Monday, December 31, 2018

Healing The Brokenhearted

Psalm 147

Today’s psalm, like so many psalms, is one of praise to the Lord.  As I write this devotional it is the last day of the year, and most of you will be reading this at the beginning of the new year.  What better way to either end the old year and begin a new one than to sing praise to the Lord!

Some of you may have ended the past year with a heart that is heavy with sadness.  Perhaps a dear loved one passed away during the last year, and you are facing this new year, and all future years without the one you loved so well. Or perhaps the one you thought loved you has broken trust and that relationship has come crashing down this past year. Spouses, children, parents, friends - they can all hurt us terribly, leaving us with a broken heart. The Lord God addresses our broken hearts here in our psalm today, in verse 3.

When we feel like our heart has been broken because of a death, a divorce, or the end of a relationship, it is as if the light has gone out in our life.  Left unchecked, a broken heart can lead to depression, sometimes a deep depression. A doctor cannot mend a broken heart. Counselors and therapists can help, but are not always effective. Where can we turn?

In verse 3 of our psalm today, we read that the Lord God is the one we can turn to for healing of our broken heart.  He binds up the wounds to our spirit that happen during these difficult times, and bears our sorrows for us. God hears our cries when we are heartbroken and feel we can’t go on any more.  Jesus will not abandon us. This verse is echoed by the prophet Isaiah when speaking of the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1). The Lord Jesus quoted Isaiah’s verse when He started His ministry (Luke 4:16-19).  Jesus is the one to turn to when our heart is badly broken, as He is the one who will heal these wounds.

Many people make a new year’s resolution to get in physical shape, perhaps by joining a gym or using some exercise equipment they may have.  Exercising and getting into good physical shape is good, however the Lord delights even more when we fear Him, having a deep reverence and respect for Him, and putting our trust in His divine mercy (vs. 10-11).  We can impress other people by our good physical shape, how fast we can run or swim, how much weight we can lift, etc. God is not impressed with that. He is not impressed by the speed of the fastest horse in a race, or even by how fast our car can go.  God delights in those who have a healthy fear of him, who know and seek His unfailing love. Although He has created everything, His greatest joy come from our genuine worship and trust. When the Lord God has our love and fear then He will be able to use any skills and abilities we have.

Throughout our psalm we see the thread of God’s care in His creation.  He brings the rain to earth to grow crops for men and animals to eat (vs. 9, 11).  He brings us our four seasons. For many of us winter is just getting started This is my least favorite season, as I dislike the cold and snow.  Who can stand before or bear His cold, as our author said (vs. 17). We can rest assured, though, that no matter the weather or the cold, it is all in the Lord’s hands.

As we begin this new year let’s give our lives to the Lord God in fear and reverence, knowing that He holds all things in His hands.  Also, if any are carrying a broken heart into the new year, know that Jesus, alone, is the one who can heal broken hearts if we only bring them to Him.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Exchanging Our Rags For Robes

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Planning for a wedding takes a lot of preparation.  One of the biggest decisions a bride makes is for her wedding gown.  The bride and her friends spend hours pouring over bridal catalogs looking for just the right gown, just the right veil, jewelry, and hair style.  A lot of time is spent deciding on the dresses for her bridesmaids. Hours are spent getting the fittings just right, as well. The groom and his men don’t spend as much time selecting their tuxedos, but they want everything to be just right, too.  Imagine a bride coming to her wedding with a stained dress that had some tears in the lace and veil, and rip in the hem! Imagine the groom’s suit was worn nearly through at the knees and elbows! How about if they both picked up any old clothes at a free giveaway rag barrel! No one would come to their wedding dressed like that! Even a bride and groom with little money wants their attire to look nice.

In our reading today from the Prophet Isaiah, we read how the Lord God has clothed us with His garments and robes of righteousness, just as the best adorned bride or groom.  The Church, composed of all born-again believers, is the Bride of Christ. How are we adorned as we come to our Groom? We try to dress ourselves with our good works. We put on all the volunteer work we’ve done, the gifts we’ve given the poor, the Bible studies we’ve attended, singing in the choir, etc.  Then we stand in front of our mirror and think we look gorgeous. Left to our own ability we would be attired no better than the bride getting her gown from a rag barrel. As Isaiah said just a few chapters later, all of our righteousness, all of our good works, are just as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). On our own we are dressed in the worst from the rag barrel.

This is where the Lord steps in and has the best clothes to offer us. When we accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior, He then clothes us in His righteousness. He clothes us with the garment of salvation, with a robe of righteousness, like a bridegroom’s best ornaments and a bride’s jewels (vs. 10).  The only fitting attire we can have to stand before the Lord is in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, which He freely gives to all those who come to Him in faith.  When we accept Him as our Savior we can be clothed as beautifully as the flowers in the best tended gardens (vs. 11).

These verses in Isaiah give us a picture of imputed righteousness. When a penitent sinner realizes he can’t achieve his own righteousness by works, he then repents and calls on the mercy of God.  At this time the Lord will then cover him with His own righteousness, by grace through faith.

As Isaiah continues in our passage we see how the city of Jerusalem, and the people of Israel had been intended by the Lord God to be as a lighthouse, giving forth a light of testimony for the Lord to the nations of the world.  They were supposed to bring His truth and witness to the Gentiles and other nations (vs. 1-2). This is an assignment that Christians have today. We are to be a witness, a light, a beacon to the unsaved world of God’s salvation through the Lord Jesus.

Are we being that lighthouse?  A lighthouse’s purpose is not to just stand there and look pretty.  It has an important purpose, and that is to warn the boats of the rocky, dangerous shore, and to direct them safely into the secure harbor. Are we warning the lost of the danger they are in? Are we directing them into the safety of the Savior’s arms?

When we turn to the Savior, Jesus Christ, not only does He clothe us with His garment of salvation, and robe of righteousness, clothed as a most gorgeous bride, we also become a crown of glory to Him, a royal diadem (vs. 3).  Many of us have seen royal weddings on TV in the last several years. The gowns the brides wear, the diadems the royalty wear are breathtaking. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become the Bride of Christ, and we no longer need to be dressed out of a rag bag.  We are dressed grander than any royal princess!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Our Blessed Hope

Titus 2:11-14

Our New Testament reading out of the Book of Common Prayer lectionary for this week of Christmas takes us to the letter St. Paul wrote to Titus.  Titus was an early Christian missionary and church leader. He was a Gentile (non-Jewish) young man, who had been converted by Paul on an early missionary trip.  Titus assisted Paul in his ministries, and often was his courier in bringing his letters to the various churches. He was later appointed by Paul to lead the churches established on the island of Crete.  The book of Titus in the Bible is a letter Paul wrote to him, advising him in his responsibilities of supervising the churches in Crete.

At the start of our passage today, Paul tells us that salvation has appeared and is available to be known to all people (vs. 11).  Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to cover every sin of everyone who believes, thus making salvation available to everyone.  However, salvation becomes effective only when one accepts it by faith. Not everyone will be saved. There is no universal salvation for everyone, regardless of whether they believe or not.  Some people reject Jesus’s provision for their sins and the forgiveness He offers. Out of all humanity, only those who believe will be saved.  Those who refuse to believe and accept His provisions must bear the full penalty for their own sins.  Those who refuse God’s grace will not automatically be granted salvation. They have chosen to reject God.

Paul continues in his epistle to tell us that our behavior and conduct must match our salvation testimony (vs. 12).  Salvation transforms us, producing a new life, where the power of sin has been broken. Christians should not only renounce all ungodly and evil behavior, we should also live actively for God. Years ago there was a campaign here in the U.S. of “just say no to drugs”. We can say the same here - say no, or as Paul says, “deny” the temptations that come upon us, and also say yes to living our lives in service for Jesus.

In verse 13 we read of something that as believers we should be eagerly looking forward to and anticipating, and that is the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Paul refers to this as our “blessed hope”. This refers not only to the return of Jesus, but also to the resurrection and reign of believers with Jesus in glory. How eagerly are we awaiting the return of Jesus? Do we look at this coming event as something that we know will happen, but hope won’t happen soon, as we have too many things going on in our life right now that we wouldn’t want interrupted by Jesus’s return?  Perhaps some don’t want him to return soon because of some special sins in our life we don’t want Jesus catching us at, but which we don’t want to give up, either. (Jesus knows about it anyway, so that’s not even a valid excuse.) When a spouse or other loved one has to leave for an extended period of time, we eagerly anticipate their return. Believers should be just as eager and anxious to see our Savior again at His return!

Paul continues on in verse 14, speaking of how Jesus redeemed us from a life of sin under Satan’s control, from a life of “lawless deeds”. To redeem someone was to release a person who was held captive by the paying of a ransom. Jesus redeemed us by paying a ransom of His precious Blood, which satisfied God’s justice.  We weren’t redeemed to just sit around and idly wait for Jesus to return. Once we are saved, we are to be zealously pursuing the work the Lord has called us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We are not saved through performing good works.  However, once we are saved, good works and obedience to the Lord should be evident in our lives.

As we grow as believers to become more in the image of Jesus, our behavior and conduct should become less like the world around us. Christians should be known for their good and moral behavior. As believers, God has given us power and understanding to live according to His will, and to do good.  When we are living according to His will, we can look forward to Jesus’s return with eagerness and hope.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Worthy Of Worship

Psalm 98

Many churches have a time during their gathering together that is designated for worship.  Often it is comprised of singing hymns or other worship songs. Sometimes there might be some time spent in quiet, where believers are encouraged to praise and worship the Lord silently to themselves, or even speak praise aloud, one by one. However it is done, worship should be an important part of a church service. Today’s psalm is a call to worship God, our King, who reigns over all. When we consider all of the attributes of God, as our psalmist has, we should respond with worship.

The word “worship” in the English language means to show reverence, veneration, and adoration for something.  We sometimes speak of worshipping beauty or works of art. The word comes from an old-English word meaning “worth-ship”, which basically means to give worth to something.  For Christians, worship is the act of magnifying God. It will enlarge our vision of Him. When we participate in real worship of God, our perception of His glory and magnificence should grow greater.

Psalm 98 is a song of praise to the Lord as a victorious king.  When kings and rulers in times past would come back victorious from war with some other nation or kingdom, the people would gather in each city he would pass through, and they would joyously sing his praises, playing grand music, throwing flowers in the air, and waving banners and flags as the king passed through on his horse.  That is the figure that our psalmist is giving.

Verses 2 and 3 speak of the Lord first coming, bringing salvation to His people. When a mighty king of the past returned from battle victorious, the people rejoiced because he had saved them from being overrun by an enemy army. These verses were fulfilled when Jesus came to earth the first time as our Savior. Cheers of greeting welcome the victorious King. An eruption of praise which cannot be contained (vs. 4-6).  He saved us from sin and the power of Satan when He died for us on the cross. As the psalmist said here, Jesus has made known His salvation, and those who have accepted Him as their Savior have seen the salvation of our God.  If there is one thing that we have to worship and praise God for, it is that He has brought salvation to all those who accept Jesus into their hearts.

Verse 9 will be fulfilled when Jesus will return to earth a second time, to judge the world.  At that time He will judge the earth and all people. The Apostle Peter spoke of this same thing when he preached a message in the home of Cornelius in Acts 10:42-43.  At this time all of nature will even rejoice (vs. 7-8). If even nature will rejoice, how much more should God’s Blood-bought children worship and praise Him?

Believers should have joy and excitement knowing the Lord Jesus will return to judge and rule the world.  For those who have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, there should be no fear surrounding His return.  The Blood of Jesus paid the price for our sins, and He bore our punishment on the cross. In His judgment, God is perfectly just and perfectly loving.  He is merciful when He judges and punishes, yet He overlooks no sin when He loves.

God will be victorious over all evil when Jesus returns.  Because of that, all those who follow Him will be victorious with Him when He judges the earth. For all of this God is worthy of all worship and adoration. Whether our worship is quiet prayers of thanksgiving and whispered praise, or whether we sing songs of worship and praise that make us want to stand up and clap our hands, let’s be like our psalmist, and give the Lord God all praise and worship.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Mary, Joseph, And The Shepherd's Obedience

Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas to all of our readers!  Today is when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Though there is no record as to what day He was actually born on, this is the day that much of the Church celebrates Jesus’s birthday.  Today let’s take a look at the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke.

I would like to focus on the obedience of several characters from the Nativity story.  As our passage begins, we read how Joseph had to leave the village of Nazareth where he lived, to travel to Bethlehem to register with the occupying Roman government.  He took his new bride, Mary with him, even though she was due to give birth at any day. Only several months earlier Joseph had been engaged to be married to Mary, when he was told by her that she was expecting a child through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-24).  This was too preposterous for Joseph to accept. He knew he wasn’t the father. According to Jewish law, he could have had Mary stoned to death for unfaithfulness, but being a loving and caring person, he chose not to go that route. He settled for just breaking the engagement.  God stepped in and gave Joseph a dream, verifying what Mary had said, and told him to go ahead and marry her. Joseph immediately obeyed God, despite the fact that by doing so he was setting himself up to be ridiculed by the townsfolk for marrying a woman who became pregnant outside of marriage.  Joseph obeyed God.

Mary obeyed God by saying yes to God when He sent the angel Gabriel to tell her she had been chosen to bear the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  She could have said no, knowing that this could brand her as a promiscuous, immoral woman, which would have been dangerous for her in that day.  However, Mary obeyed God, and thus became the mother of the Savior of mankind.

Joseph obeyed God when he left Nazareth to journey to Bethlehem for the registration, taking Mary with him (vs. 1-7).  He could have left her at home where she would have had her baby with the safety of a midwife. That would have made more sense than traveling with a 9-month pregnant wife over 80 miles on a donkey.  However, the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph obeyed God here, as well.

Next we read about the obedience of the shepherds.  At the time of Jesus’s birth, shepherds were basically an outcast group of people. General society looked down on them as uneducated, filthy, smelly people since they lived and worked with sheep out in the fields day and night.  It was to these scorned, outcast people that God, in His boundless love for all mankind, sent His angels to first announce the birth of the Messiah (vs. 8-12).

When the shepherds outside of Bethlehem heard the news from the angels they had a choice to make.  The angels had told them that they could find the newborn Messiah lying in a manger in the village. They had to decide whether to follow the angel’s instructions to find the baby, or whether to stay with the flocks.  If they left the sheep, who would protect them from marauding animals? Would the villagers want a group of shepherds roaming around seeking a newborn?  However they obeyed God and went in search of the baby Jesus. Their obedience was rewarded, and they were the very first to acknowledge the Messiah.

The shepherd also showed their obedience to God by spreading the Good News of the Messiah’s birth with everyone they met (vs. 17-18). They didn’t let the fact that they were generally not socially accepted by other people stop them from spreading the message. They had been given the most important message the world has ever known, and they were not going to keep it to themselves. We have been given that same message. Will we sit on it, keeping it to ourselves, or will we obey God like the shepherds did and spread the news, the real message of Christmas, to everyone we meet?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem

Micah 5:2-4

A favorite Christmas carol of many people is Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. That carol would definitely be in my top five favorite Christmas carols.  In this week’s Old Testament Scripture passage from the Lectionary, we find ourselves looking at a short passage from the prophet Micah, which speaks of that little town of Bethlehem.  Let’s take a look at the significance of this prophecy, and also of the town itself.

Bethlehem was already an existing town before the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan.  It was near Bethlehem that Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, died while giving birth to her son Benjamin, and she was buried there (Genesis 35:16-20).  Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, settled in Bethlehem when they returned from Moab (Ruth 1:19). Ruth married a prominent citizen of the town, Boaz, and became the great-grandmother of King David, who also called Bethlehem his hometown.  After King David, Bethlehem played no significant role in the history of the Kingdom of Judah, remaining a small, insignificant town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, about six miles south of the capital city.

There were prophecies that the Messiah would come from the line of King David, such as Psalm 132:11; II Samuel 7:12-13; and Jeremiah 23:5-6.  Now, the prophet Micah tells us exactly where the Messiah would be born. There were many cities, towns, and villages in the land of Judah, many much more prominent than Bethlehem.  When David left Bethlehem as a youth to serve King Saul, it seems he never took much notice of the town again. David’s first capital was in Hebron, and then he moved it to Jerusalem.  Yet Bethlehem was the village that God had chosen to be where He wished the Lord Jesus to be born in, not Hebron or Jerusalem.

Centuries later, when God knew the time was set for Jesus to be born, He selected the young woman, Mary, to be the mother of the Messiah.  However, she lived in the far northern town of Nazareth, approximately 80 miles north of Bethlehem. How would God get her and her new husband, Joseph to the little town of Bethlehem in time for her child to be born?  In that day and age people just didn’t pack up and move across the country like people often do today. God had that worked out. He moved upon the great Caesar Augustus, ruler of the known world to order a census, requiring people to go to their ancestral home where their family originated from (Luke 2:1-5).  Joseph, being in the family line of King David, would need to go to Bethlehem.

God arranged for this census to take place right when Mary was due to have her baby.  Perhaps Mary could have stayed home, and Joseph could have gone by himself, leaving his wife in the trusted hands of other relatives.  Perhaps he could have gotten permission to wait a few weeks until after the imminent birth of the baby. Without modern technology this census would have taken months, anyway. A few weeks delay wouldn’t have mattered much. However that would have made Jesus born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Both Mary and Joseph went when required for the census, and ended up in Bethlehem for the birth.  God always ensures that His Word will come true.

The second half of verse 2 states that the Messiah was actually eternal, having existed in eternity past - “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” In His earthly body Jesus was born in Bethlehem on a certain day, in a certain year. However He has always existed with the Father from eternity past. When Jesus debated with the Pharisees, as He often did, He used the term “I AM” in reference to Himself, the term that God the Father had used in reference to Himself when speaking with Moses, signifying His pre-existence from all time (John 8:58).

Though we celebrate the birth of Jesus in a few days, it is important to know that He has existed from all time.  What a comfort to know that the Almighty God, pre-existent from all time, came to earth to live and die for us! Also, it is also very reassuring to know that God will always ensure that every Word He has spoken will come true, even if from our eyes it looks like it can’t.  When God said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, He made sure that it would happen!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Children Of Abraham

Luke 3:7-18

Our Gospel reading for this week continues to look at John the Baptist’s message that he proclaimed to the people, heralding the imminent coming of the Messiah.  John was not afraid, nor hesitant to call out sin when he saw it, whether in crowds of wealthy, religiously, or politically prominent people. He was not worried about stepping on anyone’s toes.  John did not just call out sin, though. He also gave encouragement of what to do in one’s life to live the way the Lord wants. Let’s take a look today at John the Baptist’s message in our Scripture passage.

One thing that the Lord dislikes, and that John the Baptist had strong words against, is religious hypocrisy, especially among the religious leaders (vs. 7-9). God values true repentance over religious rituals. The religious leaders who heard John preach were shocked when they heard him say that being Abraham’s physical descendants was not enough for God.  They relied more on their family line than on their faith for salvation. Abraham’s true children are not merely physical descendents, but those who follow his faith, believing God’s Word (Galatians 3; Romans 4).  God can raise up children of Abraham from the stones if He wishes, and from the Gentiles. These leaders believed that spiritual standing with God was inherited. A personal relationship with God, however, is not handed down from parent to child.  Just because someone has Christian parents doesn’t automatically make one a Christian. Everyone must come to Jesus for salvation on their own. We must never rely on someone else’s faith for our own salvation.

Confession of sin and a changed life are inseparable.  Repentance must be tied to action or it is not real. It is more than just saying words.  We must act on what Jesus says. Genuine love for the Lord will move a person to perform real acts of love towards others (James 2:15-17; I John 3:17-18).  John the Baptist admonished people to put action to their claims of repentance and faith. He urged the people to share their belongings with those who had none (vs. 11). John also reproved the tax collectors from wrongly taking more money from the people than they were supposed to, which was a very common practice (vs. 12-13). John also challenged the soldiers to treat the people right and fairly, and be satisfied with their salary (vs. 14).

When John the Baptist came upon the scene, it had been over 400 years since the last prophets had brought a message from Yahweh. Now, suddenly, John the Baptist appears. Some wondered if perhaps he might possibly be the Messiah, promised by God ages ago (vs. 15).  John knew that he was not the Messiah. He knew that he had been called to herald the Messiah’s coming, to be His forerunner, and to admonish and urge people to get their lives straightened out and in order for when He would arrive.  One thing that John did was perform for people the baptism of repentance. John the Baptist’s baptism with water symbolized the washing away of sin. It coordinated with his message of repentance and a change in one’s life. Jesus’s baptism with fire includes the power needed to do God’s will (vs. 16).  The baptism with the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost. Baptism with fire also symbolized the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing God’s judgment on those who refuse to repent.

John the Baptist also told that when Jesus, the Messiah, comes, He will separate the chaff from the wheat (vs. 17).  Chaff is the useless outer husk of the kernel of grain. People who refuse God are like that. Those who repent and turn to God are like the nourishing grain.  The people who are the chaff are discarded, while those whose life shows they are wheat are of great value to God.

Just as Jesus would later, John the Baptist showed that God had harsh words for the self-righteous religious hypocrites among the people.  God accepts a truly repentant person, even among the despised tax collectors and the occupying army. He will pour out mercy on those who confess, and will give strength to live a changed life.  Let’s take a good look at our life and be sure that we come to the Lord God with a truly repentant heart, willing to have Him make any necessary changes in our lives. Let’s make sure that we are the grain of wheat, and not the chaff.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Keys For Finding Peace

Philippians 4:4-9

Peace.  That is something just about everyone would love to see in their lives, whether it is an actual cessation of wars and conflicts between various nations, harmony between neighbors and family members, or a sense of calmness and tranquility within ourselves. We would all love to see this, but it seems elusive, if not impossible to find. In our passage from God’s Word today, Paul gives us some keys as to how we can cultivate peace in our lives.

The first key in our Scripture passage today that Paul gives us is that we need to always rejoice in the Lord (vs. 4).  Some of us may ask how we could possibly be always rejoicing, with all the problems in our life. This is, however, what the Lord is telling us to do if we would like to see peace in our life.  Despite the problems we may have, we can have peace. Our inner attitude does not have to reflect our outward circumstances. Paul could rejoice no matter what happened to him, as he knew Jesus was with him.  The Philippian Christians, to whom this epistle was written, saw this first hand with Paul. When Paul and Silas came to Philippi to bring the Gospel, they were flogged and imprisoned, yet they praised God, sang hymns, and rejoiced (Acts 16:16-34).  We need to rejoice always in everything, no matter our circumstances.

Another key for the Lord bringing us peace is to show gentleness to others (vs. 5).  The Lord instructs us here to be gentle, fair, and charitable to both those in the church, and those outside of the church.  When we are kind to others, we are contributing to an atmosphere of peace around us.

A third key for peace that the Lord gives us is in verse 6, and that is to stop worrying, and instead bring everything to God in prayer, along with giving Him thanks.  God knows our needs, and promises to provide for them.  He is the only one who has the power and wisdom to deal with every issue in our life perfectly.  Fretting and worrying indicates a lack of trust in God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and power. Whatever comes our way in life, take our concerns to God. Turn our worries into prayers. We need to trust Him with an attitude of thanksgiving, and find contentment in what we are given. Sometimes being thankful isn’t always easy when the troubles seem huge, but it is important to discipline ourselves to be thankful in every circumstance.  If Paul and Silas could in prison, with bloody and beaten bodies, we certainly can!

Another key for peace is found in verse 8.   As believers we need to examine what we are putting into our minds through the internet, TV, books, conversations, movies, etc.  Whatever is in our mind is what will eventually come out in our conduct and our speech. If we are filling our mind with sinful and negative material, that is what will come out.  Paul tells us to put in good and wholesome thoughts. Replace all harmful input with wholesome ones. Read God’s Word and pray more. Focus on what is good and pure.

God’s peace is different from the world’s peace (John 14:27).  It is not “positive thinking” or an absence of conflict. It is in knowing God is in control.  The peace of God is an inner calmness that we can experience only when we put everything in His hands, and fully trust Him (John 16:33).  When we are firmly rooted in a deep relationship with God, we can enjoy a peace that transcends explanation. When everything is in a tumult around us, we can still be confident and calm.

Peace isn’t something that is just dropped from heaven to believers. Peace is a byproduct, the promised result of ceasing to worry, praying about our needs, and being thankful.  As long as our satisfaction depends on whether certain things actually work out, we’ll allow circumstances to rob our peace. Contentment should never be dependant on our circumstances. Put what we read and learn from God’s Word into practice. Exposure to God’s Word is not enough, it must lead to obedience.  When we really believe that God is able and willing to do what is best for His children, then we will find an inner calm and peace.

Rejoice always, be gentle, stop worrying, start praying, be thankful, and keep our mind filled with good thoughts.  When we do this we can find God’s peace.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Consolations Of The Lord

Psalm 94

As we look around the world today we see so many people who toss God aside, mocking Him at every turn.  Quite frequently that treatment also extends to believers, God’s children. This can get difficult for us, as the attacks can sometimes get quite personal, and sometimes we may wish to bring vengeance on them.  Our psalmist for today was also concerned about this. Let’s look at this psalm he wrote, and see what God is saying in His Word.

Our anonymous psalmist felt surrounded by people who did not love or care for God.  They were God’s enemies. He is concerned that the righteous are being oppressed while the wicked prosper.  Many of us might feel the same way as we look around the world today. As we read through this psalm, we see his cries to God, that God would take action against the injustice he sees.  Some people may even feel like taking matters into their own hands against these wicked people. However our psalmist knows that vengeance truly belongs to God, and not himself, and he should leave it to Him (vs. 1).  Unlike with us, God’s vengeance is not uncontrolled vindictiveness, but just retribution by the Eternal Judge for sins against Him and His Word.

The psalmist knows that God will protect and care for the righteous. We can grow weary when everywhere we look we see those who toss God aside. However, God promises to be a shelter for His children. He promises to keep His people from the severe punishment awaiting the wicked.  Since God is holy and just, we can be certain that the wicked will not prevail.

As we read through this psalm, let’s pause at a few of the verses, and ponder what they are saying.  Throughout the psalm, the author alternates between speaking to God, speaking to the wicked, and speaking to fellow believers and followers of God.  In verse 7, he tells of how the wicked believe that either God doesn’t exist, or that He doesn’t bother with what goes on in the world. That is certainly the same way today.  People who follow after sin today just don’t care about God or what He thinks, and their actions show it. But in verses 8-11, the psalmist warns these people that God does, indeed, see and make note of everything going on, and will judge.

In verse 12 we read that sometimes God needs to discipline us when we’ve strayed from His ways, just as a parent does to a child.  And just like it is for the child, it is for our own good (Hebrews 12:5-11). When we feel God’s correction we should accept it as proof of His love.

Verse 14 is one to bring us comfort, telling us that God will never abandon His children, those who have come to Him through the Blood of Jesus.  As also promised in Hebrews 13:5, God has said He will never abandon His children. Sometimes we may feel as though we have let God down, or are not good enough, and that He might just toss us aside.  However, God’s love for His Blood-bought children is not based on our performance, but on the once and for all finished work of Jesus Christ.

I am a person who is prone to frequently getting anxious and worried.  Perhaps you are, too. Verse 19 is for us, then. When anxious thoughts multiply into multitudes, God’s consolations and comforts are there to delight us.  When we come to the place where our foot is slipping (vs. 18), then God reaches out in His great love and mercy, and He supports us and saves us. When we have times of anxiety, trouble, and fear, God comes with His consolation.  Don’t let the devil rob us of our peace. God wants to calm our worries and concerns, and give us hope to overcome our distress.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

God Rejoices In You!

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Love songs are very popular.  In the last seventy or so years at least half of all the popular songs are love songs.  People feel very special if a love song is sung to them, and especially if they know that the song was written for them.  Even little babies love to hear their mothers sing a type of love song in a lullaby. Imagine if God were to sing a love song to us!  Wouldn’t that make you feel good, especially if you were feeling down and discouraged. In our Scripture passage for today we read of God singing and rejoicing over His children. Let’s take a look at this passage, and see what we can learn.

The prophet Zephaniah was a descendant of King Hezekiah, so he had some royal blood in him.  He preached his message during the reign of King Josiah, between the years of 635 - 625 BC. This was prior to Josiah’s religious reforms that he conducted, when Josiah tore down the pagan altars and broke down all of the idols.  The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary of the great prophet Jeremiah.

The first 2 ½ chapters of this very short book of prophecy (only 3 chapters total) contain messages of God’s anger and wrath against those who do not follow or obey Him.  Then he addresses the final passages of his message to the faithful remnant who obey God, and are His children. As the people would have heard Zephaniah’s prior messages, those words would have brought horror and sadness. That is not the only thing he wished to convey. Zephaniah lets us know that gladness results when we allow God to be with us (vs. 14-18). We do that by faithfully following Him, and obeying His commands.

In Zephaniah’s day many of the people showed outward signs of reform, but their hearts were far from God.  He preached to the nation to pray for salvation. Are the reforms that we may have made in our lives merely an outward show, or is it changing our hearts and lives?  Zephaniah challenged the people to gather together and pray, walk with God, hear His message of hope, and do what is right.

As we read in verse 17, as we seek to follow God, He rejoices over us with His love and with singing.  Have you ever felt so much love for someone that you could just burst out singing over them, or had someone feel that way about you?  God loves His children! His love for us is so big that He rejoices over us with singing! The God of the whole universe loves you so much that He sings! Now doesn’t that make you feel loved and special! He delights in us and feels joy over us.

Verse 17 also says that God will quiet us with His love.  When little children get upset and cranky, one way to soothe them is to hold them on your lap, maybe rocking them back and forth, speaking quietly in a soft, soothing voice, singing quiet songs.  When we get upset and face troubles in our life, God longs to quiet us like a mother does a child, soothing us with His love. We can trust Him to take care of us and any problem we have. No matter the size of any opposition coming against us, God is bigger.  He has promised to be with us. No matter what our circumstances are, no matter how insurmountable the odds, God promises to save us in the very midst of our trouble.

God is with us.  He is Emmanuel. He is mighty to save.  When we are seeking for happiness and love, know that God is the real source of happiness.  Draw close to Him in obedience and find that real happiness and love. Find the God who loves you so much that He will rejoice and sing over you in love.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Prepare The Way

Luke 3:1-6

“The King is coming!”  That was the cry in centuries past which royal heralds would give several days, or sometimes only several hours ahead of the arrival of the king to towns and cities along his royal progress across his country.  When the townsfolk heard that cry, they knew to get their city into order. Fix the potholes in the street. Sweep the street clean of any debris. Any noble person in the city knew to get his residence into top-notch shape in case the king would be staying overnight, so make sure the best linens were set out, and everything was clean and polished.  The mayor made sure that the best food was being prepared. Everyone wanted to be sure to be ready when the king would arrive. In our reading today from the Gospel of Luke, we read of a similar herald, one also announcing the arrival of a King. He, too, wants us to be ready. Let’s take a look at the message of this Biblical herald.

Luke opens this passage with some names of rulers to set the date of when our passage took place (vs. 1).  Tiberius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire from 14 - 37 AD, so the fifteenth year of his reign would be in the year 29 AD.  Luke also names Pontius Pilate as Roman governor of Judea, and Herod Antipas, his half brother Philip, and Lysanias as rulers of neighboring territories, subject to Rome.

It was at this time that John the Baptist came upon the scene, preaching a message of repentance, and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah (vs. 3 - 6). John was the son of Zachariah, a priest in the Temple, and would have been raised in a moderately comfortable household. As a young man, John forsook all of that, and retreated into the desert, dressing in clothes of animal skins and restricting his diet to locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4).  God did not choose to speak to the people through the politically great and powerful figures of the day. Instead, He used a reclusive, seemingly eccentric man from the desert. Greatness is not measured by what we have, but by our faith in God.

John the Baptist’s message was one of repentance.  True repentance requires turning away from sin and turning back towards God.  To be truly repentant we must do both.  We can’t say that we believe in Jesus, and then go and live anyway we want.  We cannot continue to live immoral and sinful lives if we have Jesus in our heart.  There must be a turning away from our sins, and turning to follow Jesus. Neither can we live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  That cannot bring us forgiveness. We are called to have true repentance.

Another part of John the Baptist’s message was for people to prepare their hearts and lives for the coming Messiah.  The Old Testament prophets foretold of John’s ministry, that there would be a herald to announce Jesus’s coming. John quoted from the prophet Isaiah in his message to the people (Isaiah 40:3-5).  He was urging them to get every hindrance to God out of their lives. Straighten out their paths and smooth out their rough spots.

Just as people in former times were advised to heed the call of the herald, we need to heed the Scripture’s words to prepare our lives for Jesus.  He will be returning, and we do not know when. We need to focus on Jesus, and listen to His Words, responding obediently to all He says.

John the Baptist was not worried or concerned with being popular. He knew that his calling and ministry had been foreordained by God (Luke 1:16-17).  He knew his ministry was to point people to Jesus. Though John the Baptist was someone extraordinarily special, we too should be pointing people to Jesus and calling for true repentance.  As Advent is quickly coming to an end, let’s make sure our hearts are prepared for Jesus. Fill up those potholes, sweep out the cobwebs and dust bunnies in our life, and be ready for our coming Savior.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

God Finishes What He Begins

Philippians 1:1-11

How many of you know someone who starts a project, only to leave it half finished, never completing what they began?  Perhaps that is something you are prone to do, as well. Paul points out in our Scripture passage today that this is not something God will ever do, and we shall see that this is something that should be comforting to us.

Our passage today is the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the church in the Greek city of Philippi.  The Philippian church was one of the very first churches that Paul established in Greece, and actually on the continent of Europe. Philippi was an ancient city in the northern part of Greece. That part of Greece was called Macedonia in Paul’s day. Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, had captured the city from the ancient kingdom of Thrace (now a part of Bulgaria) in 357 BC and named it for himself.  Philippi was one of the very first stops on Paul’s second missionary journey.

When Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Gospel.  As he thought about these believers, it brought joy to his heart (vs. 3-5). The Philippians had sent help to Paul in his times of need, and he remembered them in prayer with joy and thanksgiving.  These believers were willing to be used by God for whatever He wanted them to do. When the Philippians sent financial help to Paul, they were being partners with him in spreading the Gospel. They had helped support him with practical help while he was preaching in their own city, and helped him with prayer and gifts when he was preaching elsewhere.  Now when Paul was in prison they continued to financially help him, which was a blessing. The conditions of prisons in those days were such that if one did not have someone financially provide for them, the best they got was bread and water, and a threadbare blanket. Paul was thankful for the Philippians.

Next Paul shares a truth that should be comforting to all believers (vs. 6).  God is always faithful to finish what He begins. God began a good work in us when we were saved, He will continue it throughout our lifetime, and will finish it when we reach heaven.  Do you ever feel like you are a rather lousy believer? That you just don’t measure up to some of the superstar Christians you hear or read about? Do you ever feel as though you may have even lost your salvation, and perhaps that God has just tossed you aside?  Paul is saying here that God won’t give up on us! He promises to finish the work He began in us. This verse points to the eternal security of the believer. God began a good work in us when we were saved. He will complete it. We cannot lose it!  There will always be enemies who try to thwart God’s work in us, but God is in control.  He will complete His good work in all of us. And He will do it in a way that is above and beyond what we can ask or imagine.  Never underestimate what God can do through our faithfulness, even long afterwards.

Paul continues his letter to the Philippian church, telling them to have heart, no matter where he is, whether free or in prison, he is faithfully preaching the Gospel (vs. 7).  That should be an example to us, whether in good times or bad, our light and testimony for the Lord should always be shining strong.

As he concludes this passage, Paul urges the Philippian believers to grow in love one for another, and to discern what is right and what is wrong (vs. 9-11). After we were saved, God began His work of sanctification in us, transforming us into the image of Jesus. This is a lifetime work, and won’t be completed until we are with Him.  The Holy Spirit, which we received when we were saved, helps us to make the right choices in life, choices and behavior that “are excellent” (vs. 10), living in a manner that brings God glory.  The more we yield to God, the more Jesus’s nature increases in us, and the more our old, carnal nature decreases (John 3:30).

Paul prayed that these believers would have discernment to know and do what is best, to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong, between good and bad, between what is important and what is trivial.  We all need to have moral discernment. As we grow in our Christian life, remember that God will always complete the work He has begun in us, and that work is to transform us into the image of His Son.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sowing In Tears, Reaping In Joy

Psalm 126

This week’s psalm is a short one, and is one of the Songs of Ascent, which consist of Psalms 120 - 134.  These psalms were recited by the Jewish people in Biblical days when they made their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the religious festivals.

Although no author or date is given for this psalm, it appears to have been written following the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity, sometime shortly after 520 BC.  Our psalm begins with rejoicing in the people’s return from captivity (vs. 1 - 3). When something wonderful happens in our life, we can sing, laugh, and feel like we are in a good dream.  That was how our psalmist describes the feelings of those who came out of decades of captivity. About seventy years prior, the people of Judah had been forcibly taken into captivity. A few of the folks now returning to their homeland might have remembered those days of terror.  Certainly these people’s parents would have lived through it. Those were days of horror, with many being brutally killed, their homes torn down and burned, and the Temple destroyed. Then followed years of captivity in a foreign country. Now they were returning to their homeland, which was like a dream.  These were days of joy, bringing both singing and laughter, something that had been in short supply during these last years.

Let’s look at our own lives, and recall the many great things that the Lord has done for us (vs. 3).  Do we have a roof over our head, and food to eat? It is the Lord God who has provided these for us. Each of you reading this woke up alive today.  For that we can thank the Lord. For some the Lord has provided healing from illnesses for themselves or loved ones, or deliverance from addictions. There is always something that we can be thankful to the Lord for, and we need to always keep His blessings in our mind.

In verses 5 and 6, our psalmist speaks about sowing and reaping, sowing in sadness but reaping with joy.  The literal sowing of seed for crops in Biblical days was hard work, as it all had to be done by hand. However when the harvest came, there was joy and gladness. The people of Judah had sown years of sadness during their forced exile. Many tears had been shed during that time. Now they were rejoicing, as God was blessing them by bringing them back to their homeland.  This life will never be free of hardship or pain. For those who love God, our tears are seeds which will one day reap a harvest of joy. God is able to bring good out of tragedy.

There is also another way of looking at these final two verses.  Jesus told us of the parable of the sower, and said that the seed is the Word of God, specifically the Gospel (Mark 4:3-20).  We all have friends, family, and loved ones who do not know the Lord Jesus as their Savior. We have witnessed to them, but they do not listen, are not interested, and sometimes are actually hostile to the message.  We pray for them, often with tears. Yes, with tears because we know that if they pass from this life without accepting Jesus as their Savior, they will spend an eternity in hell, separated from God forever. As we continue to faithfully sow the seed and pray for the lost, God will see our tears, and the Holy Spirit will move in hearts. We may be sowing the Gospel message, grieving for the lost who do not listen, but when a person turns to Jesus, there is rejoicing. Another lost soul is brought into the fold, and there is rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:4-7) !

Do you know someone who you can bring the seed of the Gospel to? Keep them in prayer, that the witness you give to them, the seeds you sow in their heart, will bring a harvest of salvation in their soul.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Balaam: The False Prophet

Numbers 22:21-35; 23:17-20; 24:15-17

Throughout the ages, donkeys have been labeled with the characteristic of being stubborn animals.  However, in today’s Scripture passage we’ll be looking at someone who was much more stubborn than any donkey, a man named Balaam.  In fact, it was his donkey who was more attentive to the Lord, and who saved his life. Stubbornness was only one of the faults of Balaam, as he was a false prophet, was greedy for money, and was also willing to join with the enemies of God and God’s people.

As a quick background to our Scripture account today, the Israelites had left captivity in Egypt and were enroute to the Promised Land. Balak, the king of Moab was afraid that the Israelites would pass through his country and possibly overthrow them, so he sent for the false prophet Balaam, to call forth curses on them (Numbers 22:1-7). In past ages people strongly believed in the power of the spoken word, and both curses and blessings were taken very seriously. Balaam was a practitioner of the occult, and knew of the true God, Yahweh, knew His voice when he heard it, but was not a believer or follower. When Balak’s messengers came, God specifically told Balaam not to go with them, nor to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22:8-14).  However, when Balak offered him great riches, Balaam was willing to disobey the voice of God, and go with (Numbers 22:15-20).

God told Balaam that if he was so set on disobeying God’s command, he could have his way, but that he was not to utter a single word except what God told him to.  Are there times when we know what God wants us to do or not to do, but we are so stubborn and set upon having our own way, that we won’t listen to Him? Sometimes God lets us have our own way, knowing we will fall flat on our face in a mess of trouble. Balaam was too greedy for money that he disobeyed what God had initially said  (II Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11). Sometimes we are so blinded by our own desires, whether for money, power, prestige, or love, we won’t listen to God, either.

Balaam saddled up his donkey and left to go assist King Balak of Moab against God’s people (Numbers 22:21-35).  Because God knew that his motives were completely wrong, He grew angry at Balaam and sent an angel with a sword into his path.  Balaam’s donkey was more in tune with God than Balaam was, and she saw the angel. She knew enough to turn aside and not proceed on this foolish journey. Three times she turned aside, and three times Balaam beat her until finally God opened the donkey’s mouth to speak and reprove him. God spoke again to Balaam, severely warning him to not speak a word against His people, except what words He alone gives him to speak.  Let’s be sure that we never become so stubborn, hard-hearted, and greedy that God has to use drastic measures, such as a donkey speaking to us, to get our attention!

Balaam spoke four messages that were blessings from God to the Israelites, and not curses.  In the second message we read a promise and statement that God has made to all of us, telling us that He is not a man like us, and He does not, and cannot, speak lies (Numbers 23:19).  What He says is true. He is completely reliable and dependable. When God says something, He will do it. People that we know are often unreliable. God is reliable and unchanging. God keeps every promise that He makes.  He will never deceive us, never disappoint us. God will never change His mind about what He has said. His Word will always come to pass.

In Balaam’s fourth message God gave him a prophecy that is connected with Christmas (Numbers 24:17).  This is a portion of prophecy which predicted the coming of the Messiah, and a star which would signal His birth.  This is probably the prophecy that the Magi were familiar with, and when they saw the special star, it led them to seek out Jesus, who is also known as the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).

As we conclude our study of Balaam, we find that he came to a tragic end due to the sins in his life.  After these events we read about today, Balaam led many in Israel into apostasy (Numbers 31:16) by casting a stumbling block to lead them to sin by eating things sacrificed to idols and committing fornication (Revelation 2:14), which eventually led to his death.

Though Balaam’s life shows that God can use anyone to fulfill His plans, he serves as a warning that God evaluates our motives and our actions.  He had heard the voice of God a number of times, yet never truly turned to Him, or give his life over to Him.
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.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Anxiously Awaiting

Luke 21:25-33

We’ve all known times when we have anxiously awaited an important event or occurrence that was to happen.  Many of those events had a specific day in which they were to occur, such as a graduation, a wedding, a move, or a first or last day of work.  Other events did not have a specific day in which they would occur, such as a birth of a baby, or the possible visit of a distant relative. In our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Luke, we read of a coming event of which we are anxiously awaiting, one which this season of Advent highlights, the return of the Lord Jesus to earth.

Immediately preceding to the start of our passage today, the disciples had been talking to Jesus about the events that will occur prior to His return.  There will be many cataclysmic occurrences both on earth and in the heavens, along with upheavals among nations and governments. For many years people have been trying to set dates as to when this will occur, especially whenever something happens somewhere on earth.  Jesus has told us, though, that no one knows when His return will happen (Mark 13:32).

All of these prophecies of coming persecution and destruction sounds frightening.  For so many people, hearing about any of these types of events brings a panic, fear, and depression (vs. 26).  Feeling that the direction the world is moving is only getting worse and worse, they fear the future. However, for believers it should be a time of anticipation and joy (vs. 28). Jesus is coming back for us soon! We do not need to fear the future, or go into a panic when we hear of any of the events that Jesus said would foreshadow His return. As believers we can rest in the peace that He has promised (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7).

We can have peace, knowing that He has everything under His control.  No future event catches God off-guard. Nothing takes Him by surprise.  As we read throughout Scriptures, God created the heavens and the earth, and they are fully under His control.  Any event on earth, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or any event that might happen in outer space, they are all under God’s control.  He is not a God who created the world and the universe, and then is just sitting back watching it spin out of control. No, these events that will herald the return of Christ have been planned since before time began.

Jesus told us to take a lesson from the fig trees (vs. 29 - 30).  I am someone who strongly dislikes winter. Living in the Chicago area as I do, we have long and cold winters, with lots of strong, biting winds, snow, and ice.  Our cold weather often lasts from November till frequently mid-April. Disliking winter as I do, I will eagerly look for any signs of the coming spring. By March I am anxiously looking for that first robin to return.  As I pass by trees, I will look for any signs of leaf buds coming. Jesus has told us to be that way in looking for signs of His return. When I catch sight of that first returning robin, what a cheer I let out! Are we as anxious in awaiting His return?

There are signs that will show that the Messiah is near, and when He returns He will bring a reign of justice, truth, and peace.  As followers of Jesus, we should be prepared for persecution from unbelievers, and also be discerning about world events. The Advent season not only prepares us for the coming celebration of Jesus’s birth, but it also guides us to be looking forward and preparing for His second coming, whenever that will be. We know that God’s Word is true, and will always remain (vs. 33), so we need to be confidently awaiting His return.  It could happen at any time, whether tomorrow, next year, in ten years, or more. Signs and events will show us when it is near, just like my first robin and the trees buds do. During these days prior to Jesus’s return, our motto needs to be “Watch and Pray!”