“I also give you all the best olive oil, the best new wine, and the grain that is offered to God as the firstfruits of their harvest—all the firstfruits they offer to God are yours. Anyone in your household who is ritually clean may eat it.” NUMBERS 18:12–13
Farming sustained the Israelites’ life. Lacking the local Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie, Publix, or even a refrigerator, their meals revolved around their crops. Each year as the new crops began to grow, they began anticipating new crops since they were still eating the crops from the previous year. That is a long time to eat leftovers! As they gathered up their first load of grain, or their firstfruits, it may have been tempting to use their fresh, new grain to make a tasty loaf of bread. But instead, they ground it into fine flour and delivered it to the Temple as an offering to God. The Israelites gave God their firstfruits as a way of telling Him, “We trust you to come through.” Firstfruits were a sign of things to come. They trusted God to provide more crops for their families. Unless we are farmers, our firstfruits will look a bit different from for the Israelites. What are your firstfruits? Is it your time? Is it where you pour out your passion? What is your best? Some people advocate for quiet times first thing in the morning, but that may not be your best. What God desires is our best. What God desires is first place in our lives. Put God first, give Him the best, and depend on Him to provide the rest. God is faithful and He will always come through.
“And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.” ROMANS 11:16
The word “Holy” means, “set apart, sacred, worthy of complete devotion.” The imagery of Romans 11 is an olive plant in an orchard. God planted it and tended it. Some of those branches stopped producing fruit, so God pruned those branches off. He also found olive branches from wild trees and grafted them into this olive plant. Unless you are of Jewish decent, the wild branches represent you being grafted into the tree. When God grafts us in, we receive our nourishment from God’s holy root. Paul described what Jesus explained to His disciples: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned” (John 15:4-8 NLT). How is our connection to Christ? Is our graft holding tight causing us to flourish and bear fruit? It’s hard to produce fruit and be healthy when there is not a connection to the main source of all nourishment, the root. Either way, you can depend on God to prune the things in your life that are diseased and sick. His pruning may hurt and be difficult, but when those parts are gone, you will begin to heal, grow, and flourish like God intends.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.”
We might read this verse and conclude to ourselves, “If I just tithe my 10 percent, then I’ve got it made. I will be rich beyond measure if I’m just faithful with my tithe.” But we must keep in mind the first six words, “Honor the LORD with your wealth.” Most of us may not consider ourselves wealthy because the term wealthy is relative. Another word used for wealth is possessions. Is God honored through what we own? If you do not know, then ask Him! First Corinthians tells us, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31 ESV). How do we honor God with our phones or other electronic devices? How do we honor God with our choice of television shows or movies? As hard as it may be to turn away from some of these things, we are turning to God and He will provide for more than what we gave up. A missionary in South Africa traveled weekly to a nearby village to have a Bible study for the women in the village. One week the only woman attending the study was the woman living in the home where they met. The missionary shared about giving that day and at the end the woman asked if giving her only two-rand coin (worth about a quarter) to a beggar would be an acceptable gift to please God. Even though we would say she gave out of her poverty, according to these verses she gave out of her wealth. It wasn’t about the finances, it was about her faith. She wanted to honor God with everything that she had. How can you honor God like she did? Is there something He wants you to give up so He can be honored and lifted up?
“But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 JOHN 2:5–6
Cardiac surgeons have to attend quite a bit of schooling before they begin to do surgeries. They complete five years of a general surgery residency and two or more years of a specialized cardiac fellowship before becoming certified to perform surgeries on patient’s hearts. They have to watch surgeries and they have to assist surgeries before they ever do one on their own. What if this wasn’t the case? What if someone studied hard and passed the tests, but was never required to assist with or even watch a heart surgery? Would you let them operate on your heart? No way! You want a doctor that knows everything there is to know about the heart, but has also learned by assisting other great cardiac surgeons. This type of experience-based knowledge was what John wrote about in 1 John. He knew some would just read Scripture and proclaim they were amazing Christians, but were far from Christ. When we read God’s word, we may wonder how we are to apply it to our lives. This is why it’s so important that we look at the life of Christ as our prime example of how to live. Learn from the pro! As we begin to take small steps to apply it, we may still feel like we just are not getting it. Loving our enemies may look a lot messier in our lives than we first pictured. Keep up the good work, because you will be able to step back later and see how God has changed you and affected those around you. Then, you will know that you are in Him, just as John wrote. Let’s get excited to see how God is going to perfect His love in us today by obeying Him, no matter how messy it might get.
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” PSALM 1:1–3
Would you seek out a person who just broke out of prison and ask them for some life experience wisdom? Would you go to a sporting event and choose to sit next to the unruly fans that are yelling at the refs and throwing trash down on the playing field? These are obviously bad ideas. When we begin to read Psalm 1, it seems like a checklist that we can easily check off.
How can we delight in a bunch of rules? We delight in them when we realize that they aren’t rules but guidelines for living the life God has for us. Only when we trust the One who wrote the rules and trust in His purposes will we fully experience all that God has for us. Think of it this way. When you get on a roller coaster, you are more than eager to follow the instructions to buckle up because it’s easy to imagine the consequences of failing to do so, right? Well, delighting in God’s law is worth more than even protecting ourselves from failure; it is life giving (John 10:10). And when we meditate on Jesus’ words day and night, we will be solid in our faith like a well-watered tree. The word “meditate” means: “ponder, think about, consider.” Take God at His word and meditate on His word, day and night, to see how fruitful your life can really be!
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” COLOSSIANS 3:23
When a man and woman are in love, they tend to do things for their special someone they may not normally do for others or even themselves. They will clean their apartment until it sparkles and shines, even if they never vacuumed before. Those who have only braved making a PB&J sandwich will aspire to make an entire four-course meal from scratch. Why do they put themselves to so much trouble and effort? Because they want to show their love. These feverish attempts to impress may fade away with time, but they can give us a glimpse of what Paul was instructing the Colossians to do. When we tire of working for a person who may or may not appreciate us, we must remember that ultimately we work for Christ. We are His bride! He sees how we work, even if our boss and co-workers don’t. Even if our extra efforts do not show up on our yearly review, we can be sure God has taken notice. Putting a smile on God’s face is infinitely more important than a pat on the back from a co-worker. Do you seek the applause of others or the pleasure of God? If you find yourself consistently disappointed by the reaction, or lack thereof, of others, you might have a misplaced priority of affection. Ask God to help you get the right perspective on this, and watch and see how He changes your heart! He will help you do everything in His strength, for His glory, when you put Him first.
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12
The Amazing Race is a reality television series where teams race around the world seeking clues, solving puzzles, and trying to finish ahead of the pack. In 2005, they held a family edition in which each group contained four family members. These members helped each other out physically, mentally, and emotionally throughout the race and stayed together even when they were tempted to go in multiple directions. What would you think if three of the four members of one of these teams decided the fourth was not pulling their weight and asked the producers to send that person home? Even if you agreed with their assessment, you would be shocked if they were to be so ruthless to one of their own family members. They would never do that. Why? Because family helps family. When a family member is struggling the rest of the family picks them up and helps them cross the finish line.
As a body of believers, we are running a race around this world, but it is not to win a million dollars, it is to tell lost people the message of Christ. If we see a weak member, we do not drop them off like excess baggage and we do not jump ship when our family as a whole is struggling. We help one another in whatever way we can. We challenge and encourage those around us to give it all we have toward the goal. We want to finish this race with a smile on our face and hand in hand. How can you encourage those in your spiritual family this week?