I Samuel 16-20 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He looks at our hearts to determine our role in His kingdom

I was recently at a party and spent much of the night eyeing a delicious-looking cake on the food table. Artfully crafted with gooey chocolate buttercream frosting and gorgeous sugar glazed strawberries adorning it, the cake seemed to be beckoning me throughout the meal.  I was really looking forward to dessert time. Finally, the cake was cut, and we casually made our way to the dessert table. After all, this wasn’t a sale at a bargain basement, and some decorum was expected.

Disappointment is just too generic of a term to describe how I felt after taking my first bite, but of course, devastated is just too dramatic. The buttercream wasn’t butter, and I’m almost certain the cake had freezer burn…dry and tasteless. A single strawberry saved the day! Once again I was reminded that we just can’t judge a book by its cover. I would imagine this is somewhat the point the prophet Samuel was making when he chose the next king of Israel, but with a more eternal illustration.

@ I Samuel 16
When [Jesse’s sons] arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, ‘Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (6-7) While the baker was able to fool me by the outward appearance of a cake, God is never fooled by how we look on the outside. He is able to look past what man is able to see right through to the heart of the matter, and with David, God saw pure gold.

“Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse replied. ‘But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.’ ‘Send for him at once,’ Samuel said…So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, ‘This is the one; anoint him.’”(11-12) In light of God’s previous statement, David could easily have been ugly, but he was handsome as well. However, God’s anointing on David had nothing to do with his appearance.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that if we were more attractive, more charismatic or more irresistible, then we could be more used by God, but that is how man looks at things. David and also Moses were both trained and equipped for service to the Lord because of what God saw in their hearts.

No doubt the long hours spent in the pastures as a shepherd sharpened David’s musical skills as he played the lute and harp to where he would one day play in King Saul’s court. No doubt David’s commitment to protecting the flock against the animals of prey made him strong, agile and a sharpshooter who was trained to take down a giant. No doubt David’s faithful care for his father’s sheep at any cost prepared him to lead the great nation of Israel.

None of this had anything to do with David’s appearance but had everything to do with his heart. “But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’” (Acts 13:22/I Samuel 13:14) God’s choice of David to lead His people was all about David’s heart of obedience to God, and as we read last Tuesday, obedience is more beautiful to the Lord than anything else

Yes, in consideration of others, every day I do a face-check before the mirror, enhancing as best I can, but every day I also do a heart-check before the Lord. I ask the Lord to purify my heart of anything I have allowed to taint it, those little things that over time will change the condition of my heart. I surrender my heart and life to Him to be used however He pleases. I don’t want to just look my best on the outside – I want a heart that looks like His heart.

Moving Forward: Once again, Lord, purify my heart, make me a pure reflection of who you are and then anoint me for your service.

Tomorrow @ Psalms 39-41

I Samuel 6-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He longs to be the King of our lives

I find television commercials to be annoying most of the time.  Usually louder than regular programming, they are meant to get our attention and entice us to buy, buy, buy or sell, sell, sell.  My seven-year-old granddaughter watches very little television, but even at that, she wants to know from the start of a recorded program where to find the fast forward button on the  TV clicker because she doesn’t like commercials either.

The commercials that intrigue me, however, are those that advertise various medicines.  After touting all the wonderful ways they will make our lives better, they are required to tag on all the risks and complications that can occur from using the products.  A favorite line is, “Use of this product may result in death in some cases.”  Well, I certainly want to get me some of that!  It’s hard to believe, but these medicines flourish in the market today. Even knowing all the complications and risks involved in something, we still seek out what isn’t the best for us at times, and sometimes God feels compelled to give it to us. 

@ I Samuel 8
In Samuel’s later years, the elders of Israel met with him and made a request, ‘Look,’ they told him, ‘you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.’  Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. ‘Do everything they say to you,’ the Lord replied, ‘for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.’ (5-7) The words at the end of this passage make my heart hurt, and they serve as a glimpse into the heart of the Father.  How it must sadden the Lord when we don’t allow Him to reign as King in our lives.

Wanting to make sure that the Israelites understood the complications involved in having a king, “This is how a king will reign over you,’ Samuel said. ‘The king will draft your sons…some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops…The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook…take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves…take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest…take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle…demand a tenth of your flocks…you will be his slaves.’” (11-17)  What a deal!  In my assessment, the taxes alone should have given them pause; but no, they still wanted a king like all the other nations.

For the next several generations, Israel took its medicine, so to speak, and it didn’t go down very well.  Of the dozens of kings in Judah and Israel, only a handful served the Lord and led the people in righteousness.  Throughout their history, when God gave the Israelites what they demanded rather than His best for them, the end result was this, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalm 106:15)  Leanness, in this sense, was a wasting disease of the soul. Help!

In that case, I want a fat, fat soul, one that is surrendered and so full of Him that I can’t help but share it with others.  I want a fatness that comes only through my total obedience to His will, desiring His best for me rather than demanding what I think is my best.  Furthermore, I choose Him as King, regardless of the many kings this world has to offer today.  I don’t want any king of this world binding me up, taking my resources, my heritage and my freedom – who needs the complications and risks when we can serve the King of Kings. 

Moving Forward: I was reminded of this old song recently when I heard Faith Hill sing, “All to Jesus, I surrender; All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live…I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”   Surrendered to Him and fat in soul! 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 33-35

Isaiah 40-44 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He is God, creator of all things, yet tender enough to carry us in His arms.

“You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’…He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (40:9,11 nkjv/nlt)  The first 39 chapters of Isaiah have been rugged with prophetic judgments on the nations, but the tone of the prophet Isaiah changed in Chapter 40 as he reminded Israel of who God really is:  He is God, creator of all things, yet tender enough to carry us in His arms.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.” (43:2) I am thankful that because of Jesus, I am part of this promise to Israel.  As I go through rivers of difficulty in my life, He is with me and will not let me drown. Sometimes the waters feel like they are right at my neck, but somehow He supports me and keeps me afloat through the difficulty.  I look back at situations in life and see myself as though I was almost walking on water rather than drowning because of God’s grace.

This is the God that Isaiah was encouraging Israel to remember and to follow.  One of the most beloved and quoted scriptures is found here in Isaiah 40:31, “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” And they just may walk on water…

These chapters in Isaiah remind me of Who ultimately controls the outcome of powers, governments and kingdoms and their deeds.  In Chapter 41:2 and again in 44:28, Isaiah prophesied about a king from the east, 150 years in the future, who would deliver Israel out of Babylon captivity, someone God called into His own service to do His bidding. King Cyrus of Esther and Nehemiah fame, a pagan king, sent Israel back to their homeland simply because God willed him to do so.

I think of the events in more recent history where powerful men and nations chose to carry out their evil imaginations causing death and destruction, but their actions soon brought their own demise.  Out of the rubble of World War II, an evil regime died and Israel once again returned to its homeland, a nation stronger than ever, with a friend by its side, a strong friend and ally, the United States.  My prayer is that we remain a friend to Israel, for our own sake as well as for theirs.

Because heartless leaders and zealot groups around the world have met their doom, the gospel is now being preached and churches established in an area of the world where they were once forbidden. I am ever convinced that God will use the acts of all powers, governments and kingdoms to ultimately bring about His good.  Yet, so personal is He that He feeds little me, carries me in His arms when needed and guides me along life’s path.  I declare with Isaiah, Behold our God!  There is none other like Him.

Moving forward:  God is in control – I will remember this today regardless of the news alerts and headlines.  I’ll remember that He is with me through my difficult moments of life as well.  He’s got this! 

Tomorrow@Matthew 20-22

Isaiah 18-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is our help in the time of storm, worthy of our trust

Florida is a beautiful place to live with its dramatic coastlines and lush greenery.  Fresh year-round fruits and vegetables and seafood only add to its appeal.  Yes, Florida is a great place to live, except for those pesky hurricanes, and they definitely keep everyone on their toes.

Generally, Floridians respond to an approaching hurricane in one of two ways.  Most will stock up on water, lots of water, and non-perishable foods, tape windows, put away lawn furniture/play equipment and secure plants.  In other words, they batten down the hatches.  However, some Floridians have friends come over, turn up the music to drown out the wind and throw a big party to ride out the storm.  I am more of the batten down the hatches crew combined with some very serious prayer for protection.  When Israel faced utter destruction back in the days of Isaiah, they trusted in their weapons and stockpiles and chose to party.  They failed to pray. 

@ Isaiah 22
“You run to the armory for your weapons.  You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.  You store up water in the lower pool.  You survey the houses and tear some down for stone to strengthen the walls…But you never ask for help from the One who did all this. You never considered the One who planned this long ago.” (8-11)  I can’t imagine facing possible annihilation without turning to God for help and protection.  We can reinforce our structures and stock up on water, and this is wise, but God is the one who is able to cover us with His protection or even turn the storm out to sea.  Isaiah warned of Israel’s fate through his vision, but once again he was ignored.  The God of the Exodus, the Red Sea and miraculous victory after victory was not called upon for help in the face of the storm.

In the face of sickness, loss or any kind of storm, we should do all that we can to strengthen ourselves through doctors and those who are trained to help us.  But when we fail to pray, we put our trust in everything other the One who controls all things just as the Israelites did.

“At that time the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, called you to weep and mourn… But instead, you dance and play; you slaughter cattle and kill sheep.  You feast on meat and drink wine.  You say, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’”(12-13)  And die they did. I’m always ready for a party, but if God calls for fasting and weeping, I’m going to fast and weep.

As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4, “For everything there is a season…A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.”   It wasn’t time to party.  Israel had lost their faith and trust in God along the way; and not only did they fail to pray because of it, they approached the coming storm with a fatalistic attitude.  Feast, drink, tomorrow we die.  Many in our world share this attitude, not only because of personal storms but because of the turmoil in the world.  If for no other reason, this should give us cause to fast and weep when our hearts are stirred to do so, and then He will never need to question why we never asked for help. 

Moving Forward:  I’m going to prepare for life’s storm as best I can and pray for His help.  I know where my help comes from – the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and in Him have I placed my trust.  When the victory is in hand, I will celebrate! 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 8-10

Isaiah 7-11 (NLT)

Discover His heart: Through our trust in Him, He will cause us to stand firm

A few years ago I was attempting to change a less-than-pleasant diaper on my one-year old grandson.  Doing what little ones do at this age, he was kicking up a storm and trying to turn over, and I realized that Jett was not as focused on the task at hand as I was.  I caught his eye and said, “Work with me here, baby boy, work with me,” and he stopped long enough to give me one of those smiles that lights up my world and then went back to kicking.  I knew my only recourse was to provide a distraction and handed him one of his favorite toys.  With that, the kicking and turning stopped, the diaper was changed and I was victorious.  Let’s hear it for Nonna!

In Isaiah’s day, Judah was facing the threat of attack by Assyria, and its king was struggling with it, turning this way and that, seeking help from everyone but God.  Isaiah was sent by God to make the change in Judah’s focus, but it sure wasn’t easy. 

@ Isaiah 7
As Judah’s King Ahab struggled in his decision with whom to join forces against the invading army – Israel and Syria or Assyria itself – Isaiah came with a message from God encouraging Judah to ally with God, to trust in Him. “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” (9)  In essence, God was saying something similar to, “Work with me here, Judah, work with me.”  God could not help Judah stand firm against the enemy unless Judah would place its faith and trust in Him. 

@ Isaiah 8
Isaiah shared God’s message with Judah, calling them to change their focus, “The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, ‘Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.  Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear.  He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.’” (11-14)  Don’t get caught up in the struggle of it all, focused on who did what and when, but change your focus to the One who will help you and keep you safe. “Look to God’s instructions and teachings!  People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.” (20)

Whether we are focused on the struggles of our nation or the struggles in our own personal lives, God’s word to Judah is powerful to us as well.  Through His Word I believe God is saying to each one of us “Work with me, dear one, work with meI can’t help you stand strong in your struggle unless you put your trust and faith firmly in me.”  We have to give Him something to work with and not struggle against Him or turn from Him.

God warned not to think like everyone else does, focused on the struggle and the advice of those who do not know Him, but rather be distracted by His instructions and teachings in His Word.  Keep focused on God’s Word and His counsel, and, in fact, remind others of it, “Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me.” (16)  This is how we perpetuate faith and trust in God to those who are watching our lives, our children and those near to us, through our focus on God’s Word in the time of struggle.  At the end of the day, we will be victorious!

Moving Forward: I’m focusing on God and His word, giving Him something to work with, so that I will stand firm through any challenge I may face today.

Tomorrow @ Matthew 3-4

Zechariah 8-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the God who does the impossible

One of the highlights of my life to date was a trip I took several years ago to visit the Holy Land.  It was a thrill to look out across the Sea of Galilee and imagine Jesus viewing the same scene so many years ago, to walk the streets of Jerusalem where He walked and visit the Garden of Gethsemane stained by His tears.  At the Wailing Wall, I felt as though I heard the prayers of God’s people through the ages, prayers for peace and safety.  Will it come? 

@Zechariah 8
Returning to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon, the Israelites saw utter devastation to their beautiful city and Temple.  The controlling forces in Jerusalem had no desire to see Jerusalem rebuilt by the Jews, but God’s people rebuilt their Temple by the Spirit of the Lord (4:6).  Now their prophet gave a declaration from the lord, “I am returning to Mount Zion, and I will live in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City; the mountain of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be called the Holy Mountain.’  This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: ‘Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.’” (3-5)

These words were difficult to accept because of the dismal reputation that Israel had in the eyes of its neighbors.  Zechariah was a great Messianic and end-times prophet and the words that he shared from God will come true.  Throughout the ages, God enabled the Jews time and again to return to their Jerusalem, but because of their rejection of Him as in the day of Zechariah, they had been scattered throughout the world.

In 1948, Israel was once again before the eyes of the world when they were recognized as a nation, and just as in the past, their neighbors did not accept them.  Zechariah continued the message that has carried Israel through these many years of turmoil, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: All this may seem impossible to you now, a small remnant of God’s people. But is it impossible for me? says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (6)  Nothing speaks more clearly of God performing the impossible for Israel than does the six day war of June, 1967, where Israel fought against countries much larger and better equipped, yet came out the victors.

One day the prophecy of Zechariah will come to pass and the Lord will return to Mount Zion and live in Jerusalem.  Until that day, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior have been grafted in to the vine as His chosen people and can claim His promises to Israel as well.  Circumstances that seem impossible to us now – our healing, a job, our unsaved loved ones, or whatever it is – must respond to the question from the Lord, “Is it impossible for me?”   Israel is our example of how the hand of God moves in the impossible areas of our lives.  “With God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) 

Moving Forward: Believing today for the impossible things in my life to be touched by the God of possibility.

Tomorrow @ Acts 17-18

Haggai (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  His blessings follow our obedience to Him

Many books and movies tell the story of the farmer who plants the seed and then waits for the sun and the rain to bless his efforts and bring about a bountiful crop.  Because he has invested all he has on the seed, his investment is lost if the rain doesn’t come.  The drama of waiting for a dark cloud, even a small one, to form in the sky is heart-wrenching to watch, and sometimes the families are on edge as they struggle with what to do next.  Anytime a blessing from the Lord seems to be withheld from our lives, it gives cause to consider the reason.

“Look at what’s happening to you!  You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  Look at what’s happening to you.” (Haggai 1:5-7)  The Israelites returned to Jerusalem with the specific instructions to rebuild the temple, but instead they built their homes and had not worked on the temple.

When life is not going well and our efforts seem in vain, it never hurts to examine what’s happening to us and make certain we are following His plan for us.  God’s love makes Him longsuffering, but He will do what is necessary to get our attention.  When the Israelites realized their disobedience, they turned to the Lord and His gracious response was, “I am with you, says the Lord!” (13)

A drought or dry season in our life may have nothing to do with our willfulness, but it may be a testing time to develop character and prepare us to be used by Him.  I’m sure the 40 years that Moses spent on the backside of the desert caused him to search his heart and question what was happening to him, but God was preparing him for great things.

When our efforts bring little reward and we feel that God’s blessing is not on them, it’s not time to blame Him or to resist Him.  It’s the perfect time to look at what’s happening to us and evaluate our situation.  Are we doing our best to follow His direction for us?  If so, we can be certain that He “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  His blessings will come in due time.

Our obedience to God will bring a promise to our lives like the one given to an obedient Israel after the foundation for the temple was laid, “Think carefully. I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”  (2:18-19)  Regardless of how it comes or when it comes, obedience brings the blessing of the Lord to our lives. 

Moving Forward: I am certain of His blessings in due time as I walk in obedience to Him. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 13-14