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A Moment for Awe

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the world we live in? The daily grind, newscasts filled with bad news, an economic downturn, a frightening diagnosis, or simply the distractions of life? It’s easy to be overwhelmed. We can easily lose sight of God amidst the chaos. The world around us can make us feel numb and disconnected.

Life in the ancient world bore its own difficulties; it was a struggle to survive. In the midst of that ongoing struggle, the psalmist allowed himself a moment to let the grandeur and majesty of God to burst into his life.

“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4 NASB).

The psalmist found himself overcome by the awesomeness of God evident in the power of His creation, as well as present in His attention to humanity. The greatness of creation emphasized the majesty of God and made the psalmist feel small, yet he was overcome by realizing that the God of creation placed us into this world He created.

Take a moment. Stop running through life and look at the created world around you. Get beyond yourself and circumstances—the bad news, the endless to-dos, the distractions and daily grind—and look to the heavens. Not with a passing glance. Look. Gaze. Feel. Recognize that the God who made heaven and earth is mindful of you. Allow a moment for awe. Let the grandeur of creation overwhelm you with God’s majesty.

We use the word “awesome” so frivolously today. It’s become so common that we do not fully allow ourselves to be captured by that which is truly awesome.

The cure for our societal numbness and the feeling of being disconnected is to connect with God, to see Him as He is. Not as the solution to our problems, nor as one who waits upon our needs. He created the world and everything in it. He sustains it and rules over it, even when we don’t see Him. To encounter true awe, we must go beyond ourselves and come face-to-face with His majesty: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

Create moments of awe in your day. Allow yourself a break from the chaos and distractions of life to capture a new perspective of God, His majesty, and His care for you.

PRAYER
“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” Amen.

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Your Will Be Done

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NASB).

How often do we think about Jesus in the garden on the Mount of Olives? How often do we consider His deep resolve to submit to the will of His heavenly Father regardless of the suffering that lay in front of Him? We think of the psychological suffering that He went through as He wrestled with God’s will, anticipating His impending physical torture and death. But do we ever ask how He was able in that moment to submit to God’s will?

Ancient sources indicate that in the first century, Jews recited Deuteronomy 6:4-9 at least once, if not twice, daily. The passage begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (NASB). Some of Jesus’ contemporaries said that reciting this meant accepting the rule of God—because it acknowledged Him as king and placed man in submission to Him and His rule, as His servant.

The Gospels portray the family of Jesus as a devout Jewish family, so we can assume that He would have recited the “Hear, O Israel” once or twice a day, every day of His life. What kind of impact do you think that had on Him? Every day submitting Himself to the rule and reign of His Father in heaven, submitting to God’s will.

Habit and discipline form in the ordinary and the mundane, not the outstanding or exceptional. When we add up the totality of Jesus’ life against the episodes recorded of Him in the Gospels, we actually have very little of His life recorded. Yet, it was in those ordinary and mundane moments of His life—His daily habits, discipline, and practice—that His piety was formed and shaped. The extraordinary moments in His life we read about in the Gospels grew out of His daily submission to His Father’s will in the ordinary routine of His life.

That ordinary routine—of daily submission to God’s will—prepared Him for His extraordinary ministry, and particularly His ultimate submission to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He said as much in the garden. But he had trained himself to submit to God’s will, so in the moment of extraordinary personal crisis, He could push aside what He wanted in order to fulfill the will of His Father.

We are all recipients of His obedience. Do we look at the ordinary and mundane moments in our lives as opportunities to build discipline and form habits of submission to God? The daily routine prepares us for the extraordinary moments when God needs us to act according to His will. Do not despise the ordinary and mundane, for it prepares us for the extraordinary.

PRAYER

Father, today we submit ourselves to Your rule and reign. May Your will be done in our lives today. Prepare us daily to serve and submit to You. Amen.

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The Blameless Way

“How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:1-2 NASB).

The writers of the Bible, especially the psalmists and prophets, often used parallelism in their writing. It enabled them to state something, then either restate it, expand it, or state its opposite. This literary device is common within Hebrew writing.

In Psalm 119, the psalmist begins with such parallelism: “How blessed are those whose way is blameless.” The second clause explains whose way is blameless—those who walk according to the law of the Lord, i.e., obeying His instruction. 

Blamelessness, then, for the psalmist, doesn’t mean completely living without error; it means walking in the instruction of the Lord. This is how a person’s way can be blameless. When one bases his or her life on pursuing God’s ways, then they are truly blessed.

He continues His blessings by identifying “those who observe His testimonies” as those who “seek Him with all their heart.” So, seeking God with all of one’s heart means pursuing His ways, and the person who lives like this will be blessed.

Studying Scripture means that we have to read it as its authors intended, which requires us to learn how the biblical texts were written. Doing so adds so much value to how we read and understand the Bible and its message.

Embedded within these redundant and expanded clauses in this passage lie insights into how the biblical authors described God and His people. We often find that they view their world, even their relationship with God, so much differently than we do today.

The psalmist gives us profound insight into how God expects His people to live. If you want your way to be blameless, walk according to His law and instruction. Seek Him with all of your heart by aligning your life with His ways. When you live like this, you will be blessed.

PRAYER

Father, today may we walk in accordance with Your law and instruction, so that our way may truly be blameless. Let us seek you with all our heart by pursuing Your ways. Amen.

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Do You Guard Your Mouth?

“The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3 NASB).

Our age of social media enables everyone with an opinion to put it out there for everyone to see. We live in an age where people feel they have the right to comment on just about anything. We “open wide” our lips a lot. And, let’s be honest, those of us who claim to follow the Lord can often be the worst culprits.

The Bible has a great deal to say about guarding our mouths and holding our tongues. It describes the person who does so as wise, prudent, and preserving of his or her life. Similarly, it says a lot about the person who opens wide their lips—describing them as a fool, wicked, and one who will come to ruin.

Words are powerful. They can build up. They can tear down. All people, even children, find their identity in the words spoken to them, whether affirming and loving or harsh. James understood the power of words, which is why he described the tongue as “set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NASB).

With as much as the Bible has to say about our words, it’s troubling to realize how often the followers of the Lord use their words as weapons against others. We try to wrap such words in a false piety, but the Bible is clear—the one who guards his or her mouth preserves their life.

Too often we separate our life with God from how we treat others. The Bible provides practical instruction for every area of our lives. Following God means that we embrace biblical instruction and live it out in every aspect of our lives, including how and when we speak.

Do you guard your mouth? Or do you open wide your lips? Your answer reflects how well you’ve submitted your life to God’s instruction. Let’s follow Him!

PRAYER

Father, help us to guard our mouths and words. May we speak only life into the lives of others and our world. Amen.

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Blessed With Daily Desires

“May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:12-15 ESV).

The Bible reflects the realities and desires of those who lived in its world and time. Here, the psalmist summarized the desires of the biblical person: progeny storehouses filled with all kinds of produce, flocks and cattle, and peace. He concluded the psalm stating that those who have such are blessed. He equated those participating in such a blessing as those whose God is the Lord of Israel. In other words, God was the source of such blessing.

Within the Old Testament, God’s promises provided very practical blessings: progeny, fruitful harvest and herds, long life, and peace. People in the Bible yearned for such an existence and saw God as the provider of such. At the same time, God’s promises were tied to the obedience of the people. If they disobeyed His commandments, the consequences of their disobedience were the cutting off of their progeny, the heavens not giving rain—which meant distress on crops and herds—their lives being cut short, and absence of peace.

For this reason, the psalmist equated those who participate in such desired blessings as those whose God is the Lord. They obey God, who provides those things they desire and need.

The biblical person saw God as intimately involved in his or her daily life. The sustenance and bounty of life came from God. To participate in such blessings, they had to live in obedience to the Lord. Failure to do so meant consequences that impacted their daily lives as well.

As modern readers of the Bible, we often spiritualize things to such a degree that we fail to see God’s provision in our daily, ordinary lives. We want spiritual ecstasy instead of seeing God as the source for the practical needs and desires of our life. Can we find the blessing in His provision of our daily needs? The care of our families? “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.”

PRAYER

Father, may we daily walk in obedience to You. May our greatest joy be in Your daily provisions of the things we need. Amen.

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The Promise of the Father

Read Acts 2.

Pentecost was one of the three pilgrimage festivals within ancient Judaism. Along with Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Law of Moses required every able-bodied male to appear before the Lord on these festivals. In the first century, that meant coming to Jerusalem and the Temple. Luke describes the throngs of pilgrims from all over the world that traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

Jewish tradition identified the festival of Pentecost as the time when God appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah. God’s appearance at Sinai included fire, wind and sounds. Luke wove these same images into his story in Acts 2. He wanted to draw his reader’s attention back to what God did on Sinai when He gave the Torah to Israel, connecting the giving of the Spirit with the foundation of Israel as a nation.

As the crowds hear the disciples uttering the wonders of God in their various languages, Peter stands up before the crowd and explains that what they have experienced is the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel. Then, he began to preach the good news about Jesus.

Within the book of Acts, the proof God gives of Jesus’ messiahship is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s coming provides the divine evidence that Jesus is truly the Messiah and that God raised him from the dead. The two—the coming of the Spirit and Jesus’ messiahship—are always linked in Acts.

People often focus on other aspects and manifestations of the Spirit, but we can never forget that the coming of the Spirit ultimately testifies that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Messiah, whom He raised from the dead. Peter’s response to the crowd that listened to him: “Repent and be baptized. … And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NIV).

The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost fulfilled God’s promises through Joel. It connected to His act of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. And, most importantly, it testified that Jesus is His Messiah, raised from the dead. Whatever the Spirit’s work is in our lives and in our communities, it should also testify to these things.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending us Your Spirit to testify of the truth of Your Son. Amen.

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Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB).

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NIV). Because, in Christ, we have been forgiven everything, God asks us to extend that same measure of forgiveness to others.

Elsewhere Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7 NASB). The degree to which I receive mercy is correlated to the mercy I show others. He communicated a similar message about judging: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2 NASB). In other words, I will be judged in the same way I judge others. 

Jesus understood that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. And it is a choice we are capable of making now, wherever we are. If we desire to receive mercy and forgiveness, then, according to Jesus, we must choose to show mercy and forgiveness to others. We are to forgive those who have wronged us; others who don’t agree with us or act like us; or others who have hurt us. 

This is where Jesus’ message challenges us in very practical ways, just as it did His original audience. He understood that people have the propensity to treat others horribly, without mercy or forgiveness. Yet, it is because we have peace with God, that we should work to have peace with others. The Bible tells us that the love of Christ has been shed abroad in our hearts. We have an ample supply of love and forgiveness to share with those around us.

This is a profound thought with incredible implications. Think how different our world would look if the followers of Jesus lived by the principle that since we have received unending mercy and forgiveness, we must also show mercy and forgiveness to others. It would transform our world, our communities, our neighborhoods, and our families. 

PRAYER

Father, let us share the forgiveness you have given us with others. Amen.

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Rain In Its Season

“If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land in the proper time, the autumn and spring rains, and you will harvest your grain, new wine, and oil. I will provide grass in your fields for your livestock. You will eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 11:13-15 HCSB).

Timing is everything. Farmers especially know this. Rains that come too early or too late do not provide the nourishment needed for crops to grow and produce their fruit. In some cases, rains arriving too early or late can actually destroy the crops and harvest. The agricultural cycle is very delicate, especially in the ancient world where they had to make do without the advantages of modern agricultural technology.

As the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, God promised them that if they would obey, love and serve Him, He would send the rains in their season. This was particularly important because the land God was giving them depended upon the rains from heaven for its agricultural needs. The rains had to come at the right time, or the crops would fail, animals would die, and the people would starve to death.

God called upon the people to trust Him that He would send rain in its season. They plowed their fields and planted them, trusting that God would provide the necessary rains. Can you imagine the anxiety of the farmer who just sowed his field with seed waiting for the rains to come? 

But there was a condition: “If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul.” Failure to do so would have negative consequences, as we go on to read: “Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, worship, and bow down to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will close the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17 HCSB).

One of the draws the children of Israel experienced in worshipping other gods pertained to the agricultural cycle. Many of these foreign gods, like Ba’al and Asherah, were rain and fertility gods and goddesses. Worshipping them offered insurance in the event God did not come through. It was a way for the Israelites to ensure that the rains would come so they could survive.

We also find ourselves frustrated with God’s timing, wondering if He will truly come through. We even seek, at times, to help Him along. His promise remains: If we obey Him and love and serve Him, He will provide the things we need for our daily survival. We don’t need to seek any other source of provision.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for Your love and care for us. You are the sole source of our provision, and we trust You to send rain in its season. Amen.

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A Life Worthy of Christ

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (Philippians 1:27-28 NIV).

What does your life say about your relationship with the Lord? Do you live each day in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ?

Paul wrote to the Philippians one of his most joyous letters. After being run out of Philippi, unable to fully establish the community there, he heard that the Christians there were thriving. This news precipitated his joyous letter. He knew of the struggles that they faced from their opponents, but he encouraged them in the midst of hardships to live their lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

It’s interesting that while Paul enjoins them to live their lives in a manner worthy of Christ’s Gospel, he immediately transitions to his desire for the Christian community of Philippi: “I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” We can easily focus on the individual injunction—live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ—and because we are so individualistic in our society, that’s where we leave it. But Paul called upon each individual person to live in such a way that the community might stand firm in one spirit, striving side by side.

Our individualism often separates us from the worldview of the Bible, in which the “we” is always more important than the “me.” The “we” is composed of individuals called upon to do their duty, but that duty serves the “we,” the group. Paul reflects this idea. He expected the individuals within the community of Philippi to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that the community could stand in one spirit and not be intimidated by their opponents.

Do I see my lifestyle of discipleship as significant to my Christian community? We should not separate Paul’s call upon the individual in how they live their life as separate from the testimony of the believing community. One makes up the other. So, how are you living?

PRAYER

Father, let us daily live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Through our lives and obedience, may Your community be unified in one spirit. Amen.

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Seeking God

“He sought God throughout the lifetime of Zechariah, the teacher of the fear of God. During the time that he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chronicles 26:5 HCSB).

These words describe the early days of the reign of King Uzziah of Judah. He started out his reign by seeking God and fearing Him, but unfortunately, he did not continue on that path. Eventually, the Lord struck him with leprosy, which he had until he died. The end of his life was a disappointment from its promising beginning. His initial path, however, is instructional for us in several ways.

First, the Chronicler makes clear that seeking God means fearing (or revering) Him. How does one fear the Lord? “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NKJV). One fears the Lord by serving Him, i.e., obeying Him. Within the Bible, then, one seeks the Lord by obeying Him. King Uzziah began his reign in this manner.

Second, “during the time that he sought the Lord, God gave him success.” If we make our principal priority seeking God, then He takes care of us. He prospers us. Seeking Him, however, is not an emotional or charismatic experience. Seeking Him means obeying His words and doing what He has commanded.

Too often we identify “seeking God” as an emotional feeling. The Bible never identifies those actions as emotions; rather, we show them through our obedience to God.

Finally, King Uzziah serves as a warning to us. We can start out well—by seeking the Lord and experiencing the prosperity that He brings—but then we drift away from pursuing Him first. We begin to buy into ourselves too much, and we become disobedient. When that happens, we have ceased seeking God, no matter what we tell ourselves.

Do you set yourself to seek the Lord each day, to walk in fear of Him? Is seeking God your primary purpose? If so, you’ve set yourself on the right course.

PRAYER

Father, may we seek You daily with our whole hearts, striving to obey Your word in everything we do and say. Amen.

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