Ezekiel 13-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to His everlasting covenant with us

Ohhh…some rough reading today. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to Babylon and now judgment was about to fall on Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  The prophets had given warnings to no avail, and most of the Israelites remained in their idolatry and sinful ways even in captivity.

At the end of Chapter 12 we read, “You’ve heard that proverb they quote in Israel: ‘Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.’  Tell the people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.’ Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled.’”(12:22-23)  And then the judgments began.

Judgment prophecies were given through Ezekiel regarding: 1) false prophets of the day who whitewashed the truth so that the Israelites would feel only good about themselves, 2) mediums who used magic and charms to ensnare the people away from God, and 3) leaders who set up idols in their hearts to worship instead of worshipping the true and living God. (14)  The similarities today are remarkable.

The Babylonian captives believed that Jerusalem, the Holy City, would survive the siege, but God called Jerusalem and its people a useless vine, “The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest.  Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” (15:6)  Even more devastating was His charge that Jerusalem was His unfaithful wife, who, worse than a prostitute, had many lovers and didn’t even charge them because she so wanted to be with them.  Jerusalem was filled with altars and shrines to the gods of neighboring countries and final judgment was coming to Jerusalem.

The riddle of Chapter 17 speaks of the besieged Jerusalem attempting to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against Babylon, but both were crushed by the mighty Babylonian army.  I’ve wondered if it was as perplexing to God as it was to me when I read of this alliance with Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites without mercy for so many centuries.  Why would they seek to go back to the very ones who had bound them? It was as if they would do anything to keep from trusting God.

Early in our ministry we had an evangelist friend that God had miraculously delivered from drugs and given a powerful ministry, but over time he slipped back into the bondage of drugs once again.  I’ve never really understood how it happened, but I believe it had to do with pride in what he had accomplished, forgetting Who it was that had delivered him.  Likewise, Israel, so proud of the nation they had become, trusted only in their own plans, rejecting both God and the warnings of Isaiah and the prophets against this alliance with Egypt.  But then, wasn’t it pride that started the whole sin thing with Lucifer? Anytime we consider ourselves equal to God, we are headed for destruction as well.

Well, before we fall right through the floor in depression, let’s remember that Israel is alive and reasonably well on planet earth today.  “Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” (16:59-60)

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He would take the remnant that turned toward Him, the Daniels and Shadrachs, and build a nation.  The everlasting covenant, Christ Jesus, is available to Israel today; and when we pray, let’s pray they will accept Him and escape final destruction.  After all, hasn’t His Word asked us to pray for Israel? 

Moving Forward:  May I not take lightly my solemn vows to God’s everlasting covenant with me through Christ Jesus.  I reject even the slightest bit of pride in anything I may accomplish.  May it be He who sits on the throne of my heart today. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 15-16

Jeremiah 42-46 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He measures our success by our obedience to Him

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are about on my last nerve!?”  I think this sentiment would be a fitting assessment of God’s feelings toward Judah at this point in the book of Jeremiah. Approximately 140 years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the invading Assyrians because of their unrepentant hearts.  God had sent numerous prophets to warn Judah of a similar outcome if they did not repent of their sins and turn to Him.  Even after Judah’s beloved Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the remaining Jews fled to Egypt in disobedience. Right there, last nerve.

The message of God’s last prophet in Judah, Jeremiah, had not been well received.  He was ridiculed, imprisoned, abandoned and finally dragged off to Egypt against his will by the fleeing Jews because his message convicted them of their willful idolatry.  After his move to Egypt, no other events in Jeremiah’s life are recorded in Scripture.  The remaining chapters in Jeremiah consist of earlier prophecies and events.  Jeremiah traveled a rough road, to say the least.

In Chapter 44, Jeremiah gave his final warning from God to the Judeans living in Egypt, and their response was, “We will not listen to your message from the Lord!  We will do whatever we want.” (44:16-17) Very few scriptures in the Bible so accurately reflect the attitude of people today. Through media’s subtle message, we have been told that we are our own moral compass, and we can do whatever we want.  Those who must follow God are just not very enlightened.

We unenlightened ones have a formidable task in presenting the gospel at times, but so very few of us have ever faced the ridicule and treatment that Jeremiah faced, not that it couldn’t happen one day.  It just seems like, in light of the story of Jeremiah and what he endured, I could take a few moments to share the wonderful love of Jesus with, say, my neighbor…

Many would say Jeremiah was not very successful in his ministry.  He did not turn thousands to the Lord through his eloquent speaking and the multitudes did not clamor for his healing touch.  In fact, nobody really even liked Jeremiah – I mean, who wants to hang out with someone who is negative and cries all the time!  But then, as we know, God doesn’t measure our success by how well we are liked.

God doesn’t even measure our success by the many sacrifices we have made. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (I Samuel 15:22)  No, Jeremiah was successful because he was obedient to God.  Whether we walk a road like Jeremiah or never experience a bump in the road, we are successful when we do what He wants us to do. 

Moving Forward: I’m challenged by the life of Jeremiah to share God’s message of truth with those around me and walk in obedience to whatever He wants. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 5-6

Jeremiah 37-41 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He rewards our faithfulness when we face opposition

I always marveled at the tenacity and courage of an elderly man who stood day after day on various busy corners in our city wearing a placard that said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Through the years I saw him receive many signs of agreement with honking, thumbs up and friendly waves.  I also saw crude gestures and unkind words; however, this did not deter the man from doing what he felt was his part in building the Kingdom of God.  He didn’t let his temporary comfort level and the measure of his popularity affect the eternal destination of a soul that needed to hear the good news.  I never heard if anyone’s life was changed by his stand for the Lord, but rest assured, Heaven was keeping track of it.

The story of Judah’s last king is a sad one.  King Zedekiah was only 21 years old when he was appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to rule over Judah as his vassal.  Maybe his age played into his poor leadership, but regardless, he was only interested in saving his own life.  The prophet Jeremiah was unpopular with the king and the Israelites living in Judah because his message from God was one they didn’t want to hear – surrender to God or die.

The king’s officials had imprisoned and beaten Jeremiah because they hated his message, yet the king secretly listened to the prophet’s message, “King Zedekiah secretly requested that Jeremiah come to the palace, where the king asked him, ‘Do you have any messages from the Lord?’” (37:17)  Zedekiah was not willing to openly accept the message of the prophet because of fear of what his officials would think of him.  What would they do to him? Jeremiah, however, bravely spoke God’s message no matter what the consequences.

Zedekiah would one day regret his cowardice.  He eventually lost his kingdom, lost his family, lost his eyes and lost his freedom. (39:6-7)  We do not have the promise that our stand for God will always save our lives – many have been martyred through the centuries – but we will be able to look back without regret.

Jeremiah had suffered much because he took a stand in the face of opposition, but he ultimately came out the winner.  Jeremiah was offered freedom and protection by the Babylonian king who took Israel captive.  What a different outcome than that of Zedekiah!  The words of Jesus come to mind in Luke 12:8, “I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.”

God may never lead us to wear a sign on the street corner, but He is expecting us to boldly stand for truth whenever and wherever we are given the opportunity. Whether it’s a new job or new neighborhood or perhaps a new relationship, taking a stand and proclaiming truth in love are just easier over the long haul.  They involve no cover-up or fancy footwork, promise no regrets and secure a place in heaven before God’s angels. 

Moving Forward:  May I live this day without regrets, not missing even one opportunity to take a stand for the One who will one day take a stand for me before all of Heaven. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 3-4

Isaiah 34-39 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He is the One we can count on

 Isaiah 34 is the end of 34 chapters of judgment on the nations, including Judah and Israel, and the entire world.  Whew!  I’ve watched a few movies over the years that deliver one scene after another of bad luck, bad news and bad people. After a while, I just feel kind of beat up; and if I have any strength left, I pick up that remote and change the channel with hope of something better. Some parts of Isaiah are a little hard to take as well

Thankfully, Chapter 35 brings a short reprieve with a message of hope and restoration for the future. “And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness.” (35:8) Not the low way, mind you, but the high way…the set apart way…the way of the redeemed…the way of Jesus.  Nothing of eternal harm can snatch away those on this path because it’s His path. He is with us, leading us to His home, our eternal destination.  Nothing gives me more peace in this day of airplanes blowing up buildings, explosive shoes and nuclear stockpiles than the knowledge that I am on His path and as long as I choose to stay there, I will reach my eternal destination with Him!

In Chapter 36, King Hezekiah made decisions that were contrary to what the prophet Isaiah had advised.  The Assyrians, enemies from the area known as Iraq today, had conquered much of the world.  In fear of this great enemy, Hezekiah decided to join forces with his ungodly neighbors in an alliance to fight this enemy and disregarded Isaiah’s message of God’s promise to deliver them if they would trust Him.  I’ve found that fear is never a good adviser.  Egypt’s mighty chariots seemed more tangible, more real to Hezekiah than God’s promise to him.  Hezekiah was confused.

Assyrian King Sennacherib knew two things about Judah – they had been a God-fearing people and they had made an alliance with Egypt against him.  He sent representatives to meet with representatives of Hezekiah.   King Sennacherib was asking this question of Hezekiah, “Who are you counting on that you rebelled against me?”  Hezekiah’s confused loyalties emboldened his enemy.  This causes me to do a little self-examination. Who am I counting on today?  Have confused loyalties allowed my enemy entrance into my life?

Sennacherib’s message renounced the Egyptians and Hezekiah, but more importantly, he blasphemed the living God.  “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (36:20) Not a good move on his part.  Hezekiah’s men tore their clothes in despair and went home to report to the king, who also tore his clothes (37:1).

This is a custom I am not acquainted with – the tearing of the clothes.  I know of yelling, pacing, sobbing, thrashing about, etc., but not the tearing of the clothes. In that day, however, it was a statement of humility and repentance – they would not allow their bodies to be clothed with ornament or finery when the enemy was attempting to strip the living God of His honor and deity.  This was the signal that Hezekiah was no longer confused.

And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the Lord: O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth.  Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” (16-18,20) Soon God brought great victory to Judah, as well as an amazing healing to Hezekiah (Chapter 38).  Judah’s doom was suspended…for a while. 

Moving forward: Today I symbolically tear my clothes at the thought that I would listen to any attempt by the enemy to strip my Father of His honor and deity.  I will not be confused about the one I am counting on“I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him.  I have put my hope in His word.”  (Psalm 130:5) 

Tomorrow @Matthew 17-19

Isaiah 29-33 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, our thoughts are turned to those we love and the ways we will express our love.  Capitalists that we are, we have turned this sentiment into a multi-billion dollar enterprise – chocolate, flowers, diamonds…and again I say chocolate!  In step with this focus on love, television programming is filled with love stories to touch our hearts and to remind us of our own love story.

A familiar story is one of unrequited love where the dear young man desperately loves the young woman who seeks after the more dashing or successful men in her life and ignores his adoration.  Or another story is where the young woman, listening to her biological clock, becomes impatient in waiting for the right man to come along and almost marries Mr. Wrong.  Fortunately, with television movies of this nature, love sweeps in at just the right moment and everybody lives happily ever after. (Sigh) In our reading today, Isaiah talked about God’s unrequited love for an impatient nation, a love deeper than Hollywood could ever imagine. 

@ Isaiah 30
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.  In quietness and confidence is your strength.  But you would have none of it.  You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.  They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’” (15-16)  As the advancing Assyrian army threatened Judah, God asked them to rest in Him, and in due time He would deliver them, but Judah was impatient.  Time was ticking away, and they considered an alliance with Egypt. This response reminds me of an impatient young woman, her biological clock and unfortunate alliances.

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help.” (18)   Here was a compassionate God waiting for Judah to fall in love with Him, to stop looking to others for love and protection.  Unrequited love.

If they would once again fall in love with God and not turn to others, He would love and protect them beyond their wildest dreams. “He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…he will still be with you to teach you… Your own ears will hear him.  Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (19-21)   Their gracious God who loved them so dearly would answer, teach and guide if they would only turn to Him, forsaking all others.

And what a great message for us in the climate that we live in today!  Instead of turning in panic to unknown sources for our answers and help, God asks us to patiently wait for Him to respond to our hearts cries.  He will be gracious if we will ask for help.  He will respond to our cries and teach us along the way as we wait on Him.  He will direct our steps on the very best path and at the perfect moment in time.

When we are tempted to turn to others first for help, He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love and compassion to us and be gracious to us.  A sovereign God, so full of love, created us to be the recipients of this great love – He only has eyes for us!  How can we resist so great a love?  How can we make Him wait? 

Moving Forward:  As I patiently wait on Him today, I’ll listen for His voice right behind me, directing my path.  I love Him so. 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 14-16

Isaiah 7-11 (NLT)

Discover His heart: Through our trust in Him, He will cause us to stand firm

A few years ago I was attempting to change a less-than-pleasant diaper on my one-year old grandson.  Doing what little ones do at this age, he was kicking up a storm and trying to turn over, and I realized that Jett was not as focused on the task at hand as I was.  I caught his eye and said, “Work with me here, baby boy, work with me,” and he stopped long enough to give me one of those smiles that lights up my world and then went back to kicking.  I knew my only recourse was to provide a distraction and handed him one of his favorite toys.  With that, the kicking and turning stopped, the diaper was changed and I was victorious.  Let’s hear it for Nonna!

In Isaiah’s day, Judah was facing the threat of attack by Assyria, and its king was struggling with it, turning this way and that, seeking help from everyone but God.  Isaiah was sent by God to make the change in Judah’s focus, but it sure wasn’t easy. 

@ Isaiah 7
As Judah’s King Ahab struggled in his decision with whom to join forces against the invading army – Israel and Syria or Assyria itself – Isaiah came with a message from God encouraging Judah to ally with God, to trust in Him. “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” (9)  In essence, God was saying something similar to, “Work with me here, Judah, work with me.”  God could not help Judah stand firm against the enemy unless Judah would place its faith and trust in Him. 

@ Isaiah 8
Isaiah shared God’s message with Judah, calling them to change their focus, “The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, ‘Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.  Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear.  He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.’” (11-14)  Don’t get caught up in the struggle of it all, focused on who did what and when, but change your focus to the One who will help you and keep you safe. “Look to God’s instructions and teachings!  People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.” (20)

Whether we are focused on the struggles of our nation or the struggles in our own personal lives, God’s word to Judah is powerful to us as well.  Through His Word I believe God is saying to each one of us “Work with me, dear one, work with meI can’t help you stand strong in your struggle unless you put your trust and faith firmly in me.”  We have to give Him something to work with and not struggle against Him or turn from Him.

God warned not to think like everyone else does, focused on the struggle and the advice of those who do not know Him, but rather be distracted by His instructions and teachings in His Word.  Keep focused on God’s Word and His counsel, and, in fact, remind others of it, “Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me.” (16)  This is how we perpetuate faith and trust in God to those who are watching our lives, our children and those near to us, through our focus on God’s Word in the time of struggle.  At the end of the day, we will be victorious!

Moving Forward: I’m focusing on God and His word, giving Him something to work with, so that I will stand firm through any challenge I may face today.

Tomorrow @ Matthew 3-4

Amos 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He speaks through those He chooses to deliver His message

I must admit that I have a certain affinity toward the prophet Amos.  He was a shepherd who had visions!  Minding his own business and tending sheep in the countryside just south of Bethlehem, he started to receive visions from the Lord.  Perhaps the solitude of the countryside and the lack of social interaction provided the right atmosphere for God to communicate with Amos. This is something I think about when I find myself running all day long.

Amos was not from a family of prophets or priests, but he most certainly had a heart for God with open communication with him.  He was a shepherd and used many metaphors from the pasture in his writings.  Equally important to the lessons learned from what Amos said is the example of how his life reveals God’s intention to use anyone who is willing to touch the world.

Amos was a forerunner in the timeline of Israel’s next three professional prophets. Through divine revelation, he pronounced judgment on the surrounding countries as well as on Israel, and his tactic was brilliant.  People often say that sheep are dumb, and with that thinking, it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence or skill for Amos to tend them. However, through my encounters with countless sheep and numerous shepherds, I can say with confidence that most sheep are not as dumb as they are willful.  How better to describe the mindset of Israel at this time in history – pleasure seeking, idol worshiping willful sheep.

Just like with his sheep, Amos found a way to get the attention of Israel.  In Chapters 1 and 2, Amos waxed eloquent on the judgment that was coming to Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom and Ammon.  This must have thrilled the Israelites, and I can imagine them shouting in agreement with Amos, “Yes! Get them, God, for their injustices to us.” It’s easy to see the error in the lives of others and overlook our own problems, and so it was Israel at that time.

Then in his proclamations, Amos lowered the boom, “This is what the Lord says: ‘The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!  They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.  So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.’” (2:4-6)  Party over.

The cultural norm of Israel at this time was not unlike what we are experiencing in the world today, a blending of right and wrong, blurred lines, everything gray.  Do what feels right…it can’t be wrong if it feels so right…God only wants us to feel good.  Many in Israel had crossed the line to what they knew to be wrong, yet did it anyway. After enumerating the ways God had attempted to get Israel’s attention through the years, Amos, speaking for God, delivered the final blow, “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”  I’m fairly certain that any affection for Amos and his message was over.

We can somewhat understand the feelings of the Israelites at this point.  I really don’t like it when a preacher, or a devotional for that matter, gets all up in my business and conviction comes to my heart. It’s easy to get uncomfortable and perhaps a little angry thinking, don’t mess with my gray areas and certainly don’t mess with my sin.   It never helps to shoot the messenger; it only helps to submit to the message.

When I stand before the Lord one day, I want to have responded to His merciful messages, I want to have experienced His wonderful grace and I want to hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  So, messengers of God, bring it! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that He opens doors of ministry to each one of us, regardless of our backgrounds, and I’m ever challenged to submit to the messages that He brings my way. 

Tomorrow @ John 16-18