Obedience


Jonah (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He shows mercy to us through the hard things of life

My friend had a dog that loved to play hide and seek.  When he was told to go hide, he ran to the nearest rug or blanket and stuck his head under it.  I guess his logic was if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Jonah reminds me of that dog.  Did he really think that hiding out in the bottom of a boat at sea would prevent God from seeing him?  Surely Jonah was smarter than that!  As the saying goes, “You can run, but you cannot hide.”

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing, and for Jonah, preaching a message of redemption to the evil Assyrians was a hard thing because he really didn’t care about their souls.  However, God did care for them, and the Book of Jonah is full of God’s mercy.  God was merciful to the Assyrians despite their evil deeds and sent Jonah to minister to them, and God was merciful to Jonah in his utter disobedience.  God could have allowed the sea to become his grave; but instead, He provided a lesson, a discipline to help turn Jonah’s heart.

After three days of inhaling fish innards, Jonah evidently decided a trip to Nineveh sounded pretty good. “I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows.  For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (2:9)  God has a way of getting our attention and letting us know that He sees us with our head under the carpet.  In His mercy, He accepted Jonah’s repentance, “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.”  Although he must have smelled like the inside of a sardine can, Jonah was alive, submitted and on his way to Nineveh.

God could have sent another prophet to Nineveh, but then Jonah would not have experienced first-hand God’s incredible mercy.  He had additional lessons to learn about pride, selfishness and most importantly about God’s love for all people.  When God asks us to do the hard thing, the thing that rubs us the wrong way or the thing that we dread, we can learn from the Jonah experience.

We can’t outrun Him or outwit Him as Jonah proved to us.  In our submission to Him, we will move past the prejudice or hatred or whatever it is that is making it a hard thing to do. In this perfecting of us, God will also touch the lives of others through it.

Moving Forward: I can accept whatever difficult task He has for me today with the knowledge that He perfecting me as well as touching others through it. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 3-4

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 exceptionally 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 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 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

Numbers 17-20 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides direction through our challenges.

Many great men in history whose exploits affected the destiny of millions found themselves at one time or another in dismal circumstances – George Washington experienced his Valley Forge, Napoleon met his Waterloo and Custer faced his last stand.  Without a doubt, the decisions we make when faced with a challenging situation will affect our future.  Just assuredly, discouragement, pride or anger will alter our desired response to our challenges.  In today’s reading, we find Moses at his Meribah. 

@Numbers 20
Moses had led the Israelites for almost 38 years after the scouts returned with their faithless report from their venture into Canaan. God had promised that those faithless Israelites would not enter the Canaan because of their doubt and only a few remained. Unfortunately, their offspring had inherited and mastered the art of grumbling and complaining.  Poised once again outside of Canaan in Kadesh at a place called Meribah, they complained to Moses, “Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” (5)  Moses met his Meribah.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water.’” So Moses responded, “‘Listen, you rebels!’ he shouted, ‘Must we bring you water from this rock?’ Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out.” (7-11)  Moses spoke to the people instead of to the rock and struck the rock instead of speaking to it! Oh, Moses.

After 40 years, I’m fairly certain that an angry, disgusted Moses wanted to strike the grumbling people, but instead, he took it out on the rock.  God’s response was, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” (12) So sad.

Why do we sometimes feel the need to help the Lord out or assist the Holy Spirit with our own input, going beyond what He has directed us to do?  As with Moses, it always ends badly for me too.   When a situation angers us, it’s easy to go running at the mouth about it, shouting at others, “Listen, you rebels!” but God wants us to speak His Word in faith to the problem.

Sometimes we are tempted to draw attention to the small part we play in a solution that really only God can solve, “Must we bring you water?”  Moses and Aaron were tools in the hand of God to bring about the miracle of water coming from a cold, hard rock. They, of course, didn’t bring water out of anything.  May we never be so bold to take credit for what God has done.

God’s punishment to such a faithful and humble servant as Moses seems harsh, but this simple act of disobedience was far-reaching, even to us today.  We read in I Corinthians 10:4 that Paul considered that rock to be a representation of Christ.  Moses had already struck the rock to bring forth water at Rephidim, so to strike the rock again would imply that Christ’s death at Calvary, once crucified, was not enough.  Not good.  Our responses to the challenges we face may influence others in ways we can’t imagine.

Paul challenges us in verses 12-13 in that same chapter with these words of caution, “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 would think Moses, of all people, would have been one with sure footing, standing strong.  If someone like Moses can fail, it’s possible for us to fail as well.

God has offered us a way out of our challenging situations if we turn to Him for guidance and follow both His example in the Word and His leading in our hearts.  And of course, He really doesn’t need our two cents worth. 

Moving Forward:  Lord, may I follow your dictates today through any challenges I face, always certain that You receive all the glory for the victory. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 25-29

I Chronicles 20-24 (NLT) 

Discover His Heart:  He desires our complete trust in Him

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze…” (G. Leybourne)  When I was a young child, the Shrine Circus came to the Minneapolis auditorium every year, and it was a really big deal for me.  Clowns and jugglers, elephants and tigers filled our eyes with excitement and courageous acts, but none of these were as death-defying as those daring young men and women on the flying trapeze.  The flyers that impressed me the most were those few who worked without a net, soaring high above the crowd and trusting only in skill and precision.  I’m fairly certain that I held my breath throughout the performance.  What trust!  In our reading today, David learned a painful lesson about trusting God and flying without a net. 

@ 1 Chronicles 21
“Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel. So David said to Joab…‘Take a census of all the people of Israel…and bring me a report so I may know how many there are.’ But Joab replied…‘Why, my lord the king, do you want to do this? Are they not all your servants?  Why must you cause Israel to sin?’ But the king insisted that they take the census.” (1-4)

What was so evil about taking a census?  After all, Moses numbered the people.  The census in Numbers 1 was not offensive to God because its purpose was to inform Moses of the size of his army, but the purpose for the census that David requested was for him to take pride and put trust in the size of his army.  It seems to be human nature to trust God when He is all we have; but when His goodness produces armies, wealth and fame or just about anything meaningful to us, they often become the object of our trust.  Obviously, this doesn’t please the Lord.  “God was very displeased with the census, and He punished Israel for it.” (7)

One of the many problems with trusting in our nets is that when the net is taken away – the job is lost, the relationship ends or the home is gone – where, then, do we place our trust?  The army was not David’s assurance of victory, God was His victory.  For someone who took down a giant with a stone and a slingshot, this was definitely a detour.  David was a great warrior, but he was human just like us, always looking for that safety net.  Fortunately, David knew how to respond to God’s displeasure.

“Then David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt for doing this foolish thing…I am the one who called for the census! I am the one who has sinned and done wrong!’” (8,17)  It was a repentant heart that took David from his numerous failures and sins to soar as the leader that God loved most.  So sincere he was in his remorse that he would not offer his sacrifice of repentance on an altar that did not cost him something.

David replied to a generous offer from Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it for the full price. I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing!” (24)  When we give to God something that belongs to someone else, it’s really not a gift from us.  It’s a gift from someone else. There was a cost involved because of David’s disobedience, but God stopped the punishment from the angel’s sword when David repented. I don’t want anyone to suffer because of my lack of trust in God, but if I fail, I know how to respond.

When Satan comes around and tempts us to place our trust and security in a paycheck or a relationship or anything temporal, our best response is to put our trust in the Source rather than in the provision. In our trusting, like the daring young man with the greatest of ease, we will keep flying without a net. 

Moving Forward:  Trusting the One who keeps me soaring today. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 105-107

I Chronicles 15-19 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: His response to our request is always what is best for us

No one likes being told “No, you can’t have that” or “No, you can’t do that,” etc.  I’ve been told that when I was really young, I wasn’t a child who whined or sobbed when told no.  I was a pouter.  Ugh.  That lower lip would fall to the floor, and, you know, it’s very difficult to smile when one’s lip is on the ground.  However, my mom had a way of putting a smile on my face even in my moments of disappointment.  She would look at me and say, “I’ll smile if you’ll smile,” and then she would give me a hopeful little smile.  Sometimes it took more than one smile on her part, but eventually, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh.  In our reading today, David heard no from God but praised Him anyway. 

@ I Chronicles 17
David had a brilliant idea.  He wanted to build a beautiful temple for the Lord.  I’m sure his hopes of accomplishing this were high when the prophet Nathan said to go for it. (2)  However, Nathan returned to David after hearing from the Lord with a definite no to David’s idea.  We love it when God says yes to us, or we submit to His wait, but when He says no, we are wise to accept His will as well.

Because God is so very gracious even when He answers with a negative response, He threw in His own version of I’ll smile if you smile at David. “I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.” (11-14)  Now a proclamation like that would put a smile on any father’s face.  Even though many of David’s descendants failed in their love for God, a descendant was coming to redeem the world, Christ Jesus, and His throne will be secure forever.

Even in the face of disappointment, David was immediately humbled by God’s smile in the midst of a no.  “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, O God, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty! You speak as though I were someone very great, O Lord God!…O Lord, there is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you!”(16-17,20)  David’s response to God is filled with praise and worship – a big smile for God!

Sometimes God’s answer to our prayer is no, and we may be tempted to whine, cry or pout.  A much better response is to follow David’s example and believe that God knows what is best and has a better plan, whether He expresses that plan at the time or not.  The very thought that my God loves me and is concerned enough about my welfare to say no at times humbles me to my knees.  I cry, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”  And that makes me smile!

Moving Forward: Throughout my prayers today, I will smile with confidence because I know He has my best interests at heart. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 102-104

John 5-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: The One who lives in us will do His work through us

Copycat has never really been considered a term of endearment.  It denotes someone who lacks imagination or independence to the point of copying what others do instead of being original.  An impersonator, on the other hand, is someone who takes that copying to the point of making it difficult to know what is real and what is Memorex.   As the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  Then, there are those who imitate someone else out of sheer respect and admiration, even to the point of adoration – for me, that someone would be Jesus.

@ John 5
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (19) Jesus was not a copycat, an impersonator nor a flatterer. No, He was in unity with the Father to the point that it was impossible for Him to do anything else but what the Father did.  He only did what He saw the Father do which lets us know that He was watching the Father’s actions.

“What would Jesus do?” was a popular slogan a few years ago.  We saw bracelets, bumper stickers and t-shirts, but it’s so much more than a slogan to be worn.  A true heart that follows Jesus does so out of adoration and love to the point that it seems impossible to do anything but what He does.  Unlike Jesus, we fail on occasion, but our hearts seek to have unity with Him equal to the unity He has with the Father.  In any given situation when the opportunity is there to fail, we can ask with a sincere heart, “What would Jesus do?” By seeing what He did in scripture, we have a pattern to follow.

How incredible it would be to imitate Him to the point that others would see only Jesus in us.  How incredible it would be to do the works that He did while on earth. Well, actually we can.  “The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:10-12)

Greater works!  It doesn’t matter to me if I’m called a copycat, an impersonator or a flatterer.  I’m going to follow hard after the Lord and do what He does.  Maybe one day someone will find me to be someone very much like Him…be still my heart. 

Moving Forward:  My song today, “I want to be more like you, Jesus.  I want to be more like you. I want to be a vessel that you work through…” (C. Brown) 

Tomorrow @ I Timothy 4-6

2 Kings 11-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He sees our good deeds but rewards our strong and faithful finish

As somewhat of an overachiever in school, my dismay at discovering an Incomplete for one of my college grades one semester was huge.  How did it happen?  This was unacceptable!  After an investigation, I found that someone, a professor who will remain nameless, had lost my final term paper, leaving my classroom work unfinished, incomplete, undone.   Of course, as dramatic as this was for me, it pales in comparison to, say, Schubert’s The Unfinished Symphony, or Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales.  However, my term paper eventually was recovered, and I received the grade I desired.  And these two gentlemen? Well, let’s just say that they have some work left to do.

Today we read about a number of other men who failed to complete the task they had started, and the repercussions were much more impacting than incomplete grades, symphonies and novels.  The kings of Judah, namely Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah and Jotham, started their reigns on the right track but didn’t finish strong, “Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…Yet even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.” (12:2-3)  This was said about each of these kings.  Many of them accomplished good things for Israel but did not complete the work that needed to be done as their forefather David had done in removing the occult places of worship and sacrifice.  Why didn’t they finish the job, complete the task, do the deed?

As for Joash, he became king at the ripe age of 7.  The priest, Jehoiada, influenced much of Joash’s early years, including the repairing of the temple.  Perhaps they felt that with the temple once again a beautiful house of worship, the Israelites would soon forget about the pagan shrines, but it didn’t happen.  It would have been wiser destroying the sin rather than ignoring it with the hope that it would just go away.  When we don’t deal with sin, it somehow manages to rear its ugly head somewhere down the line.  Eventually, Joash worshipped at the shrines himself.  Ugh.

Popularity may have been an issue for the kings.  The Israelites loved their pagan shrines and the immoral festivities that took place around them, and certainly any king who destroyed them would suffer drastically in the polls.  However, I would think these kings would have preferred unpopularity over the murder and disease that finally took them. The story could have ended differently for these leaders had they completed their tasks and finished strong.

Rather than accomplishing just a few good things in my life and then falling off the wagon because of sin or seeking popularity instead of godliness, I’m challenged to finish strong for Him.  I want to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7)  No more incompletes for me! 

Moving Forward: May I remain faithful to Him, not only finishing the job but finishing strong! 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 84-86

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