Devotional: Lesson 1 from the Tamarisk Tree

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God” (Genesis 21:33).

From Google Images

What an odd verse to be put into the scripture narrative! Abraham was doing some landscaping in the Negev Desert. How is that relevant to God’s story?

The answer: it is a profound lesson! Continue reading

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Devotional: Anticipating Pentecost

“’The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (Jeremiah 31: 31-33).

What day is the prophet talking about? Continue reading

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Devotional: Parallels of Pentecost

“Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites’” (Exodus 19: 3-6).

God had done a marvelous thing. He brought his people out of slavery in Egypt. God rescued, delivered, and redeemed his people. For 40 days they traveled from the land of Pharaoh to Sinai. At the base of Mt. Sinai, they set up a camp. Then God called Moses up to the mountain. On Mt. Sinai, God gave Moses the Torah.

According to the Torah and the understanding of the Jewish feasts as given in the Torah, Israel was delivered from Egypt on Passover. On the 50th day, Moses came down the mountain with the Torah, the Law, the covenant from God himself. Continue reading

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Devotional: You Are the Salt of the Earth

“Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings” (Leviticus 2:13).

Out of obedience to God’s instructions in Torah, every sacrifice was seasoned with salt. Salt became a symbol of the covenant that God made with his people. Continue reading

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Devotional: Jesus Wept (Part 2)

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Why did Jesus weep? In the previous devotional, we looked at the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

Mary and Martha knew their brother was deathly ill. They sent a messenger to Jesus, asking him to come and intervene. Jesus was unmoved and waited two days before beginning the journey to Bethany with his disciples. Jesus arrived on the fourth day, and Lazarus was already dead.

In the meantime, Jesus had already explained his lack of urgency. Lazarus was not going to remain dead, and the witnesses were about to see a miracle of resurrection. In order for the resurrection to be authenticated, the law said that three days had to pass, and then death was officially declared.

Knowing the full story, the verse “Jesus wept” seems a little perplexing. If he was about to raise a dead man and change mourning to joy, why would he weep? Why not just do it and start the party?

It’s important to notice when Jesus wept. John 11: 32-24 says: “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.”

It was then that Jesus wept. Jesus did not weep for Lazarus. Lazarus was already dead and was about to be raised. Jesus wept for the mourners: his dear friends, his disciples, his followers.

Was Jesus surprised or shocked to find them weeping? Of course not. Human grieving naturally follows the death of dear friends and loved ones. This was certainly not the first time that Jesus had witnessed the reaction and grief that follows after death.

On the Mount of Beatitudes, another time and another place, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Jesus didn’t raise every dead person that he encountered. If he had, the Gospels would be filled with resurrection stories. He didn’t save every individual who was at the threshold of death, not even himself on the cross.

Instead, in the words “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus acknowledges that every human life will end in death. And we will mourn.

At the tomb of Lazarus, we find the God whom we serve. We serve a God of love and compassion, of mercy and grace. Our Lord wept. Our God is not a distant and hard God, immune to the hearts of his people. Instead, our Lord weeps along with us when we mourn.

Jesus also calls us to be like him. How can those who mourn be blessed? Those who mourn are blessed when they are wrapped in the arms of their loving God. Those who mourn are blessed when the loving arms of God show up in the form of Jesus’ followers. When the people of God love like Jesus, weeping along with friends and family as Jesus did with his friends at the tomb of Lazarus and mourning with those who mourn, then those who mourn and grieve are blessed.

Blessed are those who mourn, when the disciples of Jesus are living and loving like Jesus. That’s what those who are called to lead and who have chosen to follow Jesus will be and will do.

Revelation 21: 3-5 is our promise and hope that mourning will end and death will be no more: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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Devotional: Jesus Wept (Part 1)

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Those two profound words compose the shortest verse in Scripture. The story of Lazarus and his two sisters, recorded in John 11, is an odd story. Continue reading

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Devotional: The King Was Weeping (Part 2)

For 1,000 years the Jews had longed for the good ole days. They desperately wanted the Romans to be thrown out of the land and the kingdom of David to be restored. Followers of Jesus knew that he was from David’s line. He had ministered for three years, and they could not quite figure him out.

Passover week was dawning. The eastern gate of the temple stood open only during Passover week. The Messiah was to come in some year and during this week. Was this the time? Was Jesus the long-awaited one? Continue reading

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Devotional: The King Was Weeping (Part 1)

Israel was a stubborn people. They were not unlike us. First Samuel 8 is the story of both the birth of the kingdom of Israel and its demise.

Israel wanted a king. The famed prophet Samuel was getting old, and the elders of the people were not impressed with his sons. Instead, they looked at the nations around them. Rather than celebrating that God had chosen them to be different, they found earthly kings and kingdoms to be appealing. They wanted to be like the world. Sound familiar? Continue reading

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Devotional: By Faithfulness

“As soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord – the Lord of all the earth – set foot into the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap” (Joshua 3:13).

For 40 years, the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land had been delayed. I cannot imagine. I become impatient when my flight is delayed 30 minutes. I cannot comprehend a 40-year delay. Continue reading

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Devotional: A Response to Dave Ramsey (Republished)

“Start children off on the right path. And even when they are old, they will not turn away from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

I have a great deal of respect for much of Dave Ramsey’s teaching. To encourage families to avoid insurmountable debt is a good thing. Burdensome debt places strain on marriages and financial stress damages the individual’s health.

My appreciation for Ramsey ends when he goes too far.

That is, of course, my opinion. An “Ask Ramsey” column appeared in our local newspaper recently. A mother wrote that her family had three children enrolled in a Christian school. She said that tuition payments were a challenge for them and that they were beginning to dip into their savings account to make tuition payments.

Ramsey replied with three points. One of his foundational principles is that savings are to be maintained at almost any cost. Private school tuition was expensive and not worth the cost. His own children were products of a public school and were good and moral individuals. Children should not be protected from the world in which they live by being put in bubbles.

My personal critique of Ramsey’s view is admittedly filtered through my own bias. I believe that God’s instructions for nurturing children are best carried out through Christian homes and schools.

Dave Ramsey seems to elevate financial balance sheets as one of the highest biblical standards. Certainly financial stewardship and the use of God’s resources is a great value for believers. But Scripture does not elevate finances above obedience and faithfulness, especially in the training and teaching of children. Put another way, God is more interested in telling the children so that the next generation will know than he is in the health of our personal bank accounts.

In my own family situation, my wife and I chose to save in advance so that we would have the resources to pay our tuition bills. When the paycheck arrived, we first wrote our church offering check and then the school tuition check. We believed that God will provide enough for us to live on. He never failed. More often than not, we didn’t have plenty. But we had enough.

I am glad that the Ramseys raised good and moral children. By God’s grace, my wife and I did, too. But we wanted our children to be more than good and moral adults: we wanted them to be rooted in God’s Word, to have a strong biblical foundation, and to understand that faith and life could never be separated. We wanted them to be equipped so that they could pass along the same beliefs and principles to our grandchildren. Christian schools and teachers were our invaluable partners.

Ramsey’s last point to this parent is the most troubling. Christian schools are not isolation booths; they are incubators. Christian schools are not intended to protect; they are designed to prepare. At least that is the goal of schools that I serve as part of Christian Schools International.

Yes, there is a certain element of protection for younger children in Christian schools. We want school to be safe, nurturing places. Christian schools do have clear beliefs and practices shared by home, school, and church. But as Jesus did with his disciples, children are taught on the rock solid foundation of Word and faith, and only after being well prepared and equipped are they sent out.

To label Christian schools as “kids in a fortified bubble” is a basic misunderstanding of the purpose of kingdom-advancing, disciples-making schools. I am ok with the idea of ‘prepared in a bubble to burst out of it to make a difference in the world’. But Ramsey implies that Christian schools are bubble-places for a bubble-life. Nothing is more inaccurate for the Christian schools that I serve.

So, Dave Ramsey, stick to advice about financial stewardship. You are good at it. But please stay away from suggesting that debt-free, financial goals supersede the biblical call to parents to train up their children in God’s ways. We will be faithful and obedient, even if it means dipping into our savings.

(This devotional reflection was first published in September 2016. It is being republished by request because it is the time of year when Christian schools are enrolling families for next year. Christian schools are welcome to copy and to use this message in their own communications if it is helpful.)

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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