certainly want to get me some of that!  It’s hard to believe, but these medicines flourish in the market today. Even knowing all the complications and risks involved in something, we still seek out what isn’t the best for us at times, and sometimes God feels compelled to give it to us. 

@ I Samuel 8
In Samuel’s later years, the elders of Israel met with him and made a request, ‘Look,’ they told him, ‘you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.’  Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. ‘Do everything they say to you,’ the Lord replied, ‘for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.’ (5-7) The words at the end of this passage make my heart hurt, and they serve as a glimpse into the heart of the Father.  How it must sadden the Lord when we don’t allow Him to reign as King in our lives.

Wanting to make sure that the Israelites understood the complications involved in having a king, “This is how a king will reign over you,’ Samuel said. ‘The king will draft your sons…some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops…The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook…take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves…take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest…take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle…demand a tenth of your flocks…you will be his slaves.’” (11-17)  What a deal!  In my assessment, the taxes alone should have given them pause; but no, they still wanted a king like all the other nations.

For the next several generations, Israel took its medicine, so to speak, and it didn’t go down very well.  Of the dozens of kings in Judah and Israel, only a handful served the Lord and led the people in righteousness.  Throughout their history, when God gave the Israelites what they demanded rather than His best for them, the end result was this, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalm 106:15)  Leanness, in this sense, was a wasting disease of the soul. Help!

In that case, I want a fat, fat soul, one that is surrendered and so full of Him that I can’t help but share it with others.  I want a fatness that comes only through my total obedience to His will, desiring His best for me rather than demanding what I think is my best.  Furthermore, I choose Him as King, regardless of the many kings this world has to offer today.  I don’t want any king of this world binding me up, taking my resources, my heritage and my freedom – who needs the complications and risks when we can serve the King of Kings. 

Moving Forward: I was reminded of this old song recently when I heard Faith Hill sing, “All to Jesus, I surrender; All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live…I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”   Surrendered to Him and fat in soul! 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 33-35

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

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