Gen. 12:7-8(7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring[a] I will give this land. ” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.)
A memory from the past can be very powerful in our lives. A bad relationship years earlier can effect the way we deal with others of the opposite sex. A teacher encouraging us in our endeavors can keep us going when we fail years after the encouragement. We might remember these memories through physical tokens we carry or even emotional baggage.
We witness here that whenever Abram had an encounter with God or needed his help, he built an altar. Generally, in our day, we aren’t taught to erect an altar at church, but they are important to have an appreciation for. Altars served as a testament and a reminder for what God had done. It was a physical representation of God’s constant work in the lives of his people.
Maybe we should start erecting altars in our life whenever God moves. It doesn’t need to be made of stone, but maybe a special journal, a piece of art, or even a paper weight we can look to and remember what a great God we serve.
Jeremiah 3:12-13(12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt—
you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,’”
declares the Lord.)
Admitting we have messed up can be a hard thing to do. We usually don’t admit we messed up or sinned unless we get caught. It might be that we are ashamed of what we did and believe others will look down on us; and often, the sin we are struggling with is something we have looked down on others for. Maybe we are afraid the person we sinned against will never forgive us for what we have done. These are all valid and real emotions that race through our minds after we have sinned and try to figure out how to get back on track with God. We are called to confess our sins and pray for each other even though it won’t be easy (James 5:16). But, we should never have a hard time confessing our sins before God.
All of these fears and doubts we harbor concerning what others will think should not cross our mind when it comes to God. In today’s text, he called Jeremiah to bring Israel to repentance through admitting their sin. God has called them faithless, whorish even, and much more. But, he still desires for them to return to him because of his great love and mercy for his people. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, and there is now no more condemnation for those in Him (Romans 8:1). Cry out to a merciful God and admit the sin in your life, knowing that he won’t judge or look down on you as fallen man does, but will respond in grace as we are counted righteous through Christ.
Numbers 16:38( 38 the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the Lord and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.”)
There was a man named Korah who led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Korah had led some of the men of Israel to use censors for themselves that God had instructed Moses to use as a covering for the altar. God, to punish the rebels’ sin and rid Israel of false leadership, caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah, his household, and his rebellion. God redeemed the sinful situation into a holy one; that is what he does with us. This is a large part of what makes the Christian faith different than other world religions. In order to be justified, or have a right standing, with the gods of many religions, one must work their way into the god or goddesses approval by being good or holy. They need to pray enough, give enough, fast enough, and do enough good all with the hope of making their god’s cut. Our God doesn’t work like that. Instead of accepting the good or holy, he seeks the sinful and makes them holy (Mark 2:17), having exchanged our sin with Jesus’ perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is a fundamental difference, that he takes the sinful and makes him holy, instead of expecting the sinful to clean himself up and work his way into his favor which is impossible for man (Rom. 3:10-12). We serve a wonderful God who can turn sinners into saints.
John 7:18(18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.)
Every day we hear and we speak many words. We hear words from our families, our coworkers, television, movies and the radio. And as Proverbs rightly explains, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). So our day, while full of words, is more than likely also full of transgression! We are no strangers to lies and it would seem “falsehood” is as inevitable as the sunrise. But as Christians we should learn from Jesus’ words, realizing that we can avoid falsehood by seeking the Father’s glory rather than our own. When we seek our own glory, we succumb to the trap of lying to cover our wrong deeds or mistakes to save ourselves from humiliation and shame. But when we seek his glory it doesn’t matter what people think of us, only what people know of him. Just like the one who composes the message is worthy of greater praise than the messenger, so is our God infinitely more worthy of praise than we. If we are abiding in Jesus then, we ought to walk as he walked (1 John 2:5-6). If we are indeed of the truth we are to seek the Father’s glory by always honoring him by walking in truth rather than falsehood.
John 8:17-18(17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” )
It was a maxim of Jewish law, “that the testimony of two people is true.” Simply put, two corroborating witnesses are more likely in the truth than one. This was derived from Deuteronomy 17:6, where “at the mouth of two witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death.” Two witnesses were required, in favor of life, that in a case punishable by death, as with a case of treason, ample evidence of the accused’s guilt would be supplied. The Pharisees accused Jesus of false testimony on the grounds that he bore witness about himself, but that was not so. As Jesus reminded them, “the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” The Father and his Spirit bore witness about Jesus at the Jordan. The “heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16b-17). We don’t serve a man who spoke with empty words or made void promises. We serve the Lord Jesus, whom the Father of all creation affirmed and sent. This Jesus, this Servant King, is the one whose testimony is true and eternal.John 18:37
Titus 1:12-13(2 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”[a] 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith )
A sharp rebuke is the sort of conversation most of us don’t want to have. But the harsh reality is that’s just the talk many of us need. We live in an age where many things come easily to us, with little effort or thought required. For example, a person finds he or she is in the mood for chicken, simple. Swing by the grocery store on the way home from work and pick up some chicken already baked and breaded, ready to eat! In short, our lives are permeated by comfort and convenience. This isn’t an evil thing, but it can be detrimental. Even more so when we consider that the Cretans of Paul and Titus’ day didn’t have near the creature comforts we are surrounded by in our modern age. When things come easily in our physical lives, we often allow that “comfort with ease” mentality to slip into to our spiritual walk. In fact, often times it can even dominate as the physical realm is intricately intertwined with the spiritual. In order for us to keep a guard against comfort and ease dictating our spiritual and even physical well being we need accountability. Those same “lazy gluttons” in Crete were under the supervision and leadership of Titus, and therefore accountable to him as he was to them. But accountability doesn’t do a beneficial thing for us if we don’t receive rebukes along with praise. Find trustworthy accountability for your life, and once found, submit to it understanding that God uses rebukes that we may “be sound in the faith.”
Psalm 4:4-5(4 Tremble and[a] do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.)
We are not called to a state of pulse-less passivity, no longer in possession of a backbone, lying down as our neighbor’s doormat. We live as people, redeemed people, but humans nonetheless. We feel the entire spectrum of God created emotion: sorrow and happiness, peace and discontent, love and disdain, fear, anger, and even more. David knew this, and we have numerous Psalms to prove it. A man who lived well after David penned this the fourth Psalm felt this sentiment keenly. Nehemiah, after dedicating the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem and completing an almost insurmountable task, left the city on business with King Artaxerxes. Upon his return he found the leadership had forsaken the Lord and was permitting unbelievers to live “in the courts of the house of God” (Nehemiah 13:7). Nehemiah’s response: “I was very angry” (Nehemiah 13:8). He even went on to threaten that if these people continued sinning he would “lay hands” on them (Nehemiah 13:21), and not in prayer! There is then a righteous anger that should exist in the heart of the redeemed. As with Jesus’ anger toward the money changers (John 2:15), and Paul’s anger toward false teachers (Galatians 5:12). Anger is a right response to evil and injustice. It is a fine line however, between anger and hatred; deep seated resentment leads to hatred, and goes well beyond anger. So “be angry, and do not sin”, remembering that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Numbers 15:37-39(37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.)
In ancient days, tassels adorned the garments of nobles and people of high cultural standing. Those who were wealthy flaunted their abundance. They looked upon their clothing with a prideful eye, marking themselves apart from the less monetarily fortunate. This was not to be so with God’s people, however. They were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), a peculiar people set apart not financially, but in every facet of living. In dress, in diet, in conduct, and in what encompasses each of those: worship. They were to see a constant reminder, corded in blue, of the righteous “commandments of the Lord”. And after reminded of them, to what? Do them. To live, walk, and breath in constant awareness that there is a magnificent, beautiful Creator revealing himself to his creation, drawing near enough for relationship. To be also reminded “not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes” that we still today “are inclined to whore after.” For “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). These adorned fringes then, are not a reminder of our slavery and drudging service, but a reminder of the faithful God who brought his people out from under the hand of oppression in Egypt. These are the same of which a woman on a crowded street would say, “If I can only touch his garment, I will be made well” (Matthew 9:21). Never forget that even the smallest of interaction with Jesus is life changing.
1 Sam. 1:28(28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.)
Have you ever wanted something so bad, you would do almost anything to see it happen? Hannah did. She was barren and getting older every year while her husband’s other wife was having kids and rubbing it in her face. God heard her prayers and graciously gave her a son. But, what did Hannah do with that great treasure? She gave him back to the Lord, allowing him to be raised in the temple, set apart for service to him. Think about what you have been asking God for. Are you ready to give it back? Is that why you haven’t received it yet? Remember, after Hannah gave her son to the Lord, he blessed her with more.
Isaiah 1:31(31 The mighty man will become tinder
and his work a spark;
both will burn together,
with no one to quench the fire. ”)
Humankind is possessed of a self-destructive bent. We consistently over-indulge in lifestyles and behaviors that will ultimately bring about our demise (i.e. addiction to drugs, alcohol, smoking, deviant sexual activity). When we live life outside of God’s will and companionship, many of us follow our sinful tendency of utter selfishness. We live and work for ourselves, and essentially pursue first and foremost that which will bring us pleasure. In a sense, what Isaiah was so eloquently speaking of here is that when we live worshipping ourselves or idols, we become kindling, and everything we put our hand to acts like a spark. This epitomizes the destructive nature of sin, that we would labor toward the very thing that will destroy us! It’s like a full gas can playing with matches. Be weary then, for though sinful living can be immediately gratifying, our adversary the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Living in habitual sin and disregard of the Lord will bring about our ultimate judgment, and there will be no one “to quench” the agony of eternal separation from God.
Romans 8:1(Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,)
To condemn is to declare a person or thing doomed and unfit for further use or freedom. Condemnation isn’t just a big word in the Bible, it’s a word that carries a great weight to it when viewed in light of eternity. It’s like a huge stone falling upon a house; crushing, devastating, and final. That is what and who we are outside of Jesus, condemned. We sentence ourselves by our rebellion against and disregard for the glorious God. Here is the simple reality of the universe:
God is immeasurably valuable, wholly good, and infinitely worthy of all glory, honor, and worship. But we as his creation acknowledge our own wants before him, setting ourselves up in his place, as more valuable, good, and worthy of our time and attention. This is called idolatry.
This idolatry then infects every day we live, and every relationship we pursue. What we experience through Christ however, is the greatest fulfillment of the human heart; a rescue from ourselves! To be left to ourselves is death, literally condemnation. But for those in Christ Jesus we get life, and “life abundantly” (John 10:10). No condemnation means then, that we are declared righteous and clean because of Christ’s wrath satisfying sacrifice. Enjoy the gift of God given to you in the person and work of Jesus Christ!
Daniel 1:8( But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.)
There are two things we can learn from Daniel’s response to the king’s decree that they eat a certain food and drink wine (Daniel 1:5). First, we learn that Daniel remained faithful to God when it seemed as though God was not faithful to him. Daniel just had his home destroyed by the king of Babylon and was subsequently taken into captivity (Daniel 1:1-4). To many of us, it may seem as though God had not taken care of Daniel and his fellow Israelites. Even though it appeared that way from a human perspective, Daniel stayed faithful to God and his commandments; even when it came to food.
Second, we learn that Daniel looked for God’s favor above man’s favor. We know that he was taken captive because of his handsome appearance and knowledge (Daniel 1:4). He possessed what was required to succeed in the Babylonian King’s court. But, instead of working his way through the ranks, as all the other young men undoubtedly tried to do, he chose to find favor with God by obeying his commandments. He did this rather than doing what was expected of him by the ambitious men surrounding him. This is very similar to what many of us deal with as we work our way up the corporate ladder in the business world today. Decisions like, “Do I stick with my morals, or do what all the others did before me to make my way up?”, or, “Is God really going to care about this minor detail I don’t obey if I use my new found position to positively influence others?” Resolve, like Daniel, to seek first God’s favor before men’s, and seek position into his presence, rather than position in a corporation.
Mark 9:2-3(2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.)
Jesus takes his inner circle to a mountain with him and they experience a God thing, something unlike anything they had ever seen. Most of us have had a similar experience, maybe not as intense, but a “mountain top” experience nonetheless. It may have been while worshipping at youth camp, a prayer meeting, or maybe even a conference you attended. God moved there in a way you had never experienced. What did you do with it when it was over? Some attempt to relive the same experience everywhere they go. Life doesn’t seem right if one of those experiences isn’t right around the corner. They began looking for an experience instead of living their life for Jesus. Peter wanted to do just this (Mark 9:5), he wanted to make a memorial to what happened on the mountain so they could come to it and relive the event. But Jesus didn’t allow him to do this and brought them back down the mountain, telling them not to mention this until he was risen from the dead (Mark 9:9). What a buzz kill. You see this awesome thing, you want to keep reliving it over again and again and Jesus says, “Oh yeah, by the way, don’t mention this to anyone until I have risen again.” The disciples didn’t understand this (Mark 9:10), but, Jesus knew what he was doing. He gave them the glowing mountain top to aid them through the dark valley when he would be taken away and murdered. He graciously gives us these experiences so we are able to navigate the many valleys in our lives, not so we can stay on the mountain. So, cherish these mountain top experiences, and draw from them in the valleys. But never create an idol by living for them instead of Jesus.
I Kings 10:4-5(4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at[a] the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.)
Solomon’s flawless court and astounding wealth were overwhelming. So overwhelming a queen was stopped mid-sentence, and left breathless. There was no mistaking wealth like Solomon’s: tables laden with food in a masterfully crafted palace, beautiful tapestries cascading down the walls as servants and cupbearers attended his court and its guests. His treasure was immediately recognizable, physically prominent, and his intellect unsurpassed. What do God’s people have today? Is our treasure to be like Solomon’s, with wealth so great it draws people from far off lands to witness our majesty? No, though our treasure remains great. But our wealth now, like Solomon’s, should still leave those who witness it breathless. In our love and service for one another the Church should be unmatched! In our grace, holiness, and humility we should live unparalleled! Our treasure is still very much God given, it is by his Holy Spirit that we are led and equipped to live for God’s glory and others’ good. Our treasure, our delight is in Jesus Christ, the one who gave himself up on our behalf. In that are we made to be “a city set on a hill [that] cannot be hidden”(Matthew 5:14), a light, a beacon of true wealth not printed on paper or stamped on coin
1 Corinthians 13:4-8(4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.)
Can you come up with a definition for love (that accurately describes what love is) in two or three sentences?
It’s not an easy task. No matter how we define love, our definition always seems to be lacking. Trying to define love can be like describing chocolate to a tribesman in sub-Saharan Africa who has never heard of nor tasted chocolate before. We may have trouble defining it, explaining it, and even finding it, but we know deep down inside that we need it.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul wrote one of the most famous descriptions of love. Notice that he does not give a dictionary definition but instead a description of love displayed. The love Paul describes values:
Giving over getting
Commitment over feelings
The long haul over the short term
The scripture is clear. You can see this love displayed in patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, integrity, and ongoing perseverance. This kind of love survives and stands the tests of time and tribulations.
Jeremiah 29:10-11(10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.)
This text is perennially popular, making appearances on graduation cards, refrigerator magnets, and especially coffee table books. It’s a powerful promise to be sure, but often we focus only on verse eleven, and in doing so dilute the prophecy’s original intention. When we do this, we substitute our own meaning for God’s, and if we allow ourselves to become comfortable with this habit we are simply fabricating our own religion. You see, this promise was bitter-sweet, not just sweet. It was sweet because God was assuring his scattered people that he would gather them back together, and that he had beautiful, bright, and hopeful intentions for his people Israel. The same is true for the church today, as we have become spiritual Israelites and he does have wonderful plans for us; but there was a bitterness to this news as well that should not be forgotten. A “generation” is classically thought of as seventy years, and in a sense, God was going to let an entire generation of Israelites pass away before he would gather them again; this meant those who would die would never again see a restored Israel, a restored identity. In fact, in the preceding verses he was basically telling them, “Get comfortable, have a family and get a job, because you won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.” The ironic thing is, this word came in response to false prophets’ lies. They were telling the people just the opposite, that they would be gathered within two years. Essentially, they were saying what was comfortable to make the people “feel good” and like them, but our relationship with God isn’t always about the immediate emotional response of feeling happy, but about being in right standing, honoring him as God and living in light of that truth.
Jonah 1:4-5(4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.)
The Bible is pretty clear that we all sin (Romans 3:23). Though some of these sins could be considered worse than others (1 John 5:16), they each still separate us from God. Some sins are out in the open, while others are hidden for years or even a lifetime. When we are sinning, we can get into the mindset that our sin isn’t hurting anybody else, or that it isn’t a big sin. In fact, Jonah probably wasn’t thinking that running away from God (Jonah 1:3) was going to affect anybody else; boy was he wrong. We read that the ship was almost broken to pieces because of the storm God sent. We also read that Jonah was comfortable with his sin as many of us are, while those around him were not. Jonah was asleep and not worrying about the storm his sin was causing while those who were around him were throwing things overboard and were very afraid. As we sin or have a desire to do so, we need to remember these two things. Our sins affect more than just us and while we might be accustomed to the consequences of that sin, those around us will be busy picking up our ship wreck. A secret sin might be hidden for a while, but inevitably it will affect those around us.
John 4:5-9(5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
Jesus was on his way to Galilee and did something a Jewish guy would never, ever do- go through Samaria to get there. Although Samaria was the quickest route from Jerusalem to Galilee, Jews wanted to avoid Samaritans at all costs. Jews absolutely despised Samaritans because they were literally considered “half breeds”- a mixed race between ancient Jews and their past Assyrian invaders. Jews were not supposed to worship with Samaritans, much less speak to them or even touch them. Still Jesus seemed determined to go to Samaria to be at a well at “the sixth hour.”
That’s another peculiar point in this story. No one normally went to a well at the sixth hour or 12 noon, because it’s the hottest part of the day. That is, unless they’re trying to avoid other people. To put it another way, the only person you’d see at the well during the hottest part of the day would be a social outcast.
Most religious people hearing this story two thousand years ago would instantly think Jesus was going to the wrong place, at the wrong time, and interacting with the wrong type of person. They would be surprised to find out that Jesus was purposely on a mission to meet with this Samaritan woman.
If we join Jesus in His mission to this world, He will also lead us to cross racial, cultural, social, and spiritual barriers to share the gospel with others. He will lead us to go out of our way to connect with people who have been pushed to the fringe of our communities and culture.
John 4:10-15(10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”)
Do you ever wake up in the morning craving something to eat or drink? Maybe you wake up craving that cup of liquified caffeine known as coffee before you can do anything else. Or, maybe you’ve run a long distance race or worked heavy physical labor on a hot humid day, and if so, you know the meaning of thirst. You know what it feels like to crave cold physical water. That’s how this Samaritan woman felt. It was the hottest part of the day, the well was deep, and she was thirsty. She did not realize that this conversation with Jesus would become a significant object lesson for her and for us. Like so many of us, she was asking Jesus to meet her instant physical need while missing the deeper spiritual need inside. She was asking for something immediate and temporary while Jesus desired to give her something much more satisfying and eternal.
The well was deep. Although she was describing Jacob’s well, she was also describing the condition of her own life. Her need was great. It was difficult to get to what she needs most.
Do you recognize the depth of your need for Jesus?
Give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water. She returned every day thirsty, empty, and wanting more. She knew that the well she was drinking from did not eternally satisfy. Are you finding your satisfaction in Jesus? Why or why not?
Matthew 4:4(4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[a]”)
The fourth chapter of Matthew contains this famous interaction between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness. Jesus was of course just finishing a forty day fast, and “was hungry” (Matthew 4:2). And what Jesus affirms in this interchange is an eternal truth, and one that still bears upon our lives today: food isn’t the only thing that sustains us. When we fast, we are forcing ourselves into a position of weakness and humility. God obviously designed us to take in life-giving nourishment through food and water, but as we are fasting, we focus upon the deep truth that God’s word is actually more vital to our living than bread! This is a lesson not learned lightly though, but through experience. You see, we are generally controlled greatly by our bodily impulses. Impulses to eat, sleep, drink, or even go to the restroom. But when we fast, we deny our flesh control over this extremely important aspect of our life. And as we hunger for food, we are constantly aware of our weakness. Fasting then is not simply about praying for God’s intervention in a given situation, but also about the Holy Spirit creating in us a repentant heart that realizes our constant weakness often masked in the routine of life.
Romans 10:2-4(2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.)
Depending on what circle you run in, being called religious can be a good or a bad thing. To some, a religious person is someone who doesn’t drink, goes to church all the time, reads their bible every morning, and can even serve as a role model. While, to others, a religious person is no fun, spends too much time at church, and wouldn’t approve of anything they do- especially if it’s fun! The problem is that we look at a person’s religion through their actions. If they do a lot of good things, they are religious. And often, with this “religiousness” we apply a righteousness. Good deeds are good, but they don’t make us righteous. Only Jesus’ death on the cross can make us righteous. The Jews at the time of Paul’s writing would gauge if they were pleasing God by following lists of hundreds of laws. If they kept enough, they called themselves righteous, but in reality, Jesus’ imputed righteousness is the only real righteousness to be found! Our righteousness, when compared to God’s, is as a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus called the religious people of his day white washed tombs (Matthew 23:27). They might look good on the outside, but on the inside they were full of death and dead men’s bones. Look at your life and find areas you are looking to your religion for righteousness instead of Jesus’ work on the cross.
Psalm 150:6(Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.)
The book of Psalms is often known for its songs and prayers of praise. These Psalms of praise are often quoted and used in the praise songs we sing at church. They are found in inspirational greeting cards given for births, weddings, birthdays, and even graduations. We probably all know a verse or two from the Psalms by heart. Interestingly, the last verse of the last Psalm expresses the desire of everything that has breath to praise the Lord. We can read this and agree whole heartedly. We read verses that describe his steadfast love (Psalm 117:2), his wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1), and his the Lord being our rock (Psalm 18:2). These are all great attributes of God that we should rejoice in and praise him for. But, there are many more verses in the Psalms that are of praise to a God when all around them seems to be crumbling. We read at times the Psalmist feels that he has been forsaken by God (Psalm 22), has been hated by others (Psalm 35:19), and is in the pit of destruction (Psalm 4:2). This is of great comfort to us. We must remember that these men who wrote these Psalms were men like us. They were often troubled, going through hard times, and even feeling as though God had abandoned them. We don’t always have to be on a spiritual high or feeling good to give the praise to God that he deserves as we learn from the writers of the Psalms.
Deuteronomy 10:9(That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)
When the Lord divided Canaan among the tribes of Israel Levi received no share of the land. God said to him simply, “I am thy part and thine inheritance,” and by those words made him richer than all his brethren, richer than all the kings and rajas who have ever lived in the world. And there is a spiritual principle here, a principle still valid for every priest of the most high God.
The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever.”
Nehemiah 3:1(Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel.)
In Nehemiah, we find the story of the Israelites rebuilding Jerusalem after returning from their exile in Babylon. The wall around Jerusalem was the first project for the people. That wall was what protected them from their enemies. The first part of the wall that was rebuilt was the Sheep Gate. This might not sound like a priority, but to the people of Israel it was of the utmost importance in their worship of God. The Sheep Gate was the gate the sheep were lead through as they came to the temple to be slaughtered for the sins of the people. In essence, their first project was to bring proper worship back to Jerusalem. We are no longer called to offer up animals as sacrifices for worship, but we are called to offer our lives instead (Romans 12:1). Just as the Israelites knew there were walls that needed to be repaired for proper worship, there are walls in our lives that have been destroyed by sin that need to repaired before we can offer our lives completely for worship.
John 6:29(Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”)
Have you ever had someone ask you what your life’s work is, or what type of work you would like to spend the rest of your life doing? That can be a difficult question, especially today, when the average worker will have had 10-14 jobs by the age of 38! We quickly move from task to task, even job to job, and often times there is little sense of continuity. But even so, Jesus’ answer to the question, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28), is still the same in this age of rapid change: “believe in him whom he has sent.” So the primary, overarching work of our life is believing in Jesus Christ, and walking as he walked. That is our daily agenda. So no matter what job you find yourself in, you still have your life’s work at hand, believing in him who was sent.
Matthew 14:30-31( But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”)
We have all dreamt of doing something great for God. These dreams might involve some form of sacrifice or great leap of faith. We see others around us who have sold everything to follow Jesus as a missionary in some far corner of the world and view them as a person of great faith, maybe even aspiring to be like them. Consider this, if we had been sitting in that boat with Peter we would have thought he was brimming with faith as he began to climb out of the boat and walk toward Jesus. But suddenly, something even stranger happened and Peter began to sink. That courage and faith he had in Jesus was getting smaller as he saw the wind and the waves getting bigger. A true measure of a person’s faith then is not the first step of their faith journey, but the subsequent steps thereafter. We deal with this every time we get excited about something, starting any given project only to stop halfway through because it was much more difficult than anticipated. The same thing happens when we believe Jesus would have us do something. But as we start doing it and it doesn’t turn out like we thought it would, or the ministry isn’t immediately growing we begin to sink, losing faith in and sight of Jesus. What we must realize is that if Jesus has called us to make a first step, then he will provide a path for each step toward him after that.
Isaiah 32:1-2(See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
2 Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.)
This King was promised by the mouth of God through the hands of men. Acting as a herald of the Lord, Isaiah prophesied there would come a king who would “reign in righteousness”. For one in danger, he would act as “a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm”. For the thirsty soul, he would be as “streams of water in a dry place”. And for the laden and wounded “like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” Jesus then is the Savior of body and soul, the temporal life and eternal. Our fears of the present may be eased by the surety of this promise. That when we look to Jesus amidst the grief of life, he will be as cool water in a burning desert. When the tempest rages, with thunder clashing and whirl winds blowing, he will stand unyielding as a strong tower (Psalm 61:3). In his righteous and just reign, he will be the answer in both fears that plague men: fear of today, and the greater fear of tomorrow. As Jonathan Edwards powerfully stated, “The fears of a terrified conscience, the fearful expectation of the dire fruits of sin, and the resentment of an angry God, these are infinitely the most dreadful.” The fear of eternal condemnation is suffocating when realized. If this promised King who is now ruling does in fact reign in justice, then he must deal justly with sin and evil. We ought rightly to fear at this epiphany. But as Edwards continued on, “Christ, by his own free act, has made himself the surety of such, he has voluntarily put himself in their stead; and if justice has anything against them, he has undertaken to answer for them. By his own act, he has engaged to be responsible for them”. Our fears, though at first rightly founded, become as a dead seed planted in our hearts which blossoms to full joy once we are found alive in Christ.
Leviticus 17:11(11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.[a])
Blood is almost always indicative that something went wrong. People everywhere, of almost every age, understand that blood on the outside of a person means something bad has happened. Here, we learn that blood is also a sign of atonement. Essentially, life blood had to be spilled in order that sin be expiated (covered). This means that sin, in any form, is such a terrible offense that the only way in which it can be dealt with, or “payed for” (atoned), is by the sacrifice of life; for someone to live, something must die. The blood that is shed is also a vivid depiction of the true horror that is sin. As repulsive as we find blood, so God views sin, as a grievous wrong. However, God, according to his “definite plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) dealt with sin “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Jesus lived a blameless life, and took upon himself our guiltiness and sin. In so doing he bore God’s full wrath against sin. Live in light of this truth today, seeing sin for the horror it really is. See sin through eyes cleansed by the blood of Jesus, as you have been declared clean and consecrated (set apart) from sin because of his righteousness.
John 4:37-38(Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”)
It’s very easy to get caught up in the “go big, go fast, or go home” mentality. This can also creep into the church and our Christian walk. Almost every story you hear of church planting success is of how a gifted leader started with almost nothing, and then the congregation just blew up overnight. Seldom do we hear a leader share about long years of faithful labor with little initial fruit, but how God was still at work regardless of the numbers. The Bible verses for today come after the famous story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus had just finished talking to the woman and she was bringing people from the city to see the Christ (John 4:29-30). We read this and can rejoice about it. Jesus talked to a woman and now a large number of people came to him. This is a success story we want to be a part of. But, Jesus wanted the disciples to know that the spiritual harvest they were experiencing was the result of a long-term process and other people’s labor. Other people had gone before them- tilling the ground, planting the seed, watering the soil, and now they were witnessing the harvest.
We can get caught up in the reaping as the disciples probably were. This can happen in our ministry circles or even with lost friends we want to see come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We often focus on reaping as opposed to the tilling, sowing, watering, and cultivating that must occur before we reap. In other words we want to see the result of people embracing and pursuing Jesus without putting the work into the rest of the cycle. This can also cause us to be discouraged when we don’t see quick results in our ministry. But, we can be encouraged by Jesus’ words and realize that the work we are doing now will bring a harvest even if we aren’t there to be a part of it.
Genesis 11:4(Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”)
If we looked at the people of Babel outside of what the Bible tells us, we might say they were a great example of what can be done when we come together and work as a team. They were creating a huge tower in order stay unified and become a powerful community. But, to God, this was not good. If they were able to use their teamwork and build this tower, nothing would have been impossible for them (Genesis 11:6). Why would God have had a problem with this? Because the people of Babel would take the recognition for their work and not glorify God for his blessing upon them; if God had left them to themselves, none of them would have found him.
One must wonder how many ministries or churches with good intentions fall into this trap. We might think that a big building with our name on it will give God the fame. Bigger isn’t always better in God’s eyes. Throughout the Bible he used men who had little experience or leadership qualities and guided them to be the Godly men their situation required. Large churches or ministries aren’t bad. But, they have the temptation to rely on themselves and their members to get the work done as the people of Babel did instead of relying on God. Remember this as you minister to others. God can use you to do a mighty work without a large building or ministry. You have the God who created the heavens and the earth working through you.