Repentance


Amos 5-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He offers one more call, one more chance to come to Him

One of the most loved parables of Jesus is that of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son who left home with his inheritance and spent it on wild living.  When the money was gone and food was scarce, the careless young man decided to return home to his father where he knew even the servants were living better than he was.

The story goes on to give a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace toward His children, “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)  I’m fairly certain the father watched for his son every day because he wasn’t taken by surprise at his return, he saw him coming.  He was waiting for him, looking for his return home, just like God was waiting for the children of Israel to return home to Him in our reading today. 

@ Amos 5
“Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel:  ‘Come back to me and live!  Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba…Come back to the Lord and live!’” (4-6)  God was waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance to come to their senses and return home. Amos, the simple shepherd from outside of Bethlehem, prophesied over and over again that judgment was coming to this wayward nation because they sought other gods from other nations.

Twenty years later, Isaiah would call for Israel’s repentance and for their return to God with one more call, one more chance, “Come to me with your ears wide open.  Listen, and you will find lifeSeek the Lord while you can find him.  Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:3,6)  But as we know from scripture, Israel would not return home like the Prodigal Son to their awaiting Father.

The Father’s invitation to come has been extended throughout the ages to any and all, and He is still making His appeal today through those of us who will share it, “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. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)  He is still waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance because, like the Prodigal’s father, He is filled with love and compassion, ready to embrace all who will come. 

Moving Forward:  Reminded once again of His great love for His lost children, I will continue to make the appeal for Him to those who have lost their way, Come back to the Lord and live! Come back to God!

Tomorrow @ John 19-21

Joel (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He gives His Spirit to the repentant heart

I decided a long time ago that Italian men are farmers at heart.  My grandfather had an exceptional garden and grew much of what the family ate.  He was the only person I know that could grow a peach tree in the cold Minnesota climate. My dad had a great garden with wonderful tomatoes, beans and peppers.  And my husband, Tom, can grow just about anything.  Hence, Italian men are farmers at heart.

Tom loves to take plants that look like they are ready to be discarded and nurse them back to health, and he’s terrific at it.  We one time had a beautiful rosebush, the Dolly Parton, and it was the most fragrant rose I’ve ever smelled.  We came home from a trip and found that it had been attacked by some blight and was on its last…stem.  Tom saw that one little stem seemed to have some life left in it.  Well, he took the frail, devoured plant, cut it down to almost nothing and nourished it from the inside out.  In no time at all, the fragrant rosebush was in full bloom, ready for me to enjoy!  What a guy!  Sometimes it takes some heavy duty pruning and nourishment to bring restoration, and the prophet Joel knew all about that.

Joel prophesied about a blight of locusts that was coming to devour – the judgment of God that was coming to Israel if they did not repent of their sins. Some believe this prophecy told of a literal plague of locust as well as the invading Assyrian and Babylonian armies.  Regardless, a dreadful day was coming for Israel and was aptly described in Joel 1 and 2, “Despair, all you farmers!  Wail, all you vine growers!  Weep, because the wheat and barley—all the crops of the field—are ruined…Come, spend the night in burlap, you ministers of my God.  For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.  Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting.” (1:11,13-14)  Pruning was coming to Israel.

Whether our hearts are distraught over our country, a family crisis, church turmoil or problems in our own lives, we are challenged by the prophet Joel to start with repentance while there is still a little life left in the stem.  “That is why the Lord says, ‘Turn to me now, while there is time.  Give me your hearts.  Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.’”  (2:12-13)  Go to him with a broken spirit and a repentant heart, repenting of any failure or sin. (Psalm 51:17)

Israel could have avoided a lot of pain and devastation had they listened to Joel and to the many other prophets that God sent along their way.  But just as my patient gardener brought life back to a beautiful rosebush, our loving God will take the remnant of any situation, prune it and bring life back to it when it is finally yielded to Him.  Oh, how much better, though, to avoid this painful process through repentance.

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.”  (2:28-29)  As with my fragrant rosebush, Israel’s sweet fragrance of communion with the Spirit of God one day would be restored.  Israel experienced it on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when His Spirit became available to all people.  And we today are all people, too.  Approach Him with a contrite heart and enjoy the beautiful fragrance of His Spirit—prophetic dreams and visions included!

Moving Forward:  I will turn to Him today in any crisis, repent when needed and enjoy the beautiful bouquet of His Spirit. 

Tomorrow @ John 13-15

John 7-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He “came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)

There are some really great questions out there that will never make it into a Trivia game mainly because we don’t know the answers.  Why does the Mona Lisa smile?  What does she see or know that we don’t?  Why is there a crack in the Liberty Bell? Or like the question from our reading today, what did Jesus write in the dust in front of the adulterous woman and the Pharisees?  The answers to these and so many other questions remained locked in time, but we sure do have a good time speculating their answers.

@ John 8
“Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’ They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.” (4-6)  I’ve heard a lot of theories on what Jesus wrote that day.  Some believe that Jesus was writing down all the sins of the religious leaders standing there.  Others think He was writing the Ten Commandments, and still others believe He was stalling to answer because that was the custom for men of wisdom, pondering the best answer.  After considering all the options, I’ve come to the definite conclusion that I don’t know for sure what Jesus was writing.

More important for us than what He wrote is what He said, “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one.” (7-8)  Of course, the only one qualified to throw any stones that day was Jesus, but He was not there to accuse or condemn the woman.  He was there to save her.

The entire scenario was a set up to trap Jesus into either saying she should be set free which was against the laws of Moses or saying she should be stoned which was against Roman law.  For most of us, this could be a sticky situation, but Jesus had it covered.  If we share our testimony at all, we will encounter those who want to argue about the Bible or excuse their disdain for Christianity because of all the hypocrites in the church.  I’ve always said that I’d rather spend a few short years with a hypocrite or two in church than all of eternity with them in hell.  Just as Jesus had the perfect response to the Pharisees, the Holy Spirit will direct us in our response to the questions we face.

This story makes me want to be more like Jesus.  Besides the thrill of having the right answer at the right moment, I want to be the one who desires that a life is saved rather than condemned.  I’ve found it impossible to lead others to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins when I’m too busy judging them for their sins.  “Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said.  And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’” (10-11)  What a great story!  What a great message for us!

Moving Forward: No stone throwing, no judging, just the message of a Savior who is willing to forgive our sins. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Timothy 1-2

Hosea 1-7 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will go to great lengths to prove His love for us

I’ve met some individuals in my life who have a capacity to love difficult people, so much so that it’s not easy for me to comprehend it.  A spouse or a child repeatedly betrays and offends them, yet these loving souls keep hoping and believing for a change.  The book of Hosea is about God’s unfathomable love for His people in the face of their betrayal and offense.

Hosea is a love story between God and His people illustrated through the life of Hosea.  Some think Hosea’s story is symbolic and others believe it to be history, but regardless, the story is compelling.  Imagine being asked by God to marry someone that He promised would be unfaithful to you to the point of having children with other lovers.  It would be difficult, to say the least, but then imagine this request, “Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” (3:1) Hosea bought back his wife out of slavery to love her again.

Hosea’s story foretold Israel’s bondage to a foreign land because of their continual idolatry and sin, yet because of God’s great love for them, He one day would bring redemption to them.  Hosea and many prophets to come were sent by God to warn of impending doom if Israel did not repent – God calling, reaching, loving.

Many of us have individuals in our lives who are on this same fast track to doom because of their disregard for God.  Hosea’s story offers this important lesson for us – God loves their souls regardless of their indifference, their betrayal and their sin.  He will bring judgment one day if they don’t repent; but in the meantime, He will send any number of prophets or challenges to their lives to get their attention and bring about repentance – God calling, reaching, loving.

God may not ask us to continue fellowship with them, but our role is certainly to love their souls, pray for them and never give up on them as long as they are breathing.  If Hosea could do the hard things that God asked of him, we can do this! 

Moving Forward: Today I will continue to pray for those in my life who seem so very far from God, remembering that He knows exactly where they are and He loves them. 

Tomorrow @ John 7-9

Ezekiel 43-48 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: “You must be holy because I am holy.”

“And the glory of the Lord came into the Temple through the east gateway…and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple.” (43:1-5)  What a moment in the life of Ezekiel!  How he had grieved when his earlier vision revealed that the glory of the Lord had left the Temple (11:23).  But now after years in exile, a new vision, a new future for Israel was foretold to him, and the plans for a new Temple were given to him.  Many believe this Temple revelation was two-fold:  a Temple for the returning Babylonian exiles and a Temple for the Millennial Jews.  Regardless, it was envisioned as a beautiful Temple filled with the glorious presence of God. 

@ Ezekiel 46
Six chapters today filled with Ezekiel’s vision of the return of the glorious presence of the Lord to the temple, but I’m focused on the kitchens.  “The Temple Kitchens -In my vision, the man brought me through the entrance beside the gateway and led me to the sacred rooms assigned to the priests, ‘This is where the priests will cook the meat from the guilt offerings and sin offerings and bake the flour from the grain offerings into bread’…Then he brought me back to the outer courtyard and led me to each of its four corners. ‘These are the kitchens to be used by the Temple assistants to boil the sacrifices offered by the people.’” (19-24)

While reading about the sacrifices in Leviticus, I must admit I’ve often wondered about all the food prep and where it took place.  I mean, really, daily sacrifices for several million people involving butchering, seasoning and boiling meat as well as bread baking with whole grains and olive oil – there had to be a place where the food prep took place!  We know from these verses that spacious areas were provided for this in the new Temple.

More importantly, these verses in Ezekiel 46 include a very intriguing passage.  The Priests had sacred kitchens where they cooked and baked, “They will do it here to avoid carrying the sacrifices through the outer courtyard and endangering the people by transmitting holiness to them.” (20)  Would transmitting holiness be a bad thing?  Apparently so.

Everything inside the Temple – furniture, sacrifices, priests – was holy.  “And this is the basic law of the Temple:  absolute holiness!” (43:12)  With sin in their lives, Israelites in the outer court would be endangered by a Holy sacrifice carried past them by the priests. Thus the special kitchens in the priests’ quarters were provided.  This reminds me of the scene in the Indiana Jones movie when the ark was opened by the evil Nazi and the only ones spared from the consuming fire of God’s holiness as it was portrayed were those with pure motives.  The Israelites may even have been so bold as to think that just being in the presence of the sacrifice would make them holy, a false assumption to be sure.  Therefore, for the safety of everyone, only priests who had been purified and made holy would be allowed in the presence of the atonement sacrifice.

We may consider all the legalese of Ezekiel somewhat irrelevant, but the truth in it is more current than we would imagine.  God’s basic law is still absolute holiness in we His temple, “Now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)  In our Communion service, when we remember Jesus, the sacrifice for our sins, we would do well to purify our hearts as did the priests, “For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.  But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.”(I Corinthians 11:27-31)

Communion isn’t a moment of careless observance with a hope of becoming holy through it.  It first requires careful examination of our hearts to be certain that we partake with pure motives and pure hearts, holy before the Lord, and then our souls will not be in danger.  A perfect end to the Book of Ezekiel – a call to absolute holiness!

Moving Forward: My prayer for a holy nation must first begin with me, examining my life, purifying my temple and experiencing His Holiness.

Tomorrow @ John 1-2

Ezekiel 25-30 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He longs for repentance that stops the hand of judgment

Revenge – how sweet it is!  At least that seems to be a prevailing attitude in our culture.  Many have adopted the idiom, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  My husband tells a joke that is appropriate here – A 16-year old boy arrives home driving a brand new truck. The father shouts, “Where did you get that truck?  You don’t have any money.”  The boy replies, “I bought it from a lady down the street for $15!”  Well, this alarmed the father. What kind of woman would sell this truck for $15? She must have an ulterior motive.

The father rushed down the street and asked the woman why she did this.  The woman replied, “Well, I thought my husband was on a business trip, but I just received a call from him from Hawaii.  Seems he ran off with his mistress and is in need of money.  He asked me to sell his car and send him the money…so I did.”  Scary stuff, revenge is.

Revenge may bring some immediate gratification, but the long-term ramifications can wipe that smile right off a face.  Better to put payback in the hands of God, “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)  In our reading today, Israel’s neighbors were about to feel the heat.

The seven nations surrounding tiny Israel had long persecuted and attacked God’s chosen people.  Even though His own people were sinful and rebellious at times, God would avenge them because they were His responsibility and not that of the surrounding nations.  Judgment was coming to Ammon, Moab, Edom Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and proud Egypt because they rejoiced at Israel’s devastation at the hands of Babylon and cheered at the desecration of the Temple.  Ancient racism toward the Israelites had filled their hearts, as well as jealousy over Israel’s many victories.

God’s vengeance was swift, and these nations eventually met their own fate at Babylon’s mighty sword.  At the end of each pronouncement of judgment, God said something similar to, “When I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.” (25:17)  Revenge did not come from Israel, it came from the Lord; however, He would have stayed His hand of judgment at the first sign of repentance.  In Ezekiel 18:23, God asked Ezekiel, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?… Of course not!  I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”  God is merciful.

From these scriptures, we can learn about God’s attitude concerning our enemies.  He knows their past, present and future and why they do the things they do, facts we are seldom privy to.  He will often withhold dealing with an offense towards us because He knows that our enemy’s battle is really with Him, not with us, or He knows that restoration is in the future.  God is merciful; but without repentance, in due time judgment is His to give.

When we take matters into our own hands to get even, we may circumvent God’s divine plan to bring healing and restoration to our relationships.  Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…Love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:39,44-45)   Sometimes we just get dizzy from turning that cheek so many times, and we start to think He just doesn’t understand the pain from the hurtful things said or done to us, the betrayal and the rejection.  But then, of course, He does. Remember Calvary? 

Moving Forward:  Sunny today, with no chance of revenge.  Should an enemy develop throughout the day, I won’t get even – I won’t even get mad- because God is in control!

Tomorrow @ Luke 19-20

Leviticus 13-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: God provides all that is needed to keep His people alive and well on their journey

“If a man loses his hair and his head becomes bald, he is still ceremonially clean.  And if he loses hair on his forehead, he simply has a bald forehead; he is still clean. However…” (13:40-41)  For those who are hair challenged, I would imagine reading Leviticus 13 brings great relief, although I’m still somewhat concerned about men with hairy foreheads.  Whether clean or not, I’m not sure hair growing on the forehead is a good thing.  But even more disconcerting is that little word however.

God gave Moses specific instructions regarding the healthcare of the wilderness Israelites.  Hospitals, Emergency Rooms and 24-Hour Urgent Care Clinics did not exist on the backside of the desert where this nomadic community of 2 to 3 million people traveled for 40 years.  The priests were the healthcare providers who administered the diagnosis and treatment needed to preserve God’s chosen people.  It’s not farfetched to imagine an insidious epidemic completely erasing this isolated people group from history, but God would not have that!

God provided all that was needed to keep His people alive and well on their journey as long as they paid close attention to those howevers.  Skin lumps, bumps, sores and discolorations on His people were all diagnosed by the priests to prevent the spread of leprosy, the killer of the day, as well as other diseases.  Even clothing and household goods were evaluated for disease-producing mildew and mold.  Individuals deemed unclean were isolated and goods were either purified or burned.

God was concerned about preventive healthcare because it was obviously much less debilitating and more cost-effective than aftercare.  His laws in Chapter 15 regarding bodily discharges, gross indeed, were all about preserving and protecting those He loved.  God really wasn’t surprised when our medical researchers over the past century discovered conclusive proof that diseases, ranging from colds to AIDS, could be transmitted through bodily discharges.  I would think all of heaven offered one big DUH at that conclusion.

If we think the laws and instructions of Leviticus are irrelevant to us today, we should think again.  Yes, the blood of Jesus protects us, but so does His wisdom. There’s a reason that may go all the way back to Leviticus that I carry disinfectants and hand sanitizers when I travel.  After rereading Chapter 15, I’ll be thinking twice about trying on clothes in mall dressing rooms.  I’m just saying…

All God’s instructions regarding healthcare were essential to protect His people and get them to the Promised Land.  For us today, equally important is what leprosy and the like represent to us.  Sin is much more menacing than any physical disease could ever be.  It may start small, like the white patch or bump with leprosy, seemingly insignificant; however, if left unchecked, it will bring eternal death to us.  Daily examination before our High Priest for His diagnosis is the best preventive healthcare for the soul that I know.  As far as treatment, His blood has it all covered!

Moving Forward: His wisdom protects my life today and guides my steps, and His blood treats whatever ails my soul. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 6-10

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