2 Kings 11-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He sees our good deeds, but rewards our strong and faithful finish

As somewhat of an overachiever in school, my dismay at discovering an Incomplete on my college grades one semester was huge.  How did it happen?  This was unacceptable!  After investigation, I found that someone, a professor who will remain nameless, had lost my final term paper, leaving my classroom work unfinished, incomplete, undone.   Of course as dramatic as this was for me, it pales in comparison to, say, Schubert’s The Unfinished Symphony, or Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales.  However, my term paper eventually was recovered, and I received the grade I desired.  And these two gentlemen? Well let’s just say that they have some work left to do.

Today we read about a number of other men who failed to complete the task they had started, and the repercussions were much more impacting than incomplete grades, symphonies and novels.  The kings of Judah, namely Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah and Jotham, started their reigns on the right track but didn’t finish strong, “Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…Yet even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.” (12:2-3)  This was said about each of these kings.  Many of them accomplished good things for Israel, but did not complete the work that needed to be done as their forefather David had done in removing the occult places of worship and sacrifice.  Why didn’t they finish the job, complete the task, do the deed?

As for Joash, he became king at the ripe age of 7.  The priest, Jehoiada, influenced much of Joash’s early years, including the repairing of the temple.  Perhaps they felt that with the temple once again a beautiful house of worship, the Israelites would soon forget about the pagan shrines, but it didn’t happen.  It would have been wiser destroying the sin rather than ignoring it with hope that it would just go away.  When we don’t deal with sin, it somehow manages to rear its ugly head somewhere down the line.  Eventually Joash worshipped at the shrines himself.  Ugh.

Popularity may have been an issue for the kings.  The Israelites loved their pagan shrines and the immoral festivities that took place around them, and certainly any king who destroyed them would suffer drastically in the polls.  However, I would think these kings would have preferred unpopularity over the murder and disease that finally took them. The story could have ended differently for these leaders had they completed their tasks and finished strong.

Rather than accomplishing just a few good things in my life and then falling off the wagon because of sin or seeking popularity instead of godliness, I’m challenged to finish strong for Him.  I want to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7)  No more incompletes for me! 

Moving Forward: May I remain faithful to Him, not only finishing the job, but finishing strong! 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 84-86

Leviticus 16-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He has reconciled us to Him through the sacrifice of His Son

One of the most valuable commodities in the world today is a pint of AB negative blood, at least it is for those who have this rare blood type.  These individuals often have blood taken and stored for their own use should they need it as a result of injury or sickness because less than 1% of the population carries this blood type.  Scary thought.  No one can live without blood.  God said to Moses, “the life of the body is in its blood,” (11) and He would know. 

@ Leviticus 17
Leviticus is filled with instructions regarding animal sacrifices and the use of their blood in attaining reconciliation with God, sharing more detail than I think I would need to know.  But what may seem like a preoccupation on the subject was more accurately God’s desire to preserve the honor and integrity of the blood because He was looking forward to Calvary.

Animals could be used for food, clothing and even medicine, but their blood was to be used for only one thing – the atonement for sin.  “I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood.’” (11-12)

My first thought is why would the Israelites need such instruction?  However, this was a practice in their culture because of their idolatrous worship of other gods, such as the sacrificing to goat idols or demons mentioned earlier in the chapter.  By drinking the blood of animals in their rituals, they thought they would capture the life force or energy of the creatures.  With the greatest force of life, the Source of all energy in the Universe and the Creator of all things guiding them by day and night with a pillar of cloud and fire, it’s impossible for me to understand the attraction to drinking blood, diluting the symbol of His atonement for their sins.  Only the enemy of their souls could entice them in this way.

These scriptures should give us pause to consider our culture’s present fascination with vampires, blood and the like.  As believers, should our entertainment include anything that glorifies and focuses on sucking the blood out of people?  I mean, really, how disgusting.  How could I ever put before my eyes something that dishonors or discredits the only eternal life-giving blood, the blood of JesusOnly the enemy of my soul could entice me in that way.  No, my focus should be on this, “With His own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (Hebrews 9:12)  For our bodies, life is in our blood; but for our eternal spirits, life is in His blood.

Moving Forward:  Thinking of the old Andre Crouch song, “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary…the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.”  Taking that song with me today.

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 11-15

Colossians 3-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He has chosen us to be His holy people and expects us to act and look the part.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Mark Twain’s words seem to span the generations – now that’s a good writer!  Naked people may make an impression, but it’s not the right one to make.  Clothes make the man, dress for success and similar prevailing thoughts have generated a multi-billion dollar clothing industry.  The movers and shakers of our day proudly wear their labels – Gucci, Versace, Karan, Coach and Jimmy Choo – and they have paid dearly for them.  At one time I was involved in this industry, a real clothes horse as they say, but I changed my focus many years ago to a more eternal line of clothing.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love the feel of great fabric and a well-made garment, but really, someday moths will eat them all! 

@ Colossians 3
“Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (13)  Paul was encouraging those who came to Christ to go ahead and get a new wardrobe, and who doesn’t like that idea.  It’s a matter of trading the old clothes of selfishness, anger, pride and impatience for mercy and kindness and the other fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 4).

Layer them on and let them be the new you, and forgive everyone in the process.  Talk about the ultimate makeover!  And after we’ve worn our new duds for a while, it doesn’t hurt to go through our clothes occasionally and see what needs to be replaced. Sometimes we slip back into those old clothes of the past, thinking they’re still acceptable, and we discover in the process a little unforgiveness, pride or unkindness.  Allowing the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts will keep us spiritually dressed for success.

Then, just to complete the ensemble, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (14)  Protect all that new fine clothing with a big beautiful coat of love and we will live in harmony with one another and show ourselves to be “the holy people He loves.”  These clothes really do make the man or woman!

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that additional clothing will be needed – an entire suit of armor, but that’s a topic for another day @Ephesians 6. 

Moving Forward: I’m dressing for success today, examining my wardrobe and making sure it will show me to be the holy woman He loves and has chosen me to be. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 16-18

Luke 19-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He gives us all that we need to invest in His Kingdom

When I was young girl my mom often said something similar to “use your talents for the Lord or you’ll lose them.”  I didn’t really know at the time if it was a mommy-ism or hardcore truth, but then later I came to understand it was based on the story in Matthew 25 and this similar story in Luke 19 about the king and the money or talents.  When my saxophone was stolen some years later, her words were ringing in my ears.

I played my saxophone in college and in church for many years, but now it sat in the corner of the basement, pads drying out, picking up a musty smell.  I was in the ministry and just too busy with other things.  Well, someone broke into our home and took only four things – a pillowcase, a small empty piggy bank, a package of frozen hot dogs and yes, my saxophone.  I used to laugh and say that I still had the talent but just lost the saxophone.  However,  now so many years later, I’m fairly certain it’s a lost skill as well.

Jesus used the story of the talents to clear up some misinformation.  The oppressed Jews were looking for Him to overthrow the Roman government and establish Himself as their King, but He was interested in a different Kingdom.  The Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, they crucified Him, He arose and ascended to Heaven and the church age began.  This story gave a clear picture of the responsibilities of His listeners that day as well as for us.

Each servant was given a pound of silver to invest and grow the kingdom, and those who did were praised and rewarded when the king returned.  The servant who hid the money to protect it out of fear of losing it was reprimanded and the money was taken away – he lost it anyway.   I’ve heard plenty of excuses through the years about why Christians can’t use for the Lord what He has put in their hands to do, and I’ve offered many of them myself.  Most will say they just don’t have any talents or gifting to use for the Lord, and I’ve found it hard to argue with a few of them, but if we’re still breathing, then the very least we have is time.  Time, skills, money, intelligence, physical strength – God has given everyone something to use to bless His Kingdom.

A had a friend who owned a beautiful set of china.  It sat deep within her china hutch and was never used because she was afraid it would break or be harmed in some way.  So sad.  In truth, I was tempted to take a dish out and damage it in some way and say, “OK, now the set is ruined, go ahead and use them.”  Of course, I never did it.  The china rarely adorned her table and never served its intended purpose.

Sometimes we hide the talents He’s given us because we fear failure or misuse, but I think we should understand that He rather use a chipped or scratched plate than none at all.  Often we are too focused on our own busy lives or perhaps we’re just too lazy to use what God has put in our hands.

The servants knew that the king would return to see how well they had invested his money and lived for that moment when they would hear “well done, faithful servant.”  We can look forward to the day when Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom, but in the meantime, He expects us to live like He’s returning.  “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

A faithful servant longs to please the One he serves, longs to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)  I’ve always said that when we stand before Him someday, it won’t matter how many things we have accumulated, how clean our house was or the prestigious positions we held.  No, all that will matter is what we did with Jesus and what we did for Him. Once again the reminder, the only thing we take with us into eternity is other people. 

Moving Forward: I want to be the faithful servant today, not hindered and not afraid to invest any talent he has given me for His Kingdom, using those dishes! 

Tomorrow @ Colossians 3-4

Ezekiel 25-30 (NLT link) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ Luke 19-20

Proverbs 10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He purifies our hearts, producing wise words from our lips

With the advent of texting, tweeting and facebooking, not to mention old-school emailing, one might think that speaking has become passé;  but, let me reassure you, as long as at least two women know that there’s a sale going on somewhere, conversation will flow.  It’s just the way it is.  When my seven year old granddaughter chattered for 20 minutes the other day without noticeably breathing, I knew the art of speaking was alive and well. Solomon had much to say about the words we speak – perhaps something to do with having multiple wives – but regardless, his cautions and observations will save us from a great deal of heartache.

Classic wisdom for me is found in Proverbs 10:19, underlined in red in my Bible, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”  Simple, straight up advice.  All of us say words that cause pain at one time or another, intentional or not, and we would give just about anything to retrieve them.  Once our words leave our mouth or enter the social networks, it is impossible to take them back…frightening.  This thought alone should persuade us to guard our words, whether spoken or written.

Jesus took the impact of our words a step further, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  Our words reflect what is in our heart, producing a double exposure, if you will, of not only our thoughts but also of our character.  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Better to be silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

I have always wanted my words to speak life and not death, to speak blessing rather than cursing; but sadly, I have failed on occasion.  However, Solomon’s words encourage me to move on from spoken sins and mistakes and continue striving for words of wisdom, “The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain…Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding…the words of the godly are like sterling silver…The words of the godly encourage many…The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice…The lips of the godly speak helpful words.” (11-32)   Oh, that I will always communicate the words of the godly! 

Moving Forward: Lord, touch my heart today to where my words, both spoken and written, reflect purity and bring encouragement to others. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 25-30

Psalms 81-83 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: “God presides over heaven’s court” and He will judge the judges 

@Psalm 82
Raise your hand if you think the judicial system of our government is always strong, ethical and carries out moral judgments at all times?  I’m sure the response was weak.  Just like our challenges today, Asaph was having trouble finding honorable judges in Israel, “How long will you hand down unjust decisions by favoring the wicked?  Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.  Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.”(2-4)  Sounds like an indictment and a mandate all in one.

Needless to say, the judicial branch of the government that interprets and carries out the laws of the land is a powerful entity.  Only when those judgments are based on God’s moral laws can we as Christians be certain that justice has prevailed rather than opinions, social dictates and godless influences.  While many fine judges carry out their responsibilities across our land, I’m concerned just like Asaph about the decisions of judges that favor the wicked and fail to uphold the rights of our belief, traditional families, unborn babies and vulnerable children.

Psalm 82 makes it clear that God is the judge of the judges, and their day in court will come one day.  “God presides over heaven’s court…you will die like mere mortals and fall like every other ruler. Rise up, O God, and judge the earth, for all the nations belong to you.” (1,7-8)  God always has the last word, but in the meantime what can we do?

Clearly, making careful decisions at the ballot box instead of mindlessly approving judicial appointments is a start, as well as voicing our concerns to our local, state and federal government leadership when immoral judgments are made.

Even more important is praying for them, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)  Our prayers may turn the hearts of immoral or complacent judges to the saving knowledge of God’s truth, and when that happens, we can be assured that we will remain one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and JUSTICE for all. Sounds like a guarantee, a vow…a pledge! 

Moving Forward: I will pray that my judgments today are pure as I preside over my little sphere of influence and I will pray for those with great influence and judgment over my nation. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 10