Thursday, December 5, 2013
This is what the Lord says: The man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed. He will be like a juniper in the Arabah; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives. The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)
The Arabah is a section of the Jordan Rift Valley that runs north and south from the lower end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and further south to the Red Sea. At the Dead Sea the Arabah becomes the lowest point on earth, at 1350 feet below sea level. As it’s name communicates, the Dead Sea has no fish or plant life because of its extremely high salt content. Its saline level is over 30 percent, whereas the saltiest oceans in the world are between 3 and 6 percent. Water from the Jordan River and other smaller streams flow into the Dead Sea, but since it is landlocked, no water flows out. The high temperatures in the Arabah cause the water of the sea to evaporate leaving even more salt behind. So when this passage speak about a juniper tree in the Arabah, this is what it’s speaking about.
Here we see God contrasting the person who trusts in man and the person who trusts in God. One is cursed, the other is blessed. One can be compared to a parched land where no one lives, the other to a tree planted by a stream that is always green and is always producing fruit. The better option is obvious, and yet it’s not easy. It takes real work to trust in God and to derive your confidence from Him.
The dictionary describes trust this way: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Do you want a fruitful, blessed life? Then you have to have a firm belief in God’s reliability, truth, ability, and strength. This is not automatic, and it’s certainly not a feeling. Trust is a decision. I’ve been trusting God faithfully for 27 years now and I still have to work at it. My father has trusted in God for 60-plus years and still has to work at it. It takes work, but it is well worth it. When we trust in Him we have the boldness and confidence to confront any problem, even death, with the conviction that we are in God’s hands and our ultimate victory is guaranteed.
Don’t be a juniper in the Arabah.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom given to Him, and how are these miracles performed by His hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him. Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” So He was not able to do any miracles there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Jesus had traveled and preached throughout Galilee (the most northern of the 3 Israeli provinces). Wherever He went He healed the sick, drove out demons, and did great miracles; there was joy in all the towns and cities after one of His visits. But when Jesus came to His home town, He could not do any miracles, and healed only a few sick people. What was wrong? Jesus' power was the same, but the people were different — they had no faith.
In fact, everyone has faith; faith is a gift of God. But each one of us chooses either to use it, or to ignore it. Faith increases when we hear the Word of God and when we exercise it.
The people in Nazareth had faith, but what killed their faith? They “knew” Jesus, or thought they knew Him. They had watched Him grow up from a little boy, knew His parents, His brothers and sisters… and because they had a certain amount of familiarity with Him they wrongly assumed He could not perform great miracles, that He could not be God… “He’s Jesus that went to 2nd grade with my son.” But like we mentioned in yesterday’s devotional, Abraham did not understand how God's promise of a son and His command to sacrifice that son could both be true — and yet he obeyed without trying to figure it out and ended up seeing that God had a wonderful plan in mind all along. Faith demands that we temporarily suspend our belief in the five sense and rely on it alone. God asks us to believe, not to understand everything.
We are not so different from the people of Nazareth. God may be convicting you to pray for a miracle that you have already prayed for many times before, and your mind keeps repeating: “I know prayer isn’t going to resolve this problem — I’ve already prayed a thousand times and nothing changed.” But like the people of Nazareth, you may not know as much as you think you know. Our God is a god of miracles, whether or not we can figure out how they’re going to work. Maybe we haven’t prayed strong enough, or in the right way, or maybe we just need to persist in our prayer. What we cannot do is go through life relying on our own flawed knowledge, canceling out our faith at every turn.
Make sure God is not amazed at your unbelief.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac… On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the sacrificial knife, and the two of them walked on together. Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together. When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son… Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” this is the Lord’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I will indeed bless you… (Genesis 22:1-18 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)
No man in the Bible was more blessed than Abraham. He was blessed because of his faith in God, but look at his faith! When God asked him to sacrifice his only son, he did. He was ready to do anything for God — there was no doubt about who was first in his life. In Hebrews 11:17 we are told that Abraham believed that God would raise his son from the dead. Why did he believe that? Because God had already promised to give him many descendants through his son Isaac. So even though he did not understand how God's promise and God's command to sacrifice his son could both be true, he obeyed. He didn’t over analyze; he didn’t ask why; he simply believed and obeyed.
Look at what God said to Abraham! “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” And then He promised to bring even greater blessings to him and to future generations because of his faith. There are things that God does not know about us until we go to the extreme of sacrifice.
Are you showing God that He is absolutely first in your life?
How can He truly bless you when He is not the absolute Lord of your life?
After this powerful demonstration of the depth and reality of Abraham's faith, God could bless him with everything — because He knew he could be trusted and would be faithful in any circumstance or situation.
Does God know that about us?
Have we proven our love and faithfulness through obedience and sacrifice for Him? Does God feel free to bless us with great things?
Monday, December 2, 2013
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)
In the Old Testament, God gave His people laws to abide by, starting with the Ten Commandments and continuing on with other details of how to live in purity for Him. His promise was that as long as His people kept His laws, they would remain pure and worthy of His Kingdom. If they didn’t, they would be separated from God and subject to all the attacks of hell.
Yet no matter how hard they tried, the people of Israel had to constantly repent of their sins, constantly be offering sacrifices, and constantly face the ugliness of their fallen human condition. Every human being born into this world carries that rebellious, selfish nature that is opposed to God, which makes perfect obedience to rules and laws virtually impossible. The law of the Old Testament didn’t save anyone, it just revealed how broken and fallen humanity truly was and is.
But Jesus brought something new, the law of the Spirit of life. Becoming pure, righteous and acceptable to God isn’t a list of dos and don’ts, but a relationship with Him where His Spirit teaches us right from wrong, good from evil. Jesus took on sin and willfully became the personification of sin when He died on the cross. He crucified all evil so that we no longer have to be condemned.
How do we start living by this law of the Spirit of life? By dying to our own flesh, by living for God alone, and by sacrificing anything that is contrary to God in our lives. We will always be sinners and need forgiveness as long as we are alive, but we can now live on another level where the Spirit Himself guides and speaks to us in total agreement with God’s Word. If our hearts are dull, rebellious and insensitive to God, we will never be able to hear His direction or live by the law of the Spirit. Jesus death has given us direct access to God - let’s take full advantage of all He has for us by surrendering our lives to Him so that His Spirit can do His work in us.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over — will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37,38 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)
We determine our destiny… not fate, luck, or even God — we do! If you want a better life, you can get it. God will help you, Jesus will help you, the Holy Spirit will help you, and your pastors will help you. But the main responsibility is yours. God’s arms are open wide and He has already done everything for you. It’s as though God has prepared a wonderful feast, and has sent you a personal invitation to come and join Him.
Here we see Jesus emphasizing an unbreakable spiritual law: our attitudes and actions determine God's response. If we judge people harshly, show no mercy or kindness, if we are quick to condemn — how can we expect anything different from God? But if we are forgiving and kind, we will receive mercy and forgiveness from God and man. If we give to help others, we will receive blessings from God. There can be no real Christian growth without learning to give. When the church first started, back in the beginning of the Book of Acts, people sold property and houses to help God's work, and the church multiplied and amazing miracles happened. When our hands are open to give to God and His works, our hands are also open to receive.
That is what Jesus promises here — give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. When we give our lives, our energy, our money, and everything we are and have to God, He will open the floodgates of heaven’s blessings for us! After all, He is the owner of everything, He is the Creator of all things, and He is our Provider and Father. When we do as He commands we can be sure that he will keep His word to us. This is the secret of a prosperous life — the secret of true success.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 — New American Standard Bible)
If we belong to God, His character in us should be clear for anyone to see. And yet, it is a sad fact that most of the people who attend church regularly, and call themselves Christians, have lives that are full of darkness and sin… most. In the parable of the sower, Jesus estimated this number to be 75%… What are we to conclude? (There’s a difference between judging and discernment.) What can we say about people who live this way? This passage plainly states that these people LIE and do not practice the truth! If we say we know God, we have to walk in the Light; we have to live lives of purity and righteousness — lives that we could easily envision the Lord Jesus living. If you would be ashamed to do what you do if Jesus, or your pastor, were standing next to you, you are living in darkness and need to make radical changes right away.
We walk in the Light when we put Jesus first, when we are pure in heart, and when we do we will experience the mind-boggling blessing of having fellowship with God, and with others in the faith… just imagine you having fellowship with God Himself. We will have the conviction that our sins have been washed away and that we are now blameless before Him. When we walk in the Light, confusion will come, but it will be a momentary attack that always gives way to clear-minded thinking and faith; and the power of Jesus will be evident in our lives. When we are in the Light our prayers will be effective and answered… not always immediately, and not always in the way we thought they would be, but always for our good. When we are living in the Light it is impossible for other people not to see the difference, which means that we will be powerful witnesses for the Lord Jesus. God is invisible, and it is God’s will that we make Him visible to the world through our character, goodness, and power.
Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you can be blessed by God when you are refusing to walk in the Light. It is impossible. Many people are “blessed” by the devil, are allowed to conquer and enjoy certain things for a time — though it is impossible for people to truly conquer or enjoy anything when they are in the darkness — but God’s blessings require that we walk in His Light. Each one of us must make this important choice. Are we going to be real, genuine Christians, or are we going to be deceived and defeated?
Don't be satisfied with anything less than the Light of God. Decide now that you are going to experience the reality, truth, and joy of real Christianity.
Friday, November 29, 2013
And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7 — New American Standard Bible)
This passage begins with an expectation of severe persecution, even to the point of death. For early Christians this was a real possibility, and even today, in fifty-plus countries of the world, this type of persecution is an all too real possibility. But even if we are not thrown in prison for our faith, or killed, we all face persecution of some kind when we have a genuine faith that’s put into practice. People will laugh at us, will exclude us, will treat us as small-minded and old fashioned… we will even be hated and despised. But Jesus teaches us an important lesson here: we must not fear what people can do to our physical bodies or earthly life, but rather fear for our eternal salvation — the true treasure.
We should never fall into the trap of thinking that our behavior is unimportant. We need to fear God, the One who sees how we live and will judge us. Jesus does not guarantee that all of us will be saved from actual life threatening persecution, but does encourage us to concentrate on making sure we are saved for eternity.
On the other hand, God knows the most minute details of what happens on earth, and to us. The two pennies that He mentions (“assaria” in Greek) were the smallest copper coins in circulation at the time, worth about one-sixteenth of a basic day’s wage. Jesus says that the sparrows bought with that small amount of money would not be forgotten by God. Now… if God keeps track of such small things, how much more will He keep track of us! If He knows the number of hairs on our heads, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that escapes His knowledge and consciousness. Whenever you have the thought that God has forgotten you, it is a lie. That’s what Jesus is saying here.
These words should encourage us to resist any kind of fear. We should not fear persecution, problems, the future, the past, heaven, hell… nothing. When we live in fear we are forgetting about God and allowing the world and the devil to dictate how we live. Is this easy? …living without fear? Absolutely not, but how hard is a life racked with fear? Fighting fear and living by faith is hard, but giving in to fear and despair is much, much harder, and brings no reward.
Meditate on this verse. Decide that you are not going to give in to the fear of persecution anymore. In all your decisions and thoughts, all your reactions, decide that you are going to fear God and nothing, and no one else. This will get God’s attention.