Friday, March 31, 2017

Physically Blind or Spiritually Blind

John 9:1-41

The Gospel reading from this past Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind, and encompasses the whole 9th chapter of John.  As Jesus and His disciples were passing through a location, they came across a man who had been born blind, and the disciples ask Jesus whose fault was it that this man was born blind.  The common belief of that day was that any sort of affliction that came upon a person was judgment for sins in their life.  Since this man was born blind they felt it must be either his fault or his parents fault.  In verse 3 Jesus sets them straight.  Not every tragedy, whether health related or personal tragedy, is caused because of some sin a person committed.  Jesus told them that in this case it wasn’t sin.  He had been born blind so that God’s power and glory could be shown forth when He healed the man.

Sometimes things happen to us because of wrong choices we make, such as the drunk who gets into an accident and is now crippled, or a night of carousing and now one has a disease.  However, most often that is not the case, as was shown with Job, and here in this passage.  We should be careful to never cast judgment, as we can’t know the reasons.

After explaining this to His disciples, Jesus proceeds to heal this man, and give him his sight (vs. 6 - 7).   The Pharisees then, as they usually did, attacked Jesus for this healing.  The healed man received his sight, but the Pharisees were blinded by their pride, their jealousy of Jesus, and their sin.  They interrogate the formerly blind man, and then his parents, questioning over and over again what had happened, and how Jesus healed him.  Their unbelief in Jesus was willful, rejecting the evidence of the man receiving his sight.  It wasn’t for lack of evidence, as they had the proof right before them, and Jesus had healed many people before this.  They were hard-hearted, stubborn, and jealous.

These Pharisees considered Jesus a sinner because He healed on the Sabbath, and especially because He rejected their extra-Biblical traditions.  Because of this, they refused to accept that a miracle had taken place, and that Jesus was sent by God.  There are people today who, like these Pharisees, doubt the works of God because they just don’t want to believe.

Back and forth the Pharisees went as they questioned this man (vs 13 - 17, 24 - 34).  “Who did this?  How did He do this?  Do you believe He is a prophet?  How can He be a godly man when He heals on the Sabbath?”   Then they hauled his parents in for questioning (vs 18 - 23).  The Pharisees held so strong a control over the spiritual life of the people that his parents were too afraid to give a straight answer as they feared being put out of the synagogue.  The formerly blind man was not afraid, though.  He knew what had happened in his life, the healing and blessings Jesus had wrought, and he was not afraid to speak out in praise of the Lord.  This brought about his expulsion from the synagogue, as seen in verse 34.  This was the first mentioned occurrence of the schism between the followers of Jesus and the Jews of the synagogue.  This conflict continued on through the Book of Acts.  The formerly blind man saw that Jesus was more than a mere man.  The Pharisees were blind to that fact.  They continued on in spiritual blindness.

Where do we stand?  Are we like the blind man’s neighbors, who questioned if he was the same man as before, were surprised and showed some skepticism?  Some may have come to believe, many may not have.  Are we like his parents, who believed, but were too afraid to speak out?  Are some of you who read this like the Pharisees, who had their hearts so hardened against Jesus, holding on to their willful stubbornness and their man-made beliefs?  Or are you like the blind man who was healed, who believed in Jesus, accepted Him as His Lord and Savior, and who was bold enough to speak out in his faith, even to being kicked out of the synagogue for that faith?  May our eyes be always opened to Jesus, and not willfully, stubbornly blind.  May we also be willing to speak out for our Lord, no matter what the cost.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Walk In The Light

Ephesians 5:1-14

Growing up, many children heard words of admonition from their parents to not behave in any type of manner that would bring shame on the name of the family.  The family honor was at stake, and as you grew older, you might have been proud to defend that honor.  For born-again believers, members of God’s family, this should be even more the case.  In this passage of Scripture which Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, he admonishes them to keep their behavior in line, just like our parents did.

Little children learn by imitation, particularly imitating their parents.  If we are truly children of God, we should be imitating Him, walking in His steps (vs 1-2).  In the next several verses Paul speaks about behavior that should never even be mentioned in connection with a Christian (vs. 3-7).  Satan is always trying to turn Christians away from becoming like Christ.  The world glories when they hear of a prominent Christian caught in some sort of sin, particularly if it is of a sexual nature.  This shouldn’t even be suspected in the life of a Christian.

How about our speech?  Language and talk that is obscene, degrading, dirty, or foolish shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary of a Christian (vs. 4).  That isn’t a part of holy living, which should be what we’re aiming for, and it definitely destroys our testimony.  Our speech should reflect God’s presence in our life.  For those who think that God just winks at sin, or says that it’s all okay since we’re just humans, verses 5 - 7 say the contrary.  God does not tolerate sin, and we, as His children, should not condone bad behavior or lifestyles.  People with continued evil behavior or whose life is patterned as such, will pollute the church and be a bad influence.  In the last several decades, preachers have stopped speaking out against sin.  It is rarely, if ever, mentioned from the pulpit anymore.  We’re all urged to not cast judgment on anyone, but there’s a difference between judging an individual and judging an action.  God definitely speaks against sin.  It does matter what we do!  It matters to God!

Verse 8 draws the dividing line between the children of darkness and the children of light.  Which one are we?  If we are children of light, we are to walk as such, living above reproach morally.  As children of light, God wants us to be His light in a dark world, as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:14-16.  Our behavior and actions should not be such that we have to hide what we’re doing from others.  Live in the Light of Jesus, and as we do, the knowledge of His will becomes clear (vs. 10).

Christians who are actively following the Lord should strive to live in righteousness and purity, and have nothing to do with the evil ways and works of Satan and the world.  The two are opposed to each other.  We, as believers, are responsible to expose darkness, especially when found in the church.  Unfruitful works of darkness (vs. 11), is any kind of activity that results in sin.  We should expose this behavior.  By not speaking out, by being silent, gives the impression of tacit acceptance of such behavior.  Take a stand and speak out.

If we are God’s children, our behavior should be patterned after Him.  Can others tell whether we belong to Christ by how we live?  Is His presence in our life evident?   If we are way off the mark, then we might wonder who our father really is.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Sheep In God's Flock

Psalm 23

This Psalm is perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved of all passages of Scripture.  For many it is one of the first chapters they have committed to memory.  Let’s take a brief look at a few of the many gems to be found in this beloved Psalm.

During his youth and as a young man, David had worked as a shepherd, so he knew the job well.  As an Old Testament believer, he knew God as our Shepherd as well.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself our Good Shepherd, (John 10:11).  The author of Hebrews calls Jesus the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20), and Peter calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd (I Peter 5:4).  

Sheep are not the smartest of all animals.  They have no sense of direction, and will wander away from the flock.  They will also blindly follow each other, even into danger.  As sheep, we need the guidance and direction of our Shepherd.  As our Shepherd, He will provide for all of our needs (vs. 1).  Sheep really are unfit to live on their own, and without God in our life, we are helpless as well.  He is a Good Shepherd, and He will lead us to the best places to feed and find refreshing water (vs. 2).  It is better for sheep to have still water, as they will wander into a swiftly running stream, and with their wool wet, it is difficult for them to get out, and can easily drown.  If we do wander away from our beloved Shepherd will seek us out, and has promised to restore us (vs. 3).

Our Good Shepherd is also the Lord of Life.  He alone can safely walk and lead His sheep through the dark and unknown valley of death, and bring us safely to the other side (vs. 4a).  With Him by our side, we do not need to fear anything, including death.

Shepherds in earlier times usually carried two items to help with the care and defense of his sheep - a rod and a staff (vs. 4b).  The rod was used to defend the sheep from predatory animals.  Sheep have no natural defense from their enemies - no horns, fangs, or ability to run swiftly.  We need a shepherd, and He is there to protect us from our enemies, particularly our great enemy, Satan and his minions.  The staff was used by shepherds to help corral the sheep when they were wandering away.  God will use what it takes to bring us back into His fold when we wander.  Just like the shepherds crook on his staff may be uncomfortable when hooked around the sheep’s neck, sometimes God may have to use some difficult circumstances to bring us back to Him, but like a good shepherd, it is all done in love.

In the next verse we see some more examples of how our Good Shepherd deeply cares for us.  Our enemies may seek to knock us down and see us destroyed.  Our Shepherd says here, in verse 5a that He will prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  They will see when He blesses us, and meets all of our needs.  They will see how much He loves and cares for us, and as they witness His goodness and faithfulness to us, hopefully they will seek to join His flock, as well.

In Biblical times oil was poured on people when bestowing a blessing.  Here, in verse 5b, the Lord has anointed us with His blessing, also done in the presence of our enemies.  They will see His blessing upon us.  Oil was also used by shepherds in the healing and care of their sheep.  It was poured on, soaking into their wool coats, and if a sheep might cut himself while grazing, it would soothe, cleanse, and heal the wound.  Our Good Shepherd is there to care and protect us.

Finally, we, as sheep in the Lord’s flock, see goodness and mercy following us every day (vs. 6).  Several well-known preachers have likened them to the Shepherd’s sheep dogs, keeping watch over the flock.  We may not see the Lord’s goodness and mercy ahead of us, but looking back along our path through life, we see how He has helped us.  God’s goodness and mercy towards us will hunt us down, just like the sheep dog does, never stopping, pursuing us our whole life.

At the end of our life, if we are a part of God’s flock, we have assurance that we will dwell in His house forever.  Are you a part of His flock?  Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, as your Good Shepherd?  If so, you are a sheep in His flock, and can know all of the blessings of this Psalm.  If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, do not delay in calling upon Him.  Become a sheep in His flock, and know the joy of having Him as your Good Shepherd through life.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Look Beyond The External

I Samuel 16:1-13

Not that long ago I picked an apple from a bowl of fruit to eat.  As I held it in my hand, getting ready to take a bite, I saw its beautiful red color.  It looked perfect, without a blemish on its skin.  As soon as I bit into it, though, I saw that I had been deceived by its good looks.  The apple was rotten!  The perfect skin had hid its inedible inside, and the apple had to be thrown out.  Perhaps you may have run across a tree that has recently fallen over in a storm.  It had looked like a perfectly fine tree from the outside, but now laying on its side you can see that the inside was all rotted.  With the inside in such condition, it couldn’t stand through the big storm.

As we take a look at the Old Testament passage for this Fourth Sunday in Lent we see that the prophet Samuel is faced with a challenge.  God has rejected King Saul, the current king over Israel.  The reason that God did not want him sitting on the throne any longer was because Saul would not obey Him.  In the previous chapter we see a very noticeable example of Saul not following a specific command that God had given him, thinking his way was better.  Samuel was grieving over the fact that Saul had failed as a king, and that God had rejected him.  God tells Samuel, in verse 1, to get over it.  Saul had been disobedient to God, and thus, he was not the kind of man He wants to reign over the people.  Samuel was instructed to go to Bethlehem and God will pick a new king from among the sons of Jesse.

As the sons of Jesse start to file one by one before the prophet Samuel, he sees the first one, Eliab, tall and handsome.  In past times, kings and leaders were judged mainly by their physical attributes, rather than character or spiritual attributes.  Saul had been tall, athletic, strong, and good looking, but his character was found to be lacking.  Before Samuel could make the same mistake again, God stopped him, as we see in verse 7.  Seven times each son passed before him, and each one was rejected.  Only when they had to run out to the pasture where the youngest one, David, was out watching the sheep, did Samuel find the one that God had chosen.  David had been considered so insignificant by the family, that they hadn’t even thought to bring him along when Samuel came.

How often have we been just like Samuel was, judging people by their outward appearances alone?  In our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and unfortunately, even in our churches, have we sat and silently, or not so silently, judged someone because of their weight, how homely they look, or because they aren’t as well educated as we are.  Maybe they can’t afford such nice clothes, or we don’t care for where they live.  The people that society rejects are often the ones that God chooses.  When we judge by appearance, we will often overlook good people who happen to lack those physical or financial attributes that society has currently put on a pedestal.

Unlike us, God does not judge us by our outward appearance.  He looks inside and sees what is in our hearts, what is making up our character.  He evaluates our inner disposition.  God sees exactly what we are like inside, and there are no surprises with Him, unlike when I bit into that apple, thinking it was a good one, or the people who would have seen the tree the day before it fell, thinking it was good, when inside it was dead.  Society today praises and glorifies Hollywood and sports stars, when often their lives and moral character leave so much to be desired, and they scoff and scorn someone who stands for righteousness.  They are only looking on the outside, the Hollywood good looks or the strong body and ability of the athlete.

Follow the lead that God was directing with Samuel when we are tempted to judge by externals.  Pray for God’s wisdom, as only He can look into someone’s heart.  We need to look at people’s character, rather than only what we see on the outside.  David’s family thought he had no value, as he wasn’t even considered worthy to attend.  Those who people consider worthless, God often chooses.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Woman At The Well

John 4:3-26, 39-42

In this Scriptural passage we have a very beautiful story of Jesus’ love for people, and is also another example of His one-on-one encounters with individuals.  In verse 4 we read that Jesus needed to go through Samaria.  In Jesus’ day, the Jews hated and despised Samaritans, thought them an impure people, and went out of their way to avoid any contact with them.  Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem and back, took a much longer route to travel just so they could avoid going through Samaritan towns.  His disciples were probably a bit annoyed that Jesus decided to go into Samaritan territory.  He did this, though, because He had a divine appointment with this Samaritan woman.  He knew she would be there at the well, and He was determined to go there to seek and to save the lost.

This unnamed Samaritan woman had a past, having been married and divorced multiple times, and now currently living with a man with whom she was not married.  Most women at this time in the Middle East would collect their water from the well in early morning and early evening, when it was the coolest time of day.  Here they would gather and have a bit of social time together.  Not this woman, though.  She came alone during the noon hour, probably because she was ostracized because of her past and current lifestyle.  Jesus knew this also, which is why He came to the well at this appointed time, and sent His disciples off to get some lunch.  He wanted unhindered time to unburden this woman from the sin and guilt she had been carrying for years.

Jesus initiated the conversation with her.  He sought her out, a sheep wandering from the fold, a soul thirsting for Living Water, drawing her to Himself (vs. 7 - 15).  At first this woman didn’t understand what He was talking about, thinking only of the natural world and a natural thirst.  She didn’t want to have to continue coming here in the heat of the day, risking contact with other scornful and judging women.

Jesus then quickly turned the conversation to her personal life, to the real need she had of salvation (vs. 16 - 19).  How did He know that about her, she wondered, as she knew Jesus was a stranger in town?  She perceived that He was a prophet, a religious man.  Jesus knows all about the pain, heartache and grief we have hidden in our lives.  He knows everything about us, and He loves us still, just as He did with this lonely, sinful and hurting woman.  He wasn’t going to leave her there, to expose her, ridicule and condemn her as she had been so often in the past.  Jesus revealed Himself to be the Messiah (vs. 25 - 26), and invited her to partake of that Living Water He offered, and accept salvation.  He took the burden of her sin, and set her soul free.

She knew that this was not something that she could keep to herself, so she hurried back to town to tell the villagers that she had found the Messiah, and He had set her free from her sins and past.  Those folks who had labeled her as the “sinful woman” could see a change in her.  There was something about her that was now different.  Whatever it was, whoever had done this for her, they wanted to see this for themselves, and followed her back to Jesus (vs. 39 - 42)  Through this woman’s testimony and changed life, a whole town sought out the Lord Jesus.  A little revival broke out in the town, as Jesus stayed on in town for a few days, preaching and ministering to the people, and many came to accept Him as the Messiah and their Savior as well.

If we have burdens that we are carrying from our past, things we might be ashamed of, or are weighing us down with the pain and heartache, we need to come to Jesus and lay them down at His feet, as this woman did, letting Him take them from us.  And then, we need to go and tell others as well, leading them to the Savior, just as this Samaritan woman did.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Peace With God

Romans 5:1-11

Picture, if you will, an outlaw who has been poaching off of the king’s lands, who has pilfered from his storehouse.  There is certainly no peace between him and the king, and he knows if he gets caught, the punishment will be severe.  But one day the king’s son pays the price for all of the wrongs the outlaw has done, and ushers him into the king’s presence.  The outlaw is an outlaw no longer, and can stand in the presence of the king.  There is now peace between the king and the man.

This is the case of mankind with God.  Because of our sins, and the sin nature we inherited from Adam, we were God’s enemies.  We were at war with Him.  But now, through the Blood that Jesus shed on the cross, all those who have accepted Him as Savior, have peace and fellowship with God (vs. 1 - 2).  We have peace because we have been forgiven, we are assured of our salvation.  This is a restoration of the broken relationship between God and mankind for those who have been born-again.  Because of man’s sin and rebellion we were His enemies, and His righteous anger was hot against us.  But when we are saved and justified, this broken relationship is restored forever.

Now that we have peace with God, some believers may wonder why there are still so many difficulties and problems in their life.  Why, if God loves me and has forgiven me, are their still trials in my life, they ask.  Problems, difficulties, and tribulations are not fun.  Paul assures us here, (vs. 3 - 5) that trials and adversities do not come to us because God dislikes us or no longer loves us.  These tribulations help us grow.  God uses them to help our character to grow to become more like His Son.  He uses these trials in our life to help deepen our trust in Him, and give us a blessed hope in our future.

Finally, one last good thought from the remainder of this Scripture passage, (vs. 6 - 10).  God doesn’t love us or didn’t die for us because of how wonderful or lovely we are, because we aren’t.  As verse 8 says, God showed how much He loves us when He died for us.  And when did He die for us?  When we were all nice and polished and clean?  No.  We were at our worst before we were saved.  He died for us when we were still the worst of sinners.  The Lord will save us no matter how bad of a sinner we are.  There is no requirement that we purge all sin from our lives before getting saved, and there is no way that we possibly could.  God didn’t save us because of what a good person we could try to be, He saved us because of who He is, the God who loved us so much He would die for us, and die for us while we were still worthless sinners.

Verse 11 wraps the passage up by proclaiming how much joy this should bring to our life.  Knowing that He loves us so much, He died for us while we were still sinners.  Because of that, we have peace with God through our faith in Christ.  Also, remember that God is using all that we go through in our life to develop our character.  All of this should indeed bring us joy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Praise God And Keep Your Heart Softened

Psalm 95

Our psalm reading today, for this third week of Lent, is one of both praise and thanksgiving to God, and also a warning to all those who read.  Let’s start with praise to God (vs 1 - 3).  Joyful and thankful hearts will sing.  Some people have been blessed with wonderful singing voices.  God wants everyone, whether those with a good voice or not, to sing to Him, thus the call to make a joyful “noise” to Him.  We cannot properly worship unless we have a joyful and thankful heart.  Sometimes we might become so overwhelmed with a problem in our life, and it is difficult to pray.  When this happens it is good to turn from our prayer of petition to a prayer of thanksgiving to God , putting our focus off our problems and onto the Problem-solver, thanking Him.

In verses 4 and 5 we see the psalmist focusing our attention to God as the Great Creator.  Most of the false gods of the surrounding heathen nations were local gods, and their supposed “power” or “sphere of influence”  was also limited to a local area.  Yahweh, the one and only true God, reigns over the whole earth.  He created the world, from the lowest depths of the oceans to the highest mountain tops.

Knowing this, we should come and bow before Him in worship, in a humble posture (vs 6 - 7).  He is our Creator.  He is not just our Creator, though, He is our Shepherd, and we are His sheep.  Sheep are very dependent animals, and will get in trouble or danger if left on their own.  All through the Scriptures, God portrays Himself as our Shepherd, one who loves us, His sheep.

The remainder of this Psalm, verses 8 - 11, is reminiscent of my previous meditation on Exodus 17:1-7.  As we saw there, the children of Israel were turning against God, complaining that they didn’t have any water, and they were tired of the quail and manna every day.  The psalmist is reminding us here to not grumble and complain against God about situations in our life.  In several places in the Bible, God has likened man to clay, often calling Himself the Potter.  To be used, clay needs to be soft and pliable.  A hard lump of clay is useless.  We must guard our hearts from becoming hardened, like a hard lump of clay.  The Children of Israel were stubborn, with hardened hearts, unable to be used by God.  He let them wander in the wilderness until they died, and the younger generation entered the Promised Land.  Their behavior kept them from receiving God’s blessing.  As we read about the Hebrew people, we should learn from their example and not follow their bad example of grumbling, complaining, being ungrateful, and unthankful.  This is a lesson that I know I need to keep learning.  As I frequently read this Psalm, I take careful notice of this warning, and check my attitude.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Don't Have Spiritual Amnesia

Exodus 17:1-7

Many TV shows over the years have used the storyline of one character getting amnesia, forgetting many events or everything that has happened in their life.  Reading through the Scriptures of the children of Israel leaving Egypt and traveling to the Promised Land, it would look like they, too, had suffered a terrible case of amnesia.  Earlier in the Book of Exodus, the Hebrew people had whined and complained to Moses that they were hungry, that there was nothing to eat.  Now, when they arrived at Rephidim, another stop on their trek to the Promised Land, they started to complain that they had no water.  This time the people didn’t just limit themselves to whining and complaining.  Moses felt that they were preparing to stone him, they were that angry and violent over the thought that they had no water (verse 4).  Their behavior got so bad that the name of the location was changed to Massah and Meribah, which means “testing” and “contention”

What was wrong with the people’s memory?  They were forgetting how God had performed all of the miracles with the 10 plagues that were brought upon their captors, the Egyptians, but had spared them.  They were forgetting how He had parted the waters of the Red Sea, where they had walked across on dry ground, but the Egyptian army was drowned.  Then here in the wilderness they were forgetting that God was providing them with the manna every morning, and quail to eat every evening.  This was like an amnesia over all the blessings that the Lord God was providing them.  Everything He had done for them was conveniently forgotten.

Why was all of God’s earlier provisions being forgotten?  All through their wanderings in the wilderness, the people were focusing solely on their physical needs being met.  God wanted the people to focus on their need to trust in Him, believing that He loved them enough to take care of them.  All along He had been providing for them each and every day.  They witnessed each day God’s miracle of food and water for them, but their hearts were hardened with unbelief.  They didn’t want to live “one day at a time”, they wanted to see with their eyes provisions for the unlimited future.  That is not how God works, though.  He takes us one step, one day at a time.

When faced with this situation of a lack of water, Moses chose to go to the Lord in prayer.  The people, instead, chose to whine, complain, and get into an angry rage.  When we choose to do that, instead of praying, it only serves to raise our stress level, and can even bring about physical ailments.  Choosing to turn to prayer will help to calm us down in a stressful or problem situation, and will bring our focus onto God and not the problem.  Keeping a record of what God has done in our past will help us, as well.  Remembering all his many blessings will turn around that selective amnesia.  As the old-time hymn bids us to do - “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.  Count your many blessings see what God has done.”

Friday, March 17, 2017

For God So Loved The World

John 3:1-17

One thing that is unique about John’s Gospel is that throughout his narrative, John gives many examples of Jesus’ one-on-one ministry with individuals.  Here in Chapter 3, we see the first such example, as Jesus spent an evening talking with Nicodemus, explaining salvation to him, and showing him the way to the Father.

The Jewish people were looking for a military hero to be their messiah, one who would kick the Romans out, and set up a kingdom for the Jews.  What Jesus told Nicodemus in this passage of Scripture was totally different from what the Jews had always believed.  This kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of was for the whole world, not just Jews.  It is personal, not national or ethnic.  They were a very exclusive people, but God is not.  Also, as He explained here, one cannot be a part of this kingdom unless they repent and are born again.

Today most people, at least here in the United States, have heard the phrase “born-again”.  Nicodemus, though, had never heard that phrase.  What would being born-again mean?  It is through being born-again we become the children of God, and heirs to everything He offers us.  The Holy Spirit works in a person’s heart to where they believe that Jesus Christ died in their place on the cross for their sins, and that His death provides forgiveness for those sins.  One must accept that Jesus Christ is the only One who can redeem us, repent of their sins, and confess Him as Lord and Savior.

As many preachers throughout the ages have said, probably the most well-known verse is right here in verse 16.  It has been called the Gospel in a nutshell.  God paid the price for our salvation with the life of His Son.  Jesus took the punishment that was ours, and paid the price for our sins.  He offered us a new life and a place in heaven.  Jesus’ death on the cross is mankind’s only hope.

In verse 16 we read the word “believe”.  That word in this context here is more than intellectual agreement, more than just having head knowledge about Jesus, such as He was a historic person, born in Bethlehem, died in Jerusalem, did this and that, etc.  It is believing in God, that Jesus took your punishment on Himself, died to save you from hell, and believe that He rose again.  It is putting our trust and confidence in Jesus, trusting that His words are true, and believing that He alone can save us.  

Another thing we read in verse 16 is the word “whoever”.  Whoever believes, not just some people or certain people, but whoever.  God has not chosen some people for heaven, and some people for hell.  The good news found in Jesus is offered to all who will receive Him as their Savior.  His mercy extends the globe.  It is a lie of the devil to  think that we aren’t important enough for God to single us out for His love and blessings.  He loves us, and says it again and again in Scriptures.  There has never been another god who was willing to come to earth and sacrifice himself for mankind, but Yahweh loves His people so much He sent His Son, Jesus to die for our salvation.

Let me close with a closer look at verse 14.  The reference being made here comes from the story in the Book of Numbers in chapter 21.  The people of Israel had been complaining to God yet again about the food, or their thinking in a lack of good food.  God sent the fiery serpents, and those who were bitten died.  Moses made a bronze copy of a serpent and placed it on a pole, and whoever looked at it, believing they would be healed, would live.  Jesus says the same thing about us.  If we look to Him, there upon the cross, believing why He was there, will live, live eternally.  This brings to my mind an old-time Gospel hymn by William Ogden, “Look and Live”.
Look and live, my brother, live!
Look to Jesus now and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Salvation - A Gift, Not A Debt

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Picture yourself in need of a car.  You have very little money to your name, certainly not enough to buy a car, even an old junk of one, and you have no credit.  Then one day a friend hands you the keys to a car, a very nice, luxury car, one that you could never in your wildest dreams afford.  Your friend tells you that this is a gift.  It’s been paid for, the title paid for, all taxes, license plates, everything paid for.  It is yours.  Your friend did this because they love and care about you.  They knew you had this need, and they, alone, could meet that need for you.  It’s a wonderful gift.

How would that friend feel, if after you had received the nice car, you started making payments for it?  The payments were small, as that was all you could afford, but you made them nonetheless.  Maybe you go to their house and mow the lawn, wash their windows, or some other task.  You feel you have to earn the gift.  If you are working for it, than it is not a gift.  That is the whole definition of gift - something given freely, with no strings attached.

There is something that we desperately need, but have no way of obtaining for ourselves, and that is salvation from sin.  Knowing that we had no way to obtain that for ourselves, God paid the price for us, with the Blood of His Son, Jesus.

In this passage we read about Abraham, the Father of Faith.  What does that mean, Father of Faith?  He accepted what God said, believed God at His Word.  He accepted God’s gift of salvation, and a right relationship with Him by grace through faith.  Abraham accepted this gift freely.  He did not work for it or try to earn it.  In this way he was the Father of Faith.

The Jewish people, as Abraham’s physical descendants, were very proud of him.  Over the centuries, though, they had strayed away from salvation by faith alone, and stopped following Abraham’s example.  By the time of Jesus, they had developed into a salvation by works belief system.  They tried to assiduously keep the Old Testament Law, and many man-made additions and twists to the Law, as well, all in order to work their way into heaven.

Paul, here in this passage in Romans, is telling the Jewish-Christian readers that one cannot work their way into heaven by following the Mosaic Law.  Salvation is a gift from God.  If we could work our way into heaven, it would be a debt that God owed us, not the gift it is, bought with the price of Christ’s Blood.  Most of the Gentile, or non-Jewish, believers did not feel compelled to keep the Old Testament Law, and Paul points out that this is the faith of Abraham, trusting in God alone to save them.  Not works, but faith.

Today, not too many people try to keep every single Old Testament regulation from Leviticus or Deuteronomy.  But do we still try to work our way into heaven?  Do we try to add some works to our faith, and believe it is our faith plus something else that will get us through heaven’s gates?  Is it Jesus plus church attendance.  Jesus plus how much I put in the offering plate.  Jesus plus a certain amount of time spent reading the Bible or praying.  And here’s a big one - do we believe it is Jesus plus baptism.  All of these things are good, and we really should be doing them, but none of them can earn our way into heaven.  Only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing He paid the price for our sins on the cross of Calvary.  Obedience in those other things is important, but none of them save us.  As Paul points out in Romans, if they did save us, then God would have to owe us a spot in heaven, and He doesn’t.  It is a gift of God that we can’t earn, can’t pay back.  Only accept and believe.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Trust And Hope In The Lord

Psalm 33:12-22

The Psalm selection from this week’s Lectionary readings is the second half of a very beautiful psalm.  Just about every verse is worth looking into.  I will try to pull out some nuggets to meditate on for today.

Verse 12 is a very pertinent call to our country, and really to all countries around the world.  “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”, the psalmist says.  Do we want the Lord God to bless our country, whatever country we happen to be living in?  Of course we do.  One sure way to bring His blessings is for the people to turn wholly to God, believing in Him, obeying, and worshipping Him alone.  For many years now I have been praying for a great, true, and biblical revival in my country, like the ones here in the U.S. that took place in the 18th and early 19th centuries, where great numbers of people turned away from their sin and gave their lives to the Lord Jesus as their Savior.  Then, and then only, will God truly bless a country.

In verses 13 - 15 we read that nothing is hid from God.  He sees everything going on in this world.  He knows everything about us, including what is in our hearts, our innermost thoughts (vs 15).  That might be a frightening thought to some, but when you think about it, it shows just how much God loves us.  Knowing everything about us, the good, the bad, and the ugly, He still sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us.  He loves us that much.

In verses 16 - 17 the psalmist admonishes us not to trust in man to help us, but trust in God.  Specifically here he is talking about the king (or today, any governmental leader).  And in verse 17, the historical context would be referring to military might.  Back when this psalm would have been written, approximately 1000 BC, horses were primarily used for military purposes in Biblical lands.  For common transportation, people either walked, used a donkey, or if they were wealthy and/or going long distances, they might use a camel.  Horses were used in the military, for cavalry or chariots.  The thoughts still apply today.  Who are we trusting to help us in these troubled times?  Our government? The president or prime minister? The king or queen?  Are we trusting in our country’s military to protect us from any harm?  Times were treacherous back in Biblical days, and they still are today.  The psalmist says that trusting in anything except God is futile.  They can’t really help us, but God alone can.  Our governments may topple, our militaries get overthrown and taken over.  God, and He alone, can only truly help us.  Trust in Him.

In verse 18 - 19, the psalmist again says that God’s eyes are upon those who fear Him, who have a reverential awe and love for Him.  If God sees everything, and knows everything, then He also knows what needs and cares we have right now.  If He loves us enough to send Jesus to die for us, doesn’t that also mean that whatever cares we have at this moment, He will provide and meet those needs for us?  Of course He will.  Sometimes God has allowed His children to go through some rough times, throughout history Christians have been persecuted and even killed.  God sees and knows that, and we need to trust that His plan is perfect.

The psalm closes with verses 20 - 22, where we are reminded once more to wait on and trust in God.  He alone is our help with whatever problems we may face each day.  He alone is our shield from any enemy that comes our way.  Trust and hope in Him.  Rejoice and praise His Name.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Stepping Out In Faith

Genesis 12:1-8

How would you feel if you woke up one day, and you heard the Lord distinctly tell you to pack up, leave your family, and move to another country, just like that?  For some people, not knowing exactly where they are heading, and not having a sure home and job ready and waiting for them when they get there, is an exciting adventure.  But for others, like myself, this would be a very stressful.  This was just what Abraham was called upon to do.  At the close of the previous chapter in Genesis, we see that Abraham’s father, Terah, had taken his family from the city of Ur (near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers), and moved northwest to the smaller city of Haran, over 575 miles.

After Terah died, the Lord spoke to Abraham, and told him to leave his family and his home, and go to a land He will tell him of.  Abraham was about 75 years old at this time, definitely a senior citizen.  With no maps, no realtor waiting with a nice home or condo for him to move into, no friends or relatives to greet him, Abraham took his wife and nephew, packed up his belongings, and set off for an unknown land, another almost 500 miles.  That took faith and trust, leaving everything he knew behind, and leave, not knowing where he was going, as God had not stated a specific destination.  This is the first of many times where we see that Abraham was a man of strong faith.  The Bible hadn’t been written yet, so he couldn’t look up favorite Scripture passages to boost his faith, like we can do.  According to Joshua 24:2, his father, Terah, had worshipped idols and false gods, so there was no faith tradition or support from the family.  Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were alone in following God.  Yet he stepped out in obedience and faith, trusting God to take care of him.

When God saw that Abraham obeyed, and that he trusted Him, He gave His first of several pronouncements of the Abrahamic Covenant (vs 2-3).  Because of Abraham’s faith and obedience, God promised him descendants who would become a great nation, that the world would be blessed through him, and that God would bless those who bless him, and curse those who curse him.  The blessings and cursings don’t fall just upon Abraham himself, but also upon his spiritual descendants as well, those who have placed their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:7-9).

Abraham showed his faith and trust in God when he stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going, but believed that if God said it, He would perform it and carry it through.  The reward of blessings always follows obedience.  God speaks, we obey, then He blesses, in that order.  When God first promised Abraham here that He would make of him a great nation, that implied that he would have descendants.  At his and Sarah’s great age?!  Abraham believed, though.  He focused not on the obstacle of their great ages, but instead focused on God’s promise.

When we are faced with some scary change in our life, something equally as momentous as being told to pack up and leave everything we’ve known, like Abraham was told, we should neither panic, nor trust in our own strength or wisdom to get us through.  Instead, like Abraham did, we need to obey, and set our faith and trust on the only thing that is truly sure - the Lord God and His promises.  He alone can turn a difficult change into something good, like He did for Abraham, but only if we step out in faith and trust.  We can trust Him, as He’s never gone back on His Word

Friday, March 10, 2017

It Is Written

Matthew 4:1-11

After Jesus’ baptism, He was led by the Holy Spirit to go out into the wilderness.  Before He was going to start His public ministry, Jesus knew that much prayer and fasting would be needed, so He spent the next forty days and nights in so doing.  Though it was God who led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted, God does not tempt us.  That is the devil’s doing.  God does test our faith to see if we will stay on the course that He has set for us.

Let’s take a look at how Satan tempted Jesus, and see how we can learn from this, to help us when we too are tempted.  Naturally, after having not eaten for almost 1 ½ months, Jesus would be hungry; so Satan thought it would be an easy mark to tempt Jesus into turning the stones into bread (vs. 3 - 4).  Satan thought he could get Jesus to use His divinity to provide for His physical needs.  Jesus responded back by using the Word of God, and quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.   He knew that in everything, including all of our physical necessities, we need to trust God to provide for what we need.  Though physical food is obviously needful, God’s Word is more important.  It gives nurture to our spiritual needs, and that will benefit us for all eternity.

The second of Satan’s temptations was to take Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple, and challenged Him to throw Himself from the edge (vs. 5-7).  Satan quoted from Psalm 91:1-2, saying that the angels have been charged to protect Him.  This was a twisting of that Scripture verse, turning it from being about trusting God to trying to justify tempting Him.  Jesus responded back by quoting another Scripture, this time from Deuteronomy 6:16.  In this and the previous temptation, Jesus was not going to use His divine power to satisfy His desires or safety.

With the final temptation of Jesus, Satan took Him to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and promised Jesus that if He would bow and worship him, he would give them all to Him  (vs. 8-10).  Satan was trying to get Jesus to declare His kingship prematurely.  That would block God’s purpose in His and our life, in addition to the unthinkable of Jesus worshipping Satan.  For the third time, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20.

What can we learn from Jesus’ temptations, and hopefully put into practice with our own temptations?  First, in each of these temptations Jesus responded by only quoting Scripture to him.  “It is written”, was His only response, not trying to argue or debate with Satan.  The Word of God is our sword, the only offensive weapon we have against the devil and his minions (Ephesians 6:17).  Just like any weapon, we need to be skillful in using it, and the only way we can get that way is from reading, meditating and studying the Bible.  Jesus not only knew His Scriptures, He obeyed them.  Satan showed that he knew Bible verses as well, but he certainly doesn't obey them!  When we use Scripture to battle the devil, we need to be sure we are also following what it says.

Another thing to note from this passage is that Satan picked an opportune time to come against Jesus.  Satan came with his temptations when Jesus was tired, hungry, and alone, when He would be the most vulnerable.  This would be a prime time when Satan might chose to attack us, when we are physically and emotionally under stress.  Satan also tempted Jesus in three areas - to meet His physical needs, with possessions, and with pride.  Those are areas he will come against us with - to satisfy our physical needs, to gain possessions, and to feed our pride.

We need to recognize that Satan is constantly fighting those who try to follow and obey God.  Satan’s temptations are real, and we need to be on alert and aware of them.  Satan will try to get us to turn away from God, to doubt His promises and His Word.  Remember - Satan is a liar (John 8:44).  We can trust God’s Word.  God does not lie, He will always tell the truth (Numbers 23:19).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Adam's Sin And Jesus' Gift

Romans 5:12-21

“Why should I have to suffer for what someone else did?”  This is the lament of many a school child when the whole classroom has to stay in from recess when one student acted up.  It happens in many families, too, when one sibling misbehaves and the weekend outing is cancelled.  And there are some people who question God’s justice in punishing all of mankind for the sin of Adam.  As we look into this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome we will see how one person’s actions can greatly affect many others.  How one man’s sin brought death upon all, and how one Man’s death would provide salvation for any who will accept it.

When Adam disobeyed God and ate of the fruit, back in Genesis 3, sin entered into the world (verse 12).  From that day forward everyone who would ever live would inherit a sin nature, and have a propensity or inclination to commit sin.   I remember so many years ago, when my son was just a toddler, and he committed his first act of wilful disobedience.  I shouldn't have been so shocked, but I remember thinking, “Where did that come from?  I didn't teach him that!”  This was his inherited sinful nature showing up. Sinful behavior does not have to be learned, it is the stain of original sin.

In addition to passing on original sin, the penalty of death was also passed on to all descendants of Adam.  There are three types of death, each brought on because of the sin of Adam.  First is our natural, physical death.  Secondly, there is spiritual death and separation from God.  Until we accept Jesus as our Savior and are born-again, we are spiritually separated from God.  That intimate connection that Adam and Eve had with God was severed, and man does not have that unless they are saved.  The third type of death is eternal death and separation from God in the Lake of Fire for all eternity.  Those who do not come to accept Jesus as their Savior will have this death.  These are the penalties of sin passed on through Adam.  The curse of death is passed on to all (verses 12-14).

God gave His people the Old Testament Law to help them see their sinfulness, and its seriousness (verses 13-14).  The purpose was to show them this, and hopefully drive them to turn to Him to receive His mercy and forgiveness.

This would be a pretty dismal place to end - sin, death, no hope.   But there is a hope.  Though the act of one man, Adam, brought this all about, the act of one other Man, Jesus, brings hope.  That act was the sacrificial death He suffered on the cross for our sins.  This was a free gift to us, and all we have to do is accept this.  Jesus’ act of redemption is so much greater than that of Adam’s act that brought condemnation, that it cancels the penalty for whosoever will accept it.  It is a free gift, but like any gift, it must be accepted to have any effect (verses 15-16).  Adam’s sin brought universal death to all, but Jesus’ sacrifice brought salvation to any who believe.  Only those who believe are saved.  When we do accept Jesus and His substitutionary death on our behalf, we will get His forgiveness in place of judgement, we get His righteousness in place of our sins, and we are accepted into His family.  Have you accepted this free gift from God, and accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior?  If not, I pray that today will be the day that you will ask Him into your heart, and become one of the family.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Power Of Repentance And Forgiveness

Psalm 51

This penitential Psalm was written by King David, following his repentance of the sin he had committed with Bathsheba.  As we read in II Samuel 11 - 12:23, David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then after finding that she was pregnant, had her husband, Uriah, killed.  For at least a year following that, he had refused to acknowledge his sin in this.  It wasn’t until God sent the prophet Nathan to David, that he confessed, repented, and acknowledged the sins he had committed.  Psalm 51 was written as a response to David’s confession.

Genuine repentance involves true confession, and acknowledges one’s guilt.  It also acknowledges that the sin is against God, as seen in verse 4, even though others are also hurt.  Repentance takes full responsibility for sin, and is completely honest, with no cover-ups or passing the buck.  David showed all of these signs of true repentance, as we see when reading this psalm.

King David knew that he had no one to blame but himself, and that it was essentially a rebellion against God.  In verse 5 David showed he knew that he was born a sinner, as we all are since the Fall.  We are naturally inclined to go our own way, and please ourselves, rather than God.  This was what David had done when he willfully stepped into this sin with Bathsheba.

If we are truly saved, we won’t lose our salvation when we sin, but we can lose the joy of our salvation, as verse 12 says.  Unconfessed sin will often bring guilt, depression, and cause a break in fellowship with God.  I want to emphasis that not all depression is because of unconfessed sin, but sometimes that is an effect we might face.  When we confess that sin, though, God will restore our fellowship with Him, and return our joy and peace.

Another effect of unconfessed sin is that it often will start to affect us physically, as well as mentally.  David saw this, as he stated in verse 8, and also in Psalm 32:3-4.  It’s not specifically revealed what physical ailments David suffered from, but both here in Psalm 51, and in Psalm 32 he speaks of feeling physical ailments in his bones.  Oftentimes, the psychological effects of guilt can manifest itself as physical pain.  Confession and repentance can help eliminate the guilt that would be causing such pain.

Though God will forgive us if we genuinely confess and repent, He doesn’t erase the consequences of that sin.  David’s sin caused the death of Uriah, the death of his baby, and his family was never the same again, with heartache and grief continuing for the rest of his life, and even after his death.  We need to know, though, that when we truly confess, God will forgive.  (I John 2:1)  This is a rock-solid promise of God, and has no expiration date.  King David accepted God’s forgiveness, and he was also able to forgive himself.  

Verses 16 and 17 tell us that God is not looking for a physical sacrifice, such as an animal sacrifice on an altar.  He isn’t looking for us to become completely perfect before we can come to Him.  Rather, God is looking for willing submission to His will.  When we have repented and received His forgiveness and restoration, we should reach out to others who need this as well, as verse 13 says.

We all will fall into some sin as we go through life.  Hopefully none will be of such gravity as King David’s was, which brought about the penning of this Psalm.  It is important to know that no matter what type of sin we might find ourselves, we should confess it as soon as we can, to mitigate the earthly consequences of this sin. However, regardless of when we do confess, God will always forgive us.