Hebrews 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He became flesh, He understands all that we face

Our propensity to judge the behavior of others would be curtailed if we were given the opportunity to walk a mile or so in their shoes.  In their shoes we may come to understand the reason why they do the things they do.  When we’re trying to comfort someone or give direction, we so often hear, “Well, you just don’t understand” or “You just don’t get it,” and many times they are right.  Jesus, on the other hand, gets it all!  He has walked in our shoes and understands anything and everything we are going through. Praise the Lord!

We’re not certain who authored Hebrews, though most believe it was someone who knew or traveled with Paul or even Paul himself, but what a challenge faced the writer!  Most of the Jewish Christians were probably second generation at this point and faced extreme persecution from the Jewish leaders as well as the Roman government.  On top of that, doctrinal error was threatening the church, and it appeared that many were considering returning to Judaism.  The writer of Hebrews had the task of presenting the legitimacy of the risen Lord, the benefits of accepting Him and the lifestyle of one who does.   He, or possibly even an educated she, began with the humanity of Christ and the fact that He walked in our shoes.

“It was necessary for Him to be made in every respect like us, His brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then He could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested.”(2:17-18) Because of His humanity, Jesus is a sympathetic mediator for us to God as our High Priest who goes before God on our behalf.  Jesus understands us, and He’s on our side!

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 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.”(4:15-16)  We might be tempted to say, Of course He didn’t sin, He was God and had all of heaven’s resources to help Him.  Well, we’re not God, but we do have all of heaven’s resources to help us stay strong.  “He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (I Corinthians 10:13)  Help is on the way!

The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to make the point that God, through His Son Jesus, became human and understands all the trials and temptations we face and knows how to provide what we need to endure and conquer.  All we need to do is run, not walk, to His throne and tell Him all about it.  This seems to be the difficult part for us, running from our temptation and trial and running to Him for help.  But when we run to Him, “We will receive His mercy.” He understands our need and does not punish.  Then, “We will find grace to help us.”  He will give us all the help we need at that moment whether we deserve it or not.  What part of that deal did the Jewish believers not like?  It’s beyond me, but then I haven’t walked in their shoes.  Fortunately, He has.

Moving Forward:  How great to know that He understands everything we will face today. Any temptation that comes our way, He’s been there, but did not yield.  Any trial we walk through, He’s been there and came through victoriously.  And He will give us exactly what we need to do the same. 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 25-28

Philemon (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we generously forgive others

As a rule, we’ll do just about anything for our good friends.  We celebrate with them on their joyous occasions, and we run to them to give comfort and aid in their difficult moments.  It is disheartening to have a friendship dissolve over a dispute or offense.  In our reading today, Paul was treading on dangerous ground in his friendship with Philemon.

Philemon was a prosperous businessman in Colossae who hosted the church in his home.  Paul had nothing but good to say about him, “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (4-7)  A careful reader may catch that this is not just a casual letter, but one with an agenda of sorts, “praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.”  A request was coming.

Philemon’s slave from the past, Onesimus, had either stolen from him or damaged his property and had run away.  This betrayal by someone he trusted had obviously caused heartache to Paul’s dear friend. Sometime later, the slave happened to encounter Paul in Rome and accepted the Lord as his Savior. Paul had some choices to make – keep Onesimus as his assistant and remain silent, turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities where he could possibly face death or return him to Philemon for punishment.

And now the request, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus.  I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” (8-10) Circumstances had changed over the course of time. Yes, Onesimus was a slave, sadly a role that was acceptable at that time, but now he was a fellow believer.  Salvation is the great equalizer in life. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).

Paul may have been referring to the meaning of the name “Onesimus” which means profitable or useful as he continued in his request, “Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.”(11) Paul was definitely placing their friendship on the line when he added a promise to personally pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon. He added, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!”  (19)

Although this comment sounds remarkably like a major guilt trip, Paul was counting on Philemon to remember that at one time he, too, was forgiven and set free from sin.  Jesus paid a debt for him that he did not owe just as Paul was willing to do for Onesimus.  This personal letter of Paul’s serves to remind us all of the forgiveness and grace that has been extended to us.  How could we not extend it to others?

In situations where others have cheated us or been unkind, it is so very helpful to remember that God loves them as much as He loves us.  He may not like their deeds, but He sent His Son to die for that very reason.  When we forgive and offer mercy to others, we are behaving like Jesus, and that could only be good. 

Moving Forward: Should the occasion arise today, I choose to forgive others for any unkindness, remembering that God loves them.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 21-24

Hosea 8-14 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because of His love for us, He does not willingly let us go

The value of a soul.  Well, we really can’t place a value on one’s soul – it’s priceless.  So much so that God sent His only Son to die in order to redeem that soul.  When we’ve been praying for someone for a long time, one who is resistant to the Lord, we’re often tempted to give up on that soul.  Hosea continued to reveal God’s abiding love for His people even though they had rejected Him.

“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?  How can I let you go?…My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.” (11:8)  In the previous three chapters, Hosea summarized Israel’s rebellion against God, and because of their continued rejection of God, they would harvest what they had planted (8:7)  But God’s heart was torn, “How can I let you go?

Hosea challenged those who had rejected God for so very long, “Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.  Say to him, ‘Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises.’” (14:2)  This, this is what God is longing to hear; and His response to heart-felt repentance is, “I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.”(4)

There are several individuals I have prayed for as long as I can remember, asking God to touch their lives and change their direction.  I must admit that I have gone through periods where I’ve just given up because it all seems so futile.  Then I read something like this, revealing God’s unbelievable capacity to love and to hope, and my commitment is renewed to keep praying, keep believing.  These dear ones I have been praying for may walk through some seeds they have sown, but if our pure and Holy God loves them so very deeply, who am I to give upon them? 

Moving Forward: My hope is renewed today as I continue praying for those who desperately need fellowship with the One who loves them so deeply. 

Tomorrow @ John 10-12

Daniel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He hears and answers our prayers

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer!  Listen as I plead.  For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair.  See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.” (9:17-18)  Daniel’s fervent prayer for his people and for his city of Jerusalem arrests me as I read it and reminds me of the need for continual prayer for my city, for my nation.  Because of Israel’s gross sins, Daniel didn’t ask for undeserved help for His people – he asked for God’s mercy.  I, too, cry for mercy.  Lord, don’t give us what we deserve. 

@ Daniel 10
Most of us have experienced times when we pray desperately for a need, but the answer doesn’t come.  Sometimes we feel disconnected from God because of unforgiveness or sin in our lives that seems to block the flow of communication with Him.  Other times our answers are delayed because of God’s testing; and in these moments, our faith is stretched as we grow to trust Him more.  We even have been known to pray amiss, and God cannot answer our prayer.  We learn that Daniel experienced a delay in his answered prayer for yet another reason.

The heavenly visitor said to Daniel, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way…Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” (12-14)  Twenty-one days…interesting to note that Daniel had been fasting for twenty-one days.

We know Daniel was a man who completely trusted God and whose prayer life was remarkable.  Once again he proved his faithfulness to God by steadfast prayer and fasting until the answer came.  Little did he know that the answer came immediately but was hindered by the enemy; and likewise, we don’t know when the answers to our prayers have been hindered by the enemy.   I am encouraged by our reading today to dare to be a Daniel and pray through the hindrances until the answer comes!

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10)  The good news is that we are not fighting alone.  Like Daniel, we have the heavenly hosts in our army fighting in the heavenlies on our behalf.

When we experience a delay in answers to our prayers, we’re challenged to examine our hearts to know we are free from unforgiveness.  We are challenged to pray according to God’s will and pray that He will remove our desire for anything that is not His will.  Then, whether the delay is a testing or a hindrance, we can pray with tenacity for the answer.  “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16)  The answer’s on the way!

Moving Forward:  Encouraged by Daniel’s prayer of mercy for his people, I will pray in earnest for my nation and God’s mercy for us.  And for the many challenges I face today, I’ll pray according to His will until the answers come – they’re on the way! 

Tomorrow @ John 5-6

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

Ezekiel 25-30 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He longs for repentance that stops the hand of judgment

Revenge – how sweet it is!  At least that seems to be a prevailing attitude in our culture.  Many have adopted the idiom, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  My husband tells a joke that is appropriate here – A 16-year old boy arrives home driving a brand new truck. The father shouts, “Where did you get that truck?  You don’t have any money.”  The boy replies, “I bought it from a lady down the street for $15!”  Well, this alarmed the father. What kind of woman would sell this truck for $15? She must have an ulterior motive.

The father rushed down the street and asked the woman why she did this.  The woman replied, “Well, I thought my husband was on a business trip, but I just received a call from him from Hawaii.  Seems he ran off with his mistress and is in need of money.  He asked me to sell his car and send him the money…so I did.”  Scary stuff, revenge is.

Revenge may bring some immediate gratification, but the long-term ramifications can wipe that smile right off a face.  Better to put payback in the hands of God, “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)  In our reading today, Israel’s neighbors were about to feel the heat.

The seven nations surrounding tiny Israel had long persecuted and attacked God’s chosen people.  Even though His own people were sinful and rebellious at times, God would avenge them because they were His responsibility and not that of the surrounding nations.  Judgment was coming to Ammon, Moab, Edom Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and proud Egypt because they rejoiced at Israel’s devastation at the hands of Babylon and cheered at the desecration of the Temple.  Ancient racism toward the Israelites had filled their hearts, as well as jealousy over Israel’s many victories.

God’s vengeance was swift and these nations eventually met their own fate at Babylon’s mighty sword.  At the end of each pronouncement of judgment, God said something similar to, “When I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.” (25:17)  Revenge did not come from Israel, it came from the Lord; however, He would have stayed His hand of judgment at the first sign of repentance.  In Ezekiel 18:23, God asked Ezekiel, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?…Of course not!  I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”  God is merciful.

From these scriptures we can learn about God’s attitude concerning our enemies.  He knows their past, present and future and why they do the things they do, facts we are seldom privy to.  He will often withhold dealing with an offense towards us because He knows that our enemy’s battle is really with Him, not with us, or He knows that restoration is in the future.  God is merciful; but without repentance, in due time judgment is His to give.

When we take matters into our own hands to get even, we may circumvent God’s divine plan to bring healing and restoration to our relationships.  Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…Love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:39,44-45)   Sometimes we just get dizzy from turning that cheek so many times, and we start to think He just doesn’t understand the pain from the hurtful things said or done to us, the betrayal and the rejection.  But then, of course He does. Remember Calvary? 

Moving Forward:  Sunny today, with no chance of revenge.  Should an enemy develop throughout the day, I won’t get even – I won’t even get mad- because God is in control!

Tomorrow @ Luke 19-20

2 Samuel 15-19 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  His mercy and forgiveness – the paradigm to follow

Charisma does not always a good politician make.  This is a lesson we’ve learned in recent years, and it certainly was true about the captivating Absalom.  One of the great sorrows of David’s life was the rebellion against him by his son, Absalom.  As if that wasn’t painful enough, others came along to kick him when he was down. 

@ 2 Samuel 16
Sadly, there are those who take advantage of us when we are fatigued, discouraged and weakened by our situation, and this is where David was in 2 Samuel.  Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, reported to David that Mephibosheth was attempting to steal back his grandfather Saul’s throne. This news from Ziba made David all the more susceptible to discouragement as Saul’s relative, Shimei, assaulted him with accusations, calling David the murderer of Saul’s family. Though Shimei’s words were untrue, David did not fight back because he believed that God would vindicate him if he was in the right.

Trouble upon trouble!  How could things go so wrong for David? Absalom was seeking to kill him, those he had helped in the past had betrayed him, others called him a murderer and his own son slept with his concubines, in plain sight on the roof no less, as prophesied by Nathan after David’s sin in Chapter 11.  One time a teenager asked me why the story of David and Bathsheba was in the Bible.  To her, the moral of the story was:  Do what you want, ask forgiveness and then everything will be alright.  As we read together more of David’s story, she saw things in a different light.  David had lost much. 

@ 2 Samuel 19
While the news of Absalom’s death threw the nation into a victory celebration, David was filled with remorse and grief, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you!  O Absalom, my son, my son.” (18:33)  No doubt David was filled with regret and shared the blame for Absalom’s rebellion because of the prophet Nathan’s words after his own sin with Bathsheba, “Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” (2 Samuel 12:11)

Although this was a dark time in the life of David and one filled with consequences, he went on to enjoy many victories because he had a heart of repentance.  He returned to Jerusalem to reign once again as king.  God did vindicate him in the very words of the one who had cursed him when Shimei cried out, “My lord the king, please forgive me.  Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem.” (19)  And David did forgive him, for the moment.  He showed kindness to Mephibosheth and rewarded those who had served him well.

David had received mercy from God in the past, and he was eager to show this same mercy to those who had hurt him – Absalom, Ziba, Mephibosheth and Shimei. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and mercy like this in Matthew 18:23-35 with the parable of the servant whose master forgave him a debt yet he was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant of a debt.  The outcome was not good. When we’re going through a difficult time, it seems there are always those who will come along to pour salt on ours wound like David had experienced.  Just like David, we would do well to remember the many great mercies God has extended to us and to also forgive those who hurt us in this way. 

Moving Forward:  Remembering your mercy to me, I will forgive those who hurt me or hurt those I love.   I pray that I will never be the one who pours salt on someone’s wounds!

Tomorrow @ Psalm 57-59