Saturday, September 30, 2017

Are We Held To Account For Others' Sins?

Ezekiel 18:18-32

Have you ever been unfairly judged because something either your parents or your children have done?  Many people have been wrongly judged, and their characters besmirched because of this type of circumstances, things that had nothing to do with them and who they were as a person.  Our passage today from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel deals with this.  Let’s see what God’s Word has to say about this issue.

As this passage indicates, the Jewish people had been in the habit of frequently holding the children in just as much condemnation for the sins that their parents had committed.  The same held true if someone’s children had fallen into sin.  They would often hold the parents just as guilty.  If one’s father was a thief or a drunk, if one’s mother was promiscuous, the children, even into adult years, were also judged.  “You’re parents are sinners!  How can you be any different at all?  God, and the religious community, can not accept you.”, was often the general opinion.  Or else one heard, “You must not be very godly parents because look what kind of children you raised.  They are nothing but good-for-nothing lawbreakers!”

How often do we see this today?  If someone is the offspring of a known criminal, drug user, or promiscuous woman, etc., don’t many people cast negative judgment upon them?  And doesn’t the same hold true if someone’s children do not turn out well?   We are so quick to cast stones at them.

God does not look at it that way.  As His prophet says here, God judges each person individually.  Many times people suffer from the effects of the sins that their parents or their children committed, sometimes even from their grandparents.  But God does not punish us because of someone else’s sins.  Each person is accountable to God for their own sins.  Nor can we use their sins and mistakes as an excuse for our sins.

The people of Judah used the fact that they were “God’s children and chosen people”, and thus were His blessed ones as an excuse for supposedly getting away with sinning.  They felt they could safely sin because of righteous ancestors.  God said “No!”  An evil son of righteous parents would be punished for being evil.  The same with God blessing the righteous son of evil parents.  The same goes for today.  The good and godly children of notorious criminals are accepted by God, and the disreputable and sinful children of a great man of God will be held accountable for their sins.

The people of Ezekiel’s day did not like to hear this, and said that God is not fair.  They seemed to enjoy throwing judgment at other people, holding children just as guilty as parents, and parents for children.  They especially liked to think they were fine because they were descended from some “spiritual giants”.  That’s not God’s way, though.  God’s love causes Him to be merciful to those who recognize their sin and repent.  Though He will not wink at those who wilfully sin, He has no joy in the spiritual or physical death of sinners.  We all will be judged according to our own individual faith and conduct.  Each person is responsible for their own personal sins.  When we return to God, we will live and be blessed.

As parents, we are responsible to God for how we raise our children, but we are not responsible for their adult choices.  Nor are children ever responsible for what their parents do.  We cannot be judged for what anyone else ever does, nor can we ever get any credit for being related to some spiritually great man or woman of God.

Look around.  Is there anyone that we have judged because of their family tree? Do we scorn them because there are a few rotten apples in that tree, or think them mighty special because their great-grandfather was so and so?  God judges everyone on their own merit, and that’s a good thing for us to do, as well.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Parable Of The Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

Today, as we continue on with our Gospel readings from Matthew, we have a parable that Jesus gave, which concerns those who have worked and served the Lord all of their lives, versus those who accept Him right before their death.  Let’s take a look at what Jesus has to say about this matter.

Jesus told the parable of a man who owned a large vineyard, who needed men to work the land for him.  In the early morning, around dawn, he would go into town to hire day laborers (vs. 1-2).  These day laborers would stand in the marketplace from dawn until they would be hired for work.  This vineyard owner came back later at around 9:00, then again at noon, and later at 3:00, each time looking for more workers (vs. 3-5).  Finally, around 5:00 pm, just an hour before the end of the work day, the vineyard owner went out one more time, and hired a last group of workers (vs. 6-7).  At quitting time, the workers line up to be paid, and the vineyard owner pays them all the same amount (vs. 8-10).  This did not go over too well with those who were hired earlier, who expected to be paid more.  If we are honest with ourselves, most of us might agree with the laborers hired at dawn.  “We worked hard all day, out in the hot sun!  We deserve more than those who came at 5:00 and only worked an hour, as the sun was setting, after it was getting cooler!”, they were likely saying (vs. 11-12).  The vineyard owner was gracious.  Everyone received a full day’s pay.  This was not a slight to those hired earlier.  They received what they had agreed on (vs. 13-15).

What was the purpose of this parable that Jesus told?  This wasn’t just a story about farmers, laborers, and their pay squabbles.  This was another parable Jesus told of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  This parable is for those who feel superior because of their heritage or supposed favored position.  This is for those who feel superior because they have spent their whole life serving Jesus, as opposed to someone who gets saved late in life.  Some may feel that since they spent their whole life serving the Lord, they deserve more than someone who waited until their last days to come to Him.  Salvation depends on God’s love, mercy, and kindness.  No one deserves it.

Those who accept Christ on their deathbed will enjoy the same blessings of being accepted into heaven as those who have been saved since childhood, and served Him all of their life (vs. 16).  We should not begrudge those who accept Christ right at the end of their life.  No one deserves heaven.

Instead of begrudging them, we should be rejoicing!  An older pastor I had years ago had a father who was not a believer.  His father never had a kind word to say about Jesus, the Bible, nor Christians.  My pastor witnessed to him, his wife witnessed to him, and others did as well, but he would have nothing of it.  That is until one day when he was in his late 80’s and ill.  My pastor’s wife came again to speak to her father-in-law, and all of their prayers were answered, as he accepted Jesus as his Savior.  A few weeks later he passed away.  He was like the ones who came to work at 5 pm.  He is in heaven, just like those who have served the Lord since their childhood.

In the parable, the vineyard owner decided who was paid what amount.  That vineyard owner is a picture of God.  God is the one who decides what rewards are passed out, and to whom they are given.  That is not for us, the workers, to decide.  It is by God’s love and mercy that we have been called, not because of anything that we have done.  When we see someone, like my former pastor’s father, get saved right before they die, that should be a cause for great rejoicing.  There should be no place for pride in my heart that I have served the Lord longer, so I deserve a “better spot” in heaven.  None at all.  It is only through God’s love and mercy that I, or any of us, will be there at all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

God Still Has A Plan For You

Philippians 1:21-27

Our New Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  This letter was written while Paul was imprisoned, probably in Rome, for preaching the Gospel.  While in prison, he knew that there was a very good chance he could be executed, and become another early Christian martyr.  Paul was released from prison some time after writing this letter, only to be imprisoned again several years later, and this time he was executed, likely beheaded, for his faith.

As Paul is sitting in his prison cell, a very dismal place in those days, writing this passage of Scripture we are looking at today, he is thinking about his possible, imminent death.  How would we feel if we knew there was a possibility that at any moment our life would be over?  Rather than being afraid or angry, Paul had a view of heaven in his mind.  He had suffered so much from beatings, imprisonments, stonings and all, that heaven looked good (vs. 21).  He was not afraid to die.  Paul knew that heaven was so much better than the very best on earth (vs. 23).  What ever would happen to him in life or death, Paul wanted to exalt Christ.  His faith in Christ was what sustained him in prison.

For people who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior, this world is all there is, so that is why they try to get all they can out of this present world, and cling to it so desperately.  We should have eternal values, like Paul did.  What did Paul feel was his only reason for living?  It was to tell others about Jesus, spread the Gospel message, and to build up the churches that he had established.

As Paul sat in his prison cell, wishing to go on and be with his Savior in heaven, he knew that there was work still left to be done (vs. 22-26).  Paul knew that by his remaining alive, there were many more cities to visit and bring the Gospel to.  He knew that there were multitudes more souls to reach for Jesus.  The Lord God had commissioned Paul years earlier, that day on the road to Damascus, to bring His message throughout the known world.  Paul also had a task of helping and encouraging the new converts in their faith (vs. 24-25).  His personal desire might be to go on and be with the Lord, but as long as there was work to do for Him, he was willing to keep going, no matter how difficult it might be, with more attacks from God’s enemies.

As Paul writes the final verse of our passage today, he tells the Philippian believers in the church there that they need to live their lives as is appropriate for those who is are followers of Jesus Christ (vs. 27).  Paul wants to hear word that they are all unified, not squabbling or quarreling among themselves.  Later in this letter, in chapter 4, Paul mentions two women in the church who have a quarrel between themselves (Philippians 4:2-3).  Fellow believers are to be unified, standing and striving together for the faith.

The unsaved, unregenerate world is watching the behavior and actions of believers.  What we do and how we act is always being noticed by others outside the church.  Because of that, Paul urges Christians, and us today, to “let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ”.   Our behavior at all times should bring honor and glory to the Name of our Savior, not such as would bring Him shame.  Paul couldn’t be with these believers, but he was still their “father in the faith”, and wanted his “children in the faith” to be acting appropriately as Christians.

As we consider this passage for ourselves, we should know that as long as there is something that the Lord has for us to do here on earth, we will remain here.  There is nothing out of place with wanting to be with Jesus now, but we will remain if He still has work for us to do.  Are we seeking to spend our time going after our own pursuits, or those of the Lord?  As for our behavior and conduct, remember to whom we belong.  We belong to Jesus, and our actions should reflect that. And while we remain here on earth, the Lord has work for us to do.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Where Is Our Faith Placed?

Psalm 145

This week’s psalm reading is from another of King David’s poems of praise to the Lord God.  Today I want to focus on verses 14 through 19.  Let’s see what we can learn from these Scriptures, and how we can apply them to our life today.

As we read over these verses, we see how David knew that he could depend on God to uphold him when things weren’t looking good for him, and that He would provide for his needs.  King David’s life wasn’t always sitting on the throne, living a life of luxury, being waited on hand and foot.  Throughout his youth he was a shepherd, which is not a very prestigious job, and one that many looked down on.  Then, for a brief while, he was court musician for King Saul.  Saul became severely paranoid, feeling threatened by David, and made many attempts on his life.  As a result, David spent many years fleeing for his life, living wherever he could, usually out in the wilderness.  After becoming king, things weren’t always easy for him, either.  There were wars to fight to keep the country and his throne safe.  David even had to deal with a coup attempt by his son, Absalom.

Throughout our life there will be times when we fall, both literally and figuratively (vs. 14).  We may fall from having a good job position to a much lower one, or having none at all.  We can fall from someone’s favor, too, which can be painful or humiliating.  And then, of course, we can actually fall, and physically hurt ourselves, landing with broken bones or crippled in a wheelchair or in bed.  If we are trusting the Lord, He promises to uphold us through these times.   He is there to support us.  We can lean on Him, and He will sustain us.

The years that David spent on the run, fleeing King Saul, must have been very challenging ones.  He couldn’t settle down and find a paying job, or have a permanent home.  There were probably many days when he might not have known if he would have something to eat.  Did David panic?  He looked around and saw that God provided for all the animals in the wild.  They all knew that their Creator would provide for them, and David trusted the Lord as well (vs. 15-16).

Some of us may have gone through times in our past when we weren’t sure where our next meal would come from.  Maybe some are in that position now, or will be in the future.  Who do we look to?  Who is our source of provision?  Is it a spouse?  They may leave you, or they may die.  Is it your boss?  You might not have that job tomorrow.  Is it your government?  With the way things are in this world, no matter what country you may be in, that is a very shaky support.  David said that our eyes are to look to God, for He, only, is the one who truly provides for us.  He gives to those who look to Him.

The Lord Yahweh is righteous and just in all of His dealings with man. Everything He does is right and holy.  If we call upon Him in truth, through the Blood of His Son, Jesus, He is near (vs. 18-19).  We can know that He hears our cries when we have a need, and He will provide for those needs.  Yahweh has promised in this passage that He will lift us up when we fall, and He will provide us with food.

David, when penning this psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did give one condition for this, which we see in verse 18.  As I mentioned above, we must “call upon Him in truth”, that is, through His Son, Jesus Christ, God’s chosen Messiah.  If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, acknowledged and applied to ourselves that He shed His Blood for our sins, then we are His children.  Not everyone has done that, and thus, not everyone is His child (John 1:12).  Have you accepted Jesus’s Blood, shed on the Cross to pay for your sins, and asked Him into your heart as your Savior?  If not, do not hesitate.  As His child you can know that He will be near when you call upon Him.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Exposing A Heart Filled With Hatred

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Today we have another lesson from the story of Jonah.  Most of us know by heart the story of Jonah and the great fish, how he was commissioned by God to go to Ninevah and preach a message of repentance, and how Jonah refused, and ended up in the belly of a fish.  After the fish spat him out, God gave Jonah a second chance to obey Him, and told him to go to Ninevah and give them God’s message.  This Jonah did in chapter 3, and is where we pick up in the Book of Jonah today.

Jonah had gone throughout Ninevah preaching a message of repentance, and how if the people did not repent, God would destroy them.  After he left town, miraculously, the whole city, king included, truly repented and called upon God.  Meanwhile, after he had finished preaching, Jonah had gone out of town to find the nearest good spot to sit down and watch what he had hoped would be God destroying the city (vs. 5).  He even built himself a little structure to keep himself cool in.  Jonah had great delight in hoping to get a front row seat in viewing the annihilation of a whole city and its people.  

When Jonah saw that God had withheld His punishment because the people had repented, he was more than disappointed, he was furious with God.  Jonah, like most Jews of his day, rejected Gentiles, and did not want them to have a part in their salvation.  He did not want God to show them mercy.  Jonah knew that God was a merciful God.  He had been shown mercy by God, but he did not want Gentiles to have it.  He wanted to see them destroyed.  God had always wanted the Jews to be a blessing to others by sharing His message, but for the most part, the Jewish people did not want to share God’s message, His love, or mercy to the Gentiles.  Jonah was a prime example of that.

Jonah’s anger at God and hatred towards the Gentiles was so strong that if they weren’t going to be destroyed, he wanted to die (vs 3, 8).  He had been so glad and grateful when God had saved him from the belly of the fish, but could not spare a shred of compassion to others if they were Gentiles.   God then proceeded to give Jonah an object lesson with hopes to teach Jonah.  He caused a plant with large leaves to grow quickly in order to provide Jonah with shade (vs. 6).  This was possibly a castor plant, which is a very fast-growing plant with large leaves.  Then by the next day a worm came and chewed the plant, causing it to die (vs. 7).  God caused a wind to blow, making Jonah very hot, with no shade in which to rest in.  He complained to God about the death of the plant due to the worm, saying it wasn’t right.  God used that as a lesson to him, asking why he would care about a simple plant, but have no concern about a whole city of people (vs. 9-11).

What do we see here?  Jonah was angry about the plant dying, but would not have been if the Ninevites had perished.  He wanted their damnation, but had a warped and overly exaggerated concern for a plant he neither made nor planted.   Are we any different?  We get more upset when something we think is precious is broken, but do we weep over the lost in our neighborhood?  Are there any people, either individual people or a whole race or ethnic group, that we would refuse to witness to, and would rather see damned by God?  Or do we think that there are any people who are beyond redemption and God’s mercy?  God is more merciful than we  could ever imagine (vs. 10-11).  He is not willing that anyone should perish, regardless of who they are or what race they are from.  His desire is that they hear the message of salvation and turn to Him (II Peter 3:9).  Let’s not be like Jonah, but instead show love and concern for the souls of everyone, and be sensitive and obedient to His Word.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Unforgiving Servant

Matthew 18:21-35

How many times have we said that we are never going to forgive someone?  They have done something to us that is just beyond our forgiveness, or perhaps they have repeatedly done something, and now we feel that they’ve used up any more forgiveness from us.  In our Gospel reading from last Sunday’s Lectionary, Jesus addresses the issue of forgiveness, and how forgiving we need to be of others.

As our reading begins, Peter comes to Jesus asking how many times he has to forgive someone who has done something to him (vs. 21).  In the Jewish culture of his day, it was required to forgive someone three times.  That was all that was necessary.  By saying seven times, Peter thinks he is doing really well, a spiritual athlete.  Jesus, though, says that he needs to be forgiving seventy times seven (vs. 22).  We should not be keeping track of how many times we forgive someone.  Jesus wants His children to forgive all who are truly repentant, even when they continue to fall.

Jesus then proceeds to tell a parable, a story with an important lesson for His disciples to learn.  A king comes to one of his servants who owed him money, and wants to be repaid.  The amount that he owed the king, ten thousand talents, was an incomprehensible amount of money, many multiple millions of dollars in today’s money, much more than anyone could ever pay back (vs. 24).  The king says that since the man could not pay, he and his family were to be sold until the amount is paid (vs 25).  If someone couldn’t pay their debt, they and their family could be forced to work the debt off, be thrown in prison, or be sold as slaves.  After begging mercy, the king forgives the man’s debt (vs. 26-27).

Then what does that servant do?  He goes out and finds someone who owes him a few dollars, a small pittance, and demands payment.  When the second man doesn’t have the money to pay, what does the first servant do?  He has that other man thrown in prison until he can pay (vs. 28-30).  No mercy, no compassion.  When the king hears, he has the first servant sent to the torturers until he pays back his whole, huge debt.

After telling this parable, Jesus turns to the disciples and the crowds, and tells them that if we do not forgive others, God will give us a similar punishment (vs. 35).  Any lack of forgiveness is offensive to God.  He will chasten His unforgiving children.  

So what is Jesus telling us with this parable?  It is quite apparent that our forgiveness of others is very important to Him.  Jesus forgave us all of our sins.  He expects us to forgive others.  We have received maximum mercy.  Who are we to demand justice from others?  We should not withhold forgiveness to anyone.

When Jesus said that the unforgiving servant was handed over to the “torturers”, and that this would happen to those who are similarly unforgiving, did He mean that we were in danger of losing our salvation if we don’t forgive?  No, as our salvation is eternally secure once we accept Jesus as Savior (John 10:28-29).  Jesus is referring to severe discipline, not final condemnation.  What the unforgiving servant owed would be taken out by chastening, until he was willing to forgive, and Jesus says the same will happen to us.  The “torturers” and “tormentors” for us can be suffering anguish, pain, and and agony that will come when we refuse to forgive and are holding on to grudges and bitterness.  People like that often will suffer torturous thoughts, misery, and unrest.  Unforgiveness and bitterness has many consequences.  It can cause problems with other relationships.  It can also cause physical problems and weaken one’s body.  Finally, and most importantly, unforgiveness will put a barrier between us and God, stifling our prayers.

Obviously our having a forgiving heart is something very dear to the heart of God.  It is not always easy, especially if the hurts have been cruel.  But what we are asked to forgive is in comparison like just a few dollars compared to the huge debt God forgave us, which is like many multiple millions of dollars.  I know that I do not want to suffer at the hands of the tormentors, and especially have my prayer-line to God blocked.  Jesus can give us the desire and the strength to forgive all who have wronged us, just as He has forgiven us.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Creating Unity Among Believers

Romans 14:1-12

Today, as in the days of the New Testament, we see Satan trying to bring about division and disunity among the believers.  Disunity in the early church was one issue that Paul addressed in several of his letters, and here in Romans 14 we see him speaking to the believers in Rome about this.  Paul addresses two groups of believers in this passage: the “strong” believers, and the “weaker” believers.  The strong believers from a Jewish background did not feel compelled to continue in keeping the Jewish religious or ceremonial Law.  They knew that they had been set free from that through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  They knew that they did not need to continue to eat kosher food only, bring sacrifices to the Temple, abstain from befriending Gentiles, or celebrate the Jewish holy days, in order to be right with God.  The weak Jewish believers still felt compelled to keep all the Jewish religious Laws.

The same problem also plagued Gentile believers.  Weaker believers worried about meats at the market that might have been used in pagan sacrifices.  Meats that had been used in religious sacrifices to the Greek and Roman gods were often then taken to the local markets and sold cheaper.  Would it be okay to eat them?  Weaker believers felt it would not be, as it would be like they were participating in the pagan sacrifices themselves, or at least giving a tacit approval to them.  For fear of eating any meat that might have been used in a sacrifice, some were resorting to being vegetarians.  Stronger Gentiles believed that this was okay, as pagan, false gods were not even real.  Both groups were judging each other harshly, with each accusing the other of being wrong, being sinners, etc.  Weak Christians versus strong Christians.

Paul wrote that this was wrong on both sides.  Believers are not to fight with fellow believers over matters of opinion (vs. 1).  Disagreements are to be handled in love, and with respect.  We honor God by helping others grow in their faith, treating one another with love and avoiding legalism.

How does this issue affect us today?  In most parts of the world there would be no issue of eating meat which had been previously sacrificed to false gods.  Most believers today from a Jewish background are not condemning those who do not keep the Old Testament Laws.  There are, though, some issues that divide Christians today, such as whether it’s alright for a believer to drink alcohol, the type of clothing they wear, or what day they worship on.  Often they judge others for what they eat, or what music, TV shows, or movies they watch.   Good Christians are torn on these issues, often getting so emotional that they condemn or belittle the other.  Like the believers Paul was addressing, we should not be judging or condemning Christians we disagree with on non-doctrinal issues.  Everything we do should be done with the aim of pleasing God (vs. 7 - 8).  If another Christian has a glass of wine or a beer with their pizza, and are not getting drunk, the other Christian who does not believe one should drink alcohol should not sit in judgment and condemn.  The vegetarian Christian should not judge the one who eats meat.  Sunday worshippers and Saturday worshippers should not argue.

There are some issues that are worth taking a stand for: the essentials of the faith, the fundamentals of our faith.  These would be the virgin birth of Jesus, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, the atoning death of Jesus for our sins, and His bodily resurrection.  These are beliefs that are essential for a Christian to believe and still call themselves a Christian.  These are beliefs that there can be no compromise on.  Any disagreement on them must bring a parting of the ways.  Other issues are just matters of opinion, and should not bring about a fight.  We are to take a stand on things expressly spoken of in the Scriptures, and not create additional rules, giving them equal standing with the Scriptures.

In verses 10 - 12 we read that all believers will come before the judgment seat of Christ.  This is where Christians are judged, and is not for unbelievers.  They are judged at the great white throne of judgment.  At the judgment seat of Christ we will give an account of ourselves and the decisions we have made.  We are accountable to Christ, not to others, and when we stand before Him we won’t be asked about others.  We will only be asked about ourselves.   With this in mind, we need to follow Paul’s admonitions here, and treat all of our fellow believers gently, building them up in love, not tearing them down for minor issues.

Monday, September 18, 2017

God Forgives, God Forgets

Psalm 103

Today’s Psalm reading is a song of praise to the Lord, written by King David.  Both at the start and end of this psalm, we are told to bless the Lord.  How do we do that?  The word “bless”, when used in reference to God, means to worship in praise and adoration.  This was important to David, as he tells us here to bless Yahweh and His Holy Name at least seven times.  There are so many reasons to bless God.  David was never one to hold back in his praise to the Lord, and here he lists several reasons in verses 1 - 5.  There are so many benefits, or good things, that the Lord has given us.  We are not to forget these, but instead remember to thank and praise Him for them (vs. 2).

In the next three verses David gives us some reasons for blessing the Lord.  First, he says for the forgiveness of our sins, and then for healing of diseases.  In verse 4 David says to bless the Lord for His redemption of us, our salvation.  This could also include the Lord’s protection when in danger.  He also wants to bless the Lord for His loving kindness and mercy.  And lastly, in verse 5,  David says to bless the Lord for providing good food for us.

As David continues on with this hymn of praise and blessing to the Lord he focuses most of the rest of the psalm on one of those reasons he gave, namely on forgiveness.  When reading through the Old Testament, we see that David was a sinner, just as all of mankind is, even though he dearly loved the Lord.  He knew first hand the mercy of the Lord, and was thankful for His forgiveness.   David knew that God doesn’t punish us as we would deserve, but is instead slow to get angry at us, and slow in pouring out His wrath (vs. 8 - 10).

The weight of sin and guilt is heavy.  Only Jesus can remove that weight.  God not only forgives us of our sins, He also forgets (vs. 11 - 12).  Forgiving and forgetting are part of God’s character.  That is something that is often very difficult for us to do.  We may be able to forgive someone for something they did to us, but it is not easy to forget.  God, though, does forget our sins once they are forgiven us.  Grace forgets.  There may be times we do not feel as though we’ve been forgiven, but if we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior, the truth of His Word says we are forgiven.  Though sometimes our heart feels guilty, God’s Word says we are forgiven (I John 3:20).

God completely separates our sins from us.  David phrases it as saying our sins are separated from us as far as the east is from the west (vs. 12).  He didn’t say as far as the north is from the south because if I start going north, eventually when I get to the north pole, I will then start heading south.  There is a limit to going north or south.  Eventually you must start going the other way.  That is not the case with east or west.  If I go east, I can keep going east forever.  The direction never turns to west.  That is how far our sins are taken from us.

David also praises God for being good father to us, His children (vs. 13 - 14).  A good father realizes his children are just children, and acknowledges they are weak, immature, and limited in knowledge - that they aren’t adults yet.  God is also patient with us.  A good father also cares for and provides for his children’s needs, and protects them.  These are all things that God does for us.  The pagan false gods (which don’t really exist) that were worshipped in David’s day, and false gods today do not have attributes of caring for “their” people.  They are often given attributes of being fickle or outright hostile to those who worship them.  Yahweh, though, loves His children.   He is truly our Father, not just a “father figure”.  He loves us so much better than any earthly father.

As David wraps up this psalm, he reminds us in verse 19 that Yahweh is sovereign over all.  He has everything in His control, even when we can’t see it.  There is nothing He cannot do.  Then David calls upon all of the angels to also bless the Lord (vs. 20-22).  Angels are mighty in strength, not weak, delicate things.  They are God’s messengers and warriors against Satan and his minions.  David enjoins all of God’s creation, everywhere, to bless His Name.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Danger of Wrath, Vengeance, and Unforgiveness

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Today’s Old Testament reading is from the Book of Sirach, a book that Protestant denominations consider apocryphal.   It was written by Joshua ben Sirach about 200 BC.   It is one of the Wisdom Books, containing teachings about divinity and virtue.

As we start this passage in verse 30, the author Joshua speaks to us about controlling our anger.  This is one emotion that Scripture continually warns us to learn to control.  Numerous Proverbs are dedicated to this same topic, such as Proverbs 19:19 and Proverbs 27:4.  How many fights have ended up with tragic results because of uncontrolled anger?  Wrath is a step beyond anger, letting anger blow into rage and fury.  Many people don’t want to make any effort to control their anger.  As the verse says, they “hug it tight”.  They feel they are justified in getting angry, that the other person was wrong.  Their rights were trampled on, and thus, they have every right to explode.  This is not the way a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus, should act.  This is something God wants His children to control for their own good, the good of others, and also for a better testimony to unbelievers.  It’s not very convincing for a believer to give a Gospel witness to someone, and then a few minutes later be seen exploding in anger!

In verse 1 of Chapter 28, Joshua the son of Sirach writes that the Lord will take vengeance on the vengeful, those who are seeking to harm us for some perceived injury.  Again, this is a verse whose message we see in other parts of Scripture.  Moses wrote in the Book of Deuteronomy how vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35).  Paul repeats this in his Epistle to the church in Rome.  He instructs believers to not take vengeance into their own hands, but leave it to God (Romans 12:19).  God knows their sins, and He will take care of it.

Verse 2 is something that is repeated quite plainly in the Gospels by Jesus, Himself.  We read here in this verse that when we go to pray, we are first to forgive others for any wrongs they committed against us.  When we do that, God will forgive us of our own sins.  Jesus repeated this thought immediately following teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15. He also repeated this in Mark 11:25-26.  Forgiveness of others is to be a hallmark of believers and followers of Jesus.

As we continue our reading, Joshua, son of Sirach, tells us in verses 3 - 5, that if we do not have mercy on others, are unforgiving and filled with anger, how can we expect anything from the Lord?   This idea was elaborated on in one of the parables of Jesus, the parable of the unjust servant, in Matthew 18:23-35.  In this parable one servant of the king was forgiven a huge debt by the king.  Then he immediately goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a small sum.  When that servant could not immediately pay, the first servant had him thrown in prison.  He had no mercy on others, notwithstanding having been shown abundant mercy by the king.  Jesus instructs us that we are to be free and giving in showing mercy on all others, because He has bestowed much mercy on us.  This is the idea that our author is giving us here in these verses.

Our Scripture passage closes in verses 6 - 7, with a reminder to remember that our last days are coming.  With this in mind, we should put away all hostility and ill-will that we might be holding against others.  He tells us that death is coming one day to each of us, and that knowing this, we should stop following the ways of sin.  This is a good reminder to us.  Most of us don’t like to think of the fact that one day, unless Jesus comes first, we will all die.  This present life isn’t all that there is, and compared with all of eternity, this life is just a drop in the bucket.  The “pleasures of sin” are fleeting, and eternity is forever.  Joshua ben Sirach reminds us to keep that in mind, and not forget the Most High, His covenant, and His commands.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Handling Disputes In A Godly Manner

Matthew 18:15-20

Ever since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 it’s been human nature to have disagreements, squabbles, and fights among people.  Often these can be very emotionally painful, and can split families and friends.  It is even sadder when this happens between two or more Christian brothers or sisters in a church.  Here in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us how God says these issues are to be handled between Christians in the Church.

In verses 15 - 17  Jesus gives four steps for how God wishes Christians to resolve any conflicts that arise between them.  These are specifically meant for Christians to follow between each other in the Church, not with conflicts in the community at large.  The first step we read of in verse 15.  Here Jesus tells us that when we have a problem, a quarrel, or some other issue with a fellow Christian brother or sister, we are to go to that person privately, talk to them, and try to resolve the problem.  So many people fail in this right from the start.  Instead of going to that person privately, they go to other friends and start telling of what they think this other person did to them, how it’s so terrible, and how awful that person is.  Soon the tongues start wagging, and a nasty gossip campaign has started.  Hurtful rumors start spreading around the church about a fellow believer. The rumors might not even be true, but a reputation can be irreversibly torn to shreds.  This is why Jesus says to first go to the person privately and try to reconcile.

What if we follow step one, and that person we have a conflict or issue with won’t hear us?  Then Jesus says to go on to step two, which we read in verse 16.  Here we are instructed to take one or two other believers and go again to that brother.  These others should be spiritually strong, godly, Spirit-filled fellow believers.  The purpose is not to come in and verbally clobber this person.  The goal is restoration, not condemning.   This step is in keeping with the admonition in Deuteronomy 19:15.

Hopefully we would not need to follow on to step three, which is explained in verse 17, but sometimes it is necessary.  If this person with whom we have an issue with still refuses to repent of what has occurred, make it right, or get right with the Lord, then the matter is to be brought before the church body.  Again, this is not meant to be an occasion of public condemnation, or sort of a figurative public hanging of this person.  The purpose and goal is so that the body of believers may lovingly seek reconciliation.  If a church really loves its members, they will not allow them to continue in sin unconfronted (Proverbs 27:6).

The final step that the Lord Jesus gives in the last half of verse 17 is to only be used as a final, last resort.   This is excommunication from the body of believers.  This is done to remove him as a detrimental influence to other believers, and to show that his sin is not accepted or disregarded by the church leaders.  Jesus then says we are to treat this person as a “heathen and a tax collector”.  What did He mean here?  Heathens and tax collectors were terms used in the Bible for those who were unbelievers.  So Jesus is saying that this person who has been removed from the church body is not considered as a fellow believer anymore, but rather someone who the Gospel can be presented to.  And when we witness to others, we are to do so lovingly, and with care and concern for their souls.  That is how we are to treat this person, seeking to win him to the Lord.

Following the four steps, above, is not easy for any believer, or the church as a body.  It should be followed, though, so that the canker of sin is not allowed to grow.  These steps were given by Jesus to both keep a church from unjustly ripping a believer to shreds and figuratively stoning them, nor from allowing the whole body to tolerate sin.  The church’s decisions should be based solely on the discernment of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God (vs.18).  The church elders and leaders need to seek God’s guidance through prayer, to resolve any conflicts.

In verse 19 we read a promise that Jesus makes to the disciples of His.  Many people have misinterpreted this and other similar verses about prayer and God’s answering, thinking that anything we ask for we will receive, as if God is a celestial genie or Santa Claus.  Jesus said that when two or more believers, who live Spirit-filled lives, are praying according to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, their prayers will be answered.

Verse 20 is a precious promise to bring comfort to Christian’s hearts.  God is with every Christian.  When one accepts Jesus as their Savior, the Holy Spirit indwells in that believer.  Here, though, Jesus promises the disciples that He will be with them in a special, unique way when two or more are gathered together to pray and worship.  Knowing that Jesus is always with us should bring us joy and peace.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Overcoming Evil With Good

Romans 12:9-21

Our New Testament reading from the Lectionary this week continues with the Book of Romans.  We see now that Paul changes gears from the first half of his Epistle, which was studies of doctrine and theology, and now focuses more on practical issues of living the Christian life.  Living a right and godly life is not legalism, as long as we understand that it is not “good behavior” that gets one into heaven.  Living a good and godly life is Christ honoring and keeps us far from the snares and temptations of the devil.  It is also a good testimony for the unbelievers who are always watching how we are living.  Our passage today is a compilation of guidelines for how we should behave as followers of Christ.  Let’s briefly look at each of these verses, a mixture of admonitions, and see what we can learn.

In verse 9 we read that Paul tells us to love without hypocrisy.  Our love for others, particularly other brothers and sisters in Christ, should be pure and sincere, without guile, deviousness, or self-centeredness.  Real, sincere love for others goes beyond pretense and surface politeness.   As Christians we are to develop the fruits of the Spirit, one of which is love.  Love will put other’s needs ahead of our own.  This love doesn’t strive for it’s own personal gain.  We should be devoted to our fellow Christians with a love as members of one family (vs. 10).  We show that love by putting them first, ahead of our own desires.  In verse 11 we read that we should do things for the Lord with enthusiasm and care.  Being lazy and indifferent in our work for Him allows evil to prosper.

Paul tells us in verse 12 to rejoice in hope.  Our hope is in Christ’s return and our final redemption.  God has promised He will return for us.  He keeps all of His promises, and because He does we can have a joyful hope.  We have confidence that we will receive what God has promised.  In this verse God also urges us to be patient in our troubles, which isn’t always easy.  With God’s love our cup isn’t half empty, it is always half full and more.  Paul also tell us in verse 12 to continue in prayer.  While we can’t spend every moment in prayer, he is speaking of being in a prayerful spirit throughout the day, sending up short prayer conversations with God, like people who text each other throughout the day.

In verse 13, we, as Christians, are urged to share with others, particularly with fellow believers.  Early believers would often have people stay at their homes.  Hospitality differs from entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host, whereas hospitality focuses on the guests and their needs.

Paul continues in verse 14 by telling us to bless those who persecute us.  How do we do that?  We bless them by not returning their bad treatment.  Instead, we should pray for them.   We should be glad when others are blessed and have good things happen to them (vs. 15), and be sensitive and compassionate to those who sorrow or have difficulties.  Do not be conceited, feel, or act superior to others (vs. 16).  Nor are we to retaliate against others when we have been mistreated (vs. 17).  By doing good to our enemies we are not excusing their misdeeds.  We are forgiving them and loving them in spite of their sins, just as Jesus did for us.

Sometimes it is just not possible to live peacefully with some people (vs. 18).  They want nothing to do with us or our Savior, and have an angry personality.  If we’ve done all we can, aren’t angry or bitter ourselves, we just have to move on.  In spite of that, though, we are told to help our enemies (vs. 19 - 20).  Our kind and loving behavior towards them will shame them for their hatred and bad treatment of us, and who knows as to whether it might not be instrumental in drawing them to the Lord?

In closing this passage of a mixture of different verses, Paul urges us not to let resentment or bitterness grow in our hearts (vs. 21).  In Hebrews 12:15 we are warned against letting a root of bitterness grow.  Bitterness is a parasite.  Instead, we are to strive to overcome all evil treatment by others with good and loving treatment in return.

As mentioned at the start of this devotional, following Paul’s instructions here is not the way one gains admission into heaven.  That is through faith in Christ’s death on the cross.  Rather, this is an example of the good works that are evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in one’s heart when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior.  Let’s show to the world by our actions the Savior we have in our heart.

I pray that you have enjoyed and benefited from these Bible meditations that I have written for this blog.   I hope you will prayerfully consider donating as the Lord might lead you.  This blog is not run through a large ministry with a wide funding base.  I am an individual with limited financial resources.  Thank you and God bless.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Living A Christ-Centered Life

Psalm 119:33-48

Today’s psalm reading comes from the longest psalm in the Bible, which is also the longest chapter in the Bible.  This psalm is a praise to God’s law, God’s Word.  Every verse makes mention of His law or Word, and how the psalmist wishes to follow and obey Him.  He so fervently wishes to learn from God’s Word, and to be sure that he obeys all that is contained in it.  It’s not good enough to just read the Scriptures and then close the Book and walk away.  Like James says in his epistle in the New Testament, that would be like looking in mirror, seeing something wrong like messy hair or food on our face, and then just walking away (James 1:22-25).  This was so important to the psalmist, and should be to us, as well.

In verse 36 the psalmist asks the Lord to keep his heart away from covetousness, or dishonest gain or profit.  Many people tend to covet money so they can obtain the other things they desire.  It is when we become so desirous of having things that we can become tempted to do things wrong and sinful to obtain them.  Thus the psalmist doesn’t want to fall into any trap where his desires for things might lead him into doing anything that is wrong, sinful, or dishonest.   God wants us to be more desirous of His Word and building up treasures in heaven, not anything here on earth (Luke 12:33).  What we seek to obtain here on earth will perish.  What we store up in heaven will last forever.

Another prayer that the psalmist makes in verse 37 is that the Lord will help him to keep his eyes from looking at things that are worthless, but instead to keep him following God’s way.  What are some worthless things that we spend our time on?  Idle TV shows or books?  These weren’t necessarily sinful things, though the psalmist certainly wouldn’t want to be involved in anything like that.  Here he asks God to lead him away from anything that is wasting his time, taking him away from spending time in God’s Word.  Our minds need to be kept God-honoring.  Throughout the Bible we learn that we need to guard our mind (Mark 7:14-23).  As believers we need to replace the world’s influence with God’s influence from His Word and prayer.  Yielding just a little bit here, a little bit there, to the values of the world, and pretty soon the Christian’s lifestyle is indistinguishable from that of the world.

In verse 39 we read that the psalmist prays that God will turn away his reproach, the scorn that others put upon him, and any disgrace or disapproval.  When we seek to follow God’s ways, we may often find that others will reproach us.  The more we stay in His Word and study it, the better able we are to answer those who reproach us, and cast scorn upon us for His sake (vs. 42).   It’s always best to trust not in our own wisdom when answering others, but to trust God’s Word, instead.  Keep His Word in our hearts, minds, and especially in our mouths, and we can answer all who challenge us (vs. 43).  Peter, in his first epistle, told his readers to know the Scriptures so as to always be ready to answer those who question us about our faith, and to make sure our lifestyle is such that they will be ashamed for having reproached us (I Peter 3:15-16).

We can even speak with confidence to those in power, and not have to be ashamed (vs. 46).   Jesus spoke that His believers would be brought before rulers for His sake, and that we didn’t need to worry what to say, as the Holy Spirit would give the words to speak (Matthew 10:16-20).  We need to keep in the Scriptures, for the Holy Spirit to have more to work with.  The more we meditate on God’s Word (vs 48), the more He will use it to bless and protect us.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Watchman's Message

Ezekiel 33:1-11

This week’s Old Testament reading is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  It is a passage that has always especially spoken to me every time I have read it, and I think it has a special message to believers today.

Throughout the ancient world, and even into the Middle Ages in parts of the world, cities were surrounded by two or three-storey walls.  These walls were also quite thick, several yards wide at least.  Upon these walls several watchmen were stationed to keep a lookout for any danger, particularly an approaching enemy army.  The watchmen would circle the walls around the whole city throughout the day, keeping watch, and if they saw anything threatening in the distance they would sound an alarm, usually by blowing trumpets.  The city gates would be closed and barred, the people would take cover, and the city’s soldiers would arm and ready themselves.  If a watchman failed in his duty, the punishment could quite likely be death.

There is a very specific analogy being made here in this passage.  Throughout the ages God has sent His own “watchmen”, servants of His from Old Testament time through today, who have faithfully sounded His warning and Words to the people.  They are spiritual watchmen.  What is it that they are warning people of?  In the Old Testament times they warned of the need of the people to forsake the worship of the false gods of other surrounding nations, and return to the worship of the one, only true God, Yahweh, and to follow His Word.  If they refused to heed the warnings there would be judgment, such as what was happening in Ezekiel’s day with the captivity of the children of Israel.  They also spoke of the coming of the future Messiah, which was Jesus Christ.  

Today, God’s spiritual watchmen preach His Word, warning people to repent of their sins and turn to Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  They warn of His future judgment of the world, judgment for those who refuse Him and do not repent, and heaven for those who accept Him.

Once a watchman does his duty to warn the people of coming danger, the responsibility goes to each person (vs. 4-5).  They have their own responsibility to take the warning or not.  Each person is accountable for his own response, whether to die or to live.  On the other hand, if the watchman doesn’t sound a warning, the people will still perish in the danger, but God will hold the watchman responsible.  Their blood will be on the hands of the negligent watchman who failed to sound a warning (vs. 6).

In verses 7 - 9 we read how God set Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the people of their need to turn to Him.  If Ezekiel did his job, and the people listened, that was great.  If they didn’t, he wouldn’t be responsible for their doom.  If he didn’t sound the warning, God would hold their blood on his hands.  If we are born-again believers, we must all ask ourselves whether we are being diligent watchmen.  As believers, God has set each of us to be watchmen, to warn others of the danger that lies ahead, of what will happen to them, and their eternal soul, if they fail to turn to Him.  Are we sounding that warning to our family, our friends, and our neighbors?  Or do we hold back, afraid to speak anything to them?  Just as God said to Ezekiel, if we speak and they do not listen, we have done what we are instructed to, and their doom is their own doing.  If we don’t speak up, He says their blood will be on our hands.

In verses 10 - 11 we read that God does not take pleasure in seeing the wicked perish in their sins.  He wants them to repent and live, as we also read in the New Testament in II Peter 3:9.  God blesses those who are faithful to Him.  Mankind needs to pay attention to His warnings.  Those who persist in rebelling against Him, and won’t heed the warnings will perish.  Those who do will be blessed.  God wants everyone to turn to Him.  Sadly not everyone will.  So many do not take heed to the warnings. He gives us all many opportunities to do so.

In closing, the question to those who are believers remains, are we faithful in being God’s watchmen, and giving the warning?  And to those who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Savior, will you heed the warning of the watchmen, those who have spoken the Word of God to you?  When the enemy approached the city walls, the watchmen blew the trumpets and warned to take heed.  Today, God’s watchmen are also sounding the warning to you.  Your eternal destiny is at stake, and I urge you to take the warning seriously, and ask Jesus into your heart.