Practical Holiness (Nov 15)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 15

Practical Holiness 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 122:1-9 | Ezekiel 31:1 – 32:32 | Hebrews 12:14-29 | Proverbs 27:18-20

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 12:14-29

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV).

As Christians, we are called to a life of holiness. But what does that mean? To some it might bring images of life in a monastery rejecting all worldly things to spend the rest of my life in prayer and solitude. To others, it means a rigid life of keeping rules and trying hard. Many of our images of holiness suggest a joyless existence–rigid and austere. But that is not the picture of holiness that the Bible gives.

Holiness is becoming more and more like Jesus: More loving, more joyful, more of a peacemaker, more kind and gentle with others, more patient. Far from a joyless existence, holiness is “life lived to the full,” a life of wholeness and balance. It means becoming a person that lives with a clear sense of purpose. Living a holy life should be a passionate, full adventurous life lived to the glory of God.

The greatest test of our progress in holiness is this: how do I get along with other people? Do you see the connection in our text? “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and be holy.” In practical terms, our growth in holiness is tested and proved through relationships with others.

So how are you doing? Take the time to open your heart to Jesus everyday through prayer and meditating on His word. Spending time with Christ has a way of bringing transformation from the inside out that begins to be seen more and more in your daily life and especially in dealing with people. As you take the time to read and pray, His character and priorities begin to rub off a little more each day.

Heavenly Father, help me to walk in holiness and live in peace with others. May the character of Jesus be reflected in all I do and say today. So Lord, fill me with your Spirit and produce the fruit of your Spirit in my life. Amen.

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Keep Running (Nov 14)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 14

Keep Running 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 121:1-8 | Ezekiel 29:1 – 30:26 | Hebrews 11:32-12:13 | Proverbs 27:17

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 11:32-12:13

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2 NIV).

The life of faith is a marathon requiring great determination and endurance. The race is filled with difficulties. The heroes of faith at the end of chapter 11 sacrificed much for their faith–sometimes everything.

I suppose we all have times when we feel tired and weary and are tempted to quit. In those times we are, in essence, told by the writer, “Don’t give up, keep running, persevere to the end; keep your eye on the finish line.”

Like it or not, God uses the difficulties of life to test our faith. In those times we “fix our eyes on Jesus” and refuse to give up. We rely on his strength to carry us through to the finish line.

Even Jesus went through such times, and he focused on the “joy set before him.” He looked to the ultimate purpose, the reward that awaited him as he faithfully and patiently endured the pain and shame of the cross.

Don’t give up. Keep running. Your faith is being tested, but that is not a reason to stop or give up. It is a reason for you to look to Jesus for that added measure of faith that will carry you through.

Father God, I run to you today. Strengthen my faith and keep me focused on the joy that is set before me as I persevere through this time of trial. Empower me by your Spirit and enable me to run with endurance until I reach this journey’s end. Amen.

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Faith That Passes the Test

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 13

Faith That Passes the Test

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 120:1-7 | Ezekiel 27:1-28:26 | Hebrews 11:17-31 | Proverbs 27:15-16

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 11:17-31

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30 NIV).

Your faith will be tested. For Abraham it was a test of “willingness.” Would he be willing to sacrifice his only son even though it made no earthly sense and seemed to contradict everything he knew about God and his promise?

Joseph’s faith was tested in numerous ways. Abandoned by his brothers, imprisoned, forgotten and betrayed. He saw the promise, but it seemed to always be delayed by the circumstances he was in. Finally though, his faith was rewarded.

Moses faced innumerable tests of faith in leading the reluctant, often rebellious, children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Leadership can be a big test of one’s faith.

Imagine the test of faith of crossing the Red Sea. Imagine the joy of seeing that faith rewarded.

What of the test of faith at Jericho? Could seven days of marching around a city really result in its fall? Facing our doubts and unbelief is a major test of our faith.

And those are only a few examples of faith being tested. You could add many stories as well, couldn’t you?

In all the tests, God shows that he is faithful and that he can be trusted. Hang in there. Keep pressing on. You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but God will be with you each step of the way. Trust Him.

Father, thank you for the reminder of your faithfulness. Help me to press on and persevere even in the midst of the trials I am facing. I don’t always understand your ways, but I do trust you. I march forward now, waiting for walls to fall. Amen.

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Even When We Don’t Know Where We Are Going (Nov 12)

November 12

Even When We Don’t Know Where We Are Going 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 119:169-176 | Ezekiel 24:1-26:21 | Hebrews 11:1-16 | Proverbs 27:14

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 11:1-16

By faith, Abraham . . . obeyed and went, even though he didn’t know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8, NIV).

Faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (1). “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (6). It is the foundation for all of our life as Christians. But it isn’t always easy.

Often we find ourselves in the same place as Abraham who obeyed and went even though he didn’t know where he was going. Often faith requires us to “walk in the dark.” God gives us just enough to light to know the next step and then we must take it.

Steps of obedience when we aren’t quite sure where they may lead us: this is the path of Abraham. It is the path of faith. It is a path that we all find familiar.

We wish that God would give a detailed map of the journey ahead before we set out. He seems to prefer to give us just a clue to the next step of the journey. And when he does, he expects and delights in our obedience.

When you aren’t exactly sure where you are headed, or how you are going to get there, remember Abraham. He obeyed and went even when he didn’t know where he was going. We obey our way out of places of confusion and indecision. By doing the next thing we know we should do, God opens another door calling for another step of obedience. Often with just enough light to take the next step, we obey.

Sometimes you stub your toe, you might even fall. But know that he is with you when you walk in the dark. He will pick you up when you fall. Walking in the dark isn’t easy, but it helps our faith to grow. It also brings the smile of your heavenly Father. He is pleased by your faith. Hang in there. Take another step. Know that He is there and that He is pleased with your steps of obedience and faith.

Father, once again today I choose to take steps of obedience even though I don’t know where those steps will take me—or what opportunities they will provide. Teach me to trust you when the next step is hard to see and when the path ahead looks difficult. Be with me and pick me up if I stumble. Amen.

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Spurs of Encouragement (Nov 11)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 11

Spurs of Encouragement

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 119:161-168 | Ezekiel 23:1-49 | Hebrews 10:18-39 | Proverbs 27:13

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 10:18-39

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. [25] Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV).

We all need encouraging words. Often those words of encouragement are ones that we want to hear such as a word of hope when we are going through a tough time; a word of affirmation when we are discouraged. Yet, encouragement doesn’t always mean flowery words of praise for another. Sometimes encouragement requires a spur–a painful poke in our backside that spurs us on to action.

Anyone whosever seen a “Western” movie remembers the cowboy with spurs on the back of his boots. When it’s time to get the horse moving, he gives a jab of the spurs and the horse is off and running full speed in no time.

Sometimes we all need to be spurred on. We need the encouraging words that move us beyond apathy and complacency to a full gallop toward the goal.

It’s reckless to get too busy for church–to give up on meeting together. You need the words of encouragement. You need the fellowship. Sometimes you need the spurs.

Do you know someone who is drifting? Complacent? Growing tired in the race and tempted to give up? God has given you the responsibility of spurring them on toward love and good deeds.

Now don’t go overboard. The spur is meant to prod, not to cause permanent hurt. In the hands of the wrong person, a spur can have a detrimental effect. So our attempts to spur on others to love and good deeds can have a detrimental effect when we aren’t loving and tactful.

Encourage one another daily. When necessary, use spurs.

Heavenly Father, let me hold unswervingly to the hope I profess, knowing that you are faithful to your promises. Help me to spur others on toward love and good deeds. Fill my heart with longing to gather with other believers to worship, and encourage each other through fellowship. Amen.

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Standing in the Gap (Nov 10)

November 10

Standing in the Gap 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 119:153-160 | Ezekiel 21:1-22:31 | Hebrews 10:1-17 | Proverbs 27:12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 21:1-22:31

I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none (Ezekiel 22:30 NIV).

What a haunting verse. I was looking for an intercessor, a prayer warrior, someone to stand in the gap, but I found none.

God accomplishes his kingdom purposes through the prayers of his people. The role of the intercessor–the one who stands in the gap–is not to be underestimated in the accomplishment of God’s plan.

Moses stood in the gap on behalf of Israel earlier–and God spared them. But in Ezekiel’s day there was no one who like Moses could intercede on their behalf. How incredibly sad.

What about for your church? Your nation? The peoples of this world? Is there someone to stand in the gap?

God is raising up an army of intercessors for these days. The work of proclaiming the gospel to each people group is ongoing, but there is much work to be done. Some are enlisted to go and preach. Others will do the equally hard and important work of intercession. Some will labor on the fields, others will stand in the gap on their behalf doing battle on their knees.

Don’t underestimate the importance and need of intercession. God is looking for those who will stand in the gap in this day. May he never be able to say, “I looked for someone to stand in the gap and I found none.”

Lord, here I am. Help me to be sensitive to the prayer burdens you give. Help me to persevere in prayer to see your will accomplished. Help me to watch and pray. For your glory. Amen.

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Once for All (Nov 9)

November 9

Once For All 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 119:145-152 | Ezekiel 20:1-49 | Hebrews 9:11-28 | Proverbs 27:11

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 9:11-28

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28 NIV).

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people. It was a most holy event and not taken lightly. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22).

Jesus came with a better sacrifice: himself. He had lived a perfect, sinless life. He was the perfect Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. In his one time, once for all act of dying on the cross, Jesus made atonement for all our sins for all time.

Our writer puts it this way: For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:24-26, NIV).

Jesus will come again one day. This time is focus will not be to bear sin. This time he will come once for all to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Yes, we’ve tasted it, life eternal and abundant. But in that day, we will experience the fullness of his salvation. Glorified at last—entering the glorious freedom of the children of God. Entering into the fullness of our inheritance as adopted children of God; bodies redeemed and glorified (Rom 8:20-25). This is our blessed hope.

Lord, we wait in hope for your coming and look forward to receiving the fullness of our inheritance. Amen.

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