Friday, June 22, 2018

The Growing Seed And The Tiny Seed

Mark 4:26-34

Our Scripture reading today from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer continues the study from the Gospel of Mark. Today we take a look at a couple of very short parables Jesus told the people.

The first of these parables is the parable of the growing seed in verses 26 - 29. A person plants seeds in the earth. Days and nights pass, and the seeds slowly start to grow, though we cannot really fully explain how the germination and growth actually happens. Jesus tells His listeners that this can be compared to the Kingdom of God. When a person is saved, becoming a child of God, they do not have instant full insight into the Bible, or instant spirituality.  The disciples spent three years learning directly under Jesus, and even then they had occasional faltering. Also the great Apostle Paul, after he was saved, spent several years apart with God in Arabia learning from Him, and then time with other believers before he started his ministry (Galatians 1:17-19).  Spiritual growth is a continual process, which finally comes to fruition with spiritual maturity. It can be compared to the slow but steady growth of a plant. Plants need good soil in order to have good growth. In order to have good spiritual growth we need to feed ourselves regularly and daily with the Word of God.

When we witness to others, frequently the results may be slow in coming, just like the growth of a plant.  When witnessing, the Word of God is presented to an individual. Some may get saved right away, or shortly thereafter.  Many, however, take awhile to turn to the Lord. God is working in their hearts, and at the right moment He will reap a harvest in that individual, and save them (vs 29).

The second parable that Jesus told that day was one about the mustard seed, and is found in verses 30 - 32.  Again, Jesus takes this parable to explain another point of the Kingdom of God. The mustard seed is not the smallest seed in existence, but it was the smallest seed the Jews at that time typically would have sowed in Israel.  This very small seed grows into a large plant, one that birds can nest in. Christianity started very small, beginning with only 12 apostles, and having about 500 disciples by the time of the Ascension (I Corinthians 15:5-6), still a relatively small number. However, Christianity has since grown into a worldwide community of believers. There are times when we may feel alone, but we are not. There are faithful believers all around the world. Just like a tiny seed, like the mustard seed, the Church started small and grows large.

Finally, as our Scripture passage closes, Mark tells how Jesus frequently spoke to the people in parables, later explaining them to His apostles (vs. 33-34). Why did Jesus speak in parables? A lot of Jesus’s teachings were against people having hypocritical and impure motives. These were often characteristics of the Pharisees and other religious leaders who kept a watch over and were critical of His ministry.  Sometimes Jesus did speak out against them, but if He had spoken against the religious leaders each and every time they deserved it, His public ministry would have been hampered. Thus, Jesus spoke frequently in parables. Those who listened carefully knew what He was talking about.  Those who have no heart for God and who oppose His truth and Word, treat His message just as if it is a story and as nothing serious. Then there were those who came only for what they could get, such as a healing or meal. They weren’t interested in Jesus’s message, so He spoke in parables, knowing that those who were truly interested would glean the true message. To those who truly seek Him and His truth, Jesus will reveal Himself and His message.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Best Is Yet To Come

II Corinthians 5:1-10

As most of us grow older, we find our bodies wearing down.  We can’t do the things we used to when younger, and certainly not as fast or as efficiently as before.  For many, thoughts of aging can be depressing, along with fears of death. Here in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he gives believers hope for the future.  Let’s take a look at this Scripture.

As Paul begins this passage he uses some metaphors, comparing our human, physical body with that of an earthly house or tent (vs 1). Like an earthly dwelling, our bodies wear down, and are also temporary. The “building from God” represents the believer’s resurrected, glorified body.  Our earthly bodies make us groan. When we die we are not spirits without bodies (vs 2-3). We will have new, perfect bodies, without sickness, disease, or pain.  Many of us have, or had, major illnesses or crippling accidents, which continue to afflict us day after day. These will all be gone when we receive our new bodies.

Unlike many people today, including some believers, Paul was not afraid to die (vs 6-8).  Paul knew that when he passed from this life he would be immediately in the presence of Jesus.  All pain and sorrow will then be gone and we will have fellowship with Jesus forever. For this reason, too, we need not fear death, either.  The unknown can cause anxiety, but we have the hope and confidence of eternal life.

Here in the middle of our passage Paul gives a statement that should be a hallmark of believers who walk closely with the Lord (vs 7).   As Christians we are to walk by faith, not by sight. When pilots are taught to fly an airplane they are instructed to trust the controls on the control panel, and not their own sight or feelings.  This is particularly true when weather conditions like fog, clouds, or blizzards occur. Just like these pilots, we need to trust God, not what we see in our life or our circumstances, living by faith not our feelings.  Worry and trust cannot abide together. Trusting in God will allow Him to work within us. We can walk by faith and not by sight because we have faith in the resurrection of our body. We do not need to fear death or suffering.  When we get to heaven we will receive a perfect body, one that does not bear the marks of sin or this broken world. In verse 9, Paul instructs us that our aim and delight should be to please the Lord. No matter what the circumstances we face are, we need to trust and obey Jesus.

Finally, as Paul closes up our Scripture passage, he speaks of one event that will occur for believers after they have passed from this life.  In verse 10 we read that all Christians must give an account for how they have lived. We also read of this, both in the Gospels and other of Paul’s Epistles (Matthew 16:27; Romans 14:10-12; and I Corinthians 3:10-15).

There are two different and distinct final judgments spoken of in the Bible. One is the Great White Throne Judgment, which is for the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15).  All believers’ names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). Believers will go before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is not a place of condemnation (Romans 8:1), but of accountability. We will be rewarded for the things we have done for Jesus, and our obedience to Him. Our good works do not save us, as the Bible make it very clear we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  However, after salvation we should be living lives and doing works that please the Lord (Ephesians 2:8-10). It is these works, those done after we are saved, that we are judged on, and rewarded for or not, accordingly.

Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?  Believers have the hope of both eternal life and a new glorified body to replace this worn out one we currently have.  For those who have faith in Jesus, the best is yet to come!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sleepless Nights

Psalm 77

Have you ever spent the night unable to sleep, crying out to the Lord over some very serious problems you are going through?  Many of us have experienced just such nights. The author of our psalm today, Asaph, was going through some terrible times, causing sleeplessness, and he shares his experience with us here.

We are not told what desperately troubling thing Asaph was going through. Perhaps it was a serious health issue that either he or a loved one was going through.  Perhaps he was in a severe financial crisis. There was often political unrest during the days of the Old Testament, and frequently foreign nations would attack Israel, putting people’s safety, lives, and property in danger.  It could have been any of these, or something else. We all have similar deep concerns that we bring to the Lord. Whatever it was, Asaph could not sleep, and was crying out to the Lord in desperation (vs 1-6).

When we are emotionally distraught over problems, and are tossing and turning throughout the night, we can question God as Asaph did (vs 7-9).  With all of the problems swarming around him, Asaph questioned whether God had cast him off forever, and would hold off His mercy and promises from him for all times.  Problems often make us think God isn’t there for us, that He has forgotten and turned His back on us. When we are in the middle of a crisis, it seems like the answer to these questions is yes.  In reality, though, to the believer, the answer is no. As the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, His compassions never fail. They are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Our psalmist Asaph was so down and discouraged, he felt that God had changed, that His power, symbolized by His right hand, had failed (vs 10).  The reality is, though, that God never changes (Malachi 3:6). Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God has not, and never will, lose His powers.  Nor will He turn away or forsake us. What He has promised, He will fulfill to us.

What did Asaph finally decide to do about his distressing dilemma which was keeping him up at nights?  As he lay on his bed, besieged by thoughts of his worries, and whether God would or could help, Asaph started remembering all of the many blessings He had bestowed, not only on himself, but also for the nation (vs 11-20). One of the biggest works of God that came to his mind was when God brought forth the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt, and parted the Red Sea for them (vs 16-19). The account of this great miracle was handed down from generation to generation.

Remembering God’s faithfulness of the past during our trials will remind us He is capable and trustworthy.  We need to remember God’s goodness to us. By doing so it will strengthen our faith (vs 11-12). When our problems and troubles are keeping us up at night, recall all of the Lord’s mighty acts of the past.  When we shift our focus off of our self and on to God, our outlook changes, and our hope and joy returns.

This psalm gives one cure for depression.  In Asaph’s despair, thoughts of God were only bringing complaints and bitterness.  Then his attitude changes because he starts to focus on God’s goodness and acts of deliverance.  Asaph’s laments turn to hymns of praise. If we want our discouragement, depression, and despair to be likewise lifted, keep a record of all God has done for you, and bring those to mind the next time the devil gets you down.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Elijah On Mt. Carmel

I Kings 18:17-40

One of the most inspiring passages in the Bible is the account of Elijah upon Mt. Carmel challenging the false prophets and priests of Baal.  It is a record of great courage, and immense faith and trust in God. As we read through this passage in Scripture, let’s allow it’s message to strengthen our own faith.

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets and servants of God in the Old Testament.  Elijah preached God’s Word in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of evil King Ahab and his even more wicked wife Queen Jezebel in the 9th century B.C.  Shortly after their split from the southern kingdom, the people of Israel plunged into terrible idolatry. Most of the people had turned to worshipping the false gods of the neighboring pagan nations, particularly Baal.  Baal was a pagan god of crop fertility, and was often believed to supply rain for the crops. He was also believed to cause lightning and thunder. The Israelites also worshipped the pagan goddess Asherah, a mother/fertility goddess.  Though a number had completely abandoned Yahweh, many combined worship of Yahweh with worship of Baal and other foreign gods.

Elijah knew the time had come.  Yahweh would not tolerate the people wavering back and forth between gods.  Also, He would not accept the people worshipping Him along with any other deity. Elijah spoke to King Ahab, telling him to summon the priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah to Mt. Carmel where a spiritual showdown would take place (vs 17-20).  Elijah had the people build two altars, and the God who answered by consuming the sacrifice with fire was the true God (vs 21-24). Since the followers of Baal believed he controlled lightning, they would think this a fair test. Elijah urged the people to take a stand, to follow whoever is the true God. We all have to make up our mind about who we will serve and worship. Do we believe that God is who He says He is? We have to take a stand. We can’t hesitate between two opinions.

This could have been a scary time for Elijah.  He was alone in the midst of 850 pagan priests, in addition to the multitudes of people. He was totally outnumbered, in addition to being on the king’s “most wanted list”. However, Elijah knew that he was in the will of God.  It didn’t matter that there were 850 pagan priests against him. He had the true God on his side.

The Baal worshippers went first, and set about praying to their deity. Much as they beseeched him, Baal didn’t answer (vs 25-29). They even tried cutting themselves to gain their god’s pity.  Baal did not answer because he, like all false gods, is not real. The things we worship, besides Yahweh, are just as false and dangerous, because they cause us to depend on something other than God. In times of crisis when we call out to our false gods, they will be equally silent.

Now it was Elijah’s turn.  As I mentioned before, he was alone, with no support. However, Elijah had strong faith and confidence in God, so much so that he did something seemingly daring to prove to the people that Yahweh, and only Him, is the one true God.  Elijah ordered that his altar be drenched in water so no one could accuse him of trickery (vs 30-35). He then spoke aloud his prayer to Yahweh, for all to hear (vs 36-37). At this occasion Elijah did not pray off in a corner by himself.  He prayed openly and publicly. If we have accepted Jesus as Savior, we are to come boldly into His presence with authority because of our position in Christ (Hebrews 4:16). Elijah didn’t pray as a last resort. Prayer was his first and only resort.

What was the response?  God immediately answered by fire!  (vs 38-39). Like Elijah, we can pray confidently to God, asking Him to work in ways that will bring glory to Himself.  Like him, we can have faith that whatever God commands us to do, He will provide what we need to carry it through.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Our True Family

Mark 3:20-35

Family is important to most people.  When problems surround us and people are attacking us on every side, it’s a comfort to be able to retreat to our family and find love, understanding, and acceptance. Unfortunately, not everyone has that, including Jesus. What? Jesus wasn’t accepted by His family? Sadly, no He wasn’t. Let’s look into our passage today from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus and His disciples kept a very busy schedule.  He would generally wake early to go off by Himself and pray to the Father. Then would start a busy day of preaching to the crowds, teaching His disciples, and healing the sick who were brought to Him.  There were many times when Jesus and His disciples couldn’t even break away to grab a bite for lunch (vs 20). When Jesus’s brothers and sisters observed this happen more than just a few times they decided something had to be done (vs 21).  Big brother Jesus has gone top far, and is crazy, they thought. Time to take Him home before He upsets the authorities any more, before He embarrasses them further, or worse, gets them into trouble with the Jewish leaders. Later in verses 31-35, Jesus’s family is again calling for Him because they think He has gone too far.

Many believers find that, once they have accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior, their family and close friends don’t understand and sometimes turn their back on them.  They might insult your intelligence, saying that no one with any intellect could possibly believe the Bible, so obviously because you do believe God’s Word, you must not have intelligence.  Sometimes their remarks are cutting and vicious. In some countries becoming a Christian can even be dangerous.  Abandoning the family’s traditional religion has often brought great anger, physical assault, and sometimes even murder of the believer by a family member.

When people told Jesus, while He was teaching, that His family wanted to speak with Him, shortly after they had called Him crazy and tried to take Him away, Jesus gave an answer that might encourage those whose families have turned away from them (vs 33-35).  Jesus said that those who obey the Lord God and follow His will are His true brothers and sisters. When we become Christians we now have a whole new family in our fellow believers. Our fellow believers are now our family. Prior to the resurrection, no one in Jesus’s family, except His mother, believed He was the Messiah. After the resurrection His brothers James and Jude came to faith. Whether any other brothers or His sisters became believers is unknown.

Another important subject Jesus spoke of in this passage is something that sometimes worries believers.  The scribes and Pharisees were saying that the reason Jesus was able to cast out demons was that He received His power from Satan (vs 22-30).  In reality, of course, it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that the demons were cast out. Jesus states in this passage that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness, also sometimes called the unforgivable sin.  The scribes and Pharisees knew if they admitted that Jesus’s power was from the Holy Spirit, from God, then they would have to submit to Him and give up their own authority. These religious leaders refused to do that. Their pride wouldn’t let them acknowledge Him as Messiah.  They tried to destroy Jesus’s popularity with the people by saying His power came from Satan. This is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - attributing to the devil what is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Some people may worry that they have committed the unforgivable sin.  If you are concerned that you have committed this, it is quite certain you have not. The unforgivable sin is wilfully choosing not to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to move in their heart to accept Him. It is a deliberate and ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit. Let’s always be sure we keep a heart attitude of belief and repentance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Keep Our Eyes On The Prize

II Corinthians 4:13-18

Have you ever watched an athlete in training?  They go through long, wearisome, and oftentimes painful hours of training.  The thought of being good enough to be selected for the team, or getting to the Olympics and winning the gold medal keeps them going, despite any discomfort.  The same holds for aspiring musicians. The pianist or violinist who wishes to achieve concert level gives up everything else for hours of practice. They all keep their eye on the future goal, feeling the trial they are going through now worth it for the end result.  The Apostle Paul felt the same way. Let’s look into our passage and see what he has to tell us.

Once he came to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Savior, Paul dedicated his life to spreading that same message to others around the known world.  Throughout the years of his ministry Paul always remained true to his convictions (vs 13). He never changed his message to suit his listeners, though that often brought him harsh persecution.  Paul went through tremendous sufferings and trials while preaching the Gospel (vs 15-18). He refused to focus his mind on these hardships though.  Rather, Paul focused his mind on the hope and promises of God’s rewards. When we are going through difficult times in our life, particularly if it is for the cause of Christ, don’t focus on those troubles. Instead we need to keep our eyes on God’s goals.

Just like the athlete, Paul concentrated on the goal of God, and was strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus will give us the strength to endure every trial so we can be a witness for Him. Paul shares in our Scripture passage here what helped him endure his afflictions.  He viewed all he was going through as light and momentary in view of eternity (vs 17). Our afflictions may seem unbearable right now, but wouldn’t any of us go through a minute of suffering if we knew the rest of our life would be bliss and comfort?  This life is not all there is. There is life after death. Knowing this can help us get through the suffering. Paul thought of it that way. He knew the greater the suffering for Christ the greater the eternal glory. God will reward what we are going through and suffering for Him (vs 18).

Throughout all our adversities and all we go through, we need to be sure that we do not become hardhearted and resistant to God.  If we are yielded to Him, the Holy Spirit will soften our hearts. Don’t let troubles diminish our faith or disillusion us. God has a purpose in our suffering.  God’s perspective is better than ours. He sees the whole picture, things we can’t possibly see. He doesn’t always remove the difficulties that we ask Him to. God is producing qualities in us that are important in view of eternity.  The athlete or musician may at times wish to quit the difficult training. They continue, though, if they keep their eyes on their goal.

We must remember our goal, and not forsake our eternal reward because of today’s pain.  Satan has a plan to take us out. God has a plan to keep us in. Focus on His plan. Let the resurrection power of Jesus strengthen us.  God teaches us in the dark moments of our life. Those times will last only as long as is necessary for the Lord to accomplish His purposes.  Our distress is only a millisecond compared to eternity. Thank the Lord for what He is doing, and honor Him in all things.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Rebellion

Psalm 2

Glance at any world map or globe, and as you see all the different countries, can you point out any nation or their rulers and leaders who wholeheartedly worship and serve the Lord?  Many actually actively oppose the Lord God and His Word. This has been the case since the dawn of time in the early chapters of Genesis. Our psalm for today speaks of the ultimate folly of a nation, ruler, or anyone in opposing God.

Psalm 2 was possibly written to celebrate the coronation of a king.  It ultimately serves for the coronation of Jesus, our eternal King. This psalm describes the rebellion of the nations of the world against God, and the coming of Jesus to establish His eternal rule.

The author starts out in verse 1 asking a rhetorical question - why are the nations and people plotting and raging against God?  Unsaved men, then and today, devise, conspire, and scheme against God. They don’t want God telling them how to live their lives or how to govern their country, so the nations and people of the world direct their hostility against Him and His Son, Jesus, the Messiah (vs 2). Just like a little two year old trying to assert his will against his parents, or even a bug against a human, it is a vain effort to rebel against God.

Everyone wants to be free, not having others rule over them, telling them what to do or how to live.  Unfortunately, for many this includes wanting to be free from God (vs 3). However, everyone does willingly serve someone or something.  They follow after political groups, organizations, other people, or their own selves and desires. The only real freedom is found in submitting to God.

What is God’s reaction when He observes all of this?  We read in verse 4 that He laughs. This is not a friendly, happy laugh.  Nor is it the good-hearted laughter of a parent watching their child’s crazy antics.  This is the laughter of God’s contempt. These people don’t want Him in their lives, and are either directly or indirectly in rebellion against Him.  Pride and power drive many nations and rulers to rebel against God. He laughs because the power anyone has comes from Him. He gave it, and He can take it away.

The Lord God gives the decree that the Messiah is His Son (vs 7). This verse is quoted in the New Testament, in Hebrews 1:5, to show that Jesus is superior to the angels.  He is both fully God and fully man. Since Jesus is superior to any angel, He is vastly superior to any king or ruler on earth.

One day, possibly soon, the Lord Jesus will return to earth.  At that time Jesus will be in authority and rule over every nation and power (vs 8-9).  Every nation will be His inheritance, and all rulers will submit to Him. Either willingly or unwillingly they will submit.

As our psalm closes, we are all urged to submit to God now.  The psalmist instructs us to “kiss the Son”, which means to submit and surrender to the Son of God.  Jesus is God’s chosen King. As such, He is the rightful King of our lives. We must never forget exactly who God is.  He is the mighty, eternal God, King of all eternity. No ruler or army can stand against Jesus. He is perfect and righteous. We must never forget who He is when we stand before Him.

Through all of this, God is full of mercy and grace.  Instead of immediate judgment, God is giving us all a chance to turn to Him today.  Don’t put your trust in any country or earthly power. Rather, put your trust and confidence in God.  Jesus is our Good Shepherd and loving Savior. Run willingly into His loving arms today instead of waiting and being forced to submit when He returns as the mighty King.