Isaiah 34-39 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He is the One we can count on

Isaiah 34 is the end of 34 chapters of judgment on the nations, including Judah and Israel, and the entire world.  Whew!  I’ve watched a few movies over the years that deliver one scene after another of bad luck, bad news and bad people. After a while, I just feel kind of beat up; and if I have any strength left, I pick up that remote and change the channel with the hope of something better. Some parts of Isaiah are a little hard to take as well

Thankfully, Chapter 35 brings a short reprieve with a message of hope and restoration for the future. “And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness.” (35:8) Not the low way, mind you, but the high way…the set apart way…the way of the redeemed…the way of Jesus.  Nothing of eternal harm can snatch away those on this path because it’s His path. He is with us, leading us to His home, our eternal destination.  Nothing gives me more peace in this day of airplanes blowing up buildings, school shootings and nuclear stockpiles than the knowledge that I am on His path.  As long as I choose to stay there, I will reach my eternal destination with Him!

In Chapter 36, King Hezekiah made decisions that were contrary to what the prophet Isaiah had advised.  The Assyrians, enemies from the area known as Iraq today, had conquered much of the world.  In fear of this great enemy, Hezekiah decided to join forces with his ungodly neighbors in an alliance to fight this enemy and disregarded Isaiah’s message of God’s promise to deliver them if they would trust Him.  I’ve found that fear is never a good adviser.  Egypt’s mighty chariots seemed more tangible, more real to Hezekiah than God’s promise to him.  Hezekiah was confused.

Assyrian King Sennacherib knew two things about Judah – they had been a God-fearing people and they had made an alliance with Egypt against him.  He sent representatives to meet with representatives of Hezekiah.   King Sennacherib was asking this question of Hezekiah, “Who are you counting on that you rebelled against me?”  Hezekiah’s confused loyalties emboldened his enemy.  This causes me to do a little self-examination. Who am I counting on today?  Have confused loyalties allowed my enemy entrance into my life?

Sennacherib’s message renounced the Egyptians and Hezekiah, but more importantly, he blasphemed the living God.  “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (36:20) Not a good move on his part.  Hezekiah’s men tore their clothes in despair and went home to report to the king, who also tore his clothes (37:1).

This is a custom I am not acquainted with – the tearing of the clothes.  I know of yelling, pacing, sobbing, thrashing about, etc., but not the tearing of the clothes. In that day, however, it was a statement of humility and repentance – they would not allow their bodies to be clothed with ornament or finery when the enemy was attempting to strip the living God of His honor and deity.  This was the signal that Hezekiah was no longer confused.

And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the Lord: O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth.  Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” (16-18,20) Soon God brought great victory to Judah, as well as an amazing healing to Hezekiah (Chapter 38).  Judah’s doom was suspended…for a while. 

Moving forward: Today I symbolically tear my clothes at the thought that I would listen to any attempt by the enemy to strip my Father of His honor and deity.  I will not be confused about the one I am counting on“I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him.  I have put my hope in His word.”  (Psalm 130:5) 

Tomorrow @Matthew 17-19

Isaiah 29-33 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, our thoughts are turned to those we love and the ways we will express our love.  Capitalists that we are, we have turned this sentiment into a multi-billion dollar enterprise – chocolate, flowers, diamonds…and again I say chocolate!  In step with this focus on love, television programming is filled with love stories to touch our hearts and to remind us of our own love story.

A familiar story is one of unrequited love where the dear young man desperately loves the young woman who seeks after the more dashing or successful men in her life and ignores his adoration.  Or another story is where the young woman, listening to her biological clock, becomes impatient in waiting for the right man to come along and almost marries Mr. Wrong.  Fortunately, with television movies of this nature, love sweeps in at just the right moment and everybody lives happily ever after. (Sigh) In our reading today, Isaiah talked about God’s unrequited love for an impatient nation, a love deeper than Hollywood could ever imagine. 

@ Isaiah 30
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.  In quietness and confidence is your strength.  But you would have none of it.  You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.  They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’” (15-16)  As the advancing Assyrian army threatened Judah, God asked them to rest in Him, and in due time He would deliver them, but Judah was impatient.  Time was ticking away, and they considered an alliance with Egypt. This response reminds me of an impatient young woman, her biological clock and unfortunate alliances.

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help.” (18)   Here was a compassionate God waiting for Judah to fall in love with Him, to stop looking to others for love and protection.  Unrequited love.

If they would once again fall in love with God and not turn to others, He would love and protect them beyond their wildest dreams. “He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…he will still be with you to teach you… Your own ears will hear him.  Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (19-21)   Their gracious God who loved them so dearly would answer, teach and guide if they would only turn to Him, forsaking all others.

And what a great message for us in the climate that we live in today!  Instead of turning in panic to unknown sources for our answers and help, God asks us to patiently wait for Him to respond to our hearts cries.  He will be gracious if we will ask for help.  He will respond to our cries and teach us along the way as we wait on Him.  He will direct our steps on the very best path and at the perfect moment in time.

When we are tempted to turn to others first for help, He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love and compassion to us and be gracious to us.  A sovereign God, so full of love, created us to be the recipients of this great love – He only has eyes for us!  How can we resist so great a love?  How can we make Him wait? 

Moving Forward:  As I patiently wait on Him today, I’ll listen for His voice right behind me, directing my path.  I love Him so. 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 14-16

Ezekiel 13-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to His everlasting covenant with us

Ohhh…some rough reading today. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to Babylon and now judgment was about to fall on Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  The prophets had given warnings to no avail, and most of the Israelites remained in their idolatry and sinful ways even in captivity.

At the end of Chapter 12 we read, “You’ve heard that proverb they quote in Israel: ‘Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.’  Tell the people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.’ Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled.’”(12:22-23)  And then the judgments began.

Judgment prophecies were given through Ezekiel regarding: 1) false prophets of the day who whitewashed the truth so that the Israelites would feel only good about themselves, 2) mediums who used magic and charms to ensnare the people away from God, and 3) leaders who set up idols in their hearts to worship instead of worshipping the true and living God. (14)  The similarities today are remarkable.

The Babylonian captives believed that Jerusalem, the Holy City, would survive the siege, but God called Jerusalem and its people a useless vine, “The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest.  Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” (15:6)  Even more devastating was His charge that Jerusalem was His unfaithful wife, who, worse than a prostitute, had many lovers and didn’t even charge them because she so wanted to be with them.  Jerusalem was filled with altars and shrines to the gods of neighboring countries and final judgment was coming to Jerusalem.

The riddle of Chapter 17 speaks of the besieged Jerusalem attempting to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against Babylon, but both were crushed by the mighty Babylonian army.  I’ve wondered if it was as perplexing to God as it was to me when I read of this alliance with Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites without mercy for so many centuries.  Why would they seek to go back to the very ones who had bound them? It was as if they would do anything to keep from trusting God.

Early in our ministry we had an evangelist friend that God had miraculously delivered from drugs and given a powerful ministry, but over time he slipped back into the bondage of drugs once again.  I’ve never really understood how it happened, but I believe it had to do with pride in what he had accomplished, forgetting Who it was that had delivered him.  Likewise, Israel, so proud of the nation they had become, trusted only in their own plans, rejecting both God and the warnings of Isaiah and the prophets against this alliance with Egypt.  But then, wasn’t it pride that started the whole sin thing with Lucifer? Anytime we consider ourselves equal to God, we are headed for destruction as well.

Well, before we fall right through the floor in depression, let’s remember that Israel is alive and reasonably well on planet earth today.  “Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (16:59-60)

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He would take the remnant that turned toward Him, the Daniels and Shadrachs, and build a nation.  The everlasting covenant, Christ Jesus, is available to Israel today; and when we pray, let’s pray they will accept Him and escape final destruction.  After all, hasn’t His Word asked us to pray for Israel? 

Moving Forward:  May I not take lightly my solemn vows to God’s everlasting covenant with me through Christ Jesus.  I reject even the slightest bit of pride in anything I may accomplish.  May it be He who sits on the throne of my heart today. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 15-16

Jeremiah 42-46 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He measures our success by our obedience to Him

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are about on my last nerve!?”  I think this sentiment would be a fitting assessment of God’s feelings toward Judah at this point in the book of Jeremiah. Approximately 140 years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the invading Assyrians because of their unrepentant hearts.  God had sent numerous prophets to warn Judah of a similar outcome if they did not repent of their sins and turn to Him.  Even after Judah’s beloved Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the remaining Jews fled to Egypt in disobedience. Right there, last nerve.

The message of God’s last prophet in Judah, Jeremiah, had not been well received.  He was ridiculed, imprisoned, abandoned and finally dragged off to Egypt against his will by the fleeing Jews because his message convicted them of their willful idolatry.  After his move to Egypt, no other events in Jeremiah’s life are recorded in Scripture.  The remaining chapters in Jeremiah consist of earlier prophecies and events.  Jeremiah traveled a rough road, to say the least.

In Chapter 44, Jeremiah gave his final warning from God to the Judeans living in Egypt, and their response was, “We will not listen to your message from the Lord!  We will do whatever we want.” (44:16-17) Very few scriptures in the Bible so accurately reflect the attitude of people today. Through media’s subtle message, we have been told that we are our own moral compass, and we can do whatever we want.  Those who must follow God are just not very enlightened.

We unenlightened ones have a formidable task in presenting the gospel at times, but so very few of us have ever faced the ridicule and treatment that Jeremiah faced, not that it couldn’t happen one day.  It just seems like, in light of the story of Jeremiah and what he endured, I could take a few moments to share the wonderful love of Jesus with, say, my neighbor…

Many would say Jeremiah was not very successful in his ministry.  He did not turn thousands to the Lord through his eloquent speaking and the multitudes did not clamor for his healing touch.  In fact, nobody really even liked Jeremiah – I mean, who wants to hang out with someone who is negative and cries all the time!  But then, as we know, God doesn’t measure our success by how well we are liked.

God doesn’t even measure our success by the many sacrifices we have made. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (I Samuel 15:22)  No, Jeremiah was successful because he was obedient to God.  Whether we walk a road like Jeremiah or never experience a bump in the road, we are successful when we do what He wants us to do. 

Moving Forward: I’m challenged by the life of Jeremiah to share God’s message of truth with those around me and walk in obedience to whatever He wants. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 5-6

Exodus 5-8 (NLT)

Discover His heart: Through His perspective, nothing is impossible

When painting a picture, an artist goes to great length to exact the proper perspective in a landscape or portrait. An old trick that many painters use is to hold up the thumb at arm’s length to measure the apparent height of a tree in the foreground in relationship to objects in the background, etc. The apparent height of the tree may look like it is the length of the thumb; but of course, we know the actual height is much taller. It’s all about perspective, the measured or objective assessment of an object or situation.

If the perspective in a painting is off, the entire painting will look skewed and off balance. This fact holds true in all of life as well – if our perspective in a situation is wrong, our response and behavior will be off balance and skewed. Moses learned a lesson on perspective in our reading today.

After finally acquiescing to God’s call on his life to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses buckled at the first sign of resistance from Pharaoh, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”(5:22-23) God had to put things into perspective for Moses.

Once again, God revealed to Moses exactly who he was dealing with, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them.”(6:2-4) The patriarchs knew Him as the Almighty, but now He also would be known as Yahweh, Jehovah, the One who would keep His covenant with Israel, the One who would perform great miracles in order to do so.

Moses! Raise your thumb and see the Egyptian landscape through faith in Jehovah, the One who keeps His promises. When I think of the challenge before Moses, I’m reminded of the story of David and Goliath. As David looked out on the landscape before him and saw the giant, perhaps his boldness came from a raised thumb as he thought, “God will help me take him! Why that giant is no bigger than my thumb!” Faith changes our perspective.

Moses went before Pharaoh with this promise from God, “Pay close attention to this. I will make you seem like God to Pharaoh, and your brother, Aaron, will be your prophet.”(7:1) Through God’s perspective, apparently Moses seemed like God to Pharaoh who was considered a god himself. Even though Moses still met with much resistance from Pharaoh, he was allowed continual access to him because of his status.

How do we look at the challenges we face? When our trust is in Jehovah, the One who keeps His promises, we will measure our challenges with a different perspective. We will hold up our faith, that thumb if you will, and see our apparent trial as God sees it. And in order to keep His promises, He will do great miracles. Thumbs up!

Moving Forward: Today my thumb is up. I’ll not look at my challenges in the natural, without faith. I’ll view them as God apparently sees them and nothing is impossible for Him! He kills giants, parts water and raises the dead!

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 21-25

Exodus 1-4 (NLT)

Discover His heart: “I Am Who I Am,” and He’s all we need.

Whenever I go to a doctor’s office, I check out his or her credentials. Most doctors proudly display their college diploma, medical school diploma, residency, special recognitions and honors right there on their office walls. I appreciate this because it saves me from asking embarrassing questions. If I see a diploma from a country that has only been in existence for about six months, chances are I’m not staying. I want to know that the individual who is going to diagnose, treat and/or cut me has received the proper training. It’s just the way I am.

We want our employers, politicians and church leaders to be well trained and prepared to lead. Thankfully, God sees things this way as well and spent 80 years training Moses for the leadership position of a lifetime. Moses, however, turned Him down.

@ Exodus 3
“I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering…Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” (7,10) From birth, Moses had been in training to deliver God’s people from slavery in Egypt.  After 40 years in Egypt as prince learning the Egyptians ways and 40 years in Midian as shepherd preparing for flock management, God decided that Moses was ready to lead the Israelites for the next 40 years in the wilderness to their Promised Land – I think I see a pattern here.

Despite all his training, Moses was not the kind of individual who would choose to run for president or work his way up the corporate ladder to be CEO because Moses had some inferiority issues. I would imagine that downgrading from prince to shepherd did not do much for his self confidence. So Moses started to protest, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” (11) But the question wasn’t really about who Moses was, and God was about to do just a little more training before He released Moses to his assignment.

I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you…Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.” (14-15) When God calls us to a task, it’s not about who we are, but it’s about Who He is. And He is all we need. He never calls us without first equipping us and providing all the tools we need to do the job.

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled…Lord, please! Send anyone else.” (10-13) I think God loved that Moses’ words got all tangled up when he spoke because Moses could depend only on Him, not on himself. In response to the cry of Moses, God gave him Aaron because He always provides all that we need to do what He asks us to do. He doesn’t easily give up on us or on our calling.

So many times in my life God has assigned me to positions and roles that I felt completely inadequate to do, yet as I looked back over my life, much of what I had done up to that point prepared me for those roles. “Take your shepherd’s staff with you, and use it to perform the miraculous signs I have shown you.” That shepherd’s staff from his 40 years of shepherding placed in Moses’ hand exactly what he needed to perform countless miracles. God is faithful to put in our hands the tools we need and the words in our mouths to prepare and equip us for whatever He calls us to do. May our words never include, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.

Moving Forward: I surrender my inadequacies and apprehensions to Him today because I believe He will prepare and equip me for every task He calls me to. He’s all I need.

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 16-20

Genesis 44-47 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: The guidance of His hand is just, merciful and good

Ah…the sweetness of reconciliation!  Books have been written about it, movies have portrayed its beautiful stories and most of us have experienced it.  Outside of the amazing, and I do mean amazing, reconciliation with God that takes place when we accept Jesus as our Savior, the story of Joseph and his brothers tops the list for me.   “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place…God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.  So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (45:4-8)

Not only is this a story of reconciliation, but it is a strong and deliberate message about the providence of God, the intervention of the Divine into our lives to bring about His purposes for our good. “So it was God who sent me here, not you!”  When Joseph forgave his brothers and reconciled with them, he partnered with God’s will to bring about God’s Divine plan for a nation. Our obedience to the Word of God has ramifications beyond our imagination.  Had Joseph refused to forgive, God would have sought another vessel to accomplish His good. 

@ Genesis 46
“I am God, the God of your father,’ the voice said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again.’” (3-4)  I can only imagine the hesitancy in Jacob’s heart to leave Canaan, the land promised to his grandfather, Abraham, for the heathen land of Egypt.  When we think about it, this move changed the history of Israel.

Settled in their Promised Land, Abraham’s family was growing in size, wealth and power, and it just seems as though carting them off to Egypt for 400 years was somewhat counterproductive to God’s divine plan for His people.  After all, He could have abundantly blessed Jacob in spite of the famine years and brought the nations of the world to him.  In the natural, without the impact of the supernatural, we might wonder about His purpose in this.

Because of the move to Egypt, the Israelites would one day migrate back to Canaan and spend many years in war with the occupants of Canaan who had also grown strong over the past 400 years.  But this is where we are challenged to trust the hand of God even when we don’t understand it.  Early on when God promised Abraham a son, He foretold of events to come, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years…After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” (15:13-16)

God could not yet give Abraham his complete inheritance because He is just.  Abraham’s neighbors in Canaan did not believe in Jehovah, but God gave them 400 years to choose Him over their witchcraft and idols before He allowed Israel to destroy them for their wickedness. In the meantime, the family of Abraham was ever growing in numbers over in Goshen, all their needs were provided, and He was making them ready to step into their destiny.

Sometimes the hand of God in our lives seems to be without purpose and direction in life’s economy.  We may question what the kingdom of God gains through our loss, our dysfunction or our trial?  Well, so often we just don’t know, but through His Word we understand all that He does is just, merciful and good for us as well as all others who live and breathe on the planet.  As He was with the Israelites in Egypt, so will He be with us in our Egypt.  “I will go with you down to Egypt…” 

Moving Forward:  In my obedience to Him today, I know I can trust His hand to guide me with justice, mercy and goodness.  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts…And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” (Isaiah 55:8) 

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 6-10