Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Incomprehensible Majesty Of God

Romans 11:33-36

For the last couple of months, the New Testament readings from the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary each week have been from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Paul has been proclaiming the truth of justification and salvation through faith alone to his readers.  He has also been stating in this Epistle that it doesn’t matter what one’s lineage is, if we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are a spiritual descendant of Abraham, and a part of the covenant that God made with him.  In our Scripture passage today, it’s as if Paul set down his pen for a moment and broke out into a small but spontaneous brief hymn of praise to God.  The truths he had been writing about in the previous chapters have overjoyed him in worship to the Savior.

While we remain here on earth, we do not always totally understand God’s ways (vs. 33).  The prophet Isaiah corroborates that in Isaiah 55:8-9.  What we can do, even though we don’t understand everything God does in our life and in this world, is to worship Him for His goodness, love, and mercy.  God is omniscient, and we are not.  He knows everything, the past, the present, and the future.  Our knowledge and understanding are limited.  God’s purpose and decrees are not for us to always know, nor the methods He uses to achieve them.

Verse 34 is quoted from Isaiah 40:13.  Can we tell God anything that He doesn’t already know?  Is it possible to go into a problem and work out a better solution than the Lord God can?  Certainly not!  God doesn’t need counsel or advice from anyone.  He doesn’t sit down around a table with a group of the angels, asking their ideas as to what to do about something, and He certainly doesn’t need our help figuring out a problem.  His ways are always perfect!

Verse 35 is quoted from Job 41:11.  Everything in this universe belongs to God, as He created it all, and He does not need us to provide Him with anything.  Nor does God owe us anything, either.  This is where the belief of a “works salvation” is refuted.  With salvation by works, we live a life of doing good deeds and religious rituals, and then after life present them to God with the assumption that because of them, God owes us a pass into heaven, God “paying” us our reward for our good deeds and rituals.  God doesn’t need anything from us, nor owe anything to us.

God is the Source and Sustainer of everything that exists (vs 36).  We are all dependent on Him.  God, and God alone, is the source of all things.  Some people are very proud and independent, thinking that they are the masters of their own life and fate.  This verse, and so many throughout the Scriptures, show that isn’t the case.  God holds our very breath and life in His Hands, and it is through His mercy that we have our life, health, food, and everything we need.

So what can we take away from these verses that Paul wrote?  Though we don’t understand everything, we can rest in the knowledge that He does!  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, and because of that, whatever He does, that is the best.  He gives us the best that He has, which is salvation through His only Son, Jesus Christ.  We can’t give Him anything, but He gives us everything.  For that, for everything in our lives, He deserves our praise and glory, now and forever!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Take Hold Of The Hand Of God

Psalm 138

Singing hymns to the Lord has always been an important part of worship for believers.  The Book of Psalms has been called the hymnbook of the Bible.  Just like there are hymns in our hymnbooks of praise, of thanksgiving, of the different attributes of God, of sorrow for sins, and of our calling out and coming to Him for help, there are psalms in the Bible for the same.  Whatever we are looking for, whether to praise God, call upon Him for help, confession, or give thanks, we can find psalms for that.

Our psalm today, which was written by King David, is one of thanksgiving for answered prayer.  The theme throughout this psalm is that God will work out His plans for us, and bring us through every difficulty we face.  David was giving thanks to God when he wrote this psalm, as he had in so many other psalms he wrote.  While reading this song of praise, we see that as blood-bought children of God, we should praise and thank Him for all of our material and spiritual blessings and answers to prayer (vs. 1-3).

Throughout his life, King David saw and knew about all the false gods that the neighboring countries followed and worshipped, and which were constantly being a temptation for the children of Israel to follow.  David knew that Yahweh is over all of the false gods of other nations (vs. 1).   He would go right before those false gods and sing the praises of the one and only true God, as a token to show that they were nothing, and his God the only true God.  We should not give any false gods any credence or acknowledgment, but give praise and worship to only Yahweh.

Right now we don’t see too many, if any, world leaders who are praising the Lord, do we?  In verses 4 and 5 of our psalm says that one day all of the kings of the earth will praise God when they hear His Word.  Won’t that be a wonderful day, when all world leaders praise God!  In the meantime, we have to be sure that we are getting His Word out.  How else will they hear the Word of the Lord, unless we are speaking it?

Sometimes we might wonder whether God, being enthroned up high in heaven as God of all the universe, has any regard for us people.  Verse 6 reassures us that yes, indeed, He does care about us.  He sees and considers what we go through in our life, and has concern.  He also sees what the proud and those who oppose Him are doing.  One day He will make all things right.  He is not a god who is too busy or unconcerned about the “lowly”, nor unconcerned when the rich and powerful, the “proud” take advantage of them.  He does care, and He will one day make all things right.

Throughout his life, David often had to flee and hide from his enemies.  He knew what it was like to fear for his very life from those who hated him, and would eagerly have killed him.  During those days David personally learned that he could trust and rely on the protection of the Lord God (s. 7).  No matter what our trouble may be, even if it is life threatening, we, like David, can take hold of God’s hand.  His hand is always outstretched to take hold of ours and come to our aid.

The Lord God has a plan for each of us, and that is a plan that He will bring to a perfect end (vs. 8).  Since He knows what is best for us, we need to be sure that we include Him in all of our plans.  Only God can faithfully fulfill His true purpose for us, and His purpose is always best.

In closing I want to look closer at the last line of verse 2.  God has magnified His Word, even above His Name.  Here God says that He has made great and exalted the Bible, His Word, above how great His Name is.  We know how holy and exalted God’s Name is.  The fourth commandment says that we are not to take God’s Name in vain.  Here, though, God says that His Word, which is the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, is magnified or exalted even above His Name.  How do we treat the Bible?  Do we treat His Word as sacred?  Is it important to us?  God’s Word is His revelation to us.  God says it is even greater than His Name.  If His Word isn’t trustworthy, how can we trust His Name?  His Word, though, is trustworthy!  And so is His Name!  Do we love the Name of God, the Name of Jesus?  If so, we should love His Word as well.  Men and women have died for God’s Word, and it should be that important to us, as well.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Looking Forward To Better Days

Isaiah 51:1-6

Thinking about a hopeful time in the future can often help us get through some difficult times.  When going through school we can focus on the getting our diploma.  Working on a difficult project on our job, we can keep our eyes on the promised raise or promotion when the project is finished.  During the long days of winter we like to dream about the coming spring weather.  And during the difficult days of a pregnancy an expectant mother focuses on the day her baby will be born.  Here in the time of Isaiah, the people were going through some difficult times.  In our passage for today the prophet tells of some promising days in the future.

In verses 1 and 2 we read that God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah was faithful and true.  Those of us who are believers, no matter who we are or where we’re from, we are spiritual descendants from Abraham, cut from the same rock, dug from the same hole.  As long as we, the faithful remnant, remain faithful to our spiritual heritage from Abraham, we can do much for God.

The remaining verses of this passage refer to the Millennial reign of Christ.  During this time, the time of the Millennium, God will turn the wilderness into a paradise, like the Garden of Eden (vs. 3).  Much of the land in that part of the world is desert, barren, dry and dusty.  This will all change after the Lord returns to earth to reign.  Imagine a barren desert being transformed into a garden, and like the Garden of Eden.  We all can imagine how lush and blooming with flowers, plants, and beautiful trees the Garden of Eden was.  That, the Lord promises, is how this land will be transformed when He returns.  I’m not much of a gardener, but I love flowers and beautiful plants, and this will be a joy.  Isaiah says that, indeed, at this time there will be joy, gladness, and singing.

The time of the Savior’s rule during the Millennium, will also be a time of righteousness and justice (vs. 4-5).  We sure don’t see much of that in the world today.  Crime, hatred, evil in the hearts of men.  That’s more of what is evident today.  When Jesus returns all of that will be changed.  We picture evil as being darkness, for that is what it is.  But the justice of God will be a light for the people.  As Jesus as said in the Gospels, He is the light of the world (John 8:12), and His reign on earth will be a time of light, truth, and righteousness.

Isaiah says in verse 5 that God’s righteousness is near.  We don’t know when the time of the Lord’s return will be.  As believers, we should be eagerly awaiting that day, though we don’t know how long that will be.  God’s timing is not our timing.  God is beyond all of our human timing, and not bound by it in the least.  What may seem like a long time to us, is a moment to Him.  Judging by all of eternity, the events Isaiah is prophesying are near, nearer each day.  God’s righteousness is near to us through faith in Jesus, as well.  Salvation in Him is within the reach of everyone on earth, as near as a prayer to Him.

The events in verse 6 begin during the Tribulation period.  During that time both the wrath of Satan and the wrath of God will wreck havoc on the earth.  There is a renewal of the earth during the Millennium, as we saw earlier in verse 3 of this passage.  Then at the end of the Millennium, there is a total destruction, which is also spoken of in II Peter 3:10-13, at the end of Jesus’s Millennial reign, a new earth will replace this old one.  The new heaven and new earth will go on forever.  

Those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior will also perish, as Isaiah says here, but those who have will live with Him forever in His Kingdom.  As the last part of this verse says, His salvation will be forever.  There is no end to that, it will not run out or expire.  Those who have accepted salvation through the Blood of Jesus will be with Him forever.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Woman Of Great Faith

Matthew 15:21-28

“Are you listening to me?”  “Do you hear what I’m saying?”  How many times do parents say that to their children, or wives say that to their husbands?  That is not something that we would feel that we would need to ask God.  At first glance, though, it seems like a question that would go with our Scripture reading today.  Let’s take a look.

As our passage opens, Jesus and His disciples have traveled northwest of Galilee to the area near Tyre and Sidon, cities outside of Israel, in Gentile territory.  While here a Canaanite woman of pagan ancestry came to Jesus, beseeching Him to heal her daughter who was demon-possessed (vs. 22).  Astonishingly Jesus doesn’t answer her.  He seems to ignore her, oblivious to her desperate pleas, and His disciples are annoyed, even angry.  They want this woman, this heathen Gentile sent away!  They had no compassion or sensitivity for her plight or the terrible condition of her daughter (vs. 23).

As we read, it would seem that Jesus was not much better than the disciples.  He doesn’t answer her at first.  Then, when He does, He says He was sent to the house of Israel, the Jews, not to the Gentiles (vs. 24).  Following that, His response to her seemed like He was calling her a dog! (vs. 26)   What was going on here?  That doesn’t seem like Jesus!  He had healed Gentiles before, as seen with the Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13).   What is meant by verse 24?  Scripture does say that God’s message is for all people (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 28:19; Romans 15:9-12).  Jesus was saying that the Jews were to have first opportunity to accept Him as the Messiah.  God wanted the Jews to then spread His message to the Gentiles.  Jesus was not rejecting her.  He was using this opportunity to show that salvation and faith are available to all.

In verse 25 we see that this woman did not give up.  Her daughter was in a horrible state, and she was not going to just turn around and go home.  We read here that she worshipped Him.  She acknowledged that Jesus was not just some “good man”, but He was the Messiah, someone worthy of worship.   In verse 26, the word Jesus used was one that meant “little dog” or “puppy”, like a lap dog or child’s pet. Jesus was not calling this woman a “filthy dog”, not like the ravenous dogs who roamed the streets, which is what the Jews often called Gentiles.  Jesus spoke this statement to really contrast with what He really felt about Gentiles.  The woman did not give up or get offended.  If being called a puppy dog would get her Jesus’s blessings, she would take that.

We know that Jesus loves everyone, regardless of their race or ethnic background.  He liked spunky faith, which is what He was seeing in this Canaanite woman.  This was a faith that was unlike what He saw in the Pharisees, the general population around Him, and even in His disciples.  This woman had nothing to give Jesus.  She did not have the Jewish heritage, she was not a learned scholar.  All she knew was that her daughter was in great need, and only Jesus could help.  She grabbed on and was not going to let go, even if only for crumbs (vs. 27).  Jesus saw that great faith, faith that would not take a “no”, and granted her petition (vs. 28).

There were only two people of whom Jesus said that they had “great faith”.  One was the Roman centurion in Matthew 8, who came to Jesus for the healing of his servant, and the other was this Canaanite woman.  Both of these people were Gentiles.  The Jewish people had the Scriptures, the Word of God, yet it was not any of them whom Jesus praised for their great faith.  She had great faith, and received her request and His praise.

The Canaanite woman was also not going to let any hurt feelings or super-sensitivity turn her away, either.  Some of us may have taken offense at being referred to as a puppy dog, even by Jesus.  She could have gotten offended, turned away and left, but she didn’t.  If she was a puppy dog, well then she was Jesus’s puppy dog!  She looked to Him expectantly and received her request with His love.

Are we willing to be persistent in prayer, in spite of any seeming roadblocks?  Can we pass the test of our faith, knowing that Jesus is the only source and answer to our need?  This is the type of faith that earned the praise of Jesus.  This is the type of faith that we need.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Door Remains Open

Romans 11:13-15, 28-32

Our New Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary brings us back to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.  In this passage we see Paul contrasting the calling of the Gentiles to the calling of the Jews.  Any brief or casual reading of the Old Testament shows that God called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be His chosen people.  Theirs was the bloodline through which the promised Messiah and Savior was to come.

In God’s original plan the Jewish people were to be the source of God’s blessings to the Gentiles, or non-Jewish people.  The Jews neglected this mission of theirs.  They greatly disliked and looked down on the Gentiles, feeling that they alone were the only ones who did, or even could, have any relationship with God.

It is here that we pick up our passage.  The Apostle Paul, when coming to a town or city to spread the Gospel, would first seek out the local Jewish synagogue, where he would show through Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.  Though some believed, the majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Messiah and Paul’s message.  Paul had much more success with Gentiles, and became known as the “apostle of the Gentiles” (vs. 13).   This was frequently the case with the other apostles and early Christian missionaries wherever they went - a few Jews would believe and accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, but most would reject Him, though many, many more Gentiles would believe.

As mentioned earlier in the Epistle, this broke Paul’s heart (Romans 9:1-3).  He was hoping that when the Jews, who hated Gentiles, saw that they were receiving the Gospel and being accepted by God, that they would become jealous and turn to Him for salvation in Jesus as well (vs. 14).  For the most part that was not the case.  Instead, the fact that Gentiles were being accepted into God’s fold just enraged them.

Paul warns the Gentiles, though, not to get all proud and puffed up about this.  The Jews had been followers of the one true God prior to the rejection of their Messiah, and were still loved by God.  It was because they had rejected Jesus wherever Paul preached that the message was then given to the Gentiles.  Their rejection of the Messiah had opened the door for salvation to be preached to the Gentiles.  When the spiritual blindness is removed from their eyes and hearts, it will be like their coming back from the dead (vs. 15).

It may have looked like, to a casual observer, that God had turned His back on the Jewish people because of their rejection of Jesus, but that was not the case.  It was true that when they refused to believe the Messiah that He then turned to the Gentiles, who were to be receiving God’s message via the Jews anyway.  The door of salvation for the Jewish people has always remained open, and in every age there have been those of Jewish heritage, though not in great numbers, who have turned to Jesus and accepted Him as their Savior.  There is coming a day when the Jewish people will turn to Jesus in massive numbers.  When Christ returns they will see that He was truly their Messiah, and will accept Him (Zechariah 12:10).  

As we reflect on these verses, we, as believers, need to rejoice that the door of salvation has remained open, and that we were blessed to accept His free gift of eternal life, which is offered to all.  Now we have an obligation to pass that message on to all we come in contact with.  We need to make sure that we are not letting our prejudices keep us from spreading the Gospel.    Salvation is available to all, regardless of their background.  Millions still need to hear!

Monday, August 21, 2017

All Nations Will Praise The Lord

Psalm 67

Our Psalm for this week is a national psalm of thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving should not be limited to just one day a year, when we are reminded to thank the Lord for all that He has done, both for us and our nation.  This psalm calls upon us to give thanks to the Lord at all times.  There are two basic themes in this psalm.  One is the need for God’s mercy and our resulting response of praise when we receive it.  The other is the future universal worship of God by all nations.

Verse 1 is very reminiscent of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.  In this blessing the people ask the Lord to bless them with favor and protection, and to be merciful and compassionate to them.  When I think of God having His face to shine upon His people, I picture Him looking down on us with a smiling face, one filled with love.  Young children will frequently look up at their parents, looking for a smile and face full of love.  If they rarely see that, they can be filled insecurity and uncertainty of their parent’s care for them.  That is not the case between God and His children.  His love for us is certain, and His face will shine upon us.

In the next several verses the psalmist calls upon everyone to praise God.  This was not to be exclusive to just the people of Israel.  Again in Scripture we see another reference for all nations, including the Gentiles, to worship the Lord Yahweh.  They are to be included in God’s millennial kingdom.   Jesus, in giving His Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 would become a fulfilling of verse 2 of our Psalm in bringing the salvation message to all nations.   Jesus tells us to bring His Gospel to all nations so that they, too, may know, love and praise Him.

Verses 6 and 7 tell us to put our trust in God.   He provides us with all that we need each day.  When we put our trust in Him, and remember to thank and praise Him,  He will continue to bless us.

Praise to God is the greatest thing that we can ever do in our life.  He is worthy of our praise.  Praise should be the activity of all believers, those who are a part of His Kingdom.

The final verse of this psalm of praise tells that the whole world should and shall fear Him.  By the time the Lord returns, the message of the Gospel will have been preached throughout the whole world.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

God's Eternal Invitation To All

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah may not be one of the best known passages in this book, but it is one that Jesus quoted when driving the moneychangers out the temple.

God’s chosen people were the children of Israel, who were selected by Him to be witnesses of His truth, to bring His Word to the world, and from whom the Savior of the world was to be born.   To whom were they to witness God’s truth and Word?  They were chosen to bring God’s message to the Gentile nations of the world.  As our passage begins, God is telling His people that His salvation for all people is soon to come (vs. 1).  He was going to send a Savior to the world, and that day was coming.  In relation to this, the Lord God was calling upon His people to “keep justice and do righteousness”.   He wanted them to do what was ethically right in His eyes, what was just and moral, and to treat others right, as He wanted.

In verses 6 and 7 the prophet Isaiah turns his attention to the Gentiles.  For centuries, both before and after Isaiah’s time, the children of Israel had believed that the Gentiles were cursed by God, beyond His love and mercy.  Rather than telling and showing them God’s love, truth and His Word, they meticulously avoided any unnecessary contact with them.  Even if a Gentile did happen to hear about Yahweh, showed an interest in Him, and turned to Him in faith and love, they were often still considered a lower class of people.

God says that is not to be so.  In His eyes, the “son of the foreigner” who had come in faith to Him, to serve and love Him, was welcomed in His sight.  The Lord God says that He will bring them, the Gentiles, to His holy mountain, which was Mount Zion or Jerusalem.  He says that they are welcome in His house of prayer, the Temple, and that He will accept their offerings and sacrifices.  These are things that the Jewish people did not want to accept.  They liked to think of themselves as the only ones that God loved and cared for, not the Gentiles, and they did not like the idea of them possibly being a part of God’s Kingdom.

The end of verse 7 is one that the Lord Jesus quoted to the moneychangers and people in the Temple when He confronted and drove them out of the Temple (Mark 11:15-17).  God is serious about prayer.  The moneychangers made a lot of money when they exchanged the everyday money that people used into the Temple currency.  They also charged an exorbitant amount for the animals used for Temple sacrifices.  Jesus quoted this verse as He drove them out of the Temple, along with their money-making schemes.

Also, all of this took place in the Court of Gentiles, which was the only part of the Temple area they were allowed to go to worship Yahweh.  Their doing this business in the Court of the Gentiles would frustrate any attempt of devout Gentiles from worshipping the Lord.  As Jesus observed this, it must have made Him very sad.

As we look at these verses, how can we apply their truths to us today?  Are there any groups of people that we, if we are honest to ourselves, do not really want coming to “our” church?  Do we welcome all racial and ethnic groups into our church to worship the Lord together?  How about the poor, those who do not dress as well as we do?  Are they welcomed as warmly as someone with a lot of money?  (James 2:1-9).   We should be as warm and welcoming to the homeless as we are to a millionaire.  Everyone, regardless of race, nationality, age, or financial ability, should be welcomed to come and worship the Savior.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Stepping Out In Faith

Matthew 14:22 - 33

Our Gospel lesson today follows immediately after the events that were in last week’s Gospel reading.  The crowd had been miraculously fed, and now the Lord wished to go off by Himself to pray.  No matter what Jesus’s schedule was like, He always made room and time in His busy day to spend time in prayer.  Jesus did nothing without going to God in prayer.  That is a practice that Christians should always get into the practice of doing.  If we see that Jesus, the Son of God, felt that it was necessary, we ought to also.  Spending time each day will nurture our relationship with God, and it will strengthen us for all of the challenges we face.  When we neglect going to God in prayer we can get burned out.  Even worse, we leave ourselves open to the attacks of the devil.

Jesus sent the disciples into their boat to go across the Sea of Galilee, and He will meet them later (vs. 22-23).  Shortly after they set sail a storm came up.  We know that God is omniscient, that He knows all things, and yet He sent the disciples out onto the water knowing that a big storm was coming.  Haven’t we seen times in our lives when we’ve obeyed exactly what God has told us to do, and yet a “big storm” arises?  We can rest assured that Jesus is on the way, and He will arrive just in time to rescue us, like He did with the disciples (vs. 24-25).

There were several instances when storms came up on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were caught in them, and Jesus came to their aid, calming the sea.  This instance was a little different, though.  Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water, calls out to Him.  Jesus had given them power in prayer for healing and deliverance from demons.  Peter, in faith, asks Jesus to let him come to Him, walking on the water (vs. 28-29).  We often criticize Peter for opening his mouth and speaking before thinking, and especially for his denial of Jesus, but he was the only disciple to step out in faith onto the water.

Imagine Peter’s amazement as he takes one step, two steps, out across the water!  He’s actually doing it, walking across the top of the waves!  Waves!  Oh no!  Look at the waves, the wind!  I’m going to sink!, he starts to think, and he proceeds to do just that (vs. 30).  When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, and looked at the waves, his faith grew weak and started to fail, and he began to sink.  When we focus on the waves in our life, without looking to Jesus, we can despair and sink.  As Peter quickly learned, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, and not on our troubles.

What did Peter do when he saw that he was sinking?  Did he try to help himself, perhaps trying to scramble back to the boat?  Did he call out to the other disciples for help?  No, Peter called to Jesus as he was going down into the water.  What do we do when in trouble?  Jesus is the only one who can help us in our troubles.  Reach out to Him.  Peter was afraid, but he knew who could truly help, and turned to Jesus.

Jesus’s response was to reach out and pull him out of the water (vs. 31).  Just because Peter’s faith started to fail him, Jesus did not abandon him, nor let him sink into the water.  He said to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  There is a difference between doubt and unbelief.  Doubt wonders if it could possibly be true.  Unbelief is certain that it is not.  Peter may have been in doubt, but he was not in unbelief.  Jesus was saying to Peter that he needed to keep on with the faith that he initially had when he first stepped out onto the water.  He was saying to Peter to stop doubting and trust Him that He would never forsake him.  That was Jesus’s message to Peter and the disciples then, and it is His message to us now!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Having A Broken Heart For The Lost

Romans 9:1-5

I’m sure that all of us, at one time or another, have been hurt by someone, or perhaps a group of people, unjustly.  Thinking about that person or group of people, could you say that you would be willing to literally go to hell for that person if that would guarantee them going to heaven?  Not likely!  In our reading from Romans today, that is a wish that Paul made for his countrymen, the Jewish people.

Any casual reading of the New Testament, particularly the Book of Acts, would show that Paul was no stranger to hardship and attacks from others.  As a young man, Paul was a member of the Pharisees, who were stringent followers of the Jewish religious laws.  Paul became saved and a follower of Jesus Christ, and then God called him to take the Gospel message to both Jews and Gentiles around the Mediterranean.  

As we read throughout the Book of Acts, his usual pattern was to go into a town, search out the local Jews, and meet with them on the Sabbath, showing from the Old Testament Scriptures how Jesus was their promised Messiah.  What inevitably happened was that a few Jews, and a few more Gentiles, would come to faith in Jesus, but most of the Jews would not.  They were not just willing to say, “Sorry, not interested.”, and let Paul go on his way.  No, the preaching of Jesus set them into a violent rage, as did the fact that Paul accepted Gentiles into the church.  The Jews weren’t willing to accept Jesus, but they also didn’t want the Gentiles having a part of the Messiah, either.  Everywhere he went Paul was beaten, stoned, flogged, and either hauled into jail or run out of town by them.

What would be most people’s response to that type of repeated treatment?  Most people might say, “Okay, forget it!  You’ve had your chance!  Now I’m only preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles!”  One can only take so many beatings and stonings, right?  But what was Paul’s response here to what his enemies had done to him?  In verse 2 we read that Paul says he has “great sorrow and continual grief” for his countrymen.  The fact that they had rejected God’s Messiah broke his heart.  He didn’t hate them, he was grieved and heartbroken for them.  He wished, more than anything, that they would come to accept the Lord Jesus as the Messiah.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea about Paul’s doctrine here, he did not believe that he could forfeit his salvation in order for someone else to get saved.  Paul knew and preached that the only one who can save us is Jesus.  No one else’s death can do us any good.  Paul’s love, though, was so strong for his fellow countrymen, that he would have been willing to die if it would have done any good.  Though he knew that was not possible, it showed the depth of his heart’s desire to see others saved.

Paul explains here how the Jewish people, his fellow countrymen, had been chosen by God, had been adopted by Him, had been given His laws and covenants, beheld the Shekinah glory, and were the beneficiaries of His promises (vs. 4).  The Biblical patriarchs were Jewish, and God’s chosen Messiah was of their lineage (vs. 5).  Yet by and large, the overwhelming majority of his people, the Jews, had rejected their Savior and were lost.  This broke Paul’s heart, and if it was within his power (which he knew it wasn’t), he would have done anything to see them saved.

This brings me to think, how do we feel about people in our lives who are unsaved, who will die lost, and be separated from us forever in hell?  What about our unsaved family members, neighbors, co-workers, even our fellow countrymen?  How do we feel about their eternal destiny?  Does it grieve us like it did Paul?  To what lengths do we go to be sure and give them the Gospel?  Paul was willing, if it would have done any good, to go to hell for them.  This, remember, for people who had treated him most shamefully.  Most of us are never treated like that, and yet….do we say a word about Jesus to those we love?  Can we pray that the Lord will give us broken hearts for the lost?

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Voice Of The Lord

Psalm 29

One thing that I enjoy doing throughout the year is watching storms, particularly strong, powerful thunderstorms.  I enjoy watching the lightning from the protection of my little front porch, along with the wind and huge storm clouds.  Psalm 29, written by King David, speaks of how storms and other major acts of nature show the majesty and power of God.  Storms and other major cataclysms are often loud.  Throughout this psalm David says that this is the voice of the Lord.  He recognizes that this is all the power of the one true God, Yahweh.

Strong storms and other cataclysms can often scare people.  David sees them as another opportunity to praise God (vs. 1 - 2).  He knew that God was in control of everything, including the weather.  These weren’t just random acts of nature, nor the play-toys of spiteful and vengeful false gods.  David, in the main body of this psalm, describes God’s power in several different events in nature.

The first one David describes in verses 3 and 4 is a storm at sea.  All of the storms I’ve been in and observed have all been on land, but I can readily see how a strong storm at sea can be a very scary experience.  Even well-seasoned fishermen, like the disciples, became very fearful in some strong storms on the Sea of Galilee.  When lightning strikes nearby, the thunderclap can be so loud as to make you jump!  God’s voice has often been associated with thunder.   Here are several verses where Scripture says that the sound of thunder was associated with the voice of God:  I Samuel 7:10; Job 37:4-5; Psalm 18:13; and Isaiah 30:30-31.

In verses 5 and 6, David describes a storm in a forest.  He particularly talks of one in a forest of cedars, which were plentiful in Lebanon during his time.  The cedars of Lebanon are quite well known.  In ancient times Lebanon traded their cedar wood with many nations.  King David used cedar for his palace, and later his son, King Solomon, used their cedar for the Temple he built.  The cedars of Lebanon during that time could grow to be 120’ tall and 30’ in circumference.  A Voice that would break them would be very powerful, indeed.  During a storm, lightning will sometimes strike a tree.  When that happens, not only is there a great boom of thunder, but often the tree will be split.  David describes that in verse 5.  He then very picturesquely and poetically describes these cedars.  They grow upon the mountains of Lebanon, and from a distance they could look like cattle skipping across those mountains.

The next storm that David describes is one in a desert (vs. 7 - 8).  Pictures of storms in a desert are often filled with lightning.  The wilderness of Kadesh was in the far south of the nation of Israel.  From the mountains of Lebanon in the far northern borders of the kingdom, to Kadesh in the farthest southern border, the voice and power of God is displayed.

In verse 9, David changes from describing God’s power in storms to God’s power in the birth of a deer, something delicate and gentle.  God is in the storms of nature, and He is also there when the animals give birth.  In the final verses (vs. 10-11), David says how God is Lord and King over His people.  He has been Lord of the earth since the Flood of Noah (and before), and is Lord now and forever.

What can we learn from this psalm?  Yahweh is the Lord.  He is the Creator of all, and He is Sovereign over all of creation and natural events, such as the most powerful of storms anywhere on earth.  He is supreme over heavenly beings (vs. 1-2), and He is supreme over the forces of nature (vs. 3-9).  Yahweh is supreme over humanity, as well (vs. 10-11).   Yahweh is the supreme and only true God in comparison over the false gods of other nations.  Our God will continue to reveal His power in and through nature.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

God Will Never Turn His Back On You

Jonah 2:1-10

Most of us are familiar with the Biblical account of Jonah.  Today, our passage focuses on the prayer that Jonah prayed from where his sin and disobedience had landed him.  Let’s see what we can learn about God and his love and mercy from what Jonah learned.

Chapter 1 of the Book of Jonah tells how God had called him to preach to the Ninevites, but Jonah, wanting nothing to do with that task, fled on a ship, bound for another country.  God sent a storm to halt Jonah’s running from Him, and he ends up in the belly of a great fish.  Chapter 2 contains the prayer that Jonah makes to God from inside that fish.  This is not a prayer for deliverance, as we might be expecting, but instead it is a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Jonah knew exactly why he was inside the fish, and what he had done to bring him to that spot.  He knew that it wasn’t a series of unfortunate circumstances that landed him in the ocean to get swallowed by the fish.  Jonah knew that this was God’s judgment on his disobedience to Him (vs. 3).  Yet God did not turn away from the repentant Jonah (vs. 2).  He will never turn away from a truly repentant heart.  God uses afflictions of all sorts to bring a person to Him, and we need never fear that He will turn His back on us when we call out to Him in repentance.

Sadly for Jonah, he had to hit the bottom and end up inside a fish before he repented (vs. 7).   God had told him that He had a job for him to do.  Jonah refused.  I’m sure God called him more than once, each time getting the same response, until He had to send the fish.  When we have fallen into any sort of sin we should never wait until we are in a position like Jonah to repent.  Jonah did not attempt to bargain with God (vs. 9).   He promised to make good on his vows to obey what God had initially requested him to do.  After that, the fish vomited Jonah out onto the shore (vs. 10).  As it’s Creator, God spoke to the fish, and it obeyed.

Verse 8 is a warning that those who worship false gods cannot expect hope or mercy from the only true God, Yahweh.  They have forfeited any claim on His mercy or grace unless and until they come to Him for salvation.  Nothing is to take the rightful place of God in our lives.

There are a number of lessons that we can learn from this passage.  One is that we can pray anywhere.  It doesn’t only have to be in a church, or at the dinner table, or beside your bed.  We can pray anywhere - even inside a fish!  God will hear us.

Another is that there is no sin too great or a problem too difficult for God.  Jonah had intentionally disobeyed God and tried to run from him.  When he repented, though, God forgave him.  There are others throughout Scripture who had turned from God in sin, such as David, and then when they repented, God forgave.  He will do the same for us, too, if we are penitent.  And there is no mess so difficult that we can get into because of our sins, that He cannot resolve, even delivering from the belly of a fish.

Do we only turn to God when we are in trouble?  When things are going fine, do we ignore God?  We should never have an inconsistent relationship with God.  A good solid relationship has God in our daily life, through both the good and the bad.

There is also the lesson we can learn from this passage that we cannot run from God.  Jonah tried that, but he learned that God’s dominion is everywhere in the universe.  He was not just the local god of Israel, who had no power or authority elsewhere.  Jonah learned he could not run away from Him.  God knows all and sees all.   No matter where we might try to run to, God still loves us and wants to bring us back.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God Works The Impossible For Us

Matthew 14:13-21

Our passage from the Gospels today is one that is familiar to most of us, probably one of the first Bible stories that we learned as young children, the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand people.  Let’s take a closer look at this Biblical account, one that we’ve probably known since childhood, but can still give us comfort and hope as adults.

As the passage opens, Jesus has just learned of the death of John the Baptist, and departs from the area to be alone, grieve, and pray (vs. 13).  The people hear this and follow after Him.  They don’t want to leave Him alone.  They had seen and heard about the miracles that Jesus had done, and the people He had healed.  Whether to receive more miracles, or because Jesus’s message spoke to their hearts, they wanted more of Him, and followed.  

How did Jesus react to the interruption to His time for rest and grieving?  Verse 14 says that Jesus “was moved with compassion for them”.   He did not get angry and send them away, nor did He ignore the people.   How do we respond when we get interrupted?   Do we brush them off, or do we help them but we’re grumbling and complaining silently inside?  Or do we openly tell them to leave us alone?  I know that I often will grumble and complain when I get interrupted.  No matter how tired Jesus was that day, and no matter how much He wished to be alone following the death of John the Baptist, Jesus looked and saw the crowds, and He had compassion on them.  He had concern and mercy for their sufferings and needs, and left His solitude to heal and minister to their needs.

That evening, after a long and exhausting day ministering to the crowds, the people show no signs of leaving.  The disciples ask Jesus to send them on home (vs. 15).  Let the crowds go into town, buy some food, and then continue on home.  Jesus then says something very astonishing - “You give them something to eat.” (vs. 16)   What?!  How could they give this huge crowd enough food for a meal?  They only have five small loaves of bread and two fish.  That’s not even enough to sufficiently feed the twelve disciples (vs. 17).  Didn’t Jesus know this?  Of course He did.  Jesus knew there wasn’t enough food with the disciples to feed the thousands of people.  He wanted everyone to know that His power, the power of God, performed a miracle.

The food that the disciples gave to Jesus, the five loaves and two fish, was obviously way too small to even seem of any help.  God used that small amount, though, and multiplied it, making it much more than enough (vs. 19).  What we feel we have to offer to God for Him to use may seem laughably insignificant and unimportant.  When offered to God, though, with a willing heart, He can use it, multiply it, and bless it to use for great things.

Perhaps you can only afford to put a few dollars into the offering on Sunday, not a large amount like some others do.  God can use even the smallest amount that is given to Him in love, and multiply it to meet some important need.  Maybe the only thing you can do to help around the church is to sweep the floor after the service, or empty the trash.  That might not seem as important as leading the singing or passing out communion.  Jesus showed that He can use whatever is offered to Him to meet the needs of the moment, and to bless others.

The people there that evening had a specific and important need.  They needed food, as they had gone for hours with nothing.  Maybe you have a very important need, but have next to no resources.  Maybe a bill that is due, and no money to pay it.  Jesus took a small amount and multiplied it to take care of that need the people had, enough food to feed them, with much left over (vs. 20).  With faith and trust in our caring, compassionate Father, He will provide for our needs, as well.

This is an even bigger miracle than most people figure.  Often this is called the miracle of feeding of the 5,000.  Verse 21 states that there were 5,000 men there, besides the women and children.  If they had added up all of the women and children, the number could be doubled.  That could quite easily be more than 10,000 people that were actually fed!  All from offering the five loaves and two fish in faith!  Imagine what our Lord could do if we faithfully offer Him whatever we have!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Unconditional Love Of Christ

Romans 8:35-39

There are many Christians today who live in fear that something they will do, or say, or think, will turn the Lord God against them, and He will no longer love or want them as His child.  Or perhaps some sort of trial or tribulation they are going through will somehow cut them off from the Lord.  Often these are newer Christians, and Satan uses this tactic to send them into anxiety.  As we finish up the 8th Chapter of the Book of Romans today, let’s look at what the Apostle Paul has to say about this.

In verse 35 Paul asks a hypothetical question of his readers.  Is there anything that can separate us from the love of Christ?  Satan has used this thought against believers for centuries, especially newer believers.  He will plant the negative thought in their brain that there is something they have done, or something that has happened in their life, that has shut them off from the love of Jesus.  Paul proclaimed in these verses that this just was not the case.  He, more than most people, had gone through all sorts of tribulations and spiritual attacks in his life.  He knew, though, that nothing he had gone through, and thus nothing we’ll ever go through, that will separate us from Jesus’s love.

“Tribulations” would refer to adversities that are common to all men.  “Distress” is when you are hemmed in by your circumstances.  And “persecutions” are suffering from others because of one’s faith in Jesus.  Paul knew all about these in his own personal life, and he has given us assurance that none of these can separate us from Jesus.  God has a deep and lasting love for His children.  No matter what happens in our lives, we can never lose His love.

In verse 37 we read the term “more than conquerors”.  How can someone be more than a conqueror?  If you conquer someone or something, you have won, you are the victor.  How can you be more than that?  A former pastor of mine told a story that explains this.  There was a boxer who was fighting a championship fight for large prize money.  The fight went on and on, with the boxer getting battered and bloodied, but in the end, after all twelve rounds, he was the winner, the conqueror.  He took the prize money home and gave it to his wife.  She hadn’t been in the fight.  Not one punch fell on her, but she received the prize money.  She was more than a conqueror!  Jesus took all of the blows, all of the pain, and all for us.  Through Him we are more than conquerors!

In the last two verses of our passage, Paul restates his premise that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate the born-again believer from the love of God which we have received through Christ Jesus (vs. 38 - 39).  There are many things that can sever, or at the very least, tangle up the band of human love.  Once we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior, though, nothing can sever God’s love for us, nor can anything break our bond with Him.  Jesus said that no one can pluck us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29).

The words “principalities” and “powers” here refer to both rulers or those people in authority over us, and also the powerful beings in the angelic or demonic realm, as well.  Paul is stating that no one or nothing in either the physical realm or the spirit world can separate us from God and His love for us.  Nothing in life, from beginning to end, will separate us from His love.  Nothing created can, either.  Death can’t.  Nor can angels or demons.  Nothing in our past or our future.

Nothing in this world can touch us unless it has first passed through our Savior, and He, in His love, has permitted it.  When we are going through trials, especially if they are severe, we might fear that God has abandoned us.  Paul gives us great reassurance here  that we can never be separated from God.  Jesus’s death for us proves that (Romans 8:32).  As we conclude this great chapter in the Book of Romans we know we can be secure in His love for us.