Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Conquering Of Sin And Death

I Corinthians 15:20-28

What kind of traits have you inherited from your ancestors?  Many types of physical characteristics are passed down from generation to generation, such as hair and eye color, type of build, etc.  My son got his height, slender build and blue-gray eyes from his maternal grandfather.  My daughter got her rather short stature from her paternal grandmother.  There also is something very unwelcome that we all have inherited from our common ancestor, Adam, and that is sin and death.  Our Scripture passage today talks of this, and also gives the welcome news of how Jesus destroyed this for all those who trust in Him.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and on the third day after, He rose again.  Jesus was the first fruit, the first resurrection who did not have to die again a second time, like Lazarus and others that Jesus had raised to life (vs. 20).  The first fruits were the first and best part of the harvest given as an offering to God.  Jesus’s resurrection was a first fruit.  Jesus’s resurrection is a guarantee that all believers who have died will also be resurrected.

Death and sin had spread to all humans from Adam on down through the ages because of Adam’s first sin.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead has brought the reality of the resurrection to new life with Him for all believers (vs. 21 - 22).

The word “all” is mentioned twice in verse 22.  The first “all” is all-encompassing, referring to everyone who has ever lived, all descendants of Adam.  The second “all” in this verse applies only to all believers.  It does not imply the salvation of everyone without faith.  It does not teach Universalism.  Throughout the Bible it is taught that there is eternal punishment of unbelievers.

Death is something that most people fear and dread.  It is a great unknown, as it is an experience people have only once.  After that, they don’t come back and tell others what it is like.  Death takes our loved ones away.  We fear it, as it is part of the curse brought to earth by Satan.  Christians can praise the Lord, though, as Jesus has destroyed death and defeated Satan, the author of death!

God the Father and God the Son are equal, but they each have a specific work to do.  Jesus is not inferior to the Father.  One of His roles is to defeat evil (vs. 24 - 28).  Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross.  At the end of the Millennial reign on earth Jesus will finally and completely defeat Satan, as any power Satan has will be destroyed.  Jesus will then present a new and perfect world to the Father.

Verse 25 illustrates an ancient custom.  When there was a battle between two warring kingdoms, the victorious monarch would put his foot on the necks of his conquered enemies to humiliate them.  This would show that defeated enemy, the conquered people of the enemy's kingdom, and his own victorious people that these people were defeated and he was conqueror.  This is what Jesus will do in the end to His enemies.  Jesus is the victorious king who has defeated Satan!  The devil, and those who refuse to submit to Jesus will be put under His feet.

Believers in Jesus have a bright and glorious future to look forward to!  No more sin!  No more death!  A glorious resurrection!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shout Joyfully To Our Creator

Psalm 95:1-7

Our Scripture reading this day is one that is sometimes used in some churches as an opening call to worship, and that is one of the main themes of this psalm - come and worship the Lord.  The unknown psalmist entreats his fellow believers to sing out, to even shout out, their praises and worship to the Lord God.  Some people might have been brought up believing that in church, in worship services, we need to be quiet, and that worship and hushed tones go together.  That is not always the case, as we see in this psalm.  Though quiet and reverential times of worship are right and proper, shouting out one’s praise to God is equally desired by Him.  In the first two verses we are instructed to shout out joyfully our praise to the Lord.  The Book of Psalms was like a hymnbook for the believers in Bible days and in the early Church, and our psalmist urges us to shout joyfully to God with psalms.  Let it be a song of delight in God, one of exultation to Him.  He is pleased when we let out a whoop for Him!

One thing we can praise the Lord for is mentioned in verse 1, and that the Lord God is the Rock of our salvation.  One thing about a rock is that it is strong and solid.  A big, huge rock or boulder is set firmly in its place.  The psalmist would have been familiar with giant rocks or boulders, particularly in the wilderness and desert areas of the land of Israel.  They were set firmly on the ground, and weren’t going anywhere.  Many times throughout the Bible, God is called or described as a rock.  Strong, firmly set, never moving or changing.  Huge rocks or boulders were often seen as a place of shelter or protection from one’s enemies, and a cleft in a rock was also protection from storms.  Huge rocks also gave shade from the heat of the desert.  Here the psalmist describes how the salvation we have through the Lord God is as sure and solid as those strong rocks he saw out in the wilderness.  Nothing can move it or destroy it.  When we’ve placed our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus it is strong and secure as an immovable rock.

Our psalmist sought to remind the people that Yahweh is a great God, greater than any of the false gods (vs. 3).  In reality there are no other gods, besides Him.  They are false, and just figments of people’s imagination.  Many of the Israelites, though, were tempted to follow after these other gods of the nations around them, just as people today are tempted to follow after other gods and false ideologies, as well.  The psalmist urges us all to follow and worship the one and only true God.  He is far superior to anything that anyone else could ever come up with.  All of the Baals and Astartes of his day, and false gods of today, are worthless and nothing compared to Yahweh.

One of so many reasons to worship and shout out our praise to the one true God, Yahweh, is that He is the One who created the world around us (vs. 4 - 5).   The hand of the Lord God created the earth.  He didn’t just make a formless blob and throw it out into space, and somehow it formed by itself into the world we see today.  He specifically created this earth, from the lowest places on earth, around the Dead Sea, to the highest mountain, Mt. Everest (vs. 4).  These were formed by the very hand of God.  He made the oceans, lakes and rivers, from the small, rippling creeks way on the tops of the mountains, down to the deepest trenches at the dark bottoms of the oceans.  All of the dry land was created specifically by the Lord God, as well, from the mountains, to the prairies, to tropical rain forests (vs. 5).  None of this can be said of the false gods, either the ones that the Israelites kept being drawn to, or the false gods of today.  Nor is this world something that just happened as a result of random evolution.  It was created specifically, wondrously, and lovingly by our Creator God.

The psalmist gives the most important reason to praise, sing, and shout joy to God in verses 6 and 7, and that is that He is our Creator and Maker.  We are not the product of random evolution, either.  Yahweh is our Maker, and He, He alone, is worthy of our worship.  There are times when we should get down in prostrate worship before God, and verse 6 reminds us of that.  Yahweh, alone, is God.  He is our God, and He loves us enough to call those who believe in and worship Him, His people.

Our passage concludes with another theme that winds through the Bible, and that is that of God as the Shepherd of those who worship Him, and that we are His sheep.  Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd.  Those who have accepted Him as Savior are a part of His pasture, and are held close in His hand (vs. 7).  Make sure you are a part of His flock!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bringing The Lost Sheep Home

Ezekiel 34:11-17

As young children, many of us have at some point became lost and unable to find our way back to our parents or where we needed to be.  Maybe it was our own fault that we had become lost, as we had wandered off and had not listened to or obeyed our parents.  For most of us, thankfully, there were people looking for us - our parents, other caring adults, perhaps the police, and eventually we were found, and carried home in strong, loving arms.

In our passage of Scripture today we see that God desires to seek out and rescue His lost sheep (vs. 11).  All humans since the time of Adam are like lost sheep, and He is seeking us, to bring us back into His fold.  God loves everyone, regardless of race, nationality or color, and He seeks the lost, just as a Good Shepherd will seek the lost sheep.

The people of Israel, whom God had chosen as His own, and chosen to bring His message and truth to the world, had sinned against Him, primarily by worshipping false gods and idols.  As punishment they were taken into captivity, and here Ezekiel gives the prophetic Word from God that He will bring the people of Israel back into their country.  This prophecy was fulfilled a few decades after Ezekiel prophesied, when King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland around 539 BC.

Just as God sought them out, like a Shepherd does His lost sheep, wishing to return them to His fold, so God seeks everyone out.  One of the most beloved titles for Jesus has been that of the Good Shepherd.  In John 10:11-16, in Jesus’s own words, He tells how, as the Good Shepherd, He seeks out everyone, wishing to bring them into His fold.

In his epistles, Peter also speaks of Jesus as being the Shepherd.  In I Peter 2:25, he gives Jesus the title of Shepherd and Overseer (or bishop) of our souls.  Peter says that we, both Jews and Gentiles, were going astray, but Jesus, as the Good Shepherd sought everyone out to bring them back to Himself.

Before we accept Jesus as our personal Savior, we are those lost sheep, having strayed away from God.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks us out, to bring us back into the fold.  If we turn to God in genuine repentance, He will forgive and restore us (vs. 16).   God will mould Hearts that are yielded to Him to become more like Himself.

Have we come to the Good Shepherd who is seeking us out?  When we hear His voice calling to us, like the lost child, do we come to His voice?  Do we run to Him like a lost child who finally sees their parents, after having been lost for awhile?  Or are we like the lost sheep who keeps wandering farther and farther away?  Are we the lost child who keeps wanting to hide and stay away when those seeking them call out their name?  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost.  Come to Him without delay.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Well Done Good And Faithful Servant

Matthew 25:14-30

Wasted opportunities.  How many of us can look back through our life and see a time where we had an opportunity to do something for the Lord, but failed to do so?  Today’s Gospel reading is another Kingdom parable Jesus told, and illustrates the tragedy of wasted opportunities.  The parable tells of a master who is leaving on a trip, and before he goes, he gives some talents (a monetary unit of the day) to three servants, expecting them to put it to good use and earn something for him when he returns.  The first two servants take the talents and make good use of what they were given.  The third servant hides his, doing nothing with it, and returns it to the master as is, having gained nothing for him.  He ends up receiving the master’s just judgment.  Jesus uses this story to illustrate God’s kingdom, where God is represented by the Master, and believers are represented by the servants.

As we study this parable we see in verse 15 that the master divided up the money according to the worker’s abilities, giving them not more nor less than they were capable of handling.  If they couldn’t handle it, it was their fault.  God gives us talents and gifts according to our abilities, too.  He expects us to use those abilities wisely for Him.  We should not be worried about what God has given us compared to others.  We should only concern ourselves with how well we use what we have been given.  The diligent servants put their talents to good use, and have much to give the master when he returns.  However, the lazy servant does nothing with what he was given, and has nothing to show when the master returns (vs. 16 - 19).

When the master returned, he called all of the servants and wanted to see what they did with what they were given.  The same will happen when Jesus returns.  He will ask each of us what we have done for Him with what we were given.  God wants us to use our time, our abilities, and whatever He has given us to serve Him in whatever we do in our life (vs. 20 - 21).  

The reward that the Master (Jesus) gives to the faithful servants is based on their faithfulness, not on the quantity of the results of their work for Him.  The servant who was given two talents was rewarded equally to the one who was given five talents (vs. 20 - 23).

Now let’s look at the lazy, faithless servant.  The Lord and Master gave him one talent.  Even though it was less than the others, he was still expected to do something with what he was given.  Instead he just hid his talent and returned it back to the Master when He returned, having done absolutely nothing with it.  We should not make excuses for not doing what God wants us to do.  He is the Master, and we should willingly obey Him.  He is the One who has given us all our abilities, our money, everything.  They are God’s to begin with.  When we ignore or abuse what He’s given us, we’re rebelling.

The slothful and lazy servant was condemned by his own words (vs. 24 - 28).  If he really believed that the master was the type of person that he said he was, then he really should have been more diligent in working for him.  God rewards those who invest their time and talents in serving Him.  He rewards faithfulness.  Those who squander their talents cannot be rewarded (vs. 29 - 30).  God has immeasurable blessings for those who faithfully serve Him.  Those who are lazy and bury their talents are clinging to what the world can offer them, and in the end they lose everything they have.  Jesus, the Master, calls for faithfulness from His servants.  Faithful servants are also fruitful servants.  A fruitless servant is not a true servant, but instead a hypocrite.

How are we investing for God the gifts and abilities He has given us?  The words I most want to hear from Jesus when I stand before Him one day are those in verse 21 - “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Children Of The Light

I Thessalonians 5:1-10

In our Scripture reading for today we continue the theme of The Day of the Lord that has been running through the Lectionary recently.  Paul picks this theme up by instructing the church in Thessalonica to be ready and alert, and not to be spiritually or mentally asleep, and caught off guard.  Paul also emphasizes in this passage the contrast between the two types of people in the world - those who belong to the light, and those who belong to the darkness.  Let’s take a look at this passage.

No one knows when the Lord Jesus will return, nor when the Day of the Lord will be (vs. 1-3).  There have been preachers in the past, and even now, who have tried to set the date of when Jesus will return, even though Scripture says no one will know when that will happen.  Therefore, it goes without saying that these misguided, and sometimes even charlatan, preachers are completely wrong.  What is this Day of the Lord that Paul is talking about?  The Day of the Lord is a future time when God will intervene directly and dramatically in world affairs.  This occurs when Jesus returns, and at this time He will judge sin and set up His eternal Kingdom.  Paul compared the Lord’s return to the suddenness of a thief who breaks in your home during the night.  A thief always breaks in suddenly and unexpectedly, and we never know when that will happen, otherwise we’d be ready.  Just as it pays to be prepared for thieves, it is even more important to be ready and vigilant for when Jesus returns.

The false prophets in Old Testament times all spoke of peace and a bright future for the people.  As we read in Scriptures, though, this was not the case.  There many false prophets today who say the same thing, that God will never bring judgment to people, that He is only about love.  However, the Day of the Lord will come (vs. 3), come suddenly, like labor pains.

In the next several verses Paul makes a sharp contrast between those who are the children of light and those who are children of the darkness (vs. 4 - 8).  Believers will have no part in the judgment on the Day of the Lord.  They have been delivered from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light.  When someone believes in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior they are brought out of spiritual darkness.  The Bible makes a sharp contrast between born-again believers and the lost, between light and darkness.  The unsaved are in darkness - both mental, moral, and spiritual, because of sin and unbelief.  Jesus even calls them the “children of the devil” (John 8:44).  He says that Satan has control or the power of darkness (Luke 22:53).  In contrast, Jesus is the Light of the World (John 9:5).  He lights our path, and shows us how to live for Him.  We should be prepared and waiting for Him, and walk as children of the Light (Ephesians 5:8).   The saved are children of God, who is Light, in whom is no darkness at all (I John 1:5-7).  There should always be a very distinct and noticeable difference, a total separation, between those who are children of the Light, and those who are children of the darkness.

Christians are in the light.  We should not be sleeping in spiritual indifference (vs. 6).  Thus, Paul admonishes us to be alert to spiritual issues and to be that light and witness for the Lord.

Several times in different epistles Paul uses the picture of the Christian putting on and wearing spiritual armor, just as a soldier does.  The most well known passage is in Ephesians 6:13-18.  Here in our passage, in verse 8, Paul speaks of putting on the breastplate of faith and love.  A breastplate protects the heart, lungs and other vital organs, and is very important for a soldier to wear.  Having faith in Jesus, knowing His love, and having love for others are very important in our spiritual life.  Paul also tells us to put on the helmet of the hope of salvation.  A helmet is necessary, as a significant blow or wound to the head is often fatal.  Without salvation our soul is doomed, and we need salvation, through Christ alone, to survive attacks of the Prince of Darkness, Satan.  A strong belief in God’s Word protects us from Satan’s arrows.

Paul reminds us to serve Jesus faithfully until He returns.  We should live godly lives in light of God’s coming judgment.  Knowing that Jesus will return suddenly and unexpectedly we should live each day prepared to welcome Him.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Prayer Of Moses

Psalm 90

Our psalm for today was written by Moses, the great man of God who led the people of Israel out from Egypt.  This psalm is also likely the oldest in the Book of Psalms, as Moses lived several hundred years before King David or any of the other authors of the psalms.   It was most probably written sometime during the forty years that the people wandered in the wilderness, sometime between Moses’s 80th year and 120th year, when he died.

This is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible, and tells of both God’s eternity and man’s frailty.  As we start reading our Scripture passage, in verse 1, we see that God is our refuge for protection and for all that we need.  Then Moses goes on to the major theme of the psalm, which is that God is eternal, not bound by time.  Man, though, is bound by time.

God is without beginning or end (vs. 2).  It was He who created time.  God is infinite, and lives forever.  For some, that is difficult to wrap their mind around, especially that God had no beginning, that He always was.  We all will exist forever, either in heaven with God, or in hell, but we all had a beginning.  However, God has always existed, and He is not bound by the constraints of time that we are.  We are only here on earth for a brief while.  As we get older the years seem to fly by more quickly.  Doesn’t it seem like such a short time ago that we were young and in school?  Now look at how old we are!  Look at how quickly our children grow up!  You turn around and they’re in school, and you turn around again and they are adults!  As mentioned, Moses was an old man when he wrote this, over the age of 80, so he had the experience to speak truthfully.  The years pass like the rush of flooding waters, or like how quickly time passes when we’re asleep.  They pass as fast as grass which is here in the morning, and gone by nightfall (vs. 4-6).

God sees all of this.  He knows how frail our life is.  He also knows all of our sins (vs 8).  They are spread out before Him, every one, including the ones we think are hidden.  God is angry with sin (vs. 11), and the toll it has taken on mankind.  Even so, God loves us, despite everything we’ve done, no matter how terrible.  He loves us and wants to forgive us, if we’d but ask.  But those who repeatedly spurn His love and warnings, who refuse to repent and turn to Him, will know His wrath.  Moses saw this when he had to witness the people of Israel wander in the desert for forty years, rather than enter the Promised Land, because of their sins.

Moses prays that God will have mercy on His people who live in this sin-cursed world.  Life is brief and filled with sorrow.  Only God can give significance to life (vs. 13-17).  He, alone, can take some tragedy or difficult time in our life, and bring something good out of it (vs. 15).

The most important message that Moses gives in this psalm he wrote is that because our life passes so quickly, we need to number our days and use them wisely (vs. 12).  We are only here for a brief time.  We need to pray that we make wise use of each day.  As I get older, I know that I wish I could have put my years to better use for the Lord.  Unfortunately we can’t go back and change them.  The Scriptures here are alerting us to this.  We need to use our time wisely, for eternal good, praying that we make wise use of each day.  Don’t live just for this life.  Instead, live with eternity in mind.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Are We Quietly Listening For God's Voice?

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

The Old Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary comes from the prophet Zephaniah.  Zephaniah’s prophetic ministry was in the southern kingdom of Judah from approximately 640 - 621 BC.  He ministered during the reign of King Josiah, who was the last good and godly king of Judah.  Zephaniah was probably a spiritual influence on Josiah, as this good king brought a degree of religious reform and revival in the country.  The last years of Zephaniah’s life saw the beginning of the prophetic ministry of the great prophet Jeremiah.  Let’s look at what our passage has to say.

God instructs the people of Judah to be quiet before Him because judgment is coming (vs. 7).  He won’t listen to their pleas or complaints any longer.  God wants sincere repentance, but the people won’t listen or obey, so now He calls for silence in view of His just judgment.  Within approximately 40+ years the Kingdom of Judah would fall, and the people would go into captivity.  We need to be quiet, as well, and listen to and for God’s voice through His Word.  When He speaks in instruction do we listen and obey, or are we like spoiled and disobedient children, who provoke the Lord to call us out, demanding our silence?

In verse 12 and following, we read that the Lord says He is searching Jerusalem with a lamp.  What was He looking for?  He was searching out the people’s hearts.  He would search the people and punish those deserving punishment.  In these years prior to the overthrow of the kingdom by the Babylonians the people had grown complacent in their sins, worship of false gods in addition to Yahweh, and wicked lifestyles.  Complacency is wrong.  We may think that God is inactive, and that He doesn’t see either the good or wrong we do.  He does see, and He will hold off His judgment for only so long.  

Zephaniah preached that since the people wouldn’t search their own hearts, and were content to live with their sins, God would do a search and bring judgment.  Though many people are indifferent to their sins, God is not indifferent to them.   We need to be obedient now.  We never know how long we have.  No one can escape God’s judgment, and there is no place to hide.  Though the people took no notice of the prophet’s message, he continued to tell them that the Day of the Lord is near!

God’s final judgment will just as surely happen, as surely as His judgment fell on Judah with the Babylonian captivity happened, just as the prophets foretold.  God warns the people through His prophet, that in His coming judgment, all of their money will be useless to help them (vs. 18).  That warning is just as applicable today.  No amount of money, no amount of political power or influence, no prestigious social standing, either, will help us out when God’s judgment will fall.  The only thing that can help us then is the Blood of Jesus.  The people in Zephaniah’s day were indifferent to the Lord God, but thankfully He isn’t indifferent to us.  He loves us and sent His Son to die for us.  Jesus’s Blood purchased our salvation.  By trusting in His death on the cross for our sins, trusting in Him alone, we will be spared God’s wrath.  Trust in Him, not in money or any other person.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Bridegroom Cometh

Matthew 25:1-13

Watch!  Be Prepared!  Be Ready!  These are words of warning that most of us have heard throughout our life from our parents and teachers.  These are also important warnings in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Scripture passage.  Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from this parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins that Jesus told to instruct His disciples about the Kingdom of God.

Jesus told the crowds around Him this instructional story intended to teach a spiritual lesson.  There were ten virgins at a wedding celebration.  Wedding celebrations at the time this parable was given were different from the wedding ceremonies that most of us are familiar with.  Weddings in the western world often take place in a church, home, garden, or other nice location.  A reception dinner follows, with music and dancing, lasting several hours, and then it’s over, making it simply a one day affair.  In the culture at the time of this parable, a wedding celebration was much more elaborate.  The ceremony would usually start at the bride’s house, then there would be a grand procession to the groom’s residence, ending with a magnificent banquet and festivities which would last for many days, often as long as a week.  Once the procession would arrive at the groom’s place, the doors were barred or locked so no uninvited guests could sneak in.

The ten young women in our parable were part of the wedding party, similar to today’s bridesmaids.  They were to take part in the procession from the bride’s house to that of the groom’s.  From the parable we can tell that this wedding was one that was late in the day, or in the evening, as oil lamps were needed.

As Jesus tells this story, He divides the ten virgins into two groups - those who had brought plenty of oil for their lamps and were prepared for any and all circumstances, and those who only brought a little oil for their lamps and were thus unprepared for what might happen (vs. 2-4).  There is some reason that the wedding ceremony at the bride’s house took longer than usual.  While the ten virgins were waiting they fell asleep (vs. 5).  Finally they hear the shouts that the bridegroom was coming and they wake up.  However, because of the long delay the unprepared or foolish virgins’ lamps had gone out, because they hadn’t brought enough oil with them.  They asked the other women for some of their oil, but were told no, lest there not be enough.  So off the foolish ones run to the market to get more, and miss the bridegroom.  They are unable to take part in the procession and are locked out from the wedding ceremony (vs. 10-12).

Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom, and the Church, born-again Christians, are the Bride.  Just like the bridegroom in our parable, Jesus will be coming for His Bride.  Jesus is telling us that we need to be ready.  We need to be watching for His return and be prepared.  It was quite a while ago that Jesus returned to heaven.  Many are like the foolish virgins, not alert or caring that our Bridegroom could come at any moment.  We must be ready.  Being spiritually prepared is not something we can buy or borrow at the last minute.

Scripture says no one knows the day or hour of Christ’s return (vs. 13).  We must be continually watching for Jesus’s coming, and be in a continual state of readiness, living productively for Him.  Jesus wants us actively doing His work, spreading the Gospel message right until the day of His return.  

This parable Jesus spoke to us says how important it is for us to be ready for His return, even if the delay is longer than expected.  There will be no second chance for the unprepared.  Watch!  Be prepared!  Be ready!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Death Is Not The End Of The Story

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Many of us have dear friends or relatives who were believers and who have passed on from this life.  Our passage today from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica is one that should give hope and encouragement to us when we think of and remember those loved ones.  Paul had come and preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians, but after only a few brief weeks his enemies came and he was forced to flee for his life.  Because he was only able to stay with them a brief while, Paul was unable to teach the Thessalonians everything that he would have wished to.  One thing he did teach them was the imminent return of Jesus for His Church.  The new believers here, though, were confused about one matter, and that was about what happened to those who died before Christ returned.  Would they miss out on His return for the Church?  In our passage today Paul explained God’s truth in this matter.

In verse 13 Paul speaks of those who have “fallen asleep”.  That was a familiar New Testament euphemism, describing the dead body, not the soul.  The Thessalonians mistakenly thought that those who died before Jesus’s return would miss out on that glorious event.  Paul wanted them to know that was not the case.  We have hope because of Christ, including hope that we will see our deceased saved loved ones.  Paul also teaches elsewhere in Scripture that believers who are absent from the body are present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8), and that they will experience a bodily resurrection (I Corinthians 15:40-54).

Because Jesus was resurrected, His children will be as well, both those who will be alive when He returns, and those believers who have died.  Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that this is victory, not a cause for despair!  These verses should comfort us, and any who have had loved ones die.   He spoke these words to give comfort to these believers, and we can take comfort, too.  The dead will participate in the Lord’s coming for His Church.  The living will be reunited forever with the Lord and their loved ones.

The events described in these verses are the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made in John 14:1-3.  He’s prepared a place for us, and He’s returning to get us.  Jesus gives us a reason to be confident, comforted, and encouraged about life after death.   Death is not the end of the story.  All believers will be reunited with each other, those living and those who have died before.

We don’t know when Jesus’s return will take place, and should not believe those who have tried to set specific dates for this.  It could happen at any moment, and thus, we should all be ready.  That shout, that voice of the archangel, will be a welcome sound to the saved, the children of God.  However, it will signal doom and disaster to those who are lost.  We need to both be ready, ourselves, for Jesus’s return, and also witnessing to the lost, telling them the Gospel with the hope and prayer that they may come to know Jesus as their Savior, and will join us in the place Jesus has prepared for us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Leave Our Enemies To God

Psalm 70

Our psalm this week is short, and for many, an obscure one written by King David.  In this psalm David cries out to God for help and deliverance from enemies.  As one reads the life of David in the Old Testament, we see that he spent a good deal of his life contending with enemies.

One thing that really sticks out to me, as I read over the life of David and the psalms he wrote, is that no matter what difficulties he was going through, David never lost the joy of the Lord.  Severe trials came his way, some through his own fault and some for no other reason than Satan’s attacks on him, but he kept a heart filled with praise for the Lord.

In verses 3 and 4 we read David’s prayer to God against his enemies.  This may be difficult for some people to consider, especially when we remember how Jesus instructed us to love and bless our enemies.  However, David, along with other writers of the psalms, often would pray to God for Him to bring down his enemies, go get his enemies, let them fall into their own trap, etc.  As mentioned earlier, David spent many, many years of his life being chased and oppressed by his enemies, both before he was king, and while on the throne.  It seemed to never end throughout his life.  Through it all, though, David never took matters into his own hands.  He could have, as he was the king and held all power, and before that he was still quite powerful, with many men under him.  David, though, left the reprisal and vengeance to God.  He knew that vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; and Romans 12:19).   That is something that we need to remember, as well.  Our enemies may come down hard and heavy on us, but we need to let God handle them.  If our case is righteous before the Lord, then we can trust Him, just as David did.

What did David do instead of taking vengeance into his own hands?  As we read in verse 4, he rejoiced and praised the Lord.  How is that possible?  Here we read that his enemies are after his life, wanting to really hurt him physically, and any other way, too (vs. 2).   In the middle of that, how can one praise the Lord?  David kept his focus on the Yahweh, and not so much on his troubles.  He knew that the Lord, and Him alone, was the only One who could rescue him and bring him deliverance, so David sought Him out.  He could rejoice and be glad when he had the Lord before him.  Most importantly, when David remembered his salvation, he broke out into praise, and magnified, or extolled and glorified the Lord God.

David knew that he did not have the power within himself to help himself in this crisis (vs. 5).  He acknowledged that he was poor and needy, and his only help is God.  That is the case with us, as well.  God is the only One who can come to our aid, and the only one who can fill our lives with joy.  Just like David, when things look bad, we must never forget to praise the Lord.  Praise is important because it helps us to remember who God is, and that He alone has victory over our enemies, especially Satan.  Praise puts the demons to flight!   In difficult times it also helps to remember all the times God has helped us and what He’s done for us in the past, and remember exactly who God is.

In verse 4 David speaks to us believers today.  “Let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified!’”, the verse says.   As believers, we should never keep silent about the good news of Jesus.  We are to share it, and all that He’s done for us.   Like David knew, we can experience the presence of the Lord in our lives through any trouble, and how praising Him will bring us the victory.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Waiting For The Day Of The Lord

Amos 5:18-24

The Old Testament Scripture reading from this week’s Lectionary taken from the Book of Common Prayer is from the Prophet Amos.  Before being called by God into the ministry, Amos had been a sheep rancher and also grew sycamore figs.  He was initially from the southern kingdom of Judah, but most of his messages and preaching were for the northern kingdom during the years of 760 - 755 BC.

The “Day of the Lord” refers to a future day of God’s judgment.  In the Old Testament times it often spoke of the imminent time when God would chasten either the nations of Israel or Judah, or bring judgment on other nations, for their sins.  The New Testament’s usage of the term often refers to the return of the Lord Jesus and God’s judgment on the world.

As we read this passage, we see that the people of Israel were looking forward to the “Day of the Lord”, thinking that God would come to their aid, and swoop down on their enemies.  Amos, though, says this will not be the case (vs. 18 - 20).  The people that Amos was preaching to were wishing for the “day of the Lord”, thinking that God would come and rescue them from all of their troubles, solely because they were His children.  Amos said that the Day of the Lord would bring justice, and because the people had, in reality, forsaken God’s Word, that justice would bring judgment for their sins.  Even though the people were outwardly still practicing religious ceremonies, in reality they were continuing to worship false gods and reject God’s Word.

Amos proceeds to tell the people the gist of God’s message to them here in verses 21 - 23.  God does not like the false worship of those who are just going through the motions, but whose hearts and minds are not truly given to Him.  Outward shows of religiosity mean nothing if we aren’t obedient.  That’s the same both back in Amos’s day and in ours today.  If we are in sin, but thinking religious rituals and traditions will make us look good to God, we are wrong.  God wants sincere worship from the heart.  Our heart and attitude to God must change.  We need to be concerned with what God thinks, not on how religious we appear to others.

The Day of the Lord, depending on one’s salvation, will be either a time to look forward to or not.  As Amos was saying in verses 18 - 20, for the lost it will be a time of God’s judgment, a day of darkness and judgment, with no brightness.  For those who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus, the Day of the Lord will be wonderful.  God will not just jump in and come to people’s aid if they are not saved, or are in active, willful sin (vs. 21-23).

God loves us so much, and He wants our hearts in return.  Religious practices mean nothing to Him if our heart is not right.  Let’s be sure that we give our whole self, including both our heart and mind, to the Lord God, and follow His Word.  If you have never accepted the Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I urge you to ask Him into your heart today as your Lord and Savior.  That way the Day of the Lord will not be darkness and judgment for you, but the glorious welcoming of the return of the Lord Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hypocrites Versus Servants

Matthew 23:1-12

Hypocrites!  Nobody likes to be around people who pretend to be someone they are not, or who say one thing and then do the opposite.  We find them at work, with family and friends, and also in our churches.  Hypocrisy is one major reason people give for not wanting to attend church.  Jesus had some strong words to say about religious hypocrites in today’s passage.  Let’s take a look at these Scripture verses.

To the Pharisees in Jesus’s day human rules, religious traditions, and practices had become more important than God’s actual laws.  Often the religious leaders told the people to obey their human rules and traditions, but they, themselves, didn’t follow them (vs. 2-4).   One of their problems was that the Pharisees added human traditions to God’s Word, making man-made religious laws more important than the Bible.  They would put heavy religious burdens on others that were only man-made religious traditions, but they would only follow these outwardly, in order to make themselves look good.

One thing about religious or moral hypocrites is that they try to look good in the eyes of others, when in reality they aren’t that good.  They want to be seen by others.  Jesus pointed this out in verses 5 and 6.   The phylacteries that Jesus spoke of in verse 5 are small leather boxes, worn on the forehead and arm, containing parchments with Scriptures from Exodus and Deuteronomy that were worn by men during prayers.  Many Orthodox Jewish men today will still put on phylacteries when they pray morning prayers.   Those who were hypocrites in Jesus’s day would make the phylactery as prominent as they could, and broaden the leather straps which bound them to the arms and head, in order to appear more holy.  They would do the same with the tassels on their prayer shawls, making them longer.  They didn’t care for the spiritual significance anymore.  They just wanted the status they got.

How do we see this kind of hypocrisy today?  How about the person who comes to church carrying the biggest possible Bible they can find, one that almost needs a wagon to carry it?   Perhaps it also has the flashiest Bible cover, as well.  But the rest of the week, does that person live like an unbeliever?  What about the person who finds the biggest possible cross to wear around their neck, but lives in such a way as to only bring dishonor to that cross?   They only want to appear “holy” to others.  As Jesus indicated, God sees through all of this.  Huge Bibles, giant golden crosses around the neck, extra-large phylacteries and tassels mean nothing to God.  It’s our behavior and heart that Jesus sees, and which matters.  He isn’t interested in religious rituals, but in the condition of our heart and soul.

Jesus also condemned the pride and pretense of some who used religious titles (vs. 8-10).  Many religious leaders, both back then and today, use grandiose titles to make themselves seem more important, or to seem to the people as the source of all religious truth, rather than God.  Again, God sees into the heart and can see the pride and hypocrisy.  Rather than trying to appear great and sanctified in other’s eyes, Jesus says our focus should be the humble task of serving others (vs. 11-12).   We are greatest when we’re serving others, and when we are aware of other people’s needs, not focusing only on ourselves, which is a byproduct of hypocrisy.

There is nothing wrong with carrying a Bible to church, or wearing a nice cross around one’s neck.  It is also a good thing to do good, especially to others.  But it is not good to do it just to be seen, which is hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy turns people away from God.  People see hypocrisy when they see a church where having the best worship band that is top-notch, entertainment-style quality is more important than how they treat individuals needs, and see pastors dressed in designer suits driving luxury cars.  Rather than just flash religiosity around in order to seem holy, let’s truly follow in Jesus’s footsteps, letting His light shine through us to draw others to Him.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Opposition Christians Face

I Thessalonians 2:9-20

Any true and faithful messenger of the Lord will face opposition from His enemies, sometimes harsh opposition.  Many of the Old Testament prophets faced this, as did the Apostles, and of course, the Lord Jesus did as well.  Here in our Scripture passage today, as we continue in I Thessalonians, we see how Paul was facing just such strong opposition.

As Paul traveled throughout the eastern half of the Mediterranean bringing the Gospel message to the lost, he rarely depended on the people he was ministering to for his daily support.  In verse 9 we read that he never asked the church in Thessalonica for financial support while he was there.  He had been a tentmaker by trade before the Lord called him to the ministry, and often he continued that work to provide for his day to day expenses or needs (Acts 18:3).  Paul didn’t want his motives questioned by his enemies.

There were preachers back then, and certainly are today, who are greedy for money and riches from the ministry, but Paul was not one of them.  His enemies were always looking for something that they could throw at him, trying to discredit him in the eyes of everyone.  Paul called upon the Thessalonians, and God as well, as witnesses to his holy conduct (vs. 10).  These opponents of the Gospel may throw their accusations, but they were all lies.  Whenever a Christian takes a stand for Jesus, there will be opposition, disapproval and ridicule from the enemies of God.  Paul’s words and example gave encouragement to the Thessalonians in their efforts to live in such a way as to honor God.

Earlier in the chapter Paul compared himself and the Thessalonian church to a mother/child relationship.  Now in verse 11, he sees himself like a father to them.  He could be gentle, like a mother, or admonish and discipline like a father.  These believers were Paul’s children in the faith, and like any parent, he was looking out for their behavior.  As Christians our behavior and lifestyle needs to reflect to Whom we belong to.  We need to walk worthy of our calling (vs. 12).  The message that Paul brought was not just his words or his opinion; it was truly the Word of God (vs. 13).   Be careful whose message we are accepting - is it the word of man, or is it truly from the Word of God.

In verses 14 thru 16 the Word of God tells more of the opposition and persecutions that Paul and his companions received as they sought to spread the Gospel.  Here are the verses in the New King James version:

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

After only a few short weeks of speaking the Gospel message to the Thessalonians, Paul was run out of town by his enemies (vs. 17).  He had been forcefully separated from the Thessalonians, his spiritual children, when he and Silas had been forced to flee for their lives (Acts 17:1-10).  This opposition wasn’t just from men, it ultimately was coming from Satan, himself (vs. 18).  Satan was attempting to stop the growth of the church.  He was trying to put an end to Paul’s ministry.  If we are doing work for the Lord, we need to also be aware of Satan’s opposition, but never be discouraged by his schemes.  The ultimate victory will be God’s.

As Paul concludes this portion of our Scripture passage for today, he made sure that he let the believers there that they were his joy (vs. 19-20).  He knew that the greatest thing from his ministry was the souls that he won for the Lord Jesus.  That should be our greatest joy, as well.  The souls we lead to the Lord are our crown of rejoicing.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hope In Times Of Despair

Psalm 43

Our psalm this week, Psalm 43, is a sister psalm or twin psalm with Psalm 42. Some people have suggested that the two psalms were originally one psalm, and that our psalm of today was the ending to Psalm 42.  One main reason for this thought is the repeating of one particular verse three times over, a plea to God for help in the midst of deep depression.

Have you ever felt like situations in your life have just become so overwhelming and difficult; that God is just so far away and He just doesn’t hear or see your cries?  If this seems like you right now, then this psalm is for you.  I know that so many times in my life the dark cloud of depression has enveloped my life, and I can relate to our psalmist.  This was the way he was feeling at the time of writing this and probably Psalm 42, as well.    As a believer in the Lord God, he knew, though, that he needed to call out to Yahweh in time of trouble, and put his trust in Him.

As verse 1 starts us off, we see that the psalmist is dealing with a situation involving other people who have treated him unjustly and wrongfully, was deceitful and false in their dealings with him.  I’m sure we have all had dealings with such people.  Rather than taking the situation into his own hands, he turned to God for help.  He called upon God to be both the Divine Judge and Defense Attorney for him in this situation.

Then, though, as the psalmist called out to God for help, he felt like the Lord had turned His back on him (vs. 2).  Why, God, why?  He had the Lord Yahweh as his refuge and strength.  He was relying on the Lord for help, not on himself, others, or false gods.  So why does it feel like God has cast him off?  How often can we cry out the same plea as we see in verse 2?  Why do You cast me off?  Why do I cry because of what others are doing?  Not only do I have multiple troubles, but when I pray to God, He doesn’t seem to even be there.  My depression, and the psalmist’s likely worsens.

The psalmist didn’t give up and sink deeper into his depression, and neither should we.  As we resume reading in verse 3, we see he continued to beseech the Lord, now praying for His light and truth.  He wanted divine guidance and direction.   When we seek that as well, God’s truth will instruct us on the right path.  God’s light will show us the way to follow.  When darkness surrounds you, whether it is emotional or spiritual, follow God’s light and truth.

The “holy hill” is Mount Zion in Jerusalem, which is where the Temple was built.  It was there that the children of Israel came together to worship, and where our psalmist knew he should go.  Today we don’t have just one place to go to worship, which may be hundreds of miles away.  God says that where two or more are gathered together, He is in the midst (Matthew 18:20).  God’s Word encourages us to get together with believers to hear His truth, and to praise Him together.  Praising God, getting into His Word, and worshipping with other believers is a good cure for depression (vs. 4).

The dark depression cloud may continue to come around, and like the psalmist here, we may continue to wonder (vs. 5), but like the psalmist, I tell myself what he did.  Hope in God.  He is our help.  If we are born-again, and have put our faith and trust in Jesus, we can know for certain that He is with us, regardless of what we may be going through.  God is the God of hope.  We, as His children, must throw off the chains of hopelessness and despair (Romans 15:13).  Believe and accept that He will be there for us, and will work everything for our good (Romans 8:28).

Seek God in times of discouragement, and He will provide hope.  God gives us a Word of hope in the Scriptures.  When we’ve brought God into our life, there is no hopeless situation.  With Jesus, the hopeless have hope.  He brought the dead back to life, and He can bring new life to your situation.  We may have nothing, but with Him in our life, we have everything that we need.  And we have a sure hope knowing He will be returning for us one day soon.