Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Understanding Our Suffering

I Peter 4:12-19

This week’s epistle reading from the lectionary continues readings from the First Letter of Peter, and his encouragement and practical counsel to Christians who were being persecuted during the very early years of the Church.  Following God’s Word and clinging to Him will help us face difficult trials ahead.  There are four things to remember when facing trials and to help us through persecutions.  The first is to expect trials to occur (vs. 12).  Then secondly, we are to rejoice through it (vs. 13-14).  Thirdly, we should evaluate the cause of the trials and persecution, whether it is because of our own bad behavior (vs. 15-18).  And lastly, we need to trust God through it all (vs. 19).  Let’s take a closer look at what God, through Peter, has to teach us here.

We often think that if God loves us, we won’t have to go through anything difficult, and He would stop any trials.  God is all-wise, and He uses these trials, hardships and sufferings He allows to come into our life to draw us closer to Him.  God uses them to strengthen our relationship with Him, and to bring Him glory.  God allows our trials to help test us, and to purge and cleanse us.  If we are yielded to Him, He will use these painful circumstances to cleanse and purify us.  We need to allow them to drive us to the Lord, not drive us away from Him.  Then when God brings us through a trial, and we give Him thanks and praise, that glorifies Him, and will also encourage others.

When a Christian is being persecuted for his faith and is doing and living right, he will have joy in heaven, when Christ’s glory shall be revealed (vs. 13).  That is a cause for rejoicing, in spite of how difficult things may be at the time.  Verse 14 is reminiscent of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:11.  The Holy Spirit will strengthen us when persecuted for the faith.

Not all of our suffering is necessarily because of being a Christian.  Sometimes it could be because of our own bad, obnoxious, or ignorant behavior.  If we get reprimanded at work, or even lose our job, it might not be because the boss is persecuting us for being a Christian.  Could it be that we were slacking off at work?  Is it because we are a Christian that our neighbor doesn’t like us, or is it because we act obnoxious?  Peter admonishes us to be sure that if we are persecuted that it is not because we are doing something to deserve it (vs. 15).

Peter and John suffered for obeying God and for preaching the Word, as we see in Acts 5:40-41.  God had not abandoned them.  He still was watching over and blessing these apostles.   Keep on obeying God regardless of the suffering (vs. 16).  Are our actions and behavior worthy of the name Christian?  Or do we bring Him shame and dishonor?  Let’s be sure that our life brings Him only glory.

In verse 17, Peter isn’t speaking about the final judgment, but of God’s refining discipline to help shape us into better Christians (Hebrews 12:7).  We need to obey God and His Word no matter how difficult the trial.  He will reward obedience and faithfulness (vs. 19).  Commit our soul to God just like we “commit” our money to the bank for deposit.  We trust them to handle it well.  How much more should we trust God?

All of our trails and problems are temporary.  God will deliver us, either here on earth, or when He brings us to heaven.  Our future is secure in His hands, either way.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Praise To A Generous God

Psalm 68

Our psalm for this week is Psalm 68.  This psalm includes just about everything - praise and thanksgiving to God (vs. 3-4, 26, 34-35), reminders of God’s help and deliverance (7-12), and even calling upon God to deliver us from enemies and Him to deal with them (vs. 1-2, 21-23).  We need to praise God for all of the things He has done for us - for His provisions and His protection.  Our prayers of request need to be balanced with prayers of praise.

This psalm, which has listed King David as its author, has many references from the children of Israel’s past.  Verse 1 is taken, almost word for word from what Moses would say when the Ark of the Covenant was picked up and moved from location to location, in Numbers 10:35.  Verses 7 and 8 would remind the readers of the days in the wilderness, particularly when they were camped by Mt. Sinai, where Moses went up to meet with God, and received the Ten Commandments.  Mt. Sinai has always played an important role with God’s children.  It was at Mt. Sinai that God first called Moses (Exodus 3:1-10).  After their rescue from slavery in Egypt, God brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them His commandments (Exodus 19:1-3).  At God’s presence there, the whole mountain trembled, which is referenced in the verse here in this psalm.

Further verses, (vs. 9-14), speak of God’s provision for His people as they traversed the wilderness, providing food and water for them each and every day.  It also speaks of the victories He gave the people over kings and nations when they entered to take possession of the Promised Land.  As King David speaks of this, he is praying that there will be further victories over other nations, as they will come and bring their offerings to the Lord God in His Temple (vs. 28-31).

The land of Bashan was situated north-east of the nation of Israel.  It was a very mountainous and hilly land, and included Mt. Hermon, one of the highest mountains in the area.  God did not choose that mountain for the site of His Temple (vs. 15-16).  He chose, instead, Mt. Zion, which is much smaller in comparison.  God does not always choose the greatest, the strongest, or the most beautiful, for His purposes.  When He wants to get something done, He rarely picks the biggest and physically strongest man around for the job.  God certainly doesn’t pick the most physically beautiful for His servants.  And neither does God only pick the most intellectual and the ones with the most university degrees to proclaim His message.

Verses 5 and 6 contain some very precious promises for some believers.  There God has promised to be a father to those who have no earthly father, and a defender or advocate for widows, women who have no husbands to care for them.  I don’t think this is strictly limited to those whose fathers or husbands have literally died.  God will also care for and protect children and women whose fathers and husbands have abandoned them, walked out and no longer care for them, as well as those whose fathers and husbands may be physically present, but who do not love or care for them like they should, who have been abandoned in the heart of those who should love and care for them.  For those who are alone, God has promised them a whole new family.  When we give ourselves to the Lord when we have become born-again, we have a whole new family of fellow believers.  Even if we are physically all alone and lonely, Jesus is always with us, His Holy Spirit indwelling us.

We can praise God for His provisions.  We can trust Him that even though we might not see His answers immediately, He will fulfill His promises.  We should not take God’s blessings for granted.  He gives us life, food, shelter, friends, and family.  As verses 32 - 35 say, when we look at all that God has done for us, we must sing His praises and proclaim them to all creation.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

You Shall Receive Power

Acts 1:1-14

A few days ago I wrote about the Ascension, when Jesus ascended into heaven.  Today in our reading from the Book of Acts we will study what Jesus’s very last words to the disciples were before He returned to heaven.  This book was written by Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke, and is a continuation of that book, picking up right where that Gospel left off.

Before the resurrection the apostles were afraid and disillusioned, hiding from the Jewish leaders for fear of their lives.  Now, after being with the Risen Savior for forty days, they were filled with hope and courage, ready to go out and spread the Gospel, in spite of attacks, imprisonment, beatings and even death.  They knew that Jesus was risen, and that He was the Messiah (vs. 1-3).

As Jesus was walking to the Mount of Olives, from where His ascension would take place, He tells the disciples what will happen to them in just a few days (vs 5).  He tells them of the upcoming day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.  Before the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit only temporarily would come upon any believer.  Now, though, from Pentecost forward, through this present day and until the Rapture, the Holy Spirit is present, indwelling every believer from the moment of their salvation.  We receive the Holy Spirit the moment we are saved, and we belong to Christ.  We become His adopted children, and are a part of His Body.

As Jesus and the disciples were walking along, enroute to the Mount of Olives, the disciples were still hoping that Jesus would now be that military leader to restore the kingdom to Israel again, delivering them from Roman rule (vs. 6 - 7).  They still hadn’t completely realized what Jesus had come to earth for, to spread the Gospel of salvation to all of mankind.

Verse 8 is the key verse for this passage, and the main message of Jesus’s last words to the disciples.  Here He tells them that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit, which will come down on them in a matter of days, and they are to be witnesses both locally where they currently live, and on throughout all of the world.  It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to be witnesses to the Gospel.  His power gives us courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability and authority.  

All of our work for Jesus must be done in and through the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our own power.  When we try to do something for God in our own power, most likely we will fall flat on our face and be a failure.  When we yield ourselves to Him, and pray for His wisdom, strength and ability, then His Spirit will work through us and bless our efforts.  A wick in an oil lamp that has been blown out is smelly and smoky.  Let’s not be like that.  Let the Holy Spirit keep us burning brightly for Him.

Jesus told His disciples that they were to be His witnesses to the ends of the world, to every country, every race and nation of people.  They were to be His ambassadors, leading people to salvation through Him (II Corinthians 5:20).  Being Jewish, they were very reluctant to witness to and include Gentiles, people who were not Jewish.  Jesus, though, had made that very clear here in this passage that the Gospel was to be shared to all people, and slowly but surely Gentiles were witnessed to, and began making up the Church.

In verses 13 and 14 we read a list of the apostles and some of the other people who made up the group of people who were waiting in the Upper Room for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.  None of these people had any special qualifications for carrying out the ministry that Jesus had for getting the Gospel message out to the world.  They were ordinary folk, most who had had plain, working class jobs.  They did not have any advanced education or fancy theological degrees.  Most would have had just the equivalent of a grade school, or at best, high school education.  Yet they were the ones chosen by Jesus, and they got the job done as they yielded themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let your seeming lack of “qualifications” stop you from doing a work for God, and don’t let others say you can’t do anything for Him if you don’t have a string of theological seminary degrees.  He can use anyone who is yielded to Him.

In verses 9 - 11 we read of the promise of Jesus’s return.  History is not merely a random happenstance of events.  It will culminate in the specific event of Jesus’s return.  We should be working and waiting for that great day.

Friday, May 26, 2017

No Fruit, Some Fruit, Good Fruit

John 15:1-8

In the part of the world where I live we are entering the summer season.  There is nothing better on a hot summer day than enjoying a piece of delicious fruit.  If you are fortunate enough, you may have a fruit tree, grape vines, or a berry bush in your yard, and can enjoy fresh fruit often.  In our Gospel passage today we read where Jesus speaks of Himself as the Vine and we are the branches, an image of a grapevine.  It is on the branches that the grapes are grown.  Christians are supposed to bear fruit fruit.  A grapevine that is well-tended will bear nice, delicious grapes.  Left to itself, it will run wild, and the fruit can be sour, rotted, or buggy.  A good gardener will tend to the vine - trimming, realigning, and repositioning the vine.  He will tear off the dead leaves and branches, pull the weeds, and get rid of the rocks around the plant.

What does a gardener or the tender of a fruit orchard look for?  He looks for fruit on the vines or fruit trees.  Some branches are strong and healthy, bearing much fruit.  Others are not as much so, only bearing some fruit.  And then there may be a branch off of the grapevine or on a fruit tree that isn’t bearing fruit at all.  Jesus called Himself the vine, the Gardener is God the Father, and we are the branches.  Which one of those types of branches are we?  A branch receives its nourishment, its very life, from the vine.  As long as we are attached to Jesus, abiding in Him, we can bear fruit (vs. 2).  And what type of fruit is God looking from us.  One is that we bear the fruits of the Spirit, which are found in Galatians 5:22-23.  The other is the fruit of bringing more souls into the Kingdom of God, bringing others to salvation in the Lord Jesus.

When we allow things into our lives that draw us away from God, and detract us from His purpose for us, He needs to prune or cut those things away.  There are two types of pruning a gardener can do.  One is for the branches that are bearing some fruit, but could do much better.  They are pruned or cut back a bit in order for them to do much better.  This may hurt, but the end result is more fruit.  The other type of pruning that the gardener does is to cut off the branches that are not bearing any fruit.  They are taken off of the vine and thrown away (vs. 2 and 6).

If we aren’t abiding or aren’t connected to the Vine (Jesus) we wither and die, just as a branch not connected to the vine or the tree will die.  The only way to continue to be a fruitful Christian is to stay close to Jesus, abiding in Him (vs. 4-5).   Remaining or abiding in Jesus Christ is believing that He is God’s Son (I John 4:15), receiving Him as Savior (John 1:12), and obeying God’s Word (I John 3:24).   A true believer is one who abides in Jesus, remaining attached to Him, the Vine.  Evidence of abiding is bearing fruit, even if it is only some.  God will prune His believers to bring more fruit.

The branches that are cut off are those who were never true believers.  They initially claimed to be Christians, but they were apostate, and theirs was only a superficial commitment.  God cuts them off since they do not bear any fruit (vs. 6).   The true believers are those who are bearing fruit, and though it may hurt some, He will prune us in order for us to bear more fruit.  God will cut away anything that detracts from the purpose of bearing good, healthy fruit.

The key is that we must remain in Jesus, abiding in Him, being fed and nourished from the Vine.  The only way we can do good things for God’s Kingdom is to allow Jesus to live His life through us.  To do that is to abide in Him, staying connected to Jesus.  God wants genuine spiritual fruit from us.  He is glorified when we bear much fruit for Him (vs. 8).  He is Lord of the Harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Let us be sure that we remain constantly abiding in Jesus, the True Vine, and bearing much fruit for Him!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Importance Of The Ascension

Luke 24:49-53

Today’s blog post is an extra one, as today marks the day Christians celebrate Ascension Day, the day that Jesus ascended back into heaven.  We might wonder why that day is important.  We might think that it doesn’t rank with other Christian holy days, such as Christmas, when Jesus was born, or Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead.  Or even the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples.  What’s the big deal with Ascension Day?

For us believers here on earth, the ascension of Jesus into heaven does have significance.  When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, approximately 40 days prior to Ascension Day, He won the victory over Satan and death.  Ascension Day is His triumphant return into heaven.  Picture with me, back in the days when kings would go forth with their army into battle.  One king would win the war against another kingdom, and the victory would be great on the battlefield.  But the real glory would come later, when the mighty king would return to his kingdom, and ride his horse triumphantly down the streets of his capital.  How the angels must have rejoiced when Jesus returned, triumphant over Satan and his demon hordes!

When Jesus returned to heaven, He took His place, seated at the right hand of God the Father (Mark 16:19).  Being seated at someone’s right hand at, for example, a banquet, is the place of honor.  To be seated at the right hand of a ruling monarch is particularly a great honor, for that is a place of power and authority.  That is where Jesus is today, at the right hand of God the Father.  It shows that He triumphed over Satan.  Satan is a defeated foe!  Until he is completely destroyed at the end of time, he is under Jesus’s feet (Psalm 110:1 and Ephesians 1:22).

When Jesus returned to heaven He was given the ultimate authority over all of the world.  God won the victory, and is in control of everything.  He had that control all along, throughout all of time, but at His ascension He made an open show of His victory over all the powers of Satan and hell (Colossians 2:15).

There is another reason why it was important that Jesus return to heaven.  He told His disciples in John 16:7 that it was necessary for Him to return to heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to come upon believers here on earth.  Jesus said that when He returned to heaven, then, and only then, would the Holy Spirit be sent to indwell Christians.  That event, the day of Pentecost, will be commemorated a week from Sunday.

What is Jesus doing while up in heaven, sitting alongside God the Father?  This is something that I think is so special - Jesus is interceding for us there, while seated next to God!  He isn’t up there playing games and sports with the angels.  He isn’t up there getting spa treatments from the angels, either.  He is watching over us and interceding for us to the Father (Hebrews 7:25).  He is our Mediator (I Timothy 2:5), and our Advocate (I John 2:1).  He is like our attorney up there in heaven, and we can be sure that we will have nothing but the best, with Jesus on our side!  He hears our prayers to Him, and we have access to that power that raised Him from the dead (Ephesians 1:19).

It is from this place, the right hand of God, that Jesus will one day return to catch up all believers and take us to heaven.  As the disciples were watching, Jesus ascended to heaven and disappeared in the clouds.  The angels assured the disciples there that Jesus would return in the same way that he left (Acts 1:11).  When that day comes, He will appear in the clouds and call all believers to be with Him.

Are you ready and waiting for that day?  There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t at least one time think, “What if it is today!”  I pray that you are ready for that day!  I pray that you have asked the Lord Jesus Christ to be your Savior.  If so, Jesus is in heaven right now, at the right hand of God, interceding for you!  If you haven’t yet, don’t hesitate another moment, but call upon Jesus, repenting of your sins, and ask Him to be your Savior today.  And when He returns, just as He left, Jesus will take you to be in heaven to dwell with Him forever!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Encouragement For Persecuted Christians

I Peter 3:8-18

This letter that the Apostle Peter wrote was written to early Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith.  It was written to give them encouragement and practical advice on living out their faith during very trying times.  This passage from last Sunday’s lectionary gives some of that advice.

In verse 8 Peter is encouraging Christians in how they should be acting with each other, with their fellow believers.  We need to be of “one mind”, be in harmony with each other, pursuing the same goals.  We also need to show compassion to each other.  Be responsive to each other’s needs.  Are we showing love for each other as brothers and sisters, which is something Jesus frequently spoke of?  Peter speaks of being tenderhearted for others, being sensitive and caring for each other.  And finally in this verse, he admonishes believers to be courteous.  Show humility and encourage each other.  This is how we need to be acting towards each other, living in peace and not disharmony.

How about when someone does us a wrong or harms us?  The world would say for us to seek revenge, giving them what they deserve, and then some.  How should a Christian act?  The Word of God here in verse 9 says to pay back the wrong done to us by praying for the wrongdoer, and bestowing a blessing on him.  Revenge and speaking insults is unacceptable for Christians.  That is not easy to do, but as we draw closer to the Lord Jesus, and allow Him to live His life through us, we are more able to do that.

Peter then proceeds to quote from Psalm 34:12-16, in urging his readers to live good and godly lives.  Verse 10 admonishes us to watch what we say to others.  We can never take back our words once they leave our lips.  The Lord sees and hears everything we say and do, so make sure our actions are pleasing to Him (vs. 12).

As mentioned above, these Christians that Peter was writing to were living in a time of strong persecution, suffering for their faith.  In the remaining verses of this section (vs. 14 - 18), he encourages them that they don’t need to fear their enemies.  Instead, they should trust that God is Lord of all, and that He is in control.  That advice is still appropriate today.  We should respond to people who seek to hurt us in a Christ-like manner.

We cannot stop people from slandering us and speaking evil of us.  Peter, here in verses 16 and 17, says to those early Christians, and to us today, to make sure that we aren’t giving our enemies any valid reason for speaking against us or slandering us.  If our enemies are speaking lies against us, make sure that it is a lie, and not the truth.  Don’t give them good reason to speak wrongly against Christians.  As believers, we should keep our conduct above reproach.  We need to live a life free from ongoing and unconfessed sin, living instead for the Lord Jesus.  This will give us that good conscience that Peter is speaking of in verse 16.

Let’s take a moment to highlight verse 15.  Throughout this passage Peter has been encouraging Christians in their conduct and Christ-like walk.  If we are living this way, then it is likely that those who are not Christians we be taking notice.  If we are living for the Lord and allowing His light to shine through us, we will be noticed by the unsaved.  They will want to know what makes us different, what makes us the way we are.  We need to be ready to answer them with Biblical truths.  To do so, it will mean that we must know the Word of God ourselves in order to answer them.

We need to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, as He suffered unjustly at the hands of evil men  (vs 18).  He was sinless, but suffered for us sinners.  His death may have seemed like a defeat at first glance, but it was actually a victory.  God raised Him from the dead, and through His sacrifice we can now have fellowship with the Father.  Peter, throughout this letter he wrote, encourages Christians to always be ready to share their faith, to suffer for their faith, and if need be, to die for their faith.  Are we willing to do the same?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Praise To The God Of All Creation

Psalm 148

Today’s Psalm is one of praise to the God of creation, the God of the whole universe.  It can be divided into two short parts, each one where a part of creation is called upon to sing its praises to God.

The first section is verses 1 - 6, which calls upon the heavens and the whole of outer space to praise God.  The sun, which gives its light during the day, the moon reflecting light to earth during the night.  All the countless millions of stars, all of the many galaxies hundreds of light years away, everything in the heavens, each is called upon to praise God (vs. 1, 3 - 4).  I have heard some of the recordings that NASA has made of sounds from outer space, and I imagine that these sounds that have been recorded is exactly what this psalmist has said, that it is the heavens giving praise to God.

Verse 2 calls upon all of the angels in heaven to sing their praises to God.  The Scriptures do not give a number as to how many angels there are.  Doubtless there is a vast number, many millions.  The word “hosts” here refers to a very large number, an army of angels.  The angels in heaven are before the throne of God, day and night, singing praises to Him, for He is worthy, as we see in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 5:11-14, 7:11-12).

Why do the angels and all of heavenly creation praise the Lord?  We see an answer in verses 5 - 6.  God spoke the word and all of the heavens were created.  Look at the beauty of outer space.  Living in a heavily urban area, I don’t get to see the beauty of the night sky too often, but I have seen pictures of the Milky Way.  Just look at the beauty of the rings of Saturn, or of the Horsehead and the Crab Nebula.  God created them, and He is worthy of praise!

The second section of this Psalm of praise is found in verses 7 - 14.  Here the psalmist calls upon all of creation here on earth, both living and inanimate creation to praise God.  Verses 7 and 10 speak of animals and living creatures, both in the ocean, on land, and in the air, giving praise to God.  Sometimes the birds singing early in the morning will wake me up.  In the past I used to get irritated if they started chirping at 2 or 3 am.  Now I just look at it as the birds singing praise to their Creator.

In verses 8 and 9 our psalmist calls upon inanimate creation to sing forth its praises to God as well.  God is sovereign over all of the weather.  Though some people don’t enjoy watching storms, with lightning and thunder, my son and I do.  I can imagine the giant storm clouds with the lightning, thunder, and wind giving praise to God in their own way.  He speaks, and the storms obey His will, as we see many times throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

The mountains, trees, and all plant life sing praises to God, as well, in their own way.  Each time a flower opens its petals and shows its beauty and scent to the world, it is a song of thanksgiving to the Creator God.  When a tree puts forth its leaves in the spring, or changes color in the fall, that is praise to God as well.

Verses 11 and 12 bring us to mankind, and their need to praise their Creator.  Verse 11 specifies the rulers of the nations on earth, and their need to give homage and praise to Him.  The only way to have a good and peaceful rule anywhere on earth is when its rulers acknowledge God and worship Him.  All of us - young, old, men, and women are to sing forth our praises to God.

Why should all of creation praise the Lord?  Verses 13 and 14 answer that for us.  His Name alone is excellent.  At His Name everything, all of creation, will bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).  The Creator is greater than the creation, and as we behold the wonder of everything spoken of in this psalm, we can only agree that He is worthy of all praise and glory.  As Jesus said, if we don’t sing our praises to God, the very rocks will do so (Luke 19:37-40).  Why don’t we?  Let us sing forth His praise!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Knowing Your Audience

Acts 17:22-31

This passage from the Book of Acts for this Sunday’s lectionary reading basically picks up where last week’s passage in Acts left off.  Paul had been run out of town for preaching the Gospel, and had now arrived in Athens, where he was waiting for his friends, Timothy and Silas to arrive.  Paul didn’t waste his time while waiting, reading the paper and drinking coffee in the local coffeeshop.  His life’s mission was to win souls for Jesus, and he set out to do that here.

Just prior to our Scripture passage Paul had been witnessing with some local philosophers, Epicureans and Stoics, in the marketplace, telling them about Jesus and drawing their interest.  They wanted to hear more, so they took Paul to the Areopagus for him to speak further.  Paul’s usual method when preaching about Jesus was to use Old Testament Scriptures and show how Jesus was the promised Messiah.  That was his preferred tactic because he would be speaking in the synagogues to a primarily Jewish audience, though there often were some Gentiles in the group.  This group was not Jewish, and would quite possibly not even be familiar with the Old Testament.  That would have been meaningless to them.  So Paul used examples that they would understand.  He found common ground with them, something they each could agree on, and then he moved on to build a case for Jesus, and hopefully lead them to make a decision.

When we witness to others we can’t always use the same cookie-cutter method for every person.  What type of witnessing or presentation of the Gospel that might work when talking to a highly educated intellectual group would probably not work if talking to some inner city youths who hang out on the street.  Paul knew he needed to tailor his message to the crowd he was with.

In verse 23 when Paul spoke of the altar to the “unknown god”, he was not endorsing this deity, rather he used this as an introduction, to start the conversation going.  To many today, Jesus is still an “unknown God”.  Many today are “religious”, or as they often call themselves, “spiritual”, but they have not accepted true faith and salvation in Jesus.  We need to bring them to Him, as Paul attempted to in Athens.

The sermon that Paul proceeded to preach to his audience in this whole passage of ours, would have been contrary to what they would have believed in.  The Epicureans believed that matter was eternal and had no creator.  The Stoics were pantheists, believing that God was in and a part of everything, and he couldn’t have created himself.  As a way to better reach this audience with the truth of Jesus Christ, Paul used a couple of quotes from their secular Greek poetry to try to drive home his point (vs. 28 - 29).  He took a quote from Epimenides, a poet from Crete, and also a quote from Aratus, who was from Cilicia.  His point here was that if God created man, as these Greek poets attest, then how could He be a man-made idol?

God is known in and through His creation, but He is not that creation.  He is the Creator, not a part of that creation, nor was He created (vs. 27 - 28).  Paul confronted the audience with Jesus and His resurrection, no matter what they might think of that (vs. 30-31).  He may have changed his usual approach, but Paul did not at all change his message.  We, too, need to be careful that when we seek to reach a specific type of audience, we don’t whittle away the message of the Gospel, and salvation through Jesus, just to please that audience.

Many of these Athenians who listened to Paul that day were genuinely seeking to know to know the truth.  God honored that, and brought His messenger, Paul, to their midst.  Today no one has an excuse not to believe.  We have the Scriptures, and there is also all of His creation which proclaims His glory, as Paul’s sermon in this passage attests, and also we read in Romans 1:20.   Are we, like Paul was, always ready to give a Gospel witness to those who are ready to hear?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Salvation Is Secure Through Jesus Alone

John 14:1-14

Our Gospel passage of study from this past week’s lectionary is one with a lot of spiritual meat for us to digest.  There are four main sections in this passage that I wish to look into with you.

The first one is contained in verses 1 - 4.  Death and the afterlife are an unknown to us, and because of that we often are worried or afraid to think of them.  As Christians, though, we don’t need to worry about this.  We have trusted God with the many areas of our life, and since we know that He loves us, we should know that we can trust Him with death and the afterlife, too.   Jesus has made the way to heaven secure.   He has prepared the way to eternal life.  We do not need to fear eternity, because Jesus has prepared our place there.  One of Jesus’ top priorities when returning to heaven is preparing our dwelling place there.  Sometimes when life gets so difficult for me I like to think about what that special place that Jesus is preparing for me will be like.  He loves each one of us individually, so I believe that each of our dwelling places will be a perfect fit for us.  Someday soon He will return and will bring us there to be with Him forever.

The second section can be found in verses 5 - 6.  These are verses that many find offensive.  They feel it is too exclusive, and way too narrow.  These people who reject these verses feel that there are many ways to God that are acceptable, and many different, equally acceptable expressions of God.  The Bible clearly says that this is not so.  The truth is very narrow, as we see also in Matthew 7:13-14.  Jesus is the Way.  The only way to heaven and the Father is through Jesus.  He is the only path to the the Father.  Many places have multiple ways to get there, but not heaven.  There is only one way to God, and that is through His Son, Jesus.  Not any path will do.  Because He is the only one who is both God and man, He is the only way, and we can trust Him to bring us to the Father.  Jesus is also the Truth.  He is the reality of all of God’s promises.  There is no falseness in Him, and all His words are true and reliable.  As believers, we should also be totally truthful in everything.  Jesus is also the Life.  Death could not keep a hold on Him.  He joins His life with ours, both now and in eternity.

Our third section is found in verses 7 - 11.  Many people, especially in this day and age, have thought of Jesus as a great philosopher and a great humanitarian, but that’s all.  An honest reading of the Bible shows that this is not so.  Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is the revelation of what is like.  To know Jesus is to know God.  People are always searching for God.  If their search is honest, and they sincerely are looking for the truth, their search for God will only end in Jesus Christ.

The final section from this passage is found in verses 12 - 14.  This passage has been misinterpreted by some Christians and some churches.  These verses, praying in Jesus’ Name, is not a magic formula.  Praying and asking God for something “in Jesus Name” is asking in accordance with God’s character and will.  He will not answer prayers that are contrary to His nature or His will.  If we are honestly following God, and wish to do His will, our prayers will be in line with what God wants.  “In Jesus Name” is not something to just tack on at the end of a prayer.  Our prayers should be for God’s purposes, and not just for our own selfish purposes or desires.  Our prayers should be on the basis of Jesus’ merits, not ours or our supposed worthiness.  Our prayers should be for His glory alone.  As born-again believers we are joint heirs with Jesus, and thus we have the authority to pray in His Name.  Our prayers, though, need to be in agreement with His will and His character.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Jesus: Cornerstone or Stumbling Block?

I Peter 2:1-10

Have you ever watched a brick or stone building going up?  Each brick or stone block is fit perfectly and securely into place by the stone mason.  In our passage today Peter compares believers to those bricks, becoming a like a spiritual building for God.  First, before that, Peter admonishes his fellow believers to get rid of all behavior that would hinder their walk with God (vs. 1).  Christians can’t grow if they remain in sin, and he reminds us that we are to be growing, just like a baby does.  How do they grow?  By feeding on milk (vs. 2), which Peter compares to the Word of God.  Milk is necessary for a baby to have in order to grow and thrive, and so is God’s Word for Christians.  We grow by spending time in the Bible, reading and meditating on every word.  That’s the way to remain a healthy Christian!

Now Peter gets to the main theme of this passage.  God is metaphorically building a building, and He is using us believers as His bricks (vs. 4 - 8).  Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, the foundational building block.  There are several Old Testament prophecies foretelling that Jesus would be this cornerstone - Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16.  The cornerstone is the chief stone in a masonry building, as all the other bricks are laid in relation to that cornerstone, thus determining the accuracy and stability of the whole building.  We, as the other bricks in the building, are to align our position in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ.  God laid Him as the cornerstone, and we can trust in Him.  Our trust is not misplaced.  He will not let us down (vs. 6).  Jesus is the means of our salvation, and we, as believers are “living bricks” in that “building” that God is building (vs. 5).

To those who refuse to believe in Him as the Messiah and Savior, though, He is a stumbling stone.  While Jesus was on earth, the Jewish religious leaders and most Jewish people rejected Him, though He was chosen by God, proof of which was shown when He raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 4).  Unbelievers stumble over the One who could save them.  He is there, plain as day, in the Scriptures and even throughout nature, but the spiritually blind do not see Him, tripping over the stumbling stone.  Thus they have fallen into God’s hands for judgment.  Jesus is either the means to salvation if they believe, or the means of judgment to those who don’t, and reject the Gospel.  As such, to them He is a stumbling block.  Because of their unbelief, they are appointed to doom (vs. 7 - 8), just as it is because Christians believe that they are appointed to salvation.

As Peter wraps up this passage he tells us believers several titles that we have as Christians.  We are a “chosen generation”, a “royal priesthood”, and a “holy nation”, and God’s own “special people” (vs. 9).  We are chosen by God, and called to represent Him to others.  With God as our Master Builder, and we His “bricks”, He will place us in exactly the place He chooses for us to do that.

How are we priests?  In Old Testament times men couldn’t come to God directly.  They needed a priest, and he was a go-between for man and God.  With Christ’s death and victory on the cross, we can now come directly to God.  Now we are priests, and our responsibility is to bring others to God thru Jesus as well.

Not only are we priests, but we are “royal” as well.  Are you a born-again believer?  If so, then you have been adopted into the family of God.  God is certainly a King, and not just a king of some country here on this planet, which we would consider to be special enough.  He’s King of the whole universe, and we’ve been adopted by that Father!  That makes us royal, it makes us princes and princesses.  We are even more royal than Queen Elizabeth and her family.  And as such, we need to remember who we are!  For the most part, the Queen’s family tries to act decorously in public as they represent the crown.  We represent someone even greater!  We are God’s holy nation, set apart as His possession, just for Him.  Through the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, we are holy or sanctified, and set apart as His people.  We are God’s children of Light, and are no longer in darkness.

This is our inheritance, our calling, who we are in Christ, and as such, we need to walk as such.  Remember who you are!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Put Your Trust In A God Who Is Faithful

Psalm 66

Our Psalm selection from this week’s Lectionary is one of praise to God for all of His marvelous works He has done both in our lives personally, and throughout the ages.  God has always remained faithful to His people, and He is worthy of our praise.  The psalmist wishes to remind us, the reader, of this, urging us to sing forth His praises and tell others of all He has done (vs. 1-5).  He reminds the reader of one of the greatests works of God in their nation’s history - the parting of the Red Sea and deliverance from Pharaoh’s hands (vs. 6).  We should always remember the many times the Lord has come to our aid, as well, and give Him praise (vs. 8).

The psalmist goes on to recall the times when things were difficult in his and other’s lives (vs. 10-12).  He reminds us that God tests every believer and that when this happens, as it does to all Christians, not to get all discouraged and lose faith.  He wants to see our true character and our heart.  Just as silver and gold are put under intense heat in the smelting furnaces to make it pure, God does the same to us.  We are more valuable to Him than silver and gold, and He wants to make something beautiful of us.  Verse 12 is reminiscent of what the Prophet Isaiah would later speak to the people in Isaiah 43:2.  God will bring His children out of all trials and calamities.  Trust in Him!

Because of God’s deliverance of our psalmist from a trial he had gone through, he wanted to be sure to thank the Lord and follow through with any vows and promises he had made during those trying times (vs. 13-15).  Many people will make promises to God during difficult or dangerous times.  “Oh God”, they say, “if you will get me out of this trouble, if you spare my life, get me this job, etc. I will do such and such for you!”  But what happens as soon as the Lord has brought them through that trial?  So often every promise and vow is quickly forgotten!  That’s not right, and our Psalmist makes sure that he fulfills all of his vows to God, giving Him thanks and praise.

Then he goes forth, determined to tell everyone he meets all about what God has done for him (vs. 16-17).  When God has stepped into your life and answered your prayers, bringing healing, deliverance from addictions, a financial breakthrough, salvation of a loved one, or whatever it might be, do you keep that to yourself?  No, we need to sing forth His praises.  Our psalmist went to everyone he could, saying “Come here, let me tell you what God did for me!”

In the next verse, verse 18, the psalmist wants to remind everyone of one thing that might be a hindrance to God hearing and answering our prayers.  “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.”  If we have deliberate, willful, unconfessed sin in our heart, the Lord cannot, and will not hear our prayers.  Please, do not misunderstand, we all sin every day, whether it’s getting angry at a slow driver ahead of us, snapping unfairly at our children, not giving a good day of work for our boss, etc.  We are fallen creatures in a sinful world, and even though we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and are washed in His Blood, we still sin.  What the psalmist is saying here is deliberate and willful sin in defiance of God.  This is sin that the Holy Spirit has brought conviction to us over, but we have turned away, refusing to confess and forsake it.  If we do not respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction to repent, He will not respond to our prayers.  Such behavior on our part puts a wall up between us and God.  We will not lose our salvation, but like a willful child who has been disobedient and is being punished by their parent, that parent will not listen or respond to all of their crying and pleading, so God will not listen to our prayers until we have honestly confessed, repented, and forsaken those willful sins.

Our psalmist friend has reassurance that this is not the case in his life (vs. 19).  He makes sure that in his life, he has a clean record between him and God, with no unconfessed sins blocking the path of his prayers.  That is something that we need to make sure is the case with us if we want our prayers to be heard and responded to by our Father in Heaven.  Repeated, willful, unconfessed sins will harden our heart, and soon we will have no place for God in our life, and not even care that there is a wall between us.  Don’t let that happen!  Be like our psalmist here, and always be able to say with him “But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Let's Turn The World Upside Down

Acts 17:1-15

If ever we might have to give a talk or presentation we would like to be well-received.  We would hope that there wouldn’t be boos, hisses, and catcalls, and certainly we hope to never be run out of town.  Unfortunately, this was the case with the Apostle Paul and his missionary companions throughout the Book of Acts.  In our reading this morning we will see several times when this occurred.

As chapter 16 ended Paul and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the Gospel.  Now that they were free, they fled the town, going to Thessalonica.  Paul’s strategy as he spread the Gospel in modern-day Turkey and Greece was to search out a Jewish synagogue in the town he was in, and attend on the Sabbath day.  Jewish custom of the day was to invite visitors to give a word of encouragement from the Old Testament Scriptures and join in with the discussions over the passages.  This was what Paul would do, opening the Old Testament and showing his listeners prophetic passages of Scripture about the Messiah, and show how each passage was fulfilled in Jesus (vs. 1-3).

As in other towns, Paul’s message of salvation found open hearts, and several came to saving faith (vs. 4).  As was also the case elsewhere, here in Thessalonica many of the Jews were hostile to the message.  There was two reasons for this - one was that they took issue with the idea of Jesus being the Messiah.  Their hearts were hardened and they refused to believe.  The other was that they were envious that Paul was making converts and people were following him and his message (vs. 5).  So the cycle would continue with the Jewish leaders and members of the synagogue attacking Paul in a rage and bringing in the Roman authorities.

In verse 6 we read one of the charges they told the Romans about Paul and his companions - “These who have turned the world upside down”.  When was the last time we heard of any church in our neighborhoods “turning the world upside down”?!  What were the early Christians in these communities doing that made their enemies bring this charge?  Lives were being dramatically changed!  Abusive husbands and fathers turned loving, impure women becoming models of chaste living.  Liars, thieves and gang members were transformed.  These Christians were taking care of the sick, the homeless, widows and orphans, loving each other and those who no one else cared for.  Most of all, they were spreading the message of the One who had changed their lives.  How about us?  Are we turning the world upside down in our neighborhoods?  What are we doing to show others our Savior, and have them take notice of Him through our changed lives?

The Jewish leaders and many in the synagogue in Thessalonica got so violent that the new believers had to send Paul and Silas off, fleeing for their lives.  On they went to the next town.  They didn’t get discouraged or decide to quit, thinking this job was just too hard and dangerous!  No, on they went, following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  They came to the town of Berea, and just like before, sought out the local synagogue and presented the prophetic Scriptures of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus.

Things were a bit different in Berea, though, than in many of the previous towns they had been in before.  They listened well to Paul’s message, and then went home, opened up their own Bibles, meditating on his message, and checking to see if what he said was true (vs. 10-11).  God’s Word commends these Bereans.  They didn’t just swallow everything that Paul said, nor throw it out, without checking it out for themselves.  That is something that we, too, need to be careful to do.  Don’t just blindly accept any sermon message that we hear from behind the pulpit, or on TV.  Don’t just automatically accept everything we read in some “Christian” or philosophical book.  Does the message we hear or read line up with the Bible?  Any message we hear from a preacher, or read in an “inspirational” book or devotional, should never contradict or explain away that is found in God’s Word.   These Bereans checked out Paul’s words for themselves, and found them to be true to God’s Word.  Many men and women were saved there (vs. 12).

Trouble followed on their heels into Berea.  The unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica weren’t content to just run Paul and Silas out of their town.  When they heard that they were in Berea, and many were being converted, they stormed into town to attack them there (vs. 13-15).  Wherever the Gospel is preached and souls are being saved, Satan is angry, and he will do what he can to stop it.   Though the enemies of the Gospel succeeded in running Paul out of town again, they weren’t able to stop the spread of the message of Jesus Christ.  Paul moved on down the road to Athens where he continued preaching.  Despite all of his attacks, Satan cannot stop the message of Jesus and His salvation from going forth.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Recognizing Our Shepherd

John 10:1-10

In our Gospel reading from this week’s lectionary we see more imagery of sheep and the shepherd.  This is very suitable and understanding, as the raising of sheep was one of the biggest parts of the economy in the Middle East in Bible days.  Let’s take a look and see what Jesus is saying in these verses.

In verses 1-5 Jesus talked about the relationship between the good shepherd and his sheep.   At night, sheep were brought back from the fields and led into a large, enclosed pen or fenced off area, to keep them from wandering away or getting harmed from predatory animals.  This is the sheepfold of verse 1, and it would have one gate that the shepherd or his hired worker would watch over.  If someone was going to sneak in and steal or hurt any of the sheep, he would try to do it somewhere away from that gate.  Throughout Scripture, born-again believers have been referred to as God’s sheep, and God is our Shepherd.  He brings us safely in and out of the sheepfold.

Just as sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, and will follow only him, if one is a born-again believer, we should recognize the voice of our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, and follow Him.  How do we do that?  How can we recognize His voice?  By reading and studying His Word, and spending time in prayer.  That is how He speaks to us.  Sheep won’t follow just anyone who comes up to the fold and calls them.  They only respond to the voice of their shepherd.  As God’s sheep, we need to be careful not to follow the voice of some stranger who brings a false message, trying to lure us away from our Shepherd.  They are the thieves Jesus warns about in verse 1, who climb into the fold another way, other than by the door.  Jesus says in verse 5 that His sheep will know His voice, and not follow the voice of a stranger, and instead, they will flee from him.  We need to recognize the false messages of those who seek to lead us astray from the truth of the Bible.

In verses 7 thru 9 we see Jesus refer to Himself as “the door” to the sheepfold.  As mentioned earlier in verse 1, the sheepfold or pen that the sheep were kept in had only one way in and out.  Jesus said that He was that door in and out for the sheep.  Jesus is the only way for us, the sheep, to get into heaven.  There is no other way.  This is reminiscent of what He would say later in John 14:6, where He says that He is the only way, and no one comes to the Father, but by Him.  The sheepfold doesn’t have several doorways, and neither does heaven.  Jesus describes those who try to make themselves other ways as being thieves and robbers (vs. 8).  God’s children, His sheep, should be careful not to follow the voices of other, false shepherds.  They will only lead them astray, down dangerous and deadly pathways.  Jesus’ sheep need to be attentive to His voice, which is found in His Word, the Bible, and follow only that.

Jesus goes on, in verse 10, to further describe for us those who try to lead the sheep astray.  They are a thief, and their aim is not just to lead the sheep to some other pasture, but it is to steal, to kill, and to destroy the sheep.  Jesus is referring to Satan here, and those who try to lead the sheep through some other way, other than through the “door” of Jesus, are Satan’s workers.  They aren’t just some other good, religious leader.  Jesus said that they are a thief, and that their aim, their goal, is deadly dangerous. We as sheep, at the cost of our eternal soul, need to be careful of whose voice we listen to and follow.

Jesus closes this passage with a word of joy and hope.  He brings a contrast between Himself, the Good Shepherd, with that of Satan and his workers, who are the thieves and robbers.  Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  Jesus, though, has come that we might have life, and not just life, but abundant life.  If we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, accepting Him as our Savior, we become sheep of His fold.  Our life is not “ho-hum, no big deal, just another pasture”.  He gives us abundant life, not just in heaven, but here on earth, too.  A life filled with His love, His joy, and His peace, with Him as our Shepherd, watching over and caring for us.  As verse 3 says, Jesus knows us and calls us each by our name.  He knows my name, and calls me personally!

Don’t follow some stranger’s voice.  They are thieves and robbers, and can bring only death and destruction.  Come to Jesus today!  Come through His door!  Be one of His sheep, part of His fold!  Hear Jesus call your name, and follow Him!