Disciplemaking, Advice, Forgiveness, Encouragement, Bible, Scripture, Grace, Mercy, Confession, Repentance, Sin, Judgment, Accountability, Abiding, Compassion

GOD IS…

JOEL 2:13

“‘And tear your heart and not merely your garments.’ Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and relenting of catastrophe.”

I have all kinds of ideas of what God is. First of all, He is everything to me. I can’t imagine a day without Him. He loves me and guides me each step each day. But what exactly is He like? There are so many words to describe Him. I am thankful that the Word of God tells us.

In today’s verse, Joel gives us an awesome description of God. Look at the verse again. He says the Lord is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and relenting of catastrophe.” Wow! Can I encourage you to do a word study on each of those words? It will bless your heart, I promise.

APPLICATION

When we return to the Lord, He shows us all these things. So, why do we wait to return to Him? We need His grace and compassion. We need His mercy. We need His forgiveness. Why wait to come back to Him? Every day you wait, you are missing out on these blessings from Him.

So many of us put off repentance because we don’t want to admit we are wrong. Our pride gets in the way. That was the downfall of Judah. They had become prideful and unrepentant. And for that, God brought judgment. I prefer mercy over judgment.

Therefore, part of my prayers every day is repentance. I confess all the sins I am aware of and ask the Lord to reveal to me those sins I may have committed out of ignorance. Perhaps I had failed to do something – a sin of omission. That’s just as bad. For that I need forgiveness. Will you join me today in turning back to that gracious, compassionate, forgiving, merciful God?

Why wouldn’t I come to You, O Lord, each day? Forgive me of my reluctance to repent and confess my sins to You.

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RETURN TO ME

JOEL 2:12

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning;’”

I love to return to places that I have visited in the past, if I enjoyed them the first time. For instance, I am planning to return to Kenya this year. I love my brothers and sisters there. Due to my illness in 2019-20, I have not been there since 2018. My heart literally aches to be there. Would you pray with me that Kenya remains open to travel and our team can make the trip?

I love today’s verse. When the Lord says here for us to return, that implies we have been there before. I look up the Hebrew word for “return.” It literally means to turn back or return. And the verb tense implies some kind of force is involved. He is asking us to forcibly return to Him. Don’t be slow about it. And He says to return with fasting, weeping and mourning. We come back recognizing our sins and asking for forgiveness.

APPLICATION

Fasting, weeping and mourning aren’t things we enjoy doing. It implies brokenness. Are you? Are you broken over your sins? Most of us can strut sitting down. We are too proud to repent. We are too full of ourselves to fast and weep and mourn. But God asks us to come to Him that way.

Let me urge you today to do that. If you are unsure of your sins (I can’t imagine someone not knowing their sins), ask the Lord to reveal them to you. He will, I promise. He has seen your sins. His forgiveness and mercy if ready. Just ask. Our unconfessed sins just serve to separate us from fellowship with our Master. Remove that barrier through confession and repentance.

I am thankful the Lord stands ready to forgive. I know I sin daily through word and/or deed. I long to live a life of godliness free from sin and its influence. Until then, I will come to my Savior and seek cleansing. I will cleanse my hands and purify my heart. I will seek to know Him better through His word.  Return to Him! Are you ready?

Thank You, Father, for saving my soul. Thank You, Lord, for making me whole.

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HIS WORD

JOEL 2:11

“The LORD utters His voice before His army; His camp is indeed very great, for mighty is one who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it?”

I have never served in the military. I admire those who have and am thankful for their service. Many of them have sacrificed greatly. Many others sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice to follow the commands they were given. When you are in the military you are expected to listen to your commander and do what they say. You follow orders. You obey.

The phrase that caught my attention in today’s verse was “for mighty is one who carries out His word.” They recognized then and we recognize now those who heed His word. Obedience is expected, is it not? Joel knew that. I am sure Joel had rather be doing anything other than preaching this message to the people of Judah who didn’t want to hear it. But he listened to the Lord and carried out His word.

APPLICATION

The application for us from this verse is obvious. Will we carry out His word? What does that mean for us? What does the Lord expect us to do? It’s pretty simple, really. He expects us to take His Word to a lost world. He expects us to glorify Him in all we do. He expects us to live out Matthew 28:18-20.

The expectations are clear. The question is – will we do it? You don’t have to be in full time ministry to do this. Witnessing to your neighbor is carrying out His word. Helping someone in distress is carrying out His word. Praying in your prayer closet because you are too weak to get out is carrying out His word. There are all kinds of ways to carry out the word of God. We just have to be diligent.

I have not always done this. Even as a pastor, I have not always done it. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of ministry, but I haven’t truly carried out His word. But over the past several years I have been convicted to be more and more diligent to do that. I pray more. I read more of His word and memorize it. Let us all join together to carry out His word to the world.

I am so grateful for Your word. Help me proclaim it to a lost world daily.

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FOCUSED

JOEL 2:8

“They do not crowd each other, every warrior of them marches in his path; when they burst through the defenses, they do not break ranks.”

Staying focused on a task is important. Most people today are so unfocused. They live by ten seconds snippets. Instagram and Tik Tok have altered the way we look at life. We are accustomed to those short pieces of life. We don’t have the discipline to focus on something longer than a few seconds. We are missing so much, even though we have so much more.

These locusts Joel is describing are focused. They have one purpose – to eat everything in sight. Nothing deters them from their task. They are determined to eat, eat, eat. They fly and crawl only to eat. We can learn something from them. God has given these locusts a task to perform, and they are determined to accomplish it.

APPLICATION

Do you have a laser focus on God? I mean, are you so focused on Him that others call you fanatical? Most of us don’t. But we should be. We need to be so dialed in on God that all that we do is related to Him. After all, if we are believers, all we do should be about Him. God’s will for our lives is for us to give Him glory. All we do and say should be focused on Him.

Most of us consider God as an afterthought. When things get bad, we turn to Him. When tragedy strikes we call on Him. We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I can vividly remember our nation turning to God after that. Churches were full. Services were held in our capitol. Prayer vigils were going on all over the country. Twenty years later people have forgotten who got them through it. It wasn’t the government. It was our Lord.

I have become so focused on God and His Word that others look at me as strange. When I talk about the importance of memorizing Scripture, I get these weird looks from people. God desires us all to be “crazy” about Him. Every aspect of our lives belongs to Him. When we finally realize that, it all begins to make sense. Let me urge you today to set your sights on God alone and trust Him to lead and guide you each day.

I am so thankful that I have learned to focus on You. Guard my sight, O Lord, from distractions.

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EVEN THE LOCUSTS

JOEL 2:7

“They run like warriors, they climb the wall like soldiers; and each of them marches in line, nor do they lose their way.”

I like order. I like things in their place. I guess I got that from my dad. He had a lot of tools in his tool shop. His rule was we could use any tool we wanted (after he had shown us the proper way to use it) as long as we cleaned it and put it back where it belongs. He said that way you could always find it when you need it.

The locusts that were swarming and devouring everything green in Judah were ordered. They seemed to almost appear as an army, following orders and marching in line. Their swarms have been described as remarkable in their lines and movements. When the newly hatched locusts began to crawl and eat, even then they did it in coordinated movement. Amazing.

APPLICATION

How can we apply this to our lives? What is the Lord trying to tell us in these verses in Joel about the locusts? Let me attempt to make a simple application. Now, hear me. This is not meant to be some deep theological treatise on Joel. It is simply an application.

God does everything in order. Even the locusts swarm and crawl in order. That order applies to our lives. He wants to apply His order to us if we will let Him. How does that look? Just like a kindergartener has to listen to his teacher when told to get in line, we have to do the same thing. When the Lord directs us to do something, we need to get in line. We need to trust Him. He will always lead us correctly.

Every time I have submitted to the Lord’s leadership and gotten in line, I have not been disappointed. I may not like the journey. It may be hard. But when I am following Him, He blazes the trail. He cuts my path. I simply follow. Will you?

I am following You, Lord, no matter where it leads me. I am thankful that I can trust You wherever You lead.

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PALE FACES

JOEL 2:6

“Before them the people are in anguish; all faces turn pale.”

Some people are paler than others. That’s just a fact, right? But others can become super pale when frightened or in pain. Have you ever heard the expression “you look as pale as a ghost”? Now, that’s pretty pale. I have visited people in the hospital who looked like that. They looked as pale as the sheets on their bed.

The Hebrew words for the phrase “turn pale” literally mean drained of color. The people were in so much pain, so much anguish, they were drained of color. They were writhing in pain. The locust swarms that had come upon them had them to this point. They could see all their crops and produce being annihilated, and they were helpless to do anything about it.

APPLICATION

So, what do you do when this happens? What do you do when you find yourself in anguish? There’s only one thing to do. You turn to Jesus. We live in a fallen world. We have to deal with that. And sometimes the Lord allows things in our lives that will drive us to Him. We may not understand at the time, but He is there with us.

The next time you find yourself in one of these situations, stop and ask the Lord what He is trying to teach you. What lesson does He want you to learn? When we approach these times like that, we can learn so much about ourselves and Christ. I am not even pretending these times are fun. They are not. But they are times to grow.

I can truly say I hated every time like this I have faced. No one likes going through hard times. But I can also say that I have always learned going through them. I have also learned that the quicker I submit to the Lord and allow Him to teach me, the sooner I can feel His warm embrace in the process. The trial may still continue, but now I know what it’s about.

Lord, show me the purpose of the hard times in my life. Teach me to trust You and grow me into what You would have me be.

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THE SOUNDS OF JUDGMENT

JOEL 2:5

“With a noise as of chariots they leap about on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire consuming the stubble, like a mighty people drawn up for battle.”

Every seventeen years Cicadas make their descent on Tennessee. This year was one of those years. What is a Cicada? It’s an insect that looks like a huge, superfly. The biggest thing about Cicadas is the noise they make. Their mating call can reach 95 decibels. Compare that to an overhead plane that is around 80 decibels. When these Cicadas hatch in the thousands, you can imagine the noise. It can be quiet deafening.

So, I can imagine the noise of the swarms of locusts described here in Joel 2:5. Their noise must have been something for the people of Judah. The approaching swarms could be heard from as far away as six miles. That had to be quite scary for the little ones. An unseen noise that got louder and louder must have been terrifying.

APPLICATION

What noises scare you? Are you one of those who hears every little sound at night and jumps up to check all the doors and windows? My wife is a light sleeper. She hears every little sound. Me – I can sleep through a hurricane, lol. Things that go bump in the night do keep a lot of people awake. Some people are just restless. Others are just plain scared.

Matthew 11:28-30 comes to mind. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Do you believe that? Then rest in Him. He guards your soul. He is your great protector. Don’t let the noises of this world scare you.

I know I can rest in Him. I do need to be mindful to lock my windows and doors, but I can trust Jesus to protect me. When I lay down at night, I can truly say that I trust Him to keep me and my wife safe. That’s why I can rest so well. He is in charge. He never sleeps. He is watching over my well-being twenty-four seven. What a relief!

Thank You, Lord, for watching over me. Your watchful eyes are moving to and fro thoughout the whole world.

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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEE

JOEL 2:4

“Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like war horses, so they run.”

Sometimes things take on the shape of other things. Clouds can look like a rabbit. Shadows can appear to represent an image of a person. In the fog things can look very different. You have to look closely sometimes to make out what you are really seeing. After all, your eyes can play tricks on you.

Theodoret, a Bishop in Syria, once said while describing the locusts he observed there, “You will find it exceedingly like that of a horse.” Whence the Arabs, of old and to this day , say, ‘In the locust, slight as it is, is the nature of ten of the larger animals, the face of a horse, the eyes of an elephant, the neck of abull, the horns of a deer, the chest of a lion, the belly of a scorpion, the wings of an eagle, the thighs of a camel, the feet of an ostrich, the tail of a serpent.’” (Barnes’ Commentary of Joel). This is what Joel is talking about here in today’s verse.

APPLICATION

You are probably wondering how in the world we can get any application for our lives from this verse. What do locusts or how they look relate to me? Will you give a little room to make this application? After all, every word of the Bible is inspired, right?

God allows these “hordes of locusts” into our lives sometimes. He allows them to come in and seemingly destroy everything in sight. But you have to remember that if God allows it, it is always to make us more like His Son. Those locusts may look terrifying. We may be shaken at the very sight of them. However, in Christ we have the strength and power to face any horde sent our way.

I don’t like hordes of anything attacking me or my loved ones. I want to fight back. I think I can defend myself. But God whispers to me to back off and let Him do the defending. If you are facing “hordes of locusts” right now, stop fighting so hard. Lay down your feeble weapons and allow the Lord to defend you. He has the power to do great and mighty things in and through us.

I thank You for coming to my defense when I am under attack. When all else falls apart, I know You can be depended on.

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WIPED OUT

JOEL 2:3

“A fire consumes before them, and behind them a flame devours. The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, but a desolate wilderness behind them, and nothing at all escapes them.”

I have seen the ravages of storms. Years ago, hurricane Irma hit the gulf coast of Florida. It devastated Pensacola, FL. I drove there the following week from my home to assess the damage to a group home our ministry had there. It looked as if someone had taken a giant leaf blower and just cleared everything off the earth. Even the interstate bridges had been blown down. It was horrible.

Joel is continuing the imagery of the locust swarm in today’s verse. Before the locusts lay green fields. Behind them was nothing. Remember, Joel is painting a picture here of the coming judgment of Judah. They too would be left in a desolate wilderness. Their sins had invited God’s judgment. Repentance and their return to God was the only answer.

APPLICATION

You may feel you are living in a desolate wilderness right now. You may feel wiped out by life. I’ve got great news for you. Jesus can pick you up and give you new life. When you are at your lowest, He can reach down and lift you up. There is no hole too deep that He cannot reach. There is no desert too barren that He cannot cause new life to spring forth.

I am reminded of the verse in Hebrews chapter 2. Verse 16 tells us that Jesus did not come to help the angels, but to help the descendants of Abraham (that’s us). That word “help” in the Greek means to aggressively grab us and take us with him. Jesus will grab ahold of us and lead us where we should go. He will guide us, not just point the way.

I prefer a guide rather than someone who just gives directions. I feel safer. When I am wiped out and ready to through in the towel, Jesus is always there to lift me up. You would think I would turn to Him first and not get so wiped out. But I am stubborn sometimes. That always gets me into trouble. Will you join me today in asking the Lord to pick us up?

Father, I cannot make it one more step without You. I need You to guide me, to take me along with You.

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DARKNESS COMES

JOEL 2:2

“A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations.”

Darkness and gloom! I’ve been there. There have been a few times in my life when I felt like the world was caving in on me. Due to some bad decisions on my part, I had caused most of it. Yes, even me, Carl Willis has made some bad decisions that invited the darkness and gloom. The only way out of it was going to the Lord in repentance. He lifted me out the cave I was in.

Joel is going to be describing a rampage of locusts over the next several verses in chapter 2. These swarms of locusts were so large that they looked like dark clouds which blocked the sun. They would come in, land and begin eating anything green. They would lay their eggs and shortly after their larvae would hatch and begin eating also. This, too, was part of the judgment on Judah.

APPLICATION

Things come into our lives like these locusts. They swoop in uninvited and begin to eat everything in sight. Our emotions are gnawed away. Our physical resources may be diminished. Even our health can be taken away. What do you do in seasons like that? Who do you turn to?

There’s only one answer – Jesus. He knows what is affecting you. After all, as a child of God, anything that comes into your life goes through His hands first. Don’t you know that? So, if He has allowed it, it is to make us more like His Son. God never allows things to touch us to turn us away from Him. That would be counterproductive to His plan for our lives. He is always drawing us towards Him.

Sometimes, though, it feels like God is trying to tear us apart. Nope! He may be breaking us down, but that is only to allow Him to build us back up. Sometimes, we need large chunks knocked off to bring out the image of Jesus. Are you willing to go through the darkness and gloom, the hard times, to be made more like your Savior?

Chip away, O Lord. I want to reflect Your glory!

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