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

Psalms 93-95 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He welcomes our worship as He watches over His flock

@ Psalm 95
“Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come to him with thanksgiving.  Let us sing psalms of praise to him.  For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.” (1-3)  When we think about God’s greatness, there’s so much praise to give Him that sometimes we just have to get rowdy with it, joyfully shouting to Him because of our salvation, because He alone changed everything for us.  When we really consider this fact, it’s hard to contain or hold our joy, so why do we so often do just that – contain our joy?  Maybe we’re just not taking the time to consider His greatness.

Just the other day I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and apparently I looked liked it.  A friend of mine looked at me and said something to the effect, “Phyllis, you’ve got to get your praise on.”  While the challenges I was facing that day were nothing to bring on a shout, I turned my focus from those challenges to the faithfulness of the Lord, and everything changed.

I started to thank Him for my salvation and His goodness to me.  I sang praises to Him for who He was, “a great God, a great King above all gods” with the resources of the universe at His disposal.  After all, “He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it.  His hands formed the dry land, too.” (4-5)  My challenges had not yet changed, but the burden of them lifted, and I felt 50 pounds lighter, something, of course, I always like to feel.

Later that day, I knelt to thank Him for my friend and for the joy that came out of the gloom.  My heart became quiet.  I found no words to say and could only pause in His Holy presence as a peace and a rest flooded my being that nothing else, no substitute, could ever bring.  “Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.  We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.” (6-7)  Tucked there under the folds of my Shepherd’s garment, I was humbled by the knowledge that He was taking care of all my needs, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want..” (Psalm 23:1)

Whether in rowdy praise or in humble adoration, Psalm 95 calls us to worship, “Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully…Come, let us worship and bow down.”  Something to consider today. 

Moving Forward: Gettin’ my praise on today, moving forward with a song in my heart and a praise on my lips, remembering “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 16

Ezekiel 31-36(NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the Shepherd who never fails us, never leaves us

@ Ezekiel 34
Shepherds and sheep – right up my alley!  While writing the devotional book, Intimate Moments with the Shepherd, I had the joy of visiting sheep farms where I met dozens of shepherds and hundreds of sheep.  I’m sure the shepherds enjoyed watching this city girl navigate the pastures and sheepfolds while learning about the nature of sheep.  My advice for anyone pursuing an adventure like this is to wear sturdy boots, enough said.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?…You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” (1-5)  Ezekiel revealed this prophecy to the kings, prophets and priests of Israel, the shepherds of Israel, who with their selfish cruel behavior had neglected and abandoned the children of Israel.

We’ve followed the sinful acts of Israel’s leadership over the past several weeks recorded in Ezekiel, Leviticus and 1 and 2 Kings.  The common thread throughout the accounts of each evil leader was disobedience to God while following their own selfish desires to be powerful, prosperous and popular.  Whether in the church world or the secular world today, pursuit of these same three selfish desires will cause a leader to neglect and abandon those being led.  The sheep become weak, lost and scattered, no longer the strong flock they once were and because of this, sorrow awaited the shepherds.

Thankfully, the shepherds I met on my journeys were not at all like those described in Chapter 34.  Their eyes sparkled as they talked about their pride and joy and shared the heritage of each sheep, their parents, siblings and offspring.  The shepherds knew them so well that many of the sheep were named according to their personalities.  They knew what grasses and grains each sheep enjoyed the most and recalled the injuries and diseases certain sheep had experienced.  They would never call their sheep dumb but agreed that they certainly were willful at times…hmmm.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again… I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak… And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David [Jesus]. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.” (11-16,23)   And He did just that!  He sent His Son, Jesus, the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd of John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” (14-15)  He is the selfless Shepherd who sacrificed His life, the faithful Shepherd who will never leave us or forsake us, and He is the intimate Shepherd who knows us by name. 

Moving Forward: Standing firm today on the care and guidance of the Good Shepherd.  I know Him and He knows me! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 21-22

Jeremiah 47-52 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He patiently waits for His long-lost children to return home, not wanting any to be lost

There’s little that concerns me more than waiting for my husband and children when they’re late returning home.  I’ve never considered myself highly imaginative, but in moments like this, I surprise myself.  I imagine accidents and breakdowns, degenerates and aliens, all converging on my loved ones. Help!  Even when I know everything is fine, I just want them home, safe and sound. Regardless of the anticipation I feel on these occasions, I really can’t begin to imagine the longing that our Father has for His long-lost children to come home, but one thing I am certain of is that He’s waiting for them.

Jeremiah opened his book with this declaration from God, “I will certainly carry out all my plans,” (1:12), and by the last chapter of Jeremiah, He did just that.  Jeremiah 46 was the beginning of pronouncements from God against the countries surrounding Israel.  Powerful Egypt met its doom and was ultimately consumed by the Babylonians.  The following chapters continue with many other indictments on nations, including Israel itself.  The futures of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon were not rosy.

It’s interesting that the Moabites and Ammonites, who had long been contentious with Israel, were actually descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and the Edomites descended from Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. All were considered enemies of Israel and had done their best to wipe them out, but their day was coming. God judged them for their pride and their vicious treatment of His wayward sheep, Israel.

At first glance, these chapters in Jeremiah are negative and certainly not uplifting, but with a second look, we can find a tiny bud of hope amongst all the destruction.  Although Israel’s sins were many as they copied the idolatry of the surrounding nations, God had made a covenant with Abraham and His eye was on a remnant, a remnant that would turn to Him in their hour of need.  He was waiting for them. 

@ Jeremiah 50
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains.  They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” (6)  But He would help them.  In coming days Israel would return to their land, weeping and searching for God, “They will bind themselves to the Lord with an eternal covenant that will never be forgotten.” (5)  “In those days…no sin will be found in Israel or in Judah for I will forgive the remnant I preserve.” (20)

Israel did return home, they restored their culture and temple and their sins were forgiven.  However, many centuries later they rejected the Messiah because they were so full of their religious ways that they did not recognize Him.  Through His Word, we have the promise that one day the Messiah will reign in Israel, and it will be fully restored and forgiven.  He is waiting for them.

Jeremiah 50 is a source of hope for me.  When things looked so devastating for Israel, God had not given up on them. He found the remnant, the lost sheep of Israel, and brought them home. There are those we love who are lost, and they can’t seem to remember how to get back to the sheepfold.  But the Great Shepherd has not given up on them, and He will find them! (Luke 15:4)  While we anxiously wait for the day that the Messiah  returns to reign, it is for our loved ones He is waiting.  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)  He is waiting for them. 

Moving Forward: I pray today, once again, for those I love who can’t seem to find their way to God.  I’m so thankful that He is longsuffering and patient and that He loves them even more than I do.

Tomorrow @ Luke 7-8

Psalms 63-65 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills us with songs in the night

The prescription for a good night’s sleep according to experts is: No coffee after 3:00 p.m., no eating after 6:00 p.m. and no exercise after 8:00 p.m.  If these were truly the prerequisites to sleeping at night then Europeans, South Americans and sport figures would never get any rest.  However, I must agree that when I am troubled about something or going through a challenging situation, these stimulants certainly aren’t helpful.

Some moments in life require more than a healthy dose of chamomile tea to bring rest to the body and peace to the soul.  It was David who gave the prescription for a peaceful night, with or without sleep. 

@ Psalm 63
Most believe David wrote this Psalm during a most difficult time in his life and while hiding from those involved in Absalom’s rebellion who were seeking to kill him.  Away from home, lonely and vulnerable, David could think of only one comfort and that was his God. We just may find ourselves in this position at some point in life, when God is the only comfort and solution to our illness, abandonment, threat or pain, when there is no help, but God.

David did not have an immediate answer to his dilemma so he focused on what he did have.  He had his God, “I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.” (2)  He had his song, “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands…with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (4-5). And he had his joy, “Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.” (7)  Our situation may not be anything to sing a joyful song about, but we have our God, and He alone is something to sing about!

“I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.  Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.  I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.”(6-8) Oh, those nights of tossing and turning can be endless and lonely.  Our sleepless nights may be caused by too much coffee or a very poor mattress as those cute little sheep in the commercials suggest, but so often these restless nights are caused by difficult moments like David was experiencing.

Counting sheep may be helpful, but I’d rather count on the Shepherd.  “I lie awake thinking of You, meditating on You through the night,” the One who has helped me in times past, the One who knows the future, the One who loves me, the One who fills me with songs in the night. 

Moving Forward:  Regardless of what I may face today, God is my helper and nothing compares to Him!  And because of Him, I have a song and I have joy!  “I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.”

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 1

Psalm 21-23 (NLT) 

Discover His Heart: He longs to guide us, heal us, protect us, comfort us and cover us with the oil of His blessings

@ Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.  He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.  You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.  Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

It was while reading the Bible on a day in February 1998, just like I’m doing today, that the familiar 23rd Psalm became more real to me than I had ever known before.  The presence of the Lord filled my little family room in a very special way and from that day forward I started to record His revelation to me of the Shepherd’s faithfulness to His sheep.  From that experience I wrote the devotional book Intimate Moments with the Shepherd – Guidance through the Challenges of Life, an illustrated portrayal of the Shepherd’s intimate relationship with us.

While researching and taking photos for this project, I visited dozens of sheep farms and learned some valuable lessons.  Out in the sheep pastures I could have called the sheep over to me all day long, but they only came when they heard their shepherd calling. At his or her call, they came running.  I learned that even with a flock of 200 or more, the shepherd knew each sheep, their lineage, their illnesses and even the grains and grasses that some preferred.  These experiences and many others like them were valuable lessons that revealed to me first-hand the intimacy we have with our Shepherd as David understood it.

Something that always blesses me when I read Psalm 23 is the subtle, yet significant change that takes place between verses 3 and 4, “He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.  Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (3-4)  Up to verse 4, David had been talking about his Shepherd, His guidance, His rest, His strength.  But when David reached the dark valley, he began talking to his Shepherd.

The Lord leads us along life’s path giving direction and guidance. When we face the dark valley that may be death or may just seem like it, a shadow of it, He is right there beside us often carrying us through our challenge.  We can talk to Him, confident that we are not alone.

In a personal way, David continued, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”  Then, right there in front of our howling enemies, He anoints us with abundant favor, as if to say to our enemy, “Be gone!  This one is Mine, eternally!”  What an honor to sit at His table and to be marked with His fragrant oil for everyone to see and smell. “I’m my Beloved’s, and He is mine.” What a Shepherd! 

Moving Forward: As I move forward to live out the challenges I may face today, I will walk with the confident knowledge that my Shepherd, my Lord, is with me.  When the enemy comes with his taunts, I will boldly declare that I am anointed with the Lord’s favor, “Be gone! I belong to Him.” 

Tomorrow @ Job 15-16

Psalms 18-20 (NLT) 

Discover His Heart: He blesses our right living and provides the keys to His blessing

Each year I spend 52 days with David in Psalms.  After 28 years of doing this, I feel like I know him fairly well. The Biblical record of David, the mighty warrior, is impressive; but make no mistake, David was a shepherd at heart.  We think of shepherds as mild mannered and gentle; but when the flock is in jeopardy, the warrior rises up — David > slingshot > giant.  I’ve met many shepherds, and never met one who wouldn’t go the distance to protect the flock.  Our Shepherd will do the same.

@ Psalm 18
David, the warrior
, knew where his help and strength came from to engage the enemy.  He opened Psalm 18 with, “I love you, Lord; you are my strength …rock …fortress …savior …shield …power …place of safety.”  Twice in Psalm 18 David declared the reason God’s help came, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right…to the faithful you show your faithful, to those with integrity you show integrity.  To the pure you show yourself pure…the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.” (24-28)  What an incentive for right living! 

@ Psalm 19
David, the shepherd
, was qualified to write Psalm 19:1-6. Shepherding gave him the opportunity to enjoy and contemplate God’s creation.  “The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship.” (1)  When I walk through gardens, view majestic mountains and travel His countryside, I always say that He could have made everything gray; but, no, that would not reflect who He is. We enjoy beauty and colorful landscapes because we are made in His image, and, obviously, He enjoys color! 

David, the shepherd, had the opportunity to meditate on God’s laws and their purposes.  Back in the ’70 we often sang the Psalms in our praise and worship, and Psalm19:7-11 was one of my favorites.  Instead of viewing His commandments as rules to inhibit my freedom, I look to them as the essential keys to a blessed life.  When obeyed, His commandments come with a promise for the future.

God’s laws tell me how to respond to life’s challenges, and they give His wisdom and His warnings.  “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.  The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.  The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.” (7-8)

Most of us long to revive our body and souls in this fast-paced world and many spend great sums of money on spas and retreats for a quick fix, but living out the commandments of the Lord that He designed for our well being is the permanent solution. We attend conferences, seminars, online classes and read volumes of books seeking to improve our lives and make us better, yet the Lord has provided clear, insights for living in His Word, providing all the wisdom we need to live a blessed life.  After all, He would know.

Moving Forward:  “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (19:14)  Today I will meditate on Him and pursue right living with tenacity, opening the doors of blessing in my life. And He will light up my darkness. 

Tomorrow @ Job 13-14.