Monday, July 31, 2017

Complete Devotion To God's Word

Psalm 119:121-136

Our psalm selection this week is from Psalm 119, which is the longest psalm, as well as the longest chapter in the Bible.  Psalm 119 is also one of several alphabetical acrostic psalms.  In this psalm there are 22 sets of eight verses, each set beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The theme of this grand psalm is the Word of God.  Every verse, except for three (vs. 84, 121, and 122) mention it.  Seven synonyms are used through this psalm for the Word of God - law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, and word.

The unknown author of this psalm was absolutely and totally devoted to God’s Word.  Even a quick, cursory reading will show this.  Let’s look at some of the verses in this portion of the psalm.  One thing we see in this passage, and throughout the psalm, is that our author is greatly bothered by those who do not read, follow, or obey God’s Word.  We see this in both verses 126, 128, and 136.  There are those who do not believe that the Bible is God’s Word.  They feel that it’s words are just that - words, empty words that don’t carry any weight and are of no importance.  There were people like that back in the psalmist’s day, and there certainly are many today.  Our psalmist friend calls on God to act, and not let these non-believers have their way (vs. 126).  He is determined that he will not follow down their wrong path (vs. 128).

The psalmist asked Yahweh to teach him to be able to understand His Word in the Bible.  He did not want to read his Bible with no understanding as to what he read, for the words to go in one ear and out the other.  In verses 124 and 125 he asks God to teach him and give him understanding when reading the Bible.  When we, too, read the Bible, we should pray for discernment to understand what we’re reading.  Then when the Lord has given us understanding we need to apply that Word to our daily life.

When we apply ourself to studying His Word, that Word will bring light to our life (vs. 130).  So many people today have darkness in their life.  The Bible says very plainly that we are either children of the Light, children of God, or we are children of the darkness, of the devil.  Following God will bring light to our life.  Turning to Him brings us hope out of despair, and peace from turmoil.  Just as our psalmist friend did, we should pray before we open God’s Word that He will enlighten us and give us understanding.

In verse 131 we read that our psalmist is panting for God’s Word.  I picture someone out in the hot sun, maybe having worked hard, or maybe participating in sports in the blazing sun.  They are hot and thirsty, panting for water.  When they get some cold water, what do they do?  Take just a sip?  No, they eagerly swallow down gulps.  Or someone who is out of breath, maybe having been trapped for awhile in a small, tight closet.  When they get out they pant and eagerly take deep breaths.  That is how our psalmist is for God’s Word, he wants to grab for all that he can get.

The final verse in our passage describes our author’s emotions over the lost and unsaved, those who do not follow God’s Word (vs. 136).  He is so broken over them that he weeps, and not just a little, but as he describes it, he weeps rivers of tears.  How do we feel about the lost?  Unfortunately for many people, they just don’t give a second thought for the lost and unsaved.  They don’t think about them at all.  Perhaps they feel that everyone’s faith is their own business and they should leave them alone.  Jesus cared about the lost so much that He came to die for them.  The apostles cared enough to give up their jobs, homes, and safety to go bring the Gospel to reach the lost.  The psalmist here cries when he thinks of the people who do not believe God’s Word and thus, are bound for hell.  Not everyone is able to go out and actually spread the Gospel message of Jesus, but we all can pray and show deep concern and heartache for the lost.

Our verses for today were just a small portion of this extraordinary psalm.  As I read through the whole of Psalm 119 I have to ask myself if my devotion to God’s Word is anywhere near to that of the unknown believer who penned this psalm.  The Bible is God’s personal message to each of us, and we should love and treasure it like we would a love letter from one who adores us, as that is exactly what it is.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

God's Offer To Solomon

I Kings 3:5-14

If you were to be given one wish that was guaranteed to be granted, what would you wish for?  Many people would wish for loads of money, enough to keep them more than comfortable for the rest of their life.  Some might wish for a wonderful job.  Maybe the spouse of their dreams.  If the person had health problems, perhaps they would wish for good health the rest of their life.  Solomon had just inherited the throne of Israel following the death of his father, King David, when God came to him and told him He would give him whatever he wished for.  Let’s look at what it is that Solomon asked for in response.

Here we have Solomon, newly come to the throne, and God speaks to him, telling him that He will give him whatever he would ask.  What will he ask God for?  One might think that in his position, Solomon might ask that his throne be secure from any enemies, either those from foreign countries, or from within the kingdom.  Or maybe great riches so his reign will be remembered as a great one.  Instead Solomon took a good look at himself, and knew that he wasn’t really wasn’t prepared for this challenge that lay before him, to rule the nation.  In verse 7 he calls himself a “child”.  That doesn’t mean that Solomon was a little boy, as he was at least in his late teens, probably early twenties.  He knew, though, that he was young, inexperienced and unqualified for this position of ruler of God’s people.

As we read in verse 9, the one thing that Solomon asked of God, was to ask for wisdom.  When he could have had anything, he asked for wisdom.  Wisdom is the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.  The Lord God was very pleased with what Solomon asked Him for (vs. 10).  Solomon’s request was not a selfish or greedy one.  He knew that God had placed him in the position he had, and he wanted to do his best to govern the people.  God granted his request, giving him much wisdom, but He also gave Solomon those things he didn’t ask for, wealth and riches, that most people would have asked (vs. 11 - 13).

God also promised that if Solomon followed Him, He would give him a long life.  (Psalm 90:10 says that 70 is the standard age for “long life” in Biblical days, maybe reaching 80.)   Unfortunately Solomon disobeyed God by turning to the false gods of his many wives (I Kings 11:4-10).  Solomon reigned for forty years (I Kings 11:42), so he was in his late 50’s - early 60’s when he died.

Solomon was given wisdom, but it was up to him to apply that wisdom.  He did that quite well in governing the nation.  The times of Solomon’s reign might truly be said to be the golden age of Israel.  Solomon, regrettably, did not apply wisdom in his personal, and later his spiritual life.  To be truly wise one needs to discern what is best plus have strength of character to do that.  One must act upon that knowledge.   As the years went by, Solomon didn’t show that strength of character in his personal life, nor did he act upon the wisdom that he had.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, most, if not all of these, not being believers in Yahweh.  God has specifically commanded that His people not marry unbelievers, and this applies to us even today (II Corinthians 6:14).  These women turned Solomon away from God, so that he built altars to their false gods throughout the country, and he worshipped them (I Kings 11:1-8).   Marrying the unsaved never turns out well, which is why God instructs us not to.  At the very least they will lead us to apathy for God and our worship of Him.  At the worst, as in Solomon’s case, they will lead us completely away from Him.  Though Solomon governed his country with great wisdom, astounding nations around the world with his knowledge, and he built the magnificent Temple to the Lord, this did not atone for turning his heart away from Yahweh and following after other gods.  This ultimately led the country as a whole to drift away from Him as well (I Kings 11:9-11).

God wants us to use our gifts and abilities to do His will.  When we do, it is good for all.  Solomon did use his wisdom, at least with the nation he ruled.  He didn’t in his personal life, which ended up costing his descendents half of the kingdom, and ultimately contributed to the nation turning from Yahweh.  Having wisdom is important, which is why God tells us to ask Him for it (James 1:5).  As Solomon as shown us, though, it’s not enough to just have the wisdom in our heads, we must apply it to our life.  Let’s learn a lesson from Solomon.  It is not sufficient to merely start out well.  Wisdom is something that we should make use of all throughout our lives.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Wheat And The Tares

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Gardening is a hobby of many, and a livelihood of many more.  As many gardeners can attest, weeds are the bane of any beautiful flower bed or vegetable garden.  Our reading for today is Jesus’s Parable of the Tares, in which weeds are a large part.  Let’s look at this important parable and lesson the Lord told.

Like many of the parables Jesus told, he spoke this one to the disciples and then later explained the meaning to them.  As Jesus explained, the field is the world.  The one who sowed the seed is Jesus, the Son of God.  The good seed are believers, those who are saved.   The tares or weeds are those who are unsaved, the lost.  And the enemy is Satan.  Tares mentioned in this parable are probably the plant “darnel”, which greatly resemble wheat, but with black grains.  Darnel is easily infected with a fungus, which would make one very sick, and can even be fatal when eaten.

The parable begins with a farmer planting a field of wheat.  During the night an enemy of his comes and sows bad seed, or tares, in amongst the wheat.  The farm workers ask the farmer if they should pull up the tares, but are told not to, as the tares and the wheat look so similar, and some wheat may accidentally be pulled up.  At harvest time, though, the tares will be gathered and burned.  Jesus then goes on to explain the parable, comparing the wheat and tares with the saved children of God and the lost and unsaved people.

Just as the weeds and wheat could be mistaken for each other as they are growing in the fields, so can believers and lost at a first glance.  Saved people and the lost live side by side.  God allows the unsaved to remain on earth for awhile.  Though a weed can never become a good plant, there is always hope that a lost person can be saved.  God does not want anyone to die unsaved (II Peter 3:9).

As Christians we must not be too quick to judge others, calling them tares or weeds.  Some weeds are quite obvious, just like some people are obviously not saved.  But there are others that are not so obvious in either way.  There are some weaker Christians who are truly saved, but have not grown strong or are backslidden.  We may look at them and judge them a tare and want to uproot them.  Then there are some people who are so busy and active in our church, and we look at them and think, “What a wonderful Christian.  They are so busy in Sunday School, this or that organization, etc.”  We think they are a good strong stalk of wheat, when in reality they are not truly saved.  They are imposters and are really a weed.   God will know who is who on the Day of Judgment.

In the passage Jesus described this sowing of the tares as a very deliberate plot of the enemy (vs. 25).  Satan sows his children in with believers.  There are those in our churches who are not true believers, and this is sometimes very difficult to discern, just as wheat and tares are often similar in appearance.  Satan wishes to destroy Christ’s church and to bring down Christians whenever he can.  One way is by planting his weeds in and amongst the good wheat that Christ has planted.  Jesus was very plain when He said this.  The tares were planted by the enemy.  We, though, will often not know the good from the bad.  Some we thought were weeds were not.  Some we thought were wheat were not, either.

Jesus told us that the great harvest day is coming.  On that day His angels will come and sort out the wheat from the tares.  The wheat will be gathered into His garner, while the tares will be burnt (vs. 40-42).  Jesus tells of this coming judgment, and describes it.  The judgment of the unbelievers is not a figure of speech, or just a myth.  When Jesus spoke figuratively He described it as such in His parables.  He didn’t do so here when He describes hell and the destination of those tares who are the unbelievers.

We must not let pretenders influence our faith, those tares who have been sown into the field of wheat.  Instead, we need to let our life, our testimony, and our witness be an influence on them.  As mentioned before, tares could never become wheat, but an unbeliever can always be won for the Lord.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Keeping Our Eyes On The Prize

Romans 8:18-25

How many of you find the road you’re on in life to be a difficult one, and the burden you’ve been given to carry a hard one?  Problems and persecutions, heartaches and headaches, sickness and sorrow.  As we read about in the Book of Acts, and throughout all of his letters to various churches, Paul went through all of that, and more.  In our portion of Scripture today from the Book of Romans, Paul gives us a good way to look at the difficult burdens we are bearing in this life.

In verse 18 Paul tells us that what we are going through now cannot even begin to compare with the glory that awaits us in heaven.  It may be difficult, and the problems seem like they are going on forever, but hold on, he tells us.  Keep your eyes on the prize that awaits us when Christ returns.  God’s glory will be revealed in us.  God has a purpose for the difficult times we go through.  He will show His glory through them if we let Him.  God’s blessings are worth the sacrifice and suffering we go through.  Hold on to Jesus in hope and expectation for His day of glory.

Paul goes on to point out that all of creation is in a way suffering as well (vs. 19-22).  When man fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, that sin caused all of creation to fall, as well, from the perfect state it was created in.  The rose did not have a thorn in the Garden, nor would thistles or poison ivy have been harmful to the touch.  There were no tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts or other natural disasters.  Now we see the earth subject to decay.  That was not the way it was created to be. Because of the Fall all of the world, everything in it has fallen victim of the Curse.  No part today entirely fulfills God’s original purpose.  Like Paul says, it is almost as if we can hear the world groaning because of the fallen condition it is in, as it awaits to be delivered from this.

The unsaved are pessimistic about the future.  On the other hand those who are saved have a hope, as God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth.  We eagerly wait for that, when all creation will be free from sin, sickness, and evil.  When Jesus returns, all of creation will be liberated and transformed.

Life in this world, with all of the problems we face, both personal problems, and those of the world at large, could be very depressing.  It could lead one to despair.  Paul knew this.  He said in verse 23 that we “groan”, we sigh, we yearn for the day when we will be set free, our redemption fulfilled.  We do not need to be in despair or depressed like the unsaved who have no hope.  We have the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, as Paul said.  What did he mean when he said that, and why should that give us hope?  The first fruits meant like a first installment, or a down payment of the Holy Spirit.  It was a guarantee of our resurrection life.  When someone buys a house or some other expensive item, a down payment is usually asked for, as a guarantee that the rest of the payment will come at a later date.  Believers have been given the first fruits of the Holy Spirit to show that we have that guarantee of the future resurrection life.  The fruit we see in our life now, through the Holy Spirit, gives us the hope we will one day be like Jesus.

The day that we accepted Christ as our Savior we were fully saved.  Our sanctification, however, was not fully completed then.  We are still in the process of becoming more like Christ.  We have not fully received all of the benefits and blessings of salvation yet.  They will be ours in Christ’s Kingdom, which we eagerly await (vs. 24-25).

God never makes a promise that He won’t keep.  It may take longer than we expect or want, but it will be fulfilled.  Don’t be impatient.  Wait for His will to be accomplished.  Have confidence in His goodness and wisdom.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Developing A Relationship With God Through Prayer

The psalm for today is another one that was written by King David.  As we read in the Scriptures, David went through so many trials and difficulties in his life.  There were dangers while he shepherded his family’s flocks, then years on the run from King Saul.  When he finally came to the throne of Israel, as God had promised, David still had struggles and problems that he faced.  Throughout his life of difficulties, there was one thing he consistently did, and that was to turn to the Lord God for help.  In this Psalm, David cries out in distress, and then overcomes that distress with praise and worship.

In verse 2 we read David’s cry to God to save his life.  For several years before he took the throne King Saul had him on the run for his very life.  He lived in caves and in forests, always on the run as a fugitive.  King Saul had thousands of trained soldiers at his disposal, but David only had a few men true to him.  This psalm may have been written during those days.  He knew that God was his only hope, if his life was to be preserved.  Sometimes our problems seem so huge that all we can do is cry to God to save our life.

As David poured out his petition for protection to God, he knew that God knew all of his needs.  God knows everything.  He is omniscient.  Since that is the case, some people may ask why we bother to pray.  One reason is to have a relationship with Him.  If we never came to Him in prayer there would be no more of a relationship with God than a fish in a tank, being fed by a worker.   Even though David knew that God had promised him the throne, and he believed that promise, still he came to God every day with requests and cries for His help.  It was through his daily, hourly prayers to God that David was able to develop a very deep and personal relationship with Him.

Prayer takes faith (vs. 7).  Don’t look to any source for answers other than from the Lord God.  Know and believe that He will answer and help you.

In David’s day there were those, including some fellow Israelites, who believed that Yahweh was just one of many other gods, even though He might be chief among other gods (vs. 8-10).  There are some today that believe the same thing, that Jesus is just one of many paths to heaven.  David knew that this was patently false.  He knew that Yahweh is the One and Only.  All other gods are man-made inventions.

Throughout his life, David wanted an undivided heart to God (vs. 11).  He wanted to be single-heartedly loyal to God.  Our hearts are often filled with a confusion of feelings and interests.  We are often torn in two or more directions.  God tells us to pray for a united heart, one that is at one with Him.

Because David’s heart was united in faith to God, knowing that He was his all in all, he could offer praise and glory to Him no matter the circumstances he was in (vs. 12).  David knew that God would watch over and protect him from any danger (vs. 13).   We know that God is good in our head.  Do we believe it in our hearts, including when bad things happen?  One way we trust God and His goodness, is to praise Him.  The more we praise God for His goodness, the more we will see it.

It seems that throughout most of his life, David had to contend with enemies .  The majority of his enemies were also those who had no place for God in their heart (vs. 14).  The proud are those who act independently from God.  They are arrogant and insolent.  They rebel against God and His people, and these were who were after David.

Though David trusted in God’s mercy and compassion, sometimes he also felt despair and was discouraged.  In verse 17 we read where he prayed to God to show him a sign for his good, that all would turn out, and that his enemies will see and be ashamed.  It is not necessarily wrong to pray for a sign of God’s goodness and care.  Gideon prayed for a sign (Judges 6:36-40), and here David did, as well.  Still, though, we need to look around and see what God has already done in our life.  He does know our situation, no matter how bad it has gotten.

David faced many life and death situations throughout his life.  Through them all he put his trust in God.  Trials can draw us in one of two directions.   Satan can use them to turn us away from God, or God can use them to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him.  The choice is ours.  David used them to get closer to God.   Which do you choose?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Justice And Mercy Of God

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19

Today’s reading is from the Book of Wisdom, a book that Protestant denominations consider Apocryphal.  One of the aims of the author of this book was to strengthen and fortify the faith of believers in a hostile world.  Our world today is also very hostile to believers, so his words may be an encouragement to us as well.  In this passage the author is speaking to God, but also rehearsing some of His attributes for our edification.

In verse 13 he speaks that there is no other god besides Yahweh, the Lord God of all.  He cares for all of us, which is something that cannot be said of the false gods of other nations.  The false gods did not love and care about the people who worshipped them.  They were always fickle and needed to constantly be appeased or else they would lash out in vindictive judgment.  The Lord God sometimes must discipline His children when we deliberately sin, but He never unjustly condemns us in irrational anger like the false gods of the pagan nations.

God’s power is the beginning of His justice (vs. 16).  Even though He is all-powerful and almighty, He is also perfectly just in His doings.  The false gods, which really don’t even exist except in the minds of those who worship them, would often flex their power and might with no thought of being just, upright or fair.  Yahweh is not like that at all.  Though He is Lord of all, the mighty, just and only God, He is gracious and lenient to all.

Both in when this was written, as well as today, there are those who don't believe God, and show impudence and impertinence regarding His perfection and mighty power (vs. 17).  There will come a day, though, when God will show His power to them.  All of their boldness and arrogance against Him will be brought down.

Though our great and mighty God is omnipotent, having all power and might, He is one of great mercy and leniency (vs. 18).  Imagine all of the sins and offenses that mankind has committed against Him since the days of the Garden of Eden?  When we think of that, it is a wonder that God would be as loving, forgiving, and merciful to us as He is.  These, though, are a part of God’s character, part of who He is.  Yahweh could not be anything other than loving and merciful.  His great love and mercy, of course, was ultimately shown upon the cross of Calvary when Jesus, the Son of God, died, bearing the punishment for our sins.

In verse 19, our final verse from this passage, we see that the Lord God wants those who are His people, believers in Him, to follow His teachings.  He has taught us in His Word, and through His own example shown in the Lord Jesus, that we, too, must be merciful, just, and kind to others.  He has given us the chance to turn from our sins and follow Him, and our lives need to be reflective of our faith in Him.

As mentioned at the start of this meditation, our author’s purpose was to bring encouragement to fellow believers who were living in a world that was antagonistic and hostile to their faith.  That has been the case for most believers throughout the ages, and is definitely the case today, as well.  We can take encouragement that the Lord God cares about us, knowing everything we are going through, and not being indifferent to it.  He is also almighty and all-powerful, but also lenient and merciful with His children.  He is not blind or indifferent to what is happening in the world, and one day soon He will make all things right.  In the meantime, the Lord God desires that His children be His representatives in this world, seeking to show His love and mercy to the lost, drawing them to Himself.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Seed, The Soil, And The Sower

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Our Gospel reading this week is the Parable of the Sower. This is one of the most well known parables that Jesus told His disciples, and should be familiar to most of us.  Let’s take a new look at this together, and see if there isn’t something new that we can learn from it.

In the first half of our passage we see the sower going out spreading the seed forth hoping for a good harvest.  We read that there were four different destinations for the seed that he was spreading out.  Some of the seed fell by the wayside (vs. 4).  The wayside was the edges of the field by the path.  This ground would have been hard, having been beaten down by foot traffic, and also baked hard by the sun.  Not a good place for seed to land.  These seeds don’t even germinate.

The second group of seed fell in shallow soil (vs. 5).  This ground would have looked good at first glance, but with closer investigation, we would have seen that looks were deceptive.  The soil was only an inch or two deep, and then hard bedrock.  With no place for the roots to grow, this too was bad soil for seed to be planted on.  Plants are quick to start, but just as quickly die for lack of space for the roots.

The third group of seeds fell in among the weeds (vs. 7).  Any of you who do any gardening know how careful you must be to keep the weeds out of the garden.  Why is that?  Weeds will quickly take over, crowding out the good plants, greedily grabbing all the water and sunlight.  In such conditions the poor little plant will often die off or be terribly stunted because of the weeds.  Even when weeds might be pulled up once, they have a nasty habit of coming right back.

The final group of seeds are those who fell on the good soil (vs. 8).  They had the prime conditions, good, deep, rich soil.  There were no weeds so they had ample water and sunlight.  These seeds produced a good crop.

The disciples later asked Jesus what His story meant.  Was He just giving them a quick gardening lesson?  They didn’t think so, and wished to know the real meaning of His story.  Jesus told them that the seed represents the Word of God, the sower is the one bringing the Word, and the soil is the people who hear his message.  The first group is the seed that feel by the wayside (vs. 19).  The Gospel message never penetrates them.  It falls upon deaf ears, so, like a bird, Satan snatches the message away.

The second group, the ones with the shallow soil, are those who make a superficial salvation gesture (vs. 20-21).  It is not real, though, only just for show.  They remain in church, playing Christian, until there is a sacrifice to pay.  When any sort of persecution comes, then they abandon Christ because their salvation was not real.

The third group is the seed that fell in among the weeds (vs. 22).  These are another very superficial group with no true faith.  Christianity initially sounds good to them, but their love of money and love of the world draws them away from Christ and any true faith.  There are many people in our churches today who may verbally agree with Jesus, but they have no intention of obeying or changing their ways.  The world is still their master.

The final group of seeds were the ones that fell on good soil (vs. 23).  Jesus says that some bring forth fruit a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  All true believers will bear fruit, but not all are equally fruitful.  We who are part of that good seed need to hear, understand, and put God’s Word into practice in our life.  Like the plant that the sower was seeking to grow, we need to cultivate God’s Word in our life like a precious plant.

God needs more spiritual sowers (vs. 8).  Those of us who are stepping up to faithfully sow the seed of His Word should not be discouraged.  The seed is good seed, but as Jesus stated in this parable, not all of the seed sprouted or remained until harvest.  Just continue to faithfully spread the Word.  Keep faithfully sowing the seed.  We never know when even one seed will bring forth a bountiful harvest in someone’s life.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Joint Heirs With Jesus

Romans 8:9-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

The One Who Hears Prayer

Psalm 65

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seize The Opportunity To Accept Jesus

Isaiah 55:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Foolishness Of The Elite And The Wisdom Of The Humble

Matthew 11:25-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Inward Struggle With Sin

Romans 7:21-8:6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Meditation On The Many Reasons To Praise God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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