Monday, September 18, 2017

God Forgives, God Forgets

Psalm 103

Today’s Psalm reading is a song of praise to the Lord, written by King David.  Both at the start and end of this psalm, we are told to bless the Lord.  How do we do that?  The word “bless”, when used in reference to God, means to worship in praise and adoration.  This was important to David, as he tells us here to bless Yahweh and His Holy Name at least seven times.  There are so many reasons to bless God.  David was never one to hold back in his praise to the Lord, and here he lists several reasons in verses 1 - 5.  There are so many benefits, or good things, that the Lord has given us.  We are not to forget these, but instead remember to thank and praise Him for them (vs. 2).

In the next three verses David gives us some reasons for blessing the Lord.  First, he says for the forgiveness of our sins, and then for healing of diseases.  In verse 4 David says to bless the Lord for His redemption of us, our salvation.  This could also include the Lord’s protection when in danger.  He also wants to bless the Lord for His loving kindness and mercy.  And lastly, in verse 5,  David says to bless the Lord for providing good food for us.

As David continues on with this hymn of praise and blessing to the Lord he focuses most of the rest of the psalm on one of those reasons he gave, namely on forgiveness.  When reading through the Old Testament, we see that David was a sinner, just as all of mankind is, even though he dearly loved the Lord.  He knew first hand the mercy of the Lord, and was thankful for His forgiveness.   David knew that God doesn’t punish us as we would deserve, but is instead slow to get angry at us, and slow in pouring out His wrath (vs. 8 - 10).

The weight of sin and guilt is heavy.  Only Jesus can remove that weight.  God not only forgives us of our sins, He also forgets (vs. 11 - 12).  Forgiving and forgetting are part of God’s character.  That is something that is often very difficult for us to do.  We may be able to forgive someone for something they did to us, but it is not easy to forget.  God, though, does forget our sins once they are forgiven us.  Grace forgets.  There may be times we do not feel as though we’ve been forgiven, but if we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior, the truth of His Word says we are forgiven.  Though sometimes our heart feels guilty, God’s Word says we are forgiven (I John 3:20).

God completely separates our sins from us.  David phrases it as saying our sins are separated from us as far as the east is from the west (vs. 12).  He didn’t say as far as the north is from the south because if I start going north, eventually when I get to the north pole, I will then start heading south.  There is a limit to going north or south.  Eventually you must start going the other way.  That is not the case with east or west.  If I go east, I can keep going east forever.  The direction never turns to west.  That is how far our sins are taken from us.

David also praises God for being good father to us, His children (vs. 13 - 14).  A good father realizes his children are just children, and acknowledges they are weak, immature, and limited in knowledge - that they aren’t adults yet.  God is also patient with us.  A good father also cares for and provides for his children’s needs, and protects them.  These are all things that God does for us.  The pagan false gods (which don’t really exist) that were worshipped in David’s day, and false gods today do not have attributes of caring for “their” people.  They are often given attributes of being fickle or outright hostile to those who worship them.  Yahweh, though, loves His children.   He is truly our Father, not just a “father figure”.  He loves us so much better than any earthly father.

As David wraps up this psalm, he reminds us in verse 19 that Yahweh is sovereign over all.  He has everything in His control, even when we can’t see it.  There is nothing He cannot do.  Then David calls upon all of the angels to also bless the Lord (vs. 20-22).  Angels are mighty in strength, not weak, delicate things.  They are God’s messengers and warriors against Satan and his minions.  David enjoins all of God’s creation, everywhere, to bless His Name.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Danger of Wrath, Vengeance, and Unforgiveness

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Today’s Old Testament reading is from the Book of Sirach, a book that Protestant denominations consider apocryphal.   It was written by Joshua ben Sirach about 200 BC.   It is one of the Wisdom Books, containing teachings about divinity and virtue.

As we start this passage in verse 30, the author Joshua speaks to us about controlling our anger.  This is one emotion that Scripture continually warns us to learn to control.  Numerous Proverbs are dedicated to this same topic, such as Proverbs 19:19 and Proverbs 27:4.  How many fights have ended up with tragic results because of uncontrolled anger?  Wrath is a step beyond anger, letting anger blow into rage and fury.  Many people don’t want to make any effort to control their anger.  As the verse says, they “hug it tight”.  They feel they are justified in getting angry, that the other person was wrong.  Their rights were trampled on, and thus, they have every right to explode.  This is not the way a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus, should act.  This is something God wants His children to control for their own good, the good of others, and also for a better testimony to unbelievers.  It’s not very convincing for a believer to give a Gospel witness to someone, and then a few minutes later be seen exploding in anger!

In verse 1 of Chapter 28, Joshua the son of Sirach writes that the Lord will take vengeance on the vengeful, those who are seeking to harm us for some perceived injury.  Again, this is a verse whose message we see in other parts of Scripture.  Moses wrote in the Book of Deuteronomy how vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35).  Paul repeats this in his Epistle to the church in Rome.  He instructs believers to not take vengeance into their own hands, but leave it to God (Romans 12:19).  God knows their sins, and He will take care of it.

Verse 2 is something that is repeated quite plainly in the Gospels by Jesus, Himself.  We read here in this verse that when we go to pray, we are first to forgive others for any wrongs they committed against us.  When we do that, God will forgive us of our own sins.  Jesus repeated this thought immediately following teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15. He also repeated this in Mark 11:25-26.  Forgiveness of others is to be a hallmark of believers and followers of Jesus.

As we continue our reading, Joshua, son of Sirach, tells us in verses 3 - 5, that if we do not have mercy on others, are unforgiving and filled with anger, how can we expect anything from the Lord?   This idea was elaborated on in one of the parables of Jesus, the parable of the unjust servant, in Matthew 18:23-35.  In this parable one servant of the king was forgiven a huge debt by the king.  Then he immediately goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a small sum.  When that servant could not immediately pay, the first servant had him thrown in prison.  He had no mercy on others, notwithstanding having been shown abundant mercy by the king.  Jesus instructs us that we are to be free and giving in showing mercy on all others, because He has bestowed much mercy on us.  This is the idea that our author is giving us here in these verses.

Our Scripture passage closes in verses 6 - 7, with a reminder to remember that our last days are coming.  With this in mind, we should put away all hostility and ill-will that we might be holding against others.  He tells us that death is coming one day to each of us, and that knowing this, we should stop following the ways of sin.  This is a good reminder to us.  Most of us don’t like to think of the fact that one day, unless Jesus comes first, we will all die.  This present life isn’t all that there is, and compared with all of eternity, this life is just a drop in the bucket.  The “pleasures of sin” are fleeting, and eternity is forever.  Joshua ben Sirach reminds us to keep that in mind, and not forget the Most High, His covenant, and His commands.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Handling Disputes In A Godly Manner

Matthew 18:15-20

Ever since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 it’s been human nature to have disagreements, squabbles, and fights among people.  Often these can be very emotionally painful, and can split families and friends.  It is even sadder when this happens between two or more Christian brothers or sisters in a church.  Here in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us how God says these issues are to be handled between Christians in the Church.

In verses 15 - 17  Jesus gives four steps for how God wishes Christians to resolve any conflicts that arise between them.  These are specifically meant for Christians to follow between each other in the Church, not with conflicts in the community at large.  The first step we read of in verse 15.  Here Jesus tells us that when we have a problem, a quarrel, or some other issue with a fellow Christian brother or sister, we are to go to that person privately, talk to them, and try to resolve the problem.  So many people fail in this right from the start.  Instead of going to that person privately, they go to other friends and start telling of what they think this other person did to them, how it’s so terrible, and how awful that person is.  Soon the tongues start wagging, and a nasty gossip campaign has started.  Hurtful rumors start spreading around the church about a fellow believer. The rumors might not even be true, but a reputation can be irreversibly torn to shreds.  This is why Jesus says to first go to the person privately and try to reconcile.

What if we follow step one, and that person we have a conflict or issue with won’t hear us?  Then Jesus says to go on to step two, which we read in verse 16.  Here we are instructed to take one or two other believers and go again to that brother.  These others should be spiritually strong, godly, Spirit-filled fellow believers.  The purpose is not to come in and verbally clobber this person.  The goal is restoration, not condemning.   This step is in keeping with the admonition in Deuteronomy 19:15.

Hopefully we would not need to follow on to step three, which is explained in verse 17, but sometimes it is necessary.  If this person with whom we have an issue with still refuses to repent of what has occurred, make it right, or get right with the Lord, then the matter is to be brought before the church body.  Again, this is not meant to be an occasion of public condemnation, or sort of a figurative public hanging of this person.  The purpose and goal is so that the body of believers may lovingly seek reconciliation.  If a church really loves its members, they will not allow them to continue in sin unconfronted (Proverbs 27:6).

The final step that the Lord Jesus gives in the last half of verse 17 is to only be used as a final, last resort.   This is excommunication from the body of believers.  This is done to remove him as a detrimental influence to other believers, and to show that his sin is not accepted or disregarded by the church leaders.  Jesus then says we are to treat this person as a “heathen and a tax collector”.  What did He mean here?  Heathens and tax collectors were terms used in the Bible for those who were unbelievers.  So Jesus is saying that this person who has been removed from the church body is not considered as a fellow believer anymore, but rather someone who the Gospel can be presented to.  And when we witness to others, we are to do so lovingly, and with care and concern for their souls.  That is how we are to treat this person, seeking to win him to the Lord.

Following the four steps, above, is not easy for any believer, or the church as a body.  It should be followed, though, so that the canker of sin is not allowed to grow.  These steps were given by Jesus to both keep a church from unjustly ripping a believer to shreds and figuratively stoning them, nor from allowing the whole body to tolerate sin.  The church’s decisions should be based solely on the discernment of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God (vs.18).  The church elders and leaders need to seek God’s guidance through prayer, to resolve any conflicts.

In verse 19 we read a promise that Jesus makes to the disciples of His.  Many people have misinterpreted this and other similar verses about prayer and God’s answering, thinking that anything we ask for we will receive, as if God is a celestial genie or Santa Claus.  Jesus said that when two or more believers, who live Spirit-filled lives, are praying according to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, their prayers will be answered.

Verse 20 is a precious promise to bring comfort to Christian’s hearts.  God is with every Christian.  When one accepts Jesus as their Savior, the Holy Spirit indwells in that believer.  Here, though, Jesus promises the disciples that He will be with them in a special, unique way when two or more are gathered together to pray and worship.  Knowing that Jesus is always with us should bring us joy and peace.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Overcoming Evil With Good

Romans 12:9-21

Our New Testament reading from the Lectionary this week continues with the Book of Romans.  We see now that Paul changes gears from the first half of his Epistle, which was studies of doctrine and theology, and now focuses more on practical issues of living the Christian life.  Living a right and godly life is not legalism, as long as we understand that it is not “good behavior” that gets one into heaven.  Living a good and godly life is Christ honoring and keeps us far from the snares and temptations of the devil.  It is also a good testimony for the unbelievers who are always watching how we are living.  Our passage today is a compilation of guidelines for how we should behave as followers of Christ.  Let’s briefly look at each of these verses, a mixture of admonitions, and see what we can learn.

In verse 9 we read that Paul tells us to love without hypocrisy.  Our love for others, particularly other brothers and sisters in Christ, should be pure and sincere, without guile, deviousness, or self-centeredness.  Real, sincere love for others goes beyond pretense and surface politeness.   As Christians we are to develop the fruits of the Spirit, one of which is love.  Love will put other’s needs ahead of our own.  This love doesn’t strive for it’s own personal gain.  We should be devoted to our fellow Christians with a love as members of one family (vs. 10).  We show that love by putting them first, ahead of our own desires.  In verse 11 we read that we should do things for the Lord with enthusiasm and care.  Being lazy and indifferent in our work for Him allows evil to prosper.

Paul tells us in verse 12 to rejoice in hope.  Our hope is in Christ’s return and our final redemption.  God has promised He will return for us.  He keeps all of His promises, and because He does we can have a joyful hope.  We have confidence that we will receive what God has promised.  In this verse God also urges us to be patient in our troubles, which isn’t always easy.  With God’s love our cup isn’t half empty, it is always half full and more.  Paul also tell us in verse 12 to continue in prayer.  While we can’t spend every moment in prayer, he is speaking of being in a prayerful spirit throughout the day, sending up short prayer conversations with God, like people who text each other throughout the day.

In verse 13, we, as Christians, are urged to share with others, particularly with fellow believers.  Early believers would often have people stay at their homes.  Hospitality differs from entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host, whereas hospitality focuses on the guests and their needs.

Paul continues in verse 14 by telling us to bless those who persecute us.  How do we do that?  We bless them by not returning their bad treatment.  Instead, we should pray for them.   We should be glad when others are blessed and have good things happen to them (vs. 15), and be sensitive and compassionate to those who sorrow or have difficulties.  Do not be conceited, feel, or act superior to others (vs. 16).  Nor are we to retaliate against others when we have been mistreated (vs. 17).  By doing good to our enemies we are not excusing their misdeeds.  We are forgiving them and loving them in spite of their sins, just as Jesus did for us.

Sometimes it is just not possible to live peacefully with some people (vs. 18).  They want nothing to do with us or our Savior, and have an angry personality.  If we’ve done all we can, aren’t angry or bitter ourselves, we just have to move on.  In spite of that, though, we are told to help our enemies (vs. 19 - 20).  Our kind and loving behavior towards them will shame them for their hatred and bad treatment of us, and who knows as to whether it might not be instrumental in drawing them to the Lord?

In closing this passage of a mixture of different verses, Paul urges us not to let resentment or bitterness grow in our hearts (vs. 21).  In Hebrews 12:15 we are warned against letting a root of bitterness grow.  Bitterness is a parasite.  Instead, we are to strive to overcome all evil treatment by others with good and loving treatment in return.

As mentioned at the start of this devotional, following Paul’s instructions here is not the way one gains admission into heaven.  That is through faith in Christ’s death on the cross.  Rather, this is an example of the good works that are evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in one’s heart when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior.  Let’s show to the world by our actions the Savior we have in our heart.

I pray that you have enjoyed and benefited from these Bible meditations that I have written for this blog.   I hope you will prayerfully consider donating as the Lord might lead you.  This blog is not run through a large ministry with a wide funding base.  I am an individual with limited financial resources.  Thank you and God bless.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Living A Christ-Centered Life

Psalm 119:33-48

Today’s psalm reading comes from the longest psalm in the Bible, which is also the longest chapter in the Bible.  This psalm is a praise to God’s law, God’s Word.  Every verse makes mention of His law or Word, and how the psalmist wishes to follow and obey Him.  He so fervently wishes to learn from God’s Word, and to be sure that he obeys all that is contained in it.  It’s not good enough to just read the Scriptures and then close the Book and walk away.  Like James says in his epistle in the New Testament, that would be like looking in mirror, seeing something wrong like messy hair or food on our face, and then just walking away (James 1:22-25).  This was so important to the psalmist, and should be to us, as well.

In verse 36 the psalmist asks the Lord to keep his heart away from covetousness, or dishonest gain or profit.  Many people tend to covet money so they can obtain the other things they desire.  It is when we become so desirous of having things that we can become tempted to do things wrong and sinful to obtain them.  Thus the psalmist doesn’t want to fall into any trap where his desires for things might lead him into doing anything that is wrong, sinful, or dishonest.   God wants us to be more desirous of His Word and building up treasures in heaven, not anything here on earth (Luke 12:33).  What we seek to obtain here on earth will perish.  What we store up in heaven will last forever.

Another prayer that the psalmist makes in verse 37 is that the Lord will help him to keep his eyes from looking at things that are worthless, but instead to keep him following God’s way.  What are some worthless things that we spend our time on?  Idle TV shows or books?  These weren’t necessarily sinful things, though the psalmist certainly wouldn’t want to be involved in anything like that.  Here he asks God to lead him away from anything that is wasting his time, taking him away from spending time in God’s Word.  Our minds need to be kept God-honoring.  Throughout the Bible we learn that we need to guard our mind (Mark 7:14-23).  As believers we need to replace the world’s influence with God’s influence from His Word and prayer.  Yielding just a little bit here, a little bit there, to the values of the world, and pretty soon the Christian’s lifestyle is indistinguishable from that of the world.

In verse 39 we read that the psalmist prays that God will turn away his reproach, the scorn that others put upon him, and any disgrace or disapproval.  When we seek to follow God’s ways, we may often find that others will reproach us.  The more we stay in His Word and study it, the better able we are to answer those who reproach us, and cast scorn upon us for His sake (vs. 42).   It’s always best to trust not in our own wisdom when answering others, but to trust God’s Word, instead.  Keep His Word in our hearts, minds, and especially in our mouths, and we can answer all who challenge us (vs. 43).  Peter, in his first epistle, told his readers to know the Scriptures so as to always be ready to answer those who question us about our faith, and to make sure our lifestyle is such that they will be ashamed for having reproached us (I Peter 3:15-16).

We can even speak with confidence to those in power, and not have to be ashamed (vs. 46).   Jesus spoke that His believers would be brought before rulers for His sake, and that we didn’t need to worry what to say, as the Holy Spirit would give the words to speak (Matthew 10:16-20).  We need to keep in the Scriptures, for the Holy Spirit to have more to work with.  The more we meditate on God’s Word (vs 48), the more He will use it to bless and protect us.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Watchman's Message

Ezekiel 33:1-11

This week’s Old Testament reading is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  It is a passage that has always especially spoken to me every time I have read it, and I think it has a special message to believers today.

Throughout the ancient world, and even into the Middle Ages in parts of the world, cities were surrounded by two or three-storey walls.  These walls were also quite thick, several yards wide at least.  Upon these walls several watchmen were stationed to keep a lookout for any danger, particularly an approaching enemy army.  The watchmen would circle the walls around the whole city throughout the day, keeping watch, and if they saw anything threatening in the distance they would sound an alarm, usually by blowing trumpets.  The city gates would be closed and barred, the people would take cover, and the city’s soldiers would arm and ready themselves.  If a watchman failed in his duty, the punishment could quite likely be death.

There is a very specific analogy being made here in this passage.  Throughout the ages God has sent His own “watchmen”, servants of His from Old Testament time through today, who have faithfully sounded His warning and Words to the people.  They are spiritual watchmen.  What is it that they are warning people of?  In the Old Testament times they warned of the need of the people to forsake the worship of the false gods of other surrounding nations, and return to the worship of the one, only true God, Yahweh, and to follow His Word.  If they refused to heed the warnings there would be judgment, such as what was happening in Ezekiel’s day with the captivity of the children of Israel.  They also spoke of the coming of the future Messiah, which was Jesus Christ.  

Today, God’s spiritual watchmen preach His Word, warning people to repent of their sins and turn to Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  They warn of His future judgment of the world, judgment for those who refuse Him and do not repent, and heaven for those who accept Him.

Once a watchman does his duty to warn the people of coming danger, the responsibility goes to each person (vs. 4-5).  They have their own responsibility to take the warning or not.  Each person is accountable for his own response, whether to die or to live.  On the other hand, if the watchman doesn’t sound a warning, the people will still perish in the danger, but God will hold the watchman responsible.  Their blood will be on the hands of the negligent watchman who failed to sound a warning (vs. 6).

In verses 7 - 9 we read how God set Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the people of their need to turn to Him.  If Ezekiel did his job, and the people listened, that was great.  If they didn’t, he wouldn’t be responsible for their doom.  If he didn’t sound the warning, God would hold their blood on his hands.  If we are born-again believers, we must all ask ourselves whether we are being diligent watchmen.  As believers, God has set each of us to be watchmen, to warn others of the danger that lies ahead, of what will happen to them, and their eternal soul, if they fail to turn to Him.  Are we sounding that warning to our family, our friends, and our neighbors?  Or do we hold back, afraid to speak anything to them?  Just as God said to Ezekiel, if we speak and they do not listen, we have done what we are instructed to, and their doom is their own doing.  If we don’t speak up, He says their blood will be on our hands.

In verses 10 - 11 we read that God does not take pleasure in seeing the wicked perish in their sins.  He wants them to repent and live, as we also read in the New Testament in II Peter 3:9.  God blesses those who are faithful to Him.  Mankind needs to pay attention to His warnings.  Those who persist in rebelling against Him, and won’t heed the warnings will perish.  Those who do will be blessed.  God wants everyone to turn to Him.  Sadly not everyone will.  So many do not take heed to the warnings. He gives us all many opportunities to do so.

In closing, the question to those who are believers remains, are we faithful in being God’s watchmen, and giving the warning?  And to those who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Savior, will you heed the warning of the watchmen, those who have spoken the Word of God to you?  When the enemy approached the city walls, the watchmen blew the trumpets and warned to take heed.  Today, God’s watchmen are also sounding the warning to you.  Your eternal destiny is at stake, and I urge you to take the warning seriously, and ask Jesus into your heart.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Taking Up Our Cross

Matthew 16:21-27

The man has just had one of the highest moments in his life, and has received a great commendation in front of all of his friends.  Then what happened?  He slips and has a huge, humiliating fall, right in front of every one of them!  None of us would like that to be our experience.  This, though, is what happens to the Apostle Peter in our Scripture reading today.

As we read our passage, Jesus begins to tell His disciples that He will be going to Jerusalem, and the elders and chief priests will kill Him (vs. 21).  But that won’t be the end, He will rise again the third day.  This was not something that Peter wanted to hear. He wanted to protect Jesus from the suffering and death that He had just predicted, and Peter told Jesus that this should not, could not happen to Him (vs. 22).  Peter did not realize that it was for our salvation that Jesus would die, and that if He didn’t die, we would all be condemned to hell.  Peter was looking at things through carnal eyes and man’s perspective, not God’s.

What was Jesus’s response to Peter’s statement?  Our Lord did not hesitate to rebuke the words Peter was saying (vs. 23).  The words of rebuke that Jesus said contrasts quite sharply with the words He had spoken a few verses earlier in verses 17-19.  Peter was speaking the words of Satan.  Jesus’s death was part of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind.  To turn Jesus away from fulfilling this, is to work Satan’s purpose and agenda.  Jesus acted quickly when Satan, through the words of Peter, tried to deter Him from Calvary, and atoning for our sins.  When sin starts creeping near in our own life, we need to act quickly to stop it.  We must never let sin linger near.

Next, in verse 24, we read the familiar words of Jesus, that believers are to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.  Condemned criminals on their way to execution in this day would have to carry their own cross.  This was a common sight, as executions were quite public, and done for many offenses.  Following Jesus means a true commitment, and could possibly mean death.  A true follower of our Savior will have no turning back.  Whenever we suffer for identifying with Jesus and His cause, we take up the cross.  

We also take up the cross when we deny something that we deeply desire (even if it is not sinful in and of itself) for the sake of Jesus and doing His will.  Jesus doesn’t call every one of His believers to leave their homes and family.  What He does want, is all of His followers to deny their selfish goals in life.  We carry our cross by willingly doing the things God has called us to do without resentment.

Christians throughout the ages have been persecuted and killed for their faith, from being thrown to the lions and other wild animals in the early church age to being shot or beheaded by terrorist around the world today.  Jesus wants total commitment from His followers.  As the old-time hymn, “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”, says, “The world behind me, the cross before me.  No turning back!  No turning back!”

When people try to live solely for their own physical life they may end up losing out on eternal life (vs. 25 - 26).  What we accumulate here on earth has absolutely no value in eternity, yet that is what so many people do.  Their whole goal in life is to get the bigger, better house, car, smartphones, or electronics.  Consumerism is alive and well, but churches are being abandoned.  Our eternal life should be our focus, not what we can accumulate.

When Jesus returns (vs. 27), He will bring believers to heaven.  They will not be judged at the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), which is for the unbelievers.  Instead, believers go before the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10).  Believers are not at risk of being sent to hell.  They will, though, be judged for what we did with the gifts Jesus gave us, the help we gave other Christians, and the opportunities we had to win souls for Him.  I know that on that day, I so dearly want to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”