Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Devotions: The Blessings of Being Rooted in God

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

These verses come from a section talking about how deceptive and untrustworthy our hearts are. We cannot trust our hearts to lead us in the right or best direction. It also says that we cannot (should not) trust in man, partly because man is mortal, sinful and has a heart just a deceptive as ours. Man is also weak and stupid compared to God. Why would we rely on others instead of God? How can they compare to Him in wisdom, strength or power? We are infinitely blessed if we put our trust in God, not just in theory, but with intention and entirety. We have to consciously seek God’s help and rely on Him alone to do it. That doesn’t mean we should never seek the help or advice of others, but we should go to God first. That was the mistake of Israel. They relied on Egypt to deliver them from oppression, they trusted in the strength of men rather than turning to God to save them. The blessings of trusting God first and foremost? We will be like a tree planted by water, with deep roots, evergreen leaves and abundant fruit. Remember this was written in the Middle East, a land of few trees or water. In order for a tree to survive it had to be near water, and most trees were not much to look at. But a tree that was planted (which implies it is also tended rather than wild) by water will not thirst in drought, it will always have enough, and its leaves will never dry up for lack of water. Trusting in God keeps us from want; we will always have what we need because He is the God who provides. We don’t have to fear when troubles come because He will be there to sustain us. It will yield fruit. We will continue to grow and be fruitful, productive, if we trust in God. If we seek Him continually, we will always be filled and always be growing, so we will always bear godly fruit. If we seek help elsewhere, chances are we will have seasons of drought where our leaves will whither and our branches barren of fruit. But if we trust in God, even in suffering we will continue to grow and produce. Trust in the Lord and be fruitful!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Devotions: Blessings of Mercy!

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Isaiah 56:1-2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This is part of the prophecy against Israel, who strayed, turned away from the One True God to foreign gods, and committed horrendous sin, and was therefore doomed to experience God’s wrath. The previous chapters lay out God’s plan for salvation, foretelling the coming of Christ and His sacrifice for all. Through Him, God offers mercy to all who will accept it, to all who will turn and come to God. When God comes to offer us something, we must come to Him to receive it. In so doing…1-We must preserve justice. The land at that time was full of corruption, officials who took brides and leaders who lied and gave false witness for their own profit. But the children of God are to be honest and just. 2-We are to do righteousness. We are not to live in sin, contrary to the ways and laws of God. As God’s people, we are to be holy as He is holy. We are not to use His free grace as an excuse to live selfishly, but as the power to live as He does. 3-We are to keep from profaning the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not some ritualistic day with many rules and no meaning. It was meant as a time of rest, a time to realize our humanity and need for God, and a time to spend in the presence of God, seeking and enjoying Him. It is a day meant to bless us. 4-We are to refrain from evil. By God’s grace, we are not saved by observance of the law or sacrifices; we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone. This is an awesome gift that we could never earn or deserve in any way. That gift demands a life of grateful service. The more we realize the great debt from which we have been saved, the more grateful we will be to our Savior and the more we will desire to serve Him with our whole lives. The best way that we can show God our gratitude is through obedience, not out of duty but out of love. 1 John 5:3 says that love is keeping His commands. By obeying God and avoiding sin, we are not earning salvation but loving God.
If we do these things we will be blessed. We will escape His wrath and punishment. We will have His grace and mercy. We will walk in His love.

This applies to all who come. The following verses include two groups of people who would ordinarily have felt excluded from the grace of God: eunuchs and foreigners. Foreigners were often excluded because they were not of the children of God, even if they were converted to Judaism. But under the new salvation God was bringing, heritage and nationality would no longer be grounds for exclusion, all are welcome! Eunuchs may have felt excluded even if they were Jews because they were limited. They could not have children. They lacked the ability to have that further blessing of a “full quiver”. But under God’s salvation, they have the opportunity of many children through faith! How great is the God we serve!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Country of Origin

A lot is said about the country of origin. Products and produce are so labeled. People have flags and other signs to show where they came from. A person’s home nation is often clear by the way they act and how they talk. Citizenship is a hot topic; many making demands about what should be required to become a citizen, etc. Some think that a person should adopt the language and “culture” of their new country. We have ambassadors who travel to other countries in an attempt to improve and maintain relationships between countries. All this talk made me think, what does the Bible say about our citizenship?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Devotions: Blessings from Helping in the Harvest

How blessed will you be, you who sow beside all waters,
Who let out freely the ox and the donkey.

Isaiah 32:20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This chapter begins talking about the peace and prosperity brought by the reign of a king who honors God and serves the people. Righteousness will be praised and foolishness and evil will be punished. Justice will be done and life will be as it should. Then it warns those who are lazy to wake up, to quit ignoring their sin and make things right, and talks about the horror which will follow the destruction of the land because of their sin. But then the Spirit will be poured out on them and all will be made right again. And those who are working the fields will be blessed.

According to Matthew Henry, it is assumed that the king at the beginning refers to the rule of Hezekiah. He was one of the most righteous kings of Judah, after David, and the country enjoyed peace and prosperity under him. But his son and heirs were corrupt. They immediately turned against God, started serving false gods and committed horrible sins including sacrificing their own children to idols. The country suffered dreadfully as a result of their sin and later were conquered and exiled. Isaiah tried to warn them time and again to turn from their sin, but they would not listen. Exile ended the rule of Judah’s kings, until the coming of Christ. Then He became their eternal King who poured out His Spirit on them and brought peace and prosperity to His kingdom. The first reign of peace, verses 1-8, spoke of physical peace and prosperity brought by a physical king on a physical kingdom. The second reign of peace, verses 15-20, speaks of spiritual peace and prosperity brought by a spiritual King on a spiritual kingdom. This is the kingdom of God, of which we are a part as Christians. We may have physical, temporary suffering and difficulty, but we have eternal peace through Christ. This last verse that talks about sowing refers to those who are sowing spiritual seed in the soil of souls. We are blessed for doing God’s work and sharing the Good News of His eternal Kingdom. We are a greater part of the kingdom by helping to bring in the harvest. It doesn’t affect our salvation, but those who do not help receive no reward. We aren’t punished for not doing it, but we are blessed if we do. Sow beside all the waters, spread His seed, and be blessed!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Devotions: the Blessedness of Waiting

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.

Isaiah 30:18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

In this chapter, God encourages the Israelites to trust Him rather than turning to Egypt for assistance and deliverance from oppression. But Israel would not listen, they trust in mortals and numbers rather than in the Almighty God. Because of that, God allows them to be conquered and exiled and their country to be laid waste and desolate. But God does not desire any to perish, nor to bear the pain of consequence. He allows them to be disciplined for their disobedience because He is a good parent, but it grieves Him to see their pain. If only they would turn to Him! The words “long” and “wait” come from the same root which denotes waiting in anticipation. His desire is to be good to His people, He greatly desires to stop their pain, but He is also just and He will not allow unrepentant sin to go unpunished. But those who long for Him, or wait for/on Him, are blessed. Those who put their trust in God rather than in others or themselves will prosper because they will avoid the pain of the consequences of sin and rebellion.
This is such a beautiful verse! Israel had been horribly rebellious and sinful, yet God’s love was so much greater that He longed for them to be healed, to turn to Him in spite of all the evil they had done. And the same is true for us! We all sin. We all have periods of turning from God to our own way. But God offers us the same grace and mercy. He longingly waits for us to return to Him, to repent of our sin and waywardness. He is ready to take us back the instant we turn to Him! That is why He waits to return, He doesn’t want any more to be lost than absolutely necessary (1 Peter 3:9)! Don’t wait any longer! Turn to the Lord, wait on Him and be blessed!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Devotions: the Blessings of Fear

How blessed is the man who fears always,
But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Proverbs 28:14 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This proverb contrasts two kinds of people: the man who fears and the man who has a hard heart, the man who is blessed and the one who falls into calamity. This fear refers to a reverent awe of God, and it must be continual. The hard heart refers to those who are unrepentant, who test or question God as the Israelites did during the exodus. This hardness of heart is not a lack of emotion, but rebellion against God, stubbornly refusing to turn from sin and listen to God as Pharaoh did during the plagues. We have a choice; we can submit to God, surrendering ourselves to His Lordship and leadership, or we can go our own way and refuse to obey Him. The first choice results in blessing but requires humility, the second choice allows pride and self to rule but results in disaster. The second choice doesn’t always look like blatant rebellion either. It can be subtle, simply choosing to not obey. Rebellion against God requires nothing more than doing things our way instead of His. We don’t have to fight Christianity to gain that title. We can be “good” Christians who go to church and bible study regularly and yet do what we know the Bible says we shouldn’t. It is proof of a lack of fear. If we truly revered God, we would do everything He said without hesitation. That is the basis of reverence, respecting, admiring, venerating to the point that He is the highest of all. If we do that, then we will naturally obey not only out of respect but because we believe that His way is best. Our lack of obedience shows our lack of allegiance, and that will end in catastrophe. Sin always does. We can choose humility, reverence and blessing, or pride, rebellion and disaster. Which will you choose?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Heart of the Matter

So much emphasis is placed on our actions, in Christianity and in the world. I just finished a series on virtues and it dealt mostly with appropriate actions. Most other religions are based almost solely on actions, a works-based faith. Even the Old Testament seems to point that direction. But what is the most important to God?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Devotions: Blessing for Future Generations

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—
How blessed are his sons after him.

Proverbs 20:7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Integrity has to do with how strong or stable a person’s character is, including being honest and having strong moral principles. It is the depth of a person’s convictions by which they live. A righteous man is one who lives uprightly, justly, obedient to God and His Word. Pairing these two traits, this man is not only a good law-abiding citizen but he also is not wavered by those around him. His obedience to God is not dependent on the company he keeps, or whether he is alone, he lives a righteous life every moment he breathes. Integrity and righteousness are a way of life for him and he does not stray from it. We have talked before of the blessings from living such a life, but this verse shows that we are not the only ones to receive that blessing. Our children also benefit from the way we choose to live. They do not bear the shame and misfortune of a parent who suffers the consequences of poor choices and wrong actions. They are not influenced by a lifestyle that chooses sin and pleasure above righteousness and godliness. Rather they are given a good example that they will likely follow into their adult life. Children often chafe at the rules and “stiff” upbringing of a righteous parent, but as Proverbs says earlier, later in life they will not stray from the teaching they have received. Being parents of righteousness and integrity blesses our children by giving them a good home life and upbringing, and also by giving them a firm foundation and straight way to follow in their own lives. Walk in integrity and bless your family!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Devotions: the Blessings of Attention

He who gives attention to the word will find good,
And blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.

Proverbs 16:20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This chapter in general contrasts the wicked with the godly. The godly pay attention to the Word of God and trust in Him. The word translated “attention” literally means to consider, ponder, or be prudent. It does not imply to merely reading or hearing, but to meditate on it, consider what it means, and wisely apply what is read. If we do that, we will find good. God’s Word holds the key to life, the more we absorb, think about, live by it the better our lives will be. It stands to reason, then, that if we are meditating on and applying God’s Word that we will also trust in Him. His Word is full of examples of His sovereignty, goodness, faithfulness, unfailing love, etc, more than we need to encourage trust in Him. But we need to go beyond head knowledge, talk and theory. We need to intimately, relationally know God, actively do what He says, and trust Him to take care of us. We shouldn’t worry about anything, that shows a lack of trust and faith. Instead, when something concerns us, we need to take it to God, honestly talk with Him about it, and trust that He will take care of it, leaving it in His hands. It is so easy to try to take back control, to make it happen ourselves, but that is not trusting in God and does not result in blessing. It only results in further worry and stress, not to mention the likelihood of failure. Pay attention to God’s Word, do what it says, and trust in Him! 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Devotions: the Blessings of Walking in Wisdom

Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.

Proverbs 8:32 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Whenever we see “therefore” it means that what follows is the summary or point of the previous verses. The chapter begins with a call for all to come to wisdom, to seek understanding and to live by it because wisdom holds truth and righteousness. We can trust God’s wisdom because there is no corruption or wickedness in it, His truth is perfect, and it is more valuable than all the wealth of the world. It is through God’s wisdom that we receive counsel, knowledge and the tools necessary for leadership and decision making, and it is powerful. This is the same wisdom with which God created the universe and everything in it, and He uses it still to govern our lives and world. Wisdom is also the Lord’s delight. He rejoices in it and in those who use it. The chapter ends with further admonition to heed the instruction of wisdom. Rather than neglecting wisdom, we need to pursue it and live by it. We need to “camp out” at her door for those who find her find life, but those who despise her and sin not only injure themselves, but love death. Wisdom brings with it a multitude of blessings. Prosperity in every area of life is evident through the use of wisdom, and it brings the joy and peace that result from a life of obedience to God, free of the sorrows of sin and poor decisions. Pursue wisdom and be blessed!