Numbers 21-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He has provided salvation through His Son

After seeing hundreds of young lives receive salvation and a touch by His Spirit at camp one summer, we drove the 45 minutes home over the weekend to get refreshed, wash clothes and buy supplies for the next week of camp. This particular weekend my husband Tom was out ministering, but I stayed home with our children.  I got up one night to visit the bathroom, and when just about finished, I looked down on the floor and saw movement.  It was a snake.

The snake in my bathroom had to be reckoned with because this worn out body would not get needed rest for the week ahead with a snake in the house.  I prayed for His strength, woke up my 9 year-old son and loaded us up with shovels and hoes. We went after that 14 inch snake as though our lives depended on it, and got it!  Unfortunately, the Israelites’ snake encounter did not go as well as ours did. 

@ Numbers 21
The Israelites had just won a huge battle and defeated the Canaanites.  The Promised Land was within a few days reach after 40 years in the desert, but they became impatient.  They knew the journey ahead through Moab would be long, they were tired of manna and they wanted to possess the land now.  They complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’ So the Lord sent poisonous [fiery] snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (5-6)  Oh…

“Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’   So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (7-9)  In a weakened moment after a great victory, the Israelites sinned, but a replica of the very thing that had caused them pain became their salvation.  In just a short time they went on to possess their land.

I don’t remember complaining about anything that summer weekend invoking a snake encounter to bring about correction from the Lord as it did with Israel.  I do know that I was worn out, somewhat depleted and a perfect target for the enemy who sends His fiery darts in weak moments.  It’s often after a great victory for the Lord, like the powerful camps we had experienced or the Israelites’ mighty victory, that the enemy brings his attack.  However, Jesus has already provided the remedy for us.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)  Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), became the very thing that was killing us so that we may be saved and have eternal life with Him.

And we may also look to Him for salvation from the enemy’s fiery attacks against the body, soul and spirit.  The enemy did not win in my life that weekend, and we went on for yet another great week at youth camp, lives changed by the power of God.  When we turn our focus to Jesus, high and lifted up, whatever our fiery trial may be, He will bring victory. 

Moving Forward:  Jesus lifted up! I look to Him today for salvation and deliverance because He paid the price for me on the cross. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 1-5

Philemon (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we generously forgive others

As a rule, we’ll do just about anything for our good friends.  We celebrate with them on their joyous occasions, and we run to them to give comfort and aid in their difficult moments.  It is disheartening to have a friendship dissolve over a dispute or offense.  In our reading today, Paul was treading on dangerous ground in his friendship with Philemon.

Philemon was a prosperous businessman in Colossae who hosted the church in his home.  Paul had nothing but good to say about him, “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (4-7)  A careful reader may catch that this is not just a casual letter, but one with an agenda of sorts, “praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.”  A request was coming.

Philemon’s slave from the past, Onesimus, had either stolen from him or damaged his property and had run away.  This betrayal by someone he trusted had obviously caused heartache to Paul’s dear friend. Sometime later, the slave happened to encounter Paul in Rome and accepted the Lord as his Savior. Paul had some choices to make – keep Onesimus as his assistant and remain silent, turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities where he could possibly face death or return him to Philemon for punishment.

And now the request, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus.  I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” (8-10) Circumstances had changed over the course of time. Yes, Onesimus was a slave, sadly a role that was acceptable at that time, but now he was a fellow believer.  Salvation is the great equalizer in life. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).

Paul may have been referring to the meaning of the name “Onesimus” which means profitable or useful as he continued in his request, “Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.”(11) Paul was definitely placing their friendship on the line when he added a promise to personally pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon. He added, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!”  (19)

Although this comment sounds remarkably like a major guilt trip, Paul was counting on Philemon to remember that at one time he, too, was forgiven and set free from sin.  Jesus paid a debt for him that he did not owe just as Paul was willing to do for Onesimus.  This personal letter of Paul’s serves to remind us all of the forgiveness and grace that has been extended to us.  How could we not extend it to others?

In situations where others have cheated us or been unkind, it is so very helpful to remember that God loves them as much as He loves us.  He may not like their deeds, but He sent His Son to die for that very reason.  When we forgive and offer mercy to others, we are behaving like Jesus, and that could only be good. 

Moving Forward: Should the occasion arise today, I choose to forgive others for any unkindness, remembering that God loves them.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 21-24

John 16-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is praying for us

I can’t begin to imagine how strange it would feel to find out that the leader of my nation was thinking about me right now, talking with his staff about my life and possibly about the challenges I’m facing.  Of course, the leaders of most countries have a general concern for the welfare of their constituents, the people who vote for them, but I’m talking about my leader zeroing in on little old me with his thoughts and concerns.  For this, my friends, I am not holding my breath, but it’s a fascinating notion.  It would be humbling, and actually frightening, to think that anyone with power and prestige would focus on me.  However… 

@ John 17
I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (20-21)  Forget presidents and powerful leaders! This is astounding to me! Jesus, the Son of God, present at creation, seated at the right hand of God the Father is thinking about me, and He is praying for me.  He is concerned about my welfare – and He is someone who can actually do something about it.

In His prayer, Jesus first prayed for His disciples who had followed Him while He was on earth, but added, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me.”  As His followers and disciples today, we, too, are included in His prayer.  The prayer Jesus offered to God for us in Chapter 17 was not a multipurpose “God bless, so and so,” etc.  No, He had specific requests in mind.

Jesus prayed for our protection.  “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” (14-16)  What in this world do we have to fear with Jesus praying for our protection?

Jesus prayed for holiness.  “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” (17-19) Jesus paid a great price for our holiness.  How could we ever trade it or dirty it for the pleasures of this world?  His truth sets us free from all that.

Jesus prayed for our unity. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (22-23)  He has given us the glory of God, the revelation of who God is, by revealing Himself to us.  This is our common bond, our unity.

As the body of Christ, we may differ in style of worship or formality, but we should let nothing we do hinder or damage our message of Christ crucified so that the world will know that God loves them.  How could we do anything to impede God’s perfect plan to save a lost world?

Jesus is praying for us!  “Sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” (Romans 8:34)   “He lives forever to intercede with God on [our] behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25)  No matter what we’re facing today, perhaps feeling like no one cares enough to even pray for us, we can be assured that Jesus cares.  He is thinking about us, talking to God about us, zeroing in on us and praying for us.  So very humbling. 

Moving Forward:  One of my favorite songs, “He’s ever interceding to the Father for His children…Through Him you can reach the Father so bring Him all your heavy burdens…” (C. Gillman) 

Tomorrow @ Philemon

Amos 1-4 (NLT link)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ John 16-18

Proverbs 23-24

Discover His heart: God sees our hearts and knows our thoughts

“Women and children first!”  I’ll never forget that phrase called out over and over again in the movie Titanic as survivors boarded the ship’s lifeboats.  It has become the mantra for all disasters, marine and otherwise.  The few men who pushed aboard the lifeboats as if they didn’t know the protocol were considered cowards, but actually, most men were lost at sea in that disaster.

Those in the lifeboats who ignored the cries of their fellow passengers seemed heartless.  What a helpless feeling to see hundreds and hundreds of people perish for such senseless reasons – pride in a vessel that could not sink and apathy towards others – outrageous!  Oh, that we would be even more outraged by the many souls perishing all around us! 

@ Proverbs 24
“If you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death, those who go staggering to the slaughter; if you say, “Look, we did not know this”— does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it? And will he not repay all according to their deeds?” (11-12) Some pretty tough words from Solomon, but very significant for us today.  It always amazes me that we think we could fool the One who knows everything.  When we fail to give the hope of eternal life to our friends and neighbors, we may fool them or those who are watching our lives, but we could never fool Him.

How could we not know? Our newspapers and newscasts are filled with stories from around the world of those who are killed because of their skin color, religion, heritage or simply because they are breathing – unjustly sentenced to die.  These atrocities should drive us to our knees with prayers of protection and rescue, they should compel us to give to compassion ministries for their relief and to respond to whatever doors are opened to us.  Our protest must be heard!

And speaking of those who are taken away to death, I can’t help but think of the millions of helpless little ones whose lives are snatched from them while they are growing in what should be the most secure place in the world for them.  We could never excuse ourselves by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.”  He knows that we know, yet we do so very little to stop it.

Most consider these verses a call for evangelism, “Rescue those being led away to death…” (NIV).  Rescue those who may not be innocent of sin but run through life unaware of sin and its penalty, ignorantly led to their death. The facts are this – sin entered the world in the garden, delivering a death sentence for all of us.  All those we encounter each day without the forgiveness of sin are on an eternal Titanic, forever lost from God.  Our merciful God doesn’t want anyone to perish, and He sent His Son to save them.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Everyone who believes in Him will not perish!  It takes so little effort for us to offer a hand into the lifeboat to those who are sinking.  However, we just seem to ignore their silent cries for help at times and look past their struggles to stay afloat.

A song from the old Salvation Army songbook that I heard as a little girl comes to mind.  Yes, the song may seem ancient, but the message is lifesaving. “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.” (F.Crosby) The words and story of this old hymn are all about rescuing those who are being led to their death, rescuing them with the message of Jesus.  A valuable read. (Read them here). 

Moving Forward: Solomon reminds me today that God knows me, and He knows that I know that He has given me a mission. 

Tomorrow @ Amos 1-4

Psalms 108-110 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: His goodness fills us with songs of praise

We’ve all heard the old joke, “Did you wake up grumpy this morning?”  “No, I just went ahead and let him sleep.”  So often God puts together a night owl and a morning person in marriage – challenges right from the start!  We all know that chipper morning person who jumps out of bed ready to take on the day, and then we know the night owl who considers morning totally unnecessary.  Some of us are both, and we burn the candle at both ends never getting enough sleep.  I love the morning, but I really don’t want to talk about it until I’ve had at least one stiff belt of coffee.  Regardless of our mindset about morning, we can open our eyes each day with a confidence in our hearts that only God can give just like David did.

@Psalm 108
“My heart is confident in you, O God; no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!  Wake up, lyre and harp!  I will wake the dawn with my song.” (1-2)  In Psalm 108, David repeated these verses from Psalm 57, and I think this passage bears repeating as well.  (See May 17@Psalms 57-59)  I must admit I’ve started some days with my joy being tested.  Negative thoughts and feelings have overwhelmed me and trying to kick-start the day is like biking uphill – it’s hard work.

David expressed the right way to start the day.  He woke up confident, not in himself but confident in the One who gave him the day, “This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)  We certainly had nothing to do with the making of this day, and if He found it valuable enough to give it to us, then we probably should be thankful for it.  David woke up thankful, “I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.  I will sing your praises among the nation.”(3)  And he woke up praising, “For your unfailing love is higher than the heavens.  Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.  May your glory shine over all the earth.”(4-5)  There’s just no room for gloom or doom when we’re focused on Him.

It’s impossible to wake up grumpy when our first thoughts are on the Lord and His goodness to us, as well as taking care of our last thoughts before we fall asleep.  I often find myself singing a song I heard a few years ago, “I woke up this morning with my mind on Jesus…I saw the sun rise and I felt the gentle breeze blow.  I woke up this morning with my mind on Jesus.” (Jordan) The best part of waking up isn’t Folgers in my cup – it’s Jesus on my mind. 

Moving Forward:  Confident, thankful, praising and with my mind on Jesus – it’s going to be a great day! 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 23-24

I Chronicles 25-29 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He created us to enjoy intimacy with Him 

@ I Chronicles 28
“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind.” (9)  David was rounding the final bend of his life when he gave these wonderful principles to help guide his son.  Even though his life had some rough moments, David was qualified to give this exhortation because we know from reading the Psalms of his intimacy with God.

When I read them, I think of my mom expressing these words to me, “And Phyllis, my daughter, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately…” because she, like David, enjoyed an intimate relationship with God.  As a young girl it took me quite a while to grasp what David was expressing to his son.

Many years ago I listened to a group of women discuss the challenges of keeping a fresh daily relationship going with the Lord while raising children, working and traveling, and I understood the struggle all too well.  There are days when it’s difficult to even get a brush through our hair, much less spend some devotional time with the Lord.  The consensus in that meeting was that God understands if we put our relationship with Him on hold for a few years until we have more time.  I don’t think so.

The truth is that God loves us no matter what, literally to the point of death, but I don’t think He understands being put on hold until we can make some time for Him.  Somehow in our busyness we have lost our purpose if we think He isn’t going to miss us, and just as David was reminding his son of life’s priorities, we need reminders on our journey as well.

The message is clear from Genesis to Revelation—God created mankind with much more in mind than providing a caretaker for His garden.  We were created for Him to lavish His abundant love on us through an intimate relationship.  Made in His image, our desire for loving relationships in our lives reflects His desire for loving relationships, and He has chosen us!  Our purpose for being is not the roles we enjoy as husband or wife, father or mother, etc.  No, God has given us breath today for intimacy with Him, and everything else, while worthy and fulfilling, is secondary.

I wish I could say that I’m the poster child for intimacy with God, but unfortunately that would not be true.  In recent years, however, I’ve changed my priorities each day.  Sleep is less important to me if I need to get up earlier to spend time with Him. In fact, I desire to put everything else on hold instead of Him.  I’ve learned that the day goes better when I first fulfill my purpose for breathing.

 I’ve learned that He isn’t requiring marathon devotions every day.  He just wants to touch me and be touched, to love me and be loved.  Just like every other relationship, this requires time and care that sometimes may last for only a few minutes or sometimes for much longer. I’ve learned that the more intimate we become with Him, the more there is to learn about Him, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. 

Moving Forward: I’m thankful for the reminder from David to continue to know my God intimately.  God is my first priority today. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 108-110