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

Ezekiel 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He gives hope for restoration through discipline

Our heavenly Father is not the kind of parent who gives empty threats or perhaps is too busy or too lazy to even care.  It’s painful to watch the parent who threatens punishment for a willful child over and over again but never follows through with discipline.  And of course, that child usually remains willful.

Almost 900 years before Ezekiel was written, God had threatened to wipe disobedient Israel off the planet because of the worship of the golden calf.  Up to this point in our reading, He hadn’t done it.  It wasn’t because He was lazy or too busy – something He could never be – but because He was and is longsuffering and merciful.  Aren’t we thankful for His mercy!  However, we find in the book of Ezekiel that punishment had finally come to the house of Israel.

Punishment of our children is seldom helpful to them if we don’t explain the purpose of it.  It may make us feel better to punish them, and children will tell you the old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” is a myth, but it won’t bring about a change in behavior unless they understand the reason for their punishment.  God was interested in change for His wayward child, Israel, and sent prophets to warn of punishment and to explain the reason for it.  Ezekiel was one of them.

Ezekiel was a priest and prophet who grew up during the great spiritual reforms of King Josiah, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord.  Ezekiel had been exiled from Judah to Babylon during the second exile in 597 B.C., and at 30 years old, this young prophet had an encounter with God that changed the course of his life.  “On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God,” (1:1) and Ezekiel goes on to explain the four living beings that he saw.

Let me just say, if I had experienced this, I would be on the ground with my face in the dirt, and apparently so was Ezekiel, “Stand up, son of man,’ said the voice. ‘I want to speak with you.’  The Spirit came into me as He spoke, and He set me on my feet.  I listened carefully to His words…‘I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation…I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’  And whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet among them…but the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me!  For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” (2:1-5;3:7)  Whew!  This was going to be a hard sell for Ezekiel.

It was disheartening for Ezekiel to realize that he would spend the ensuing years of his life as a faithful watchman over Israel, warning of impending doom, yet assured by God that no one would listen. Over the course of time, we learn that very few, just a remnant, listened to the prophet Ezekiel, but they came through the punishment understanding why it happened and more determined than ever before to follow after God.

Today as we attempt to reach a nation much like the one of Ezekiel’s day, we can only hope that God doesn’t choose to use us with the methods and illustrated sermons in Ezekiel.  Would I be willing?  I might not mind 430 day of rest, but 430 days of the same meal?  Help!  But there has never been a day when the gospel has been easier to share than today through the unlimited media of television, radio, the internet and print materials, not to mention the convicting power of the Holy Spirit working through us.

Yes, we will meet some opposition and perhaps persecution along the way, and we may not be as popular as we would like when we share the gospel of Jesus, but our responsibility is not how it is received, but solely in the telling of it. “Whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet, [a messenger] among them.”  Ezekiel 3:18 assures us that the Lord will not hold us responsible if they do not listen. 

Moving Forward: I will be His watchman over my nation, my personal world that I move in throughout the day.  With His wisdom, I will share the good news, not hindered by fear of rejection but emboldened by His love. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 11-12

Luke 7-8 (NLT) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ Galatians 4-6

Jeremiah 32-36 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He will not easily let go of us and rewards our commitment to stay

Because I went to a small college and knew my fellow students reasonably well, the first day of each school term was somewhat revealing as to how challenging our classes would be.  After we filed into each of our classes, we would look around the room for the curve wreckers – those students that we knew would ace the tests and raise the grading curve for all the other students.  In our reading, Jeremiah, too, was looking in his day for those who would set the standard high and follow after God. 

@ Jeremiah 33
While Babylon was laying siege to the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah received these words of promise from the Lord, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come…You expect to fight the Babylonians, but the men of this city are already as good as dead…Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace…I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.  He will do what is just and right throughout the land…I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant…Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.” (3-26)

This message to Jeremiah reveals the heart of our Lord.  He desires that we ask Him when we need direction for our lives.  In our asking, we are humbly saying that we cannot figure this out on our own and that we are dependent on Him for His help, and He responds to our submission to Him. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” (Matthew 7:7)

The “righteous descendant from King David’s line” is yet another Old Testament prophetic promise about Jesus.  Although Israel would face dark times, God had not given up on His special treasure, and He had a plan to redeem them.  Even still, the Israelites rejected the first coming of Jesus, but these scriptures foretell of His second coming where His throne will be forever established in Jerusalem.

Israel’s existence today is proof that He has not given up on His chosen ones. As adoptees into this family, it is our assurance as well that He will not give up on us.  He will send Jeremiahs into our lives to call us back to Him if we stray, and as with Israel, He will not let us slip away without great effort to keep us.  Oh, how He loves us! 

@ Jeremiah 35
Oh, those Recabites! They were the curve wreckers of their day.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)  For over 200 years, this Nomadic group had followed their ancestor’s special vow of dedication to God to not drink wine, to not buy land and to not plant crops.  Because Israel had trouble keeping a commitment to God for two minutes, much less 200 years, God brought the Recabites before the Israelites as an example of steadfast devotion to Him.  “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me…Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.” (13,19)  As with the Recabites, I pray that my commitment to the Lord will be so evident that it is imprinted on the hearts of my children and my children’s children.

Today I have learned a lesson about how to obey Him. I am challenged to listen to the Jeremiahs of my generation even though their messages don’t always bring warm fuzzies to my heart.  Their messages from God are given to save me, protect me and keep me so that one day I will worship before God’s very throne in Heaven.  I’m challenged to be a curve wrecker in my generation, setting the bar high and keeping strong my commitment to follow the Lord in obedience.   If I do this, I believe He has promised that I will always have descendants who serve the Lord! 

Moving Forward: I move forward today so very thankful that He has not given up on me.  I pray that I will always have descendants who follow the Lord, and may they be the curve wreckers of their generation! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 1-2

Jeremiah 22-26 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Through the ruins, He will search for a people who will love Him

My mother often said to me “Be careful what you ask for from God because He might just give it to you.”  Perhaps she was thinking of Israel’s insistent request to God for a king.  “All the elders of Israel met at Ramah…with Samuel.  ‘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.’” (I Samuel 8:4)  And so God gave them their kings.  Now in Jeremiah, after almost 500 years of mostly evil kings, the kingdom was coming to an end at the hand of Babylon.  The Israelites received from God what they had asked from Him. 

@Jeremiah 22-23
Bad kings, bad shepherds, bad prophets – bad times for Israel. Jeremiah had preached repentance to the nation for 23 years, but no one cared to listen.  The kings ruled unfairly, the selfish religious leaders deserted the sheep, and the prophets spoke lies and words to tickle the ears of their listeners.  Some of this sounds rather …. current.

“If they had stood before me and listened to me, they would have spoken my words.” (23:22)  Instead, they made up dreams and stole messages from each other.  And in their audacity, they thought that God wouldn’t notice. “Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?  Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” (23:24) Can no one see us when we close our eyes? Just as ridiculous.

I remember when I was young – or was it yesterday – I thought I was free and clear if no one saw when I did something wrong as if God did not get the memo that day.  According to Psalm 139, He knew everything about my life before I was born, so chances are I haven’t fooled Him about a thing – the bad and the good.  God sees all that we do, and He still loves us.  He just can’t help Himself. 

@Jeremiah 24
Bad figs. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’  I replied, ‘Figs, some very good and some very bad, too rotten to eat.’” (3)  The bad figs represented the Israelites who stayed in Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege.  They had every opportunity to turn from their sin and repent, but they chose not to do so. 

Good figs. The good figs represented the hope of Israel – those exiles to Babylon who chose to follow God, like Daniel.  A remnant of hope would remain after this terrible period in Israel’s history. Tucked away in the middle of all this badness was something good.  Jeremiah 23:3-6, “But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them.  I will bring them back to their own sheepfold…For the time is coming when I will raise up a righteous descendant…He will be a King who rules with wisdom…And this will be his name:  The Lord is our righteousness.

Jesus, the righteous descendant came, yet Israel is still struggling to accept Him.  Regardless, Israel exists today because it has known His mercy through the decades.  He has seen it all, and just as with all of us, He still loves them.  He just can’t help Himself. 

Moving Forward: Today when I make my petitions, I pray for His will.  Lord, don’t give me what I ask just because I want it, but give me what you know to be good for me.  I am ever thankful for your grace to me – and to Israel.  In response to your great love, may our hearts be ever contrite before you. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 13-14

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