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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [Psalm 19:14] 

I’m sharing these daily devotions in the hope they will inspire you to read God’s word. I’m praying that they will help you find your way to a closer relationship with God.  [Read More ….]

JUST ASKING

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.” [John 6:26-27 (NLT)]

Although people flocked to Jesus, many came for His miracles and what He could do for them rather than for His message. After all, He gave sight to the blind, calmed storms, gave excellent fishing instructions, cured the paralyzed, freed people from demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, turned water into wine, made money appear in the mouth of a fish, and fed thousands with next to nothing. After Jesus fed the multitude, the people recalled the Messianic prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18 that God would raise up a prophet like Moses and they wanted to make Him king. They didn’t understand that the kingdom of the Messiah would be a spiritual, not a political, one. Rather than seeing Jesus’ miracles as God’s stamp of approval on Him and coming to Jesus out of faith, they came to Him looking for more. As if feeding lunch to over 5,000 hadn’t been enough, they wanted an even greater miracle on a par with the manna Moses provided for the Israelites. Even though Jesus fed 5,000 men for a day, Moses fed millions for decades!

Jesus, however, corrected them. The manna wasn’t from Moses—it was from God. Moreover, that manna only lasted one day—the true bread from heaven, the bread Jesus offered, would last for eternity. Jesus wasn’t there to sustain life with something perishable but to give life with something everlasting!

Seeing Jesus as a miracle worker and a political king, the crowd followed Him. How do we see Him and why do we come to Him? Do we come for spiritual reasons or worldly ones? We may not expect Jesus to provide the food and drink for our next party but are we seeking Him for other things we think we can get from Him? By joining a church, are we seeking friends, contacts, or status? Do we have a personal agenda like politics, business relationships, or help from the parish? Are we motivated to seek Jesus in pursuit of wealth, success, comfort, emotional experience, or a miraculous fix of a problem?

Do we look to Jesus for our advancement or to advance His kingdom? Do we want to be glorified for what we do or glorify Him with what we do? Do we want to feel loved and or do we want to love Him and His children? Are we seeking an emotional high rather than spiritual growth? Do we seek power, influence, or recognition rather than a life of service and humility? Do we want His joy without our obedience or His forgiveness without our repentance?

Like the woman at the well, do we want His water so we don’t have to walk to the well and fill our jugs? Like the people who followed Jesus to Capernaum, do we want Him to miraculously satisfy our daily physical needs? Are we little better than Judas and following Him for the pieces of silver preached in the prosperity gospel? Are we looking for material possessions and wealth or spiritual gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit? Do we seek Him for what He can do for us or for who He is? Do we look to Jesus to take whatever is in His hand or do we come to offer Him what is in ours? Just asking…

True Christianity is to manifest genuinely Christ-like behavior by dependence on the working of the Spirit of God within, motivated by a love for the glory and honor of God. [Ray C. Stedman]

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh. [John 6:47-51 (NLT)]

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FEEDING THE MULTITUDE – Part 2

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up?” [Matthew 16:7-10 (NLT)]

white ibisMatthew and Mark tell of a second time Jesus fed a multitude. Jesus had been north of Galilee in Tyre and Sidon before going south to the Sea of Galilee and on to the region of the Ten Towns or Decapolis. Once there, a huge crowd assembled and set up camp around Jesus as He healed and preached. After three days on the hillside, the crowd ran out of provisions and Jesus voiced His concern. Just like the first time they were faced with a hungry crowd, the disciples don’t know what to do, even though the solution was standing right in front of them. After they found seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus miraculously turned that into a feast for 4,000 men (plus women and children) with seven large reed baskets of food remaining!

Why would Matthew and Mark include two almost identical stories to their gospels?  Perhaps the reason is found in the location of these miracles. While the setting of these miracles seems unimportant to us in the 21st century, it wasn’t when the miracles occurred and the words were written. Located on the north shore of the Galilean Sea, the Bethsaida region was Jewish, and most (if not all) of the recipients of that first miraculous meal were Jews. When Jesus was in Tyre and Sidon, however, He was in a Gentile region and at least 35 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. To get to the Decapolis, He had to go east, cross the Jordan, and then proceed south to the southern end of the Sea. Since he was on His way back to Judea, it’s evident that Jesus deliberately went out of His way to minister to this Gentile and largely pagan region.

With their addition of Jesus feeding the multitude in the Decapolis, Matthew and Mark made it clear that Jesus came for both Jew and Gentile. Let this story be a reminder that, whether Jew or Gentile, good church-going people or idol worshippers and pagans, deserving or undeserving, all of God’s children deserve to be fed both spiritually and physically.

It also seems that Jesus’ miracles of provision needed repeating for His disciples. Even though He previously turned a boy’s lunch into a banquet for well over 5,000 hungry people, the disciples stood around not knowing what to do when faced with another hungry crowd of 4,000 men (plus women and children)! Instead of seeing an opportunity, they saw an impossibility. Rather than asking Jesus where they’d find enough food in the wilderness, they immediately should have offered what they did have to Jesus and asked Him to make it enough! It seems the disciples were slow learners!

Even though Jesus turned seven loaves and a few fish into an al fresco picnic for thousands, the disciples still didn’t understand. Shortly after this miracle, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat and crossing the lake. When the disciples realized they had only one loaf of bread between them, they argued about the lack of food! They sat there quarreling about bread while the Bread of Life sat in the boat with them. For the One who could multiply seven loaves to feed a multitude, turning one loaf into enough for thirteen men was child’s play, but they were blind to who He was and what He could do!

May we always remember that God can do things that exceed our wildest imagination. If we just bring Him what we have—no matter how little or insignificant it may seem—God will make it enough. As the old hymn goes: “Little is much when God is in it.”

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

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FEEDING THE MULTITUDE – Part 1

Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” [Luke 9:12-13a (NLT)]

Kandersteg-Lake OeschinenOther than His resurrection, the feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracles recorded in all four gospels. Wanting some quiet time, Jesus and the disciples went by boat to a remote area near Bethsaida. Because the crowd followed them, Jesus spent the rest of day healing and teaching. When the disciples asked Jesus to send the people home so they could eat, Jesus said to feed them. All four accounts agree that only five loaves and two fish were available, that 5,000 men (along with women and children) ate as much as they wanted, and that the left-overs filled a dozen wicker hand-baskets.

We understand why the gospel writers included the resurrection in their record; without it, Jesus was just a good man who died. But why is this miracle the only other one each one thought essential to the narrative? The easy answer is that no one but God could have performed a miracle of such magnitude. Rather than the size of the miracle, however, perhaps it was the enormous size of the crowd! With the addition of women and children to the 5,000 men present, there probably were 10,000 or more people who not only witnessed but partook of this miracle. That’s the sort of thing people don’t keep to themselves—they probably told their neighbors, friends, children, and grands. If someone who lived near the north shore of the Sea of Galilee wasn’t there that day, they knew someone who was! While we can’t know for sure, Mark’s gospel was written in the late 50s to 60s, Luke and Matthew’s prior to 70, and John’s around 80-85 AD. Can you imagine the number of witnesses still alive who could refute or verify this miracle as proof of the gospels’ validity? The inclusion of this miracle gives credence to the rest of the gospels’ accounts!

There is more to this story than God’s amazing provision but, because we’re so familiar with it, we tend to miss some of its subtler messages. The reason Jesus took a boat across the lake was to find a remote area away from the crowd so he and the disciples could be alone. John the Baptist had recently died, the disciples had just returned from their mission trip, and the men were hungry and tired. Jesus wanted peace and quiet but the people wanted Him! Seeing them as sheep without a shepherd, He put the needs of others before His desires. What a beautiful example of the compassion of Christ. Are we so willing to do the same thing?

While a Gentile might miss it, a Jew would see that this miracle evokes two earlier miracles found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Both the manna for Moses and bread for Elisha foreshadow Jesus’ miracle of provision. The story of manna in Exodus probably doesn’t need repeating but you may not be familiar with Elisha’s story in 2 Kings. During a famine, a man brought Elisha some grain and bread. When Elisha told his servant to feed the 100 prophets who were with him, he protested there wasn’t enough bread for those many men. The prophet assured the servant that everyone would eat and there even would be leftovers; indeed, they did and there were. For people who considered Jesus a mere prophet along the lines of Moses and Elisha, His feeding of the 5,000 was irrefutable proof that He was far greater!

Having been told to take nothing with them during their ministry tour, the disciples learned about receiving since they depended on the hospitality and provision of others. Could this have been a message about giving? It certainly showed that ministry is more than preaching; it is providing. Feeding the sheep means tending to the flock’s practical needs as well as their spiritual ones.

Of course, we can’t forget about the boy. While Philip saw what they didn’t have (money), Andrew went looking for what they did have! Even though he knew it wasn’t enough, Andrew saw possibility in the boy’s basket and his willingness to give up his meager provisions. This insignificant boy played an essential role in one of the most significant days in Jesus’ ministry! May we always keep our eyes open to possibilities and remember that, in God’s hands, our inadequacy becomes more than enough!

The four accounts of this miracle are found in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. Today, consider revisiting this old familiar story by reading all four accounts of this amazing miracle with fresh eyes!

They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. [Mark 6:42-44 (NLT)]

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THE WORST SIN

No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. [Isaiah 58:6-7 (NLT)]

Canadian geese - goslingsLast week, a devotion I read asked, “What is the worst sin?” How would you answer it? While the “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth) are all wrong, I’m not sure they belong at the top of the list. Would it be idolatry, murder, stealing, or adultery? What about the heinous sins of mass murder, genocide, torture, or the abuse of children?

Of course, there’s “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” the unforgiveable sin mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. While attributing the divine power of Jesus to Satan without repenting of it is unforgivable and was bad news for Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, since it hurts only the sinner, I don’t think it seems to be the worst sin either.

I pondered this question over coffee while the news was airing on TV. Richard Engle gave a report from an orphanage in Ukraine that left me in tears. When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, it inherited a broken system in which parents of disabled children were encouraged to commit their children to institutional care. Sadly, in the absence of community-based support, therapy services, or educational opportunities, families continued to abandon severely disabled children to institutions. As a result, before the war, Ukraine had the largest number of children in institutional care in Europe; 100,000 children lived in 700 institutions.

Around half of those institutionalized children had special needs or disabilities and others were separated from their families because of poverty, addiction, or poor health; only a few actually were orphans. As these “orphanages” in war-torn eastern Ukraine were evacuated, their caregivers abandoned the most severely disabled to other institutions and fled. The remaining facilities are so overrun that day and therapy rooms have been converted into dormitories. They are overcrowded, understaffed, unequipped, and unable to provide anything but basic medical attention; as a result, proper care, stimulation, rehabilitation, and therapy can’t be provided and the residents’ conditions continue to deteriorate.

Engles’ report was about visiting such an institution that was packed with 200 profoundly disabled youngsters, all of whom were abandoned by their families. Some of the children, refugees from eastern Ukrainian institutions, were little more than skin and bones. These children (and others like them) are innocent victims of a broken system, a horrifying war, and a world that looked the other way. Could the worst of all sins be one of omission—that of not loving enough to see or care?

The question about the worst sin, however, was misleading. There is no “worst” sin because every sin is an affront to God. No sin is so small that it isn’t offensive to Him and deserving of punishment nor is there any sin so great that He can’t forgive it. Nevertheless, there can be a great difference in the earthly impact of our sins. While both are sins, a drug company’s lie about the safety of its pain medication has a vastly different impact than a child’s lie about taking a cookie from the jar. Without a doubt, what has happened to those Ukrainian children is a sin with devastating consequences for those involved.

When Jesus was asked the most important commandment, He answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” He continued with the second and equally important commandment of, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Unfortunately, we don’t have to go to Ukraine to find the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters who are hungry, homeless, sick, alone, exploited, abused, or abandoned. While there is little we can do for those Ukrainian “orphans,” there is much we can do to alleviate the suffering of others who are “the least of these” here and now. May we love God and our neighbor enough to notice and to care!

Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)]

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REJECTION

The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.” [1 Samuel 8:7-9 (GW)]
hibiscus

Following Samson, the high priest Eli may have acted as a sort of judge. His sons, however, were scoundrel priests who treated God’s offering with contempt and slept with the women serving in the Tabernacle. When God’s judgment came down upon Eli and his sons, Samuel became the high priest and judge. While Samuel clearly was called by God to his role, his sons Joel and Abijah were not. Nevertheless, when Samuel grew old, he appointed his boys as judges. Like Eli’s sons, they were greedy rogues who took advantage of their position by accepting bribes and corrupting justice. Fed up with their wickedness, Israel’s elders met with Samuel. Wanting to be like the nations surrounding them and hoping to bring the tribes into a cohesive union, they demanded a king.

Rather than depend on God in time of crisis, Israel wanted to depend on human wisdom, power, and strength. Samuel cautioned them about all that came with a king: conscription of their sons and requisitioning of their crops along with demands for their daughters’ labor and a ten percent tax. Although amply warned by Samuel that they would beg for relief from the king they wanted, the people refused to listen. Allowing Israel to make choices (and learn from their consequences), God had Samuel appoint Saul as their king. Less than 120 years later, Samuel’s warning was fulfilled when they implored King Rehoboam for relief from excessive work and taxes; shortly thereafter, the kingdom divided.

Saul was exactly what the people wanted; he came from a wealthy and influential family, was tall and handsome, and even courageous. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a good leader or knowledgeable in spiritual matters. He had an inferiority complex and issues with impulse control, godly obedience, jealousy, and selfishness.

If I’d been in God’s position at this point in Israel’s history, I might have responded to them with an ultimatum of “it’s my way or the highway!” When they encountered difficulties with their plan, my cold response might have been, “You reap what you sow,” or “You wanted him, now you’re stuck with him!” I may have turned away from those who’d turned from me and stopped listening to those who’d stopped listening to what I had to say.

Fortunately for Israel (and us), I’m not God and that’s not how God responded. He never gave up on his people after their disobedience and rebellion in Eden, during the Exodus, or during the time of the judges and He didn’t this time either. After all, a promise is a promise and God promised the Israelites that He never would leave or forsake them! Samuel continued to serve the Israelites as their prophet, priest, and judge and David, a much better man than Saul, eventually became king. In spite of Israel’s continued failure to follow the Lord during the time of the kings, He gave them prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah who continued to speak God’s word to his people. He gave them John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah and then He offered His only son, Jesus, as payment for our sins.

Mercifully, God doesn’t hold a grudge or respond in a snit when we ignore or disobey him. He didn’t abandon the Israelites and he won’t abandon us. When we reject Him, He doesn’t reject us; when we ignore Him, He doesn’t ignore us. When we take the wrong path, He continues to give us opportunities to turn back or offers new and better paths along the way.

Thank you, God, for never giving up on your rebellious children.

The Lord is compassionate, merciful, patient, and always ready to forgive. He will not always accuse us of wrong or be angry with us forever. He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs. As high as the heavens are above the earth—that is how vast his mercy is toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west—that is how far he has removed our rebellious acts from himself. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. [Psalm 103:8-13 (GW)]

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THE SAD STORY

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. … In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 2:10, 21:25 (NLT)]

tulipAs a history of Israel’s disobedience, idolatry, and moral depravity, Judges is one of the saddest books of the Bible; it also is one of the bloodiest and violent. After starting well with war against the pagan tribes of Canaan, it ends with civil war and Israelite killing Israelite. While some tribes obediently drove the pagan people from their land, others found it easier to tolerate sin than fully eradicate it. By the time of Gideon, altars to Baal and Asherah poles had been erected and people wanted to kill Gideon for destroying them. It only went from bad to worse after Samson. Micah sinfully set up a shrine for his idols, wrongly fashioned a priestly ephod, ordained his son into the priesthood, and then purchased the services of a Levite as his personal priest! After the Danites stole his idols, ephod, and Levite, they set up their own idolatrous shrine with the Levite as priest. Did no one remember God’s laws given to them by Moses that specifically covered priests, ephods, Levites, and the worship of idols?

As for violence—along with the carnage of battle, there’s a disembowelment, a tent peg hammered into a head, eyes getting gouged out, and a king’s thumbs and big toes get amputated to humiliate him. Thirty men are killed just to pay a gambling debt and a father’s foolish vow ends in the sacrifice of his daughter. After 300 foxes are set on fire in a vengeful act that destroys a town’s grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves, a father and daughter are burned to death as payback!

Instead of conquering the fertile land they’d been given, the Danites moved north, burned the peaceful city of Laish, and mercilessly killed its inhabitants. When the men of Gibeah raped and killed a Levite’s concubine, the Levite dismembered her body to summon the tribes of Israel. Then, after they nearly eradicate the entire tribe of Benjamin in retaliation for the concubine’s death, the men regret their actions. To right the wrong, they slaughter every man, woman, and child in Jabesh-gilead except for 400 virgins who are given to the surviving soldiers of Benjamin. Needing more virgins, another 200 young women were forcibly abducted from Shiloh. How did this happen? What happened to God’s law? How did Israel fall into such sin, violence, and mayhem?

Scripture tells us that one generation after Joshua’s death, the people forgot and, within one generation of the death of each judge, they forgot again! There was a reason God wanted his word passed on through the generations and a reason he commanded people to keep repeating the law to their children. Whether the command to put His words on hands, foreheads, and doorposts was literal or figurative, God wanted His word to be an inescapable part of His people’s lives and the lives of every generation that followed. Why? Because God’s Word means life!

When I look at the disobedience, idolatry, moral depravity, and violence in Judges, I can’t help but see parallels today. As my mother would say, it seems that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Indeed, it does! There’s a reason the world doesn’t seem much better in 2022 than during the 300 plus years of turmoil recounted in Judges. As they did nearly 3,400 years ago, people continue to do whatever seems right in their own eyes. We’ve allowed the full story of God’s redemption to be forgotten, disregarded, or never heard. The people of Israel didn’t need a king; they needed God. So do we! What are we going to do about it?

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

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