Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I Corinthians 8:1-13

In the world today we hear a lot about people’s rights, what we have a natural right to do.  We try and seek out special privileges, as well. No one likes to have their rights or privileges trampled on or taken away.  So many feel that if they have the right to do something, no one should be telling them otherwise. Many in the church in Corinth felt the same way.  In our Scripture passage today the Apostle Paul addresses an issue which came up in the Corinthian church between two groups, one who knew they had the right to be doing something, and another group who were being offended by the others.

Let’s first get a little background to help explain what was going on. The city of Corinth at this time was filled with dozens upon dozens of pagan temples, filled with idols.  Followers of these false gods would bring meat sacrifices to these idols.  Afterwards the meat would frequently be brought to the market and sold as food. Sometimes some believers from the Corinthian church would purchase and eat this meat.  Other believers there took offense, feeling the ones eating this food were somehow partaking in pagan worship of false gods.

Paul devotes this chapter in order to address an issue that was becoming a big problem there.  Let’s see what he says regarding this. There are many false gods, both at this time and today.  They are not real.  Pagan idols are false, and the gods they represent do not exist. The rituals and sacrifices done to them are meaningless (vs. 4-6). We don’t worship one god among many.  Yahweh is the only God there is.  The one group of believers knew this, and to them, the meat was just a piece of meat, and they saw nothing wrong with it.  The other group felt the group was contaminated by the false gods and rituals.

Paul knew and taught that Jesus has given all believers the liberty to eat foods that had been prohibited in the Old Testament.  They didn’t have to follow the Old Testament dietary laws.  Food offered to idols means nothing, as the gods they represent do not exist.  We are not saved by virtue of what we eat or don’t eat.  There is nothing wrong with eating any food, if we thank God for it (vs. 8).

The more important issue to him was the consideration each group should be showing to each other. Today, food being sacrificed to idols is not much of an issue, but there are other issues equally divisive, that one group says believers shouldn’t do, and others say is permissible. Paul is saying that if a believer misunderstands our actions, out of consideration to them, we should avoid doing those things (vs. 9-13).  We should avoid doing anything that will weaken their faith. Paul did everything with view of honoring God, building believers up, and winning other people to Christ. Stronger believers should be careful not to offend a sensitive, or newer believer by their example, causing them to sin.  Our consideration for others should lead us to put our freedoms aside to help strengthen their faith.

If our knowledge is led by the Holy Spirit, and expressed with godly love, He can use it to transform someone (vs. 1-3).  It is easy to develop an arrogant, know-it-all attitude.  We need to be willing and open to listen to, and learn from both God and others.

Nothing is more important than spreading the Gospel.  God has given us many rights, blessings, and privileges.  Giving up some of our rights is a worthwhile sacrifice, and we should be willing to give some of them up if it will either help someone to come to know Jesus, or build them up.  We should always desire God’s best for fellow believers, even if it means self-denial.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Where True Wisdom Comes From

Psalm 111

A show of hands - how many of you would like to be thought of as wise, to have a good share of wisdom?  I believe most of you would raise your hand.  I sure would.  Most people think of wisdom as having a lot of knowledge, like one gets after many years in school and a university degree or two.  Then if one continues to read and study throughout the rest of their life, and applies what they know to their life, then that person might be considered wise and knowledgeable.

What does God’s Word say about obtaining wisdom?  Our psalm for today gives us a clue as to who God considers wise, and how to become a wise person. In verse 10 we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”.  To become a wise person in God’s eyes starts with showing Him proper fear.  This doesn’t mean that we have to have a terror, horror, or dread of Him, like we would from someone with a gun who has broken into our house at night, or after a terrible nightmare, or when we come face to face with some huge and hungry animal.  The fear of the Lord is having a holy awe, a reverence, and a proper respect for God’s power and authority.  All true believers should have that type of fear of the Lord.  This fear of the Lord should bring obedience and respect for His commands, laws, and principles.  If we have a fear of God we need not have any other fears.

As we see in God’s Word, the only way to be truly wise is to have a fear of God. He, alone, is the source of wisdom.  The way to develop a proper fear of the Lord to come to truly know Him, and the best possible way to do that is by studying His Word.  The more we follow and obey God, the more insight and understanding He will give in His Word.

Our psalmist tells us that as we study all of the works of the Lord, we will find pleasure and delight in them (vs. 2).  Going over in our mind, and talking with others about the many wonderful things God has done, and of all His mighty works, is a good way to draw closer to Him.  By doing that we will develop this proper fear of the Lord, and begin to become one who has wisdom.

One of the works of the Lord that the psalmist tells of is that He has provided food for those who fear Him (vs. 5).  Have you ever gone for any time where food in your house wasn’t plentiful?  If that has ever been the case, then you know to be truly thankful that He provides for your every meal.

Another of the Lord’s works that the psalmist tells us is that He always keeps His covenants, His promises to His people (vs. 5). People can, and often do, let us down because they do not keep their promises.  Their word doesn’t always hold up.  God’s Word and promises, however, are iron-clad.  We can trust Him, that whatever He has promised us, He will keep.  We can rest assured that His Word is true and good (vs. 7-8).

One more work of God that our psalmist reminds us of, one that I believe is the most important one mentioned in this psalm, is that He has provided our redemption (vs. 9).  Redemption means the recovery of something.   When mankind sinned in Genesis 3, we were lost to God, and fell into the hands of Satan.  Jesus came and died, shedding His Blood in order to bring us back to Him.  The payment was made for all, but only those who acknowledge this, and accept His payment personally on their behalf, are redeemed.  Have you accepted the costly payment He made on your behalf?  If you haven’t yet, please call upon Him this very day.  This is the most important decision you can make, and a sign of a truly wise man.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

One Greater Than Moses

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Our passage today contains a message that Moses brought to the people of Israel shortly before he would die and they would enter the Promised Land. When God had spoken to the people on Mt. Horeb, (also known as Mt. Sinai), and the people heard His voice, they were terrified, and begged Moses that they did not want to directly hear His voice again (vs. 16).  God agreed with them, and directed Moses to tell the people that He would send them a special prophet or spokesman from Himself to speak to them (vs 15, 18).

Who was this Prophet that Moses spoke of?  Many prophets were sent to the people of Israel, bringing messages from God to try and lead them back to God, away from the false idols they were so prone to follow.  In this passage we read that there were three requirements this prophet would have - he would come from among the people, he would be like Moses, and he would speak only the words God gave him.  Throughout the centuries following Moses, the people always held that this prophet would be a special one, connecting him with the promised Messiah (John 1:21-25; John 6:14).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  He, alone, is the Prophet that Moses predicted God would send.  Let’s look at some of the ways that He fulfilled this prophecy.  First Jesus only spoke the words that God, His Father, gave Him.   The Scriptures testify that in John 8:28; 12:49-50; and 17:8.   So many people, both in the past and today, speak their own words and philosophies. Jesus’s words, though, were the words of God Himself.

Jesus was also one who was from among His brethren.  Though He was conceived by the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary, and God was His real Father, both Mary and His step-father, Joseph, were descendants of David and of the tribe of Judah (see Matthew 1:1-17, and Luke 3:23-38).  He was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7) and raised in Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23), both Jewish communities.

Then there were several similarities between Jesus and Moses. Both of them spoke the words that were given them by God.  Moses was spared death as a baby from Pharaoh’s order (Exodus 1:15-16, 2:1-9). Jesus was also spared death as a baby from King Herod’s order (Matthew 2:13-18).  They both also renounced a royal court. Moses was raised in the court of Pharaoh, but renounced that for God (Hebrews 11:24-27). Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity had the throne and glory of heaven as His.  Because of His great love for us, though, He left that throne to come to earth to die for our sins (Philippians 2:5-8).

Both Jesus and Moses had compassion and interceded for the people.  Many times Moses interceded on behalf of the people when they had sinned, and turned away the just wrath of God (Exodus 32:32-38; Deuteronomy 9:18).  It was Jesus’s love and compassion for us that brought Him to earth, and initiated His healing and preaching ministry (Matthew 9:36).   The whole of John Chapter 17 records a prayer that Jesus made, both for His disciples at that time, and for all believers in any time.  Jesus’s intercession didn’t end when He left the earth at the Ascension.  Right at this moment He is interceding for us in heaven (Hebrews 7:25).

Lastly, both Jesus and Moses spoke face to face with God.  Because of his close communion with God, Moses’s face shone with His glory (Exodus 34:29-30). Jesus was God, the second Person of the Trinity. While on earth, though, in addition to the times when He was in close, frequent, personal prayer with the Father, Jesus was in direct communion with Him at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Despite these similarities, Jesus was infinitely more superior to Moses, and was the Mediator of a much better covenant than that of Moses (Hebrews 8:6-7).

It is important to receive God’s invitation to us (vs. 19).  It’s not good enough to just hear it.  Nor is it good enough to just study His Word, or even to acknowledge it.  We have to receive it.  Many learn a lot about God, but have never responded to His call personally.  That is really the most important decision we will ever make.  Be sure you make the right decision before you pass from this life.

Friday, January 26, 2018

From Fishermen To Fishers Of Men

Mark 1:14-20

In years past, I have gone fishing.  I’m by no means a great fisherman, but I have caught an occasional fish.  What I enjoyed more was being outside along the banks of one of the many small, little lakes in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.  It was a good thing I didn’t need to depend on my fishing skills to survive!  In our Gospel reading today we have two sets of brothers, Andrew and Simon Peter, along with James and John.  All four men were professional fishermen, going out fishing with nets everyday, and they needed to be pretty good in order to make a living.  As we read today, that all completely changed when Jesus came by and called them.

John the Baptist’s preaching ministry ended quite abruptly when he was put in prison.  In the meantime Jesus was just starting up His ministry.  After His temptation in the wilderness, He went into the northern part of Israel called Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God (vs. 14-15).  The word “gospel” means good news. Jesus the Messiah came to break the power of sin. That’s good news! Most people who heard and listened to Jesus’s message were poor and oppressed.  Many of them were without much, if any, hope in life. Sometimes circumstances in our life today may lead us to believe that there is no hope, either.  Jesus’s words are good news, and if accepted, they will give us hope.

On this day in our reading, Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where our four fishermen brothers are hard at work trying to make a living catching and selling fish.  All four men had already spent some time with Jesus, as we read in John 1:35-42. Now Jesus was calling for them to permanently follow Him (vs. 16-20).

Let’s look closely at the call Jesus gave to Peter and Andrew, to John and James.  “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  They had spent several years, at least, catching fish for a living.  That was hard work, as every time you throw out the net you don’t always catch something.  They were rather good at it, though, as verse 20 indicates that at least the brothers James and John, and their father had a business successful enough to hire servants or employees.  Now here comes the preacher they had heard before down by John the Baptist calling for them to quit their jobs and follow Him!

Fishers of men!?  What did that mean, they must have wondered. They had caught fish for a living, so that people could buy them and have something to eat.  That made sense.  Fishing for men, what’s that?  As mentioned, they had heard Jesus preach some before, and had heard the testimony of John the Baptist about Him, so they knew and believed He was from God.  As they spent the next three years with Jesus, they would come to know that they were to devote their lives to bringing people to find salvation through Him, and into the Kingdom of God.  Catching people for God!  Evangelism is the primary purpose for which Jesus called the apostles.  It is still the central mission for believers, as the Great Commission declares (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

What was their response?  As we read in both verses 18 and 20, they left everything and immediately followed Jesus.  And when it says that they left their fishing, it wasn’t just for that afternoon, coming back later the next day. No, they left that job for good, they quit.  We know that at least Simon Peter had a wife and family (Mark 1:30). The Bible doesn’t say anything about families for the others, but James and John left their father with only the hired hands.  What did Zebedee think when his sons walked out on the family business? Their commitment was total.

That is the type of commitment that Jesus wants of us today.  He isn’t looking for half-hearted disciples (Luke 9:62).  Just as fishermen don’t always bring home a tremendous catch, our witnessing won’t always bring results.  There will be days of discouragement, which even the disciples had.  They weren’t instantaneously super-spiritual.  Their faith sometimes faltered, and they had times when they questioned, but they continued to follow Jesus.  No matter what, never stop following Jesus!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Serving God As We Are Called

I Corinthians 7:17-23

The New Testament passage from this week’s Lectionary readings is a more obscure one from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  Here in the church in Corinth, as well as in many other churches Paul had helped to establish, there were groups of people who came in, telling the new Gentile believers that they couldn’t truly be saved unless they became circumcised and followed other Jewish laws, such as the dietary laws (vs. 18).  Paul addresses this concern here, as he did in many other of his letters in the New Testament (Romans 4:9-11; Galatians 5:1-6; Colossians 2:11, and in Acts 15).  After Jesus’s death circumcision was no longer necessary as a sign of faith in God.

Obeying God is more important than observing traditional ceremonies (vs. 19). Keeping of the Old Testament laws is not what saves anyone, rather having faith in the Lord Jesus as one’s Savior does.  Though these groups tried to spread this heresy, the early church leaders clearly stated that Gentiles were not required to become circumcised, nor were they required to follow any other Old Testament religious laws.  Culture, social order, and external ceremony have no bearing on spiritual life.  What matters is faith and obedience to God. He wants obedience far more than adherence to religious regulations (I Samuel 15:22).

Earlier in this chapter of Corinthians there were some who were concerned about whether or not they were married, and how that might affect their service for the Lord.  Paul states here that believers should live as they are called.  Married or not, circumcised or not, whatever social situation or in whatever job, accept the position that God has placed you in, and be content to serve Him there until He leads you elsewhere (vs. 20).  Every job we hold can become a type of Christian work.  The purpose of our life is to honor, serve, and speak out for Jesus.  God has placed you where you are.  Look for opportunities to serve Him there.

At the time of the New Testament slavery was quite common throughout the world, including in the Roman empire, where Paul was living and spreading the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ.  In our passage today Paul is not approving of the institution of slavery (vs. 21-23).  It was an established fact, and he was in no position to abolish it.  In these verses, Paul was teaching that a person who was a slave could still obey and honor Christ (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22; I Timothy 6:1-2).

Many slaves in that day became believers in the Lord Jesus, and continued to serve their masters faithfully, giving a strong witness by their life and service. They were free in the Lord (vs. 22).  There is no bondage that is as terrible as the one of sin.  A freed man can be a slave to the ways of men, the ways of the world, or the flesh.  To Paul that was of more concern.  Being a slave of Satan and of sin is ultimately, in the long run, much worse than being a slave of a person.

Today most countries have officially abolished slavery.  The principles would still apply, though, for employees and employers. How well do we serve our bosses at work?  We can still give a good witness and testimony there.  Serve the Lord well in whatever place in life He has called us.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Waiting In The Depths

Psalm 130

People today are a very impatient bunch.  Nobody likes to wait.  A casual reading through Scriptures, though, shows that often God requires His people to wait - wait for answered prayer, wait for promises to be fulfilled.  Waiting helps our faith and trust grow stronger.   In our psalm for today we see the writer waiting on the Lord, waiting for His blessings and answered prayer.

There aren’t a lot of details in this short psalm.  The unknown author doesn’t give us a lot of clues as to the circumstances in his life at this moment, but it doesn’t seem to be a real positive time.  In verse 1 we read that he is crying out to God from the depths.  He is down, depressed and discouraged.  Many of us have been there at some point in our lives.   The pit we are in is so deep that it seems the sunshine can’t even reach the bottom.  Our psalmist doesn’t give up, curl up, and wallow in his despair, though.  He calls out to God. “Lord, hear my voice!”, he cries out.  How many times have we cried out that to God? “Please listen to me, God!”, we often cry to Him.

Sometimes it is because of our sins that God seems silent.  Our psalmist knew this.  He knew that if God kept track of every one of our sins, no one could stand (vs. 3-4).  Every day we commit sin. They usually aren’t the “big ones”, like murder, robbing a bank, kidnapping, or committing adultery.  Things like unkind thoughts, gossip, the little “white” lies, selfishness - those are also sins. Those all need to be confessed to God.  When we confess and repent of our sins to God, He will forgive.   Regular confession of one’s sins will keep our “prayer line” to God open and clear, free from any obstacles that might block the way for Him to be free to answer us.

Our psalmist, knowing that God has forgiven him of his sins, and that He hears his prayers, now waits for Him to answer (vs. 5-6).  He is eagerly waiting for God’s response, more he says, than those who watch for the morning.  If tomorrow is a really big and important day, then often it is difficult to sleep the night before, and we wake up well before dawn as we wait for the morning. Little children are like that the night before Christmas.  They can’t wait for daylight to come so they can race out of their bedrooms to get their gifts.   A bride might feel that way the night before her wedding, or someone moving to a new home.  Someone who is starting their long anticipated and sought for job may be very anxious and sleepless the night before they start, too.  There are many reasons people eagerly wait for the morning to come.  Our psalmist is equally anxious and waiting to hear from God and receive His answer.   He knows that God’s Word and promises can never fail, so he places all of his hope in Him (vs. 5).

Who are we placing our hope in?  Are we putting all of our hope in ourselves or in some other person, feeling we or they can solve our problems?  Our psalmist tells us to put our hope in the Lord God (vs. 7).  He is the only one who can redeem us from our sins and deliver us from any situation we find ourselves in.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Calling The Backslidden Back

Jeremiah 3:21-4:2

Many parents know the heartbreak of when one or more of their children go astray and fall into crime, drugs, or some other dissolute lifestyle.  Despite the parents doing their best to bring them up properly, the children run headlong down the wrong path.  So many tears and prayers go forth for these children who have wandered away from all they had been taught.  This is the same way the Lord feels when He sees His children straying from the ways He had set for them, as we read from the Prophet Jeremiah today.

Jeremiah starts out in our passage with the sound of heartbreaking weeping in verse 21.  Can you just picture and hear a parent sobbing out their wrenching tears for their child who has gone so terribly astray?  Jeremiah, as God’s messenger, is also crying out because the people of God have also gone astray. They have forgotten God and gone their own way.  Jeremiah urges them to come back to the Lord who will heal their sin-sick souls (vs. 22).

Jeremiah calls them backsliding children.  They had been at a certain point of spiritual maturity, but have slid back and are further away from their goal. God had set them at one point and directed them to follow His path till they reached their eternal destination.  Instead of going forward, though, they have slidden backwards, going the opposite way.

When I was a young child living in suburban Chicago, we would go on a day-trip once or twice every summer to the beaches of the Indiana Dunes, along the south shore of Lake Michigan.  There are very large sand dunes along that beach, which as children we would try to climb.  Trying to climb a large hill of sand is difficult, and more often than not, I would keep sliding back down, making very little progress.  The park had provided much easier paths and stairways all throughout the area to get from the beach to higher ground instead of trying to climb loose sand.  Children, though, like to do things their own way.

That is a picture of backslidden people, whether those in the days of Jeremiah or people today.  They want to go their own way and have slidden off the path God has set.  Those who claim to be followers of God, but continue in a pattern of prolonged sin are inviting punishment from God.  He is a just and holy God, and will not just sit back and tolerate sin.  We need to see sin for what it really is. Very few people see it for the deception it is.  They only see that once sin has brought them down and ruined them.  Those bound and determined to ignore God, and stubbornly go on their own way in sin, whether it is drugs, alcohol, shoplifting, gambling, cheating in many ways, etc. they only acknowledge their folly when the sin has ruined their life, and they are hopelessly snared (vs. 25). Sadly some never do.

What hope is there for someone who sees how tangled he is in sin, for someone who has backslidden all the way down to the bottom? God is there waiting with His arms outstretched.  Just like the father of the prodigal son was waiting for his wandering son to return home (Luke 15:11-32), He is waiting for the wandering soul to turn to Him (4:1-2).

Three times in this passage God calls out to us to “Return”.   Just like the heartbroken parent of a straying child, God is standing there, calling out to His straying children.  “Return to Me!”, He calls, “Return to Me, and I will heal your backslidings.”  Are we willing to get up, throw off our shame and reproach, and go back to Him?  He is waiting for us.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Let's Introduce Jesus To Others

John 1:35-51

Most of us have heard the saying that we can’t bring anything with us to heaven, but that isn’t completely correct.  There is one thing that we can bring to heaven, and that is other people we have led to the Lord.   Our reading today from the Gospel of John tells of a couple of early disciples of Jesus who sought to bring either a relative or friend to Jesus.  Let’s look at this passage together.

As our passage opens John the Baptist is with several of his disciples when Jesus walked by.  Immediately he points Jesus out to his disciples, calling Him the Lamb of God, the one who would be God’s sacrifice for sins.  He knew his ministry was ending, and that his disciples should now follow Jesus, so he points the way for them (vs. 35-37).  Andrew and John turn and begin to now follow Jesus.

After his first day with Jesus, Andrew was not content to keep Jesus and His salvation message to himself.  Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and he immediately went to tell his brother Simon Peter (vs. 40-42). Throughout his approximately three years with Jesus, Andrew brought several people to Him.  It was Andrew who brought the young boy to Jesus who had a lunch to share (John 6:8-9).  Also Andrew, along with Philip, brought some Gentile Greeks to see Jesus (John 12:20-22).  Andrew knew the truth, and he didn’t want to keep it just for himself, he wanted to share it with others.

Imagine if Andrew had never told his brother, Simon Peter!  Peter became one of the primary leaders of the early church, wrote two Epistles, and was the primary source Mark used when writing his Gospel.  Jesus gave Simon the new name of Peter, meaning “rock” in Greek (vs. 42).  He was not much of a rock during his time with Jesus, but during the time of the early church he became a solid rock.  We may never know what the next person we bring to the Lord will do for Him, but they never will if we don’t bring them.

The day following Peter joining the growing group of disciples, Philip goes and finds his friend, Nathaniel, and tells him about Jesus, as well (vs. 45). Nathaniel’s response was not immediately all that positive.  When he heard that Jesus came from the village of Nazareth he was quite scornful (vs. 46). “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Judeans looked down on Galileans as backwards, poor, and uneducated.  Many Galileans despised Nazareth, for much of the same reasons, so Nazareth was considered by most as the bottom of the barrel.  Like so many of us, Nathaniel was judging and jumping to conclusions.  Rather than argue with him and perhaps permanently turn him off, Philip was wise, and gave Nathaniel an invitation to come and see for himself.  Philip knew that Jesus would not disappoint his friend, Nathaniel.

Fortunately for Nathaniel, he listened to Philip and came to see and meet Jesus, rather than clinging to his prejudices.  He could have missed out on meeting the Messiah!   Nathaniel hesitated because of what he thought of His hometown, which is not a very good excuse. Perhaps some of you reading this have hesitated coming to Jesus because of some prejudices or preconceived notions that really have nothing to do with Jesus at all.   Maybe you turn away from Jesus because you don’t care for some of the people at the local church. Maybe some people who have called themselves Christians have mistreated you.  Do you have an honest and seeking heart like Nathaniel did?  We invite you to come and see Jesus, just like Philip invited Nathaniel to.  Don’t be distracted by incidental issues, but come and see Jesus.

Jesus is called by several names in this passage - Lamb of God (vs. 36); Rabbi or Teacher (vs. 38); Messiah (vs. 41); Son of God (vs 49); King of Israel (vs. 49). Just as these disciples did, get to know Jesus, and we will understand who He is.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

We Belong To Christ

I Corinthians 6:9-20

Our New Testament reading from this past Sunday’s Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer is a rather hard-hitting message from the Apostle Paul. Sometimes God’s Word to us is comforting and makes us feel good.  At other times it calls out sin and conviction, and this passage is certainly that.

Paul starts out our passage by listing some rather grievous sins, and then, as if making a pointing sweep of his hand, says to his audience, “Such were some of you!” (vs. 9-11).   Notice, though, Paul uses the word were, past tense, not present tense.  Paul is speaking to believers, who have given their lives to the Lord.   Salvation results in new behavior.  Sin’s total domination is broken, replaced by obedience and holiness.  Believers do commit sin, but this is not their lifestyle.  Their life should not be an unbroken pattern of sin.  A true believer will be grieved when they fall into sin, and they seek to gain victory over it.  People who are characterized by these sins are probably not saved. Something is wrong if someone claims to be saved, but continues in the same sin pattern as before, making no attempt to live for Jesus, showing no repentance.  Christians should not be selective about what we condemn or excuse.  We are to have high standards.

Some people in Paul’s day, and also often today, responded by saying that they had freedom in Christ to do whatever they wished.  The price of abusing the freedom we have in Christ is very high (vs. 12). Christ has taken away our sin, but that does not give us an excuse to continue willingly sinning.  Sin produces loss.  Sin is enslaving.  It controls, and Paul says we need to master it with the Lord’s strength.

The Apostle Paul goes on to tell us that when we are saved our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit (vs. 15, 19).  When we accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit, God, comes and dwells in our body.  We are now His temple, and He lives in each believer.  When a believer commits a sin, that involves Jesus Christ (vs. 15).  When someone partakes of a sexual act with another person (whether within a marriage or not) they become “one flesh” with that person (vs. 16).  God instituted this in Genesis 2:24.  The sexual act is not just random activity in God’s sight.  The two become one in every way.  If you are a believer, Christ is spiritually joined as well. Any illicit sexual relationship by a believer is sin, because it profanes Jesus Christ since our body is His Temple.  Sexual sins also damage one’s character and one’s witness with the world (vs. 18).

I have known of some who express a belief in Christ who say that since Christ has paid for their sins, they can do whatever they want, their life and body are their own.  If one is truly a believer, having accepted Jesus as their Savior, then that is not the case.   Our bodies are not our own.  They either belong to God or are enslaved by sin. Christians have been bought with a price.  They have been redeemed by Jesus, paid for by His Blood and death on the cross (vs. 20).  Thus we need to allow Him to reign in our life, not being controlled and enslaved by our sins.  Our bodies are not ours.  Jesus bought us.  If we want to live for God, as He would want, all sexual desires must be disciplined and controlled by Him.

No matter what we’ve done in the past, Jesus can, and will, forgive it if we repent and ask Him to.  Jesus immersed Himself into the filth of this world, remaining unstained by it Himself, in order to save us. Sin can be a strong lure, but be willing to stand alone if you know that what you’re pressured to do is wrong.  When things get rough, remember, Jesus paid a tremendous price to purchase us.  Salvation is free for us, but it was very costly for Jesus!

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Thirst For God

Psalm 63:1-8

Picture yourself out hiking off in the wilderness on a very hot day, or perhaps you are jogging on that hot afternoon, and you reach for your water bottle to quench your thirst, and the bottle is empty.  “Oh, I’m so thirsty!”, is all you can think as you desperately try to get somewhere where there is water.  With every step your mind is thinking only one thing - water!  Your mouth is dry as cotton, perhaps you’re even starting to get a headache, and all you can think of is that first, cool, refreshing gulp of water.  Nothing else matters.

King David, the author of today’s Psalm, had spent many extended periods of time out in the wilderness while fleeing various enemies, and he most probably was familiar with being terribly thirsty on more than one occasion.  Yet as terrible as it was for David to feel extremely thirsty, his thirst for God was even stronger (vs. 1).  He wanted God, and to be in constant fellowship with Him, just as badly as that thirsty person out hiking, who discovers his bottle is empty, and the sun is beating down on him.  It doesn’t take too long being without water before it becomes a dangerous condition.  When we go a period of time without reading from the Bible or praying and having fellowship with God our souls will become spiritually all dried out and parched.  We need to come to God and His Word and drink freely and frequently to stay spiritually sound and healthy, as well.

Verse 1 also speaks of being in a “dry and thirsty land where there is no water”. Some of you reading this may live in a country where there are very few Christians, and the Word of God is not readily available or able to be freely read. That is a spiritually dry and thirsty land.  Other countries have fallen away from their Christian past, others slowly but surely straying from their godly roots, and fast on the way to becoming a dry and thirsty land, as well. King David had seen that, when many of his fellow countrymen kept straying to false gods, and he made it a priority to lead the people back to God.

David also compares his desire and yearning for God as one who is satisfied with marrow and fatness (vs. 5).  David was talking about the choicest and best parts of food, and his soul was satisfied by God just as the best foods do. Fellowship with Almighty God should be as desirous to us as our most favorite meal is when we’re so hungry!

In Biblical times there were three watches in the night (vs. 6).  If one were lying awake for more than one it was a rather sleepless night. David had many of those sleepless nights when he was having to flee for his life, both from King Saul, and later his son, Absalom.  He knew the best thing to do when, for whatever reason (worry, fear, sickness, etc.) one cannot fall asleep.  Turn your thoughts to God, and spend those hours in quiet times of reflection, prayer, and worship.  Praise Him for how He’s guided and helped you up to this moment.  Even though his life was not an easy one, David knew he had much to praise and thank the Lord for.  He knew that God had protected him just like a mother bird protects her chicks from danger by hiding them under her wing (vs. 7).

No matter where we are, or what is happening in our life, our desire should be for God.  Only He can truly satisfy our needs and desires. While David was hiding in the wilderness, he longed for a true friend that he could trust.  Only God can satisfy our deepest longings.  We should be longing for God as much as David did in this Psalm, seeking and pursuing Him throughout each day. How close we are with God will determine how our life will be.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Heeding God's Word

I Samuel 3:1-20

“Did you hear what I said?”  How many times have those of us who are parents said that to our children, or married people said that to their spouse?  I will admit that sometimes one of my children have said something to me, and though I heard them talking, my mind was somewhere else, and I didn’t hear what they said.  We could miss something important being said when we don’t pay attention, and this is particularly important when it comes to God.  Our Scripture passage for today tells of two people who needed to listen to God speak to them, and how important it is to act upon what we hear.

As our passage begins, young Samuel is living with the priests at the Tabernacle, where the Ark of Covenant is kept.  He had been given to the Lord as a very young child, and is under the care of the priest, Eli, who is an elderly man at this time.   It is the middle of the night, and all of the priests and those who assist in the Tabernacle are asleep.  Samuel would be sleeping just outside the Holy Place, with the others.  Verse 1 says that “the word of the LORD was rare” at this time.  This was a time of very little prophetic activity.  This was during time of the judges, before the monarchy in Israel, and faith in God and living for Him was at a very low ebb throughout the country.  Religious leaders were rarely preaching His Word to the people, and the people certainly weren’t following what they knew, many preferring to follow the false gods of the other nations.

As young Samuel is lying down and sleeping God calls his name (vs. 2 - 9).  At first he doesn’t recognize that it is the voice of God calling him, and neither does Eli, the priest, who Samuel wakes up.  This happens three times, and finally it dawns on Eli that God is speaking to the boy.  Eli was slow to recognize that God was speaking to Samuel.  His spiritual perception was not what it should have been as a priest and judge in Israel.  As we shall see, Eli had drifted far from where he should have been.  How often have we failed to hear and respond to God’s word to us, whether from Scriptures, the preaching of our spiritual leaders, or godly counsel from others? Samuel, being quite young, was learning to hear and respond to God’s Word.  When he realized it was God, he responded “Speak, for Your servant hears.”  That should always be our response when we know that God is trying to tell us something.

God’s first message to Samuel was one of impending destruction, not exactly a pleasant one to hear (vs. 11 - 14).  Sometimes the message that God might have for us is not always one we may enjoy.  It might not always be politically correct, or one that makes people in the pews on Sunday feel good. Throughout the Bible there were many prophets and preachers who were publicly chastised for preaching tough messages, rather than ones of constant peace and “you’re all good, people”.  God’s message to Samuel that evening confirmed what had been spoken earlier by another prophet (I Samuel 2:27-36).   Eli’s sons, as part of the priestly line, served at the Tabernacle, but their behavior was abominable by having sexual relations with women outside of the tabernacle, eating what they desired of the sacrifices, etc.  Eli knew this, but refused to reprimand his sons.  This unknown prophet came and told Eli that because he preferred his sons before God and His Word, God would cut off his line.  The message to Samuel that night confirmed what that earlier man of God had said.

Eli had never reproved or restrained his sons from their grievous sins (I Samuel 2:12-17).  God had spoken to him about this, but he did not listen to His Word.  It went in one ear and out the other.  He didn’t want to make his sons angry at him by correcting them, which he should have been doing from their earliest days, so they never would have gotten to the point that they did such abominations. Eli’s sons were dearer to him than the Lord was. Correcting our children and grandchildren is a very important task for Christian parents. The Bible is replete with examples of parents who failed at this.  Eli did not listen to the Lord, and now he would pay the price, as recorded in I Samuel 4.

The Lord’s presence was with Samuel.  He was God’s choice of a man to serve Him.  Everything Samuel said with Divine authority came to be (vs. 19).  He was a true prophet of God.  He not only listened to what the Lord said to him, but he acted upon and obeyed.  That’s what is important - both listening to what God says to us, and also acting upon it.  Let us strive to be like Samuel, and not like Eli

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Truly Humble Man

Mark 1:6-11

How many truly humble people do you know?  Humility is a virtue that the world today doesn’t promote or admire much.  We’re always urged to think highly of ourselves, to consider our needs first, and “look out for number one”, meaning ourself.  This is not the way the Bible teaches God’s children to be, and in our reading today from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we are introduced to a rare example of godly humility in John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was the son of Zechariah, who was a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.  As a young man he left his comfortable home life and went out into the desert wilderness, living an austere life of prayer, meditation and fasting. As we read in verse 6, John clothed himself in garments made of camel’s hair, girded with a leather belt. These were traditional clothes of someone who lived in the wilderness, sturdy but not fashionable or particularly comfortable. John’s diet was also a severe one, locusts and wild honey, one that could be easily obtained in the wilderness.  He could have continued living a comfortable life as the son of a priest, living in a nice home, wearing nice clothes and eating good and tasty meals.  John, though, knew what ministry God was calling him to, as the forerunner of the Messiah, and gave up all he was accustomed to for Him.

When John the Baptist came out of wilderness to begin his ministry of calling people to repent and turn from their sins, many of the Jewish religious leaders came to him, questioning exactly who he was John answered that he was not the Messiah (John 1:19-28).  He then made a point to say that he was only the forerunner or herald of the Messiah.  As we read in verse 7, he says the One to follow him was mightier, was greater and of infinitely more importance, and that he, John, wasn’t even worthy to loosen the strap of His sandal. That was one of the most menial tasks for the lowest of the slaves, and John said he wasn’t even worthy to do that.  At the time of our reading John the Baptist had a very successful ministry.  Crowds of people were coming to hear him preach and be baptized.  John could have sat back and basked in his popularity.  He could have passed the collection plate and brought in huge sums of money.  He could have said, like so many TV ministers today, that he is important, and to look at the wonderful ministry he has.  Boy, am I someone special!!   John, being a genuinely humble man of God, only pointed to Jesus.  He says not to look at him, he is nothing.  Look to Jesus! He looks to himself as the humblest and least of the Savior’s servants.

Is this the same type of attitude we have, or do we look at ourselves and all that we feel we have accomplished, and think we are someone special?  Do we have a servant attitude and mentality, or do we think that we are the ones who need to be served?  As a son of one of the priests in the Temple, John might have grown up with servants in his household, wearing nice clothes and eating tasty meals.  John the Baptist, though, knew where he stood in relation to the Almighty God, and to the Messiah and Savior.  He may baptize people with water for repentance, but the Messiah, the one everyone should be looking at, will baptize with the power of the Holy Spirit!  As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease”.

When Jesus came to him requesting baptism, John at first balked, knowing that he was not worthy to baptize the Savior of the world (Matthew 3:13-15). Many people would just puff out with pride if someone like Jesus came to them for baptism.  They would feel that their ministry must be something really special if Jesus came to them.  Boy, I must expand my TV ministry even more, get a new stretch limo, and maybe even a private jet!  Trade this camel hair in for some silk suits!

Humility.  This is a virtue that Jesus values in His followers.  If John the Baptist were to come today, many would say that he was certainly eccentric, maybe even a bit crazy, and the religious leaders of his day may have thought so, too.   However, because of John’s deep humility and acknowledging exactly where he stood with God, Jesus gave him great praise, saying “Among them born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11).   Let’s make John’s motto our own as well - He must increase but I must decrease.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

God Welcomes All

Acts 10:34-38

Have any of us ever felt like we just didn’t belong or didn’t fit in with the others, whether at school or at work?  Maybe our clothes weren’t right, or we weren’t as smart or gifted as the others.  Perhaps we spoke with an accent that was different than the others.  For whatever reason - our looks, our income level, or education or lack of one - we might have been rejected or looked down on by others who felt superior.  This might have even happened to us in church, and then we felt that God, too, was excluding us.

There is good news for all those who fear this.  Our Scriptures for today assure us that God shows no partiality.  There isn’t just one type of person that is accepted by Him.  When our passage opens, the Apostle Peter has been summoned to come to the home of Cornelius, Gentile and Roman centurion. Prior to this, since the day of Jesus’s ascension into heaven, basically only Jews had heard the Gospel of salvation.  That was not God’s wish, nor following Jesus’s command in Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8.  God wanted the whole world to hear the Gospel message and be given the opportunity to accept His Son, Jesus, as their Savior.  Just before our passage started, Peter had been given a vision from God to show that no one, no race or ethnicity, is unclean or less than any other (Acts 10:9-20).

Peter accepted this vision from the Lord and went promptly to the home of Cornelius, and the first words out of his mouth were that he knew that God shows no partiality.  There are several passages in the Old Testament that back this up, and show that this was God’s view from the start - Deuteronomy 10:17 and II Chronicles 19:7.  Later, the Apostle Paul also made a similar statement in his letter to the Romans 2:11.

God has shown us through His Word that the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus is for everyone.  There should be no barrier for those seeking to come to Him.  We can praise the Lord that in the last number of years the Scriptures are being translated into many languages and dialects that had not previously had a Bible.

How can this relate to us today?  How do we treat others who come into our churches today?  We might not like to admit this, but there is often partiality shown by some Christians to others.  What other types of barriers do we, either knowingly or inadvertently, put up that keep people from feeling comfortable coming to our church to hear from God?  Are we welcoming to people of different nationalities or backgrounds?  And how about the barrier some churches put up against people of different economic levels?  Do poor people feel welcomed to come into a church where most of the people are wealthier? The Apostle James made a point of mentioning just this issue in James 2:1-9. How would we feel if a homeless man or woman came into our church next Sunday and sat down right next to us in the pew?  Would we cringe and mentally criticize his dirty clothes and hair, and possible odor?

Another one that isn’t often looked at, but can easily be a barrier keeping people away from seeking the Lord is one of educational level.  Do people who may have dropped out of school, or perhaps only have a high school education feel welcomed by those with their many college degrees?  Or are they scorned as being ignorant, backward, or illiterate?  Does a person without a college degree at a Bible study or Sunday school class feel welcomed to speak up and contribute, or are they looked down on by others who feel they know more?

Remember, God shows no partiality for any reason, and neither should we. Let’s make sure that we aren’t putting up any type of barrier, whether of race, nationality, economic, or educational level to keep others away from Jesus.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Why David?

Psalm 89:20-29

Our psalm reading for this week takes a look at King David, and then also David’s descendant, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.  This psalm was written by Ethan the Ezrahite some time after the death of King David, and speaks about the covenant promise God made with David, that the Messiah would come from his line.

As we look at the life of David, we might wonder why God would choose him to be the ancestor of the Lord Jesus.  Yes, David was a great soldier and military leader, having killed Goliath, the powerful enemy of the Israelites, and winning many victories against the Philistines, and other powerful enemy nations.  But after David became king, he went and had an affair with a married woman. Then when he found out she was pregnant, David went and ordered her husband, who was in his army, to be sent to the front lines, and abandoned there to be slain by the enemy.  Basically David ordered his murder so he could marry his wife (II Samuel 11).  David did genuinely confess, repent and show honest sorrow for his sin, and God did forgive him.  Why, though would God honor David to be the ancestor line for the chosen Messiah?  God had removed Saul from being king because he had offered sacrifices himself rather than wait for the Prophet Samuel (I Samuel 13:5-14), and also refused to execute Agag, an enemy king, and had spared the best of the flocks for sacrifice when God had ordered everything destroyed after a battle (I Samuel 15).  To our human perspective, that doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as what David had done.  Yet God rejected Saul, but did not reject David.

The key can be found in I Samuel 13:14, where God says that He sought for Himself a man after His own heart, who was David the son of Jesse.  What does it mean to be a man (or woman) after God’s own heart?  Throughout the life of David, he showed that whatever was important to God was important to him. What was dear to God was also dear to David.  It makes for a good marriage if spouses like and enjoy the same things.  If one enjoys camping across the country, it’s good if the other enjoys that, too.  Or if they both enjoy the same type of music, or both have an interest in animals or an interest in sports.  God saw that David’s heart was in tune with His. What God loved, David loved. What God hated, David also hated.

This didn’t mean that David never sinned.  As we saw in his relation with Bathsheba, David did sin, and big time.  When King Saul disobeyed God, he only made excuses and tried to justify himself. He got angry with Samuel, and he got angry with God like a petulant child.  That was not the case with David. He knew he had sinned and grieved his ways.  He confessed and repented (Psalm 51).

Because of this strong and good heart attitude, God chose David to be the ancestor of Jesus.  He chose him, the youngest and basically overlooked son of Jesse to be anointed as king (vs. 20).   God’s hand was upon him throughout his reign (vs. 21-23).  Because David was a man after God’s heart, God made His covenant with him, and promised that the Messiah would come from his line.  The remainder of our passage (vs. 24-29) speak both of King David and also refers to the Lord Jesus, the descendant of David and the Messiah.

The birth of the Messiah wouldn’t come for another approximate 1,000 years after David, but God was true to His promise.  As both Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3 show, Jesus was descended from David.  We also see that even though we may stumble and fall into sin, perhaps even something quite wrong, God can still use us as long as our heart is true to Him.  Let’s strive to be like David and hold dear and love what God loves, hating what He hates.  Let it be said that you, like David, are a person after God’s own heart.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Bruised Reed And Smoking Flax

Isaiah 42:1-9

There we are, down on the ground, life having given us a thorough beating.  We seem in our own eyes like a total failure.  Perhaps we are in debt, lost our job, maybe a spouse having walked out on us. Our enemies are mocking us.  We are emotionally bruised and battered, maybe even literally a bit, too.  Who can we look to for help?  There are times when family or friends might just give us an additional kick, and certainly our foes are there to do just that. Where can we turn?  As we see in our reading from Isaiah for today, the first Sunday following Epiphany, the Lord Jesus is there for us.

In our passage, Isaiah is speaking the words of God, from His perspective, and the Lord is speaking about a Servant whom He delights in (vs. 1).  The Person that the Lord is speaking of is Jesus Christ, the Servant-Messiah.  God has poured out His Spirit upon Him without measure (Matthew 3:16).  The first four verses here are quoted in the Gospel of Matthew 12:18-21, and refer to Jesus.  Jesus had gentleness, encouragement, justice and truth.   As stated in verse 2, He also had a quiet, gentle and submissive demeanor.  Jesus didn’t parade around the streets shouting out the greatness of Himself and His work, like many self-righteous people do.  We can read that in Matthew 11:28-30, and also I Peter 2:22-23.

In verse 3 we read about bruised reeds and smoking flax.  Reeds are a type of tall, wetland grass, and were used in ancient times to make baskets, thatch roofs of simple homes, sharpened to be used as writing implements, and sometimes musical instruments.  If the reed is bruised or bent, its use may be hampered.   A string of flax was often placed in oil and then lit to provide light in a room.  When the flax would smoke, the room would fill with that smoke and smell, and one would put the flame out and get a new flax.  When we are beaten down in life, have made mistakes or been kicked around too much by others, and the world says we have no use because we are “bruised and smoking”, they may toss us out.  God does not do that. When we are bruised and failing, God does not cast us out as useless to Him.  He tenderly, lovingly, and gently picks us up. He brings comfort and encouragement to the weak and oppressed.  When we give ourselves to Him, He doesn’t crush us.  God is loving and tender to those who are bruised and weakened, and restores and strengthens them.

That was not all that Jesus came to do.  We read in verse 7 that He came to open blind eyes and set prisoners free.  He brought both physical healing to the physically blind, and spiritual healing to those in spiritual darkness and bondage.  Jesus came to set us free from everything that holds us captive, whether addictions, relationships, or whatever the world uses to enslave us.

We further read how God called the Lord Jesus to be a light to the Gentiles, and the Mediator of a better, New Covenant (vs. 6).  This is especially relevant in the season of Epiphany, where some churches celebrate when the Magi, who were Gentiles, came to honor and worship the Christ Child, one of the first of Gentiles who God was bringing to Himself.  Jesus is a light to these Gentiles. While on earth He ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, healed the Roman centurion’s servant and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, among others, and then instructed His disciples to go into all the world to preach the Gospel.

As believers and followers of Jesus, we have the opportunity to share in His mission, and also demonstrate His righteousness to others, and show forth His light to the world.  We can share with others how Jesus brings us out of the darkness we are in, and set us free from bondage, and also experience His love and care for us when we are beaten down and despairing.