|February 2012 Daily Devotion Archive|
Hope For the Childless
"Sing, O barren,
You who have not borne!
Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
You who have not labored with child!
For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman," says the Lord.
"For you shall expand to the right and to the left,
And your descendants will inherit the nations,
And make the desolate cities inhabited.
"Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.
For the Lord has called you
Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,
Like a youthful wife when you were refused,"
Says your God.
- Isaiah 54:1, 3-6
The Least Will Be Greatest
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me." - Matthew 18:1-5
So often while here on this earth, we get things completely backwards. Here, the disciples asked Jesus, who would be the greatest in heaven? As He so often did, Jesus responded in a manner contrary to our conventional thinking. We don't need to do great things on earth in order to impress God. What we need to do, instead, is humble ourselves so that other people don't see us but see Christ working through us. When that happens, God receives all the glory and more people will be drawn into His Kingdom. God is the greatest, and when we humble ourselves, we allow His greatness to shine through.
Question to Ponder: Do you humble yourself, allowing others to see God working through you?
Be Christ-Like Around Others
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. - 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12
As Paul writes these words, he is not trying to brag about himself. Indeed, anyone who has read Paul's letters knows that he is as humble as anyone. Instead, he is trying to give us an example to follow. He and those who were with him conducted themselves in a very Christ-like manner while visiting with the people of Thessalonica. We need to follow that same example when we are around other people, whether they are fellow Christians or non-believers. Paul also mentions that they encouraged and comforted the people during their visit, but they charged them in their walks with Christ as well. All of those things are important: We need to encourage one another, but we also need to keep one another on the right path.
Question to Ponder: Could these words describe your daily life--do you act in a Christ-like manner around other people?
I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past.
Moreover I saw under the sun:
In the place of judgment,
Wickedness was there;
And in the place of righteousness,
Iniquity was there.
I said in my heart,
"God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,
For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work."
- Ecclesiastes 3:14-17
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting...
- Psalm 103:1-4, 8-12, 17a
Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock--of the herd and of the flock." - Leviticus 1:1-2
The first seven chapters of Leviticus detail various offerings (burnt, grain, peace, sin, trespass, etc.) that were required of the Israelites by God. Reading about all of those offerings should make us very, very thankful that God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we don't have to present sacrifices or other types of offerings like the Israelites did prior to the coming of Jesus. God made it very easy for us, but because it is so easy, we don't take sin as seriously as we should. What would make you take sinning more seriously--having to offer a sacrifice to God, or just asking for forgiveness? If we truly understand who God is and who Jesus is, then asking for forgiveness should be a big deal. Sadly, sin has become so commonplace that many people don't think much about it anymore. I encourage you to use this section of Leviticus to remind you that sin is a very big deal to God.
Question to Ponder: Is it a big deal to you when you sin, or do you not think much about it?
Failing to Pray First, Part 1 of 3
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, "Go up and spy out the country." So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few." So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. - Joshua 7:2-4
After the Israelites swiftly defeated the people in Jericho, it seems to me that Joshua became a little overconfident. When they reached the next town, Ai, Joshua just sent a few thousand men because he figured that he didn't need to send any more than that. Where did he make his mistake? He didn't pray first and ask for God's guidance. The reason why they lost this battle actually goes even deeper, which we will look at next Tuesday, but the moral of this story remains the same: Always pray and ask for God's guidance before making a decision, especially a major one. We do not need to try to do things our own way.
Question to Ponder: Do you pray and earnestly seek God's guidance before you make decisions?
An Eternal Focus
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
"For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
- Isaiah 55:2a, 8-11
The Consequences of Leading Children Astray
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" - Matthew 18:6-7
It is bad enough when an adult sins, but we sin because we choose to do so. (Even if the temptation is exceedingly great, we still have to make that choice.) Here, Jesus warns against leading children astray. If you have children, or if you are a teacher or work with children in any capacity, you have an influence on them, whether you realize it or not. It is extremely important that Christians provide a good, positive example for children to follow, never leading them astray. Also keep in mind that children tend to follow your actions more than your words. If you tell them to do one thing and then you do something else, they very well may follow what you do instead of what you say, and then you have led them astray. I urge you to always be a strong Christian role model whenever you are around children.
Question to Ponder: If you have children or work with them in some capacity, do they see Jesus through your actions?
The Importance of Discipleship
[We sent Timothy] to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain. - 1 Thessalonians 3:2b-5
Paul didn't just go to Thessalonica, preach the gospel of Christ, lead people to His saving grace, and then leave them behind, forgetting about them. He did have to move on to the next city, but he didn't forget about these people. He sent Timothy to check on them, and then wrote two letters himself. Discipleship is an important part of the Christian walk. Leading someone to Christ and then forgetting about them doesn't do much to help that person. A new Christian needs other Christians to come alongside for encouragement and spiritual growth. Paul knew how important that was, and we need to remember that, too.
Question to Ponder: What can you do to help with the spiritual growth of fellow Christians, especially new believers?
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Oh, give thanks to the Lord!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
O seed of Abraham His servant,
You children of Jacob, His chosen ones!
He is the Lord our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations...
- Psalm 105:1-8
The Holiness of the Lord
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke, saying: By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified." So Aaron held his peace. - Leviticus 10:1-3
From our human perspective, this reaction by God may seem rather harsh. But that is only because we tend to forget how holy God is. I wrote about a similar idea two Mondays ago, but it is important enough to address again. God is holy! He is perfect, just, righteous, blameless, and holy, among many other adjectives that could be used to describe Him. He created all of us and everything around us, and He does so much for us out of His never-ending love. He deserves our respect! Doing anything that profanes God or His name (as many people do without even realizing) is disrespectful to our God.
Question to Ponder: Could any of your thoughts or actions toward God be viewed by Him as disrespectful or profane?
Failing to Pray First, Part 2 of 3
So the Lord said to Joshua: "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. - Joshua 7:10-12a
This is really the reason why the Israelites lost the first battle at Ai. Joshua failed to pray and seek God's guidance first, but if he had, I believe that God would have revealed this to him sooner. When the Israelites attacked Jericho, God commanded them to not take any accursed things from the city. One man, Achan, disobeyed this order, and took some of those things out of Jericho. Why was this such a big deal? Because he was clinging to worldly things and things that were not of God, and he intentionally acted against God's command. Once he was punished for his sin, Israel (with God's guidance) is able to defeat Ai (see Joshua 8).
Question to Ponder: What worldly things do you cling to instead of clinging to God?
All you beasts of the field, come to devour,
All you beasts in the forest.
His watchmen are blind,
They are all ignorant;
They are all dumb dogs,
They cannot bark;
Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.
Yes, they are greedy dogs
Which never have enough.
And they are shepherds
Who cannot understand;
They all look to their own way,
Every one for his own gain,
From his own territory.
"Come," one says, "I will bring wine,
And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink;
Tomorrow will be as today,
And much more abundant."
- Isaiah 56:9-12
An Eternal Perspective
"If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire." - Matthew 18:8-9
Here, Jesus offers us an eternal perspective, which we so often lack in our day-to-day lives because we are so focused on the present that we forget about the future, especially with regard to eternity. Think about it like this: Which would be better, to spend 80 years or so on earth with a disability, or to spend the rest of eternity in hell, separated from God? Obviously, that is an easy choice, but the problem is that we tend to forget to think in that way. The challenge for us is to remember to think with more of an eternal perspective whenever we face a choice or a decision.
Question to Ponder: How often do you find that you are focusing on the present and forgetting about eternity?
Paul's Plea for Purity
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. - 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Our culture makes it difficult to follow the commands given in these verses. We see evidence of sexual immorality all around us, especially when watching TV or movies. Non-believers often act out of uncontrolled lust because, without a right relationship with Jesus, they may not know any better. But as Christians, we don't have that excuse. We do know better, and we have the Holy Spirit inside of us to act as our guide. Our bodies belong to God, and we need to keep that in mind in all that we do.
Question to Ponder: How sexually pure are your thoughts and actions in a typical day?
Better a poor and wise youth
Than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more.
For he comes out of prison to be king,
Although he was born poor in his kingdom.
I saw all the living who walk under the sun;
They were with the second youth who stands in his place.
There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king;
Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him.
Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
- Ecclesiastes 4:13-16
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
A good man deals graciously and lends;
He will guide his affairs with discretion.
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance. He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever;
His horn will be exalted with honor.
- Psalm 111:10; 112:1, 4-7, 9
God's Command Concerning Alcohol
Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses." - Leviticus 10:8-11
Although this passage of Scripture is directed at priests, I am going to apply it to all of us. In these verses, God may not be directly commanding everyone to stay away from alcohol, but it seems clear to me that He does not want us to consume it at all. My personal conviction is that it is wrong and sinful to consume alcohol in any way or any amount. It does not glorify God and it alters your mind. How can either of those things bring about something good? They cannot; therefore, what does alcohol accomplish? It certainly doesn't accomplish anything good or godly. Remember that your body is a temple that should be treated with care. Live for God, not for yourself.
Question to Ponder: Does God want you to consume alcohol?
Failing to Pray First, Part 3 of 3
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. ... And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us." ... And Joshua said to them, "Who are you, and where do you come from?" So they said to him: "From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God." ... Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them. - Joshua 9:3-4a, 6, 8b-9a, 14-15
These people actually lived nearby, but pretended like they came from far away because they feared God and Israel. If Joshua had chosen to pray and seek God's counsel before making a decision about this treaty, God would have led him in the right direction. However, the Israelites acted on their own, and as a result, made a treaty with people who were lying to them.
Question to Ponder: Why is it important to pray and seek God's counsel before making decisions?
"Are you not children of transgression,
Offspring of falsehood,
Inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree,
Slaying the children in the valleys,
Under the clefts of the rocks?
Even to them you have poured a drink offering,
You have offered a grain offering.
Should I receive comfort in these?
And of whom have you been afraid, or feared,
That you have lied
And not remembered Me,
Nor taken it to your heart?
Is it not because I have held My peace from of old
That you do not fear Me?
When you cry out,
Let your collection of idols deliver you.
But the wind will carry them all away,
A breath will take them.
But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land,
And shall inherit My holy mountain."
- Isaiah 57:4b-5, 6b, 11, 13
Leaving the Ninety-Nine
"What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." - Matthew 18:12-14
I don't think anything would make our God happier than if every single one of us came to Him and asked to be forgiven and saved through Jesus Christ. I don't believe that anyone is predestined to go to hell. But God gives each one of us free will, and it is up to each of us to make the choice for ourselves. God wants us to come to Him, and if we go astray, He will give us opportunities to come back to Him. But ultimately, the choice is ours. This passage especially speaks to those of you who may have fallen away from the Lord. It isn't too late--come back to Him, ask for forgiveness, and He will rejoice over you!
Question to Ponder: What choice will you make--to follow God or to abandon Him?
How to Love and How to Live
But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. - 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
According to Paul, the people of Thessalonica already had a strong love for one another. However, Paul urges them to continue to increase that love. You can never give or receive too much love! In addition, Paul urges these people to lead quiet lives, enjoying the inner peace that comes from Christ and letting that peace shine through to others. He also implores them to mind their own business rather than trying to run other people's lives--a useful command for all of us! Overall, Paul is pleased with how the people of Thessalonica are conducting themselves, but we can always strive to become even more like Christ.
Question to Ponder: Do you struggle with any of these three ideals (loving others, living quietly, or minding your own business)?
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.
Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool's voice is known by his many words.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed--
Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.
- Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
Why should the Gentiles say,
"So where is their God?"
But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
- Psalm 115:1-8
The Bible and Science
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood. "Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off." - Leviticus 17:11-14
In 1616, a scientist named William Harvey discovered the circulatory system and proposed the idea that blood sustains life. Some 3,000 years earlier, Moses recorded the passage above, which clearly indicates that blood is the source of life. Could any human being have possibly known that fact at that time? Of course not! This passage provides further evidence that the Bible had to have been inspired by God Himself.
Question to Ponder: Do you have a science-loving skeptical friend who you could share this passage of Scripture with?
The Power of Prayer and the Power of God
Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: "Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon." So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel. - Joshua 10:12-14
God answered Joshua's prayer in a powerful way on this day! Some may read this account and wonder if it really happened. Could the sun really stand still for a whole day? Surely this must be an exaggeration! The problem is, if you think like that, you diminish the power of God. Does God have the power to make this happen? Of course He does; He created the sun and everything else in the universe! God can use something that seems hard to believe to demonstrate His mighty power.
Question to Ponder: Do you believe that this account is a true story, that our God can do something like this?
Healing for the Backslider
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
I have seen his ways, and will heal him;
I will also lead him,
And restore comforts to him
And to his mourners.
"I create the fruit of the lips:
Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,"
Says the Lord,
"And I will heal him."
But the wicked are like the troubled sea,
When it cannot rest,
Whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
"There is no peace,"
Says my God, "for the wicked."
- Isaiah 57:15, 18-21