Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Isaiah 56-61 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has anointed us to bring Good News

Several years ago I was waiting in my car for my daughter to finish her music lesson and reading my scripture portion for the day that happened to be in Isaiah.  I was going through a difficult time, dealing with some minor health issues and also with some ministry challenges, and I remember saying, “Lord, can’t we do better today than Isaiah.  Come on!”

While Isaiah seems to be mostly about judgment, my reading that day happened to include Isaiah 61.  As I began to read the first verse, I felt His Spirit fill my little car, and before I knew it, I was singing the Word, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach Good News, Good News. To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to deliver the prisoners from darkness and to comfort those who mourn.”  I sang it over and over again until my spirit was soaring with His.  I believe He gave me a song that day to highlight His mission and to remind me of my mission. 

@ Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come…” (1-2)  These words in Isaiah repeated by Jesus in Luke 4 sent a shock wave through those gathered in the synagogue of Nazareth in Jesus’ day when, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:20-21)  This was how Jesus announced His earthly ministry.

Jesus did not complete the scripture in Isaiah which continued, “…and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (2) Most feel he stopped because the day of God’s judgment had not yet come, and the next time He came to earth would be the Day of Judgment.  Today we are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, the time the Lord has given to save the lost, the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee!  This was His mission.

What did Jesus come to do?  Anointed by the Spirit of Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, His mission was clear:  He came as Prophet to preach the good news, the gospel of the Kingdom, to all those who would humbly listen.  He came as Priest to heal the brokenhearted, all those who were broken and sought healing for body, soul and spirit.  He came as King to deliver, as only a king could do, all those who were held captive by sin and sinful enemies.  He came as Comforter to comfort all those who mourn.

This was His mission, and so it is ours as well. As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His followers, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)  Isaiah prophesied that those who accept the One who sends us will receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (3, KJV) How can we help but share this good news!

On that day so long ago when the Lord gave me His song, He was reminding me of His mission, my mission.  He was encouraging me to not get bogged down with the challenges or heaviness of the mission, but to allow Him to breathe on me and receive help from His Holy Spirit.  We are not alone in our mission; He has anointed us to bring Good News. 

Moving Forward: All I can say today is, Holy Spirit, breathe on me and pour on the oil of joy. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 1-2

Matthew 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He understands our guilt and pain

After observing the exploits of four mischievous older brothers while growing up, I was decidedly a compliant child and teenager.  I mean, how much can parents take?  My obedience wasn’t due so much to any goodness on my part, but more so out of compassion for my mom.  Somebody needed to give her a break!  However, I remember a time as a young teen when I blatantly disobeyed her.

It wasn’t an unpardonable sin kind of thing, but in that day and in our church, it was considered wrong. Today? Not so much.  I will never forget the torment of guilt that plagued me as I sat in disobedience, nothing was right with the world, I was somehow stained, and God seemed completely out of reach.  The feeling of guilt over something we have done wrong is a powerful emotion.  In light of this, I can’t imagine bearing someone else’s guilt of sin for them.  I just wouldn’t want to do it. 

@ Matthew 26
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (39)  Do I really understand this prayer? Jesus knew the physical pain He would experience.  He knew the emotional pain He would feel as He bore the sins of the world.  He knew the spiritual pain of separation from His Father that He would endure.  Yes, I have known physical, emotional and spiritual pain, but I have never known them as the sinless Son of God.  “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

If sinful me would run from this cup, I can only imagine the dread felt by our spotless Lord to take on the guilt of the entire world, for us. If it is possible…but, no, it wasn’t possible.  Our redemption would require a spotless Lamb, the only One of its kind, “He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

I can’t think of a more desperate moment for anyone who has ever walked this earth than the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, The Olive Press, and the place where He felt the press of agonizing pain before His crucifixion.  Rejected by those He came to redeem, betrayed by one of His own, knowing He would be denied by all who followed Him and now the Cross, He prayed, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have been rejected by those we have tried to serve, betrayed by those we trusted or denied and abandoned by those we have loved – friends, companions, children, parishioners.  We pray for the pain of this cup of suffering to pass, and because of Gethsemane, we know He understands.  “He prayed more fervently, and He was in such agony of spirit that His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44)  He understands our pain, and unlike His disciples, He will keep watch with us.

Perhaps we know individuals who are walking this difficult path right now.  Will we keep watch with them and pray with them in their hour of Gethsemane?  I regret the times when a busy day keeps me from watching over others like I want to, but at the very least I will pray for them, along with Jesus who “lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf.” (Hebrew 7:25)  No one, absolutely no one, understands like Jesus. 

Moving Forward: Reminded of an old song today, “No one understands like Jesus when the days are dark and grim. No one is so near, so dear as Jesus. Cast your every care on Him.” (J.W. Peterson) 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 5-6

Job 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He put up security for our redemption

I have a friend who is a bail bondsman.  Being the gentleman that he is, he has never gone into great detail about his work, but needless to say, it is not a typical nine to five job.  When a defendant is in jail on criminal charges and desires to be released until trial, a hefty fee or bail is required as a deposit to ensure that the defendant will not skip town.  When the defendant is unable to pay this deposit and family and friends refuse to do so, a bondsman is contacted to pay the bail and serve as a guarantor that the defendant will appear in court.

It’s a risky business and some defendants jump bail, leaving the bondsman holding the debt, and we can understand why he or she tracks down the defendant. After all, the bail has already been paid! Poor Job understood this practice and was looking for a bondsman to free him from his jail of affliction and suffering.  Job was looking for his get out of jail free card. 

@Job 17
“Give me, O God, the pledge you demand.  Who else will put up security for me?” (3, NIV)  Job called on God to act as his guarantor, to pay what was necessary to free him from his miserable situation.  Who else will put up security for me? We certainly know that it wouldn’t be his friends who had already tried and convicted him, case closed.

While God abundantly blessed Job over the next many years, Job’s cry for a bondsman, for the everlasting bondsman, was answered some 2000 years later when Someone paid Job’s bail, not with money but with His very blood, Job’s guarantor. “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time.” (Romans 3:25-26)  Amazing!

This reminds me of the old song, “He paid a debt he did not owe.  I owed a debt I could not pay.  I needed someone, to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song ‘Amazing Grace.’  Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.” (G. McSpadden) These words sum up the freedom Jesus gave us at Calvary – we’re out on bail awaiting eternal judgment where the Judge will declare innocent all those who have received Jesus’ payment.

However, not everyone has honored Christ’s generous payment – there are so many bail jumpers. Just like the bondsman for the courts, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)  Some would say it was risky business sending His Son to die for us, and we can understand why God has sent us to round up those who are running from their day in court.  Don’t they understand that the debt has been paid for them?   “And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 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…We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)  My heart cries with Paul, “Come back to God.” 

Moving Forward: I can never thank the Lord enough for taking a chance on me!  I will, at the very least, help Him capture with His love all those who are running from Him. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 45-50

Matthew 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to go public with our testimony of faith

Several years ago I had the privilege to witness a water baptism service take place in the Jordan River.  As scripture was read, I imagined the scene centuries before when John the Baptist was baptizing in this river and the Lord Jesus came to be baptized.  It was a moving experience for me and caused me to reflect on my own water baptism.

I was part of a group of four children baptized in our church baptismal tank one Sunday morning.  I was five years old.  We entered the tank together where our pastor was waiting for us; and to this day, a hundred years later, I remember an indescribable presence of the Lord to where the water was stirring even though we stood still and my lips were stammering even though I wasn’t cold.  Little did I understand at the time that the Holy Spirit baptizer was there with us.  My water baptism experience was a glorious encounter with the living God that I will never forget.  I doubt at the age of five that I understood all the ramifications of my submission to water baptism, but really, does anyone? 

@ Matthew 3
“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’… People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John.  And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (1-2,5-6)  The Pharisees and Sadducees who came to watch were not welcomed by John who called them a brood of snakes (help) because they claimed to be repentant of their sins but didn’t live like it. (7-8)  Obviously, water baptism for John was not just something to do on a sunny afternoon.

Paul described it this way to the Romans, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4)  Water baptism is our public declaration to the world that we have died and buried our old way of life through our repentance of sin and have risen to live a walk that is committed to our new life.

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.” (Romans 6:6)  Water baptism doesn’t save us.  Water baptism is our testimony to the world of the salvation we have received.  And as John was saying to the Pharisees, if we’re not committed to living like a believer, we certainly should not give testimony that we are one.

Water baptism usually comes early in our walk with the Lord, and we rarely know at that time how our public confession of faith will be tested, how we may be ridiculed, ignored or even persecuted or how strongly we may be tempted to fail.  In all of that, we would do well to remember our water baptism, our public declaration that the old man is dead and buried and the new man is alive and well on planet earth.  It just might give us the boost we need to, “Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) 

Moving Forward: Today I’m remembering, once again, the day I publicly confessed that I died to sin and rose to walk in newness of life. I just may need to find someone and go public once again with my testimony.

Tomorrow @ Romans 5-6

Hebrews 8-10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He forgives and forgets our old life and gives us a new way of living

Countless plays, movies and television programs have told the story of the old family patriarch who dies and the greedy heirs gather at the family estate for the reading of the Last Will and Testament of the deceased.  Whether portrayed with humor or drama, the story is usually filled with murder and mayhem until the so-called deceased dramatically reappears having faked his death in order to observe who really deserves his treasure in the future.  The Jews in the book of Hebrews were dealing with a death of sorts, and in our reading today, the writer was reading the Will. 

@ Hebrews 9
For centuries the Jews had looked to the Temple and the High Priest for the forgiveness of their sins.  Now that Jesus had come, the apostles were telling them of a new way to receive forgiveness, a new covenant, and many were having difficulty accepting that the old covenant was really dead.  “But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance…So Christ has now become the High Priest…He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven…With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (7,11-12)

I, for one, would have been thrilled to know that the bloodbath around the Temple each day had ended, but the Jews were still looking at the Temple and all it represented for their redemption.  Even though the writer had told them the old way of redemption was dead, they could still see the Temple, the old patriarch so to speak, was standing before them. Further explanation was given, “Now when someone leaves a will, it is necessary to prove that the person who made it is dead.  The will goes into effect only after the person’s death. While the person who made it is still alive, the will cannot be put into effect.” Hebrews was a statement of proof that the old man, the old covenant was dead through the death of Jesus on the cross.

The provisions of the Will were as follows, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’  Then he says, ‘I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.  And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.’” (10:16-18)  Not only is the old covenant dead, but also dead are our sins and lawless deeds.  Dead, forgotten.

Sometimes we find the results of our old way of life staring us in the face just as the Jews viewed the Temple and its former importance.  In our old life, we may have attended church and loved God, but after accepting Jesus as our Savior, we entered a new way of living.  The old way of living is dead, buried and forgotten by God.  We can go ahead and dig up the old man and make him reappear if we choose to do it, but as said, “The will goes into effect only after the person’s death.”

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place…For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (10:19-20,22)   Praise God!  The old man is dead, the Will is in effect and we don’t have to even remember old what’s his name! 

Moving Forward: Some days we just have to reread the terms of the Will.  “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  The old man is dead! 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 33-36

Numbers 21-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He has provided salvation through His Son

After seeing hundreds of young lives receive salvation and a touch by His Spirit at camp one summer, we drove the 45 minutes home over the weekend to get refreshed, wash clothes and buy supplies for the next week of camp. This particular weekend my husband Tom was out ministering, but I stayed home with our children.  I got up one night to visit the bathroom, and when just about finished, I looked down on the floor and saw movement.  It was a snake.

The snake in my bathroom had to be reckoned with because this worn out body would not get needed rest for the week ahead with a snake in the house.  I prayed for His strength, woke up my 9 year-old son and loaded us up with shovels and hoes. We went after that 14 inch snake as though our lives depended on it, and got it!  Unfortunately, the Israelites’ snake encounter did not go as well as ours did. 

@ Numbers 21
The Israelites had just won a huge battle and defeated the Canaanites.  The Promised Land was within a few days reach after 40 years in the desert, but they became impatient.  They knew the journey ahead through Moab would be long, they were tired of manna and they wanted to possess the land now.  They complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’ So the Lord sent poisonous [fiery] snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (5-6)  Oh…

“Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’   So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (7-9)  In a weakened moment after a great victory, the Israelites sinned, but a replica of the very thing that had caused them pain became their salvation.  In just a short time they went on to possess their land.

I don’t remember complaining about anything that summer weekend invoking a snake encounter to bring about correction from the Lord as it did with Israel.  I do know that I was worn out, somewhat depleted and a perfect target for the enemy who sends His fiery darts in weak moments.  It’s often after a great victory for the Lord, like the powerful camps we had experienced or the Israelites’ mighty victory, that the enemy brings his attack.  However, Jesus has already provided the remedy for us.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)  Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), became the very thing that was killing us so that we may be saved and have eternal life with Him.

And we may also look to Him for salvation from the enemy’s fiery attacks against the body, soul and spirit.  The enemy did not win in my life that weekend, and we went on for yet another great week at youth camp, lives changed by the power of God.  When we turn our focus to Jesus, high and lifted up, whatever our fiery trial may be, He will bring victory. 

Moving Forward:  Jesus lifted up! I look to Him today for salvation and deliverance because He paid the price for me on the cross. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 1-5