2 Corinthians 11-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He provides loving shepherds to protect us from wolves in sheep’s clothing 

@2 Corinthians 11
It’s difficult to read about Paul’s humbling experience defending his ministry.  We know of his exploits of faith to establish churches around his world at that time, but apparently the Corinthians were not aware of them or chose to ignore them.  “Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool…I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more!…You have made me act like a fool—boasting like this.” (17,23;12:11)  Naturally Paul was embarrassed to defend his ministry.  After all, he was the one who had founded the church in Corinth, but now the circus had come to town!

Like well-trained carnival people, a group of false teachers had come to the Corinthian church with a pitch that sucked the congregation in under its influence. Like the famous circus showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and they were being duped.  Just like a father will do anything to protect his young child, Paul, who had fathered this young church, was willing to sound like a madman in order to shake the church free from this deception.  Had these false teachers endured beating, stoning, imprisonment and other dangers in order to preach the message of Christ?  Were they afflicted with a thorn in the flesh to insure humility?  Paul felt confident that they had not.

Unfortunately, these charlatans still exist today and their message extends past the local church right into our homes through all forms of media.  How do we keep from falling prey to false teachers who want to deceive us?  Paul gave us insight into their pitch:

  • Do they preach a “different Jesus than the one we preach…a different kind of Spirit than the one you received…a different kind of gospel than the one you believed?” (4)
  • Do they mesmerize their listeners through their smooth talking? (5-6) The Greeks were known for theatrical prowess, but content should never be second to performance.
  • Do they deceive about their credentials and require huge payment for their ministry?  (7-9)
  • Do they disguise themselves as servants of righteousness but their lifestyle does not confirm it (13-15)
  • Do they boast about human achievement? (18;10:18) Paul did so in his defense, but with disdain and embarrassment.
  • Do they attempt to tear down other proven ministries? (22-23) It’s obvious the false teachers had done their best to tear down Paul’s ministry or he would not have felt the need to defend it.

Paul ended his letter to the Corinthians just as any loving father would follow up a discipline, “Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words:  Be joyful.  Grow to maturity.  Encourage each other.  Live in harmony and peace.  Then the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:11-14)  Paul obviously loved this congregation that he had fathered in spite of their failings.

Many ministries we view on television and the internet are valuable to the kingdom of God and serve a valuable role in the church.  They may reach people that the local church cannot reach, and I am thankful for their faithfulness to the call. Sometimes the credentials of media and itinerant ministries are difficult to evaluate, and sadly, sometimes we are fooled by impostors.

There really is not a substitute for the compassion and guidance of the local shepherd who is concerned about the growth and health of each of his sheep.  He is the pastor who is with us in the difficult times of life to help and strengthen, the one who tells us not what we want to hear but want we need to hear.  The pastor knows that he will face us each week and understands that his message must be consistent and honest.  There’s nothing like the shepherd who sticks with the sheep. 

Moving Forward:  I am thankful for my pastor today and pray God’s abundant blessings on him and on his family.  I will protect my eyes, ears and heart from those who seek to deceive me with a flamboyant but empty message.

Tomorrow @ Exodus 29-32

Luke 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Through the way we live, He sees our true repentance.  He gives the power of the Holy Spirit and His Word to counter the enemy’s attacks.

John the Baptist certainly had a unique style of ministry. “When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes!  Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented.” (3:7-8)  Wouldn’t that approach draw the crowds today!  Perhaps he was dining on too many locusts and not enough wild honey, and, of course, camel hair can be so scratchy. (Matthew 3:4)

Actually, this voice in the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, discerned that many had come to hear his message simply to escape eternal punishment, as if he were a lucky charm.  He was looking for true repentance of sins and a changed life. John told his listeners to prove that they had repented by being generous, honest and kind to one another at the very least. (3:10-14) Great advice from the wilderness evangelist!

I’ve always known those who consider church-going their lucky charm, keeping the Big Guy happy with them, but never allowing His power to change their lives.  Because God loves their souls, He often allows challenging situations to occur in their lives to get their attention and to turn their hearts toward Him.  This is when we are able to step in to encourage and undergird them with generosity, honesty and kindness expressed by John in Chapter 3.  Time and time again I’ve seen those out on the fringe of God’s grace turn to a true relationship with Him.

It’s interesting to note that while Jewish Matthew’s genealogy only went back to Abraham, Luke the Greek went all the way back to Adam, proving once again that Jesus, our elder brother, is related to all mankind.  Luke’s love of details blesses me. 

@ Luke 4
I wish I could say that our walk with the Lord is paved only with wonderful moments, but that wouldn’t be true.  Fresh out of the carpentry shop at age 30, Jesus was baptized in water, filled with the Holy Spirit and started His ministry in the wilderness with a full-fledged frontal attack by Satan.  And sometimes we think we’re having a bad day!

The record of this encounter is filled with many truths about the Kingdom of God, but two of them stood out today in my reading.  Satan had been successful in his temptation of Adam and Eve, and the failure of Jesus would certainly have been a plus for him.  However, even trying to tempt Jesus proves one glaring fact:  Satan does not know the future.  Although he often confronts us with fears and outcomes that sound prophetic in nature, he’s just guessing!  He is offering what he wishes to be true; and just like Jesus did, we should resist him.

How did Jesus resist him?  By quoting scripture!  The two-edged sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon in our armor against the enemy. (Eph. 6:17)   When He was under attack, Jesus did not hesitate to bring out His Sword to take down His attacker.  We keep our weapon sharp and ready for use by our daily attention to the Word and its application to our lives.  The enemy knows scripture too, but Satan’s misuse of scripture in his encounter with Jesus left him powerless – knowledge without relationship is futile.

Being the slow learner that he is, the enemy will make many attempts to bring us down just as he tried with Jesus, but armed with our fine-tuned weapon and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are invincible!  “Submit yourselves, then, to God,” is the often neglected part of James 4:7; submit first to Him and to His Word, then, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (NIV)  Armed and dangerous! 

Moving Forward: As I carry with me His Word today, I face the day armed and dangerous against any attacks. With generosity, honesty and kindness – proof of a changed life – I will undergird and encourage those that He is drawing into true relationship with Him. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 11-13

Jeremiah 37-41 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He rewards our faithfulness when we face opposition

I always marveled at the tenacity and courage of an elderly man who stood day after day on various busy corners in our city wearing a placard that said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Through the years I saw him receive many signs of agreement with honking, thumbs up and friendly waves.  I also saw crude gestures and unkind words; however, this did not deter the man from doing what he felt was his part in building the Kingdom of God.  He didn’t let his temporary comfort level and the measure of his popularity affect the eternal destination of a soul that needed to hear the good news.  I never heard if anyone’s life was changed by his stand for the Lord, but rest assured, Heaven was keeping track of it.

The story of Judah’s last king is a sad one.  King Zedekiah was only 21 years old when he was appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to rule over Judah as his vassal.  Maybe his age played into his poor leadership, but regardless, he was only interested in saving his own life.  The prophet Jeremiah was unpopular with the king and the Israelites living in Judah because his message from God was one they didn’t want to hear – surrender to God or die.

The king’s officials had imprisoned and beaten Jeremiah because they hated his message, yet the king secretly listened to the prophet’s message, “King Zedekiah secretly requested that Jeremiah come to the palace, where the king asked him, ‘Do you have any messages from the Lord?’” (37:17)  Zedekiah was not willing to openly accept the message of the prophet because of fear of what his officials would think of him.  What would they do to him? Jeremiah, however, bravely spoke God’s message no matter what the consequences.

Zedekiah would one day regret his cowardice.  He eventually lost his kingdom, lost his family, lost his eyes and lost his freedom. (39:6-7)  We do not have the promise that our stand for God will always save our lives – many have been martyred through the centuries – but we will be able to look back without regret.

Jeremiah had suffered much because he took a stand in the face of opposition, but he ultimately came out the winner.  Jeremiah was offered freedom and protection by the Babylonian king who took Israel captive.  What a different outcome than that of Zedekiah!  The words of Jesus come to mind in Luke 12:8, “I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.”

God may never lead us to wear a sign on the street corner, but He is expecting us to boldly stand for truth whenever and wherever we are given the opportunity. Whether it’s a new job or new neighborhood or perhaps a new relationship, taking a stand and proclaiming truth in love are just easier over the long haul.  They involve no cover-up or fancy footwork, promise no regrets and secure a place in heaven before God’s angels. 

Moving Forward:  May I live this day without regrets, not missing even one opportunity to take a stand for the One who will one day take a stand for me before all of Heaven. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 3-4

Job 39-40 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He will humble us when necessary to produce complete trust in Him

For anyone who is questioning negative circumstances in your life today, read on.  You are in good company!  Many leaders in the Bible questioned God about what was happening in their lives – David, Moses, Gideon to name a few.  I believe that God understands our questioning, and He wasn’t threatened or angered by their questions. However, it appears that Job had crossed a line in his own defense.  When we consider ourselves so righteous that nothing negative should ever happen to us, we imply that God has made a mistake and He was wrong in allowing troubles to visit our lives.  At one point Job had the audacity to declare, “Look, I will sign my name to my defense.  Let the Almighty answer me.” (31:35)  And answer He did!

After a series of direct questions to Job regarding some of His incredible creation, the Lord asked him, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?  You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (40:1-2)  Ouch.  Job had been waiting for this moment for quite some time, the moment when he could defend himself directly to God against this terrible injustice brought on him.  However, all he could say was, “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers?  I will cover my mouth with my hand.  I have said too much already.  I have nothing more to say.”(40:4-5)  Good answer, Job.  It was best to cover his mouth.

Yet, God’s rebuke continued. I imagine with each of God’s pointed questions, Job sank a little closer to the ground.  In the end, I envision him a little puddle on the ground with a turban resting on it.  Sad to say, I can imagine this because I’ve been there.

God’s questions cause me to think about His creation in a different way.  Have we ever thought about the horse the way God describes it?  In days past, its bravery carried men to battle, with its snort and pounding hooves.  Other animals would have run from the terror of battle, but not the horse.  The silly ostrich with wings yet no ability to fly does not possess enough wisdom to protect its young, yet can run faster than the brave horse.  And the Behemoth, whose identity seems to range from an enormous elephant to the Loch Ness Monster, is the strongest of creatures, yet eats grass.

God has given us the ability to choose any or all of His other creation’s attributes.  We can be brave or fearful, strong or weak, silly or wise, cunning or foolish…vegan or carnivore, the list is endless.  How can we fail to trust the One who has placed so much trust in us?

God’s questions to Job could have gone on for all eternity, literally, but all of His questions beg of me a greater question or two.  Will I trust the One who made me and all of creation?  Is there a chance that His wisdom in any given situation is greater than my own?  I cover my mouth… 

Moving Forward:  In awe of Who you are, I cover my mouth and trust your divine design for my life.  You do not make mistakes.

Tomorrow @ Jeremiah 37-41

Psalms 57-59 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He shelters me from all harm and places a song in my heart

When I was a very little girl, I used to run to my mom’s billowy skirt when I was afraid, embarrassed or shy.  Just like June Cleaver, mothers years ago actually wore dresses or skirts all day long at home, and my mom’s skirt often offered the security I was looking for.  I remember hiding within its folds as it wrapped itself around me.  She would reach down with a hand and caress me to let me know she was there and everything was just fine. As the years went on, I found an even greater place of safety during troubled times, a place known well to our Psalmist.

As he did through much of his life. David was living through some difficult times in these three Psalms.  In them we see his humanity, his frustration and anger at the deeds of his enemies.  We can identify with him, whether on a personal basis or in our disgust with societal evils.  David’s ability to tell God just exactly how he felt without embarrassment or fear of retribution reveals how intimate his relationship with God truly was.  Psalm 58 shows David fiercely angry with evil justices and rulers, calling for God’s judgment on them; but before long he, too, was judged for his evil deeds.  Yes, David was very human.  However, in all his troubles, he knew that God was his only hope. 

@ Psalm 57
David was in a cave hiding from King Saul, his one-time mentor, who was now gunning for him in a jealous rage.  Even when given opportunity to kill his enemy, David had chosen to hide rather than touch God’s anointed one.  In our challenges, sometimes we fight and sometimes we wait and trust. David often referred in Psalms to his hiding place, the shelter of God’s wings: “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.” (1)  Just like David, I sometimes run to shelter myself beneath the shadow of His wings as His billowy garments wrap themselves around me.  I feel His caress and know that everything will be just fine.

Although David was surrounded by his enemies who devoured their prey and whose words cut like a sword, he proclaimed, “My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident.  No wonder I can sing your praises!  Wake up my heart!..I will wake the dawn with my song.” (7-8)  If he was able to wake the dawn, then David must have known some sleepless nights.  What a victorious way to welcome the dawn, with a song from his heart!  His mind would advise him to quake with fear, to fret away the sleepless hours, but his heart was filled with a song of confident trust in God.

While I’m not so sure that hearing my early morning vocals is the way my husband wants to start his day, I’m determined to sing through those sleepless hours that I face from time to time and wake the dawn with a song of confident trust in Him.  Knowing my husband like I do, I’m fairly certain he’ll sing right along. 

Moving Forward: In the challenges I face today, whether called to fight or to shelter, I will run to Him for help.  From early morning I will sing the song of confident trust in Him. What a great day!

Tomorrow @ Job 39-40

2 Samuel 15-19 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  His mercy and forgiveness – the paradigm to follow

Charisma does not always a good politician make.  This is a lesson we’ve learned in recent years, and it certainly was true about the captivating Absalom.  One of the great sorrows of David’s life was the rebellion against him by his son, Absalom.  As if that wasn’t painful enough, others came along to kick him when he was down. 

@ 2 Samuel 16
Sadly, there are those who take advantage of us when we are fatigued, discouraged and weakened by our situation, and this is where David was in 2 Samuel.  Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, reported to David that Mephibosheth was attempting to steal back his grandfather Saul’s throne. This news from Ziba made David all the more susceptible to discouragement as Saul’s relative, Shimei, assaulted him with accusations, calling David the murderer of Saul’s family. Though Shimei’s words were untrue, David did not fight back because he believed that God would vindicate him if he was in the right.

Trouble upon trouble!  How could things go so wrong for David? Absalom was seeking to kill him, those he had helped in the past had betrayed him, others called him a murderer and his own son slept with his concubines, in plain sight on the roof no less, as prophesied by Nathan after David’s sin in Chapter 11.  One time a teenager asked me why the story of David and Bathsheba was in the Bible.  To her, the moral of the story was:  Do what you want, ask forgiveness and then everything will be alright.  As we read together more of David’s story, she saw things in a different light.  David had lost much. 

@ 2 Samuel 19
While the news of Absalom’s death threw the nation into a victory celebration, David was filled with remorse and grief, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you!  O Absalom, my son, my son.” (18:33)  No doubt David was filled with regret and shared the blame for Absalom’s rebellion because of the prophet Nathan’s words after his own sin with Bathsheba, “Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” (2 Samuel 12:11)

Although this was a dark time in the life of David and one filled with consequences, he went on to enjoy many victories because he had a heart of repentance.  He returned to Jerusalem to reign once again as king.  God did vindicate him in the very words of the one who had cursed him when Shimei cried out, “My lord the king, please forgive me.  Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem.” (19)  And David did forgive him, for the moment.  He showed kindness to Mephibosheth and rewarded those who had served him well.

David had received mercy from God in the past, and he was eager to show this same mercy to those who had hurt him – Absalom, Ziba, Mephibosheth and Shimei. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and mercy like this in Matthew 18:23-35 with the parable of the servant whose master forgave him a debt yet he was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant of a debt.  The outcome was not good. When we’re going through a difficult time, it seems there are always those who will come along to pour salt on ours wound like David had experienced.  Just like David, we would do well to remember the many great mercies God has extended to us and to also forgive those who hurt us in this way. 

Moving Forward:  Remembering your mercy to me, I will forgive those who hurt me or hurt those I love.   I pray that I will never be the one who pours salt on someone’s wounds!

Tomorrow @ Psalm 57-59

Exodus 25-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He will go to great lengths to provide a place for fellowship with us

Anyone who wonders if God is into details should read Exodus 25-40.  It was no small undertaking for the Israelites to build the portable tabernacle with details from God so specific that even the colors of the thread to be used were given.  From their Egyptian spoils, the Israelites were encouraged to give to the building of the tabernacle: “Gold, silver, bronze; blue purple, purple and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, onyx stones and other gemstones.” (25:3-7)

The quality of the items used as well as the detailed instructions given in these chapters say a great deal about how God viewed His presence and fellowship with His people. The Israelites had been on the road out of Egypt for a little over 2 months, and they were just a few weeks travel from their final destination, the Promised Land.  However, God’s presence, the Pillar of Cloud and Fire, stopped them at Mt. Sinai for God to give Moses the laws to govern the people as well as this very in-depth instruction regarding the portable tabernacle.

Logic would say, surely the pillar would have been a sufficient location for God’s presence for just a few more weeks until they arrived in Canaan.  Was there really a need for this cumbersome tabernacle of heavy woods and linens for such a short period of time?  It was as if God knew their journey would last 40 years.  And of course, He did.

God’s priority in this journey was connection with His people – some things never change! He longed for their fellowship and for the opportunity to mold them into a people who would carry the message of His great love throughout the world.  But before the great sacrifice of Jesus, how would this imperfect people commune with a Holy God? It was through building a prescribed home for Him and by following the prescribed methods of animal sacrifices.  In doing this, they would show their obedient and contrite hearts, and they would allow God to purify their lives.

Jesus’ death on the cross changed all this.  The linen curtain of Exodus 26:31-32, separating the Most Holy Place of God’s presence from the people, was torn from top to bottom at His death (Mark 15:38).  Now, imperfect me can fellowship with a Holy God through my acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son.  He can mold me into someone who can carry the message of His great love throughout my world.  Talk about a portable tabernacle!  I can carry His presence everywhere I go, as long as He is welcomed.

I think we learn from God’s detailed instructions for the tabernacle that He desires a place worthy of His dwelling.  “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor. 6:16)  Unholy living and idol worship will drive out the presence of our God who so longs to dwell in us.  If we wonder why we no longer feel His presence in our lives, it’s time to find out what has replaced Him.  Idol worship comes in many different forms.

“Aaron will wear this robe whenever he ministers before the Lord, and the bells [on his garment] will tinkle as he goes in and out of the Lord’s presence.” (28:35)  What a daunting thought that bells would ring announcing His presence in my life!  Thank you, Jesus, for grace and for the personal relationship I have with you.  There may be bells, but they’re for His ears only. 

Moving Forward: I seek your Presence today, dear Lord, and may the bells be silent because I remain! 

Tomorrow @ 2 Samuel 15-19