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Sanctifying God

The children of Israel found themselves in the wilderness of Zin (Num. 20:1-13). They desperately needed water, so God instructed Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water. Moses, however, frustrated with the complaining of the people struck the rock, and bitter water issued forth. As a result of Moses’ disobedience, he could not lead Israel into the Promised Land. That responsibility fell to Joshua.

God rebuked Moses and Aaron for their disobedience saying, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me, before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore, you will not bring this assembly into the land which I gave to them” (Num. 20:12). Two things stand out in the Lord’s pronouncement: 1) He equated “believing in Him” with human obedience, and 2) God’s name is sanctified through our obedience.

We frequently speak of believing in God in a way where what we mean is believing something about God. Faith then, for us, is often merely belief about God. In the Bible, “to believe” in God requires our obedience. It’s not our belief or opinion about God, but our obedient response to His commands and directives. As James stated, “faith without works is dead” (2:17). Moses and Aaron’s disobedience meant that they did not believe in God in that moment.

Moses and Aaron’s disobedience to God’s command meant that they did not sanctify God’s name before Israel, rather, they profaned it. The verb translated in this passage as “to sanctify” literally means “to make holy.” Think about that. Our obedience has the ability to make God holy before people, and our disobedience profanes Him before the world. Perhaps the reason why the world around us does not treat God as holy is because we, His followers, do not live in submitted obedience to Him, making Him holy in the world.

If believing in God equals our obedience, our obedience, then, sanctifies God’s name within our world. Our disobedience results in His name being profaned. In the Bible, a person’s obedient actions determined their faith in God. That obedience makes God holy in the world.

What an incredible thought: the God of the universe, who is holy, relies, in part, upon our obedience to make Him holy within the world. What an awesome responsibility. Do we through our obedience show ourselves to believe in Him? Do we seek to sanctify Him, make Him holy, before our world through our daily obedience to Him?

PRAYER

Father, may our obedience demonstrate that we believe in You, and may Your name be sanctified in our world through our obedience to Your commands. Amen.

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God’s Offensive Mercy

Does the mercy of God sometimes offend you? It should. We love God’s mercy when its extended towards us, or those like us. But that’s not the nature of God’s mercy.

After commanding his disciples to love those who hated them, even their enemies (Matt. 5:43-44), Jesus appealed to God’s mercy as a model for their own: “For He causes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and the rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). For Jesus, sunshine and rain represented God’s daily mercy towards all humanity; God does not distinguish between the good and the evil, the righteous and the unrighteous in His mercy. And so, Jesus says, neither can we: “Therefore be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

We love to think that our “relationship” with God brings us special privilege and connection to Him, yet Jesus states that God’s mercy extends to everyone. He doesn’t show partiality. He even shows His mercy towards those who are not like us and do not agree with us, towards those who do not live as we think they should, or even in obedience to God. In this way, God’s mercy offends us.

We can often become ego-centric in our spirituality thinking that we hold a special place in God’s heart. And we do, but so does everyone else regardless if they are good or evil, righteous or unrighteous. When we realize this, we often find ourselves like the older brother in Jesus’ parable, which we’ve named the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32). He was offended about the mercy shown by the father to his younger brother. The parable ends in an open-ended manner with the father and brother standing in the field. Did the older brother enter into the house to rejoice at his younger brother’s return? Or, did he remain in the field?

The focus of the parable is often directed towards the younger son, but in reality, the main character of the parable is the father, who has two equally lost sons. The father represents God, who shows his mercy to both sons, but the unfinished ending of the parable indicates that Jesus thought his audience would identify more with the older son, who was offended by the mercy of the father. The parable’s open-endedness sought to cause Jesus’ listeners to realize that they too must show mercy as the father in the parable did, even to those who offended and hurt him: “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

Jesus portrayed God as a model of mercy that we are to follow and emulate. God’s mercy extends to all whatever their state. And that can offend us. At the same time, Jesus believed that in the manner we show mercy towards others, like ourselves, we will receive mercy in the future: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

PRAYER

Father, offend us with Your mercy. Help us to follow Your example by extending mercy to all, righteous and unrighteous alike. Amen.

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The Paganism of Worry

We live in a world built upon stress, our jobs, the news, social media, politics. So much fills our lives with noise and stress clamoring for our attention and allegiance; we find ourselves choked without peace and stability.

In the Parable of the Sower, which is actually about the different soils, not the seed, Jesus compared the seed that fell among the thorns with the effect that the cares, riches, and pleasures of life have upon a person (Luke 8:14); they choked the growing plant. Of the four soils, it’s the only one where external factors strangled the growing plant’s ability to grow. Jesus recognized that the cares and stresses of life inhibit our spiritual growth and development.

On another occasion, Jesus instructed his disciples not to worry about what they will eat or wear (Matt. 6:25-34), for God knows what you need. And He will take care of you. He compared those who worry about food and clothing—the cares of life—with gentiles, i.e., pagans.

Paganism, at its core, sought to manipulate the deities by appeasing them through sacrifices. If something unfortunate or catastrophic happened, you had upset the gods and needed to appease them with offerings and sacrifices. Ancient pagans often lived in fear of the world around them because the gods were a group you satisfied, but not interested in your care and welfare.

Jesus, however, instructed his followers to relax because God, their heavenly Father, cared for them. His single requirement: to seek first His kingdom by obediently submitting to His rule and reign in their lives. The care of life and welfare was His responsibility. So, don’t worry.

In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he instructed them to pray: “Give this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). The image of daily bread recalls the provision of manna in the wilderness, which God provided for the children of Israel. The Israelites in the wilderness received only enough manna for the day; if they tried to keep any over for tomorrow, it would rot. On Friday, they collected a double portion for the Sabbath. In Deuteronomy, God tells the people that the purpose of the manna was “to try you to know what was in your heart if you would keep my statutes or not” (8:2) and so they would learn that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God” (8:3). God is the source of daily provision, and He is intimately involved in our lives to provide what we need.

We often blame the secular forces in our world for the decline of values and those who honor God, but is it possible in this crazy, stressful world of ours that the paganism of our own worry screams too loudly in the ears of those around us for them to hear the voice of Jesus? Do we demonstrate through our calm, patient, obedience our deep sense of peace because God, our Father, will take care of us? Or do we get caught up in our culture, which is predicated upon stress and worry? Jesus’ instruction to his followers: relax, God’s got you.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for Your daily provision. May I submit myself in humble obedience to you today knowing that You will take care of the things I need in my life. Amen.

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Your Will Be Done

Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ daily spiritual practices? Or have you considered how those practices shaped His life and ministry? The Gospels do not give a lot of information. While they mention Jesus at times going off to pray, they do not provide a list of His daily spiritual disciplines. Understanding the world of ancient Judaism, the spiritual world of Jesus, sheds light on what His daily practices might have been.

In the first century, Jews daily recited Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which begins, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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” (6:4-5). The recitation of this passage was seen as a person submitting to God’s rule and reign. It established the nature of our relationship with God: He is the king; He makes the rules; we follow them in obedience. In fact, it was said that the one who recited this passage accepted upon themselves the kingdom of Heaven (i.e., God’s rule and reign). Jesus identified this passage as the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-38), so we can assume that He also daily recited this passage, submitting Himself to the will of His heavenly Father.

The Gospels only provide a brief period of time in the life of Jesus. We actually know very little about the majority of His life. If we forget this, we may have the tendency to assume that His entire life was one miracle after another. As Christians, we rightly emphasize the deity of Jesus, but in doing so, we can sometimes lose sight of His humanity. As God in the flesh, Jesus faced many of the same human struggles and emotions that we do. Yet, we can assume He daily recited Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and learned to submit His will to that of his Father’s.

At the end of His life, the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). He could have escaped and run away. But He chose to submit Himself to the will of His Father. In this moment when the weight of the world rested upon Him, could He have submitted to His Father’s will had He not made that part of His daily practice?

We often think that true spirituality is how one lives in the big moments of life. But we fail to realize that our capacity to respond or perform in those big moments is actually conditioned by how we have disciplined ourselves to live each and every day.

Jesus submitted to the will of His Father in Gethsemane, because He had already done so each and every day in the years leading up to that pivotal moment. He chose obedience in that instant, because He had already chosen a life of obedience.

PRAYER

Father, today, may we submit our will to Yours in everything we say and do. May we discipline ourselves in obedience today and forever. Amen.

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Living at the Crossroads

Have you ever wondered why God brought Abraham from Ur in Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan? Mesopotamia was far more developed culturally and economically than Canaan, so why did God bring Abraham and his descendants there? Or why Samuel after making his circuit around Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah judging Israel, he always returned to Ramah, his hometown, to judge Israel (1 Sam. 7:16-17)? Or why did Paul choose to reside in Ephesus for over two years?

All of these locations—Canaan, Ramah, and Ephesus—share the same common feature: they sit at a crossroads. The land of Canaan sits along the eastern Mediterranean coast wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and the desert. It provides the natural land bridge that connected the continents of Asia and Africa. It was also located between the major superpowers of the ancient world, Egypt in the south and the Mesopotamian powers to the north. If you wanted to travel within the ancient world, you had to pass through the land of Canaan; it was the crossroads of the known world.

Ramah sits at the juncture of the major north-south and east-west roadways through the hill country of Israel, where the majority of the Israelites lived. The easiest way for Samuel to judge the majority of the people was to place himself at the crossroads and the people would come to him.

Ephesus served as the major east-west gateway of the Roman Empire. Traders and travelers journeying from east or west passed through Ephesus. It was also a major pilgrimage site as it boasted one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis (see Acts 19:24-34), so pilgrims throughout the Roman world journeyed to Ephesus to worship the goddess.

The selection of these locations was strategic. They served as significant crossroads, places where God and His message could impact the most people. These crossroads became platforms for God to get His message out to the world. At the same time, He demanded that His people live in obedience to Him at the crossroads to demonstrate to the world His kingship. Even in the midst of a pagan city like Ephesus, Paul did not isolate himself; rather, he lived at this crossroads, and his life and message impacted the paganism of the city (see Acts 19:24-34).

Where are the crossroads of our world today? Where are your crossroads? God still desires to place people at the crossroads of our world to affect the world for His glory and to display His kingship.

PRAYER

Father, today make me mindful of the crossroads in my sphere of influence. Help me to be strategic in my actions to bring glory to Your holy name. Help me to live obediently at the crossroads of my world, so that many may see You in me and glorify You. Amen.

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Bringing Glory to Your Father in Heaven

Have you ever thought seriously about Jesus’ statement: “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:16)? It is common for Christians to blame the secular world, the media, government, politics, etc. for the decline of faith and Godly values in our world. But if we take Jesus’ statement seriously, then we understand that God’s reputation is at stake in us! We are the reason people glorify God or not.

The problem, however, is that many of us have a tendency of viewing our “spiritual life” as separate and distinct from other areas of our life. Consequently, our faith does not always inform and permeate every aspect of our daily living. What did Jesus say would draw people to praise and glorify God? It’s when our faith is lived out and our good deeds are on display for all to see. It’s how we choose to live in the common and mundane moments of our lives that shines a light in the darkness directing people to the Lord.

The prophet Amos condemned the kingdom of Israel: “They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way” (Amos 2:6-7). The prophet goes on to condemn their religious practices too, but he specifically points out behaviors reflecting their disregard for their fellow human beings, especially the poor and oppressed among them. In other words, their mistreatment of others in the course of everyday life and business is what defamed the name of God.

Is it possible that one of the main reasons people in our world today often ignore God and deny His existence is because of how His people represent Him? Without question, how we practice our faith in the home and at church is vitally important, but God’s reputation is far more at stake in how we choose to live all of life and particularly how we choose to treat other people. Do our lives and how we treat others reflect the love and goodness of our God? Do our words and actions compel and inspire people to praise and glorify Him?

PRAYER

Father, help me to live my life in such a way that, in everything I say and do, I bring honor and glory to Your great name. Amen.

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Finding God in the Silence

We live in a world that doesn’t like silence. Everything that surrounds us, seeks to fill our lives with noise and words. We have twenty-four-hour news cycles, social media, non-stop television and radio. It all fills our lives with noise. Even when we go to church, every moment is filled with noise, whether talking or music. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of silence. Yet, all the noise in our world, even that which we manufacture ourselves, often pushes God to the periphery, and we miss the opportunity to encounter God in the silence and stillness.

Most Bible readers are familiar with Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. How after three years of drought, Elijah prayed a short prayer and God sent fire to consume the drenched sacrifice (1 Kings 18), and after the people turned to Him and Elijah prayed again, God sent rain on the parched land. After this encounter, Jezebel, the queen, threatened to kill Elijah because he had slaughtered 450 prophets of Ba’al. So, Elijah fled to the south, near Beersheva, and from there, further into the desert to the mountain of the Lord.

While in a cave, God called Elijah to come out and stand as God passed by. Wind, earthquake, and fire all tore across the mountain splitting rocks and shaking the ground, but God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Then the Bible says that after the fire came “a moment of absolute silence” (which is the actual translation of the Hebrew phrase); then Elijah recognized the voice of the Lord. Afterwards, God reaffirmed His call and commission to Elijah for him to finish his task. It’s interesting that the miraculous and dramatic event of the fire falling from heaven did not give Elijah the strength to face the challenges and threats he had. Rather, in that moment of absolute silence, Elijah encountered God and found the strength to finish his course.

Do we seek to find God in the silence? Are we too caught-up in seeking the fire falling from heaven that we miss His real presence in the silent and still moments of our lives? Do we seek quiet in order to encounter Him and hear His voice?

PRAYER

Lord, as I quiet myself before you, help me to encounter You in the silence and stillness. Enable me to hear Your voice and follow your direction. Amen.

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Pursued by God

We are often told to “pursue God” and “draw near to God.” The Bible encourages it: “Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Ps. 27:8). The Bible makes clear that God can be found by those who pursue Him. So, at times, the action falls upon us to pursue God.

The Bible also makes clear, however, that God pursues us: “You hunt me like a lion” (Job 10:16). The God of the Bible does not sit idle waiting for us to approach Him; He is not passive. Rather, He pursues us.

The writer of Psalm 23 expresses God’s active pursuit of His people with the phrase, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). Many translations read, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” and while this is an accurate literal translation, it fails to capture the essence of the language. First, the term “mercy” carries a deeper sense than a passing feeling. In Hebrew the word refers to God’s covenantal mercy, something that is sure and certain. It is not dependent upon a capricious emotion but is bound to God’s covenant with His people.

Also, the psalmist is not saying that the goodness and mercy of God follow after me as something I leave in my wake behind me, nor does he mean that God’s goodness and mercy follow me, chasing me but never able to catch me. The term used by the psalmist, usually translated as “follow,” is the Hebrew word radaf, a military term meaning to “pursue with the intent of overtaking.” In other words, God’s goodness and mercy pursue me aggressively, as an army does its fleeing foe, seeking to surround me and overtake me.

Quite often, the cares of life can be overwhelming. When we approach God, He can feel distant and far off. The God of the Bible, however, is One whose covenant mercy pursues us daily. He pursues us. And that is a comforting feeling. He not only asks us to seek Him, but He seeks after us. Today, will we allow ourselves to be found by Him?

PRAYER

Father, open my eyes to all of the ways You are pursuing me. May Your goodness and covenant mercy surround me and overtake me. May I also be aware that You actively pursue all people, like You do me. Amen.

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It is Really About Love (Mishpatim)

For I the Lord do not change Malachi 3:6

This week we continue our reading of Exodus, chapters 21-24. It is an interesting portion with two and a half of the four chapters filed with laws.

The laws are detailed; how to deal with slaves & property, personal injuries & social responsibility, Shabbat & the Holidays. These kinds of chapters seem rather irrelevant to Christians today and are often skipped over. After all we don’t have slaves, most of us don’t have livestock, and the government has installed laws on how to deal with justice.

Despite that, I encourage you to open your bible and read these chapters, because we can learn a lot about God’s character from these laws that He gave the people of Israel. After all, the Lord is the same, yesterday, today & tomorrow. And what He had to say so many years ago to the Israelites is still very relevant today.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12: 30-31

All the laws given in these chapters can be summarized with the above verse; Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. The basis of all these rules is love. Perfect Love. Love that outcasts fear. The kind of self-sacrificing love that the Father shows us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

It was always about love, and it still is. While we can have endless discussions about Grace vs. Law and the relevance of these ‘Old Testament’ rules for our lives as believers today, it is really about love. The love the Lord has shown us and we in turn give Him, and the love we have for our neighbor because of the love of the Lord in us.

So I encourage you to read these chapters and to ask the Lord to show you what you can gain from them. Let these words remind you that it is about love and they can help you to show more of the Lord’s love to your neighbors.

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Moses and his father-in-law (Yitro)

In this weekly Torah portion, we learn the Moses had sent his wife Zipporah and their two sons, Gershon & Eliezer to stay with his father-in-law for a while. The time had come for the family to be reunited and Jethro brought his daughter and grandsons to Moses, who was camped with the Israelites in the wilderness, by the mountain of God.

Moses told his father-in-law all about what the Lord had done for Israel’s sake. It had been hard, but the Lord had saved them. Jethro was glad to hear the report and praised the Lord for rescuing Israel from the hand of the Egyptians and the Pharaoh. Jethro brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to the Lord for what He had done for Moses and the Israelites.

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Exodus 18:11

Jethro was a religious man, a priest of Midian, and he recognized the power of the Lord. But he was also a very practical man. And when he saw how overburdened Moses was with caring for the people he spoke up with some good advice.

Whenever the people had a question they’d come to Moses directly to hear the will of the Lord. Moses was busy morning till evening and Jethro saw that this was too much. The work was too heavy and would wear him out. Moses needed to get some help.

Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. Exodus 18:19

Jethro advised Moses to not only teach the people the Lord’s decrees and instructions, but to find capable men who could assist him. Trustworthy men, who feared God and hated dishonest gain, were to share the load. Sharing the burden would make Moses be able to keep up and the people would still get their answers. Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law and began to teach the people the law. He also chose capable men who he installed as leaders.

Jethro was used by the Lord, to help Moses. It is not the first or the last time that we read about an ‘unbeliever’ who is being used by the Lord. God can use anyone to encourage us and remind us of His love. The advise given by someone from the ‘outside’ can be inspired by the Lord and add a lot to our life.

Have you ever gotten advice from that was clearly from the Lord, but came from an ‘unbeliever’ source? How did you know it was really the Lord? Are there people in your life that speak love even though they don’t serve the Lord?

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