1Timothy 1-3 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: It pleases Him when we pray for everyone to understand the Truth

Mediterranean food, Mediterranean people…I just love them!  From television and movies, we are acquainted with the fun-loving, energetic and, well, opinionated nature of people from that region. Those of us from a Mediterranean heritage have a tendency to live by the motto, “When I want your opinion…I’ll give it to you!”  I’ve wondered if this was why Paul chose young Timothy, whose father was Greek and not Jewish, to minister at the church in the difficult city of Ephesus.  Possibly he would best understand the culture of the region. Regardless, Paul sent some letters to him to mentor his young charge in the ministry there.

@1 Timothy 2
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1-2) The first and best advice Paul could give Timothy was to pray – for everyone.  Pray for those who were believers and those who were not and pray for the Godly, peace-loving members of the church and for those who had caused trouble.  Ask God to help them in the best way, intercede with boldness on their behalf and thank God for them, regardless of their mindset or behavior.  After all, we all are a work in progress.

Paul encouraged Timothy to “pray for kings and people in authority.”  To be honest, I’d rather fuss about the president and the Congress than pray for them, but prayer is the only thing that will change hearts and the laws of the land and allow us to live as Christians in peace and dignity.  We just read a great example of this in Daniel.  Prayer is the answer!

“This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (3) Whether male or female or Jew or Gentile, salvation and truth are for everyone.  Paul goes on to state the truth that we all must understand, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” (5-6)  No bias or argument will ever unseat this truth.

And speaking of bias, I’ve always thought that in heaven someday I would like to sit down with Paul over coffee and have a little chat about a few of his teachings regarding women.  There are moments when I imagine the dialogue starting with, “Paul, what were you thinking?!!”  I would only show respect to this giant of the faith, understanding that his influence has changed my life for the good, but his teachings about women such as those found here in Chapter 2 have caused more than a few moments of distress for women in the church through the ages.  Of course, I know that in heaven, absorbed by God’s glorious presence, this will all be immaterial, and I’ll just let it go.

We understand that the culture of the Ephesus church demanded these instructions from Paul, “Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.” (11) The exciting part of this scripture is that education was now open to women, a freedom that was not a part of the culture.

Just like the sense of free at last that comes to a teenager with a new driver’s license, many believe the Ephesian women were somewhat over the top with their new-found freedom to learn and were disruptive in the church service with their questioning and even with their dress.  This was not good.

I’m certain we all agree with Paul that nothing we do, men and women alike, should be disruptive to the ministry or to the working of the Holy Spirit in our churches.  We should be known, not by our dress or possessions, but by what we have accomplished for Him.  We should be people who pray for everyone, from the president to the homeless, unbiased, leading everyone to the Truth.

Moving Forward: Challenged once again by Paul, I’ll pray and intercede without bias for my leadership in government, for my neighbors, for my friends and…for everyone. 

Tomorrow @ Number 1-4

1 Thessalonians 4-5 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He provides all the guidance we need to live for Him each day

I love lists!  They’re my friends that help me get through the day, through various events and even through a special holiday dinner: 10:00 – turkey in oven, 12:00 – sweet potato casserole, 1:00 – Boil potatoes, corn soufflé in oven.  Sound familiar?  I even have lists for my lists which seems somewhat Monkish like the neurotic television detective, but that’s who I am.

I wish I could say that I am able to check every item as completed on every list on any given day, but of course, that would not be true.  My lists, however, keep me focused on the priorities of the day and help keep me from getting bogged down in those things that are insignificant to my goal.  I love lists, and I love that Paul has given us so many of them in his teachings to help us stay focused on our priorities – like the one in 1 Thessalonians 5. 

@1 Thessalonians 5
Between the significant teachings on the end times in Chapter 4 and those of 2 Thessalonians, Paul included a list of instructions for His brothers and sisters that would help them occupy until these future events took place:

1)  Be an encourager.  “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (11) Who needs a special word of encouragement today?

2)  Honor and respect my spiritual leaders. “Honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” (12-13)  We honor our pastors by showing love for them in our acts of kindness, in our words of thanks and through our loyalty.  We honor them by respecting their guidance.  And most pastors would say that living peacefully with each other is right there at the top of the list of ways to honor them – it lightens their load.

3)  Be patient with everyone. “We urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.” (14)  It’s difficult to interact with those who need to pick up the slack or to help those who are weak if we are too busy judging them for who they are and why they are in their present situation. Patience brings understanding and gives us the time to help in the right way.

4)  Do good to everyone. “See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.”(15)  No revenge; simply following the Golden Rule.

5)  Be joyful, always. “Always be joyful.” (16)  We worry about someone who walks around smiling all the time, but Paul encourages us to let the joy of our salvation, the joy of who we are in Christ and the joy of our eternal reward outweigh any temporary discomfort and trial. “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.” (2 Cor. 6:10)

6)  Live on the verge of prayer and never give up.  “Never stop praying.” (17)  If we really want to accomplish No. 5 on our list, this is the way to do it.  Of course, we would never get anything done for ourselves or for the Kingdom if we stayed on our knees all day, every day.  I’m a little hesitant to compare prayer to a chronic cough that is present and can erupt at any time, but like a cough, continual prayer is always right there waiting for any provocation.  It’s persistent and never gives up.  Pray away!

7)  Be thankful in everything. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (18)  And once again, if we really want to accomplish No. 7, then No. 6 is the way to do it.  When we are thankful to God in our abundance, we are giving Him the glory and credit for it; and when we are thankful in our lack or trial, we are trusting God’s providence to see us through it.

8)  Flow in the Spirit. “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” (19-22)  It’s the Holy Spirit who will help us accomplish all the other things on our list today.  We’re not in this alone – we have help!  Whether in a sermon or in spontaneous utterance,  a word from the Holy Spirit can be trusted and measures up to the Word of God.

In light of this list, I apparently have a lot to do.  I would like to check off everything on my list today, but if not, it will always be available tomorrow, and the next day and the next.  I love lists. Thanks, Paul! 

Moving Forward: I’ve got my list for today, working on those priorities, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can do it!

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 22-24

Leviticus 10-12 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He expects us to honor His holiness 

@ Leviticus 10
The sin of Nadab and Abihu – what a way to start the day!  “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them.  In this way, they disobeyed the Lord by burning before Him the wrong kind of fire [strange fire], different than He had commanded.  So fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord.” (1-2)  Toast!   We may argue that we are now living in the dispensation of grace, but tell that to Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5 who lied to the Holy Spirit and fell over dead. I have found God to be gracious, merciful and longsuffering, but I also believe that His holiness deserves our utmost respect and honor, expected especially from those who serve Him.

What caused God to move so swiftly in His response to the offering of Aaron’s sons?  Some have suggested it was multiple misdemeanors resulting in one massive offense to God.  Or perhaps:

1) These newly-ordained priests, anxious to perform their duties, took it upon themselves to offer fire on the altar of burnt offering which was something reserved only for their father to do with their assistance at this point.  We understand their zeal and excitement to serve, don’t we?

2) Then, instead of offering coals from the perpetual Holy fire, they offered coals from another common or ordinary fire.  They showed lack of respect for the fire that God had ignited at the very first burnt offering.  This fire had continued burning from that first offering until 860 years later when Jerusalem fell to Babylon – it was Holy. (See June 19 @ Leviticus 4-6) It’s easy to understand why this ordinary fire would be so strange to God.

3)  Why were these young priests so impulsive and foolish in their behavior?  Some believe they may have been drunk.  After a long day of eating and drinking from the peace and drink offerings, they may have overindulged to the point of dulling their senses – not good.

While these points are somewhat supposition, the scripture following this account helps us to understand that God requires His servants to display His Holiness, not their own. “I will display My holiness through those who come near me.” (3) Also, God insisted on sobriety from His servants so that sins like this one would not be committed, “You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle…You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common.”(9-10)

This story causes me to examine my usefulness to God.  Have I offered strange fire in my service to Him?  If so, what did I do?  I would think anything I do in ministry that glorifies and draws attention to me instead of to Him would be considered strange to Him.   Ministry that results from the latest trends and styles excluding the inspiration of His Holy Spirit would be strange to Him as well.  And I certainly would be wise to avoid being drunk with…anything!  Wine, power, hatred, jealousy to name a few.  These things will only dull my spiritual senses and cause me to sin or make mistakes.

Many privileges come with leadership and ministry, and so do many responsibilities. Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12:48)  Yes, He is grace and mercy to us, but we serve a Holy, Holy God, there is none like Him.  May our ministry, no matter what it is, be obedient, respectful and useful, reflecting His Holiness with our lives. 

Moving Forward: I examine my heart today to be certain that my service honors Him and Him alone.

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 1-5

Leviticus 4-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He desires that our lives are a perpetual flame for Him

There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire, reminiscing with friends and family, toasting marshmallows and enjoying the warmth…hair smelling of smoke, the swatting at mosquitoes, listening to ferocious animals in the distance.  OK, let me change this scenario.  There’s nothing like sitting in front of a cozy fireplace, sinking into a comfy sofa and sipping hot chocolate with worship music wafting in the background.  Ahhh…

My husband has completed training in Fireplace Fire Construction 101, and after many years of diligent practice, he’s got it down. Each log is artfully placed to provide the proper airflow, kindling is strategically located to ignite the artfully placed logs, and before you know it, we have a beautiful fire.  I love him for that.  The fire smolders in the fireplace until long after we have dozed off to sleep, but by morning, not even a spark remains.  I can’t imagine the dedication it would take to keep that wood fire going all night long.

Tucked in between the instructions for many offerings to be burned by the Israelites for the atonement of their sins is a paragraph regarding the burnt offering.  Offered once in the morning and again in the evening, the burnt offering was presented by the priests for the atonement of the entire congregation.  The Lord instructed Moses five times in this short paragraph that the fire was to be kept burning at all times. “Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times.  It must never go out.” (6:13)

Jews have long believed that the fire never went out from this moment of instruction from God until the Babylonian captivity some 860 years later.  Talk about dedication!  Why was this fire so crucial that God expected this commitment?  In Leviticus 9:24 we learn that the first burnt offering was set on fire by God Himself, causing the entire congregation to fall face down on the ground.  The perpetual flame honored the original fire that came from God and the continual need for atonement or forgiveness for their sins.  It was symbolic of perpetual worship and habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things.

Do we remember and honor the original fire that set our lives aflame for God?  That moment when the Holy Spirit’s conviction burned deep within our hearts and the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed us from our sins?  This question causes me to consider what I am doing to keep the fire of God going in my life, a habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things rather than the myriad of things that seem to consume my time.  Are the gifts and talents He has given me dedicated entirely as perpetual worship and service to Him?  Have I fanned the flame of these gifts (2 Timothy 1:8) and put another log on the fire, so to speak, to keep it burning?

I pray that I will never be listed with the dying embers of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold…I will spit you out of my mouth.”  I want to be hot, a perpetual flame for Him!

Moving Forward: I desire that my life burns hotter for Him today than ever before, dedicated to keeping His flame going. 

Tomorrow @ I Kings 14-18

Psalms 66-68 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He listens to the prayers offered from a pure heart 

@ Psalm 66
“Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He did for me.  For I cried out to Him for help, praising Him as I spoke.  If I had not confessed the sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.”(16-18)  Every time I read this passage, my mind goes back to an occasion several years ago when this truth became a reality for me.

Sitting in a Sunday morning service where Tom was ministering, I noticed during the praise and worship time that many others were experiencing a tremendous blessing from the Lord, but I was not.  I knew His presence was there by the response of the worshipers, yet I was not experiencing the fullness of His presence that comes when He inhabits our praises.  I just needed to focus more on Him, I thought, but nothing helped.  Finally, I cried out in my spirit, “What is it, Lord?”  Immediately, the response came, “You judged.”  And, of course, I knew what He meant.

The night before we attended a private function for individuals that I assumed were Christian believers, but some activities occurred that caused little red flag alerts to pop up.  I know all the scriptures about our role as fruit inspectors, etc., but I was visiting a different culture with many new Christians, really knowing only a very few.  In a split second, I had made a negative judgment in my heart about the commitment to the Lord of those in attendance.  While I never expressed my viewpoint to anyone, I withdrew, and instead of being a source of light in their lives at that moment or in the future, I blew out my candle.

Let me just say, the youth and young adult culture today look and act dissimilar to anything we have known in our lifetime.  Tattoos, piercings, rap and spin are common in the Christian culture as well as in the secular community.  It really is impossible for us to be a light and compass for them if we are too busy judging them.

Well, I repented that morning, my praise reached His throne, and His incredible presence immediately flooded my space.  I could say with the Psalmist, “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer.  Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” (19-20) Like the old saying, God loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to leave us like that.  It wasn’t that He didn’t love me that morning, but I know He was displeased with my response the night before.  It hindered the fellowship with Him I desired, and He wanted to restore our relationship.

We’ve been reading in Exodus and will continue to learn in Leviticus about the prerequisites of the priests before they entered the Holy Place.  They were arduous with detailed washing, purifying, abstentions and just a long list of requirements in order to enter God’s presence.  Because of Christ and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, these rules of law are no longer necessary.  However, they most definitely reveal how God desires for us to enter His presence with our praises and prayers – with clean hands and pure hearts. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”(Matthew 5:8)  I want to see Him, to sense Him and to know Him, and I don’t want anything in my heart to hinder it, ever. 

Moving Forward:  My heart today, “A pure heart, that’s what I long for, a heart that follows hard after thee…a sweet aroma of worship that rises to your throne.” (A Pure Heart, R. Nelson) 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 2-3

Galatians 4-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He desires to fill us with the joy of the Holy Spirit

Paul questioned the Galatians, “What has happened to all your joy?”(4:15 NIV)  Now that’s a question I don’t want to be asked because it signals to me that, in the eyes of others, my joy is gone. If asked this question, I would feel obliged to examine what really did happen to my joy so that I could give an answer.  Where exactly did my joy go?

I’ve noticed when I am especially embroiled in a tedious task like income tax filing, checkbook balancing or bill paying, the joy really isn’t flowing.  Although I love to cook and try new recipes, following a very detailed Martha Stewart recipe can change the environment in my kitchen very quickly. Suddenly, it’s just not fun anymore.  This is how Paul found the Galatians – encumbered by the Law of Moses at the bidding of the false teachers who had invaded the church.  Their relationship with the Lord had been usurped by legalism, and they had lost their joy. 

@ Galatians 5
“So Christ has truly set us free.  Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (1)  The incessant observance of all the laws had turned the Galatians’ focus from the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ in their lives to their work in their lives, saving themselves through circumcision and the adherence to all the laws.

Anyone or anything that turns our focus from Jesus and what He did on the cross to rules and methods that we must follow to earn our salvation is wrong.   “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

New life through the Holy Spirit!  “So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (16,22-23)  Joy is the end result when the Holy Spirit controls our lives.  Joy doesn’t come from our substitutions for Him or our manipulations of Him, but rather His pure guidance and freedom in our lives.  When the Holy Spirit guides us, we are filled with a deep, abiding peace regardless of our circumstances and a joy that comes from deep within us.

“Now with patience in our suffering, perseverance in our prayers, with good reason this hope is in our hearts.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Christ our joy and strength.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Christ our joy and strength.” (Sara Groves)  With His joy, no one will ask “What has happened to all your joy?” because He puts a song of joy in our hearts and we sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Moving Forward:  As I move through this day led by the Holy Spirit, I experience His joy because He is guiding me and producing what is good in my life.  Hallelujah! 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 37-40

Luke 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Through the way we live, He sees our sincere repentance.  He gives the power of the Holy Spirit and His Word to counter the enemy’s attacks.

John the Baptist certainly had a unique style of ministry. “When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes!  Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented.” (3:7-8)  Wouldn’t that approach draw the crowds today!  Perhaps he was dining on too many locusts and not enough wild honey, and, of course, camel hair can be so scratchy. (Matthew 3:4)

Actually, this voice in the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, discerned that many had come to hear his message merely to escape eternal punishment as if he were a lucky charm.  He was looking for true repentance of sins and a changed life. John told his listeners to prove that they had repented by showing generosity, honesty and kindness to one another at the very least. (3:10-14) Great advice from the wilderness evangelist!

I’ve always known those who consider church-going their lucky charm, keeping the Big Guy happy with them, but never allowing His power to change their lives.  Because God loves their souls, He often allows challenging situations to occur in their lives to get their attention and to turn their hearts toward Him.  This is when we are able to step in to encourage and undergird them with generosity, honesty and kindness expressed by John in Chapter 3.  Time and time again I’ve seen those out on the fringe of God’s grace turn to a genuine relationship with Him.

It’s interesting to note that while Jewish Matthew’s genealogy only went back to Abraham, Luke the Greek went all the way back to Adam, proving once again that Jesus, our elder brother, is related to all mankind.  Luke’s love of details blesses me. 

@ Luke 4
I wish I could say that our walk with the Lord is paved only with wonderful moments, but that wouldn’t be true.  Fresh out of the carpentry shop at age 30, Jesus was baptized in water, filled with the Holy Spirit and started His ministry in the wilderness with a full-fledged frontal attack by Satan.  And sometimes we think we’re having a bad day!

The record of this encounter is filled with many truths about the Kingdom of God, but two of them stood out today in my reading.  Satan had been successful in his temptation of Adam and Eve, and the failure of Jesus would certainly have been a plus for him.  However, even trying to tempt Jesus proves one glaring fact:  Satan does not know the future.  Although he often confronts us with fears and outcomes that sound prophetic in nature, he’s just guessing!  He is offering only what he wishes to be true, and we should resist him just like Jesus did.

How did Jesus resist him?  By quoting scripture!  The two-edged sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon in our armor against the enemy. (Eph. 6:17)   When He was under attack, Jesus did not hesitate to bring out His Sword to take down His attacker.  We keep our weapon sharp and ready for use by our daily attention to the Word and its application to our lives.  The enemy knows scripture too, but Satan’s misuse of scripture in his encounter with Jesus left him powerless – knowledge without relationship is futile.

Being the slow learner that he is, the enemy will make many attempts to bring us down just as he tried with Jesus, but armed with our fine-tuned weapon and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are invincible!  “Submit yourselves, then, to God,” is the often neglected part of James 4:7. Submit first to Him and to His Word, then, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (NIV)  Armed and dangerous! 

Moving Forward: As I carry with me His Word today, I face the day armed and dangerous against any attacks. With generosity, honesty and kindness – proof of a changed life – I will undergird and encourage those that He is drawing into a true relationship with Him. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 11-13