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“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
Prayer is an intimate relationship building time with God. It is talking to Him daily just as we would with our closest friends and family.
But many Jews in Jesus’ earthly day had turned this very important practice into a self-righteousness show-off contest. It was for reputation building alone and missed the whole point of spending time with God. Maybe it gave them political advantage, or extra points with their boss, or maybe even the bride of their choice, but it was a spiritually bankrupt pursuit.
Just like with giving to the needy for social gain, so taking the time to pray for others to notice is a waste of time. This is not a sincere petition of faith brought before a loving God, it might as well be a fashion show or a popularity poll passed among peers.
Most people today wouldn’t dream of praying out loud on a street corner for everyone to see, not in our political climate. It can be hard enough bowing our head to mutter a silent prayer in the school cafeteria or the workplace break room before lunch. And this is what many unbelievers consider hypocrisy today. Saying if we really believe, then we should be bold enough to publicly live out our prayer life and our prayers should be effective.
But what about at church?
At church, people expect to see the fruit of Godliness in our lives. They expect to see us praying fervently and praising and worshiping with eyes closed or hands lifted. Corporate prayer, praise and worship can be a spiritual, mental and emotional struggle because the temptation to do outwardly what everyone else expects from us can make our church time with God just as meaningless as the pious Jews of Jesus’ time on earth.
Normally, we should spend one-on-one time with God. This isn’t an easy habit to develop, but it is vital to Christian life. And when we are at church, the ability to close out everyone around us and just be with God will flow from the personal time we’ve spent with Him when we’re alone. Sincere prayer comes from the heart in love with God and the wisdom gleaned from His Word and His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Do you spend time alone with God daily? Do you feel pressured to participate at church to maintain others’ perception of you? Or do you have a well-developed relationship with your heavenly Father? Wherever you are along this path, keep pressing on and daily pressing in to know Him more.
“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” Matthew 4:11
How many of us give in at the first temptation that appeals to our appetites? Or at least the second which appeals to our sense of righteousness and holiness? But certainly, many of us fall to the temptation to increase our current advantage, our current position and status, even if just by a little bit. It’s the American Dream. A comfort that we’ve earned.
Our temptations are always darkest before the dawn. Right before the sunlight breaks, we do.
But Jesus kept His eyes on the prize of our hearts for eternity. And everything in this world paled to the nothingness that it truly is in light of His one goal. Redemption.
Having stood the test, Satan left Jesus. Most of us would be thankful just to have made it that far and to finally find some peace. Incredibly though, the angels–the heavenly host–came to attend Jesus. Did they attend Him on earth as they did in heaven? Worshiping Him as the Son of God He is. Perhaps they came to lift Him up in His physical weakness, though not because of a foot-flop contrived by the father of lies. Maybe they even delivered daily bread or manna from heaven.
We don’t know exactly, just that the angels of heaven tended to Jesus in His time of need.
God may or may not send angels to attend us in our times of need and triumph. But He has promised us His Holy Spirit. He never leaves us or forsakes us no matter how appetizing the worldly offer, no matter how murky the temptation shadow that drowns our thoughts.
And if we keep our eyes fixed on the Eternal, through the Holy Spirit we can overcome the darkness before sunrise, the steepest, craggiest mountain and the wolf-infested valley. If we are faithful to the end, we will receive the victor’s rewards in heaven [Revelation 2:10 & 3:4-5].
Are you struggling through something right now? Hold fast to your faith. Fix your eyes on God Almighty. He can bring you through if you trust Him. Does all of life seem darker than it’s ever been before? Hold on just a little while longer. The dawn is near.
“Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.'” Nehemiah 4:13-14
Throughout the sinful history of the world, wars and rumors of wars have threatened human life and national security [Matthew 24:6]. War is not God’s desire. But it is a natural consequence of sin in the world.
Certainly, God’s people defended themselves against foreign nations. And God Himself intervened in miraculous ways during many of the major battles.
God calls us to defend the cause of the widows and the fatherless [Deuteronomy 10:18], the oppressed and the afflicted [Psalm 10:18 & 72:4] and the rights of the poor and needy [Proverbs 31:9]. Through Nehemiah, God called the nation of Israel to defend their families–not just their physical lives, but the spiritual, emotional and mental wholeness of their families. Their soundness built on the Word of God.
And He called them not to be afraid. The awesome, Almighty God was with them.
America was built on these same biblical principals. Godly men and women founded our nation with the intention to preserve sound Bible teaching and strong family relationships. They desired to see families empowered by the Word of God and defending the nation from the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted and right on up to the top.
Each Memorial Day, we remember the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have given their lives to protect and defend the freedoms that we often take for granted. Without their sacrifice, we would not be free. Rather, we ourselves would be the oppressed and afflicted, possibly the widows and the fatherless in need of a righteous defender.
Just like the soldiers who died to help make and keep America a free nation, Jesus died to eternally free us from sin and the fear of death. So today, honor those who have selflessly served our nation and recognize that image of God in yourself to live as a righteous defender of His truth in all your ways [Proverbs 3:6].
How is God calling you to defend others? What can you do to honor His righteous image in you?
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'” Matthew 2:7-8
You have to wonder if the Magi raised their eyebrows at this secret meeting and King Herod’s question. After all, they were diviners, or studied astrologers at the least. And here the so-called actual King of Israel had no idea when or where the baby king of his nation had been born. Surely the wise men found this private interrogation and his request to send word of the baby’s whereabouts odd.
A practicing Jew, but of Edomite descent, King Herod had no genealogical right to Israel’s throne. Still, he’d grown up hearing the stories and observing the traditions of the Old Testament and the God of his Hebrew countrymen. Did he ever stop to wonder if the power of God was real? Was he insecure because he knew he was playing a dangerous game caught between the Almighty God and the rising Roman Empire?
He kept the religious leaders close and the Roman rulers closer still. He lied readily as it suited his ascent to and maintenance of earthly power. And, though he’d heard the prophecies–word from God’s prophets in scriptures–about the coming Messiah, he was willing to have the baby killed for his own personal gain [Matthew 2:13].
Seriously? What does it take to grow up among God’s people, hearing God’s Word and still be, not just willing, but eager to attempt murder on anyone, let along God’s one and only Son?
James [1:22-25] warns against being hearers of the Word only. Herod heard God’s Word, but he didn’t let the truth of it penetrate his life.
Jesus warns that it is possible to do things in name only without ever developing a personal love relationship with God [Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:24-27]. Herod called himself a Jew and practiced the Jewish customs, but he didn’t move past the religious ritual of it all. His actions were like ornaments on a Christmas tree, hung in his life to make him look good to others, rather than fruit growing from sincere faith and pleasing to God.
Paul warns against having a form of godliness but denying its power [2 Timothy 3:1-7]. Herod fits the profile of many of the fruits in this list: lover of self, lover of money–inherent with his position of authority–boastful and proud [as in self-promoting], unholy, unloving, slanderer, without self-control, brutal, traitor, etc. Paul tells us that though such people are always learning they never come to the knowledge of the truth.
What an epitaph! To sit on the throne belonging to God’s Son Jesus, over God’s chosen people, and to do so without ever recognizing who God is.
Do you attend church, read your Bible and pray because it looks or feels good? Is your faith a Christmas ornament on your life? Or do you live out God’s Word out of your loving relationship with Him?
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
God is omniscient. He knew Joseph’s heart–his thoughts and motivations [1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:12]. He knew that Joseph and Mary were righteous and God-fearing. He knew that Mary would face public disgrace and possible life-ending consequences depending on Joseph’s reaction. But He also knew that Joseph was the man He could trust to see that Mary was well cared for as she bore the Christ child.
Joseph was a Godly father and husband. That was why he wrestled with the righteousness piece of this whole finding-Mary-pregnant-during-their-engagement thing. He knew that he hadn’t slept with her.
But God intervenes in Joseph’s understanding to set the record straight. God brings the light of truth through an angelic dream. Dream oracles were a firm part of ancient beliefs and not just in Israel. However, God spoke in dreams to the patriarch Jacob [Genesis 28:11-19], his son Joseph [Genesis 37:5-11], King Solomon [1 Kings 3:5-15; and many of the prophets [Numbers 12:6; Daniel 7].
It’s interesting that the angel addresses Joseph by his genealogy. Had anyone ever called him Joseph son of David before? Because of the meticulously kept family records, he surely knew his own descent from the great patriarch Abraham and King David, but did he readily identify with these two men of promise? God wants to make sure that Joseph now understands what his significance in this story is.
By calling Joseph his genealogical title God is showing that the baby to be born in his family will fulfill the promise made to King David. God further expands on this explanation, assuring Joseph that Mary has not been with another man. She is still a virgin, miraculously carrying God’s own child–which will be born a son.
Now there was no way to know in those days whether a child would be male or female until it was born. So God reveals the gender in order to confirm that what He is saying is true. When the baby is born and really is a boy, Joseph will understand that the dream really was from God and that the child really is the son of God.
Until then, he has to accept the situation on faith alone. But when the truth is fulfilled–the baby is born and Joseph consummates his marriage with Mary and finds she really still is a virgin–then he has a part to play as well. When Joseph’s faith comes to fruition, he will give his God-man stepson the name Jesus to publicly acknowledge his belief in the truth God spoke to him beforehand.
All of us are born with the seed of faith to believe in God and the truth of His Word. When we study and cultivate our relationship with Him, His Word is fulfilled in our lives through salvation, the fruit of the Spirit lived out in us, and blessings. Is your faith coming to fruition? Or is it drying up in the seed of your passing child and teen years?
“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:17-18
We were all designed to love and be loved by the One who is Love [1 John 4:8]. Jesus came, reaching into our finite enmity with God’s infinite love for us [Genesis 3:15].
He didn’t come to condemn us [John 3:17]. Nor did He come to abolish the law that condemns us [Matthew 5:17]. He came in love to save us from our sin. He came to be our peace with God and our peace within [John 14:27; Romans 5:1]. He came, saying, Do not be afraid [Matthew 28:5; Luke 12:4] even though being afraid of the all-powerful holy God is the most sinful-natural feeling there is.
But God’s love is perfect, it is absolute and complete. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice by grace through faith, no punishment, no further consequence need be exacted to right our sin. There’s nothing to be afraid of when we come to God out of our love for Him.
How much more, then, as the forgiven should we be overjoyed and overflowing with God’s love as we deal with our fellow human beings? God so loved everyone that He sent His Son Jesus to die for all of our sins. We can’t and shouldn’t want to keep that a secret! What would happen if Christians didn’t live a life that lights the world with God’s love?
At one time Jesus physically walked on this earth, but before His coming and after His ascension it has been the job of believers to live out God’s love–to be Jesus with skin on while He is at the right hand of the Father preparing a place for us [Mark 16:19; John 14:2-3]. God loves your family every bit as much as you do and infinitely more. He loves your friends and their families. And your neighbors and their neighbors and everyone on the planet throughout all of human history.
But for many of these, you may be the only Jesus they ever meet. You may be the only light of eternal life they ever see, the only love they ever know.
How great is your love for God? Does it overflow into the world around you? Are you a faithful copy of Christ within you?
“Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like His? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” Job 38:32-36
God asks Job so many questions leading up to this moment. Not because He needs Job’s counsel but, in true God fashion, because He wants to instruct him. In response to His own questions, God challenges Job further. Show yourself to be the God Satan told you you could be [Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:14]. Go ahead.
Except that Satan lied, and even Job knows it.
All his life, Job faithfully praised our Creator God. Even when he lost everything and his wife told him just to turn his back on God and die [Job 2:9], Job held firm to his trust in the Almighty. His friends came with less than Godly counsel in his time of greatest loss. And at the end of very long, very judgmental tirades against their buddy, God had something to say.
Show yourself as mighty as I AM. And if you succeed, then you can be your own god. An impossible challenge.
All human strength–whether the might of brawn or sword or schemes–together cannot scratch the omnipotence of God.
Though we can observe God’s steadfast power at work in nature, we can only comply with His laws to maintain the life He created. We cannot create new plants out of nothing. We cannot make plants act other than He designed them to act [i.e. make oak trees grow underwater]. Though we have noted how life reproduces, science can never explain why life generates more life. But God made all things out of nothing [Genesis 1:1]. He designed their every attribute. And He knows the why behind life.
Though we can enjoy the beauty of the sun and stars, for danger of incineration and for sheer distance, we cannot even approach them. But God hung each in place. He knows their blueprint as intimately as He knows each and every one of us [Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7; Hebrews 4:12], and He alone fuels their light.
Though we build ships and airplanes to cross the seas and have circumnavigated the globe and dove to great depths, what human being can control the ocean? God not only reigns it in, regulating its tides, but He dug its depths with a Word.
Every creature, save one, obeys the Creator. Bees pollinate and make honey. Trees and grass scrub carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Cats keep mice populations in check. Ecosystems with their communities and food webs all work together in God’s design. All except for human beings.
We choose not to obey the stewardship commands given at the Creation [Genesis 1:24-26]. We choose not to love God and to love one another as ourselves [Matthew 22:38-29; Mark 12:30-31]. We choose to deny God’s power–though it is evident all around us–in an effort to try to usurp the control for ourselves.
But who are we that God should fear or answer to us?
Does your life flow out of a reverence for God’s omnipotence?