Hebrews 11-13 (NLT link) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 1-3

Acts 5-6 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will protect His own in ways we can’t imagine

Most of us remember individuals who have impacted our walk with the Lord, either introducing us to Him or guiding us along in our growth.  I am still able to visualize the precious woman who led the Children’s Church when I was five and six years old and also the dear sisters, Margie and Harriet, who directed Junior Children’s Church Sunday after Sunday.  Their Bible stories and commitment to the Lord spoke loudly to my young heart about what was really important in life.  No one has impacted my spiritual life more than my own mom who lived out the gospel that she testified about so boldly every day of her life.  I’m so thankful for this rich heritage of my faith, but I’m also thankful for a man I’ve never met whose words have indirectly impacted all of our lives today. 

@ Acts 5
As we read last week, the High Council of Jews did not know what to do with Peter and John and their bold witness for Christ.  The apostles continued to preach even though they were told not to do so and were arrested once again.  Then, they somehow escaped from jail and were once again on the streets preaching, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (29)  There are religious zealots today with this same tenacity. Unfortunately, their goal is to destroy lives rather than save them.  I’ve wondered if I would have the same determination as the apostles to share Jesus with others if I faced the threat of death.  I pray that I would.

The High Council determined to kill the apostles until one of their own, the Pharisee Gamaliel, gave them cause to pause, “So my advice is, leave these men alone.  Let them go.  If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (38-39)

Way to go Gamaliel!  He more than likely thought this insurrection would die out, but I appreciate that he considered the possibility that it was from God.  He seemed to be the only voice of reason present that day, and because of it, the apostles lived and went on to establish a strong church in Jerusalem.  When this church was persecuted, it scattered and eventually the gospel reached all the way through the ages to me.

Since that time, many false prophets have threatened the church and caused us to be skeptical of any move of God that is different than what we have experienced; but at the same time, many true revivals have blessed and enriched the church.  When we are confronted with a new move or revival, we will do well to be cautious in our criticism and skepticism of it.  Instead, it would be wise to measure its message and its messengers by the Word of God rather than its style. If it is true and valid, we would not want to find ourselves “fighting against God!” 

Moving Forward:  Anything from you, Lord, I want it!  I don’t care how different it may seem to me, because if it’s from you, no man can overthrow it.

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 11-13

Micah (NLT link) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ Acts 5-6

Proverbs 29-30 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He keeps safe those who trust in Him

One morning a couple of years ago I was sitting in my family room having devotions when the doorbell rang.  It was early, I wasn’t expecting anyone and wasn’t dressed for the day, so I decided not to respond.  After repeated ringing, I looked out a security window in the door to see a young man.  Moments later I turned to see him peering in the family room window across the house right where I had been sitting.  When I heard glass shatter, it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was up to no good.

I grabbed the house phone, my cell phone and ran out the front door, robe and all, and started phoning 911 and my husband as well as yelling to my neighbors.  The police arrived in four, I repeat, four minutes and caught the man as he circled around to get his car left in my driveway.  Now, a little advice to any would-be felons out there, it’s not terribly smart to park your car in the victim’s driveway and, of course, even less smart to be a felon.  Although the police said my response was textbook, it was a terrifying experience.  Even now when the doorbell rings, I sometimes feel the chill of fear for a brief moment, but then fear of man comes in a variety of ways. 

@ Proverbs 29
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” (25)  People who experience a frightening situation like I did often become too afraid to live a normal life.  Others are so afraid of people that they won’t leave their homes.  These individuals are afraid of what man may do to them.  Abraham, the great man of faith, was so fearful of the Egyptian men that he told them that his wife, Sarah, was his sister.  I’ve always wondered how this made her feel – fear makes us do unnatural things.  Peter denied knowing Jesus three times out of fear for his life, and I think we know from scripture how his behavior made the Lord feel.  Fear will turn us into something we don’t want to be.

Sometimes we fear what people think of us, and that is every bit as debilitating as fear for our lives.  Moses almost missed his mission in life of delivering the Israelites out of Egypt because he was afraid they wouldn’t accept him, afraid that they would question his authority.  Many of the Old Testament prophets feared that their messages would be rejected and mocked by the people. “Fearing people is a dangerous trap” and may keep us from fulfilling our calling.

Fear may keep us from sharing the gospel with others because we are afraid they will reject our message or laugh at us.  Fear may stop us from using our gifts and talents for the Lord because we are afraid of making a mistake in front of others.  Fear is a tool the devil uses to stop us cold, and that is why it is so dangerous.

However, “trusting the Lord means safety.” To overcome fear, we need to change our perspective and who better than God to help us do that, “I, yes I, am the one who comforts you.  So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear?” (Isaiah 51:12)  God is the eternal One, not man, and He holds our eternal souls in the safety of His hand. He is the one who keeps us and protects us.  When we focus on the faithfulness of Almighty God instead of fearing mere humans, there’s nothing left to stop us from pursuing all that God has for us and those things with eternal value. 

Moving Forward: I can pursue all that God has for me today because I’m trusting in Him, not fearing any man. 

Tomorrow @ Micah

Psalm 119 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He came so that we may live free

Psalm 119!  Observations from the longest chapter in the Bible condensed to a short blog? Impossible!  This favorite Psalm of mine is also about my favorite subject – the Word of God.  If that theme isn’t detected in its reading, then somebody isn’t paying attention.  Of the 176 verses in this Psalm, 171 of them refer to none other than the God’s Word, the love of it, the meditation of it, the understanding of it, the challenge of it and so much more.

My mom quoted to me from Psalm 119 regularly when I was young, especially verse 11, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  After the Bibles were removed from China in the last century, mom would remind me that the only scriptures that most Chinese Christians had were verses they had committed to memory and how much they cherished them.  I responded by memorizing my Sunday School verses each week because I couldn’t imagine living without God’s Word.  She often quoted another classic Psalm 119 verse, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and light for my path.” (105)  Even as a little child, I understood that a path could only be followed if it could be seen, and I didn’t want to get lost.

One of my personal favorites is verse 45 because it doesn’t make sense at all in the natural, yet it is so very true:  “I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.”  It’s difficult to understand how someone can walk in freedom but also walk in obedience to the commandments of God.  True freedom is not the ability to do only what we desire to do, something that can change from whim to whim.  True freedom is the ability to be what we were created to be.

When we walk in obedience to how the Creator directs our lives through His Word, we are not put in a position of having to live out the consequences of our sins.  We are not bound to confusion and indecision because we know how to respond to life through reading His Word.  He wrote the playbook, and we are able to fulfill our destiny through our obedience to Him with worry-free living. Freedom!

Jesus confirmed this freedom when He said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.  A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:34-36)  Free? Indeed!

Moving Forward:  I wouldn’t trade for anything in this world the freedom that comes from obedience to God’s commandments in His Word. I’ve hidden them in my heart, and they are a continual light for my path. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 28-30

2 Chronicles 16-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He searches for the cry of the righteous heart and will answer

As parents, it’s difficult to watch our teenagers struggle through situations because they have refused our help.  We’re standing close by them, ready to help at a moment’s notice, but it’s as if they forget that we are the ones who brought them to this point in life through our guidance and direction.  Instead, we see them turn to peers or others who really don’t know them at all for the help that we are so willing to give.  We watch and wait for any indication that would tell us they are seeking our guidance.  I wonder if this was somewhat how the Lord felt when King Asa, who had sought His help for many years, decided to turn to others for help. 

@ 2 Chronicles 16
King Asa started his reign in a positive manner.  God was his help, his source and the one he ran to for help. Last week we read the covenant Asa and the Israelites made with the Lord, “Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.”  Because of Asa’s reliance and trust in the Lord, the country was protected from war.

Unfortunately, as time when on, Asa decided he no longer needed his Father’s help, and he made alliances with Aram to secure protection for Israel instead of praying to God.  A prophet came and pronounced judgment on Israel because of this, “What a fool you have been!  From now on you will be at war.” (9)  Then, to add insult to injury, “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (12)  There’s nothing wrong with using physicians, but why not seek the Lord’s help first?

God, the Father of all Israel, was standing by waiting for Asa to pray for help, but Asa failed to do so.  What happened to cause this change in his heart anyway?  And why do we fail to pray when we should and instead turn to others for help?   I once heard an evangelist say that pride keeps us from praying.  When we fail to pray for a need and in turn make alliances with others for help, we are saying to God that we feel we can handle it all by ourselves.  We really don’t need His help.  Or perhaps we don’t trust that God is able to manage our problem, and in a sense, that is pride too.

Just like a loving parent, God is standing by waiting for us to ask for help.  After all, He knows our need before we even pray because of how intimately He knows us.  In fact, the prophet told Asa, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (9)  God is actually searching to help those who trust in Him.  David declared it in Psalm 34:15 and Peter did as well in I Peter 3:12, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help.”  Do we really want to let a thing like pride or unbelief keep the Creator of the Universe, the One who knows us best, from helping us in our time of need?  I pray not! 

Moving Forward:  Oh yes, I need His help today. I can’t do it myself. Hear my cry, Lord. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 119

Numbers 33-36 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His instructions will provide a blessed future for us

I really don’t like going to the doctor, but sometimes I just have to do it.  A while back a doctor diagnosed me with pharyngitis, sinusitis and some other itis and then ordered a prescription of antibiotic to kill all the infection.  His most important instruction was that I will be certain to take all the medicine even when I started feeling better because we want to kill all the infection or it could return.  And really, when those with experience and authority give instructions to us, it’s wise to follow them.  Sadly, the Israelites just didn’t see it that way. 

@ Numbers 33
The Israelites had finally finished their 40-year trek in the desert and sat poised to enter Canaan, God’s Promised Land.  Through Moses, God gave a prescription of sorts to the Israelites for them to enjoy a healthy and productive life in Canaan.  “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.” (51-53)  The instructions seem clear enough, take all the medicine, drive out all the people and destroy all their idols.

Like my doctor explained to me, God let the Israelites know what would happen should they fail to drive out all the people, “But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live.  And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” (55-56)  And as we know, that is precisely what happened to Israel.

Because they failed to drive out all the Canaanites and destroy all the idols, the Israelites’ everyday lives were slowly infiltrated by them, and this brought about their downfall.  Eventually, the Assyrians and Babylonians swept in and drove them out of their land.  What part of all do we not understand?

I’m happy to report that I have taken all my medicine so that not even a little trace of infection is left to grow and infect my body again. What we don’t destroy could destroy us. And so it is with sin.  How foolish it is to preserve something that we know to be sin simply because it seems so harmless, because it is too beautiful to let go of or because it makes us feel good.  There’s no such thing as a little bit of pornography, a little bit of stealing or a little bit of lying because eventually it will grow, spread and easily affect our entire lives.

The lesson we learn from the Israelites today is to follow all of God’s instructions, and then we can be assured that we will live happily and healthily in the land He has given us.

Moving Forward: Lesson learned! Taking all my medicine and following all of God’s instructions. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 16-20