Joel (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He gives His Spirit to the repentant heart

I decided a long time ago that Italian men are farmers at heart.  My grandfather had an exceptional garden and grew much of what the family ate.  He was the only person I know that could grow a peach tree in the cold Minnesota climate. My dad had a great garden with wonderful tomatoes, beans and peppers.  And my husband, Tom, can grow just about anything.  Hence, Italian men are farmers at heart.

Tom loves to take plants that look like they are ready to be discarded and nurse them back to health, and he’s terrific at it.  We one time had a beautiful rosebush, the Dolly Parton, and it was the most fragrant rose I’ve ever smelled.  We came home from a trip and found that it had been attacked by some blight and was on its last…stem.  Tom saw that one little stem seemed to have some life left in it.  Well, he took the frail, devoured plant, cut it down to almost nothing and nourished it from the inside out.  In no time at all, the fragrant rosebush was in full bloom, ready for me to enjoy!  What a guy!  Sometimes it takes some heavy duty pruning and nourishment to bring restoration, and the prophet Joel knew all about that.

Joel prophesied about a blight of locusts that was coming to devour – the judgment of God that was coming to Israel if they did not repent of their sins. Some believe this prophecy told of a literal plague of locust as well as the invading Assyrian and Babylonian armies.  Regardless, a dreadful day was coming for Israel and was aptly described in Joel 1 and 2, “Despair, all you farmers!  Wail, all you vine growers!  Weep, because the wheat and barley—all the crops of the field—are ruined…Come, spend the night in burlap, you ministers of my God.  For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.  Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting.” (1:11,13-14)  Pruning was coming to Israel.

Whether our hearts are distraught over our country, a family crisis, church turmoil or problems in our own lives, we are challenged by the prophet Joel to start with repentance while there is still a little life left in the stem.  “That is why the Lord says, ‘Turn to me now, while there is time.  Give me your hearts.  Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.’”  (2:12-13)  Go to him with a broken spirit and a repentant heart, repenting of any failure or sin. (Psalm 51:17)

Israel could have avoided a lot of pain and devastation had they listened to Joel and to the many other prophets that God sent along their way.  But just as my patient gardener brought life back to a beautiful rosebush, our loving God will take the remnant of any situation, prune it and bring life back to it when it is finally yielded to Him.  Oh, how much better, though, to avoid this painful process through repentance.

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.”  (2:28-29)  As with my fragrant rosebush, Israel’s sweet fragrance of communion with the Spirit of God one day would be restored.  Israel experienced it on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when His Spirit became available to all people.  And we today are all people, too.  Approach Him with a contrite heart and enjoy the beautiful fragrance of His Spirit—prophetic dreams and visions included!

Moving Forward:  I will turn to Him today in any crisis, repent when needed and enjoy the beautiful bouquet of His Spirit. 

Tomorrow @ John 13-15

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 10-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He draws us to repentance and forgives our sins

When bystanders are interviewed after a robbery or an attack, each one gives a little different account of what took place.  Some focus on the victim, some see only the robber and others will give an accurate description of clothing worn.  The observers focus on the part of the altercation that means the most to them, the part that captures the heart. Our hearts will generally dictate our focus.  In our reading today, David had a heart condition, and it obviously directed his focus. 

@ 2 Samuel 11
David > gentle shepherd > giant slayer > great warrior > brave king > God’s own heart > adulterer……What?  Say it isn’t so!  How does this happen?

“In the spring of the year, when Kings normally go out to war…David stayed behind.” (1)  Spring was the time for kings to pursue and to conquer with the blessings of good weather, not too cold, not too hot.  The leader of Israel was on assignment to regain the land that was promised to Abraham.  It was not the time to rest on any laurels or bask in the glow of past victories.  David neglected his duties, and that neglect resulted in a tangled web of sin, murder and cover-up. Sir Walter Scott’s famous saying certainly would apply to part of this scenario, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

At any point in this painful account, David could have changed the outcome. Perhaps he could have practiced the eye bounce method when he first saw Bathsheba on her roof.  He could have spent some time with one of his many wives or concubines. He could have confessed his sin immediately and bore the consequences like a man. But the problem began when he failed to do what he had been purposed to do.  While it may be a stretch to expect David to have admired his neighbor’s hydrangeas rather than the bathing Bathsheba, he really should not have been in this position in the first place.  Before there was lust, murder and deceit, there was a heart problem.

We’re not privy to what caused David’s heart problem, this man who had been described as one after God’s own heart (I Samuel 11:14).  Perhaps he was fatigued from all he had endured up to this point, and isn’t this when the enemy often attacks?  David would have been better served to ask God for strength to go to battle.  Perhaps he felt entitled to a little R & R or a little something extra for all his past goodness.  Pride is the precursor to a downfall (Proverbs 16:18).  There was a reason David stayed behind, and this begs the question, am I doing what God has purposed for me to do or have I put myself in a position to compromise?

The good news in this story is that David repented of his dreadful sins, and God forgave him.  Sadly, the repercussions of his acts were widespread and long-lasting, all of which could have been avoided if, in the spring of the year, David had gone to war.  As I walk through each day, where does my heart direct my focus?  And if I should sadly find myself on the edge of compromise, do I look for the hydrangeas or do I see the harmful thing.  Tough questions, but worthy of the asking. 

Moving Forward: Today I ask the tough questions to keep me true to my purpose and to keep my heart focused on Him. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 54-56

Psalms 51-53 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will never reject a broken spirit and a contrite heart

The ocean is dramatic, the mountains are majestic, but for me, nothing beats the white and purity of newly fallen snow, pure and simple.  Of course, science tells us that this moisture falling through the atmosphere collects dirt particles and debris, etc., but as its glistening blanket covers the earth, we only see spotless white.  In light of this, it’s humbling to imagine ourselves as whiter than snow because of His purification, but this was the cry of David’s heart as he cried out to God in repentance. 

@ Psalm 51
“Purify me from my sins, and I will be whiter than snow… Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (7,9-10)  God forgave David for his dreadful sins in the Bathsheba moment of his life because of true repentance.  Forgiveness didn’t come because of David’s sorrow for having been caught in his sin or because he feared losing God’s favor, but because of true repentance. Contrition was shown through repentance when David asked of God:

  • Wash me from my guilt (2)
  • Purify me (7)
  • Return my joy (8)
  • Create a clean heart in me (10)
  • Renew a right spirit (10)
  • Restore your presence and Holy Spirit in my life (11)
  • Make me willing to obey, (12) a fearsome request
  • Forgive me (14)

He didn’t ask God to roll back the clock or ignore his sin, and he didn’t offer immediate sacrifices to ease the pain of it all or stop the hand of God.  In return for God’s forgiveness, David said:

  • I will teach your ways to other rebels (13)
  • I will sing of your forgiveness (14) which he did in many, many Psalms
  • I will praise you with unsealed lips (15)

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one…the sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (16-17) It’s human nature to blame others for our sins or even to blame original sin (5-6), but then this would not be true repentance.  A broken spirit says, “I did it.”  A broken and repentant heart says, “I did it. I will do right.”  This He will not reject.

Every day I ask God to purify my heart of all wrong doings – deliberate sins to be sure, but also those more secreted sins, like unforgiveness, judging others, pride, envy, resentment, etc., sins that often lead to deliberate sin when left unchecked.  Secreted sin led David to adultery and murder when first he lusted.  In response to my prayer, God so faithfully reveals to me where I have failed, and when I repent, He forgives and purifies my heart.  And for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Moving Forward:  Purify my heart today, dear Lord.  Make me whiter than snow! 

Tomorrow @ Job 35-36

Jeremiah 17-21 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires to shape us into vessels of honor

Years ago I visited a potter who allowed visitors to take a stab at the potter’s wheel.  My attempt became a literal mud-slinging contest between me and the wheel – the wheel won.  The condition of my clothing testified to that fact.  One thing I learned that day was that the master skills of the potter are difficult to replicate by a novice, and the example given to Jeremiah by God at the potter’s shop in Jeremiah 18 became very real to me.

With the Master Potter willing to mold us into useful vessels of honor, why do we choose to allow novices to mold our lives?  We often let our own willful desires or those of others to influence and shape us. The results are never what God intended.

“[I] found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”(18:3-4)  As long as the clay was soft and moldable, the potter was able to crush and remold it; but in time, the clay became dry and ultimately hardened.  It was no longer possible to refine its shape into something useful.  Sadly, this was the shape that Israel was in. 

Repentance would have challenged God to start over with the nation that had not turned out as He had hoped.  He would have molded it into a nation of honor, but repentance did not come. So God allowed the hardened vessel to be smashed as foretold in Chapter 19 through the Babylonian invasion.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (17:7-8) While traveling the countryside, I’ve always been able to know where the rivers and streams are located by the outcrop of trees and shrubs that grow alongside them.  Their roots have reached into the water source.

When we make the Lord our hope and confidence rather than choosing the dictates of our own desires, our roots reach deep into the Source.  Instead of becoming dry and hardened, we remain fresh and supple, and our presence points others to that Source as they travel life’s countryside.  Even in this, we are useful vessels of honor for Him. 

Moving Forward: A cherished old hymn comes to mind, “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

Tomorrow @ Mark 11-12

Jeremiah 12-16 (NLT)

Discovering His heart: He longs for repentance rather than judgment

Remember being 13 years old? Help! I remember it well, and I would never ask God for a do-over because once in a lifetime is more than enough. Life was an emotional roller coaster, where one day I thought I was ready to take on the world and the next day I wanted to play with dolls. Laughing and carefree one moment, and crying and depressed the next. I’m not sure why God created us with that year of upheaval in our lives, but I’m sure of this — it’s only because of His mercy that we make it out alive! Jeremiah was just a few years older than this when he found himself prophesying in Judah, but he was flooded with emotions just the same over the assignment God gave him.

Jeremiah’s emotions during this time period seemed to run the gamut. When prophets speak the truth, listeners often get angry. After Jeremiah discovered the plot to kill him because of his truth-telling in Chapter 11, he was angered by these wicked men and called for justice. Why didn’t God just take them out? “Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered! Set them aside to be slaughtered!” (12:3) While swift justice seemed appropriate in this case, do we really want God to respond so quickly to all wrongdoing?

@ Jeremiah 14
Judgment was coming, but God gave Israel yet another opportunity to repent by sending a drought to the land. They responded by crying out for help to the God but did so without a heart of repentance for their rejection of Him. “Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord, but help us for the sake of your own reputation.” (7) They took the first step by acknowledging their sin, but they did not follow through with repentance and refusal to sin. God wasn’t interested in saving His reputation; He was interested in saving their lives!

So God rejected them. Jeremiah went on, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention…Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.’” (11-12). It seems to be human nature to run to God for help with our problems, but then refuse His Lordship in our lives. This is where mercy is valued over swift justice when we think of those we love who are in this place of disobedience. Unfortunately, God’s patience and mercy for Israel had ended and judgment was finally at the door. It could have been stopped had they been willing to repent. Hopefully, we understand the value of this lesson.

Jeremiah’s anger now turned to compassion as he appealed to God on behalf of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, but God’s mind was set. Jeremiah’s response was to become filled with remorse and self-pity. Was all the pain and rejection he had endured for nothing? Now these evil people would take him down with them. He felt like God had rejected him too.

God called Jeremiah to come up higher, “You must influence them; do not let them influence you!” (15:19) He also offered restoration to Jeremiah and promises of protection for him. Because of God’s mercy rather than swift judgment, Jeremiah was given the opportunity to change his attitude. He then prayed with confidence, “Lord, you are my strength, and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!” (16:19)

There are times when my emotions can run this same gamut over a situation – all in one day! But, I cry for mercy for myself and for others, not swift justice, repenting when needed and relinquishing my thoughts and cares to Him. I join with Jeremiah, “Lord you are my strength and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!”

Moving Forward: Regardless of the situations I face today, I’ll guard my emotions and trust the One who is my strength.

Tomorrow @ Mark 9-10

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 fall 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