Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Children Of The Light

I Thessalonians 5:1-10

In our Scripture reading for today we continue the theme of The Day of the Lord that has been running through the Lectionary recently.  Paul picks this theme up by instructing the church in Thessalonica to be ready and alert, and not to be spiritually or mentally asleep, and caught off guard.  Paul also emphasizes in this passage the contrast between the two types of people in the world - those who belong to the light, and those who belong to the darkness.  Let’s take a look at this passage.

No one knows when the Lord Jesus will return, nor when the Day of the Lord will be (vs. 1-3).  There have been preachers in the past, and even now, who have tried to set the date of when Jesus will return, even though Scripture says no one will know when that will happen.  Therefore, it goes without saying that these misguided, and sometimes even charlatan, preachers are completely wrong.  What is this Day of the Lord that Paul is talking about?  The Day of the Lord is a future time when God will intervene directly and dramatically in world affairs.  This occurs when Jesus returns, and at this time He will judge sin and set up His eternal Kingdom.  Paul compared the Lord’s return to the suddenness of a thief who breaks in your home during the night.  A thief always breaks in suddenly and unexpectedly, and we never know when that will happen, otherwise we’d be ready.  Just as it pays to be prepared for thieves, it is even more important to be ready and vigilant for when Jesus returns.

The false prophets in Old Testament times all spoke of peace and a bright future for the people.  As we read in Scriptures, though, this was not the case.  There many false prophets today who say the same thing, that God will never bring judgment to people, that He is only about love.  However, the Day of the Lord will come (vs. 3), come suddenly, like labor pains.

In the next several verses Paul makes a sharp contrast between those who are the children of light and those who are children of the darkness (vs. 4 - 8).  Believers will have no part in the judgment on the Day of the Lord.  They have been delivered from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light.  When someone believes in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior they are brought out of spiritual darkness.  The Bible makes a sharp contrast between born-again believers and the lost, between light and darkness.  The unsaved are in darkness - both mental, moral, and spiritual, because of sin and unbelief.  Jesus even calls them the “children of the devil” (John 8:44).  He says that Satan has control or the power of darkness (Luke 22:53).  In contrast, Jesus is the Light of the World (John 9:5).  He lights our path, and shows us how to live for Him.  We should be prepared and waiting for Him, and walk as children of the Light (Ephesians 5:8).   The saved are children of God, who is Light, in whom is no darkness at all (I John 1:5-7).  There should always be a very distinct and noticeable difference, a total separation, between those who are children of the Light, and those who are children of the darkness.

Christians are in the light.  We should not be sleeping in spiritual indifference (vs. 6).  Thus, Paul admonishes us to be alert to spiritual issues and to be that light and witness for the Lord.

Several times in different epistles Paul uses the picture of the Christian putting on and wearing spiritual armor, just as a soldier does.  The most well known passage is in Ephesians 6:13-18.  Here in our passage, in verse 8, Paul speaks of putting on the breastplate of faith and love.  A breastplate protects the heart, lungs and other vital organs, and is very important for a soldier to wear.  Having faith in Jesus, knowing His love, and having love for others are very important in our spiritual life.  Paul also tells us to put on the helmet of the hope of salvation.  A helmet is necessary, as a significant blow or wound to the head is often fatal.  Without salvation our soul is doomed, and we need salvation, through Christ alone, to survive attacks of the Prince of Darkness, Satan.  A strong belief in God’s Word protects us from Satan’s arrows.

Paul reminds us to serve Jesus faithfully until He returns.  We should live godly lives in light of God’s coming judgment.  Knowing that Jesus will return suddenly and unexpectedly we should live each day prepared to welcome Him.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Prayer Of Moses

Psalm 90

Our psalm for today was written by Moses, the great man of God who led the people of Israel out from Egypt.  This psalm is also likely the oldest in the Book of Psalms, as Moses lived several hundred years before King David or any of the other authors of the psalms.   It was most probably written sometime during the forty years that the people wandered in the wilderness, sometime between Moses’s 80th year and 120th year, when he died.

This is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible, and tells of both God’s eternity and man’s frailty.  As we start reading our Scripture passage, in verse 1, we see that God is our refuge for protection and for all that we need.  Then Moses goes on to the major theme of the psalm, which is that God is eternal, not bound by time.  Man, though, is bound by time.

God is without beginning or end (vs. 2).  It was He who created time.  God is infinite, and lives forever.  For some, that is difficult to wrap their mind around, especially that God had no beginning, that He always was.  We all will exist forever, either in heaven with God, or in hell, but we all had a beginning.  However, God has always existed, and He is not bound by the constraints of time that we are.  We are only here on earth for a brief while.  As we get older the years seem to fly by more quickly.  Doesn’t it seem like such a short time ago that we were young and in school?  Now look at how old we are!  Look at how quickly our children grow up!  You turn around and they’re in school, and you turn around again and they are adults!  As mentioned, Moses was an old man when he wrote this, over the age of 80, so he had the experience to speak truthfully.  The years pass like the rush of flooding waters, or like how quickly time passes when we’re asleep.  They pass as fast as grass which is here in the morning, and gone by nightfall (vs. 4-6).

God sees all of this.  He knows how frail our life is.  He also knows all of our sins (vs 8).  They are spread out before Him, every one, including the ones we think are hidden.  God is angry with sin (vs. 11), and the toll it has taken on mankind.  Even so, God loves us, despite everything we’ve done, no matter how terrible.  He loves us and wants to forgive us, if we’d but ask.  But those who repeatedly spurn His love and warnings, who refuse to repent and turn to Him, will know His wrath.  Moses saw this when he had to witness the people of Israel wander in the desert for forty years, rather than enter the Promised Land, because of their sins.

Moses prays that God will have mercy on His people who live in this sin-cursed world.  Life is brief and filled with sorrow.  Only God can give significance to life (vs. 13-17).  He, alone, can take some tragedy or difficult time in our life, and bring something good out of it (vs. 15).

The most important message that Moses gives in this psalm he wrote is that because our life passes so quickly, we need to number our days and use them wisely (vs. 12).  We are only here for a brief time.  We need to pray that we make wise use of each day.  As I get older, I know that I wish I could have put my years to better use for the Lord.  Unfortunately we can’t go back and change them.  The Scriptures here are alerting us to this.  We need to use our time wisely, for eternal good, praying that we make wise use of each day.  Don’t live just for this life.  Instead, live with eternity in mind.

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.