Monday, July 24, 2017

22 Bite-Sized Devotionals

Sometime in 2015, I posted a couple of mini-devotionals in Facebook everyday, for 22 consecutive days.  I recently found their drafts while cleaning up my files, and I decided to post all of them here…

re: Deuteronomy 30:1-10
After relaying the blessings and curses that will fall upon Israelites whenever they obey or disobey, Moses urges them to keep to heart that when the time comes that they find themselves exiled from the Promise Land due to their sins, God is merciful to restore them to Israel and bless them again IF they sincerely repent from their sins, return to the LORD, and obey Him.

God doesn't desire the destruction of His children, His elect. Any "punishment" put upon us that we experience because of our sin is not a punishment per se, but a means for us to be restored. Sanctification is always "trial by fire." Thus, when there are hardships - regardless of if they are consequences of our sin or a trial of faith - we should not be bitter at all, but be thankful of God's love and desire to bring us to holiness, and, thus, be ready of experiencing and enjoying His fellowship.

As application, let's repent everyday and continually ask God to circumcise our hearts (v. 6), so we can be capable of obeying His commands and sincerely loving Him (v.8), that He might delight in us (v. 9).

re: Deuteronomy 30:11-20
Moses summarizes: obedience leads to life and prosperity; disobedience leads to death and destruction.

Obey or disobey. Life or death. Blessing or curse. There is no middle alternative.  So we MUST obey God, since we profess we are Christians.

To a depraved heart, it’s impossible to obey God’s commands. But to those whose hearts are circumcised by God, they are capable of doing so. Circumcised hearts are capable of loving God (Deut. 30:6). And obeying God’s commands comes out from loving God (John 14:15).

Hence, if we are truly children of God, obedience isn’t too difficult or beyond our reach (v. 11). God won’t require or command something from us that is impossible for us to deliver – especially considering the fact that it’s actually God himself who enables us to do it anyway (Philippians 2:13, 4:13).

Application: Obedience doesn’t come naturally to the fallen human nature. Thus, let us continually pray for a changed heart; let’s ask the Holy Spirit everyday to help us in our daily struggle and pursuit for obedience.

re:  Deuteronomy 31:1-8
120-year-old Moses bids farewell. He announces that he won’t be able to lead Israel cross the Jordan River and invade the Promised Land, and his chosen successor is Joshua. He gives words of encouragement to Joshua and the Israelites.

Whatever task that God has commanded us to do, we should just go and obey for He guarantees the victory of it (v. 3-5) – God promises to be with us, to help us, encourage us, and even fight for us (Romans 8:31b, Exodus 14:14, Isaiah 41:10, etc.). When we love Him and obey His commands, He makes sure that everything will work out for our good (Romans 8:28).

And whenever we get discouraged of pressing on, let’s remind ourselves of the reassuring words of verse 6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” Amen!

Let’s relish the fact that God is always with us and will see us through till the end.

re: Deuteronomy 31:9-18
Moses writes down the law and distributes it to the priests. He instructs them to read the law aloud to the people during the Festival of Pentecost. Then, the LORD calls for Moses and Joshua so that He can commission the latter. God foretells that the Israelites will eventually rebel against Him, and they will be punished.

We can never have too much of God’s Word, so it’s necessary for us to always read and listen to it. God’s Word will teach us to fear God (v. 13). Fearing God is the other side of the same coin as loving God – they go hand and hand; they will both enable us to honor Him by obeying his commandments. Someone who fears the LORD takes delight in His commandments (Psalm 112:1); and when someone delights in His commandments, he desires to obey and keep them (Psalm 119:33-35).

Thus, it’s important that we regularly read and meditate on the Word of God. For by it, we will learn to fear God, so that we’ll avoid sinning against Him (Psalm 119:11) and incur His righteous anger (v. 17).

re: Romans 8:18-25
This passage is very encouraging and comforting. It’s a message of hope that will definitely help us endure all the anguish and problems and misery and persecutions we experience while living in this world, particularly those which result from being a Christian. Whatever the magnitude of our pain here on earth, the pleasure that awaits in Heaven will infinitely make up for it. Compared to the weight of glory that God has prepared for us to enjoy in Heaven for eternity, a lifetime of suffering in this temporal world should be immaterial. The deeper we understand and appreciate this truth – the deeper we comprehend how fleeting this world is and how supremely valuable God’s heavenly rewards are – the more intense our resolve will be in keeping our faith, no matter how vicious the suffering we currently experience.

So we shouldn’t lose heart. Let’s not focus on this world, but focus towards what lies Beyond all of these. And up until the point of death, let’s be faithful. It’s all going to be worth it.

re: Deuteronomy 31:19-29
After God delivers His prediction about the Israelites’ eventual descent to disobedience and idolatry, He asks Moses to write it in song and teach it to the Israelites, so that it will serve as a testimony against them when that time comes. Moses commands the Levites to place the Book of the Law beside the ark of the covenant of God.

The Word of God serves as a “witness” against us to indicate our sin. Let us always turn to Scripture with a humble heart, embrace its instructions and rebuke, and let it compel us to daily repentance. Let’s consciously revere the Word of God, and keep it in our hearts so that we may be victorious in our daily struggles against sin (Psalm 119:11).

re: Deuteronomy 31:20–32:12
Moses sings to the Israelites. He appeals to heaven and earth to serve as witnesses, and likens his instruction to raindrops. He first declares God as faithful and mighty, and then lambasts the Israelites for acting as if they’re not God’s chosen people, God’s children, and forgetting His gracious acts.

Let’s never forget how God has shown us grace and mercy, and how he has redeemed and blessed us. Let’s not dare to be ungrateful. To free us from the bondage of sin, Christ had to die on the cross. So we shouldn’t dishonor this great sacrifice by turning back to sin.

Let’s always remind ourselves of how God has been good to us.

And let’s always humbly accept His instructions. Like rain, there are times when God’s Word is a cool and refreshing drizzle (encouragement), and there are times it’s a thundery and vicious downpour (rebuking). Either way, let’s welcome it, for it will clean and revive our spirits as we engage in our daily battles against sin.

re: Deuteronomy 32:13–25
God blesses the Israelites, and they become prosperous. But the Israelites turn to other gods. God contemplates of pouring His wrath on them. For the nth time, the Israelites are warned what will befall on them when they turn to idolatry.

God abhors sin. However, to His children, He is slow to anger (Numbers 14:18, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8). He never fails in giving ample warnings, and is gradual in proceeding with His judgment – He makes known His displeasure first (v.20-21) before sending out actual destruction (v.22-25).

Let’s be thankful that our God is patient with us, and prefers our repentance over giving punishment (2 Peter 3:9b). But let’s also considerably consider the fact that God is Holy. He can’t stand sin. And his unrestrained wrath will eventually pour on the stubbornly unrepentant (Proverbs 29:1).

Let’s make it a habit to repent from our sins everyday, and ask God to reveal his profound holiness more deeply to us, that we might not dare continually sinning.

re: Deuteronomy 32:26-35
The Israelites are so rebellious and ungrateful that God considers wiping them out – erasing any trace of them from history. However, He doesn’t want to give the enemies of Israel the opportunity to boast and take credit for themselves if Israel falls. God asserts that vengeance and passing judgment are exclusively His – that nothing will come to pass without Him allowing it. To think otherwise is utter foolishness.

Indeed, God is sovereign over all things. As what’s affirmed on the account of Job, our enemies can’t harm us unless God permits them to do so – in order that a greater good can come out of it (Romans 8:28). Let’s trust on His omniscient wisdom and take comfort that He is in absolute control of all things (Psalm 135:6, Job 42:2, Isaiah 45:7, etc.).

Thus, when God allows dire circumstances to fall upon us, let’s not presume that God has abandoned us, but instead, let’s humbly seek His will. And on times that during our suffering our sins are exposed to us, let’s not be bitter and resentful; instead, let’s quickly fall on our knees and repent.

Furthermore, if we believe these things above, we won’t anymore have vengeful hearts whenever people hurt or offend us – God is simply using them for a deeper purpose. So let’s just surrender everything to His impeccable sense of justice (Job 34:12, Psalm 9:7-8).

re: Deuteronomy 32:36-43
There’s only one true God, and idols are unable to help the Israelites in their afflictions. It’s only God that is capable of removing them from their suffering and avenging them against their enemies. God promises to bring justice to His people, and of it He’s worthy of praise.

In the end, our idols – money, fame, power, friends, family, sin, entertainment, gadgets, or anything that we put above God in our lives – won’t do any good to us in eventual matters of significance.

Any joy invested on them will fade, and they will have no value to us when we die and face judgment. It’s only in God where we can find supreme, unfading joy; and it’s only Christ who can save us from our sins and from experiencing eternal torment in Hell.

In response, let’s put our hope in the Lord alone… and rejoice! (v. 43).

re: Deuteronomy 32:44-52
After Moses and Joshua finish declaring the song to crowds of Israelites, the former urges them to keep in their hearts the words they have heard and teach them to their children (v.46). Afterwards, God instructs Moses to go up Mt. Nebo, where he will die. Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land for disobeying God at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh (Numbers 20:1-13); however, he will be granted a glimpse of it from Nebo (v. 52).

Submission to the Word of God is of vast importance for it brings life (v. 47). It is parallel to what Jesus said in Matthew 19:17: “…if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments." And Jesus Christ himself is the Word personified (John 1:1), the only way to eternal life. Thus, we must believe in him (John 3:16). Nevertheless, though eternal life can ONLY be had through faith in Jesus Christ, obeying God’s commandments is still a necessity, NOT because it’s the means to salvation, but because it’s the evidence that our faith in Christ is genuine (James 2:14-26, Matthew 7:21, 1 John 2:17).

Let’s re-affirm in our hearts that we are saved solely because of Jesus Christ. And let’s keep our faith by pursuing obedience to God’s Word at all times.

Disobedience, even if it’s just one time, may prove too costly, as what Moses himself learned (Numbers 20:1-13). Even though he had been generally obedient to God, because of his failure to honor God at Meribah-Kadesh (v. 51), he was disallowed from entering the Promised Land. Nevertheless, Moses still serves as a prime example of man that had a life of devoted obedience to God. He was faithful to God, even though he was constantly surrounded by a grumbling, ungrateful, and hard-headed people. Thus, God honored Moses. He was at “first name basis” (i.e. intimate relationship) with the LORD, and is acknowledged as “Israel’s Greatest Prophet” (Deut. 34:10). At the transfiguration of Christ, he shared the honor with Elijah to stand beside him. And, most importantly, he is now surely enjoying the fellowship of God for all eternity in Heaven (there’s no greater honor than that!).

Let’s emulate Moses’ faithfulness, and enjoy God forever.

re: Deuteronomy 33:1-11
After first reminding the Israelites how majestic (v.2) and loving (v.3) God is, Moses starts declaring blessings to the tribes of Israel. To Reuben: the preservation of the tribe (v.6). To Judah: that God would hear their prayers, success, and victory over their enemies (v.7). To Levi: the commission to minister in holy things – judging the people and teaching the law (v.8-11).

God’s blessing on His children, His elect, is always a certain thing. But it requires submission to God’s commandments (v. 3). Blessing comes out of obedience. It’s a recurring theme in Deuteronomy, and we are reminded of it once again in this passage.

However, oftentimes, our definition of blessing isn’t in accordance with how God puts it. We often associate “blessing” with worldly standards. Thus, we fail to see how much God has been blessing us in the most important aspects in our lives; we fail to desire and pursue heavenly blessings (John 6:27).

In our passage today, the blessings on Reuben, Judah, and Levi also apply to us modern Christians – the “spiritual Israelites.” Like Reuben, we are being preserved (Romans 8:37-39, John 17:11-12). Like Judah, God is hearing our prayers (1 John 5:14), and we have success (Proverbs 16:3, Matt. 25:23, John 16:33) and have victory over our enemies (1 Cor. 15:55-57, 2 Cor. 4:7-12, Romans 16:20). Like Levi, we are given the honor of being His priests (1 Peter 2:9, Rev. 1:6) and teach others about God’s commands (Titus 2, Matt. 28:19-20).

Application: Let’s not miss out of the best that God has intended for us, so we should continually submit to God’s Word and be motivated by heavenly rewards rather than temporal benefits (Philippians 3:7-14), and let’s be thankful always.

re: Deuteronomy 33:12-21
Moses continues to bless the tribes. To Benjamin: divine protection (v.12). To Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim): that their land will become rich and plenty – consistently having great harvests (v.13-17). To Zebulon and Issachar: success in trade on sea and other lands (v. 18-19). To Gad: expanded territories (v. 20-21).

God blesses His children differently. But He does not do so in an inequitable manner even if it seems otherwise in our eyes. Being the sovereign God that He is, He has the supreme prerogative to grant, distribute, or hold back blessings as He deems good; thus, we have no right of accusing God of being unfair (Matt. 20:2-15).

He blesses us in a way that is, in accordance with His omniscient wisdom, appropriate and best for us. Besides, being faithful with what God has entrusted to us is what really matters, not the kind or amount of blessings we have (Matt. 25:13-40). Thus, let’s not be envious of other’s blessings, but instead be thankful of the blessings we have. And instead of comparing, let’s just focus on using whatever blessings we have to glorify God in the best way we can.

re: Deuteronomy 33:22-29
Moses continues to bless the tribes. To Dan: comparison to a young lion (v. 22). To Naphtali: abundance of favor and blessing from the LORD (v. 23). To Asher: many children, goodwill with people around them, and a land rich of oil and precious metals (v.24-25). Then Moses wraps it up by reminding everyone again that there is none like God, that He is mighty, and the people of Israel can trust Him to bless and protect them (v. 26-29).

Indeed, there’s only one true God. Hence, it’s only through Him and in Him will we ever obtain genuinely substantial gains – eternal life, happiness, satisfaction, peace, protection, help, etc. – which we can’t ever find in other “gods” – in modern times, these would be money, career, fame, power, property, entertainment, gadgets, or any other things that modern people tend to show devotion to.

Contemplating on the mere truth that God lives should give us profound comfort and joy. It’s really a great honor and blessing to have Him as OUR God (v. 29). And for this, He deserves our utmost praise and devotion.

re: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
It’s the wrap up of Deuteronomy. Moses climbs Mt. Nebo, God shows him the boundaries of the Promised Land, and dies at 120 years old. The Israelites mourn him for 30 days. Joshua takes over and leads them into the Promised Land.

Moses is an estimable, great man of God. He is described as someone “whom the LORD knew face to face.” He had a 24/7 access to God and was spoken to directly by God – not through dreams or visions, as most other prophets had experienced. He had an intimate relationship with God that had been unparalleled by subsequent prophets.

With the exception of Jesus, of course. No matter how deep Moses’ relationship with God was, Jesus’ intimacy and familiarity with God go much deeper (John 17) – incomparably deeper! He is God’s only Son after all. During Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-11), in which Moses stood by his side, God declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Indeed, there's no doubt that Moses is a very admirable man. But Jesus is infinitely superior; as further affirmed by Hebrews 3:1-6, Moses was faithful as a servant, but Jesus as a Son.

The praiseworthy qualities that we find and admire about our earthly heroes – whether they are real-life, historical, biblical, or even fictional – are mere shadows being cast by the supremely admirable characteristics of Jesus Christ. Any appealing and good qualities we see in others are ultimately found perfected in Jesus. No hero can hold a candle to the majesty of Jesus.

Jesus is our ultimate standard. Jesus is our ultimate role model. Jesus is our ultimate hero.

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. And let’s trace and project the good and praiseworthy things that we find admirable in others toward our awe and admiration of Christ.

re: Hebrews 1:1-7
In the Old Testament times, God communicated His will to Men through the prophets. But when Jesus Christ came to the world, he served as the final and full revelation of God. After Him, we should expect no new revelations, but only a greater understanding on what has already been revealed in the Gospel, as guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should stay away from those who claim to have received rectified, “ground-breaking” messages from God (which actually contradict Scripture) – they are false teachers.

Furthermore, the passage gives us a superb picture of the glory and authority of Christ, which are equated to that of God the Father (just one of the many affirmations in the Bible that Jesus is God). Christ is the true image and character of the person of the Father. So in beholding Christ’s attributes, we behold the Father for they have the same nature (v.3), and they are One (John 10:30).

Let us desire to know Christ more and more, that we may know the Father more and more (John 14:7). And let’s be thrilled and thankful that Jesus Christ himself desires and guarantees to make the Father known to us, so that we can experience in ourselves His presence and intense love (John 17:25-26).

re: Hebrews 1:8-14
Christ is superior to angels; they were created to worship and serve Him (Heb. 1:6). And their service to Him in this world is to serve those whom He has saved (v.14). Isn’t it an amazing privilege to be served by hands which have served the King of Kings?

But this is just one aspect of the honor we receive through Christ as God’s adopted children (Gal. 3:26, 29). Though we aren’t – and will never be – equals of Christ, He has nonetheless acknowledged us to be His brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:50, Heb. 2:11), as God has acknowledged us to be His children (1 John 3:1-2), that He has generously shared His glory to us (John 17:22). Isn’t this mind-blowing?

As response, in accordance to what Romans 8:17 teaches, as “God’s heirs and joint-heirs with Christ”, we then should be ready to share with Christ’s suffering in order to partake with Christ’s glory. In addition, Romans 8:18 assures us that the eternal glory we’ll receive will far outweigh the temporal sufferings we need to endure in this world as we do Christ’s will on earth.

So, everyday, let’s pursue holy lives and give our best for the expansion of His Kingdom, despite the hardships that come with them. And let’s take heart, for not only will Christ summon angels to help us (v. 14), but He also promised that He’s always going to be with us till the end of age (Matt. 20:20).

re: Hebrews 2:1-4
Chapter 2 of Hebrews starts with “therefore.” It means that with Chapter 1 as premise – the assertion and celebration that Jesus Christ is God’s final and glorious revelation – the author calls for application.

The passage tells us that we must treasure and diligently pay attention (v.1) to the Word of God, which is personified in Christ. And listening to God’s Word in Jesus is something that needs to be taken seriously; we can’t be laid-back and sloppy about it for the stakes are high. It’s a matter of keeping the faith or drifting away (v.1). And if we don’t listen to Jesus, we are neglecting salvation (v.3). Moreover, failure to heed His Words results to punishment (v.2).

This is simply what distinguishes a genuinely born-again Christian from the rest of the world. A Christian heeds His Words, for he or she recognizes the supreme value of Christ. Thus, a genuine born-again Christian eagerly listens to Christ (as Mary did in Luke 10:38-42), and he or she obeys His instructions because he or she loves Him (John 14:15).

Therefore, if we truly are Christians and sincerely love Jesus, we should diligently listen to Him everyday by faithfully reading our Bible, and then apply His instructions to our daily living.

re: Hebrews 2:5-10
After already discussing Jesus’ superior excellence above angels in Chapter 1, the writer of Hebrews returns to the topic again and expounds on it further (v.5). The Father wants Jesus, not the angels, to be honored, thus, it was Him that was sent to the world to be humbled and suffer death in place of God’s elect, in order to be rewarded with immense glory. Now, because it is Christ who redeemed this world, when the time comes that it will be finally glorified, it will be in absolute subjection under Him (v.8).

Jesus will return someday, and he will come back – no longer as a baby in a manger – but the King of Kings (Rev. 17:14, 19:16). And Christ has shared to us the glory that He received from the Father (John 17:22), and, thus, on that day, we will reign with Him, if we endure now (2 Tim. 2:12).

So let us endure and fix our eyes on Jesus, not on the suffering on this world. The pains we now experience on this world for His sake will pass; the honor that He has prepared for us is eternal and outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

re: Hebrews 3:1-6
Both Jesus and Moses are faithful, but the writer emphatically declares the former’s superiority (v. 2-3). By using Moses – who was the greatest prophet during the Old Testament – as benchmark, and using a clear analogy of a house – in which Jesus is the builder and Moses is the servant – we see why Jesus is worthy of greater glory.

God’s house means Christ’s church – us. He is the Maker of this household we belong in, and we are his servants, just as Moses is. And any glory we accomplish for God’s house as partakers of a heavenly calling (v.1), Jesus is always behind it. Hence, He deserves all the honor and praise.

As response, we “hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (v.6). Hoping for a future heavenly glory, rather than being contented with worldly benefits, is the proof that we are part of God’s house. Genuine belief is manifested by understanding and appreciating the supreme value of Christ, thus, if we are truly of God’s household, we fix our thoughts on Jesus and consider Him always (v.1).

Let’s invest ourselves completely in Jesus, and praise Him everyday for what He has done in our lives.

re: Hebrews 3:7-13
The writer of Hebrews quotes a passage from Psalm 95 to remind the brethren of what happened to the rebellious Israelites that weren’t able to enter the Promised Land. And why weren’t they able to enter the Promised Land? The obvious answer is that they have sinned and rebelled against God (v. 8). But it goes deeper than that. The core of the matter is the unbelief in their hearts and their inability to conform to God’s ways (v. 10). This is further emphatically affirmed in the last verse (v. 19) of Chapter 3. Hence, chronic sinning in the face of God’s goodness and mercy (v. 9) is an indication of unbelief.

We, by ourselves, are incapable of changing our hardened hearts internally. God is the only one capable of renewing hearts (Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:9, 36:26). Thus, we pray to Him for it (Psalm 51:10). A changed heart will enable us to love God (Deuteronomy 30:6), and when we love God, we will be motivated to obey His commands (John 14:15).

Moreover, the passage also introduces one vital feature of the Church that God has provided to protect His saints from having hardened hearts: the members of the Church giving and receiving faith-sustaining encouragements from each other (v.12-13). Thus, it is essential to every believer to belong to a Christ-exalting, Bible-nourished Christian community.

As application, let us affectionately look out for each other’s faith, and attend each week's services dutifully. Most importantly, whenever we feel that our faith is faltering, we must turn to Jesus and confess, "Lord, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

re: Hebrews 3:14-19
According to verse 14, the holding of our original conviction firmly to the very end will prove that a real born-again moment – that is, we became partakers of Christ – had occurred to us. This is often mixed up and mistakenly interpreted as to become “partakers of Christ”, we are required to first “hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” However, if we carefully read the passage, it says, “We ARE MADE partakers of Christ” and not “We WILL BE made partakers of Christ.” It has already happened. It’s not a future happening. Therefore, it means that if we have held the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end, then it’s because we have become partakers of Christ.

Verses 16 to 18 then asks a series of rhetorical questions to describe those who won’t partake in Christ, which verse 19 determines as those who are unbelieving.

So as 2 Cor. 13:5 tells us, let’s seriously evaluate if our lives matches the characteristics of someone that has genuine faith (per 2 Cor. 5:17) or if it matches the attitude of the Israelites in the wilderness. And let’s put our hope in God, who promises to faithfully sanctify His elect thoroughly till the end (1 Thes. 5:23-24).

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