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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Verses vs. Voices (and other devotionals)


 Verses vs. Voices

"The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written:" 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Luke 4:9-12

Many times my mind taunts me with thoughts like “If you are really God’s child, then why doesn’t He do this for you?” or “If God has really given you this spiritual gift for the body of Christ, why aren’t you any good at it?” Over and over, I hear thoughts that make me feel guilty or condemned and insecure in my Christian walk. I know the Word of God and yet, my mind doesn’t seem strong enough to just stay focused on the verses to overcome the voices. In essence, Satan attempts to discredit us just like he tried with Jesus. Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God”… prove it!  These are the same kind of words we as believers hear in our heads too. We question if we are really saved, we question God’s ability to use us and we question that the promises given to us in His Word are really for us today. In other words, we find ourselves testing the Lord’s ability to save us, protect us, use us and speak to us; thus, saying to Him, “Prove it.”  But Jesus didn’t do that.

Jesus confidently used the Word of God to attack Satan’s use of the Scriptures directly. It is amazing that the Living Word of God (Jesus) quotes the Written Word of God (the Bible) to attack the words of the enemy.

Lately, I have been struggling with a trial that I have failed in the past. The circumstances and people have changed but the trial is the same. I felt myself heading down the same path as in the past. Crying out to the Lord, I said to Him, “OK, Lord, I’ve been here before and have lived through the consequences of failing this test. I know that You have been faithful regardless of my faithlessness. I know that You love me and You have every right to test my heart and try my motives to see which way I will go. Lord, I choose You. I choose to not test You or question You in this. I know that Your promises will come to pass and You don’t have to prove anything to me.” With that prayer, I knew that the temptation to fail had been lifted. Jesus is our example as He was tempted in the same types of trials (with different circumstances and people) but overcame them all.  We, too, can overcome the taunting voices of the enemy to live a life pleasing to God by staying on His side and by fighting His way using His words.

~Daily Disciples Devotional~
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The Tree Planted by the Waters
George Everard, 1884

The servant of God is often described in Scripture under the image of a tree bearing good fruit. And under this figure we have his verdure and fruitfulness connected with the River of God's grace. We find it both in Psalm 1, and also in Jeremiah 17.
Before dwelling upon this description, let us take something of a contrast. Hugh Macmillan tells of a remarkable plant that grows in the South American forests. It is a sort of club moss, and in dry seasons becomes somewhat of a traveler. When every particle of moisture is extracted from the soil, it will detach itself from the earth where it has been growing, and curl itself up into a ball. It is then carried away for miles by any strong wind, and remains coiled up until it reaches some marshy land or pool of water. It will then begin slowly to unfold itself, taking root and assuming its former appearance. It may grow long enough to cast its seed on the air, and when its new home becomes dry, as the previous one — it will take to its former unsettled habits, and like a pilgrim go forth to seek the water that it loves.
Truly does the author, who gives this account, compare this plant to a child of the world. Such a one has no fixedness or stability. He goes from scene to scene, from one object to another, seeking for a little passing gratification. Unsettled in spirit, tossed hither and thither by temptation, by the world's allurements, or by every breath changing opinion — finding no permanent spring of hope or consolation, at length he passes away without having ever discovered the secret of true peace and satisfaction.
The prophet Jeremiah uses somewhat of a different image. "This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6
But not so is it with the godly man. He leans on a Divine arm. His heart draws near to a Father in Heaven. His spirit cleaves steadfastly unto God. The name of Jesus is his stay and resting-place. In the darkest night of trouble he makes the Lord his hope, and encourages himself in His faithful care. And how rich is the blessing he inherits! There is no curse for him. He is not like the heath in the desert, or the rolling plant of the forest. He inhabits no parched places or desolate wilds. The very reverse of all this is his portion. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8
What a variety of blessedness is promised here! All around may be parched and dry. Sin and worldliness and unbelief may wither up all true joy — but he still retains his comfort in God, and grace to confess the Name he loves. He casts his roots deeper and deeper, in stronger faith, in more frequent meditation — and thus drinks in perpetually from the ever-flowing streams of living water. He flourishes as the cedar in Lebanon. He grows rapidly like the palm-tree. His bough is laden with precious fruit. Even in the year of drought — in times of deepest trouble or distress — he is freed from perplexing carefulness, and still honors God by his joyful patience and holy submission to the will of God.
In the life of the patriarch Joseph, we have a forcible illustration of the promise here given. He was ever a man of faith, deriving all his strength from nearness to God. He was "a fruitful bough by a well" (Genesis 49:22). Like a well-rooted tree, he was ever steadfast, rejecting with abhorrence the sin proposed to him, and manfully performing his duty and bearing the fruits of righteousness . . .
in the house of Potiphar,
in the prison, and
in his high position in Egypt.
"His branches ran over the wall." He was a blessing wherever he went. He brought down a blessing on his heathen master, then on Egypt, and then on all his father's house. Never, never did his leaf fade, nor were his branches found without their appropriate fruit.
But how may this blessing be yours? How may you, too, be a tree of righteousness, ever growing, ever bearing fruit through the power of divine grace?
Be sure, the River of Life is near at hand, the waters are flowing on in rich abundance, and if you will follow the directions which the Master gives, you cannot fail of the promised blessing.
Come near, and keep near, to the secret source of all life and fruitfulness.
From first to last, it is a matter of humble trustfulness. The heart of the ungodly man departs from the Lord — the heart of the godly man flees to Him. He runs, he walks, or he creeps, which ever it is — at least, he comes and draws near. Thus must you do. Set your face toward God. Remember His promises and rely upon them. Remember the precious name of
Jesus, and let this give you sure confidence. Remember God's exceeding loving-kindness. Remember His faithfulness and truth. Remembering all this, trust the Lord continually. Trust Him for all that concerns this life. Put every care and sorrow and burden into His hand. Leave all with Him, however gloomy, or painful, or threatening, the prospect may be. Trust Him with all that concerns your spiritual welfare. Trust Him when the heart feels cold and dead, that He will revive and quicken you. Trust Him when you can scarcely utter a word of prayer, believing that His Spirit will again stir up your heart in this as in every other grace. Trust Him always and trust Him forever. So will you keep close to the River, and your soul will be refreshed and comforted.
Be careful about the little things in a Christian life. No one can tell the immense difference that will be made by the use or the neglect of little opportunities — or in the matter of little duties. Remember it is the little fibers of the roots of a tree which drink in the moisture and receive nourishment from the soil, and thus promote its growth and fruitfulness.
Be very careful about these little fibers. Watch over your thoughts. Let them ever cleave to Jesus. Let them be sanctified by the remembrance of all that He is, and of all that He does for His people. Let them be filled with the sweet promises and precepts of Holy Scripture. Ever cherish heavenly aspirations, longing desires, and frequent upliftings of the heart in prayer and praise. Your highest attainments in grace and holiness will be closely connected with every secret prayer which arises to God. Just as the topmost branches of the tree are dependent upon the thin, hair-like roots that the eye can scarcely discern — so all spiritual advancement will depend on the secret walk before our Father in Heaven.
The figure of the tree shows also the importance of firmness and steadfastness in the Christian life. You must seek to be rooted and grounded in the faith, and so established that nothing can move you. Hold fast the faithful Word. Beware of new views and new opinions which are perpetually springing up around you. Stand firm and strong when persecution or reproach comes to try you. Rather suffer loss or exile or death — than dishonor or forsake your Savior.
Only lately I heard of an example of this steadfast spirit which it will be well for us to follow.
The son of a very rich man in Calcutta came to England to educate and qualify himself to practice at the bar in India. Brought up as a strict Hindu, he had no thought of becoming a Christian, though he had some knowledge of the truths of the Gospel. On his way to England a storm arose, and for three days the ship was in imminent danger. During the storm he felt how insecure was his own position; he thought of Christ, and sought Him in earnest prayer. He found spiritual peace and hope; and during his stay in London his convictions were deepened, and he was baptized.
As soon as his father heard of his baptism, he cut off his supplies — and the young man would have been utterly destitute but for a few Christian friends whom God raised up to help him.
After finishing his course he went back to Calcutta, and to his surprise his father received him with open arms. He received from his father every possible kindness, and for a time he thought his father had forgiven him. But it was only a device to draw him back to Hinduism. After about a week his father spoke to him on the subject. He told him that if he would give up Christianity, he would at once make over to him all his property. He need not practice at the bar, but might live in every possible comfort and luxury.
But the young man was not to be moved. Neither persuasions nor promises could turn him from his purpose. So he said to his father, "Not for all you have done for me, or for all you have now promised me, nor for your love, which I value most of all — dare I deny the Savior who has loved me."
Then said the father, "If this be so, you are no longer my son, nor am I your father. Begone! and never let me see your face again!"
So, without a shilling of his own, he had to go to another city and seek his living, having given up all for Christ's sake.
Another word of guidance I would give you: Endeavor to make progress. Cultivate growth in every direction. Aim at increase in every Christian virtue.
In dependence on God's grace, let there be the downward growth — the roots going deeper into the soil. Be clothed with humility. Follow Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Keep near the Savior's footstool. Strive to grow in the knowledge of your sin and unworthiness. The sense of sin ever deepens with growth in holiness, because God's light shines in more brightly, and thus discovers the evil that is in us.
Then also grow in steadfastness. As the roots of a tree go deeper into the soil, it becomes more firmly fixed, so that the winds and storms can the less move it. Thus be firm and immovable, rooted and grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus. Do not be swayed by the current of human opinion. Do not take your views from the Newspaper, or the last Magazine. Rather, hold fast by the faithful Word, being assured that not one thing has failed or will fail of all that the Lord has spoken.
Let there also be the upward growth. Like the tree shooting higher and higher, ever tending upward, so let it be with your heart. Set your affection on things above. Get nearer and closer in true fellowship with the Father and the Son. Tend evermore in true holiness toward the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Let your whole life be filled with joy and praise and thankfulness to Him.
Let there also be growth in the breadth and circumference of the tree. I mean, let the Christian grow in largeness of heart, in wide-spreading sympathies, in holy charity, in efforts to spread everywhere the savor of Christ's name. Wherever God opens to you a door of usefulness, by which you can enter without neglect of other duties — don't hold back. By intercessory prayer, by free-handed gifts, by a book given to someone going into a foreign land — your influence for good may spread far and wide, and perhaps hereafter the most precious jewels in your crown will have been won in lands you have never seen.
Above all, let your growth and fruitfulness never cease. Cleave to the Lord, and He will never fail you. He will give "more grace," and thus you shall bear more fruit. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Psalm 1:3
Oh fill me with Your fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart overflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Your love to tell, Your praise to show.
Oh use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as You will, and when and where,
Until Your blessed face I see,
Your rest, Your joy, Your glory share. 
   Havergal
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Broken Cisterns
George Everard, 1884

You see a hot, sultry land, the burning sun overhead, and the dry, parched ground seems to crave the fertilizing rain and shower. In this sandy desert, you see the inhabitants fainting and dying for something to slake the thirst that oppresses them. Yet, strange to say, it is their own fault. Close within reach, you see a springing well of pure, fresh, sparkling water. The streams burst forth and the water flows in rich abundance. The weary traveler may come, and his parched lips may drink from this sweet well, and he may go on his way strengthened and refreshed. But a fatal blindness has closed their eyes that they cannot see it. Like Hagar in the wilderness, the well is near — but they see it not.
Though here and there one discovers it to his great joy, yet for the most part those around know nothing of the blessing that is so near at hand. So they take another course. They endeavor to obtain water for themselves. You see numbers of them taking huge pains and trouble digging out little cisterns in the clay or sand. Perchance for the moment there is a temporary reward. A few drops of water are found, but it is brackish to the taste, and very soon the cistern is cracked and the water is gone. Yet still they continue their hopeless task. If one fails, another may do better. So again and again, spade in hand, they toil on and make fresh attempts. Thus they weary themselves in vanity, until strength is exhausted, and they lie down to die.
It is the voice of our Father in Heaven that speaks to us of this: "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the Fountain of living waters — and hewed out cisterns — broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Ah, double folly! Why close your eyes to the Fountain and the River which is ever flowing, where there is more than enough for all your need? Why go to cisterns, at the best but narrow and contracted, as your portion and the source of your joy? Yes, more, are not these but "broken" cisterns — cisterns which soon have many a leak, and thus lose all they contain? Yes, more, these broken cisterns need hewing out — need much pains and labor to obtain — whereas the Fountain of Life is near, and free to all who go to it.
It is no imaginary picture. It is just the story of men everywhere, and how they act. With God is the well of life. He is the only Source of all that is holy and beautiful and good. He is the bountiful Bestower of all that can contribute to our happiness and peace. He is plenteous in mercy and His loving-kindness is beyond estimate. Yet men forsake Him who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort — and seek their happiness where it can never be found.
Broken cisterns! How many turn to them!
Did not Eve, when she tasted of the forbidden fruit, hoping to find gratification to sight and sense and human pride, and forgetting the bitterness of the sorrow which would follow?
Did not Solomon, when he ransacked the earth for new springs of enjoyment — and when he had to confess that all was vanity and vexation of spirit?
Did not Ahab, when he was not content without Naboth's vineyard, and at length took it by deceit and cruelty?
Did not Haman, when he coveted the highest position in the Court of Shushan, and at length fell into the trap he had laid for Mordecai?
Did not Herod Agrippa, when he accepted the flattery and idolatrous homage of the men of Tyre and Sidon, and was soon after eaten by worms, because he did not give God the glory?
Broken cisterns! WHAT are they? Whatever men put in the place of God. Whatever men make their chief delight, instead of the love and favor of a Father in Heaven. Whatever men rest in and lean upon as their rock of confidence and strength — these are broken cisterns, and one day they will discover them to be altogether in vain!
Some confide in a mere human system of religionAmaziah sought after the gods of the Edomites — and they were the ruin of him. Ahab sought after Baal — but Baal could not help him in the day of trial. Modern Romanism, and every system that follows it — is but a broken cistern, full of cracks and leaks. Boasting about the true Church, trusting in the mediation of Mary, of saints and angels, reliance upon a human priesthood, the system of the Mass, of auricular confession, of the worship of relics and images — what is all this but a religion which has no warrant from the Word of God, which God never appointed, and which He will never accept?
To do well in business and get rich, is to many people a "broken cistern." No doubt it is our bounden duty to be diligent in all our work, and to seek such a measure of prosperity as God may grant. But this is quite a different thing from making success in acquiring wealth the one aim in life. With such, to get rich is everything. It absorbs the whole life. Day and night, week after week, it engrosses the whole attention. It leaves room for nothing higher. It is the grave of every earnest Christian feeling and effort.
If prosperity comes — such people sit down among gold and bank notes and securities of property, and care little for the true gold of grace, for being rich in faith and good works, for the treasures at God's right hand.
If failure and adversity comes — they are borne down with distress and anxiety, and know not which way to look.
Such eagerness to get rich often defeats its own purpose. Here is a father who slaves all the year round in a London warehouse to lay up wealth for his family. But he is never at home. He never looks after their education. He sees but little of them, and never wins their affection — so that it turns out that their father's great riches do them but little good. Less means and more care and family affection — would have contributed far more to their real comfort and happiness. More than this, it is a course of life which, no less than gross immorality, utterly unfits a man for the heavenly home. "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs!" 1 Timothy 6:9-10
This spirit of over-anxious money-getting has a terrible power to encase a man in utter selfishness. It is customary in certain broken bones, to wrap the limb up in acast, which gradually hardens, and then becomes so firm, that it is not easy to remove it. This is done to immobilize the limb and promote healing — but in the covetousness of which I speak, there is something very similar which becomes a very death to the soul. There is an enwrapping in selfishness and love of moneywhich hardens and contracts the soul, and works the destruction of all higher and nobler feelings!
I shall not soon forget the words of one who had been a large employer of laborers — a fairly liberal man and a regular church-goer. When past seventy he was unable longer to go to business, and saw the end was approaching. "I have been so wrapped up in my work and in business duties, my mind has been so entirely given to it, that it is quite impossible for me to think of being fitted for the presence of a holy God!" Such was the man's feeling, and though the Word of God brought a glimmer of hope and consolation, even to the end much darkness and gloom remained.
At the best, to make the pursuit of gain as the first thing — is but a broken cistern. It cannot . . .
give comfort in the day of trouble,
relieve a guilty conscience, or
give one ray of hope in the hour of death.
With some, the "broken cistern" is simply a life of pleasure and self-indulgence. I had lately a letter which gave me great sorrow. A young lady had once very serious religious impressions; but she succeeded in casting them off, and then plunged headlong into every kind of worldly pleasure. Night after night she would go to the dance, or the play, or something of the kind — and when I wrote to her, she replied that she "was quite happy, and had no wish to trouble herself with the thought of religion."
But what is such happiness worth? How long can it last? But a little crack in the cistern — and the water is gone in a moment! A bad headache, a few days illness, an unkind remark, a slight in the ball-room — a very small thing indeed, and your imagined store of happiness takes wing and is gone.
Experience in such matters, is often the best teacher. Let us listen to the testimony of one who could speak from personal knowledge.
A few years ago a rich man with a magnificent estate, and everything that could make life desirable, was laid for months on a sick bed. In days past, without hindrance, he had gone in for all that wealth and position could afford. In Paris, in London, and elsewhere, he had been among the foremost of the world's votaries. The constant excitement of the life he led — hunting, horse-racing, the gambling-table, together with the late hours that he kept — soon told upon his constitution, and his sun went down while it was yet day.
But during the quiet months passed in his sick room, he had time for reflection. He was led to see the folly of his past course, and the wisdom of those who choose another path. Gathering together his family and his servants around his bed, he spoke a few plain words to them about the deceitfulness of the world's promises. He told them that they could never hope for greater opportunities of enjoying it than he had possessed — and with him it had been an utter failure. He then affectionately counseled them to serve the Lord, and to find their pleasure in doing His will. He had found the world a "broken cistern," and he would have those he cared for, seek their joy in a purer source.
Recently I read a short incident that tells what is this source of peace. A young lady wore a locket of blue enamel and gold around her neck. A friend asked her to let her look within. It was a secret, she said, and for the moment she refused. But she yielded to her friend's wish, and so the friend opened it and saw written in small letters, "Whom having not seen, I love."
Such is the well-spring of lasting joy. It is faith and love in the unseen Savior. It was the witness of Peter, "Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not — yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." 1 Peter 1:8

"He is with you! Your own Master,
Leading, loving to the end;
Brightening joy and lightening sorrow,
All today yet more tomorrow,
King and Savior, Lord and Friend."

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