Genesis 40-43 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He takes us through the fire to bring humility to our hearts

Unless gluten intolerance is a problem, whole wheat bread products are considered to be good for us  I do my best to avoid what many believe to be the enemy of healthy nutrition, that being all things white – rice, flour, potatoes.  However, there’s nothing like the crusty white bread that waiters at Italian restaurants place right in front of my Italian nose. I sometimes go ahead and indulge with the understanding that anything soaked in olive oil must be good for me.  In reality, I know this isn’t exactly true, but at that moment, it works for me.  Life is good.

I’ve learned to replicate this delicious bread at home, crusty on the outside, warm and tender on the inside, by placing an uncut loaf of bread on the oven rack at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  In all fairness, I will admit that most whole grain loaves of bread work just as well.  The bread comes out of the oven firm and crusty on the outside, but because of the steam that develops in it, it’s warm and tender on the inside.  It takes some heat to get it to this point, but it is well worth the effort.  Sometimes it takes a little time under the fire to make us tender on the inside as well.  After time spent in the heat, Joseph appeared hard and crusty on the outside, but on the inside, he was warm and tender.

Sold as a slave and imprisoned when just a teenage boy, Joseph spent 13 years being processed by the Lord, under the heat if you will, to become the second in command of all of Egypt at the age of 30.  This would be a heady position for anyone, but after coming through the fire as he did, Joseph was humble with a servant’s heart.  Through His process, Joseph was transformed from a proud, arrogant young man to a humble servant of God, but the acid test for him was at the meeting of his older brothers. 

@ Genesis 42
“Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph recognized his brothers instantly, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where are you from?’ he demanded.” (6-7)  Well, Joseph certainly appeared crusty on the outside!  But after Joseph heard their regrets over their past sins regarding him, “He turned away from them and began to weep. When he regained his composure, he spoke to them again.” (24)  Joseph – tender on the inside.

 This is when an unchanged man would have jumped up and said in retaliation, “Ah ha!  I have you now!  Prison for you!”  But not Joseph.  Joseph wept.  Of all the examples in the Bible of mercy and grace, for me, the story of Joseph is second only to that of Jesus. Because of Joseph’s heart, the family of Jacob was saved from starvation and grew to be the mighty nation of Israel.

When we respond with a heart of restoration rather than one of retaliation towards those who have hurt us, we are living proof of a changed heart.  Sometimes events in our lives may toughen up our skin a little, and that’s not always bad, but if our hearts remain soft and pliable towards others, we will be motivated to restore relationships rather than destroy them. This is when God knows He can use us for a greater purpose in His Kingdom as He did with Joseph.  Peter said it this way, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.” (I Peter 5:6) 

Moving Forward: My prayer today – Lord, keep me warm and tender on the inside, always seeking to bring healing and restoration in every situation. 

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 1-5

Job 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He put up security for our redemption

I have a friend who is a bail bondsman.  Being the gentleman that he is, he has never gone into great detail about his work, but needless to say, it is not a typical nine to five job.  When a defendant is in jail on criminal charges and desires to be released until trial, a hefty fee or bail is required as a deposit to ensure that the defendant will not skip town.  When the defendant is unable to pay this deposit and family and friends refuse to do so, a bondsman is contacted to pay the bail and serve as a guarantor that the defendant will appear in court.

It’s a risky business and some defendants jump bail, leaving the bondsman holding the debt, and we can understand why he or she tracks down the defendant. After all, the bail has already been paid! Poor Job understood this practice and was looking for a bondsman to free him from his jail of affliction and suffering.  Job was looking for his get out of jail free card. 

@Job 17
“Give me, O God, the pledge you demand.  Who else will put up security for me?” (3, NIV)  Job called on God to act as his guarantor, to pay what was necessary to free him from his miserable situation.  Who else will put up security for me? We certainly know that it wouldn’t be his friends who had already tried and convicted him, case closed.

While God abundantly blessed Job over the next many years, Job’s cry for a bondsman, for the everlasting bondsman, was answered some 2000 years later when Someone paid Job’s bail, not with money but with His very blood, Job’s guarantor. “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time.” (Romans 3:25-26)  Amazing!

This reminds me of the old song, “He paid a debt he did not owe.  I owed a debt I could not pay.  I needed someone, to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song ‘Amazing Grace.’  Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.” (G. McSpadden) These words sum up the freedom Jesus gave us at Calvary – we’re out on bail awaiting eternal judgment where the Judge will declare innocent all those who have received Jesus’ payment.

However, not everyone has honored Christ’s generous payment – there are so many bail jumpers. Just like the bondsman for the courts, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)  Some would say it was risky business sending His Son to die for us, and we can understand why God has sent us to round up those who are running from their day in court.  Don’t they understand that the debt has been paid for them?   “And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation…We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)  My heart cries with Paul, “Come back to God.” 

Moving Forward: I can never thank the Lord enough for taking a chance on me!  I will, at the very least, help Him capture with His love all those who are running from Him. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 45-50

I Corinthians 1-2 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He longs to share His wisdom and deep secrets with us

My husband recently purchased a Kindle for me, a nifty little electronic book that is less than one-fourth of an inch thick yet holds an entire library of reading.  I must admit that I love the feel and weight of tangible books, flipping through those pages and smelling the ink; but at the time of purchase, the Kindle was ideal for my travel.  It was a used Kindle, so after reading through the manual, I deleted most of the previous library, not really interested in Sci-Fi and horror.

My mind was having trouble getting around the concept of adding books to this little device because surely the process would be complicated and filled with technical lingo.  To my amazement, in two or three clicks, using very familiar terms to me like purchase and select, my new book was there on my Kindle in black and white.  I did my best to make the process more complicated than it really was because sometimes it’s difficult to accept that something of worth could be so simple to attain.  Paul wrote about this very thing in our reading today. 

@ I Corinthians 1
“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.” (21-23)

The Gospel is uncomplicated:  John 3:16 – God loved, God gave.  We believe, we receive.  For the intellectuals who were the Greek philosophers of Paul’s day, this message was foolish and too simple to be true.  For those with a religious background, the Jews, this message was foolish and too simple to be of value.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  So many neighbors and acquaintances through the years have looked down their long intellectual noses as I’ve shared the simple Gospel with them, and many religious people, those who have been christened or confirmed or catechismed, have no need for the truth I am sharing.  Yet, if they will accept this simple Gospel, a door to wisdom will open for them that is so deep that only the Spirit can reveal its truths. 

@ I Corinthians 2
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.  For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.” (9-10) The Gospel of salvation may be simple, but God’s deep secrets will never be understood without it.

With salvation come the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, and the ability to understand God’s Word and the secrets it contains.  “And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.” (12)

We will never understand all the mysteries and depths of God’s wisdom while here on earth, but those recorded in the Bible, at the very least, are available to us through His Spirit – His love for us, His intentions, and His direction. Isn’t that what the early Greeks and Jews were seeking in all their philosophical debates and teachings?  Isn’t that what people everywhere today are seeking?  Love, purpose and direction?  And it all begins with acceptance of the simple Gospel – God loved, God gave. We believe, we receive.   Simple but priceless. 

Moving Forward: I will continue to seek out through the Spirit the revelation of His wisdom, the mind of Christ.  And I will continue sharing the simple Gospel, undaunted by the intellectuals and religious, and finding those hearts that desire to learn God’s deep secrets. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 32-35

Matthew 20-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is mercy and grace

My first real job out of high school was working in the stenographer’s pool at a large bank while I attended college.  Different departments throughout the bank called the steno pool when they needed someone to take dictation, do filing, answer phones, etc.  The goal of everyone in the pool was to eventually find a permanent position somewhere in the bank.

One employee who had worked there for a long time was a source of irritation for most of us as we waited for our escape because of her poor work ethic.  On occasion, I thought how great it would be to file my nails, make personal phone calls or in my case do homework while on company time.  It seemed unfair that she was paid for 40 hours each week like the rest of us, but for some reason a measure of grace and mercy was given to her. This was bothersome to us because, in the natural, we don’t want grace for others as much as we want justice!  Thankfully, we’re not God. 

@Matthew 20
In Matthew 20, Jesus shared a parable about grace and mercy, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.” (1-2)  Normal pay for a normal day sounds reasonable.  Throughout the day the landowner added workers, even up to the final hour of the workday, and a conflict arose when their pay was divvied out.

“When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’” (10-12)  I feel their pain. I’ve heard these simple definitions of mercy and grace:  Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve; grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.  Matthew 20:1-16 is all over this.

In the same way, it may seem unfair that someone with a death-bed conversion to Christ who lived a pleasure-filled godless life will spend eternity in Heaven with God and with all those who lived submitted and obedient lives to Him. But it is really unfair?  Would any of us be so bold as to say we deserve eternity in Heaven because of our righteousness?  That any of us will spend eternity with the Lord is only because a righteous God spared us from what we deserved and gave us what we didn’t deserve through our acceptance of Jesus Christ – plain and simple.

As far as my co-worker from so long ago, one day I realized that she had missed the point.  She was still in the steno pool long after the rest of us had moved on to a better position in the bank.  Mercy kept her employed and grace kept her paycheck coming, but she missed out on all that she could have achieved and enjoyed along the way.

Those who come late in life to the Lord miss out on the abundant life He offers here on earth, and even more so, they miss out on the pleasure that comes from a lifetime of pursuing His purpose for them.  God is merciful, but waiting to come to Him does not secure the abundant life on earth He has offered us.

I am ever mindful that God has given each of us assignments to accomplish while we tread this sod, but our purpose, both on earth and in Heaven, is something much different.  He has given us life, our very next breath, for the purpose of fellowship and intimacy with Him. Obedience and self-denial may be our path to Him, but anything we surrender is insignificant compared to the pure pleasure of His company! 

Moving Forward:  I approach this day with a greater understanding and thankfulness for His mercy and grace on my life.  Before I accomplish the myriad of things I must do today, I first will pursue the pleasure of His company.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 1-2

Job 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sent a mediator to reconcile mankind to Him

When labor and management are in a dispute over wages or work conditions, the atmosphere can get tense and volatile.  Fortunately, individuals are brought to the table with the ability to negotiate the terms of a contract between the two parties to bring them together. These mediators are highly gifted in this arena and do their best work when they have the complete trust of both parties. The best mediators have the keen ability to make both sides feel as if they won – now that’s a talent.  In our reading today, Job was looking for someone who could do this very thing – Job was looking for a mediator. 

@ Job 9
“God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.  If only there were a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together.” (32-33)  Poor Job had presented to God his side of the conflict as best he could, but from his standpoint, negotiations for relief were going nowhere.  First of all, he couldn’t see God, “Yet when He comes near, I cannot see Him.  When He moves by, I do not see Him go.”(11)  Job did not have an experience to hold on to like Moses did where God’s presence was seen in a tangible way. Secondly, Job felt inadequate to talk with God, “So who am I that I should try to answer God or even reason with Him?”(14)  Job wanted a qualified mediator who was worthy to talk to God on his behalf, yet one who understood his pain.  It certainly would not be any of his so-called friends.

We, on the other hand, are privileged to have a top-notch, highly-qualified, personal mediator working 24/7 to negotiate with God on our behalf.  Our mediator lived tangibly on earth at one time and understands our pain, yet He lives in heaven and is seated right next to God – who better to mediate for us!

Our mediator’s great bargaining chip is that He was willing to die in order to bring both sides together, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ JesusHe gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” (1Timothy 2:5)  Talk about a win/win situation!  And Jesus still sits at the table, so to speak, mediating on our behalf should our communication with God break down, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins…” (1 John 2:1-2)

Job didn’t know that he was calling for the Mediator across the centuries of time who would one day come to bridge the gap between sinful man and a sinless God.  Of course, God was listening to Job’s lament, spared his life and blessed him abundantly. But it was Jesus who ultimately negotiated for Job’s eternal life and for all of us as well by His death and resurrection.  The work of the great Mediator made us worthy enough to one day see Him face to face and worship around His throne, and He’s still on the job!

Moving Forward:  I’m so thankful today that I don’t need to negotiate my way into heaven – Jesus did it all! 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 23-28

Romans 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He saves us through our acceptance of the risen Lord

The other day I was speeding down the busy aisles of the grocery store, trying to accomplish too much in a short period of time as usual.  The store was crowded because it was during those magic hours when teachers and employees flood the grocery stores on the way home from work.  I try to avoid the store and Starbucks during this time frame whenever possible, but there I was in the mix!

I was down to one last needed item and made the turn down the aisle to find a major traffic jam.  Boxes of pasta had fallen into the aisle and busy shoppers were either trying to turn their carts around to go another way or trying to go around them.  I slipped through the maze, picked up the boxes, shoved them on the shelves and happy shoppers sailed through.  To me, it’s just better to deal with the obstacle in the road when possible rather than trying to avoid it.  Unfortunately, the Jews in Paul’s day didn’t see it this way. 

@ Romans 9
“My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters…They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises.” (2-4)  Paul grieved over the lost people of Israel, people of promise, people of covenant, who failed to deal with the Rock in their path.

“The people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.  Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in Him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.” (31-32)  Of course, this great rock was Jesus.  The people of Israel were so focused on their traditions and law about who the Messiah was that when He came in the flesh, right in the middle of their world, they stumbled their way around Him.  When they finally dealt with Him, rather than accepting Him, they crucified Him. 

@ Romans 10
This response is not relegated only to Jews.  Everyone at one time or another will deal with the Great Rock in their path.  Many have their own set of traditions and laws about God’s acceptance – do good, go to church, serve their country and community – but they stumble over the One who truly makes us acceptable to God.

The message of acceptance is uniquely simple, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (9)  However, just like the people of Israel, individuals today find this message difficult to accept because it requires humility, giving Jesus the position of Lord in their lives, and it requires faith that Jesus, whom they have never seen, is the Son of God and rose from the dead.  They may stumble over these requirements, but eventually all will deal with this Rock.  Of course, this opportunity to accept the Lord is a mute point if they have never heard the message.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” (14-15)

The condition of our world and its lost souls often cause those who love the Lord to grieve just like Paul, but Paul didn’t sit around grieving.  He went, he wrote and he preached the good news of Jesus whether he was in church, in the marketplace or in prison.  We don’t know a lot about Paul’s physical features, but we do know that he surely had beautiful feet. 

Moving Forward:  I pray for beautiful feet today that will take me to tell someone about the Rock. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 16-19

Romans 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He made peace with us through His Son

When two nations are at odds with each other, the conflict will continue until some sort of an agreement can be reached to end it.  The two parties involved will send mediators to a peace summit where a peace agreement is signed and usually a celebration follows, everyone feeling the love and warm fuzzies.  However, most of us have observed through the years, especially in the Middle East, that this euphoric feeling of peace and safety is often short-lived because it was based on an agreement to be at peace and not a standing or position of peace. Signing an agreement is a good initiative and may make those involved feel good at the moment, but real peace is much more than a feeling.

@ Romans 5
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”(1)  Paul is not talking here about the peace of God, which I might add is one of the great blessings we receive in our walk with God, but he is talking about our peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us.

This is not a peace that comes and goes according to our feelings at the moment.  This peace is a standing or position of peace with God, and it comes with benefits as well, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” (2)

I appreciate that someone, and Paul of all people, placed some blame for the fall of mankind on Adam.  Eve has shouldered most of the blame for man’s separation from God, but Adam could have resisted that beguiling woman of his had he wanted to do so.  “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (18)

Because of Christ’s one act of righteousness, we are no longer in conflict and hostile with God.  We are at peace with God.  We are not only in agreement with Him, but in good standing with Him.  We are standing in a place of undeserved privilege where God shares His glory with us.

Our position of peace with God allows us to receive the peace of God and that is why Paul says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (3-5)

Sometimes reading the complexity of Romans makes my brain hurt, but I get this one.  God sent His Son, our mediator, to make possible our peace with Him before we ever even came to the peace talk, while we were still His enemy, because of His great love for us. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners… So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (8,10)  Friends of God!  Not only are we enjoying peace with God and the peace of God, plus all the privileges, but we are friends! 

Moving Forward: I can’t help singing today, “I am a friend of God.  I am a friend of God.  I am a friend of God – He calls me friend.” (I. Houghton)  So thankful for Jesus.

Tomorrow @ Genesis 8-11

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