Saturday, November 18, 2017

Are We Quietly Listening For God's Voice?

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

The Old Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary comes from the prophet Zephaniah.  Zephaniah’s prophetic ministry was in the southern kingdom of Judah from approximately 640 - 621 BC.  He ministered during the reign of King Josiah, who was the last good and godly king of Judah.  Zephaniah was probably a spiritual influence on Josiah, as this good king brought a degree of religious reform and revival in the country.  The last years of Zephaniah’s life saw the beginning of the prophetic ministry of the great prophet Jeremiah.  Let’s look at what our passage has to say.

God instructs the people of Judah to be quiet before Him because judgment is coming (vs. 7).  He won’t listen to their pleas or complaints any longer.  God wants sincere repentance, but the people won’t listen or obey, so now He calls for silence in view of His just judgment.  Within approximately 40+ years the Kingdom of Judah would fall, and the people would go into captivity.  We need to be quiet, as well, and listen to and for God’s voice through His Word.  When He speaks in instruction do we listen and obey, or are we like spoiled and disobedient children, who provoke the Lord to call us out, demanding our silence?

In verse 12 and following, we read that the Lord says He is searching Jerusalem with a lamp.  What was He looking for?  He was searching out the people’s hearts.  He would search the people and punish those deserving punishment.  In these years prior to the overthrow of the kingdom by the Babylonians the people had grown complacent in their sins, worship of false gods in addition to Yahweh, and wicked lifestyles.  Complacency is wrong.  We may think that God is inactive, and that He doesn’t see either the good or wrong we do.  He does see, and He will hold off His judgment for only so long.  

Zephaniah preached that since the people wouldn’t search their own hearts, and were content to live with their sins, God would do a search and bring judgment.  Though many people are indifferent to their sins, God is not indifferent to them.   We need to be obedient now.  We never know how long we have.  No one can escape God’s judgment, and there is no place to hide.  Though the people took no notice of the prophet’s message, he continued to tell them that the Day of the Lord is near!

God’s final judgment will just as surely happen, as surely as His judgment fell on Judah with the Babylonian captivity happened, just as the prophets foretold.  God warns the people through His prophet, that in His coming judgment, all of their money will be useless to help them (vs. 18).  That warning is just as applicable today.  No amount of money, no amount of political power or influence, no prestigious social standing, either, will help us out when God’s judgment will fall.  The only thing that can help us then is the Blood of Jesus.  The people in Zephaniah’s day were indifferent to the Lord God, but thankfully He isn’t indifferent to us.  He loves us and sent His Son to die for us.  Jesus’s Blood purchased our salvation.  By trusting in His death on the cross for our sins, trusting in Him alone, we will be spared God’s wrath.  Trust in Him, not in money or any other person.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Bridegroom Cometh

Matthew 25:1-13

Watch!  Be Prepared!  Be Ready!  These are words of warning that most of us have heard throughout our life from our parents and teachers.  These are also important warnings in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Scripture passage.  Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from this parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins that Jesus told to instruct His disciples about the Kingdom of God.

Jesus told the crowds around Him this instructional story intended to teach a spiritual lesson.  There were ten virgins at a wedding celebration.  Wedding celebrations at the time this parable was given were different from the wedding ceremonies that most of us are familiar with.  Weddings in the western world often take place in a church, home, garden, or other nice location.  A reception dinner follows, with music and dancing, lasting several hours, and then it’s over, making it simply a one day affair.  In the culture at the time of this parable, a wedding celebration was much more elaborate.  The ceremony would usually start at the bride’s house, then there would be a grand procession to the groom’s residence, ending with a magnificent banquet and festivities which would last for many days, often as long as a week.  Once the procession would arrive at the groom’s place, the doors were barred or locked so no uninvited guests could sneak in.

The ten young women in our parable were part of the wedding party, similar to today’s bridesmaids.  They were to take part in the procession from the bride’s house to that of the groom’s.  From the parable we can tell that this wedding was one that was late in the day, or in the evening, as oil lamps were needed.

As Jesus tells this story, He divides the ten virgins into two groups - those who had brought plenty of oil for their lamps and were prepared for any and all circumstances, and those who only brought a little oil for their lamps and were thus unprepared for what might happen (vs. 2-4).  There is some reason that the wedding ceremony at the bride’s house took longer than usual.  While the ten virgins were waiting they fell asleep (vs. 5).  Finally they hear the shouts that the bridegroom was coming and they wake up.  However, because of the long delay the unprepared or foolish virgins’ lamps had gone out, because they hadn’t brought enough oil with them.  They asked the other women for some of their oil, but were told no, lest there not be enough.  So off the foolish ones run to the market to get more, and miss the bridegroom.  They are unable to take part in the procession and are locked out from the wedding ceremony (vs. 10-12).

Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom, and the Church, born-again Christians, are the Bride.  Just like the bridegroom in our parable, Jesus will be coming for His Bride.  Jesus is telling us that we need to be ready.  We need to be watching for His return and be prepared.  It was quite a while ago that Jesus returned to heaven.  Many are like the foolish virgins, not alert or caring that our Bridegroom could come at any moment.  We must be ready.  Being spiritually prepared is not something we can buy or borrow at the last minute.

Scripture says no one knows the day or hour of Christ’s return (vs. 13).  We must be continually watching for Jesus’s coming, and be in a continual state of readiness, living productively for Him.  Jesus wants us actively doing His work, spreading the Gospel message right until the day of His return.  

This parable Jesus spoke to us says how important it is for us to be ready for His return, even if the delay is longer than expected.  There will be no second chance for the unprepared.  Watch!  Be prepared!  Be ready!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Death Is Not The End Of The Story

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Many of us have dear friends or relatives who were believers and who have passed on from this life.  Our passage today from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica is one that should give hope and encouragement to us when we think of and remember those loved ones.  Paul had come and preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians, but after only a few brief weeks his enemies came and he was forced to flee for his life.  Because he was only able to stay with them a brief while, Paul was unable to teach the Thessalonians everything that he would have wished to.  One thing he did teach them was the imminent return of Jesus for His Church.  The new believers here, though, were confused about one matter, and that was about what happened to those who died before Christ returned.  Would they miss out on His return for the Church?  In our passage today Paul explained God’s truth in this matter.

In verse 13 Paul speaks of those who have “fallen asleep”.  That was a familiar New Testament euphemism, describing the dead body, not the soul.  The Thessalonians mistakenly thought that those who died before Jesus’s return would miss out on that glorious event.  Paul wanted them to know that was not the case.  We have hope because of Christ, including hope that we will see our deceased saved loved ones.  Paul also teaches elsewhere in Scripture that believers who are absent from the body are present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8), and that they will experience a bodily resurrection (I Corinthians 15:40-54).

Because Jesus was resurrected, His children will be as well, both those who will be alive when He returns, and those believers who have died.  Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that this is victory, not a cause for despair!  These verses should comfort us, and any who have had loved ones die.   He spoke these words to give comfort to these believers, and we can take comfort, too.  The dead will participate in the Lord’s coming for His Church.  The living will be reunited forever with the Lord and their loved ones.

The events described in these verses are the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made in John 14:1-3.  He’s prepared a place for us, and He’s returning to get us.  Jesus gives us a reason to be confident, comforted, and encouraged about life after death.   Death is not the end of the story.  All believers will be reunited with each other, those living and those who have died before.

We don’t know when Jesus’s return will take place, and should not believe those who have tried to set specific dates for this.  It could happen at any moment, and thus, we should all be ready.  That shout, that voice of the archangel, will be a welcome sound to the saved, the children of God.  However, it will signal doom and disaster to those who are lost.  We need to both be ready, ourselves, for Jesus’s return, and also witnessing to the lost, telling them the Gospel with the hope and prayer that they may come to know Jesus as their Savior, and will join us in the place Jesus has prepared for us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Leave Our Enemies To God

Psalm 70

Our psalm this week is short, and for many, an obscure one written by King David.  In this psalm David cries out to God for help and deliverance from enemies.  As one reads the life of David in the Old Testament, we see that he spent a good deal of his life contending with enemies.

One thing that really sticks out to me, as I read over the life of David and the psalms he wrote, is that no matter what difficulties he was going through, David never lost the joy of the Lord.  Severe trials came his way, some through his own fault and some for no other reason than Satan’s attacks on him, but he kept a heart filled with praise for the Lord.

In verses 3 and 4 we read David’s prayer to God against his enemies.  This may be difficult for some people to consider, especially when we remember how Jesus instructed us to love and bless our enemies.  However, David, along with other writers of the psalms, often would pray to God for Him to bring down his enemies, go get his enemies, let them fall into their own trap, etc.  As mentioned earlier, David spent many, many years of his life being chased and oppressed by his enemies, both before he was king, and while on the throne.  It seemed to never end throughout his life.  Through it all, though, David never took matters into his own hands.  He could have, as he was the king and held all power, and before that he was still quite powerful, with many men under him.  David, though, left the reprisal and vengeance to God.  He knew that vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; and Romans 12:19).   That is something that we need to remember, as well.  Our enemies may come down hard and heavy on us, but we need to let God handle them.  If our case is righteous before the Lord, then we can trust Him, just as David did.

What did David do instead of taking vengeance into his own hands?  As we read in verse 4, he rejoiced and praised the Lord.  How is that possible?  Here we read that his enemies are after his life, wanting to really hurt him physically, and any other way, too (vs. 2).   In the middle of that, how can one praise the Lord?  David kept his focus on the Yahweh, and not so much on his troubles.  He knew that the Lord, and Him alone, was the only One who could rescue him and bring him deliverance, so David sought Him out.  He could rejoice and be glad when he had the Lord before him.  Most importantly, when David remembered his salvation, he broke out into praise, and magnified, or extolled and glorified the Lord God.

David knew that he did not have the power within himself to help himself in this crisis (vs. 5).  He acknowledged that he was poor and needy, and his only help is God.  That is the case with us, as well.  God is the only One who can come to our aid, and the only one who can fill our lives with joy.  Just like David, when things look bad, we must never forget to praise the Lord.  Praise is important because it helps us to remember who God is, and that He alone has victory over our enemies, especially Satan.  Praise puts the demons to flight!   In difficult times it also helps to remember all the times God has helped us and what He’s done for us in the past, and remember exactly who God is.

In verse 4 David speaks to us believers today.  “Let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified!’”, the verse says.   As believers, we should never keep silent about the good news of Jesus.  We are to share it, and all that He’s done for us.   Like David knew, we can experience the presence of the Lord in our lives through any trouble, and how praising Him will bring us the victory.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Waiting For The Day Of The Lord

Amos 5:18-24

The Old Testament Scripture reading from this week’s Lectionary taken from the Book of Common Prayer is from the Prophet Amos.  Before being called by God into the ministry, Amos had been a sheep rancher and also grew sycamore figs.  He was initially from the southern kingdom of Judah, but most of his messages and preaching were for the northern kingdom during the years of 760 - 755 BC.

The “Day of the Lord” refers to a future day of God’s judgment.  In the Old Testament times it often spoke of the imminent time when God would chasten either the nations of Israel or Judah, or bring judgment on other nations, for their sins.  The New Testament’s usage of the term often refers to the return of the Lord Jesus and God’s judgment on the world.

As we read this passage, we see that the people of Israel were looking forward to the “Day of the Lord”, thinking that God would come to their aid, and swoop down on their enemies.  Amos, though, says this will not be the case (vs. 18 - 20).  The people that Amos was preaching to were wishing for the “day of the Lord”, thinking that God would come and rescue them from all of their troubles, solely because they were His children.  Amos said that the Day of the Lord would bring justice, and because the people had, in reality, forsaken God’s Word, that justice would bring judgment for their sins.  Even though the people were outwardly still practicing religious ceremonies, in reality they were continuing to worship false gods and reject God’s Word.

Amos proceeds to tell the people the gist of God’s message to them here in verses 21 - 23.  God does not like the false worship of those who are just going through the motions, but whose hearts and minds are not truly given to Him.  Outward shows of religiosity mean nothing if we aren’t obedient.  That’s the same both back in Amos’s day and in ours today.  If we are in sin, but thinking religious rituals and traditions will make us look good to God, we are wrong.  God wants sincere worship from the heart.  Our heart and attitude to God must change.  We need to be concerned with what God thinks, not on how religious we appear to others.

The Day of the Lord, depending on one’s salvation, will be either a time to look forward to or not.  As Amos was saying in verses 18 - 20, for the lost it will be a time of God’s judgment, a day of darkness and judgment, with no brightness.  For those who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus, the Day of the Lord will be wonderful.  God will not just jump in and come to people’s aid if they are not saved, or are in active, willful sin (vs. 21-23).

God loves us so much, and He wants our hearts in return.  Religious practices mean nothing to Him if our heart is not right.  Let’s be sure that we give our whole self, including both our heart and mind, to the Lord God, and follow His Word.  If you have never accepted the Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I urge you to ask Him into your heart today as your Lord and Savior.  That way the Day of the Lord will not be darkness and judgment for you, but the glorious welcoming of the return of the Lord Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hypocrites Versus Servants

Matthew 23:1-12

Hypocrites!  Nobody likes to be around people who pretend to be someone they are not, or who say one thing and then do the opposite.  We find them at work, with family and friends, and also in our churches.  Hypocrisy is one major reason people give for not wanting to attend church.  Jesus had some strong words to say about religious hypocrites in today’s passage.  Let’s take a look at these Scripture verses.

To the Pharisees in Jesus’s day human rules, religious traditions, and practices had become more important than God’s actual laws.  Often the religious leaders told the people to obey their human rules and traditions, but they, themselves, didn’t follow them (vs. 2-4).   One of their problems was that the Pharisees added human traditions to God’s Word, making man-made religious laws more important than the Bible.  They would put heavy religious burdens on others that were only man-made religious traditions, but they would only follow these outwardly, in order to make themselves look good.

One thing about religious or moral hypocrites is that they try to look good in the eyes of others, when in reality they aren’t that good.  They want to be seen by others.  Jesus pointed this out in verses 5 and 6.   The phylacteries that Jesus spoke of in verse 5 are small leather boxes, worn on the forehead and arm, containing parchments with Scriptures from Exodus and Deuteronomy that were worn by men during prayers.  Many Orthodox Jewish men today will still put on phylacteries when they pray morning prayers.   Those who were hypocrites in Jesus’s day would make the phylactery as prominent as they could, and broaden the leather straps which bound them to the arms and head, in order to appear more holy.  They would do the same with the tassels on their prayer shawls, making them longer.  They didn’t care for the spiritual significance anymore.  They just wanted the status they got.

How do we see this kind of hypocrisy today?  How about the person who comes to church carrying the biggest possible Bible they can find, one that almost needs a wagon to carry it?   Perhaps it also has the flashiest Bible cover, as well.  But the rest of the week, does that person live like an unbeliever?  What about the person who finds the biggest possible cross to wear around their neck, but lives in such a way as to only bring dishonor to that cross?   They only want to appear “holy” to others.  As Jesus indicated, God sees through all of this.  Huge Bibles, giant golden crosses around the neck, extra-large phylacteries and tassels mean nothing to God.  It’s our behavior and heart that Jesus sees, and which matters.  He isn’t interested in religious rituals, but in the condition of our heart and soul.

Jesus also condemned the pride and pretense of some who used religious titles (vs. 8-10).  Many religious leaders, both back then and today, use grandiose titles to make themselves seem more important, or to seem to the people as the source of all religious truth, rather than God.  Again, God sees into the heart and can see the pride and hypocrisy.  Rather than trying to appear great and sanctified in other’s eyes, Jesus says our focus should be the humble task of serving others (vs. 11-12).   We are greatest when we’re serving others, and when we are aware of other people’s needs, not focusing only on ourselves, which is a byproduct of hypocrisy.

There is nothing wrong with carrying a Bible to church, or wearing a nice cross around one’s neck.  It is also a good thing to do good, especially to others.  But it is not good to do it just to be seen, which is hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy turns people away from God.  People see hypocrisy when they see a church where having the best worship band that is top-notch, entertainment-style quality is more important than how they treat individuals needs, and see pastors dressed in designer suits driving luxury cars.  Rather than just flash religiosity around in order to seem holy, let’s truly follow in Jesus’s footsteps, letting His light shine through us to draw others to Him.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Opposition Christians Face

I Thessalonians 2:9-20

Any true and faithful messenger of the Lord will face opposition from His enemies, sometimes harsh opposition.  Many of the Old Testament prophets faced this, as did the Apostles, and of course, the Lord Jesus did as well.  Here in our Scripture passage today, as we continue in I Thessalonians, we see how Paul was facing just such strong opposition.

As Paul traveled throughout the eastern half of the Mediterranean bringing the Gospel message to the lost, he rarely depended on the people he was ministering to for his daily support.  In verse 9 we read that he never asked the church in Thessalonica for financial support while he was there.  He had been a tentmaker by trade before the Lord called him to the ministry, and often he continued that work to provide for his day to day expenses or needs (Acts 18:3).  Paul didn’t want his motives questioned by his enemies.  There were preachers back then, and certainly are today, who are greedy for money and riches from the ministry, but Paul was not one of them.  His enemies were always looking for something that they could throw at him, trying to discredit him in the eyes of everyone.  Paul called upon the Thessalonians, and God as well, as witnesses to his holy conduct (vs. 10).  These opponents of the Gospel may throw their accusations, but they were all lies.  Whenever a Christian takes a stand for Jesus, there will be opposition, disapproval and ridicule from the enemies of God.  Paul’s words and example gave encouragement to the Thessalonians in their efforts to live in such a way as to honor God.

Earlier in the chapter Paul compared himself and the Thessalonian church to a mother/child relationship.  Now in verse 11, he sees himself like a father to them.  He could be gentle, like a mother, or admonish and discipline like a father.  These believers were Paul’s children in the faith, and like any parent, he was looking out for their behavior.  As Christians our behavior and lifestyle needs to reflect to Whom we belong to.  We need to walk worthy of our calling (vs. 12).  The message that Paul brought was not just his words or his opinion; it was truly the Word of God (vs. 13).   Be careful whose message we are accepting - is it the word of man, or is it truly from the Word of God.

In verses 14 thru 16 the Word of God tells more of the opposition and persecutions that Paul and his companions received as they sought to spread the Gospel.  Here are the verses in the New King James version:

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

After only a few short weeks of speaking the Gospel message to the Thessalonians, Paul was run out of town by his enemies (vs. 17).  He had been forcefully separated from the Thessalonians, his spiritual children, when he and Silas had been forced to flee for their lives (Acts 17:1-10).  This opposition wasn’t just from men, it ultimately was coming from Satan, himself (vs. 18).  Satan was attempting to stop the growth of the church.  He was trying to put an end to Paul’s ministry.  If we are doing work for the Lord, we need to also be aware of Satan’s opposition, but never be discouraged by his schemes.  The ultimate victory will be God’s.

As Paul concludes this portion of our Scripture passage for today, he made sure that he let the believers there that they were his joy (vs. 19-20).  He knew that the greatest thing from his ministry was the souls that he won for the Lord Jesus.  That should be our greatest joy, as well.  The souls we lead to the Lord are our crown of rejoicing.