Proverbs 4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: His wisdom protects our hearts and determines our course in life

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!” (7)  Deep.  We probably won’t spend a lot of time dissecting and examining this statement.  It says what it means, and it’s true. Solomon went on to advise that after we get wisdom, we should develop good judgment, not forget her, not forsake her, guard her with our lives, love her, embrace her and exalt her. (5-13)  It’s interesting to note that wisdom is personified as a woman. That’s all I’m saying…it’s just interesting.  That being said, following Solomon’s instructions will involve the commitment of our will, our emotions and our minds.  In other words, our hearts must be committed in the process of getting wisdom.

The care and protection of our physical hearts get a lot of attention in the media today.  As the list of what we should not eat to protect our hearts grows daily, the list of what we are permitted to eat is reduced to oatmeal, fish oil, fruits and vegetables – make a meal out of that, will you.  Billions of dollars have been dedicated to research regarding the human heart, but Solomon had something completely different in mind when he wrote, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”(23)

While billions of dollars have not been spent researching the spiritual heart, we know from scripture that the heart is viewed as the center of spiritual life, involving our intelligence, our emotions, our will and our morality.  Wherever these characteristics are focused, that is where our heart will be.  Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)  The Wisdom of Solomon and Jesus is really the only information we need in order to protect our spiritual hearts.

When asked what He considered to be the most important commandment of all time, Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  Well, that about covers it – all.  When we love the Lord with everything within us, there isn’t room to love those things  in opposition to Him. We’ll follow Solomon’s advice, “Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers.  Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way.  Turn away and keep moving.”(14-15) In the long run, it’s much easier, much wiser to resist sin at the very start than it is to fight its progress throughout our lives.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Solomon said we guard our hearts by protecting what we say, “Avoid all perverse talk,”(24) and Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “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.”  We guard our hearts by protecting where we look, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” (25) Eve’s downfall escalated when she looked where the enemy was tempting.  And we guard our hearts by protecting where we go, “Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.  Don’t get sidetracked, keep your feet from following evil.” (26-27)  Solomon offered simple tools, full of wisdom, for protecting our spiritual hearts.

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!”  Deeper than we thought! 

Moving Forward: While eating my oatmeal, fish oil and veggies today, I’ll guard my words, my focus and my steps to protect my spiritual heart.  May I leave a legacy of wisdom to be passed on to my children and to my children’s children. 

Tomorrow @ Ezekiel 1-6

Psalms 69-71 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He hears our desperate cries for help and rescues us by His saving power 

@ Psalm 69
“Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck.  Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold…” (1-2) Talk about a sinking feeling!  Whenever I read this Psalm, my mind goes back to a hot summer night in my early teen years. Occasionally on Sunday evenings after church, a group of us gathered at Cedar Lake for a refreshing nighttime swim.  I never ventured far from the shore because my swimming ability was mediocre at best, but one night without realizing it I floated out to an area known for drop-offs.  When I went to stand, nothing was there!  I couldn’t find a foothold and down I went, swallowing half the lake in the process.

Somehow I kicked myself to the surface, gasping for air and flailing in pure panic, and then down again I went.  On my third time down, certain that I heard the old hymn, Coming home, coming home.  Lord, I’m coming home, I stuck my arm up as high as I could in hopes that someone would see it and rescue me.  Obviously, someone did.  I felt tight fingers grab my wrist and pull me up out of the deep water.  My friend saw my splashing and saved me.

There are moments in life when we feel like we are going down for the third time, panicked and overwhelmed by our situation and not able to find a foothold anywhere. I think perhaps this was how David was feeling in this Psalm.  Surrounded by those who hated him without cause (4), even his own brothers, David cried out to God for help from their slander, lies and persecution.  He was sinking fast. It’s no wonder this is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament by the likes of Jesus, Paul, John and Peter, men who understood unjustified persecution. Like me, David was waiting for that hand to reach down and pull him from the deep water and rescue him.

“I endure insults for your sake…Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” (7,9)  Taking a stand for righteousness and for the principles of God often result in hatred and persecution from those who hate God.  I remember reading the news report a few years ago of 19 young men gunned down in a Mexican Teen Challenge Center, a place where young men are delivered from drugs and alcohol.  The drug lords had their revenge.  Each day Christians around the world are persecuted and killed for their faith in God.  At times, many of them experience the fear and panic that David expressed.

We hardly know what persecution for one’s faith is like in this country.  It usually comes in the form of bias or alienation from neighbors or co-workers, and they can make life very difficult.  But make no mistake, many influential leaders hate us because of our faith and would like to stop us or even harm us.  The time may come when we feel like the floodwaters are up to our necks as well.

In the days ahead, our strategy should not be to give up and sink.  Had I not made a commotion to stay afloat years ago, I would not be here today.  Just as my friend responded to my desperate situation, God will respond to our cries for help.  “Answer my prayers, O Lord, for your unfailing love is wonderful. Take care of me…come and redeem me; free me from my enemies…Rescue me, O God, by your saving power.”(16,18,29) 

Moving Forward: Although some have perished for their faith, I will not give up today.  I pray that my desperate cries will cause His hand to reach down and rescue believers everywhere from those who hate and want to do harm. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 4

1 Kings 10-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He grants wisdom for our lives as we follow Him

Sadly, we learn that the wisest man that ever lived wasn’t always all that wise. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’  Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway.  He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.”(11:1-3)  Soon God allowed foreign kings to rise up against Solomon as well as his own people, shortening his reign and his life, ultimately splitting the kingdom.  What was the wisest man in the history of the world thinking?

In response to Solomon’s love for Him, God offered Solomon the moon, but Solomon asked for wisdom instead.  In and of itself, this was wise.  As a young, inexperienced king, he knew he could only survive with God’s help.  As time passed, Solomon’s kingdom was lavished with prosperity and notoriety, so much so that the Queen of Sheba traveled over 1,000 miles to visit him, and in those days that was quite the trip. (10:1-13)  With all this prosperity and unlimited wisdom, Solomon’s reign could have lasted much longer than 40 years, but he had disregarded the if clause in his granted wish.  God said He would give him wisdom and understanding as well as riches and fame for the rest of his life, “…if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”(3:14)

Solomon lost God’s moral direction for his life, the thing that had guided his great wisdom, when he followed his own moral code and worshiped other gods with his many wives.  It seemed wise to Solomon to marry women from neighboring royal families, shoring up his strength in the region, protecting him from foreign invasions.  However, this seemingly altruistic wisdom was contrary to God’s instructions, “You must not marry [foreign women], because they will turn your hearts to their gods.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.”  I’ve often heard repeated the Chinese proverb, “Man is the head of the family, woman the neck that turns the head,” and for Solomon this proved true.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:12 and again in 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (NIV)  He would know.  Written late in Solomon’s life, Ecclesiastes reveals the regrets and final conclusions of this one-time great king. Great lessons can be learned from Solomon’s life, the good, the bad and the ugly.  God loves and rewards us when we ask for His wisdom to guide our lives, and He loves it, even more, when we follow it. 

Moving Forward: I will follow the dictates of His wisdom today, not those things that just seem wise to me. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 69-71

Leviticus 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He receives the sacrifice of praise offered from pure hearts

As a rule, I don’t wake up in the morning thinking that I just can’t wait to read Leviticus today. Of course, God included this information in His Word for a purpose, and the joy of reading it is often in discovering His intention.  The lengthy process of constructing the Tabernacle had just been completed, and next came the instruction on its purpose and its use for God’s people.

The overall message of Leviticus is that God is Holy, and sinful man must follow rites of purification in order to fellowship with Him.  Israel had already proven during their golden calf incident that this message could be easily forgotten, and God was restoring their relationship with Him through His instructions to Moses in Leviticus.  Over the next 27 chapters, God directed their focus to purification through sacrifice, worship, physical principles, holiness and leadership.  By following these instructions, the Israelites who had dabbled in all forms of idolatry would once again commune with their Holy God.

After reading just a few verses in Leviticus, I have cause to stop and thank Jesus for His death and resurrection.  Can you imagine stopping by the farm on Sunday morning to purchase a perfect little lamb to be sacrificed at church?  With somewhat of an affinity for sheep, I think I’d have to go with a dove. 

@ Leviticus 2
“Do not use yeast in preparing any of the grain offerings you present to the Lord, because no yeast or honey may be burned as a special gift presented to the Lord.” (11) After moving to Florida, it didn’t take long for me to see the destructive nature of mold and mildew.  Items attacked by this spreading bacterial fungus are soon discolored or destroyed.  Bleach became my friend.

One tiny spore of mold can multiply rapidly consuming everything in its path, just like sin will do.  Because of this similarity to sin, yeast was forbidden in the grain offering that was sacrificed as a gift of thanksgiving.  The lesson for us today is clear.  When we offer our thanksgiving and praise to Him, let us come with clean hands and pure hearts, free from even the hint of sin so that our sacrifice of praise will be received by our Holy God.

“Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant.  Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings.”(13)  I agree!  Salt makes everything taste better.  However, God wasn’t so much concerned about the taste, but rather that the offering would be a reminder of God’s eternal covenant with them.  I learned early in the kitchen that while salt makes food taste better, too much salt in a dish is impossible to remove – it’s eternal.

God’s covenant through Jesus is eternal – impossible to remove. Jesus will always be the Savior. Salt seasons the entire dish, penetrating every part.  In this same way, His influence in our lives encompasses every area.  Salt preserves and protects foods with a coating that serves as a barrier to bacteria just as God preserves and protects our lives from the attacks of the enemy.  Salt also has a healing property for our bodies that soothes and mends.  How well we know of the healing power of God in our lives – body, soul and spirit.  The symbolism speaks loudly to our spirits – salt is good!  Please pass the salt!

The grain offering of thanksgiving was “a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”(2)  May our sacrifice of praise be a sin-free, well-seasoned offering to our Holy God, one that will be received as a sweet aroma to Him. 

Moving Forward: With clean hands and a heart of thanksgiving, I offer a sacrifice of praise, ever mindful of His eternal covenant with me through Christ Jesus. May its sweet aroma fill His space. 

Tomorrow @ 1 Kings 10-13

Ephesians 1-3 (NLT Link)

Discover His heart: He lavishes His unfathomable love on His creation

The Louvre was closing in 30 minutes, and after a full day of exploring this mammoth museum, I was ready to call it a day when suddenly I realized that I had missed the prize of the Louvre!  In all our exploration of unbelievable paintings and artifacts, including ruins from Babylon, we had missed the masterpiece of the Museum, the pièce de résistance, The Mona Lisa!  However, it’s amazing what can happen when adrenaline kicks in.

Energy renewed, we flew through the vast exhibits and galleries and breathlessly arrived to view The Masterpiece, a rather smallish, glass-enclosed painting.  At first glance, I wondered what in this painting took Da Vinci seven years to paint!  But as I studied it, I, too, saw all the things that made it memorable – the eyes that seemed to follow me as I moved across the room, the mystery of the unmatched background, its subtle coloring and that enigmatic smile. What was she smiling about?!  Although many believe it was painted over a self-portrait, a makeover if you please, the end result is indeed a masterpiece. 

@ Ephesians 2
“God saved you by His grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”(8,10)  God took the old canvas of what I was and created a masterpiece.  Talk about the ultimate makeover!

Just as the one who posed for the Mona Lisa, I can’t take credit for His workmanship because it was His gift to me for simply believing in His grace. Unlike the Mona Lisa, we do not hang on a wall to be admired by all.  No, we are living masterpieces, possessing a greater purpose – to do good works. 

@ Ephesians 3
As His living masterpiece, and yes, we are a work in progress, our Creator paints into our lives from His unlimited palette all that is needed to complete us. “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust Him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (16,18-19)

How wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is!  His love is wide enough to reach around our entire world. His love is long enough to reach from here to eternity.  His love is high enough to reach every mountaintop experience.  And His love is deep enough to reach into the lowest valley we face. Through our relationship with Christ living in us, we come to understand in part this otherwise unfathomable love.  When others look at us and see the smile His love brings to us, His masterpiece, they may wonder what we are smiling about.  And of course, we will feel obliged to tell them. 

Moving Forward: Sometimes hard to believe yet true, I am His masterpiece, the creation of His workmanship.  When others in the traffic of life see my smile today, may it cause them to ask, “Now, just what is she smiling about?” 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 1-3 (More than meets the eye!)

Luke 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is Jehovah Jireh, the One who provides. 

@ Luke 9
“Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came Him and said, ‘Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night.  There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.’ But Jesus said, ‘You feed them.’” (12-13)

Can you imagine?  As a cook and one who has fed small multitudes of people on occasion, the logistical nightmare of feeding 5,000 men plus women and children brings me to my knees, literally. With 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, the size of each being inconsequential at this point, and 10,000-15,000 hungry people, well, we can do the math.  What was He saying?  Did He realize what He was asking?  Of course, He did.

I’ve learned some little tricks through the years in feeding large groups of people.  Take for instance a food item requiring a serving spoon.  If more people show up than expected, I provide a small serving spoon; and if fewer show up, I use the largest spoon in my kitchen drawer.  For some reason, there always seems to be just enough food.  Imagine that!  But no matter how small I would have cut those fish sandwiches that day, there was not going to be enough food.  Even though the disciples protested at His response, the miracle began when they submitted to His request.

“Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, He kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it…all ate as much as they wanted.”(16-17)  When we give out of our lack in obedience to His prompting, it signals God to perform the miraculous.

In today’s economy, many are facing lack, but it is in our lack and limitations when the miraculous takes place.  When we give out of our abundance, it’s a gift or offering, and this is good; but when we give out of our lack, it becomes a miracle!  We hold in our hands what little we have, asking Him to bless it and to use however He may choose, whether to meet our needs or the needs of others.  He takes our limited resources and multiplies them and their effectiveness more than we could ever imagine.  Miraculous!

This story of 5,000 unexpected dinner guests is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four of the gospels, obviously impacting Jews and Gentiles alike – a tax collector, a young adult, a doctor and a fisherman in the mix. It shows that God is concerned about our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs.

Perhaps the disciples were just learning about who they were following, this man called Jesus claiming to be the Son of God.  Perhaps they were just discovering that He was Jehovah, Jehovah Jireh, the One who provides.  Have we really discovered Who it is that we are following?  “And afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!” (17)  Jehovah Jireh, He provides more than enough!

Moving Forward: Today I hold in my hands my lack, asking Him to bless it and multiply it however He chooses.  I know that He will provide more than enough – He is Jehovah Jireh, my Provider. 

Tomorrow @ Ephesians 1-3

Lamentations (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  “Great is His faithfulness.”

“I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.”(2:11) Jeremiah cried in anguish over the ruins of Jerusalem in Lamentations, appropriately named.  A lamentation is a song or poem expressing grief or sorrow, and the book of Lamentations is just that, a funeral dirge for the loss of lives, the devastation of war and God’s rejection of rebellious Israel.  God removed His hand of protection from Israel, and the enemy came to destroy it.  Jeremiah was at a funeral, but before we put on our black garb and pass the tissues, we need to continue reading.

After experiencing the devastation of September 11, we have an idea of Jeremiah’s pain and emotions as he looked over the smoldering city.  One of his greatest sorrows was remembering what was – the beautiful palaces and city gates, the children laughing and playing.  And he remembered the temple, the place of holy festivals and Sabbath days, His altar and sanctuary (2:6).

With the many, many churches in each of our cities today, we may not understand the importance and focal point of the Temple in early cultures. Traveling through Europe today and viewing the landscape of old cities, I have noticed that the dominant structure in each one is the church in the heart of the town.  Jeremiah grieved over his broken temple, the focal point of his city, his life.

I understand this heartache when I think of my nation that is broken in so many ways, remembering what was – a nation founded on Biblical principles where God’s blessing and hand of protection were valued and sought after.  Sadly, we have taken God’s role in our nation’s beginning out of our textbooks, our schools and our hearts.  And with Jeremiah, I shout, “Cry aloud before the Lord…let your tears flow like a river day and night.  Give yourselves no rest…rise during the night and cry out.  Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.  Lift up your hands to Him in prayer, pleading for your children.”(2:18-19)  This can be our only response, turning our hearts back to our God in prayer, not only for us but for our children as well.

The hope of Jeremiah’s Lamentations and of ours is this, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning…For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever…because of the greatness of His unfailing love.” (3:21-23,31-32)  The restoration of Israel has been slow, but Jeremiah’s tears and prayers have reached down through the centuries, along with the prayers of countless others, and Israel is once again a strong nation.  No one can deny that His hand of protection has been on Israel. Great is His faithfulness.

I am challenged today to pray harder than ever before for the restoration of my nation with the understanding that we do not have centuries for it to happen.  If we pray, if we repent, He will respond to our prayers because of His unfailing love – He just can’t help Himself. 

Moving Forward: I am encouraged today by God’s unfailing love and His new mercies for my nation and for me.  With hope I believe and sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.” 

Tomorrow @ Luke 9-10