Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Daily Devotional : The Acerola Principle

If you visit the tropics, you’ll want to try an invigorating glass of juice made from a small, red, natural marvel: the acerola fruit. Relatively unknown in the rest of the world, it has 32 times as much vitamin C as citrus fruit, as well as powerful antioxidant properties.

We once had an acerola tree in our yard—just one, but that one small tree gave so much fruit that there was almost always a pitcher of juice on the dinner table. I remember lazy afternoon moments spent plucking and eating the fruit straight off the tree, warmed and sweetened by the sun.

I also discovered an important similarity between my spiritual life and that tree. Like many tropical trees, the acerola tree doesn’t have a certain fruit-bearing season. At first it seemed to give fruit whenever it pleased. Sometimes the tree was speckled with hundreds of red dots; other times I had to hunt to find them. Why, I had no idea.

It was only after some time that a neighbor revealed the acerola’s secret: it bears fruit in direct proportion to the water it receives. After rainy spells, acerola trees are laden with fruit, but dry periods leave them bare.

We began watering our tree two or three times a day, and the tree produced more fruit than we could handle. But if we got too busy or forgot, production would grind to a halt.

From this perspective, there is no big mystery to having a fruitful spiritual life. The tree is our soul, and the water is God’s Word. The fruit is the results, the obvious effects this water has on us, and the amount of fruit we bear will be in direct proportion to how much “water” we give our “tree.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Does this list seem too good to be true of your life? Well, try investing a little more in that tree of yours. Try watering it frequently, and see if it won’t start producing these wonderful life- and world-changing fruits. It’s impossible to spend time close to the heart of God and not be transformed, just as it’s impossible to water the acerola tree and not soon see an abundance of delicious fruit adorning its branches.

Psalm 119:25 KJV – My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!

John 6:63 NIV - The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you–they are full of the Spirit and life.

John 5:26 ESV – For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

More Deeply

Exodus 12 --- Moses is given instructions for the Israelites, to prepare for the Passover.

Read Exodus 12

- V2, is this the Jewish calendar being defined?

- V11&13, Why is the meal called the ‘Passover’?

- V14, for how many years were the Jews to commemorate the Passover?

- V21-23, Do you think the Passover shows similarities with, or foreshadowed, any future event?

- V31-33, it seems that fear of God finally led to obedience and recognition of God. Where there is no fear of God’s judgement today, is it harder to preach the good news of the Gospel of salvation?

- V37, 600,000 men, plus women and children…and so probably over 1 million Israelites left Egypt. Can we imagine the impact this would have had on Egypt, on Moses, on the Israelites, and on the surrounding countries?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Exodus 11 --- God prepares Moses for a final plague which will prove successful

Read Exodus 11

- V3, why do you think the Egyptians now looked upon the Israelites and Moses in this way?

- V8, Knowing that this last plague would be successful, why do you think Moses became so angry?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Daily Devotional : Time Out

My mind raced. Two o’clock. I had just finished my appointments and suddenly realized how little cash I had on me. At the mall with only a few cents and no ATM card in my pocket, I needed to attend a workshop at the voice academy later that afternoon. Without bus fare, I wasn’t going to make it. I didn’t even have enough money to get home.

I paced through the mall, frantic, desperate, frustrated. How did I get myself into this mess?

Then amid the inner turmoil came a familiar voice. Stop and listen.

To what? I fired back.

Listen to Me. And listen to yourself freaking out like that! The worst thing in the world is to keep on going when you don’t know what to do.

Jesus had my attention. Okay, You’re right.—I don’t know what to do.

Trust Me.

What did I have to lose? I stopped and prayed, “Dear Jesus, I’m trying to trust You. Please help me out.” What I wanted, of course, was to see some money appear out of nowhere. It doesn’t have to be a lot—just enough to get me to the voice academy and home.

I looked around. Nothing.

Trust Me, He said again. There’s plenty of time before your workshop starts.

Plenty of time? I wasn’t so sure.

I slowed my pace to “trusting” speed and hoped that would also calm my racing spirit. The frustration eased. I even started to sing to myself. The voice seemed to be directing my steps, telling me what corners to turn in the huge mall.

Then there they were, sitting inside a restaurant right in front of me! I had met Joy and Honey a few weeks before. They were commercial models and the only female identical twins in the local industry. They spotted me and waved, excited about this chance encounter.

Or was it chance?

An hour later, we said goodbye and I was on my way. Jesus had indeed dropped money out of nowhere, but in His own way. Joy had asked me to sketch them together and insisted on paying for the on-the-spot portrait.

I now had the cash I needed. I made it to my workshop with time to spare. I made it safely home. And I had that little voice to thank.

Now when my head is spinning out of control—How did I get myself into this mess?—I know that all I have to do is take a little time out to stop and listen and get Jesus’ help.

Psalm 40:1 NIV - I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.

Psalm 37:7-9 NLT - Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Isaiah 40:31 NKJV - But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Daily Devotional : Take a Load Off

I have a riddle for you. What could seem to make a little more work now‚ but save much more work in the long run?

Here are some hints. It is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, and those who have accomplished the most for God have all depended on it. It is a life-altering concept, but also one that is often hard to grasp because it goes contrary to natural reasoning.

The answer is “resting in Jesus.” That means stopping what we’re doing and taking a little time to get quiet and plug in to Jesus in spirit in order to be renewed and regenerated. Then we need to learn to take that restful spirit with us as we go back to whatever we were doing, so circumstances won’t weigh so heavily on us and eventually wear us out.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s not always easy to do, especially at first. One big reason is that it goes against our natural bent. When we have so much to do, the last thing we feel like doing is slowing down, taking time to pray and read God’s Word, and letting Him speak to us. That’s not what we feel like doing or what seems sensible when we have a deadline or life is speeding along all around us.

But if we look at the lives of those who have done great things for God, we find many examples of people who relied on this principle. In fact, Jesus Himself needed such times of resting and refilling, according to several accounts in the Gospels. One says that having risen long before daylight, He went to a solitary place to pray. Another says that He continued all night in prayer to God, and another that it was His custom to go to the Mount of Olives to pray.

Most of us need a major change of mindset in this regard. We need to stop thinking we have so much to do that we had better get started, and instead think, Wonderful! Jesus, here is an opportunity for You to step in and help as only You can.

We can’t learn to rest in the Lord if we’re not doing our part by pulling away from the fray. If we’ve been busy, busy, busy, then when our spirits need a rest we are usually swamped with thoughts about all there still is to do.

But if we can get in the habit of stopping our work long enough to turn our concerns over to Jesus and draw new strength and inspiration from Him, we won’t be so tied into the vicious cycle of pushing ourselves beyond our limits and falling further behind. Instead, we will create a positive cycle where He strengthens us for the tasks at hand, and as a result we will have more faith to place our burdens on His shoulders and trust Him to take care of things.

We all want to feel that peace and contentment and wisdom that Jesus can give us when we spend time with Him, but the test comes when we go back to work. All too often we leave the realm of calm and peace and infinite possibilities, and start trying to do everything we can—and before we know it, we’re back in the rat race.

Resting in Jesus means not trying to bear the burdens ourselves. It means continually putting them back on Jesus’ shoulders. It means doing our part in prayer, so He can do the heavy lifting. It means valuing our time with God enough to make time for it, and because of that, having more of His blessings and Spirit in everything we do, because we’ve given the weight to Jesus through prayer, rather than trying to carry it ourselves.

It’s easy to get on our own little “treadmill” and feel that we have to keep running to keep up, and yet feel like we’re not really getting anywhere. We need to have enough sense, before we get to that point, to step off and ask Jesus to help us get in step with Him again.

Making the change can start a cycle of strength, relief from pressure, and real progress. If we’re resting in Jesus‚ if we’re taking time with Him, if we’re pushing our burdens onto His strong shoulders and letting Him work in the spirit, we’ll have the strength and the time for anything and everything else we really need to do.

Matthew 11:28-30 NIV - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Philippians 4:6-7 NIV - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 37:7 NIV - Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Daily Devotional : Preventive Maintenance

We all go through situations that leave deep imprints on our spirits. I had one such experience a couple of years ago.

While I was praying, Jesus told me, “Your faith will soon be tested, but don’t be afraid. This will be a time of readjustment.”

Ten days later, while on a humanitarian aid mission to a remote area of Burkina Faso, West Africa, I found myself upside down in a Land Rover that had run off the road and rolled into a ditch.

The next few days were a blur of hospitals, phone calls, recounting the accident, and thanking God for His protection. Five of us had been involved in what could have been a fatal accident, and the worst injury that any of us sustained was a broken collarbone.

God is able to bring some good out of every situation, and this accident was no exception. We experienced the hospitality and empathy that are common among African people; everyone from taxi drivers to doctors to ambassadors expressed sincere concern for our well-being. I also gained an even greater appreciation of my coworkers, who didn’t let their bumps, bruises, or broken collarbone stop them from delivering aid to orphanages and remote villages.

What left the deepest impression on me, however, was something God taught me about my spiritual life. Like the wheel alignment on the Land Rover, which had been faulty and caused our accident, my spirit also needs maintenance. If I don’t regularly check my spirit, it can get knocked out of whack by rocks and potholes in the road of life—problems, disappointment, loss, and so on. And if that spiritual misalignment is not corrected, when I hit another particularly rough spot I could lose control, veer off the road, and wind up upside down in a ditch.

Maintaining our spiritual lives through prayer, quality spiritual input, and godly living is as important to our happiness and well-being as servicing our vehicles is to safety on the road. When we work at keeping our spirits in good shape and are mindful of our strengths and limitations, we can respond better to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Our faith in God’s love and care, like shock absorbers, will lessen the bumps in the road; proper alignment will keep us on the straight and narrow; and our lives will take us where God wants us to go.

Have a safe trip!

John 15:4 ESV - Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

Matthew 4:4 ESV - But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

James 1:22-25 ESV – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Exodus 10 --- God sends the plagues of locusts, followed by darkness

Read Exodus 10

- V1 & 4, If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then does that mean Pharaoh didn’t have a choice and isn’t to blame?

- V15, Can you imagine what this would look/feel like?

- V16, What is the difference between regret, confession of sin, and repentance?

- V23, Yet again there is no mention of Pharaoh’s magicians being able to duplicate or reverse this miracle. Has anyone ever managed to create darkness (as opposed to creating a shelter from the light)?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Daily Devotional: Reaching Full Potential

One indelible memory from my childhood is of a boy about my age walking on crutches. Each time he took a step with his right foot, his left leg swung limply a few inches off the ground. He wore mismatched brown leather shoes, and the left was noticeably smaller than the right. “Polio,” my mother explained when the boy was out of earshot. “His short leg has stopped growing.” “Will it ever catch up?” I asked. “No,” she said, “the damage is permanent.” I imagined how that boy must have felt, knowing that his body would never be quite whole.

Most of us can thank God for two healthy legs. He also equipped us with two other “legs,” and those are even more important to our overall well-being—“who we are” and “what we do,” our character and our calling. As long as both develop at a steady rate, our lives have symmetry and balance. But if we concentrate on one to the neglect of the other, we lose that. And if it is “who we are” that gets neglected, which is often the case, we stop growing emotionally and spiritually as we should.

Fortunately, unlike physical handicaps caused by polio and other crippling diseases, such damage to our spirits is not irreversible. We can always work at bringing our lives back into proper balance, and God is always happy to work with us toward that end. In fact, He wants nothing more than to help us reach our full potential and become the people He knows we can be.

You are important to God, and so are your happiness and wholeness. You are His creation and dearly loved by Him, but you are also a work in progress.

John 1:12 ESV – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Galatians 3:26 ESV - For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

1 Peter 2:10 ESV – Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Exodus 09 --- God sends the plagues on the livestock, followed by boils and hail

Read Exodus 09

- V7, can you imagine how amazing this was?...imagine every animal being effected in your country, except for those in your county/state…AND having it predicted…wouldn’t you have been persuaded?

- V15-16, we are given the reason why this plan to free the Israelites had been so elaborate…and so is it reasonable to believe that sometimes even today God may use methods for purposes which are beyond our current understanding?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Bible Devotion: Keep Your Word

3 Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people.

God keeps His Word (Titus 1:2), and as His children we are to be like Him (Ephesians 5:1). God is dependable so His people should be dependable. Christians should be known as people of honesty.

22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.

Keeping our word should be a priority. Our reputation should be more important to us than our feelings, our finances, or our comfort.

We should be like those mentioned in Psalm 15:4 who "keep their promises even when it hurts." People should be able to depend on us.

Will we do what we said we would do, even if it costs us? Or will we only do what benefits us? It is really a question of whether we will be selfish or whether we will walk in love.

But there is also another important reason to keep our word -- so our faith will work as it should.

MARK 11:23 NKJ
23 "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

Jesus taught that for faith to work effectively we must believe those things we say.

If you don't keep your word, it will affect your faith. If you want to walk in faith, and thus enjoy all the blessings God has provided for you, then you must believe what you say. Lying won't work!

Yet as humans, we all may sometimes find ourselves in situations beyond our control where it is impossible to keep a promise we have made. In such cases, we should apologize and go forward in life, asking God to help us do better next time.

SAY THIS: With God's help, I determine to tell the truth and keep my word.

Praying, Waiting

Exodus 08 --- God provides signs, and the plagues begin 2

Read Exodus 08

- V18-19, What impact do you think this might have had on the magicians?...could this be another reason why God’s plan was so elaborate?

- V22-23, if God can (and did) show such discrimination for those who loved Him…why does He let bad things happen to Christians today?

- V26-27, clearly Moses was far more persuasive and confident than he had previously given himself credit for!