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The Birth of Jesus Foretold

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:34-35 esv).

By the time of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, the land of Israel found itself under Roman rule, which at times could be oppressive. The reality posed by Rome challenged the widely held belief among the Jews that our God is the only god, and we are His chosen people. The present reality produced a widespread yearning for God’s redemption, which many thought His Messiah would accomplish.

Gabriel announced a message to Mary that had been anticipated and hoped for by many. So, on the one hand, she was prepared to hear it and receive it. There was only one problem. She was to be the vessel of God’s redemption, giving birth to His Son. And she was a virgin: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Gabriel then proceeded to relay how this would be accomplished, concluding with the reminder, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 esv). The Jews found themselves in a difficult period awaiting God’s redemption, and Mary found herself incapable of seeing how she could fulfill what Gabriel told her.

The message of Advent is God entering into human history in a way that previously He had not done. At the moment when things looked the bleakest for His people and impossible for Mary, He provided a way. He entered their story. Upon hearing what God intended to do, Mary’s response was one of trust and obedience: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 esv).

Throughout the Bible, God showed up to deliver His people. When circumstances seemed the darkest, He sent messages of hope. When things seemed impossible, He sent deliverance. God is for us. The annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary proclaims that He is with us.

Will we choose to respond to God, like Mary, with trust and obedience? Even when we don’t understand how He will accomplish His purposes, will we choose to act as His servants? Mary chose to trust what God told her and to submit to His will. Her choice led to the redemption of the world. This Advent, do we trust God regardless of the appearance of our external circumstances? Will we obediently submit to His will for Him to bring hope and deliverance in our lives?

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending Your Son. Regardless of how difficult the circumstances appeared, You made a way. Lord, may we submit to You as Your servants to bring Your light and hope to our world. Amen.

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Do You Want to Be Blessed?

“How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they follow His ways” (Psalm 119:1-3 hcsb).

Hebrew poetry, like the psalms, uses a form known as “parallelism.” Parallelism within poetry offers a way of saying something and providing either a statement of equivalent meaning, a statement of antithetical meaning, or an expanded meaning. The first verses of Psalm 119 offer parallelism that provides an equivalent meaning.

For example, “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless” equals those “who walk according to the law of the Lord.” In other words, those whose ways are blameless walk according to the law of the Lord. Notice that this parallelism also brings clarity to what the psalmist meant about a way that is blameless. How does one have a blameless way? By walking in the law of the Lord, i.e., obeying God’s commands. And this is where verse 2 begins: “Blessed are those who keep His statutes.”

Verse 2, then, continues the parallelism of verse 1: Those whose ways are blameless equal those who walk according to the law of the Lord equal those who keep His statutes. Verse 2 also has its own parallelism between the first and second parts of the verse: Those who keep His statutes are those who seek Him with all their heart.

Once you become aware of this technique with Hebrew poetry (in Psalms, Proverbs, and the prophets especially), it helps to clarify a lot of “spiritual” language of the Bible. For example, how often do we hear a call to seek God? But how does one do that? It’s right here in Psalm 119:2—we seek God with our whole heart by keeping His commands. The thought of verse 2, however, continues into verse 3: “They do no wrong but follow His ways.” This also explains how one seeks God with their whole heart, by doing no wrong, which is walking in His ways. As we already noticed, a person’s way is blameless when they walk in the law of the Lord, which means keeping His statutes and commands. 

The Psalmist provided us with the path of blessing, to walk in the law of the Lord, to keep His ways, which means that we seek Him with our whole heart. Then we will be blessed.

PRAYER

Lord, may we seek You with our whole heart by keeping Your statutes and commands. Amen.

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Far from the Promise

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there” (1 Samuel 22:1 niv).

David found himself for a period of his life having to flee from Saul. Saul pursued him wherever he went. David felt so pressed that he even had to seek refuge with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath (Goliath’s hometown). As you can imagine, the Philistines mistrusted David and did not welcome him warmly. So, David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

Adullam sits on the border between the Philistine territory of Gath and the tribal territory of Judah (David’s tribe). It overlooks the Elah Valley where David defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath (1 Samuel 17). So, David flees from Saul, unaccepted even by Saul’s enemies, and finds himself in the cave at Adullam overlooking the site of his greatest victory.

When David defeated Goliath, he found himself at the top. He defeated Goliath, saved Israel, defended the honor of God and Israel, and was taken into Saul’s court. Also, he had been secretly anointed the future king by Samuel. Things looked promising. You have to wonder whether David thought his path from his victory in the Elah Valley to the throne was going to be a smooth, straight shot. To a certain extent, when he stood over the body of Goliath, cutting his head off with Goliath’s sword, the Philistine army fleeing with the Israelites in pursuit, he stood very close to God’s promise to him of the kingship, there in the Elah Valley.

When he found himself in the cave of Adullam, overlooking the same valley, the location of his greatest triumph, he was the furthest from the throne and God’s promise than he had ever been. Every morning when he woke, he looked over the scene of his victory, and you wonder whether he found himself despairing of God’s promise. “Has God really said?” “Because I certainly don’t see the path from where I am today to what he promised me.” “Me, a king?” “I’m running for my life and living in a cave, hardly the house of a king.”

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you feel an overwhelming sense of despair? The vision that God gave you for your life, your future, seems a million miles away, and God Himself seems even further away. You remember your victories, those moments when you felt triumph that God was right with you. But now all of that seems like a dream, and you find yourself in despair.

The cave of Adullam was not the end of David’s story. Nor will your times of despair be the end of your story. God is faithful. Rarely does He bring us straight from the victory field to the throne. Rather, He leads us on a winding journey where we learn to trust Him and His promises, even when He and they seem far away. God is at work; therefore, we will not despair forever.

PRAYER

Father, wherever we find ourselves, lead us in Your ways and to Your promises. Amen.

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The Alpha Course

Life as a new immigrant is not without its share of difficulties, attempting to learn a new language and attempting to integrate and become accustomed to a new culture. Yet, CBN Israel has a number of programs to help new immigrants with these challenges they face. One such program is the Alpha Course. The Alpha Course is a course where families come together to learn about the History of Israel, Israeli traditions and culture. 

 

“Being a new immigrant is very difficult, but thanks to the “Alpha course” I can now learn about the history of Israel in-depth, as well as, participate in traditional Shabbat dinner,” said one participant. 

 

Taking part in some of the traditions and customs help new immigrant families to feel they are a part of the nation and its traditions. 

Our partners in the city of Ramla began organizing these meetings, providing food, materials, and resources for what these families need to know and study to help make this transition easier. 

 

“Many of the new immigrant families are lonely and except for “Ulpan”, Hebrew language school, there are no additional programs to help the absorption process, meet new people, and form relationships. 

 

A majority of the participants in this program come from secular backgrounds in they are not connected to any religious or believing community, yet, with the Alpha Course, we are able to reach their hearts and share with them the Good News. 

 

Many of the families who have taken part in this course are now attending a local congregation and few have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

 

Thanks to your generous donations and support, we are able to provide monthly financial assistance to our partners in Ramla who are working hard to help new immigrants through the “Alpha course.”

 

May the Lord bless you and your family.

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Are You Lazy?

“A lazy person’s way is blocked with briers, but the path of the upright is an open highway” (Proverbs 15:19 nlt).

We don’t often think about habits like laziness and discipline as being spiritual qualities, but according to the Bible, they are. The Proverbs repeatedly caution about the consequences of laziness. In this passage, the author likens the way of the lazy to a path overgrown with thorns. A way that is untended, a difficult passage for those on a journey. This image resonated with the ancient readers who understood the work associated with clearing a path and maintaining it. A path overgrown with thorns provided the image of lazy person.

The way of the upright stands in contrast. This path provides a level highway, a way that people can easily travel from place to place. The author of Proverbs interestingly did not contrast the way of the lazy with the path of the diligent; rather, he contrasted the lazy with the upright. In other words, laziness—lack of discipline and industry—he equated as the opposite of being upright, which we often identify as a spiritual condition.

How often do we see laziness and lack of discipline within our lives as a reflection of our spiritual state? This may not elicit the emotional high of singing worship music, but in truth, the Bible has a lot to say equating discipline with being spiritually upright—or its opposite (being lazy) as contrasted to our uprightness.

Paul articulated the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians. By referring to it as such, we often relegate these behaviors and habits to the spiritual realm, but if we look at them, they are all actions brought about by discipline, spiritual discipline. As humans, we are not naturally prone to exemplify “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 nlt).

The fruits of the Spirit come about and grow in our lives through disciplined action and choice. God doesn’t just make us this way when we come to Him. We must choose to discipline ourselves to be this way and live this way. The opposite of such discipline is laziness. And a “lazy person’s way is blocked with briers.” It is not a path that benefits anyone or can be used.

God is not honored by laziness or lack of discipline. What does our activity say about our relationship with Him?

PRAYER

Father, as we endeavor to honor You in everything we do and say, help us to be more disciplined, so that we may produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Amen.

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The Path of True Blessedness

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to Him” (Psalm 128:1). The Bible often speaks about the “fear of the Lord.” That seems odd to us because we often present God as love and loving, someone we want to draw near to, not a being to be feared.

The Bible presents God as awesome, One Who truly inspires awe. As such, the reverence that arises can manifest itself as fear presented with such grandeur. But the psalmist described those who fear the Lord, not as those who feel the emotion of fear, rather they demonstrate their reverence for God by walking in His ways, i.e., obeying Him.

The structure of the verse identifies those who fear God as those walking in His ways. In other words, our obedience to God (i.e., walking in His ways) fulfills the biblical injunction to fear God. It also describes those who fear the Lord, those who walk in His ways as blessed.

The book of Deuteronomy commanded the Israelites, “Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name” (6:13). The structure of this verse, like the above quoted psalm, indicates that we fear God by serving Him. Obedience is how we demonstrate that we fear Him.

Within the language of the Old Testament, “fear of God” was synonymous with “love of God.” The two are often parallel to each other, so if our obedience demonstrates our fear of God, within the context of the Old Testament, our obedience also shows our love of God.

Deuteronomy commanded the children of Israel: “Love the Lord your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always” (11:1). We demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commands. We show that we fear God by walking in His ways. The one who does that, the psalmist said is blessed.

PRAYER

Father, today may I walk in Your ways, may I keep Your commandments in everything I do and say. Amen.

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What’s Your Source?

“‘Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the Lord. ‘My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’” (Jeremiah 2:12-13). God spoke to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah using an image that they would understand.

Within the land of Israel, water was a necessity of life in heat of the eastern Mediterranean. Rains provided water, but only roughly from November to April. The rest of the year people relied upon springs, rivers, wells, and cisterns. Springs, rivers, and wells provided water coming from the earth, running water, purer water—living water. Cisterns offered merely a pit cut into the rock into which water was diverted. Cisterns simply held water. The inside of a cistern had to be plastered in order to retain the water, so it didn’t seep out. Water that ran into a cistern usually had sediment in it, so as the water collected in the cistern the sediment settled to the bottom of the cistern. Water in cisterns could go bad or be poisoned. The plaster in the cisterns could crack and the cistern was not good anymore. Spring water, living water continued to give life wherever it flowed.

Traveling through the land of Israel, even in its deserts, one can see the effect of water. Wherever living water flows, there is life and vegetation. Where there is not water, the dryness of the desert encroaches. This was the reality of the person living in the time of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah knew a thing or two about cisterns because his hometown, Anatoth, did not have a natural source of water. Water had to be brought to the village and gathered in cisterns. His village sat on the edge of the dry wilderness to the northeast of Jerusalem, so the prophet understood the metaphor he used.

He compared Judah’s disobedience by pursuing other gods, rejecting the God of Israel to those preferring cistern water, broken cisterns at that, to living, life-giving water. By choosing other gods, Judah forsook God, the source of living water.

Do we see God as the source of life and life-giving water in our lives? Are we like the people of Judah rejecting spring water, for a poor substitute, which, in fact, is no substitute at all? In our attempts to “go our own way,” do we fail to connect with the source of life in our lives? The thing about substitutes is that they fail us in the end. The people of Judah poignantly understood Jeremiah’s metaphor; they caught his meaning—you have rejected life-giving water, for something that cannot hold water. Do we do the same?

PRAYER

Father, today, I choose to follow, obey, and pursue You, the source of life and life-giving water in my life. Bring life into the dry places of my life, for Your glory. Amen.

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The Law of Christ

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). How do we obey Jesus and fulfil what He commanded us? According to Paul, we bear one another’s burdens. It’s that simple.

Some today have taken to calling themselves “Christ followers” or “disciples.” Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35). The evidence of our discipleship or following Jesus, according to Him, depends solely upon how we love one another, how we bear one another’s burdens.

To bear someone’s burden requires us to walk alongside them. To be a part of their life. To operate out of love, so that a person will even feel comfortable sharing what weighs him or her down. It’s not a relationship that can be formed in our Sunday services or even in our small groups. It only materializes when I place myself in another’s life and demonstrate genuine love and concern.

The law of Christ flies in the face of our me-first, fast paced, hectic, and busy culture. But if we are not going to actively, daily seek to fulfill His command to love one another (John 15:17), then can we truly call ourselves “Christ followers” or His disciples? Do we take time in our day truly to see the people around us, their pain, their struggles? Are we moved with compassion for those we see?

Bearing one another’s burdens is not only to get people to think and believe like us; and, it’s not something we reserve for those we feel comfortable with. Jesus challenged the man who asked Him, “Who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29) with “Go be the neighbor” (Luke 10:37). The testimony of being Jesus’ disciple is not helping those who are like you (see Matt. 5:46-47); rather, loving everyone and seeking to bear their burdens (Matt. 5:43-45). How badly do we want to be disciples of the Lord? Then, we must do what He commanded; we must love one another. This is the mark of discipleship.

PRAYER

Father help me to see those around me today as You do. May my heart be moved with compassion to bear their burdens for Your glory. Amen.

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Mikhail’s Story of Salvation

Through your faithful support and our partners in the south, we are able to distribute food supplies for families who have just immigrated to the country and are finding it difficult to adjust to life in Israel.

Mikhail and his family immigrated to Israel almost a year ago. And, like every family who just moves to a new country, there are difficulties with learning a new language and culture. Mikhail has been trying to provide his family with the most basic needs of food and supplies.

As a result of not being able to provide his family’s needs, he began drinking, and his family began to fall apart. Life seemed like it was going in the wrong direction.
Our partners in the south heard about Mikhail’s situation and immediately paid he and his family a visit. Bringing some food and other things his family needed.

Mikhail was amazed by how our partners cared for his situation and wanted to know more about the love he felt from them. Through the love and prayers of our follow-up workers, Mikhail received Jesus as his Lord and Savior, time went by, and Mikhail testifies to how the Lord has changed his heart and has allowed him to become a godly husband and father through his walk with Jesus.

Today his family attends a congregation in the city he lives in and continues to receive monthly support from CBN Israel.

Thank you for your generosity and faithful support of our ministry here in Israel. May your life be filled with the love of God.

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What Motivates You?

“Two things I ask of You, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Prov. 30:7-9). These words of Agur (see Prov. 30:1) display a heart motivated by a desire to please God, as well as someone who recognizes how life’s circumstances impact, or have the potential to impact, our relationship with God.

Agur sought to live his life pleasing to the Lord, keeping away from lies and falsehood. He asked merely that God provide the needs of his daily sustenance. He recognized the inherent problem with riches, as well as the potential threat poverty had upon his character. He ultimately was motivated by a desire to live his life, even in the common and ordinary, in a way to please God and bring honor to His name.

What motivates you? Do you recognize the potential for the cares and pleasures of life (Luke 8:14), as well as your actions to impact your relationship with God?

Our pursuits have the potential to push God to the edges of our lives. Having too much, can lead us to a level of self-reliance that we ask, “Who is the Lord?” Too little, can cause us to behave in an unscrupulous manner, which in turn will profane the name of the Lord. Can we live in a balance? Not too much, and not too little; rather, looking to the Lord as the source of our daily bread. Does the honor of His name and of our need for Him, motivate us in the choices we make and the things we pursue?

Agur understood that God provided the source of his life, and he did not want anything in his life to detract him or separate him from that reality and realization. In our fast-paced, self-centered world that pursues personal fulfillment, that offers a very different, and peaceful perspective.

PRAYER

Father, keep lies and false words far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but provide me with my daily bread, lest, having too much, I renounce, saying, “Who is the Lord?” Or, being impoverished, I steal and profane the name of my God. Amen.

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