Amos 5-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He offers one more call, one more chance to come to Him

One of the most loved parables of Jesus is that of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son who left home with his inheritance and spent it on wild living.  When the money was gone and food was scarce, the careless young man decided to return home to his father where he knew even the servants were living better than he was.

The story goes on to give a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace toward His children, “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)  I’m fairly certain the father watched for his son every day because he wasn’t taken by surprise at his return, he saw him coming.  He was waiting for him, looking for his return home, just like God was waiting for the children of Israel to return home to Him in our reading today. 

@ Amos 5
“Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel:  ‘Come back to me and live!  Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba…Come back to the Lord and live!’” (4-6)  God was waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance to come to their senses and return home. Amos, the simple shepherd from outside of Bethlehem, prophesied over and over again that judgment was coming to this wayward nation because they sought other gods from other nations.

Twenty years later, Isaiah would call for Israel’s repentance and for their return to God with one more call, one more chance, “Come to me with your ears wide open.  Listen, and you will find lifeSeek the Lord while you can find him.  Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:3,6)  But as we know from scripture, Israel would not return home like the Prodigal Son to their awaiting Father.

The Father’s invitation to come has been extended throughout the ages to any and all, and He is still making His appeal today through those of us who will share it, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)  He is still waiting for His children to return home to Him, one more call, one more chance because, like the Prodigal’s father, He is filled with love and compassion, ready to embrace all who will come. 

Moving Forward:  Reminded once again of His great love for His lost children, I will continue to make the appeal for Him to those who have lost their way, Come back to the Lord and live! Come back to God!

Tomorrow @ John 19-21

Amos 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He speaks through those He chooses to deliver His message

I must admit that I have a certain affinity toward the prophet Amos.  He was a shepherd who had visions!  Minding his own business and tending sheep in the countryside just south of Bethlehem, he started to receive visions from the Lord.  Perhaps the solitude of the country and the lack of social interaction provided the right atmosphere for God to communicate with Amos. This is something I think about when I find myself running all day long.

Amos was not from a family of prophets or priests, but he most certainly had a heart for God with open communication with him.  He was a shepherd and used many metaphors from the pasture in his writings.  Equally important to the lessons learned from what Amos said is the example of how his life reveals God’s intention to use anyone who is willing to touch the world.

Amos was a forerunner in the timeline of Israel’s next three professional prophets. Through divine revelation, he pronounced judgment on the surrounding countries as well as on Israel, and his tactic was brilliant.  People often say that sheep are dumb, and with that thinking, it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence or skill for Amos to tend them. However, through my encounters with countless sheep and numerous shepherds, I can say with confidence that most sheep are not as dumb as they are willful.  How better to describe the mindset of Israel at this time in history – pleasure seeking, idol worshiping willful sheep.

Just like with his sheep, Amos found a way to get the attention of Israel.  In Chapters 1 and 2, Amos waxed eloquent on the judgment that was coming to Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon.  This must have thrilled the Israelites, and I can imagine them shouting in agreement with Amos, “Yes! Get them, God, for their injustices to us.” It’s easy to see the error in the lives of others and overlook our own problems, and so it was Israel at that time.

Then in his proclamations, Amos lowered the boom, “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!  They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.  So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.’” (2:4-6)  Party over.

The cultural norm of Israel at this time was not unlike what we are experiencing in the world today, a blending of right and wrong, blurred lines, everything gray.  Do what feels right…it can’t be wrong if it feels so right…God only wants us to feel good.  Many in Israel had crossed the line to what they knew to be wrong, yet did it anyway. After enumerating the ways God had attempted to get Israel’s attention through the years, Amos, speaking for God, delivered the final blow, “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”  I’m relatively certain that any affection for Amos and his message was over.

We can somewhat understand the feelings of the Israelites at this point.  I really don’t like it when a preacher, or a devotional for that matter, gets all up in my business and conviction comes to my heart. It’s easy to get uncomfortable and perhaps a little angry thinking, don’t mess with my gray areas and certainly don’t mess with my sin.   It never helps to shoot the messenger; it only helps to submit to the message.

When I stand before the Lord one day, I want to have responded to His merciful messages, I want to have experienced His wonderful grace, and I want to hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  So, messengers of God, bring it! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that He opens doors of ministry to each one of us, regardless of our backgrounds, and I’m ever challenged to submit to the messages that He brings my way. 

Tomorrow @ John 16-18

Hosea 8-14 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because of His love for us, He does not willingly let us go

The value of a soul.  Well, we really can’t place a value on one’s soul – it’s priceless.  So much so that God sent His only Son to die to redeem that soul.  When we’ve been praying for someone for a long time, one who is resistant to the Lord, we’re often tempted to give up on that soul.  Hosea continued to reveal God’s abiding love for His people even though they had rejected Him.

“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?  How can I let you go?… My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.” (11:8)  In the previous three chapters, Hosea summarized Israel’s rebellion against God, and because of their continued rejection of God, they would harvest what they had planted (8:7)  But God’s heart was torn, “How can I let you go?

Hosea challenged those who had rejected God for so very long, “Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.  Say to him, ‘Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises.’” (14:2)  This, this is what God is longing to hear; and His response to heartfelt repentance is, “I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.”(4)

There are several individuals I have prayed for as long as I can remember, asking God to touch their lives and change their direction.  I must admit that I have gone through periods where I’ve just given up because it all seems so futile.  Then I read something like this, revealing God’s incredible capacity to love and to hope, and my commitment is renewed to keep praying, keep believing.  These dear ones I have been praying for may walk through some seeds they have sown, but if our pure and Holy God loves them so very deeply, who am I to give up on them? 

Moving Forward: My hope is renewed today as I continue praying for those who desperately need fellowship with the One who loves them so deeply. 

Tomorrow @ John 10-12

Hosea 1-7 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will go to great lengths to prove His love for us

I’ve met some individuals in my life who have a capacity to love difficult people, so much so that it’s not easy for me to comprehend it.  A spouse or a child repeatedly betrays and offends them, yet these loving souls keep hoping and believing for a change.  The book of Hosea is about God’s unfathomable love for His people in the face of their betrayal and offense.

Hosea is a love story between God and His people illustrated through the life of Hosea.  Some think Hosea’s story is symbolic and others believe it to be history, but regardless, the story is compelling.  Imagine being asked by God to marry someone that He promised would be unfaithful to you to the point of having children with other lovers.  It would be difficult, to say the least, but then imagine this request, “Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” (3:1) Hosea bought back his wife out of slavery to love her again.

Hosea’s story foretold Israel’s bondage to a foreign land because of their continual idolatry and sin, yet because of God’s great love for them, He one day would bring redemption to them.  Hosea and many prophets to come were sent by God to warn of impending doom if Israel did not repent – God calling, reaching, loving.

Many of us have individuals in our lives who are on this same fast track to doom because of their disregard for God.  Hosea’s story offers this important lesson for us – God loves their souls regardless of their indifference, their betrayal and their sin.  He will bring judgment one day if they don’t repent; but in the meantime, He will send any number of prophets or challenges to their lives to get their attention and bring about repentance – God calling, reaching, loving.

God may not ask us to continue fellowship with them, but our role is certainly to love their souls, pray for them and never give up on them as long as they are breathing.  If Hosea could do the hard things that God asked of him, we can do this! 

Moving Forward: Today I will continue to pray for those in my life who seem so very far from God, remembering that He knows exactly where they are and He loves them. 

Tomorrow @ John 7-9

Numbers 1-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He has promised victory to all who serve in His army

Numbers!  Math was my least favorite subject in school, and I must admit that I approach an entire book entitled Numbers with fear and trepidation.  While the book opens with the numbering, or census, of the Israelites, Numbers is really not so much about math at all but is more so a story about a group of people at the threshold of incredible promise, their response to that promise and God’s undeniable patience with them through it. 

@ Numbers 1
At the opening of Numbers, the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, traveled south to the area around Mt. Sinai and were camped there for almost eleven months. During that time, through His spokesman, God built a nation and established the nation’s purpose by renewing His Abrahamic covenant with Moses.  He set up the nation’s constitution by providing the laws needed to govern.  And most importantly, He gave the guidelines for the construction of the Tabernacle, providing the means He would use to fellowship with His people.  When we think about the time spent in Sinai in light of this agenda, a great deal was accomplished in a very short time.

Now at the beginning of Numbers, God is ready to advance His people to their new home.  He directed Moses to count the men, “A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, ‘From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war.’” (1-3) This directive from the Lord alone must have served as an indication to the Israelites that war was ahead for them.  Moses needed to know how many troops he had for the battles that were ahead, and we should note that this directive did not ask for volunteers.  It was all men over 20, all hands on deck, stand up and be counted and be all that you can be! The army was formed and ready to possess the land!

Similarly, when we give our hearts to the Lord, we automatically become a part of His army, and there isn’t a separate sign-up sheet for active duty.  Just as the enemy of God’s chosen people fought them on every front even before they entered their land, our enemy will fight to keep us from entering the territory God has for us.  If this isn’t the case, why has God provided all our tools for battle in Ephesians 6:13-17?

The Israelite army totaled 603,550, a strong military by any standards, but by the time they reached the battleground, only 2 had survived the journey.  As we read their story over the next several weeks, we will learn how they became casualties on the way to the Promised Land.

We, however, need not be dismayed or discouraged by their outcome because we have reinforcements they did not have in the way that we do, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness… Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:26,35,37)  And my personal favorite is, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 KJV)

Numbers is more than a census, more than a page in Jewish history.  It paints a picture of God’s patience with us, and on occasion, it also portrays how not to serve in the army of the Lord.  Sometimes He just needs to draw a picture for us… 

Moving Forward:  Suited up according to Ephesians 6 and ready to rumble!

Tomorrow @ 1 Chronicles 5-9

2 Kings 6-10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He surrounds us with His army of protection

Spies, counterspies and espionage – all ingredients for a great story, at least in my mind.  I love spy stuff and really enjoyed visiting the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. a few years ago.  The inventory of spy gear, listening and recording devices and weapons developed over the years boasts of a well-developed spy industry around the world.  The Museum tells the story of many notorious spies dating back to early Roman times and even offers the visitors the opportunity to adopt spy profiles and memorize their covers. Fun stuff.

Most spies through the ages had one goal in mind and that was to secure classified information from enemy territory for their king, country or company, and they used many different tools to accomplish it.  However, one spy in history never had to infiltrate enemy territory, never used spy gear and was always right on the money.  What government wouldn’t pay big bucks to sign up the prophet Elisha!  Unfortunately, his services have been terminated…but not his Source. 

@ 2 Kings 6
The King of Aram was at war with Israel, but every strategic move he planned fell into the hands of his enemy, Israel.  Certain that there was a spy within his ranks, he questioned them and soon learned that the prophet Elisha was the culprit. “It’s not us, my lord the king,’ one of the officers replied.  ‘Elisha…tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!’” (12)  Obviously, Elisha had supernatural help.

The king sent a large army to capture the threat to his kingdom, but they were no match for this humble prophet.  When the mighty army surrounded Elisha, his servant cried out, “Oh sir, what will we do now?”(15)  More calm, cool and collected than 007, Elisha replied, “Don’t be afraid!… For there are more on our side than on theirs!’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’  The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.”(16-17)

In the battles we face against our enemy, there is a dimension beyond what we see in the natural, a Source not limited by spy paraphernalia.  He knows the enemy’s strategy and is never taken by surprise.  We may be tempted to cry out in the heat of battle, “What will we do now?”  But that is when, like Elijah, we should pray, “O Lord, open my eyes and let me see.”  And at that moment, we will see through eyes of faith the invisible and know that we are not alone for there are more horses and chariots of fire on our side than any number of enemies we may face

“The angel of the Lord is a guard:  he surrounds and defends all who fear him.” (Psalm 34:7)   He was with Daniel in the lion’s den, the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, Peter in the prison cell and He is with us in whatever battle we are facing.  “If God is for us, who can ever be against us.” (Romans 8:31)  When we pray, He will open our spiritual eyes to see His hand, His army, His whatever that is needed to bring victory to our lives, and we will not be afraid! 

Moving Forward: I will move forward this day with the confidence that my Source already knows the enemy’s strategy and has surrounded me with an invincible defense. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 81-83

Ezekiel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides a sanctuary for His people – anywhere.

The prisoner slowly makes his way to the execution chamber with the knowledge that all will be over soon.  Appeal after appeal has been denied, and now the end is in sight.  It’s 11:59 p.m. and the straps have been tightened, the hood is in place and….a telephone rings. The Governor has issued a reprieve, and the prisoner will live!  Dramatic I know, but I would imagine the exiles in Babylon felt a similar rush of relief at the news from the prophet Ezekiel, a reprieve if you will, that God would be with them in Babylon!

@ Ezekiel 11
Tragic prophecies had repeatedly been given to the Exiles about Jerusalem, their homeland, and all hope was gone in their minds for restoration because they were far from God’s Temple presence.  Now, God was issuing a reprieve for those who had turned their hearts toward Him.  “I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile.” (16)

Just like the Israelites, sometimes we find ourselves in a place that seems far from what we desire.  Perhaps we’ve arrived there through no fault of our own, or maybe our deeds have put us there.  Regardless, when we turn our hearts to God, He will provide a sanctuary where we can fellowship with Him.  I like the way the KJV says it, “Yet I will be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”

Most believe that little sanctuary is referring to a short period of time while in captivity rather than space, but I think of it also as a place where we can meet with Him, wherever we may be, whether in a huge church or in a tiny closet far from home.  It doesn’t matter – He will be for us a little sanctuary while in the prison cell, on the hospital bed or in the work cubicle.  “I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:7) God is omnipresent, everywhere, waiting for our cry for help, expecting to be our safe haven, our sanctuary.

“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.  I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations.” (19-20)  Some situations in life may harden our hearts, not only toward God but towards others as well.  It is in His sanctuary where He softens us and makes our hearts tender like His heart.

Within this prophetic dream from Ezekiel is a promise to Israel as a nation, “I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” (17)  The Jews have lived in Israel periodically throughout history, but in 1948, it was recognized politically as a nation.

While nations around the world have fought hard to destroy this tiny nation, it remains!  It is a testimony of God’s blessing on it and His miraculous power.  However, this prophecy of Ezekiel will not be fully realized until the Second Coming of Christ, when the end-time believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, will inhabit the New Jerusalem.  What a day it will be!

For all who follow God, both Jew and Gentle, He longs to give us one heart, undivided, tender and fleshy that is responsive to Him and one that follows His Word.  “Then,” He says, “they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” (20) 

Moving Forward: I will enter His sanctuary today, wherever I am, with a tender heart and with a prayer on my lips for the nation of Israel. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 13-14