Luke 17-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He responds to our heartfelt praise and thanksgiving

My husband and I didn’t stay in youth ministry for 40 years because of the spontaneous and habitual outbursts of gratitude from teenagers.  No, it was because we just couldn’t help ourselves – we loved those kids.  But when those words of thanks came on occasion, they were deeply appreciated, and they encouraged us to do even more to minister to them and get to know them in a greater way.  Because we are made in God’s image, I imagine He feels the same way towards words of thanks, and the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17 is a beautiful illustration of gratitude and the blessings that flow from it.  Just for the record, I would never compare teenagers to lepers. 

@ Luke 17
“As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria.  As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” (11-13)  This was the last road trip for Jesus before His death and wouldn’t it be just like Him to travel right through Samaria, the town that other Jews went out of their way to circumvent.  I must admit I might have been tempted to avoid groups of lepers calling out to me, but not Jesus.

Jesus made one request of them, “He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.” (14)  From verse 13, we know that the lepers knew who Jesus was and perhaps had heard of His healing power.  Even before they saw the evidence of healing, they responded in obedience and did what He said, and because of it, they were cleansed

“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’  He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done.  This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Didn’t I heal ten men?  Where are the other nine?’…And Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.’”(15-19) The nine lepers were so focused on their healing that they forgot about the Healer, but the Samaritan man who had every reason to avoid Jesus returned to give thanks.  This allowed him to move on to Round Two.

By returning to the Healer, the man not only was healed of leprosy like the others, but he found out why he was healed.  His heart of thanksgiving opened up a face to face dialogue with Jesus who gave him one of the keys to future healing, “Your faith has healed you.”  However, in the original language, this word healed has a deeper meaning and is often translated made whole, speaking not only of physical healing but of spiritual healing as well.  The man’s belief in the Lord and His wholehearted act of giving glory to the Lord made him the winner that day!

God revealed in Psalms, “But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.  If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” (50:23)  And that is what happened for the Samaritan leper!  His words of true thanksgiving were not given to get something more from Jesus, but blessing came because of them.  Just as gratitude encouraged my heart to do even more for our youth and to know them better, I imagine that God is also encouraged to do even more and to reveal Himself in a greater way in response to our praise and thanksgiving given in honor to Him.

Moving Forward: I will move through this day with praise in my heart and words of thanksgiving on my lips for who He is and all He has done.  It’s a win/win situation. 

Tomorrow @ Colossians 1-2

Proverbs 2-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He desires to give wisdom to all those who follow after Him

Everyone wants to be wise.  No one has ever said to me, “I can’t wait to be foolish today!”  Most of us have a natural curiosity about how things are made, where they come from and how they affect us.  When I was a teenager, I was asked what my favorite book was, and without hesitation, I replied, “The Encyclopedia.”  I know this sounds strange coming from a young person, and of course, my answer should have been the Bible, but I’ve always loved moments of random learning.

We couldn’t afford the coveted set of World Book Encyclopedia, and the internet was not available back in the dark ages; but every chance I got, I paged through the volume of knowledge held between the pages of the encyclopedia at the library. However, possessing all this knowledge does not a wise person make.  Wisdom is the ability to apply the knowledge we have, and this is what Solomon was addressing in our reading today. 

@ Proverbs 2
Proverbs 2 is a tutorial on how to find wisdom, where to find it, who it is for and what we receive once we obtain it.  All this in 22 little verses!  Only a very wise man could accomplish this in so few words. 

How:  Listen for wisdom, concentrate on it, ask for it with fervor and search for it like one who is digging deep in a mine for silver.  This proves to the Lord that we respect Him and what He has to say. (2-5)

Where:  Wisdom comes from the Lord. “For the Lord grants wisdom!” (6) 

Who:  God responds with wisdom (knowledge, understanding, common sense, protection) to those who are honest, walk with integrity, are just and faithful. (6-8) 

What:  We will understand what is right, just and fair; we find the right path to walk; we are filled with joy; we are kept safe; we are protected from evil people, including immoral woman and men; and we make right choices. (9-16)

The process is like a chain reaction.  We ask for wisdom and diligently search for it > through His Word we learn how to live a life of integrity and righteousness > He grants wisdom in response to our life of integrity > we are blessed with understanding, guidance, joy and protection.  What a deal!  All of this is ours today for the low, low start-up cost of asking. 

@ Proverbs 3
The mark of a truly wise person is one who follows this advice from Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.  Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.”(5-7) It’s difficult to trust with all my heart in someone I don’t know very well, risky at best.  Trust develops through relationship and time spent together – enough said.

We may say that we have faith in God, but it is trust that applies the action to our faith.  Faith is the noun, and trust is the verb that demonstrates our faith.  Faith without trust is like knowledge without wisdom – great to possess but not always useful.  When I depend on my own understanding, there’s really only one person to trust in, and that’s me – not very wise when the wisdom of heaven is mine for the asking.

Moving Forward: “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her.” (18)  Today I seek His wisdom in what I do and say.  And I trust His wisdom to guide and direct my steps. 

Tomorrow @ Lamentations

Luke 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is blessed by our acts of faith

Military personnel understand authority.  I saw this fact played out time and time again while living in Colorado Springs, surrounded by Army and Air Force personnel who attended our church.  They understood the chain of command and accepted it with unwavering loyalty, every pastor’s dream. The only problem with the military personnel in our church was that just when we knew we couldn’t live without them, Uncle Sam moved them on to another base somewhere in the world. Their understanding of authority could not be denied as was true with the officer in Luke 7.

@ Luke 7
The Gentile officer’s valued servant was ill.  He had heard about the authority over sickness that a Jewish man named Jesus possessed, and military people understand authority.  “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed…When Jesus heard this, He was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following Him, He said, ‘I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel.”(6-9)  Amazing Jesus!  Well, it’s true, He certainly is amazing.  But I mean amazing, in the sense to amaze Jesus.  Every time I read the story of the Roman officer I question, “Has my faith ever amazed Jesus?”

“Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.  I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers, I only need to say ‘Go,’ and they go or ‘Come,’ and they come.”(7-8)  From the accounts he had heard, he understood the authority that Jesus possessed over sickness and death, and he actually believed it! Chapters 7 and 8 tell of many miracles of Jesus that were off the chart in magnitude, like raising the dead and delivering a demoniac of many demons to name a couple.  Having read all the miracles of Jesus throughout the Gospels, do I have the faith of the Roman officer?

Of course, being Italian and all, it thrills me that the one with the most faith in all of Israel was a Roman. I wonder, however, if the thing that thrilled Jesus the most was that the man understood that healing from Him did not require a special potion, a particular location or standing on his left foot and counting to 100.  “Just say the word,” was all it took.  Just say the word.

In these chapters, we learn that Jesus ministered to the undesirables of His day when He responded to a gentile officer, forgave an immoral woman, delivered a demoniac and healed an unclean woman. Apparently, His miracles did not fall under the scrutiny of racial or moral profiling – everyone and everything are under His authority!  We have heard of His miraculous works, but do we amaze Him with our faith and believe that He will heal our bodies and set people free and provide the jobs, food and shelter that we need.  The method Jesus uses to respond to our requests is in His hands, but the miracle often begins when our faith catches His attention.  Oh, how I want to amaze Him! 

Moving Forward:  I surrender my needs to His authority today. With a believing heart, I cry, “Just say the word, Jesus, just say the word!”  I pray He is amazed. 

Tomorrow @ Galatians 4-6

Mark 5-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He responds to our faith with help for our needs

Do or die, now or never, win or lose, all or nothing! This is the language and motivation of those who plan to succeed at any cost, those who put their heads down and charge, and we all know individuals who live at this level of determination. We realized our daughter was bent this way from birth and enjoyed watching her succeed in whatever she tried, but we can only imagine her frustration in growing up in a home with phlegmatic parents, brother and dog. It was at the age of 11 or 12 when she realized her predicament and declared with exasperation, “If it weren’t for me, nothing would ever happen around this place.” And she was probably right.

Persistence is the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties, and determination is firmness of purpose, will, or intention. Both of these are characteristics of people who know how to get the job done. Some people are just born with this drive, and others develop it out of great need, and the latter was more than likely the case in the story of the woman with the issue of blood in our reading today. With an attitude of all or nothing, something happened.

@ Mark 5
“A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’ Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.” (25-29) Do or die!

This dear woman had gone through the proper channels to get well, but all of them had failed her. Now it was time to put her head down and charge, and charge she did right through the crowd surrounding her target, right through the many obstacles she faced:

1) She was a woman. Approaching a religious teacher was not acceptable in her day.

2) She was unclean. Her bleeding issue labeled her impure in the eyes of others.

3) She was sick. Weak and sickly from her disease made her approach to Him a significant challenge.

4) Movement through the crowd was difficult. Everyone wanted to get close to this great Teacher.

Are we as determined to see our needs met by the Lord as this tenacious woman was? Do or die? All or nothing? Fight every demon in hell to win? Or do we allow what people think or our place in society to stop us? Do we push past the people who say there is no answer? Do we push through the pain of our situation to touch Jesus the Healer, the Shepherd, the Provider? Scripture charges us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16) In other words, don’t stay back in the crowd and wonder if it would be acceptable, don’t be hindered by the press of the crowd or the challenge of our need. When we boldly go to the throne of our gracious God, we, too, will see our needs met.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (34) Jesus wanted to know who had touched Him, not to chastise, but to tell her that it wasn’t His garment that made her well because many had touched Him that day. No, it was her faith in His healing virtue that got His attention. Persistent determination brought her faith to the attention of the Healer.

Moving Forward: When a father asked Jesus for deliverance for his son, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can,” Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’…Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:22-23) I believe!

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 11-12

Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Romans 1-2 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will determine our faith in Him by our deeds

My mom seldom made pies for her large family because of the time factor involved, but one day she made a beautiful blueberry pie.  I watched her roll the pastry dough, mix up the blueberry filling, top the pie and slide it into the oven.  The smell as it baked was almost intoxicating – I love pie.

After dinner mom sliced up big pieces and topped them with vanilla ice cream.  We all took a big bite simultaneously and then one by one our smiles turned to frowns from the bitter filling.  It seems mom mistakenly used baking soda instead of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.  It looked like a blueberry pie and smelled like a blueberry pie, but it sure didn’t taste like one.  The old English phrase comes to mind, “The proof is in the pudding,” or more accurate is the original saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In our reading today, Paul challenged us with the proof of a believer. 

@ Romans 1
The church in Rome had been around for quite some time, but the Apostles had not had opportunity to visit Rome.  Paul longed to visit the church to strengthen its members in the faith and to teach them, but in the meantime, his letter to them would have to suffice.  His first order of business was to establish their faith.  In this chapter, faith is not the same faith of hope and trust mentioned in Hebrews 11 but is a faith signifying a belief in God.  “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’”(16-17)  Our belief, our faith in God, is what we live by and what brings us to eternal life. 

@ Romans 2
But then Paul made a statement that could be considered contrary to this scripture when he wrote, “He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.(6-7)  We may look like a believer, walk like a believer, go to church like a believer, but He and others will determine if we truly are a believer by what we do.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding.  Our deeds give overwhelming proof of our belief and what is in our hearts.

Paul went on to write that the condition of our hearts is not determined by strict adherence to the law, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.” (28-29)  Only a heart that is submitted to the spirit of God will do the good deeds that the Lord will judge.  Like that old saying, the proof is in the pudding.

Moving Forward:  As I submit my heart to the Lord today, I pray my deeds will prove my faith in God – overwhelming proof!

Tomorrow @ Genesis 1-3

James 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He reveals Himself through our salvation and our good works

Most of us have encountered the wheeler dealer, the pitchman, who makes promises but doesn’t deliver.  Our dealings with them often result in difficult learning experiences.  Years ago we planned a mission’s trip to Paraguay with 200 youth and leaders.  A travel agent approached us with the best price on tickets we could find, and more importantly, he was the only agent who found seats on the days we needed to travel.  We sent him the money with the understanding he would meet us at the airport with the tickets – lesson #1.  And indeed, he met us at the airport on our day of departure, but could not produce the tickets because…well, at that point it really didn’t matter.

There we sat with 200 eager students on a mission and no tickets. Through a series of miracles, and I mean miracles, we reached our five cities of ministry in Paraguay and those churches we helped to plant are still reaching the lost today.  God is faithful when others are not.  That travel agent could say he was a travel agent all day long, but until he produced the tickets, it really didn’t matter what he said – lesson #2.  We have to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  James, one of the Jerusalem church leaders, was all over this one. 

@ James 2
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (14-19) Show me the tickets!

To prove a contradiction in scripture to James 2, Bible skeptics love to point to Romans 1 where Paul teaches, “‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’…people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (3,5)  Good works do not save us, only the blood of Jesus can do that, but good works are an indicator that we have received salvation.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 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.” (2:8-10)  Show me the tickets!

God sees our faith, our belief in Him, because He sees our hearts.  Man sees our faith through our love and good deeds.  Many of us have begun the Christmas shopping tradition and what a great opportunity to show our faith to those without food or clothing.  I know a family that first buys Christmas with all its trimmings for a needy family, and then with the money that is left, they buy gifts for each other.  I see Jesus all over them.  However, our good deeds should reveal our faith to others all year long.  We don’t want to be like the useless travel agent who never proved to us that he was a travel agent.  Show them our good works! 

Moving Forward: I plan to do some good works today because of the great work He did for me when He saved me. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 4-6