devos from the hill


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From Blessing to Bondage

Where are you in the cycle?
Lesson 39 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

For over a thousand years, the Hebrew people attempted to live as God had commanded them. But many times they drifted away from God, sometimes even following false gods. When they did not turn back to God, He would discipline them, often by sending a foreign nation to invade their land and rule over them. The Hebrew people would then acknowledge their unfaithfulness, and call to God for deliverance. God would then raise up a leader to free the people from their oppressors. And the people would renew their commitment to live according to the ways of God. From blessing to bondage to blessing to bondage, over and over, again and again, the Hebrew people had been called to show the world what God was like. But because of the sin that infected the world, they could not walk in the ways of God without falling.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

As we delve into this lesson, it is important to keep in mind that The HOPE is a summary overview of the Bible. An 80 minute video could not possibly cover the entire Bible. The HOPE excerpt above describes what happened over a period of more than a thousand years. During this time numerous kings and prophets made their mark on Hebrew history. Their stories are recorded in many books of the Bible. However, if you had to describe this period of time in one paragraph, the excerpt above would be an accurate one.

This excerpt describes a cycle that was repeated often in the history of the Hebrew people. One writer has described this cycle as follows:

from faith to obedience
from obedience to blessing
from blessing to abundance
from abundance to selfishness
from selfishness to judgment
from judgment to bondage
from bondage to brokenness
from brokenness to faith …1

After the Hebrew people saw the miracles of God in their Exodus from Egypt, they had the faith to obey God. They were quick to commit to whatever God asked of them. God promised to bless them when they obeyed, which He did. In fact they were blessed to abundance. And so the cycle began, and continued for centuries.

This cause and effect progression is not only descriptive of the Hebrew people; it can apply to any nation or individual in relationship with God. Notice that there is a differentiation between blessing and abundance. Abundance usually means having more than we need. From God’s perspective, having more than we need brings the responsibility to use our surplus to glorify God by blessing others. To do anything less is selfishness. In the case of the Hebrew people, judgment followed selfishness. There is a verse in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:6) which tells us that God disciplines those whom He loves. God’s judgment of the Hebrew people was motivated by His love for them. His judgment often resulted in bondage to another nation, which brought them to a place of brokenness and an awareness of their need for God! Continue reading


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The Law – God’s Mirror

A mirror can reveal a dirty face, but can’t clean the face.
Lesson 38 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

– Romans 3:20

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

In the last two lessons we considered the Law that God gave to the Hebrew people. God promised that if the Hebrew people obeyed the Law they would be blessed, but if they disobeyed the Law they would be punished. We also saw that God, knowing the Hebrew people would not be able to fully and consistently keep the Law, provided a way to cover their sin through the offering of sacrifices.

But there is yet another important aspect of the Law we must consider. Many people have the idea that the Law was given as a means for man to be right with God. But the Bible is clear (Romans 3:20) that no person can gain right standing (be justified) with God by keeping the Law. Think about it. If we could keep the Law perfectly (although we can’t), we would still be infected with the sin which was passed down to every person through Adam (see Lesson 18). Sin separates man from God. Even if you had never sinned, the sin in you would still separate you from God.

As we study the Bible, we learn that the Law is like a mirror – for both God and man. In the Law we see a true reflection of God’s character. That reflection reveals that God is holy and righteous. But in the Law, we also see a true image of ourselves. Our inability to keep the Law reveals our inadequacy, for the Law clearly reveals that we do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness and righteousness. Something in us prevents us from measuring up, and according to Romans 3:20, that something is sin.

A mirror can be helpful to show you if your face needs washing. But it cannot be used to wash your face. No one in their right mind would take a mirror and rub it on their face to remove dirt. That requires a cleansing agent such as soap. So it is with the Law. The Law reveals sin, but it is not a cleansing agent. It cannot cleanse us from sin, but it can show us our need to be cleansed. It can create a sense of need for the promised Deliverer, the only One who can take away sin! Continue reading


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The Law – A Sacred Trust, A Holy Calling

The Law – A Reflection of God’s Holy character.
Lesson 36 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.

– Exodus 19:3-8

From Egypt, God led the Hebrew people to a mountain in a desert called Sinai. It was here God said that if the Hebrew people obeyed Him, then they would be blessed as His treasured possession, and they would represent Him to all the nations of the earth. The people said they would do whatever God asked. And so it was, with lightning and thunder, and smoke and fire, God descended upon the mountain. And Moses went up the mountain to meet with God. On tablets of stone, God wrote laws by which to live and be blessed. He gave them to Moses to give to the Hebrew people. It was a sacred trust, a holy calling. For these laws were the ways of God.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

What an honor! What a responsibility! Through trials and miraculous triumphs, the Hebrew people had been set apart from all the nations of the earth to enter into a covenant with God. This covenant was centered around the Law that God gave to the Hebrew people through Moses on Mount Sinai. Known as the Ten Commandments, this Law is recorded for us in Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21. In this covenant God promised that if the Hebrew people obeyed His Law, then they would become His people and He would bless them. If they disobeyed His Law, then He would punish them.

The blessings and curses associated with this covenant are detailed in Deuteronomy 28. While this covenant is primarily defined in terms of the Hebrew people and their relationship to God, the ultimate significance of this covenant extends to the entire world. In the Exodus 19 passage quoted above, God promises that if the Hebrew people obey Him, then they will be to Him “a kingdom of priests.” Basically, a priest is an intermediary between God and man. A priest leads people to God and is God’s representative to people. Continue reading


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God Will Provide

God provides all we need for what He calls us to do.
Lesson 30 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

– Genesis 22:1–2

And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

– Genesis 22:10–14

And together they went to the appointed place. There they prepared the altar and arranged the wood. God had not yet provided another offering. So Abraham bound his son on the altar. Still there was no other sacrifice. So Abraham lifted his knife to slay his son. Then there came from Heaven a voice saying, “Do not lay a hand on the lad.” And there in the thicket was a ram, caught by its horns. And so it was that God provided an offering in place of Abraham’s son. This was a picture of the offering that God would one day provide for the sin of humankind.

– The HOPE, Chapter 5

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

This lesson deals with one of the most dramatic and profound stories in the Bible. Abraham was a man who loved God and followed Him with faithful abandon for decades. And yet God, who loves life and loves people, asked this man to do the unthinkable: to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice. And if that was not enough drama, recall that Isaac was the one through whom God promised to bless all people! It was not only Abraham’s hope, but the hope of the entire world that was bound to that altar. What do we do with this story? How can we understand it?

On the surface, this story seems to contradict much of what the Bible has shown us about God. But as we have also seen in previous lessons, the Bible may stretch us and challenge our understanding, but it is important not to jump to conclusions based upon what “seems’” or appears to be a contradiction as we read the Bible. From our study of God’s story thus far, we know that God is perfect in His goodness and wisdom.

So with that understanding as our foundation, let’s consider the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Genesis 22:1 says that God “tested” Abraham. There are two ways to look at a test. Most of us are familiar with tests taken in school. Such tests are meant to determine the degree to which one has mastered a course of study. Most of us know what it’s like to wonder whether or not we will do well on such a test. There is, however, another type of test, one that measures identity rather than performance. For instance, metals are often tested to determine their purity. There is nothing the metal can do to affect whether or not it will pass the test. Either the metal is pure, or it’s not. This kind of test simply measures the identity of what is being tested.

Consider that in the case of Abraham, the One who tested him was also the One who prepared him for the test, namely God. And like a precious metal that is refined by fire to remove impurities and make it pure, Abraham had been refined by God through the years by the fires of his faith walk. There was no question with God as to whether or not Abraham would do well on this test. This was not a risky experiment. God knew exactly what Abraham had become: a man who put God first, before everything, even his own son. God knew Abraham’s identity, and this test would simply reveal it! Abraham’s life is a testimony to what God can accomplish in a person who is willing to follow wherever He leads. This story dramatically shows forth Abraham’s faith for the world to see …and God is glorified as a result. Continue reading


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Abraham – A Man Who Walked by Faith

Step by step, God initiated – Abraham responded.
Lesson 26 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Genesis 12:1–3

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.

– Hebrews 11:8

From among the nations of the earth God called out a man, who is known to us as Abraham. God told Abraham to leave his home and go to a land He would show him. Abraham did as God said, taking all his people and possessions. God promised that Abraham would possess this land, and become the father a great nation. And through him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. It was a peculiar promise, for Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had no children of their own. But Abraham obeyed God just the same, and led his people to the land of Canaan.

– The HOPE, Chapter 5

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

In the previous lesson we saw how God brought about the nations of the world. We also learned that God’s plan will ultimately bring unity and blessing to the nations and glory to God. In this lesson we will consider an event that marks a very significant step toward that end.

From among all the nations God called out one man named Abraham. We can only imagine how it went when Abraham told his wife, Sarah, what he heard from God.

Abraham: We’re going to pack up and leave our home.

Sarah: Why would we do that?

Abraham: Because God said so.

Sarah: Why would He do that?

Abraham: Because God is going to make me the father of a great nation, and He is going to bless all the nations through me.

Sarah: But we don’t even have children.

Abraham: I know.

Sarah: And neither of us is young.

Abraham: I know.

Sarah: So where are we going?

Abraham: I don’t know.

Abraham had nothing on which to base his actions…nothing but his faith in God. But he took the step that God told him to take. And today, Abraham is known as the father of three of the world’s major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.1 He is without question one of the most significant figures in all of history. His name appears in the Bible over 260 times, often as an example of a man of great faith. Continue reading


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The Beginning of the Nations

God works all things according to His grand plan.
Lesson 25 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

– Genesis 11:4

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

– Genesis 11:9

The number of Noah’s descendants increased greatly, but they remained as one people. They did not fill the earth as God commanded. Instead they built a city. Then they built a tower reaching to the heavens. God was not pleased. So God confused their language. Immediately there were at least 70 groups of people who could not speak with each other. Then God scattered these groups around the earth. And this was the beginning of the languages and nations of our world.

– The HOPE, Chapter 4

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Recall from the previous lesson that when Noah and his family left the ark, God blessed them and told them to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1,7). However, instead of filling the earth, Noah’s family gathered in one place and built a city. And then they proceeded to build a tower that would reach into heaven (Genesis 11:4). Their motive was to make a name for themselves and to keep from being scattered over the face of the earth.

In Genesis 11:5-9 we see God’s response to their disobedience. He confused their language so that they did not understand one another’s speech. Bible scholars do not agree on the exact amount of time between the flood and the building of the tower of Babel. But from the record we have in Genesis 10, we could conclude that there were 70 family units at the time of the tower of Babel.1 So when God confused their language, Bible scholars estimate that there were as many as 70 different languages being spoken. It must have been complete chaos!

Work on the tower came to an abrupt halt and the people were scattered across the earth. (Genesis 11:9)

Recall also from the previous lesson that we contrasted God’s mandate to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1) with the people’s fear of being scattered across the earth. As a result of disobeying God, the very thing they were trying to avoid in Genesis 11:4 (being scattered) is the very thing that happened in Genesis 11:9 (they were scattered).

Now, all of this may have seemed like a big confusing mess, but as we’ve already seen numerous times in God’s story, He has a plan! And what appears to be a step backward in that plan is often really a step forward, if we see it from God’s perspective. Continue reading


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Be Fruitful and Multiply or Not

God’s way to blessing is the only way to blessing.
Lesson 24 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”

– Genesis 9:1

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

– Genesis 11:1, 2&4

When the water finally subsided, the ark came to rest on a mountain, and the animals went their own way. And so it was that Noah and his family escaped God’s judgment of evil in the world, not because they were without sin, but because they believed God. And God blessed Noah and his sons and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill them earth. The number of Noah’s descendants increased greatly, but they remained as one people. They did not fill the earth as God commanded. Instead they built a city. Then they built a tower reaching to the heavens. God was not pleased.

– The HOPE, Chapter 4

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Have you ever longed for a fresh start? Well after the flood, Noah and his family experienced one of the most remarkable fresh starts in human history. They had a blank slate on which to begin a completely new story for their lives. And furthermore, God spoke a blessing of prosperity over them (Genesis 9:1,  7). God then promised never to destroy the world with a flood again …and He sealed His promise with the first rainbow (Genesis 9:13-15)!

What an opportunity for renewal. Unfortunately, it was never realized!

God told Noah and his family to fill the earth. Instead, they gathered in one place and built a city. They wanted to be one people in one place. But that is not what God wanted. In the next lesson we’ll see God’s response to their disobedience, but for today let’s reflect on how they could possibly have missed such an incredible opportunity to walk in the way of blessing!

According to God’s story, Noah and his family entered the ark on the second week of the 2nd month of the year. They left the ark on the 27th day of the 2nd month of the following year (Genesis 8:14-15). Assuming a lunar calendar of 365 days, Noah and his family could have been on the ark an entire year!1 Linger on that thought before moving on.

When they finally stepped off the ark, what were they feeling? What on earth did they see after everything had been under water for nearly a year? Was it a strange, horrifying sight, perhaps even surreal?

Of all people, Noah and his family should have been prepared to follow God no matter what they saw.

  •  In the entire world they alone had been preserved by God through the flood.
  •  They personally heard God and saw Him do amazing things.
  •  God pronounced a blessing on them that they should have fruitful lives.

Still, after radically trusting God and having experienced His faithfulness as they did, Noah’s family failed to do what God told them to do. Either they didn’t listen carefully or they listened, but didn’t obey. You’ve probably heard the saying that there is safety in numbers. Perhaps they stayed together because they were afraid. Whatever their reason, they disobeyed God. They did not attempt to fill the earth.

From today’s lesson, consider that:

  •  God wanted Noah and his family to prosper and “fill” the earth (Genesis 9:1). That was the way to discover God’s blessing. But the way to blessing may not have looked to them like a blessing. The people feared being “scattered” across the earth (Genesis11:4). The difference between “filling” the earth (as God commanded) and being “scattered” across the earth is primarily one of perspective: one of choosing or being forced.
  •  They wanted to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). That prideful motivation sounds a lot like the attitude that led to Satan’s downfall (Lesson 14).
  •  Even though they didn’t want to follow God, they still wanted to get to heaven. But they wanted to do it their way – by building a tower (Genesis 11:4).

Continue reading


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A Deadly Line of Thought

The first question is not is He good, but rather is He God?
Lesson 17 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said,’ You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

– Genesis 3:1–5

And so it was one day as Eve was walking in the garden near the tree of knowledge that Satan spoke to her. She was without fear, for fear had not yet come into the world. Satan asked her about the forbidden fruit. He questioned God’s warning and His motive toward man. Eve listened and began to doubt God. She considered the fruit and ate. Then she gave the fruit to Adam, and he ate. And immediately, they were aware of their nakedness and they were ashamed.

– The HOPE, Chapter 3

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

The current lesson continues our study of Satan’s interaction with Eve at the tree of knowledge. Let’s think about Satan’s tactic with Eve as recorded in the Bible passage above.

Eve told Satan what God said about the forbidden tree, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.” Satan responded, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”1

At first, it appears that Satan is simply contradicting God, or at least trying to re–interpret what God has said. He seems to be trying to get Eve to question whether she really heard what she thought she heard. Instigating doubt and confusion is certainly one of Satan’s primary tactics.

But if you dig more deeply, there appears to be even more to Satan’s strategy. In his line, “You surely shall not die!” you can almost hear him saying to Eve, “Oh come now. God wouldn’t do that to you …would He?” Satan is leading Eve to question God’s intentions toward her. Then he follows up with, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This sounds like Satan is hinting that perhaps God doesn’t really want Eve to become all she can be, which would then cause her to wonder, “Does God really want what is best for me?”

At the core of this line of thinking there lurks a very dangerous question: “Is God really good?” People throughout time have stumbled over this very question. When Eve begins to ask it, slam…the trap is shut. Doubting that God is for her, she will now begin to look after her own interests.

Continue reading


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Two Trees – Two Ways

Two approaches to God – works and grace
Lesson 11 from The HOPE Study Guide

Introduction

And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.

– Genesis 2: 9, 16-17

In the middle of the garden, there were two trees. One was the tree of life, the other, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he must not eat, for when he does he will surely die.

– The HOPE, Chapter 2

Observe & Consider

Thus far in God’s story, we’ve witnessed much drama, but no conflict. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a beautiful garden where they had all they needed. But two trees stood in the midst of the garden. One tree yielded life, the other death; first a spiritual death, and ultimately a physical death.

Bible scholars throughout history have considered the meaning of these two trees. Most agree that the trees represent two entirely different ways of relating to God and life.The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is thought to represent man’s attempt to be fulfilled, and rightly related to God, through his own effort – often by acquiring knowledge and trying to do what is right in His own eyes. The Bible says the end of this approach is death.2

However, the tree of life is, according to theologian John Calvin, a reminder to man that “he lives not by his own power, but by the kindness of God; and that life is not an intrinsic good, but proceeds from God.” 3 The tree of life represents the life–giving favor which flows from God – favor we do not merit and cannot earn, but can only receive in humility and thanksgiving. Continue reading


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When Life Throws You a Curve Ball

Mars Hill Staff Devotional
from Fred Carpenter

It’s a popular phrase. You’ve probably heard it, “When life throws you a curveball.”

Because the World Series is starting this week, I’m going to toss up the question, “What do you do when life throws you a curve ball?”

The curve ball is thrown by rotating the index and middle fingers down, resulting in spin on the ball that gives it the motion of a downward “curve”. It’s one of the hardest things in sports to execute well. It gives the opposition fits when thrown properly. Some pitchers have a curve ball that actually seems to skip or accelerate on the downward motion as it nears the plate.

What are the options for a batter when he is thrown a curve ball? Well, the first challenge is just to recognize if it is a curveball. It takes a lot of practice and physical gifting to be able to visually pick up on the spin of a baseball. Assuming a batter has some capacity to recognize a curveball, his first option, particularly if he’s low in the count, might be to “take it”; just watch it go by. Many batters know what it’s like to see that pitch coming right down the middle of the plate, thinking they can do whatever they want with the pitch. They can almost taste it. So they let loose with a swing, only to find at the last split second that the pitch is “dropping off the table.” There’s no way to adjust in time to connect with the ball. The best they can do is to try not to look like too much of a clown as their knees buckle and they thrash the air. Why do that if you don’t have to, if you can take it? If it’s early in the count you can give up a strike, and there is the possibility it will drop out of the strike zone and be called for a ball. Continue reading