You Sure You Want To Serve God?

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And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

Joshua 24:16, 19

The people of Israel have arrived. God brought them to the promised land and they have conquered their enemies. In their irrational exuberance they say that they will never betray God. Little did they know that they would soon have to eat those words.

But Joshua correctly discerned their confidence as pride. He knew how serious this obligation was and how ill-equipped the people were for the task. The people were sunshine Jews. They followed God when it was pleasurable but when hard times came they folded up like lawn chairs.

Jesus had to deal with the same problem during His earthly ministry. After He fed the 5,000 and walked on water in John 6 He admonished the crowd because they only followed Him to feed their bellies. They wanted to make Him king but they were not interested in the kingdom which He inaugurated.

We should therefore be careful about thinking that it is easy to serve God, especially when we are in a season of peace. It is impossible to please God without the power of the Holy Spirit helping us. Had Israel paid closer attention they would have learned this lesson from their teacher, the Law.

What’s worse is if we who have the Old Testament do not learn from its examples and repeat the same mistakes. As Paul warns us:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12

Don’t ever forget that you need the grace of God to serve Him just as much as you need it to breathe. That power is no less essential and every bit as available to you and me.

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue

2 Peter 1:2, 3

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Spittle: A Facial Mud Mask By Jesus

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When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,

And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

John 9:6-7

This story of Jesus healing a blind man is just one example of the seemingly bizarre ways in which Jesus worked. For most of my life stories like this seemed to raise questions rather than inspire me. He didn’t always do this so what is the meaning behind spitting in the mud and smearing on this poor man’s eyelids? To be honest, I think I would have reacted with disgust and horror.

One explanation for this miracle says that it is a reminder of how God created man from the clay. Jesus demonstrates His power by performing a miracle with this association, one that would not have been lost on the Jews. Okay, well, that’s one explanation.

Another explanation says that people at that time believed that saliva could heal blindness. Jesus demonstrated His healing power with this miracle. Again, another attempt at speculation but even less helpful. I believe we can find the reason why Jesus spat on the ground by looking at what happened in the following verses.

I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t heal the man immediately and in His presence. He sends him away to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes and receive his sight. You can only imagine what he was thinking as he’s walking through the village with mud on his eyes. Did he have any doubts? Was he thinking that this was all just a waste and that he may have just made a fool out of himself?

And then comes the life-changing moment when the light floods in and he can see everything he’s only ever imagined. What’s amazing is that he has no idea what Jesus looks like. He now has sight but the man who healed him remains invisible. At this point he is a type that represents all believers who have come to faith after Jesus’ ascension. Jesus says of them to Thomas that they are blessed because they believe even though they have not seen. He knows he’s been healed but he just hasn’t seen Jesus.

The news spread quickly as everyone saw this familiar man walking around town. I can’t help thinking that Jesus did this on purpose, knowing that many people would see the blind man walking and seeing. Jesus is not around but the evidence of His healing power is indisputable. They are forced to make a choice about what to believe concerning Jesus and His identity.

I think it’s worth noting that Jesus isn’t the first person the man sees. He could probably recognize His voice but he couldn’t describe Him to anyone. All he could say is that a man named Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to wash it off at the pool. His testimony was his evidence.

We should be able to identify with the blind man because he is a picture of every believer today. You were once blind but now you see even though you haven’t laid eyes on Jesus. The only evidence is the fruit that the gospel has borne in your life. People say of you, “Isn’t he/she the one who…?” No one can doubt the change and the power yet they refuse to acknowledge the explanation.

Later on we read that blind man stumbles in his faith when the religious leaders pressure him. If he struggled when he received such a tangible miracle then we shouldn’t think it will be easier for us. Nevertheless, God’s grace is sufficient for even us. We also have the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within us.

My dad always says that he believes in God because he’s seen the power of God at work in his life. Let us also look at what God’s power has done to us and cling to the gospel that was preached to us without flinching or wavering. He is able.

Jeremiah 29:11 Is Not A Promise For You

Many people struggle to understand and believe the promises in the Bible because they’re not seeing the prosperity and the joy in their lives that they expect from God. And so they they do this, that, and the other in order to gain God’s favor.

This is an opportunity to review the scriptures to ensure that we understand the promises of God. Jeremiah 29:11 is not a promise that applies to Christians today. So, to whom is this promise made? What is the promise?

It does not mean that bad things won’t happen to you. It is not an individual promise. Watch the video and learn.

An Introduction To Jonah

From Search the Scriptures, by Alan M. Stibbs:

Jonah is mentioned in 2 Ki. 14:25 as having predicted the victories of Jeroboam II by which the borders of the kingdom of Israel were greatly enlarged. If Jonah prophesied at the beginning of Jeroboam’s reign, he would precede Amos by about twenty years only. At that time Assyria was already a great power, and had begun to reach out westwards: in fact, Jeroboam’s victories were partly due to Assyrian raids upon Damascus and neighbouring states, which weakened these kingdoms. It would seem that Jonah was afraid of Assyria, whose cruelties were well known, and whose power was dreaded.

To this man came the commission to go to Nineveh and cry against it. One might have thought that such a commission would not be unwelcome, but to Jonah it was so hateful that he resolved rather to resign his prophetic office than obey it. The book is the story of what happened. It is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible, and rich in spiritual teaching.

Virgin Birth: Believe It To See It

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Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah gave this prophecy not as a word of encouragement but as a rebuke of unbelief. The context provided by the chapter is that the Assyrians are invading Israel and trying to take Jerusalem. The king and the people are afraid and God promises King Ahaz that they will not succeed.

10 Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,

11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.

Ahaz was trying to be clever and use God’s own word against much in the same way that Satan tried to twist scripture against Jesus during His temptation. I believe Ahaz knew better that asking for a sign as a condition of faith was prohibited but here the Lord was offering it to him and so it was okay. In spite of what Ahaz said he, in fact, was testing God’s patience.

Jumping forward to the ministry of Jesus we read that He was frustrated with the people because they wanted Him to perform miracles, saying,”Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). This was the proper application of the command that Ahaz was using as cover for not trusting God.

God requires us to trust and obey before we see a miracle. We want to see signs and wonders before we trust Him, maybe. Jesus said that the centurion had faith like no one in Israel because he did not need to see the healing to believe it.

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.

2 Peter 1:19

Peter saw the miracles of Jesus’ ministry and I don’t think they can be matched by anyone in the Bible or human history. Yet, it was the word that was a more solid foundation for faith. Miracles, signs, emotional experience, all of these will fail us. You have to decide at the outset that God is trustworthy and commit yourself.

A God Who Descends

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A God Who Descends.

This comes from a post by Jill Carattini over at RZIM’s “A Slice of Infinity” blog, entitled “A God Who Descends.” From the post:

The first time I walked through the crowded, pungent streets of Bethlehem, I was struck by the disparity between what I was seeing and “the little town of Bethlehem” I had spent my life imagining in manger scenes and songs. The harsh reality of God becoming a child—not in a sweet and sentimental village somewhere far away, but in the midst of this cold and dark world I knew myself—suddenly seemed a blaring proclamation indeed. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It is little wonder that some of the most theology-rich hymns are Christmas carols that have at heart the Incarnation. In a darkened world not unlike this one, two thousand years ago, God came in person.

 

Was Jesus Birth Good Or Bad News?

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Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

Matthew 2:2-5

God has a long, established record of upending men’s prejudices by using those who have been rejected and despised by the world to accomplish His purposes and bring Him glory. Jacob and Joseph were used by God even though they were younger brothers in a culture the eldest son had all of the advantages. The Lord called Jeremiah to be His prophet even though he was just a child. He used women such as Deborah, Jael, Esther, and Ruth. In the story of Jesus’ birth we also see unusual reactions from unlikely sources.

Those pagan idolaters we know as the magi were the ones who understood the significance of the event and the true identity of Jesus. More importantly, their desire to worship Him confirms their understanding and proper response. I’d also say it was quite bold of them to ask to see the king of the Jews knowing that Herod was on the throne. Are they denying his legitimacy? Did they realize how insulting this was, and possible threatening to their own safety?

The chief priests and scribes were familiar with the messianic prophecies but they lack the wise men’s faithful response. They were like the prodigal son’s elder brother, so close to the father and yet so far away. They handled the revelation of God but they were blinded by their ignorant zeal.

And then we have Herod, whose sole concern seems to be self-preservation. Politics is a zero-sum game and as long as your enemy is losing you’re winning. He doesn’t care whether it’s true that Jesus is the messiah. I think he saw Jesus as a threat more than a hope for deliverance.

The gospel elicits the strangest responses from unexpected sources. Like a piece of equipment it detects the true nature of men. This story proves Jesus’ own words true in John 9:39 when He said:

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

Where Jesus And Bob Marley Agree, Almost

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No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Matthew 6:24,25

This teaching which Jesus lived by illustrates how different Jesus was from all men. No one can match the impeccable timing of His perfect words and actions. When growing up I thought that His behavior was so extraordinary that you couldn’t really know why He did what He did. I understand now that He was so different because He understood the scriptures and applied them, not because of some secret knowledge or powers.

This is quite a radical teaching when you think about it. It is so different from how we come to live our lives. Not only do we worry about our basic needs but we also add things to our list of concerns that we think are necessary when they really aren’t. Our nature is to serve mammon but you can’t serve mammon and God.

It is very easy to make our own plans and confuse them with God’s will. People often ask me where I see myself in five years but I can’t see myself in five months, or even five days from now. But how can anyone see that? Anyone who tries to speak with certainty about the future is fooling himself. You can say all you want about your five-year goals but they’re utterly meaningless because you have no power or knowledge regarding the future.

When you spend month after month looking for a job and watching your bank account dry up all you can think about is how you will survive. The stress makes you despair of life. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of what you don’t have and can’t do. You realize that you have no control over anything but you also feel powerless to overcome your circumstances. It’s like you’re playing a rigged game. This kind of worry is, in one sense, what Jesus meant by serving mammon.

We do not live simply for bread alone but for God’s pleasure, as Jesus told the devil during His temptations. Jesus teaches us that God already has a plan and a purpose for us and He has the power to make it reality. His plans are better than ours and provide a fulfillment we will never find on our own. They concern more than just what careers we have or what accomplishments we achieve. The big picture goes beyond our parochial hopes and stretch beyond our short lifetimes.

We must look to the Father as the source of our life and the provider of all our needs. Jesus said to seek the kingdom and righteousness and leave the concerns over our provision to the Father. Jesus is telling us to be carefree, not careless. Food and raiment aren’t trivial but if they become the focus of our attention then it will distract us from serving God. It’s either God or mammon. Whom will you choose?

What is the point of your life? Are you living for the kingdom or are you just living?

Introduction to Matthew

Matthew Gospel

My devotional study has taken me from Isaiah to Matthew. You will see posts on chapters one through seven over the next few weeks. My study guide includes an introduction and an analysis for the first time I come to a book. From the intro in Alan Stibbs’ Search the Scriptures:

It is customary to see in Matthew’s Gospel the fact that Jesus is presented especially as the Messiah, the promised Son of David. This is true; but it also declares that He is the Saviour from sin (1:21) and the Son of God (1:23; 3:17; 16:16,17); and although the writer was obviously a Jew to the core, and wrote primarily for Jewish Christians, yet he recognizes that Jesus is the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but of all nations (2:1,11; 28: 19,20). Nevertheless, this is the most Jewish of the Gospels. It is significant that our Lord’s genealogy is traced back, not to Adam, as in Luke’s account, but to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.

The story of the birt of Christ shows distinct signs of being derived from Joseph’s side, as the story given by Luke would seem to come from Mary’s.

The Gospel is characterized by the large place it gives to the teaching of our Lord, and in particular to His teaching in parables and about ‘things to come’.

Don’t Forget God’s Love & Kindness

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I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.

Isaiah 63:7

The reason why Isaiah had to write this prophecy is because Israel did not agree with verse seven. They did not see in God the source of their blessing, prosperity, and protection so they wandered off the path He set for them. Christians can learn important lessons from this passage of prayer and praise.

Our prayers to God should always include mention of His love towards us and thanksgiving for what He has done for us. When we forget this it isn’t long before we are disappointed and frustrated with what God hasn’t done for us. Our focus becomes fixated on what we want, which happens to be what we don’t have, and we treat God like our butler.

I believe this view causes us to see God as impotent because we are only interested in what He will do for our agenda. We have made our life plans for education, career, and social status without consulting God at all and we expect Him to deliver it like it’s a pizza. We are certainly not interested in His purposes for us.

Remembering His lovingkindnesses to us in the past helps us build our trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. It connects the scriptures with real-life consequences, showing us that we can trust in His power to sustain, deliver, and bless us. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this but I know now that when I look back that I see many times when the Lord has delivered me from my troubles. I get encouraged when I remember that God has a perfect record and always will.

Paul emulates this example well when he often mentions his thanks to God for various things. He is a thankful man to God for what He has done and the people He has put in Paul’s life and ministry.

Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…

Ephesians 1:6

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Philippians 1:3; 4:6

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…

Colossians 1:3