Help Me Overcome My Unbelief (Feb 27)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

February 27

Help Me Overcome My Unbelief

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 32:6-11 | Leviticus 20:22- 22:16 | Mark 9:1-29 | Proverbs 10:18

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Leviticus 19-20

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. [22] “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” [23] “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” [24] Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NIV)

Everything is possible for the one who believes. It seems simple enough. But it was a difficult lesson for the disciples of Jesus to learn. It is hard for us too. The lessons of faith are never easily learned.

A boy was terribly tormented by a demon. The disciples were unable to set him free and this was causing quite a stir among the people in the crowd (and the religious leaders). Jesus rebukes them again for their lack of faith: “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 

The boy’s father honestly expresses the struggle of a heart that earnestly hopes but struggles with doubts: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” In response to that honest confession, Jesus sets the boy free in an instant.

The simple statement of Jesus, “Everything is possible for him who believes,” is a source of hope and expectation to us as we pray. The boy’s father expresses the true state of most of our hearts: a mixture of hope and doubt—a combination of belief and unbelief.  Yet Jesus seems to focus on the faith of the man—however incomplete—and seeks to encourage him to trust him even more.

Yes, we all struggle. Our faith is often mixed with unbelief. It is hard to overcome what we see in order to walk by faith. Yet Jesus looks into our hearts and sees the seeds of faith and encourages them to bloom. He calls us to trust him more; to trust him for even the impossible. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 

Lord, help us to trust you; help us to overcome our unbelief knowing that everything is possible to the one who believes. Give us the grace to trust you more. Amen.

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Too Much Information

February 26

Too Much Information

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 32:1-5 | Leviticus 19:1 – 20:21 | Mark 8:11-38 | Proverbs 10:17

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Leviticus 19-20

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. [8] Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Leviticus 20:7-8 NIV).

Sometimes it is easy to get bogged down or give up when you are reading through Leviticus. Regulations concerning mildew, bodily discharges and oozing sores may be a little “too much information” for most of us. But it is good to see the reason behind all these guidelines. God has chosen the people of Israel to display his glory to the nations. They are his chosen, dearly loved, holy people.

In many ways, the regulations set the people of Israel apart from the other nations. Often the regulations were given to protect them from disease or illness. Other regulations were given to keep them from the idolatrous practices of the nations around them. Admittedly, in some cases, it is hard to understand the reason for the regulation. But in all cases, God is showing his special care and protection for the people he has chosen to be holy.

In the New Testament, we who are believers in Christ, become his holy, chosen and dearly loved people by entering into relationship with God through faith apart from the works of the law. We walk by the new way of the Spirit rather than by the law. Still, we too are called to show God’s glory to the nations by living lives of holiness.  In a world of compromise, God is calling his people to follow him—to become his holy people. He promises that he will be there to “make us holy.”

God has chosen you to be one of his Holy people. He is working in you to accomplish his holy purposes. He has given you his Spirit to enable you to live freely in his strength and power. He still longs for a holy people that will show his glory to the nations. As we give ourselves to Him and allow him to work in us and through us, he proves himself to be “the Lord, who makes you holy.”

Holy God, Help me to remember that I am set apart for your purposes. Help me to live in a way that is worthy of my calling. I am trusting in you to accomplish what you have started. Amen.

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Stored Up Goodness (Feb 25)

February 25

Stored Up Goodness

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 31:19-24 | Leviticus 16:29 – 18:30 | Mark 7:24- 8:10 | Proverbs 10:15-16

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 31:19-24

How great is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you (Psalm 31:19 TNIV).  

God is storing up blessings for you. He is a good, benevolent and generous God who loves you and looks to bless you. There are times when life seems unjust and unfair—times when we wonder if God is ever going to answer our prayers. But be strong and wait in hope. When the time is right he has goodness stored up for those who fear him. And he intends to bestow those blessings in the sight of all when the time is right.

Sometimes we cry out for mercy and we think God has forgotten us. The Psalmist describes such a time: “Praise be to the LORD, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’ Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (21,22). Even when we think we are alone and abandoned, God is there hearing our cry for mercy. When the time is right, he pours out his goodness and love.

Sometimes following the LORD takes us down a difficult path.  People look at us and wonder why God seems not to have noticed our injustice and pain. One day he will vindicate you for your faithfulness. Those who stay true and trust, will one day experience the “stored up blessings” of God in such a way that all will see and know that God is with you, and has been all the way.

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD” (24). Your faithful waiting will one day be rewarded.

God, you are the source of every blessing. May my heart be filled with gratitude as I remember the blessings you’ve poured out into my life. May my heart be filled with hope in anticipation of your continued blessings. In the moments where I struggle to see your hand of blessings, teach me to be strong and take heart and find hope in you. Amen.

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Heart Problems (Feb 24)

February 24

Heart Problems

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 31:9-18 | Leviticus 15:1-16:28 | Mark 7:1-23 | Proverbs 10:13-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Mark 7:1-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain for their teachings are merely human rules” (Mark 7:6-7 TNIV).

The Pharisees knew how to look spiritual. They knew how to play their spiritual games. They focused on the external and lived by the rules.

They were religious, but they were not godly. Their hearts needed a major cleansing.

Saying the right words, playing by the rules, and doing what others expect is not the essence of Christianity. What God is looking for is a heart that is changed from the inside. The transformed heart then works itself out into everything we do.

Don’t get so focused on the externals that you miss the heart of the matter—a heart that needs to be transformed. Open up your heart to Jesus and allow him to cleanse you from the inside out. Everything else will follow.

To focus only on the externals will lead you to pretending to be something that you are not—that is only hypocrisy. Yet, allowing Jesus to deal with your heart, allows you to live in fullness and freedom and authenticity. People will see the real thing and be amazed.

Heavenly Father, forgive me for playing games, for pretending. Create in me a clean heart, a pure heart and help me to live authentically. Amen.

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Sackcloth to Joy (Feb 22)

February 22

Sackcloth to Joy

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 30:6-12 | Leviticus 13:1-59 | Mark 6:1-29 | Proverbs 10:10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 30:6-12

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, [12] that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:11-12 NIV).  

The Christian life is characterized by joy. Not that it is always easy—it is not. But joy flows from a relationship with Christ, not from our circumstances, so it is may be found in the most unusual places—especially the difficult ones.

The Psalmist tells us something surprising: that sackcloth and mourning often lead to deep joy. When desperate times came to God’s people in the Old Testament, the prophets and leaders would often call the people to cry out to God in sackcloth and ashes. Culturally, this was a way of expressing deep sorrow and grief. When faced by desperate times and difficult circumstances, sackcloth and ashes expressed the cries of their desperate hearts for the intervention of God. From the place of humility we cry out to God, the ultimate source of our joy.

Furthermore, dressing in sackcloth is a way to express repentance from sin. In times of revival, God’s people began to acknowledge their sin and to turn from it. They recognized that they have failed and begin to turn again to God. In the same way, repentance serves to free us from our guilt, and then our wailing can be turned to dancing. The chains of guilt and condemnation fall to the floor and can we begin the dance of joy.

Sackcloth and ashes was also a way of expressing faith and hope that God might hear their prayers, bring healing to their land and revival to the people of God. The joy of a revived heart flows from a life that humbly confesses sin and looks with faith for a fresh touch from God.

Looking for joy? Humble yourself. Turn from you sin. Look with eyes of faith. Allow God to revive your heart. Then let the dance begin!

Father God, fill me with the joy of your presence. May the reservoir of joy that comes from spending time with you bubble up within me when life gets difficult. May the joy of the Lord give me the strength I need to press on. Thank you, even now, for clothing me with joy. May I sing and not be silent, may I give you thanks. May my wailing now turn to dancing. Amen.

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Lord of All (Feb 21)

February 21

Lord of All

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 30:1-5 | Leviticus 11:1 – 12:8 | Mark 5:21-43 | Proverbs 10:8-9

Today’s Scripture Focus: Mark 5:21-43

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” [35] While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”  [36] Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:34-36 NIV). 

In yesterday’s reading we saw Jesus’ authority over nature (the calming of the storm) and over demons (casting the demons into pigs), in this reading we see his authority over sickness and death.  Indeed, he is Lord of all!

No sickness is too great for Jesus, the healer. Doctors seemed to only make her condition worse. “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (26). Jesus, in an instant, cured her completely.

Not even death is too great an obstacle. Jairus’ daughter was dead, but to Jesus it was as if she were only sleeping. With a gentle touch and a few words, she began to breathe again. “Immediately she stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished” (42).

Jesus is Lord of all. Whatever you are facing, know that he has authority over it. He is still able to calm the storm, push back the forces of darkness, heal a broken body and even to raise the dead.  Nothing is too difficult for Him! Take your situation to him. Trust Him.

Lord Jesus, I bow my knee to you and declare that you are Lord. You are my hope and in you I trust. I face this day knowing that nothing is too difficult for you. I place my concerns in your hands and trust you. Amen.

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Priestly Duties (Feb 20)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

February 20

Priestly Duties

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 29:1-11  | Leviticus 9:7-10:20 | Mark 4:26 -5:20 | Proverbs 10:6-7

Today’s Scripture Focus: Leviticus 9:7-10:20

“Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting.  When they came out they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people” (Leviticus 9:22-23 TNIV).

Aaron and his assistants begin their priestly duties. Of course this meant caring for the sacrifices that brought atonement for sin. We are reminded in this text that it also meant the ministry of blessing the people.

With all the struggles and difficulties life brings we all stand in need of blessing. Circumstances sometimes beat us up and put us in a place where we need a blessing. Often the wounding words of other people become as curses to us and we need a blessing to bring the healing to our wounded souls. Life is difficult and we find ourselves emotionally beat up and bruised by the words and acts of others. The world around us brings more than enough cursing. We need to be blessed. This is why this ministry of blessing the people is such an important part of the priestly duties.  

Therefore the priests were given the privilege and responsibility of blessing people. We see Aaron taking up that role several times in this text.  He does so as he offers the sacrifices. Then again, we see Moses and Aaron coming out of the tent of meeting blessing the people.

They were acting on the Lord’s instructions given to Moses: 

“This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Leviticus 6:23-26)

In the New Testament, God opens the priesthood to each of us. We are all part of his kingdom of priests. We are given the opportunity to bless others even as Aaron did. Don’t neglect your priestly duty of blessing. We all stand in need of the blessing.

Gracious Lord, I receive the blessing. Thank you for blessing and keeping me, continue to make your face shine on me—continue to be gracious; May you continue to turn your face toward me and give me your peace. Now, help me to bless others as I have been blessed. Amen.

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Rooted Firmly and Bearing Fruit (Feb 19)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

February 19

Rooted Firmly and Bearing Fruit

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 28:1-9 | Leviticus 7:28 – 9:6 | Mark 3:31-4:25 | Proverbs 10:5

Today’s Scripture Focus: Mark 3:31 – 4:25

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. [4] As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. [6] But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. [7] Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain (Mark 4:3-7 NIV).     

Jesus parable reminds us that there are many obstacles to our spiritual growth. God’s word given to us does not always produce a bumper crop. Sometimes the word is stolen. Sometimes because of “rocky soil,” the word gets started quickly but withers. Sometimes the thorns choke the word so that it does not produce grain.

Our first obstacle is Satan himself. He steals the word. If we don’t read or hear God’s word, he has already won the battle. No wonder he works so hard to keep us from reading and applying the word to our lives. Never underestimate the enemy. He is very good at tempting us with even good things that keep us from the best. He knows our weak and vulnerable places and he focuses on those. Stand firm and resist him.

Another obstacle to fruitful Christian living is “trouble or persecution.” As we go through the tough times of life, some who had started well lose ground. Anger, bitterness, discouragement and a whole host of other emotions cause our faith to wither. The word without faith only withers and dies. Yet the very same trials are intended to bring maturity and growth. Keep your eyes on Jesus in these trying times so that you do not lose hope. Persevere to the end.

Another obstacle to fruitfulness is “the things of this world.” Our possessions can easily become objects of worship. Materialism often makes thorns of houses, cars and other possessions. Hedonism produces thorns as we become consumed with the pursuit of pleasure. Jesus also mentions worry as a thorn. All of these thorns choke out the word and keep us from being fruitful.

Open your heart to Jesus and allow him to make your life fruitful. As you hear and obey his word, resisting the temptations, you will bear much fruit.

Almighty God, help me to be a fruitful disciple. Enable me to stand firm against all the schemes of the Devil. May neither the blessings nor the difficulties of life get in the way of the path of growth you have for me. May your word sprout and grow and be fruitful in me. Amen.

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Keep the Fire Burning (Feb 18)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

February 18

Keep The Fire Burning

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 27:7-14 | Leviticus 6:1 – 7:27 | Mark 3:7- 30 | Proverbs 10:3-4

Today’s Scripture Focus: Leviticus 6:1 – 7:27

“Give Aaron and his sons this command: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar (Leviticus 6:9 NIV). 

The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out (Leviticus 6:13 NIV).  

The aroma of the burnt offering was to go up to God always as a sweet savor to Him. It required the diligent attention of the priest so that it would not go out.

New Testament believers are called to be living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). The transformed life sends up an aroma pleasing to God.  The spiritual passion of our lives requires the same constant attention, as did the continuous burnt offering. Spiritual passion, like fire, tends to go out unless it is attended to regularly.

Spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation and the study of the Word help to tend the fire. The sacrifice of praise also fuels the passion. These disciplines keep our spiritual passion burning strong.

Fellowship with others who share your passion also keeps the fire burning. You don’t build a fire with one log. You build the fire by having several logs in close proximity. To keep the fire burning brightly you keep adding logs to the fire. So it is with our spiritual passion, it is difficult to remain strong apart from a group of others who will keep you burning bright.

Tend the fire of your spiritual passion–don’t let the fire grow dim.  “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.”

O God, Consuming Fire, keep the fire on the altar of my heart burning bright, Help me to always tend the fire and keep it burning strong. May that passion set others ablaze. In fellowship with others with likeminded passion, may the flame intensify and grow. Amen

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Whom Shall I Fear? (Feb 17)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

February 17

Whom Shall I Fear?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 27:1-6 | Leviticus 4:1 – 5:19 | Mark 2:13 – 3:6 | Proverbs 10:1-2

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 27:1-6

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 KJV).

David often found himself in a place where he had to face his fears. Chased relentlessly by his enemies, he spent much of his life seeking a safe place to hide.  

David here reveals his secret to facing his fears: God himself is his place of safety, his stronghold, his fortress. The circumstances around him change constantly, but his relationship with God is rock solid. 

In the midst of darkness and confusion, the Lord is his light. In the midst of the battle, the Lord is the one who rescues and saves Him.  In the midst of uncertainty and fear, the Lord is the safe place where he can run.

He longs for times of worship and prayer—precious times spent in the presence of the Lord. As he cries out to God and worships him with all his heart, the fears melt away in the beauty of the Lord’s presence.  

Psalm 27:4 (NIV) One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 

When you face circumstances that tempt you to fear, it is good to seek his face; it is good to gaze upon his beauty. Remembering who he is, we can say with David, “The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”

Almighty God, you are the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid? I look to you and find rest. You are my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Ever Present Help. Remind me that perfect love casts out fear. Pour out your love into my heart now, I pray. Amen.

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