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

Matthew 20-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is mercy and grace

My first real job out of high school was working in the stenographer’s pool at a large bank while I attended college.  Different departments throughout the bank called the steno pool when they needed someone to take dictation, do filing, answer phones, etc.  The goal of everyone in the pool was to eventually find a permanent position somewhere in the bank.

One employee who had worked there for a long time was a source of irritation for most of us as we waited for our escape because of her poor work ethic.  On occasion I thought how great it would be to file my nails, make personal phone calls or in my case do homework while on company time.  It seemed unfair that she was paid for 40 hours each week like the rest of us, but for some reason a measure of grace and mercy was given to her. This was bothersome to us because in the natural, we don’t want grace for others as much as we want justice!  Thankfully, we’re not God. 

@Matthew 20
In Matthew 20, Jesus shared a parable about grace and mercy, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.” (1-2)  Normal pay for a normal day sounds reasonable.  Throughout the day the landowner added workers, even up to the final hour of the workday, and a conflict arose when their pay was divvied out.

“When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’” (10-12)  I feel their pain. I’ve heard these simple definitions of mercy and grace:  Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve; grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.  Matthew 20:1-16 is all over this.

In the same way, it may seem unfair that someone with a death-bed conversion to Christ who lived a pleasure-filled godless life will spend eternity in Heaven with God and with all those who lived submitted and obedient lives to Him. But it is really unfair?  Would any of us be so bold as to say we deserve eternity in Heaven because of our righteousness?  That any of us will spend eternity with the Lord is only because a righteous God spared us from what we deserved and gave us what we didn’t deserve through our acceptance of Jesus Christ – plain and simple.

As far as my co-worker from so long ago, one day I realized that she had missed the point.  She was still in the steno pool long after the rest of us had moved on to a better position in the bank.  Mercy kept her employed and grace kept her paycheck coming, but she missed out on all that she could have achieved and enjoyed along the way.

Those who come late in life to the Lord miss out on the abundant life He offers here on earth, and even more so, they miss out on the pleasure that comes from a lifetime of pursuing His purpose for them.  God is merciful, but waiting to come to Him does not secure the abundant life on earth He has offered us.

I am ever mindful that God has given each of us assignments to accomplish while we tread this sod, but our purpose, both on earth and in Heaven, is something much different.  He has given us life, our very next breath, for the purpose of fellowship and intimacy with Him. Obedience and self-denial may be our path to Him, but anything we surrender is insignificant compared to the pure pleasure of His company! 

Moving Forward:  I approach this day with a greater understanding and thankfulness for His mercy and grace on my life.  Before I accomplish the myriad of things I must do today, I first will pursue the pleasure of His company.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 1-2

Psalms 6-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is merciful because of His unfailing love

I loved to visit the neighborhood park playground when I was little.  I would run to the swing set and swing what seemed like hours, back and forth, getting as high as I could.  This fun always came to an end when a train came flying past in front of me and I would get sick – the double motion got me every time.  Then I’d find a friend and run to the teeter totter, the up and down seesaw, and I’d feel like I was flying myself.  The seesaw, however, was the most fickle of all the equipment on the playground because when I sat dangling high in the air, my safety was at the mercy of my friend.  On more than one occasion through the years, a distracted playmate left her seat and sent me crashing to the ground.  Somehow I lived through this.  David’s struggle in our reading today reminded me of the seesaw, where mercy or judgment takes the other seat. 

@ Psalm 6
We don’t know David’s sin on this occasion, but we recognize a cry for mercy when we see one, “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage. Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak.  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. I am sick at heart.  How long, O Lord, until you restore me? Return, O Lord, and rescue me.  Save me because of your unfailing love.” (6:1-4) David sat dangling, staring judgment in the face; but he asked for mercy to take the other seat.  My heart’s cry every day is for mercy, don’t give me what I deserve – give me mercy. 

@ Psalm 7
Now the tables are turned as David’s accusing enemies have risen up and are dangling high because they have touched God’s anointed.  Because revenge always seems to be so sweet at the time of our pain, David may have desired to slip right off the seat and send his enemies crashing, but instead, David called on God to bring justice.  “Arise, O Lord, in anger!  Stand up against the fury of my enemies! Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  Declare me righteous, O Lord, for I am innocent, O Most High! End the evil of those who are wicked, and defend the righteous.” (6,8-9) When we ask God to avenge us rather than to take matters into our own hands, we  place Him at the center, the fulcrum of the seesaw and ask him to determine the outcome.

“Wake up, my God?”  Did David actually think that God was dozing?  Probably not, but we often think God has taken too long to bring about justice to those who have caused us pain.  His hesitancy to bring judgment to all of us, for which I am thankful, comes because of what David himself said, “You look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.” (9)  He isn’t asleep; He sees man’s heart and He is merciful. 

“If a person does not repent, God will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow.  He will prepare his deadly weapons and shoot his flaming arrows.” (12)  Our merciful God waits for repentance, longs for the contrite heart of David to fill the hearts of our enemies so that He can seat mercy rather than judgment.  But without repentance, the evil deeds of our enemies will falls on their own heads. (16)

In the natural, because of our nature, we would never extend this mercy, but when we allow God to sit at the fulcrum of our hearts, our enemies just may repent.  Regardless, when it’s all said and done, God will rule with justice, “I will thank the Lord because He is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”(17)  Sometimes it’s rough out there on the playground of life, and it may feel safer to withdraw and stay inside.  But we need to remember that we have Someone watching over us, observing all that is happening, Someone who is just and plays fair.  Come on, I’ll race you to the slide! 

Moving Forward:  I’ve determined that in the situations I face today, I will allow God’s justice to rule. 

Tomorrow @ Job 5-6

Habakkuk (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He uses whatever means He chooses to change the hearts of men

I’ve had several friends throughout the years that are just plain bold.  They’re not intimidated by anyone and seem to have the intestinal fortitude to ask the hard questions of others without batting an eye.  Some of them have come from difficult situations that have made them strong and fearless, and I think a few of them just don’t know any better.  Regardless, they are the ones I like on my team, whatever the task, because they get the answers we need.  After reading Habakkuk, I get the impression that he was one of them.  I mean, with a name like Habakkuk, it’s either going to make you or break you, and in the way he addressed the Lord, I think we can assume he made it just fine.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen!  Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.  Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?” (1:2-3)  See what I mean?  Habakkuk was bold, he asked the hard questions of the Lord and he certainly lived up to the reputation of a prophet.  God answered Habakkuk’s questions because He understood his heart.  Over the years, the prophet pleaded with the Israelites to repent and sought God’s help, but sin and disobedience increased.  In these verses, He was calling on God to act.  Many of us find ourselves in similar situations, calling for our nation, our family or our friends to repent and praying for God to act, but as Habakkuk learned, we must be prepared to accept how He chooses to respond.

“Look around at the nations; look and be amazed!  For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people.  They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” (1:5-6)  God would one day allow the Babylonians to humble Israel, but this wasn’t what Habakkuk had in mind when he prayed.  Not willing to hold back, he responded to the Lord, “O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins…Will you wink at their treachery?” (12-13)

God will use whatever means He desires to bring about change in the hearts of men, and He went on to inform Habakkuk that Babylon would one day receive its punishment for its willingness to destroy Israel.  Whatever change we are praying about in the lives of individuals or nations, we must surrender to God’s omnipotent plan for the answer he chooses and not attempt to confine Him to our limited understanding.

When I surrender to His divine plan for the one I am praying about, I often say a similar prayer as this offered by Habakkuk, “I have heard all about you, Lord.  I am filled with awe by your amazing works.  In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by.  And in your anger, remember your mercy.” (3:2) Remember your mercy.  We surrender to your plan, but our hearts cry for mercy. Don’t give us what we deserve, but be merciful in how you perfect and change us.  And we know He hears our prayer because we, just like Habakkuk, have heard all about Him. (3:2) 

Moving Forward: I may not be a bold prophet like Habakkuk, but I know how to pray a bold prayer for my nation and for those I love.  I will trust His plan to bring about change, but with it, I pray for His mercy. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 9-10

Micah (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He desires our fellowship rather than our sacrifices

It’s painful when someone close to us leaves or ignores us.  Our first response is to question what went wrong, what we did to cause the separation.  While it’s true that time heals wounds, it sometimes takes a long time to finally stop second-guessing what we could have done differently.  The one place we can go for solace is to God because He really does understand our hurt and our questioning as we read in Micah today. 

@ Micah 6
“Listen to what the Lord is saying: ‘O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me!’” (3)  It’s hard to imagine that humanity would put God in a position where He would ask these questions.  How foolish are we anyway? Yet, I would think most of us have given cause for God to question our distance from Him at one time or another.  It is our God we read about on Tuesday in 2 Chronicles 16:9, whose eyes “search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  He loves us enough to go searching for us.

The Israelites response to His questioning was typical, “What can we bring to the Lord?  What kind of offerings should we give him?”(6)  When we have been in a similar situation with a loved one, what do we really want from them?  We want the person, not their stuff.  Flowers and gifts are nice to receive when a relationship is restored, but they are not proof to us that it has been restored.  How we walk with one another in relationship tells the story, and God feels the very same way.

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (8)  We do our best to make our walk with the Lord confusing and difficult to understand at times, but it’s actually pretty simple.  He isn’t after some showy sacrifice to appease Him; He wants relationship just like we do.  We also prove our love and commitment to Him by doing what is right in our dealings with others – just doing the right thing!  Showing mercy to others demonstrates that we acknowledge and appreciate the mercy He has extended to us. Humble submission in our walk with Him is really what He desires, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Samuel 15:22)

Oh that we would never cause God to question our relationship with Him with, “What have I done to make you tired of me?” However, if we do, He will receive our true repentant hearts back without our flowers, gifts or showy sacrifices because, bottom line, He wants us! 

Moving Forward:  I’m challenged today to fulfill His requirements – Do what is right, show mercy and humbly walk with Him, never tiring of His Holy presence. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 5-6

Jonah (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He shows mercy to us through the hard things of life

My friend had a dog that loved to play hide and seek.  When he was told to go hide, he ran to the nearest rug or blanket and stuck his head under it.  I guess his logic was if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Jonah reminds me of that dog.  Did he really think that hiding out in the bottom of a boat at sea would prevent God from seeing him?  Surely Jonah was smarter than that!  As the saying goes, “You can run, but you cannot hide.”

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing, and for Jonah, preaching a message of redemption to the evil Assyrians was a hard thing because he really didn’t care about their souls.  However, God did care for them, and the Book of Jonah is full of God’s mercy.  God was merciful to the Assyrians despite their evil deeds and sent Jonah to minister to them, and God was merciful to Jonah in his utter disobedience.  God could have allowed the sea to become his grave; but instead He provided a lesson, a discipline to help turn Jonah’s heart.

After three days of inhaling fish innards, Jonah evidently decided a trip to Nineveh sounded pretty good. “I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows.  For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (2:9)  God has a way of getting our attention and letting us know that He sees us with our head under the carpet.  In His mercy, He accepted Jonah’s repentance, “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.”  Although he must have smelled like the inside of a sardine can, Jonah was alive, submitted and on his way to Nineveh.

God could have sent another prophet to Nineveh, but then Jonah would not have experienced first-hand God’s incredible mercy.  He had additional lessons to learn about pride, selfishness and most importantly about God’s love for all people.  When God asks us to do the hard thing, the thing that rubs us the wrong way or the thing that we dread, we can learn from the Jonah experience.

We can’t outrun Him or outwit Him as Jonah proved to us.  In our submission to Him, we will move past the prejudice or hatred or whatever it is that is making it a hard thing to do. In this perfecting of us, God will also touch the lives of others through it.

Moving Forward: I can accept whatever difficult task He has for me today with the knowledge that He perfecting me as well as touching others through it. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 3-4