The Culture of God’s Nation

Daily Devotional: Day 139

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances” (Leviticus 18:2-3, NKJV).

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt, His purpose was to make Israel His chosen nation, separated from the nations of the world (cf. Exodus 19:1-6). And, that is what He did. To make His plan work, He painstakingly gave them a unique identity through a set of commandments and the ministry of priests and prophets. What makes every nation unique is its laws, customs, history and culture. To be God’s chosen nation, Israel, too, needed its own God-given culture, customs and laws to set it apart from other nations. The formation of Israel’s identity as God’s people wasn’t easy. But it did eventually take shape.

With this background, let’s get into today’s Bible passage. God’s instruction to the Israelites is clear. He identifies two nations and warns His people not to imitate them: Egypt and Canaan. The Israelites had been in Egypt for about four hundred years, so they were well acquainted with Egyptian religion, life and culture. God didn’t want to take any chances. Being under pagan influence for four hundred years, the Israelites had a lot to unlearn and much to learn about becoming citizens of Jehovah’s nation.

Ungodly experiences or habits from your past, if not adequately dealt with, can carry over into your present life and hinder you from being set apart unto God for holiness. Don’t ignore your past as though it never existed. Identify anything from your past which still seems to adversely affect your present life, face it squarely, and by the power of God’s grace, deal with it once and for all.

In addition to Israel’s past contact with Egypt, the Lord also warned Israel about its future contact with the land of Canaan. When you are planning a future move, don’t walk blindly into a situation. It is important to pray, plan and research about the move, and understand how you will live in the new environment while staying true to God. 

As Christians, we should know that the practices of Egypt and Canaan are alive and well in nearly every culture around the world today. Our only protection is to listen to God and not copy blindly. In the Old Testament, we see that the main reason for Israel’s downfall was the fact that they borrowed the pagan practices of the surrounding cultures. As God’s people, we have a culture of our own dictated by the Lord. It is a culture of holiness and righteousness. No matter where we dwell, let’s remember that we are citizens of God’s holy nation. Let’s not be polluted by the ungodly practices around us. 

May the Lord let His face shine on you and your family today! Amen.

For further study: Leviticus 18:1-30

Change Begins Today

Daily Devotional: Day 97

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years’” (Hebrews 3:7-9, NKJV).

Today’s Scripture reading is referencing Psalm 95:7-9.

During the forty years Israel walked with God in the desert, many of the people rebelled against God. The rebellion was primarily in the form of disobedience and lack of trust. Of course, if you can’t trust the Lord, you can’t walk with Him. Many Israelites perished in the desert because of their stubbornness and unbelief.

What everyone ought to realize is that God and His Word are inseparable. If you trust God, it means you trust the words that come out of His mouth. And the way you show that you trust His Words is by obeying His commandments. Think about it: Why would you obey someone you don’t trust? Or why would you disobey someone you trust? Trust and obedience, therefore, go hand in hand.

The biggest obstacle to God’s Word is hardness of heart. When the heart is hardened, a person always looks for an excuse to ignore the voice of God or to postpone his decision to obey God. Hardness of heart is a serious spiritual disease that can frustrate God and jeopardize one’s salvation. That is why in today’s passage, the Holy Spirit warns us as he did the Israelites, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts . . .”

One day, Saul, the first king of Israel, disobeyed the voice of God. In response, here is what the prophet Samuel said, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). When God compares disobedience to witchcraft and idolatry, we need to pay attention.

Decide today: If you need to abandon a sinful lifestyle, the decision to do so is today, not tomorrow. Why repent tomorrow when you can repent today? If you need to start attending church, the decision is today, not tomorrow. If you need to trust in Jesus for salvation, today is your day. If you must start honoring your parents, the time is now.

Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of change. Today is the day of decision. If you ignore God’s voice today, tomorrow may be too late. Train yourself through study of the Bible to hear God’s voice. And when you do hear His voice, take prompt action. God bless you. Amen.

Prayer:

Dear Father, thank you for your Word today. Remove from my heart every resistance to you, and by your Holy Spirit, enable me to obey your voice. In the Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen. 

For further study: Hebrews 3:1-19

Eyes on the Cross

Daily Devotional: Day 96

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him [Jesus], saw that He [Jesus] had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5, NKJV).

Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish authorities. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, he chose to die a coward. It is bad enough to sin against Jesus, but it is worse if you disqualify yourself from Jesus’ mercy. You need courage and humility to face the Cross. Why? Because on the Cross you see the cost of your sin; but more importantly, you see an innocent, loving and merciful Savior who died that you might live. Judas did not turn to the Cross; instead, he turned to himself and ended up in the grave. When you sin, the last thing you want to do is to turn to yourself. You should turn immediately to the Cross, look Jesus in the eye and you shall obtain grace and mercy.

 When I say ‘Cross,’ I am not referring to a piece of wood, metal or plastic, the work of human hands. If you turn in prayer to a man-made object called ‘cross,’ that is idolatry. Remember that God is Spirit, and the power of the Cross is a spiritual reality that is present to you anytime, anywhere; it is not associated with any object made with human hands.

Strictly speaking, Judas did not repent, because true repentance leads you to Jesus; it does not lead you away from Him. Judas felt bad for himself, but did not see the point of turning to God for mercy. He didn’t realize that the Innocent Blood which he betrayed was the same Blood that could have saved him from his sin.

Judas made the right confession to the wrong people. To the chief priests, he confessed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” The chief priests could care less. Judas should have turned to Jesus instead. The truth is, no man can save you from your sin; not even yourself. God alone can. Therefore, to Him, and to Him alone, should you turn for mercy. If you have hurt people, it is important that you apologize. But no matter what you have done or how horrible you feel, turning to the Cross is your antidote. No one can turn to the Cross for you. It’s your call.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, I repent of all my sins. I turn to you for mercy and grace. Cleanse me with your precious Blood and fill me with your Holy Spirit. Make me new and set me apart as a vessel of honor. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

For further study: Numbers 24:4-9 and John 3:14-18

Breaking Free of Idolatry

Daily Devotional: Day 91

“He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4, NKJV).

In the Bible, one of the greatest sources of contention between Yahweh and Israel was  the practice of idolatry. From the time God brought them from Egypt, Israel often gave in to the seductive power of idolatry. The problem grew worse especially after the reign of king Solomon. Many of the prophets spoke against it – to no avail. Of all the kings of Israel and Judah after Solomon, only two fully obeyed God’s command to destroy all idolatrous sacred objects and shrines: kings Hezekiah and Josiah.

Today’s Scripture tells us that soon after Hezekiah became King of Judah, he tore down all the high places and religious objects of pagan origin, including even the bronze serpent God asked Moses to make in Numbers 21:4-9; because, as the Bible says, up to Hezekiah’s time, the Israelites had been burning incense to it. The “high places” refer to dedicated pagan shrines and worship centers that were used for serving foreign gods alongside the true worship of God in Jerusalem.

In fact, before the Israelites set foot on the Promised Land, God strictly commanded them: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things” (Deuteronomy 12:2-4).

In my native language, there’s a saying that “The tree which, if allowed to grow, can pierce you, it is not enough to chop down a piece of it; you must uproot it.” God hates idolatry in all its forms, including the practice of praying in front of man-made images or “sacred religious objects.” God’s command is unambiguous: Utterly destroy all things that compete with worship of the one true God.

Idols and “high places” we need to tear down include, but are not limited to, the statues and images we have created for prayer and worship purposes, amulets, charms, magical objects, occult practices, divination, psychic reading, casting spells, etc. 

If you have your own “high places” and sacred objects which you have incorporated into the worship of the one true God, you have a decision to make. By the power of the Holy Spirit I pray you’ll repent and gather the courage to get rid of them. Remember: God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24).

Prayer:

Dear Father, I live to honor and worship you alone. In the Name of Jesus, I surrender and reject anything in my life that competes with your true worship. Amen.

For further study: Acts 19:18-41

Pray Like the Father’s Child

Daily Devotional: Day 67

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6, NKJV).

Knowing that God hears your prayer is liberating and refreshing. This confidence is made possible by faith, which is itself a gift from God. Jesus speaks to us today about praying like children of the Father. Many people pray, but not everyone prays like a child of God. Jesus noticed that some people of his day had turned prayer into a public show. These were Jewish leaders of his time. They loved to stand in public places and on street corners to pray, so that people would notice them. Essentially, they had turned prayer into self-worship. The point is, anytime you’re seeking to be the center of attention, you’re seeking to be worshiped. It’s the point where the ego asserts itself over all other considerations. It’s insecurity and pride that often drive people to this kind of behavior. This phenomenon can occur in all spheres of life, including the worship of God. This is what Jesus observed in his day and wanted to correct.

Prayer is an act of worship. And the Father commands all worship to be directed to him, because he alone is God (See Exodus 20:1-6). Nevertheless, we know that some people love to be the center of attention and be worshiped. Jesus wants us Christians to be different. When we pray, Jesus wants us to worship God in truth by not drawing attention to ourselves, but to direct all attention and glory to our Father in heaven. He instructs us to enter the Father’s secret place and focus our prayer on him alone. God rewards prayerbut he doesn’t reward prayer directed to anything or anyone that is not God. As we overcome our insecurities and pride, we’ll pray with the confidence and sincerity of God’s children. And the Father shall reward us.

Prayer:

Daddy, thank you for sending your Son to save us and to teach us your truth. Teach me to direct all my prayer to you alone, for you alone are God. Fill me with confidence to know that you’re all I need. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Acts 12:1-23