Stepped on the Scales Lately?

Today’s Reading: Daniel 5-6; Psalm 62

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales, together they are lighter than a breath of air.
– Psalm 62:5-9

Have you stepped on the scales lately? This winter’s lack of activity was not good for me. I pulled out my spring clothing and found things fitting much tighter than they did last summer. I have started exercising again and am daily stepping on the scales, hoping to see progress. Like it or not, the number on the scales is the reality I am facing and the need to make improvements in my daily habits is evident. I have been weighed on a balance and the truth is speaking louder than my denial.

The days of you being in control are numbered (Mene), you have been weighed (Tekel) on the balances and have not measured up, and your kingdom has been divided (Parsin) and given to someone else. This is the writing on the wall – God’s message to the next King of Babylon, Belshazzar.

King Belshazzar knew his history. He knew that King Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and mind had been puffed up with arrogance and that he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society and made to live like an animal until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone HE desires to rule over them. Knowing all of this, King Belshazzar still did not humble himself but proudly defied God by drinking from the cups brought to Babylon from the Temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 5:20-23).

“You have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! So God has sent this hand to write this message. This is the message that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.” – Daniel 5:23b-25

He knew better. He knew what could happen if he put himself and what he wanted above the Most High God. He knew and yet he chose to build his own kingdom instead of honoring God. How often are we be found guilty of the same thing? If we were weighed on a balance would we measure up? When we choose our own way and do our own thing and hope that God will bless our plans, we are fooling ourselves. The days of us being in control of our own life are numbered and the blessings God has poured out on our life can easily be taken away and given to someone else.

Let’s see how Daniel measures up when he is weighed on the balances:
But when the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall. She said to Belshazzar, “Long live the king! Don’t be so pale and frightened. There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, this man was found to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. Your predecessor, the king – your predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar – made him chief over all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers of Babylon. This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” – Daniel 5:10-12

The queen mother was not a believer and yet she knew the difference in Daniel. She knew that Daniel had a holy spirit within him that set him apart from others. Each day we are surrounded by unbelievers and we have the opportunity to let them see something different in us that cannot be found in the hearts of the world – they can see Jesus!

That night King Belshazzar was killed and a new king took his place, King Darius. Just as the writing on the wall foretold, Belshazzar’s days were numbered and his kingdom was divided.

Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. – Daniel 6:1-4

Daniel: insight, understanding, wisdom, exceptional ability, filled with divine knowledge and understanding, ability to interpret and solve difficult problems, capable, faithful, always responsible and completely trustworthy. Wow, what a description! When weighed by others, Daniel was found to be all of these things. When weighed by God, Daniel was found humble and faithful and God’s blessings increased in his life.

If we were weighed on a balance would we measure up? If left to our own ability and strength, probably not. But Daniel had something we have even more access to – a Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of trying harder and hoping to be something extraordinary, it is a matter of humbling ourselves before God and allowing Him to fill us with Himself so that He can be exactly who He is and we can become just what He created us to be.

Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. – Psalm 145:3

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. – Psalm 143:10

Even If

Today’s Reading: Daniel 3-4, Psalm 137

The number of captives taken to Babylon in the 17th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was 3,023. Then in Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year he took 832 more. In Nebuchadnezzar’s 23rd year he sent Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, who took 745 more – a total of 4,600 captives in all. – Jeremiah 52:28-30

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.
We put away our harps, hanging them on branches of poplar trees.
For our captors demanded a song from us.
Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp..
May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you,
if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.
– Psalm 137

Let’s go back to where we left off in the book of Daniel, now in the context of the people of Israel and Judah being carried off into exile. Let’s look again at the bold courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When faced with the possibility of being thrown into the fire if they did not bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue, these young Hebrews said with confidence, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve IS ABLE to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will NEVER serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Life will be much easier for this control freak if I can just learn how to say – “But even if He doesn’t…” (Daniel 3:18). Daily I have to let go of the reins and trust that God reigns. I must let go of my need to manipulate and control a situation and let Him be Lord, saying – I know that the God I serve is able to save and rescue me by His power BUT, EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, I will never serve anyone but Him. I will trust Him.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a similar lesson to learn, again through the interpretation of a dream: A large tree was growing very tall and strong, reaching high into the heavens for the whole world to see. It had fresh green leaves, was loaded with fruit, and offered shade to wild animals and a home for the birds nestled in its branches. This tree was large enough to feed all people.

But then a holy messenger came down from heaven shouting, “Cut down the tree and lop off its branches! Shake off its leaves and scatter its fruit! Chase the wild animals from its shade and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump and the roots in the ground…For seven periods of time, let him have the mind of a wild animal instead of the mind of a human. For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses – even to the lowliest of people.” – Daniel 4:14-17

Daniel was frightened by the meaning of the dream, knowing it would be King Nebuchadnezzar who would be cut down and made to live like a wild animal for a time – until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses (Daniel 4:25). Daniel interpreted the dream and advised the king to stop sinning and do what is right – to break from his wicked past and be merciful to the poor.

Now let’s not forget the context here. Daniel is a refugee. He has been taken from his home into captivity and then, again, taken away from his family to be assigned to the royal service of King Nebuchadnezzar, a very selfish and evil man. Interpreting this dream took courage and the kind of faith that says – I believe my God will rescue me, but EVEN IF HE DOESN’T…

The dream got the king’s attention but his attitude remained the same and is revealed in this statement he made while looking out across the city: “Look at this great city of Babylon! By MY OWN mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.”

While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.” – Daniel 4:30-32

Now the king reigning over God’s people, who were experiencing their sentence of 70 years of exile, was experiencing his own exile of 7 years. When his sanity returned and he was given back the throne, his attitude had changed. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” – Daniel 4:37. He had learned the hard way that God was in control and he was not, a lesson I have had to daily learn from my Savior and Lord.

Lord, I have no idea what you have ahead, but it is the desire of my heart to give you the reins. I want nothing more than for you to be in charge. No matter what I face, I want to say with confidence that YOU ARE ABLE. Lord, give me the strength in every situation to say “But even if He doesn’t…” I long to trust you THAT much! Reveal any pride in my life and replace it with humility. Help me to let go of the reins of my life, of my family, of my friends, of my job…and trust YOU – the God who reigns!

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were right to trust God. In anger, King Nebuchadnezzar did throw them into the furnace, which he had heated seven times hotter than usual – that’s how angry he was! But as the king looked into the fire, he saw four men walking around – unbound and unharmed! He called for the young Hebrews to come out of the fire and that is exactly what they did. The fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! (Daniel 3:27b)

That is what our God is capable of. He can rescue us and chances are He will rescue us. “But even if He doesn’t…” are you willing to serve Him? Are you willing to trust Him even if there is a furnace ahead for you? Even if you don’t know how things will turn out in the end, are you willing to say with confidence that you will never serve anyone else but Him? Will you let go of the reins and trust in the God who reigns?

I heard a new song on the radio this week that brought these scriptures to mind – “Even If” by MercyMe. I pray the words of the song minister to your heart and speak into your situation today.
They say it only takes a little faith / To move a mountain / Well good thing / A little faith is all I have, right now / But God, when you choose / To leave mountains unmovable / Oh give me the strength to be able to sing / It is well with my soul
I know You’re able and I know You can / Save through the fire with Your mighty hand / But even if You don’t / My hope is You alone / I know the sorrow, I know the hurt / Would all go away if You’d just say the word / But even if You don’t / My hope is You alone / It is well with my soul / It is well, it is well with my soul

Come Alive, Dry Bones!

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 37-48, Psalm 16

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. – Ezekiel 37:1-2

Can you picture this – a valley covered in old dry bones? The first thing that comes to my mind is a scene from the animated movie “The Lion King”, where the young Simba and Nala run through what they call “the elephant graveyard” – a valley full of bones. What the Israelites probably pictured was the prophecy of Jeremiah just a few years before this:

“So beware,” says the Lord, “when that garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. They will bury the bodies in Topheth until there is no more room for them. The bodies of my people will be food for the vultures and wild animals, and no one will be left to scare them away. I will put an end to the happy singing and laughter in the streets of Jerusalem. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard in the towns of Judah. The land will lie in complete desolation.”

“In that day,” says the Lord, “the enemy will break open the graves of the kings and officials of Judah, and the graves of the priests, prophets, and common people of Jerusalem. They will spread out their bones on the ground before the sun, moon and stars – the gods my people have loved, served and worshiped. Their bones will not be gathered up again or buried but will be scattered on the ground like manure…” – Jeremiah 7:32-8:2

What a horrifying picture. God was using this imagery to represent the people of Israel. By now Jerusalem had been destroyed and all of God’s people had been scattered. The Jews feared they would never be a nation again – that the people of Israel would slowly fade away and die.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to RISE AGAIN. Then I will BRING YOU BACK to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and RETURN HOME to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezek. 37:11-14

As angry as God was with the unfaithfulness of His prodigal children, He still heard their cries and wanted to give them HOPE. He spoke to his people through the prophet Ezekiel concerning the dry bones: “Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life.” – Ezek. 37:4-7

As Ezekiel watched, that is exactly what happened to the valley of dry bones – They all came to life and stood up on their feet – a great army (37:10b). Praise God! The people already knew with confidence that God COULD extend grace to them, forgive them and breathe life back into their nation. The question was whether or not He WOULD. They needed to hear that He was not completely abandoning them in their sin but that there was indeed hope for their future (Jer. 29:11).

And that is the God we serve! There are times when God allows us to experience the full consequences of our sins. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). But the God we serve is also a loving God who does not give up on us – HE BREATHES NEW LIFE INTO US through the blood of Jesus. There are also times in our lives when God allows us to suffer from illnesses, disease or tragedies. We know we serve a God who CAN heal and make everything better, but we find ourselves watching and waiting to see if He WILL.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil – the commander of the powers of the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is SO rich in mercy, and he loved us SO much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:1-5

Let’s praise God along with the psalmist David and make this our prayer today:
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will NOT leave my soul among the dead
Or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the joy of your presence and
The pleasures of living with you forever.
– Psalm 16:9-11

I am so thankful for a Father who never gives up on His prodigal children. I praise Him for being a God of grace and love who shows us the joy of His presence and leads us back into the fold. I leave you with a song that has really been speaking to my heart lately. The song is “Come Alive (Dry Bones)” by Lauren Daigle and Michael Farren [Centric Worship]. Rest in the message of God’s love in these lyrics:

Oh God of endless mercy / God of unrelenting love / Rescue every daughter / Bring us back the wayward son / By your spirit breathe upon them / And show that you alone can save / You alone can save

As we call out to dry bones / Come alive, come alive /And we call out to dead hearts / Come alive, come alive / Come up out of the ashes / Let us see an army rise / We call out to dry bones come alive

So breathe, oh breath of God / Now breathe, oh breath of God / Breathe, oh breath of God / Now breathe…[Lauren Daigle & Michael Farren, “Come Alive (Dry Bones)”, Centric Worship, 2015]

You Stood Aloof

Today’s Reading: Obadiah, Psalm 137

Just as the prophets foretold, God’s people were captured by Babylon and taken into captivity. Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s promise to His people was to bring them back home after seventy years of captivity. During this same time of God bringing forth judgment on the Israelites, he was also speaking judgment against the enemy nations that surrounded them. One of those enemies was their “brother” nation.

Think back to the story of Abraham and Sarah. God told them they would have many descendants and blessed them with a son in their old age, Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah and she gave birth to twins – Esau and Jacob. These brothers started their struggle against each other in their mother’s womb and continued this adversarial relationship into adulthood. They left behind descendants who carried on the family feud.

God’s people who had just been taken into captivity in Babylon were descendants of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. The descendants of Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, were the people of Edom. The prophet Obadiah spoke strongly against the reaction of the Edomites to the defeat of Israel, replaying the animosity that Esau felt towards Jacob. As the people of Israel were being attacked and carried into exile, Esau’s descendants were celebrating – they were gloating and even going as far as to assist the Babylonians, instead of stepping in and helping the Israelites.

O Lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” – Psalm 137:7

God addressed this infidelity head on through the prophet Obadiah:

The Lord says to Edom, “I will cut you down to size among the nations; you will be greatly despised. You have been DECEIVED BY YOUR OWN PRIDE because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us up here?’ you ask boastfully. But even if you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I WILL BRING YOU CRASHING DOWN,” says the Lord. – Obadiah 1:2-4

“Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever. When they were invaded, YOU STOOD ALOOF, refusing to help them. Foreign invaders carried off their wealth and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem, but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies. You should not have gloated…You should not have rejoiced…You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble…As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you.” – Obadiah 1:10-12,15

God, help us! How often have we been found standing aloof while those around us are struggling? How often have we refused to help those around us who are suffering the consequences of their own actions? We stand back and say, “It serves them right” or “I’m not surprised” or “They are getting what they deserve…” Just as God expected the descendants of Esau to step in and help their neighboring brother nation, He communicated strong expectations in both the Old and New Testaments for how we are to help those around us.

“If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner. If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. Do the same if you find your neighbor’s donkey, clothing, or anything else your neighbor loses. Don’t ignore your responsibility. If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, DO NOT LOOK THE OTHER WAY. Go and help your neighbor get back on its feet!” – Deut. 22:1-4

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me your clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
– Matthew 25:41-46

Obadiah spoke of this same kind of fire while prophesying of the Edomites future. He challenged them to look past where they were and see what God had ahead for them:

The people of Israel will be a raging fire, and Edom a field of dry stubble.
The descendants of Joseph will be a flame roaring across the field, devouring everything.
There will be no survivors in Edom. I, the Lord, have spoken!
– Obadiah 1:18

God obviously takes our responsibility to those around us VERY seriously – to the point of punishment here on earth and eternally. For this reason, we also should take it seriously. So how can we apply this? God has blessed us with so much and there are so many around us who have so little.

Dear Lord, show us today to whom you would have us reach out. Forgive us for our complacency and our gloating. Destroy our pride and replace it with compassion for others. Convict us when we look away and give us YOUR eyes to see the world around us. Amen.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. – Romans 12:9-10 NLT

Jesus replied, “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39

The Lord is My Shepherd

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 34-36, Psalm 23

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken.” – Ezekiel 34:31

I find great comfort in the imagery that God is my shepherd, caring for me and watching over me each day. God uses the comparison of the sheep and their shepherd over and over again in the Bible and Jesus used the same description more than once. Of course, we could be a little insulted by being called sheep because of their lack of intelligence, yet we find ourselves agreeing with the fact that alone we are lost and unprotected and most definitely in need of a shepherd.

In Ezekiel, the Lord expressed anger with the leaders of Israel who were supposed to be “shepherding” the flock. “You abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve” (Ez.34:8).

Jesus expressed this same frustration with the leaders of Israel during His time on earth: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).

This is what the Good Shepherd has to say about how He will care for his sheep after their time of exile in Babylon: “I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 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” (Ez.34:11-16).

Oh, how our Heavenly Father loves all of His sheep! He takes care of His flock, individually caring for each and every lamb. He doesn’t give up on the lost but actively draws them to Himself and heals them from their time away from the flock. This is what Jesus had to say about our Good Shepherd:

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way, your Father in heaven in not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” – Matt. 18:12-14

What?!! He cares more about the one who has wandered off into sin than for the one who has remained with the flock. We should be hurt by that, shouldn’t we? Oh, the sin of self-righteousness that trips us up over and over again. The prophet Isaiah clears this one right up for us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Let’s join the psalmist David in this prayer, recognizing that God is OUR Shepherd:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name sake.
Even though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
– Psalm 23

We have so many reasons to praise and worship our Heavenly Father today. Let us enter into His presence with thankful hearts for our Good Shepherd, recognizing that we were once lost and now we are found!

God Has Not Abandoned You

Today’s Reading: Lamentations

After reading 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, then listening to the prophets through whom God spoke to His people, it puts new context to the book of Lamentations. Using poetry, the author of Lamentations mourns the loss of what Jerusalem used to be. He weeps over the conditions of those who have been left behind as they starve behind the walls that were built to protect them. It would have been better for them to be captured and exiled than to remain there to watch what Jerusalem had become and to watch her children begging for food.

The Lord in his anger has cast a dark shadow over beautiful Jerusalem.
The fairest of Israel’s cities lies in the dust, thrown down from the heights of heaven.
In his day of anger, the Lord has shown no mercy even to his Temple…

Jerusalem’s gates have sunk into the ground.
He has smashed their locks and bars.
Her kings and princes have been exiled to distant lands; her law has ceased to exist.
Her prophets receive no more visions from the Lord.

The leaders of beautiful Jerusalem sit on the ground in silence.
They are clothed in burlap and throw dust on their heads.
The young women of Jerusalem hang their heads in shame.

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people.
Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.
They cry out to their mothers, “We need food and drink!”
Their lives ebb away in the streets like the life of a warrior wounded in battle.
They gasp for life as they collapse in their mothers’ arms.
– Lamentations 2:1,9-12

“And though I cry and shout, he has shut out my prayers” (Lam. 3:8). Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever gone through a time when you wondered if God was even listening anymore? “Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!” (3:18).

As we read the grief expressed in the book of Lamentations, many of us can relate to a time when we were hurting over a loss of some kind. Perhaps you are in the midst of your grief right now. I watched a friend sing over her sick baby as she took her last breath. I held a friend as she collapsed in grief when her husband told her he was leaving. I have wiped the tears of my own girls as we told them we were moving again. I have cried with families as they surrounded a loved one whose battle with cancer was coming to an end. I have watched nurses tell pregnant women that a heartbeat cannot be found…

We have all experienced loss and grief in our life and we have all watched others around us suffer. But in the midst of utter sorrow, we have also experienced the mercy of our wonderful Lord and Savior. When grief threatens to overwhelm us, God steps in and we experience a moment of hope. We serve a God who is faithful and never abandons us, even if it feels like that at times.

“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!
The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.”
– Lamentations 3:20-26

I do not know everything that is going on in the lives of those who will share my morning coffee with me today. You might be in the midst of your grief or you may be seeking healing from past hurts. My prayer is that God will use these verses to give you hope and remind you that He is faithful.

For NO ONE is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love…
Then why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins?
Instead, let us test and examine our ways.
Let us turn back to the Lord.
Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven and say,
“We have sinned and rebelled, and you have not forgiven us…”
My tears flow endlessly; they will not stop until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees.
My heart is breaking…
But I call on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit.
You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!”
Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.”
– Lamentations 3:31-32,39-42,49-51a,55-57

Sometimes our present suffering seems more real than the hope of our salvation – the possibility that God will step in and rescue us from our pain. Remember God loves you. Hold on to the fact that God is faithful. If you seek Him, you will find Him. If you pray to Him, you will be heard. If you cry out to Him, He will hold you. God has not abandoned you. He is with you.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand…
For I hold you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
I am the Lord, your Redeemer.
I am the Holy One of Israel.’”
– Isaiah 41:10,13-14

A Watchman’s Heart

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 17-33

Have you ever lost a pet and gone days looking for it? You worry that it’s out in the cold, or that something has happened to your furry friend. Worse yet, have you ever turned around in the store and been unable to find your child? You instantly panic and begin yelling their name, praying they will answer. It is one of the worse feelings in the world. God loves each one of us with that kind of love – a love that wants to bring every lost soul home.


The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

This same message is evident in the book of Ezekiel. Even as God is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem as a punishment to His people for their sins, He speaks of His desire that all should come to repentance – than none should perish. He appointed Ezekiel as a “watchman” to tell those who were sinning to repent and to encourage those who were not sinning to continue in their righteousness (Ez.33:7-9). The same message of God’s desire to save the lost and to bless His people is presented in chapters 18 and 33 of Ezekiel.

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live…

“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right…then they will surely live and not die. None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.” – Ezekiel 33:11-16


I love that our God never gives up on us – that He is always willing to forgive, always desiring for His children to come to repentance. Often we give up on the chance that our friend or loved one will ever turn from their sinful lifestyle but God never gives up. Just like Ezekiel, HE HAS APPOINTED US ALL AS WATCHMEN. He wants us to help bring back the lost sheep and watch over those who are not lost to help them stay in the flock. He is a loving God who wishes to extend grace to His people. But our God is also a jealous God and a just God. We have a choice to either sin or not sin, and we will be judged by our choices.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die, says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.” – Ezekiel 18:23-24

A grapevine exists for the purpose of producing fruit. But what if it stops producing fruit? What else is it good for?

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. – Hebrews 6:7-8

Then this message came to Ezekiel:
“Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vines are useless both before and after being put into the fire!

“And this is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest. Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned. And I will see to it that if they escape from one fire, they will fall into another. When I turn against them, you will know that I am the Lord. And I will make the land desolate because my people have been unfaithful to me. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 15


Vines are only good for bearing fruit. If they are not going to bear fruit, then they are only useful for building fires – but even their fires burn too quickly, so they are still useless. We are created to live a fruitful life – a life of righteousness and good works that flow out of our faith relationship with God.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” – John 15:1-6

Father God, thank you for creating us with a purpose in mind for our lives. Thank you for placing a desire in our hearts to please you and to serve you. As we go through our day, give us quiet moments of pondering the purpose for which you have us here today. Prune us and mold us into a grapevine whose produce comes straight from the desires of your heart. CREATE IN US A WATCHMAN’S HEART so that we will care passionately about the lost souls around us. Give us eyes to see the lost and a heart of grace to reach out to them. Use us to bring back the lost sheep and care for those in your flock, that none would be lost. Thank you for being a God of love and grace. Amen.

An Unfaithful Nation

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 13-16

Israel: “Time passes and prophecies come to nothing.”

God: “I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it.”

New proverb from God: “The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled!”

God: “I am the Lord! If I say it, it will happen. There will be no more delays, you rebels of Israel. I will fulfill my threat of destruction in your own lifetime. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”

Israel: “He’s talking about the distant future. His visions won’t come true for a long, long time.”

God: “No more delay! I will NOW do everything I have threatened. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 12:21-28

The Israelites had lost their fear of God. They were no longer taking Him seriously. They needed someone to paint a picture for them of their unfaithfulness and disrespect. In Ezekiel 16, the Lord used a parable to describe His people as a wife who is unfaithful to her husband. God had blessed His people and they had, in turn, put other things ahead of God, making idols of the very things God had blessed them with.

Reading through this parable, I could not help but see the resemblance of this kind of unfaithfulness in America, among Christians and non-Christians. We are so quick to fall in love with the things of this world instead of running after things that have eternal value. We are willing to sacrifice so much of what God has blessed us with in order to have more and more of what the world has to offer. We run after earthly possessions and accomplishments, instead of running after God.

“On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. BUT I CAME BY AND SAW YOU THERE, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I HELPED YOU to thrive like a plant in the field…

“Then I bathed you and washed off your blood, and I rubbed fragrant oils into your skin. I gave you expensive clothing…I gave you lovely jewelry…And so you were adorned with gold and silver…You ate the finest food…You looked like a queen, and so you were! Your fame soon spread throughout the world because of your beauty. I dressed you in my splendor and perfected your beauty, says the Sovereign Lord.

“But you thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you gave yourself as a prostitute to every man who came along. Your beauty was theirs for the asking. You used the lovely things I gave you to make shrines for idols, where you played the prostitute. Unbelievable! How could such a thing ever happen?…

“It seems you can never find enough new lovers! And after your prostitution there, you still were not satisfied. You added to your lovers by embracing Babylonia, the land of merchants, but you still weren’t satisfied.

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute…so eager for sin…you are the opposite of other prostitutes. You pay your lovers instead of their paying you!” – Ezekiel 16:4-16, 28b-34

Oh, help us, Lord! In a book that describes the wrath of God and His severe punishment on a nation that was unfaithful after He had done so much for them, He uses a parable that could easily be used to describe us.

God blesses us with time and we spend it on ourselves.
God blesses us with money and we use it to buy more of what the world has to offer.
God blesses us with a television and we watch unwholesome programs.
God blesses us with beauty and we use it to bring attention to ourselves.
God blesses us with beautiful bodies and we dress immodestly.
God blesses us with a sense of humor and we participate in coarse joking.
God blesses us with intelligence and we make our own decisions.
God blesses us with talent and we allow pride to grow.
God blesses us with family and we gossip & complain about them.

Forgive us, Lord!
Forgive us for the importance we put on the things of this world and on our own physical beauty.
Forgive us for embracing “the land of merchants” and always wanting more.
Forgive us for thinking that our fame and beauty are our own.
Forgive us for thinking anything you have blessed us with is ours to enjoy.
Forgive us, Lord!

“I will be a sanctuary to you during your time of exile.” – Ezekiel 11:16

Wow, these words are so powerful. God was punishing His people by allowing Jerusalem to be destroyed, including the Temple – their place of worship. Why? To remind them that the Temple was never meant to BE worshipped but a place to worship GOD. Now the Temple is gone and they were far from their homes and all God had blessed them with, but they still had God. He was with them and He desired to be their sanctuary. He stripped them of everything so that they would fall on their knees and recognize Him as the only place to go to worship.

Lord, be our sanctuary. Do a work in our hearts as we look to you alone for our salvation. May your words in Ezekiel describe us as we return our attention to You and remove every trace of idols from our lives:

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. – Ezekiel 11:19-20

A Calling to Be Weird

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 4-12

God called Ezekiel to be WEIRD. I am not sure there is any better word to describe his calling. God used some very dramatic visual aids to be performed by or lived out by Ezekiel, getting the attention of his audience with visual messages that would be hard to forget. Ezekiel could have let pride get in the way and could have said – “No God, that’s just WEIRD. What would people think of me?” But instead Ezekiel experienced things like no one else ever had or ever will, all because he was willing to be WEIRD for God.

Ezekiel took a brick and drew a map of Jerusalem on it. Similar to a young boy playing with Legos, Ezekiel built a wall around the brick and then set up enemy camps to surround the city/brick, with little miniature siege ramps and battering rams. He took an iron griddle and placed it between himself and the brick (Ezekiel 4:1-3).

Then Ezekiel lay on his side facing the replica of Jerusalem and placed the sins of Israel on himself. He was tied up with ropes and confined to this position for 390 days, one day for each year of Israel’s sin. Then Ezekiel turned over and on his right side for another 40 days, one for each year of Judah’s sin. For 430 days (that’s 14 months), Ezekiel laid on his side, tied up with rope, baring his arm and prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction (4:4-8).

During this time, Ezekiel ate food he had prepared in advance and rationed out. He did this to show how food in Jerusalem would be hard to find and rationed in small portions. God asked him to prepare this bread using human dung to show how the Israelites would be forced to eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which they would be banished. This was when Ezekiel had a “Please, not that God – that’s just too WEIRD” moment. God relented and allowed Ezekiel to bake his bread over cow dung instead (still gross but not quite as WEIRD). – Ezekiel 4:9-17

Then Ezekiel shaved his head and divided the hair into three piles. He took 1/3 of the hair and laid it on the brick replica of Jerusalem. He then acted out the siege with his miniature enemies, just as a young child would play with their toys. He took another third of his hair and spread it across his battle ground and then chopped it up with a sword. Then he took the last third of his hair and lifted it for the wind to scatter. He then took some of the hair in front of him and threw it on the fire. Some of God’s people would not survive the famine, some would die violent deaths in the battle, and some would be scattered into exile (5:1-4).

“But I will let a few of my people escape destruction, and they will be scattered among the nations of the world. Then when they are exiled among the nations, they will remember me. They will recognize how hurt I am by their unfaithful hearts and lustful eyes that long for their idols. Then at last they will hate themselves for all their detestable sins. They will know that I alone am the Lord and that I was serious when I said I would bring this calamity on them.” – Ezekiel 6:8-10

On another occasion, when all the leaders of Judah were in Ezekiel’s home, God took ahold of Ezekiel. In a moment, he was facing what appeared to be a man who looked like gleaming ambers from the waist up and a burning fire from the waist down. He reached out with what seemed to be a hand and took Ezekiel by the hair, lifting him into the sky and transporting him back to Jerusalem in a vision from God. God showed Ezekiel the detestable and wicked sins that were being committed in the Temple, sins committed in dark secret rooms but seen by God. Then Ezekiel watched as God’s wrath was poured out on the city – no mercy, no pity – the Temple courtyards filling up with the corpses. Then Ezekiel saw what appeared to be a throne above the heads of the cherubim.

“Then the glory of the Lord rose up from above the cherubim and went over to the door of the Temple. The Temple was filled with this cloud of glory, and the courtyard glowed brightly with the glory of the Lord. The moving wings of the cherubim sounded like the voice of God Almighty and could be heard even in the inner courtyard…Then the cherubim rose upward…Then THE GLORY OF THE LORD MOVED OUT from the door of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim…” – Ezekiel 10:4-5,15a,18

Every sin had been seen by God and every thought known by God. He knew those in exile in Jerusalem were still bragging about their freedom and how they would now get all the land that was owned by those who had been taken into exile. Even in the horrible situation they were in, they were greedy and prideful (11:5,15-16). Those in exile continued to have rebellious hearts, refusing to see and hear the God they believed was still in the Temple in Jerusalem (12:2).

So God called Ezekiel to be WEIRD once more. During the day, Ezekiel packed all of his belongings and moved them outside of his home – a scene that immediately caught the attention of God’s people. Then, as night fell, Ezekiel went back into his home and began digging a hole in the wall with his bare hands, just as a captive would need to do in order to escape imprisonment. He then crawled out of the hole and lifted his pack on his shoulder. His WEIRD antics had everyone’s attention now. He then gave them a message from the Lord, prophesying about the way in which King Zedekiah would soon be leaving Jerusalem. He would be captured and brought to Babylon to be a captive just as they would be. His army would be scattered and their last chance at being rescued by their king would vanish (Ezekiel 12).

The story of Ezekiel’s life is bizarre and interesting, but it comes down to one simple statement – Ezekiel was WEIRD because God called him to be WEIRD. He was willing to be WEIRD if that’s what God wanted him to be, if that’s what it took for God to get the attention of His people.

So what happens if God asks us to be WEIRD for Him? What happens if He asks us to do something that seems unreasonable, ridiculous, or just plain WEIRD? Are we willing to go there? Are we willing to put pride aside and do whatever God asks us to do? Hmmmm. That’s a hard question to answer honestly. I think I will go back for a second cup of my morning coffee and seek the heart of God on this one…

His Hold is Strong

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 1-3, Psalm 89

Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. – Psalm 37:24

Jeremiah was not the only one God called to prophesy to His people during this difficult time in the life of Israel and Judah. While Jeremiah was hearing from God from within the walls of Jerusalem, Ezekiel had already been exiled to Babylon when “he felt the hand of the Lord take hold of him” (Ezekiel 1:3). I love that description! Can you testify to that action in your life? Have you felt the hand of the Lord take hold of you?

The call on Ezekiel’s life would be a very difficult one but God equipped him for what was ahead, just as He continues to equip us today. Through visions, God would show Ezekiel the worst side of the Israelites. Ezekiel’s eyes would be opened to the horrific things God’s people were doing – the reason God was so angry and His punishment was so harsh. That is a lot for one person to know, a heavy burden for one man to carry. With this call came a great deal of responsibility which added to the weight on Ezekiel’s shoulders.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:17-19

The call on Ezekiel’s life was great, but so is the God who called him and who would equip him! All he had to do was respond in obedience to what God was calling him to do and to say. He was not responsible for the choices of others, but he would be held accountable for his own response to God’s call.

Just as Ezekiel saw the horrible and heartbreaking actions of his people, he also saw the glory of God and was filled with the Spirit. He had difficulty even describing what he saw, so he described it as best he could using descriptions such as “looked like” or “what appeared to be” or “this is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me”.

Above the surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me. “Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. – Ezekiel 1:26-2:2

Praise God that the Spirit of the Lord continues to fill us and set us on our feet when we feel overwhelmed. God also gives us His words to fill and prepare us for what is ahead.

“Open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me. It held a scroll, which he unrolled. And I saw that both sides were covered with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom. The voice said to me, “Son of man, eat what I am giving you – eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth…Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” Then the Spirit lifted me up… – Ezekiel 2:8b-3:3,10-12a

What God is calling you to do today is no heavier than the call He gave Ezekiel. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed and have fallen on your face before the Lord. Trust God’s Spirit to lift you up off your face and fill you. Rest in His hand as you feel the strength of the Lord’s hold on your life.

“The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I went in bitterness and turmoil, but the Lord’s hold on me was strong.” – Ezekiel 3:14

Notice Ezekiel did not say that he went in joy and peace but rather bitterness and turmoil. God allowed Ezekiel’s heart to break at the things that were breaking His heart. The road ahead of Ezekiel would not be an easy one but neither would God leave him alone to face what He was calling him to do. In the same way, God will not leave you alone.

If Ezekiel resisted God’s call and disobeyed, people would die. That is a lot of pressure. Those of us who have been called by God to work in the pro-life pregnancy center ministry face this kind of pressure every day. If we resist God’s call or refuse to speak the words His Spirit gives us to say, babies will die. If any of us give in to our fear and to the lies of the enemy, God’s children might not hear the message of salvation. We do not know for sure if there will be another opportunity for them to hear that Jesus died for their sins, that there is forgiveness and hope in their future if only they will repent and make Him Lord. They might not listen but God is calling us to obey him regardless of the response of His people.

Are we ready to accept God’s call? When He places His Word in front of us and tells us to eat, will we find the time to consume his words and let them sink deep into our heart, listening carefully to what He has to say to us? Do you feel the hand of the Lord on your life? HIS HOLD ON YOU IS STRONG – Do not resist.

I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong. – Psalm 89:21