Haggai (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  His blessings follow our obedience to Him

Many books and movies tell the story of the farmer who plants the seed and then waits for the sun and the rain to bless his efforts and bring about a bountiful crop.  Because he has invested all he has on the seed, his investment is lost if the rain doesn’t come.  The drama of waiting for a dark cloud, even a small one, to form in the sky is heart-wrenching to watch, and sometimes the families are on edge as they struggle with what to do next.  Anytime a blessing from the Lord seems to be withheld from our lives, it gives cause to consider the reason.

“Look at what’s happening to you!  You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  Look at what’s happening to you.” (Haggai 1:5-7)  The Israelites returned to Jerusalem with the specific instructions to rebuild the temple, but instead they built their homes and had not worked on the temple.

When life is not going well and our efforts seem in vain, it never hurts to examine what’s happening to us and make certain we are following His plan for us.  God’s love makes Him longsuffering, but He will do what is necessary to get our attention.  When the Israelites realized their disobedience, they turned to the Lord and His gracious response was, “I am with you, says the Lord!” (13)

A drought or dry season in our life may have nothing to do with our willfulness, but it may be a testing time to develop character and prepare us to be used by Him.  I’m sure the 40 years that Moses spent on the backside of the desert caused him to search his heart and question what was happening to him, but God was preparing him for great things.

When our efforts bring little reward and we feel that God’s blessing is not on them, it’s not time to blame Him or to resist Him.  It’s the perfect time to look at what’s happening to us and evaluate our situation.  Are we doing our best to follow His direction for us?  If so, we can be certain that He “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  His blessings will come in due time.

Our obedience to God will bring a promise to our lives like the one given to an obedient Israel after the foundation for the temple was laid, “Think carefully. I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”  (2:18-19)  Regardless of how it comes or when it comes, obedience brings the blessing of the Lord to our lives. 

Moving Forward: I am certain of His blessings in due time as I walk in obedience to Him. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 13-14

2 Chronicles 6-10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He looks for repentant and obedient hearts

I was one of those nerds in high school and college who actually read the history textbooks.  I love history. I especially enjoy exploring the ruling families and dynasties from the past. God allowed me the privilege of living in Austria for a few weeks, home of the Habsburgs.  This family controlled much of Europe from the 12th century through to the early 20th century, and its history is fascinating.

While many rulers have overthrown countries through wars and bloodshed, the Habsburgs had a different strategy – just marry them!  Their children were farmed out to all of Europe ruling families over centuries, alliances were made and the Habsburg footprint remains today in much of Europe’s ruling families.  However, they were not the originators of this strategy.  Solomon used this approach in keeping peaceful alliances with his neighbors, but unfortunately, it did not serve him well. (June 13 @ I Kings 10-13)  Anytime we sacrifice Godly principles to achieve earthly gain, disappointment is in our future. 

@ 2 Chronicles 7
Things had been going extremely well for Solomon early in his reign.  He had just completed the building of the Temple and called together the entire community as he offered a beautiful prayer to the Lord.  God’s response was a flash of fire to burn up the sacrifices and then His glorious presence filled the Temple.  A lavish festival followed over the next seven days with much animal sacrificing, singing and dancing unto the Lord. There was joy in the land.

Later when Solomon was alone, God visited him with an amazing promise, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (12-14)

God had accepted Solomon’s prayer, yet His response included a caution.  God may allow difficult times to come when His people turn away from Him, but if they repent and turn back to Him, He forgives and brings restoration.  God is merciful.

Sadly, Solomon’s response over the next few years to God’s offer was to disobey Him by marrying pagan women from other countries in order to protect Israel through these alliances.  God really didn’t need Solomon’s help to protect Israel through godless marriages.  Instead of protection, Solomon ushered in the very thing that would one day destroy Israel – idol worship!  Although some of the kings had momentary periods of repentance, Israel never completely turned its heart back to God.

We won’t save ourselves or our country by engaging in alliances, no matter how good they may seem or how well-intentioned we may be, if those alliances take the place of obedience to His laws and trust in His ability to protect us.  Should we falter in this, then humble repentance and seeking His face is what He is looking for. “If my people…”

The help God does want from us is the advice He gave to Solomon, “If you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty.” (17-18) In response to our humble obedience to Him, God’s hand is free to provide personal security for our homes and families and national security for our country.  We need Him more today than ever before.

Moving Forward:  Today I reject any godless solutions to problems that may seem right, and submit in obedience to Him and His divine guidance and protection. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 114-116

Matthew 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He understands our guilt and pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 5-6