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

2 Chronicles 29-32 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His power is on our side to defeat the enemy

One of the best Christian songs of the 80’s was Carman’s The Champion, the battle of the ages between Lucifer and Jesus.  It reminds us of who our enemy is, but more importantly, it reminds us of Who our God is – The Champion!  King Hezekiah experienced God’s victory first hand when he trusted Him to fight his battle.

How refreshing to finally read about King Hezekiah, a king who was faithful to the Lord, a champion in his own right.  “In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.” (31:21)  Hezekiah’s heart for God directed him to restore temple worship and once again follow the laws of God, and the Lord rewarded his efforts.

The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to the Assyrians, and now King Hezekiah and the Southern Kingdom were under siege by them.  Hezekiah encouraged his people with these words, “Be strong and courageous!  Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!” (32:7)

Hezekiah’s words were just what the Israelites needed as Assyrian King Sennacherib hurled his insults and threats at them, “What are you trusting in that makes you think you can survive my siege of Jerusalem? Surely you must realize what I and the other kings of Assyria before me have done to all the people of the earth! Were any of the gods of those nations able to rescue their people from my power?…No god of any nation or kingdom has ever yet been able to rescue his people from me or my ancestors. How much less will your God rescue you from my power!” (32:10,13-15)

Well, I can tell you I’ve been there.  The enemy comes around in the heat of the battle, pouring his lies and deceit to bring discouragement with a kidney punch or two.  Jesus called his bluff when He said of the devil, “He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)  Really, why would we believe anything he says?

We could only expect the enemy to hit below the belt when he belittles the power of the living God.  How foolish! It is then that the Spirit of the Lord rises up within us and just like Hezekiah’s uplifting words, we can encourage ourselves with the Word of God.  “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4)  “No weapon turned against you will succeed.  You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.” (Isaiah 54:17)   “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”  (Revelation 1:17)  The Champion!

“And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land.”  (32:21)  Sennacherib was defeated, discouraged and down for the count because a godly king “sought his God wholeheartedly.”  And we, too, will be victorious and defeat our enemy when we refuse his lies and accusations in the midst of the fight and turn to the Champion of our Faith, the Lord Jesus Christ who will take him down. 

Moving Forward: I won’t even begin to listen to the lies of the enemy today, much less believe him.  I seek God with my whole heart because the battle is His, and He always wins – He’s the Champion!

Tomorrow @ Psalms 125-127

Deuteronomy 7-9 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very special treasure.

There’s nothing like being a part of a family.  Even with all of its ups and downs, black sheep and sibling rivalries, there are certain privileges afforded a family member that others are not given.  As long as we are a part of the family, we are provided with food, clothing and shelter, and we are included in all the family gatherings such as family reunions, holidays and Will readings.

We don’t earn the right to be a part of the family by our good deeds or because we are perfect, but it is because our parents chose to bring life into the world.  Out of disobedience or rebellion, some have decided to leave the protection that the family provides, and they often end up living empty troubled lives, alone.  With the holidays just around the corner, I’m especially grateful for my family, and I want to protect it and all the privileges that come with it.  Oh, Israel, how could you desert the family!

Moses continued his instructions as the Israelites sat poised to enter the Promised Land and reminded God’s children of who their Father was, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.  The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!  Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.”(7:6-8)  And the Lord did not provide for His children because they were so good, “You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” (9:6)  Ouch!

Moses also reminded the people of the responsibilities that came with being the children of God.  “Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands…He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.  So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in His ways and fearing Him.” (8:2-6)  Unfortunately, the Israelites did not accept every word that came from the mouth of the Lord and in their stubbornness and rebellion, most of them eventually deserted the family and left all the privileges that came with it.

Just like many childless fathers, God adopted or grafted in a new family, “But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.”(Romans 11:17)  I’m so thankful to be a part of the family!  However, because of His great love, God is like the prodigal’s father in Luke 15, who waits and waits for His lost children of Israel to come home and rejoin the family by accepting His Son.

We, too, need to remember the privileges we have received as members of the family of God.  Because of Jesus, we have become “joint heirs” in all that God has to offer His children.  We are God’s special treasure as well.  We did not receive His blessing because we are so good, but simply because He loves us.  With His love and all the privileges I receive as His child, I can’t imagine why I would ever desert my family. 

Moving Forward: I’m encouraged today to walk in the privileges provided for me as His child, to protect the family name through my behavior and never leave the safety of His love and care. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 29-32

 

Obadiah (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He watches over His children and brings justice to their enemies

Everyone remembers the schoolyard bully, the individual who was always mocking, pulling hair, pushing down and taking lunch money.  The bullies seemed to be six foot tall, weigh 200 lbs.; but usually they were just meaner than anyone else.  Somehow they were able to do their evil deeds when the teacher wasn’t looking.  For the bully in the book of Obadiah, the day of reckoning had come.  The teacher was watching and punishment was on the way.

Israel had been bullied by Edom for a very long time.  When the brothers, Jacob and Esau, parted company many years back, everything appeared to be amicable.  Jacob went on to inhabit the land of Canaan and Esau lived in Edom, but apparently the stolen birthright from so long ago did not settle well with the Edomites.  They showed repeated hostility throughout the centuries and would not let the Israelites who were escaping out of Egypt make passage through their land.  Now the final blow had been dealt when they cheered the invading Babylonians who destroyed their brother and then they proceeded to plunder the land themselves.  However, God was watching.

“The Lord says to Edom, ‘I will cut you down to size among the nations; you will be greatly despised.  You have been deceived by your own pride because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully. But even if you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down,’ says the Lord…Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever.” (2-4,10)  Bullies are filled with pride and arrogance, but when they harm God’s people, they put themselves in a position to be brought crashing down, whether in this life or in eternity.

“As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you.  All your evil deeds will fall back on your own heads.” (15) In the fourth century, Edom was swallowed up by the invading Arabs and it no longer exists as a nation.  Israel, however, is a nation today.  God was watching, and He is watching all the bullies in our lives, those governments and individuals alike, who mock us, push us down and try to steal our faith. God will take care of it

Paul told the Romans, “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (12:19) Even when it looks as though our bully has the upper hand, God is watching and taking note.  He knows how to handle bullies. 

Moving Forward:  I’m so thankful that God is watching over me today, taking note and tending to the bullies that come my way! 

Tomorrow @ Acts 1-2

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 countryside 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 fairly 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 in order 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 heart-felt 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 unbelievable 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 upon 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