|June 2010 Daily Devotion Archive|
God's Hand at Work
But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. ... And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him. - 1 Samuel 16:14, 23
Some people have to deal with seemingly unexplainable things, such as this distressing spirit that kept troubling Saul. But God used that spirit to allow Saul (the current king) and David (the future king) to bond with one another after Saul asked for a harpist to come and play when he felt distressed. Everything happens for a reason; God's hand is always at work and He causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). That doesn't say that everything that happens will be good, but that He can bring about something good from even the worst or most distressing situation.
"For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you," says the Lord of hosts. "But you said, in what way shall we return?" - Malachi 3:6-7
Even though this was written to the Israelites some 2,400 years ago, it could just as easily apply to our country today. As a whole, we have fallen away from the Lord and we certainly have not kept many of his ordinances. He never changes, yet we keep trying to change Him to fit what's popular or acceptable in our society. We have to return to Him if we expect conditions in our country to improve. When He says "return to Me, and I will return to you," that also implies that He has pulled away in a sense--in this case it means that He does not pour out His blessings so freely onto nations who have fallen away from Him. How can we return? We will answer that question next Wednesday.
We Must Decrease
"He must increase, but I must decrease." - John 3:30
This is John speaking. John was sent specifically to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, but he knew his limits and he knew who was most important. He wanted to take the focus off of himself and place it on Jesus instead. We can learn a lot from John's humble example because that is exactly what we need to do. We must decrease so that Jesus can increase. We must put aside our own selfish desires and ambitions, such as the desire to appear to be right about something or the ambition to get credit for something we've done. We need to set aside our own wants and desires so that the light of Jesus can shine through us and out into the rest of the world. Instead of arguing, show love. Instead of sinning, do what is right. Follow Jesus' example and let the world see Him in you. That type of humility is one of the best ways to spread His Good News.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. - Ephesians 2:1-3
In this part of his letter to the people of Ephesus, Paul uses very detailed imagery to describe one of the major differences between believers and non-believers. Those who are not Christians (especially those who do not believe in any other religion either) simply follow their own lusts and desires. They have no reason not to; there is no eternal purpose to their lives. But as Christians, we have the power of God at our disposal to rise above such actions, and it is critically important that we do. If we look just like the rest of the world instead of setting ourselves apart, how can we expect them to change how they live?
The End Result
...Till an arrow struck his liver.
As a bird hastens to the snare,
He did not know it would cost his life.
Her house is the way to hell,
Descending to the chambers of death.
- Proverbs 7:23, 27
Last week we took a look at a bigger part of the story given in Proverbs 7 about a young man who was seduced by a woman. Today we will focus on the not-so-happy ending to that story. I don't think it literally means that he died; I think it means that he gave his life over to these sinful desires, letting them control him and his decisions. Satan may trick you into believing that things like adultery and premarital sex (which nearly 80 percent of young people in the church are doing, according to a disturbing survey I recently read about) are exciting in the moment, but they always lead to a spiritual death. God doesn't give us these commands because He doesn't want us to have fun; He simply loves us and knows how destructive such behavior can be in the long run. Don't compromise your spiritual walk for a few moment of pseudo-pleasure. It's never worth it.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
- Psalm 19:7-11
Passing the Blame
Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, "See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. - Genesis 16:1-4
Sarai initiated this mistake by not trusting God and His plan and instead taking it upon herself to try to get a child into their family. But when she got what she wanted (when Hagar conceived a child), Sarai became jealous of Hagar. She could have taken the high road and accepted responsibility herself, but she blamed everything on Hagar instead. Accepting responsibility for our mistakes is what God wants us to do. If you don't do that, you end up creating more problems and risk hurting other people.
Trust, Not Fear
And the Philistine [Goliath] said, "I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. - 1 Samuel 17:10-11
Fear is a natural response when facing a giant in any form. Unfortunately, instead of trusting their God to take care of them, the Israelites stayed back in fear. If they truly trusted God, they would not have had any reason to be afraid. The same principle applies to our lives today. We may not face a literal giant, but we all face giant problems from time to time. Some of them can be quite scary. At those moments we have two choices: We can run and hide from the problems in fear or we can trust God to take care of us just as He promised He always would. But that trust must be complete, totally giving the problem over to God and completely trusting Him to handle it. Many of us have a desire to be in control and not give things over to God, but when we do give those things to Him, the final results are always better.
Robbing God, Part 1 of 2
"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, in what way have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation." - Malachi 3:8-9
Are you able to justify spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the latest electronic gadget (television, phone, computer, or anything else along those lines) while so many people across the world aren't even sure where their next meal will come from? If so, I believe God is speaking to you in these two verses. The vast majority of people in this country and in other high-tech countries around the world rob God on a regular basis and don't even realize it. These are people who spend so much money on things such as the items I listed above (not to mention the monthly bills that accompany those items) yet do little or nothing to help others who are in need.
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." - John 4:9-10
We put up all these artificial barriers between each other, dividing ourselves up by race, gender, people group, or economic class, just to name a few. But look at how Jesus treated such barriers--he completely ignored them! The fact that this woman was a Samaritan and He was a Jew, two people groups who normally do not associate with one another, made absolutely no difference to Jesus. All He saw was a woman who was in need of His Salvation. That's how we need to view the world--not dividing ourselves up in so many different ways based on worldly status or appearance but rather viewing each other as either saved or unsaved, and working together within the saved group to reach those who are unsaved.
Saved By Grace
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9
I believe this is the primary reason why God set things up the way He did. If we could be saved through our works, it would probably turn into some sort of competition, and many of us would probably start to boast about our good works in comparison to others. Some people do that anyway, but if those good works could save us, I am sure the boasting would be much more pronounced. Ultimately, it would be about us. But He didn't want it to be about us; He wants it to be about Him. So instead of leaving it up to us to try to save ourselves, He gave us a Savior. All we have to do is have faith and believe that Jesus is God's Son and our Savior. All people, regardless of riches, intelligence, or any other factors, have the exact same opportunity to come to Jesus through faith alone. God has made it very easy for us. Don't miss your chance!
Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice?
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill,
Beside the way, where the paths meet.
She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city,
At the entrance of the doors:
"To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
O you simple ones, understand prudence,
And you fools, be of an understanding heart.
Listen, for I will speak of excellent things,
And from the opening of my lips will come right things;
For my mouth will speak truth;
Wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are with righteousness;
Nothing crooked or perverse is in them.
They are all plain to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge.
Receive my instruction, and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choice gold;
For wisdom is better than rubies,
And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her."
- Proverbs 8:1-11
Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
- Psalm 19:12-14
And the Angel of the Lord said to [Hagar]: "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." - Genesis 16:11-12
Can recent events such as the terrorist attacks in 2001 be traced back to the sinful mistake made by Abram and Sarai? In a way, it can. The Arab people trace their ancestry back to Ishmael, who is regarded by Muslims as a prophet. And if you look at what God says to Hagar in these verses--that Ishmael and his fellow man shall be against one another--that certainly seems to describe the relationship between Islam and the rest of the world. This is the kind of thing that can happen when we take matters into our own hands instead of waiting for God. Granted, the consequences usually aren't quite this severe, but they often are more severe than we anticipate. Wait upon the Lord, and let Him guide your paths.
Stand Up For God
And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid. ... Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine [Goliath] and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" - 1 Samuel 17:24, 26
Now we gain a better understanding of just what God saw in David when He chose him to be the next king of Israel when He was the only one who trusted God enough to stand up to Goliath. Just as David says, Goliath was defying the armies of the living God. What message did that send to the Philistines? They must have wondered if the God of Israel wasn't all that powerful after all, if these people were so afraid. That is exactly why we have to stand up for our God in the world today. If other people see us backing down because of fear or intimidation, they're going to think that we don't believe our God is very powerful. But God is all-powerful and all-loving and He deserves to have people who will stand up for Him!
Robbing God, Part 2 of 2
"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, in what way have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation." - Malachi 3:8-9
All of the money that each of us has was entrusted to us by God. It is not your money; it all belongs to Him. Certainly, He doesn't mind if you spend a little of it on yourself as a reward from time to time, but He never intended for you to spend it all on yourself. I focus on electronic gadgets a lot when I write about this subject because many of those items are expensive and for the most part they are things we do not need; society has simply deceived people into thinking that they do need the latest and greatest cell phone or whatever the product may be. This way of thinking is rooted in selfishness. But God is pleading with us to not think about ourselves so much and to think more about others instead. If we all gave more and didn't spend money on things we really don't need, we would have enough resources to virtually eliminate hunger around the world.
A Logically Impossible View
The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He." - John 4:25-26
This is not the first time I have written on this topic and I doubt it will be the last, because it is a critically important point that I believe a lot of people, eager to appear tolerant of other people's views, either miss or choose to ignore. Jesus quite clearly states here, among other places, that He is the Messiah. This means that those people who attempt to stay in the middle by claiming that Jesus was merely a good teacher or some kind of prophet believe something that is logically impossible. If Jesus was not God's Son, then He is lying to us. A liar doesn't make a very good teacher and certainly can't be trusted as a prophet. Therefore, if Jesus was lying, then clearly nothing good could have come from Him. Yet it did, when we think about all the miracles He performed and all the good teachings He gave to us. That leaves just one logical outcome--He must be the Messiah!
Jesus is Peace
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation. - Ephesians 2:14
Paul touches on two important concepts in this verse. First, he says that Jesus is our peace. We will have troubles in this world--Jesus Himself even tells us that (John 16:33). But Jesus came to bring inner peace to those who believe and trust in Him. Many Christians don't seem to have that inner peace, and you may be one of them. You have to let go of worldly things and completely trust Him--not partially, but completely. If you can do that, then you will find the peace that He promises. The second half of this verse alludes to the fact that we now have individual access to God through Jesus. Prior to Jesus' arrival, the Israelites had to go to God through a priest. But when Jesus was died and then rose again (and, symbolically, the veil of the temple was torn in half), God made it possible to come to Him directly through Jesus. Isn't it amazing that our all-powerful God gives us such direct access to Him? Let's spend more time in prayer so we don't waste that opportunity!
"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And find out knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, I have strength.
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles,
All the judges of the earth.
I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
Enduring riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold,
And my revenue than choice silver.
I traverse the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of justice,
That I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth,
That I may fill their treasuries.
- Proverbs 8:12-21
Don't Trust In Worldly Things
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.
May the King answer us when we call.
- Psalm 20:7-9
David had probably just come from a battle when he wrote this, which would explain why his mind was on chariots and horses. However, the principle behind this passage can be applied to many different areas. It is likely that the people he was battling trusted in their horses and chariots as well as whatever other weapons they may have had and thought those things would help them defeat David and the Israelites. However, David had God on his side, and no animals or man-made objects can ever defeat God.
Outside Symbols of Inner Change
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. - Genesis 17:5
We see here that God renamed Abram when He made His covenant with him, and similarly God renamed Saul to Paul in the New Testament. What purpose does this serve? I believe the main reason is that it is an outer symbol of a change on the inside. In some ways, it is not unlike our baptisms today. We are saved by grace and faith in Jesus Christ, then the act of baptism is a way to obey and to show the world around you that you have made that decision. There is a further application to this idea as well. In a world where so many Christians seem content to blend in with everybody else, we need to stand out from the crowd, living our day-to-day lives in such a way that they are a clear symbol that we have been changed from the inside out.
David's Unwavering Faith, Part 1 of 2
"Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God." Moreover David said, "The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you!" - 1 Samuel 17:36-37
Abraham is often the first person who comes to mind when we think about people in the Bible who displayed extraordinary faith, but that is exactly what David showed throughout the story of David and Goliath. He knew he could defeat this giant warrior because he had God on his side. It wasn't arrogance or overconfidence; it was simply faith. If only we could all have such strong faith in our God! And as we all know, God rewarded that level complete trust and faith with a victory for David and the Israelites. I believe He will continue to reward us, giving us victory over our own giants, but we have to reach that level of total faith in God. For many, it is hard to let go enough to be able to reach that point.
God Blesses His Followers
"And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," says the Lord of hosts; "and all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land," says the Lord of hosts. - Malachi 3:11-12
This follows the passage about robbing God and explains what could happen as a result if we come back to God and give to Him instead of hoarding it all ourselves. If we follow Him and give faithfully as He has instructed us, He will bless us. The reason why we're in such economic distress in this country right now is because, as a country, we have turned away from God. Yes, in a way some of it can be blamed on poor political decisions, but ultimately I believe with confidence that God blesses those who follow Him, and we certainly haven't been doing a good job of that in recent years. A major reason for Rome's fall was the moral corruption that had taken over their society, and if we aren't careful, we will end up in exactly the same place.
Unbelieving Hearts, Part 1 of 2
Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." - John 4:48
Isn't this the way many people still are today? Jesus may not be on earth performing obvious miracles anymore, but a lot of people want some kind of proof before they are willing to believe. Are you one of those people or do you know someone like that? I hope to give you some ideas you can put to use, either for yourself or for someone you may know who struggles with this. I believe that it is impossible to prove beyond any doubt that God exists or that God does not exist. Yes, some discoveries have been made that provide additional evidence in that direction, but complete proof cannot be obtained. I believe God designed it that way intentionally to require people to have faith in what they cannot see, to believe in something beyond what we see in our daily lives. Some people will claim that Christians are closed-minded, but the opposite is actually true. In order to believe, you have to open your mind up to other possibilities, to the idea that there may be something beyond what we can see here on Earth.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. - Ephesians 3:8
Paul's humility is one of the things I admire most about him (although I suppose that statement itself carries some irony--someone as humble as Paul probably wouldn't want to be admired for anything). I think at least part of the reason why he was so humble is because he may have never fully forgiven himself for aiding in the murder of Christians before he came to know Jesus. Nevertheless, we should all try to follow the example of Paul as he followed Jesus' example in the area of humility. He wrote over half the books in the New Testament yet he still feels like he is the least among the saints. He knows it was only through the grace of God that he was able to do any of that--a key point that we often forget when we try to take all the credit for something we have done. And when you do give God the glory, you never know what kind of an impact that could have on a non-believer.
"The Lord possessed me (wisdom) at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
- Proverbs 8:22-31
David...Or Jesus?, Part 1 of 2
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
Our fathers trusted in You;
They trusted, and You delivered them.
But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.
All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
"He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!"
- Psalm 22:1, 4, 6-8
David writes Psalm 22 during his own time of distress, but it bares a striking similarity to the crucifixion of Jesus some 1,000 years later, which is something that just fascinates me. It's like a less obvious prophecy, one that David likely didn't even realize he was writing as he wrote this psalm in his own despair. The very first line of this Psalm echoes the words that Jesus would speak to His Father from the cross. Jesus was also despised and ridiculed by many people around Him, including those who mocked Him on the cross, telling Him to save Himself if He really were the Christ.
The Power of God
And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" - Genesis 17:16-17
Sometimes things we read in the Bible may be difficult to believe. In this case, Abraham was actually there and he still had a hard time believing what God was telling him! But this is one of those cases in which I believe God wanted to do something that appeared impossible in order to show His power and glory through Abraham. I think He still does things like that with people today, even though sometimes it gets attributed to science or random chance. He shows His power in the area of weather, too; I think sometimes He causes things to happen just to remind us that, even though He has set up the atmosphere to work in such a way that we can predict the weather with a reasonable degree of accuracy, He is ultimately still in control.
David's Unwavering Faith, Part 2 of 2 Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel." - 1 Samuel 17:45-46
David never backed down; he never even hesitated. He knew God would bring about a victory for him and his people. He didn't think it was likely and he wasn't hopeful about it--he just knew. His faith was that strong. This giant warrior was defying God, and I believe God will always stand up against someone who defies Him--if we trust Him enough to allow Him to have that opportunity. God wants us all to have such strong faith; He wants us to let go of the control so many of us desire to hold on to and simply trust Him to deliver us from our giants.
A Wicked Society "Your words have been harsh against Me," says the Lord, "yet you say, what have we spoken against You? You have said, it is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free." - Malachi 3:13-15
As God continues speaking to the Israelites, there continue to be close parallels to what we are seeing in this country today (and I'm sure is no coincidence that God's words are just as relevant now as they were back then). The number of people who seem to believe that serving God is useless, who praise wickedness and freely tempt God, is steadily increasing. That is why it is more important than ever that we stand up for our beliefs rather than back down from them. We need to spread God's Word, show love and compassion, and give freely to help those in need. That is the way in which our society has the best chance of returning to God.