Lamentations (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  “Great is His faithfulness.”

“I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.”(2:11) Jeremiah cried in anguish over the ruins of Jerusalem in Lamentations, appropriately named.  A lamentation is a song or poem expressing grief or sorrow, and the book of Lamentations is just that, a funeral dirge for the loss of lives, the devastation of war and God’s rejection of rebellious Israel.  God removed His hand of protection from Israel, and the enemy came to destroy it.  Jeremiah was at a funeral, but before we put on our black garb and pass the tissues, we need to continue reading.

After experiencing the devastation of September 11, we have an idea of Jeremiah’s pain and emotions as he looked over the smoldering city.  One of his greatest sorrows was remembering what was – the beautiful palaces and city gates, the children laughing and playing.  And he remembered the temple, the place of holy festivals and Sabbath days, His altar and sanctuary (2:6).

With the many, many churches in each of our cities today, we may not understand the importance and focal point of the Temple in early cultures. Traveling through Europe today and viewing the landscape of old cities, I have noticed that the dominant structure in each one is the church in the heart of the town.  Jeremiah grieved over his broken temple, the focal point of his city, his life.

I understand this heartache when I think of my nation that is broken in so many ways, remembering what was – a nation founded on Biblical principles where God’s blessing and hand of protection were valued and sought after.  Sadly, we have taken God’s role in our nation’s beginning out of our textbooks, our schools and our hearts.  And with Jeremiah, I shout, “Cry aloud before the Lord…let your tears flow like a river day and night.  Give yourselves no rest…rise during the night and cry out.  Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.  Lift up your hands to Him in prayer, pleading for your children.”(2:18-19)  This can be our only response, turning our hearts back to our God in prayer, not only for us but for our children as well.

The hope of Jeremiah’s Lamentations and of ours is this, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning…For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever…because of the greatness of His unfailing love.” (3:21-23,31-32)  The restoration of Israel has been slow, but Jeremiah’s tears and prayers have reached down through the centuries, along with the prayers of countless others, and Israel is once again a strong nation.  No one can deny that His hand of protection has been on Israel. Great is His faithfulness.

I am challenged today to pray harder than ever before for the restoration of my nation with the understanding that we do not have centuries for it to happen.  If we pray, if we repent, He will respond to our prayers because of His unfailing love – He just can’t help Himself. 

Moving Forward: I am encouraged today by God’s unfailing love and His new mercies for my nation and for me.  With hope I believe and sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.” 

Tomorrow @ Luke 9-10

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

2 Corinthians 6-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

It’s the time of year we give honor and attention to the one person on this earth we know loves us unconditionally – Mom!  The list of great qualities our mothers’ possess is endless, but most will agree that generosity is right near the top.  Only a mother would stay up half the night sewing costumes or baking cupcakes for her children.  She will give and give until it hurts and then give even more, sometimes to a fault. A mom’s generous spirit reflects the love of God within her. Her thrifty manner with coupons and sales stretches each dollar and provides for the family. Unfortunately, in our reading today the Apostle Paul had to deal with a situation where individuals were less than generous and nothing like our mothers. They hadn’t learned the secret to financial freedom 

@2 Corinthians 7
Paul had a turbulent history with the church at Corinth.  The Corinthians had been plagued with insurrection within the church, misuse of spiritual gifts and flagrant sin, just to name a few of their problems.  Paul addressed their issues with a difficult visit as well as at least one previous letter.  Many believe the letter mentioned in verse 8, called the severe or harsh letter, was lost and not recorded in the Bible; others believe it to be I Corinthians.  In any case, their response to Paul had been cold at one time.

This letter, probably needed more today than in his day, was a rough one, “I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while.  Now I am glad I sent it not because it hurt you but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways.” (8-9)  At the time of this writing, Paul was in Macedonia facing many conflicts and admitted to discouragement (6), but Titus arrived from Corinth with the good news that the Corinthian church had responded well to the severe letter and Paul was encouraged. 

@ 2 Corinthians 8
Paul was encouraged, things were better, and Paul took the big leap and decided to address the M word – money.  Paul was a brave man.  Citing the example of the very poor Macedonian church and their generous giving to the struggling church in Jerusalem, Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to do the same.  “I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.” (8)

As the saying goes, we know when someone is really a Christian when their commitment reaches all the way to their pocketbook.  Paul, always the disciple-maker, was willing to risk his new peace with this congregation to teach them about giving gifts.  “Give in proportion to what you have.  Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly.  And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.” (11-12)

Paul’s instruction on giving was reasonable.  Jesus was more blessed by the extravagant giving of a widow’s all than He was blessed by the considerable gifts of the wealthy in Mark 12:41-44.  I want to bless Jesus in that way.  In my heart, I want it all to belong to Him so that when a need arises, I’m not counting the cost, counting the percentages or counting the dollar signs. When there is a need somewhere, I want to give with joy, and like the widow, not miss an opportunity to bless Him.  To me, this is financial freedom. 

Moving Forward:  May I approach this day with a generous heart, blessing Him with my response to those in need of help. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 21-24

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

Psalms 45-47 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His Presence is a river of joy in our lives

Watching the news unfold today is not for the faint of heart.  Many parts of the world are filled with political chaos while other areas are facing catastrophic events unlike any time in history.  Individuals performing ordinary tasks on any given day have had their world turned upside down with earthquakes, floods or storms, but we can take heart in the words of Jesus, “when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:33)

This section of Psalms begins with a prophetic account of the marriage of Christ and His bride, the Church, in Psalm 45.  The King, anointed with the oil of joy (7) at this happiest of all occasions is joined with His Bride, who has left her past life (10) for the delight of one who loves her eternally. These are the things of which movies are made, and one day, this will be our reality!  But until then… 

@ Psalm 46
Psalm 46 reminds us of the protection He offers His beloved as we wait for His return.  “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.”(1) Have we seen any trouble lately?  “So we will not fear when earthquakes come and mountains crumble into the sea.”(2) Hundreds of earthquakes around the world are reported each day, ever growing in strength.  “The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!” (6) Have we ever seen a day like today where countries are facing national bankruptcy, with our own country on the verge of collapse at times?  “God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts!” (6)  Today we see tsunamis leveling cities and lava destroying everything in its path, filling the air with volcanic ash.  Fearsome are the days in which we live.

However, The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us.(7)  We will not fear!  Even though the events surrounding Jerusalem at the time this Psalm was written were chaotic, there was a river bringing joy to the city, “A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High.” (4).  No, Jerusalem did not have a river like we would think; it was a different kind of river.  It was a river of joy from the throne of God, filling God’s people with His presence regardless of the circumstances surrounding them.  As long as they stayed in the river, peace and joy were theirs.

We, too, have a river of joy, the very presence of God flowing through our lives to bring peace and joy in troubled times. We should not fret and wail like those who have no hope, but we should follow His advice, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (10)  I stand silent in His Presence. 

Moving Forward:  I will not fear. I will remain in the river of joy today, ever confident that “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us!” (11) We are not alone. 

Tomorrow @ Job 31-32

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