Relationship with God


Deuteronomy 7-9 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very special treasure.

There’s nothing like being a part of a family.  Even with all of its ups and downs, black sheep and sibling rivalries, there are certain privileges afforded a family member that others are not given.  As long as we are a part of the family, we are provided with food, clothing and shelter, and we are included in all the family gatherings such as family reunions, holidays and Will readings.

We don’t earn the right to be a part of the family by our good deeds or because we are perfect, but it is because our parents chose to bring life into the world.  Out of disobedience or rebellion, some have decided to leave the protection that the family provides, and they often end up living empty troubled lives, alone.  With the holidays just around the corner, I’m especially grateful for my family, and I want to protect it and all the privileges that come with it.  Oh, Israel, how could you desert the family!

Moses continued his instructions as the Israelites sat poised to enter the Promised Land and reminded God’s children of who their Father was, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.  The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!  Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.”(7:6-8)  And the Lord did not provide for His children because they were so good, “You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” (9:6)  Ouch!

Moses also reminded the people of the responsibilities that came with being the children of God.  “Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands…He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.  So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in His ways and fearing Him.” (8:2-6)  Unfortunately, the Israelites did not accept every word that came from the mouth of the Lord and in their stubbornness and rebellion, most of them eventually deserted the family and left all the privileges that came with it.

Just like many childless fathers, God adopted or grafted in a new family, “But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.”(Romans 11:17)  I’m so thankful to be a part of the family!  However, because of His great love, God is like the prodigal’s father in Luke 15, who waits and waits for His lost children of Israel to come home and rejoin the family by accepting His Son.

We, too, need to remember the privileges we have received as members of the family of God.  Because of Jesus, we have become “joint heirs” in all that God has to offer His children.  We are God’s special treasure as well.  We did not receive His blessing because we are so good, but simply because He loves us.  With His love and all the privileges I receive as His child, I can’t imagine why I would ever desert my family. 

Moving Forward: I’m encouraged today to walk in the privileges provided for me as His child, to protect the family name through my behavior and never leave the safety of His love and care. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 29-32

 

Hebrews 11-13 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He’s set a race before us and cheers us along the way

Everyone needs a hobby, a way of relaxing or blowing off steam.  Some enjoy sports, golf and tennis, etc., and others just enjoy reading a good book.  I’m married to a bicycling enthusiast.  Tom has several 500-mile rides under his belt and really enjoys the experience.  Me?  Not so much.  As a point of information, cycling is a very expensive sport.  While there aren’t any green fees to pay, the equipment involved in cycling is costly.  A $79.99 bike is not going to make it on a 500-mile ride.

Bikers wear clothing that I view as rather…well, indecent, but the tight, lightweight clothing prevents the wind from catching it and slowing the biker down.  All the cycling gear is lightweight, including the bike itself.  Imagine a bike weighing 14½ pounds!  Racers keep everything as light as possible so that nothing slows them down.  Also, they are focused on the road ahead so that no debris in the road trips them up, sending them airborne.  Throughout the race, crowds gather to cheer them on as they ride, and when they cross the finish line, the crowds witness the victory.

@ Hebrews 12
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (1-2)  As we race toward the finish line of life, we need to remember the people of faith who have finished the race before us – Abraham, Joseph, Moses and all the heroes of Chapter 11.

Remembering the race of these faithful finishers will cheer us on to victory as long as we keep light and stay focused. A biker who has made the costly investment of a 15-pound bicycle is not going to put a plush comfortable 10-pound seat on it.  It might make him feel good at the time, but it really would defeat the purpose of finishing the race in victory.  No, he’s going to keep it light.  There are sins that cross our path that may feel good for the moment; but over the long haul, they only serve to trip us up and weigh us down.  We need to keep light.

If the racer takes his eyes off the road for even a second, he will miss the small stone in his path that will unsteady that skinny bike tire and cause a painful crash.  The road sets the biker’s course and is what provides his forward movement so he can’t afford to look at the distractions along the way.  Jesus is our course; He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  We will only move forward to the finish line, eternity in heaven with the Father, by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the reigning Champion.  We need to stay focused.

Jesus is our example, our motivator and the loudest voice of all that is cheering us on because He was the first to finish the race in victory.  He knows just what to say to carry us through to the finish line.  “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (2-3)  I can hear the roar of the crowd, the cheer of the saints along the way to witness as we race forward to the finish line. They’re calling to us to keep light, stay focused and don’t give up! 

Moving Forward: How can I do anything but move forward today toward the finish line when I think of all those who are cheering me on.  We can’t give in and we can’t give up! 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 1-3

Micah (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He desires our fellowship rather than our sacrifices

It’s painful when someone close to us leaves or ignores us.  Our first response is to question what went wrong, what we did to cause the separation.  While it’s true that time heals wounds, it sometimes takes a long time to finally stop second-guessing what we could have done differently.  The one place we can go for solace is to God because He really does understand our hurt and our questioning as we read in Micah today. 

@ Micah 6
“Listen to what the Lord is saying: ‘O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me!’” (3)  It’s hard to imagine that humanity would put God in a position where He would ask these questions.  How foolish are we anyway? Yet, I would think most of us have given cause for God to question our distance from Him at one time or another.  It is our God we read about on Tuesday in 2 Chronicles 16:9, whose eyes “search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  He loves us enough to go searching for us.

The Israelites response to His questioning was typical, “What can we bring to the Lord?  What kind of offerings should we give him?”(6)  When we have been in a similar situation with a loved one, what do we really want from them?  We want the person, not their stuff.  Flowers and gifts are nice to receive when a relationship is restored, but they are not proof to us that it has been restored.  How we walk with one another in relationship tells the story, and God feels the very same way.

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (8)  We do our best to make our walk with the Lord confusing and difficult to understand at times, but it’s actually pretty simple.  He isn’t after some showy sacrifice to appease Him; He wants relationship just like we do.  We also prove our love and commitment to Him by doing what is right in our dealings with others – just doing the right thing!  Showing mercy to others demonstrates that we acknowledge and appreciate the mercy He has extended to us. Humble submission in our walk with Him is really what He desires, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Samuel 15:22)

Oh that we would never cause God to question our relationship with Him with, “What have I done to make you tired of me?” However, if we do, He will receive our true repentant hearts back without our flowers, gifts or showy sacrifices because, bottom line, He wants us! 

Moving Forward:  I’m challenged today to fulfill His requirements – Do what is right, show mercy and humbly walk with Him, never tiring of His Holy presence. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 5-6

Proverbs 28 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He provides all that we need to follow Him with boldness

A man’s conscience can really play tricks on him when he has done wrong.  The imagined scenarios of being pursued and caught for his wrong doing can drive someone to the point of insanity.  Hollywood certainly has cashed in on that plot line through the years and often manipulates us into rooting for the criminals, even hoping they get away with their terrible deeds.  The terror of constantly looking over the shoulder and behind every door and cowering in dark corners is no way to live.  Of course, those who follow the Lord and live a righteous life are also being pursued by invisible forces, but they have nothing to fear.

“The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” (1)  This verse makes me think of the sad life of King Saul who always feared that David and others were chasing him.  When the Spirit of the Lord left him, his sins tormented him as did the paranoia he had about his own well-being.  Jacob also knew some troublesome days fearing that Esau was coming after his birthright even though he wasn’t.  What a tragedy to live in fear that “your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)

However, those who follow the Lord should know that they, too, are being pursued. “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” (Psalm 23:6)  Well, in that case, I’ll just stand still and be caught!  And if that isn’t enough to build confidence, “Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.” (Isaiah 58:8)

No wonder Solomon declared that “the godly are as bold as lions!”  With the Shepherd in front of us leading the way, with goodness and unfailing love always pursuing us and with the glory of the Lord protecting us from behind, why should we fear? Sometimes we just forget who is in our entourage!  Unlike the cowardly sinner who is fearful of being caught, we who follow the Lord can boldly move forward and accomplish whatever God intends for us.  And the peace and calm that comes from godly living is extraordinary. 

Moving Forward: I won’t wonder today if I can do what God is asking me to do.  How can I fail with the Shepherd guiding me, His goodness and love chasing after me and His glory protecting me?  Really, how can I fail?

Tomorrow @ Jonah

Psalms 117-118 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is love and He is faithful

When I was young and barely able to read, my Children’s Church teacher offered a special prize to anyone who would memorize an entire chapter in the Bible and quote it within the next couple of Sundays.   I had memorized all the regular scriptures that children tend to know at this point, but this seemed impossible for me until I chanced upon Psalm 117.   It was short and sweet, and with my mom’s help, I memorized it!

There were two or three of us young ones that took the easy route and quoted Psalm 117, and we still received the prize – a miniature copy of the Book of John!  That teacher was going to get the Word of God into us one way or another. 

@ Psalm 117
“Praise the Lord, all you nations.  Praise him, all you people of the earth.  For he loves us with unfailing love; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.  Praise the Lord!” Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible as well as the center chapter of the Bible.  It may be short, but it declares two unchanging characteristics of our God:  God’s love for us will never fail and His faithfulness to us will last forever. Furthermore, this love and faithfulness are not just for Israel, but for all the nations, Jew and Gentle alike!  The whole world is called to praise the Lord.

My theology at that young age in Children’s Church was not much further along than “God is Love,” but I knew what love was and I knew who God was.  The fact that His love for me would never fail has stayed with me my entire life and has carried me through many discouraging and challenging moments.

Even though we grow more sophisticated in our theology and hopefully more intimate in our relationship with God, the foundation never changes – God’s love and faithfulness will last forever and His love is for everyone.  And that message will preach to anyone, anywhere. 

Moving Forward: With my heart I will praise Him for His love and faithfulness and with my mouth I will share it with even the youngest of children because they will understand. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 28

2 Chronicles 11-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He rewards those who seek Him and obey His commandments

As parents we’ve always been told that praises and rewards given to our children should outnumber our scolding and disciplines, and of course, this is worthy advice.  However, sometimes these precious little ones go through stages where we wait with great anticipation throughout the day for just one behavior or attitude to praise.  We don’t want to discourage our children with our constant disciplines.  We want them to know that we love them and that we’re on their side, and we look for every opportunity to bless them and reward their good behavior.  And we need to understand that God feels the same way about His children.

In our reading today, the kings of Judah gave God reason to bless them on occasion, and no doubt God was looking for every opportunity to bless His children.  They were His special treasure and He loved them, but just as with our children, He often had to wait for an opportunity to reward.  When Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, and his leaders humbled themselves while under Egypt’s attack, God did not allow Egypt to kill them.  He had been waiting for an opportunity to bless.  Unfortunately, Rehoboam’s moments of surrender to God were few and far between and so were his blessings.

Abijah, his son, experienced a great moment of God’s protection and blessing while under the attack by the northern tribes of Israel when he proclaimed, “But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not abandoned Him,” (13:10) and God gave them victory.  But, we learned in I Kings 15 that Abijah was most often unfaithful to the Lord.

The next king was Asa who did what was pleasing to the Lord for the first ten years of his reign.  He responded to the prophet Azariah and removed idol worship from Judah and repaired the altar of the Lord.  God was waiting to bless, and He wasn’t disappointed.

King Asa and the people of Judah entered a covenant with God to “seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul…They earnestly sought after God, and they found Him.  And the Lord gave them rest from their enemies on every side.” (15:12,15)  Hebrews offers this promise to us, “Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek him.”(11:6)

There’s something to be said about seeking to do what God is already blessing rather than only asking Him to bless what we are doing.  When our children act on our desire that their rooms are clean and orderly and go about cleaning them on their own volition, a reward and words of praise are pretty much a slam dunk.

Jesus gave us a heads up about what we can do that He is already blessing, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him…God blesses those who mourn…God blesses those who are humble…God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice…God blesses those who are merciful…God blesses those whose hearts are pure…God blesses those who work for peace…God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right.” (Matthew 5:3-10)   Blessings to you as you sincerely seek Him!

Moving Forward:  I pray I’ll give Him plenty of opportunities to bless today. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 117-118

Hebrews 5-7 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He desires that we mature in our knowledge of Him

I have a computer photo program that I would really like to learn how to use.  Every couple of months I determine that I am going to learn this program, and I set out to do just that.  However, each time I get a few steps into the program, something happens to distract me, and I never move past that point.  A few months later I start up again at the beginning, etc.  The Hebrew Christians were having a similar problem, but it had nothing to do with computer programs.

“There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.” (5:11-12)  Spiritually dull. Ouch! It’s easy to hear the frustration in the writer’s words, but if we’ve ever worked with a dull knife, we know the aggravation.

With the dialogue now started, the writer moved from the spiritually dull statement to some specifics, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” (6:1-3)

While pastors rarely are so blatant in their sermons to call us spiritually dull, I’m fairly certain they think it at times.  Their goal is to challenge us to grow into an intimate relationship with God our creator, but we seem to stay at the “Hello, so nice to meet you” stage with Him when we actually should be introducing others to the Lord.  The reason is similar to my computer issue.  I keep starting at the beginning of the tutorial because too much time has elapsed between learning sessions.   I start over each time, making very little progress.

No offense to my pastor friends, but hearing a Sunday morning sermon is not enough to keep us steadily maturing in the Lord.  Pastors provide food that we can chew on all week long until it’s digested and becomes a part of us, but if we want to continue growing, we won’t stop there.  As we read God’s Word each day, we become more and more familiar with Him and our daily personal conversations with Him during prayer move us past the hello stage.  By the time the next Sunday or midweek Bible Study comes around, we not only remember what we learned the week before, but we have built on it!  No more starting with the basics again.  We certainly won’t be considered spiritually dull.  We’ll be sharp!  And sharp is good. 

Moving Forward: I’m going to chew on some meat today, get past those basics and be spiritually sharp for Him to use.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 29-32

Next Page »