Devotions

Author Archives: Gareth Volz

1 John 4 • Devotion #6: Love Your Brother

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:19-21

God’s Holy Spirit uses the apostle John to point out something important to those who follow Jesus – we could not love God if He did not first love us. There are many words in the Bible that are used to describe God. He is “omniscient” (all-knowing), “omnipotent” (all-powerful), “omnipresent” (everywhere at the same time), faithful, just, and righteous. However, first and foremost, God is “Love.” 

Let me ask you a question, “Why do you love God?” We generally love people we are attracted to, they are fun to be with, they have interests similar to our own, or some other reason that benefits us. 

Yet, the Bible tells us, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Think about that for a minute. God is Holy, and yet He loved us when we loved sin. God loved us when we loved the things that He hated. That is truly amazing love. It is unselfish and unconditional. That is why God is Love!

Verse 19 begins, “We love.” Surely because God first loved us and did so unconditionally and lavishly, we should respond by loving Him. I am sure that most of you reading this will say, “I do love God!” If asked to give evidence of your love for God, many would say, “I lead a Growth Community,” or “I work with the youth ministry.” Others may say, “I attend a Bible study,” or “I have gone on prison trips.” These are all wonderful ways to show you love God, but that is not the point John is stressing here.

John says that if you really love God, you will love people. If you love God, you will love what He loves – people. As a point of emphasis, John says this is a commandment from God, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

People are not always easy to love. This is even sometimes true of other Christians. However, if we truly love God and are filled with His Holy Spirit, we will have love (which is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit) flowing out of us to people. God will give us a love for others, despite their imperfections, because He is Love.

We need to show everyone how much we love God by loving those He loves, imperfect people.

Reflection

Tabernacle | Devotion 4: Reflection
Pastor Gareth Volz

In the first eight verses of Exodus chapter 38, we are told about the construction of the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Bronze Laver – two important items in the courtyard of the Tabernacle of God. Back in Exodus chapter 36, God gave Moses instructions on how to build His Tabernacle. Moses relayed these instructions to the people. While some gave materials required by God for His dwelling place, others were given skills to build what God mandated.

We are told in Exodus 36:2 that God put skill in the mind of Bezalel of the tribe of Judah, a craftsman whose heart was stirred to heed the call to build God’s Tabernacle. In Exodus chapter 38, we are told how he built the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Bronze Laver to God’s specifications. These two items were very important in the worship of God, and a study of them reminds us of what we need to do before we can truly worship our God.

I want to first look at the Altar of Burnt Offering. He made the altar out of acacia wood and covered in with bronze (verses 1-2); he made all the utensils for the altar out of bronze (verse 3); he built the grating for the altar out of bronze (verse 4); and he built rings and poles of acacia wood covered with bronze to be used in transporting the altar when the people moved from place to place (verses 5-7). Then he built a laver (basin) out of bronze, and its stand was also made out of bronze (verse 8).

A cursory reading of this passage may seem monotonous. Why did God go into such detail in describing these two pieces of bronze in the courtyard of His Tabernacle? I believe it is because they teach us some important lessons of how we need to prepare to worship our Holy, Righteous God.

First of all, before a priest could enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant, he had to offer a sacrifice for the sins he and the people had committed, and this sacrifice was made on the Altar of Burnt Offering. The priest did not offer any animal, but a lamb or dove without blemish. Sacrifice cost something because God cannot be in the presence of sin – He is holy. It cost the lamb or the dove its life. It cost Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, His life to pay the penalty for your sin and mine. Once the sacrifice had been offered, the priest could enter the presence of our Holy God. We can enter the presence of our Holy God because Jesus was our sacrifice.

Yet there was still one more thing the priest had to do before he could enter the Holy of Holies and worship and fellowship with God; he had to cleanse himself at the Bronze Laver. If you and I are to enter God’s presence in worship and have fellowship with Him, we must have a clean lifestyle. The sacrifice of Christ meant that we were no longer slaves to sin, but we must choose each day to live in a way that pleases God. Only then can we truly have fellowship with Him and worship Him in a way that brings glory to His name.

Preparation for true worship requires sacrifice and cleansing. Jesus provided our sacrifice. The Laver in the tabernacle was made to reflect the image of the priest as he washed. We need to reflect on our character, our lifestyle, and see what changes we need to make so we can offer our God in proper worship and have fellowship with Him. This should be a daily occurrence in the life of the believer. We need to prepare ourselves to offer God the worship He deserves.

Frivolous?

Ten Commandments | Devotion 2: Frivolous?
Pastor Gareth Volz

Exodus 20:7 says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” This is a familiar verse to most Christians, especially those who have been raised in a Christian family and attended church most of their lives.

When I first thought about writing a devotion on this commandment, I felt, “What an easy assignment – the Lord said do not take My name in vain, and if you do, I will hold you guilty for doing so. Swearing is wrong, so do not do it! Assignment completed.” At least that was my initial thought.

The Holy Spirit whispered that I needed to dig deeper into what God was saying in this verse. What does it mean to take the name of the Lord my God in vain? “Vain” in Hebrew means “empty or worthless of value.” It is used in Psalm 127:2 to describe worthless works, in Jonah 2:8 to describe worthless idols, and in Ezekiel 12:24 to describe false prophecy. So, in addition to being a warning not to curse or swear, it also means not to use the Lord’s name in an empty or worthless manner.

I began to think, have I ever used the Lord’s name in a worthless manner? What would that look like? Then it hit me! When I pray to the Lord, do I realize that I am talking to Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything? Is the focus of my conversation on the fact that He is omnipotent [all powerful] and omniscient [knows everything]? Do I really believe that He hears my prayers and will answer them in His perfect time and way? If not, then I am using His name in an empty, worthless manner.

When a family member or friend has a health issue or is going through a tough time, and I say I will pray for them, do I really pray for them? Is my prayer for them one that comes from a heart that yearns for God’s best for them, or do I just rattle off some phrase because I said I would? If that is the case, then I used His name in an empty and worthless manner.

When I am startled by something, do I ever utter the phrase, “Oh my God” or some similar phrase when I am not thinking of God at all? If so, I am using His name in a frivolous manner – an empty and worthless manner.

It is easy to sometimes be like the Pharisee’s prayer comparing himself to the tax collector in Luke 18:10, and say, “Lord I thank you that I am not like those other people that swear and take Your name in vain.” Any time I use the Lord’s name in a casual or trivial manner violates His command in Exodus 20:7. The Lord’s name is holy and powerful, and I need to hold it in reverence at all times.

As the Lord’s child, I never want to use His name in a disrespectful manner. He deserves always to be exalted by our use of His name.

Responding to God’s Call

Red Sea | Devotion 3: Responding to God’s Call
Pastor Gareth Volz

Have you ever felt God calling you to do something for Him? Maybe it was to work with high school or junior high school students or work for Him in the nursery. Maybe it was to lead a Growth Community or visit shut-ins. You know what God wants you to do, and you begin to serve Him, but then the unexpected occurs, and you run into a roadblock. You did not plan for it and see no way around the roadblock; you cry out to God in prayer.

Moses found himself in this situation in Exodus 14:15-20. God had sent him to Pharaoh to deliver this message: “Let My people go.” The nation of Israel was in bondage in Egypt and had cried out to God. God heard their prayer, and His answer was to send Moses to lead His people to the Promised Land. Pharaoh did not believe in the God of Israel and refused to free them. God then sent plague after plague upon the land and people of Egypt, but each time Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to follow God’s command.

After the tenth plague, the slaying of the first-born male in each household that did not have the blood of a sacrificial lamb smeared on the doorposts, Pharaoh relented, grieving over the death of his son, and ordered Moses to take the Israelites and leave Egypt.

God led the people with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to the edge of the wilderness. Then God did something Moses did not expect. He told him to tell the people to turn back and to camp between Migdol and the Red Sea, facing the sea. God told Moses He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh’s army would pursue them, but God would defeat Pharaoh’s army and show the Egyptians that He was the true God.

When the Israelites saw Pharaoh’s army coming after them and the Red Sea before them, they cried out to God and complained to Moses. Moses cried out to God in prayer and got an answer I am sure he never expected. Exodus 14:15-18 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’” Basically, He said, why are you praying? Do what I told you to do! I have got this.

When Christians serve God, Satan will always put obstacles in their way to keep them from following God’s commands. How many times have you and I known God has told us to do something for Him, but when we run into obstacles, we stop and cry to God about the obstacle rather than continuing doing what He said to do? There is an old saying I love: “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.”

In verses 19 and 20, God tells Moses how He will equip him to lead the people, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.” The angel of God and the cloud and pillar of fire that led them moved and went between the Israelites and the Egyptian army. In doing so, it provided light for the Israelites to see and darkness for the Egyptians, so that neither could see the other. Then as Moses followed God’s instructions, God used Moses’ simple wooden staff to part the Red Sea and allowed His people to cross it on dry ground.

The lesson we learn from this is that when God calls us to do something, we need to move in faith, believing God will remove any obstacle that is in our way, and that He will give us the tools to get the job done. After all, the Lord is the One who does it all; we simply get the privilege of being the instrument He uses to accomplish His purposes.

Go Again

Ten Plagues | Devotion 3: Go Again
Pastor Gareth Volz

God has something for each of His children to do to glorify Him. In Exodus chapter 3, Moses minded his own business, tending sheep for his father-in-law Jethro on the back side of the wilderness. God got Moses’ attention by speaking to him from a burning bush. He went on to tell Moses that He had heard the prayer of His people who were enslaved in Egypt, and He had chosen him to go to Pharaoh and tell him Jehovah Elohim (the holy, righteous, self-existing God) said, “Let My people go.”

The Lord God went on to tell Moses that Pharaoh would not listen to him because he had a hard heart and God would harden it further. Beginning in chapter 7, Moses went to Pharaoh and delivered God’s message, Pharaoh did not listen, and God sent the plague of blood on the Nile River, Egypt’s water source. In chapter 8, God sent Moses three more times to Pharaoh with the same message, “Let My people go,” and three more times Pharaoh refused. These refusals resulted in three more plagues upon the people and land of Egypt: the plague of frogs everywhere, inside and outside the homes in Egypt; the plague of gnats on the people and animals everywhere throughout the land; and the plague of flies everywhere inside and outside the homes of Egypt.

Finally, Pharaoh relented and said the people can go and offer sacrifices to God in the wilderness, but not to go far. I go crazy if just one fly gets in my house, so I can understand why Pharaoh finally agreed to do what God said. What I cannot understand is why as soon as the flies left, Pharaoh changed his mind and refused to do what God said. He had seen the power of God but refused to acknowledge Him as God.

So now we arrive at chapter 9, where God again sent Moses to Pharaoh and told him to let His people leave. Moses is further told to tell Pharaoh that if he refuses, He will send a plague on all the livestock of the Egyptians, but the livestock of the Israelite slaves will not be killed. The next day the Egyptian livestock died, but nothing happened to the livestock of the Israelites.

Still, Pharaoh refused to listen to God, and Moses was sent once again to Pharaoh with this message God gave to Moses and Aaron: “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land” (Exodus 9:8-9 NIV). Moses and Aaron did as God told them, and festering boils broke out on the people and animals of Egypt. However, once again, Pharaoh refused to do what God said. Pharaoh had a hard heart, and with each refusal to heed God, God made it harder.

Has God ever called you to tell someone about Jesus, and that person refused to listen to God’s words? Have you ever been led to share the Good News of the Gospel to hard-hearted people? If so, we can learn a lesson from God’s assignment to Moses: Do not quit! Do not give up and say, “What is the use; they will not listen?” God does not give up on us when we do not do what He says, so do not give up on others. Many will never listen, but some will.

God has extended grace upon grace to you and me, and He does not want any to perish. Moses could have been discouraged by Pharaoh’s hardening heart, but the Bible never records this. Moses continued to go to Pharaoh time and time again until finally in Exodus chapter 12, after ten plagues, Pharaoh does what God said and let God’s people leave.

God told Moses that the reason for all this was so that He would be glorified, and the Egyptians would know that He is God. Keep doing what God tells you to do, do not give up, and God will be glorified.



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