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 that 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 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 at 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 for them. 

@ 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 vulnerable 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 like the Israelites experienced.  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

Ezekiel 31-36(NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the Shepherd who never fails us, never leaves us

@ Ezekiel 34
Shepherds and sheep – right up my alley!  While writing the devotional book, Intimate Moments with the Shepherd, I had the joy of visiting sheep farms where I met dozens of shepherds and hundreds of sheep.  I’m sure the shepherds enjoyed watching this city girl navigate the pastures and sheepfolds while learning about the nature of sheep.  My advice for anyone pursuing an adventure like this is to wear sturdy boots, enough said.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?…You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” (1-5)  Ezekiel revealed this prophecy to the kings, prophets and priests of Israel, the shepherds of Israel, who with their selfish, cruel behavior had neglected and abandoned the children of Israel.

We’ve followed the sinful acts of Israel’s leadership over the past several weeks recorded in Ezekiel, Leviticus and 1 and 2 Kings.  The common thread throughout the accounts of each evil leader was disobedience to God while following their own selfish desires to be powerful, prosperous and popular.  Whether in the church world or the secular world today, the pursuit of these same three selfish desires will cause a leader to neglect and abandon those being led.  The sheep become weak, lost and scattered, no longer the strong flock they once were and because of this, sorrow awaited the shepherds.

Thankfully, the shepherds I met on my journeys were not at all like those described in Chapter 34.  Their eyes sparkled as they talked about their pride and joy and as they shared the heritage of each sheep, their parents, siblings and offspring.  The shepherds knew them so well that many of the sheep were named according to their personalities.  They knew what grasses and grains each sheep enjoyed the most and recalled the injuries and diseases certain sheep had experienced.  They would never call their sheep dumb but agreed that they indeed were willful at times…hmmm.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again… I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak… And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David [Jesus]. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.” (11-16,23)   And He did just that!  He sent His Son, Jesus, the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd of John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” (14-15)  He is the selfless Shepherd who sacrificed His life, the faithful Shepherd who will never leave us or forsake us, and He is the intimate Shepherd who knows us by name. 

Moving Forward: Standing firm today on the care and guidance of the Good Shepherd.  I know Him, and He knows me! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 21-22

Mark 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is blessed by the sweet fragrance of our worship

When I was very young, I was given a tiny bottle of perfume.  It wasn’t cologne.  It was the real deal – perfume.  I remember opening it, enjoying its sweet fragrance and thinking that it was something only for special occasions.  Over the next few Sundays I dabbed it behind my ears and on my wrists like my mom had taught me, and I have to admit that I felt pretty special.  The perfume was a gift of great value for such a young child, and I used it sparingly.

Somehow the perfume was misplaced, and after a while, I forgot about it.  When I discovered it several years later, it had become rancid and stale and had lost its value to me.  That was when I learned that some things need to be spent and enjoyed when they’re fresh and available.  This was a lesson that dear Mary understood very well.

@ Mark 14
Chapter 14 portrays the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume.  We learn that she was Mary, of Mary, Martha and Lazarus fame.  There was just something about Mary.  Mary was excessive. Mary was extravagant. Mary was irrational in her worship of Jesus.  According to the dictionary, worship means great or excessive love, admiration and respect felt for somebody or something, and Mary was all over that.

In fact, we read in Luke 10 that Mary had an adoration problem when Martha could not pull her sister away from the Lord’s presence to help in the kitchen.  So this excessive use of her resources does not come as a surprise to us. Mary didn’t hoard or save.  Mary didn’t open her jar of spikenard with great care so that she could save some for other occasions.  No, she gladly broke it open to saturate her Lord with a year’s worth of wages.  Can you imagine giving to the Lord something equal to this entire year’s wages?  Not holding back some for a rainy day, but giving it all?  Mary got it – she understood worship.

All through the ages, God had been looking for a people, made in His image, whose desire to give themselves to Him is equal to His giving of Himself to them.  In our humanity, we’ll not achieve this, but He responds to our desire to do so.  Mary’s selfless worship of Jesus that day reflected God’s undying love for us, the gift of Jesus who was His most precious treasure, and it also reveals His desire for intimacy with us. “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (9)  Just as we’re doing today

Some of those present that day did not appreciate her extravagance, Judas to be sure, because they just didn’t get it – unabandoned worship was off their radar.  I’ve found that sometimes it’s easy to justify economizing my resources, time and attention rather than lavishing them on the One who most deserves them. It’s at those moments that I just don’t get it.  He’s waiting for my love for Him to resemble, as best as this human body possibly can, His love for me – excessive, extravagant love.

Jesus left the dinner that day carrying with Him the sweet fragrance of Mary’s gift.  “She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” (8)  Her gift permeated the Last Supper, it surrounded the betrayal and arrest in the garden, and it lingered in the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus was led to His death.  Oh, how I want my love today to permeate heaven, to fill His nostrils with a sweet fragrance of my excessive, extravagant love for him, to somehow reflect His love for me.  But for this, I understand it takes some breaking, some spilling out…some excess. 

Moving Forward:  My prayer today, “Broken and spilled out, and poured at Your feet. In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out and used up for Thee.” (G. Gaither) 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 4-5

Mark 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He welcomes all who minister in His name

When I’ve worked hard on a project from the beginning, knowing all the ins and outs of it, I tend to take ownership – it’s my baby! Others may come along to work on the project with me, but they always seem to do things differently. I have the tendency to think that without following my expertise, everything could be ruined. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and we’d almost rather go it alone. Because of this, we can somewhat understand the disciples’ hearts when newcomers on the scene started preaching about their Jesus.

@ Mark 9
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” (38) He wasn’t in our group sounds cliquish and juvenile, but the disciples were more than likely concerned about protecting the name of Jesus. Perhaps they were questioning why this man wasn’t in their group? What group was he representing? What if he prays in a different style than ours? How will this affect our Lord?

Jesus was not terribly concerned about His reputation in His response. “Don’t stop him!” He said with emphasis. “Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” (39-41) To spread this Gospel, to reach the lost around the world, the disciples were going to need all the help they could get. Many of their encounters had been met with much opposition to the message of Jesus, but this man appeared to have faith in His very name.

We face this same issue in spreading the Gospel today. We need all the help we can get! The churches down the street or other ministries so often have a different style than we do in reaching the lost. Some are hard-sell, some are soft-sell and some, like us, get it just right. While we can appreciate the humor in that statement, why would we ever criticize a genuine move of God just because the method is different than to what we are accustom?

The criterion, according to Jesus, is not the style or method we use, but in whose name we are ministering. (39) Rest assured, He knows who belongs to Him and exposes charlatans and cons in due time. We all answer to Him directly, bypassing the opinions of others, and it’s His acceptance of our methods and results that have eternal value. So, I relinquish any ownership to the message of the Gospel and pray for all who minister in His name.

Moving forward: I’m thankful today for all who minister in the name of Jesus with pure hearts, regardless of style or method.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 15-16

I Corinthians 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He asks that we remember His death

Every culture in the world has its holidays and remembrances, occasions that are celebrated and honored with gatherings, food and gifts. Beyond the ten major holidays we observe in the United States, it seems we are always celebrating someone’s birthday or anniversary where we set aside time to honor an individual or couple, remembering their special day.

When my family celebrates the birthdays of our children, I love to refresh everyone’s memory of the events that took place on the day of their birth. I especially enjoy sharing all the facets of our son’s birth, embarrassing little details for him. I’m not certain why I do this, but the word payback comes to mind – it was a difficult delivery. Regardless, our moments together as we remember and celebrate are filled with much laughter, joy and often sweet tears. Another day we frequently remember and honor is a day that entirely changed our lives.

@ I Corinthians 11
“For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.’”(23-25)

These are familiar words to those who observe the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we most often refer to it, and observe we should! We may struggle with knowing what God desires for us to do at certain times in our lives, but there is one thing we know for certain that He wants us to do and that is to remember, honor and give pause to what He did for us on the cross. “Do this,” He said, and even if we don’t know one other observance that He desires from us, we know to do this. Sometimes He observes our faithfulness in the things we know to do before He reveals the unknown.

As a child, I don’t remember a single Communion Service where I didn’t look over to see my mom’s face moistened by tears of gratitude and love as she remembered what Jesus did for her, transforming her from death unto life. My response is much the same, always humbled by His willingness to suffer the cross for me. “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.” (Hebrews 9:12) And when I remember this, I am forever humbled to tears by His grace.

“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (26) Our participation in Communion is even more than remembrance – it is our confession, each and every time, of our involvement in the new covenant, the new testament or testimony of what Christ has done for us. In a Communion Service, we are testifying to everyone present of our commitment to Him as we eat the symbols that represent His body and blood.

How appropriate that this sacred celebration would be shared with others until He comes again. One day we will gather at another Supper with the very One we have remembered through Communion, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelations 19:7,9) Oh, what a celebration!

Moving Forward: Today I look forward to my next opportunity to do this, to remember His death, His body and His blood, and what they mean to me through Communion. Whether gathering with believers or at home with my family, I will remember…

Tomorrow @ Exodus 1-4

Mark 5-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He responds to our faith with help for our needs

Do or die, now or never, win or lose, all or nothing! This is the language and motivation of those who plan to succeed at any cost, those who put their heads down and charge, and we all know individuals who live at this level of determination. We realized our daughter was bent this way from birth and enjoyed watching her succeed in whatever she tried, but we can only imagine her frustration in growing up in a home with phlegmatic parents, brother and dog. It was at the age of 11 or 12 when she realized her predicament and declared with exasperation, “If it weren’t for me, nothing would ever happen around this place.” And she was probably right.

Persistence is the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties, and determination is firmness of purpose, will, or intention. Both of these are characteristics of people who know how to get the job done. Some people are just born with this drive, and others develop it out of great need, and the latter was more than likely the case in the story of the woman with the issue of blood in our reading today. With an attitude of all or nothing, something happened.

@ Mark 5
“A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’ Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.” (25-29) Do or die!

This dear woman had gone through the proper channels to get well, but all of them had failed her. Now it was time to put her head down and charge, and charge she did right through the crowd surrounding her target, right through the many obstacles she faced:

1) She was a woman. Approaching a religious teacher was not acceptable in her day.

2) She was unclean. Her bleeding issue labeled her impure in the eyes of others.

3) She was sick. Weak and sickly from her disease made her approach to Him a significant challenge.

4) Movement through the crowd was difficult. Everyone wanted to get close to this great Teacher.

Are we as determined to see our needs met by the Lord as this tenacious woman was? Do or die? All or nothing? Fight every demon in hell to win? Or do we allow what people think or our place in society to stop us? Do we push past the people who say there is no answer? Do we push through the pain of our situation to touch Jesus the Healer, the Shepherd, the Provider? Scripture charges us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16) In other words, don’t stay back in the crowd and wonder if it would be acceptable, don’t be hindered by the press of the crowd or the challenge of our need. When we boldly go to the throne of our gracious God, we, too, will see our needs met.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (34) Jesus wanted to know who had touched Him, not to chastise, but to tell her that it wasn’t His garment that made her well because many had touched Him that day. No, it was her faith in His healing virtue that got His attention. Persistent determination brought her faith to the attention of the Healer.

Moving Forward: When a father asked Jesus for deliverance for his son, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can,” Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’…Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:22-23) I believe!

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 11-12