surrender


Amos 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He speaks through those He chooses to deliver His message

I must admit that I have a certain affinity toward the prophet Amos.  He was a shepherd who had visions!  Minding his own business and tending sheep in the countryside just south of Bethlehem, he started to receive visions from the Lord.  Perhaps the solitude of the countryside and the lack of social interaction provided the right atmosphere for God to communicate with Amos. This is something I think about when I find myself running all day long.

Amos was not from a family of prophets or priests, but he most certainly had a heart for God with open communication with him.  He was a shepherd and used many metaphors from the pasture in his writings.  Equally important to the lessons learned from what Amos said is the example of how his life reveals God’s intention to use anyone who is willing to touch the world.

Amos was a forerunner in the timeline of Israel’s next three professional prophets. Through divine revelation, he pronounced judgment on the surrounding countries as well as on Israel, and his tactic was brilliant.  People often say that sheep are dumb, and with that thinking, it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence or skill for Amos to tend them. However, through my encounters with countless sheep and numerous shepherds, I can say with confidence that most sheep are not as dumb as they are willful.  How better to describe the mindset of Israel at this time in history – pleasure seeking, idol worshiping willful sheep.

Just like with his sheep, Amos found a way to get the attention of Israel.  In Chapters 1 and 2, Amos waxed eloquent on the judgment that was coming to Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom and Ammon.  This must have thrilled the Israelites, and I can imagine them shouting in agreement with Amos, “Yes! Get them, God, for their injustices to us.” It’s easy to see the error in the lives of others and overlook our own problems, and so it was Israel at that time.

Then in his proclamations, Amos lowered the boom, “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!  They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.  So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.’” (2:4-6)  Party over.

The cultural norm of Israel at this time was not unlike what we are experiencing in the world today, a blending of right and wrong, blurred lines, everything gray.  Do what feels right…it can’t be wrong if it feels so right…God only wants us to feel good.  Many in Israel had crossed the line to what they knew to be wrong, yet did it anyway. After enumerating the ways God had attempted to get Israel’s attention through the years, Amos, speaking for God, delivered the final blow, “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”  I’m fairly certain that any affection for Amos and his message was over.

We can somewhat understand the feelings of the Israelites at this point.  I really don’t like it when a preacher, or a devotional for that matter, gets all up in my business and conviction comes to my heart. It’s easy to get uncomfortable and perhaps a little angry thinking, don’t mess with my gray areas and certainly don’t mess with my sin.   It never helps to shoot the messenger; it only helps to submit to the message.

When I stand before the Lord one day, I want to have responded to His merciful messages, I want to have experienced His wonderful grace and I want to hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  So, messengers of God, bring it! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that He opens doors of ministry to each one of us, regardless of our backgrounds, and I’m ever challenged to submit to the messages that He brings my way. 

Tomorrow @ John 16-18

Philippians 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He empowers us to do what pleases Him 

@ Philippians 1
What a treat it is when we attempt to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time and find ourselves encouraged the most! This is probably how the Philippians felt when they read Paul’s letter to them.  The Philippians were his first congregation on the European continent and his affection for them is obvious. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (3)  I feel this same way about so many people in my life.

The Philippians had supported him throughout his ministry, including his time in prison where he sat writing his letter to them.  I’m sure their hearts were breaking for this father of their faith who had nurtured them and was now in prison for sharing that very faith. Their gifts and messages sent through Epaphroditus – never will I complain about my name again – were no doubt intended to lift his spirits and encourage him.  His response was the joyful letter of Philippians.

Just like a father would do, Paul encouraged them to continue to mature and grow in the Lord regardless of their concern about his prison confinement.  “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives…” (9-10)  Don’t worry about my state of affairs and what I am going through, but press on and you will understand what really matters in life.

“I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (20-21)  We can tell if we have discovered what really matters in life by how tightly we hold on to this world and what it has to offer.  Paul had let go.

Oh, that I would always view the trials I face with the heart and attitude of Paul, “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here…knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (12-14)

What if Paul had responded to his chains with depression and fear, disillusioned by his situation?  The local Christians in Rome, who would soon face great persecution themselves, would have no role model of tenacious faith to follow.  There would be no encouraging letter to the Philippians that we so often quote and receive blessing from today.  Thank you, Paul, for showing us what really matters. 

@ Philippians 2
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (12)  When we reverence God and obey Him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11) and the power that changed Saul to Paul will empower us to do what pleases Him, to do what really matters.  Just as Paul was not alone sitting in that prison cell, we are not alone in our trial.  We can respond to our trial with the same heart and attitude as Paul because of what God is accomplishing within us. 

Moving Forward:  With God working in me today, I am empowered to face this day with tenacious faith, living His example of one who knows what really matters in life – the eternal side of living. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 7-9

1 Kings 5-9 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills our lives with His glorious presence to accomplish His will

“During the fourth year of Solomon’s reign he began to construct the Temple of the Lord…480 years after the people of Israel were rescued from their slavery in the land of Egypt.” (6:1) The construction of the portable Tabernacle that we have read about in Exodus was built to last for several lifetimes – 480 years!  God was specific in His instructions for a reason.

Those of us who have been involved in temporary church sites in strip malls and rented spaces understand the cumbersome putting up and tearing down week after week of sound systems, chairs and all that goes with church.  Compared to 480 years, our duration seems insignificant, but because these accounts in the Bible are given to us as lessons, we would do well to consider the reasons for the delay in the building the permanent temple.

During the 480 years, the Israelites were often disobedient and willful against the Lord and were ruled by many judges of like mind.  The people wanted to be like other nations and demanded a king to rule over them because God was not quite enough in their thinking.  King Saul was a major disappointment to everyone, including God, and David the warrior king had too much bloodshed on his hands for the building of God’s temple.

Finally, King Solomon was chosen for this task.  In the building of almost everything, God uses people as his instruments to accomplish His will.  When the building is taking longer than we desire, it never hurts to examine our hearts.  Are we disobedient or willful in our labors?  Is God’s plan enough in our thinking or are we compelled to help Him out, usurping His plan?  No doubt this will slow down our progress.

A major hindrance to the building of the temple was Israel’s enemies.  From the moment they entered the Promised Land, nobody wanted them there. The Israelites fought to take possession, fought through the judge era and then through the early kings, but they never gave up.  We can be sure that anything we build for the glory of the Lord, be it family, career or church, will be met by resistance from our enemy.  He will attempt to defeat us at every turn, but we can never give up!  Every demon from hell in local governments will thwart our attempt to build a church or a business for the Lord, raising our costs and burying us in red tape.  The enemy may bring out the big guns by attacking our families, but we can never give up!

How do we defeat our enemy and stay strong in our process of building the temple, our family or whatever it is? We do it the same way we maintain victory once we achieve it.  At the completion of the temple, “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord.  The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the temple.”(8:10-11)  I just love it when the presence of the Lord fills my space to the point where I can no longer perform (NIV) or continue my service and it becomes all about Him.  Willfulness and disobedience cannot exist there in His Presence and governments and enemies must bow before Him.  With tenacity to complete the task, I yield to His direction, His handiwork – He is more than enough. 

Moving Forward:  Submitted to His plan for my day, I call for His glorious presence to fill my space, to defeat my enemies and to complete the work He has begun.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 66-68

Jeremiah 17-21 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires to shape us into vessels of honor

Years ago I visited a potter who allowed visitors to take a stab at the potter’s wheel.  My attempt became a literal mud-slinging contest between me and the wheel – the wheel won.  The condition of my clothing testified to that fact.  One thing I learned that day was that the master skills of the potter are difficult to replicate by a novice, and the example given to Jeremiah by God at the potter’s shop in Jeremiah 18 became very real to me.

With the Master Potter willing to mold us into useful vessels of honor, why do we choose to allow novices to mold our lives, often allowing our own willful desires or those of others to influence and shape us? The results are never what God intended.

“[I] found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”(18:3-4)  As long as the clay was soft and moldable, the potter was able to crush and remold it; but in time, the clay became dry and ultimately hardened.  It was no longer possible to refine its shape into something useful.  Sadly, this was the shape that Israel was in. 

Repentance would have challenged God to start over with the nation that had not turned out as He had hoped, molding it into a nation of honor, but repentance did not come. So God allowed the hardened vessel to be smashed as foretold in Chapter 19 through the Babylonian invasion.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (17:7-8) While traveling the countryside, I’ve always been able to know where the rivers and streams are located by the outcrop of trees and shrubs that grow alongside them.  Their roots have reached into the water source.

When we make the Lord our hope and confidence rather than the dictates of our own desires, our roots reach deep into the Source.  Instead of becoming dry and hardened, we remain fresh and supple, and our presence points others to the Source as they travel life’s countryside.  Even in this, we are useful vessels of honor for Him. 

Moving Forward: A cherished old hymn comes to mind, “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

Tomorrow @ Mark 11-12

Mark 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His Heart: He calls us to surrender everything so that we may receive everything

I give up! Or, I should say, I gave up! Many, many years ago this reluctant college-bound student knelt at an altar and gave up her plans and aspirations for a career in decor and design in exchange for His plans and aspirations for her. It was a struggle, but He won – and so did I! There’s nothing wrong with a career as a designer. It just wasn’t His plan for my life. The life I’ve walked since that day of surrender hasn’t been without its challenges, but His abiding peace and guidance has been with me every step of the way. I’m so glad I gave up.

@ Mark 8
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (34) Mark was writing to the Romans who understood the significance of taking up the cross as surrender to Roman power, and it was important for Mark to relay these words of Jesus. Jesus was calling those in the crowd that day to follow Him, to lay down their own aspirations in surrender to His guidance and to accept Him as their Savior. And He is calling each one of us today to do the same.

This challenge from Jesus includes a willingness to allow His will for our lives to take preeminence over our own will. Is the trade worth it? If we think about it, this struggling over decisions and direction in life all on our own and then living through the consequences of wrong choices is not all that appealing. Instead, receiving direction from One who knows the future and who has our best interests at heart, while offering sweet fellowship here on earth with the promise of eternal life in heaven…well, how do you improve on that? Wisdom would say the trade is worth it.

Jesus took commitment a step further, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (34-37) Jesus taught by example. He gave up – He gave it all through His death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.

At least ten individuals, His disciples, listening to Him that day ended up giving up their lives as martyrs, for His sake and for the sake of the Good News. A sobering thought, to say the least. While our surrendering to Him today does carry this potential, most of us will continue on as business men and women, doctors, nurses, sales clerks, grocers, missionaries, ministers or whatever He has guided us to do. But for the sake of our souls we will continue on our journey, ever surrendered to Him “for His sake and for the sake of the Good News.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  These are the words of Jim Elliot, a man who gave up everything in the jungles of Ecuador for the sake of the Good News!

Moving Forward: With joy I repeat, I gave up! I surrendered it all to Him, and I’ve gained it all! With His help, I’ll never take it back.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 13-14

Exodus 1-4 (NLT)

Discover His heart: “I Am Who I Am,” and He’s all we need.

Whenever I go to a doctor’s office, I check out his or her credentials. Most doctors proudly display their college diploma, medical school diploma, residency, special recognitions and honors right there on their office walls. I appreciate this because it saves me from asking embarrassing questions. If I see a diploma from a country that has only been in existence for about six months, chances are I’m not staying. I want to know that the individual who is going to diagnose, treat and/or cut me has received the proper training. It’s just the way I am.

We want our employers, politicians and church leaders to be well trained and prepared to lead. Thankfully, God sees things this way as well and spent 80 years training Moses for the leadership position of a lifetime. Moses, however, turned Him down.

@ Exodus 3
“I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering…Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” (7,10) From birth, Moses had been in training to deliver God’s people from slavery in Egypt.  After 40 years in Egypt as prince learning the Egyptians ways and 40 years in Midian as shepherd preparing for flock management, God decided that Moses was ready to lead the Israelites for the next 40 years in the wilderness to their Promised Land – I think I see a pattern here.

Despite all his training, Moses was not the kind of individual who would choose to run for president or work his way up the corporate ladder to be CEO because Moses had some inferiority issues. I would imagine that downgrading from prince to shepherd did not do much for his self confidence. So Moses started to protest, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” (11) But the question wasn’t really about who Moses was, and God was about to do just a little more training before He released Moses to his assignment.

I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you…Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.” (14-15) When God calls us to a task, it’s not about who we are, but it’s about Who He is. And He is all we need. He never calls us without first equipping us and providing all the tools we need to do the job.

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled…Lord, please! Send anyone else.” (10-13) I think God loved that Moses’ words got all tangled up when he spoke because Moses could depend only on Him, not on himself. In response to the cry of Moses, God gave him Aaron because He always provides all that we need to do what He asks us to do. He doesn’t easily give up on us or on our calling.

So many times in my life God has assigned me to positions and roles that I felt completely inadequate to do, yet as I looked back over my life, much of what I had done up to that point prepared me for those roles. “Take your shepherd’s staff with you, and use it to perform the miraculous signs I have shown you.” That shepherd’s staff from his 40 years of shepherding placed in Moses’ hand exactly what he needed to perform countless miracles. God is faithful to put in our hands the tools we need and the words in our mouths to prepare and equip us for whatever He calls us to do. May our words never include, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.

Moving Forward: I surrender my inadequacies and apprehensions to Him today because I believe He will prepare and equip me for every task He calls me to. He’s all I need.

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 16-20

I Samuel 6-10 (NLT) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ Psalms 33-35

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