Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Joint Heirs With Jesus

Romans 8:9-17

Some of you reading this meditation may be adopted, and some of you may be adoptive parents.  Here in this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he speaks of adoption, an adoption so much more special and lovely than any other one, and that is God adopting everyone who puts their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, and making them His children.  That is one of the blessed truths we will read about as we study this passage.

When we accept Christ as our Savior the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us.  God’s very Spirit and life is now in us.  He has made His home in us.   If someone has never been saved, they do not have the Holy Spirit (vs. 9).  While we act in our flesh or human nature we cannot do anything to please God, but we can when we live and act through His Holy Spirit.

We cannot live the Christian life in our own strength and power (vs. 13).  God gives us His life through the Holy Spirit.  Sin leads to death.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can put to death our sinful desires and urges.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to gradually kill sin and its power in us.  This continues on till we enter heaven.  We need to consider as dead the power of sin in our bodies.  If we consider it dead we can hold that temptations have lost all of their power over us.

Paul states in verse 14 that as Christians we are led by the Holy Spirit.  One of the most important ways that the Holy Spirit leads us is by opening up the Scriptures to us, and making them understandable.  Paul refers to this in both I Corinthians 2:14-16 and in Ephesians 1:17-19.  The Holy Spirit also leads us by sanctifying us and giving us the power to obey the Scriptures.

Now in our passage Paul brings us to the discussion of being considered children of God, adopted children.  In Roman culture the adopted person lost the identity of his old family, and now had the rights and identity of the new family.  He had the same rights as a legitimate, blood-born child.  It is the same with Christians.  When we have accepted Jesus as our Savior we now have all of the rights and privileges as a child of God.  We are no longer a slave of the world or of Satan.  We are a child of God, and an heir of heaven.

The Holy Spirit shows us that we are God’s children (vs. 15).  One way He does that is that we have no need to fear or hesitate to come to God now.  Before salvation we had no access or rights to come before the throne of God except to receive salvation.  Now we are His children, and as children of a loving and caring father can always approach their father, we too can freely come to Him.  We are His children, and can call Him “daddy”, which is what the word Abba translates as.

Another way that the Holy Spirit reveals that we are His children is by the fruit that He produces in us (vs. 16).  Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5:22-23).

One of the biggest blessings of being an adopted child of God is that we then become an heir of God, and are joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus (vs. 17).  The Jews at this time always gave the lion’s share of the inheritance to the first born.  The rest of the siblings would have to divide up the remainder.  Under Roman law, though, everything that was left when a parent died was equally divided between them all.  We are joint-heirs with Jesus.  As God’s adopted children we will inherit along with Him.

Isn’t it wonderful that the God of the whole universe would stoop to concern Himself with mankind, and then of all things, to actually adopt us into His family?  Each of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior are as much a part of God’s family as Jesus Himself.  God is truly our Father, not just a “father-figure”.  When we know that, we should rest assured that God, who is our most loving Father, will truly care for our every need.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The One Who Hears Prayer

Psalm 65

Our psalm this morning is another one written by King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel (II Samuel 23:1).  It is another psalm that sings the praises of God, from start to finish.  We read in the start of this psalm that David had made a vow, which he now wanted to fulfill.  The vow was possibly to give God all praise for answering prayer (vs. 1-2).   What one description of God does David give God here?  This is a most blessed one, I feel.  He calls God, “You who hear prayer”.  Our God is one who hears prayer.  Of this we can be confident.  He didn’t just create us and then walk away, letting our lives and the world just spin out of control, with Him just sitting back and watching, totally unconcerned and unresponsive to us.  He isn’t a stone idol that is completely deaf to our pleas for help.  He hears our prayers, and we, His blood-bought children, can turn to Him in complete trust.

One thing that we can turn to God in prayer for, confidently knowing that He will hear and answer, is the forgiveness of our sins (vs. 3).   We may look at the heroes of the Bible and think that they led perfect lives, especially one who was an illustrious ancestor of Jesus.  David, though, acknowledges that he has plenty of sin in his life.  Fortunately for us, Jesus has made atonement for our sins.  He alone paid the price for each of our sins, taking the punishment upon Himself so that we can have forgiveness.

Through Jesus, too, we know that we can approach God (vs. 4).  In the Old Testament times only those of the tribe of Levi could be priests in the Temple and enter the Holy of Holies.   Today, because of Jesus’s sacrifice, all believers have access to God’s presence at any time.  As David says, because of what God has done for us, we are truly blessed or favored.

In verse 5 David says that God has answered our prayers in awesome ways.  Because of that, he says that He is the confidence of all mankind, and of His children in particular.  This should be a great comfort to us.  I know that right now, when my trials and problems with health and financial concerns seem to be mounting up with no end in sight, I know that I can put my confidence in the Lord God.  He is the one who hears prayer, and the one who answers in awesome ways.  When we trust in Him, our confidence is not misplaced.

The remainder of this psalm recalls the wonders of God in creation.  David particularly dwells on the oceans, seas, and rivers in verses 7 - 10, and then on how, through His watering the earth, He brings forth an abundance of crops to feed all of mankind in verses 9 - 13.  God isn’t skimpy in the blessings He bestows upon us.  Our rivers are full of water, not just a dribble.  Our years are crowned with goodness.  He doesn’t give that in a limited amount, either.  How many blessings does God give us?  He pours them out upon us in such an abundance that we are just dripping to overflowing (vs. 10).  In David’s day most people lived in rural areas, with plenty of both farmers and ranchers.  His blessings are so abundant that the pastures are just covered with flocks and the fields with grain.

Remember at the beginning of the psalm, David wished to fulfill the vow he had made to praise God for answered prayer.  As we saw throughout this psalm, he praised God for all that He had done.  Though not specified as to what the prayer was, it could have been a prayer to God for enough rain and water for the crops and livestock, followed by a prayer for a good crop for the country and his people.  God answered his prayer by providing in abundance, so David responds with abundant praise.  Do we acknowledge God’s blessings to us, or are we too busy looking at our troubles?  I know that sometimes I will let my problems distract me from seeing how He has answered prayers in my life and poured out His blessings.  Let’s make a vow, like David did, to praise God for answering our prayers, and then like he did, keep that vow.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seize The Opportunity To Accept Jesus

Isaiah 55:1-13

Our Old Testament reading for today encompasses the whole of Chapter 55, a very moving passage with God reaching out to mankind, calling them to turn to Him.  In my view, this chapter is one of the most beautiful in the Book of Isaiah.

In the opening words of this passage we see the word “everyone” (vs. 1).  God’s call is for everyone, not just some.  He doesn’t just call those who are already good enough.  Everyone means just that. It does not mean merely one group of people.  Jesus’s salvation and kingdom are for everyone, all who are willing to come.  Jesus paid it all.  We don’t have to do anything but believe and accept His free gift.

If we listen and obey God, hearkening diligently as He says, that will bring us blessings (vs. 2 - 3).  Disobeying Him is to only bring curses upon ourself.  All those who come to Him in faith, He will make an everlasting, enduring covenant with.  The covenant that God made with David was that one of his descendants would forever remain on the throne.  That descendant is Jesus Christ.  By putting our faith and trust in Him, we become a part of that covenant (vs. 3-5).

We are invited to come to God, into His presence, any time.  We can come for forgiveness, for His guidance, for our petitions, and  just to be with Him (vs. 6).  God’s grace and mercy are available to everyone who seeks Him.  Call upon Him now, while He is available.  The door for salvation is open now, but it won’t always be.  There will come a day when it will be too late.  When we die, and one never knows when that may be, then it will be too late.  God pleads for you to call upon Him now, when He is right beside you.

When we seek God out and turn to Him, it must be accompanied with repentance (vs. 7).   God, through Isaiah here, tells us to turn from our sinful ways, forsaking them, and turn to Him.  Believe God, admit our sin, and desire His forgiveness.  We need to acknowledge that we are unable to be righteous on our own, and to throw ourselves upon His mercy.

Our thoughts and ways, and God’s thoughts and ways are totally different (vs. 8-9). His are so much greater, so much better and holier.  God’s grace is beyond our understanding.  The two don’t even come close.  Even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant thing God thinks or does is so much greater than what we could even imagine (I Corinthians 1:25).   Even if we don’t understand God’s will or His ways, we need to follow and obey.  His ways are perfect.  God knows what’s best for us much better than we can think we do.  Like the old hymn says, we need to trust and obey.

God designed the rain and snow to have a purpose, and that is to water the earth in order to bring forth crops for food.  When they come down from the sky they fulfill their purpose.  Likewise God’s Word, as is written in the Bible, will accomplish what He desires.  It will accomplish His spiritual purposes.  As we read in Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.  We can trust that He will do what He says.

The last couple of verses in this passage (vs. 12-13) speak of creation giving praise to God in a very picturesque way - mountains and hills singing, trees clapping their hands.  Although most people today don’t give praise to God in any way, I believe that creation, such as the mountains and trees, do in their own way.  In God’s new creation here, during Jesus’s millennial reign, the effects of the curse of Adam will be reversed.  Thorns and briers will be replaced with beautiful firs and myrtle trees.

I’m sure that we all want to be a part of that day.  God is calling to you, to everyone.  Are you thirsty for Him?  It costs you nothing, but to accept His Son as your Savior.  Come, just as you are.  His hand is stretched out to you.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Foolishness Of The Elite And The Wisdom Of The Humble

Matthew 11:25-30

Most of us in our lifetime have run across those who think of themselves as better than others because of their superior education or their high IQ.  In whatever subject they happened to have studied, they feel they are the tops.  They look down their noses at anyone who has had less years in school.  Those simpletons are just numbskulls compared to themselves.  The Pharisees were just like that.  They had spent years studying the Old Testament, and even more important to them, their oral traditions, which were later assembled to become part of the Talmud (volumes of man-made teachings and opinions on God’s laws.)  They felt themselves superior to the common folk who were following Jesus.  But with all of their so-called “superior” learning, they were completely blinded as to God’s truth.  Jesus shows that in the first two verses of our passage today.

Verses 25 and 26 are a short, little prayer that Jesus speaks aloud to His Heavenly Father.  In His brief prayer, Jesus thanks His Father for doing the unexpected with both the religious leaders and His disciples.  Here, as we’ve discussed, the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders considered themselves wise and highly learned, superior to the common person.  They thought that Jesus and His disciples were unlearned simpletons, “babies” when compared to themselves.  They felt that if anyone was worthy of God’s blessings and revelations, they certainly were.  But here, Jesus said that God’s truths were being revealed and accepted by, as the Pharisees called them, the “unlearned babies”, not those “wise and prudent” ones.  The Pharisees were arrogant in their supposed knowledge, but in truth, they were blind, missing out on God’s revelation.  The so-called “babes” or “little children” were humbly open to God and to receiving His truth from His Word.  Regardless of how much or how little education we have, we need to always be sure that we are not arrogant, but are open, like little children,to receiving God’s truth.

In the next verse, verse 27, we see where Jesus is giving an indication of His divinity.  God is sovereign over all, including over mankind.  Jesus’s statement would be blasphemous if He were not God Himself.  For someone to know God, have a close, personal relationship with Him, the Son, Jesus, must choose to reveal Himself to them.  Jesus will reveal Himself to anyone who is open to Him, willing to accept the truth.  We need to be open and willing, like children, not puffed up, close-minded, and arrogant, like those “wise ones” of the earlier verses.

The last several verses in our passage today are ones that are quite familiar, and many of us have memorized (vs. 28-30).  Here Jesus gives an open invitation to all.  How many of us are tired of searching for God, trying to be good enough, trying to do whatever it takes to make sure we are accepted by Him.  Will I ever find Him, and when I do, will I be good enough for Him?  Even after we have found God, through Jesus, many of us still keep trying to work religiously to be good enough.  

Here in these verses Jesus says to come to Him and find rest from our own efforts of trying to keep the Law, especially all of the man-made rules the Jewish leaders imposed.  Today there are many man-made rules that some churches impose, as well.  Our burdens can be burdens of the excessive demands that our religious leaders make on us (Matthew 23:1-4; Acts 15:10).   We can also be carrying the burdens of our sins - unconfessed sin, or sins that have been confessed, but we cannot forgive ourselves of.  Jesus tells us to come to Him to find rest from these burdens.

Strong work animals, such as oxen, will have a yoke put on them to help them pull a strong burden.  Many times a religion will put a yoke on us as well, telling us to carry a burden of works to try to make our way to heaven.  Also Satan will often put a yoke on us to pull the burden of our sins.  Jesus is calling us to Him to cast off those yokes, and to take the one He is offering.  He calls us to put ourselves under His direction.  The yoke and burden of works He replaces with faith in His finished work on the cross.  The yoke and burden of our sins is replaced with His forgiveness and knowing He casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).  Turn to Jesus and cast down your burdens.  Take up His yoke, for His yoke is easy and burden is light.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Inward Struggle With Sin

Romans 7:21-8:6

The New Testament reading from this past Sunday’s Lectionary continues on with Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome.  In this passage Paul shares the struggle he has with sin, and how as a believer, his new nature wishes to follow God, but sometimes his old nature rears its ugly head, and tries to draw him back into sin.

When we accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we become children of God, and have been given a new nature.  The believer’s new nature no longer sides with sin, but agrees with God and opposes sin (vs. 22).  The old nature, the carnal flesh nature on the other hand, still has sinful tendencies and a draw towards sin (vs 23).  These two natures are always at war against each other.  As born-again believers, the closer we draw to the Lord, the more we see His absolute holiness, the more we will perceive our own sinfulness (vs. 24).  Like Paul, we may cry out in our despair and frustration at frequently falling back into sin, asking who can help us?  Who?  The Lord Jesus!  Completely relying on Him and His power (vs. 5).

One big weapon that Satan uses against believers is that of trying to discourage us from obeying Christ and enjoying His abundant life by bringing up past sins which have been forgiven (vs. 1).  We need to realize that once we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, our sins are completely forgiven.  Our judgment for those sins was removed at the cross.  Our justification is by faith alone, on the basis of God’s grace.  The word “condemnation” implies a verdict of guilty and the penalty it deserves.  No sin we ever have committed or will commit, if we have accepted Christ and are truly saved, can or will be held against us.  Jesus paid the penalty.  No sin can reverse this decision.  We must be “in Christ Jesus”, that is, united with Him in faith.  There is no hope without Jesus.  With Jesus, though, God has declared us “not guilty”!  We have freedom from sin, and power to obey Him.  Condemnation is for those who reject Jesus (John 3:36).

The Holy Spirit replaced the law, which brought death, with the law of faith - the Gospel message (vs. 2).  He is the One who gives us the power we need to live the Christian life.  The Old Testament law (found throughout Exodus - Deuteronomy) could not make one righteous (vs. 3a).  Though Jesus came in the flesh, He was without sin.  The condemnation of God against sin was poured out on the sinless Jesus (vs. 3b).

The ceremonial part of the Old Testament law has been set aside (Colossians 2:14-17).  The civil part of the law was transferred to human government.  The moral law, which is based in God’s character, is presented in the Ten Commandments, which we seek to continue to follow.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to obey God.  The word “walk” refers to our lifestyle, our habits and thinking that are present in our life (vs. 4).  Is our “walk” more according to our old nature, our flesh, or is it more controlled by our new nature and the Holy Spirit who indwells us?

In this world there are two categories of people - those who are controlled by their sinful nature, and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit.  The unsaved can only be in the first category.  The unbeliever’s mindset seeks to satisfy their unredeemed flesh.  They are spiritually dead.  Once we have accepted Jesus, we have the desire to follow Him.  We are spiritually minded, and seek to satisfy the new nature.  They seek to please God and have peace with Him.  Following God will bring us life and peace.  (vs. 5-6).

As Paul reminds us in this passage, if we are born again, and are “in Christ” and have a new nature.  We have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us.  It is through His power that we can walk in that nature, not in our own power.  Our own power will only draw us to our old nature.  If and when we do fall back into old sinful patterns, which we will from time to time, we do not need to fear condemnation from God.  There may be discipline, but never the fear of condemnation.  Jesus paid that penalty, and we can praise Him for that!

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Meditation On The Many Reasons To Praise God

Our psalm for today is one of praise to God for all that He has done for us.  This is the first of the last set of six praise psalms that conclude the Book of Psalms.  It is also the last psalm that is specifically ascribed to King David.

King David starts by giving praise to God (vs. 1-2) and then proceeds through his psalm, giving us many reasons why we, too, should praise the Lord.  In verse 3 we read that the Lord is great, and His greatness is so vast, it is beyond knowing.  We can’t even begin to properly and fully describe Him!  His wonderful acts go on from one generation to another (vs. 4).  We need to remember that, and not fail to tell our children and grandchildren about our wonderful and great God.

In verse 5 David tells us of how he frequently meditates on God’s majesty and the many things He has done for Him.  Though David was the king, there were many times throughout his life when his days were full of significant troubles.  David turned to God and depended on Him, and the Lord rewarded His faith.  Now he meditated on these mighty acts, God’s faithfulness and love.  David meditated on the goodness and righteousness of God, upon the perfect attributes of His very character (vs. 5 - 7).

One of the attributes of God that David praises Him for is His graciousness and mercy (vs. 8 - 9).  Just in these two verses alone we can see so many reasons to praise God - gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, good, tender mercies.  He knew that without His grace and mercy, he had no hope.  God’s mercy is His withholding from us the punishment that is our due.  His grace is bestowing upon us blessings that we do not deserve.

Because of all the mighty works of God, both done for us and throughout all of creation, we should not keep silence, but sing His praise (vs. 10 - 13).  There are some who have said that one’s religious faith should just be kept to oneself, private, just between himself and God.  That is not what King David says here in these verses.  He says to speak of God’s glory, and to talk of His power.  We are to make it known to others all about the wonders of our mighty God, for His kingdom is forever and He rules over all.

Next David brings to our remembrance how God cares for us and provides for us (vs. 14 - 16).   We have all fallen at some time in one way or another.  Sometimes we’ve fallen literally, and hurt ourselves.  Other times it may have been a lost job resulting in an economic fall, or a devastating heartbreak bringing an emotional fall.  In all of those the Lord God has not abandoned us, but promises to uphold and lift us up.  He has also promised to provide for all of our needs, both food and any other.  He is our provider, not ourselves.  Because of His love for us He gives us what we need.

As David closes out this psalm, he praises God for His righteousness, His being right and just in all of His dealings (vs. 17 - 21).  He praises Him for His graciousness and love to us.  David remembers how God is near to us when we pray (vs. 18).  As this verse states, He hears the prayers of those who call upon Him in truth.  Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6), and God will hear the prayers of those who come to Him in Jesus’s Name.   When we pray, He is right there with us, near to us.  God has promised that He will provide for all of the needs of those who fear or have a holy awe, respect and obedience for Him.  Sometimes we may feel that no one knows or hears us when we cry, but verse 19 assures us that God does hear our cries.

Verse 20 speaks of the end of the wicked, those who have not entered into salvation and a covenant relationship with God through Jesus, which is an eternity in the lake of fire, eternally punished and away from God (II Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 20:11-15).  Those who love Him, though, are kept and guarded by Him.  We need have no fear for our future.

As we look back over this psalm, the last in the Book of Psalms with David’s name attached to it, we can remember his life and all the trials and turmoils that he dealt with, as see the way that he chose to respond to them.  David realized that the best way to deal with troubles is to meditate on God, thinking of His many character qualities.  Then spend time focusing on praising Him.  That was David’s way, and a good pattern to follow.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Coming In Peace And Coming To Conquer

Zechariah 9:9-12

Today’s Old Testament selection from this week’s Sunday Lectionary is one most familiar and associated with Palm Sunday.  It is the Prophet Zechariah’s prophecy of Israel’s king coming to them riding upon a donkey’s colt.  Zechariah made this prophecy about 500 years before Jesus, and it was fulfilled when Jesus came into Jerusalem a week before His crucifixion, on what we today call Palm Sunday.

Why a donkey and not a horse we might ask?  The Jewish people were looking for a conquering Messiah, one who would defeat all of their many oppressors.  They had been overrun by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, each in succession.  They knew that God had promised them the Messiah, and they were looking for Him to run their oppressors off.  Horses were signs of wealth, war, and military power, exactly what they would have wanted in a Messiah that would deliver them.  Donkeys, instead, were signs in the Bible of peace and hard work.  In Bible times, and also today, they are used as pack animals and sometimes to ride on. However, a donkey would not be ridden by a conquering king.  A king coming in peace would ride a donkey.

Verse 9 was a prophecy of Jesus, the Messiah’s first coming.  In His first coming, Jesus came in peace to bring the message of God’s love and salvation to us.  He was not coming that time as a conquering Messiah.  When He rode into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday, He chose the donkey to ride.  He was lowly, humble, and peaceful.  He wasn’t charging in like Alexander the Great on a mighty warhorse.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read that the young donkey colt that Jesus rode on was one that had not been ridden before (Mark 11:2).  He was unbroken, untrained.  Until a horse or donkey has been broken or trained, they are usually difficult to ride.  This would especially have been the case when trying to ride the animal around a large, noisy, and boisterous crowd, like on Palm Sunday.  This was not the case with Jesus that day.  The animal did not bolt, nor was he spooked.  He knew his Creator and Master, knew the honor that was bestowed on him, and gently carried Jesus into town.

In verse 10 the scene changes.  Zechariah speaks of Israel’s king having dominion throughout the world, from sea to sea.  In one verse He comes in humility on a donkey, and in the very next verse He cuts off the enemies of His people, and rules from sea to sea.  That’s a big change.  Reading prophecy is sometimes like looking at a mountain range from a distance.  We can see two mountain peaks that look like they are right next to each other, that even look like they are touching each other.  But as we get closer to the mountains, we find out that they are many miles apart, perhaps even with several valleys in between.  So it is with prophecy sometimes.  One verse, such as verse 9 here, speaks of Jesus when He came the first time.  The other, verse 10, speaks of His Second Coming, which is still in the future.

At His Second Coming, Jesus will not be coming back riding a donkey.  At that time He will be on a horse (Revelation 19:11, Revelation 19:19-21).  He will be coming as the conquering King.  He came in peace the first time, bringing salvation to mankind, seeking to draw all to Him in love.  The second time is different.  Mankind had its chance, and He is returning as the conquering King.

When a conquering king comes, it is always best to be on the good side of that king.  The time of Jesus coming as the conquering king is still in the future.  So far He has only come as the peaceful King, offering salvation to all.  Verse 11 speaks of God making a covenant with blood, to bring the prisoners free from the pit.  That covenant with blood was made at the cross of Calvary, with the Blood of Jesus, the king who came in peace, riding upon a donkey.  A covenant is an official contract or agreement.  God made that with us, signing or sealing it in the Blood of His Son.  By accepting the Lord Jesus as our Savior, He brings us up out of the pit that Satan cast us into.  He promises, also, to restore double to us what Satan stole (vs. 12).  When He comes again to rule and reign from sea to sea we will be part of His kingdom, not one of the enemies who will be defeated.  Are we prepared, ready and waiting?