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Friday, July 31, 2015

God the Rock: Deuteronomy 32


In Deuteronomy 31, God told Moses and Joshua at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting about the Israelites’ future. He told them they would forsake Him and follow other gods, the gods of the surrounding people. God told Moses and Joshua He would punish the Israelites and would receive them again to Himself if they confessed their sin and returned to Him. When He foretold the Israelites’ future in the doorway to the Tent of Meeting, the Israelites heard God for themselves. They understood this foretelling came from God Himself and not from His representative alone.

At the end of Deuteronomy 31, God told Moses to write all His words in a song and teach it to the Israelites. Deuteronomy 32 is the song Moses wrote in obedience to Him. This song would be sung by the Israelites as a reminder and teaching tool for future generations. It has multiple sections – call to listen, proclamation about the LORD, call to remember their past with the LORD, foretelling of Israelites’ forsaking God, foretelling of God’s actions against the Israelites because of their forsaking Him, teaching about their enemies, God’s teaching about His vengeance and retribution, God’s teaching about Himself, call to rejoice, and a command to heed and follow the laws of God carefully. The final part of the chapter deals with Moses’ death as punishment for breaking faith with God in the wilderness of Zin. As you will know from your studies of the Old Testament, God’s foretelling of the Israelites’ forsaking Him and His judgment on them occurred with the northern and southern kingdoms being conquered by Assyria and Babylon, respectively.

The Song

Call to Listen.

As Moses did in the past when he taught the Israelites during their forty years’ wandering, he called the Israelites to hear and listen to the words he spoke. The word, “hear,” once again called the Israelites to shama - hear, listen, and obey. Remember the Hebrew way of thinking taught that one cannot hear without acting upon what one heard. When teachers taught, they expected their hearers to listen and obey what they said. Moses called the Israelites to listen and obey the words of God in this song. He said these words were like fresh rain and pure water, just like the dew on the grass and showers on the herb. Moses’ words were for their nourishment, growth, and delight.

Recall the LORD.

In verses three and four, Moses proclaimed who the LORD was, is, and will be. He said the LORD is great, just, faithful, righteous, and upright. Moses was the first person to describe God as the Rock. His phrasing in verses three and four make up praise songs today. Before Moses told the Israelites what the LORD said the Israelites would do, he reminded them of the supremacy, faithfulness, and righteousness of God.

Moses called aloud, proclaiming the reputation, fame, and glory of the LORD. That is what proclaiming the name of the LORD means. Besides that, Moses gave glory to God because of His greatness – His magnificence and magnitude. No other person or being is as great as God. Moses compared the LORD to a rock – great weight, sturdy, something on which to build for a strong foundation, immovable, and faithful. This Rock, he said, is perfect and complete. Nothing else need be added to it to make it whole and perfect. The LORD the Rock is just and right. All He does and proclaims is correct, upright, and just. The LORD has no bias and administers judgments according to His righteousness. He is faithful to Himself and so is faithful in His dealings with humanity and all creation. Moses reiterated this in verse four for emphasis - God is righteous and upright. He is just - right in conduct and character - and righteous. Because God is these, He administers in these ways.

Recall Humanity.

When compared to God, all humankind pales in comparison because of their sinfulness and lack of faithfulness. Moses pointed this out to the Israelites by reminding them of their own corruption and unfaithfulness. In verse five, he said people are not God’s children because they are corrupt – unjust, unrighteous, and wrong - in their relationship with Him. Moses said humankind is perverse and crooked. They distort the truth and are crooked, contrary to God; thus, they cannot be His children.

After Moses reminded the Israelites they acted this way toward God, just as the rest of humanity did, he asked them a rhetorical question. He said, “Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.” (vs. 6) The Israelites were sinful just as the rest of humankind is. They were not innately children of God, yet the LORD chose, bought, made, and established them. God chose them to be a people for Himself. Moses said, remember God chose you and made you a people for Himself. Recall, too, that you are no better than the rest of humanity who are sinful, unjust, and unrighteous. Yet God is not these things. He deserves your praise, Moses meant. God is greater than the Israelites who are unjust and unrighteous.

Call to Remember the Past.

Moses called the Israelites to remember their past with the LORD. If they could not recall their relationship with Him, they were to ask their fathers and elders to help them recall the past with the LORD. In verses eight through fourteen, Moses reminded the Israelites of who God had been for them.

God acted for His people, Israel. Moses used many verbs to describe God’s actions toward the nation of Israel. The biggest of these actions for the Israelites was God’s giving the Promised Land to them as their inheritance. Yet, to get to that point, God acted many times for Israel. Moses said He chose Jacob as His people, His allotment. The LORD found them in the howling desert waste and chose them. He encircled, cared for, and guarded them just as an eagle awakes its nest, hovers over, and spreads it wings to catch and carry its young (vs. 10-11). The LORD and no foreign god guided Israel. He lifted them up to enjoy the life and feast of a prince because He, the King, chose them as His people. God ensured they had food such as kings had – fruit from the field, honey, oil, curds, milk, lambs, rams, goats, wheat, and wine (vs. 12-14).

God called them His people. He ensured their safety, led them, and gave them food from His bounty. The LORD did what no god could do. He made Israel/Jacob as a prince. God acted for their good because He chose them to be His people and to receive an inheritance from Him. The LORD showed His faithfulness and uprightness to the Israelites.

Foretelling Israel’s Faithlessness.

Just as Moses used multiple verbs to describe God’s activity in Israel’s past, he used many when he foretold Israel’s future. Verses fifteen through eighteen express the Israelites’ unfaithfulness to the LORD. Moses explained the Israelites would prosper, grow fat, then forget the LORD. When life got easy for them, they would turn their backs on Him because they thought He was unnecessary. The Israelites would do as humankind does, consider they were in a good place and do not need the LORD. The Israelites would do more than forget the LORD; they would intentionally forsake Him. Forsake comes from the Hebrew word natash and means to cast off, abandon, let fall, and reject. The Israelites would choose to leave the LORD. He said they would scorn the Rock of their salvation. Israel would treat the LORD with contempt and consider worshipping Him foolishness. Moses reiterated the intentionality of the Israelites’ actions in verse eighteen. He said they would neglect and forget the Rock. The Israelites’ unfaithfulness was more than just forgetting; it was choosing to neglect and ceasing to care about the LORD – who He is and what He had done in their history.

Moses described the actions the Israelites would do that would show they forsook God. They would go after strange gods. The Israelites would make God angry by doing disgusting and unclean things. [Remember, near the beginning of Deuteronomy, God called the worship of false gods disgusting and an abomination.] The Israelites would sacrifice to demons (false gods), gods whom they have not known and whom their fathers (ancestors) did not revere. Moses taught the Israelites to “know” the LORD, not demons and false gods. [Remember, “know” comes from the Hebrew word yada and means progressively to come to know someone from introduction, to recognizing, perceiving, acknowledging, and confessing a relationship with that person.] As compared to their history with the LORD, in verse seventeen, he said the demons and gods to which the Israelites offered sacrifice were unknown to their forefathers. They had no history with those gods/demons. On the other side, those gods/demons did not provide the Israelites with their inheritance of the Promised Land or the bounty they received from the land and animals.

By turning their backs on the LORD, the Israelites would make the LORD jealous and provoke His wrath. These intentional actions by the Israelites would cause a reaction from God, which comes from His innate righteousness. God’s righteousness requires justice. Justice renders judgment.

Foretelling God’s Judgment.

This section of the song is the longest. It encompasses verses nineteen through forty-two. The dialogue switches back and forth between first and third person with God speaking and Moses saying what God says or will do.

Total Destruction

The first segment of this section covers verses nineteen through thirty. In this part of the song, The LORD tells what He will do about the Israelites who forsook Him. First, though, we must notice that God said He would spurn them because of their provocations. He despised and abhorred the Israelites and what they would do. They became abhorrent to the LORD because they forsook Him and followed other gods. When the Israelites came to the Promised Land, the LORD considered the Canaanites and their gods abhorrent and proclaimed the Law of the Ban. That meant the total destruction of the people, their gods, and their places of worship. By spurning the Israelites, the LORD would not be their Rock to protect and provide for them. Their enemies would destroy them.

Considering this, let us look at what the LORD said He would do to/toward the Israelites. He said He would hide His face from them. This means He would not be in their presence to bless or protect them. The LORD would do nothing for them and would not speak to them when they sought Him. He said they made Him jealous so the anger they provoked in Him would make them jealous of other people who are not His people (vs. 21). This would make them angry with those nation. The LORD’s anger would be so great it would extend to the deepest part of Sheol and to the highest mountain while consuming the fruit of the earth and setting the mountains on fire. His fire would consume everything; nothing would go untouched when the Israelites provoked Him by forsaking Him. The LORD’s anger would heap misfortune upon the Israelites, too (vs. 23). His arrows of famine, plague, destruction, wild beasts and crawling things, sword, and terror would beset them. God would show His anger against the Israelites in many forms. They would be consumed totally by things out of the control of man (vs. 24), by other people/nations (sword), and the fear of what people will do (terror). No one would be immune from these destructive forces (vs. 25).

Still, the LORD said, “I would have said, ‘I will cut them to pieces; I will remove them from men’ had I not feared the provocation by the enemy, that their adversaries would misjudge, that they would say, ‘Our hand is triumphant, and the LORD has not done all this.’” (vs. 26) God would have had the people of Israel so scattered that they were unrecognizable as a nation. He would not do this because their oppressors would gloat and take the glory for the defeat of the Israelites for themselves. The Israelites’ enemies would not recognize the LORD gave them into their hands. The LORD did not want Israel’s enemies to think they by themselves were what made them successful over the Israelites and then consider Him weak.

At the end of this section, in verses twenty-eight through thirty, the LORD expressed His sadness about Israel and her lack of wisdom. He said they had no understanding, insight, and knowledge. God wished they were wise and understood the covenant with Him was serious. He desired they understand He was their Rock, the great, mighty, and powerful force of the world. He explained that one person could not pursue a thousand unless the Rock, the LORD, allowed the person and people to rout them. This of itself should have reminded the Israelites their God is the one true God.

Israel’s Enemies

The song changed voice in verses thirty-one through thirty-three. Moses wrote in the song a reminder to the Israelites about their enemies. He said their enemies were unlike the Rock. Even their enemies knew that, which implied their enemies understood more than the Israelites. The Israelites’ enemies recognized the Rock was greater than their own rock, their god (vs. 31). Moses continued describing the enemies of Israel by saying their vines and fields are from Sodom and Gomorrah. He reminded them of the most sinful cities of about which they ever received teaching. Even the Israelites’ enemies, who are of the same seed as Sodom and Gomorrah and whose gods are demons and Satan, recognize the Rock – the LORD God – is greater. Moses then described the fruit from these enemies to strengthen his point. He said their grapes are poison and their clusters bitter, like gall. Besides this, “Their wine is the venom of serpents.” (vs. 33) Their wine is chemah the Hebrew language says. Chemah is rage, indignation, wrath, poison, and venom. The enemies of the Israelites know and acknowledge the might of the Rock – the LORD God – is greater than their gods’ might. Even though they flow through with poison, venom, and anger, they acknowledge the Rock. This left the implied question from Moses, “Then why could the Israelites not remain faithful to the LORD the Rock?”

LORD’s Reply to Israel and their Enemies

In verses thirty-four and thirty-five, the voice changes back to first person with God speaking, instead of Moses speaking about God. God said in verse thirty-four the sins of Israel and of their enemies are sealed and stored with Him in His treasuries. He will remember their sin and in due time they would receive judgment and endure their penalty. Job in Job 14:17 used this same expression that of God having stored up his sin. From God’s treasuries come His gifts and judgment. God expressed this in verse thirty-five when he said, “Vengeance is Mine, and in due time their foot will slip, for their day of calamity is near and the impending things are hastening upon them.” God does not forget sins and His judgments will occur.

Questions arise whether these two verses refer to Israel, their enemies, or both groups. Knowing God is just and metes out judgment on every person who sins against Him, we can read this as affecting both groups – Israel and their enemies. The Israelites know of the curses written in their covenant with the LORD should they be unfaithful. They expect them. So the vengeance of God on the sinning Israelites is His punishment for being unfaithful to Him and the covenant. Because the enemies of Israel are the enemies of God and because the Israelites were God’s chosen people, any harm done to them by their enemies would meet with His retribution - the just punishment or recompense for the injury they inflicted upon the Israelites. Should the Israelites or their enemies think God did not see what they did, He was not strong enough to retaliate, or He did not care, God told them in verse thirty-five, “In due time their foot will slip, for their calamity is near and impending.” God’s timing is perfect. He does not forget. Just as God stores up good in His storehouses, He remembers sin and injury, too, and repays in His time. No one escapes the judgment he or she is due from God.

Moses Confirms God’s Judgment

The voice of the song returns to third person in verses thirty-six through thirty-eight. Moses confirmed God’s actions to the Israelites in verse thirty-six. He reasserted the LORD would vindicate His people and have compassion on them. Even though the Israelites reneged on their covenant with God, their chosen-ness by Him did not fall away. They were still His chosen people. When the Israelites’ strength failed and few remained in Israel, God would have compassion and pity upon them. He would break the yoke of oppression their enemies placed on them. Just as Job experienced God’s mercy when he endured much trial, God’s faithfulness to the Israelites did not fail.

Moses continued by saying in verse thirty-seven, “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?’” The gods with whom the Israelites flirted and whom their enemies worshipped and served did not give refuge to the Israelites. They would not provide a hiding place for the Israelites’ enemies either. Moses relayed God’s taunt of these so-called gods and their shelter from harm. Though the Israelites sought these false gods, they did not protect them. Only God in his mercy would be able to provide compassion for them and safety against their enemies and against His wrath. The gods to whom the Israelites turned could not and would not protect them from the LORD, the Rock, or their enemies.

God Speaks on His Greatness                                                                                                           

The final section of this song, verses thirty-nine through forty-two, returns to a first person voice. God spoke about Himself. He proclaimed there is no other god besides Himself, the point Moses made earlier in this song. God said He is the one who “puts to death and gives life.” He said He is the one who wounds and heals. From God’s hand, no one can deliver people. He has supreme control over life and death, safety and harm. When God renders vengeance, no one can touch Him because He is ultimate and almighty. He is in control and when He aims to kill people in vengeance or retribution, His sword will devour flesh, even that of the long-haired leaders of the enemy (leaders who have led many years). God is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and has power over life and death. He is ultimate and supreme over any false gods of enemies who try to overtake His people or lead His people astray. God will win out in the end.

Praising Almighty God.

To this proclamation by God and the attesting of His greatness even by the Israelites’ wise enemies, Moses declared praise. He said for the nations and the Israelites to praise God because He will avenge the blood of His people. God will prevail. Moses told them to praise Him because He will exact vengeance on His enemies – the gods and their followers. God will punish the false gods and their followers for the harm they did His people. Moses declared praise to God because He will atone for His land and His people. God will cover over and declare clean the sins of the His people. He will make them one with Him again. God and only God is mighty enough to do these three things – avenge the blood of His servants, render vengeance on His adversaries, and atone for His land and people.

Moses wrote this song declaring God’s greatness, justice, judgment, vengeance, and atoning love for His people. He wrote God’s foretelling of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and their lack of wisdom and prudence as compared to their enemies. In the end, though, Moses said God’s love for His chosen people is greater and exudes compassion even in their deepest despair. If they returned to Him, He would avenge their blood and captivity on their enemies. Most importantly, Moses told them to praise God because of who He is and for what He has done and will do.

Moses’ Final Words

After Moses wrote this song, he spoke and taught the words of it to the people and Joshua, their next God-appointed leader. He told them,
Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully even all the words of this law, for it is not an idle word for you; indeed, it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 32:46-47 [NASB])

Once again, Moses taught the Israelites to keep and observe (obey) the words of God, in which he instructed them. In the Hebrew way of teaching, keeping is hearing, listening, and obeying. They were to obey the words of God and be faithful to the covenant they made with Him. Moses explained to the Israelites the foretelling in the song was serious and they would be wise to heed what God said He would do about their disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him. Moses reminded the Israelites their continued possession of the Promised Land would occur if they remained faithful to their covenant with the LORD by obeying His laws. The LORD would prolong their days in the land and make them prosperous as His blessings in chapter twenty-eight explained if they were faithful to their covenant with Him.

The LORD’s Judgment in Due Time

Just as the LORD spoke about His judgment occurring to the Israelites and their enemies in His due time, Moses’ judgment by God for his sin at Meribah-kadesh came in God’s due time. That time was at this moment in Moses’ life, before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. The rest of this chapter, verses forty-eight through fifty-two, contain God’s final words and command to Moses.

The LORD told Moses to go to Mount Nebo and look at the land of Canaan. He told him earlier in Numbers 27 he would not enter the Promised Land because of his sin against Him. Moses expected this. After Moses saw the Promised Land, but did not enter it, the LORD required his death while reminding him of Aaron’s death. God reminded him why he received this judgment. Moses received this judgment from God because he did not treat Him as holy before the Israelites at Meribah-kadesh in Zin. At that place, God told Moses to speak to the rock and it would yield its water for them to drink. Instead, Moses struck the rock and did not proclaim the LORD gave them the water. He took the glory for himself (Numbers 20:1-12, and Numbers 27:14).


Notice God was not without compassion throughout this chapter. He said He would show compassion on His servants when He sought His vengeance upon their enemies. The LORD showed compassion to Moses at the end by allowing him to see the Promised Land toward which he led the wandering and wayward Israelites for forty years. Notice, though, the Israelites, like every one of us, often only recognized God’s compassion and need for it when they were in dire straits. God foretold they would fall away from Him with their disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him. He told them their enemies, who recognized the LORD their Rock was greater than their gods, would destroy them. Yet in the midst of this fateful and dismal foretelling, God offered comfort and compassion to the Israelites. He explained once again that His heart would still go out to them because He chose them to be His people. Because of that, God would not allow them to be totally annihilated. For God’s goodness and greatness, the Israelites should praise Him, but they, like us today, often missed this aspect of God until it was gone and they were in desperation.

Relevance and Conclusion

Today when reading this chapter, it should take us to the place where we recognize the Lord just as Moses taught the Israelites to recognize and worship Him. However, so many of us get to a good place in our lives and become lax in our regard and worship of God. Often, it takes hard times for us to come back to Him – to realize He is all-powerful and we need Him.

Today we need to come to the place in our lives where we recognize daily, whether in good or hard times, the Lord is the one and only God almighty Who deserves our praise. We must determine to recognize Him no matter what place in life we inhabit. God does not change when our life situations change. Unfortunately, our view of Him does. We must come to the point where our relationship with the Lord is so profound and deep nothing can shake us from loving and worshipping Him – during bountiful or spare times. Our love relationship with God must go below our feelings to the depth of our beings so that with each breath we take, our being – our spirit- praises the Lord and recognizes reliance upon Him.

The question remains: Is your relationship with God just a surface relationship or is it profoundly and innately deep to the depths of your being?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gratitude in Action: A Galatians 6:6-10 Devotional

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:6-10 [ESV]

Throughout the earlier parts of Galatians, Paul spoke to the Galatian Christians about the only necessity needed for salvation – faith in Jesus Christ. He taught against what the Judaizers told them they must do to be true Christians. They said the Galatian Christians had to become Jews before they could be Christians. In essence, the Judaizers told them they had to undergo circumcision.
With chapter six, Paul arrived at his concluding words to the Galatians. He wanted to give them a few other practical bits of advice, too. The first two verses told the Galatian Christians to address their sinning brothers and sisters and bring them back to the way of the Lord, but to do it with love, walking with them to help carry their burden and make temptation powerless. Verse two is where Paul told them to bear each other’s burdens.
Paul offered a second piece of practical advice with verse six. He told them to share all good things with their teachers. Those who God appointed to teach other people of His Word and Gospel are to focus on that ministry. God expects His children to share of every the good thing He gave them with the teachers so they receive God’s provisions, too.
Verses seven through ten bring us to the thematic statement of this part of Galatians. Paul summarizes it in verse ten when he said, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Doing good is taking care of, providing for, walking with a burdened brother or sister, and loving other people. Jesus Christ lived this life style.
Paul reminded the Christians in Galatia whatever one does for God’s purposes would bring them blessings in eternal life. Yet if they live only to meet their own human desires, they would receive in return only things that affect them in this life. Their rewards would be corrupted and not carry on into eternity. Because of that, Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians not to grow weary in doing good, for it would pay off for them throughout eternity with God’s blessings for their good deeds.
Unlike the Judaizers, who sought to increase their fame while on earth by converting people to their way of faith, Paul taught Christians to “sow to the Spirit.” That means doing those things that are holy, right, honorable, pure, loving, true, and worthy of praise. These things are from the Lord through the Holy Spirit residing within each believer. Paul wrote about them in Philippians 4:8. Notice Paul did not say doing any of these good deeds gave Christians salvation.
They are just actions, like circumcision. Doing good things cannot save a person from the judgment due because of his or her sins. Only belief in Jesus Christ, the son of God, as the Savior who bore the judgment by crucifixion for every person can give salvation and eternal life with God. Actions are not required for salvation, but they show the love of God within a person to others and show love to God as gratitude lived out.
The challenge today for Christians is live out your love and gratitude to God in acts of goodness to other people. Show the world the love of God put in you through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling when you became a believer in Jesus Christ.
The challenge today for non-Christians is to ask God to make Himself real to you. He will answer your call and show Himself to you. Then you have to make a decision: will you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior?
God leaves decisions up to each of us.

Will you rise to the challenge?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seeing the Promised Land: A Deuteronomy 32:48-52 Devotional

Focal Verse – “Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance: you will not enter the land I am giving the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:52 [NIV])
In the closing verse to Deuteronomy 32, God reminded Moses of his sin against Him and commanded him to die on Mount Nebo. These seem harsh things to hear at the end of one’s life. Yet we need to consider a few things.
God called to Moses through his conscience and his mother’s teaching while he lived as the Pharaoh’s son in Egypt. He called to Moses while he lived as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro in Midian through a burning bush that remained unconsumed. Moses learned to hear the voice of God from those years onward so that he was in tune with God’s voice and His heart. God prepared him to be the leader of His chosen people. Over the years, Moses’ relationship with the Lord grew and deepened and he knew God in many ways – voice, silence, pillar of fire, cloud, earthquake.
Because of the depth of Moses’ relationship with God and his experiences with Him, we find it surprising to watch him falter and sin in the Bible. Yet we realize God made every person to have free will with which to choose to follow God or not. Even in Moses’ rage over the Israelites’ continual turning away from God, he too failed God. We read of it in Numbers 20:1-12. In Numbers 27:12-14, God pronounced Moses’ sin and His judgment. Yes, even Moses sinned and received judgment.
What we should recognize in view of this is God’s compassion. Why compassion? Obviously, God showed compassion in that as the Father of Moses He loved him enough to correct and punish him. Again, obvious in that God allowed Moses to live forty years more.
The compassion I speak of today though comes from verse fifty-two. God’s compassion extended to letting Moses see the Promised Land – the fruit of God’s promise with Abraham. God’s love for Moses extended to giving him a sense of success in bringing his “charges” – God’s people - through their disobedience, trials, battles, and daily issues of communal living to the Promised Land. His love for Moses extended to letting Moses see and experience the receipt of the fruit of God’s promise to Abraham – the Promised Land. Though Moses sinned and did not give the glory to God in Meribah-kadesh, he was a faithful servant of God. God’s compassion extended to letting him experience God’s faithfulness, the exhalation of anticipation upon reaching the Promised Land.
God is loving. His righteousness requires discipline and punishment – judgment – at times. Yet God’s judgment comes from His love. When God judges and administers judgment, we should not remember just the sting of the punishment, but the love and compassion of our God who cares enough to correct us and to watch us receive His blessing. Because we live on this side of Calvary, as Christians, when we experience the sting of judgment, we can understand without doubt we will experience the compassion of God’s love amidst the sting. That is because we will continue to have a relationship with Him and will live in His kingdom forever.
In the future when you read this passage and when you recall this story,
remember in the midst of God’s correction and judgment,
we still receive His compassion and love.
We get to see the Promised Land.
Do you have this hope, too? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? If you are not, why not place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and receive God’s gift of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life with Him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Have This Mind: A Galatians 6:1-2 Devotional

1 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2 [NASB]

When one reads these two verses, we are apt to get caught up in the words “caught in trespass.” Yet the focal point of the verses is the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ? Christ said we are to love the LORD God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as our self (Matthew 22:36-40). So the law of Christ is love.
God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins because of His love for us. He did not say some people are worthy to receive His love and some not. We are all unworthy to receive His love, but because His love is magnanimous, He loves everyone no matter what the person did. That is love.
Jesus said a man showed no greater love than laying down his life for his friend (John 15:13). Being a human made in the image of God means we are created to be in relationship with God and other people. Relationships require love and forbearance. With this attitude then, Paul told the Galatians to approach one of their Christian brethren who is caught in trespass.
Paul told the spiritual brethren – those who belong to the Holy Spirit and are filled with Him - of Galatia to approach their Christian brethren caught in trespass (deviation from truth and uprightness be it sin or misdeed) to restore that lapsed brother or sister in gentleness. Notice the person who approached the trespassing believer had to be filled and led by the Spirit, not with haughtiness at being better than the other. The confronting Spirit-filled person had to do it with gentleness, which comes from the Spirit and does not contain pride or arrogance, but meekness. This person knows it could be he or she who other people caught in sin and so goes to the person in that humility and with the love of God through the Holy Spirit. Notice the confronting person does not address the trespasser as if he or she is better than him or her, but as a loved and forgiven one of God. This thought tends to tame the sinful attitude of a person. Paul told the Galatian Christians not to think too highly of themselves. He said, “Let each one look to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
In the second verse, Paul added to this thought. He told the Christian to bear the others’ burden – weight and trouble – and, thus, fulfill the law of Christ. This verse does not stand alone, but goes in conjunction with the first verse. The brother who approaches the trespasser must have the mind of Christ – humility, gentleness, and love – and must be willing to help the brother or sister in Christ. It is one thing to talk to a person and tell them where they are going wrong. Still better is it to walk with the person, actively being a part of the person’s life, helping him or her with his or her weight and troubles that led him or her to trespass. James spoke about this when he said in James 2:17-18, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Paul did not intend the Galatian Christian to hunt for sinners and bring them before people to shame them. He meant for them to approach them with love and humility as well as to walk with them helping to carry the burden so the person would be less tempted to sin. It is easy to point our fingers at someone and speak of his or her sin. We must get to the point where we take the burdens of other people on our shoulders and help them walk through life. Jesus told us He would help carry our yoke. We should be willing to do that. Speak to the person. Understand what is happening in his or her life. Walk with the person so they are not overwhelmed and give in to sin. That is what the law of Christ truly is – loving and bearing one another’s burdens.

Have this mind, which is in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:2-5). How now will you approach people? This is a real challenge for each of us every day. What do you choose to do?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Led by the Spirit: A Galatians 5:16-26 Devotional

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Galatians 5:16-26 [NIV]

Paul spent this letter teaching the Galatians once again faith in Jesus Christ was what gave them salvation and eternal life. Other teachers had been in Galatia teaching them they had to obey the laws of God including the law that all men must undergo circumcision. These Judaizers added a works element to the salvation of the Gospel. Paul told them nothing of the flesh could give them salvation, but only by God’s grace through faith could they receive salvation.
In chapter five, Paul continued his comparison of living by the Law and living in the Spirit. He taught that living according to the Law was living in the flesh. It was based on what the person did or could do. Because it relied upon a person’s actions, which were often sinful – self-centered, arrogant, self-seeking, etc – living by the flesh could not save them nor give them right relationships with God and other people. Paul taught that living according to the Spirit of Christ, whom God puts in each new believer, was living with the love of Christ in them – love for other people and love for God. Paul said what is of the Spirit is contrary to what is of the flesh. What a person wants often goes against what God wants and what is best for every person affected.
In verse fourteen, Paul reminded the Galatians the Law is summed up in one word, “love.” Since people are sinful, they do not keep the laws God gave. The love of the laws is warped often because a person wants what he or she wants more than what God wants. Because of this, Paul gave the Galatians a list of actions and attitudes that are contrary to God and the intent of His Law. These actions are self-focused and break relationships between people and between the person and God. These acts of the flesh he identified in verses nineteen to twenty-one.
The love God seeks to implant into people, which the Law could not instill because of the sinfulness of humankind, comes through the Spirit of Jesus Christ who dwells within each believer. This love is not twisted by the machinations of a human mind or greed, but is pure and from God. Paul listed some of the attributes of a person in whom the Holy Spirit lives in verses twenty-two and twenty-three.
If you compare these two lists, you will find the second list builds relationship among people and with God, and develops a person’s sense of worth based on the value God places on the person. The latter listing of attributes and characteristics are in line with the purpose and intent of God throughout the whole Bible and align directly with the two greatest commandments Christ taught His disciples and followers. The intent of the Bible is for people to be in a love relationship with God. This love relationship then affects the relationship of people with each other. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-38 [NASB]).
Paul’s point to the Galatians, once again, was they were not to be tied to the Law for salvation because it could not give it. It provided bondage because the flesh is sinful. Instead, live by the Spirit, the freedom Christ put into each believer. By living in the Spirit, the person lives in the manner of Jesus Christ – with love for the Father and love for other people. By doing this, people will not become enslaved to their sinful, human selves. By becoming enslaved to their own desires people become self-focused, envious, and provoke envy. These do not lead to harmony and love, but to chaos and self-seeking.
Paul taught the Galatians they received salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by following the Law. By seeking to follow the laws, they tried to earn salvation, which no one can earn because of human sinfulness. Besides this, striving to earn salvation puts self-seeking ahead of the needs and care of other people. Jesus summed the Scripture when He said we are to love the LORD God and our neighbor. Self-seeking does not put other people first, but second or last. By allowing the Spirit to lead us instead of trying to earn salvation, we allow the love of God to show in us, care for others, and develop a deeper relationship between God and us in our hearts.
Today we each need to stop and consider if we are trying in our strength to be what God wants us to be – to love people, to do for them, to make sure we are walking in the right direction, etc. We need to stop and see if our focus has shifted from God and developing relationship with Him to a focus on ourselves and how we can do more for God. If we are focused on God and our relationship with Him, He will lead us in our daily steps. We will not have to wonder if we are doing what He wants us to do. We can get so caught up in working for God that we lose sight of our relationship with Him and then no longer hear Him as vividly.
Today, take a moment and stop to focus on God. Ask Him to guide you to know if you have walked away from your close relationship with Him. Return to your quiet time with Him reading His Word, praying for closeness and guidance, and walking from that quiet time with His Spirit guiding you. Focus more on being in relationship with God and less on doing. Your relationship with God and with other people will be renewed so that you follow the two greatest commandments as Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-38.
Be led by the Spirit.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

No Addition: A Galatians 4:9-20 Devotional

Focal verses: 9, 12, & 16-20
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 
16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Galatians 4:9, 12, & 16-20 [NIV]

Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian Christians to combat new teachings of which they became aware. The new teachers said before the Galatians became true Christians, they had to become Jews first by following the laws God set up for the Israelites. The outward expression of being part of God’s chosen people was circumcision. Paul explained in the first seven verses of this chapter that no works by man could help them gain their salvation from sin and death. The other thing he said was by choosing to follow the Law for salvation, they chose to enslave themselves again instead of accepting the freedom God gave them by His grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Beginning with verse nine, Paul beseeched them not to turn back from the way they knew God and were known by Him to the old way, the laws of God given for the establishment of His nation, Israel. Those laws, Paul said, were “weak and worthless elemental things.” They enslave people to trying to earn salvation by working for it. Yet salvation can never be attained by the works of human hands since humankind is fallible and sinful, but Jesus Christ is not. That makes God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ perfect.
In verse twelve, Paul begged the Galatian Christians to be as he was just as he became as they were. This verse can confuse us so let us consider it closer. Was Paul saying he became doubters and waffled on the means of his salvation? No, he was not. He meant in this verse that the Galatians became as he was when he spoke to them about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. They realized they did not have to be Jews to become Christians, but that God gave His grace for every person. Paul, who once was a chief Jew, a Pharisee, gave up his tradition of keeping the laws of God to accept God’s grace gift by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. He understood that the Law could not provide salvation and he taught that to everyone, including the Galatians. So then what did Paul mean when he said he became as the Galatian Christians were? He meant that instead of making them become as he once was, a Jew, he, by believe in Jesus Christ, became as the Galatian Christians were, non-Jewish believers. Paul did not rely upon the laws to make him a Christian, but only the grace and mercy of the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul gave up his Jewish-ness to become a Christian. In that way, he became like the Galatian Christians who were never Jews and became Christ-followers.
Paul was adamantly against the teachings the Judaizers brought to the Galatian Christians. Why did he say they were teaching this added step to become a Christian? Paul said in verse seventeen, “They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.” The teachers who taught contrary to what God provided, salvation by grace through faith, wanted to be commended by other people for understanding better and deeper what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They added on more things to become a Christian hoping to gain notoriety and fame. Do we have any preachers in our day who do this? Do they preach you must give more money to be blessed more by God? Do they say you must worship or fast a certain number of times a year, month or week, for example, to be in God’s will? We must stop and seek God for ourselves to determine if what they teach is in line with God’s revealed Word, the Bible, or if it is contrary to God’s teaching. When the veil tore upon Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we each we enabled to speak to God for ourselves to ask Him His way. Listen, if someone teaches something that sounds odd and off from what you have read in the Bible, seek God to understand if it is truth or manmade rules. This is what the Judaizers were doing with the Galatian Christians. They added rules for a person to become a Jesus follower. God did not require these rules for them to become Christians.
In verses nineteen and twenty, Paul expressed that he continued to labor for the Galatian Christians even though he was not with them. He wanted them to be formed into the image of Christ – for them to grow in Christlikeness. Paul expressed his concern and stated he was “perplexed” about the Galatians. He reacted like a teacher, even a parent. These people were Paul’s children in Christ. He taught them and brought them before the Lord Jesus. Paul corrected them and showed them God’s way verses manmade ways to salvation and eternal life with God. He wrote and encouraged them and prayed for them. Paul desired to be with them to protect them from false teachings. We can identify with these feelings. If you have children whether young or adult, you continue to raise them in a moral and, hopefully, Christian way so they will grow up to be strong Christians and good citizens in the world. Teaching is not a one-off event, but requires encouragement, explanation, prayer, intervention, and sometimes punishment to convince the child of the necessity and purpose of the godly lifestyle and walk.
Perhaps you had people intervene in your life in the past who taught you about God and the salvation He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ. You probably did not hear about the Gospel once and then lived a perfect life from that point forward. God sent people into your life who helped you mature in your walk. Maybe they even corrected and chastised you to help you get back on the godly path. God used these people in your life as He used Paul in the lives of the Galatian believers. The Christians whose lives intersected with yours, cared and prayed for you. Some may still remember you and pray for you when the Holy Spirit prompts them. This is most definitely how Paul felt about the Galatians.
On the other hand, maybe you have never stopped to hear and consider or no one came into your sphere to tell you about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today and this week with these lessons, you have heard the Gospel. Because of the sinfulness of humankind and the inability for imperfect humans to work their way to perfection to be in the presence of Holy God, God provided the perfect sinless sacrifice for our wrongs/sins so we could be in His presence. The sacrifice He gave was His Holy Son, Jesus Christ who was sinless and perfect. His life paid the price for the just judgment we deserve for our sins. God provided this sacrifice because He loves you and each of us. He wants to be in a relationship with you but could not because He, being holy, cannot be in the presence of sin. With His Son’s sacrifice, sins are removed, people are cleansed from evil, when they admit they are sinners, believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son given as the sacrifice for their sins, and confess Jesus Christ is Lord of their lives. That is the simple Gospel. You can do nothing to earn salvation, but because God loves you, even as you are now with your sins, He provided the sin sacrifice through His Son’s death. God provided a way for you to be with Him forever with His Son’s resurrection from death. When you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you inherit the kingdom of God – power over sin and death, and eternal life with Him.

Do not let people of the world tell you you must do more and be more for God to love you and accept you. God loves you already and is waiting for you to turn to Him. Maybe you need to confess your sins to Him because you are already His child, but have let your sins build a wall between you and God. Or, maybe you have not trusted in Jesus Christ and you need to do that now accepting Him as your Savior and Lord, giving Him your life. Whatever you need to do, now is your time to choose. What will you decide?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Not Slaves but Adopted Children of God: A Galatians 4:1-7 Devotional

1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.
So also, we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:1-7 [NASB]

Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian Christians after he left there and later heard about a group of teachers who taught contrary to what he taught. The group of teachers told the Galatian Christians they had to become Jews before they could become Christians. In essence, they said they had to undergo circumcision under the Jewish Law before they could become Christ-followers. Paul spent this letter to the Galatian Christians explaining the difference between the Law and the grace gift of God through Jesus Christ, His Son.
In Galatians 3, Paul told the Galatians the Law was a tutor for the Israelites to lead them to God, but belief in Jesus Christ’s as God’s one and only Son is the only way to complete redemption from sin and guilt. The Law led the Jews to recognize their sinfulness and inability to cleanse themselves perfectly and permanently.
In today’s passage, Galatians 4:1-7, Paul used a metaphor to explain living under the Law of God versus being a son or daughter, an heir, of God. The metaphor he used applied commonly in their society. When a person was a minor, though by law an heir of his father, and until the person became a legal adult, the child was not different from a slave. He (at that time, and for our day, she, as well) took orders from his father or the father’s manager/steward/overseer. This is equal to guardians of children today when parents have died. Until the child is an adult, he takes orders and instructions, and obeys them. This makes the child equal to a slave in that regard though he is still an heir of his father.
The second part of this metaphor comes in verse three. In this extension of the metaphor, the “child” is the person who lives by the Law of God. The person who lived by the Law after God provided the perfect sacrifice and freedom from the Law was still in bondage to something less than perfect. Paul equated a person in bondage to the Law as a child/slave, a person still in bondage to elemental things. These elemental things were elementary and rudimentary principles of the world. For people after Christ’s death and resurrection, these elemental things included working to earn salvation according to the Law of God. Remember, the Law of God could not save a person from his or her sins, but only led a way to God.  
Understanding these two metaphors as Paul used them in this passage then means people who followed the Law of God sought to work their way to salvation. These people were entrapped by works theology, the elemental levels of faith. That made the person no better than a child under civil law and a basic son of God able just to drink the milk of God’s Word. To accept by faith the truth of the Gospel – God’s perfect and complete redemption of people through the redemption of a person from the filth and power of sin, the person must believe only in Jesus Christ for redemption and cleansing. Redemption is the redeeming by a form of payment the price to recover a person from the power of another person. Christ redeems and frees people from the power of sin and death.
How does this happen. Paul explained this in verses four through six. He said, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law so He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as son.” Because God gave His laws to rule the religio-political society of Israel, anyone born from that point (Jewish and even Gentile, who knew of the Law) came under those laws. God chose to have His Son born to a woman under those laws so when this Jewish boy grew to a man and showed Himself as the Son of God through His teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection, people could see the Son of God surpassed the Law of God. Belief in Jesus Christ is paramount. Only through His sacrifice is perfect/complete redemption from sin received. Annual sin sacrifices never permanently cleansed a person from his or her sin. Jesus’ sacrifice of His life as the spotless Lamb does.
Paul taught further in verse six when a person believed in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God for his or her salvation, he or she received the Spirit of the Son. When a person believes in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior, Jesus’ Spirit resides in him or her and he or she becomes an adopted son or daughter of God. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Galatians 3:26 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to take away the sins of everyone in the world makes you a son or daughter of God and an heir of God. Paul explain in verse six, because you are sons and daughters of God, you can now call to Him, “Abba! Father!,” which means “daddy, father.” You can use that term of endearment because you are in a personal relationship with God through Christ. You no longer have to go through a priest to talk to and hear from God.
To conclude his metaphor, Paul said in verse seven, when you believe in Jesus Christ, “You are no longer a slave (or a minor), but a son (and daughter), and if a son/daughter, then an heir through God.” What do you gain by being an heir through God, a co-heir with Christ? You receive peace from knowing your relationship with God is permanent because your sins are completely and permanently washed away and you can stand in the presence of Holy God. Since you have an unending and eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you will have eternal life with Him in His kingdom, heaven. Death will not separate you from Him.
Relationship with God; God made us for this purpose. He chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight, In love He predestines us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Jesus said this same thing in Matthew 25:34, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
What do we have to do with this teaching? Consider, like Paul wanted the Galatians to consider, whether you are listening to other teachings instead of accepting by faith that the only work needed to be done for your salvation and redemption Christ did on the cross. Nothing more needs to be added and nothing removed. Our salvation from our sins and self comes completely and perfectly through God’s gift of mercy and grace – Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. It is not a works-based salvation. Nothing we can do is worthy enough to earn our release from the judgment we deserve for our sins. God provided the exact sacrifice needed to release us from His just judgment, His holy and blameless Son.
What is keeping you from believing in Jesus alone? Do you feel you have to earn God’s love? You cannot earn it. You are fallible. God loves you no matter because He created you. His showed His extreme love by allowing His one and only Holy Son to die the worst death, asphyxiation from hanging on a cross. Will you accept that is all that is necessary? Believe. Do not add to the Gospel by trying to prove your worth. You are worthy because God created you, now give Him your heart.
What will you decide today?