Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Men With Opposite Impacts

Romans 5:15-19

In our passage from Romans today, Paul contrasts our first forefather, Adam, referred to in this passage as “one man” (small letter m), with our Savior, Jesus, referred to in this passage as “one Man” (large letter M).  In this brief passage Paul tells his readers and us that it was through the sin of one man, Adam, that sin entered into the world, and judgment has come upon all people.

We are all descendants of Adam.  Just as we inherit certain characteristics from our parents, we have all inherited one thing from Adam, and that is the stain of original sin and a sin nature, the tendency and desire to sin.  It was one act of sin against God that started that whole ugly ball rolling.  One act of sin, eating the forbidden fruit, that brought sin into the world, leading to more sins, and more.  Sin brings judgment from God.  That one act of sin, committed by Adam, which lead to more sins committed by everyone, brought God’s judgment upon us all.

This one man, Adam’s, one act of sin and disobedience in the Garden brought death into the world.  This was both physical death at the end of one’s life, and also spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God in hell.  This, too, is something that we have inherited as descendants of Adam.

This would all be very dismal and depressing if left just like that.  Our forefather Adam sins, and we all inherit sin, disobedience, judgment, and death.  That’s a rather hopeless picture.  But that is only half of the picture Paul is presenting us here.  The other half is that there is another Man who has brought something much more glorious.  This Man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  One man’s act brought sin, judgment and death.  This second Man’s one act of obedience by dying on the cross for our sins has brought grace, mercy and life to us.

Jesus’s act of obedience through His death brought us just the opposite of what Adam’s act of disobedience gave us.  Instead of condemnation we now have justification.  Instead of the spiritual death, we now have grace and righteousness.  Instead of being made sinners, we are now made righteous.

This is a gift from God.  A gift is free, you don’t have to pay for it.  If you did, it wouldn’t be a gift, would it?  It would be a purchase.  Why would anyone pay for something that they can get for free?  Where I live we have much good, clean, safe water.  Every house has several faucets, and there are plenty of drinking fountains, and yet people buy water.  Why pay for something you can get for free?  God has given us the gift of salvation.  We have His gift justification instead of His condemnation, grace and righteousness instead of spiritual death.  We don’t need to work for that.  It is His free gift.

A gift is no good to the person it is intended for unless that person accepts and takes that gift.  I can give a gift to one of my children, wrapping it up nice and setting it on the table.  If they don’t take it, and leave it there day after day, it does them no good.  Someone could give you money to pay a big bill you have, but if you don’t accept it, then the bill remains unpaid and you will suffer the consequences of that.  God has given us a gift through His Son, Jesus Christ, that one Man.  It is offered to everyone, but not everyone has accepted it.  Many are either trying to work for it themselves, or just blindly go on their way, oblivious to their condition inherited from Adam.  Have you accepted God’s free gift?  If you haven’t, will you accept it now?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Turning To God In Times Of Pain

Psalm 69

Our psalm for today is one that was written by King David during a very difficult and trying time.  It is a psalm filled with crying out to the Lord in emotional pain.  It is also one psalm that has several verses of prophecy that was fulfilled centuries later by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture is not specific as to what circumstances led to King David crying out so to God.  There were numerous occasions in his life when things were very difficult, even life-threateningly dangerous for him, such as when King Saul kept him on the run for his life, or when several of his sons attempted a coup against his throne.  We don’t know what led to this occasion, but things got so bad that David was worn out with his crying and despair (vs. 3).  Even members of his family had rejected him (vs. 8).  But through it all he did not fail to wait upon the Lord for deliverance.

David knew that during this deeply trying time people were watching his reactions.  He was concerned that how he would respond to the circumstances in his life might bring reproach on the Name of the Lord, that his enemies and the unbelievers might mock the Lord (vs. 6).  Our actions have an affect on those around us, both for good and for bad.  Try to be a good influence, and not a stumbling block.  People are always watching us as Christians.  We should strive to represent the Lord well.

Verse 9 is one verse that is quoted with reference to Jesus in the New Testament in John 2:13-17.  David wanted the people’s behavior to match their claim of following God.  It hurt him when people didn’t follow or obey God, as they claimed to as His children.  This brought down anger upon David from many people.  Later John cites this verse as he and the other disciples observed Jesus when He entered the Temple in Jerusalem and drove out the money-changers and those who bought and sold the sacrificial animals right in the halls of the Temple.

Verse 21 is a verse that was very prophetic and which was fulfilled by Jesus.  This was fulfilled while Jesus hung upon the cross.  David says that he was given gall to eat and vinegar to drink.  Later in the New Testament, Jesus, as He is dying upon the cross, was given by the soldiers vinegar mixed with gall to drink.  Why would the soldiers do that?  The vinegar most probably was old, cheap wine that had started turning sour.  No one would give dying criminals any good wine.  Gall was a type of plant, probably similar to the opium poppy, that was used as a narcotic.  Mixed with the cheap wine, it would drug the dying criminals to relieve some of the pain.  Jesus, though, when He realized that the drink He was being offered contained pain-killing drugs, refused (Matthew 27:34).  He would endure the pain for our salvation.  Later, when offered the plain vinegar or cheap wine, He took that (John 19:29-30).

Some people have accused Jesus of deliberately trying to fulfill all of the prophecies that concerned the Messiah.  How could Jesus have done that with this prophecy?  While being executed and dying on the cross as a condemned prisoner He could not have made a centurion give Him a sponge dipped in vinegar, especially one that had been laced with a narcotic.  These prophetic verses, fulfilled by Jesus, are just some of the proofs that He was, indeed, the Messiah.

In verse 28, David mentions the Book of the Living, or the Book of Life.  This is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, including several times in the New Testament (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; and Revelation 20:15).  This is a list of the names of those who are in a right relationship with God, who are saved, and who remain faithful to Him.  In David’s circumstance here, with the attack on him being so strong and ungodly, he does not believe that their names could ever be in the Book of Life.

When we feel beaten up and trampled down in life by others or difficult circumstances, don’t give up hope (vs. 13).  David never did.  Keep your faith and trust in God.  He won’t forsake us, even if others do.  Even when crying out to God in emotional pain, remember to give God praise and thanksgiving (vs. 30).  And above all, be sure that you are in a right relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, so that your name will be written down in the Book of Life.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

God's Message Is Not Always Popular

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Our Old Testament reading for this week comes from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.  First let’s take a moment to get a little bit of a background as to what is happening, both with Jeremiah, and also with the country at this time.   Jeremiah was a prophet who ministered and preached exclusively to the southern Kingdom of Judah, starting sometime around 627 BC, and going into the 570’s BC or later.  He particularly preached to the people prior to and during the years that the Kingdom of Babylon besieged and overran the Kingdom of Judah, which occurred over a period of about 20 years from 605 BC - 681 BC.  The people went into captivity for approximately 70 years.

Jeremiah was not a popular figure during the years that he brought God’s message to the people.  He spoke the truth of what God wanted the people to know, which was that their nation was going to be overrun by the Babylonians because of their sins.  The people had strayed from their faithfulness to Yahweh, and were actively worshipping other false gods.  They were not keeping the laws of God that He had given them, either.  They were faithless, and God was going to punish them, just as He had done approximately 100 years earlier to the northern Kingdom of Israel with their Assyrian captivity.

Just prior to this passage both the religious and political leaders of the country had apprehended Jeremiah.  They didn’t like the messages he was preaching to the people, so they took him into custody, beating him up and putting him into stocks.  Throughout all the years of his ministry Jeremiah would suffer abuse at the hands of both the religious leaders and political ones, including being thrown into a pit filled with muck mire to his chest.  They wanted someone who would preach messages that they liked to hear, positive ones, that everything was going to be fine, God would never punish them, and they were His favorite children.  They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners and God was going to send punishment on the country.

As Jeremiah is bent over in the stocks, having been beaten up, he prays to God in our passage.  He felt let down by God due to the abuse he was suffering because of the message the Lord gave him to tell the people (vs. 7 - 8).  Jeremiah decided that it would be best for himself if he just kept his mouth shut, refrain from speaking God’s Word, and not speak anything (vs. 9).  God’s Word burns in his heart, though, if he didn’t speak it out to the people.  He must preach the Word of God!

Jeremiah’s enemies watch him, hoping, believing that he will fall (vs. 10).  He knows, though, that the Lord is with him, and his enemies will be the ones who will fall because of their sin (vs. 11-12).   Jeremiah concludes the passage with praise to the Lord God (vs. 13).

It is easy to get discouraged from speaking forth the Word of God when persecution comes.  In many countries that persecution might just be ridicule, mocking, or the loss of a friend.  In other countries the persecution might be more severe, such as losing one’s job, beatings, imprisonment, or even death.  So we might think it safe to keep quiet.  Jeremiah tried that, but God’s Word just burned in his heart until he knew he couldn’t keep quiet any longer.  No matter what happened to him, though he suffered terribly, Jeremiah did not stop speaking what God told him to.

Today there are some who will only preach popular messages that please their audiences, only messages of God’s love, their prosperity, only messages that will make them feel good.  They scoff, mock, and publicly ridicule any preacher who speaks the whole truth of God and calls sin what it is, sin.  They did the same to Jeremiah, and he stayed true to Yahweh, though it cost him terrible abuse.  He did not alter his message to please his audience.  We need to follow Jeremiah’s example and stay true to God and His Word, no matter the cost.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Working In God's Harvest

Matthew 9:36-10:15

In our passage today from the Gospel of Matthew, we have Jesus sending forth the twelve disciples to go on what is like a short missions trip, to bring His message to some of the Jewish villages He had or would be traveling to.  In verses 2 - 4 we have the list of Jesus’s chosen apostles.  Jesus chose ordinary men to be the apostles.  They were from all different walks of life and life’s professions, among them were fishermen, a tax collector, and a political zealot.  There were some with more education, some with less, some with more money, some with less.  That is just like what makes up the Church.  There are all different types of people, different races, different backgrounds, jobs, education, and financial level.  He has called us all.  It is not necessary to have a strong of degrees.  God uses ordinary people.  We can all do God’s work.

Verses 5 through 15 are instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples before they headed out.  Whatever we possess has been given to us by God.  The reason that we have been blessed is so that we can bless others (vs. 8).  Don’t hoard what God has given us.  It’s not ours, so we should use it to help others and further God’s kingdom.

Jesus gave direction to the apostles that they were not to take money, extra clothes or shoes, or staffs (vs. 9-10).  They were not to go out to do God’s work encumbered with excessive material goods.  When the Lord sends us out to do His work in the world we need to trust Him to supply all of our needs.  Just as the famous missionary and founder of China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”

The verses that I would like to focus on the most, though, are at the beginning of this passage, verses 36-38 of chapter 9.  Here Jesus looked at the crowds and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd, and then told His disciples that the harvest was plentiful (souls ready to be reached), but laborers were few.  They were to pray that the Lord would send out laborers to bring the harvest of souls in.

Verse 36 is another reminder that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He looked out over the crowds and was filled with compassion for them.  Jesus ministered to both their physical and spiritual needs.  Looking out over the people in the world today they seem very much like sheep without a shepherd.  They are wandering around lost without any direction, following any false path leading them into danger.  Jesus sees them, too, and has compassion on them.  So what is to be done?

As Jesus said in verse 37, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Here He was speaking of a harvest of people’s souls.  This is even more true today.  People are lost and without the Savior, without hope in their lives.  With the conditions in this world today, they are scared and without peace.  Where and to what are they turning to?  Some turn to political leaders for hope, but as we can see, that does not give any hope or peace.  Others are turning to drugs, and we all know how that ends.  Many thousands turn to the occult or to false religions.  They are seeking some peace for their souls, but are wandering around just as lost sheep.  The Lord needs workers to go and reach them, but He has said that the laborers are few.  There are few who are willing to go and help bring the lost in.

Jesus told His followers that they need to pray to God, the “Lord of the harvest”, to send out laborers into the fields to bring that harvest in (vs. 38).  There are millions of people out there who need to hear about Jesus.  He said the harvest is plenteous, but there aren’t enough workers willing to go out and bring the harvest in.  It would be sad to see a whole farmer’s crop to die and go to waste because there was no one to bring in the harvest.  How much exceedingly worse is it that people die and go to hell because there was no one to tell them about Jesus and salvation in His Name!

Will you go and work in the Lord’s harvest?  Will you tell others about Jesus, how He loves us and died to pay for our sins?  Will you pray to the Lord that He will speak to more of His children’s hearts to go and bring His message to those wandering sheep, and bring them into His fold?  We need to bring the wandering ones to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Who Would You Die For?

Romans 5:6-11

Our New Testament Scripture passage this week is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I will put forth a hypothetical question that Paul alluded to in this passage, and that is, would there be anyone that you would willingly die for?  Many of us might quickly answer with our spouse, our children, parents, other close relatives, or very dear, close friends.  Now, aside from a close relative, is there any other person you would willingly die for?  How about that elderly gentleman down the street, the one who is a model neighbor and church-goer?  Perhaps the doctor or teacher in the neighborhood who is always giving of their time and service to help those in need in the community?  Would you die for them?  Paul suggests that someone dying for these types of people - the righteous, the good, people who are upright and virtuous, would be rare, but perhaps someone might consider it (vs. 7).

How about for those other people, the ones who are just the opposite?  Would you consider dying for the people who hurt you?  Maybe for the spouse that abuses you?  Or how about for that person who lied about you and damaged your reputation, or the co-workers who don’t treat you right either?  Or what about for the drunk down the street, or the homeless drug addict who sleeps in the alley?  Would you willingly die for them?  That’s not likely!

That is exactly what Jesus did when He died for us, as we read in verses 6 and 8.  None of us were good people before we accepted Christ, just as God’s Word says in Romans 3:10.  No matter what the specific sins in our life might be, we each of us were sinners before Christ came into our life.  Yet, it was while we were sinners, that Christ died for each of us.  That shows the depth of God’s love for each of us.  As I mentioned above, we might possibly be willing to die for someone we loved.   God loved us so much that He died for us, even though we were effectively His enemies, sinners who had hated God, who had treated Him shamefully.  All through history, going back to the Garden of Eden, men have turned their back on God, fighting Him and disobeying Him.  Throughout the Bible we read how men worshipped other false gods, broke His laws.  And still, God was willing to send His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  What wondrous love is that?

Paul goes on to say that since God’s love for us is so strong that He would die for us while we were still His enemies, we are now justified or declared righteous in God’s sight.  Now we are saved or kept safe from God’s wrath, His anger, and punishment (vs. 9).   Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross, our punishment and God’s wrath was put upon Him.  If we have accepted Him as our Savior, then we are spared the penalty of God’s wrath and damnation.  If I committed a crime worthy of the death penalty, would you take that punishment for me?  That is what Jesus did, and I had done nothing good, nothing righteous to deserve that.  It was His love that led Him to do this for us, and those who believe in Him are spared just punishment.

We were God’s enemies, but the cross, and the Blood Jesus shed upon it, brought a reconciliation between us (vs. 10).  It is always good to see two people, often family members or friends, who are angry and no longer speaking to each other, be brought back together and reconciled.  This is what the Lord Jesus did for us and God.  His death paid the due penalty.  When we’ve admitted that, accepted His payment, and taken Him as our Savior, then now we are reconciled to God.  We are no longer His enemies, but now part of His family!  How much better could that be!

Naturally such good news should bring us joy (vs. 11)!  We were enemies of God because of our sins, and had a terrible punishment to pay.  But God’s love to us through the Lord Jesus paid that penalty, which was death.  Now we are reconciled!  That is something to bring glory to God for, and bring us joy!

Do you know that Jesus died for you?  Have you realized that your sins make you God’s enemy, and the penalty is His eternal wrath?  Jesus paid that penalty, your penalty, with His own Blood on the cross.  If you accept that, and call upon Him to be your personal Savior, then you will be reconciled to God, and have His joy, both now and in eternity.  Don’t wait another day to be reconciled to God!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Call For Thanksgiving And Praise

Psalm 100

This is a very short psalm, but one that many people love.  It is a psalm calling us to bring praise and thanksgiving to God.  Right from the very first verse the psalmist is calling for us to praise our Lord.  We don’t have to be great musicians to sing praises to God.  Here God says to just give Him a joyful shout (vs. 1).  Everyone and everything should join in the praise - all the land, both every person, and the actual land itself.

If someone truly and deeply loves another person, serving that person is a joy, not a chore.  Your desire is to make the person you love happy.   As a born-again child of God, I love Him.  He purchased my salvation with His Blood, and I will serve Him with gladness (vs. 2).  When we look at what God has done for us, our service should not be done begrudgingly or with grumbling.  He wants us to come to Him with a song in our hearts and on our lips.  When the stresses of the day start to mount up, listening to Christian hymns and worship songs, and singing along when I can, always brings me closer to the Lord.  It brings me into His presence.

God created us.  We didn’t “just happen” (vs. 3).  We didn’t create ourselves.  Since we were created by God and not man, who should have the authority in our life?  Naturally God should.  Yet so often we try to run things ourselves.  God knows us, as we are His people, His sheep.  We can trust God to know what is best for us, and let Him lead our life.  As God’s sheep we belong to His pasture.  Are we sheep looking longingly into the pastures of the world or of the enemy of our soul, the devil?  Those pastures may look pleasant, but in reality, once we wander into them, they are filled with poisonous plants, venomous snakes, plus holes and ravines to fall into.  Stay out of those pastures!  Stay in the pastures of the Lord God.  His fields are full of good, wholesome grass.  Our Good Shepherd is there to protect us from our enemy and any dangers.

Our Savior God calls us to draw near to Him (vs. 4).  In previous years, when kings and queens actually ruled, to be invited into the courts of a king was a great honor, and one didn’t just come strolling in without displaying proper conduct.  Yahweh is mightier than any earthly king, and though He is also our loving Father and Savior, He still deserves the proper awe and respect due to the greatest of Kings.  The psalmist tells us that we are to enter into His gates with thanksgiving.  As we prepare to approach God, are we thankful to Him for all of His many blessings, or are we just coming to Him with our requests and complaints?  

As we come into the courts of the heavenly palace of the Lord God, we are to do so with praise.  There are so many things in each of our lives that we can praise God for.  He is a faithful and trustworthy God.  As mentioned in the previous verse, we are His sheep, and thus He is a good and loving Shepherd to us.  When we worship Him with our praises, it helps us trust more and strengthens our faith.  Do we willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence to worship, or are we going through the motions and “playing church”?

Satan would have us believe that God is angry with and distant from mankind.  That is not true.  Verse 5 tells us that He is a good and merciful God.  When we think of someone who is good, we think of that person as being a virtuous person, that they are righteous.  We think that they have strong morals and that they are a person of integrity.  God is all of that, and even more so.  All of this is the basis of His character, and He cannot be otherwise.  Being a loving God is part of His Being.  All of these virtues is what He is.  Jesus, when talking to His disciples, emphasised that if a human father would treat his children with love, our heavenly Father does even much more so (Luke 11:5-13).   Our psalmist closes off this psalm with saying what a good, merciful, and truthful or faithful God we have.

God’s gates and the courts of His throne room are always open for His blood-bought children.  Let us enter them with thanksgiving and praise.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

God's Special Treasures

Exodus 19:2-8

Today’s Old Testament reading from this week’s Sunday Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer takes us to the foot of Mount Sinai (also sometimes referred to as Mt. Horeb in Scripture).  Just weeks before the Hebrews were led by God out of slavery in Egypt, had seen His power in parting the Red Sea for them, and drowning Pharaoh's army.  Now they were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai.  Mt. Sinai is traditionally thought to be a mountain in the south central region of the Sinai peninsula, which was just east of Egypt.  It was here that several months prior, Moses had heard God speaking to him from the burning bush, and called him to go and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).  Now, just as God had promised in Exodus 3:12, they were back at the foot of this mountain where God would give them His laws.  Several months prior the people were slaves and Moses was just the caretaker of his father-in-law’s sheep.  God’s promise to Moses probably looked rather far-fetched.  Now the people were free, their enemies vanquished, and they were standing where God had said they would, His promises fulfilled!

In verse 4 God tells Moses how He carried His people out of Egypt, as if He were an eagle carrying them on His wings.  An eagle is one of the larger and stronger of birds, with mighty wings.  Other than man, they have very few natural enemies.  Basically, the only times eagles are in danger is if the eggs or newborn young are left unprotected, and that is rare with eagles.  If one could shrink down in size and hop of the back of a bird for a flight, an eagle would be a good choice as they fly high, are powerful and very majestic.  There would be no need to fear.  This is just the way God told Moses He was carrying His people.  He was carrying them high, above the dangers of their enemies.  He was strong and powerful, and they had no need to fear.  Are we trusting today that God is carrying us in just such a way?  His arms are strong, even more so than an eagles, and there is no enemy that can defeat God.

In verses 5 and 6 God speaks to Moses about the people.  Here He calls them a special treasure to Him, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.  This is pretty much the same thing God calls us believers in I Peter 2:9.  So, if we are God’s children through the Lord Jesus Christ, what are we to God?  Here He calls us a special treasure to Him.  Do you feel like you are God’s treasure?  In my house my children and I have some special objects, not of monetary but sentimental value, that we really like, and they are kept safe in a curio cabinet with glass doors so we can enjoy them and they are safe.  They are our “treasures”, and they are safe.  We are so much more special to God than that, so we can trust He will keep us even more safe.  My “treasures” were specially picked out, or given by someone who knew what I liked.  God has especially picked you out to be His treasure!

Just as Peter later said, God says here that we, as believers, are to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.  Priests speak to the people for God.  One does not have to be specially ordained to do that.  We can all speak God’s Word to others.  Throughout the Bible God continually asks His people to tell others His Word.  We are all His priests.  Thirdly, God calls His children a holy nation.  The word “holy” means to be sacred and set apart for God’s use.  If we are God’s children, born-again believers, we are holy, and our lives are to be sanctified and set apart for Him.  When others look at us and observe our life, they should see that there is something different.  God has called us to be His priests, His representative, speaking for Him, and that we are His holy, sanctified, set-apart people.

Our passage closes up in verse 8 with the people promising God that they will keep His laws and obey Him.  Unfortunately, as we see throughout the Bible, the people of Israel did not obey God.  They repeatedly fell away and worshipped other gods.  I know that I have failed God many times in my life.  We all have.  The good news is that because of God’s Son, Jesus, we can confess our failings to Him, receive forgiveness, and promise to obey and serve Him.  Let’s pledge as the people did in verse 8, and say to God, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”