Friday, June 30, 2017

Hope And Encouragement In Times Of Persecution

Matthew 10:16-33

A life of ease and popularity, or a difficult life with opposition - which one would you choose?  Most of us would probably choose the first one, as no one wants others fighting against them, along with a lot of struggles.  This, though, is exactly what Jesus has said His followers would encounter as a result of being His disciples.  Some preachers today have promised a life of ease and wealth.  “Turn to Jesus and all your problems will disappear.”, they say.  Nowhere in Scripture is that ever said.  In our passage today we see what Jesus said His followers could expect for faithfully proclaiming His message.

As believers, we have been given a commission to go out and spread the Gospel message.  Jesus warns us in verse 16 that this could, and would often, be dangerous.  Wolves was a term that was used to describe those who would oppose His followers, whether political leaders or false religious leaders who would persecute true believers and destroy the true Church.  Paul and the apostles in the early church certainly experienced that, and it continues today.  There are plenty across the world in both the political and religious realms who persecute those who stand for Jesus and the truth of the Bible.  We can even expect opposition from our own families (vs 21).  We are God’s sheep, but when we are out among the wolves, Jesus tells us to not be like ignorant sheep, but be wise, sensible, and prudent, not gullible or naive.  We are under His protection and have been given His wisdom and power.

The Jews in Jesus’s day, and many people today believe that suffering is God’s punishment.  Why would one suffer for being obedient to God?  Jesus, the Son of God and 2nd Person of the Trinity suffered, and He was certainly obedient to God.  Just because we act good, holy, and decent doesn’t mean that people will like us or treat us well (vs. 25).  The Jewish leaders called Jesus “Beelzebub”, which is the name of the Prince of Demons.  Literally translated it is “Lord of the Flies”.  As His followers, we can expect similar accusations or names.  The unbelievers did not like Jesus, and they will not like us.  If we are faithfully following Him, we should not expect the world to sing our praises.

If this was all that Jesus told us in this passage it might be a bit discouraging, but He didn’t just tell us to go out and face persecution.  He gave us some encouraging words as well, to equip us for the opposition we will face.  One promise Jesus made was that if we are ever brought before court for our faith, if we rely on Him, He will give us the words to speak in response to their opposition (vs. 18-20).  Trusting in Jesus we don’t have to rely on our own abilities.

In addition, God reassures us, His beloved children, that we are infinitely precious to Him.  He watches over all of His creation.  Nothing is beyond His notice, including the death of even the smallest of sparrows.  If the almighty God is concerned about something as small and seemingly insignificant as a sparrow, don’t you think He is all the more concerned about His Blood-bought children?  We are so important to God that He has even counted the very numbers of our hair (vs. 29-31).  When someone deeply loves another, they like to know every detail of them.  The fact that God would keep track of something as unimportant as how many hairs we have shows just how much He loves us.  We can trust Him that He is sovereign and has all of our life under His control.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of Pilate or the Jewish religious leaders.  We do not need to fear any of our enemies.  What is the worst they can do?  Kill our bodies?  They can’t harm our souls.  God has that in His hands, and if we are saved, we have nothing to worry about there (vs. 28).  Our job is to continue on as His witnesses, never being ashamed of Jesus or His Word (vs. 33).

We can and should trust that God has a plan for all of the trials and sufferings we go through.  He has a plan, and will give us His comfort.  We need to keep our eyes on the goal, on the day when our trials are over and we will be rewarded.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Men With Opposite Impacts

Romans 5:15-19

In our passage from Romans today, Paul contrasts our first forefather, Adam, referred to in this passage as “one man” (small letter m), with our Savior, Jesus, referred to in this passage as “one Man” (large letter M).  In this brief passage Paul tells his readers and us that it was through the sin of one man, Adam, that sin entered into the world, and judgment has come upon all people.

We are all descendants of Adam.  Just as we inherit certain characteristics from our parents, we have all inherited one thing from Adam, and that is the stain of original sin and a sin nature, the tendency and desire to sin.  It was one act of sin against God that started that whole ugly ball rolling.  One act of sin, eating the forbidden fruit, that brought sin into the world, leading to more sins, and more.  Sin brings judgment from God.  That one act of sin, committed by Adam, which lead to more sins committed by everyone, brought God’s judgment upon us all.

This one man, Adam’s, one act of sin and disobedience in the Garden brought death into the world.  This was both physical death at the end of one’s life, and also spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God in hell.  This, too, is something that we have inherited as descendants of Adam.

This would all be very dismal and depressing if left just like that.  Our forefather Adam sins, and we all inherit sin, disobedience, judgment, and death.  That’s a rather hopeless picture.  But that is only half of the picture Paul is presenting us here.  The other half is that there is another Man who has brought something much more glorious.  This Man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  One man’s act brought sin, judgment and death.  This second Man’s one act of obedience by dying on the cross for our sins has brought grace, mercy and life to us.

Jesus’s act of obedience through His death brought us just the opposite of what Adam’s act of disobedience gave us.  Instead of condemnation we now have justification.  Instead of the spiritual death, we now have grace and righteousness.  Instead of being made sinners, we are now made righteous.

This is a gift from God.  A gift is free, you don’t have to pay for it.  If you did, it wouldn’t be a gift, would it?  It would be a purchase.  Why would anyone pay for something that they can get for free?  Where I live we have much good, clean, safe water.  Every house has several faucets, and there are plenty of drinking fountains, and yet people buy water.  Why pay for something you can get for free?  God has given us the gift of salvation.  We have His gift justification instead of His condemnation, grace and righteousness instead of spiritual death.  We don’t need to work for that.  It is His free gift.

A gift is no good to the person it is intended for unless that person accepts and takes that gift.  I can give a gift to one of my children, wrapping it up nice and setting it on the table.  If they don’t take it, and leave it there day after day, it does them no good.  Someone could give you money to pay a big bill you have, but if you don’t accept it, then the bill remains unpaid and you will suffer the consequences of that.  God has given us a gift through His Son, Jesus Christ, that one Man.  It is offered to everyone, but not everyone has accepted it.  Many are either trying to work for it themselves, or just blindly go on their way, oblivious to their condition inherited from Adam.  Have you accepted God’s free gift?  If you haven’t, will you accept it now?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Turning To God In Times Of Pain

Psalm 69

Our psalm for today is one that was written by King David during a very difficult and trying time.  It is a psalm filled with crying out to the Lord in emotional pain.  It is also one psalm that has several verses of prophecy that was fulfilled centuries later by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture is not specific as to what circumstances led to King David crying out so to God.  There were numerous occasions in his life when things were very difficult, even life-threateningly dangerous for him, such as when King Saul kept him on the run for his life, or when several of his sons attempted a coup against his throne.  We don’t know what led to this occasion, but things got so bad that David was worn out with his crying and despair (vs. 3).  Even members of his family had rejected him (vs. 8).  But through it all he did not fail to wait upon the Lord for deliverance.

David knew that during this deeply trying time people were watching his reactions.  He was concerned that how he would respond to the circumstances in his life might bring reproach on the Name of the Lord, that his enemies and the unbelievers might mock the Lord (vs. 6).  Our actions have an affect on those around us, both for good and for bad.  Try to be a good influence, and not a stumbling block.  People are always watching us as Christians.  We should strive to represent the Lord well.

Verse 9 is one verse that is quoted with reference to Jesus in the New Testament in John 2:13-17.  David wanted the people’s behavior to match their claim of following God.  It hurt him when people didn’t follow or obey God, as they claimed to as His children.  This brought down anger upon David from many people.  Later John cites this verse as he and the other disciples observed Jesus when He entered the Temple in Jerusalem and drove out the money-changers and those who bought and sold the sacrificial animals right in the halls of the Temple.

Verse 21 is a verse that was very prophetic and which was fulfilled by Jesus.  This was fulfilled while Jesus hung upon the cross.  David says that he was given gall to eat and vinegar to drink.  Later in the New Testament, Jesus, as He is dying upon the cross, was given by the soldiers vinegar mixed with gall to drink.  Why would the soldiers do that?  The vinegar most probably was old, cheap wine that had started turning sour.  No one would give dying criminals any good wine.  Gall was a type of plant, probably similar to the opium poppy, that was used as a narcotic.  Mixed with the cheap wine, it would drug the dying criminals to relieve some of the pain.  Jesus, though, when He realized that the drink He was being offered contained pain-killing drugs, refused (Matthew 27:34).  He would endure the pain for our salvation.  Later, when offered the plain vinegar or cheap wine, He took that (John 19:29-30).

Some people have accused Jesus of deliberately trying to fulfill all of the prophecies that concerned the Messiah.  How could Jesus have done that with this prophecy?  While being executed and dying on the cross as a condemned prisoner He could not have made a centurion give Him a sponge dipped in vinegar, especially one that had been laced with a narcotic.  These prophetic verses, fulfilled by Jesus, are just some of the proofs that He was, indeed, the Messiah.

In verse 28, David mentions the Book of the Living, or the Book of Life.  This is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, including several times in the New Testament (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; and Revelation 20:15).  This is a list of the names of those who are in a right relationship with God, who are saved, and who remain faithful to Him.  In David’s circumstance here, with the attack on him being so strong and ungodly, he does not believe that their names could ever be in the Book of Life.

When we feel beaten up and trampled down in life by others or difficult circumstances, don’t give up hope (vs. 13).  David never did.  Keep your faith and trust in God.  He won’t forsake us, even if others do.  Even when crying out to God in emotional pain, remember to give God praise and thanksgiving (vs. 30).  And above all, be sure that you are in a right relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, so that your name will be written down in the Book of Life.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

God's Message Is Not Always Popular

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Our Old Testament reading for this week comes from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.  First let’s take a moment to get a little bit of a background as to what is happening, both with Jeremiah, and also with the country at this time.   Jeremiah was a prophet who ministered and preached exclusively to the southern Kingdom of Judah, starting sometime around 627 BC, and going into the 570’s BC or later.  He particularly preached to the people prior to and during the years that the Kingdom of Babylon besieged and overran the Kingdom of Judah, which occurred over a period of about 20 years from 605 BC - 681 BC.  The people went into captivity for approximately 70 years.

Jeremiah was not a popular figure during the years that he brought God’s message to the people.  He spoke the truth of what God wanted the people to know, which was that their nation was going to be overrun by the Babylonians because of their sins.  The people had strayed from their faithfulness to Yahweh, and were actively worshipping other false gods.  They were not keeping the laws of God that He had given them, either.  They were faithless, and God was going to punish them, just as He had done approximately 100 years earlier to the northern Kingdom of Israel with their Assyrian captivity.

Just prior to this passage both the religious and political leaders of the country had apprehended Jeremiah.  They didn’t like the messages he was preaching to the people, so they took him into custody, beating him up and putting him into stocks.  Throughout all the years of his ministry Jeremiah would suffer abuse at the hands of both the religious leaders and political ones, including being thrown into a pit filled with muck mire to his chest.  They wanted someone who would preach messages that they liked to hear, positive ones, that everything was going to be fine, God would never punish them, and they were His favorite children.  They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners and God was going to send punishment on the country.

As Jeremiah is bent over in the stocks, having been beaten up, he prays to God in our passage.  He felt let down by God due to the abuse he was suffering because of the message the Lord gave him to tell the people (vs. 7 - 8).  Jeremiah decided that it would be best for himself if he just kept his mouth shut, refrain from speaking God’s Word, and not speak anything (vs. 9).  God’s Word burns in his heart, though, if he didn’t speak it out to the people.  He must preach the Word of God!

Jeremiah’s enemies watch him, hoping, believing that he will fall (vs. 10).  He knows, though, that the Lord is with him, and his enemies will be the ones who will fall because of their sin (vs. 11-12).   Jeremiah concludes the passage with praise to the Lord God (vs. 13).

It is easy to get discouraged from speaking forth the Word of God when persecution comes.  In many countries that persecution might just be ridicule, mocking, or the loss of a friend.  In other countries the persecution might be more severe, such as losing one’s job, beatings, imprisonment, or even death.  So we might think it safe to keep quiet.  Jeremiah tried that, but God’s Word just burned in his heart until he knew he couldn’t keep quiet any longer.  No matter what happened to him, though he suffered terribly, Jeremiah did not stop speaking what God told him to.

Today there are some who will only preach popular messages that please their audiences, only messages of God’s love, their prosperity, only messages that will make them feel good.  They scoff, mock, and publicly ridicule any preacher who speaks the whole truth of God and calls sin what it is, sin.  They did the same to Jeremiah, and he stayed true to Yahweh, though it cost him terrible abuse.  He did not alter his message to please his audience.  We need to follow Jeremiah’s example and stay true to God and His Word, no matter the cost.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Working In God's Harvest

Matthew 9:36-10:15

In our passage today from the Gospel of Matthew, we have Jesus sending forth the twelve disciples to go on what is like a short missions trip, to bring His message to some of the Jewish villages He had or would be traveling to.  In verses 2 - 4 we have the list of Jesus’s chosen apostles.  Jesus chose ordinary men to be the apostles.  They were from all different walks of life and life’s professions, among them were fishermen, a tax collector, and a political zealot.  There were some with more education, some with less, some with more money, some with less.  That is just like what makes up the Church.  There are all different types of people, different races, different backgrounds, jobs, education, and financial level.  He has called us all.  It is not necessary to have a strong of degrees.  God uses ordinary people.  We can all do God’s work.

Verses 5 through 15 are instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples before they headed out.  Whatever we possess has been given to us by God.  The reason that we have been blessed is so that we can bless others (vs. 8).  Don’t hoard what God has given us.  It’s not ours, so we should use it to help others and further God’s kingdom.

Jesus gave direction to the apostles that they were not to take money, extra clothes or shoes, or staffs (vs. 9-10).  They were not to go out to do God’s work encumbered with excessive material goods.  When the Lord sends us out to do His work in the world we need to trust Him to supply all of our needs.  Just as the famous missionary and founder of China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”

The verses that I would like to focus on the most, though, are at the beginning of this passage, verses 36-38 of chapter 9.  Here Jesus looked at the crowds and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd, and then told His disciples that the harvest was plentiful (souls ready to be reached), but laborers were few.  They were to pray that the Lord would send out laborers to bring the harvest of souls in.

Verse 36 is another reminder that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He looked out over the crowds and was filled with compassion for them.  Jesus ministered to both their physical and spiritual needs.  Looking out over the people in the world today they seem very much like sheep without a shepherd.  They are wandering around lost without any direction, following any false path leading them into danger.  Jesus sees them, too, and has compassion on them.  So what is to be done?

As Jesus said in verse 37, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Here He was speaking of a harvest of people’s souls.  This is even more true today.  People are lost and without the Savior, without hope in their lives.  With the conditions in this world today, they are scared and without peace.  Where and to what are they turning to?  Some turn to political leaders for hope, but as we can see, that does not give any hope or peace.  Others are turning to drugs, and we all know how that ends.  Many thousands turn to the occult or to false religions.  They are seeking some peace for their souls, but are wandering around just as lost sheep.  The Lord needs workers to go and reach them, but He has said that the laborers are few.  There are few who are willing to go and help bring the lost in.

Jesus told His followers that they need to pray to God, the “Lord of the harvest”, to send out laborers into the fields to bring that harvest in (vs. 38).  There are millions of people out there who need to hear about Jesus.  He said the harvest is plenteous, but there aren’t enough workers willing to go out and bring the harvest in.  It would be sad to see a whole farmer’s crop to die and go to waste because there was no one to bring in the harvest.  How much exceedingly worse is it that people die and go to hell because there was no one to tell them about Jesus and salvation in His Name!

Will you go and work in the Lord’s harvest?  Will you tell others about Jesus, how He loves us and died to pay for our sins?  Will you pray to the Lord that He will speak to more of His children’s hearts to go and bring His message to those wandering sheep, and bring them into His fold?  We need to bring the wandering ones to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Who Would You Die For?

Romans 5:6-11

Our New Testament Scripture passage this week is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I will put forth a hypothetical question that Paul alluded to in this passage, and that is, would there be anyone that you would willingly die for?  Many of us might quickly answer with our spouse, our children, parents, other close relatives, or very dear, close friends.  Now, aside from a close relative, is there any other person you would willingly die for?  How about that elderly gentleman down the street, the one who is a model neighbor and church-goer?  Perhaps the doctor or teacher in the neighborhood who is always giving of their time and service to help those in need in the community?  Would you die for them?  Paul suggests that someone dying for these types of people - the righteous, the good, people who are upright and virtuous, would be rare, but perhaps someone might consider it (vs. 7).

How about for those other people, the ones who are just the opposite?  Would you consider dying for the people who hurt you?  Maybe for the spouse that abuses you?  Or how about for that person who lied about you and damaged your reputation, or the co-workers who don’t treat you right either?  Or what about for the drunk down the street, or the homeless drug addict who sleeps in the alley?  Would you willingly die for them?  That’s not likely!

That is exactly what Jesus did when He died for us, as we read in verses 6 and 8.  None of us were good people before we accepted Christ, just as God’s Word says in Romans 3:10.  No matter what the specific sins in our life might be, we each of us were sinners before Christ came into our life.  Yet, it was while we were sinners, that Christ died for each of us.  That shows the depth of God’s love for each of us.  As I mentioned above, we might possibly be willing to die for someone we loved.   God loved us so much that He died for us, even though we were effectively His enemies, sinners who had hated God, who had treated Him shamefully.  All through history, going back to the Garden of Eden, men have turned their back on God, fighting Him and disobeying Him.  Throughout the Bible we read how men worshipped other false gods, broke His laws.  And still, God was willing to send His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  What wondrous love is that?

Paul goes on to say that since God’s love for us is so strong that He would die for us while we were still His enemies, we are now justified or declared righteous in God’s sight.  Now we are saved or kept safe from God’s wrath, His anger, and punishment (vs. 9).   Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross, our punishment and God’s wrath was put upon Him.  If we have accepted Him as our Savior, then we are spared the penalty of God’s wrath and damnation.  If I committed a crime worthy of the death penalty, would you take that punishment for me?  That is what Jesus did, and I had done nothing good, nothing righteous to deserve that.  It was His love that led Him to do this for us, and those who believe in Him are spared just punishment.

We were God’s enemies, but the cross, and the Blood Jesus shed upon it, brought a reconciliation between us (vs. 10).  It is always good to see two people, often family members or friends, who are angry and no longer speaking to each other, be brought back together and reconciled.  This is what the Lord Jesus did for us and God.  His death paid the due penalty.  When we’ve admitted that, accepted His payment, and taken Him as our Savior, then now we are reconciled to God.  We are no longer His enemies, but now part of His family!  How much better could that be!

Naturally such good news should bring us joy (vs. 11)!  We were enemies of God because of our sins, and had a terrible punishment to pay.  But God’s love to us through the Lord Jesus paid that penalty, which was death.  Now we are reconciled!  That is something to bring glory to God for, and bring us joy!

Do you know that Jesus died for you?  Have you realized that your sins make you God’s enemy, and the penalty is His eternal wrath?  Jesus paid that penalty, your penalty, with His own Blood on the cross.  If you accept that, and call upon Him to be your personal Savior, then you will be reconciled to God, and have His joy, both now and in eternity.  Don’t wait another day to be reconciled to God!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Call For Thanksgiving And Praise

Psalm 100

This is a very short psalm, but one that many people love.  It is a psalm calling us to bring praise and thanksgiving to God.  Right from the very first verse the psalmist is calling for us to praise our Lord.  We don’t have to be great musicians to sing praises to God.  Here God says to just give Him a joyful shout (vs. 1).  Everyone and everything should join in the praise - all the land, both every person, and the actual land itself.

If someone truly and deeply loves another person, serving that person is a joy, not a chore.  Your desire is to make the person you love happy.   As a born-again child of God, I love Him.  He purchased my salvation with His Blood, and I will serve Him with gladness (vs. 2).  When we look at what God has done for us, our service should not be done begrudgingly or with grumbling.  He wants us to come to Him with a song in our hearts and on our lips.  When the stresses of the day start to mount up, listening to Christian hymns and worship songs, and singing along when I can, always brings me closer to the Lord.  It brings me into His presence.

God created us.  We didn’t “just happen” (vs. 3).  We didn’t create ourselves.  Since we were created by God and not man, who should have the authority in our life?  Naturally God should.  Yet so often we try to run things ourselves.  God knows us, as we are His people, His sheep.  We can trust God to know what is best for us, and let Him lead our life.  As God’s sheep we belong to His pasture.  Are we sheep looking longingly into the pastures of the world or of the enemy of our soul, the devil?  Those pastures may look pleasant, but in reality, once we wander into them, they are filled with poisonous plants, venomous snakes, plus holes and ravines to fall into.  Stay out of those pastures!  Stay in the pastures of the Lord God.  His fields are full of good, wholesome grass.  Our Good Shepherd is there to protect us from our enemy and any dangers.

Our Savior God calls us to draw near to Him (vs. 4).  In previous years, when kings and queens actually ruled, to be invited into the courts of a king was a great honor, and one didn’t just come strolling in without displaying proper conduct.  Yahweh is mightier than any earthly king, and though He is also our loving Father and Savior, He still deserves the proper awe and respect due to the greatest of Kings.  The psalmist tells us that we are to enter into His gates with thanksgiving.  As we prepare to approach God, are we thankful to Him for all of His many blessings, or are we just coming to Him with our requests and complaints?  

As we come into the courts of the heavenly palace of the Lord God, we are to do so with praise.  There are so many things in each of our lives that we can praise God for.  He is a faithful and trustworthy God.  As mentioned in the previous verse, we are His sheep, and thus He is a good and loving Shepherd to us.  When we worship Him with our praises, it helps us trust more and strengthens our faith.  Do we willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence to worship, or are we going through the motions and “playing church”?

Satan would have us believe that God is angry with and distant from mankind.  That is not true.  Verse 5 tells us that He is a good and merciful God.  When we think of someone who is good, we think of that person as being a virtuous person, that they are righteous.  We think that they have strong morals and that they are a person of integrity.  God is all of that, and even more so.  All of this is the basis of His character, and He cannot be otherwise.  Being a loving God is part of His Being.  All of these virtues is what He is.  Jesus, when talking to His disciples, emphasised that if a human father would treat his children with love, our heavenly Father does even much more so (Luke 11:5-13).   Our psalmist closes off this psalm with saying what a good, merciful, and truthful or faithful God we have.

God’s gates and the courts of His throne room are always open for His blood-bought children.  Let us enter them with thanksgiving and praise.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

God's Special Treasures

Exodus 19:2-8

Today’s Old Testament reading from this week’s Sunday Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer takes us to the foot of Mount Sinai (also sometimes referred to as Mt. Horeb in Scripture).  Just weeks before the Hebrews were led by God out of slavery in Egypt, had seen His power in parting the Red Sea for them, and drowning Pharaoh's army.  Now they were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai.  Mt. Sinai is traditionally thought to be a mountain in the south central region of the Sinai peninsula, which was just east of Egypt.  It was here that several months prior, Moses had heard God speaking to him from the burning bush, and called him to go and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).  Now, just as God had promised in Exodus 3:12, they were back at the foot of this mountain where God would give them His laws.  Several months prior the people were slaves and Moses was just the caretaker of his father-in-law’s sheep.  God’s promise to Moses probably looked rather far-fetched.  Now the people were free, their enemies vanquished, and they were standing where God had said they would, His promises fulfilled!

In verse 4 God tells Moses how He carried His people out of Egypt, as if He were an eagle carrying them on His wings.  An eagle is one of the larger and stronger of birds, with mighty wings.  Other than man, they have very few natural enemies.  Basically, the only times eagles are in danger is if the eggs or newborn young are left unprotected, and that is rare with eagles.  If one could shrink down in size and hop of the back of a bird for a flight, an eagle would be a good choice as they fly high, are powerful and very majestic.  There would be no need to fear.  This is just the way God told Moses He was carrying His people.  He was carrying them high, above the dangers of their enemies.  He was strong and powerful, and they had no need to fear.  Are we trusting today that God is carrying us in just such a way?  His arms are strong, even more so than an eagles, and there is no enemy that can defeat God.

In verses 5 and 6 God speaks to Moses about the people.  Here He calls them a special treasure to Him, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.  This is pretty much the same thing God calls us believers in I Peter 2:9.  So, if we are God’s children through the Lord Jesus Christ, what are we to God?  Here He calls us a special treasure to Him.  Do you feel like you are God’s treasure?  In my house my children and I have some special objects, not of monetary but sentimental value, that we really like, and they are kept safe in a curio cabinet with glass doors so we can enjoy them and they are safe.  They are our “treasures”, and they are safe.  We are so much more special to God than that, so we can trust He will keep us even more safe.  My “treasures” were specially picked out, or given by someone who knew what I liked.  God has especially picked you out to be His treasure!

Just as Peter later said, God says here that we, as believers, are to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.  Priests speak to the people for God.  One does not have to be specially ordained to do that.  We can all speak God’s Word to others.  Throughout the Bible God continually asks His people to tell others His Word.  We are all His priests.  Thirdly, God calls His children a holy nation.  The word “holy” means to be sacred and set apart for God’s use.  If we are God’s children, born-again believers, we are holy, and our lives are to be sanctified and set apart for Him.  When others look at us and observe our life, they should see that there is something different.  God has called us to be His priests, His representative, speaking for Him, and that we are His holy, sanctified, set-apart people.

Our passage closes up in verse 8 with the people promising God that they will keep His laws and obey Him.  Unfortunately, as we see throughout the Bible, the people of Israel did not obey God.  They repeatedly fell away and worshipped other gods.  I know that I have failed God many times in my life.  We all have.  The good news is that because of God’s Son, Jesus, we can confess our failings to Him, receive forgiveness, and promise to obey and serve Him.  Let’s pledge as the people did in verse 8, and say to God, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jesus's Final Words On Earth

Matthew 28:16-20

People are always interested in someone’s last words, whether it’s right before they die, before they leave for a long time, or before they retire.  We consider them especially important, as they usually contain what the person considers especially vital and critical.  This passage today is Jesus’s last words before His ascension and return into heaven.

About forty days has passed since the morning of Jesus’s resurrection, and now He he has taken the disciples to the Mount of Olives, where He will ascend back into heaven (vs. 16).  This group that accompanied Jesus were more than just the eleven remaining apostles, but also many other people who had followed Him during His ministry.  Most of them had come to believe in Him as the Messiah, but as Matthew records here, some of those in the group that day had some doubts (vs. 17).  This might have been the first time since Jesus’s crucifixion that they were seeing Him, and they were not sure if this was really true.  Perhaps those doubts were laid to rest after they saw Jesus ascend into heaven, or when the Holy Spirit came a few days later.  Or maybe, like some people, they never truly came to believe.

The time of Jesus’s humiliation at the hands of His enemies and of Satan were now completely over.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus!  This was the first thing that He reassured His disciples of before He left earth (vs. 18).  He has the authority, not Satan, nor any of the enemies of our faith.  When Jesus gave us His further instructions, we can rest assured that He can and will give us the authority and power to accomplish it.

Verses 19 and 20 are often called the Great Commission.  Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into the whole world and witness to others, telling them of the Gospel, baptizing and teaching them, and that commission has now fallen on us.  We can go out in faith and trust to tell the world about Jesus.  He has given us His authority.  We need to be obedient and tell others about Jesus, and salvation in His Name.  It is a commission, not an option.  Also, our job doesn’t end the minute someone gets saved and accepts Jesus as their Savior.  We are to teach new converts as well.  So often people witness, the person comes to saving faith, and then they are left to flounder, never learning from His Word and growing in their faith.  Jesus had said we were to teach them what He had taught the disciples.

Are we witnessing?  Has there ever been a time for you when a very important piece of mail never made it to you?  It got lost in the mail?  God has an important message for the world, and we are in charge of delivering it.  This message is much more important than some piece of mail, and we must not hold on to it and fail to deliver it.  Also, would we warn a neighbor if there was a fire in their building, or there was a tornado warning they hadn’t heard?  Of course we would.  This is more serious than that.  We need to get this message out.  We can do it because Jesus is with us.

In verse 19 Jesus affirmed the truth of the Trinity - One God in three Persons.  Jesus referred to God as Father many times, one example being John 5:17-18.  Jesus Himself is referred to as Divine in John 1:1.  The New Testament, in Romans 8:11, credits the Holy Spirit with the Resurrection.  The Three are a unit, no one more or less important.  One God in three Persons.

Jesus closes His final words with the promise that He will be with us always.  Though He is not physically with us like He was when He was on earth, He is with us through the Holy Spirit which indwells every believer.  If we are saved, the Holy Spirit will never leave us!  What a blessed promise this is!  There have been numerous times in my life where things looked so bleak and terrible.  This promise has been a true life-saver, one I have clung to.  Knowing He is with me and will never leave me has carried me through those bad times.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Examining Our Faith

II Corinthians 13:5-14

Our Scripture passage for today are the final verses of the Book of II Corinthians, closing off the Apostle Paul’s letter to that church.  Paul had written them before, dealing with some sin problems that community of believers were struggling with.  There were some in that church whose response to Paul’s prior message was quite negative.  Paul dealt with that issue with this letter, this epistle.

Some there in the Corinthian church were angry at Paul, and questioned his leadership and his apostleship.  Here in this passage he countered with telling them to check whether their faith was genuine (vs. 5-6).  Since Paul was the one to first bring the Gospel to them, if he was bringing a false gospel, their faith was in something lacking substance.   Some there were accusing him of being a fake, so he turned it around to them.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to determine whether they were really true believers or fakes.  He knew that he and his associates were true believers.   If they know they are true believers, then Paul urges them to see that they are growing in their faith.

This is something that we should regularly check as well, like a spiritual check-up.  First, are we truly saved?  If we know that for sure, that we’re not unapproved and rejected, then are we growing in Christ and in our faith?  If we are not drawing closer to Him, then we will drift away.  It is good to make sure that we are growing in our walk with Jesus by examining to see if we are becoming more like Him.  Are there sins we need to eliminate from our life?  Do we need to develop a more Christ-like behavior to be more like Jesus?  We all need to often clean ourselves up, both our outward actions and our inner heart-attitude.

Paul called on the Corinthians to do what is right, honorable and honest (vs. 7).  If they were doing what was right, living godly lives, according to God’s Word, Paul would not have to come with his apostolic authority (vs. 8-10).  That would make him rejoice.  He wanted them to grow and become mature believers.  They would be “strong” in their walk, and he could appear “weak” in his authority.  There were some in that church who had questioned his apostolic authority.  “Who is Paul?”, they questioned.  “Who is he to tell us what to do?  I can do what I want!”  We still find some who do the same today, questioning the leadership of the church, especially when it comes to discipline.  “Who are they to tell me what to do or how to act?”  God has set our church leadership in their position, and if we know that they are men or women of God, then we should accept their authority, even when it comes to godly discipline.

Paul urged the Corinthian believers to apply what they knew from God’s Word (vs. 11).  This is something we also need to follow.  As James also said, be a doer of the Word, not just a hearer (James 1:22).

The final verse of our passage and of this book is one of clear declaration of the Trinity (vs. 14).   The Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all presented here as Deity and as equal.  We have grace from Jesus, love from the Father, and fellowship or communion from the Holy Spirit.

How serious is our faith?  Is it just a temporary pursuit, or is it a permanent commitment?   If we aren’t growing in our faith, we can be easily led astray by erring preachers, false doctrines, or cults and pagan religions.  As Paul urged the Corinthians, examine ourselves, being sure we are in the Lord and not castaways, and then living for Him.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Let Everything With Breath Praise The Lord

Psalm 150

Our Psalm for today is a rather short one.  Though it is short, it is full of praise to God.  It is an excellent and fitting end to the Book of Psalms, the Bible’s hymnbook.

Verse 1 starts right off in telling us that God is to be praised everywhere.  We are to praise Him in the sanctuary, our places of worship.  That’s not the only place where we can bring our praises to Him, though.  We are to praise Him from the earth to the sky.  Wherever we are, we are to praise God, the Creator of everything we see.

People may ask us why we should praise God.  Verse 2 answers that question.  We praise Him for the greatness of His being.  Yahweh is great and wonderful, worthy of all of our praise!  He deserves praise, also, for the great and mighty things that He does, both in the world at large, and also for us personally.   Every day we should come up with at least several things that we can praise God for, and then spend some moments doing just that.  The Bible doesn’t say that everything has to be going great in our life in order to praise Him.  As a matter of fact, when things are going wrong, that is a good time to praise God.  Our praises to God put the devil to flight.

Verses 3 thru 5 explode with loud sounds of instruments, each calling us to join them in praise to God!   Many of the Bible translations say to praise Him upon the trumpet or cornet (vs. 3).  The word used in the original Hebrew was the shofar, or ram’s horn, which was used as a call to worship on Holy Days.   Then the psalmist calls for praising God on both the lute and the harp.  The lute was any stringed instrument with a neck that had an opening in the body with a sound hole, and that was plucked to play, the precursor to the guitar.  The harp here would be a smaller one than is typically seen in orchestras today.  It would be one that could easily be held in the lap and played, either with a pick or fingers.  Praise to God on both wind and stringed instruments.

Verse 4 tells us to praise God upon a timbrel.  That instrument would correspond to our modern tambourine.  The psalmist then speaks of praising the Lord God upon all stringed instruments, any ones that weren’t included in the previous verse.  The next instrument that we are called upon to use in our praise to God is the flute.  The word also included reed instruments and pan-pipes.  In this verse we also read that the psalmist calls upon praising God with dance.  This was what King David did in II Samuel 6:16.

Verse 5 calls upon God’s people to praise Him with cymbals, loud, clanging, rattling cymbals.  We can praise God with every sort of instrument.  If done with reverence and respect to God, all musical instruments, and dance can be used to praise Him.

Singing and making musical praise is an important part of worship.  Jesus and the apostles sang hymns.  The Gospel writer Mark mentions on one occasion right before Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion when He and the apostles sang a hymn together in Mark 14:26.  Twice the Apostle Paul encourages believers to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, in Ephesians 5:19 and in Colossians 3:16.

Verse 6 closes up this psalm, a call of praise to God.  Here the writer says who it is that should be praising God.  The answer he gives is very simple - everything that has breath is to praise Him.   Everything that is alive, both plants and animals, breathe, though not in the same way.    Plants praise God in their own way.  The beauty of flowers praises Him.  The majesty of the mighty oaks and redwoods praise Him as well.  The beauty of the butterfly praises Him, along with the whirring sound of the cicada.  The song of the birds sing their praises to God, along with the trumpeting sound of the elephant.  Every animal has breath, and each praises God in their own way.  Do you have breath?  Are you breathing today?  As long as each of us has a single breath left in us, we are to be praising God.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Trinity In Creation

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

Today the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday, and the first reading from today’s Lectionary is the Creation account from Genesis.  Let’s see what we can learn about our great and wonderful God through this account in His Word.  Only God can create something out of nothing.  There is no distinction made between “God” and the “Spirit of God”, which we read in verse 2.  That is because the two are one.  The Holy Spirit is as much a part of the Trinity as is God the Father, and His Son, Jesus, both of whom are also active throughout creation.

In verses 3 and 4 we read that God created light.  This light was distinct from the sun, moon, and stars created on the fourth day.  One might wonder how there could be light before the sun or stars were created?  Jesus is the Light of the world, as we see in John 1:9 and in John 8:12.  Jesus was from eternity past, and will be for all time.  He will be the Light in heaven, where there is no sun (Revelation 21:23-25, and Revelation 22:5).

Throughout the first chapter of Genesis we read, “And God said”.  God spoke and creation came into being.  He didn’t have to sit down at a drafting table and sweat out designs, with piles of crumpled, discarded papers around Him.  He spoke, and it was.  His Word is all-powerful!

Who was God speaking to when He said, “us” in verse 26?  He wasn’t speaking to the angels, nor any of the animals He had just created.  He was speaking to Jesus.  Throughout this chapter the word used for “God” is the Hebrew word “Elohim”, which is the plural form of our word “God”.  In His Word, God is indicating that He is a Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Jesus was a very active part in creation.  We see that both in John 1:1-14, and most specifically in Colossians 1:16-17.  If you have a chance, be sure to read them.

Of all creatures that God created, only human beings are made in His image.  Not any of the animals, birds, or even angels, only mankind.  We are made in the image of God, and thus we have worth.  Our worth isn’t based in any wealth we might have, or in our talents or abilities, or in how popular we may be.  It is in our being created by God and in His image.  People judge an artist by the works they create.  In the same way God can be judged by what He made.  The world He made is a beautiful creation.  What about the pinnacle of His creation?  Since we are the image-bearers of God, we are to be people of integrity.  We should never bring shame to Him.

In verse 27 we see that God made both man and woman.  Later in chapter 2 a more detailed account of the creation of man and woman is given, like examining it through a magnifying glass, rather than a casual overview.  Here in verse 27 a general account is given.  They were the grand finale of His creation.  Neither one is better or worse than the other.

God made the world good and beautiful (vs. 31).  We need to be careful in how we take care of it.  Everything God made was good, very good.  All creation functions smoothly.  The seasons, Earth’s rotation, its exact position from the sun, down to the smaller parts of creation like bees which collect pollen to pollinate the plants for them to continue on.  This shows there is an Intelligent Mind in our Creator-God.

God is distinct from His creation.  We are not to worship anything created - animals, plants, the stars, moon or planets.  God created them all.  We need to worship only Him.  Since He created everything, we can be reassured that He is in control of everything.  We don’t need to seek the stars or planets to see what will happen to us.   God created them, and they can’t tell us anything.  We don’t need to worry about anything.  God didn’t just create everything and then just walk away.  He loves us and all of His creation, and He will watch over us.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Commissioned By Jesus

John 20:19-23

Our Gospel reading for today takes place on the evening of the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.   The disciples were gathered together in the upper room behind locked doors for fear of the Jews who had recently killed their Savior.  Suddenly Jesus was in the room with them (vs. 19).  His resurrection body was not limited or restricted like His prior human body had been.  Jesus could appear suddenly, disappear, pass through doors and walls, seemingly defying physics and gravity.  The disciples had been gathered together, hiding for fear of their lives, and in the next moment suddenly Jesus had appeared to them!  The first thing He does is to bless them with His peace, and then shows them His hands and side, to prove that it was really Him (vs. 20).

Jesus then gave the disciples their commission, the job assignment for their lives (vs. 21).  “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”   Jesus had been sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world.  That was His mission, and He did not veer from that to the right or to the left.  He stayed on the course.  Now, we have an assignment as well, and that is to spread that same Gospel message of salvation through Jesus to the world.  Since it was Jesus who instructed His believers to go out and tell others, we go in the authority of God.  He has commissioned us.  Are we fulfilling our commission and bringing the Light of the Gospel to the lost?  As the Father sent the Son, so now He sends us.

In verse 22 we read that Jesus breathed on the disciples, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon them.  This was an anointing of the disciples prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  Prior to the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit only came temporarily on people that God chose for specific tasks.  After Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells believers.  This anointing of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed upon the disciples that evening of the Resurrection was a foretaste of what was to come several weeks later at Pentecost.  It was Jesus’s pledge that He would be sending the Holy Spirit permanently upon them.  The believers, and us as well today, have been commissioned to do His work.  We should not try to do that work in our own power.  Instead we need to do all work for God in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Why did Jesus decide to breathe on the disciples, bestowing an anointing of the Spirit on them?  God’s breath gives life.  In Genesis 2:7, God breathed life into Adam.  Here Jesus breathed spiritual life into the new believers.

If we know Jesus as our Savior we have been sent by Him, sent to bring the Gospel of salvation to the lost.  Are we going?  If so, are we trying in our own power, or are we relying of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us, and indwells us?  Let’s be at work with the task we have been given!