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Put Your Hope in God

“As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, ‘Where is your God?’ I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many, leading the festive procession to the house of God, with joyful and thankful shouts. Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:1-5 hcsb).

Do you ever find yourself longing for God? Do you ever feel so overwhelmed by your circumstances that you cry out to God in absolute desperation yearning for His help? Do you ever find yourself asking, “God, where are You?”

The writer of Psalm 42 felt that way. He found himself overwhelmed by his circumstances, downcast within his soul. He felt buried under the billows and waves. His memories of the past—when he experienced the joy of traveling to the house of the Lord on pilgrimage—didn’t soothe his torment; they actually added to it: “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” He longed for God, for His deliverance.

His circumstances, those around him, and even he himself questioned of God, “Why have You forgotten me?” It’s understandable when we find ourselves overcome with life and our circumstances to feel forgotten by God, to feel isolated and alone. The author’s strength, however, comes from his ability to affirm his hope in God within his circumstances: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” He asks the question twice (verses 5 and 11), “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” The answer, in part, pertains to the very real and overwhelming circumstances in which he found himself. Yet, both times, he answers his question affirming his belief that God had not abandoned him.

By the end of the psalm, his circumstances have not changed and neither have his emotions; he closes the psalm asking why his soul is downcast. But, in spite of his circumstances and emotions, he confesses his confidence in God and that he will yet praise Him. This is not merely the power of positive thinking. His conviction emerges from a deep realization that, regardless of his situation and feelings, God had not abandoned him; God is still his hope.

Faith is not willing ourselves to believe. Faith doesn’t require a lot in moments of joy and security. The test of our faith appears in those moments when, even after professing our belief in God, nothing changes. Maybe the depression even deepens. Do we have the deep, penetrating conviction that God has not abandoned us regardless of how things seem? Can we remain convinced that He is our hope, even when we do not see it or feel it? When we feel abandoned by God, do we still long for Him even as the parched deer longs for the cool streams of water?

PRAYER
Father, regardless of our circumstances or feelings, You are our hope and our God. Come to us in our desperation. Amen.

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How’s Your Temper?

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18 esv).

We live in a world where people’s tempers constantly simmer below the surface. If we hear something on the news, see something on social media, or hear someone say something that we do not agree with, how often do our tempers flare? How quick are we to respond?

Our hot-tempered responses rarely resolve anything. Rather, they lead to an escalation, which, as Proverbs says, stirs up strife. Yet we feel that we have the right to respond, even in the heat of the moment. We see this demonstrated in the world around us repeatedly.

Communication cannot occur in the midst of strife. Nothing positive comes from a hot temper. Often, hurtful and overheated comments result from such a response. Someone seeks to defend themself from attack rather than try to understand the issue or point of contention. In our desire to make ourselves heard—or when we respond in anger—we lose the ability to communicate.

“But he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”

The Bible provides practical instruction for us to develop into spiritually obedient followers of the Lord. In fact, biblical spirituality primarily pertains to how we interact with others in our daily lives.

Think for a moment how often in our world—in your own world—would a milder response heal a situation, allow for productive communication, and calm an escalating situation? How would it change our civil and political discourse? How would it impact the communication in our homes between spouses, children and parents?

Nothing lasting or of value can come from strife. If we cannot communicate in the most fundamental of manners, we certainly cannot encourage one another in following the Lord. How’s your temper? Are you slow to anger? Or do you reflect the hot-tempered society we live in? Do you seek to calm contention, or are you stirring up strife? Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

PRAYER
Father, help us today to be slow to anger in word and deed. May we calm contention in our families, among our friends, in our communities and throughout the world, so that Your name is glorified through us. Amen.

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Do You Fear God?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 niv).

We usually equate wisdom with what we know. Knowledge equals wisdom. Some may add that wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. The Bible, however, teaches that wisdom equals the fear of God. That’s a rather odd equation for us, because when we speak of fear, we refer to an emotion connected with dread or terror. Those aspects are part of the biblical idea of fear, but within the Old Testament, fear of God is often synonymous with love of God.

Deuteronomy 6:5 called upon the children of Israel to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (niv). A few verses later, within the same spirit, they are commanded: “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 nkjv). Loving God means fearing Him and serving Him. In other words, we fear (love) God by obeying (serving) Him.

Within the Bible, one does not gain wisdom by merely acquiring knowledge, information, or facts. Wisdom comes from fearing (obeying) God and His commandments. To know something within the Bible refers to a relational interaction. After Abraham obeyed God and took Isaac to offer him up, God said to Abraham, “For now I know that you truly fear God” (Genesis 22:12 nlt). He knew that Abraham feared God because Abraham obeyed. One cannot know God without obeying God. And God learns our degree of commitment through our obedience to Him.

Wisdom, then, comes from obeying God, which is what relationship with God looks like in the Bible. It comes through relational interaction, which pertains to our doing His commands, not our emotions about Him.

Do we daily pursue the wisdom and insight of God? To acquire it, we must fear (love/obey) Him. This is what it truly means to have a relationship with God.

PRAYER
Father, may we grow in our fear and knowledge of You today as we obey You with all our heart, soul, and strength. Amen.

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True Discipleship

“Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 hcsb).

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “disciple” means “student.” A disciple, then, is one who studies. We tend to use the term disciple to mean a follower, but that is not the biblical idea of discipleship. Ezra provides the model of a biblical disciple: one who studies, who does, who teaches. In fact, this is the progression of biblical discipleship: Study leads to doing, and as one progresses with study and doing, he or she gains the ability to teach others.  

Our discipleship suffers because often we do not view study as a foundational ingredient of our becoming disciples. Instead of making disciples—who study the law of the Lord and observe it—we seek to make followers, which has a different connotation.

Some Christians segregate study from spirituality, fearing that study erodes one’s relationship with God and seeing a conflict between the head (study) and the heart (the seat of one’s true relationship with God). Just as an aside, while we identify the heart with emotions, passions, and deep feelings, in the Bible the heart was associated with the mind and learning (biblical people assumed the emotions lay in the kidneys). So, when the Bible calls on us to love God with our heart, it means to love God with our mind, our learning, our study.

Biblical discipleship requires study. It’s at the very core of discipleship: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40 niv). Jesus indicated that the way one truly becomes like Him is by being “fully taught,” meaning that we study and practice His teaching. Jesus also said that the proof of our love for Him depends on our keeping of His commandments (John 14:15), not how we feel about Him.

If we are going to be true disciples of the Lord, like Ezra we must set our hearts to study the law of the Lord, which leads us to do it, and as we become fully taught—studying and doing—we teach others. The commission that Jesus gave His disciples was to “make disciples”—not converts or followers, but disciples. How can we make disciples, students, if we aren’t studying and doing the words of the Lord? In order to disciple, we must first be disciples, and the way to do that was shown to us by Ezra the scribe: Study the law of the Lord, do it, and teach others.

PRAYER
Father, may we grow in our learning and doing of Your word to become more like our teacher, Jesus, so that we can make disciples of others for Your glory. Amen.

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Remember Where You Came From

“Remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2 nkjv).

Remember! One of the most frequent commandments throughout the Bible is “Remember!” Remember the road you’ve traveled, the struggles and trials you’ve faced. And remember Who brought you along your path. Remember Who provided for you, cared for you, and calls upon you to remember and observe His commandments. Remember.

We often turn to God in our times of need. When circumstances, finances, diagnoses, and life are too overwhelming, then we turn to God. We cleave to Him through those wilderness times of our life, relying upon His presence and provision. But, once He brings us through those times and we find ourselves upon a firm footing, standing in the Promised Land, how quickly do we forget, rely upon ourselves, and ultimately turn from His ways? Remember.

The festivals that God gave Israel within the Old Testament served two purposes: 1) They were connected with the agricultural cycle, particularly the harvest times, and 2) they called the people to remember what God did for them in the wilderness, how He led them and provided for them. The agricultural nature of the festivals called upon the Israelites to remember Who sent the rain in its season so the crops could grow, and ultimately Who was responsible for their sustenance and provision. The connection with the wilderness wanderings called upon the people to remember a time when their need for God and His provision was more acute, to remember where they came from.

During the fall harvest festival, Sukkot, God instructed the children of Israel to construct temporary shelters, or booths, that they lived in for the duration of the festival. “Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42-43 niv).

Dwelling in booths was to remind future generations—generations that did not experience the hardships and uncertainty of the wilderness—how God provided for His people. When later generations found themselves living prosperously in the land, the booths reminded them of a time in their history when their forefathers lacked such prosperity, and in that moment they should remember God, Who brought Israel out of Egypt.

What is the ultimate goal of this remembrance? We find it in the passage from Deuteronomy quoted initially: “Remember … whether you would keep His commandments or not.” We confront our limitations and smallness in times of need. We realize how finite and limited we are. It becomes easy to turn to God in those moments. And, as a loving Father, He comes to us. But when we find ourselves in times of prosperity, it’s too easy to think we stand alone on our own two feet, and turning from God and His commandments becomes easy.

Remember—where He has taken you. Remember—His commandments. Remember—He is King.

PRAYER
Father, thank You that You take us through the wildernesses of our lives and provide for us. May we always—in good times and in bad, in plenty and in want—remember You and Your commandments. Amen.

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The Day of Atonement

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 nlt).

The Bible describes three types of sins: 1) intentional sins that I commit against God, 2) unintentional sins that I commit against God, and 3) sins that I commit against my neighbor. For sins I intentionally commit against God, the only course of forgiveness is repentance: “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 hcsb). The sin sacrifices—which represent only about 17 percent of the sacrifices commanded by God—pertain to those sins unintentionally committed against God. For the sins that I commit against my neighbor, however, repentance to God and sacrifices do not atone for them according to the Bible. I must make restitution of up to four times the damages and be reconciled to my neighbor, both in the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus’ injunction to His followers (Matthew 5:23-24) comes from this biblical realization regarding the different ways in which we must deal with the broken relationships in our lives. For Jesus’ first-century Galilean listeners, the only place they could make an offering was in the Jerusalem Temple—a journey that took at least four days from the Galilee. It’s striking to hear Jesus’ words as His initial audience did: If you are at the altar in Jerusalem and remember that someone has something against you, leave your offering, go back at least four days’ journey, and be reconciled. Then return to Jerusalem and present your offering to God. Reconciliation with one’s neighbor provided the foundation for that offering to be accepted.

Jesus’ commandment to His followers, even the spirit of it, grew from the world of ancient Judaism. This commandment is still practiced today within the Jewish community in the days surrounding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most holy day within Judaism. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur—a day when people fast, repent, and call upon God to forgive the sins they committed against Him—Jewish people first seek to be reconciled with their neighbors. They ask forgiveness and seek to make restitution. Why? Because of the belief that we cannot ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur if we have unrepaired relationships with our neighbors; those must be repaired first, even if we must make restitution. Then, when we come to God, our gift will be acceptable.

This same spirit stands behind the words of Jesus in the Gospels. My relationships with others provide the foundation for my relationship with God. Zacchaeus told Jesus, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today” (Luke 19:8-9 nlt).

When we think about the Day of Atonement, we often focus upon our relationship with God and His forgiveness of our sins. The Bible teaches that our repairing, making restitution, and reconciling ourselves with our neighbor provides the foundation upon which God accepts our gifts to Him: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love God he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 hcsb).

PRAYER
Father, forgive us as we have forgiven. 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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