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

Psalms 125-127 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He brings restoration to each life in amazing ways

Over the years many of the old masterpieces, paintings from centuries ago, have required restoration.  The process is tedious and lengthy.  It includes cleaning, x-raying the thickness of the canvas, filling in holes, removing the varnish, removing layers of deterioration and color and then product matching.  Since the artist has long since passed away, another artist is chosen to paint only the areas that are without paint, never adding paint to the master’s work.  The finished product is a beautiful restoration of a masterpiece to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Our Creator is also involved in the restoration of His masterpieces.  Sometimes the process is tedious and somewhat lengthy, but His process is not considerate of dead artists because He, of course, is the artist.  After years of exile and pain, Israel was on its way to restoration in our reading today. 

@ Psalm 126
“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!  We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.  And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’  Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!  What joy!” (1-3)  The painful years of exile in Babylon had softened the hearts of the remnant  of Israel, and as they returned home, they sang songs of praise and joy.  The process had been difficult, but the Lord had done amazing things for them; and now with great hope they sang, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert.” (4)

Regardless of the damage we have caused to the masterpiece of our life, God is all about restoration.  Sometimes the process is slow as He softens our hearts and often the process is long because there is much to restore, but He longs to hear us pray like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

Sometimes restoration can only come through our forgiveness of others.  “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” (Job 42:10) Job, Joseph, Daniel…sometimes we are damaged by the words or deeds of others, but when we forgive to the point that we are able to pray for them or bless them, restoration will come and make us like new.  God is all about restoration.

Moving Forward: I’m thinking today of the amazing things God has done for me and His willingness and ability to restore whatever I need.

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 3-4

2 Kings 21-25 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He listens to our words of repentance no matter how evil our deeds

I’m going to go ahead and say it right here and right now – and living in the south this is pretty risky business – but I really don’t care for country music.  There!  It’s said.  No offense to the multitude of talented country music entertainers, but it’s difficult for me to listen to someone whining verse after verse about how “somebody done somebody wrong” as do many of the songs in this genre.  I’ve been there and know that it never really helps to cry in my…coffee.  I will agree, however, some of the things people do to each other are just plain wrong, and sometimes they are evil.  Today we read about a king in Judah who could have had “Evil” tattooed on his forehead; and it’s sad to say, a murderer of many.  I’m thinking this could be a theme for a country song…or not. 

@ 2 Kings 21
Hezekiah had been a good king, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord which was something unusual in the history of Judah’s kings; but his son, Manasseh, was a mess. Crowned king at age 12, Manasseh’s was greatly influenced by his grandfather, evil King Ahaz. He rebuilt the pagan shrines, even building pagan altars in the Temple, and sacrificed his own sons to idols.  It’s difficult to get one’s mind around the vileness of such behavior when we would do anything in our power to keep our children from harm.

“He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics.  He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing His anger.” (2 Kings 21:6)  His willingness to trade the Divine prophetic word from God’s prophets for the uninspired lies of the devil who can only guess at the future is rather mind boggling, but people do it every day when they consort with palm readers and horoscopes.  I just don’t get it.

2 Kings tells a sad tale of the life and times of King Manasseh but only reveals a part of it, and we have to travel over to 2 Chronicles 33 to get the rest of the story. “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings. So the Lord sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner…But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-13)

How does God do that?!  How does He forgive such a vile man of his many sins?  And how can we refuse to forgive a repentant someone who has done so much less to offend us than Manasseh did to God?  No country song has ever told of anyone’s deeds equal to the evilness of Manasseh’s deeds.  Sacrificing his own children on the pagan altars, yet God listened to his prayer.

Forgiveness brought restoration, not only to Manasseh’s heart, but also to Judah. Manasseh rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, removed the pagan altars and, “Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings on it. He also encouraged the people of Judah to worship the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:16)  When we follow God’s heart and forgive others for their unkind actions, we will bring about restoration not only in our relationship with them, but possibly restore their relationship with God, not to mention securing our own forgiveness.

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:14-15)  No Who done me wrong song for me, but rather the song of the redeemed – easy listening music! 

Moving Forward:  Today my heart is so filled with a song of praise about the goodness of God that it has no opportunity to sing any song of woe. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 90-92

Luke 23-24 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the Bread of Life for those who follow Him, and they will never hunger again

We consider an acquaintance as someone we know only slightly, someone we greet but not necessarily engage in a personal conversation.   But, we also have friends, individuals with whom we share our personal and often intimate thoughts.   It’s a special treat when we have the opportunity to reconnect with a friend from long ago, where 20 or 30 years have passed without communication.  Sometimes we feel a little apprehensive about an upcoming visit, wondering if we will even recognize our friend from the past, but uneasiness melts away when we sit down to fellowship with one another.  We feel like the relationship picks up right where it left off, not missing a beat, and that is true friendship.  Our travelers on the road to Emmaus experienced a similar reconnection with a friend; it just took them a while to realize it. 

@Luke 24
Luke is the only New Testament writer that goes into detail about this encounter on the road to Emmaus. Scripture is not clear as to their identity, but we do know they are followers of Jesus and one is called Cleopas.  Many believe him to be the brother of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and the other traveler to be his wife who was at Calvary (John 19:25), and they were returning home from Passover and the events of that weekend.  Regardless of their identity, they were blessed beyond measure by an intimate encounter with the risen Lord.

When Jesus came alongside of them on the road and inquired as to what they were discussing so intently with such sadness, they did not recognize Him.  Cleopas replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.’ ‘What things?’ Jesus asked. ‘The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,’ they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people…We had hoped He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (18-21)

To the travelers Jesus was a man, a prophet, a teacher, but not the Messiah.  He had died without doing what they had expected the Messiah to do by overthrowing the government and setting up His throne.  When I read their response that He was just a man, I envision the nails and cross all over again for Jesus.  But loving His followers like He does, He decided to give them a little history lesson.

Over the next couple of hours, Jesus recounted to them the 120 plus prophecies from the Old Testament regarding Himself.  I can only imagine the anointing that burned up that road as they walked that day, with Jesus, the King of Glory, reciting all the Scriptures about His suffering, rejection, death and resurrection.  They felt it, we know, when they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (32)  But wasn’t He just an acquaintance that they met on the way to Emmaus? It wasn’t until they had fellowship with Him later, when He broke bread and blessed it that they realized He was Jesus, their friend, the resurrected Lord.

When they received from Him the broken bread, something happened.  It wasn’t the Lord’s Supper or like the feeding of 5,000 – it was just dinner.  Scripture doesn’t explain their sudden awareness; but for me, it was symbolic that their eyes were opened when they had fellowship, ate bread with Jesus the Bread of Life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35)

In most of the world’s religions today, Jesus is accepted as a man, as a prophet and as a teacher, one who went about doing good.  They can know all about Him and even read His words, but sadly, until they fellowship with Him, sup with Him, and receive Him as the Bread of Life, they will not understand that He is the Messiah, the King of Glory, the Prince of Peace, the only Son of God.

Moving Forward: Who can I tell about the Bread of Life today?  Whose eyes can be opened to knowing Him as more than a man, more than a prophet or teacher, but as the Savior? 

Tomorrow @ I Thessalonians 4-5

Ezekiel 19-24 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He’s looking for someone to stand in the gap

The first time I visited London I was amused by the terminology the Brits used in the Underground train system.  Warning passengers to watch out for the space between the platform and the train, it was announced as well as printed on the platform, “Mind the Gap.”  My mind immediately looked for a Gap Store, but perhaps that’s just me. However, I appreciated their warning because missing that step could have been a very painful learning experience, maybe more painful than reading Ezekiel 19-24.  God’s message to Israel regarding the gap takes His warning to another level.

Ezekiel’s ministry of unheeded warnings to the captive Judeans in Babylon was coming to a close.  God had spoken to His people through many prophets only to be ignored and scorned, so when a group of leaders came to Ezekiel asking for a word of encouragement from the Lord, His response was not good.  “Some of the leaders of Israel came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply. Then this message came to me from the Lord: ‘Son of man, tell the leaders of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing!”‘” (20:1-3)

At one time or another, we all have gone to someone with a question or piece of news and had the person jump down our throat, metaphorically of course, with an unexpected and unhappy response.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our own self-serving life that we are absolutely clueless how much we have offended someone.  Israel was about to find out how much they had offended their God.

God’s message over the next couple of chapters was scathing at best and Jerusalem and its inhabitants were reminded of their rebellious history, even as far back as their trip out of Egypt where God held back His hand of judgment.  Jerusalem was called a City of Murderers, the people compared to worthless slag from melted silver and the nations of to Judah and Israel were compared to vile prostitutes.  Only a handful of kings and prophets through their history attempted to turn these nations back to God, and all the rest were found guilty – guilty prophets, guilty priests, guilty princes and guilty people.  Whew!  I can feel the heat.

However, even in this dissertation of judgment, God could not hide His true heart, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” (22:30)  But I found no one.  How His people had broken His heart!  How He longed to restore, renew and revive.  God offered mercy and grace, but no one wanted them.  Ezekiel and others tried to stop the hand of God as Moses had done in the wilderness, but they were without a defense because of the utter wickedness of His people.  No one could speak for them.

God is not looking for cautious gap minders or fence sitters today.  He’s looking for gap standers, those who will rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards our lands.  He is looking for gap standers who will build a defense in the courtroom of judgment by seeking out and presenting to Him a people who will love and serve God. 

Moving Forward: Challenged by God’s heart today, I will join with so many others around the world to stand for righteousness and to seek out those who will love and serve Him.  See you at The Gap!

Tomorrow @ Luke 17-18

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 Israel because of their rebellion.  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 city.  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 me and for my nation.  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 fairly well, the first day of school each term was somewhat revealing as to how difficult 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 dismal 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 I may one day 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