Devotional · Uncategorized

Height of Hypocrisy

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Luke 18:9-14

How often have you and I thanked God for our blessings? It’s a critical part of worship isn’t it? First we adore God for His character – all that He is in infinitude, eternality, omniscience and might. That’s a mouthful isn’t it? In other words when we praise God we remember He is so superior to anyone we know, unfathomable really in His wisdom, power and love!

Then we thank God for how He works among the people He has created, sustaining us by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). In many countries temporal blessings are so abundant that folks begin to think these are their right. Recently I’ve heard people saying no one can take away their rights. Have they forgotten those around our globe who don’t enjoy the same unalienable rights?

Why then have rights to life and liberty been denied so many people? It’s heart-breaking to see babies and little children who will never enjoy the practical sustenance we believe all children need. Doesn’t God care? Yes, He does. He has given us so much that if we shared a portion of it regularly with others, this world would be a different place. How sacrificially might we love others? When we say we love God how does that play out on the horizontal level, here on earth?

Jesus often talked in parables. One such story might relate to us today. A Pharisee stood up to pray in the temple. Notice his posture. Notice his attitude. “Thank God I am not like other men”! What was his perspective on other people? It was very negative. He would have made a great reporter in the twenty-first century. Look at our society – on the streets of our cities there are robbers, drunks, prostitutes, murderers, drug addicts, adulterers and those who cheat on their taxes. There are even crooks in government! (Luke 18:11). Surely I’m not like them!

He continued: “Look God at how good I have been, tithing and fasting regularly – twice a week!” Now to me that statement smacks of pride. Paul reminds people of faith that the universe was made by God (Hebrews 11:1). God asked Job where he was when He laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4-7). Let’s keep our perspectives about God and man in balance. What impact can my fasting and tithing or any other good works have on the God who created all things? It’s like an ant bragging to me about building its anthill.

Just to keep us focused, Jesus contrasts the Pharisee’s prayer with the prayer of a tax collector – a man the Pharisee has just mocked. This man didn’t even raise his eyes to heaven, but “beat upon his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ “ (Luke 18:13).

Which man do you think was justified before God? Looking at our world today, it’s shocking to see Christians caught up in what once might have been called a “worldly” perspective. I was told once by a professing believer, that God only wanted the best for me and therefore my old, ramshackle car was an affront to Him. I almost bought it!! However, I knew that God had provided me with a vehicle that got me where I needed to go, freeing me to share with others some of the wealth of this world that still remained in my pocket. This was my comfort in the face of ridicule.

One more lesson might be learned from this parable. Had the Pharisee forgotten that to judge others is a sin in the eyes of God? Along with his insatiable pride, he was as much a sinner as those he criticized. God could judge his heart, even if his life looked good on the outside. We who know God the Father intimately have the unalienable right and privilege to spread His love to those who have lost heart and hope. Just as God lifts us up when we are weary, so we must lift up others with words and deeds of encouragement. May God forgive us if we don’t!

Reflection:

Do I feel accountable to God for all that He has blessed me with?

Which man’s life does mine resemble?

How do others see me, and is it the same as the way God sees me?

Who might you view as society’s outcasts? Would you be willing to come along side them in love?

Devotional · Uncategorized

Defection Described

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1 John 2:18-19
There is a phrase used by John the Apostle that is painful to read. “….even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Prophesying about the last days, John tells us how to recognize the antichrist. The “last hour” (1 John 2:18) is described by one commentator as the time period between Christ’s first and second coming.
Throughout John’s references, the common factors are :
1. “This ….spirit of antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world….if they had belonged to us they would have remained” (1 John 2:19). They have exhibited a spirit of independence.
2. This antichrist can be recognized by his deception, his lies – “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (2:22).
3. They reject that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, which in effect is also a denial of God the Father (1 John 2:22, 2 John 7).
Where does this spirit originate? It is the satanic force behind all teachings and activity that would destroy Christianity. Sadly, we can clearly see this in our world today! We hear people talking about being “spiritual”, or about interacting with the Divine. Whatever that means, usually it applies to something emanating from inside mankind, without any acknowledgement that at the heart of every man is the deepest need, only fulfilled in a relationship with Jesus Christ!
In John’s day, as unfortunately today, many of these people belonged to the visible church but were not believers (2:19). How sad is it to realize that among the wheat there really are tares growing, subtly promoting their doctrine by watering down the truths of scripture. Jesus tells us – “While everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away” (Matthew 13:25).
The church has become sleepy. The enemy is planting his weeds among us. Unfortunately these seeds are hard to recognize until they have grown and by then to cut out the weeds would also injure or destroy the wheat. Paul warned the church in Ephesus: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). It was serious enough for Paul to warn them repeatedly, and with tears! (20:31). What to do?
Paul says “Be on your guard” (Acts 2:31). Wake up! Smell the coffee! Be discerning! We are to be ready to confront lies. This takes courage, because obviously we will not be popular. It may even divide friends, friends who have given in to the gospel of love as a weak acceptance of evil. We need to know our Bibles well, to deal with those finer points of doctrine that some will so subtly, and some rather unknowingly, shift from the truth.
They went out from us, [they defected not necessarily physically, but cognitively] but they did not really belong to us” (1 John 2:19) for if they had they would have kept the faith. The journey of their thoughts, the promotion of their interpretation of scripture for their own advantage, proves that they do not belong to us!
However, John does not leave the believer without hope. “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (2:20). Believers are led by the Holy Spirit to know all truth (John 16:13). We need not be afraid!
Reflection:
Who are the key players in the scenario John describes? What is the problem?
Does this same scenario describe the church today? How does it differ?
Would you know how to discern the spirit of anti-Christ?

by Marilyn Daniels

http://www.marilyndaniels.net

Uncategorized

The Judge

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Matthew 7:1-5

Recently I was brought to my knees when I realized how judgmental I had been about a quiet Christian. Wondering why they weren’t making more of a difference was really an attempt to put them in the place of God. Let me explain. Only God can change lives; we are simply His instruments. As long as we are doing His will in the place He has put us, the results are totally up to Him.

Jesus told His disciples that He has been given the authority, by His heavenly Father, to judge (John 5:22). Since that is His responsibility, is it any wonder that Jesus warned His followers not to judge others? He knows each one of us has our weak points, areas where we need to grow, areas against which we may even have to battle in order to mature in our faith. Remember He told the crowd “He who is without sin cast the first stone”? (John 8:7KJV). He knows the dark side of every human being.

First Jesus demands we remove the plank out of our own eye (7:5). Why? That very plank prevents us from seeing properly. Have you ever had an eyelash in your eye? The result is a lot of natural tears which blur your vision. Imagine a plank! Now we see through a glass darkly, Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV). If that is the extent of our vision, how can we accurately assess the direction we ourselves should be going, let alone where someone else is headed? When the plank is removed from my eye, I can see where my judgement is faulty.

Another question arises. How do we feel when the shoe is on the other foot and we are unfairly judged by other folks? Has that ever happened to you? Its almost a fact of life, isn’t it? So where is that going to stop? It must stop first with me! We claim as Christians to follow Christ. Our judge is fair, positive, encouraging. He does not tear us down, but builds us up into a holy body. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?” (Romans 10:15)

Part of the problem is that we often look at circumstances rather than at the people involved. We may want the circumstances to change because we are afraid. Therefore in examining my own heart can I, will I, acknowledge my own fears? Do those fears honour God? When we take our eyes off of the situation and remember Jesus told us His followers would be known by their love for one another, our emphasis shifts.

This is hugely important because in this scripture passage Jesus said if we want to be judged fairly, we must do unto others what we would have them do to us; we must expect to be judged in the same way as we judge others (Matthew 7:2). He pretty much said the same thing in the Lord’s Prayer….we are to pray: ”Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

God then brought me to the conclusion that it takes more strength to be less verbal, but just to live the life God intends us to live, than to be looking for external “results” from our verbal witness. Besides, in any relationship one cannot judge what is quietly being said and done behind the scenes, which one day may bear fruit. Our attitude is so often governed by our feelings and those often rely on our ignorance. When will we let God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Why does our worldly wisdom seem so much better than God’s?

Recognizing truth requires a response. If I have sinned against a brother or sister by my judgmental attitude, how can that be changed? First I have to try to look at the facts. Maturity comes when our hearts and minds are in tune with God. Thoughts and feelings must be in sync. What do I know to be true? How will I respond to that truth? Will I praise God for the good I know exists? Will I pray for my brother or sister to be mightily used of God?

Reflection:

Without realizing it, our goals often become utopian. For example, we want to live at peace. Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The peace, His peace which He gives to us through the Holy Spirit, is that calm which exists within our spirits, yours and mine, even in our darkest hour. It is not dependant upon circumstances. While we strive to right the wrongs of people in our world , our focus is in the wrong place. Certainly we are to help those who are hungry, needy, or abused as long as we are motivated by compassion for their distress. Let us take stock of Jesus’ words of comfort: “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Do we believe?

Devotional · Uncategorized

Show Us the Father

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John 14:6-14

Jesus was disappointed. He had been working and walking, eating and drinking with His disciples for three years. They were His intimate friends. As such He expected them to know Him very well, yet here was Philip asking Him to show them the Father. Why did that matter?

Jesus had talked about God the Father continuously throughout His ministry, primarily to identify Himself with His Father in heaven. He even taught His disciples to pray to God as “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Now, in the present moment Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure to God the Father. The crucial message He was leaving with them was that no one could get to God in heaven unless they followed the Way, the Truth and the Life, new names He gave Himself (John 14:6).

In the face of Philip’s question Jesus patiently explained again that “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9). John the Baptist had already prepared the way, years before, by preaching that “No one has ever seen God [in His invisible Spirit-being], but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18). Jesus declared to Philip and the other disciples: “It is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work” (14:10). The mystery of how He is in the Father and the Father is in Him needed explanation once again, since Jesus’ purpose was to bring glory to God the Father.

Let’s consider briefly the life of Jesus. In His ministry He was often prophetic about His immediate future, things fulfilled in His life-time, as well as events to which we still look forward (i.e. John 6:62). He demonstrated His foreknowledge when He saw Nathanael under the fig tree, prior to speaking with him. Jesus declared God to be a loving Father, challenging His followers to love one another as a sign they were Christ-followers (John 13:34-35).

Jesus Himself was an emotional being, weeping at the grave of Lazarus, angry with the moneychangers in the temple, compassionate towards sinners, loving people who didn’t always respond to Him such as the rich young ruler. If nothing else, Jesus showed us the Father is a relational Being. Created to be like God, people need to be secure in relationship with Him. Within that significance and security, all our relationships benefit.

Then there were the miracles which He often used to illustrate His Divinity. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands with few resources, made the blind to see, lepers clean, and the lame walked. His disciples witnessed how the winds and waves were subject to His voice, this One who is also Creator God. He escaped out of crowds who sought to kill him and walked on water. God doesn’t call us to walk on water; He just calls us to love! Perhaps the greatest miracle of all was the forgiveness He freely expounded towards the very folks who nailed Him to the cross.

If in three years of talking about His Father the disciples still didn’t ‘get it’, its impossible for us to exhaust the riches of scripture, in our search for understanding of an Omniscient, Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent, and Infinite God. Do we still ask “Show us the Father” when doing our daily devotions? Shouldn’t that be our prayer? It will take eternity for us to fathom the riches of His grace and mercy, to see clearly the mind of God in all its justice, and to interpret His wisdom.

Reflection:

Since man was made in the image of God its important to understand God’s heart and mind. How often did Jesus talk about doing the will of His Father? Are we challenged to do the will of “Our Father”?

Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the heart of God was when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. If He is in the Father and we are in Him, do we weep over our Jerusalem? Where has God planted us? Why, how and when do our lives, yours and mine, reveal the Father to these dear people?

Devotional · Uncategorized

A Difficult Scripture

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Hebrews 6:4-6

Solomon, famous for his pithy proverbs, said some things we might rather overlook. Why on earth would he remind us of the unsavoury fact that a dog will return to its vomit? Why would the Apostle Peter repeat this proverb as though it held an important message? “Why” questions are helpful in leading us to examine difficult circumstances. If we are truly asking “Why” then we will search until we get the answer.

Proverbs chapter 26 majors on a theme in verses 1-12. Solomon takes the liberty of describing a fool. Using examples from nature, he suggests that snow in summer is as profitable as would be honouring a fool. They themselves are slaves of depravity, yet they promise freedom – what a picture of today where licentiousness is rampant. Even some of those who have a little knowledge of our Saviour’s mercy and grace, will sometimes fall back or as Solomon says, like a dog will return to its vomit.

Peter picks up this theme when he reflects on the problem of a person committed to following Jesus Christ and then changing his or her mind. Will they return to their old life-style with any sense of assurance that they will be welcomed in heaven? How many people have wanted to know they will go to heaven when they die, but have presumed upon the Saviour’s goodness and mercy by returning to their “vomit”?

According to Hebrews, it seems to be impossible for anyone having tasted of the heavenly gift [of faith] to be brought back to repentance, if they fall away (Hebrews 6:4-6). Are there no extenuating circumstances for those who backslide, or for those who choose to live carnal Christian lives? The problem is that people, taking for granted that a shallow declaration of faith will suffice, have not really tasted. “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). They wouldn’t, couldn’t give up the great joy that comes from seeing the goodness of God working in their own lives, from knowing the freedom that comes from forgiveness of sin!

Not being rooted and grounded in the love of God, do people care if they shame the very One in whom they say they have put their trust? This vacillation brings Jesus’ loving sacrifice into public disgrace. We make Him a laughing-stock. Not only that but it is equal to putting Him to death on the cross all over again. (Hebrews 6:6)

This passage of scripture has been debated by many theologians because it reflects on the possibility of losing one’s salvation, which other scriptures assure us is not possible. (Philippians 1:6, John 10:28-29). Hebrews also tells us one cannot be saved a second time (12:6).

Strong words used in this chapter are also used in other places in the book. Believers are cautioned to remember the early days of faith when their passion for the “light” drove them to defend the faith, even in the face of suffering. This is what it means to be truly enlightened! (Hebrews 10:32).

Reflection:

Our Master was willing to taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). Sharing in God’s holiness may require the Godly discipline exemplified by our Lord. Let’s remember there is a vast difference from yielding to temptation and choosing to live a life of sin. If we truly follow our Lord, we demonstrate that we receive enlightenment from the Holy Spirit on our daily journey. As a result we must be willing to learn, to be disciplined, maybe even to taste death. This may make us face some difficult choices.

Devotional · Uncategorized

Stuck in a Rut

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Psalm 51:10-13

When Jesus came to earth God had been silent for 400 years, historians like Josephus tell us. No prophets or priests had been given special messages for God’s people in such a long time! Yet the people waited. As circumstances unfolded, spiralling downwards, Israel still looked for Messiah. It is truly amazing that although their worship had degraded, they still held onto the hope that God would deliver them.

However, they had forgotten something. God’s promises would be fulfilled, but only on His terms. His promised deliverance would be of a spiritual nature, not political or temporal. What were those terms? Who would Messiah be like? The Jews had been given clues. Isaiah wrote about Messiah, as did David and some of the prophets. Whatever had been taught in the synagogues, or in the Temple at Jerusalem, it seems that the nation only had a partial understanding of what to expect.

Pain is a great catalyst calling for action ….some action, any action seems to be better than waiting. Ripe with expectation the Jewish people were ready to grasp at straws. If Jesus were truly Messiah, they were ready! The question was – were they ready to return to the loving arms of God? Were they prepared to follow Christ’s teachings? Certainly the religious elite were not…and they were the teachers of the people!

We know how that ended. Death seemed to have removed their only hope. Very few got the message. And Jesus wept (Matthew 23:37).

Have we, who are blessed to hold scripture in our hands, learned anything from these mistakes? Does Jesus weep today, watching people stuck in the same rut as the children of God, in ancient times? Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. What sort of deliverance are we waiting for, when we remember Jesus is coming again?

How often do we pray for deliverance from our circumstances – health issues, financial binds, unfulfilled relational needs and the list goes on? Are we interested in those deeper blessings only known as we shelter safe within the arms of God? Dottie Rambo wrote about that –

I’ll have no fear, for Jesus walks beside me…and I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God”.

Is that true for you and for me? Whatever happens today or tomorrow with COVID-19, are we ready to walk with God through it all? If Jesus should come today or tomorrow are we ready to meet Him?

Reflection:

What does your relationship with God mean to you today?

Do we anticipate a glorious reunion when we meet Jesus, Messiah, face to face? Or are we stuck in the rut of religious tradition, looking for relief of unpleasant circumstances, of a temporal nature?

Can you say with King David:

Cast me not away from Your presence O Lord; take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of my salvation, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:11-12 KJV)

by Marilyn Daniels

http://www.marilyndaniels.net

Devotional · Uncategorized

Christ Redeemed Us

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Galatians 3:10-14

As we prepare our hearts for Easter let us consider why the sacrifice of Christ was necessary. I marvel at the cohesive message given in both Old and New Testaments.

As far back as Deuteronomy (21:22-23), hanging on a tree was a shameful thing. There the punishment differed from actual death on a tree…the already dead body would be exposed to shame and ridicule, for all to see. Interesting, isn’t it, how centuries later Jesus was put to death in this most shameful way?

In his letter to the Galatian church the Apostle Paul points out what will happen to those who do not keep the law perfectly. James tells us that those who sin in one point are guilty of all (James 2:10). Of course you and I will not likely commit murder, nor will we break other of the Ten Commandments, but how often do we think we get away with just a little coveting? Or – heaven forbid, what about slandering a neighbour? Do we worship at the shrine of health or wealth? These could cost us eternity in heaven, but for the redemption Christ purchased by His ignominious death.

His death was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. We might note that Paul, quoting from Moses’ writings, declared Abraham righteous by his faith. Galatians 3:6 “He believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness”.

Martin Luther discovered “The righteous will live by faith!” This glorious discovery which set Luther’s spirit free from so many laws that bound him, changed his whole life! But it cost. He was persecuted for his very faith.

He wanted others to understand that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Old Testament message of God’s love is consistent with the New, because love is the essence of our heavenly Father’s being. Moses wrote about how God in His unfailing love would redeem His people (Exodus 15:13). That love could last through 1,000 generations, conditioned on the obedient, love responses of His children (Deuteronomy 5:10).

John tells us that those who received Him, believing in Jesus’ name, to them [the Father] gives the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). That’s faith isn’t it?

Many of us are familiar with Lamentations 3:22 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail – they are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness”!

The great love chapter of the Bible is really 1 John 4. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (:10). “We love Him because He first loved us” (:19). The apostle John knew Jesus personally. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (:18). His experience taught him that the sign of being called the children of God came from the great love the Father lavishes on us (John 3:1)! But it cost.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

Reflection:

Are you trying hard to be a good person? How far will that get you?

How effective is Jesus’ redemption? To whom does it apply? (John 1:12)

by Marilyn Daniels

http://www.marilyndaniels.net