9/30/16 “Clinging to Faith Even When Not Understanding God” (Daily Bible Reading: Habakkuk 1-3)

“When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, he will invade them with his troops. Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls-- Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:16-18).

How do you feel when you have been praying about something and it appears God’s answer makes no sense to you? How do you handle it when you struggle to understand God’s ways? Does it weaken you faith or to do you continue to cling to your faith in the midst of such struggles?

The prophet Habakkuk ministered during the last days of the nation of Judah. Initially, he struggles with understanding why God does not administer justice more quickly because of all the sinful people inhabiting the land: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

However, when God tells Habakkuk that He is going to carry out His justice by using the nation of Babylon (i.e. also known as Chaldea) to conquer Judah (Habakkuk 1:5-11), Habakkuk struggles to understand how God can use a more wicked nation (i.e. Babylon) to be the instrument to carry out God’s justice on a less wicked nation (i.e. Israel). Habakkuk says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do you look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13).

In His answer to Habakkuk, God reminds him that even though the leader of the Chaldeans is proud and that God will use him to be His instrument to punish the wicked of Israel, the faithful among God’s people shall still continue to live by faith in God. God states, “"Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). God still expects His people to cling to their faith even when they don’t always understand God’s ways.

God would deal with the wicked nation of Babylon later because of their own wickedness (cf. Habakkuk 2:5-19). God is awesome and perfect and He should be held in reverence by all men: “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). As the opening verses above indicate, to Habakkuk’s credit he will still cling to his faith in God even though he doesn’t understand all of God’s ways (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Habakkuk’s name means “One who embraces or clings”. He lived up to his name as he clung to God in faith!

The book of Habakkuk is a powerful reminder to me that I must cling to my faith in God especially in times when His ways make no sense to me. I am constantly amazed at the ways in which God not only works His Will in the accounts I read about in the Bible, but also in the events in my own life. Today, I will strive to cling to my faith even during times when I don’t understand all of God’s ways.

“ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

9/29/16 “Despising the Riches of God’s Goodness” (Daily Bible Reading: Nahum 1-3)

“Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, and darkness will pursue His enemies (Nahum 1:6-8).

How would you feel if you had forgiven someone who asked you to forgive them of the hurt they caused you, but then a short time later they did the exact same thing, but this time they refused to repent of the pain they caused you? How does God feel when people do this to Him as He shows them great mercy on one occasion when they humble themselves before Him, but then later they do the exact same thing, yet refuse to repent this time? The book of Nahum gives us a glimpse of how God feels in such a situation.

The prophet Nahum served God about 100 years after the prophet Jonah. Jonah had gone to ancient Assyrian capital of Ninevah and proclaimed, “"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). All of the people from the king to the commoner displayed repentance and humbled themselves before God (Jonah 3:5-9). What was God’s reaction to their humble repentance before Him? “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). Because He is gracious and merciful, God forgave them when they humbled themselves before Him!

However, about 100 years later when the prophet Nahum ministers before God, the attitude of the people of Ninevah had changed. Nahum describes the condition of the city of Ninevah: “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs” (Nahum 3:1). Once again Ninevah had become filled with violence, lies, and idolatry (cf. Nahum 3:4). Ninevah had forgotten her revival during the days of Jonah and the mercy God had shown to her. Now she had stiffened her neck in rebellion against God.

As a result, as the opening verses above indicate, because of her determination to resist God’s goodness, she was no longer going to be the object of God’s mercy, but the object of God’s wrath (Nahum 1:6-8). Furthermore, Nahum adds, “God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; the Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked…” (Nahum 1:2-3).

As the opening verses above mention, God is good and He is a stronghold for those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7). He is also slow to anger (Nahum 1:3). However as the prophet Nahum describes, God will not allow Himself to be treated like a doormat even by those He loves and wants to help. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It is essential that Christians realize both the goodness and the severity of God (Romans 11:22). Today, I will not despise God’s goodness by rejecting and rebelling against Him. I will strive to rejoice in His goodness and forgiveness that He has shown me by honoring Him by my service!

“And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4)

9/28/16 “What Does the Lord Require of Me?” (Daily Bible Reading: Micah 5-7)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)?

Have you ever looked around the world around you and felt overwhelmed with all the problems you see? When observing so much of the evil in the world, have you ever thought, “What does God want me to do? What does God require of me?”

The prophet Micah certainly lived in times when much evil was going on the world around him. The people of his day seemed to spend all their time devising iniquity and planning evil (cf. Micah 2:1-2). The rulers were oppressing the people (cf. Micah 3:1-3). Micah adds regarding their hypocrisy, “Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the Lord, and say, ‘Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us’ " (Micah 3:11).

Furthermore, Micah mentions how difficult it was to find people one could trust: “The faithful man has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood; every man hunts his brother with a net” (Micah 7:2). He adds, “The best of them is like a brier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge…” (Micah 7:4). Things were so bad that one could not even trust his or her family members: “Do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom. For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own household” (Micah 7:5-6).

Living in such darkness, where could Micah turn for help and support? In the midst of such ungodliness, Micah knew that He could still turn to the Lord for support. God would not abandon Micah. Micah states, “Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (Micah 7:7).

How did God want Micah to serve Him in the midst of such an evil society? Micah wonders if God expects Him do make some great sacrifices: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7). God didn’t expect anything like this. Instead, as the opening verses above indicate, what God required was simply “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with God.

Israel was about to face severe judgment for her sins (cf. Micah 3:9-12). In a great statement of faith, Israel is pictured as showing forth the kind of humility God had desired to see in her all along. She says, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness” (Micah 7:8-9).

What does God require of me? God doesn’t heap unreasonable expectations upon me. Today, I will strive to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God!

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

9/27/16 “Looking Forward to a Better Kingdom” (Daily Bible Reading: Micah 1-4)

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:1-2).

Do you ever get frustrated when you hear of corruption among political leaders today? This does not mean all politicians are corrupt, but most of us have heard of some politicians taking bribes or getting some kind of “bonus” from a lobbyist to gain their support for a particular piece of legislation.

Unfortunately, corruption among government leaders is nothing new. The prophet Micah ministered during a time when there was widespread corruption throughout the government circles and the evil that permeated the society in which he lived: “Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2). He also adds regarding the corruption of the rulers: “And I said: ‘Hear now, O heads of Jacob, and you rulers of the house of Israel: is it not for you to know justice? You who hate good and love evil; who strip the skin from My people, and the flesh from their bones; who also eat the flesh of My people, flay their skin from them, break their bones, and chop them in pieces like meat for the pot, like flesh in the caldron’ " (Micah 3:1-3).

God’s role for Micah was to proclaim God’s message to the people. Micah states, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). Micah pronounces God’s judgment upon the rulers and people of Israel: “Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity: her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the Lord, and say, ‘Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us.’ Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest” (Micah 3:9-12).

However, a better kingdom was coming. As the opening verses above indicate, God was going to establish His new House or Kingdom that would be comprised of all nations. It would also begin in Jerusalem or Zion and would be based on God’s Word (cf. Micah 4:2). This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (cf. Acts 2:1-47). The Head or Ruler of this Kingdom would be God’s Son Himself: “"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

As a Christian, I am blessed to be a part of the church which is this better kingdom of which Micah spoke (cf. Colossians 1:13; Philippians 3:20-21). Today, I will try not to let myself get weighed down by the politics of the day, but will remember that I belong to a far better kingdom!

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

9/26/16 “When Hatred Fills Our Hearts” (Daily Bible Reading: Jonah 3-4)

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’ (Jonah 4:1-3).

Have you ever hated someone? Most of us would say at some point in our lives, we have harbored some hate for someone. Is it okay to hate some people, especially if they act very evil or hurt others? Are there any negative effects to holding on to a little hatred?

The book of Jonah shows us the effects harboring hatred has upon our lives. God had tasked the prophet Jonah to go and preach to the city of Ninevah (Jonah 1:1-2). Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian empire which was a mighty military threat to God’s people Israel. Instead of going to preach to the Assyrians as God had commanded him, Jonah flees the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3). In attempting to recover His runaway prophet, God sends a storm (Jonah 1:4) and causes Jonah to be swallowed by a fish (Jonah 1:17). After 3 nights in the fish’s belly, Jonah returns to God and seeks God in prayer (Jonah 2:1-9). God then has the great fish vomit Jonah onto the dry land (Jonah 2:10).

However, what was the reason Jonah fled from God in the first place and did not initially go to preach to the Assyrians? We learn this from the events following Jonah’s being upchucked from fish. Jonah is sent once again to preach to the city of Ninevah: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you’ "(Jonah 3:1-2). This time Jonah goes and does exactly what God tells him to do (Jonah 3:3-4). The response on behalf of the people is amazing. They repent! From the king to the commoner, the people humble themselves before God (Jonah 3:5-9). God sees this and responds favorably to their display of repentance: “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Most preachers would be happy to see such a response by the people to whom they had proclaimed God’s message, but, as the opening verses above indicate, Jonah was not pleased by the people’s response and God’s response. In fact, Jonah was so disgusted he wanted to die (Jonah 4:3). From his prayer to God, we learn of why Jonah had initially fled from God: “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm’ ” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah had initially fled from carrying out God’s command to preach to the city of Ninevah because he was so filled with hate, he was fearful God would actually forgive these enemies of his.

Jonah’s hatred of the Assyrians had consumed him and led to his becoming disobedient to God’s Will for his life and even led to Jonah’s resenting God’s great love for all men. When I let hatred for anyone to fill my heart, it can consume me as well and lead to my becoming bitter not only towards my enemies, but even towards God. As a Christian I have been called to show love towards God and all men. Today, I will strive to not let hatred for anyone to harbor in my heart!

“But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).

9/25/16 “The Runaway Returns Home” (Daily Bible Reading: Obadiah-Jonah 2)

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly. And he said: ‘I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple” ’ ” (Jonah 2:1-4).

Have you ever attempted to run away from home? As a child, when I was in the 5th grade, I had my first male teacher at elementary school. For whatever reason, in my mind he scared me so much I thought I could not take being in his class. On multiple occasions that school year I tried to run away from home. Thankfully, I was not successful. It turned out that the teacher was a very nice man.

The prophet Jonah ran away from God and the task which God had given to him: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3). God wanted Jonah to go preach to the people of Ninevah, but Jonah took a ship going in the opposite direction to run away from God.

However, did God just let Jonah run away so easily? God cared for both the people of Ninevah and for His prophet Jonah. God carried out a very unusual plan to search and rescue His wayward prophet. The Lord sent out a great wind that created a mighty tempest on the sea on which Jonah was traveling (Jonah 1:4). Jonah reveals to the mariners on the boat in which he is traveling that the storm has happened because he had run away from God. Jonah tells them to cast him into the sea and the storm will end (Jonah 1:5-12). The men do so believing that Jonah will perish and asking God to not hold them accountable for Jonah’s blood (Jonah 1:13-16).

At this point, it appears all is over for Jonah and that he will simply be drown in the depths of the sea. But, God has another part to his unusual plan to rescue His runaway prophet: “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights”. As he dwells in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights, Jonah finally comes to his senses and prays to God as the opening verses above indicate (Jonah 2:1-4). He had run away from God, but now he runs to God as Jonah calls upon God in prayer realizing the error of his running away from God and realizing salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:5-9). God then finishes His plan of rescuing His runaway prophet: “So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). God had completed His search and rescue effort of His wayward prophet.

How many of us have tried to run away from God and His love, direction, and even correction in our lives? Reading about the prophet Jonah encourages me that even though I may act foolish and try to run away from God, God does not give up on me. God will go through various efforts to rescue me. Although He may not send a “tempest” and a “great fish” to bring me to my senses, He may send people to remind me of His love for me or even to correct me to help bring me to my senses. Today, I rejoice that God does not cease His search and rescue efforts for me should I go astray from Him!

“For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

9/24/16 “Raising Up the Ruins” (Daily Bible Reading: Amos 5-9)

“ ‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ says the Lord. ‘For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, who say, “The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.” ‘On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old’ ” (Amos 9:8-11).

Have you ever seen a building or stadium being demolished? Can you imagine trying to put the ruins of it back together after it had been destroyed? As the opening verses above indicate, through the prophet Amos, God speaks about raising up the ruins of the nation of Israel following their being taken captive by another nation because of God’s coming judgment upon her because of her sins.

The prophet Amos is sent from the southern kingdom of Judah to prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 1:1). Amos’ name is derived from a Hebrew word which means, “To lift a burden, to carry”. Thus, his name means “Burden” or Burden-Bearer”. Amos lived up to the meaning of his name by bearing up under his divinely given burden of declaring God’s judgment to the rebellious nation of Israel.

Because of her sins, the nation of Israel was ripe for God’s judgment. Amos writes, “Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit. And He said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ So I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me: ‘The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day,’ says the Lord God—‘Many dead bodies everywhere, they shall be thrown out in silence’ " (Amos 8:1-3). It must have been a heavy burden for Amos to bear in having to tell the people of the nation he loved that God’s dreadful judgment was about to come upon them.

Although Israel had brought this terrible judgment upon themselves because of their rebellion against God, was there any future hope for them? Yes, there was. As the opening verses above indicate, God would repair the damages of the temple, raise its ruins, and rebuild it (Amos 9:11). Furthermore, God states: “ ‘I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:13-15).

We often times make a mess of our lives because of the choices we make and the actions we take. During such times, we look around and all the dreams and desires we had, now appear to be just a pile of ruins. God is still able to take the ruins that we have made of our lives and put them back together and raise them up into something wonderful for His glory. Today, I rejoice that when I have made a mess of my life because of my mistakes, if I will humble myself before God and seek His Will, He will raise up my ruins!

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin’ ” (Psalm 32:3-5).

9/23/16 “…Yet, You Have Not Returned to Me” (Daily Bible Reading: Amos 1-4)

“ ‘I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the Lord.  ‘Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!’ " (Amos 4:11-12).

Are you the kind of person that is difficult to wake up? There are some people that you almost need a cattle prod to get them up out of bed because they are in such a deep sleep.

The prophet Amos ministered to God’s people during a period of prosperity for Israel. Business was booming and national boundaries were bulging. However from a spiritual perspective things did not look so bright. In fact, they looked rather dark. Greed and injustice were festering. Hypocritical religious motions had replaced true worship, creating a false sense of security in the people’s relationship with God. God describes how the people’s sins had burdened Him: "Behold, I am weighed down by you, as a cart full of sheaves is weighed down” (Amos 2:11). Through Amos, God was attempting to call His people back to Him.

Amos, a farmer whom God had called to be a prophet (cf. Amos 1:1; 7:14-15), lashes out at the sin of God’s people without wavering in his attempts to get the people to see God’s coming judgment  upon them and their need to return to Him in repentance. Amos describes God as a roaring lion about to pounce on Israel in His righteous judgment: “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers (Amos 1:2)." Furthermore, Amos uses very strong language to describe how God’s people were acting and of God’s coming punishment upon them: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring wine, let us drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: ‘Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks’ ” (Amos 4:1-2).

In fact, as the opening verses describe, God had already performed many acts of chastening upon His people in an effort to get them to wake up. In His attempts to get His people to come back home to Him, God had caused them to suffer lack of food (Amos 4:6), lack of water (Amos 4:7-8), to face locust which devoured their crops (Amos 4:9), and even to suffer from plague and military defeat (Amos 4:10-11). How did the people respond to these endeavors by God to get them to wake up from their spiritual sleep? God says, “…Yet you have not returned to Me” (cf. Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11). In a sense God had used a cattle prod on them, but they were in such a deep spiritual sleep, they would not be woken up.

What does it take for me to wake up spiritually and recognize my own spiritual condition? Must God chasten me and allow me to suffer hardship and deprivation before I will return to Him (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11)? Israel had fallen asleep spiritually. Remember, on the night of His betrayal Jesus’ disciples had fallen asleep when He needed them most and they needed to be most aware as they were about to face a great trial themselves (cf. Luke 22:39-46). This reminds me that I am not above falling asleep spiritually. Today, I will strive to stay alert spiritually, but should I doze off spiritually for a moment, I will respond positively to God’s efforts and chastening to get me to return to Him!

“Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).

9/22/16 “So Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments” (Daily Bible Reading: Joel 1-3)

“ ‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning’. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).

Have you ever asked yourself, “What does God want from me?”? The prophet Joel prophesied during the reign of Joash, king of Judah. According to the first chapter of the book of Joel a great locust plague strikes the land stripping every green things from the land (cf. Joel 1:6-7). As a result the people mourn because there is now a lack of food (cf. Joel 1:8-20). It appears Joel seizes on this occasion of this locust plague has just struck the land to speak to the people God’s message regarding what He wanted from them.

However, as terrible as the locust plague had been, Joel warns that God’s future judgments during the day of the Lord will make that locust plague pale by comparison. The army which will invade Judah during this period of Divine Judgment will swarm the land in a similar manner as did the locusts (cf. Joel 2:1-11). How did God want His people to respond to this threat? What did God want from them?

As the opening verses above indicate, God wanted to see repentance on the part of His people. He did not want simply an outward show of a change in their actions as is indicated by His desire to have them not just tear their outward garments. God wanted a change in their hearts. God wanted them to rend their hearts (cf. Joel 2:12-13). Joel adds that, perhaps, God’s blessing would follow if the people would rend their hearts in repentance:  “Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him-- A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God” (Joel 2:14)?

A national call for repentance is issued: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?” ' " (Joel 2:15-17).

The prophet Joel assures God’s people that if the will “rend their hearts” by showing repentance, God will bring unparalleled blessings to those who faithfully obey Him: “Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations’ ” (Joel 2:18-19).

What does God want from me? God wants me to keep my heart soft towards Him so He can mold me after His Will. When my heart begins to harden because of sin, I need to rend my heart and turn to God in repentance. Today, I understand that God does not just want the appearance of change in me, such as changing my garments; He wants me to change inwardly by rending my heart!

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-- these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:15-17).

9/21/16 “Take Away All Our Iniquity; Receive Us Graciously…” (Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 13-14)

“O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” For in You the fatherless finds mercy’ " (Hosea 14:1-3).

Have you ever messed up so bad you just didn’t think there was any hope of getting out of the terrible situation in which you had placed yourself? God’s people of Hosea’s day had done this as they had forsaken God for idol worship (Hosea 4:17). They were mistreating each other as they engaged in lying, stealing, and committing violence against one another (Hosea 4:2).

They had sown to the wind and would reap the whirlwind for what they had done (Hosea 8:7). God would punish them by allowing the Assyrians to carry them into captivity because they refused to repent (Hosea 11:5). In His judgment God realized there was no other way to deal with His people than to let them suffer the consequences of their own sins; yet, God struggled to enact such harsh but necessary discipline upon His children whom He loved (Hosea 11:3-4, 8-9).

Praise God that Hosea’s ministry does not end on this sad note. Instead, as the opening verses indicate, Hosea’s work ends with God’s people crying out for God to “take away all iniquity” and to “receive us graciously”. It ends with God’s people being humbled to the point of them repenting of what they had done. God responds to them in love: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4). Furthermore, God adds that His blessings will once again shower upon His people: “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5-7). God had taken away their iniquity and would graciously receive them back.

As Hosea finishes his book he writes, “Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9). God’s ways are always right. Unfortunately, for many of us, it takes years of self-inflicted hurt and stubbornly beating our heads against the wall as we resist Him in order for us to learn this. Yet, God never gives up on us. He continues to reach out to us in love. He is longsuffering hoping that we, too, will come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The book of Hosea is very comforting to me as I realize God’s incredible love for me. I realize I struggle with sin and fall short of God’s Will for me (Romans 3:23). It is difficult for me to know that I have hurt God with my sin. I acknowledge my weaknesses and seek to return to God by showing repentance during such times. However, I praise God that when I fall in sin, I can lift my hand up to Him and He will grab hold of it, lift me up, take away all my iniquity and receive me graciously!

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9).

9/20/16 “God’s Struggle to Discipline Those He Loves” (Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 11-12)

“My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him. ‘How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred’ ” (Hosea 11:7-8).

As a parent do you struggle with having to discipline your child? Perhaps, many of us can relate to and remember one of our parents saying to us as they were correcting us, “This is going to hurt me, more than it hurts you”. How does God feel in having to discipline His children for their wayward behavior? Does God experience any kind of pain in having to discipline His children?

The 11th chapter of Hosea describes God’s struggle in having to discipline those He loves. It also shows us the incredible tender love God has for His children. God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11:1). The Lord adds, “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4). These verses describe God’s tender love for His precious children.

However, God’s people of Hosea’s day had rebelled against and rejected God’s love for them: “As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images” (Hosea 11:2). As a result God was going to discipline His children by allowing the Assyrians to take captive the northern kingdom of Israel: “He shall not return to the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent. And the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them, because of their own counsels” (Hosea 11:5-6).

However, how did God feel in having to administer this tough measure of discipline for His beloved children? Notice God’s struggle: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror” (Hosea 11:8-9). It pained God’s heart to have to correct His children and God struggled within Himself to have to carry the punishment out upon His children.

God carried out the discipline because He knew it was the only way He could help His children come back to their senses. He knew that a better end awaited them once they learned from being corrected: “ ‘They shall walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt, like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses,’ says the Lord” (Hosea 11:10-11).

As a father I can relate to the pain God felt in having to exact tough corrective measures upon my own children. God does not coldly administer discipline to those He loves, but carries out the chastening that is necessary for those He loves even though it breaks His heart to do so. I rejoice that God loves me enough to correct me when I go astray. Today, I will strive to walk within God’s Will so that I will not break God’s heart by His having to discipline me.

“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

9/19/16 “Their Deeds Are Before My Face” (Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 7-10)

“When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria. For they have committed fraud; a thief comes in; a band of robbers takes spoil outside. They do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness; now their own deeds have surrounded them; they are before My face” (Hosea 7:1-2).

Ever since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, men and women have attempted to the hide or cover up their sins from God (cf. Genesis 3:8). However, can we hide our sins from God?

The prophet Hosea describes the futility of trying to do this. As the opening verses describe, as God looked as His people in love wanting to heal them, He could not because their blatant wickedness. They were so thoroughly corrupt that when God looked down on them wanting to help them, what He saw was their glaring iniquity which surrounded them. There was no way for Him to be able to overlook their transgressions because they stood out so clearly before His face (Hosea 7:1-2).

In His patience and longsuffering God had attempted to help His people see their sins and turn from them. He had given them His law and sent His prophets to instruct them on how to live, yet they rejected these: “I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing” (Hosea 8:12). He had brought chastening upon them in order to help them realize the error of their ways and their need to turn back to God, but they refused to acknowledge their iniquity: “They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds. They assemble together for grain and new wine, they rebel against Me; though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me” (Hosea 7:14-15). What was left for God to do for these people He so loved and desired to heal (cf. Hosea 7:1)?

God would let them experience consequences of their sins. He would remove His blessings from them and allow them to taken captive by the other nations and suffer destruction: “Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against Me! Though I redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me” (Hosea 7:13). Moreover He adds, “For the sacrifices of My offerings they sacrifice flesh and eat it, but the Lord does not accept them. Now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. they shall return to Egypt” (Hosea 8:13). Even the prophet Hosea himself sees no other course for the people to whom he is ministering: “My God will cast them away, because they did not obey Him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17). Facing the consequences of their own sins, Israel was bound to face destruction.

There are people all around us who are bound for destruction. Jesus warned, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). God has revealed “great things” in His Word telling us of how He loves us and has sent His Son to save men from their sins (John 3:16; Lk 19:10). However, many consider God’s message to them “a strange thing” (cf. Hosea 8:12) and reject God’s efforts to save them.

I realize I cannot hide my sins from God (cf. Romans 3:23; 6:23). But I also realize and rejoice that as a Christian my sins have been forgiven and God remembers them no more (cf. Hebrews 8:12)!

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).

9/18/16 “They Break Off All Restraint” (Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 4-6)

Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: ‘There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed’ ” (Hosea 4:1-2).

How important is the daily study of God’s Word to my life? What benefit is there of having a thorough understanding of God’s laws? How does a lack of knowledge of God’s Word affect me?

These are questions that we can get answered as we look at the ministry of the prophet Hosea to God’s people. Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel during a time of economic prosperity for God’s people, but a time of spiritual decay and corruption. In fact, things in the northern kingdom of Israel were so bad that God warns the southern kingdom of Judah not to have anything to do with their northern brethren: “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, let not Judah offend…” (Hosea 4:15). Furthermore, God adds, “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). How had the people of God turned into such a degenerate people in rebellion against God?

During His ministry Jesus had warned, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Unfortunately, God’s people of Hosea’s day are an example of how people are enslaved in sin. Through Hosea, God said, “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God” (Hosea 4:11-12). How had a people who had gained liberty from the Egyptians becoming enslaved again, this time to sin?

As the opening verses above indicate, of His people God said, “They break off all restraint” (Hosea 4:2). What does this mean? The law of God points out what is sin. The apostle Paul wrote, “…I would not have known sin except through the law…” (Romans 7:7). Sin is a violation of the boundaries which God has set up for our lives. John wrote, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). God’s people were not walking within the boundaries God had set up for them to live within as contained in His Word. Instead, everyone felt there were no boundaries in which they had to live. They were not only hurting God by violating His boundaries for them, but also they were not respecting boundaries in each other’s lives as they stole from one another, committed adultery with one another, and even killed one another (Hosea 4:2).

They had forgotten God’s law. There was no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1). They had become ignorant of the boundaries God had set up for them to live within, as contained in His Word. As God condemned the priest for failing to instruct God’s people, He said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).

It is essential for me to understand the boundaries in which God has set up for me to live within as contained in His Word. Striving to live within these boundaries does not mean I am trying to earn my way to Heaven, but simply that I know that God knows what is best for me and in love gives me His guidance so that I will not hurt myself or others. Today, I rejoice that God has given me these boundaries and I will diligently study His Word and live according to God’s instructions found therein!

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ " (John 8:31-32).

9/17/16 “The Amazing Love of the Lord for His People” (Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 1-3)

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.’ So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man--so, too, will I be toward you’ ” (Hosea 3:1-3).

How much does God love me? To what degree is God still willing to demonstrate His love to me in spite of my many failings? Through the prophet Hosea, we learn of God’s great love for His people.

The prophet Hosea ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of the reign of Jereboam the son of Joash. From an economic standpoint the nation was enjoying a time of prosperity and growth (cf. 2 Kings 14:23-29); however, from a spiritual standpoint moral corruption and spiritual adultery permeated throughout God’s people.

To illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and to show God’s unfailing love for His people, God gives Hosea a unique instruction: “"Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s relationship with his wife Gomer (Hosea 1:3), who formerly had been a harlot and who would be unfaithful to him as evidenced by her bearing the children of other men (cf. Hosea 1:3; 1:6; 1:8-9; 2:4-5), would serve to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and God’s amazing continued love for His people.

As the opening verses above indicate, when God tells Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery…” it appears Hosea’s wife Gomer had left him and fallen into a hard life of prostitution as she had become the possession of another. Hosea had to buy her back (Hosea 3:2). When Israel forsook God and committed adultery by worshipping other gods, she had to bear the consequences of this. God’s blessings would not be upon Israel while she persisted in unfaithfulness and the nation would begin to suffer economic hardship (Hosea 2:9-13). God allowed her to suffer the consequences of her sins to bring her to her senses: “She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now’ ” (Hosea 2:7). God adds, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days” (Hosea 3:4-5).

During this time, did Israel’s unfaithfulness cause God’s love for her to cease? While having to let them endure suffering because of their own foolish ways, God’s love for Israel never failed. He loved them in spite of the fact they were not showing love for Him at the time. God would patiently continue to love His people waiting for them to come to their senses: “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20).

How comforting it is to me that God’s love for me never waivers in spite of my many failings. God’s love towards me motivates me to want to serve and honor Him. Today, I will strive not to break the Lord’s heart by being unfaithful to Him. I will rejoice in God’s amazing love for me as I serve Him!

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

9/16/16 “A Heart of Humility to Understand God’s Will” (Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 9-12)

“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans-- in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:1-3).

How often have you found yourself questioning God’s Will by saying, “God why are you allowing this to happen?”? Perhaps, instead of questioning God’s Will, we would be better served to seek to understand God’s Will for our lives. In order to understand God’s Will we must first approach God with a heart of humility. As the opening verses above, we see Daniel seeking to understand God’s Will for Israel as he approaches God with a heart of humility.

To begin with, as the opening verses above indicate, Daniel had understood by the Word of God as revealed in the book of Jeremiah that God’s people were to be held in captivity for 70 years (Daniel 9:2; Jeremiah 25:11-12). This shows us that in order to understand God’s Will for one’s life, one must take the time to actually study what God has revealed to us through His Word (2 Timothy 2:15). Because he had studied God’s Word, Daniel understood that the things which had happened to him and to his people were because God was simply fulfilling the judgments He had told them would happen if they rebelled against Him (Daniel 9:4-5, 7, 11). Daniel notes that up to this point in time, God’s people had not humbled themselves before God: “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth” (Daniel 9:13).

Daniel now humbly approaches God on behalf of His people. He acknowledges Israel’s sins (Daniel 9:5-7). However, Daniel does not just focus on Israel’s sins; He also focuses on God’s noble attributes: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him” (Daniel 9:9, cf. v.18-19). Since the 70 years of captivity have been accomplished, Daniel appeals to God to forgive His people: “And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day--we have sinned, we have done wickedly! O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord's sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate” (Daniel 9:15-17).

Daniel is described by as “greatly beloved” by God (Daniel 9:23; 10:11, 19). At least part of the reason for this was the humble heart which Daniel possessed to seek and understand God’s Will for his life (cf. Daniel 10:11). God had sent His angel Gabriel to Daniel as soon as Daniel began prayingon behalf of his people to help Daniel to understand the future of God’s people (Daniel 9:20-23).

God will help us to understand His Will for our lives when we have a humble heart like Daniel to seek God’s Will. Instead of resisting God by questioning His Will, today, I will humble myself before God and seek to understand His Will for my life by studying His Word with an open mind and going to Him in prayer with a heart that praises Him for His greatness and acknowledging my weakness!

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

9/15/16 “Into the Lion’s Den” (Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 5-8)

“So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.’ ” (Daniel 6:16).

How do you feel about politicians? Many politicians are not looked very favorable upon by many in our society. However, try to imagine a holder of high political office whom you could fully trust what he or she said. Imagine a governor who had unquestioned integrity. This is exactly who Daniel was.

Since entering into Babylonian captivity, Daniel had served before the king of Babylon (Daniel 1:5, 19-21). Following his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he had been promoted by the king of Babylon to ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). Following the downfall of the Babylonian Empire to the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians, Daniel is promoted to one of the 3 governor positions which are over the whole kingdom (Daniel 6:1-2). In fact, Daniel had so distinguished himself that the king gave thought about setting Daniel over the whole realm (Daniel 6:3).

However, the other governors and satraps became jealous of Daniel and tried to come up with a plan to bring a charge against Daniel. Daniel was such a man of integrity that they could not find any kind of sex scandal, inappropriate financial dealing, or other matter in his life that could bring him in disfavor with the king (Daniel 6:4). “Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’ ” (Daniel 6:5). They come up with a plan and get the king’s approval that no man may petition any god or man for 30 days or else they will be thrown into a den of lions (Daniel 6:6-9).

How did Daniel react to this? As a holder of government office did Daniel hold his finger up in the air and see that the winds of change were blowing against him? Did he decide that it was too risky for him to take a stand for God at this time? No, instead we read, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10).

Daniel knew he had to pay a stiff price for his decision to stand up for His faith in God. As the opening verses above indicate, he was cast into the den of lions. However, he had so glorified God by his actions over his lifetime that even the King expressed his belief that the God whom Daniel served would deliver him: “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you” (Daniel 6:16). God shut the mouths of the lions and the next morning Daniel is released from the den of lions while his accusers are cast into it (Daniel 6:19-24). Regarding Daniel’s accusers this could be said of them: “Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity; yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood. He made a pit and dug it out, and has fallen into the ditch which he made” (Psalm 7:14-15).

I certainly wish more politicians would seek to follow Daniel’s example. More importantly, Daniel is an inspiring example for all of us to follow. Am I willing to stand up for godly principles as did Daniel or do I keep my mouth shut under the threat of being persecuted or humiliated by others? Today, I will follow Daniel excellent example and stand up for God’s principles in a way that glorifies God!

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

9/14/16 “Glorifying God before Kings” (Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 2-4)

“Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him. Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream’ ” (Daniel 2:1-3).

Imagine having your boss, your teacher or even the President of the United States falling down prostrate before you and giving praise to God Almighty regarding some service you had performed on behalf of the Lord. That would be pretty awesome wouldn’t it? That’s what happened to Daniel.

As Daniel continues to serve before Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, during this dark period of the history of God’s people as they had been taken captive by the Babylonians Daniel 1:1-2, 20-21), the Babylonian king is troubled by a dream which he has had (Daniel 2:1). He desperately wanted someone to interpret his dream, but no one could. In his frustration, the king begins killing the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:12-13). When Daniel discovers the king’s decree regarding this, he asks for a little time to give himself a chance to petition God regarding the kings dream (Daniel 2:13-18).

Previously, God had given Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17). As God reveals Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, Daniel reacts by glorifying God in His heart and words: “Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven.  Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.’ ” (Daniel 2:19-22).

Following God’s revealing the dream and its interpretation to him, Daniel is brought before the king, where Daniel acknowledges no man can reveal the king’s dream and interpretation (Daniel 2:24-27). However, Daniel then adds, “But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days…’ ” (Daniel 2:26-28). As Daniel reveals the dream and its interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:29-45), Daniel does not take the glory for this feat for himself. Instead, he glorifies God before the king by reminding the king that “there is a God in heaven” who has revealed the dream and interpretation to Daniel (Daniel 2:28).

Notice the king’s reaction to these events: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. The king answered Daniel, and said, ‘Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret’ ” (Daniel 2:46-47). Daniel’s example and actions before the great king of Babylon resulted in Nebuchadnezzar falling before him glorifying God!

Today, as I go to work, school, or even help around the house, what will my actions and example lead others to want to do? Will others want to glorify God because I conduct myself with honor and give glory to God for any and all accomplishments I may experience; or, will those around me question whether there is a God because I fail to set the example I should? Today, I will follow the powerful example of Daniel and strive to cause others to glorify God as they see Christ living in me!

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

9/13/16 “The Purposes in My Heart” (Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 1)

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8)

The events in the book of Daniel take place during a dark period of history for God’s people Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had come and besieged Jerusalem and carried some of the people there, including Daniel, away to Babylon into captivity (Daniel 1:1-2). Most scholars believe Daniel was only a teenager at this time as he is described as a young man (Daniel 1:4, 17). Although this was a dark period for the nation of Israel, Daniel would prove himself to be a bright light which glorified God by the things he thought, said, and did!

Young people typically have a lot of purposes in their hearts. Teenagers typically think about having fun with their friends, or being “crazy”, or extremely interested in exploring relationships with the opposite sex. If a teenager is more serious in nature, he or she might even begin focusing on achieving good grades at school or exploring different career paths.

As a teenager, what were the purposes in Daniel’s heart? Was it girls or having fun with his friends? No, as the opening verse above indicates, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself…” (Daniel 1:8). When he had been taken captive, Daniel, along with his 3 friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 1:6, also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Daniel 1:7), had been selected to undergo training to serve the king (Daniel 1:5). Part of their training involved being nourished with the “king’s delicacies”. For reasons we are not told, Daniel believed partaking of the food of the “king’s delicacies” and wine would cause himself to be defiled (Daniel 1:5, 8).

After telling the chief of the eunuchs, who was in charge of him and his training, he would not defile himself by eating of the “king’s delicacies”, Daniel placed his faith in God’s ability to nourish him and his 3 friends as he told his overseer, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants” (Daniel 1:12-13). The chief of the eunuchs did so and the appearance of Daniel and his friends was much better than those who had been fed with the “king’s delicacies”. God blessed Daniel and his friends during their training (Daniel 1:17) so that at the end of their training period it was said, “And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (Daniel 1:20). Daniel was now in a position to glorify God as he served kings (Daniel 1:21).

How wonderful it would be if more young people strove to have hearts like Daniel and purpose in their hearts not to defile themselves with alcohol, drugs, filthy thoughts and language, or having sexual relations prior to marriage. However, whether I am a young person or an old person, I can learn from Daniel’s example and consider, “What are the purposes in my heart?”

Is my purpose today simply to go out and make a living, get good grades at school, or to enjoy entertaining myself? Today, I will learn from Daniel’s excellent example and character and purpose in my heart not to defile myself. I will strive to glorify God in all that I think, say, and do!

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

9/12/16 “THE LORD IS THERE” (Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 38-48)

“In the twenty-fifth year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was captured, on the very same day the hand of the Lord was upon me; and He took me there. In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city”(Ezekiel 40:1-2).

During the course of his ministry, Ezekiel had to hear the news of the destruction of the beloved capital city of God’s people, Jerusalem (Ezekiel 33:21). Jerusalem’s destruction was God’s judgment upon Israel because of her sins (Ezekiel 4:1-6:14). It was distressing news and caused many among God’s people to lose all hope for the future. They had said, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11).

However, towards the end of his ministry, God shows Ezekiel great glimpses of hope regarding the future of God’s people. He shows him a valley filled with dry bones which are brought back to life indicating how God is going to restore life to His people (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Furthermore, God shows Ezekiel how spiritually the divided nation of Israel will come together as one nation and will serve under one King, Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 37:15-25). God has accomplished this today in His Son’s Kingdom, the church (Matthew 16:18-19; John 18:36; Colossians 1:13). Finally, as the opening verses above indicate, 14 years following Jerusalem’s capture by the Babylonians, the Lord shows Ezekiel the New Jerusalem which He was going to build for His people (Ezekiel 40:1-2).

The majority of the last 8 chapters of the book of Ezekiel are devoted to graphic, detailed descriptions of the New Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40:1-48:35). It can be cumbersome to read all these details. Why did God go into such a detailed description of this New Jerusalem?

Throughout the first part of the book of Ezekiel, God had spent much time breaking down His people by pointing out their sins and abominations. Because they had been engrossed in sins, God needed to humble His people. Following the destruction of their beloved Jerusalem, I believe God knew His people now needed to be build up and encouraged. It would be very encouraging for them to hear how each gate of the city, the court, and the temple was going to be rebuilt. Although I believe the city described applies spiritually to the church and not to a literal physical city, it would fill God’s people with hope that all was not lost. A bright future awaited them!

It is interesting that before the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel sees a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple at Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:23). Now, in his vision of the temple at New Jerusalem, Ezekiel sees God’s glory returning (Ezekiel 43:1-5). God’s people are warned not to transgress according to their former abominations (Ezekiel 44:5-6). Then Ezekiel’s ministry ends as he closes his book with a beautiful, encouraging, and hopeful description regarding the name of the city: “and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezekiel 48:35).

It is encouraging for us to know that the Lord is with us today in the church (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Lord is there! God has not abandoned us to live life on our own and by our own strength. Today, I will cling in hope to the assurance that God is with me today as I face whatever challenges come my way, and I look forward to being with Him forever in Heaven in His presence!

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:3).

9/11/16 “The Valley of Dry Bones” (Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 35-37)

“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know’ ” (Ezekiel 37:1-3).

Have you ever felt there was no hope? The prophet Ezekiel had heard the news of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians (Ezekiel 33:21). Hearing this terrible news must have created feelings of hopelessness for his beloved nation. What hope was there for Israel’s future?

As the book of Ezekiel closes, God shows His people there was great hope for their future. God had to bring His terrible judgment upon Israel and the other nations so that He might be just and His name might be glorified. God states, “I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward” (Ezekiel 39:21-22). The Gentile nations would know that God had executed His judgment upon Israel because of her sins against Him: “The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them. I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I have dealt with them, and hidden My face from them” (Ezekiel 39:23-24).

Although bearing His judgment, God gave bright hope to His people: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name-- after they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid. When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,' says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 39:25-29).

As the opening verses above indicate, God illustrates His great hope for Israel’s future by showing Ezekiel the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-3). God told Ezekiel how these dry bones reflected Israel’s current feelings of hopeless: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ ” (Ezekiel 37:11). However, God gave His people great hope as He told them of His plans to bring them back from captivity: “Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it," says theLord’ ” (Ezekiel 37:12-14).

No matter how great my failures or how bleak I may feel about my hope, if I trust in God, He can still work amazing things in my life. He gives hope to the hopeless. He brings dry bones back to life!

“For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth” (Psalm 71:5).