|January 2011 Daily Devotion Archive|
Renew and Refresh, Part 7 of 7
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42-47
We need to be energized and passionate about the Good News of Jesus, just like Peter was in this message. We also need to work together--not separated by minor denominational differences, but working together as one church for Jesus Christ. If you missed any of this week's devotionals, I encourage you to read through all of Acts chapter 2. Feel the passion that Peter had for sharing the truth, then use that same passion in your life. We know the truth that this world so desperately needs to hear!
Are You This Open and Honest with God?
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,"
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
- Psalm 32:1-5
The Blame Game
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die!" And Jacob's anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" - Genesis 30:1-2
Understandably, Rachel was becoming very frustrated at being unable to bear her husband Jacob any children. But why did she blame him for that? Jacob correctly stated that such a thing is up to God, not up to a single man! You may not have faced this exact situation, but perhaps you have been in another situation where you were blaming someone for something that was really out of that person's control, or where you were being blamed for something out of your control. Perhaps the other person involved was a spouse or another family member. Try to remain aware at all times of how you treat the people who are close to you, and don't start blaming them for things that are out of their control.
Rest...After the Battles
Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies all around... - 2 Samuel 7:1
God gave David the gift of peace and rest, but only after the battles had been fought. David (with God's help) had to defeat the Philistines, enemies of Israel, before that peace could be established. If you've served in the military, this verse may really hit home, but it has meaning for the rest of us as well. God promises gifts such as peace, but sometimes battles have to be waged before we can reach that point of peace. Perhaps something needs to be resolved first, perhaps you need to learn something about yourself first, or perhaps the reason is a mystery. We may not always understand why, but God does, and we must trust Him, especially during those difficult times.
Daniel Sees Jesus
"I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." - Daniel 7:13-14
In his vision, Daniel apparently sees One who looks human but is a perfect representation of humanity--and that would have to be Jesus. Jesus Himself also uses the name "Son of Man" to refer to Himself on multiple occasions. Of course, this passage in Daniel was written some 550 years before Jesus' birth, but this is just one of many times when Jesus shows up in the Old Testament even before anyone really knew of His existence! To me, this gives us even more evidence that Jesus really is who He claimed to be, and that He has been around since the beginning of time.
The Final Judgment
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." - John 5:24
These words were spoken by Jesus Himself, and it doesn't get much clearer than that! He is indeed the way to everlasting life. He also says something else in this verse that caught my attention. One point that Christians can sometimes disagree over is whether or not those of us who are saved will be judged for our sins once we die and enter heaven. I'm not entirely sure myself, but if I am understanding these words of Jesus correctly, it seems like we won't be judged for our sins. He specifically says that we "shall not come into judgment" if we believe in Him. Either way, that certainly doesn't give us an excuse to sin. As Christians, we should want to live in a manner that is pleasing to God and that helps His Kingdom to grow. If you're blending in with the world in the way that you live your life, then sadly you're not accomplishing either of those things.
Walk in the Light
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. - Ephesians 5:8-10
Do you walk in light or in darkness? Consider the types of things you do on a regular basis. Are they things that you would want exposed in the light or things that you feel compelled to hide in darkness? If the latter is true, then it should be obvious that you aren't doing those things for God. Paul tells us to find out what is acceptable to the Lord, which we do through reading His Word and by regularly spending time in prayer, and then to do what we know is acceptable to Him. It sounds simple enough, yet many Christians don't live like this. Do you? Think about how you live your life, and if you're living for God or if you've become entangled in dark worldly sins. We're at the start of a brand new year. If you have been living in darkness, try to draw closer to God by spending more time with Him and set a goal this year to live more fully in God's light.
Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression,
But a good word makes it glad.
- Proverbs 12:25
With Jesus on our side, we really don't even need to feel anxiety at all. If you fully trust in Him, your worries can go away. Still, many people have a hard time doing that, especially during difficult times in their lives. This verse encourages us to share good, positive, uplifting words with someone who is going through a period of anxiety or depression. Sometimes a little bit of encouragement is all someone needs to feel better about a situation or at least to know that (s)he isn't alone. Be an uplifting, encouraging friend to those people who need a friend the most. And as a bonus, you will most likely come out with a blessing as well, because even when it comes to words and friendship, it truly is more blessed to give than to receive!
The Goodness of the Lord
For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
- Psalm 33:4-5
We serve a God who is good and pure and holy. As this psalm says, His word is right and His work is done in truth. And we can see His goodness throughout the earth. That doesn't mean that everything that happens in this world is good--obviously that claim would be far from reality. But we can see the results of His goodness all around us, in nature and in those people who are living for Him in their daily lives. Our God is good and, as He says in Genesis, everything He created in the world around us is good. In this new year, let's open ourselves up to that goodness, allowing God to fill us with His peace and joy rather than becoming entangled in deception or trapped by the wicked ways of the world that continually try to fight against God's goodness.
Waiting For God's Timing
Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. And she conceived and bore a son, and said, "God has taken away my reproach." So she called his name Joseph, and said, "The Lord shall add to me another son." - Genesis 30:22-24
Rachel was barren for a long time and could not bear any children, but finally she did. Once again we get a lesson in trusting God's timing. (There are quite a few of those in the Bible; He must have known that we would need many such lessons because it can be hard to place our complete trust in His timing!) The significance here is that the son Rachel finally had, Joseph, was the one who would eventually save the entire family and lead to their move to Egypt. God knew that all along, but Joseph couldn't be born until the right time in order for the rest of those events to play out as they did. God always has a plan, and we must learn to trust in Him and His plans if we are going to walk closely with Him day by day.
Placing God First
...that the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains." - 2 Samuel 7:2
King David dwelt in a fine house, but this verse gives us just one of many examples of how David put God above himself. He wasn't self-centered, even with all the power that had been given to him. Instead of gloating about his own house, he was concerned about God's house. He knew God deserved better than to simply dwell behind some curtains in a tent. Do you have that same level of reverence and respect for God? Do you put God's plans for you above your own desires, or do your desires come first? Think about God before you even start to think about yourself, just like David did here. Then God will truly be first in your life.
Various Thoughts About Prophecies
"Thus he said: The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High... " - Daniel 7:23-25a
Prophecy is very difficult to fully understand. This is certainly by design; if we knew for sure when Jesus would return, can you imagine how that knowledge would drastically impact the choices that we make? Some people believe that this prophecy refers back to Rome, while others think it refers to a future kingdom. The part about "pompous words" definitely fits the present time, as atheist groups and many others continue to speak out against God and against Christians. A passage in Revelation 17 (verses 12-14) also refers to these horns and kings, which leads me to believe that this passage is referring to the End Times.
Even Jesus Seeks God's Will
"I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me." - John 5:30
The attitude and perspective of Jesus can really be a fascinating thing to sit and ponder. He is the all-knowing, perfectly wise Son of God. Yet even Jesus doesn't act on His own impulses but seeks the will of His Father in everything He does. If Jesus acts in such a way, shouldn't we be compelled to do the same? Seeking God's will is a crucially important part of living the Christian life. When we act on our own and try to make our own decisions without seeking God's will, we tend to make mistakes. Even on the rare occasion when something good still comes out of those kinds of actions, if it wasn't God's will, then we're only bringing glory to ourselves and not to Him. Follow Jesus' example and seek God's will in everything you do. That truly is the best way to live in this world.
It Is Shameful
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. - Ephesians 5:11-12
Not only is it shameful to take part in those "works of darkness" but Paul says it is shameful even to speak of them! That can have vast applications in our society, a society in which we constantly hear about such things on TV and in other places. Paul urges us to stay away from those things completely, because he knows how even talking about them can pull us away from God and harm our witness for Him. If you're a Christian, then you shouldn't be exposing yourself to these things at all. We are called to be set apart from the world, not to blend in with it. If you're watching filthy TV shows or movies, listening to music with questionable lyrics, telling dirty jokes, or doing anything that is not for the glory of God, then you are doing serious harm not only to yourself but to God's Kingdom. A lot of people in today's world do sinful things then brag about it, but as Christians, we should know better.
You and Your Friends
The righteous should choose his friends carefully,
For the way of the wicked leads them astray.
- Proverbs 12:26
Have you ever been led astray by a friend? I suspect most people have at one time or another. For whatever reason, whenever people get in groups (especially younger people), they tend to push each other to do things that they shouldn't do. If you find yourself in a situation like that, don't just give in and do what you're being pressured to do! By doing that, you blend in with the world and you harm your own Christian witness. Instead, take a bold stand for Jesus and stand up for what's right. It may not be easy and it may not be popular, but Jesus Himself didn't take the easy road when He died on the cross for our sins. Considering all He did for you, can't you take a stand for Him? Chances are, you'll eventually have a positive impact on some of those around you as well. But even if you don't, you will still be honoring God with your choices instead of doing something that you would probably later regret.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
- Psalm 33:8-9
Do you stand in awe of the Lord? Many people, Christians included, don't seem to anymore. It's almost like God is something we talk about on Sundays and then life goes on. STOP! Right now, whatever you're doing, just stop. Take a minute to think about everything that God has blessed you with, all that He has done for you and continues to do for you. You could be amazed at how that can change your perspective and perhaps even your mood. We have so much to be thankful for in this country, but rarely do we express thanks for all that the Lord has blessed us with. Fear the Lord by living as He commands while avoiding sinful things, and stand in awe of the Lord by respecting and worshipping Him.
God Always Sees
Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. ... Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, Jacob. And I said, Here I am. And He said, Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. - Genesis 31:7, 11-12
Sometimes, bad things happen. Sometimes, one person takes advantage of another. Life isn't always fair and justice may not always be served. That is why it is so wonderful that we serve a fair and just God who sees everything! If you recall, Jacob agreed to serve Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, then Laban deceived Jacob and gave him his other daughter, Leah, instead. He then served seven more years for Rachel, and continued serving after that to earn livestock. Apparently Laban continued to change the wages he had promised Jacob, but God was watching all the while. Did Jacob eventually get everything that Laban had promised him? I'm not entirely sure, but we do know one thing: God supplied everything that Jacob needed.
But it happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying, "Go and tell My servant David, Thus says the Lord: 'Would you build a house for Me to dwell in?'" - 2 Samuel 7:4-5
God still dwells among us--now in the form of the Holy Spirit. Be careful to never forget that. Something else we shouldn't forget is that the church is God's house. So many un-Christian things take place within many of our churches nowadays that we can hardly blame a non-Christian for not wanting to come in! It must break God's heart to see some of the things we do to one another in church. We are all God's children, and our primary goal should be to win more souls for Christ. Different people will have different ideas on how to do that, and we won't always agree on everything. (Wouldn't it be a boring world if we did?) But we have got to start getting along with one another inside our churches, and our churches need to work together better as well! Only then can we start to make a big impact in the lost souls of this world which are all around us.
Possible Description of the Antichrist
"And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; he shall destroy fearfully, and shall prosper and thrive; he shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people. Through his cunning he shall cause deceit to prosper under his rule; and he shall exalt himself in his heart. He shall destroy many in their prosperity. He shall even rise against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without human means. And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future." - Daniel 8:23-26
According to the angel Gabriel in Daniel 8:17 and 8:19, this vision does refer to the End Times. What does that mean to us? If the End Times are near, then we should be on the lookout for someone who fits this description. Just be careful not to let someone's words fool you, because I feel like the antichrist will be a slick type of person who manipulates people with his words.
The Witness of Jesus
"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. ... But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish--the very works that I do--bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." - John 5:31-33, 36
Another word that could take the place of "true" in the first sentence of this passage is "valid." Jesus wasn't implying that His witness is untrue when he spoke those words; rather, He was saying that it would not be a valid testimony because no one can be a witness for himself. But we don't have to merely take Jesus' word for it when He says He is the Son of God. We have the testimony of others such as John, numerous Old Testament prophecies, and the many wonders and miracles that Jesus performed, including the greatest miracle of all--the Resurrection. There is no doubt that Jesus is who he claims to be!
Walk With Wisdom
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. - Ephesians 5:15-17
In the Bible a "fool" is basically a person who lives apart from God and walks in the ways of the world. We have lots of people who think they are wise in a worldly way, but they can't truly be wise if they're missing out on the most important thing of all! Paul's advice here is to simply be wise in our choices and in the way we live, and the best way to do that is to discern the will of the Lord. That isn't always easy, but it does become much easier when we spend regular time in prayer (both talking and listening) and live in a way that is pleasing to God, thus strengthening our relationship with Him. We also can't be self-centered while trying to live for God. Far too many people in today's society are living for themselves, not thinking about others and not thinking a whole lot about God, even if they are Christians. We must let go of our own desires and live for God in order to discern His will for our lives.
Listening to Wise Instruction, Part 1 of 2
A wise son heeds his father's instruction,
But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
- Proverbs 13:1
When I read this verse and then look at the present state of the world around me, so many things come to mind that I could write about. One thing deals with children, and those who no longer seem to pay much attention to the instruction of their parents, teachers, or other adults. Something has gone terribly wrong in our society since the 1950s and 1960s when school children were well-disciplined. But rather than dwell on what has gone wrong, what can we do to improve the situation? I think the most important thing is to be serious about discipline and don't try to be your child's friend. Disciplining a child means that you love that child, and I think that's an idea that has been lost among many people. God disciplines us and lets us suffer sometimes out of His great love for us, because He knows the good that will ultimately come out of whatever the situation may be. Similarly, children need discipline in order to learn the difference between right and wrong.
God's Plan, Not Ours
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
- Psalm 33:10
This verse seems to be talking about countries or nations of people, but the idea can be applied to anything. We constantly make all of these plans--which, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing. For example, I have a couple of back-up plans so that I can still get my website updated if my primary internet provider is having problems. And in a broader sense, it is wise to plan for the future. But where we get ourselves in trouble is when we try to make our own plans without consulting God first. Prayer is vital when it comes to making big plans for the future or even when making less significant decisions. God can do something that can cause our plans to come crashing down in an instant. Spend ample time in prayer to make sure your plans line up with what God is leading you to do.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, "Because I was afraid, for I said, Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force." - Genesis 31:31
After Laban had dealt deceitfully with Jacob and his wages, Jacob felt he could no longer trust him. Eventually, due to the fear that had been caused by that level of distrust, he set off with his family (including Laban's two daughters) without telling Laban that he was leaving. When Laban found out what had happened, he pursued Jacob and finally caught up to him. When Laban asked Jacob why he left so suddenly, Jacob gave the completely honest answer that you read above. He didn't try to shy away from the truth hoping that would make the situation less tense, which is the way many people would have responded. He just told the truth, in a very simple and straightforward manner. No matter what kind of situation you may find yourself in, being honest is always the best way to respond. Lying only causes more problems in the long run.
But it happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying, "Go and tell My servant David, Thus says the Lord: "Would you build a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, Why have you not built Me a house of cedar? - 2 Samuel 7:4-7
To me, these verses give us a beautiful picture of the character of our God. He is truly a gentle, loving God. Yes, He can become jealous and angry, but only in a righteous manner! Think about what is taking place in these verses. God led His chosen people (who complained all the way) to the Promised Land, and only after they had been there for quite some time did He ask for a house for Himself. Our God is so incredibly selfless, always working to take care of His people without thinking about Himself.
Daniel's Physical Reaction
And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days; afterward I arose and went about the king's business. I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it. - Daniel 8:27
Daniel added this short closing after the description and interpretation of his second vision. Clearly it was a very powerful, intense, and disturbing time for him if it caused him to become so sick and weak afterwards. To me, that just gives us another piece of evidence that it did in fact come from God; otherwise, it could not have had such a powerful impact on Daniel. An intense physical reaction can make a person's witness and testimony much more powerful, just like what happened to Saul's (Paul's) eyesight when he was walking along the road and Jesus spoke to him. The prophecies in Daniel are difficult to fully understand and to even attempt to analyze a portion of them would require much more space than I have here. I encourage you to read them for yourself and take the time to research and analyze these words to develop a better understanding of what is to come as we approach the End Times.
Come to Jesus
"And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." - John 5:37-40
The people to whom Jesus was speaking must have had hearts as hard as many people in today's world! Going to church and reading the Bible are certainly good things, but you can't get into heaven just by those actions. There's only one way into heaven, and that is through the saving grace of Jesus. That may not be a popular thing to say in our modern world, but as the old saying goes, what's popular is not always what's right. Don't worry about what other people may think or say. Isn't your relationship with Jesus, not to mention where you're going to spend eternity, more important than other people's opinions? Open your heart and mind and come to Jesus, giving yourself freely to Him, and you will see the wonder that is in Him.
Run to God Instead
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. - Ephesians 5:18-21
The first part of this verse is clear: Don't get drunk with wine or any type of alcohol. I could climb onto my soapbox and go on a lengthy rant about that, but to sum it all up in one short point, there is absolutely nothing good that comes from consuming alcohol, especially excess amounts of it. If you do become intoxicated and mentally impaired, how can you possibly serve God? Don't run to alcohol to escape from reality; run to God instead. He's the only one who can truly give us peace and joy, thus freeing us from the burdens that can sometimes be overwhelming in this life. Then you will be free to give God praise and thanks for all that He has done and continues to do for each and every one of us!
Listening to Wise Instruction, Part 2 of 2
A wise son heeds his father's instruction,
But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
- Proverbs 13:1
Another idea that comes to mind from this verse deals not with children but with adults (which could very well be why we have such a problem with our children). An increasing number of adults in our society don't like to be told when they are doing something wrong. They live for themselves and just want to do whatever "feels" right, regardless of how it impacts other people. What a horribly selfish way to live! This idea also pertains to religious beliefs. A lot of people want to formulate their own beliefs nowadays. For the record, I fully support their right to do that--no matter how wrong or self-centered it may be. But many of those same people are fighting to remove everything that is Christian from our culture. If they can believe whatever they want, why can't we do the same thing? It's hypocritical. Everyone, whether child or adult, needs to be wise and listen to advice, instruction, and rebuke from others. That's one of the best ways to learn and to live in a manner that is much less self-centered.
A Blessed Nation
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
- Psalm 33:12
Our nation prospered for a long time while God was at the center of so many things in this great country. I believe it is no coincidence that, as our nation's leaders and various (rather worthless) organizations try to remove God from different places across our country, we continue to experience great struggles, economic and otherwise. Unless we place God at the center again, our struggles will continue. What can we do? Among other things, we can make our voice heard through various media outlets and through our votes. But most of all, we just need to pray. Our country and its leaders are in desperate need of prayer for God's guidance. It's such a big problem that it's easy to think one prayer won't make a difference; I admit my own guilt in that regard. But God hears our prayers, and we need to be serious about them. A fervent prayer CAN indeed make a difference (see James 5:16-18).
Jacob's Humble Heart
"I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies." - Genesis 32:10
Here we find Jacob nearing his brother Esau, who he hasn't seen in many, many years. He fears that Esau is going to come after him and attack him, a fear that we later learn was unfounded. In any case, I wanted to examine Jacob's attitude in this verse. God has blessed Jacob greatly, and Jacob knows it. He doesn't try to praise himself for everything that he has earned and accomplished. He gives all the praise and glory to God, and humbles himself by admitting that he is not worthy. In truth, not a single one of us is worthy, when we look at how perfect God is. We often get so busy judging one another ("at least I'm not as bad as that other person!") that we fail to view things from God's perspective. We would all be wise to remember Jacob's perspective from this verse and to try to have a similar perspective ourselves.