Daniel 1-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: “He is the living God and He will endure forever, He rescues and saves his people.”

I developed a Chicken Salad recipe several years ago that has become somewhat infamous in my little world.  It has very simple ingredients and is easy to make, but there are some necessary steps involved that give it the taste that everyone seems to enjoy.  I’ve given the recipe out to dozens of women and men alike and even posted it on my website.  Occasionally, someone will say they made the chicken salad, but it just didn’t taste the same as what I had made.  My response is always the same, “Did you follow all the steps and not compromise?”  Well, they just thought it would be easier to skip toasting the pecans or decided not to chop those golden raisins.  They ended up with a chicken salad that wasn’t the real deal.  Compromise will do that to you.  Fortunately, this is just chicken salad.

The book of Daniel gives the stories of men who would not compromise their faith in God.  Life would have been a great deal easier for them if they had just been willing to politely eat the food put before them, skip the prayer time or bow to the statue for just a split second.  But no, they decided to follow the recipe step by step, and when it was all said and done, they were the real deal.

When facing the fiery furnace because of their refusal to bow to the golden statue, the captive Hebrew young men responded, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (3:16-18)  No compromise!  At the risk of death!  Likewise, to the edict that prayers could be offered only to King Darius, Daniel responded by opening his windows and praying to the true and living God.  No compromise!  God’s response to these faithful children living as captives in a foreign land was to give them great favor and promotion.

We practice compromise almost every day when we negotiate a deal, agree on who is taking the kids to school and even when driving through traffic – after all, yielding our right of way is easier than having an accident.  But when it comes to our faith and the standards by which we live, there’s no room for compromise if we want to be the real deal for Him. When we live without compromise we may face some ridicule, we may lose some friends or we may even miss the job promotion.  After all, Daniel did spend some time in the lion’s den, but fortunately, he didn’t stay for lunch!

Shocked and thrilled by the outcome for Daniel, heathen King Darius’ life was touched by God’s faithfulness to Daniel, and we read in 6:25-27, “Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:  ‘Peace and prosperity to you!  I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he will endure forever.  His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.  He rescues and saves his people; He performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’”  And the best news today is – God hasn’t changed! 

Moving Forward: “I have decided to live like a believer, turn my back on the deceiver, I’m gonna live what I believe…” (M.Card)  No compromise! 

Tomorrow @ John 3-4

Proverbs 16 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He fills our mouths with sweet words to encourage others

“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (24)  It’s hard to place a value on a few kind words.  For those who live and work in a caring environment where kind words are shared on a regular basis, these words are appreciated and make one feel valued.  But for someone who rarely hears a kind word of any sort, a few shared words of encouragement or a compliment could be life-changing.

A while back I was making a mad dash through the grocery store, very focused on my list in hand, but I wasn’t too focused to notice a very discouraged looking woman with three squabbling children.  The kids weren’t disorderly or loud, but I could tell they had gotten on her very last nerve.  When my children were young, I often shopped at 11:00 pm when the store was quiet, empty and the soft music was actually audible…and my kids were in bed.  Unfortunately, this mom was not alone.

As I was about to walk past the foursome, I saw her bright blue eyes flash at her children with that look that said “straighten up or else,” and I also noticed how much her turquoise top brightened her eyes and flattered her.  I stopped and told her just that.  At my interaction with them, the children stopped fighting, and the mom lifted her head with tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you so very much.  I haven’t heard a compliment for such a long time.”  Well, I realized only the Lord could have filled my mouth with those sweet words that lifted her heart.  When we parted, this weary mom walked away with her head held a little higher, shoulders back and perhaps a sweeter soul. It’s hard to place a value on a few kind words.

Even though my personal world is filled with gracious and kind souls, I will testify as one who can feast for quite a while on a few kind words.  Maybe I’m just easy, but I think most of us feel this way.  Kind words just make us look better, feel stronger and think right.  In our busy world of high rollers and self-indulgences, concern for the feelings of others is not a top priority.  If we listen to too many news commentators and political ads, it’s easy to get accustomed to serving up sour grapes instead of sweet honey, and I think the terse jargon of today can affect the health of both the speaker and the listener.

Better to follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”  Sweet! 

Moving Forward: “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”   Sweet and healthy – imagine! I hope to sweeten someone’s life today. 

Tomorrow @ Daniel 1-6

Psalms 93-95 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He welcomes our worship as He watches over His flock

@ Psalm 95
“Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come to him with thanksgiving.  Let us sing psalms of praise to him.  For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.” (1-3)  When we think about God’s greatness, there’s so much praise to give Him that sometimes we just have to get rowdy with it, joyfully shouting to Him because of our salvation, because He alone changed everything for us.  When we really consider this fact, it’s hard to contain or hold our joy, so why do we often do just that – contain our joy?  Maybe we’re just not taking the time to consider His greatness.

Just the other day I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and apparently, I looked like it.  A friend of mine looked at me and said something to the effect, “Phyllis, you’ve got to get your praise on.”  While the challenges I was facing that day were nothing to bring on a shout, I turned my focus from those challenges to the faithfulness of the Lord, and everything changed.

I started to thank Him for my salvation and His goodness to me.  I sang praises to Him for who He was, “a great God, a great King above all gods” with the resources of the universe at His disposal.  After all, “He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it.  His hands formed the dry land, too.” (4-5)  My challenges had not yet changed, but the burden of them lifted, and I felt 50 pounds lighter, something, of course, I always like to feel.

Later that day, I knelt to thank Him for my friend and for the joy that came out of the gloom.  My heart became quiet.  I found no words to say and could only pause in His Holy presence as peace and rest flooded my being that nothing else, no substitute, could ever bring.  “Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.  We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.” (6-7)  Tucked there under the folds of my Shepherd’s garment, I was humbled by the knowledge that He was taking care of all my needs, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want..” (Psalm 23:1)

Whether in rowdy praise or in humble adoration, Psalm 95 calls us to worship, “Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully…Come, let us worship and bow down.”  Something to consider today. 

Moving Forward: Gettin’ my praise on today, moving forward with a song in my heart and a praise on my lips, remembering “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 16

I Chronicles 1-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Because of His great love, He adopted us

I’m going to write about your family today. Oh…you didn’t know that I knew them?  Well, yes, I know a little bit about them.  In fact, today we read all about your ancestors as well as mine, many of whom were dynamic leaders and people of great faith, and a few bad apples on the old family tree too.  I mean, really, don’t we all come from Adam?

I Chronicles 1-4 records the official family history of the nation of Israel, starting with none other than Adam.  When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are adopted or grafted into the family tree of Israel, so all the inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his family is ours as well. (Romans 11:17)

Just like with our personal family genealogies, we are able to read about our ancestors in the Bible and discover how and why we have arrived at the point where we are today.  So, dear one, I won’t be stopping by for dinner unannounced as family sometimes does, but please keep in mind that we are family and we’re all going to live together someday in one great big glorious city.  Don’t worry – it will be good!

There are so many amazing family members listed in these chapters that it would be impossible to write about all of them today, but a few stand out to me as I read them:  Enoch, who walked with God and never died, now that’s a story all on its own; Noah, the shipbuilder who trusted God in the face of ridicule; Abraham who left home and all that he knew to settle in an unfamiliar land just because he trusted God; David, the King after God’s own heart; and Jabez, our example of the man who prayed and God granted his requests.  Most of these are listed in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11.  What a heritage!  Also listed were dozens of faithful kings, priests and prophets – such an impressive background we have.

The next time our enemy comes around to demean and to discourage us by reminding us of our more recent family members who may not be so illustrious or to remind us of our own dismal past, we have something to declare. We come from a long line of Royalty, we are Kings, we are Priests, we are blood-bought, (Revelations 1:6) and these are things our enemy will never be.  We will someday rule and reign, and these are things that he will never do.  Because of who we are in Jesus, we really don’t have to take any of his talk!

As I think about where we come from, who we are and where we’re going, I can’t help but remember the verse that puts it all in perspective for me.  In Revelations 4:10-11, represented by the 24 elders, we learn what we the redeemed, His royal family, will do with our crowns when we stand before Him, “And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, ‘You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power.  For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.’”   We may have a great and impressive heritage; but when it’s all said and done, it’s really all about Him.

Moving Forward: Head held high, I move forward today remembering who He is and remembering who I am because of Him.  I’ve got great genes

Tomorrow @ Psalms 93-95

Leviticus 25-27 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He sent His Son to be our family redeemer 

@Leviticus 25
“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger, a-wandring through, this world of woe.  Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger in that bright land, to which I go…”  No one really knows the origin of this old spiritual about a stranger traveling through hard times on to a better place.  I think of this song when I read Leviticus 25 because it serves as a reminder to me that we are just passing through this life on our way to eternity with God which, by the way, is a much better place.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me.  You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” (23)  As with the Israelites, it would be good for us to remember our status.  Created to fellowship with the Lord, our time here on earth is but a moment, a vapor as James says in James 4:14, where we are given the opportunity to choose our eternal destination.  We cherish this fellowship with Him while living our time out in this world, but life is just temporary housing on the way to our future.

When I spend a week or two in a vacation home somewhere, I realize I’m not going to stay there forever.  I don’t take up ownership and worry about the place not being perfect for all my needs like having an espresso machine, etc., because I’m not staying there long.  Oh, that we would remember our place as foreigners, strangers, on this earth, not so concerned how perfect it is for us, but looking for a city “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10 KJV).  We are tenant farmers working for Him.

With the foundation set in verse 23, God was able to incorporate His plans for providing for those who had fallen on hard times and needing help to move forward, “If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him.” (25)  Understanding that they were foreigners and tenant farmers, the Israelites could more easily be generous with their land and their money.  The close relative, the family redeemer, gave of himself to buy back the land so that no one was destitute.  When we keep in mind the fact that we, too, are strangers and sojourners through this land, we will be more generous and give more of ourselves.

As we travel through this life, we are given the opportunity to accept and fellowship with God because of our family redeemer, our older Brother, who purchased our sin-stained lives with His own blood, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And the ransom He paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (I Peter 1:18-19)   We may be strangers in this land, but because of His ransom, we are not homeless.  Just like the old southern gospel song, we’re “looking for that city, where we’ll never die…” (Dalton/Cooper)

We’ve finished reading what some consider the dreaded Leviticus.  Who would have thought that it was so relevant for us today and that it held so many truths?  Well, of course, He knew, and that’s why He saw to it that it was included in the Holy Bible.

Moving Forward: Just passing through this world; but thanks to my family redeemer, I’m enjoying sweet fellowship with the Lord along the way. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 1-4

2 Thessalonians (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven…” for His loved ones 

The power of the written word!  This is something I don’t take lightly.  From this power, countries have formed, wars have commenced and love has flourished.  The written word is a powerful impacting force that affects our lives every day.  Facebook has become a new form of written communication that delivers spontaneous and immediate information, sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it’s not.  A post can be removed with a simple tap of the finger, but for those few moments it remains online, the words are out there with a destiny that is difficult to predict.  As a rule, once the written word leaves our hand, it’s difficult to retrieve and impossible to control how it is perceived.  Paul found this to be true in his own life.

Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica was intended to be one of encouragement and hope regarding future events, but instead, it brought confusion and distress to the church.  Some in the church were grieving over fellow believers who had died, and Paul wrote these words of comfort in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.”  Well, I don’t know about you, but these words make me want to shout!  They bring encouragement to us; but for the Thessalonians, not so much.

2 Thessalonians
False prophets took Paul’s first letter and ran with it saying that this prophecy had already begun, and they caused fear and turmoil for many in the church.  Paul assured them that it was not true and other events would first occur before the prophecy was fulfilled. (2:1-4)  Others adopted an “escapism” mentality and thought Christ’s imminent return was an excuse to quit work and wait for the shout and the trumpet. They sat around leeching off others and meddling in their business.  Paul, not one to mince words, reminded them, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” (3:10)  I like that.

Strange that these same responses to Paul’s first letter still happen today, but in this day and age, we are without excuse.  At the writing of the letters to the Thessalonians, little to none of the New Testament had been written and circulated.  The church had grown through oral teachings based on the life of Christ and the Old Testament.  Today we are privileged to read the entire Word of God – the Old Testament prophecies, the Gospels with the prophetic words of Jesus, Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired messages of the end times and the glorious Revelations of John.  The written Word is powerful, and I am encouraged just as Paul intended!

When I was young, I was often called over to the window or to the kitchen screen door by my mom where she would point to the sky and say, “See those clouds, Phyllis.  Someday Jesus will come back in those clouds to take us to heaven.  Make sure your heart is ready for Him and listen for His shout, listen for the trumpet.  He’s coming back.”  She anticipated His imminent return. However, she didn’t just sit back and wait for that day.  No, she worked every day for Him and testified to hundreds and hundreds of individuals about Jesus until the day she died.  One thing I know from Paul’s writing, and there’s no debate here, is that should the Lord return for us today, my mom will rise first to meet Him from the grave, and she would like that. 

Moving Forward: I went to my window this morning and looked at the clouds hoping to see Him and to hear the shout because I’m expecting Him to come any moment. Until He comes, however, I’m going to work for Him just as hard as I can. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 25-27

John 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He became human and dwelt with us, revealing Himself to us

My mom was a personal soul winner like no one else I’ve ever known.  Although she was somewhat shy by nature, when it came to sharing her love for Jesus with others, she was fearless!  Her favorite tool was a small booklet of the Book of John, and I can’t even begin to number how many she gave out to those she had led to Lord.

Sometimes she would run out of her copies of John, but I can still hear her telling the new ones in the Lord, “Just read the Book of John! Read the Book of John because it will tell you all about Jesus.”  Mom loved this book because as a new Christian, before she found a church home or Christian friends, God directed her to read it.  Within the pages of John, she fell in love with her Savior, discovered her Shepherd and met the Great Physician.  Needless to say, the Book of John is a favorite of mine, too.

While the other gospels include wonderful, anointed biographies of the life and times of Jesus on earth, John’s approach in writing was different, more thematic.  Just as a lawyer systematically presents his argument to a jury, John gave a deliberate and methodical case for the deity and power of Jesus.  His closing argument, if you will, is found nearly at the end of John in chapter 20:30-31, “The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you will have life by the power of His name.”   Persuaded by the powerful words of John and our own undeniable experience, my mom and I accept the verdict – Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)  In our language of today, the term Word is an unusual way to begin a case for the deity of Christ, but in John’s day, it was a term familiar to Jew and Greek alike.  To the Jew it was a term used for God; and to the Greek, Word was a term used to represent the current philosophy or reason of an expressed thought.  During the troubled times of persecution after the fall of Jerusalem, John was able to capture the attention of both the Jew and the Greek.

Similar to the Greeks, today much of the world’s thinking about God and His Son is ruled by philosophy and reason without faith – He was simply a good man or possibly a prophet. Just as my mom had discovered, the words of John along with the testimony of our personal acceptance of Him are powerful tools to convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God.

I love the unforgettable words from John – “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), “For God so loved the world that He gave” (3:16), “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep” (10:11), “Now you are my friends (15:15), and so much more.  Just read the Book of John!  Read the Book of John because it will tell you all about Jesus. And we will read it.

Moving Forward:  I’m convinced, and willing to share with anyone who will listen, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Word, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Mighty Counselor, the Healer…and my friend. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Thessalonians