Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. - Exodus 20:8-10a
Then he [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” - Mark 2:27
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably told your son or daughter to wear a coat when they didn’t want to, to go to sleep when they insisted they were not tired, or to eat healthy foods when the alternatives seemed more desirable. A parent says none of these things to be mean or even arbitrary but out of a sincere desire to see the child healthy.
If we, who are far from perfect, know how to care for our children in this way, how much more does our perfect Heavenly Father know how to care for us? As Jesus says in Mark, a day of rest was made for us - it is not a mean or arbitrary rule but a gift from above. To ignore that gift or disobey that instruction would be like the child who refused to wear the coat, go to bed at bedtime or eat the healthy dinner prepared for him or her. Let’s try to remember each week that our Father in Heaven loves us and wants to see us live long, healthy, enjoyable and productive lives.
Yesterday, I was twenty minutes from the end of the work day and I knew just what I wanted to finish in that time. But the Holy Spirit would not let me. His hand was on me ever so strongly, insisting that I stop what I was doing. Thinking that this made no sense and I couldn’t just stop work early, I struggled for a minute but then gave in. I updated my timesheet and did a couple of other end-of-day chores and prepared to log off. Just then, my boss contacted me with an urgent request that consumed the next forty-five minutes. At the conclusion of that task, I was then able to power down my laptop and get to my next appointment on time. If God had not stopped me when He did I would have had to complete my end-of-day tasks when I finished with my supervisor and would have felt stressed and rushed at the end of the day.My point in sharing this is that God does not always intercede and direct when there is some great plan on His mind. In this case, His hand was heavy on me because He simply wanted me to have a better day. To put it another way, our welfare always carries great weight in His planning. I needn’t worry that He will not direct me on life’s journey unless there are eternal or world-changing ramifications. What we think of as the little things in our lives He views as items that are worthy of His time. He loves us so very much.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39
I have long thought that what is missing from the list above is our sin: that our sin is the one thing that can separate us from the love of God. But while writing yesterday’s devotional, God impressed upon me the realization that, even when Adam and Eve sinned and were banished from the Garden, they were never separated from God’s love - as He demonstrated by dying on a cross.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even our refusal to accept His love and fellowship. Even if we reject Him, He continues to love us and seek after us in a million different ways.
God created a perfect world in which Adam and Eve walked with Him. As they talked, there were probably times when God told them that He loved them. That was Plan A.
Then Adam and Eve sinned and, in doing so, separated themselves from God and there was nothing they could do about it. But God, in order to restore that relationship, humbled Himself to become a simple man and then was willing to be beaten, humiliated and killed by those He loved and had created. In this way, Adam and Eve learned that God does truly love them and the unending depths of His love. If all they heard before were the words, “I love you” now they knew that God loves them. This was Plan B.
In God, Plan B can be better than Plan A. (Adam and Eve are us.)
When I read about the offerings and sacrifices required in Leviticus 1-7, I am struck by how caring God is for us in what He requires. In sacrifice after sacrifice, God tells us to burn the fatty parts of the animal which, we now know, are unhealthy for us to eat. And then, in contrast to a pagan sacrifices which harm the giver, the person making the offering and/or the priests often gets to eat the very item that was being “sacrificed.” Our God does not call us to give up things simply to please Him; instead, what we give up is used to bless us and increase our enjoyment of this life.
In yesterday’s sermon’s Scriptures (Mark 10:46-52), we heard about blind Bartimaeus asking to be able to see and Jesus healing him. After receiving his sight, Bartimaeus follows Jesus. What Bartimaeus did not realize was that Jesus wanted to do more than heal Bartimaeus’ sight: Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to follow Him along the road He was traveling. To simply call Bartimaeus to follow would have been, at best, insensitive and, at worst, cruel since Bartimaeus, being blind, was unable to follow or navigate the road to which he was called. But Jesus provided Bartimaeus with sight so that he would then be able to follow Jesus.When God calls us to do something, He also equips us so that we are able to fulfill His mission. We may rest secure in that knowledge.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25
Sometimes we might feel that we can skip church because we're not getting much out of it or maybe there's something happening that seems more important or more to our liking. However, it is important to remember that church attendance is not just for us as individuals. We also go to church because our very presence can and often does have a very positive impact on the other people there - whether we know it or not. It may be something we say, a smile, a hello or just our very presence that lifts another person up and has heavenly consequences. Let's never forget that whether or not we go to church is not all about us - it's about the other people whom God wants to touch. Whether we know it or not God is working through each of us. We often just need to show up.
I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run... But I will not drive them out before you in a single year… Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. - Exodus 23:27b, 29a, 30
Have you ever wondered why God does not just snap His fingers and give you victory over your enemies - be they people, situations or personal struggles? God does not wish to see you suffer and anything is well within His abilities, so why? The answer is found in the verse above: God, who has the long game in mind, wishes to mature and strengthen us. As we gain victory after victory, our ability to see God through the storm and our faith in Him increases. There is nothing more valuable than that knowledge that He exists and is there for us through thick and thin. A head knowledge of this awesome fact will only take us so far; it is an experiential knowledge that produces life- and world-changing faith that can literally move mountains.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. - Eph 4:2
I recently decided that I wanted to lose some weight and began to watch what I eat and, very quickly, the pounds came off. Was this because I am good at dieting or have developed an unusual resistance to the allure of food? Not at all. I am simply blessed by God with a metabolism that sheds weight easily. Nor is overeating one of my bigger problems. That’s just the way God made me. I do have other areas in which I struggle and, if they are less obvious to the casual observer, it only means that I can choose to hide them and pretend they are not problems.
Any area in which I do not struggle is a gift from God, not of my own doing. And if that is the case, how can I say to my brother or sister, “just stop eating,” “just stop smoking” or “just have more faith”? Even if another person’s imperfections are not something I have experienced or can imagine struggling with, do I not realize all of us struggle similarly?
When offering advice to a brother or sister who is having difficulty with a less-than-perfect behavior, let us never use the word “just” or look down on that person for their weakness. We all have weaknesses and if mine is different from yours, it is not of my own doing. Let us instead build each other up and encourage each other secure in the knowledge that God can and does rescue any of us from any area in which we struggle.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), Jesus tells us that the heart attitude is far more important than the letter of the law. For example, although the law only considers the actions of murder and adultery, God is aware when we have murderous intent or lustful thoughts. It is the latter that is important; the law is only a sign post to tell us that we have gone way too far.It is the same thing with giving. The law tells us to set aside ten percent of our income but the New Testament makes it clear that our attitude should be to make everything available to God and what He wants to do with it. In other words, when we have strictly set aside ten percent of our income for God, that is analogous to not committing the act of murder: we have met the requirements of the law but not of the heart.
Let’s endeavor today, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to make everything available to God. He may ask for a little or He may ask for a lot but, in either case, we will be provided for and will be blessed to be working alongside our God and Savior.
Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. - Ex 28:1
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before YHWH contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of YHWH and consumed them, and they died before YHWH.
In the first passage, we have a picture of God calling all people and offering everyone salvation (contrary to the idea that God only calls and saves a select group). Some people reject that calling and salvation (second passage) but that does not mean that they were not chosen by God. God seeks to save everyone.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord YHWH. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. - Exodus 34:29-31, 33
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. - 2 Cor 3:13
Let us not be like Moses, who hid his failures and times of being unspiritual from his fellow Israelites. Let us be transparent and share our struggles with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This will help keep us on the straight-and-narrow and will provide us with encouragement along the way. In addition, doing so will let others know that they are not alone in their struggles. It can be discouraging if one thinks that the rest of the church has it all together and that one’s struggles are unique and even unmentionable. Let’s be transparent in our walk - even when the glory is maybe fading for a time.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. - Matt 6:13 For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory - common responsorial doxology
The doxology commonly said after the Lord’s Prayer is wonderful in many ways. I particularly like that we can ask our Father in heaven to deliver us from temptation and evil and can count on His ability to do what we ask because His is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Because He has the power and all is under His kingship, YHWH is able to keep us from falling into temptation and is strong enough to protect us from the snares of the evil one. We can pray that prayer and count on it being answered.
A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out - Matt 12:20a, speaking of Jesus and quoting Isaiah 42:3
These verses speak of Jesus’ gentle and patient ways in dealing with us. If we are at the end of our rope, if we feel we have screwed up so badly that we are beyond redemption or beyond hope, Jesus is the One who sees us as a bruised reed that can be healed or a smoldering wick that He can reignite. He never sees us as beyond healing or beyond restoration. He always sees in us the ingredients for making us better than we’ve ever been or have ever even imagined we could be.
They will know that I am YHWH their God, who brought them out of Egypt SO that I might dwell among them. I am YHWH their God. - Exodus 29:46 (emphasis added)
In this passage Egypt is a metaphor for the ways of our fallen, sinful state. It tells us that God is the one who cleans up our lives so that He can dwell with us. He wants to live with us more than we want to live with Him and, since He is pure and holy, He does all that is needed to make it so that we are pure and holy as well. He does not wait for us to fix our sinful ways but instead blesses us with a new heart and new ways SO that He may live with us and be with us always!
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. - Matt 17:20
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - Eph 2:8
If you ever feel like you do not have enough faith - or have been told that your problem is a lack of faith - do not try to create more faith or, worse, beat yourself up over your lack of faith. Faith is a gift from God who always gives generously to His children. Therefore, ask for more faith and He will bless you with what you ask.
Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people. - Ex 22:28
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. - James 3:9
True story: One day there was a long line at the airport to get through the TSA checkpoint. After patiently waiting his turn, a gentleman in a leather jacket and jeans was almost to the TSA officer, the waiting just about over. Just then, from out of nowhere, up rushed a distraught would-be passenger to the head of the line. “My plane leaves in fifteen minutes! They’re going to shut the boarding doors soon! Please, I can’t miss my plane. Is there anything you can do to help?”
The bored TSA officer silently shook his head and gestured to the back of the line, not even making eye contact. The would-be passenger hung his head in defeat: he knew there was no arguing, no getting around the rules and there was certainly no way he would make his flight.
The aforementioned gentleman, now at the very head of the line, saw what was needed and quickly took action. “Here, take my place,” he said to the desperate fellow traveler. “I’ll go to the back of the line so you don’t have to.”
Needless to say, this solution not only pleased the passenger who had been running late but also met the strict rules of the TSA. It was even acceptable to the other people still on line who did not have to see their position bumped backward by even one.
Into your hands I commit my spirit. - Psalm 31:5a and Luke 23:46
Jesus’ last words on the Cross can be our words when circumstances in our lives are more than difficult. When disaster looms, the good news is that we are not in control. The Good News is that we have a Father who is in control. Let us commit our troubles, our joys, our plans and our very selves to Him each and every day,